Wednesday, December 30, 2009

George Mitchell on his way back to the region


[The mediator and the 'moderate']


Terms of reference

After 100 years of conflict, Arabs and Jews have seen peace envoys come and go; peace plans rise and fall. While these efforts have not always been driven by altruism, certainly America's are rooted in good intentions.

Obama administration peace envoy George Mitchell is now trying to coax the comparatively moderate Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table by offering customized "terms of reference" memos (TOR) for a way forward to him and Binyamin Netanyahu.

According to Arab press reports, Abbas wants to see the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative, the Oslo Accords, Road Map and Annapolis all cited in his TOR. And he wants negotiations to pick-up from Ehud Olmert's last offer - the one Abbas never bothered responding to.

Plainly, the TORs presented to the respective sides need to be harmonious, otherwise only an illusion of momentum is achieved, though some peace-processors argue that even mere talking is a desirable interim goal to calm a volatile atmosphere.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton essentially provided Israel with the TOR it needed back on November 25 when she stated: "We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

Thus the administration, after a year of driving down the wrong road, is now back to where the Bush II White House had constructively left matters - meaning that there can be no return to the 1949 Armistice Lines, and that agreement hinges on land swaps, on Israel's retention of strategic settlement blocs and on the Palestinians accepting the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.

Talks can resume as soon as Abbas drops his prerequisite demand for a total settlement freeze everywhere over the Green Line.

AN ADMINISTRATION that wants a breakthrough peace agreement in 2010 might also want to rethink its own terms of reference. Here are some suggestions:

• The less the US says about construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem the better. Palestinians know that Israel is not going to tear down Neveh Ya'akov, Pisgat Ze'ev, East Talpiot or Har Homa. They argue, however, that the bigger these neighborhoods get, the less space the Arabs will have after a peace deal. All the more reason, Mitchell should be telling Abbas, to hasten back to the bargaining table and stop behaving as if he had all the time in the world.

That said, we think it is unhelpful for Israel to create pocket Jewish neighborhoods with negligible security utility in built-up Arab sections of the capital. Not every Jewish right needs to be exercised.

• The administration has modified its initial fixation on settlement construction. Once the two sides agree on permanent boundaries, settlements on the "wrong" side of the border will be dismantled. Meantime, Israel has taken the extraordinary step of ordering a moratorium on new construction encompassing even the strategic settlement blocs.

The administration now needs to take on board that the settlement issue is a red-herring.

• Israelis do not want to see Iranian or al-Qaida camps popping up in the West Bank within walking distance of our major population centers. The sooner the administration incorporates the concept of a demilitarized "Palestine" into its peacemaking, the faster progress can be made.

A workable mechanism for Israeli and international oversight of crossing points between the West Bank and Jordan is equally essential.

• There can be no "right" of Palestinians refugees and their descendants to "return" to Israel proper. Palestinian demands for abandoned property reparations will be countered by the parallel demands by Jewish refugees and their descendants of Arab countries. The administration must tell Abbas to start preparing his people for this reality.

ONE FINAL suggested term of reference: The administration's Iran policy is the peacemaking lynchpin. The quicker the mullahs are defanged, and Hamas and Hizbullah deflated, the sooner moderate Arab elements may be willing to take chances for peace.

We applaud the president for speaking out personally Monday in support of the Iranian people protesting against the Khomeinist regime.

The more he leans on Iran, the closer the region gets to peace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Make it 1979 all over again



[The worst was yet to come. The late Shah]



What the leaders of the free world can do to support the people of Iran



Looking back from the perspective of more than three decades, the exile of the Shah of Iran and the country's fall to Islamist tyranny in 1979 was arguably the West's worst geo-strategic setback in the second half of the 20th century and doubly disastrous for Israel.

Those who had hankered for change on the grounds that anything would be an improvement over the Shah and his Savak secret police were mistaken. Once in power, the revolution began consuming its own.

A coalition of middle-class reformists, students, intellectuals, leftists and Muslim hard-liners had created an enormous populist movement that forced the cancer-ridden Shah from the throne. But the religious extremists, galvanized by their forbidding leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were the organizational backbone of the revolution. By intimidating, torturing or killing anyone who stood in their way, they solidified their grip on power.

Today, however, this Khomeinist regime has squandered its popularity and is the target of widespread bitterness, for its suppression of freedoms once tolerated and for stealing outright an anyway rigged presidential election. The core of the opposition comes from disenchanted Islamists and has spread like wildfire to other sectors.

As if to replicate the fall of the Shah, the opposition - though fragmented and lacking a clear plan - has exploited political and religious holidays to send masses of its supporters into the streets. Many now risk being openly photographed.

In response, the Khomeinists have fired at protesters in Teheran, even as the unrest has spread to Tabriz, Shiraz and elsewhere. Despite the regime's best censorship efforts, the world is watching a blood-and-fire uprising in the streets.

On Sunday, an adult nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was assassinated. He was among some 15 killed by Khomeinist forces as Shi'ite Muslims marked Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein - and is the source of the schism between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

When a Shi'ite government shoots Shi'ites on Ashura, its legitimacy has reached a nadir.

The widespread rioting indicates that regime transformation - if not the outright change many Westerners want - is within reach. The regular police are unable (sometimes unwilling) to stop the protesters.

But Khomeinist shock troops can be expected to do whatever it takes to retain power. Leading opposition figures have been picked up by the secret police. Since the bogus elections in June, at least 400 dissidents have been killed (some sadistically tortured) and over 50 people are missing.

Still, the authorities must be loath to defend "Islamic government" with an uninhibited slaughter of believers by the thousands.

IN SOLIDARITY with ordinary Iranians who are risking so much, the minimum leaders of freedom loving countries ought to do is keep their Teheran-based ambassadors home beyond the Christmas/New Year holidays.

Moreover, why should we not see one Western leader after another interrupt their own vacations to personally speak out in support of the Iranian people's campaign to transform their political system?

As we were going to press, US President Barack Obama was scheduled to interrupt his getaway in Hawaii to speak to reporters. We are hopeful he'll talk about Iran because he said this to the mullahs in his inaugural address: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Those fists are more hatefully clenched than ever.

Will Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama raise his voice for the Iranian protesters? France's Sarkozy? Britain's Brown? Germany's Merkel? Not their foreign ministers or spokesmen, but the leaders themselves.

This is also the time for Western countries to accelerate clandestine backing for separatist forces in Iran. Selig S. Harrison, a renowned regional expert, writing in The New York Times, called the Kurdish, Arab and Azeri desire for autonomy the greatest threat to the Persian elite.

Since this regime cannot be usefully engaged, it needs to be destabilized - from every possible direction.

The more the Iranian people believe the free world is behind them, the more willing they will be to stay in the streets - and the harder it will be for the Khomeinists to muster the nerve to crush their overwhelming sentiment for change.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nightmare for air travelers ...



Expect avoidable delays

Against the relentless menace of Islamist terrorism, Westerners need to find a middle ground between a state of permanent - and unsustainable - high-alert, and the reckless attitude of "What, me worry?"

The days when travelers could journey by air without fear of their planes being hijacked are history. So, too, are the days when Israeli authorities could reasonably think that removing security checkpoints in Judea and Samaria would have no fatal consequences.

