Monday, January 31, 2011


A true freedom fighter for Israel.

We did not always agree, yet I never questioned his sincerity, commitment and loyalty to Eretz Israel.

May his memory be for a blessing.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Two cents on PaliLeak

1. The theoretical concessions made – and none are real since the deal was/is that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" – by the Palestinians led by Mahmoud Abbas, fall far short of any deal acceptable to the Israeli mainstream.

Yet the liberal media paints any semblance of negotiating reasonableness as if Abbas gave away the store.

2. Though Israelis tended to yawn at Palestinian/Al-Jazeera/Guardian intrigues and dissimulations, what fascinates nonetheless is that positions Israelis assumed had been agreed to, namely strategic settlements blocs including Ma'ale Adummim have not been agreed to at all.

Wonder why it took PaliLeaks for us to know this…

3. Key for me is what happened afterwards.

Abu Mazen denied making any concessions. He simply lied to his people – again. He led them in chants about shaids and Jerusalem outside his Ramallah palace.

So long as "moderate" Pal leaders don't prepare their people for the idea that painful concessions will be needed on both sides – negotiations remain a farce and there is no Palestinian partner.

Have a look at this summary:

Drama in the Maghreb

On Jan. 14 the panicked strongman of Tunisia, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia after the astonishingly spontaneous Facebook-driven crumbling of his corrupt regime. History will record that the incredible impetus was the December 17 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a harassed and despondent 26-year-old fruit vendor, in the rough interior of the country.

With copycat suicides in Cairo and Algiers, and protests taking place in Jordan and Morocco, the Palestinian Authority barred West Bankers from rallying in support of the overthrow. Ayman Nour, the reformist Egyptian opposition politician, wondered aloud whether Egypt might follow the Tunisian model. And Arab League chief Amr Musa frankly acknowledged that events in Tunisia had exposed “the Arab soul" as broken by poverty, unemployment and frustration.

Though the situation remains volatile and unpredictable, Tunisians and foreigners alike have been contemplating whether the upheaval might possibly herald a Jasmine Revolution and the emergence of genuine democracy – not one man, one vote, one time – but a kind of political institution building that would ensure pluralism, civil liberties and tolerance.

Popular will among the Arab masses has found occasional, albeit, reactionary expression: Hamas's lopsided victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections; Hezbollah's capture of 88 percent of the Shi'ite vote in 2009 Lebanese balloting.
Could events in Tunisia lead to a genuinely democratic outcome that might have a domino effect on the rest of the Arab world?

Caution is in order.

For one, there is no coherent opposition much less one led by democrats in Tunisia. For another, it is still too soon to know what role, if any, Islamists will play. For now Muslim extremists are not in the vanguard of the struggle. Those who have come out into the sunshine after decades of government persecution claim feebly to stand for a distinctively moderate strain of Islamism not opposed to modernity.

We will all be wiser after Rachid El Gannushi, the 70 year-old Muslim Brotherhood chief returns to Tunis from his London exile and the extent of his group's malevolent influence can be gauged. Gannushi, with ties to Iran, is violently opposed to Israel's existence.

Each Arab country has its own unique circumstances and it's a mistake to treat them as one undifferentiated mass. Prof. Michael Laskier, a North Africa specialist at Bar-Ilan University, insists that nothing in the DNA of the Arab polity prevents democracy from eventually breaking out and that global democratic influences are filtering in. Preferring evolutionary change to revolutionary upheaval, Laskier argued that events in Tunisia send a warning signal to Iran and Syria "that they could be next in line." On the other hand, radical change in Egypt and Jordan could bring Islamist regimes to power.

So far, no Arab land has shown itself to be fertile ground for Western-style democracy. Perhaps that's because traditionalist Arab society has placed the interests of the individual lower than those of the family, clan and sect. Men and women are not free to choose who they may marry much less who will lead them, veteran journalist Danny Rubinstein has pointed out. Moreover, in so much of the Arab world, voices calling for democratic reform and groups championing civil society are weak. Autocratic leaders have snuffed out freedom-minded dissent perhaps even more aggressively than challenges from the Islamists.

Even so, could Tunisia, relatively well-off and demographically cohesive with its educated elites be the democratic exception to the Arab rule? Could it switch from the "not free" to "free" camp? True the country's interior is depressed and religiously devout, but the coast has experienced sustained economic growth and is cosmopolitan. Consummate foreign correspondent Robert D. Kaplan has emphasized that Tunisia has a history of prosperity and stability, a post-colonial political culture of secularism and a legacy of political moderation shaped by its founder Habib Bourguiba. Kaplan paradoxically ascribes Tunisia's current troubles to the flip side of its comparative achievements – the failure to meet rising expectations among its population (whose median age is 29). Still, Kaplan concludes that, "Despite all these advantages of history, prosperity and stability, Tunisia’s path forward is treacherous."

