President Donald Trump and President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands as they meet, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Trump Thinking About Leaving Peace Efforts “Nonsense” In Israel

Tensions have never been higher in the conflict between Palestinians and Israel, with peace negotiations falling short of success, in part due to an inability to have a good moderator between the two sides. Now, US President Donald Trump has been reported to seriously consider pulling out of the peace negotiations. The report appears after there was a tense meeting between Ramallah officials and White House representatives, according to al-Hayat, UK-based Arabic daily newspaper.

After the elections of Donald Trump, several Democrats claimed that he had no interest in helping peace prevail in the area. Some even said that just like this gorgeous pearl necklace, outer beauty is what is presented while the price is never advertised. It is believed that Trump does not want to spend money on a potential peace when his efforts are focused mainly on domestic politics.

The report is claiming that Donald Trump is not decided whether or not to still remain involved in the peace negotiations. It is said that he is seriously considering pulling out of all the near future peace efforts, with a complete process withdrawal being preferred at the moment.

Senior administration officials in the Trump cabinet labeled the report as being “nonsense”. However, no official statement was made about the topic.
Al-Hayat issued the report only days after the meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Jared Kushner took place. Abbas advisors present described the talks as being really tense. This was expected but it is said that the tension was higher than normal.

It seems that Abbas (according to the report) was furious after Kushner declared the Israeli demands and told them to the Palestinian leader. This included an immediate payment towards terrorists and family members. Abbas went on to accuse Jason Greenblatt (lead international negotiator for Donald Trump) and Kushner of taking the side of Israel and not wanting to commit to any requests from the other side.

It was mentioned that the Trump Administration is not happy with the fact that Abbas did not denounce the recent Jerusalem stabbing attack where a terror based initiative led to the stabbing of a member of the military. After Abbas simply refused to have a meeting with David Friedman (US ambassador to Israel) the talks were supposedly even more tensioned.

Palestinian officials declared that Americans required the Palestinian officials to curb the statements that are made about Israel as they are inflammatory. The official declared:

Kushner will submit his report to the president and, after it is submitted, Trump will decide if there’s a chance for negotiations or it might be preferable to pull out of peace efforts.

According to Abbas, Israel talks about terrorist payments as a pretext with the main focus put on avoiding the peace talks. Payments are listed as being a part of the social responsibility of the Palestinian’s government. It is expected that Donald Trump will make a statement about the topic in the following days but peace talks are now stopped.

2016 debate – Israel to Senor: ‘You got your nuts, we have our nuts’

Congressman Steve Israel on Tuesday defended the Democratic Party’s support for Israel, despite the recent controversy over some appointees to the policy platform committee, by drawing attention to Donald Trump’s unconventional comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The platform committee consists of several people, there’s only one Republican candidate for president, who is an expression of his political party,” Israel said during a debate with Republican strategist Dan Senor over which political party is better for American Jews at the AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Israel pointed to Trump’s “>implying Jewish stereotypes in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. “That is the Republican candidate for president,” he said. “And when Dan (Senor) says he disagrees with those positions – his party’s presumptive nominee for president – I will agree and say I disagree with those three or five people on the platform committee who have views that I don’t share.”

He then turned to Senor and said, “Let’s stipulate: you disavow yourself from Trump’s comments, I disavow myself from the comments of several members on the platform committee.”

In turn, Senor contended that recent polls show that Democrats are distancing themselves from Israel “in large numbers.”

“It’s not just their leaders. It’s not just the people that are being appointed to the platform. It’s the rank and file, members and activists of the party, who are saying, explicitly, that they don’t sympathize with Israel,” he asserted. “You and I can criticize the things that Donald Trump said all day long. And I think once Trump is gone – defeated in November – Trumpism will not live in the Republican Party afterwards, and the strong pro-Israel trans within the Republican Party will continue to grow. If you look at the data, it’s simply not the same in the Democratic Party.”

Senor suggested that the appointment of Dr. Cornel West and James Zogby to the Democratic platform committee is proof that the future of the Democratic Party is being shaped by the progressive energy that believes in standing against Israel and that party leaders are being intimidated by them. “The issue of Israel is the one issue where the Jewish community historically stood shoulder to shoulder with one another and with Israel across party lines,” he said. “The platform committee — that is the most anti-Semitic committee put forward by a national party in the history of this country, and not a single elected Democrat has spoken out against it. Not a single elected official has said these officials who’ve been appointed should step down.”

Rep. Israel, for his part, insisted that the anti-Israel and pro-BDS voices within his party are “nuts” and are not the face of the Democratic Party. “If you have some nuts, some crazies, to suggest that the Democratic Party’s energy is behind them is tantamount to suggesting that Republican Party energy is behind the use of concentration camps symbols to vilify American-Jewish journalist.”

“You got your nuts, we have our nuts; but the mainstream is holding steady on Israel and on the broad range of other critical Jewish values,” Israel summed up the debate. “On things that matter to Israel’s survival as a Jewish State, there’s no weakening in support among Democrats.”

Israel also drew equivalence between Senor bucking his party’s presumptive nominee and his vote against the Iran deal last year. “Here I feel Dan’s pain as being someone who bucks his presidential nominee because I bucked my president – I voted against the Iran deal,” the Long Island Congressman said. “I voted against the Iran deal not out of politics but out of my DNA. And I said that to the president during a 25-minute phone conversation.”

Obama, Netanyahu talk by phone after election spat

President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, and the two leaders agreed to continue discussing the “difficult path forward” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the White House said.

“The president reaffirmed the United States' long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine,” the White House said in a statement.

U.S. State Department denies Israeli-Palestinian peace talks canceled

The U.S. State Department on Monday denied reports that U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians had been canceled following clashes in the West Bank.

“I can assure you that no meetings have been canceled,” State Department spokeswoman Mari Harf told Reuters. “The parties are engaged in serious and sustained negotiations,” she said.

Earlier on Monday, Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying that the Palestinians had canceled talks with the Israelis after Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians during an early morning raid to arrest a suspected militant in the West Bank.

Peace talks resumed last month after a three-year stalemate over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by David Brunnstrom

Why the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks must work

Cynicism about new Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts comes in a variety of flavors. There is the lazy cynicism of allegedly objective pundits: “Only a fool would believe that this could work.” There is the cowardly cynicism of the disillusioned: “I won’t be fooled again!” And there is the malicious, smirking cynicism of crypto-peace opponents: “It’s foolish to think this can ever work, or that the Palestinians can ever be trusted, or that settlers can ever be removed.” What the latter really mean, of course, is: “I want this to fail, and this is my way of helping.”

Let’s be clear: The current Kerry-backed peace effort is probably the last, best hope for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace in this generation. The situation on the ground — code mainly for settlement expansion — is nearing a tipping point after which a two-state solution will no longer be available (many settlers gleefully argue the point has already been passed). The end of the two-state solution doesn’t then magically create some new alternative — it just plays into the hands of zero-sum extremists on both sides, with devastating implications for everyone else. Until eventually, perhaps after another generation or more of Israeli-Palestinian mutual bloodletting and mutual efforts at delegitimization, both peoples come to a realization, as they did in the 1990s, that their respective aspirations for peace, security, self-determination and a better future for their children will only be realized at the negotiating table. 

[Related: Why David Suissa thinks peace talks will fail]

For anyone who truly cares about Israel and Israelis — as opposed to those who prioritize land over peace, settlements over security, and Greater Israel over Israel’s good standing in the community of progressive, democratic nations of the world — must recognize that the stakes today are too high to give in to self-indulgent cynicism and self-protective defeatism.

Yes, there are reasons for skepticism about the current peace effort. The provocative and self-defeating march of Israeli settlements goes on. The release of Palestinian prisoners is reopening painful wounds for Israelis across the political spectrum. And rhetoric that is inconsistent with a commitment to peace and coexistence continues to emanate from both sides. 

At the same time, there are compelling reasons to believe that this new peace effort can succeed, starting with the personal investment of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, backed by power-hitters like Special Envoy Martin Indyk, leading negotiations, and Gen. John Allen, focusing on Israeli security issues. The Quartet and Tony Blair remain active, focusing on economic issues, and the European Union and the Arab League are playing positive supporting roles.

Likewise, there are solid reasons to believe that this effort is serious. Both sides have publicly committed to negotiating for nine months. Neither side wants to be the one that walks away and is blamed for destroying the process — creating a negotiations-preserving dynamic. Moreover, the parties have agreed to secrecy, insulating the effort from destructive real-time “crowd testing.” And finally, these negotiations are taking place in the context of unprecedented recognition of both the fact that the window is closing on the two-state solution and that achieving the two-state solution is a vital U.S. national security interest.