First the West Bank: The security services are to be commended for an outstanding operation Saturday which liquidated three Fatah terrorists responsible for last Thursday's drive-by murder of Avshalom Chai, a 45-year-old kindergarten teacher and father of seven. One of Chai's killers had been released recently from an Israeli prison; another had promised to eschew terror in return for amnesty.

The killers were tracked to two dwellings in Nablus's Old City, part of a larger sector under Palestinian security control. The cell may have been Hizbullah-run, or overseen by extremist Fatah leaders, or may have acted autonomously. We know only that ballistic tests connected the three to the Chai shooting.

The European-funded advocacy group B'Tselem criticized Israel's failure to take the hardened terrorists alive. But from the data available, we believe that Israeli forces - operating for hours in a hostile environment - acted prudently. We note that B'Tselem did condemn the murder of Chai by reiterating its view that deliberate attacks against civilians are a war crime.

It's hard to know whether reinstating the roadblocks in the greater Nablus area, which the government recently removed at the behest of the Obama administration, will prevent future attacks against Israeli motorists in the northern West Bank. Checkpoints cause inconvenience to Palestinian commuters by extending journey times. But there is often no way to intercept terrorists without inconveniencing the general public - not on a northern West Bank road and not at international airports.

Those who defend freedom must make it hard for terrorists to disrupt the lives of innocents while minimizing the misery caused them in the process.

ONE way to reduce inconvenience and increase security at busy airports is by a greater use of profiling. Farouk Abdulmutallab should not have been free to try and blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with 289 people on board over Detroit on Christmas Day.

Profiling would likely have identified the 23-year-old engineering student as a potential Islamist terrorist; he would have been methodically searched and stopped at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

Abdulmutallab, the privileged son of a banker, got his US visa in London in 2008. Family members told The Daily Telegraph that the bomber had been radicalized while a student in Britain. To his credit, Abdulmutallab's father recently warned American consular officials in Lagos that his son posed a danger. The young man was then placed on a catch-all anti-terrorism database, but not on the "no fly" blacklist that would have prevented him from boarding any US-bound airliner.

Mercifully, an alert passenger subdued Abdulmutallab just as he was igniting his explosive device. Those responsible for security in Lagos (which he may have reached from Yemen) and in Amsterdam (where he changed planes for Detroit) need to explain how they let him get on an airliner with a concealed syringe and the crystalline high explosive, pentaerythritol, sown into his underwear, reportedly, in a condom.

IN response to the Abdulmutallab affair, US and European authorities are initiating more stringent and time-consuming searches of all passengers. Absurdly, travelers headed for the US may be required to remain seated during the final hour of their flights - no toilet - and will not be allowed to keep anything on their laps.

Rather than adding profiling to security procedures, thereby identifying possible Islamist terrorists - protecting the rights of the many while infringing minimally on the rights of the very few - all passengers will be subjected to unnecessary, sometimes painful, inconvenience.

The alternative to profiling is requiring all passengers to go through whole-body imaging scanners that can reveal objects beneath a person's clothes. But these devices are pricy and raise all sorts of civil liberties issues.

Unless Western decisionmakers reverse course, their adamant and misguided refusal to utilize profiling will senselessly subject millions of air passengers to a form of collective punishment.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Does Kadima deserve to live?



[Profound ideological differences...not]


Netanyahu tries to throw a party


Hearken back to the great ideological divisions of the Zionist movement: Weizmann versus Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion versus Begin, Mapai versus Herut.

In stark contrast, the waning days of "the Naughties" will be remembered for Binyamin Netanyahu's thwarted machinations to entice Kadima Knesset members to quit their party and join his government - not out of principle, but for patronage.

While Israelis worried that Netanyahu was exhausting himself grappling with the emotionally draining Gilad Schalit affair (he kept rushing home to rest and take medication for a sore throat), it turned out he had the energy to oversee the final moves in a months-long behind-the-scenes scheme to dismantle Kadima by luring at least seven of its 28 legislators into joining his coalition. He offered cars, offices, budgets, even a golden parachute to nervous defectors.

The late Yitzhak Rabin similarly enticed Tsomet Knesset members Gonen Segev, Esther Salmovitz and Alex Goldfarb to defect his way in 1995. Their support proved critical in passing the Oslo II accords 61-59. Rabin's scheming ultimately shattered Tsomet, but at least he was inspired by principle - an ill-fated quest to make peace with Yasser Arafat.

In contrast, Netanyahu's desire to splinter Kadima involved no discernible matter of principle, merely a desire to widen his political base and a goodly measure of revenge.

Tzipi Livni put her interests first in March 2009, by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led government which could have been stable, centrist and reformist. Instead, she forced him to cobble together a coalition that depends on the Orthodox parties, thereby stymieing desperately needed electoral reform, a gateway to solving a range of systemic problems plaguing the political system. Livni haughtily predicted Netanyahu's government would fall within a year and deported herself as the premier-in-waiting. Meantime, she alienated many in her own Knesset faction.

YESTERDAY, Netanyahu finally held an oft-delayed meeting with Livni on national security issues and, citing "the security situation," unexpectedly invited Kadima to join a national unity government. Livni is suspiciously mulling the offer.

By raiding her party, Netanyahu was demonstrating that his grip on power was as solid as her's was shaky. Though he didn't gain any Kadima defectors, he did expose the party's fragile political condition. Under these circumstances, Livni's influence in a Netanyahu government would now be limited.

Even without an assist from Netanyahu, it had become increasingly clear that Livni's flash-in-the-pan popularity was not going to translate into political substance. She and her No. 2, Shaul Mofaz, despise each other. They waited until this week's defection crisis before meeting yesterday to discuss a way forward, but still could not agree. Neither appears to place the interests of Kadima at the top of their agenda, though a split will strengthen neither.

WHATEVER else Netanyahu's gamesmanship foreshadows, it is testament to the end of ideology in Israeli politics. There are few philosophical differences between Netanyahu, Labor's Ehud Barak and Livni. It's all personal. They and their "lean and hungry" understudies agree on just about everything, from how to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians (assuming Israel had a peace partner) to the fundamentals of domestic economic policy.

This realignment of the body politic is, alas, unaccompanied by a mechanism to implement the will it reflects.

AMIDST all of this week's plotting and maneuvering, there is a larger good at stake.

Netanyahu has dragged the Likud kicking and screaming to the political center, sometimes employing methods not found in Roberts Rules of Order. The possibility that his party could yet be hijacked by the radical Feiglin camp cannot be ruled out. Labor, meanwhile, is moribund.

That's why it is essential there to be a viable "third way" party to serve as a potential vehicle for progress and reform. Kadima garnered the most votes in the last two elections. It still harbors a Sharon-esque sentiment for pragmatism that's worth salvaging. Were Livni and Mofaz to knock each other out, perhaps a consensus-building viable new leader would emerge.

The end of ideology should have meant an end to pointless polarization, not an end to principle. The Left cannot promise "peace now" and the Right cannot realistically preserve "Greater Israel."

Ariel Sharon's Kadima established an alternative view to such false either/or political choices - one that's now embraced by the four largest parties in the Knesset.

Despite its failings, Kadima and its legacy are worth preserving.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pushing lovers of liberty to their limits



[One mullah left the Dark Side.]



