Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Full-Court Press Against Israel With Obama in the Lead

What a settlement freeze would do

Search through the 1,000-word plus statement issued last Friday by the Middle East Quartet and you might be surprised by what turns up. For instance, the Quartet basically told the Palestinians that a peace deal with Israel would require them to end all other claims - implying abandonment of the "right of return." The Quartet also reiterated that Palestinian unity required Hamas to commit "to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations." It even demanded the immediate release of Gilad Schalit.

Yet, predictably, it was the Quartet's demand for a freeze on all settlement activity that dominated the news coverage.

THERE ARE signs that the international community's full-court press against settlements, with the Obama administration in the forefront, is wearing the Netanyahu government down. The Palestinians' position is that if settlements don't stop, negotiations won't start; and they define settlements broadly - as Jewish life beyond the Green Line. The Israeli government, under withering pressure from Washington, is reportedly floating the idea of a three-to-six-month settlement freeze to coax Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table.

Barack Obama might want to reflect on how his push for a freeze is being seen among mainstream Israelis - those who want a peace deal. They wonder why there is no withering campaign to pressure Abbas into insisting that a Fatah-Hamas unity government explicitly accept the Quartet's principles. Or why ranking administration officials aren't demanding that Abbas explain why he rejected Ehud Olmert's unprecedented offer amounting to the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank. They are left uneasy by the administration's parsimonious reaction to Netanyahu's seminal Bar-Ilan speech on a two-state solution.

How can Netanyahu garner more domestic support to move vigorously against illegal outposts when Obama is essentially saying that in his eyes, Ma'aleh Adumim is an illegal outpost. It's hard to see.

Netanyahu articulated the consensus position of the Israeli body politic: "Palestine" must be demilitarized so that we don't wake up to find Iranian Revolutionary Guards overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport; that the Palestinian refugee issue must be addressed within the boundaries of Palestine; that, by extension, in a region which includes two dozen Muslim states, the Palestinians need to give up the "right of return" and accept Israel as the Jewish state. And that Israel cannot agree to pull back to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines.

Settlement issues are complicated and the government's policy often seems incoherent at best. For instance, it is retroactively legalizing 60 apartments built without approval just outside Talmon. It is also belatedly building 50 new homes in Adam to accommodate the residents of unauthorized Migron, which it wants to dismantle. In the ideal world, Netanyahu's office should be breaking news of construction over the Green Line, and explaining it in the context of previous understandings with the US.

Would a temporary settlement freeze bring us any closer to peace? More likely, it would encourage the Palestinians to dig in their heels. Why not hold out for a permanent freeze? Or one that applied to metropolitan Jerusalem?

David Ignatius of The Washington Post recently quoted a senior Arab diplomat as telling him that a settlement freeze won't cut it. What the Arabs demand is an imposed solution. This is basically what Obama has also been hearing from some in the ostensibly pro-Israel community in Washington, led by J Street.

WERE HE to piggy-back on the Israeli consensus, Obama could bring us closer to the two-state solution George W. Bush envisioned. To do so, however, he would need to embrace the former president's commitments on settlement blocs and his administration's understanding regarding settlement growth.

Remarkably, these now dovetail with the position taken by a sitting Likud premier. Netanyahu has also taken extraordinary and potentially risky steps to improve the negotiating atmosphere - a dramatic reduction in preventative IDF operations and the lifting of virtually all internal checkpoints in the West Bank.

Israel is so not interested in a confrontation with the popular American president that Obama may feel he can insist upon an across-the-board and unconditional settlement freeze. The danger, if that happened, is that support for a deal among Israelis, predicated on Netanyahu's articulation of Bush's vision, would decline. And the Palestinians would become even more intransigent.
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Friday's posting a bit late

Been moving apartments so this is being posted a bit late. Hope to be back at work on Monday.

Arab hearts & minds

Another day, another massacre in Iraq. Sunni fanatics bombed a Baghdad street market on Thursday, slaughtering 70 Shi'ites. The latest bloodletting comes just as 133,000 US combat forces are to be withdrawn from Iraqi population centers, on Tuesday. The troops will be out of the country altogether in two years.

While world attention has been focused on Iran, Iraqis have continued to kill each other and Americans. In Mosul, the coach of the national karate team was killed; a spate of violence earlier in the week claimed dozens of victims in Baghdad. A truck-bombing in Kirkuk on Saturday took 70 lives. Nor is the situation stable even in Fallujah, pacified at great cost in American lives and treasure.

The Sunnis responsible for recent attacks are mostly locals, not jihadis from abroad, and American intelligence believes that the chances of renewed sectarian warfare are receding. The official US line is that the war in Iraq is winding down and American forces there will be reassigned to Afghanistan.

US DEFENSE Secretary Robert Gates called on a Washington gathering of top military officers from friendly Arab countries to help stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that Washington's overtures to Iran notwithstanding, America would stick by its Arab allies.

America's dependency on imported petroleum, along with other geostrategic considerations, makes the need for good relations with the Arabs perfectly understandable. Still, isn't the administration curious about why it must work so hard to convince them to do what is in their own interest? After all, were Iraq (with its Shi'ite Arab majority) to fall completely into Iran's (Persian Shi'ite) orbit, this would be a bad thing for the predominantly Sunni Arab states. Likewise, a nuclear-armed Iran would most immediately threaten the Arabs.

On Thursday, Jerusalem Post diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon analyzed the approach Washington has been taking to bolster its credentials with the Arabs. By driving the settlement issue to the forefront, wrote Keinon, President Barack Obama has, paradoxically, made it next to impossible to resume Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

The Palestinians insist they will not negotiate without a settlement freeze. And the Obama administration seems to have bought the assertion, reiterated at Wednesday's Arab League meeting in Cairo, that if only Jewish life over the Green Line was placed in suspended animation, Palestinian moderates would make a dash for peace.

There are some 550,000 Jews living beyond the Green Line: 300,000 in 120 communities in Judea and Samaria, the rest in metro-Jerusalem. Notwithstanding the shared Israeli and American desire to create a climate conducive to productive negotiations, it makes little sense to many Israelis that the US is demanding a freeze inside the strategic settlement blocs Israel is consensually insistent on retaining, and the extension of that demand to Jewish neighborhoods in post-'67 Jerusalem is still more problematic. Furthermore, all Israeli communities on the Palestinian side of a permanently agreed border would be relocated under the terms of a final status deal.

We suspect the Palestinians do not want to negotiate in good faith - otherwise why did they reject an offer by Ehud Olmert that would have given them the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank, plus Israel's agreement to international oversight of Jerusalem's holy basin? And why is Mahmoud Abbas still insisting on Israel agreeing to absorb millions of Palestinian "refugees" - thereby asking us to commit demographic suicide?

In Jordan this week, Saeb Erekat crowed that it was Palestinian negotiating obstinacy that had impelled Olmert's generous offer. The longer we hold out, he said, the better the offers get. In that context, American pressure for a complete Israeli settlement freeze seems likely to deepen Palestinian obduracy, not reduce it.

Fixating on settlements gladdens Arab hearts, no doubt. It will not, however, bring stability to Fallujah or Kabul.

What will? Perhaps a sense of certainty that America will not waver in its determination to lead. Even then, though, Arab collaboration on Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran will still be influenced by factors beyond Washington's control, such as the internecine struggle between Islamists and relative modernizers.

When the Arabs study Washington's handling of Iran's post-election upheaval, or how it's responding to the mullahs' quest for atomic weapons and to North Korea's brinkmanship, will they take heart from Obama's commitment to multilateralism and his dexterous employment of soft power and suasion? Or will they, looking at the results, hedge their bets and disingenuously attribute their vacillation to Jewish settlements on the West Bank?
This article can also be read

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gilad Shalit -- Still Waiting for a Red Cross Visit , Three Years In Captivity

Three long years

Something may be afoot in efforts to bring Cpl. Gilad Schalit home. Thursday marks three years since Palestinian infiltrators tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip, killed Lt. Hanan Barak and St.-Sgt. Pavel Slutsker and dragged our young soldier into captivity.

Hamas had recently defeated Fatah in Palestinian parliamentary elections and the international community was trying to figure out how to reconcile the will of the Palestinian majority with its need for the Islamist movement to recognize Israel, end violence and abide by the PLO's signed agreements.

