AIPAC and Sharon Get What They Need


A troubled but still potent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) got a boost this week from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who addressed its largest-ever policy conference in Washington, with a record 4,500 delegates gathered for three days of speeches, workshops, schmoozing and lobbying.

And the pro-Israel lobby giant, in turn, gave Sharon what he wanted most: an explicit endorsement of his government’s imminent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, backed up by a Tuesday lobbying effort that urged lawmakers to continue U.S. support for the plan. This week’s events lay the groundwork for expected new requests for U.S. aid to Israel, to help carry out the disengagement.

AIPAC, which like other major pro-Israel groups has been accused of being tardy and unenthusiastic in its support for the disengagement, was careful to signal support without allowing the plan and the emotional debate over it to become the centerpiece of the high-profile conference.

Unswayed by outbursts of heckling when Sharon spoke on Tuesday, the AIPAC leadership explicitly endorsed his plan in a resolution approved by the executive committee as part of the group’s 2005 “action agenda.”

The committee overwhelmingly rejected amendments offered by Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein that would have “spelled out the costs” of the Gaza “expulsion of Jews,” according to the ZOA leader.

Natan Sharansky, former minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs addressed the crowd but did not talk about the reason for his resignation from the Sharon government — or his unhappiness over the Gaza plan.

And AIPAC sessions on the Gaza disengagement were “fair and reasonably effective in making the case for what the Prime Minister is doing,” said an official of a dovish Jewish group attending the conference.

“Given differences within the AIPAC membership over the Gaza disengagement,” said the source, who requested anonymity, “I think they did a good job of showing support and lining up the membership behind the prime minister.”

But a former AIPAC official, also speaking not for attribution, characterized the group’s endorsement as unenthusiastic.

“The real story is that they were forced to make a statement supporting it as part of the price for getting Sharon to speak to them,” the source said. “The mood in the hall was skeptical — that was evident every time a speaker mentioned it — but they had no choice.”

From the rostrum, speakers praising Sharon’s plan produced limited applause or stony silence; scattered through the vast convention center were delegates wearing the blank orange buttons signifying solidarity with Gaza residents opposed to the pullout.

Several hecklers were ejected when Sharon addressed the conference on Tuesday, promising to carry out the disengagement “according to the timetable and the decisions authorized by the Government,” and to work with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “as long as we do not risk our security. That is the red line.”

Sharon promised that the disengagement “will increase Israel’s security and reduce friction between the Palestinians and us. It will help advance our national strategic interests, promote our economy and prosperity and advance the development of the Negev and the Galilee.”

And he strongly endorsed the international quartet’s “road map” for Palestinian statehood, calling it “the only political plan for a peaceful solution with the Palestinians.”

But he also emphasized that the road map will be implemented in stages and that “true peace will only be realized after full security is achieved and terrorism is eliminated.”

As a goodwill gesture, he announced plans to release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners.

Ardent peace groups praised AIPAC for standing behind Sharon.

“They did the right thing,” said Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum. “AIPAC’s highly visible support for the Prime Minister’s disengagement plan sends an important message to the administration and to Congress.”

And that includes to members who might be inclined to erect roadblocks to U.S. support for the Gaza plan, he said.

AIPAC delegates had more than 450 lobbying appointments on Tuesday; support for the plan, along with continuing U.S. aid to Israel and stronger efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, were at the top of their agenda.

“We’re very pleased that AIPAC has given its formal endorsement to the U.S. government’s support for the disengagement initiative,” said Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now. “This new policy position reflects the broad backing that disengagement enjoys in the American Jewish community and in Israel. “

AIPAC Still Packs Them In

AIPAC policy conferences are always exercises in political theater scripted to make a point about the group’s power.

But the stakes were higher than ever this year as AIPAC friends and foes alike looked for signs that the ongoing federal investigation of two fired AIPAC employees over leaked classified documents have put a dent in AIPAC’s presence on Capitol Hill.

There was no sign of weakness at Monday’s banquet, attended by almost enough senators to invoke cloture: 55, about the same as 2004. They were joined by 215 members of the House, up from 177 a year ago — by several accounts an all-time record.

The turnout reflected congressional confidence AIPAC will emerge unscathed from the current investigation — and also an extensive grass-roots effort by the group to encourage attendance.

During AIPAC’s famous “roll call,” congressional guests were greeted with ovations ranging from the tepid to the tumultuous (Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, R-RI, widely seen as cool toward Israel, produced barely a ripple; Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., almost brought the house down).

All four top congressional leaders spoke to the Monday night gathering in speeches that generally stuck close to AIPAC’s talking points for the week: assurances of continuing U.S. support for Israel, warnings to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to do more than just talk about curbing terrorism and sober words about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

Also in attendance were administration officials, top political party leaders and numerous members of the diplomatic corps, most notably two envoys from Libya.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now chair of the Democratic National

Committee, and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, filling in for Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, addressed the group on Sunday night, agreeing on the need for strong U.S.-Israel relations but disagreeing on which party can best maintain them.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, signaling that the administration does not regard the pro-Israel lobby group as treif because of its ongoing troubles, received strong applause when she said the administration’s goal of democracy in the Middle East is “unassailable and incontrovertible,” and urged the Palestinians to “advance democratic reforms and dismantle all terrorist networks” as it pursues statehood.

But she was greeted with only faint applause when she said that Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan “presents an unprecedented and incredibly delicate opportunity for peace and we must all work together to capitalize on this precious moment.”

Rice also praised the recent Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, but said “Syria must also remove its intelligence forces and allow the Lebanese people to be free.”

Worries Over Federal Probe

Although no charges have been filed against the fired AIPAC employees being investigated by federal authorities, the controversy shadowed the conference and produced anxiety among delegates and the numerous Jewish leaders who came to show their support for the lobby group.

“There’s anxiety; there’s a cloud over [AIPAC],” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “So it is important for leaders of the American Jewish community to be here and show support.”

Foxman expressed the view of many conference attendees.

“There are so many things we don’t know, so many unanswered questions about the investigation,” he said.

“What’s remarkable is how they have been able to keep this conference focused on their big issues like Iran and terrorism,” a former AIPAC official said. “But you hear a lot of talk about [the investigation] in the hallways. Mostly, it’s people asking what’s going to happen next. And none of us has any real answers. I’m not sure AIPAC’s top officials know.”

A member of the large Los Angeles delegation downplayed the effect of the probe on AIPAC’s lobbying juggernaut.

“I’m not concerned about the health of the organization,” said Lee Zeff, a Realtor from Beverly Hills. “I’m not concerned about the reputation in Congress.”

As evidence, Zeff noted the veritable waiting list of congressional leaders lined up to address the conference.

Zeff added that the delegates were not especially focused on the FBI probe: “People are thinking about Iran. People are thinking about Hezbollah … Hamas….”

Zeff’s wife, Linda Macdonald, who is not Jewish, did express concern, particularly about misconceptions she’s noticed among relatives in her native England. From the soundbites they’ve heard, she reported, people are assuming AIPAC was involved in spying. As a result, Macdonald said, she’s found herself doing more public relations for both AIPAC and Israel.

AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr addressed the undercurrent of worries in an opening speech on Sunday, repeating his claim that “we now know — directly from the government — that neither AIPAC nor any of its current employees is or ever has been the target of this investigation.”

And he pledged to “take the steps necessary to ensure that every employee of AIPAC, now and in the future, conducts themselves in a manner of which you can be proud — using policies and procedures that provide transparency, accountability and maintain our effectiveness.”

Additional reporting courtesy of Washington Jewish Week.

 

Progress or Pressure If Arafat Goes?


Israeli officials are quietly confident that if Yasser Arafat’s health forces him to leave office, new chances for Israeli-Palestinian accommodation will open up.

But they are aware of a number of pitfalls. The most serious danger is that any successor to Arafat might not have the necessary credibility to deliver on any peace commitments; and that the international community, liberated from the argument that Arafat is not a true peace partner, might pressure Israel to make concessions even without the Palestinians providing anything in return.

For now, Palestinian Authority officials say Arafat remains in control, and the true extent of his disability is unclear.

And in the immediate term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not contemplating any major policy changes. There is no question of retracting or postponing the planned unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank just because there may now be a Palestinian partner.

Sharon says he is prepared to coordinate the withdrawal with a more moderate Palestinian leadership, as long as there is no delay in the timetable for implementation.

Sharon told the Cabinet on Sunday that if a new Palestinian leadership moved against terrorism, there would be a good chance of renewing negotiations based on the internationally backed “road map” peace plan — but these leaders would have to act, not just talk.

Since coming to power nearly four years ago, Sharon has argued that Arafat is the major obstacle to peace. Since January 2002, when Arafat was implicated in an attempt to smuggle a huge shipment of arms into the Palestinian territories from Iran, the United States has thought along similar lines.

In a major policy statement later in 2002, President Bush urged the Palestinians to choose new leaders not “compromised by terror.”

Israel and the United States developed policies designed to circumvent Arafat in the hope that other Palestinian leaders would be able to stop the violence and engage in a political process with Israel. But though confined to his headquarters in Ramallah, Arafat continued to pull the strings, preventing two prime ministers, Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei, from developing serious peace policies.

Now Israeli officials hope that if Arafat’s illness finally breaks his hold on power, men like Abbas and Qurei may be able to emerge from his shadow and take the peace process forward. If Arafat dies, or is rendered incapable of continuing in office, Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash told the government, the four-year-old Palestinian intifada could come to an end.

With Arafat receiving treatment in France, Abbas seems likely to emerge as the most prominent figure in a new collective leadership. He long has called for an end to the armed uprising against Israel, which he calls “a strategic mistake.”

As prime minister from March to September 2003, Abbas tried to negotiate a cease-fire and take the road map forward, but he constantly was undermined by Arafat, and ultimately resigned. If Abbas again comes to the fore, he likely would try to take the road map forward with European and U.S. help.

But it’s not clear how far Abbas would be able to go toward a final peace deal with Israel. He is as fiercely opposed as was Arafat to waiving the demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to Israel proper, a position that not even the most dovish Israeli government would accept.

And even if Abbas were ready to make concessions on this and other key issues, it’s unlikely he would have the authority to carry them through.

“Abu Mazen will not be able to make the tough concessions that Arafat, with all his prestige and authority, couldn’t,” said Israel’s former foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, using Abbas’ nom de guerre.

The Foreign Ministry recognizes the problem a successor will have in establishing anything approaching Arafat’s authority. Top officials have drawn up a paper suggesting how Israel could help, without giving the impression that it is interfering in Palestinian affairs.

In general, they suggest that Israel reduce the level of its anti-terrorist activities by refraining, for example, from targeted killings of terrorists, except those on their way to launching an attack.

There even is talk of Israeli readiness to release Palestinian prisoners if Palestinian terrorism falls for a sustained period.

But it won’t be easy. Arafat was able to keep the lid on deep rifts in Palestinian society, and some Israeli experts expect a prolonged power struggle if Arafat’s restraining influence evaporates.

Shaul Mishal of Tel Aviv University foresees clashes between the older generation of PLO officials from Tunis, like Abbas and Qurei, and the younger generation of men who grew up under Israeli control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, like Mohammed Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub and Marwan Barghouti.

Potentially even more divisive, he said, is the hostility between the secular Fatah movement and the Islamist Hamas movement. David Hacham, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s adviser on Palestinian affairs, believes these divisions could result in a collective leadership that embraces young and old, secular and religious forces. The question is, What kind of policy vis-?-vis Israel would this leadership be likely to adopt?