A gesture for Montazeri

In the era before cable and satellite television, the news programs on America's three commercial broadcast networks carried a great deal more influence than today. Perhaps that is now beginning to change.

Veteran journalist Diane Sawyer marked her 64th birthday on Tuesday by debuting as anchor of the still popular ABC TV evening newscast. Her first coup - an interview conducted in Copenhagen on Friday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Trying to sway American public opinion is plainly important to him. Luckily, he's no master of public relations. Ahmadinejad gets bogged down in polemic and circumlocution when a straight answer would serve him better.

On sanctions - he said bring it on; I don't like being threatened while simultaneously being invited to negotiate.

He rejected a Times of London report, datelined Washington, which claimed Iran is testing a nuclear triggering device as "fundamentally not true." The story was based on "fabricated" papers "disseminated by the American government."

Ahmadinejad's message is that there is no Iranian bomb in the works. He told a home audience that if there was one he'd be "brave enough" to say so.

And when Sawyer asked point-blank: "Will you say to the American people, tonight, that Iran will never weaponize nuclear material?" Ahmadinejad replied: "We have got a saying Iran which says 'how many times shall I repeat the same thing?' You should say something only once. We have said once that we don't want nuclear bomb. We don't accept it."

Reassured? Neither are we.

Was he concerned that his bellicosity, his flouting of Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency rebukes might prompt some country - or countries - to launch a military strike?

Ahmadinejad put on his best Dirty Harry expression: "We don't welcome confrontation, but we don't surrender to bullying either."

Asked about three youthful American adventurers who foolishly strayed into the Islamic Republic from the Kurdish region of Iraq and have been imprisoned, Ahmadinejad insinuated they were spies. When Sawyer said their parents were desperate to contact them, Ahmadinejad offered this non-sequitur: There are 3.5 million prisoners in America.

BACK IN Iran, the death, at 87, of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri - a founding father of the Islamic Republic, who crafted its judiciary system - has galvanized dissident politicians and clerics.

Montazeri's funeral in Qom on Monday brought out tens of thousands of frenzied mourners chanting "God is Great!" When a tepid letter of condolence from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was read, the crowd roared: "Dictator, this is your last message: The people of Iran are rising!"

May it be so.

Let's not fool ourselves; the Iranian opposition is not Western-oriented and certainly not agnostic on Israel. Still, it is significant that former presidential hopefuls Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, along with former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani, have all latched onto Montazeri as a symbol.

Long ago, the revered cleric broke with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini over the regime's murderous brutality. Recently, Montazeri challenged a basic Iranian myth by calling the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Teheran "mistaken." Significantly, he issued a fatwa against investing in a nuclear bomb. After the contested elections in June, he called for the release of all political prisoners. He courageously criticized the post-election executions carried out by the regime as an affront to Islam.

Unfortunately, for those of us who'd like to see regime change, the opposition is not yet a cohesive movement and has no concrete strategy. Its limited goals are to overturn the rigged elections and increase freedom of expression.

MEANWHILE, Western leaders are arriving, glacially, at the realization that Iran's duplicitous determination to manufacture nuclear weapons - and perfect the means to deliver them - is not going to be reversed by diplomacy. The Chinese and Russians are likely to enfeeble any effort at a robust sanctions regime; Germany and Italy will find it hard to reduce their dependency on Iranian lucre.

But there is something that's doable right now and doesn't require financial sacrifice or very much diplomatic daring: To signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Is that too much to ask in honor of Montazeri's memory?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Schalit Case: Between Emotional Blackmail & a Heavy Heart



Fateful decision

A portentous decision on whether to trade Gilad Schalit - who has been in Hamas captivity for an excruciating 1,275 days - for a thousand imprisoned Arab terrorists is now being finalized. The raw anguish of Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva, has been imprinted on the Israeli consciousness since their son fell into enemy hands on June 25, 2006.

Our hearts tell us to pay Hamas's price.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his top ministers, however, have the terrifying responsibility of acting with both their hearts and minds. Their deliberations cut to the essence of what it means to be Israeli.

Israelis do not want a second Ron Arad affair; Gilad is now so close to freedom, he's virtually touchable. For him to slip away now would be devastating.

Paying Hamas's price, though, would constitute a second "Jibril Deal." That 1983 prisoner swap with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine saw 1,150 Arabs exchanged for three Israeli soldiers. One of those Arabs was Ahmed Yassin; others would become his lieutenants. Together they created Hamas.

There are doubtlessly men of Yassin's "caliber" among the 1,000 Hamas seeks. After his release, Yassin was re-arrested, only to be released in 1997 by Binyamin Netanyahu - during his first term as premier - in yet another prisoner exchange.

Beyond the moral bankruptcy of rewarding past evil, with history as our guide - and with heavy hearts - we assert that Israelis will die if the government obtains Gilad's freedom by acting only with its heart.

Things were not supposed to get this far. Days after our Gilad was taken, Hamas demanded the 1,000 prisoners. Ehud Olmert responded: "We won't let anyone believe that kidnapping is a tool to bring Israel to its knees." Privately, however, the then-premier gave Egypt the green light to commence bargaining. Those talks are culminating now under Netanyahu.

Israel concurrently tried pressuring Hamas. The IDF quickly rounded up 64 Hamas "parliamentarians" in the West Bank; it launched Operation Summer Rains sending tanks and commandos into Gaza in search of Gilad. (When this affair is over, Israelis deserve to know why a soldier held within driving distance of the Ministry of Defense could not be rescued.)

By early July 2006, dozens of Palestinian gunmen had been killed, others taken prisoner, to exact a price for Schalit's continued captivity. Israel temporarily re-took parts of Gaza - for the first time since the 2005 disengagement. Hamas absorbed these blows and responded with intensified shelling against Sderot and Ashkelon.

Relentless Hamas rocket attacks ultimately led to Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. All in all, since Schalit was taken, Hamas's recklessness has cost the lives of well over a thousand Palestinians and left a trail of devastation in Gaza. Yet Hamas remained steadfast in its demands certain that Israel would ultimately capitulate. Indeed, within days of Schalit's capture, then-internal security minister Avi Dichter said publicly what Hamas wanted to hear: that Palestinian prisoners should be released for Schalit's freedom.

NOW, Israelis will be assured that the most lethal of the freed prisoners will be confined to Gaza or exiled abroad; as if there is no two-way traffic in Gaza's tunnels.

And with the absolute sincerity of an alcoholic having one final drink before going cold turkey, the government will assert that the Schalit deal will be Israel's last lop-sided prisoner exchange.

A deal will buttress what Palestinians already believe, that Israelis understand only force. Tomorrow's Palestinian leaders, therefore, will be that much more obdurate. It will become still harder for a credible Palestinian leader - no matter how ostensibly moderate - to abjure violence.

Stopping on a dime will mean that the pundits and politicians who orchestrated the campaign that took matters this far will have some explaining to do. If Netanyahu does pull back, it will be because Israelis were bluffing ourselves as much as we were bluffing Hamas.

A "no" now would take Hamas down a peg. Netanyahu could directly address the Islamists' disappointed constituents, emphasizing that meeting Hamas's rapacious demands would have dishonored him and caused Israel to lose face. Palestinians will understand that. So will Israelis.