Fatah and Hamas did eventually form a unity government, though it ended brutally in June 2007 with the ouster from Gaza of forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas.

WHILE the strategic challenge Israel faces is not Hamas's custody of Schalit but its suzerainty over Gaza, it's been a long three years.

Hamas has held Schalit incommunicado. Violating international law and human decency, and although Hamas prisoners in Israel are permitted visitors, Gaza's rulers have refused to allow even the Red Cross to see their Israeli hostage.

Meanwhile, Fatah and Hamas unity talks are back on, and showing signs of "progress." And because the Islamists have held firm in their intransigence, the international community is fudging its original requirements of Hamas.

Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel together with its refusal to renew a de-facto cease-fire led the IDF to launch Operation Cast Lead last year. Since then, the Kassam firings have been sporadic, though a major attack was thwarted earlier this month and arms smuggling continues despite improved Egyptian vigilance along the Philadelphi Corridor.

Hamas's relentless bellicosity and Schalit's unlawful imprisonment notwithstanding, the Palestinians are aggrieved over Israel's restrictions on the types of goods it permits into the Strip (food, medicine, fuel and commodities go in; dual-use materials such as concrete and iron for making bunkers and rockets are kept out). Yesterday, in solidarity with Schalit, hundreds of Israelis blocked the shipment of goods into Gaza.

Europe and the US side with the Palestinians in demanding that the crossing points be unconditionally opened, with international monitors supposedly ensuring that Hamas plays by the rules. And if it doesn't? No doubt the rules will be "adjusted."

NEGOTIATIONS under Egyptian auspices for Schalit's release are accelerating. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Cairo this week, and a top Egyptian intelligence operative was said to have been in Tel Aviv yesterday on Schalit-related business.

Schalit's parents have not known a day of tranquility in three years and Israel must strive to bring him safely home - but not at any cost: Hamas has been insisting on the release of 1,000 prisoners in exchange for their Israeli hostage.

This newspaper raises no objection to freeing a modest number of prisoners, provided their release won't jeopardize more Israeli lives - though we regret the release yesterday of West Bank Hamas politician Aziz Dweik, while Schalit remains a prisoner.

However, we remain adamantly opposed to trading Schalit for mass-murderers such as Abdullah Barghouti, who has the blood of 66 Israelis on his hands (Sbarro, etc.); Ibrahim Hamed, who murdered 36 (Moment café, etc); Abbas Sayad (Netanya massacre, Pessah 2006).

It is not surprising that just as talk of an imminent deal on Schalit is circulating, so too is news of a blue-ribbon Defense Ministry panel shortly submitting its proposed guidelines governing future prisoner exchanges. These would constrain decision-makers in making obscenely lopsided exchanges: There would reportedly be no more releases of vast numbers of enemy prisoners for one or two Israeli soldiers, and only terrorist corpses - not live prisoners - could be traded for fallen Israelis.

These guidelines are eminently reasonable, and should - but won't - be applied to the Schalit case.

Once the wrenching Schalit affair is ended, we urge an efficient commission of inquiry into why there was no attempt to rescue the soldier over three years. Israelis have the right to know why the risks to the civilian population in releasing busloads of terrorists were deemed to trump those of a rescue mission.

If the government miscalculates the Schalit endgame, it could inadvertently fortify Hamas, endanger Israeli civilians and set the stage for the next hostage ordeal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Netanyahu on the way to Paris

How France can help

When Nicolas Sarkozy moved into the Elysée Palais in 2007, France-Israel relations took a dramatic turn for the better.

It would be difficult to imagine Jacques Chirac or François Mitterrand telling the Knesset, as Sarkozy did, last June: "The French people will always be [there] when your existence is threatened." Likewise, it would be surprising to hear Sarkozy refer publicly to Jews as "arrogant" and "domineering," as Charles de Gaulle did. And Israelis would be genuinely taken aback if a French ambassador were nowadays to refer to us as "that shitty little country."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to leave today for France, where he is to meet with Sarkozy on Wednesday to discuss Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, upgrading relations with the European Union, and how to convince the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table. Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will welcome Netanyahu with warmth. In recent years, not only have diplomatic relations improved; economic ties have strengthened, cultural ties have blossomed, and France has become a popular destination for vacationing Israelis.

WHILE French foreign policy and public sentiment is no longer unthinkingly pro-Arab, neither is it yet where we would wish it to be. A recent poll by The Israel Project confirmed that the French public remains generally more sympathetic toward the Palestinians than to Israel, with only 21 percent viewing us favorably.

France's policymakers remain under the erroneous impression that they facilitate peacemaking by pressing Israel to make concessions while basically giving the Palestinians a free ride.

Earlier this month, when Kouchner met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Paris, he offered faint praise for Netanyahu's seminal June 14 Bar-Ilan University address, but did not speak to the substance of our premier's speech. Yet he repeated France's long-standing opposition to "settlements" without distinguishing between Jewish neighborhoods in metro-Jerusalem, strategic settlements blocs along the Green Line, and settlements elsewhere in Judea and Samaria.

Of course, were France to press the Palestinians to accept Netanyahu's offer for talks - had it, indeed, pressed them to accept Ehud Olmert's generous peace offer in 2008 (or Barak's in 2001) - the settlement issue would have become moot.

The French complain that settlements make a contiguous Palestinian state unviable. But if the Palestinians were to negotiate in good faith, ways would be found to ensure Palestinian contiguity in the West Bank - notwithstanding strategic settlements.

Does France realistically expect that Israel will take a wrecking ball to Ma'aleh Adumim, or delink this Jerusalem suburb from the capital? Haven't previous Israeli governments made it clear that once final borders are negotiated, settlements on the Palestinian side will be removed? And, by the way, wouldn't a permanent accord necessitate connecting the West Bank to Gaza - across the sovereign territory of Israel? That's a formidable challenge, but one that Israel has not ducked.

France's backtracking on Hamas is also troubling. In March 2009, at Sharm e-Sheikh, Sarkozy urged Hamas to abandon violence, recognize Israel and embrace previous Palestinian commitments - the Quartet's conditions for its participation in the international community.

Hamas remained intransigent. Yet, oddly, when Kouchner addressed the UN last month, he spoke passionately about rebuilding Gaza and called for crossing points to be "permanently opened to all goods" - without once mentioning Hamas.

Worse, on June 15, when EU foreign ministers met to adopt a European Council policy approach to Palestinian-Israeli conflict issues, it was France that reportedly led in keeping the Quartet's three conditions from being included in the document.

On the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, Sarkozy favors an "arsenal" of negotiations, sanctions and "firmness." But he says he doesn't "want to hear anything else" - meaning talk of keeping the military option on the table. This would sound far more credible if France wasn't one of Iran's main trade partners in 2008.

Netanyahu arrives in Paris having articulated a position that reflects an Israeli consensus: Yes to a two-state solution, so long as one of those states is recognized as the national state of the Jewish people and the other is demilitarized.

France's settlement obsession is misplaced. It can best help resolve our conflict by urging the Palestinians to internalize Israel's legitimacy and to adopt positions, now championed by Netanyahu, that meet both peoples' essential needs.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iran as seen from Jerusalem - Monday

Turning point for Iran?

His arm out-thrust, Ali Khamenei, Iran's paramount leader, told thousands of Friday worshipers at Teheran University that post-election unrest in his country was traceable to the machinations of the evil Zionist-owned media and the BBC Persian-language service.

Iran's June 12 elections, the ayatollah declared, were pure, honest - epic even. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's triumph was a political earthquake for Iran's enemies, but a celebration for its friends. As the multitude chanted, "Death to Israel," Khamenei indignantly declared that "the Islamic Republic would not cheat, and would not betray the vote of the people." How, he asked, could 11 million votes be stolen?

Clumsily, it would appear. State television has been airing confessions of plotters purportedly paid to destabilize the regime.

Apologists for the regime said Iran's elections were meaningful even if all the candidates had been handpicked. It turns out, however, that they were far more meaningful than the regime had intended.

