Controverisal Israeli security approach takes flight in U.S.


The changes were inevitable. The Sept. 11 hijackers used box cutters as weapons, so box cutters were banned. Richard Reid smuggled explosives onto an American Airlines plane in his shoes, so passengers were ordered to remove their shoes for screening. The recent London air terror plot was predicated on liquid explosives, so now almost all liquids are forbidden, too.

 

Garden of Eden Now a Paradise Lost


Diving among coral reefs, lounging on colorful pillows by the sea, taking in views of rose-colored mountains, ordering plates stacked high with honey-drenched banana pancakes — Israelis have long made Sinai a favorite vacation destination.

However, the coordinated bombings on Oct. 7 targeting Israeli holidaymakers transformed the getaway spot Israelis longingly refer to as the Garden of Eden into a Paradise Lost, forever tarnished by the blood, mayhem, confusion and fear borne of the deadly attacks.

At least 32 people were killed and 120 wounded in the attacks on Taba and Ras Satan, resorts on the Sinai coast. Among them were at least 12 Israelis, including a mother and her two young children. Six Egyptians and several European tourists were also among the fatalities.

Officials said that at Taba, a town close to the Israeli border, which Israel gave to Egypt in the 1980s, a suicide car bomber blew off a wing of the Hilton Hotel. About 30 miles south, two car bombs were detonated at the Ras Satan site, popular with backpackers.

Thousands of Israelis made their way across the border to Egypt for Sukkot, despite security officials’ warnings of terrorism threats in Sinai. After earlier, repeated Sinai terror alerts amounted to nothing — and convinced that staying home in Israel they were also terrorism targets — many Israelis said they became immune to the warnings.

“Sinai for me meant a certain escape from urban Israel,” said Eitan Einwohner, 33, founder and CEO of a Tel Aviv software company. “There is no [concept of ] time in the desert, and when you see the red mountains and see the scenery, intense in its minimalism, it reduces everything to the simplest.”

It was not just rank-and-file Israelis who were lured to Sinai by the scenery, tranquility and affordable prices. Some high-ranking former and current government officials also ignored the travel warnings and vacationed there. Among them reportedly were reserve Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, former Foreign Ministry director general, and several Knesset members. The newspaper Ha’aretz reported that Liat Cahanim, National Security Council deputy legal counsel, was wounded in the attack. Two vacationing U.S. Embassy officials were also reportedly lightly wounded in the bombings.

In the aftermath of the attacks, there were heartache and frustration in Israel that the security warnings were ignored. Parts of the media and some members of the government had even scoffed at the alerts.

A fiery debate has arisen over whether a free country should let its people disregard such warnings, or if more drastic measures — such as closing the border — should be taken. At an emergency Cabinet meeting it was suggested that Israel consider adopting a U.S.-style system of color-coded warning levels.

Avi Dichter, Israel’s Shin Bet director, toured the wreckage of what was once the Taba Hilton lobby and had harsh words for those at the official level who did not take the warnings more seriously.

“To my dismay, there were officials who treated the warnings lightly and leveled criticism at us” in the security community, he was quoted as saying in the Ma’ariv daily newspaper. “There is no doubt that this influenced the public, which in turn did not take the warning seriously.”

David Aramin from Herzliya, a 35-year-old who works in the high-tech sector, visited Sinai as often as he could. In the last two months alone he was there six times.

On Oct. 7, he and friends were lounging at their camp when they heard the blasts on nearby Ras Satan beach and saw a ball of fire burst into the night sky. Hysteria ensued, Aramin said, adding that some people followed the Bedouins toward the mountains, others rushed for the sea.

He said Israelis were just recently starting to come back to Sinai after staying away during most of the intifada. The relaxed atmosphere helped people forget any potential dangers, he said.

Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy tried to capture the special magic of the Sinai experience in an article Sunday headlined “Goodbye Sinai.”

“For a growing number of Israelis, a vacation in Sinai was a singular experience that had no substitute,” he wrote. “Something happened to Israelis when they entered Sinai.”

“For the veterans of the place, being in Sinai was much more than a holiday,” he continued. “It was the only place of refuge, a haven from day-to-day troubles, from the terror that is all around us, and an escape from Israelis and from Israeliness, too. Something in the atmosphere of the place created a sense of relaxation that couldn’t be found elsewhere.”

It was also a rare example of interaction between Bedouins and Israelis, a place where friendships and connections were forged.

About 30,000 Israelis went to Sinai over the recent holidays. Some of them did not return to Israel after the attacks, insisting they would not let terrorism scare them away from living their lives.

“You would go and you would not think too much about warnings, because it is not any less scary being in Israel,” Aramin said. “Recently, especially, you did not pay attention to warnings, because there are always warnings.”

Einwohner, who was also staying at a beach near Ras Satan, said Israelis had become complacent about the warnings.