He should frankly acknowledge that he was ready for an honorable deal. Indeed, he must stress that he remains ready for an honorable deal.

THE HARROWING ordeal of Gilad's selfless parents touches us all. Their son has become our son.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu must reverse course. The killers should remain incarcerated; if they don't, more Israelis will surely die.

####

A new survey that came across my desk this morning conducted jointly by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, between December 9-15, 2009 found that a slim majority (52%) believes Israel should pay almost any price to return prisoners of war. I thought the figure would have been much higher. Interesting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A new poll offers insights into what Palestinians most want




[Another grueling day of 'the occupation.' Pre-Christmas shopping in Ramallah.]



The great disconnect



As Israelis continue to brawl over a settlement construction moratorium that Western powers denigrate as insufficient and Palestinians dismiss as worthless, the West Bank's Palestinian Arab population has reason to feel contented.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has told Western media outlets that the West Bank economy is experiencing an upswing, and that next year could see double-digit growth.

Some 47,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel or in Israeli enterprises within the West Bank. About 1,500 VIP business people (selected by the PA) have the right to cross between Israel and the West Bank at any time. Arab citizens of Israel have been encouraged to resume commerce with their West Bank brethren. Crossing points have been upgraded; crossing hours between the West Bank and Jordan have been expanded.

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works.

Four EU-funded electrical substations are on the drawing boards. A second Palestinian cellular phone company is now online. People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

HAS THE relative prosperity of West Bankers made them more inclined to compromise with Israel? Not really.

The latest survey of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headed by Khalil Shikaki, found that most Palestinians would not mind if Abbas retired; they think his talk of doing so is mere posturing.

Sixty-one percent of Palestinians say that Fatah and Hamas are jointly responsible for the continued split within the Palestinian polity. Reuniting the West Bank with Gaza is the Palestinians' top priority, with most saying this goal is more important than maintaining the cease-fire with Israel.

At the same time, if elections were held today, Abbas would receive the support of 54% of the Palestinian electorate compared to Ismail Haniyeh's 38%. Haniyeh's overall popularity among Gazans stands at 43% - not much lower than President Barack Obama's among Americans (49%).

But roughly 40% of eligible voters say - given a choice between Haniyeh and Abbas - they'd stay home.

What if younger blood were injected in the race? What if the man Yasser Arafat entrusted with running Fatah's terror campaign under the Tanzim brand were the moderates' standard bearer? Answer: Marwan Barghouti would take 67% of the ballots compared to 28% for Ismail Haniyeh - while participation would shoot up to 73%.

Were parliamentary elections held today, Fatah would garner 43% versus 27% for Hamas. Broken down by region, Fatah would win 41% of the West Bank and 46% of Gaza; Hamas would capture 23% of the West Bank and 34% in the Strip.

Most illuminating is the rating personal/family safety and security get. In the West Bank the comfort level is 63% (up from 58% four months ago). In the Gaza Strip, 65% of respondents said they felt safe and secure (compared to 63% four months ago).

This comfort level relates not to the economy, but to an end of the Hobbesian lawlessness that prevailed as a result of the second intifada. Gazans are as grateful to Hamas as West Bankers are to Fatah for returning normalcy to their lives - though Gazans acknowledge they have paid a greater human-rights price for their calm.

FROM AN Israeli viewpoint, the heartbreak is that despite a massive investment of resources by the EU and US, accompanied by essential Israeli cooperation, the relatively well-off West Bankers hanker after the imprisoned Barghouti, partly because he refuses to rule out a third paroxysm of violence.

The core attitudes of West Bankers and comparatively deprived Gazans are not poles apart, with so many believing that violence pays. Economic well-being, then, does not obviate political frustration.

Tragically, Palestinian "moderates" are doing precious little to lessen the dissatisfaction of their people, because they have failed to candidly discuss the compromises necessary to achieve viable aspirations.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Orthodoxy's larger communal responsibility1



[The Chief. A reasonable man with an intransigent streak?]


'E' versus JFS


When the British noblemen and ladies formerly known as Law Lords became justices of the Supreme Court, they abandoned the trappings of formality such as wigs and robes. Thus Lord Phillips, president of the court, was bareheaded and attired in a business suit when he delivered Wednesday's historic decision that London's eminent Jews' Free School, known as JFS, could no longer use Orthodox criteria of Jewish identity as the basis for its admissions policies.

The ruling came as an expensive blow to the British Orthodox establishment headed by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks.

The case involved a 13-year-old boy known as "M" (for purposes of confidentiality) who was refused a place in the oversubscribed faith school because his mother had been converted by a non-Orthodox beit din. The conversion is recognized by Masorti, Reform and Liberals; the father davens in a Masorti shul. Sacks, however, ruled the boy was not halachicly Jewish, and thus not entitled to JFS admission. M's father repeatedly appealed Sacks's ruling, leading, ultimately, to this week's court decision.

Sacks had previously also blocked the admission of a child whose mother had undergone conversion by Israel's Orthodox rabbinate on the grounds that the family had not subsequently led an Orthodox lifestyle.

The losing side has tried to console itself by claiming the 5-4 decision was made by the "narrowest of margins." But a perusal of the 90-page judgment suggests that two of the dissenting justices nevertheless expressed discomfort with JFS policy. Indeed, most of the 13 jurists who have examined the facts and law of the case since it began have sided with M over JFS.

The court did not welcome being asked to resolve this intramural dispute. Still, in setting forth its respectful decision, Lord Phillips explained that the boy had been excluded from the school because of the requirements of "the Orthodox Jewish religion." That led the court to conclude: "One thing is clear about the matrilineal test; it is a test of ethnic origin… by definition, discrimination… on racial grounds."

We can understand that from the court's perspective, admissions policies may not be based on either matrilineal or patrilineal descent. But Judaism is indeed passed down from one's parents. And Jews are a people whose members are not exclusively an ethnic group and not solely followers of a faith system.

THE QUESTION of "who is a Jew" has vexed the Jewish world ever since the Enlightenment, when remaining within the fold became a matter of personal choice.

Clearly, Jewish affiliation cannot reasonably be rooted in a slack identity that demands scant commitment or conflates Judaism with the popular causes of the day; nor can affiliation be meaningful if it is based exclusively on biology.

Mainstream Judaism does not accept that observance of Jewish rituals and a profession of Jewish beliefs alone makes one a Jew. Judaism asks for more.

As Jewish civilization hopefully pursues a golden mean to the identity conundrum, it is unfortunate that Sacks and his dayanim painted M's family into corner, forcing them to seek a solution in the British courts. Could not a more humane and politic alternative have been found?

The court's decision is, however, not the end of the world. Starting with the 2011/12 academic year, Jewish schools (whether they receive state aid or not) will employ admissions guidelines based on religious practice, not ethnicity. The children of converts from the various streams will have access to a Jewish education. We trust those with tenuous halachic ties will be inspired by their learning to find appropriate channels to strengthen their Jewish affiliation. Paradoxically, Britain's ultra-Orthodox schools will feel no impact; they have always insisted on a particular faith lifestyle as a prerequisite for admission.

THE LARGER lesson here is that when Orthodoxy is accepted by the state as the authorized expression of Judaism, it ought to exhibit greater humility and tolerance toward other Jews - whether over the interment of a Masorti boy within a Spanish Jewish cemetery, or over sharing religious space at the Western Wall plaza.