Whatever his original intentions, Mir Hossein Mousavi now represents something bigger than a "soft" alternative to Ahmadinejad. His ascendency would most likely be a good thing for Iran and the world, even if no one really understands the intentions of the powerful counter-elite behind him. In challenging Khamenei after he sanctified the election results, these counter-elites are exposing a serious split in the political system, undermining its legitimacy. They might still want to reform, rather than overturn the system. But the people may have their own ideas.

No one knows if there is any turning back after Mousavi put out the word that his followers should hold a general strike in case of his arrest. Plainly, the regime hopes that tear gas and bullets will dampen down the protesters' fervor. We shall see.

TRYING TO understand what's really happening inside Iran's leadership elite recalls the difficulties encountered by Kremlinologists endeavoring to decipher the inner workings of the Soviet politburo. Can it be that Khamenei, having initially sanctioned his presidential challenge, took a second look at Mousavi and saw the image of Mikhail Gorbachev, someone who would "reform" the Islamic Revolution beyond recognition - and therefore chose the safer path of Ahmadinejad? Khamenei was said to fear that a Mousavi victory would mean loss of control over the nomenklatura - the most influential jobs in the country.

Even Israeli intelligence appears somewhat at a loss. Mossad chief Meir Dagan predicted that the anti-Ahmadinejad protests would fizzle out before the weekend. In fact, at least 13 protesters were killed in clashes on Saturday; demonstrations were continuing yesterday, and popular sentiment had escalated into blatant, opposition to the entire regime.

(Dagan also reportedly predicted that Iran would not have an atom bomb to hurl at Israel until 2014 - significantly later than other Israeli forecasts. What he didn't say is that Iran could achieve the very same, worrying capabilities as North Korea - detonating an underground nuclear device - far, far sooner.)

Given its geography, resources and culture, Iran will remain a regional player no matter what. But when all this is over, will it still be a patron of Hizbullah and Hamas; the state champion of Islamic extremism, and the prime demonizer of Israel?

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama came into office pledging to rectify the dysfunctional Iranian-US relationship. But Iran's post-election turmoil may have upended his plans to do business with Khamenei. He must now be wondering what good it would do to negotiate with a leadership so brazen as to steal an already rigged "election."

Over the weekend, Obama warned the regime that the world was watching, and urged it "to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people." But for all his declared commitment in Cairo to reform and democracy, Obama has refrained from overt support of the courageous Iranian citizenry protesting - and dying - for precisely these things.

If Iranians prove ready to persist, their terrible sacrifices notwithstanding, the US and EU will have little choice but to press for new, internationally monitored elections - and, if this demand goes unanswered, to hold out the possibility of "de-recognizing" the regime.

That would place Iran in the same position as Ukraine in 2004, during the Orange Revolution. That regime was isolated and, ultimately, forced from power.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gilad Shalit, the Red Cross and what we can expect from the international community

Litmus test

Hamas is practically throwing itself at Barack Obama, viewing him as more "sensitive" than his predecessors. Ahmed Yussef, the movement's coquettish liaison to the West, said this week the Islamists will "do anything" for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Well, not quite anything.

Unlike the PLO, Hamas will not support a two-state solution. Apart from that, its stance is indistinguishable from Mahmoud Abbas's. Hamas and the PLO agree that Israel must withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines; and that Israel must grant four million or so descendants of the 650,000 Palestinian Arab refugees from Israel's War of Independence the right to "return" to Israel proper.

Where they part company is over what to offer Israel. Abbas proposes accepting Israel's existence; Hamas offers a period of extended "quiet." Neither acknowledges any Jewish civilizational connection to this land, both seeing us as temporary interlopers.

Hamas is following in the footsteps of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO's ruling body, which on June 9, 1974 adopted a plank - known as the "phased plan" - which authorized Palestinian leaders to take custody of "any territory from which the occupation withdraws."

Like the PLO, when it was shedding its image of absolute rejectionism, Hamas is making inroads toward greater international acceptability.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers, led by France, steered clear of reiterating the Quartet's principles - that Hamas forswear violence, recognize Israel and accept previous PLO agreements with Israel.

And on Tuesday, former US president Jimmy Carter was in Gaza claiming to be carrying a message from Obama. Flanked by American and Palestinian flags, he held a news conference with Ismail Haniyeh during which the Hamas premier received Carter's backing for lifting the "siege" of Gaza. Israel was treating Gazans "more like animals than human beings," the ex-president lamented. Turning the Quartet's principles on their head, Carter told The New York Times that "first of all, Hamas has to be accepted by the international community as a legitimate player... and that is what I am trying to do today." Carter said he was shattered by what Israel had done to Gaza with warplanes "made in my country."

The Obama administration is, reportedly, also leaning hard on Israel to lift the blockade, which limits the type of supplies permitted into the Strip - cement and iron, for instance, which have civilian and military uses. The US and EU are confident of international monitors effectively guaranteeing that Hamas does not use these materials for its war machine; experience suggests the confidence is sadly misplaced.

Israel routinely channels in tons of food and commodities - even cash to keep the local economy afloat. Yesterday, it allowed in 115 truckloads of aid and commercial goods.

Clearly, this kind of "siege" won't break Hamas. So the Netanyahu government needs to rethink whether the security and deterrence benefits of our limp-wristed blockade are worth the diplomatic costs.

ISRAEL has demonstrated innumerable goodwill measures in the West Bank to "help Abu Mazen." But the claim that capitulating to Hamas in Gaza, out of exasperation over their intransigence, will facilitate the prospects of genuine peace is unconvincing.

Gaza is a test case for what Israelis can expect should Hamas win next January's tentatively scheduled Palestinian elections. The lesson so far is that the Islamists are apt to choose belligerency over coexistence, even if it causes their own people to suffer; and that the international community will side with the Palestinians on the grounds that the people should not be punished for the policies of its elected leaders.

Having been clobbered during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has for now stopped firing rockets into Israel, though it seems curiously unable to prevent infiltration attempts by other groups. Meanwhile, it continues to rearm, even if fewer weapons may be making it through the Philadelphi Corridor tunnels, thanks to enhanced Egyptian vigilance.

On Thursday, the Red Cross asked to see IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, now three years in Hamas captivity.

If the international community cannot influence Hamas to comply with so basic a humanitarian request, how can it credibly guarantee Hamas's behavior once sanctions are lifted?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jerusalem car park riots

Shabbat shalom

Perhaps because Zion has been so central to Jewish civilization for thousands of years, Shabbat in Jerusalem is like Shabbat nowhere else.

From dusk on Friday until sunset Saturday, life's pace slows. Shops are mostly closed. Traffic lessens. Public transportation shuts down. The air begins to feel fresher.

Strangers greet each other with "Shabbat shalom" - a peaceful Sabbath. Songs welcoming the Sabbath bride echo from hassidic steibels to egalitarian havurot. Sounds of camaraderie around the Sabbath table, accompanied by Zemirot melodies, waft through open windows.

Imagine, then, Jerusalemites' revulsion two weeks ago, when their Sabbath tranquility was pierced by ultra-Orthodox rioting.

Why the cursing, the throwing of rocks, bottles and filthy diapers at police? Why, later, the torching of plastic garbage dumpsters? Because the rioters' "sensibilities" had been offended by the opening on Shabbat of the car park beneath Kikar Safra at City Hall.

In other words, these sanctimonious hypocrites - who won't so much as tear toilet tissue on Shabbat because it violates the sanctity of the day - felt no compunction about tearing the soul out of the Sabbath.

Jews of all persuasions, including a majority of the Orthodox, would agree that this Shabbat violence by those who profess to be "trembling before God" (haredim) brought Judaism into disrepute. It was a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God's name.

SEVEN MONTHS ago, police recommended that City Hall provide parking to accommodate visitors who want to spend the day enjoying Jerusalem's Old City. With municipal and commercial garages closed on the Sabbath and nearby streets inaccessible due to construction of the light rail, scores of cars are being parked helter-skelter in the street and on sidewalks. Ambulances find it difficult to navigate the area and police fear lives could be jeopardized.

The municipality had wanted to open a car park, free of charge and supervised by a non-Jew, below the Mamilla mall, close to the Jaffa Gate. (Halacha forbids Jews to engage in work on the Sabbath.) But ultra-Orthodox politicians on the municipal council said no, fearing that could somehow lead to the opening of the shopping mall above, upsetting the religious status quo.