It is also clear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can deliver if he wants to. He has the trust of the majority of the Israeli public, strong Knesset support for entering talks, and, if cornered by right-wing members of his coalition, he has a new pro-peace coalition available. Likewise, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can deliver if he wants to and if the agreement on offer from Israel is indeed serious. Abbas is a founder of the Palestinian national movement, committed to nonviolence, and has long experience negotiating with Israel. He ran for president of the Palestinian Authority on a platform that centered on his commitment to negotiate a two-state agreement with Israel, and, according to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former (and current) Israel negotiator Tzipi Livni, went a long distance toward doing exactly that.

Finally, recent reports of a single poll notwithstanding, polling has shown, year after year, that both peoples want peace and would support the compromises necessary if packaged together as an end-of-conflict-end-of-claims agreement.

At this time, we would do well to recall the words of Yitzhak Rabin, who famously said that he would “fight terrorism as if there is no peace process” and “pursue peace as if there is no terrorism.” Today, the greatest threat to peace efforts is not terrorism, but cynicism, skepticism and spoilers on both sides. In this context, Rabin’s wise formula becomes: “We must fight skepticism and spoilers as if there are no peace negotiations, and we must doggedly support the pursuit of peace at the negotiating table, refusing to allow skeptics, cynics and spoilers to demoralize us or distract us from our goal.”

Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now.

How the Obama administration could really promote the two-state solution

Secretary of State John Kerry is eager to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He asserts, as peace processors often do, that “time is running out.” President Barack Obama recently echoed that thought, saying “the window for opportunity is growing smaller by the day.”

But this sense of urgency and dread ignores an insurmountable obstacle to quick solutions: The Palestinians should have their own state. But they aren’t ready for it yet.

Although of recent vintage, Palestinian nationalism is real, and therefore so is Palestinian nationhood. Their right to national self-determination has become no less real than the right of the Jewish people to their own state.

But that is precisely the problem. The Palestinians as a whole still have not internalized the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism. As a result, Palestinian nationalism has been and remains essentially negative. It is more concerned with destroying the Jewish state than building a Palestinian state alongside it.

Aside from unending violence and terrorism, the prime example is the demand for the so-called Palestinian right of return. Palestinians insist that the “refugees” (actually, mostly children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of genuine refugees) be allowed to “return” not to the Palestinian state, but to Israel. This influx would overwhelm Israel, making the Jews a minority in their own country. So it turns out that when Palestinians say they want a two-state solution while at the same time demanding the right of return, they mean the eventual creation of two Palestinian states and the negation of Jewish national rights.

Thus, even the majority of Israelis who favor “two states for two peoples” (including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) understand that it can’t be implemented now. The Palestinian leadership may pretend, but won’t really agree to it. And simply evacuating the West Bank would make matters much worse. We know that, because Israel already tried it in Gaza, with disastrous results.

As long as Palestinian nationalism is dangerous, even genocidal, toward Israel, Israel is justified in protecting itself by maintaining security control of the West Bank, and a cordon around Gaza.

Of course, there are things Israel must do besides reiterate its willingness to negotiate. It must dismantle settlements that are illegal according to Israeli law, and prevent the establishment of new illegal communities. Israel must prosecute the Jewish thugs who, under the “price tag” slogan, terrorize Palestinians—acting with the same cold determination that it hunts Palestinian terrorists.

But the decisive, peace-impeding fact remains: the majority of Israelis have accepted the legitimacy of Palestinian national and territorial claims, but the reverse is not true.

The key to Palestinian statehood is Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s permanence and legitimacy. The key is in their hands. When Palestinians stop killing Israelis and trying to eliminate their country, Israel will help them establish their state.

Palestinians must be helped to understand this. They’re not getting the help they need. International political and thought leaders generally ignore, explain away or justify Palestinian outrages, while remaining fixated on the existence of Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank. Palestinians therefore have insufficient incentive to change their culture of hate and rejection.

This must change, and the Obama administration should lead the way. By consistently calling attention to counterproductive Palestinian actions, instead of sweeping them under the rug, the administration would make it harder for the Palestinians to avoid making the hard choices that are keeping them stateless.

Every time a Palestinian rocket is fired at Israel, President Obama should address the Palestinians and tell them, “This is why you don’t have your own state.”

Every time a Palestinian “collaborator” is murdered, Obama should say, “This shows that the Palestinians are not prepared for peaceful coexistence with Israel.”

Each school year that opens with Palestinian children learning from textbooks that denigrate Israel and Jews, Secretary of State John Kerry should announce, “Until the Palestinians stop teaching their sons and daughters to hate, they will never have a country.”

When the Palestinian Authority names a town square, school or summer camp after a murderer of Jews, Obama should issue a statement, “Honoring terrorists and murderers is incompatible with moving toward Palestinian statehood.”

Whenever official Palestinian Authority media feature government ministers, sheikhs or professors denying that there was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount; or denying the deep bonds of love and loyalty between the Jews and the Land; or denying the Holocaust; or denying the Jews’ humanity by calling them “the sons of monkeys and apes;” the administration should clearly state, “as long as Palestinians systematically lie about Israel, distort its history and insult its people, they are holding themselves back and delaying Palestinian sovereignty.”

Consistent application of this policy of candid truth-telling would do the Palestinians more good than all the anti-Israel resolutions and boycott campaigns—and peace conferences—combined.

Paul Kujawsky is past president of the Democratic Party club Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles.

Kerry: Two-year window is maximum for two-state solution

Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress he sees a maximum two-year window to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry delivered his remarks Wednesday to a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Answering a question from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the committee, Kerry said that among both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, “I have found the seriousness of purpose, a commitment to explore how we actually get to a negotiation.”

However, he said, time is short.

“I can guarantee you that I am committed to this because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting,” Kerry said. “I think we have some period of time in the year to year-and-a-half to two years or it's over.”

Kerry said that was the impression throughout the region — “and I've been struck in my travels, incidentally, by how many people, everywhere, raise this subject and want us to move forward on a peace effort,” he said. “They're all worried about the timing here. So there's an urgency to this in my mind and I intend, on behalf of the president's instructions, to honor that urgency and see what we can do to move forward.”

Did Obama’s charm offensive in Israel work?

President Obama had three goals for his first presidential trip to Israel.

He wanted to persuade Israelis that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He wanted to promote the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, albeit without any specific “deliverables.” Most of all, however, he wanted to charm the pants off the Israeli people.

He dropped Hebrew phrases into his speeches. He quoted the Talmud. He invoked the story of Passover.

So, nu, did it work?

“Does anyone doubt, still, that we’re talking about a friend here?” Itzik Shmueli, a Knesset minister from the center-left Labor party, wrote on Facebook.

Obama earned qualified praise even from Naftali Bennett, the pro-settler chairman of the nationalist Jewish Home party who now serves as minister of commerce and economics.

“Obama’s words certainly came out of concern for Israel and true friendship,” Bennett wrote, also on Facebook. Citing rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday, however, Bennett added, “A Palestinian state isn’t the right way. The time has come for new and creative approaches.”

A smiling Obama appeared side by side with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to talk about their two nations’ shared values and security needs. He visited the Israel Museum, viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls, surveyed the Iron Dome missile defense system and saw a host of Israeli high-tech innovations. For Friday, his itinerary included visits to the graves of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, and slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

For the most part, the visit was a cornucopia of compliments and commitments to Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above because Israel’s not going anywhere,” Obama said during his speech Thursday night at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. “And today I want to tell you, particularly the young people, so that there’s no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America, 'atem lo l’vad.' You are not alone.”

Before the trip, Israelis were extremely wary about the U.S. president. He had visited Israel twice before, most recently in 2008, but Israelis were irked that he skipped Israel on a Middle East swing in 2009 that included his famous Cairo speech. They were put off by his public calls for a freeze on settlement building early in his presidency. They compared him unfavorably to his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

In a 2009 poll, fewer than 10 percent of Israelis had a favorable view of Obama. And a poll conducted this month by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that 54 percent of the 600 Jewish Israelis surveyed said they did not trust Obama to consider and safeguard Israel’s interests.

After his speech on Thursday, however, some listeners said they had warmed to him.