The Orthodox have every right to set standards for their stream, but when their clergy are called upon to act in a fiduciary capacity for the entire community, they need to show greater forbearance and love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Close your eyes & think of England

We're all Tzipi Livni

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband have been sitting on their hands rather than push through legislation that would make it impractical for anti-Zionist campaigners to conduct "lawfare" against visiting Israeli officials.

The latest episode in which, to paraphrase Karl von Clausewitz, law is used as the continuation of war by other means, involved the threat to arrest former foreign minister Tzipi Livni on the nonsensical charge that she committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. According to yesterday's Guardian, a British court issued the arrest warrant this week only to withdraw it when it turned out that Livni - apparently forewarned - canceled her visit.

Israel's enemies still come away with a propaganda victory because reports that a high-ranking Israeli was accused of such heinous charges chip away at Israel's legitimacy. Note that al-Jazeera on Monday headlined the Livni warrant story instead of immediately going live to Gaza for Hamas's anniversary rally.

The British legal system adheres to "universal jurisdiction" in the matter of war crimes. A magistrates' court need only be convinced to issue a warrant - based on claims by advocacy groups supporting the Palestinian Arab cause - for an Israeli official to be taken into custody for events that had nothing to do with Britain.

In September, Defense Minister Barak was about to be served with a warrant when the Brown government intervened with the court, citing immunity for officials carrying out their diplomatic duties. But Livni might have been exposed to arrest because, unable to schedule a meeting with Brown, her visit to address the Jewish National Fund could have been construed as private.

Pro-Palestinian groups have been engaging in lawfare since 2005, when Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog, former OC Southern Command, barely avoided being served with a warrant by remaining on his El Al plane at Heathrow. Unfortunately, he was forced to scrap his mission - to raise funds for adults with autism. There has been a succession of similar attempts against other IDF officers from Aviv Kochavi and Geva Rapp to Moshe Ya'alon; former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter was also a target.

Those who seek to humiliate the Jewish state mockingly assert that Israel led the way on universal jurisdiction by bringing Eichmann to justice.

PLAINLY, Britain so closely identifies with the Arab position on borders, settlements and Jerusalem that it no longer even feigns diplomatic evenhandedness. For the Foreign Office, the West Bank is simply the "Occupied Palestinian Territories." British officialdom reacted to Livni's near-arrest by releasing the mealy-mouthed statement: "The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East, and to be a strategic partner of Israel. To do this, Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British Government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case."

What a perfect example of a bunch of words strung together devoid of substance.

The Brown-Miliband government - sadly with the acquiescence of some elements within the British Jewish establishment - has also been promoting a boycott of goods produced over the Green Line on the grounds that a Jewish presence anywhere beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines is illegal. The decision, according to the British Zionist Federation, was instigated by Oxfam (which you might have thought was a nonpartisan charity) and the EU-funded "War on Want."

Too bad London prefers a boycott to a negotiated agreement on permanent boundaries which would equitably resolve the settlement issue. Moreover, Sweden's recently failed effort to have the EU leap-frog negotiations between the parties by preemptively recognizing Palestinian claims to all of east Jerusalem was also strongly backed by the Brown-Miliband government.

Brown twice promised to propose legislation that would hamper lawfare by requiring Her Majesty's Attorney General for England and Wales to approve the issuance of any war crimes warrant.

Some suggest Brown and Miliband have purposefully not fulfilled this promise to chastise Israel. Others say they simply lack the political capital to face down their own rabidly pro-Palestinian backbenchers and - just months before national elections - do not want to be dependent on the Tories to pass a law.

Whatever the explanation, this has not been Britain's finest hour.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spawn of Ahmad Yassin

Hamas at 22


Time flies when you're spilling blood. Has it really been 22 years since Hamas was established in Gaza as an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood by Sheik Ahmad Yassin?

Tens of thousands of Palestinians packed a Gaza City square yesterday to mark the anniversary and heard Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh pledge, from behind a podium decorated daintily with orange, white and red flowers, that Hamas would never make peace with Israel.

Propagandists for the Palestinian cause are wont to refer to the territory as "an open-air prison for its 1.4 million residents." In truth, it's more a working model of what a Hamas-led Palestine would look like.

Granted there is plenty of desperation and misery in Gaza - much of it self-inflicted. Women may not be seen astride motorcycles. Couples strolling along the beach have been stopped by police and asked to produce proof of marriage. The freedom of Palestinian journalists to write critically about Hamas is limited, otherwise they might expose the campaign of abductions, unlawful killings, torture, and death threats against critics of the regime.

Hamas considers all of "Palestine" an Islamic trust and itself in a permanent state of war with the Jews. Beginning with the 2005 disengagement and dramatically intensifying after Hamas's takeover of the Strip from Fatah in 2007, Israel has maintained a blockade.

Concrete and steel are embargoed - Hamas would use these for military purposes. But Israel does allow a constant flow of humanitarian goods to go in; 698 trucks last week - not counting a special convoy containing books and stationery donated by Qatar. Unlike prevailing conditions in some Organization of the Islamic Conference states, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Still, as long as Hamas chooses war with Israel, we'd prefer that Gaza's civilian needs be met via its border with Egypt.

ALL IN all, it has been a decent year for Hamas. Much of its leadership survived Operation Cast Lead by hiding in hospital basements. It did not find it too hard to replace tons of lost weapons - via smuggling tunnels beneath the Philadelphi Corridor - and reconstitute its cadre of commanders. In fact, it now has missiles that can strike Tel Aviv.

Egypt is plainly unable - perhaps unwilling - to stop the smuggling despite advanced equipment and training provided by the US.

Hamas also managed to keep Gilad Schalit's whereabouts secret from IDF intelligence for yet another year. And it continued to brainwash Palestinian children to hate.

The military setbacks suffered by Hamas during Operation Cast Lead were more than offset by a cornucopia of diplomatic benefits thanks to the Goldstone Report and post-war media coverage which accepted Palestinian assertions that most of the war's casualties were civilians and that Israel's use of force against Hamas was "disproportionate" and immoral.

Hamas continues to receive strong military backing from Teheran. On Sunday, its Damascus-based politburo chief, Khaled Mashaal, was hosted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He urged Hamas not to go wobbly on Israel.

He needn't worry. It is unlikely that Hamas will experience a metamorphosis in 2010 and agree to end terrorism, accept Israel's right to exist and embrace the agreements ratified by the Palestinian Authority.

That is too bad. Because divided between Fatah and Hamas, the Palestinian polity is immobilized. The idea that Mahmoud Abbas will find the courage for genuine give and take at the negotiating table while Hamas breathes down his neck is risible. And if the Netanyahu government assents to a lop-sided prisoner release, Hamas's strength and Fatah's weakness will become even more pronounced.

Given that Israel is not prepared to seize the Gaza Strip from Hamas's clutches and that neither Palestinian elections nor a Palestinian unity government would solve the Hamas problem; and that moreover, Hamas in contrast to Fatah offers coherence and discipline, Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Middle East Center wonders if perhaps Israel should not explore a Machiavellian modus vivendi with the Islamists.