That apprehension is completely unfounded as the primary owner of the mall is strenuously opposed to opening his property on Shabbat.

At any rate, Mayor Nir Barkat proposed using the garage below the nearby City Hall as an alternative.

The garage is located blocks from the nearest haredi neighborhood, and the number of cars to be accommodated is relatively modest. So those ultra-Orthodox politicians gave their tacit consent, and the municipality announced that Shabbat parking would now be available.

The mayor did not factor in the possibility that Shabbat parking would be seized upon by a group of virulently anti-Zionist haredim, the Eda Haredit, to settle scores with the more mainstream ultra-Orthodox, and as a way of telling Barkat that the City Hall vicinity was their turf and that he had cut a deal with the wrong haredim. Eda bosses mobilized their "street," meanwhile co-opting other haredim to march in their thousands on the garage to "protect the Sabbath."

In the wake of the ensuing violence, police recommended that the car park scheme be put off while Barkat tries to negotiate a resolution of the controversy.

The mayor needs to assure the haredi community that he is sensitive to their legitimate concerns. But he has, rightly, vowed that when all is said and done, the streets near the Old City will be unclogged on Saturday, and free parking for visitors will be available.

The original plan to provide free parking at Mamilla strikes us as the way to go.

If, however, extremists persist in their efforts to intimidate, a variety of steps are called for:

• challenging the not-for-profit status of the institutions behind the rioting (in coordination with foreign tax authorities);

• prosecuting rioters to the full extent of the law;

• deporting indicted foreigners;

• instructing police to treat further outbreaks of haredi lawlessness as if they came from any other sector.

Violent extremists must not be allowed to rob Jerusalem's majority, and those who come to visit, of the peace, tolerance and tranquility that epitomizes Shabbat.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran as seen from Jerusalem - Tuesday

A taste of freedom

The footage is surreptitious and lacks narration. Viewers see hundreds of protesters being chased by truncheon-wielding policemen on motorcycles; one motorbike on its side, is ablaze. The demonstrators, supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, are certain their man defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Friday's Iranian presidential election, and that authorities manipulated the results.

Though Mousavi was pre-approved to compete in the election by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his candidacy unexpectedly became a rallying point for an urbane constituency that felt socially and economically stifled by Ahmadinejad's demagoguery.

The protests in Teheran and elsewhere are relatively small and sporadic. Mousavi has asked the Guardian Council, the mullahs charged with validating the election, not to. Meanwhile, Khamenei declared Ahmadinejad the winner and invited the nation to celebrate a miraculous turnout.

The regime has cut off social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter), making it hard for dissidents to organize. Cell phone service is sporadic. SMS is blocked. Foreign news broadcasts are being jammed. The government-subservient media are playing down, or not covering the opposition.

Mousavi was spotted yesterday addressing thousands from the roof of a car after loyalists fought off Ahmadinejad's thugs. Scores of other Mousavi supporters are in jail. Earlier, he urged followers to continue their protests "in a peaceful and legal way."

But authorities, perhaps hearing the chants of "Death to the dictator" - a common refrain against the shah - and "We want freedom," say the opposition has crossed the line into treason. While there were popular expressions of discontent in 1999 and 2003, the BBC is reporting that nothing like the current disturbances has been seen in Iran since the 1979 Revolution. Iran's masses have tasted "democracy," only to have it snatched away. Their rulers now expect them to return to a state of somnolence.

Out of guile - or perhaps trepidation - Khamenei has decided to complement the regime's big stick with a carrot: He ordered the Guardian Council to "precisely consider" allegations that the election was marred by fraud.

IF HE did have the election rigged, Khamenei may have decided that the regime did not need a less malevolent persona. After all, he's done pretty well with Ahmadinejad as his number one: Iran's program to build an atom bomb is on track. Trade with the EU, Russia and China is brisk. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, enthusiastically parlays with his Hizbullah proxies in Beirut, even as Western European diplomats flirt with Iranian-backed Palestinian extremists in Gaza. The Obama administration seems pleasantly quiescent. Bellicosity has produced dividends. Why change a winning strategy?

As The New York Times reported, "Ahmadinejad is the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical, military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution."

Ahmadinejad himself is demanding obeisance: "We are now asking the positions of all countries regarding the elections, and assessing their attitude to our people."

Dutifully, the emir of Qatar, and the leaders of Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Venezuela, along with the Arab League's Amr Moussa, Hamas and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, all congratulated him on his marvelous victory.

It is true that the German and French foreign ministries expressed mild disappointment at the way the election played out. The US, which lauded the campaign, was circumspect, saying it hoped the elections reflected the will of the Iranian people.

US policy on Iran remains unsettled. Dennis Ross, appointed in February as the administration's point man, is being shifted to another job. Before that he was known to support a dialogue with Iran on the grounds that it would make tougher US policies more palatable. His reassignment could signal that the America is getting wobbly.

So it seems whimsical to imagine - when negotiations finally commence between the West and Teheran, with the Obama administration's active involvement - that Khamenei will allow himself to be talked into abandoning his ambitions to make Iran a nuclear power. Ditto that he will stop supporting Hizbullah and Hamas.

Elections notwithstanding, real power in Iran rests with the Supreme Leader. Still, America's president could take the brazen Khamenei down a peg or two by expressing solidarity with Iranians' clear desire for real freedom.

Will he?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Netanyahu's Speech on the nature of a Palestinian state Israel can live with

Vision for Reconciliation

Forget President Barack Obama and the Arabs for a moment. Did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University last night outlining his vision of Arab-Israel peace satisfy mainstream Israelis? Did it contribute to shaping an Israeli consensus?

The answer: Yes.

Since he took office in March, the premier has been promising to articulate an approach to negotiations with the Palestinians. He skipped the AIPAC policy conference in early May because he wanted Obama to be the first to hear his "policy reassessment."

Yet when he arrived at the White House on May 18, he seemingly forgot to pack a coherent proposal. Instead, Obama greeted him with a reiteration of George W. Bush's call for a Palestinian state, and with a vigorous advocacy of America's long-standing demand for a settlement freeze.

Most Americans favor a two-state solution and think it would be good for Israel. Most Israelis acknowledge that the creation of a Palestinian state is in their national interest. The concern has been: What kind of Palestinian state? They don't want the prototype to be Hamas's mini-state in the Gaza Strip.

It is the Palestinians who have opposed sharing this land, justifying our fears of their intentions. Since the days of the UN Partition Plan, through Ehud Barak's territorial offer in 2000 and Ehud Olmert's in 2008, it is the Palestinians who have been saying no. Lately, however, because Netanyahu hadn't explicitly endorsed the two-state solution, the perception was growing that Israel was the problem.

Last Monday, Netanyahu telephoned Obama to tell him of his plans to finally deliver that long-awaited policy reassessment.

The build-up was worth it. The Bar-Ilan speech was of historic importance.

LAST NIGHT, Netanyahu announced his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

The territorial details will need to be negotiated. And the Palestinian leadership will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and abandon the demand to resettle in it millions of descendants of the original 650,000 Arab refugees from the War of Independence.

This offer - coming from a Likud leader - is momentous.

Now the ball is in the Arab court. Will the Arab states accept the idea of a demilitarized Palestine living side by side with a Jewish Israel?

Will the international community - and particularly the Obama administration - embrace Netanyahu's vision? If they do not, it will shatter the hopes of mainstream Israelis and doom the prospects of peace.

Netanyahu's speech demonstrated that Israeli governments honor the commitments of their predecessors. It will be interesting now to see whether the White House, implicitly or explicitly, stands behind George W. Bush's April 2004 "1967-plus" letter. Though that commitment was also overwhelmingly endorsed by congressional resolutions (and supported by then senator Hillary Clinton), Obama has yet to back it. Fresh surveys show most Americans do.

Netanyahu was right to say that settlements are not the main obstacle to peace. While most Israelis do not support unauthorized outposts, they do want to find a reasonable compromise with the US over natural growth in settlements that Israel intends to retain under a permanent accord.

A NEW survey by The Israel Project shows that American popular support for Israel, while strong, is ebbing. Even among staunchly pro-Israel Republicans, support dropped from 72 percent to 65%; and 50% to 38% among Democrats in the past six months. Fewer Americans think Israel is committed to peace. Conversely, last year 61% of Americans thought the Palestinians were not committed to peace. Now, only 49% think they are the problem.