“He was very clear, and he conveyed a feeling of security, especially about Iran,” said Hagar Shilo, 23, a political science student at Tel Aviv University. “He made a lot of pro-Israel statements that we hadn’t heard yet — very much like Clinton.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the government’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, wrote on Facebook, “Obama’s speech was important and inspirational. Our job is to apply our Zionist vision, which was reflected eloquently in his words for Israel’s youth.”

To be sure, Obama also challenged Israel on the trip. He visited the West Bank city of Ramallah and gave a statement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemning settlement construction. And in his speech to Israeli students on Thursday night, he made an extended appeal asking Israelis to take risks for peace and the two-state solution, calling peace “necessary,” “just” and “possible.”

“I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future,” Obama said. “You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

Mostly, though, Obama sought to use this trip to reassure Israelis, including on Iran.

“We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world and potentially an existential threat to Israel,” Obama said at a news conference with Netanyahu. “We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Even many of those who disagreed with Obama’s policies on Israel said they were encouraged by his decision to visit Israel.

Tel Aviv University student Yanai Cohen, who attended the Thursday night speech, said he doesn’t agree with the two-state solution and felt that Obama had disparaged Israel’s government.

But, he said, what mattered most now was Obama’s decision to visit Israel.

“Coming here is a sign,” Cohen said. “It shows commitment.”

For new Israeli coalition, haredi army exemptions issue is front and center

Israel’s new unity government may not alter Jerusalem’s strategy for curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program or do much to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But it could dramatically change something at home about which a huge number of Israelis care deeply: haredi Orthodox exemptions from military service.

For years, haredi issues have been something of a third rail in Israeli politics. Nearly every government in recent years has needed the haredi parties to cobble together a governing coalition, rendering haredi entitlement programs like the military exemption politically untouchable.

This long has irritated Israelis who serve in the army and resent that the haredim, by and large, do not serve yet draw all sorts of entitlement payments from the state.

But with Shaul Mofaz’s decision to bring Kadima and its 28 seats into the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer needs the haredi parties to keep his government in power. They could pull out, and it would make no real difference—at least, until the next elections, scheduled for October 2013.

The question now is how far Netanyahu will go in taking advantage of a historic opportunity to end this special treatment afforded to haredi Israelis.

The question is likely to hinge on political considerations.

There already is movement on putting together an alternative to the Tal Law, which granted haredi Israeli men military exemptions but was struck down several months ago by Israel’s Supreme Court. The court ordered that an alternative to the law be put into place by Aug. 1.

Crafting an alternative to the Tal Law is one of the top four priorities set forth by the new government coalition. The other three are passing a comprehensive budget, reforming the structure of government and making progress toward peace. The budget issue is expected to be resolved one way or the other, as budgets generally are, but there is something pie-in-the-sky about the other two priorities.

That leaves the Tal Law alternative as the potential historical legacy of this 18-month alliance between Netanyahu and Mofaz.

On Tuesday, that alternative began to take shape.

The Jerusalem Post reported that, under the Mofaz-Netanyahu deal, haredi exemptions from the army would be replaced by a Basic Law—the Israeli equivalent to a constitutional amendment—requiring all citizens to perform military or civilian service.

Last month, Kadima proposed instituting a universal military draft within five years. Under the Kadima plan, all Israelis either would serve in the military or do national service in one of a variety of fields, among them education, health and domestic security. Those who fail to comply would be barred from receiving any state funding.

The question is whether such a plan—which would radically alter the relationship between the state and its rapidly growing haredi Orthodox population—could survive opposition from Israel’s haredi Orthodox parties.

On the one hand, Netanyahu doesn’t need them to survive in office until the next elections. Indeed, if he were to push through such legislation, it could earn his Likud party much broader support, including from secular and more centrist voters, the next time Israel goes to the polls.

On the other hand, it could cost Netanyahu in October 2013 if his Likud party wins the election, Kadima fares poorly and Netanyahu needs the haredi parties to form a coalition.

Those considerations, say political analysts, will mitigate whatever changes are made to haredi exemptions.

There are some other factors at play.

For one thing, while in principle most Israelis would like haredim to be subject to the same requirements of service demanded of all other Israelis, in practice the army does not want a sudden flood of tens of thousands of new haredi recruits. The Israel Defense Forces lacks the infrastructure to absorb them, both in numbers and operationally. What would the army do with 10,000 new recruits who are religiously opposed to significant interaction with female instructors?

For another thing, a sudden, dramatic transformation of the relationship between haredim and the state would run up against opposition not only from haredi parties in the Knesset, but from haredi citizens. They would see the sudden change as a broadside against their way of life, and mass demonstrations and even riots likely would ensue. It would make the haredi riots against parking lots opening on the Sabbath and a Modern Orthodox girls’ school in Beit Shemesh seem like child’s play.

The reality is that Israel doesn’t want all these haredim in the army; what Israel wants is more haredi men working, paying taxes and integrated into Israeli society.

Under the current system, haredi men must stay in yeshiva until their 30s to keep their military exemption (religious women are currently granted exemptions from army service upon request). That has helped bankrupt the haredi community and nurture a black market economy in which many haredi men work surreptitiously and do not pay taxes.

Changing the rule would help drive haredim into the workforce and into better-paying jobs. That would help Israel’s tax rolls, reduce haredi dependency on welfare and help integrate haredim into Israeli society.

There is great debate within the haredi community about whether or not to welcome these changes. Some haredim see it as key to the economic and social survival of their community. But other haredi leaders see it as opening up a slipperly slope away from the yeshiva and Jewish observance and toward the dangerous temptations of modern, secular Israel.

Ultimately, whatever change comes to the haredi community is likely to come gradually.

Kadima has proposed exempting 1,000 haredi yeshiva students from the military draft and allowing others to defer military service on a year-by-year basis while they are studying in yeshiva. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, Likud is likely to propose an alternative that instead would establish a minimum number of haredi participants in national service programs that would increase every year, without a cap on those claiming yeshiva-related exemptions from service.

For now, the haredi parties appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

“There can’t be a situation in Israel in 2012 where someone who wants to study Torah will not be able to do so,” Yakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party told the Post. “But as long as the principle of ‘torato Omunato’ [Torah is one’s work] is preserved, UTJ will remain in the coalition.”

David Suissa: Cheap blood

As I was doing research last week for a column on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I stumbled on a story in The New Republic titled “Darfur Is Getting Worse: Why Aren’t the U.N. and U.S. Pressuring Khartoum to Reverse This Horrific Trend?”

According to Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide,” Darfur has become “all but invisible.” As he writes: “With fewer and fewer human rights reports, news dispatches, or even candid accounts from U.N. leaders, events in the region have dropped almost fully out of international view.”

This is the same region where, according to Jewish World Watch, 400,000 people have been killed and 3 million more have been displaced in the last decade. Sadly, Reeves says, the catastrophe there is deepening dramatically as they head into this season’s “hunger gap,” the dangerous rainy period beginning in October, when water-borne diseases become much more common.

Because of “increasing restrictions on travel imposed by the Khartoum regime,” Reeves says, “hundreds of thousands of lives are at acute risk.”

So, while human rights activists will be sailing their flotillas this month to protest Israel’s partial and defensive blockade against a terrorist regime in Gaza, thousands of Darfurians will continue to suffer and die — quietly — because not enough people are screaming for the murderous regime in Khartoum to ease the strangling of its people.

And this fall, while the eyes of the world will be fixated on the Palestinians’ diplomatic moves at the United Nations, don’t expect to hear much about the hundreds of thousands of Darfurians whose misery will be compounded by water-borne diseases and the cruel blockade of their oppressors.

Even in President Barack Obama’s speech of May 19, in which he used more than 5,000 words to discuss the ills of the Middle East and North Africa — including more than 1,000 words on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — not one word was spoken about the genocidal suffering of Darfurians in Sudan.

Why is that? Is Sudan not “north” enough for the president — even though it borders Egypt and Libya and even Kenya, where Obama’s father was born?

If Obama cares so much about the downtrodden, why is he giving so little public attention to the humanitarian disaster in Darfur?

Why has a Hollywood actor like George Clooney spoken out so loudly against this genocide, while the leader of the free world has kept relatively quiet?

As Reeves reminds us: “Darfur’s ongoing catastrophe is poised to result in even greater human destruction and suffering. The reports are endless. So too, evidently, is the capacity of the international community to pretend that none of this is happening, or to ignore it, or to not care enough to act.

“The world has all the evidence needed to know that this is so, but it lacks the resolve to bring to bear on Khartoum the pressure that will change the regime’s brutal ways.”