It is an approach some Israeli strategists, including ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, would be prepared to consider… if only Hamas would stop reminding us - as Haniyeh did at yesterday's rally - that "the liberation of the Strip is just a step to liberating all of Palestine."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Just War Theory & Flirting with Treason

[Obama in Oslo. A disturbing aside about Israel.]



The real price tag


The motive behind the torching of a West Bank mosque early Friday morning was, as the graffiti left behind attested, "To exact a price."

But the vandals who targeted the house of worship in Yasuf struck simultaneously at the sovereign authority of the state. The Netanyahu government's imperfections notwithstanding, the establishment of the Third Commonwealth in 1948 created an overarching Zionist authority. Those who reject it and turn to violence are flirting with treason.

The assailants took it upon themselves to decide when and under what circumstances "the Arabs won't have quiet." To our fanatics, not only do the ends justify the means, but we suspect the means deliver a sick sense of primitive gratification. They have no compunctions about igniting a third intifada - or worse - in order to derail the settlement freeze. Their apocalyptic theology and political hubris tempts them to force the hand of God.

They are men without doubts.

As you would expect, Israeli politicians and clergy from across the political spectrum, including settler leaders, have denounced the attack. Yesterday, a group of religious kibbutz movement rabbis sought to reach the scene of the outrage to express remorse, as did middle-of-the-road settlers from Efrat.

Yet there were also those who either refused to condemn the attack or did so with the kind of equivocation and verbal acrobatics we've come to expect from Palestinian "moderates" reacting to attacks on Jews.

We want to hear more settler leaders and rabbis say - plainly, explicitly and without prevarication - that the Yasuf attack, and the perfidious disregard it symbolizes for the authority of Israel's democratic government, is despicable. Let settler spiritual leaders acknowledge that such vandalism amounts to a desecration of God's name and ostracize those who propagate ideas that encourage such behavior.

IT'S A safe bet that those who perpetuated the mosque attack have little tolerance for anything US President Barack Obama says or does. They've written him off as an enemy of Israel, and the members of Israel's security cabinet as his stooges. The mosque assailants were probably savoring - clandestinely - their moment in the limelight as Obama was delivering his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo's City Hall on Friday.

An eloquent address by an eloquent man is easily taken for granted. It was delivered just as Israelis were ushering in Shabbat, so not many here heard the president outline his worldview. That's too bad, because the speech grappled with how a country can wield power without being corrupted by it; how human behavior can be elevated while accepting the reality of human nature.

Obama drew no applause when he declared that evil was real and pacifism was not the way to confront it. He resurrected a Kennedy-esque Democratic defense of the use of force, making no apologies for US behavior.

He declared that Islam had been defiled by those who kill innocents in the name of God. Adding, "No Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint."

We found ourselves thinking how tragic it would be if Jews fell into the trap that has ensnared Muslims and if ours became a mirror image of violence-ridden Palestinian society.

Obama took his European audience to task for

rejecting the use of force under virtually any circumstances. He discussed the theory of just war, summarizing it as "waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence."

Except for the doctrine of proportionality, which may make sense for a global superpower but could bleed our small country to death, the other principles seem worthy. He also said that America reserved the right to act unilaterally - also a tenet of Israel's security doctrine.

We were discomfited by the president's oblique implication, in referencing the Arab-Israel conflict, that Jews and Arabs fell back in the same manner on "tribe" and "religion" in confronting modernity. That's patently not true.

Yet every time extremist settlers behave badly, the real price tag is that it becomes harder to make the case that the Jewish state is a beacon of enlightenment in a benighted Middle East.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Settlement freeze & dissent


False altars

[The interior of a mosque in Samaria said to have been desecrated Thursday night by radical settlers "to exact a price" for the moratorium. Madness]


Thursday's main headline in The Jerusalem Post captured some of the best news of the week: "Thousands rally peaceably against building freeze."

Some 30,000 demonstrators, many of them young people, turned out on a chilly evening near the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem to protest the security cabinet's November 25 moratorium on new settlement construction.

The assembly was a celebration of democracy. There was neither incitement nor violence. It could easily have been otherwise. Fortunately, as our Herb Keinon wrote yesterday, the Yesha Council leadership recognized that a rancorous demonstration - with depictions of Binyamin Netanyahu wearing a keffiyeh or an SS uniform - would alienate the majority of Israelis.

National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari did cross the line when he asserted, "If there is a people that has to be evacuated and should not be here, it is not the Jewish people." It was a clever sound bite, but a tactically unwise and morally untenable argument.

We much more respect the tone set by Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel who addressed the premier from the podium: "We worked together for 18 years. And for 18 years you instructed me to build the land. Do not change your path today. We will be by your side to help you withstand American pressure."

This newspaper has questioned the value of a settlement freeze that is so wide as to include strategic settlement blocs such as Ma'aleh Adumim, yet is barely appreciated in Washington and has been utterly dismissed by the Arabs. MK Arye Eldad (National Union) was correct when he told the crowd that the freeze could potentially lead to a disengagement from much of the West Bank. Thus a moratorium which includes areas Israel intends to retain under a permanent accord sends highly problematic signals.

Of course, the main obstacles to the emergence of a demilitarized Palestinian state are the Palestinians themselves. Fatah's ineffective and intransigent "moderates" refuse good faith bargaining; Hamas's ruthless rejectionists seek permanent "armed struggle."

LEADING UP to Thursday's rally, we've been deeply troubled by the claim of settler leaders that their grievances take precedence over the decisions of Israel's security cabinet. Yesha Council head Danny Dayan urged his constituents to forcibly prevent inspectors with stop-work orders from entering settlements. He labeled the government decision "illegitimate" and a "White Paper" - a crass reference to the betrayal by British Mandate authorities of the Balfour Declaration.

Sure enough, there have been clashes up and down the West Bank between settlers - including high-school girls - and authorities. Radical settlers have even sought to "exact a price" by igniting Palestinian violence; others reportedly slashed tires on a quiet Jerusalem street.

The atmosphere of intimidation reached such levels that the IDF reportedly suspended training exercises because it needed personnel to assist the civil administration.

Radical settler Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, of the Har Bracha hesder yeshiva pre-army academy, instructed national-religious recruits to disobey orders that run contrary to the Land of Israel ethos. Though his institution is funded by the Defense Ministry (and Diaspora donors), Melamed let it be known that government officials would have to come to his mountain if they wanted to parlay; he would not come down to them.

In contrast, Rabbi Haim Druckman, another leading hesder rabbi, has written against exploiting the army to make political capital.

The establishment of the state means that competing centers of authority cannot be tolerated. There can be no false altars.

Settler leaders are being disingenuous if they think they can turn to the High Court of Justice, appeal to public opinion and lobby members of Knesset yet retain the "right" to violently confront the state if they don't get their way.

WHILE INSISTING settlers work within the law, we are not oblivious to the often dysfunctional nature of Israel's political system or the possibility of individual corruption. That is why we support Wednesday's Knesset vote to expedite legislative consideration of a bill that would require a national referendum prior to any withdrawals from the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. Consideration might be given to a similar requirement for substantial withdrawals in Judea and Samaria as well.

In this way, decisions about Israel's permanent boarders would benefit from the unassailable legitimacy of the body politic. For now, however, the security cabinet's settlement freeze decision deserves the absolute allegiance of the governed.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The place of Jewish Law in Contemporary Israel


Justice and Halacha

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman must have been thinking out loud when he told a legal conference Monday night that judicial decisions in this country ought to be based on Torah principles and this goal should be implemented incrementally.