In any event, Israeli officials don’t expect any overnight change for the better in Palestinian attitudes even if Arafat goes. The cultivation of hatred for Israel — which intensified during the intifada — is such that no Palestinian leader will be able to make a fundamental shift immediately.

Still, Israeli officials do anticipate two significant policy changes: Palestinian readiness to coordinate with Israel to take responsibility for Gaza and the northern West Bank and to relaunch peace negotiations based on the road map after the Israeli withdrawal from those areas is completed next summer.

But there is a downside: Should Arafat’s illness prove serious enough to sideline him, the new American administration will inherit a situation in which the main reason for ignoring the Palestinian leadership will have been removed.

Israeli officials believe that could lead to American readiness to embrace a European initiative for Israeli-Palestinian re-engagement, without the Palestinians being required to meet their basic road map commitments such as dismantling terrorist groups.

The Europeans make no secret of the fact that they intend to launch a new initiative immediately after the American elections. The Israeli fear is that, with Arafat out of the picture, the Europeans might overlook ongoing Palestinian terrorism — and that the new American administration may be inclined to follow suit, putting pressure on Israel to negotiate under fire.

Will Bush Change Course on Israel?


The Israeli establishment is delighted by the re-election of President Bush.

His Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, may have been seen as a good friend of Israel, but Israeli officials speak of an ideological meeting of minds between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud-led government and Bush’s neoconservative-dominated milieu.

Both put a premium on the war against terror and the creation of democratic institutions as a means to world and regional peace. Moreover, Bush’s record on Israel as president is seen as impeccable, and there was some anxiety that, if elected, Kerry might have been inclined to follow a more coordinated internationalist policy leading to pressure on Israel to make concessions on the Palestinian track.

But there are concerns about pressure on Israel from a second Bush administration, too. Some suggest that Bush may seek improved ties with Europe, and that that could spell new demands on Israel. Israeli officials hold that Bush’s overall worldview, dividing the world into good and evil protagonists, allies and enemies, with Israel on the side of the steadfast allies, is a huge bonus.

Kerry, the Democrat, would probably have been more inclined to turn to the international community, and international institutions like the United Nations and the International Court at the Hague, to resolve global problems. And that, the officials maintain, might have been detrimental to Israeli interests.

They also make much of Bush’s letter to Sharon last April, in which they see a significant upgrading of the strategic understanding between Israel and the United States on the Palestinian issue.

The letter underscores agreement that the Palestinians would not have the right to return to Israel proper in a final peace settlement, that Israel would be able to keep large settlement blocs in the West Bank, and that the United States would not support any international peace plan other than the “road map,” which both Israel and the Palestinians have approved.

In addition, they say, Bush, who refused to have anything to do with Yasser Arafat because of his perceived implication in Palestinian terror, would be less likely to deal with his successors unless they carry out road map reforms. Kerry, if elected, they say, might not have stuck to the road map or to its demands for Palestinian reform. Still, there is a mainstream assessment in the Israeli Foreign Ministry that American policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue even under Bush will be become more proactive and more closely coordinated with Europe.

A ministry position paper warns of a possible American deal with Europe over Iraq and Iran, in which Israeli concessions to the Palestinians are the payoff for European support for Washington in Iraq and the Gulf.

There are two schools of thought on a new Bush administration in the Foreign Ministry: One expects more of the same, with Bush feeling that he now has an overwhelming mandate from the American people to continue the war on terror, as well as his policies in Iraq and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no matter what the Europeans think.

The opposing view holds that Bush’s first order of business will be to start cleaning up the mess in Iraq, and that he will need European and Arab support.

“He won’t go to them cap in hand,” an official told JTA. “But he will be ready to coordinate moves with them on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in return.”

What this will mean on the ground, the official said, is American insistence that immediately after its planned withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank next summer, Israel be ready to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians, based on the road map, with the Europeans playing a key role.

“Bush,” said the official, who asked not to be identified, “will want to see his two-state vision, Israel and Palestine, side by side, implemented before he completes his second term.”

But, the official said, much will depend on the Palestinians. Bush will only push for progress if the violence stops. Otherwise, he will give Israel the same unlimited backing in its fight against terror as he has for the past three years.

On the other hand, if a new Palestinian leadership, with a sick Arafat out of the picture, does make a serious effort to curb terror, Bush, in his second term, will want to see more from Israel, the official said. He won’t pressure Israel in a crude way but he will ask “that it help the U.S. by making moves that go down well in Europe and the Arab world.”

Labor leader Shimon Peres makes a similar argument, but sees in it positive potential. He says the next major challenge America will face will be Iran, and its drive for nuclear weapons.

After two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States will not be in a position to launch a third. Therefore, he reasons, it will need international — especially European — cooperation to contain Iran through the imposition of sanctions.

This, he says, will probably lead to a Middle East package — a new U.S.-backed European initiative on Israel and the Palestinians, in return for European support on Iraq and Iran.

In some government circles, there is a fear that this could lead to pressure Israel will be bound to resist. But Peres sees it as a welcome development. He says three major changes are coming to fruition at the same historical moment and could lead to a long overdue breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian track: the Israeli government’s readiness to withdraw from Gaza and part of the West Bank, a Palestinian readiness to be more pragmatic, and Europe and the United States, after the American election, ready to play a more active role.

Peres is hoping that Bush, in his second term, may be ready to risk more than he did first time around to stabilize the Middle East as a whole. And he is convinced that this need not lead to a showdown with Israel.

The Foreign Ministry officials, who foresee a more proactive American policy, agree — on the condition that the Israeli government continues to coordinate all its moves as closely as possible with the new administration.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Condi vs. Holbrooke on Foreign Policy


Just days before the U.S. elections, the presidential candidates are sending the same broad messages about their approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the greater Middle East, but they differ sharply on the details.

In exclusive interviews with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, and Richard Holbrooke, a senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. John Kerry, laid out their respective candidate’s vision for the Middle East over the next four years.

A second term of the Bush administration would hope to use Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as the start of new progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

“I think what you will see is, if Prime Minister Sharon is successful in moving forward on his disengagement plan, that that could provide a new impetus for the Palestinians to move toward reform, as they get ready to take responsibilities in the Gaza, and it could provide an impetus then for a beginning of negotiations between the parties,” Rice said in a telephone interview from her White House office on Tuesday.

A Kerry White House would look to appoint an envoy to the region, not to force Israel to make concessions, but to pressure Arab governments to stop sponsoring terror, Holbrooke said in a separate interview.

“You go to Riyadh and tell these guys to stop supporting the worst anti-Israeli elements and the worst anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist literature around the world,” said Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, adding that such an envoy could help reduce Israel’s isolation in the world.

Both advisers said their respective candidate’s would continue the policy of not talking to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and supported Israel’s plans to disengage from the Gaza Strip and to erect a security barrier in the West Bank.

In the minds of the campaigns, the battle for Jewish votes in this election has focused squarely on which candidate will do more to protect Israel and fight the war on terrorism.

The significance of the Jewish vote is what brought both Holbrooke and Rice to Florida this week to address a national gathering of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Both advisers are well-respected in the Jewish community and could, depending on who wins next week’s election, play leading roles in shaping U.S. foreign policy over the next four years. The missions for the two advisers in talking to the pro-Israel community are very different.

Rice and the Bush campaign are working to boost the number of Jews, traditionally a Democratic voting bloc, who will back Bush’s re-election because they like his record on Israel.

Holbrooke and the Democrats, however, are working to maintain the voting bloc and alleviate concerns Jewish voters may have about Kerry’s foreign policy, and specifically the envoy idea.

“If we have an envoy, if we have an effort in the region, it is not at Israel’s expense,” Holbrooke told the AIPAC gathering Sunday. “It is not unilateral concessions with no one to negotiate.”

Some Jewish activists say they think an envoy would pressure Israel to make concessions, and that Kerry’s support for a multilateral approach to foreign affairs would put more stock in the anti-Israel views of European and Arab states. They also fear Kerry could appoint someone they see as anti-Israel, like former President Jimmy Carter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, both of whom Kerry mentioned in a speech earlier this year as possible candidates as envoy, but the idea has long since dismissed.

Instead, Holbrooke said, an envoy could work in the region to press neighboring states to stop terrorism, singling out Saudi Arabia.

“This is not just about the Palestinian Authority,” he told JTA after the speech, saying the envoy would have immense difficulty dealing with any Palestinian leader, because Arafat would stifle the process.

Rice seemed to mock the envoy idea, suggesting that such a person would “wander around” the region, telling Arab countries things they already hear.

“It may well be that at some point in time, someone else can help in this process, an envoy, I wouldn’t rule it out,” Rice said. “But it’s not the answer, just sending somebody out there to wander around the Arab states and tell them they need to stop incitement. Everyone is telling them they need to stop incitement.”

While Jews across the political spectrum have praised Bush for isolating Arafat and supporting Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip (see page 24) and some West Bank settlements, critics say his administration has not been engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The critics say the White House should more actively push for Palestinian reforms and push both parties to move the process forward.

Rice responded to the criticism, saying: “We continue to be engaged with our Middle East partners, but we have really believed since the spring that the best chance for strong re-engagement will be when the Israeli disengagement plan goes forward.”

In both her address to AIPAC on Monday and in the interview, Rice said the Bush administration would rely heavily on support from states that still talk with Arafat, looking to them to help reform the Palestinian government and pressure Arafat to step aside.

“We can simply not afford to have a situation in which new Palestinian leadership does not emerge,” she said in the interview. “I believe that the international community increasingly understands that.”

She said Bush would continue to work from his vision outlined on June 24, 2002 — which focused on reforming the Palestinian Authority, isolating Arafat and establishing a Palestinian state by 2005 — and was gratified by signals from the Sharon government that he does not see the Gaza withdrawal as an end to the peace process.

“The United States has also been very concerned and very gratified that the Israelis have made clear that it is not Gaza only, that it is Gaza first with four settlements in the West Bank being a part of the initial parts of this to demonstrate that there is a link between Gaza and the West Bank,” she said in the interview.

Cognizant of strong support for Bush’s Middle East policies among AIPAC loyalists, Holbrooke did not challenge the Republican’s Middle East credentials but tried to place Kerry on the same tier, emphasizing that both candidates support Israel’s latest strategy.

“I don’t want us to have a contest over who is more or less pro-Israel, because I don’t think that’s in the national interest in a presidential campaign, when both men are supportive of Israel,” Holbrooke said in the interview.

However, he added, Kerry is better because he had never “played footsie with the Saudis.” He also reiterated Kerry’s criticisms of Bush’s policy in Iraq, and he said that he believed little progress could be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track until the situation in Iraq is stabilized.

Responding to this week’s news that explosives from Iraq may have gone missing in Iraq, Rice defended U.S. action in the region and suggested the United States is on the course to making the Jewish state safer.

“I think you have to ask yourself — was Israel, or for that matter, the United States, safe prior to the invasion of Iraq?” she said. “I think what you had in the Middle East was a false sense of stability, where a tyrannical and dangerous regime like Saddam Hussein was actually not being contained.”

On Iran, Rice credited the president with putting Iran on the international agenda and said the nuclear threat posed by Iran could be handled diplomatically. She told the AIPAC gathering that the world needed to get tough and isolate Iran if it continues its nuclear weapons program, and that the matter would likely be handled in the United Nations Security Council.