“Looking back,” he said, “I think most Israelis and I fell into this trap a little bit of saying, ‘If there are 30,000 people doing it, how could it be that dangerous?'”

Eran Reinisch, 37, who runs a Tel Aviv financial services business, has been going to Sinai for vacations since he was a child. He has traveled up and down the area, diving its waters and exploring its beaches. It is, he said, his favorite place to unwind. Reinisch describes it as “magic” and touts its “totally different atmosphere.”

He wanted to visit Sinai with his family again this Sukkot. But, concerned by the warnings, they, along with a group of other families traveling together, decided to go to Taba instead of staying further down the Sinai coast as they usually do.

Taba, they told themselves, would be safer. After all, they thought, it was so close to the Israeli border.

When the blast shook the hotel, he and his friends were eating at an Italian restaurant on the beach. Reinisch immediately realized that the explosion was a terror attack and raced to the children’s disco one flight down from the hotel’s lobby, where he had dropped off his 7-year-old son, Roy.

He quickly found the child, who was covered in a layer of blood and soot. His head had been slghtly injured by falling debris.

Reinisch scooped Roy into his arms and was among the first to cross the border for the hospital in Eilat. A large photograph of Roy, his head bandaged and T-shirt and shorts stained with blood, made the front pages of the Yediot Achronot daily newspaper.

“I was supposed to go diving next month in Sinai, and now I will not,” Reinisch said. “Clearly I have no desire to go.”

by Leslie Susser

The coordinated terrorist attacks on Israeli tourists in Sinai may have some significant, unintended consequences: a deepening of anti-terrorism cooperation between Israel and Egypt and greater Egyptian readiness to guarantee security in the Gaza Strip after Israel’s planned withdrawal next summer.

At first glance, the Oct. 7 attacks were a blow to Middle Eastern rapprochement. It could take years before Israeli tourism to Sinai — one of the few signs of people-to-people normalcy in Israel’s relations with the Arab world — returns to anything like the dimensions of this holiday season.

There was a symbolic blow to peace too: Israeli reporters recalled that the Hilton Taba hotel, targeted by the terrorists, had hosted hundreds of hours of peace talks over the years between Israelis and Egyptians and Israelis and Palestinians.

With one wing of the hotel reduced to rubble, one reporter said the shattered building suggested a scarred monument to failed visions of peace. But some noted another image: Israeli and Egyptian rescue workers sifting through rubble together.

Behind the scenes, top Israeli and Egyptian officials discussed intelligence and other cooperation against the common threat of Islamic terrorism. Avi Dichter, head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, visited the site of the Hilton attack and met with Egyptian counterparts.

Soon afterward, Israeli field agents were allowed to scour the scenes of the Sinai bombings for evidence. They worked closely with Egyptian security agents and were given information from Egyptian interrogations of suspects and eyewitnesses.

This constituted cooperation of an unprecedented nature for Egyptian authorities, who have been wary of cooperating with security agents of what many Egyptians still consider the “Zionist enemy.”

According to initial Israeli intelligence estimates, the three coordinated bombings, one on the Hilton Taba and two at the Sinai resort of Ras Satan, were carried out by Global Jihad, a network of radical Islamic groups directed by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization.

Alhough Israeli tourists were targeted, some Israeli counter-terrorism experts believe the attackers’ primary goal was to destabilize the Egyptian regime.

“Global Jihad’s main aim is to topple moderate Arab and Muslim regimes, like that in Egypt, and bring like-minded Islamic radicals to power,” said Boaz Ganor of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

The attacks were designed mainly to hit Egypt’s tourism industry, weaken the economy and destabilize the regime, Ganor said. If that’s indeed the case, Egypt has an obvious interest in cooperating with all intelligence services, including Israel’s, that can supply advance warning of planned attacks and help target would-be perpetrators.

For most of the 25 years that Egypt and Israel have been nominally at peace, such cooperation would have been unthinkable. A former Egyptian foreign minister, Boutros Boutros Ghali, coined the term “cold peace” to describe how Egypt had resisted normalizing relations even after signing a peace treaty.

Still, despite strong Egyptian criticism of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian intifada, ties had been warming for several months before the Sinai attacks. The most significant upgrading came in late May, when President Hosni Mubarak affirmed Egypt’s readiness to help keep the peace in Gaza after Israel’s planned withdrawal.

Mubarak agreed to beef up Egyptian forces to patrol the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, prevent the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza and send Egyptian instructors to train Palestinian Authority security forces.

Since then, the Egyptians have been trying to mediate a cease-fire involving all Palestinian organizations, including terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In late May, Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to set up political, security and economic committees to upgrade all aspects of the countries’ bilateral relationship. The move coincided with the conclusion of the biggest deal ever between the two countries: a contract worth $2.5 billion for Egypt to supply Israel with natural gas for 15 years, beginning in 2006.