To state the obvious: Washington is Israel's only steadfast military and diplomatic ally; US military aid for 2009 is $2.55 billion (25% of which may be spent locally). But the alliance is vital for far more than financial reasons. We cannot take this relationship for granted. No doubt an appreciation of this reality informed Netanyahu's remarks.

The premier's speech was delivered the day after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad solidified his leadership in Iran, and as infiltration attempts and Kassam launchings from Gaza appear to be on the rise.

Now is the time for Israelis to pull together, for the national interest to take precedence over partisan preferences. Above all, now is the time for the US to persuade the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and pursue Netanyahu's call for a viable reconciliation.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Iranian vote as seen from Jerusalem

Does Iran's vote matter?

The United States stands ready to engage Iran in "serious dialogue," President Barack Obama reiterated in Dresden last Friday.

Formal talks - on bilateral relations and halting Teheran's quest for nuclear arms - await the outcome of today's Iranian presidential election. Obama indicated that there would be a "serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process" (meaning the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and "potentially through additional direct talks between the United States and Iran."

If these talks prove unsatisfactory after six months or so, Washington could then, in conjunction with the P5-plus-one, seek to ratchet up economic sanctions against the Islamic republic. While this glacially-slow scenario stretches out, the centrifuges will spin and multiply. Iran's drive for atomic weapons and the means to deliver them will appear ever more inexorable.

But what if Obama's softer tone encourages Iranian voters to walk away from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the grounds that his braying has become superfluous and the American "threat" has diminished? And wouldn't our region be a better place if the demagogic Ahmadinejad was replaced by the reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi?

Perhaps. But likely not.

First off, the real authority in Iran, the figure who sits above all levers of power, is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The president is subservient to him.

One sure sign that a US-Iranian dialogue was being taken seriously in Teheran would be the extent to which Khamenei himself was engaged.

All too helpfully for the mullahs, an Ahmadinejad defeat would distance the regime from the odious Holocaust-denier. A Mousavi victory would provide it with a human face, making it even less likely that the P5-plus-one would stop the mullahs from building a bomb.

All the candidates - Ahmadinejad, Mousavi, and dark-horse challengers Mahdi Karoubi and Mohsen Rezaei - concur that Iran's nuclear program, which they insist is for peaceful civilian purposes, must remain inviolate. All are willing to improve relations with the US in return for fundamental "changes" in American policy. None can be expected to downgrade Iran's proxy relationship with Hizbullah, or its support of Palestinian Islamists.

Domestically, Mousavi and Karoubi oppose the coercive approach Ahmadinejad's supporters take regarding Islamic dress and social behavior. The president's opponents also say that the economy should be doing a lot better considering that Iran has the world's second-biggest oil and gas reserves. Inflation is high, between 14 and 24 percent, depending on how the numbers are massaged. Unemployment stands at 17%, particularly significant in a country where half the population is 27 years old or younger.

Ahmadinejad is leading in the polls thanks to support from the downtrodden masses, whose lives he has dramatically improved by raising salaries and benefits. Mousavi's supporters are more urbane. They want to see investment that fosters long-term economic growth.

ALL THE trappings of democracy are on display: elections, candidate debates, mass rallies - even mudslinging. For the regime's Western apologists, this proves that while Iranian democracy may be "incomplete" (since only candidates vetted by Khamenei are eligible to run), the country is far from being the totalitarian ogre that Zionist "demonizers" claim.

Admittedly, we find it difficult to keep an open mind with the Supreme Leader constantly denouncing Israel as a "cancerous growth," as he did on the same day Obama spoke in Cairo. We've noted, too, that his Revolutionary Guard warned that once the election is decided - no more mass rallies… or else.

Speaking of mudslinging, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad have been doing lots of it. Rafsanjani, a former president, is one of the most well-connected and richest men in Iran. He sits on the Council of Experts, which has the theoretical power to remove Khamenei himself. Rafsanjani wrote the Supreme Leader to complain about Ahmadinejad saying Rafsanjani had enriched himself during his presidency. Ahmadinejad is angry because Rafsanjani's organization is backing Mousavi's campaign. Rafsanjani-commissioned polls show Mousavi with a 56-42 lead. To ensure the election isn't stolen, Rafsanjani's forces are fielding 50,000 poll-watchers. International monitors are barred.

The election results will be known tomorrow. But no matter the outcome, the international community needs a timely way to get the Supreme Leader's attention - or the big losers will continue to be the Iranian people and their neighbors in the region.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Here come the judge...here come the judge...

For consensual judges

Israelis, like most Americans and Brits, wouldn't recognize a Supreme Court justice or Law Lord if they tripped over him in the supermarket. Even Sonia Sotomayor, recently nominated by President Barack Obama to the US Supreme Court, is not a familiar face to Americans. With a few notable exceptions, the justices of our Supreme Court are equally anonymous.

How many of us can conjure up the images of justices Salim Joubran, Hanan Meltzer or Asher Dan Grunis? Yet these mostly faceless jurists have profound influence over our lives.

Israel's court has both appellate and original jurisdiction, depending on how the justices constitute themselves. To date, the body has been comprised of mostly (though not exclusively) like-minded types: liberal ex-judges who subscribe to a philosophy of judicial activism, and in all likelihood attended the same law school.

The justices have been more than just a homogeneous bunch; they've practically replicated themselves. That's why when the name of distinguished legal scholar Ruth Gavison was floated for a possible Supreme Court vacancy, it was immediately shot down on the grounds that she wouldn't fit in.

Israel's system for selecting judges is even more viscerally partisan than America's. Nominees do not go before a Knesset committee for vetting and confirmation. Instead, they are chosen by the Judges Selection Committee.

Now though, that committee's membership has been re-jigged to accommodate the wishes of the current government and Knesset; its traditionally liberal-leaning make-up has been dramatically diluted with the appointments of MK Uri Ariel (National Union), David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and Gilad Erdan (Likud). Also on the committee are: Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch and her two colleagues Ayala Procaccia and Edmond Levy. The chair is veteran legal powerhouse and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Rounding out the membership are Pinhas Marinsky and Rachel Ben-Ari of the Israel Bar Association.

It may seem odd that the largest and most cohesive bloc on a committee to select judges is comprised of already sitting judges; but until now, these jurists have been in a position to veto some candidates and push through others they favored. It may be more difficult to do so now.

THIS DILUTION in the selection committee's ideological bent - Ariel, from the most narrow right-wing party in the Knesset, is a strident supporter of unauthorized settlement outposts - troubles centrist Zionists as well as liberals. He defeated Kadima's Ronnie Bar-On for the prestigious appointment. Liberals are chagrined that a member of the largest Knesset faction (Kadima) wasn't chosen in line with recent practice - though this happened in only three of our 18 Knessets.

In Israel's fractious polity, where the legislature commonly shirks its responsibilities in such areas as civil liberties and providing necessary legal protections for the Palestinian Arabs of Judea and Samaria, their enforcement has fallen to the Supreme Court - which has occasionally gone too far.

The court is now being asked to decide whether building may go ahead on 24 homes in the settlement of Halamish. Another panel will hear petitions against the Tal Law, which provides army and national service deferments for ultra-Orthodox youths. At stake is whether the law should be repealed on the grounds that it is ineffective since so few haredim serve.

Beyond the question of the ideological leanings of the new judges the selection committee will send to the court is their philosophy. Will they be interventionist? Will they narrowly apply Israel's constitution-in-the-making, or interpret it broadly by giving existing statutes creative interpretations that move society in a more progressive direction?

IT IS not unreasonable for the committee to better reflect the gamut of views in our hyper-pluralist society. Otherwise the legitimacy of the court's decisions will continue to be challenged by broad sectors of the population - something that undermines the stability of the political system.

Still, we strongly urge the newly composed selection committee to seek out consensual candidates on the basis not of ideology, but wisdom and judicial temperament. We need jurists who are not tied to a judicial philosophy - activism or restraint - or, myopically, to political dogma, but judges who will protect civil liberties and human rights while anchoring their decisions in reasoning that fair-minded citizens can subscribe to.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Europeans elect a new parliament -- What it means for Israel

Europe votes

Israelis tend to look straight past nearby Europe as we cast our eyes pensively toward Washington. For obvious reasons, we're apt to worry more about whether Barack Obama loves us than whether European Commission President José Manuel Barroso does.