“I think we can make diplomacy work here,” she said.

But Holbrooke disagreed. Referring to European efforts to negotiate with Iran on the issue, he said: “Continuing the policy of letting the French, German and British represent an international coalition in Tehran will not succeed. Europe will never be an effective diplomatic tool without the United States taking the lead.”

Rice also said that the Bush administration is continuing to have “pretty intense conversations” with Syria about its support for terrorist groups that target Israel.

“The Syrians, I would say, don’t seem to have gotten the message consistently,” she said. “But I’m confident that if we stay on course and continue to pursue that message, they, too, will understand there isn’t another course for them.”

Both advisers could be central in shaping future foreign policy.

Holbrooke is considered a front-runner for secretary of state in a Kerry administration. And if he doesn’t get that post, he is talked about as a possible Middle East envoy.

While he would not speculate in the interview on possible positions if Kerry wins, he did seek to shore up his credentials. He said he had concerns about dealing with Arafat when he was at the United Nations, and he stressed he was not part of the group associated with the failed Oslo peace plan.

“Oslo was an unsuccessful effort,” he said. “You can’t go back to that situation.”

Rice also would not speculate about the next four years if her boss is re-elected but suggested her desire may not be to continue to serve the administration.

“I am an academic at heart, and there’s a part of me that wants to go back to academic life,” she said. “But I have not made a decision at this time.”

Israeli Expats Solidly Back Bush


If it were up to the Israeli expatriate community in Los Angeles, President Bush would win re-election not just by a landslide but by an earthquake.

Take the middle-aged Israeli waiting for his order of falafel and humus at the Pita Kitchen in Sherman Oaks. Asked about his political choice, the man, who declined to give his name, burst out, “Bush, only Bush. He is a strong man, a man of his word.”

Did he or his adult children know of any Israelis voting for Sen. John Kerry? The man shook his head, pointed a finger to his forehead and delivered his response, “They would be crazy.”

Not all expats are as ardent as the Pita Kitchen patron, but Gal Shor, editor-in-chief of the Hebrew weekly, Shalom LA, estimates that at least 65 percent of Israelis eligible to vote in U.S. elections will cast their ballots for Bush.

“First and last, we’re concerned about Israel and the war on terrorism, and on that, Bush scores much higher,” said Shor, who left no doubt about his personal favorite.

“I came here 15 years ago from a kibbutz background as a lefty, but now I’m completely opposed to the Democrats on both foreign and domestic issues,” he said.

The main exception to the pro-Bush bandwagon, it seems, are Israelis who intermarried with U.S. Jews and have bought into their spouses’ Democratic leanings, Shor said.

Carmella Pardo, who works the Israeli, Russian and ultra-Orthodox communities for the Jewish Voters for Bush, puts the pro-Bush vote among Israelis as high as 80 percent.

“Some of the old timers, who have lived here for decades, are close to the American Jewish community and vote Democratic, but the younger ones and more recent arrivals are solidly for the president,” she said.

The Russians are similar to Israelis in their political outlook, while the ultra-Orthodox don’t vote at all, Pardo added.

Another veteran Israeli observer said that among his friends, “I don’t know a single Israeli who is going to vote for Kerry and not a single American Jew who is going to vote for Bush.”

Avner Hofstein, who arrived here two years ago as the West Coast correspondent for the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharanot, is puzzled and somewhat dismayed by his local countrymen’s pervasive support for the president.

“Apparently, it doesn’t bother Israelis here that Bush really hasn’t been involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the last couple of years,” he said.

“Maybe the fact that Bush has stood solidly by Israel is good for the short term and has helped counterbalance the European anti-Israel stand,” he argued. “But in the long run, by Bush telling [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon that he’ll back him up whatever he does and Bush’s simplistic outlook and policy in general, [it] will weaken and isolate America in the long run, and that’s bad for Israel and the world.”

An unscientific phone poll turned up at least one Israeli advocate for Kerry. Psychologist Yitzhak Berman, a longtime local activist for the left-wing Meretz Party, believes that Bush’s policy runs counter to Israel’s long-term interests.

“While Bush may give Israel a temporary sense of security, he has alienated the entire Muslim world, which will make an eventual peace that much harder to achieve,” Berman said. “Bush is not doing Israel a favor by his uncritical support of the right wing.”

From his perspective as the acting Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, Zvi Vapni believes that putting all the area’s estimated 150,000 Israelis into Bush’s basket is an over-simplification. While many Israeli expats may strike a more militant posture abroad than do the folks at home, “one can’t say that we have a right-wing Israeli community here,” Vapni said.

He drew a distinction between those who live in “Israeli clusters,” read Israeli papers, tune in to Israeli channels, eat in Israeli restaurants and tend to lean to the right.

“But there are many Israelis in academic life, those who work in Silicon Valley and high-tech industries, who are not affiliated with the Israeli community,” Vapni said. “They are more likely to reflect the outlook of the American mainstream.”

 

Court Fence Ruling Upholds Rule of Law


In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the United States government could not force the Native American Cherokee tribe out of its Georgia homes and into reservations in Oklahoma. President Andrew Jackson, appalled by the court’s interference in a jurisdiction he considered exclusively his own, vowed that he would ignore the court’s decision with the words: "[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it."

The court could not. Jackson pushed ahead with his implementation of the Indian Removal Act, and the Cherokees were force-marched westward. Some 4,000 died along the way.

Jackson’s decision to ignore a Supreme Court ruling is considered a low-water mark in America’s history as a nation governed by the rule of law. But, fortunately, the Jackson precedent did not stand.

By the time the Supreme Court ordered President Richard Nixon to surrender those infamous Watergate tapes, there simply was no possibility that Nixon would respond with a Jacksonesque, "Come and get ’em. I dare you." Today, rulings of the Supreme Court are supreme, although it took many years for us to get to that point.

It has not taken Israel quite as long. Last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the route of the security barrier would have to be altered, at significant cost to the state, to eliminate the negative impact the fence had on the lives of some 35,000 Palestinians living adjacent to it. The case was brought by a group of Palestinians, led by the village council of the town of Beit Sourik, just outside Jerusalem.

The unanimous decision stated, "The fence’s current path would separate landowners from tens of thousands of dunams [quarter acres] of land … and would generally burden the entire way of life in the petitioners’ villages."

Adding significance to the ruling is the fact that the court in no way ruled against the concept of the barrier, itself. On the contrary, it endorsed the barrier as a legitimate self-defense measure.

It even conceded that the alterations it was recommending could conceivably reduce security for some Israelis. But, the judges said, "This reduction must be endured for humanitarian considerations."

The judges wrote: "Our job was a difficult one. We are members of Israeli society. Although judges sometimes dwell in an ivory tower, this tower is located inside Jerusalem, which has suffered from unbridled terror. We are aware of the killing and destruction that the terror against the state and its citizens brings. We recognize the need to defend the state and its citizens against terrorism. We are aware that, in the short term, our ruling does not ease the struggle of the state against those who would attack it. This knowledge is difficult for us. But we are judges. When we sit on the bench, we ourselves stand trial…. We are convinced that there is no security without law. Upholding the law is a component of national security."

This decision not only does credit to Israel. It provides a beacon of guidance for all nations struggling to balance security needs and individual rights in the post-Sept. 11 era.

And so does the response of the rest of Israel’s government to the court’s decision. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz both responded that the court had spoken, and that was that. The route of the fence would be altered.

Sharon even addressed the humanitarian considerations that produced the ruling, touching on the justices concern about the olive groves that were being uprooted to make way for the fence.

Speaking to Cabinet ministers, he said, "I don’t know how many of you are farmers. It is very hard when one harms these groves. People invested hard work and sweat here. People invested all of their lives in these groves."

Then, referring to the possibility of legislation overturning the court’s decision, he said, "There will be no law to bypass the High Court of Justice. Forget about it."

So the route of the barrier will be changed. And, the likelihood is that there will be more cases brought to challenge any portion that unnecessarily interferes with the lives of Palestinians. That probably means that the barrier will move closer to the ’67 border, the Green Line.

That is probably good. The barrier that will best accomplish Israel’s security goals — while simultaneously guarding the rights of the Palestinians — is not one that meanders hither and yon through the West Bank, but one with the shortest (and most defensible) lines. A barrier that adheres fairly closely to the Green Line is also the route that defends Israel’s demography to the greatest extent.

The more it strays from the Green Line, the more Palestinians who are included against their will in the Jewish state. That is why the Palestinian leadership says that a Green Line wall is fine with them.

One Palestinian expressed the common sentiment when he said, "Let them build the wall on the Green Line. That is Israel, and any country can build anything it wants on its own territory. But keep it away from my parents’ olive trees."

But all that is commentary. The most significant aspect of the court’s ruling is the ruling itself, and the fact that it will be implemented. The precedent established, for Israel and for all democracies, is a gift to us all.


M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum, is a long-time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report.

View on Mideast ‘Embarrassing’


Recently former President Jimmy Carter spoke out about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as he visited Texas. He spoke of U.S. bias toward Israel, of Arab animosity toward the United States, because of a lack of progress in the peace process and he focused his criticism on the Israeli settlement policy.

His remarks were embarrassing.

It’s difficult, as a former supporter of Carter, to make this statement. It’s difficult to be so critical of a man who in so many aspects of his public life has been a role model.

Yet when a public figure takes positions that are so out of synch with objective fact and reality, even former supporters in the Democratic Party need to speak up.

This is not the first time in recent years that Carter has made his own biased view of the conflict public. Just last year at the ceremony marking the signing of the Yossi Beilin-Yasser Abed Rabbo Geneva initiative, Carter mentioned Palestinian terrorism in passing but left the strong impression that the bulk of the blame for a stalled peace process rests with Israeli "colonization" of Gaza and the West Bank.

In Texas, the ex-president went further. First, he linked animosity in the Arab world toward the United States to the lack of progress in dealing with the Palestinian issue. This is like linking Arab animosity toward the United States with the sun rising every morning.

Yes, our support for Israel’s security creates difficulties for us in the Arab world. But no, Arab animosity toward the United States is far from simply a function of U.S.-Israel friendship.

Moreover, perhaps for a clear majority in the Arab world — and a clear majority of Palestinians today — nothing short of American support for Israel’s disappearance would suffice.

Finally, as the vast number of foreign policy advisers in both parties would agree, the No. 1 — though not the only — roadblock to progress on the peace process is the failure of any Palestinian leadership to stop the violence and negotiate a compromise agreement in good faith.

Carter also criticized the current administration for always supporting the Sharon government and contrasted that stand with the more "balanced" record of past administrations. Here, too, Carter is simply wrong.

Israeli government decisions may not always be deserving of U.S. support, and the Bush Administration has publicly criticized many of those decisions — witness President Bush’s remarks in the heat of the second intifada in April 2002 and last years’ open pressure on Israel to change the course of the security fence. The Bush administration is also the first American administration to forthrightly endorse a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Finally, Carter returned to the issue of settlement policy in again criticizing the Bush administration for its lack of balance. This is like criticizing the United States for not being balanced because it sided with Czechoslovakia not Germany during the Munich crisis of 1938.