Israeli analysts attribute the change in Egypt’s attitude to Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Palestinians. They say the Egyptians are motivated by fear that after Israel’s withdrawal, Hamas will seize control of the Gaza Strip and make it a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism that could spill over into Egypt.

Now, after the Sinai bombings, Egypt has far more reason for concern. There is a palpable danger that Global Jihad would see a Hamas-controlled Gaza as a golden opportunity to establish a land base against Cairo. That gives Egypt added incentive to cooperate with Israel.

Giora Eiland, head of Israel’s national security council, summed up Israeli expectations: In the past, he said, the Egyptians had been lax about cracking down on criminal activities and weapons smuggling in Sinai, and had allowed “hostile elements” to get too close to the border with Israel.

Eiland said he hoped the Egyptians now would clamp down as strongly as they did against radical Islamic groups in Egypt in the 1990s.

But it won’t all be clear sailing. Egypt still sees itself as competing with Israel for regional hegemony, a perception that may lead Cairo to continue its efforts to compel Israel to give up its nuclear capability. And the sharp, often vitriolic, criticism of Israel’s response to Palestinian violence will almost certainly continue, at least in the press and on the Egyptian street.

Eventually, ties between Cairo and Jerusalem could mirror those Israel has with Jordan and Turkey — where, despite abiding popular hostility toward Israel, the regimes work closely at the highest strategic levels.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Follow ‘West Wing’ Script on Mideast Peace


Murder and mayhem in Gaza; Israelis and Palestinians — all too often innocents — die daily. Reformers and warlords challenge Yasser Arafat as chaos and anarchy envelop the Palestinian Authority.

What’s an American president to do? Let the fire spread until it burns out? Or find a way to end the bloodletting?

On last season’s finale of TV’s “The West Wing,” these vexing choices faced fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. They also happen to face the man who inhabits the real West Wing, President Bush. More importantly, they face the man who will occupy the White House come January.

While the campaign season has sidelined any new U.S. Arab-Israeli initiatives, no president can long defer decisions over a volatile region that profoundly impact U.S. national security.

Can Bartlet teach Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) something about the Middle East?

On TV, White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry pressed Bartlet to authorize F-18 missile strikes on Palestinian terrorists in a dense urban area, collateral damage notwithstanding. But fictional deputy national security adviser Kate Harper had a different idea: Try smart diplomacy instead of smart bombs.

You can’t negotiate with those Palestinians, scoffed McGarry, hawking the hard-line Bush-Ariel Sharon catechism. Farad (a fictional Arafat) must be removed and terror roundly defeated before peace talks can resume. Until then, Israel must determine interim borders on its own.

But this dogmatic position — on TV and in reality — blinds us to opportunities for a breakthrough.

The popular slogan that Israel tried land for peace and got only war and terror is doubly misleading. After failing to stem their violent assaults in Oslo’s early years, Arafat’s forces effectively reined in the terrorists and cooperated on security with Israel for the three years leading up to Camp David. Israel suffered only a single casualty from Palestinian suicide bombings from October 1997 until October 2000, when these attacks resumed in the months following Camp David’s collapse (according to the Israel Foreign Ministry’s website list of “Suicide and Other Bombing Attacks in Israel Since the Declaration of Principles, Sept. 1993”).

On the other hand, Israel never stood up to the radical Jewish Greater Land of Israel movement, continuing to build settlements and to strengthen its hold in areas where millions of Palestinians live and seek an independent state. And far from having granted Palestinians real mastery over their own lives, Israel allowed them full control over only 18 percent of the West Bank during the Oslo decade.

Back at the “West Wing,” national security adviser Kate Harper countered McGarry: Could the United States devise a strategy with Israel to strengthen Palestinian moderates and democratic reformers, offering political incentives to boost their popularity and Israel’s security?

Harper inspires a blockbuster script for the real West Wing:

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• United States-allied Arab states like Egypt and Jordan, along with the European Union and the U.N. secretary general, should ratchet up the pressure on Arafat to yield more authority over Palestinian security bodies to the democratic reformers and doves who have been challenging Arafat’s near-monopoly on power, in the wake of continuing unrest in the territories.

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• Palestinian reformers must demonstrate that they can be partners by further challenging Arafat to relinquish control over security.

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• The administration should insist on a timeline and a mechanism for monitoring and enforcing Sharon’s fulfillment of his written promises to Bush to immediately remove settlement outposts, enact a comprehensive settlement freeze and remove those checkpoints that have no real defense value for Israel.

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• The United States, Egypt and Jordan should train and equip a new Palestinian force, as now proposed, while U.S. monitors oversee a renewed Palestinian effort at security cooperation with Israel.

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• Instead of releasing Palestinian detainees to Islamic extremists like Hezbollah, Israel should free a sizable contingent of high-value Palestinian political prisoners to the moderates.

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• The United States should work to convert Sharon’s unilateral plan to encompass a redeployment of Israeli forces away from Palestinian cities back to their September 2000 positions.