It’s a funny thing: When it comes to pressuring Israel, the world never seems to lack any resolve.

As far as pressuring Sudan, Reeves concludes that “the Obama administration should make clear that, unless Khartoum grants unfettered humanitarian access and freedom of movement for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, the regime will see no lifting of sanctions, no further discussion of removal from the list of terrorist-sponsoring nations, no further normalizing of relations, and robust U.S. opposition to debt relief for Khartoum at the World Bank and IMF [International Monetary Fund].”

Why couldn’t Obama say those simple words in his May 19 speech?

What I find most disheartening about the Darfur crisis is that the facts are so clear. There’s no torturous debate here about “two sides of the story.” Like a passionate American politician once said: “The government of Sudan has pursued a policy of genocide in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have been killed in Darfur, and the killing continues to this very day.”

That passionate politician was candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

Three years and thousands of killings later, the tragedy continues. Where is Obama now? Sure, I know — he can’t tackle every crisis that comes along. But if the president can harp about the plight of the Palestinians — by far the most coddled victim group in history — why can’t he harp about a cause where 400,000 innocents have been slaughtered? If the “killing continues to this very day,” doesn’t that make the Darfurian cause at least as “urgent” as the Palestinian cause?

And where are all those human rights activists who’ve made a fetish out of bashing Israel but can’t seem to get agitated at the notion of murderous African dictators drowning their people in misery?

Are Darfurian victims not “cool” enough because they don’t throw rocks or look like Che Guevara? Are the bad guys not bad enough because they’re not Jews or Israelis?

Imagine being one of those African victims and watching the international news one night. Imagine how it must feel to see that your genocide is being virtually ignored, while the Palestinian cause has become the darling mission of the world and a media and U.N. obsession.

How can you not conclude that Darfurian blood is cheap?

How can one ever call that “progressive”?

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”” title=””} or

New approach is needed on talks, PLO official says

The PLO representative to Washington called for a new approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the two sides are far from resolution.

“We are not close to ending this conflict,” the representative, Maen Rashid Areikat, said Wednesday at a kosher luncheon organized by New York University’s Taub Center for Israel Studies and the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service.

“We cannot continue to pursue the same failed policies we’ve followed for 20 years,” he said. “We should abandon the management crisis efforts and get to the real work of conflict resolution here.”

Areikat said the current Israeli government is “not serious” about peace, telling the mostly Jewish audience that “You cannot continue to support Israel blindly, even when they make mistakes.”

The remark came a day after President Obama reportedly told a group of about 50 Jewish organizational representatives at the White House that they should speak to their friends and colleagues in Israel and to “search your souls” over Israel’s seriousness about making peace.

Areikat rejected the notion of resuming direct negotiations with Israel while Israel continues Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, saying it’s an issue of “credibility.”

The Palestinian Authority broke off direct talks with Israel after Israel’s self-imposed 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction expired last September, just weeks after the Palestinians had returning to the negotiating table.

Areikat also said that the Palestinians cannot return to the negotiating table until the endgame is clear on such issues as borders, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and a timeline for Palestinian statehood.

Areikat called his speech Wednesday part of the PLO’s “continued effort to open dialogue with the Jewish community.”

Battle over Mideast transit ads heating up across U.S.

With public bickering over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict already having spilled over into university student senates, corporate pension boards and even local farmers markets, the latest battlefield in the debate over the conflict is municipal transit systems.

In several major U.S. cities, advertisements on public buses and municipal rail stations are designed to galvanize public opinion to end U.S. military aid to Israel or to pressure Palestinians to end anti-Jewish incitement. In some cases, the ads have been deemed so inflammatory that local authorities have tried to restrict or ban them outright, leading to frustration on both sides and, in one case, a federal lawsuit.

A group calling itself the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, with the help of the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter, filed a lawsuit in Seattle last month charging that the group’s First Amendment rights were violated when the local transit system reneged on an agreement to carry its ad opposing aid to Israel.

The ad, which featured a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading “Israeli war crimes: Your tax dollars at work,” was slated to start running on Seattle buses in late December. But after local officials were besieged with complaints and at least two counter groups proposed ads of their own, the officials suspended all non-commercial bus advertisements.

One of those ads, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, featured a digitally altered image of Hitler and a man in Arab headdress under the headline, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”

A judge is due to rule on a temporary injunction that would restore the initial ad next week.

“Israel’s accountability for the ongoing conflict is a part of the story that gets silenced more in this country,” Ed Mast, a member of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, told JTA. “So our purpose is education.”

Across the country, public advertising is emerging as a new front in the public debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine launched a campaign on trains and platforms in Chicago in October in which Israeli and Palestinian faces were depicted under the banner, “Be on our side. We are on the side of peace and justice.”

Below the smiling faces, the tagline urged an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. The campaign already has run in San Francisco and is slated for expansion to other U.S. cities.

Caren Levy-Van Slyke, a member of the steering committee of the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, said the campaign was “inclusive” of both Israelis and Palestinians and was intended to draw taxpayer attention to the 2007 deal providing $30 billion in U.S. aid to Israel over 10 years.

“We are the side of peace and justice,” Levy-Van Slyke said, echoing the Chicago ads.

Pro-Israel activists contest that assertion. In San Francisco, the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine ad triggered a response from the Los Angeles-based pro-Israel group Stand With Us, which is sponsoring ads beginning this week urging the Palestinian leadership to stop teaching hatred and to “Say Yes to Peace.”

An earlier version of the ad, which Stand With Us attempted to place in Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations, showed a masked terrorist under the headline, “Stop Palestinian Terrorism.” Transit officials reportedly rejected the ad after people complained. The new ad features only text.

“Right now, we’re watching and we’re asking our members to let us know when these kinds of things come up, and we will directly respond,” said Roz Rothstein, national director of Stand With Us.

Pamela Geller, who writes the conservative blog Atlas Shrugged and who is the executive director of the group that tried to run counter ads in Seattle, said she submitted a similar ad in San Francisco that BART officials rejected. She has vowed to pursue a lawsuit if the officials fail to approve her revision. On her website, Geller describes the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine spots as “Jew hating” and “annihilationist ads supporting jihad.”

“If the ACLU prevails in their lawsuit, I expect my ads to run as well,” Geller wrote in an email to JTA. “If they refuse my ads, I will pursue legal recourse.”

Much of the inspiration for the ads appears to have originated with a billboard erected in early 2009 in Albuquerque, N.M. That ad, which called for an end to military aid to Israel, was sponsored by a group calling itself the Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel.

In 2007, Rothstein’s group responded to a similar campaign in the Washington, D.C., Metro criticizing the Israeli occupation. The Stand With Us ad featured an armed man holding a child, with the tagline, “This Child Could Grow Up To Be A Terrorist.”

Rothstein said her group had no desire to be dragged into the ad wars, but would not allow material critical of Israel to go unanswered.

“This is not something that we’re interested in,” she said. “We are really only doing it as a reaction.”

In economy-focused State of the Union speech, Bush offers no new Mideast ideas

Just weeks after his first presidential visit to Israel, President Bush made clear his priority for his final year in office: the economy, stupid.

If the president has a Middle East breakthrough up his sleeve, he was not ready to reveal it Monday in the State of the Union address that precedes his last year in office.

The vast majority of Bush’s speech was dedicated to proposals to stimulate the U.S. economy and to defending his Iraq policies. His plans for Israeli-Palestinian peace and for confronting Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program were given short shrift toward the end.

The president cast Israeli-Palestinian peace as part of the broader struggle against Iraqi insurgents, segueing from what he said was the success of his “surge” policy in that country to his recent visit to Israel and the West Bank.

“We’re also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope,” he said. “Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security.”

“This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year. The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side by side in peace,” he said.

That led into Iran. An assessment by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies last year, which found that Iran had halted a covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, already had cast a pall over the Bush administration’s attempts to ratchet up international sanctions against the Islamic Republic to push it toward greater transparency.

Bush has all but made explicit his frustration with the National Intelligence Estimate and his belief that it underestimates Iran’s determination to revive such a program. Yet the State of the Union speech notably abjured mention of any new sanctions, confining itself to standard warnings.

“Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment so negotiations can begin,” Bush said in remarks aimed at Iran. “And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, cease your support for terror abroad. But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.”

In the long domestic portion of his speech, what was significant for Jewish groups watching — and anxiously awaiting Bush’s final budget, to be handed down next month — was not what he said but what he didn’t.