In the end, what makes the Carter analysis of the Middle East crisis so embarrassing is its absolute lack of fairness. The former president totally ignores the history of the 2000 Camp David negotiations and the subsequent White House meetings of January 2001, when he places the lion’s share of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Israel. Carter seems to be oblivious to the clear history of Yasser Arafat’s duplicity, and his support for the most odious forms of terror.

When he is being most "fair," our ex-president seems to equate Israeli retaliation with the most savage of Palestinian terrorism against women and children. He appears to choose to ignore the viciousness of the total rejection of Israel’s right to exist — under any circumstances — by not just Hamas but much of the rest of the Palestinian current political universe

Carter, how could you be so blind? No, Israel is not always right. But how could your analysis of the root causes of this conflict so ignore the dysfunctional nature of much of Palestinian nationalism?

Democrats like myself are not anxious to criticize our ex-president in such blunt terms.

It saddens us to publicly criticize the views of a man who clearly cares deeply about his country and the importance of public service. But to fail to do so may leave the impression that he speaks for the Democratic Party. He does not.

And his positions on this issue stand in direct contradiction to our last four presidential nominees, as well as our current presumptive nominee, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass).

U.S., Israel Seek to Help Qurei


Sobered by what they see as past policy errors, Israeli, American and Palestinian leaders are determined to help the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, succeed where his predecessor failed.

Success would mean defusing the three-year-old Palestinian intifada and creating conditions for a new peace process based on the U.S.-sponsored "road map" plan.

Few of the main protagonists are overly optimistic about the outcome, but officials on all sides say they are determined to do better than they did during Mahmoud Abbas’ brief tenure as P.A. prime minister this summer.

Israel seems ready to make farther-reaching peace moves, the Americans are exerting more pressure on Israel and the Palestinians are looking to lay the basis for a more serious peace process.

Moreover, Israeli, American and Palestinian leaders all have their own reasons for wanting to make the process work this time.

In a series of meetings with their Palestinian counterparts, senior Israeli officials have intimated that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is prepared to offer Qurei more than he offered Abbas.

The Americans also believe they could have done more for Abbas, and they have been signaling to both sides that if Qurei takes steps against terror, they will lean on Israel to reciprocate.

"If there is any sign that Abu Ala is serious, we might try to make the Israelis do something to make it worth Abu Ala’s while," a senior American said, using Qurei’s nom de guerre.

For his part, Qurei knows that if he manages to keep a lid on terrorism, he’ll be rewarded. With Sharon signaling a more conciliatory policy and the Americans ready to pressure Israel, Qurei is trying to shape a cease-fire agreement that would stop all Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians — settlers and residents of Israel proper alike — and soldiers.

In return, Israel would sign on to the cease-fire and suspend all military activity against Palestinian terrorists, including targeted killings. Qurei believes that Abbas’ biggest mistake was to initiate a Palestinian cease-fire that did not commit Israel to stop its anti-terror moves.

Sharon has indicated that this time he is ready to accept a mutual cease-fire, even though terrorist organizations might exploit it to regroup. Sharon also is said to be considering offering a bold new peace proposal, including an idea for Palestinian independence beginning in the Gaza Strip, to be followed by the establishment of a Palestinian mini-state in Gaza and 50 percent of the West Bank sometime next year.

Sharon is expected to meet Qurei soon, with the focus on the cease-fire, release of Palestinian prisoners and easing of restrictions on Palestinian movement.

It’s not clear how many, if any, of his bolder ideas Sharon will put on the table in that first meeting.

Sharon has good reasons for wanting to take the process forward. For one, he finds himself under growing domestic pressure. The Likud Party’s relative failure in recent local elections suggests a degree of public disaffection with Sharon’s party. Analysts attribute much of this to the economic slump that many Israelis link to the ongoing violence and the government’s failure to come up with a strategy to stop it.

Moreover, Sharon’s lack of a long-term peace plan has been highlighted by two nongovernmental peace proposals making the rounds: the "Geneva accord," in which Israeli and Palestinian moderates propose a detailed model of a final agreement; and the "People’s Voice" principles framed by former Shin Bet security chief Ami Ayalon and Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh, which has been signed by about 100,000 Israelis and 60,000 Palestinians.

Both initiatives were well-received in Washington, with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz going out of their way to praise them — and, by implication, implying that Sharon could do more.

Then, late last week, four former heads of the Shin Bet, including Ayalon, berated the government for not doing enough to reach a peace deal, which they said was dragging Israel toward catastrophe.

To silence his critics, Sharon is said be a preparing a major policy statement to follow the one he delivered in Herzliya before elections last January. Already dubbed "Herzliya 2," the statement will give a better idea of just how far Sharon is prepared to go in peacemaking.

In the meantime, the Foreign Ministry is working on ideas to ease tensions through Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. Proposals could include expanding the Israeli-Palestinian industrial area near the Erez checkpoint between Israel and the Gaza Strip, providing medical aid to Palestinian hospitals and launching joint projects for Christmas tourism in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Most of all, though, Sharon seems to have been influenced by behind-the-scenes U.S. pressure. For weeks now, the Americans have been pressing Israel to lift closures of Palestinian areas, transfer Palestinian tax funds and dismantle unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts. Israeli officials believe the strong American messages were prompted partly by the U.S. imbroglio in Iraq. The subtext was that Israel’s tough anti-terror measures don’t help America’s already complicated position in the Arab world.

Conversely, the officials said, the Americans believe progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track could help them in the Arab world, as the United States could claim credit for delivering Israeli concessions.

For their part, American officials are skeptical about Sharon’s intentions. There was a palpable shift in attitudes toward Sharon after Abbas’ fall in September.

For months, the word in Washington has been that while Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was the prime culprit in Abbas’ demise, he was not solely to blame. Sharon could have done far more to help the struggling P.A. prime minister establish his leadership.

Qurei, who is considered a more accomplished political operator than Abbas, is trying to build the popular support for his peace moves that Abbas lacked.

He argues that what is hurting the Palestinian people most is the "chaos" caused by intifada violence and retaliation. A cease-fire would enable Qurei’s government to transform the quality of everyday Palestinian life.

More than that, Qurei has embraced the Geneva accord as a model for a final peace deal. The Palestinians always have been reluctant to enter into peace talks with Israel without knowing what a final peace deal would look like. Now Qurei can point to Geneva, or something very close to it, as the goal.

World Briefs


Pardons Not Recommended for Police

No pardons should be given to police officers involved in quelling Israeli Arab riots in October 2000, Israeli officials said. Both Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said the next step in examining the behavior of police, who killed 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian Arab during the riots, should be the investigation recommended this week by the Orr Commission. The comments followed reports that Israel’s police chief is looking into “preemptive pardons.”

Ehud Barak, Wife Separate

Ehud Barak and his wife, Nava, are separating. Lawyers for the former Israeli prime minister and his wife said this week that the two have agreed to a temporary split. They have been married for 34 years and have three daughters.

P.A. Freezing Charities’ Assets?

The Palestinian Authority has reportedly frozen the assets of more than 30 charities, operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, linked to terrorist groups. The Palestinian Authority refused to comment on the report, which was filed by The Associated Press. But many Palestinians did not receive welfare checks Aug. 28 that normally are supplied by these charities.

Powell Raps Arafat

Colin Powell said the “road map” peace plan is making “slow progress.” Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the U.S. secretary of state reiterated calls for Palestinian Authority security forces to be consolidated under the direction of a single person, who would report to P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Powell also chastised P.A. President Yasser Arafat but did not respond to Israeli suggestions that Arafat might be expelled by the end of the year. If some Palestinians “don’t like the road map, I don’t know what they will like, because the road map shows the way forward to the end of violence, the end of terror and the creation of a Palestinian state,” Powell said.

Arrest Fuels British-Iranian Tension

Iranian-British tensions continue to rise following the arrest in Britain of an Iranian diplomat accused of anti-Jewish terrorism. Iran withdrew its ambassador from Britain on Tuesday, and shots were fired at the British Embassy in Tehran on Wednesday. Iran is furious over the arrest of Hade Soleimanpour, Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, which killed 85 people and wounded 200. Soleimanpour was detained in Britain last month after an Argentine judge issued a warrant for his arrest. No one was injured in the shooting at the British Embassy, but there was damage to the building.

Missionary Cleared on Israel Spying

A Lebanese court cleared a Canadian missionary of charges of spying for Israel. The court found Monday that Bruce Balfour was guilty of stirring religious strife but sentenced him only to time served. Prosecutors had accused Balfour, who was arrested in July, of spying on Hezbollah for Israel. Balfour’s organization, Cedars of Lebanon, is dedicated to reviving Lebanon’s cedar forests.

Navigator Arad Might Be Alive

Ron Arad, the Israeli navigator captured when his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, is probably still alive, a new report says. There is no evidence to refute the assumption that Arad is still alive, Israel’s Channel One reported, citing a study presented to the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon. After Arad bailed out of his fighter plane, he was believed to have been captured and held by pro-Iranian troops in Lebanon. The last time a message was received that he was alive was in October 1987.

Minnesota Cemetery Damaged

Some 140 gravestones were overturned at a Jewish cemetery in Minnesota. Last weekend’s vandalism at the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Minnetonka, Minn., caused an estimated $20,000 worth of damage. Local Jewish officials believe the incident likely resulted from hooliganism, not anti-Semitism.

Record Y.U. Group to Israel

Yeshiva University is sending a record number of students to Israel. An all-time high of 675 undergraduates are heading to 40 affiliated yeshivas in Israel for their freshman year at Y.U., the New York-based flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy. Since the freshman year-in-Israel program began in 1980, 9,000 students have participated in the academic program.

Poll: Israelis Are Happy

Eighty-three percent of Israelis are satisfied with their lives, according to a new poll. The survey, conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics for Israel’s Finance Ministry, also found that 53 percent of Israelis are optimistic about the future, 33 percent said things would remain the same and 14 percent are pessimistic. The survey questioned 7,000 Israelis 20 years and older.

‘Judge, Are You Religious?’

The Orthodox Union is joining Catholic groups in challenging congressional concern over judicial nominees who are religious. Nathan Diament, director of public policy at the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs, said Tuesday that several recent nominees with deeply held religious beliefs are being put to an unconstitutional religious test when senators and others in confirmation hearings ask whether their religious views will affect their ability to implement the law.

“This line of questioning either has to be laid to rest, or we really know what’s going on here,” he said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Targeted Killings’ Other Casualties


Killing Hamas leaders wounds the terrorist group, Israeli and Palestinian officials agree. At question is whether moderate Palestinians — and U.S. influence in the region — are also casualties of Israel’s targeted strikes.

Israel has killed at least 11 leaders of Hamas since the group claimed responsibility for a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing on Aug. 19, which killed 21 people, including at least five children.

Israel declared "all-out war" against the group after the bus bombing.

The new frequency of the killings — and the targeting of political as well as military leaders — have led some to wonder whether the Bush administration’s "road map" peace plan, which envisions an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state within three years, is still viable.

"It has a serious effect on the Hamas leadership, on the one hand," Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who now lobbies for the Palestinians in Washington, said of the killings.

On the other hand, he said, "it undermines U.S. credibility on the road map."

Abington said the killings would shift moderate Arab regimes — key to the Bush administration’s plans not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for Iraq — away from support for the United States.

"Israel is assassinating left and right, and the appearance is that the United States is acquiescing," Abington said.

The lack of moderate Arab support in 2000 helped scuttle the Camp David talks when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat refused to take painful steps — such as conceding parts of Jerusalem — knowing he would be on his own.