This strategy would pave the way for Palestinian elections, enabling the moderates to gain fresh legitimacy and new powers — especially increasing control over a consolidated Palestinian security body — through the ballot box.

In exchange for an effective truce and a sustained Palestinian anti-terror campaign, Israel should withdraw progressively from all of Gaza and parts of the West Bank, removing both settlers and armed forces, genuine de-occupation steps it neither proposed nor took before. It should coordinate a withdrawal from areas of the West Bank and Gaza with Palestinian leaders who are willing and able to take security responsibility for areas Israel evacuates.

Helping to empower Palestinian pragmatists would mean co-opting Arafat, who still controls most Palestinian security groups and without whose consent no progress is possible. The reformers’ summer rebellion, triggered in anticipation of Sharon’s disengagement initiative, has challenged Arafat’s lock on power, without seriously weakening his stranglehold on the pace of domestic reform, as well as on peace and security issues with Israel.

Paradoxically, by working with a newly elected Palestinian government under Arafat, who would also likely be re-elected as P.A. president, the United States would invigorate democratic reformers who will be better positioned to erode Arafat’s authority and curb violence.

Harper’s more realistic strategy for peace sounds remarkably like the Bush administration’s “road map” peace plan. But Bush willingly sabotaged his own plan by acceding to Sharon’s unfaithful reading of its terms. Under the guise of the war on terror, Bush acquiesced in Sharon’s resumption of targeted killings during last summer’s Palestinian cease-fire, and raised little protest when Sharon failed to dismantle the 51 settlement outposts built since his election, as the plan requires.

Under the Harper plan, Israeli actions would no longer be conditioned on Palestinian fulfillment of unattainable demands but performed in tandem with Palestinian moves that are both necessary and feasible.

In TV land, the moderate Palestinian prime minister reached out to the White House through a secret back channel, floating a new initiative based on U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli cooperation and dialogue, much as the current Palestinian premier, Ahmed Qureia, has overtly done with the Bush administration.

In exchange for his political rehabilitation and a U.S.-Israeli promise to free him from confinement in his West Bank compound, Arafat would deploy his still-hefty prestige among Palestinians to coax the security services to enforce the truce and stop the terror. As recent events have revealed, despite mounting internal challenges, Arafat retains a tight grip on the reins of power. But a U.S. policy freed of tunnel vision could help loosen those reins.

If the Palestinian pragmatists’ way of nonviolence and negotiations can make tangible gains for their people, the moderates may grow stronger, while the influence of Arafat and the extremists is likely to wane.

Pundits who shed crocodile tears over the impotence of Palestinian doves overlook a fundamental truth: The removal of Israeli settlers, troops and checkpoints from the West Bank and Gaza; improvements in Palestinian humanitarian and economic conditions, and an authentic Israeli commitment to resuming final status talks are the stuff from which empowered Palestinian moderates are made.

The next president should follow Bartlet’s lead: smart diplomacy could leverage Israel’s disengagement move into a peace deal and save U.S. influence in the region.

Once the electoral dust settles in November, a new American push to rescue Israelis and Palestinians from four years of carnage will play not only in Peoria, but everywhere in the United States and the world where citizens want to see the United States defeat extremism and take a giant step toward stability and peace in the Middle East.

Mark Rosenblum is founder and policy director of Americans for Peace Now and co-editor with Gidon D. Remba of a forthcoming book, “From Baghdad to Jerusalem: A New Road to Middle East Peace?” Remba, president of Chicago Peace Now, served as senior foreign press translator in the Israel prime minister’s office from 1977-1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process.

Is FBI Watching Other Groups?


New twists and turns in the case of alleged wrongdoing by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have left many in the Jewish community baffled.

A week after allegations first broke suggesting that AIPAC was involved in the exchange of classified information from the Pentagon to Israeli officials, new reports suggest FBI investigators have been monitoring the pro-Israel lobby for more than two years.

The first question many in the Jewish community are asking is, "Why?"

"We’re pitching in the dark," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "We haven’t seen a shred of evidence."

Much remains unknown about the origins of the investigation, hurting Jewish groups’ ability to respond and defend one of the most prominent organizations in the community.

While they work to exonerate AIPAC in the public eye, Jewish leaders say they also must make sure the issue won’t affect the way they do business. Groups worry that they, too, could be targeted for investigation or left to deal with potentially changed perceptions of the organized American Jewish community.

Jewish leaders said talks are ongoing as to new ways to defend AIPAC and the Jewish community in both public and private contexts.

Quietly, there is deep concern in Jewish circles about the effect the investigation will have, no matter how it plays out, on Jewish groups’ ability to function. With the summer ending and many people in Washington returning to work, the next few weeks will be an important test for how the organized Jewish community is perceived in the capital.

"It really has done a considerable amount of harm, no matter what the outcome is," said Barry Jacobs, director of strategic studies at the American Jewish Committee.