The Tunisian revolution – if it is that – could yet be hijacked by old guard politicians, returning Islamists or fizzle out as army generals seek to restore order. Iran and Libya, which have previously sought to shape events in Tunisia, could exploit the turmoil.

Watching from afar, Israelis cannot easily allow themselves to indulge in wishful thinking. They may nostalgically recall that Bourguiba was among those who early on favored Arab-Israel peace – though he also provided sanctuary to Yasser Arafat after his 1982 ouster from Lebanon – and that Bourguiba allowed his country's 100,000 Jews to leave for France and Israel (perhaps 1,200 remain). Under Ben Ali, Israelis have been able to travel to Tunisia on their Israeli passports. So no nation would be happier to see Arab democracy take root in moderate Tunisia and for it to serve as a beacon for the entire region.

-- Jan 25, 2011

No Sulha for Hamas and Fatah

The singular inconvenient truth that advocates of unilateral Palestinian statehood and an imposed solution to the Arab-Israel conflict labor intensively to play down is the spoiler role of Hamas and the crippling divisions within the Palestinian polity.

To focus attention elsewhere they industriously campaign to delegitimize Israel's
presence beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines and to "expose" the so-called Judaization of Jerusalem. Indeed, practically any Israeli measure from the mundane to the imprudent is skewered as heralding the death knell of the two-state solution – anything to deflect attention from Fatah's mulish refusal to negotiate with the Israeli government and Hamas's chronic rejectionism.

The Westerners and Israeli leftists who unfairly place the onus for the diplomatic deadlock entirely on the Jewish state, refusing to call on Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to meet Israel half-way, have no sympathy for Hamas.

Yet by removing Fatah's incentive for indispensable compromises on boundaries, security, indeed the very nature of what peace should mean has meant that the Palestinian polity can avoid the tough choice: either the path of Hamas, or ending the conflict once and for all. With this left up in the air, the Fatah-Hamas rivalry continues to fester as both movements compete for the allegiance of the fickle Palestinian street, Arab and international legitimacy, and over which "resistance" movement is top dog.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves about what divides Fatah and Hamas. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and came into its own in 1987. It considers Palestine a Muslim trust and sees Islam as engaged in a zero-sum religious war with the Jews. Fatah was founded in the 1950s – when the Arabs controlled the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem – with the straightforward nonsectarian goal of destroying Israel via "armed struggle." Under the mercurial Yasser Arafat, Fatah came to dominate Palestinian politics. In 1993, abandoning the immediate full liberation of Palestine for a nebulous alternative strategy, Arafat signed the Oslo Accords.

Hamas viewed Arafat's prevarications on Israel, his rumored personal decadence and the Palestinian Authority's endemic corruption with contempt.

Hamas overwhelmingly defeated Fatah in the Palestinian Authority elections held in January 2006. A Saudi-engineered unity government crashed and burned when Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in June 2007. Since then Fatah has continued to arrest Hamas men in the West Bank while Hamas persecuted Fatah followers in Gaza. Efforts at a sulha or reconciliation of the two camps have failed.

Fatah is hardly secular in the Western sense yet neither does it want Islam enveloping all of public and private life as demanded by the Islamists. The two camps also have opposing patrons with Fatah relying on the ostensible moderate Arab states and Hamas getting its main backing from Persian Iran. Moreover, both camps suffer from internal schisms. Cleavages within Fatah are many including along generational lines. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas expelled his former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan from the West Bank fearing a putsch. For its part, Hamas inside Gaza is at odds with the Damascus-based leadership. Even within the Strip, "Prime Minister" Ismail Haniyeh holds little sway over Izzad-Din al-Qassam gunmen.

Episodically, come signs of rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas. Intermediaries continue to work toward a meeting between senior figures in the opposing camps. Haniyeh and Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar recently telephoned Abbas -- and a local Hamas delegation visited his Ramallah offices -- to offer condolences on the death of his older brother Ata in Damascus.

Responding to internal pressure from the popular Marwan Barghouti (incarcerated in an Israeli prison for murder) for a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and external demands from the Emir of Qatar (whose influential Al Jazeera's Arabic service leans toward Hamas over Fatah), Abbas recently ordered the release of several hunger striking Hamas prisoners from his "protective" custody. Among those set free was Wael al-Bitar involved in the killings of four Israelis. (He was swiftly taken into custody in Hebron by Israeli commandos.) Funnily enough, it is the IDF's presence in the West Bank that helps secure Abbas against the possibility of a Hamas-led overthrow.