"We will bestow upon the citizens of Israel the laws of the Torah and we will turn Halacha into the binding law of the nation," the minister pledged, "Soon, in the near future, amen."

What possessed this savvy lawyer, consigliere to the stars, and a power broker in his own right, to in effect call for the creation of a theocracy? Does Neeman envision it would be based on his type of progressive national-religious Orthodoxy? Would it not more likely adhere to a form of haredism? Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was inspired to blurt out that he anyway discourages his followers from turning to goyish courts because Israeli judges do not adjudicate according to Halacha.

Having unleashed a storm of concern, Neeman's office "clarified" that he did not, actually, mean what he said - though Neeman later told the Knesset that rabbis could right now start taking some of the burden off judges.

Frankly, Neeman's remarks catch us by surprise. We had pegged him as a man who appreciated where fundamentalist Orthodoxy - the stream now ascendant - is leading the country.

It was a committee Neeman chaired that recommended Robinson's Arch as a solution to the Orthodox hegemony at the Western Wall. It was Neeman who proposed the formation of the Institute of Jewish Studies, where representatives of different streams of Judaism would instruct prospective converts. And it was Neeman who supported the appointment of more compassionate Orthodox rabbis to the rabbinical courts.

Neeman well knows that operating a modern state on the basis of Halacha is unworkable.

In 1953, the secular state enacted the Rabbinical Courts Adjudication Law that empowered the rabbinate to apply Halacha in areas of marriage, divorce and citizenship. The results have been ... unsatisfactory.

Thousands of citizens must go abroad to marry because the state clergy does not acknowledge they are Jewish. Scores of women are chained in dead marriages because the same clergy will not grant them divorces. Tens of thousands of potential Jews have been turned away from Jewish civilization because they will not commit to leading Orthodox lifestyles.

The profane blending of politics, patronage and piety has alienated countless secular Israelis. Yet jealous of their prerogatives, the Orthodox will not share the taxpayers' resources with the Masorti and Reform streams who might be able to reach these people.

LIKE NEEMAN we, too, cherish the halachic tradition. Over thousands of years, the sages created legal foundations that have formed a basis for Western jurisprudence.

For instance, laws of inheritance and torts, topics being studied this week by Talmudists worldwide, epitomize Jewish ideals of fairness. From the Pentateuch to responsa literature, Halacha has made it possible for Jews to flourish intellectually, communally and spiritually under the harshest conditions.

It is a grand idea for Israeli jurists to be informed by Halacha, but it would be terrible if they were bound by it.

Halacha, like American constitutional law, is organic, evolving and malleable. It is intended to unify the Jewish people. Tragically, however, those who today dominate the application of Halacha tend to be strict constructionists. A theocratic state in which such rabbis would replace judges would be hellish.

A learned, astute observer, a personal friend of the minister, told The Jerusalem Post the idea that Israeli jurisprudence could operate on halachic grounds is "not serious" and Neeman well knows this.

"Jewish law was never the law of the land in any period of Jewish history. So no one really wants this, not the secular, and also not the rabbis; the secular for obvious reasons; and the rabbis because it would require a stunning revolution in Jewish law," the source said.

After all, what, practically, does Hebrew law have to say about the currency markets? Where would bad guys go? Can contemporary litigation follow halachic rules of witnesses or the limitations on the testimony of women?

If our justice minister wants to think out loud, he should do so in the privacy of his own home.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Settlement freeze? Not a brilliant result


All pain, no gain

{Pictured: Ma'aleh Adumim a consensus "settlement")


Let's tally the diplomatic benefits that have accrued to Israel since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's November 25 announcement of a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. That statement followed tardily on his June 14 address at Bar-Ilan University formally accepting the creation of a demilitarized "Palestine" as the endgame to negotiations.

Since the freeze was announced, US Special Envoy George Mitchell has managed to contain his enthusiasm. While acknowledging that Netanyahu has gone further than any previous Israeli leader, Mitchell could bring himself to say only that he wants to see permanent status negotiations resume "as soon as possible."

To which Mahmoud Abbas essentially responded: "I don't think so."

In an interview with a Washington-based think tank, Mitchell did at least reiterate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent statement that negotiations should be "based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps."

This is significant, because the Obama administration had previously been seen to be backing away from George W. Bush's April 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon, in which the former president said a negotiated outcome would have to be based on a 1967-plus formula.

Unfortunately, in an extraordinary tactical blunder, Netanyahu allowed consensus settlement blocs to be included in his freeze.

THE administration's minimalist response to Netanyahu's two historic announcements, along with its failure to persuade Arab governments to take steps toward normalization with Israel and demonstrate that the Arab Peace Initiative is not simply a propaganda ploy, can only make one wonder where this freeze is going to lead.

If it means so little to the White House and nothing to the Palestinians - if it is, moreover, not part of some larger coherent strategy in which Netanyahu enunciates what Israel's boundaries ought to be - and if the moratorium's gut-wrenching impact domestically is all pain and no gain, what are its benefits?

Indeed, a Swedish EU initiative "takes note" of Netanyahu's freeze by proposing to sanctify the Palestinian position on Jerusalem as Europe's own policy.

It's bad enough that Europe rejects Israeli sovereignty over west Jerusalem on the grounds that it does not want to prejudge a negotiated outcome. But to watch Sweden (which is finishing its tenure as rotating president of the EU) push so hard to acknowledge east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, even as Abbas refuses to negotiate, is profoundly demoralizing to an Israeli mainstream which genuinely seeks accommodation with the Palestinians.

Evidently, it's politically easier for elements in the EU to parrot PLO demands, rather than support an equitable solution that also takes Jewish sensibilities into account.

Of course, Abbas's demand for a settlement freeze is patently bogus in the first place. A prospective peace deal would permanently resolve the issue of where Jewish rights could be exercised and which settlements would be uprooted. So why are we arguing about a freeze when we should be negotiating borders?

The real reason Abbas does not want to talk is because he hopes that by hanging tough, an exasperated Washington will impose the Fatah position on Israel. On top of that, he does not want to appear conciliatory when Hamas's fortunes are on the rise.

It doesn't help that Netanyahu is placing Abbas in an untenable position. The PLO, which ostensibly eschews armed struggle, has been demanding the release en masse of Palestinian prisoners since 1993. To which Israel has responded in dribs and drabs under the rubric of "helping Abu Mazen."

Yet by taking a single IDF soldier captive and by adhering to its original demands for three years, Hamas is on the threshold of achieving the release of 1,000 terrorists, including the vilest in the Israeli prison system. The popularity of the Islamists will skyrocket; Fatah's will nosedive.

To add insult to injury, Netanyahu is reportedly toying with freeing Marwan Barghouti, whose arrival in Ramallah would be one big headache for Abbas and hasten a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas at the expense of both Israel and Abbas. No wonder the rais is sulking.

So Netanyahu's US-pressed freeze has pitted settlers against soldiers. It hasn't swayed Abbas or the Arab League. Hamas is bemused. Europe is little impressed.