Chief among the concerns is whether other Jewish entities might be under investigation without their knowledge, or are being monitored in relation to this case.

"If they are watching AIPAC, how many other Jewish organizations are they watching as well?" asked Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

Confident they have nothing to hide, Jewish leaders say they won’t change the way they do business. But the case could serve as a guide to reinforce to Jewish officials the need to play by the rules on security matters.

Beyond security concerns, Jewish leaders worry that now they may be seen differently when they walk into a room with governmental officials or people unfamiliar with different groups in the community.

"They don’t necessarily know the difference between AIPAC and JCPA and the federations," said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Congressional officials say they’ll take a wait-and-see approach toward AIPAC, but are skeptical about the investigation. One Democratic congressional aide said if the issue under scrutiny was a policy discussion about Iran, as has been reported, the line between legal and illegal dialogue is pretty thin.

Publicly, Jewish leaders remain solidly behind AIPAC. Several Jewish organizations have released statements supporting the work AIPAC has done over the years, and most others have expressed similar thoughts when asked by reporters.

AIPAC is one of the best-known Jewish organizations in the country, respected for its strong ties to government officials, especially members of Congress. While some Jewish groups resent AIPAC’s ability to set the Jewish community’s agenda on Middle East matters, or don’t always agree with its tactics, there is strong sentiment that any negative attention for AIPAC will hurt all Jewish groups’ efforts.

Some Jewish leaders say the initial feeling in the community was that it was better not to speak out — not because of a lack of support for AIPAC but in hopes of minimizing media coverage of the story. But now that more than 300 articles already have been written on the issue in American newspapers, that thinking has changed.

Jewish leaders now are minimizing the investigation, suggesting it can’t be of real merit because it has been going on for two years without arrests. They also note that if there were merit to the case it’s unlikely that President Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice would have addressed the group after the investigation was launched. Rice reportedly was aware of the investigation.

If the FBI is pursuing an intelligence investigation, as is believed, and not a criminal investigation, it’s hard to know what launched it. The guidelines for that type of investigation are classified, a former senior FBI official said.

He said it would be normal for the investigation to go on for a long time without arrests, though it would have be to reviewed and adjudicated internally at the FBI or Justice Department.

"AIPAC is not a soft target," the official said. "To launch an investigation against AIPAC, you are going to have to have some credible information to go with it."

Once an investigation is launched, its direction can be tailored by people who might be out to prove — because of bias or in the interest of catching a big fish — that AIPAC acted illegally, Jewish leaders said.

There also is concern that the saga may not have a succinct end.

It may be difficult to learn when the investigation into AIPAC is completed, if no charges are filed, and its exact origins — information Jewish leaders say would be useful in clearing the name of AIPAC and the community in general.

"I don’t think there is a great deal of trust in an investigation in this political climate," said Rosenthal of the JCPA. "I hope we find out the facts and find out why someone would start this story."

For now, theories abound. Some suggest anti-Semitic or anti-Israel entities within the government are propelling the investigation forward or leaking it to the media. Others suggest that opponents of the war in Iraq are trying to tie some of its key architects — so-called "neoconservatives" in the Pentagon — to Israel and to possible dual loyalties.

AIPAC is hoping to weather the storm by proving its strength as an organization. In an appeal to contributors Tuesday, AIPAC leaders said decisionmakers in Washington will look at AIPAC’s financial strength to gauge its overall viability.

"We cannot abide any suggestion that American citizens should be perceived as being involved in illegal activities simply for seeking to participate in the decisions of their elected leaders, or the officials who work for them," read the letter, signed by AIPAC’s president, Bernice Manocherian, and executive director, Howard Kohr. "That is our right as citizens of the greatest democracy in the history of mankind. That is a right we will proudly exercise. That is a right we will staunchly defend."

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.

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.

Homeland Insecurity


Two words have yet to come up in the commentary and analysis of the tragic July 4 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport. Those words: Buford Furrow.

Furrow was the last man to purposely target Jews in a shooting rampage in Los Angeles. The Aug. 10, 1999 attack at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) seriously wounded two children, concluding a rampage that left Joseph Ileto, a Filipino American postal worker, dead.

The shooting mobilized the Jewish community, which immediately organized for increased security. It also resulted in a continued outpouring of concern from the general community. Then-Attorney General Janet Reno flew in for a memorial service, the community held rallies, newspapers editorialized against the barbarity of it all.

Is what happened at the El Al ticket counter any different from what happened at the NVJCC? Yes and no. Then as now, a madman, fed full of anti-Jewish hatred, walked into a place where he knew his victims would be Jewish and started shooting.

Then-Mayor Richard Riordan quickly labeled the NVJCC shooting for what it was: a hate crime against Jews. Last week, our elected officials and law enforcement spokesmen expressed sympathy, but urged us not to apply labels until all the facts are in. Mayor James Hahn was so insistent that we should all return to enjoying our holiday, I almost went out and threw another barbecue.