Israelis say that defeating Hamas ultimately could remove the extremist yoke that has held back the Palestinian leadership until now.

"Hamas has no interest in any political solution," said Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Israel would have preferred the Palestinian Authority to handle Hamas, but they have consistently refused to meet their road map responsibilities and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

In any case, the Hamas attacks — and Israeli retaliation — may mean that the United States fundamentally has to reassess its policies in the region.

"American policy is now in a shambles, the road map no longer seems viable, the cease-fire is in tatters," said Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

If the United States has problems with the intensity of Israel’s reaction, its public expressions have been muted at best.

"Israel has a right to defend herself, but Israel needs to take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after Israel killed top Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a rocket attack on Aug. 21.

Shanab was a political leader who helped broker the recent cease-fire, signed onto by the main Palestinian terrorist groups, which led to a brief period of calm. His killing came just two months after Israel attempted to kill Hamas spokesman and senior member Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

Any American attempt to distinguish between political and military leaders runs the risk of hypocrisy, said Matthew Levitt, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We don’t make a distinction between Osama bin Laden and his foot soldiers, even though bin Laden is not the trigger puller," Levitt said. "Those who commit acts of terrorism and those who order them carried out are just as culpable."

Gold said that political leaders and spokesmen serve the same tactical ends as bombmakers.

"Israel does not accept the argument that there is a difference between the political and military wings of Hamas," he said. "The U.S. used to be very concerned when Al Qaeda spokesmen would appear on Al-Jazeera because they could have had operational messages mixed into their language. The same is true for Hamas spokesmen like Rantissi."

Targeting political leaders is not new: Israel made no distinctions between political and military officials in its famous action against Black September after the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Still, Israel’s recent intensity against Hamas is unprecedented in the way it has confronted the 3-year-old intifada.

Levitt, a former FBI analyst, said there is a tactical advantage to maintaining the intensity of the attacks.

"Having a situation in which all of Hamas has to go underground, moving it from desktops to laptops, is a significant blow to its ability to carry out operations," he said.

Abington agreed that is true in the short term — but is worried that ultimately the targeted killings would only reinforce the militant group.

"It undermines Abu Mazen," Abington said, using the popular name for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

"One reason he has been reluctant to take moves against Hamas is because he thinks the Palestinian street does not support him. Assassinations only inflame support for Hamas."

It was a point echoed by Brown,

"From the Israeli perspective, it’s clear that suicide bombing depends first on capability, and also on a social environment that makes it possible," Brown said. "Assassination targets the first, but makes the second worse."

Still, Brown said, "It strikes me that the killings are motivated by the lack of other options."

There’s No Alternative to Pursuing Peace


The bus bombing in Jerusalem demonstrates, as nothing else could, that there is no alternative to implementing President Bush’s “road map” in all its parts. That means that the Palestinian Authority has to live up to its commitment to shut down the terror groups once and for all, while the Israeli government has to implement a full and complete settlements freeze and allow Palestinians freedom of movement within their own areas.

Of course, following the act of mass murder on Aug. 20, it is hard to imagine that we can just go back to where we were a short time ago. And, in a critical sense, we shouldn’t.

The process that began at the Aqaba summit has simply not worked. Yes, there was relative calm in Israel. For the first time in almost three years, Israelis felt secure enough to dine in sidewalk cafes, enjoy vacations throughout the country and watch the shekel and commodities traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange soar in value.

Palestinians saw some of the hated checkpoints dismantled, which meant somewhat increased ability to move freely in Gaza and Bethlehem. They also welcomed home some of the prisoners released by Israel.

But something fundamental was lacking: goodwill. As has often been said, peace is not merely the absence of war (although the absence of war is a good start). Peace entails the determination to break with the past and begin the process of reconciliation.

The Aqaba peace process was sorely lacking in that determination. Start with the United States, which remains essential in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Without Bush, there would have been no Aqaba process at all. The road map is his road map. It is, in fact, nothing more or less than a codified version of his June 24, 2002, speech.

Without Bush’s efforts, there is virtually no chance that Mahmoud Abbas would have become the Palestinian prime minister or that significant steps would have been taken to push Yasser Arafat aside and begin creating a semblance of Palestinian democracy.

But the United States has not done nearly enough to ensure that Israelis or Palestinians live up to the commitments they made at Aqaba. On one day it appeared that the United States would accept nothing less than Abbas’ dismantling of the terror groups; the next, signals were sent that perhaps dismantling was an unrealistic goal and that it was OK if Abbas simply used the powers of persuasion to make the killers stop.

The same on-and-off approach was applied to the Israelis. One day, the United States was insisting that Israel dismantle the hilltop outposts; the next day, we were closing our eyes as new outposts were put up and settlements were expanded.

The same applied to the security wall. First, the United States made clear that we would not permit the wall to heavily encroach on Palestinian areas well beyond the green line; then we just looked away.

Not surprisingly, Israelis and Palestinians took advantage of the United States’ vacillation to drag their feet about living up to their respective commitments. If the Palestinians did little or nothing — as the Israelis claim — to confront the terror groups, Israel did little or nothing — as the Palestinians claim — to take down the outposts, stop settlement expansion and eliminate the checkpoints that separate one Palestinian village or town from another.

Neither side demonstrated enough interest in satisfying the other’s basic needs: Israel’s need for security from terror and the Palestinian need to achieve freedom of movement. No, each side was playing solely to the U.S. audience. So long as Washington was appeased, Israelis and Palestinians kept doing what they were doing. Feeling little if any pressure, they simply bought time.

And time is what ran out Aug. 20.

Some people are already saying that the road map is dead and that it’s time to understand that peace is unattainable. They are wrong.

They are wrong, because the alternative to peace is an Israel that comes to accept living in constant fear, with a no-growth, no-tourist economy and a no-hope future. They are wrong, because for Palestinians the alternative to peace requires acceptance of a situation in which a 30-minute trip to the doctor’s office takes four hours, because of Israeli checkpoints, and where living conditions are as dire as in sub-Saharan Africa. Neither side will accept that.

But each side must understand that that is their fate if they allow a return to the status quo of 33 months ago.

The process must continue, but it is unrealistic to expect the Bush administration to do it alone, even if it had the inclination to do so. The two peoples have to decide that they want to achieve some form of reconciliation.

Maybe the word peace is too grand. And, after all, it wasn’t peace that was achieved during the past month — before Aug. 19 — but it was a start. It was a start that saved lives and created hope. It was something — just not enough.

Achieving more will require the Bush administration to continue doing what it started to do at Aqaba but to do it with considerably more vigor and consistency. But, even more, it requires the two sides to look into the abyss and understand that the name of the game is not pleasing the United States — it is rescuing their own futures.

Don’t do it for Bush. Do it so that your own kids — like those innocent children who died on that bus — can be free of those terrible nightmares that, all too often, do not disappear in the morning light.


M. J. Rosenberg, policy analysis director for the Israel Policy Forum, is a longtime congressional staffer and former editor of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Near East Report.

British Writer Snubs Pro-Israel Letters


A British newspaper columnist who admits that he ignores pro-Israel letters to the editor if the writer has a Jewish name will not be punished, the country’s media watchdog has decided.

Richard Ingrams, a columnist for the Observer newspaper, made the remark last month in a column criticizing Barbara Amiel, a journalist and the wife of Jerusalem Post proprietor Conrad Black.

"I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it," Ingrams wrote in his July 13 column.

The Observer received about 50 letters and e-mails in response to the column, including one from the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews.

Neville Nagler, the director general of the board, called Ingrams’ position "quite unacceptable."

"If a Jewish person chooses to support the Israeli government, this does not make his argument any less legitimate than a non-Jewish person’s," Nagler wrote. "It is deeply worrying that a journalist of your paper is so willing to blind himself to one side of this sad conflict."

Another person who complained to the paper about the column pointed out that many Jews are highly critical of Israel.

"Ingrams would thus exclude names such as [Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag and David Grossman — all fierce critics of Israeli policy –] from the public debate on Israel, on much the same ethnic principle as Jews were once blackballed from certain gentlemen’s clubs," R.J. Chisholm wrote.

The Observer’s own journalist employed to investigate reader complaints admitted that the piece was "inflammatory" and "bigoted."

"I agree with a reader who pointed out that Ingrams’ piece displayed such a degree of prejudice against Jews that it will be impossible ever again to take seriously anything he writes about Israel," journalist Stephen Pritchard wrote on Aug. 3.

But the Press Complaints Commission, which received two formal complaints about the piece, has decided not to take action against Ingrams.

"It is clear there has been no breach of the code" governing newspapers, commission spokesman Stephen Abell told Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Complaints were filed on two grounds, he explained: accuracy and discrimination.

The column did not breach the accuracy clause because it was clearly labeled opinion, rather than news, Abell said. And the code’s discrimination clause applies only to named individuals, not to groups, he said.

"[Ingrams] wasn’t naming individuals, he was making a point about a group," Abell said.

The column might have been offensive, he said, but that is not a violation of newspaper guidelines.

"Matters of taste and offensiveness aren’t covered by the code," he said.

Norman Lebrecht, a former columnist for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper, supported the commission’s decision.

He called it a matter of courtesy to read one’s mail, adding, "If a columnist chooses to be discourteous, that isn’t a matter for the Press Complaints Commission."

"There is no anti-Semitism" in Ingrams’ refusal to read mail from Jews in support of Israel, he told JTA.

The reaction to the column stemmed from anxiety in the Jewish community, Lebrecht said.

"There is an awful lot of nervousness in the community at the moment, [and the complaints] are a manifestation of that," he said.

In May, the Press Complaints Commission rejected a complaint that a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating a baby was anti-Semitic. The commission said it based its decision on the grounds that the cartoon criticized Sharon’s policies, not his religion.

‘Dreamers’ Still Hold Hope for Peace


Sometimes, they say, hope shines brightest in the darkest hours. Palestinians and Israelis have never been further apart in the past decade, with nearly 3,000 people killed in the two years of the Palestinian intifada.

Yet "the dreamers," as some call them, are still busy preparing peace plans, as if all that is needed to bring peace to the Holy Land are a few intelligent position papers. Many of the peace plans are the work of academics and would-be politicians.

Lacking the authority to implement their plans, the authors are free to combine fantasy with wishful thinking. However, among the "dreamers" are some with sound political records, and — perhaps more importantly — they represent Palestinian-Israeli collaboration.

While the plans may have little chance of being implemented in the near future, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has many examples where once-radical ideas slowly moved from the margins to the mainstream, finally becoming policy. Even the Oslo accords, which radically reshaped relations between the two parties and held out the prospect of peace, began in talks led by Israeli academics before the Israeli leadership offered its sponsorship.

Top on the list of "dreams" right now are the joint peace plans of Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, on the one hand, and Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh on the other. Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords and a former justice minister, recently quit the Labor Party and joined Meretz. Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian Authority minister of culture and information, is considered among the more moderate Palestinian figures.

Ayalon is a decorated commando, former commander of both the navy and the Shin Bet general security service and an outspoken dove. Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, holds the Palestinian Liberation Organizatio’s Jerusalem portfolio and is a longtime advocate of peace with Israel.

All four are respected figures, yet all represent a minority in their communities, without the power to initiate real change.