Jewish social action groups, led by the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization, are focused on cuts in recent years to health-care assistance to the elderly and to uninsured children. Bush’s comment on health care, much like his bromides about Middle East peace and Iran, were confined to recommitments to increased incentives for Americans to get private health care.

“We share a common goal: making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans,” he said. “The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control.”

More substantially, as part of his economic stimulus push, Bush said he would veto any spending bill that did not cut in half earmarks — funding amendments included in larger bills at the discretion of individual Congress members. Such earmarks have been key to funding Jewish programs for the elderly, most prominently the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities pioneered by UJC.

UJC is also leading a coalition of 150 national and local groups pressing Bush and Congress to include in the stimulus package federal funds to help states contemplating cuts in Medicaid, the medical assistance program for the poor.

“This kind of fiscal relief is one of the best ways to help avert painful state budget cuts and tax increases,” said the letter sent to every Congress member on Monday. “This was last used as an engine to encourage economic recovery in 2003-04.”

That earlier boost “pumped needed funds into the economy over an 18-month period and played a vital role in helping to move us out of recession,” the letter said.

Bush’s only mention of Medicaid was a passing reference to his proposals to “reform” entitlement programs.

The crux of Bush’s stimulus is making tax cuts permanent. Inevitably that would undercut entitlement programs, but Jewish groups traditionally have maintained a silence on tax cuts, partly because some major donors favor the cuts and partly it is a purely partisan issue, and to oppose the cuts effectively would mean opposing the Republican Party.

The Orthodox Union (OU) found something to praise in the domestic package, particularly in Bush’s proposal to enact his faith-based funding initiatives into law. Until now these programs have been funded by executive order, and they are likely to wither if Bush is replaced by a Democrat.

The OU also praised a Bush proposal to expand Pell grants, the program that assists poor college students, to school-age students, effectively helping to fund tuition for private and religious schools.

Annapolis is over — now it’s bargaining time

After the pomp and circumstance of Annapolis, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are gearing up for tough bargaining over the minutiae of a two-state settlement.

Not only will they have to agree on core issues like borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, but they’ll also have to find common ground on a host of lesser concerns regulating relations between the two states, ranging from shared sewage systems to allocations on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The peacemaking, which officially is to begin Dec. 12, will proceed on three tracks: politics, economics and security.

While they negotiate a final deal for a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state, the two sides also will have to meet their obligations under the internationally sponsored “road map” peace plan.

For Israel, this means freezing construction of Jewish settlements and removing Jewish outposts from the West Bank. For the Palestinians, this means dismantling terrorist groups. The United States will arbitrate on fulfillment.

At Annapolis, the two sides agreed to set up a joint steering committee to monitor and oversee the negotiating process. Its first task will be to develop a joint work plan.

Israel will propose setting up as many as 14 working committees, one on each of the six core issues of borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water, security arrangements and Jewish settlements, and the others on secondary issues. Those will include such matters as continued Israeli use of airspace over the West Bank and Gaza, allocation of radio waves on the electromagnetic spectrum — which has important implications for intelligence gathering — joint sewage and waste systems, tax and customs regulations, economic cooperation, border crossing procedures and coordination of the legal systems.

Israel plans to set up a peace administration similar to the one that operated during the Camp David process in 2000. It will have 14 teams of experts for the 14 working committees.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will have to decide soon whether the peace administration falls under his jurisdiction or that of Israel’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Livni probably will retain her position as chief negotiator, though Olmert could decide on a personnel change.

The Palestinian chief negotiator is former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who also headed the Palestinian team in the initial phase of the Oslo process.

The economic track is meant to serve as a catalyst for political progress, with foreign investment giving Palestinians the incentive to create a peaceful state and the capacity to run it.

Thus, a massive influx of international investment should serve both as a carrot for Palestinian peacemaking and as a means to help the Palestinians create functioning institutions and a viable economy.

On Dec. 17, France will host a major donor conference as the economic follow-up piece to Annapolis. In Paris, the Palestinian Authority is expected to ask for a whopping $5.5 billion during three years for budgetary support and development. The money is meant to stimulate the economy, fund new infrastructure construction and pay for government reforms.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the special envoy of the Quartet group of peace sponsors — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — is the main mover and shaker.

Blair already has identified four special projects: a Gaza sewage treatment plan, an industrial park sponsored by Turkey, a Japanese funded agro-industrial park and a plan to revive tourism, especially in Bethlehem. Blair emphasizes the huge job-creating potential of all these labor-intensive projects.

Israel has agreed to allow a shipment of 25 Russian-made armored vehicles, 1,000 rifles and 2 million rounds of ammunition for Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank. The idea is to provide short-term support for forces loyal to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas terrorists active in the Nablus area and, in the longer term, to give Abbas the wherewithal to carry out his principal road map commitment to disarm all terrorist groups.

Already in November, 300 Palestinian special police troops, trained by U.S. Gen. Keith Dayton, started operating in the Nablus area.

Israeli and Palestinian forces also have resumed coordination on the ground, including intelligence exchanges. If the Nablus experiment and the coordination on the ground prove successful, Israel will hand over more West Bank cities to Palestinian Authority forces.

The first of the road map’s three stages requires Israel to dismantle unauthorized West Bank outposts and freeze settlement building, and the Palestinians to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel and dismantle terrorist groups.

Israel’s Defense Ministry hopes to persuade settler leaders to agree to voluntary evacuation of the outposts, possibly in return for commitments on settlements Israel will retain in any final-status agreement.

The United States will monitor implementation of road map commitments, with former NATO commander Lt. Gen. Jim Jones playing the lead role. Jones also will monitor development of the Palestinian security forces and their coordination with the Israel Defense Forces.

In a bid to strengthen Abbas on the Palestinian street, Israel will continue releasing Palestinian prisoners and removing checkpoints.

Together with the planned economic upturn, this is meant to create a feel-good factor on the Palestinian street that will help Abbas move forward toward a peace treaty and win any referendum on a final deal if such a deal is reached.

On Monday, Israel released 429 Palestinian prisoners as part of this confidence-building approach.

Another post-Annapolis development could be talks with Syria. Russia reportedly is planning a follow-up conference in Moscow focusing on the Syrian track, and a high-level Russian emissary reportedly has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus.

However, it is not clear to what extent Israel and the United States are interested in opening a parallel Syrian track at this point. Last week, Olmert said he was not aware of any plans for a conference in Moscow focusing on Israeli-Arab peacemaking.

Syria aside, all the trappings of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking soon will be in place, and while the structuring of the process is impressive, the substance — so far — has been less so.

The big question remains the same as it was before Annapolis – and the same it has been for the last decade and a half: Can Israelis and Palestinians find a way to truly confront and resolve the core differences between them?

Policy Clash Grows on Settlement Issue


On the surface, it seems that the recent public quarrel between Israel and the Bush administration over Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank could have been put off until Israelis and Palestinians get around to negotiating permanent borders.

But underlying the exchanges are significant differences between Israel and the United States over what a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement might look like, and how to get there. These differences could come to the fore immediately after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank this summer.

While the Americans stress the need for a “contiguous and viable” Palestinian state, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is concerned about retaining as many West Bank settlements as possible, consolidating Israel’s hold over Jerusalem and ensuring Israeli security, even if this comes at the expense of the contiguity of Palestinian territory.

Where the Americans see the “road map” peace plan as the way toward a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Sharon believes in the plan’s interim phases as a way to stabilize the situation, but not in its prescription for quick movement to final peace talks.

Given the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions on the most contentious issues, Sharon doesn’t believe a final peace agreement will be possible for quite some time. Until then, he believes, Israel should try to engineer the permanent borders it desires by creating facts on the ground.

Planned construction between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, an area known to municipal planners as “E-1,” is part of this concept.

Sharon is convinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not be able to negotiate a final deal that includes agreement on the issues of refugees and Jerusalem, and that any attempt to do so will blow up the way the Camp David summit did five years ago.

Sharon therefore hopes that unilateral Israeli moves, like the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank, are the best way to strengthen Israel’s hold on the large West Bank settlement blocs that virtually every Israeli party agrees the Jewish state must retain under any peace deal.

The uproar last week over remarks attributed to Dan Kurtzer, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, highlighted the differences between Israel and the United States over the settlement clusters. Similarly, the dispute over E-1 construction plans underlined differences over Israeli building in existing settlements and over the significance of territorial contiguity in a future Palestinian state.

President Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently used identical phrasing: “A state of scattered territories will not work,” they declared.