Rank-and-file Palestinians know there can be no "Palestine" without reconciliation and hold both factions jointly responsible for the split. That the price of burying the hatchet would likely be an even more obdurate policy on Israel appears not to phase the Palestinian consciousness. In the meantime, Hamas and Fatah leaders pay lip-service to unity. But as Mkhaimar Abusada, a Gaza-based political scientist told the Christian Science Monitor, Hamas gunmen in the Strip remain unalterably opposed to reconciliation with Fatah even if the Damascus-based leadership is tempted to pursue the idea.

At stake is who will lead the Palestinian Arabs where and how. The betting is that the Hamas-Fatah divide will last a very long time. Meanwhile, apologists for the Palestinians will continue to cover-up one of the foremost obstacles to peace.

Jan 2011

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Survey of the Hebrew Press in Israel

If as Walter Lippmann wrote the newspaper is the bible of democracy, what are we to make of Israel's Hebrew-language dailies? For a start, they have little in common with American broadsheets or tabloids and are more in the British mold in that the demarcation between news and views is difficult to discern. Also, Israeli papers are less driven by a coherent set of views about politics then by the personal pique of their owners and brutal competition for circulation.

The paper with the most readers (35.2 percent) is the centrist Zionist Israel HaYom which burst on the scene in 2007 backed by Las Vegas businessman Sheldon Adelson. Copies are distributed free by legions of red jumpsuit-clad newsboys; a digital version is available gratis to email subscribers. Politically, the paper has been criticized for the broad support it gives to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It neither opposed his original 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction nor broke with him to support its extension. And its star columnist Dan Margalit atypically puts the onus for the stalled peace process on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Yediot, dislodged from the top spot by Israel HaYom, now has a 34.9% share of circulation. Owner Arnon Mozes is very much involved in running the paper. To recapture the number one spot, Yediot has been discounting its cover price and distributing some editions free. While ideologically erratic, the paper is sharply, consistently and relentlessly critical of Netanyahu. The team of diplomatic correspondent Shimon Shiffer and Nahum Barnea, doyen of Israel's print punditocracy, do not disguise their loathing of Netanyahu purportedly for missing what they see as a window of opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians and Syria.

Number three in circulation is Ma'ariv whose owners, the Nimrodi family, were forced to cede operating control to businessman Zachi Rachiv as the paper struggles to climb from its 12.5% market share. Rachiv wants to deemphasize the print edition to build-up a digital readership. Ma'ariv also began distributing free or heavily discounted copies to chip away at Israel Ha Yom's lead. Its star columnist Ben Caspit despises Netanyahu no less than his colleagues at Yediot, portraying a mendacious premier prepared to reject sensible Palestinian overtures that could end the 100-year conflict out of crass political motives. Nevertheless, some media watchers discern

Ma'ariv shifting toward the political center. They cite the arrival of columnist Ben-Dror Yemini who has attracted a following by campaigning against the left's domination of Israeli academia even as he lambastes urban settlers for implanting themselves in heavily Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.

Haaretz comes next with its 6.4% circulation share and a hugely disproportionate level of influence owning to its elite readership, the breadth of its coverage, and the inclusion of translated content from world-class foreign newspapers. Owned by the Schocken family and propped up by the German publisher M. DuMont Schauberg, critics see Haaretz as often crossing the line between unthinking criticism of Israeli policies to outright promulgation of the post-Zionist agenda. (The paper also publishes a 12-page daily English edition, mostly translated from the Hebrew, in collaboration with the global edition of The New York Times.)

Add to this mix Mekor Rishon whose original incarnation was the brainchild of Amnon Lord, a secular left-winger mugged by Oslo who targeted an expansive right-wing readership. In 2003, the paper was reconstituted under the ownership of Shlomo Ben-Tzvi, formerly a London businessman, who integrated it with the waning Orthodox Zionist HaZofeh and oriented the new product on a more hard-line religious and political path. The free weekday emailed digital edition and the Friday hardcopy paper have garnered a loyal constituency.

Any survey of the Hebrew press would be incomplete without reference to the ultra-Orthodox Hamodia (mouthpiece of the hassidic-oriented Agudat Israel party) and its competition the even more puritanical Yated Neeman, voice of "Lithuanian" ultra-Orthodoxy, and organ of the Degel Hatorah party. Neither paper has a Zionist orientation though Hamodia is more sympathetic. Sephardi ultra-Orthodox readers are served by the Shas party daily Yom L'Yom. A feature of all three papers is their policy of not covering stories at variance with "Torah values." Hence there has been no reportage in the haredi press of former president Moshe Katsav's trial and conviction of rape.