It’s not always easy to find the differences between the plans. Both call for many of the same principles: a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian renunciation of the right of return and of terrorism, an end to Israeli control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to Beilin, the main difference between the two documents is that the Ayalon-Nusseibeh blueprint serves as a declaration of principles, whereas the Beilin-Abed Rabbo paper goes into details, trying to continue negotiations that broke off in Taba nearly two years ago. Beilin and Abed Rabbo began working on their agreement shortly after the Taba talks ended.

"A few days after Taba, I told Yossi that had we had a little more time, we could have reached a final and absolute settlement," Abed Rabbo said. "Even today, I believe that never before in the history of the two peoples were they so close to an agreement."

Beilin and Abed Rabbo say they are again close to reaching an agreement — but they no longer have the political influence to carry it out.

Both teams are still working on their papers, and want to publicize them after Israel’s Jan. 28 election. Beilin is convinced that Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna would support his plan if he didn’t feel obligated to take Labor toward the center to attract undecided voters. Both teams have refrained from officially publishing their papers, fearing that publication would cause more harm than benefit.

Though Labor recently chose a Knesset list that is more centrist than Mitzna, there are some indications that the left still maintains strong influence within the party. For example, the party’s election platform for the first time will refer to Jerusalem just as "Israel’s capital, including its Jewish neighborhoods." Gone is the traditional reference to Jerusalem as "whole and united," implying that Labor would be willing to relinquish Arab parts of the city.

Even former party chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said that control over the "holy basin" — the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City — would be negotiated among representatives of the three major religions, a far cry from the official Likud policy that no concessions will be made on Jerusalem.

Similarly, Palestinian moderates have published advertisements in the East Jerusalem media calling on the Palestinians to support the Israeli peace camp, specifically mentioning Mitzna and Ayalon. The ads are signed by The Popular Campaign for Peace and Democracy-Palestine, apparently a front organization for Nusseibeh’s supporters.

The ads openly call for Palestinian intervention in the elections on Mitzna’s behalf. "Mitzna is committed to the solution proposed by Ami Ayalon," one ad read. "Let us help him to implement its clauses." "Supporting the Ayalon document means evacuation of the settlements," another ad read.

The ads quote parts of the Ayalon-Nusseibeh document. For the first time, they say, the document includes "recognition of the Palestinian right of return," but specifies that Palestinian refugees will be able to return only to a future Palestinian state, not to Israel.

Previous, unofficial versions of the document had referred only to "recognition of the suffering and plight of the Palestinian refugees." The Beilin-Abed Rabbo draft refers to "a symbolic solution of the refugee problem," without specifically mentioning that the Palestinians give up the "right of return."

In any case, Abed Rabbo said, a worldwide plebiscite among Palestinian refugees will have to be held for them to endorse such a solution. For its part, Israel would give up control of the Temple Mount under the Beilin-Abed Rabbo plan, though it doesn’t say so explicitly.

While such proposals may seem far-fetched given the current level of violence and terrorism, most Israelis and Palestinians believe their leaders one day will return to the bargaining table — and they may just be looking for some fresh ideas to revive the peace process.

Your Letters


Hamilton High

Regarding the situation at Hamilton High School (“Hamilton High’s Sour Note,” Sept. 20), where one of our children is a student, let’s get clear about several facts that were omitted from your article. First, this is not a Jewish issue. There are Jews and non-Jews on both sides of the dispute. Framing it as a Jewish concern is a good organizing technique, but it is a false and inflammatory characterization.

Second, magnet programs undoubtedly persuade some educated, middle-class parents to keep their kids in the LAUSD beyond elementary school, but a magnet program is not the only way to do that. Our other child attends University High School, which has no magnet programs. Nevertheless, it is a diverse and excellent school with a higher proportion of white students than Hamilton.

Finally, if there is a Jewish principle at stake, it is tzedek (justice). Rather than wring our hands over a personnel decision, the Jewish community should be supporting efforts to build more and better facilities for the thousands of immigrant children entering the public schools each year. Let’s help these children benefit from public education just as our immigrant parents and grandparents did in the past.

Susan Bartholomew and Sandy Jacoby , Los Angeles

Your article about the Hamilton High School Music Academy almost got it right. Your reporter suggested that the passionate support of Jeff Kaufman and the magnet school by the parents, students and faculty of the high school was matched by detractors in that same community. Wrong. There was absolutely no demonstrable support for Jeff’s transfer other than from the administration that showed no respect for parent or student concerns or input. The administration was not interested in how the school’s stakeholders felt. What a wonderful civics lesson for our children.

Edward Friedman, Los Angeles

Withholding Our Funds

We read Steve Berman’s article “Withholding Our Funds From Territories” (Aug. 30) with great dismay. Berman asserts that the historical policy of United Jewish Communities (UJC) to discriminate against Jews who live across the Green Line “creates avenues for Jewish unity and minimized division.” How does withholding social service assistance from Israelis who live in the Old City — and were injured in the same terrorist attack as other Israelis who live a few meters away — create Jewish unity?

Berman argues that we should not play a role in forming Israeli policy with regard to the territories and that withholding funds to the residents of the territories satisfies this goal. This argument is spurious. Denying Israelis who live across the Green Line access to charitable funds is major interference in Israeli policy. It is both a policy statement and discrimination. The UJC’s role should be to give charitable assistance to all Jews in need and not to discriminate against a segment of the Israeli population on the basis of the political views of some of the UJC’s donors.

The UJC’s changed policy is a significant part of the reason that our synagogue chose to replace an internal fundraiser on Shavuot with one for the Jews in Crisis Campaign. We hope that funds raised to help all Israelis are not held hostage while Berman and others like him seek to create their version of Jewish unity through insisting on divisive distinctions and discrimination.

Howard and Elayne Levkowitz, Los Angeles

Sin

I was very moved by Amy Klein’s insight into the holiday of Yom Kippur in her recent article (“Sin,” Sept. 13). I was raised in a Reform Jewish family but became Orthodox in my early 20s. I also struggled with the issue of sin, begging God to forgive me every Yom Kippur. I would call on Him for forgiveness after every mikvah before the Sabbath with no success. I wondered what I was missing. Where was the God of Israel that spoke as a friend to our forefathers I wondered?

In my search for answers, I discovered that our God is alive and well and has provided a way for all of us to experience real forgiveness and peace.

Cyril Gordon, Los Angeles

Strange BRU

Kudos to Mike Levy for bringing the shenanigans of Eric Mann and the Bus Riders Union (BRU) to light (“Strange BRU,” Aug. 9). As a recent visitor to Los Angeles, I read his article and was shocked and dismayed that Mann, a Jew, would stoop to a level so low as to accept money for one cause and direct to another that is so detrimental to his people.

Who are his people anyway? The transit-dependent working individuals who has the notion that the BRU would represent their interest to improve bus service in Los Angeles? Or the Palestinians?

Abbie G. Rosenberg , Watsonville

Makom Ohr Shalom

I am so pleased that you published a profile of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (“Standup, Sit-down, See the Light,” Sept. 13). There were a few misstatements in the article that I would like to correct: First, Makom Ohr Shalom Congregation meets in Tarzana. We rent a community ballroom in the catering facility of St. Mary’s Church, 5955 Lindley Ave., where we hold services every Friday evening and on the Holidays. Second, our Yom Kippur Healing Service has absolutely nothing to do with massage. Massage would be wholly inappropriate and has never been practiced at Makom Ohr Shalom. Finally, Makom Ohr Shalom was described as “the XX synagogue” — apparently a word was dropped. True, Makom Ohr Shalom is not easily categorized. Its rabbis over the last 25 years have had Reform, Conservative, Jewish Renewal and Lubavitch training. To fill in the blank, Makom Ohr Shalom is, I hope, a welcoming synagogue and a joyous one.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein , Makom Ohr Shalom

Corrections

In the Sept. 20 Circuit, Young Judaea was spelled incorrectly.

The Community Brief, “Birthright Israel Plans to Send 1,000 to Israel” (Sept. 20), should have read:

Headline: “Birthright Israel Plans to Send 11,000 to Israel”

“Birthright Israel hopes to send 11,000 participants to Israel this year, despite violence in the Middle East. The program has sent over 30,000 students to Israel in the past 2 1¼2 years.”

Your Letters


Withholding Funds

We are writing in support of the opinion expressed by Steve Berman opposing the policy of United Jewish Communities (UJC) supporting settlers living beyond what will be the revised Green Line (“Withholding Our Funds From Territories,” Aug. 30).

For almost 50 years, we have been significant contributors to the United Jewish Fund, et al., have held many leadership positions and have always been confident that the funds were used to build a strong and secure Israel. We were dismayed to read that there is a new policy where grants are now being given to settlers living in the West Bank. Although we understand the humanitarian purpose behind these grants, in our opinion the UJC is making a political statement by such support, and that is a position we strongly oppose. Continuation of the blanket support of settlements represents a most serious block to any constructive efforts to move forward the Israel-Palestinian peace effort. Therefore, any aid given to the settlers who are living beyond what will be the revised Green Line, even under the banner of humanitarian relief, gives support to the settler movement, which we feel is so destructive of efforts to build a peaceful and secure Israel. We care deeply about Israel and its struggle for survival and healthy growth.

There are many other worthy organizations whose total efforts are aimed at that goal. We find it difficult to continue support of the UJC, whose policy only makes any peaceful solution more difficult. Therefore we strongly urge this policy be re-examined, both at the local and the national level.

Richard and Lois Gunther, Los Angeles

Question of Blood

In Dan Gordon’s article (“A Question of Blood,” May 24) the following appeared:

“I heard a story, which I did indeed find chilling. It was told to me by Dr. David Zangen, chief medical officer of the Israeli paratroop unit, which bore the brunt of the fighting in Jenin.

“Zangen stated that the Israelis not only worked to keep the hospital in Jenin open, but that they offered the Palestinians blood for their wounded. The Palestinians refused it because it was Jewish blood.”

On Aug. 25, there was a meeting in Melbourne, Australia, organized by the State Zionist Council of Victoria. The guest speaker was Zangen. I was not at this meeting, but I understand that Zangen categorically denied ever having said anything like that to Gordon, and denied being aware of any incident in which Palestinians had refused blood from the Israelis.

Harold Zwier, Melbourne, Australia

Dan Gordon responds:

I spoke with some 50 Israeli soldiers, officers and enlisted men, reservists, conscripts and career army personnel on site in Jenin, Bethlehem, Beit Jallah, at military headquarters (the Kirya) in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. I did not write the article in question until almost a month after my return from Jenin. Could I have misattributed a story told by one Israeli officer to another Israeli officer; in this case, Zangen? Yes.

I did not, however, misattribute who confirmed the story. That was Col. Arik Gordin (Res.) of the Israeli Military spokesman’s office. On May 13, I received the following e-mail from Gordin:

“I made some inquiries about the blood donations. It was confirmed by the spokesman of the office of the coordinator of the government activities in the territories that the Palestinians refused our offer of blood. They said they would not take blood from Israel … in short, the story you heard onsite is true.”

If I misattributed the source of that story to Zangen, I again profoundly apologize. I did not however, misattribute the confirmation of that story, nor misstate it as it was related to me.

A Home for the Holidays

I could not believe my eyes when I read the article about alternative services at local synagogues (“A Home for the Holidays,” Aug. 30). I counted 15 services listed, but not one mention of the Library Minyan at Temple Beth Am.