Sharon, in contrast, believes that tunnels, bridges and bypass roads can connect Palestinian parts of the West Bank that don’t have direct territorial contiguity.

The area known as E-1 stretches for about five miles east from Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim, a West Bank bedroom community of 40,000 residents. Designated for settlement under the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor government in 1994, the area was left undeveloped because of opposition from successive U.S. administrations.

If it is built up, E-1 would cut off Arab areas in eastern Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and drive a wedge between Palestinian towns and cities north and south of Jerusalem, for example between Bethlehem and Ramallah.

Palestinians and left-wing Israeli critics say the plan will leave the Palestinians with noncontiguous territory and will prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, an argument the Bush administration tends to accept.

Meanwhile, rampant Palestinian building, spilling out of neighborhoods in the area and along the road from Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim, is creating a competing set of facts on the ground. If Israel doesn’t proceed immediately with plans to develop E-1, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned recently in the Jerusalem Post, the Palestinians will have separated Jerusalem from its Jewish hinterland.

The controversy was triggered by revelations last week that Israel plans to build 3,500 homes in Ma’aleh Adumim. Sharon was adamant: Israel, he said, intends to build in the settlements it hopes to retain and to route the West Bank security fence in such a way as to keep them on the Israeli side of the barrier.

The Kurtzer incident, coming days earlier, showed that when the crunch comes there could be highly significant differences between Israel and the United States on settlements.

In building support for his controversial Gaza withdrawal, Sharon has staked his political future on an April 2004 letter from President Bush backing border modifications based on “existing major Israeli population centers” in the West Bank.

Kurtzer was quoted erroneously last week in Yediot Achronot as having told Israeli Foreign Ministry cadets in February that there was no such American commitment. Setting the record straight, he told Israel’s Channel 2 television, “The president’s letter is clear and the commitment is solid. There are large Israeli population centers and we recognize that they will be part of Israel.”

In fact, Bush’s letter of April 2004 says, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return [to the pre-1967 borders].”

Yet saying that the United States will take the population centers into account doesn’t mean America will accept the settlement blocs Israel wants to hold.

In an upcoming April meeting at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, Sharon will seek a more specific understanding over which settlement blocs the United States believes Israel can retain, as well as American approval to build in them. For this he will have to promise the president an early delineation of the borders around existing settlements, beyond which no building will take place.

“Sharon still believes the bulldozer and the housing units will set the border, with America’s support and backing,” Ha’aretz newspaper’s political analyst Aluf Benn wrote recently. “The upcoming meeting in Crawford is meant to grant him further strength.”

That will present Bush with a dilemma: If he gives Sharon the public assurances he wants, he will damage Abbas’ standing. If he doesn’t back Sharon, he’ll give the Israeli right ammunition against the prime minister and the Gaza withdrawal.

More importantly, once the disengagement is complete, the Americans will have a key role to play in what happens next.

In return for more specific American commitments, Bush could push Sharon to move rapidly toward a final peace deal. Without such commitments, Sharon will be less willing to move forward on the Palestinian track.

In both cases, the potential for strains in the Israel-U.S. relationship after disengagement is high.


U.S. Could Play Positive Gaza Role

Ariel Sharon stunned Israeli politics early this month by announcing that he had ordered official plans for relocating 17 settlements in the Gaza Strip and at least three more in the West Bank. He has ignited a political firestorm in Israel, as many on the Israeli right are mobilizing against him, while others charge that he is merely diverting attention from a snowballing corruption scandal.

Regardless of his true intentions, Sharon, by marking most of the Gaza Strip for evacuation, has almost completely given up on meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the near future. There is a small chance that negotiations may still occur, precluding Sharon’s withdrawal from occurring in a vacuum. However, if Israel chooses to navigate the risky path of unilateralism, America’s goal should be to encourage a safe and secure outcome through hands-on engagement.

Sharon’s remarks have set an entirely new process in motion. The widespread perception throughout Israel is that there is no longer anyone serious to talk to among the Palestinians, and that Arafat is fomenting chaos so that the international community will turn to him in desperation.

But the unilateral road is fraught with risk and uncertainty, mainly because the reactions of the other side are unpredictable. The worst-case scenario is that Gaza follows the South Lebanon precedent of 2000, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s withdrawal was interpreted as a victory for Hesbollah’s armed resistance and became an inspiration to the current Palestinian intifada.

A negative response to a Gaza withdrawal is still likely if Palestinians continue to suspect Sharon’s intentions for the West Bank. Most observers agree that Sharon envisions not a maximal withdrawal roughly along the Green Line but a limited, minimal withdrawal, with continued settlement presence on nearly half of the West Bank. The results of this withdrawal, in the absence of Palestinian agreement, are likely to be dangerous.

Partial withdrawal from the West Bank would mean the continuation of the current chaos in the Palestinian territories, where in most cities, local armed gangs and criminals are increasingly outmuscling the nearly defunct Palestinian Authority. The ensuing chaos and lack of law and order means that groups like Hamas will thrive and the long-term threat of terror will remain. Israel would then need to continue military incursions into both Gaza and the West Bank, making any withdrawal devoid of the much-needed separation.

Can the United States do anything to help? Though a slippery slope of unilateralism seems increasingly likely, a different scenario is still possible. Intensive U.S. efforts to either restart negotiations or to at least choreograph the next few months could measurably change the situation.

Part of the problem today is that neither side sees any incentive to negotiate or even to cooperate. Sharon and Arafat both believe that they can get more out of unilateral actions.

Sharon has said that the Palestinians will get more if they negotiate, so he can give less if he acts unilaterally. Arafat, meanwhile, clearly thinks that unilateral concessions confirm the value of the intifada.

Only the United States has the capacity to slice through this dangerous calculus and precipitate a different way of thinking on both sides. Though success is not guaranteed, unilateralism could still be blended into the President Bush’s "road map" to peace strategy of performance-based progress toward a Palestinian state. Sharon’s offer could be used by a U.S. mediator to gain counterconcessions from the Palestinians, such as concrete action against terror.

Both sides would only be encouraged to take positive steps, knowing that an America committed to ensuring security and safety for both sides was unshakably committed to the process. In this sense, America can play the role of coordinator — making sure one gesture of good will is met with another, without depending on elusive bilateral breakthroughs to achieve an end to violence.

It can work. But it cannot happen without a forceful U.S. diplomatic presence. This means a complete overhaul of the current strategy, ideally in the form of a high-level special envoy assigned to handle the conflict on a full-time basis. No other mechanism holds the promise of resolving the delicate issues that are now in play.

Sharon has rolled the dice, and the president has a choice. He can take steps to influence the situation positively, or he can continue to watch the two sides slide further into conflict.

Steven Spiegel is associate director of the Burkle Center for International Relations and a political science professor at UCLA. Gilead LIght is the deputy director of the Israel Policy Forum’s branch in Washington, D.C.

Egypt Displays Split Personality on Israel

Israeli leaders were heartened in late December, when Egypt’s
foreign minister announced that he would come to Jerusalem for talks on
promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

At the same time, however, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
was moving in Cairo to galvanize international pressure on Israel to dismantle
the nuclear weapons it is presumed to possess.Â

These seemingly contradictory thrusts in Egyptian policy
highlight the deep ambivalence that has characterized Egypt’s attitude to Israel
since the two countries made peace in 1979.Â

On the one hand, Egypt has been keen to encourage other Arab
countries and the Palestinians to follow its lead in making peace with Israel —
partly to prove that it was right in pioneering accommodation with the Jewish
State, partly to reinforce its position as a major power broker in the Middle
East and partly to satisfy Washington.Â

Some believe that Egypt still is undecided about whether it
really wants peace with Israel. Others believe Egypt simply sees Israel as a
major rival for regional hegemony. In either case, while seeking a wider,
regional rapprochement, Egypt also strives to weaken Israel and keep it

Egypt therefore makes peace overtures but keeps Israel at
arm’s length. It fashions a model of “cold peace” — some might call it a war
everywhere but on the battlefield — and implies that other Arab countries
should adopt it. It carries out war games in which Israel is the named enemy,
presses every possible button to pressure Israel to dismantle its presumed
nuclear stockpile and often leads the diplomatic charge against Israel in
international forums.Â

For more than 20 years, this ambivalent policy has not
changed. Nor, from Egypt’s perspective, should it, since the policy has paid
rich dividends.Â