As a "bible of democracy" – and unique in the Middle East – Israeli newspapers emphatically offer a cacophony of uncensored views and news all competing to set the political agenda. As for probity, objectivity and placing the collective good over narrow interests – that is entirely another matter.


There goes 'The Economist' Again

The headline beseeches: "Please, Not Again: The Threat of War in the Middle East." The magazine's cover shows a worried looking President Barack Obama, an Israeli tank rumbling by in the background. Welcome to the Economist's first issue of 2011 devoted to Israel and to America's role in the Mideast. Its theme, in effect, is how to rein-in the Jewish state and preserve the peace.

Published in London, the Economist is hardly the only international newspaper – it resents being called a magazine – to heap lopsided responsibility on Israel for the perpetuation of the conflict. However, unlike moribund Time and Newsweek, the stylishly written and often droll Economist (worldwide circulation 1.6 million including over 800,000 in the U.S.) is must reading in government and academia. Owned partly by the parent company of the Financial Times – itself a bastion of British animus toward Zionism – and by among others, reportedly, some members of the British Rothschild's (who in the main are no longer Jewish), the Economist loses its facade of cool detachment when it comes to Israel.

In The Economist's view Israel suffers from a siege mentality, perpetually, lethally and disproportionately bungling even theoretically legitimate security threats, obdurately "colonizing" the "Palestinian side of the 1967 border," even going to the extreme of setting traffic lights to flick green only briefly to vex harassed Jerusalem's Arabs.

In its January 1 issue, the Economist says it fears war could break out this year over Iran's "apparent" desire to build atomic bombs, the arms race "between" Israel and Hezbollah or over "miscalculations" on the Gaza border. Its non sequitur solution to these disquieting possibilities would have Obama exert "tough love" on Israel by imposing a solution on the "feuding parties." The newspaper reasons that with a Fatah-led Palestine fashioned in the West Bank, Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas (in Gaza) will all find it "much harder" to attack Israel.

The fatal flaw with the Economist's argument is that the last time Fatah so much as feigned at peacemaking, at the start of the Oslo process, Hamas reacted violently by carrying out some twenty fatal terror attacks on Israelis between the September 1993 White House signing ceremony and mid-February 1994. Similarly, Hezbollah's aggression doubled in Oslo's wake. The implication is clear: Unless the international community first tackles the rejectionists, moderates will be afraid to make the compromises necessary for peace. Right now Mahmoud Abbas has latched onto any pretext not to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu's government. First he claimed settlement construction was suddenly keeping him from the bargaining table; though he did not deign to acknowledge Israel's ten-month moratorium until it was almost over. Next he insisted that Netanyahu stand behind a peace plan put forth by former premier Ehud Olmert, despite the fact that Abbas had walked away from this very offer. But it's no wonder relative moderates like Abbas are afraid to take risks for peace. Iran may soon provide the rejectionists with a nuclear umbrella; coddled by the international community, Hamas is solidifying its fanatical grip on Gaza, and with Syria's support Hezbollah has for all intents and purposes usurped Lebanese sovereignty. In this political ambiance Abbas would be pilloried by the rejectionists if he to negotiate in earnest with Netanyahu.

Economist editorials and features are customarily unsigned though the newspaper's Israel correspondent, former Haaretz editor David Landau, would likely have contributed to the latest barrage. Landau is on record as imagining that Israel "wants to be raped" by the U.S." and is begging for "more vigorous U.S. intervention." This week's feature has an unappreciative Israel pocketing billions in American aid even as it rebuffs pleas "backed by offers of yet more aid" to "pause in its building of illegal Jewish settlements." The reasons given for this supposed obstinacy are Israel's "thriving economy" and "America's pro-Israel lobby." The possibility that disputed territory deeply rooted in Jewish civilization, captured in a war of self-defense, and of immense strategic value to Israel's survival ought to be the subject of direct negotiations between the parties is, plainly, anathema at the Economist.

Instead, surveying the region from Afghanistan to Iran to Iraq, the "biggest headache" Economist editors put their finger on is not the metastasizing evil that inspired, in the latest incarnation, the bombing of a New Year's Eve Mass at a Coptic Christian church in Egypt, but "Jewish colonization in the West Bank." The Economist prefers to uncritically echo Muslim and Arab "objections" to America's presence in the Middle East and its support for Israel. One implication being: if only the Jewish state would just go away. In truth, Israel or no Israel, jihad is the pathological reaction of a dysfunctional civilization unable to cope with the demands of tolerance and pluralism emblematic of modernity.