The Obama administration, which so far has merely offered parsimonious praise, needs to do better.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Global warming

Copenhagen concerns


If a colossal meteorite were hurtling toward earth and scientists unanimously agreed that humanity faced imminent extinction, it's safe to assume that nations and peoples would set aside their differences to save the planet.

Or - human nature being what it is - maybe they wouldn't.

The situation is infinitely more complicated when it comes to global climate change. As a two-week summit begins today in Copenhagen, the debate rages on between a majority working feverishly to forestall planetary cataclysm and a minority that says there is nothing to be alarmed about.

A 2007 survey found 54 percent of Israelis believed global warming was a pressing problem. A new poll found that only 48% still felt so. A recent Gallop poll found that one percent of Americans think the environment is the No. 1 issue. The number of Americans who "believe in" global warming has dropped to 57%.

And an EU poll found that just 50% of Europeans see climate change as the biggest issue facing humanity.


Who can blame Israelis - worried about jobs, social cleavages and the pending release of 1,000 terrorists, not to mention the prospect that Iran will detonate a nuclear device over Tel Aviv - for not putting global warming at the top of their concerns?

THAT THE globe is heating up is pretty widely accepted. Ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising. A relatively small increase in temperatures can cause massive environmental catastrophe. The earth needs just the right amount of gases in the atmosphere. Too little and the temperature would plummet; too much and greenhouse gases could cause global warming.

What is disputed is whether humans burning fossil fuels are to blame for climate change.

So it comes down to this. Wager that the prevailing thesis about planetary warming is correct, that contamination by humans is responsible for global warming, and you're morally obligated to do something about it. Fifty percent of anthropogenic global warming is carbon based, while the other half results from other man-made sources like burning of cow dung.

We think it is prudent to gamble on the side of those who would sensibly but systematically reduce emissions. Working for more breathable air and a reduced dependency on the oil cartel is not a bad thing, even if it turns out to have no impact on climate change.

The problem remains human nature. Some countries will exploit the crisis or try to catch a "free ride" on the sacrifices of the well-meaning. In 1997, industrialized nations agreed to emission targets in a pact known as the Kyoto Protocol, but these goals have not actually been implemented. The post-industrial European Union has pledged to cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

If the problem is indeed man-made, industrialized and post-industrialized countries are inadvertently responsible for the bulk of heat-trapping pollutants. But it is the denizens of bottom tier countries who will suffer the most if the worst forecasts about global warming come to pass. Meanwhile, rapidly developing countries such as China and India want the economic benefits of industrialization, but not its political responsibilities.

It does not instill a sense of "we're all in this together" to watch some leaders in the non-industrialized world salivating at the prospect of a massive redistribution of wealth - actually economic and environmental reparations - to help them cope with the crisis ahead.

The Economis
t argues that greenhouse emissions can be reduced without impoverishing humanity. We don't see how, unless countries stop playing the blame game and observe a "from each according to their ability" motto.

THIS COUNTRY will be represented in Copenhagen by technocrats, MKs, ministers and environmental campaigners. Like many world leaders, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is waiting until the last minute before deciding whether to attend.

Israel is too tiny a country to have much of an impact on global emissions. Still, successive governments have committed to voluntarily adhere to international emissions targets. The State Comptroller's Office, however, has complained that a consolidated national plan remains overdue. In Israel, 87% of total greenhouse gas emissions are energy related. So we need to very substantially cut the growth of emissions by 2020.

From electric cars, solar energy and wind-power to safe nuclear energy, Israel is capable of leading by example on alternative energy. It should.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tensions among Jews in Jerusalem

[This may be the only posting this week as I am out sick. Check back at the end of the week. Thanks]



A coalition for Jerusalem

The good news is that the hastily organized, barely advertised, after-Shabbat rally against ultra-Orthodox religious coercion in Jerusalem swelled to several thousand participants by the time it peaked in Zion Square. Unfortunately, such numbers fall woefully short of ensuring a city whose ethos needs to be tradition and tolerance. The demonstration was supposed to bring together secular, Reform, Masorti and modern Orthodox Jerusalemites. But while there was a scattered representation from progressive Orthodox quarters, the middle-of-the-road kipa sruga crowd was mostly absent.

Part of the problem, we suspect, is that Jerusalem is a small "c" conservative city. You won't draw the multitudes in defense of a woman's right to wear a tallit - even in the public plaza adjacent to the Western Wall - probably because many Jerusalemites are culturally Orthodox even if non-practicing.

Moreover, last night's rally featured both Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz and Meretz municipal council member Pepe Allalo, thus signaling that this was a protest not just for people opposed to haredi bullying, but for those who also champion religious egalitarianism and gay rights.

The modern Orthodoxy are willing to take ideas from the outside world, perhaps interpret Halacha in a more broadminded way, but this does not connote laxity in observance on a drift on core tenets. Granted, theologically progressive Orthodoxy is pushing the envelope on women's participation at gender segregated services. At the end of the day, however, Orthodoxy is not egalitarian and simply cannot embrace homosexuality as being on par with heterosexuality.

That being the case, it would be more practical to pursue a broad-based Zionist coalition aimed at bringing together socially conservative Jerusalemites, the modern Orthodox along with progressives of various stripes to campaign for:

• Protecting mixed and secular neighborhoods from haredi encroachment, while lobbying for non-luxury housing construction that caters to these demographic groups;

• Demanding an equitable allocation of municipal resources especially in education, religious services and culture;

• Insisting on an absolute respect for the rule of law.

One can oppose haredi bullying without ridiculing other aspects of the community's lifestyle and without seeking fundamental changes in the religious status quo at the municipal level.

Disgraceful haredi behavior generates headlines, tarnishes Jerusalem's image, and propels the occasional counter-demonstration. But it is the methodical wielding of haredi clout and patronage that has left this city increasingly insular, close-minded and parochial. This reality begs for a wall-to-wall Zionist coalition.

In a sense we're really asking: What will it take to get rabbis of the caliber of a Michael Melchior and a Benjamin Lau off the dime? They may not march for egalitarianism, but will they stay home even as family style seating at national ceremonies for new olim at the Western Wall becomes de-facto forbidden? Will observant Jews of good will support the demands of Masorti and visiting US Conservative Jews for 24/7 free access to Robinson's Arch?

BY COINCIDENCE, Saturday night's anti-haredi coercion protest marched past the Great Synagogue where, on the first anniversary of Mayor Nir Barkat's stewardship at City Hall, he sat in dialogue with Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz.

Barkat made a generally favorable impression as someone who does not court confrontation. He is committed to growing jobs and oversaw a successful summer of culture in the capital, other tensions notwithstanding.

Barkat senses that the outflow of kipa sruga Jerusalemites is ebbing, citing an increase in the number of national religious youngsters in the schools set aside for them. He also notes that there was no decrease of enrollment in secular public schools.

The mayor thinks of himself as a CEO more than a politician. He's proud of the fact that he does not wheel and deal. Unfortunately, the mayor's lack of political acumen - especially in dealing with the volatile haredi community - has cost the city dearly even when, at the end of the day, the collective interest wins out. We trust that Barkat will come to appreciate that running this city requires him to hone his political acumen so that he is not repeatedly blindsided by controversy. He needs to keep lines of communication open with the rabbis, politicians, mukhtars and neighborhood activists who can help him head off trouble as he implements his agenda of jobs, housing... and tolerance.

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