Yet, as Prof. Sharon Pardo of Ben-Gurion University reminds us, Israel is situated not along the Atlantic, but the Mediterranean coast, making Europe "our immediate and natural ally."

So when Europeans elect a new parliament, as they did on Sunday, it behooves Israelis to take notice, not because the new legislature will be more sympathetic toward us - it won't - but because our relations with Europe are supremely important: Most of what we import comes from Europe, and that's where most of what we export goes.

THE CONTINENT finds itself in a malaise. The worldwide economic downturn hit it even harder than America. National and ethnic chauvinism is on the rise. The hope that the 27 EU countries, combined population 491 million, would by now be a single supra-national entity has been bitterly dashed. Indeed, as The New York Times reported recently, many Europeans think that when it comes to the economy, the EU is part of the problem, not the solution.

Only 43 percent of 375 million eligible voters participated in the parliamentary elections, compared to 62% in 1979. Parties that say the EU is on the wrong path, or more trouble than it's worth, gained while those affiliated with Britain's beleaguered Labor Party, Germany's Social Democrats and France's Socialist Party did poorly.

The new EU parliament will have 736 members, the single largest bloc staying with the European People's Party (264). The EPP is center-right: pro-EU (unlike the Euro-skeptical British Tories) and pro-free market.

Lamentably, on Israel, the EPP holds to the dominant "pro-Israel" European line which, in practice, shows little empathy for this country's unique security predicament. While the EPP embraces the Quartet's position on negotiations with Hamas, it still wants Israel to lift an embargo which limits the type of goods that can enter the Strip.

The election also sent a number of far-Right and anti-immigrant parties to parliament, some of them anti-Jewish. The British National Party won two seats. Jobbik - the Movement for a Better Hungary, a self-described "radically patriotic Christian party," won one or two seats.

Not all the fringe parties are anti-Israel. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party is stridently opposed to continued Muslim immigration, is actually staunchly pro-Israel.

ISRAEL'S critics in the EU are working diligently to torpedo trade relations with us. They are trying to engineer boycotts against Israeli fruit, vegetables and olive oil, on the dubious grounds that these goods are produced by settlers on "occupied Palestinian land." If successful, the critics will be pushing for broader economic, scientific and cultural sanctions to force Israel back to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines. To be fair, some honestly believe that doing so will help Israel and bring peace.

Out of an annual EU Commission budget of 120 billion euros, hundreds of millions flow to Palestinian projects. Needless to say, no one contemplates using this leverage to encourage a less intransigent negotiating position on the part of Mahmoud Abbas. Yet significant monies are also directed to Israel-based advocacy groups working to make Israeli policies more compliant.

Israel's relationship with the EU is governed by an Association agreement, but progress on renewing and upgrading relations has come to a halt in order to pressure the Netanyahu government. The EU is also displeased with how Israel battled Hamas in Gaza. The EU supports Israel's right to protect its civilians - so long as this can be done without jeopardizing Palestinian civilians.

THIS WEEK'S EU elections portend no policy shifts on Israel, but they do remind us that as important as ties are, we no longer share the same values. The ethos of the EU is for solving conflicts through negotiations and for the free movement of persons. Though key EU officials are intimately familiar with our security situation, they profess not to be able to fathom why a template that works so well in Europe is unfeasible here - to put it mildly.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lebanon's election results as seen from Jerusalem

No joy for Lebanon

Dancing in the streets, chanting "ya'ala Hariri" and discharging weapons into Beirut's night sky, the Sunni-led (nominally) pro-Western "March 14 Coalition" celebrated its victory Sunday over the pro-Hizbullah, pro-Syria and pro-Iran "March 8 Coalition."

Sa'ad Hariri's Sunni-led alliance captured 71 of parliament's 128 seats, versus 57 for the Hizbullah-led grouping. Voter participation was high at 55 percent. Both sides spent huge sums to purchase support and fly in expatriates to bolster their numbers.

It is good that Hizbullah did not achieve a better outcome. Yet Israelis would be deluding themselves if they viewed the results as a substantive defeat for the Islamists.

The harsh reality, the latest election results notwithstanding, is that Lebanon's radicalized Shi'ites are growing stronger and will need to be accommodated by the "victorious" forces of relative moderation.

No official census has been taken in Lebanon for decades. But the working assumption is that Shi'ites comprises 50% of the population; Sunnis 18%; Christians 15%; and Druse 17%. Nevertheless, elections in Lebanon are a set piece - a guaranteed 50:50 split between Christians and Muslims. This adheres to the 1943 National Pact, modified by the 1989 Taif Accord. Christians and Muslims then further divide the electoral results along confessional sub-groupings.

Election districts are gerrymandered. A given ward might be authorized to send, say, two Druse and one Sunni representative to the legislature. Everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, has the right to select from among the competing Druse and Sunni candidates. In other words, a Sunni running for a "Sunni seat" could still be aligned with Hizbullah.

Both sides understand that regardless of the results, Lebanon is in for more of the same. After his electoral achievement became clear, Hariri declared: "There are no winners or losers in these elections; the only winner is democracy in Lebanon."

Hizbullah's Hassan Fadlallah readily agreed about no winners or losers, saying: "Whoever wants political stability, the preservation of national unity and the resurrection of Lebanon will find no choice but to accept the principle of consensus." He meant: Hizbullah's consent.

Walid Jumblatt, the Druse leader ostensibly aligned with Hariri, said Hizbullah should be included in the next government. Before the results were in, he told a meeting of Druse elders: "The Shi'ite reality has imposed itself" via demography, money, ties with Iran, and the support of the wealthy Lebanese Shi'ite diaspora in Africa. Lebanon's future, Jumblatt was saying, is Shi'ite; the Druse struggling to survive will have to adjust accordingly.

That said, the Hariri forces will still have the most influence over the composition of the next government. Prior to the election, Hariri said he was not disposed to form a government with Hizbullah. Whatever the case, as a price for its support, Hizbullah will demand that Lebanon stop cooperating with the international tribunal investigating (already fingering, some reports say) Hizbullah's role in the assassination of Hariri's father, Rafik.

For this reason, Sa'ad Hariri may opt not to become premier, citing "national unity."

IT GOES without saying that Shi'ite leaders will not honor their pledge to view the election as a referendum on continued "resistance" against Israel.

Indeed, one may deduce that Hassan Nasrallah's fingerprints are all over yesterday's infiltration attempt from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel. The Hizbullah chief instigates attacks that are not easily traceable back to him, so as not to complicate the delicate political situation inside Lebanon.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event that Nasrallah should lash out openly against Israel out of frustration over his electoral setback, Lebanese factions should know that the Land of the Cedars will be held responsible for any aggression emanating from its territory.

So long as the West continues to kowtow to Iran, its Hizbullah proxy will continue to hold sway over events in Lebanon. Hizbullah will continue to field the country's strongest army and smuggle in weapons from Iran and Syria. It will bide its time; buy up more land; engage in more narco-terrorism; counterfeit more currency, and wait for demographics to determine Lebanon's fate.

Can Lebanon's fate yet be salvaged? Only if the West is prepared to do the heavy lifting required to block Teheran's drive for regional hegemony, and enforce UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701 to stem weapons smuggling into Lebanon.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Don't know much about history...

Why Obama is wrong on Israel & the Shoah

On Friday, President Barack Obama placed a single white flower at the Buchenwald memorial for the estimated 43,000 people - among them 11,000 Jews - murdered at the concentration camp. In subdued tones, he said that the passage of time had not made the crematoria lose their horror. He spoke of his great uncle, who under Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had been among the camp's liberators. He recounted how Eisenhower had toured the camp so he could personally challenge anyone who might claim that the Allies had exaggerated the Nazi horrors for propaganda purposes.

This gave Obama another opportunity to declare that Holocaust denial is "baseless," "ignorant" and "hateful."

In his Cairo address the day before to the Muslim and Arab worlds, the president had justified Israel's right to exist on the basis of the Holocaust: "The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted," he said, "in a tragic history" that culminated in the Shoah.