Jan 2011

Return Ticket For Two? Amram Mitzna & Aryeh Deri

Amram Mitzna is the Benny Begin of the Zionist left: upright, abstentious and unlikely to ever lead his ideological camp to political victory. The kibbutz-born Mitzna is a dovish ex-general who once clashed with defense minister Ariel Sharon over his reaction to the Lebanese Christian massacre of Palestinians during the 1982 Lebanon War. In 1987, Mitzna found himself the IDF's commanding officer in the West Bank at outbreak of the first intifada. Convinced that "force was not the answer," Mitzna took a leave of absence to study abroad. By 1993, post-army, he was elected mayor of Haifa.

As head of the Labor Party during the second intifada, Mitzna was vanquished by Sharon in the 2003 Knesset elections. He quit national politics in 2005 and soon accepted appointment as mayor of Yeruham, a beleaguered Negev development town, whose elected chief executive had been removed by authorities for corruption. The city's subsequent renewal is credited to Mitzna's hard work and talent for public administration. Now, at 65, Mitzna says he has "a burning urge to bring a change" to the country and is weighing a fresh run for the Labor party leadership.

In the meantime, another politician is making a comeback though not in his original party. Aryeh Deri, going on 52, came to Israel from Morocco at age nine, went on to learn Talmud at a prestigious Ashkenazi academy, and unlike many ultra-Orthodox youths went to the army. In 1986, Sephardic ex-chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef tapped Deri to head his fledgling Shas party where Deri honed his skills as a powerbroker. His career abruptly ended when he was convicted in 1999 of channeling tax money to party institutions.

Chastened and changed, Deri is poised to reenter politics, nowadays studying English and French to burnish his cosmopolitan credentials. Estranged from his nonagenarian mentor and despised by his successor Eli Yishai, Deri plans to form a new, populist, cross-sectoral and ideologically moderate party.

The men are a study in contrasts. Mitzna abandoned the Knesset to take personal responsibility for Labor's rout. Deri left kicking and screaming only because he was sent to prison. Mitzna is from the Ashkenazi elite; Deri from the Sephardi underclass. Deri is a political animal; Mitzna lacks the killer instinct. Deri is charismatic; Mitzna is humorless. Deri has the potential of capturing support well beyond his own ultra-Orthodox base and keeps his innate dovishness understated. His knack for friendships across the political spectrum adds to his appeal. Mitzna, in contrast, has embraced the far-fetched Geneva Initiative as his platform on the Palestinian issue and is unlikely to win over many not predisposed to his views.

Though Israeli elections are far off, Mitzna's return could still be a boon to the leaderless and rudderless Zionist left, while Deri's second coming could, ironically, undercut the very ethno-politics he practiced so well. Shas is going through an identity crisis with one dissident Knesset member, Haim Amsalam – who hopes to join forces with Deri -- asking how the party came to champion "distorted" ultra-Orthodox insularity at the expense of its original social mandate.

Labor is experiencing its own identity crisis. Critics complain party leader Ehud Barak has sold out by partnering with the Netanyahu government. Yet the welcome mat is not being rolled out for Mitzna. Avishay Braverman and Isaac Herzog, Labor moderates who want to replace Barak as party leader say Mitzna's dovishness will drive Labor voters to the center-left Kadima party. Inscrutable as he is unpopular, Barak has invited Mitzna to run for the party leadership. Does this mean Barak has abandoned the idea of running again? Or will he, ultimately, try to elbow out Braverman and Herzog before tackling Mitzna's challenge?

Yossi Kucik, a political strategist and former aide to Barak when he was premier, is working to create a left-wing amalgamation that would include Labor, the atrophied Meretz party and various engaging personalities to improve the left's prospects in the next election. That may prove a mission impossible. Would Mitzna be willing to campaign as a good government candidate with demonstrated implementation skills and downplay his discredited views on the "peace process?" Can Labor, which has essentially embraced neo-liberal economics, run in tandem with social-democratic Meretz? With Mitzna at the helm, polls show Labor capturing no more than the 13 seats it currently holds. Still, if next time out Mitzna is prepared to stay the course he could keep Labor in the opposition and mold it in his own image: principled, respected, and perennially out of power.

As for the repackaged Deri, he has no interest in remaining on the opposition benches. Polls show his new party would win at least eight Knesset seats at Shas's expense. Were he to succeed in building a truly broad-based party, odds are he could do considerably better yet and parlay his mandates into a strong presence around the cabinet table.

-- December 2010

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