This time, I got the sense that by July 6, with the Bradley Terminal again abuzz with passengers, and the LAPD and FBI rebuffing most press questions with a continual chorus of "further investigation is needed," that shooting-up a Jewish-identified facility just isn’t as big a deal.

I asked Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum what he makes of that. "We’ve developed a higher threshold for these kinds of attacks," he told me. "We have to be careful that we don’t come to accept them as the cost of doing business."

I can understand the reason for the lack of strong, blunt language. Officialdom feared that saying the "T" word — terrorism — would cause mass panic. Maybe politicians were afraid of offending Muslims by leaping to the conclusion that a crazed, gun-wielding Muslim American must be motivated by anti-Israel sentiment, and can’t just be despondent or drugged-up like other crazed, gun-wielding Americans.

Or maybe officials understood that the shooting, on a day when law enforcement and intelligence services were operating at their highest level of preparedness, was proof positive that "homeland security" is, at the end of the day, more of a boast than a guarantee.

I also suspect officials weren’t clear whether an attack against an Israeli target counts as an attack on Jews. Short answer: yes, it does. Think of anti-Israel demonstrators at the Federal Building carrying signs equating the Star of David with the swastika. The line between anti-Israeli violence and anti-Jewish violence isn’t just thin, it’s essentially non-existent.

The question of whether the shooting was an act of terrorism, a hate crime or just a crime will be debated for some time. I have a hunch that investigators will end up agreeing with what Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, has been saying since July 4: attacks like these don’t occur in a vacuum. They grow out of an environment that demonizes Israel and Jews and justifies violence against innocents.

You need only read media translation services to glimpse the crude, hate-filled and conspiratorial language the Arab media directs against Israel and world Jewry on a regular basis. The Internet is full of it, as is Abu Dhabi-based Al-Jazeera television, beamed via satellite into homes from Ramallah to Rancho Park. Even in the more moderate Arab-American press, such as The Minaret, this propaganda goes largely unchallenged.

Furrow was an unstable soul twisted toward an act of horrid violence by white supremacist hate speech and literature. The same influences, sponsored by religious leaders and state-controlled media, bore down on the Muslim shooter at LAX. The chilling fact is there is a lot more money and resources behind the hate spewed in the Muslim press, and several million more listeners.

You don’t have to uncover a flotilla of shaheeds putting ashore at midnight on a Malibu beachhead to wonder if what is at work here isn’t more than hate speech gone postal. "Is this the internationalization of the intifada?" Sam Freedman, author of "Jew vs. Jew," asked during a visit to Los Angeles last week. "Perhaps this is part of the intifada being fought outside Israel and the territories."

Think of the time several weeks ago in France in which a gang of Muslim youth descended on a Jewish soccer team with fists and knives. There have been similar incidents around the world, verbal and physical assaults on Jews by Muslims wrapped in the flag of Palestinian resistance. None of this need be organized, a la Al Qaeda. Given America’s bounty of readily available guns, spontaneity can be deadly enough.

I hope Freedman’s hypothesis turns out to be incorrect. But if he’s right, may the memory of the victims, Yaakov Aminov and Victoria Hen, be as a blessing, and a warning, to us all.

Blown Deal


Bill Clinton is wasting his time. The chances of a meaningful Israeli-Palestinian deal before he hands over the presidency to George W. Bush on Jan. 20 are negligible. Yasser Arafat has blown it. Ehud Barak, with the best and bravest of motives, has blown it. Peace is on hold, and it will take more than a government led by the uncompromising Ariel Sharon, campaigning on the slogan “Only Sharon can bring peace,” to revive it in months or even years to come.

The final straw came this week with the revelation that Palestinian General Intelligence, Arafat’s intelligence service, was behind the bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which wounded 14 people two weeks ago. If the Shin Bet internal security service has its facts right, that destroys any vestige of faith in the Palestinian leader’s will to live side by side with a Jewish state.

A suspected terrorist was arrested hours after leaving a pipe bomb under the seat of a no. 51 bus, which he detonated with a cellphone as it passed down crowded Petach Tikva Way. He was identified this week as Abdullah Abu Jaber, a 25-year-old Palestinian refugee who grew up in a camp in Jordan. He entered Israel illegally two years ago and found work, astonishingly, as a security guard at a beachfront cafe complex in Rishon Letzion, south of Tel Aviv.

Israeli security sources say he was recruited by relatives in the West Bank town of Nablus and was put to work by the Palestinian General Intelligence, commanded by the chairman’s cousin, Moussa Arafat. Abu Jaber is said to have confessed to the bombing and reenacted it for investigators. He smuggled in the bomb from Nablus, which is under Palestinian rule, and was paid 200 shekels ($50) for the assignment.