At Buchenwald, he said: "The nation of Israel [arose] out of the destruction of the Holocaust."

That rationale, standing alone, set the stage for Obama to assert: "On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinians… have suffered in pursuit of a homeland."

BARACK OBAMA has been terribly misinformed if he thinks Israel's legitimacy hinges on the Shoah. Of course, had the Jews achieved a national homeland in Palestine before the outbreak of WWII - as Britain promised in the 1917 Balfour Declaration and as the League of Nations affirmed in 1920 - the doors to this country would not have been barred to Jewish refugees seeking to escape from the Nazi killing machine. History would have turned out very differently indeed.

What the Holocaust proved is that the world is too dangerous a place for Jews to be stateless and defenseless. But we Zionists were making that argument long before Hitler came to power.

Granted, modern political Zionism developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But the president needs to better appreciate that Israel's legitimacy is not dependent on the consequences of the war waged against the Jews between 1933 and 1945. It is, first and foremost, rooted in the historic connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.

The Zionist movement rejected Uganda as a safe haven in 1903, the need to save Jews from violent anti-Semitism notwithstanding, because Uganda did not belong to the Jews.

However one chooses to understand Jewish civilization - as sacred history, or through the modern lenses of secular history and archeology - the ancient bond between the Jews and their land is indisputable.

By 1000 BCE, the Twelve Tribes had formed a united monarchy. Then, when in 586 BCE the Jews were defeated and exiled, "By the rivers of Babylon... we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion." We returned and rebuilt our commonwealth - only to be defeated and exiled again, in 70 CE. As early as the 9th century, Jews had reestablished communities in Tiberias; and, in the 11th century, in Gaza.

SO YOU see, Mr. President, long before Christianity and Islam appeared on the world stage, the covenant between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel was entrenched and unwavering. Every day we prayed in our ancient tongue for our return to Zion. Every day, Mr. President. For 2,000 years.

At every Jewish wedding down through the centuries, the bridegroom has crushed a glass beneath his foot while declaring: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…"

Perhaps it's because Palestine was never sovereign under the Arabs that even moderate Palestinians cannot find it in their hearts to acknowledge the depth of the Jews' connection to Zion. Instead, they insist we are interlopers.

When Obama implies that Jewish rights are essentially predicated on the Holocaust - not once asserting they are far, far deeper and more ancient - he is dooming the prospects for peace.

For why should the Arabs reconcile themselves to the presence of a Jewish state, organic to the region, when the US president keeps insinuating that Israel was established to atone for Europe's crimes?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama's Cairo Speech as Seen from Jerusalem

Great expectations

It was with mixed feelings that we watched President Barack Obama deliver his extraordinary speech to the Muslim and Arab worlds in Cairo yesterday.

Critics will see the speech as incredibly naive. Yet it was also the most meaningful and coherent attempt by an American leader since 9/11 to dissociate the world's 1.5 billion Muslims from demagogic elites preaching worldwide jihad and hatred of non-believers.

It is not insignificant that Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden took the president's power to persuade seriously enough to try to preempt him by issuing fresh rants. It must have galled them to see hard-line imams and Muslim Brothers listening attentively in the audience. A Gallup Poll, taken before the speech, showed 25 percent of Egyptians approving of the US under Obama, compared to 6% under George W. Bush.

IN A city where Holocaust denial is part of the popular culture, it was good to hear Obama telling Muslims: "Six million Jews were killed," and saying otherwise is "ignorant, and hateful."

To no applause, he proclaimed: America's ties with Israel are "unbreakable."

However, elsewhere, Obama's moral equivalency was disconcerting. Undeniably, Palestinians have endured dislocation - but it would have been courageous of the president to say that much of this pain has been self-inflicted, thanks to 60 years of intransigence.

He was right to remind the Arab states that their peace initiative was only "an important beginning." And we were gratified when he insisted Hamas end its violence, recognize past agreements, and accept Israel's right to exist.

But we cringed when he associated the Palestinian struggle with the US civil rights movement and with the campaign for majority rule in South Africa - even if the punch-line of this false analogy was: Terrorism is always unjustifiable.

We were braced for his reiteration of long-standing US policy against the settlement enterprise. But he missed a crucial opportunity to prepare the Arabs for territorial compromise. No Israeli government is going to pull back to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines.

Obama didn't really need to tell Israelis to acknowledge "Palestine's" right to exist since every government since Yitzhak Rabin's has been explicit that the Jewish state does not want to rule over another people. The real question is whether a violently fragmented Palestinian polity is capable of making the necessary compromises required to close a deal.

BUT THIS speech was not largely about the Arab-Israel conflict. It was an effort to pursue public diplomacy and suasion - trying to decouple the susceptible Muslim masses from the demagogic extremists who now hold such sway. That is why the president was wise to travel first to Saudi Arabia, "where Islam began," and, just before his speech, to be seen deferentially touring a mosque in Cairo - the city from where the theology of worldwide jihad first spread its vicious tentacles.

The speech was brilliantly proleptic: first acknowledging Muslim grievances, then stating the American case. To the Israeli ear, the president sounded fawning, prefacing each mention of the Koran with "holy." But it was just the right tack given the task at hand. Similarly, as the president highlighted the epochs during which Islam was a force for enlightenment, we could not help but recall that even in that "Golden Age," Jews were still treated as a dhimmi people.

And yet, the president's harking back to periods of relative tolerance bolstered his call on today's Muslims to behave temperately. We also appreciated his defense of the region's Christian minority.

We swallowed hard as the president intoned that "Islam is not part of the problem" of worldwide terrorism. At the same time, we reminded ourselves that his goal was to convince ordinary Muslims to make this dubious statement reality.

On democracy, employing a lighter touch than his predecessor, Obama advocated for the right of all citizens everywhere to express themselves freely and to live under regimes that respect the rule of law.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei didn't wait long to digest the Obama speech before proclaiming that America remained "deeply hated" in the region, something that wasn't going to change because of "beautiful and sweet" words.

Who will be the first Muslim leader to tell the ayatollah he is wrong?
Shabbat shalom to all.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Obama & Israel .....

Cool it!

To illustrate the nadir to which America-Israel relations have sunk, one Hebrew-language tabloid revealed that when IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi travelled to Washington several weeks back to meet with US decision-makers about the worrisome speed with which Iran is moving toward a nuclear bomb, neither Secretary of Defense Robert Gates nor Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would make time to see him.

The trip, said the paper, ended in failure.

Shocking story - but not true. Ashkenazi's visit didn't take place weeks ago, but months ago. The general chose to cut his visit short to participate in urgent cabinet deliberations about Gilad Schalit. And he wasn't in the US on official business, but to attend a Friends of the IDF fund-raiser.

Then there was The New York Times report about Washington toying with letting Israel fend for itself against the UN's built-in Muslim and Arab majority, to pressure for a settlement freeze. On Tuesday, administration sources denied the story.

There are those in America and Israel who, albeit for differing reasons, think talking-up tension in the US-Israel relationship is a good idea.

For those who want to create a political environment conducive to forcing Israeli concessions, it makes sense to spotlight differences over settlements; which is also a convenient way to dissociate the pro-Israel community in America from Israeli government policies, since support for the settlement enterprise is hardly widespread.

That's why Monday's loutish behavior by the "hilltop youth" in Samaria who attacked Palestinians, torched fields and burned tires was a godsend to proponents of a settlement freeze. Such images strengthen the myth that all settlers are wild-eyed religious fanatics to whom violence is second nature.

Meanwhile, dovish American Jews, hankering for Obama to impose "peace," are promoting a story that has White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel purportedly telling an unnamed Jewish leader that no matter what, a Palestinian state will emerge in the next four years; and that if Israel wants action on Iran, it will have to withdraw from West Bank territory.

This account portrays the savvy Emanuel as not only petulant, but naive - as if the Palestinians have no role to play, and Israel alone will bear the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Playing up tensions with the Obama administration also serves the interests of Netanyahu's domestic opponents. One pundit wrote Tuesday that the US and Israel aren't heading for a collision - they've already crashed. Implication: All would be well if Tzipi Livni was premier.

Paradoxically, commentators on the Right are saying exactly the same thing: that Washington has launched an all-out diplomatic and media assault against Israel that's "worse than a crisis."