It does not do it for me to read that “this is just a small sampling….” To exclude Beth Am is somewhat ludicrous, because the Beth Am Library Minyan was the pioneer of alternative services in Los Angeles.

I remember when Rabbi Jacob Pressman introduced the idea, it was greeted with some hesitancy. It grew, and although the name remained the same, it had to move to larger quarters in the synagogue.

I know Julie Gruenbaum Fax is usually very thorough in her research, so I was surprised at this glaring omission.

Marjorie Pressman, Los Angeles

 

Arab Hatred

Larry Derfner thinks the only reason Israel has problems with the Palestinians is the presence of Israeli settlers and soldiers on the West Bank, “lording it over them” (“The Irrelevance of Arab Hatred,” Aug. 30). He is wrong. The goal of the Palestinian Authority is to destroy the State of Israel and eliminate Jews from the Middle East. Yasser Arafat founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization, with the avowed goal of destroying Israel, at a time when there was no occupation; not one Israeli in all Judea, Samaria or Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority has changed its name, but not its goal, its leadership or its tactics of terrorism. It is the destruction of the Jewish state that Arafat seeks, not an independent state on the West Bank.

Deborah Koken, Costa Mesa

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Larry Derfner’s opinion piece is breathtaking in its wisdom. If only the world had been given the benefit of his insight in 1939. An article entitled “The Irrelevance of German anti-Semitism and anti-Slavism” would have prevented those sky-is-falling Jews and Poles and Russians from worrying about the oft-stated Nazi desire to kill or enslave them.

Chaim Sisman , Los Angeles

Jewish ‘Life’ in Simi

The anonymous writer (Letters, Aug. 23) responding to the article “Jewish ‘Life’ Comes to Simi” ( Aug. 9), makes an important point: There is and has long been a diverse and vital Jewish population in the area. Demographics also indicate this an area where Jewish families are moving.

We take pride in the fact that this is truly a community effort and feel compelled to correct two misunderstandings: “I hope the B’nai Emet people find a way to include Chabad.”

First, the Jewish Life Center is a separate entity from Congregation B’nai Emet. B’nai Emet is donating land that will be the site of the Jewish Life Center. The sad fact is that in an area with over 8,000 Jews, there is no permanent home or Jewish center to serve the community: Congregation B’nai Emet leases space in an industrial park and Chabad operates from a modest storefront. Our board is representative of the entire community and includes people such as Margy Rosenbluth, immediate past president of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance; Arnold Saltzman of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks & Mortuary; and Glen Becerra, the mayor pro tem of Simi Valley.

Second, we have made efforts to include Chabad, discussing with its Simi Valley rabbi such things as creating a Jewish library and designing a kosher kitchen suitable for Chabad functions.

Those of us involved in The Jewish Life Center wish to create a warm, welcoming home where all can gather to share our traditions, culture and values.

Nancy Beezy Micon Board Chair

Mark Friedman Chief Financial Officer

The Jewish Life Center of Simi Valley

Jane Ulman

Thank you for the return of Jane Ulman. Reading her column on Jeremy’s Bar Mitzvah was like turning on a 500-watt light in a darkened room (“The ‘Contemporary’ Bar Mitzvah,” Aug. 9). The column brightened the whole paper.

Elvan L. Spilka Des Moines, Iowa

Ventura Festival

The recent Ventura County Jewish Festival was a great event in a county with a quickly growing Jewish population. Too bad that part of the region snubbed the event altogether.

Thousand Oaks, which is clearly in Ventura County even though it orients itself toward The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, failed to be represented by any congregations or organizations. Simi Valley is further east, but its congregation set up a booth, as did organizations from Los Angeles, including The Jewish Journal. Considering that the festival was held at the new CSUCI campus adjacent to Camarillo, a city that borders Thousand Oaks, these no-shows are sad.

Ventura County is full of Jewish newcomers, Jewish residents who travel into Los Angeles and Jews unaffiliated with the existing congregations. The entire Conejo Valley missed a stellar opportunity to reach out to potential members.

Steve Greenberg , Camarillo

Hurray for Bush!


President Bush’s call for a change in Palestinian leadership as a step toward Palestinian statehood is being praised by American Jewish leaders and analysts as historic.

Some questioned how complete a road map Bush had laid out in his long-awaited Mideast policy speech June 24. (For speech excerpts, see below.) But Jewish leaders generally issued a sigh of relief that Bush overwhelmingly had placed the onus on the Palestinians to prove their commitment to peace before any peace process could move forward.

“None of the Jewish community’s anxieties were realized,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

In the weeks before the speech, Jewish groups had been concerned that Bush would recommend the quick formation of a Palestinian state in hopes of inducing Palestinians to stop their campaign of violence against Israel. Such a call, many Jewish groups warned, would be tantamount to rewarding terrorism, rather than repudiating it.

However, Bush presented a vision toward eventual Palestinian statehood that called for the ouster of the current Palestinian Authority leadership, fundamental reform in Palestinian institutions and a repudiation of the culture of violence and terrorism that the Palestinian Authority has tolerated. Bush called for Arafat’s removal after receiving information last week showing that the leader had authorized a $20,000 payment to a group that claimed responsibility for the most recent suicide attack in Jerusalem, The New York Times reported.

While never mentioning Arafat by name in his speech, Bush made clear that he considers Arafat’s removal from power a precondition to progress, a position that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has long advocated.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, described Bush’s call to oust Arafat as “historic,” saying, “For the leader of the world’s leading superpower to explicitly call for the Palestinian people to change their leadership is almost unprecedented.”

Harris said the Bush administration “connected the dots” on the Palestinian leadership’s ties to terrorism, after Israel provided extensive documentation of Arafat links to terrorist organizations, weapons-smuggling, payments to terrorists and financial support for the families of suicide bombers.

The president called on the Palestinians to elect new leaders “not compromised by terror” and said that once violence ended, the United States would support a Palestinian state. Long into the speech, Bush made some demands on Israel: pull the army back to its positions before the intifada began in September 2000, release tax money due to the Palestinian Authority and end settlement construction. However, he made it clear that such steps would be demanded of Israel only after the Palestinians had reformed their government and made clear their willingness to coexist peacefully.

Pressure was also placed on Arab states to end incitement against Israel, to denounce terrorist actions and to stop transferring funds and equipment to terrorist organizations targeting Israel. Bush also pledged additional humanitarian and financial aid to the Palestinians, from both the United States and international monetary groups.

Analysts saw the speech as the long-term vision for the Middle East that had been absent since the Oslo peace process collapsed at the end of 2000. Since Bush took office last year, many believed that his administration was handling situations on the fly, without a clear game plan.

“He has essentially created a post-Oslo framework,” said David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He is making it clear that Palestinian aspirations for statehood are intertwined with reform and security.”

In the weeks before the speech, Arab leaders had pressed Bush to set forth a deadline by which a Palestinian state would be established. Jewish and Israeli leaders, on the other hand, called instead for benchmarks that would be used to judge Palestinian performance.

Bush’s speech clearly sided with Israel’s call for a performance-based plan, while mentioning that if the Palestinians were vigorous in their reforms, the process should be completed within three years. At the end of that time, however, the Palestinians would have only “provisional” statehood, with borders and certain aspects of their sovereignty to be defined in negotiations with Israel.

That was another disappointment for the Palestinians. They had wanted Bush to back their demand for a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Instead, Bush backed Israel’s interpretation of crucial U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which does not call for a complete Israeli withdrawal from land seized in the 1967 Six-Day War. Instead, it calls for a withdrawal to “secure and recognized” borders that the two sides would negotiate.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and others could no longer accuse the United States of not playing a leadership role and blame Israel for the plight of Palestinians.

“It’s not a reward for terrorism but a reward for the end of terrorism,” Hoenlein said. “It’s holding out hopes for a provisional arrangement and the ultimate possibility of a state, but conditioned on performance and meeting requirements.”

A senior administration official said that two suicide bombings earlier this month in Jerusalem, which killed 26 Israelis, made the president “more resolute” to seek alternative Palestinian leadership. “Finally, you have to say something has to change, something has to be different,” the official said.

Yet analysts say questions remain about the plan’s implementation. “What’s the follow-through?” asked Ted Mann, former president of the Israel Policy Forum and past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Bush noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell will “work intensively” with international leaders. There was no discussion of a new high-level trip to the Middle East or an international summit, which were both anticipated. A senior administration official told Jewish leaders that garnering international support would be key to implementing the president’s plans. He said that Powell soon will begin coordinating positions with Europe and Russia.

Giving a speech that reaffirms the diplomatic solutions to the conflict is important in and of itself, said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Stephen Cohen, a national scholar for the Israel Policy Forum, said the three-year time frame that Bush envisioned toward a Palestinian state is a “good goal line.” Cohen, who joined Arab American leaders in calling for a more active U.S. role in resolving the conflict, stressed, “We need far more direct American engagement in order to meet that goal.”

Despite the widespread support for the speech, some Jewish officials and analysts were concerned. Bush’s speech was “dead on arrival” and was “the most foolish speech by an American president on the Middle East,” Middle East analyst Daniel Pipes said. Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum called backing a Palestinian state a “reward for terrorism.” He said, “It’s a very mischievous speech. It says to the Palestinians that what you have done has won you concessions of the United States.”

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author and past chair of Americans for Peace Now, said she was concerned by Bush’s call to replace to Arafat. “I don’t think America can dictate, ‘Dump your leader,'” she said. “I think the Palestinian legislature and the Palestinian people have to do that.”

Pogrebin also said the speech did not place enough pressure on Israel. “I don’t see where, if you were a Palestinian living with the barrel of an Israeli gun in front of you and tanks all around you, that you would see the light at the end of the tunnel here.”

Stand With Us


“Tell the truth, don’t you think we need to create a wall between Israel and the Palestinians?”

“Be honest, don’t you think the United States should send in peacekeeping troops?”

I’ll tell the truth. I’m uncomfortable with American Jews, rising from spiritual slumber to suggest Israeli policy. Especially while their college-age children are in earshot. Especially when there is so much they could do besides yak.

In the last week, since the inception of the Passover suicide bombings, I have heard otherwise sophisticated Jews offer one outrageous scenario after another: outlandish military “solutions” include rushing to send in peacekeeping forces; the potential arrival of suicide bombers here in Los Angeles or New York; or suspected anti-Semitism among normally loving non-Jewish friends. Paranoia and paralysis are replacing thinking.

I understand why. It’s easier to have bellicose political opinions than to take action that will help Israel during this difficult time.

But the truth is, we in America have work to do besides such fancies. Support for Israel is the job of the Jewish community here. We have to make the case to the rest of the American community, and to do it in ways that link America’s own anti-terrorist battle with the defense of Israel’s democracy as clearly as possible.

My personal favorite action is support of the New Israel Fund (I’m on the board). Visit its Web site (www.newisraelfund.org) and see the wide range of civil- and human-rights programs the Fund helps, including SHATIL, which promotes Jewish-Arab equality and coexistence, and the Israel-U.S. Civil Liberties Law Program. War or no war, New Israel Fund helps Israeli Jews and Palestinians live together. These programs need your support, for they are the hope of the Israeli future.

I found myself this week on the Web site www.standwithus.com . The Web site falls in the category of propaganda, meaning one-sided presentation of facts, but it does it well. And in the absence of coherent political ideas, propaganda has a job to do.