According to the security establishment, as many as 80 percent of the Palestinian shootings and bombings since the intifada erupted at the end of September were perpetrated by people who either work for the Palestinian Authority or are connected to it. At least 43 Israeli soldiers and civilians have been killed and 500 wounded in more than 2,770 such incidents. Arafat’s Fatah movement claimed responsibility for another recent bombing, which wounded 40 people in Netanya.

It is hard to remember that six months ago, Israelis were shopping across the old Green Line border in Qalqiliya, dining in Ramallah and gambling in Jericho. It began to go wrong at Camp David in July. Seven years after the Oslo breakthrough, Barak judged that the Palestinians were ready to end the century-old conflict. He went for broke, offering Arafat the rest of the Gaza Strip, more than 90 percent of the West Bank and shared rule in Jerusalem, which would be the capital of the Palestinian as well as the Jewish state.
To Barak’s and Clinton’s chagrin, Arafat said: “No.” For him, the end of the conflict had to mean the righting of what the Palestinians perceive as an historic injustice. He tried to put the clock back 60 years. Despite the commitment they made in the Oslo accords, the Palestinians were not, it seemed, reconciled to the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority in the disputed homeland.

For them, ending the conflict had to entail a Zionist acknowledgment of guilt. Not only had Israel to evacuate all the territory occupied in the 1967 war, it had to allow up to 3.5 million 1948 refugees to return to their old homes inside Israel. And it had to recognize Muslim hegemony over the Temple Mount; Arabs still talk as if the Jews’ connection to their holiest site is merely a matter of conjecture.

Inspired by the Hezbollah harassment that persuaded Barak to pull Israeli troops out of Lebanon last summer, Arafat reverted to violence. “The only language the Israelis understand,” his information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, told an Israeli interviewer, “is the language of force.” First the kids with the rocks, then the Fatah Tanzim militiamen and Palestinian police with AK-47 automatics thought they could do a Hezbollah. The first intifada, which broke out in 1987, spawned Oslo. The second intifada, they believed, would spawn a Palestinian state on Palestinian terms.

The mayhem of the past three and a half months remind me of nothing more than the Arab riots chronicled in Tom Segev’s iconoclastic new history of the British mandate, “One Palestine, Complete.” The same hatred, frustration and violence on the Palestinian side, the same insensitivity to Arab concerns and interests on the Jewish side.

I asked Segev, a columnist on the liberal daily Ha’aretz, what lessons today’s Israelis should learn from the mandate era. His reply was bleak, unless you delude yourself that Israel can either ignore the neighbors or evict them.

“The situation is different today in the sense that Israel is a very strong country,” he said. “The existence of Israel is no longer in danger. So we are facing the Arabs from a very different point of view. We should learn that the Arabs need many years of national existence as a state before they can sign a final settlement with us. The establishment of a Palestinian state should be one of the first steps in seeking peace negotiations, not the final outcome of the negotiations.”

Segev pointed the difference between the psychology of Israelis and the psychology of Palestinians. “A very deep change,” he argued, “has happened in Israeli society. Israelis are more secure, Israelis are more mature, Israelis don’t think collectively any more. And they have realized the merit of peace.

“Israelis are ready not only for peace, but to pay a very high price for peace. And the Palestinians, I think, are not. The Palestinians need to form their institutions and get some achievements and make their mistakes and have a second and third generation to whom national existence is no longer a miracle, just as the third generation of Israelis is able to make peace, because national existence is no longer a miracle for most Israelis.”

Meanwhile, we are stuck with a lame-duck Clinton, a discredited Barak, an Arafat who cannot shove the genie back in the bottle — and a Sharon who, like the doomed French Bourbon kings, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

The PalestinianCapital?


There is a grimy Arabic sign high on the wall of the imposing new building rising on a rocky, ragged hillside in the West Bank village of Abu Dis. Through the rubble and raw cement, a couple of laborers are languidly plastering a concrete beam, but no one is hurrying to fill the dusty, completed shell.The main, two-story building is a vast chamber; the adjacent seven stories an office block. In the process of rising is a parliament that is not a parliament for a capital that is not a capital in a state that is not a state. Not yet, anyway.

Abu Dis, on the eastern fringe of Jerusalem, is currently under Palestinian civil administration but Israeli security supervision (though the only police in sight were directing traffic at the entrance to the village). Part of it falls within the negligent jurisdiction of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, which acquired it when the victors expanded the city limits after the 1967 Six-Day War. Although they are not Israeli citizens, about 20 percent of its 14,000 Arab inhabitants hold Israeli Jerusalem identity cards, which makes it easier for them to work or shop across the border that is not a border.The new building’s assembly hall is in “Palestine,” but the office block is in “Israeli” Jerusalem. This may yet prove more than a bureaucratic curiosity. Abu Dis is one of three neighboring Arab villages Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is planning to deliver to full Palestinian self-rule as a “down payment” towards a Palestinian state.