First and foremost, it paved the way for Egypt to build
close relations with the United States, including a huge annual aid package
that Egypt has used both to advance domestic goals and to undertake a massive
military reconstruction effort over the past two decades. It also has put Egypt
in a position to help other Arabs, such as the Palestinians or Syrians, forge
negotiations with Israel. Egypt has been trying to play the “honest broker”
over the past year, searching for ways to stop Israeli-Palestinian violence.Â

Since the Palestinian intifada was launched in September
2000, Egypt has worried about violent repercussions at home. Radical Islamic
groups in Egypt could harness anti-Israeli feeling to attack the Mubarak regime
for not doing more to help the Palestinians, conceivably sparking violence
directed at the regime, itself.Â

Last June, Egypt was able to get Palestinian terrorist
groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to agree to a temporary truce with
Israel. But the truce quickly collapsed after a rash of targeted killings of
terrorist leaders and a new wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.Â

Now the Egyptians are trying again, holding meetings in
Cairo on a new cease-fire and sending Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar
Suleiman, for talks in the Palestinian territories, so far without concrete

Syrian President Bashar Assad also is seeking Egyptian aid
in paving the way for a renewal of peace talks with Israel. After Saddam
Hussein’s fall in Iraq and Libyan leader Muammar al-Quaddafi’s agreement to open
his weapons programs to international inspection, Assad fears he could be next
in line for special treatment by a U.S. government that has shown little
tolerance for Arab sponsors of terrorism.Â

Assad announced through the pages of The New York Times that
he wants to start a new negotiating process with Israel, and in late December,
he flew to Egypt to ask for Mubarak’s aid.Â

Israel has been skeptical of Assad’s intentions — most
officials believe Assad merely is trying to duck U.S. pressure — but says it is
exploring Assad’s statement. Still, Israel is demanding strong Syrian action
against terrorist groups in Damascus and Lebanon before any talks can begin.Â

While playing the “honest broker,” however, Egypt also has
been leading diplomatic moves against Israel in various international forums.Â

Egypt was active in getting the security fence issue
referred to the International Court at The Hague and, following Libya’s
startling commitment on weapons of mass destruction, Egypt worked closely with
Syria to force a Security Council debate on ridding the Middle East of all
weapons of mass destruction — a debate that is bound to focus primarily on
Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal.Â

For years, the campaign against Israel’s nuclear capability
has been a cornerstone of Egyptian foreign policy. In 1995, Egypt threatened to
scuttle international reaffirmation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by
persuading Third World countries not to sign unless Israel did.

Five years later, Egypt repeated the same gambit. In both
cases, however, strong U.S. pressure forced the Egyptians to back down.Â

There is a huge disparity between Egypt’s self-image and the
reality on the ground: The truth is that Egypt no longer seems to have the
clout of a great regional player.Â

For example, when Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
visited the Al Aksa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in late December,
Palestinian radicals bombarded him with shoes, a display of contempt. And on
that same trip, Egypt heeded Israel’s demand that Maher not meet with
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel seeks to sideline.
Earlier, Palestinian terrorist groups disdainfully rejected Egyptian advice to
accept a cease-fire with Israel.Â

The duality of Egyptian policy leads to suspicion and
anxiety on the Israeli side. One of Egypt’s sharpest Israeli critics is Yuval
Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who
asked why Egypt needs such a huge, modern army when it has no apparent

Steinitz noted that Egypt has used huge amounts of U.S.
money to transform its army into one of the strongest forces in the Middle
East, that it has many of the same weapon systems as Israel and that it even
has U.S. instructors to teach the Egyptians how to use the weapons. Of all the
Arab armies, Steinitz said, Egypt’s is the one Israel has to take most
seriously in the future.Â

Perhaps the case that best highlights the ambivalence of
Egyptian policy is the abortive Camp David summit with the Palestinians in July
2000. Fearing that their regional influence would be diluted, the Egyptians
blocked the resumption of multilateral peace talks with Israel on regional
cooperation in the runup to Camp David.Â

Then, as the Camp David summit was about to collapse,
Mubarak turned down a request from President Bill Clinton to do him a personal
favor and pressure Arafat to sign an agreement with Israel that would postpone
disputes over sovereignty of Jerusalem’s holy sites.Â

At the time, U.S. and Israeli officials found Egypt’s
spoiler role unbearable. Yet when fighting erupted two months after the collapse
of Camp David, Egypt played a major role in containing the violence and
preventing a full-scale regional war.Â

Though he pulled Egypt’s ambassador from Israel — a
violation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel — Mubarak declared early on that
Egypt “wouldn’t fight to the last Egyptian” for the Palestinian cause. More
than anything else, analysts believe, Mubarak’s levelheaded attitude prevented
the spread of violence across the entire region.

Though Egypt continues to fire diplomatic broadsides at
Israel and refuses to return its ambassador, trumpets its friendship with the
United States while ignoring U.S. calls to democratize and plays the regional
superpower without regional respect, the bottom line is that most feel that
Egypt’s pragmatism remains a powerful, pro-Western force for regional

However, that stability rests, in large degree, on the
person of Mubarak, a 75-year-old whose health has raised concern recently.
Mubarak had to interrupt a televised speech last month when he suddenly fell

After 22 years in power, Mubarak has not chosen a successor,
and analysts worry that if Mubarak dies suddenly — he came to power after Anwar
Sadat was assassinated — Egypt will fall into disarray. That could give
Islamists, Mubarak’s most powerful domestic opponents, an opportunity to seize
power and upset the regional stability Mubarak has been so keen to maintain. Â

Signs of Thaw Seen in Israel-Europe Ties

After years of mutual distrust and periodic acrimony, there are signs of a thaw in relations between Israel and Europe.

As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was feted in London this week, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom pressed a new "friendship with Europe" initiative. Also, the European Union recently put out feelers about including Israel in plans for a "wider Europe."

But though the stage for warmer ties was set by the revival of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, there are still deep differences between Israel and Europe on the Palestinian issue.

And while Israel’s relations with European governments may be improving, the same can’t be said about public opinion: In much of Europe, Israel is still getting what it considers to be hostile press.

In London early this week, Sharon received expansive red carpet treatment. In a rare gesture of friendship and support, British Prime Minister Tony Blair invited his Israeli counterpart to a private dinner at his home at 10 Downing St. British officials were at pains to point out that few foreign dignitaries are honored in this way.

"Not even Blair’s close friend George Bush was invited to dinner at No. 10," a senior official was quoted as saying.

For several months now, JTA has learned, Britain’s Foreign Office has believed that Sharon wants to make peace with the Palestinians, but will find it difficult to make concessions.

Sharon, however, maintains that Britain and the rest of Europe first need to change their attitude toward Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Sharon argues that the power struggle between Arafat and the P.A. prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, really is a struggle over the peace process, which Arafat wants to destroy and Abbas wants to push forward. To prove his point, Sharon presented Israeli intelligence reports to Blair, and is openly urging British and other European leaders to boycott Arafat. The Americans back Sharon on this, but the Europeans, so far, mainly do not.

Sharon warns that if the Europeans keep strengthening Arafat, and if Abbas is forced to step down as a result, Israel will have to reconsider its attitude to the internationally approved "road map" peace plan.

Despite these differences, European attitudes to Israel seem to be changing dramatically. In July, soon after the road map was set in motion, Israeli and E.U. officials met in Brussels for the annual review of Israel’s economic association with the European Union.

According to Oded Eran, Israel’s ambassador to the European Union, the Europeans were unexpectedly forthcoming: They declared that E.U. relations with Israel no longer would be contingent on progress in the peace process.

More importantly, the officials indicated that the European Union was interested in including Israel in its plans for a "wider Europe." They even suggested upgrading the economic association with Israel.

There was, however, one request of Israel: that it ratify the Kyoto Protocol on environmental protection, which would mean enough countries had signed the treaty to bring it into force, despite American objections.

The new European openness to Israel has struck a receptive chord in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Arguing that Israel has neglected ties with Europe for too long, Shalom launched what he calls a European "friendship campaign" with a visit to Italy last week, which he intends to follow up at the upcoming session of the Council of European Foreign Ministers in Brussels.

For their part, the Europeans make it clear that although they want to play a role in the peace process, their aim is only to aid or complement the United States, which will continue to be the main player.

As Israel-E.U. ties warm up, there is a lot of old animosity to overcome. Britain is a case in point: In the run up to the war with Iraq, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw spoke about a double standard and seemed to compare Israel to Iraq; Blair himself pressured Bush to pressure Israel to accept the road map; Britain hosted a conference on reform of the Palestinian Authority without inviting Israelis, and Britain last year also unofficially embargoed arms to Israel that it felt might be used in the conflict with the Palestinians.