Based in Los Angeles, standwithus.com, one of the co-sponsors of last Tuesday’s rally in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard, is the closest thing I’ve found to a refresher course in Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian state.

Dissecting the Palestinian case, it argues that Arafat’s real interest is an end to the Jewish state. It’s convincing.

I spoke with one of the founders of standwithus.com. She asked for anonymity, given what she said was the potential for physical threat in this dangerous moment.

“The Palestinian leadership has poisoned its people about terrorism,” said the woman we’ll call Ruth. “They’re suffering.”

Ruth said standwithus.com is building a registry of those who want e-mail updates about what is happening in Israel. The site has an action page, telling people how to protest media treatment of Israel. Last month, the organization took aim at TV personality Geraldo Rivera:

“He calls himself a Zionist. He weaves his reports with the thread of caring and loyalty…. He assumes the right to consistently bash Israel through the Arab spin,” the Web site claimed, urging calls and petitions to Fox network.

“Israel stands alone,” said Ruth, who was active in the plight of Soviet Jewry and the 1967 Israeli war. “We want to build a coalition bigger than just the Jewish community. The world is pretty quiet.”

What else can be done? Read Tom Friedman and William Safire in The New York Times. Also check out the Jerusalem Report and Jerusalem Post (both fine examples of an Israeli free press). Stay away from TV news until you understand the politics of Egypt and Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Ignore “Hardball” until you can name all the past secretaries of state.

Sharon Agrees to Let Peres Negotiate


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy of "no talks under fire" is increasingly coming under fire within Israel.

Initially, Sharon’s refusal to hold diplomatic talks with the Palestinian Authority until Palestinian violence against Israel ceases completely was supported by Israelis virtually across the board.

Increasingly, however, it is being criticized by Israeli opinion-makers, who cite examples of other nations that simultaneously fought and talked with their enemies.

Five months into Sharon’s term of office, pundits note that the prime minister has restored neither peace nor security to Israel — and they are wondering if it is time to change tactics.

This week, Sharon finally budged. Amid talk that a frustrated Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was considering leaving the government, Sharon agreed to let Peres meet with the Palestinian leadership to discuss a cease-fire.

However, Sharon stipulated that a senior army figure must be present, ensuring that Peres does not negotiate anything of broader diplomatic significance.

At the same time, however, Sharon was assiduously courting both the settler-oriented National Religious Party and the moderate Center Party. In fact, just as rumors flourished that Peres might pull Labor out of the government, stories began circulating in the Israeli media that Sharon would offer the Foreign Ministry to Center Party leader Dan Meridor as an incentive to join the government.

In any case, Sharon’s newfound diplomatic flexibility has had little practical effect, as the Palestinians now refuse to talk to Israel.

Palestinian officials said this week that as long as Israel maintains its "occupation" of Orient House, the Palestinians’ unofficial headquarters in Jerusalem, there is nothing for the two sides to discuss.

The Security Cabinet ordered Israeli security forces to seize Orient House and Palestinian Authority offices in Abu Dis, located just outside the Jerusalem city limits, after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up Aug. 9 in a Jerusalem pizzeria, killing 15 people, many of them children.

Along with two other Labor ministers, Peres opposed the largely symbolic seizure of Orient House, saying that it would set back any hope of resuming diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians.

But the Cabinet majority — including Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, also of Labor — preferred this form of reprisal to a large-scale military action that could result in heavy casualties.

Sharon allowed Peres to launch the new diplomatic overture after a wave of unrest within Labor ranks appeared to threaten the stability of the national unity government.

Last week, interim Labor leader Peres found himself repeatedly challenged by party loyalists to demonstrate how Labor’s presence in the Cabinet was influencing Sharon’s policies.

The two contenders for Labor leadership in Sept. 4 primaries — Ben-Eliezer and Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg — both say they would stay in the unity government. However, some political observers believe that if front-runner Burg is chosen, he will move to end Labor’s union with Likud.

Prominent party doves like Yossi Beilin long have argued that Labor is damaging itself by staying in Sharon’s government.

The prime minister’s mantra of "no talks under fire" has become one of the main irritants to Laborites.

Sources close to Peres argue that now, since Sharon has given him the go-ahead to hold cease-fire talks, the source of controversy has evaporated.

Granted, Sharon’s permission was only for talks toward a cease-fire, not political negotiations on wider-ranging issues.

In practice, the sources say, it is impossible to fully separate military and political issues. They also hope that a cease-fire will produce immediate progress on the recommendations of a U.S.-led panel, known as the Mitchell Commission, to bring the two sides back to peace talks.

The sources say that Peres’ influence in Sharon’s smaller, inner Cabinet was crucial in convincing a reluctant premier to accept the Mitchell Commission recommendations. They include an Israeli military redeployment, a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and further confidence-building measures from each side.

Similarly, they say, Peres’ influence prevented a huge military escalation in the wake of the June 1 Palestinian terror bombing outside a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 Israelis and wounded more than 100.

Right now, however, Peres’ influence is more hypothetical than real, as no progress has been made with the Palestinians on the diplomatic front.

There are no signs that the Palestinians will respond to the shift on the Israeli side. Instead, Palestinian officials appear more concerned with voicing outrage over the seizure of Orient House.

Behind the scenes, Israeli officials, who have maintained informal ties with the Palestinian leadership, are redoubling their efforts to bring Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s top men back to the table.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that Peres met recently with former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Ron Pundak, architects of the original Oslo accords. The pair are said to be operating an "alternative Foreign Ministry" from the Tel Aviv office of the Economic Cooperation Foundation.

Beilin is trying to organize a "Second Madrid Conference" for the end of October, the 10th anniversary of the international conference that followed the Gulf War and marked the beginning of open peace talks between the Arab states and Israel, the paper said.

Beilin reportedly visited Cairo this week in an attempt to advance the idea. He already has a number of backers in the international community, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Other Israelis who favor renewing negotiations argue that if the Palestinian Authority demonstrates a "100 percent effort" against terrorism — a phrase reiterated this week by President Bush — then international pressure would force Israel to ease its restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This, they say, would move the two sides back from the abyss and toward a full diplomatic engagement.

Informed Israeli sources say that Sharon knows this would be the inevitable price if the Palestinians finally "bite."

Sharon likely would face resistance from parts of his own constituency, who believe that Arafat has discredited himself as a negotiating partner and that Israel should seek to deter Palestinian violence through harsh military responses rather than the promise of political gains.

However, the best reading of Sharon appears to be that he wants to end the spiral of violence, and is prepared to take political risks to do so.

So far, however, the Palestinians are not "biting." That was the unfortunate political reality as another week of blood and suffering drew to a close.

Different Tactics


If U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made anything clear during his visit this week to Israel and the Palestinian-controlled city of Ramallah, it was that things have changed since President Clinton left office.

First, there was the duration of his visit — one day — with Powell’s meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders wedged in between stop-offs in Egypt and Jordan.

Second, there was the absence of U.S. proposals — a hallmark of the Clinton era — aimed at ending the more than five months of Israeli-Palestinian violence and forging a final peace accord.

While Powell called on both sides to end the violence and return to negotiations — and pointedly told Israel to lift the economic sanctions it has imposed on the Palestinian Authority — he had little else to suggest to the two sides in his public comments other than that it is up to them to make the "hard decisions" that will enable them to return to the road of peace.

Since President Bush took office in late January, U.S. officials have said that while they will continue to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, it is but one facet of their overall Middle East policy.

Indeed, Powell’s trip to the Middle East — his first since becoming the top U.S. diplomat — appeared to be less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than getting Arab support for U.S. policies aimed at containing Iraq.

Powell’s regional tour included a stop in Kuwait to attend celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the end of the Persian Gulf War.

During meetings with Arab leaders this week, Powell discussed the need to keep sanctions against Iraq in place — first imposed in the wake of the war — in order to deal with the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

In fact, during a joint news conference with Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon on Sunday, Powell stressed that Saddam had to be restrained.

Citing German intelligence reports that Baghdad might have nuclear weapons in three years, Powell said, "We have to make sure that we do everything we can to contain" Saddam.

As Powell arrived in Syria for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad, a state-run Syrian newspaper sharply criticized the emphasis on Iraq.

A front-page editorial accused Powell of ignoring the killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces.

During their meeting, Powell and Assad discussed the peace process, sanctions against Iraq and the oil it imports from Iraq through a pipeline to the Mediterranean.

The United States believes that Syria, which is seeking a seat on the U.N. Security Council next year, will halt the imports, thereby complying with U.N. sanctions against Iraq, a senior U.S. official told Reuters.

The difficulty of putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was underscored by several incidents that took place during Powell’s visit.

As Powell was urging the two sides to take steps to stop the cycle of violence, two Israeli settlers were wounded in separate shooting attacks in the West Bank. The commander of Israeli forces in the area said it is possible the two attacks were linked.

He noted that Powell’s visit could have given Palestinian groups greater motivation to carry out such attacks.

After meeting Sunday in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Powell called on Israel to lift the economic "siege" it had imposed on the areas under Palestinian control since violence erupted last September.

Later Sunday, Israel announced that it was taking a step aimed at implementing at least part of Powell’s requests: The Israeli army lifted roadblocks it had set up last week that had divided the Gaza Strip into two.

For his part, Arafat used his joint news conference with Powell to call on the United States to ensure that Israel pick up negotiations from where they left off under outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Barak’s purported willingness to give the Palestinians control over parts of eastern Jerusalem during last July’s failed Camp David summit led to the defections of several coalition partners and was a major factor in his defeat at the hands of Sharon in the nation’s Feb. 6 elections for prime minister.

Barak, seconded by Clinton, has said the proposals aired at Camp David were no longer on the table.

But Arafat maintained Sunday that "no government can write off what the previous government did."

Earlier in the day, after meeting with Powell, Sharon outlined his own demand.

"One thing should be clear: Israel will not negotiate under pressure of terror and violence," Sharon said at his joint news conference with the U.S. secretary of state.

Sharon denied that any negotiations were under way with the Palestinians. But he acknowledged that there existed "channels of communication" for conveying messages to the Palestinians.

During Powell’s meetings Sunday, more than 2,000 Palestinians protested in Gaza against his visit. The protesters burned pictures of Powell and called on him to go home.

Throughout the West Bank, Palestinian shopkeepers heeded demands by militant groups to protest Powell’s visit and closed their shops early.

Meanwhile, a Jewish settler sustained serious head wounds following a shooting attack near Ramallah as Powell was holding talks with Arafat in the West Bank city. In that incident, Palestinian gunmen opened fire from a passing car, hitting the Israeli’s car with dozens of bullets.

A short time later, an Israeli woman was lightly wounded in the hand and legs when shots were fired at the car she was traveling in near the settlement of Ofra.

Based on the proximity of the two attacks and the type of weapons apparently used, it was possible the two attacks were linked, the Israeli army said.

In another development, a Palestinian woman accused of using the Internet to lure Israeli teenager Ofir Rahum to his death admitted to planning to kidnap him but said she did not intend to kill him.

The prime minister’s office issued a statement indicating that Amana Mona told investigators she had communicated with several Israelis who had expressed anti-Palestinian sentiments. As a result, she said, she decided to kidnap one of them to send a message to the world about the deaths of young Palestinians in the ongoing violence.

On Sunday, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot published a photograph of Rahum’s headstone, in the shape of a computer terminal, which his family said symbolized the importance it played in the teen’s life.