So, the spin goes, Palestine would have its capital in Al Quds, as Arafat promises his peopledaily, and Israel would retain Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people.” Bingo! Except that, as Ali Johar, an elderly gent sunning himself outside an auto accessories shop, insists, “Jerusalem is Jerusalem, Abu Dis is Abu Dis.”Othman Muhamad Qurei, the 72-year-old mukhtar (village headman), concurs. “We are proud,” he says, “that we are going to have a parliament here, but we are not proud that they say this is Jerusalem.” The mukhtar, who happens to be an uncle of Abu Ala, the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, is a study in white.White hair, trim white beard, white eyebrows, persil-white head scarf, ankle-length white shirt. Abu Dis is a suburban village, he explains. Jerusalem is where you go if you want to buy shoes.

So do they want to be under full Palestinian rule? In the “Jerusal” Internet cafe, Samer Saman, an electronics student, says: “I am Palestinian, and I want my government to be Palestinian. At the moment we have no proper government here. It has to be better. I hope so.” Yet not everyone in Abu Dis shares even such qualified enthusiasm. “Many people don’t want the Palestinian Authority,” says Nasser Arar, a 30-year-old laborer who works on Israeli construction sites. “It’s going to be difficult. We are afraid we’ll lose our ID cards, along with the health and national insurance benefits that go with them. The PA gives us nothing.”Yousef Idais, a fruit and vegetable vendor, is worried about the abuses for which the Palestinian security services have become notorious. Idais, 28, moved to Abu Dis from Hebron. “They arrested five of my brothersand cousins there,” he says. “They said they’d made passes at girls in the street. The police shaved their heads and beat them, then threw them out in the street.” “The problem with Abu Dis,” advises Rami Mahmoud, a savvy 16-year-old schoolboy, “is that people are afraid of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Don’t believe a word anyone says.”

Remembering Melanie


There is a grimy Arabic sign high on the wall of the imposing new building rising on a rocky, ragged hillside in the West Bank village of Abu Dis. Through the rubble and raw cement, a couple of laborers are languidly plastering a concrete beam, but no one is hurrying to fill the dusty, completed shell.The main, two-story building is a vast chamber; the adjacent seven stories an office block. In the process of rising is a parliament that is not a parliament for a capital that is not a capital in a state that is not a state. Not yet, anyway.

Abu Dis, on the eastern fringe of Jerusalem, is currently under Palestinian civil administration but Israeli security supervision (though the only police in sight were directing traffic at the entrance to the village). Part of it falls within the negligent jurisdiction of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, which acquired it when the victors expanded the city limits after the 1967 Six-Day War. Although they are not Israeli citizens, about 20 percent of its 14,000 Arab inhabitants hold Israeli Jerusalem identity cards, which makes it easier for them to work or shop across the border that is not a border.The new building’s assembly hall is in “Palestine,” but the office block is in “Israeli” Jerusalem. This may yet prove more than a bureaucratic curiosity. Abu Dis is one of three neighboring Arab villages Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is planning to deliver to full Palestinian self-rule as a “down payment” towards a Palestinian state.

So, the spin goes, Palestine would have its capital in Al Quds, as Arafat promises his peopledaily, and Israel would retain Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people.” Bingo! Except that, as Ali Johar, an elderly gent sunning himself outside an auto accessories shop, insists, “Jerusalem is Jerusalem, Abu Dis is Abu Dis.”Othman Muhamad Qurei, the 72-year-old mukhtar (village headman), concurs. “We are proud,” he says, “that we are going to have a parliament here, but we are not proud that they say this is Jerusalem.” The mukhtar, who happens to be an uncle of Abu Ala, the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, is a study in white.White hair, trim white beard, white eyebrows, persil-white head scarf, ankle-length white shirt. Abu Dis is a suburban village, he explains. Jerusalem is where you go if you want to buy shoes.

So do they want to be under full Palestinian rule? In the “Jerusal” Internet cafe, Samer Saman, an electronics student, says: “I am Palestinian, and I want my government to be Palestinian. At the moment we have no proper government here. It has to be better. I hope so.” Yet not everyone in Abu Dis shares even such qualified enthusiasm. “Many people don’t want the Palestinian Authority,” says Nasser Arar, a 30-year-old laborer who works on Israeli construction sites. “It’s going to be difficult. We are afraid we’ll lose our ID cards, along with the health and national insurance benefits that go with them. The PA gives us nothing.”Yousef Idais, a fruit and vegetable vendor, is worried about the abuses for which the Palestinian security services have become notorious. Idais, 28, moved to Abu Dis from Hebron. “They arrested five of my brothersand cousins there,” he says. “They said they’d made passes at girls in the street. The police shaved their heads and beat them, then threw them out in the street.” “The problem with Abu Dis,” advises Rami Mahmoud, a savvy 16-year-old schoolboy, “is that people are afraid of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Don’t believe a word anyone says.”

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