We ask them: What useful purpose does it serve to demonize so popular a president, or claim his policies are motivated by animus, when it's hard to discern where they differ substantively from those of his predecessors?

GOING into his Thursday reconciliation speech in Cairo addressed to the Arab and Muslim world, Obama has been signaling that he expects gestures from them to encourage Israeli reciprocity. To interviewers reveling in the perceived chasm between Israel and Washington, the president is saying that unlike the 24/7 news cycle, which feeds on crises, diplomacy requires patience. And as The New York Times reported yesterday, he wants to play down differences over settlements.

Obama is reportedly planning a major Washington policy address next month detailing his approach to Arab-Israel peacemaking. Those who want to manipulate the environment to Israel's detriment will continue to foster an ambiance of crisis. But those who want what's best for Israel should be working in the opposite direction.

Our government can create a better atmosphere by permanently dismantling unauthorized outposts; reiterating Israel's "no new settlements" policy, and rethinking the wisdom of refusing to endorse previous Israeli governments' policy on the two-state solution.

Can we ask Obama to honor understandings about settlement blocs reached by Israel with his predecessor when we are not honoring agreements his predecessor reached with us?

Once we have taken these steps, we can feel more comfortable about disagreeing with other Obama policies without seeming to be disagreeable.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

War Siren at 11 a.m.

Welcome to our reality

Say you live in any one of these cities: Oslo, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, London, Stockholm or Washington, and at 11 a.m. today the war siren goes off. You've been told it's just a drill - your city isn't being attacked by ballistic missiles or long-range rockets. Your country neither plans to attack anyone, nor is there intelligence indicating it is the target of imminent attack.

Still, the wailing siren - a curiously anachronistic instrument for the 21st century - is upsetting. You do as you're told and seek out a nearby bomb shelter, or enter the reinforced-concrete room common in homes built since the 1990s.

At work, there is some gallows humor as colleagues file into the bomb shelter. At school, your children will head into the shelters with their teachers. It may strike you that the authorities were imprudent in collecting for refurbishment those cardboard boxes with their plastic shoulder-straps containing gas masks and a chemical-warfare antidote.

Of course, if you do live in any of the above-mentioned capitals, this scenario is beyond far-fetched. There are no shelters. No safe rooms. No gas masks.

No one is threatening to wipe Sweden, Germany or Scotland - or any of the others - off the map. There are no Sajil II ballistic missiles aimed your way. Your country didn't absorb 5,000 rocket hits in the course of a single summer. It doesn't share a border with a country that deploys Scud D missiles. And the notion that missiles laden with WMDs could explode over your head is simply beyond imagination.

Though Muslim extremists struck in Spain, Britain and the United States, the sense that any further danger looms is not widespread. That's why no one undergoes a security check to enter a supermarket, department store or cinema. And why armed guards are not posted outside schools.

WE ISRAELIS live in a very different reality.

That truth was brought home in remarks Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made at Sunday's cabinet meeting regarding Turning Point 3 - the week-long nationwide emergency drill.

The exercise is "routine," something the country does annually, he said, adding that it "reflects the special way in which we lead our lives - which, upon reflection, is not all that routine."

Want to understand the Israeli psyche? Consider that when our country was born, those with whom we sought to share this land rejected our right to exist. Though we have created a technologically advanced, Western-oriented country, and made peace with Egypt and Jordan, our "normality" still demands that a high-school graduate head not to university or for a gap year, but to basic training.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s (when there were no settlements and no "occupation") our homeland was under attack anyway. A single example: On March 17, 1954, gunmen ambushed an Eilat-Tel Aviv commuter bus. First they murdered the driver, then they proceeded to shoot the passengers, one by one.

In the 1970s, we fought off a surprise attack on our most solemn holy day - after having withstood a war of attrition. In the 1980s, we fought bitter wars in Lebanon to fend off attacks against our northern border.

In the 1990s, we signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian leadership. And since then? More Israelis have been murdered by terrorists than ever before.

Efforts to reach an accommodation with a violently fragmented Palestinian polity have thus far proven fruitless. The "moderates" appear no less unyielding than the fanatics.

We caught the Syrians, to our north, building a clandestine nuclear facility under North Korean tutelage. They make no secret about hosting Hamas's politburo, pressuring it to resist even a tactical timeout in its anti-Israel belligerency.

Hizbullah dominates Lebanese affairs and provides Iran with shock-troops along our border.

Then there is Iran, which may have enriched enough uranium to manufacture a nuclear bomb by year's end. Even as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatens our obliteration, he insists that the Nazis did not systematically destroy European Jewry. Yet he is feted at UN forums, while Europeans shamelessly subsidize trade with his country.

That is our reality. It's the one many of us will be contemplating at 11 a.m. today, when the siren sounds.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Obama & Israel. The president takes the wrong approach

Paradigm shift

President Barack Obama says he doesn't have time to watch cable television news. We sure hope he hasn't given up reading The Washington Post, and that he made time for Jackson Diehl's remarkably illuminating column, "Abbas's Waiting Game" (May 29).

Diehl interviewed the Palestinian leader prior to his White House meeting with Obama on Thursday. The columnist, not a known Zionist apologist, labeled Mahmoud Abbas's thinking "hardline."

If the president wants to know why leaning on Israel while basically giving so-called moderate Palestinians a free ride won't advance peace, he'll find the answers in Diehl's column outlining Abbas's Five Noes: Would he negotiate with Binyamin Netanyahu without preconditions? No. Would he recognize Israel as a Jewish state? No. Would he consider territorial compromise? No. Would he compromise on refugees? No. Would he modify the Arab Peace Initiative to make it a more viable negotiating tool? Absolutely not.

Sitting next to Obama in the Oval Office, "Abu Mazen" sounded like a different man, telling reporters: "I believe that time is of the essence," and that talks with Israel needed to resume "right now."

But just the day before, Abbas told Diehl he had all the time in the world. He'll wait out Hamas (though his US-trained elite forces killed several of their gunmen in Kalkilya on Monday). He'll wait "for Israel to freeze settlements."

"Until then," Abbas candidly admitted, "in the West Bank we have a good reality... the people are living a normal life."

This from a man who claims that "time is of the essence."

Palestinian negotiators say there's no point in talking to Netanyahu because he does not want to discuss final status issues. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that when Abbas was negotiating precisely those issues with Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni in 2008, he refused to take yes for an answer and close a deal with them.

PALESTINIAN "moderates" say they'll wait patiently for Obama to force a collapse of the Netanyahu government allowing the supposedly more pliable Livni to become premier.

That's curious.

The Kadima government offered Abbas 97 percent of the West Bank (plus land swaps in Israel proper to make up the difference). Olmert was willing to concede on territory, refugees, even on Jerusalem.

Diehl: "[Abbas] confirmed that Olmert 'accepted the principle' of the 'right of return' of Palestinian refugees - something no previous Israeli prime minister had done - and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert's peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of [George W.] Bush or Bill Clinton..."

Not good enough, said Abbas.

Yet now he is pushing the idea - on a willing administration - that it is Netanyahu and the settlements that are the stumbling blocks to an agreement.

US policymakers have always opposed Israel's presence beyond the Green Line. Condoleezza Rice was here only last June complaining about settlements. Still, there's no denying the disturbing change in tone emanating from Washington, which is elevating the settlements issue to an importance which is disproportionate. It's being accompanied by a paradigm shift: pressing Israel while coddling the Palestinians.

This approach is destined to leave both Israelis and Palestinians embittered and no closer to resolving the conflict.

Final borders need to be negotiated. And when they are, all settlements on the "wrong" side of the line will be dismantled - just as they were when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. It would therefore be reasonable, in the interim, for Washington not to make an issue of modest levels of natural growth in these communities.

At the same time, a freeze within the strategic settlement blocs, including Jerusalem, that Israel intends to retain in any agreement is simply not on the agenda.

That said, the Israeli government needs to better articulate the fact that no new settlements are being authorized beyond the security barrier. And it needs to move with all deliberate speed to dismantle illegal outposts permanently.

When American decision-makers denigrate painful Israeli sacrifices - including disengagement; when they disregard the commitments of their predecessors, they are not fostering peace. Rather, they're giving mainstream Israelis cause to fear making further sacrifices.

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