Some British media, especially the BBC, continue to be hypercritical of Israel. Indeed, the screening of a recent BBC documentary on Israel’s unconventional weapons led the Foreign Ministry’s PR bosses to sever ties with the BBC.

This kind of media treatment, the pressure of large anti-Israel Muslim populations in several European countries, complex European guilt feelings toward the Jews, Europe’s colonial past and Europe’s strong human rights focus all make for highly problematic relations between Europe and Israel, which many Europeans see as an "occupying power."

As a fragile new Israeli-Palestinian peace process gets under way, it remains to be seen whether early signs of Europe’s reassessment of ties with Israel herald a fundamental change in attitudes and policies.

Scandal Erupts Over Secret Arafat Funds

Those inclined to look on the bright side might say that Israeli-Palestinian cooperation is alive and kicking: Israelis and Palestinians allegedly joined ranks to make big money, until one of them woke up with a bad conscience.

The joint venture in question began in February 1997, when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat transferred official Palestinian Authority funds from the Arab Bank in Ramallah to private accounts in Swiss banks. The money was Palestinian, mostly customs and levies on products imported into the Palestinian Authority via Israel.

But, the intermediaries allegedly were Israelis, who in return allegedly received generous commissions — millions of dollars — according to reports in the Israeli media.

The key person allegedly was Yossi Ginossar, a former senior Shin Bet security service officer, and his partner, Ezrad Lev. Ginossar and Lev allegedly succeeded in opening the doors of Switzerland’s Lombard Odier Bank to the Palestinian money. The cooperation allegedly continued until the summer of 2001, well into the intifada.

Like some other former senior officers, Ginossar had been involved in business transactions between Israeli and Palestinian companies ever since the early days of Palestinian Authority rule under the Oslo peace accords. The Palestinians dubbed him "Mr. Five Percent," a reference to the commissions he earned on business deals.

The hidden Swiss accounts eventually grew to more than $300 million. The Israeli partners allegedly managed the accounts, though they were not authorized to make withdrawals.

But then, in August 2001, something unexpected happened: Mohammed Rashid, Arafat’s closest financial adviser, suddenly withdrew approximately $65 million from the account, which then couldn’t be traced.

Lev told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv that he suspected the money was going to finance terrorist activities. He decided that enough was enough, that there was no real control over the money and that it was politically unacceptable that Ginossar — whose extensive business ties had led Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak to use him as an unofficial emissary to the Palestinian Authority — should also be involved in controversial financial transactions with the Palestinians.

Lev, 42, went to the Ma’ariv and disclosed the secret deals in which Ginossar allegedly was involved. He even charged that Ginossar had paid millions of dollars to Rashid to ensure his continued involvement in the accounts.

There was nothing new in the fact that the Palestinian Authority handles its money as though it was the private property of Arafat and his colleagues. At his own discretion, Arafat has allocated funds to various projects — including the financing of terrorist activities — as the Israel Defense Forces learned from documents seized at Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters last spring.

Rampant corruption has enriched the Palestinian political elite, but it also has alienated the leadership from the masses and helped opposition elements, including Hamas, gain in popularity.

What is new is the depth of Israeli involvement in the accounts and the ways in which it undermined international pressure on Arafat to implement fiscal reforms and full financial accountability.

Earlier this year, that pressure forced Arafat to appoint Mohammad Fayyad, a U.S.-trained economist, as his new finance minister. Absent drastic measures to make his financial management more transparent, Arafat knew, the international community might cut off his money supply.

The exposure of the Swiss funds and their alleged connection to Israel hasn’t helped Arafat’s already battered political stock or that of the Israeli left, which negotiated and, in some cases, benefited from the Oslo peace accords.

Ginossar, 55, came to Israel as an immigrant from Vilnius, Lithuania, at the age of 11. After his military service, he joined the Shin Bet, eventually becoming head of counterespionage activities.

He was forced to quit in the mid-1980s after the "Bus 300" scandal, in which Shin Bet agents killed two Palestinians they had taken prisoner after the terrorists hijacked a bus, then tried to blame the killings on top army officers.

For a while, Ginossar failed in his business activities. But the signing of the Oslo accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority allowed him to develop good business connections with the Palestinians. He became so influential behind the scenes, that Rabin began sending Ginossar on confidential missions to Arafat, even when other negotiating channels appeared blocked.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon thought of doing the same, until he realized that Ginossar — deeply involved in the July 2000 Camp David summit talks between Barak and Arafat — was too left wing for Sharon’s political taste. Sharon eventually chose his son, Omri, as his personal envoy to Arafat.

While the ultimate use of the funds in Arafat’s bank account is still unclear, the Ginossar scandal sheds light on the dubious character of financial relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Over the years, Israeli authorities approved the transfer of official Palestinian Authority funds to private accounts, though they knew the money could have been used instead to help hundreds of thousands of Palestinians suffering in the Palestinian territories.

The Israelis believed that financial interactions with the Palestinian Authority — even if not strictly kosher — ultimately would strengthen ties and lead to a peace agreement.

"They believed that the strengthening of the dictator would bring about a strong peace," Natan Sharansky, Israel’s housing and construction minister, said. "The money which was designed to serve the Palestinian people went, with the knowledge of Israel’s governments, to the private bank accounts of Arafat."

Barak used Ginossar’s services at Camp David, even though Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein had warned him not to do so, fearing that Ginossar’s business ties to the Palestinians could create a possible conflict of interests.

Ginossar defended himself as the revelations about the Swiss account surfaced late last week, saying that Israel had taken advantage of his business contacts, not vice versa. "I served the state" in political missions "voluntarily, and I made significant contributions not only to the security of Israel’s citizens but also directly saving lives," he said.

The exposure of the affair, just as the election campaign is kicking off, was like a ripe fruit falling into Sharon’s hands.

"This is an invaluable gift for the election campaign of the Likud, worth more than 1,000 election slots," analyst Aluf Benn wrote in the Ha’aretz newspaper. Like Sharon, the other Likud prime minister to serve in the post-Oslo period, Benjamin Netanyahu, also refrained from using Ginossar’s services.

Both can point to the affair as a foul product of the Oslo accord. Lev, in his Ma’ariv interview, already supplied the ammunition: "I do not blame Yossi Ginossar," he said, "I blame the Israeli leadership, the premiers who operated him, although they knew that he had interests with the other side. The first who identified the problematics of Ginossar’s operation was the current premier and his son. They limited this operation and did not allow it to continue."

Shortly after the story was published in Ma’ariv, Sharon instructed the Mossad to check whether the Swiss accounts were used to finance terrorism. Naomi Blumenthal, deputy minister of infrastructure from Sharon’s Likud Party, demanded the establishment of a state inquiry commission that would examine not just the Ginossar affair but "all those who took part in the negotiations with the Palestinians."

Palestinian Authority officials dismissed the allegations as a smear campaign against Arafat. But Israeli pundits predicted that the scandal would further weaken Arafat’s status among the Palestinians.

Hussein Sheik, secretary-general of Arafat’s Fatah movement in the West Bank, demanded a commission of inquiry "to bring to trial the corrupt people who hide away public money."

Rashid claimed Israel has deliberately used the affair to demonize Arafat in the eyes of the Palestinian public and prevent a smooth process of reform in the Palestinian Authority.

Gaza/Bethlehem First — and Last?

Reports of the death of a gradual Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire plan may be premature.

A lot of evidence surfaced this week that the initial skepticism that greeted the "Gaza/Bethlehem First" plan was justified. But there were also facts to buttress the optimistic view that the plan might reduce nearly two years of violence.

The strongest evidence that the plan would not hold came Wednesday, when Israeli forces staged a raid to thwart a suspected arms smuggling operation, blowing up at least one container off the Gaza coast. The raid, in which Israel took control of a large stretch of beach, came after Palestinian mortar fire reportedly blew the roof off a nursery school in the Gaza Strip settlement of Gush Katif late Tuesday night.

Citing both the suspected shipment and the school attack, Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer canceled a security meeting with the Palestinian Authority’s interior minister, Abdel Razek Yehiyeh.

Earlier in the week, Ben-Eliezer insisted that the plan was not being put into deep freeze, despite a decision to hold off a possible Israeli army withdrawal from Hebron at least until after the High Holidays, which begin in early September. Meetings on ways to progress with the cease-fire plan will still be held this week, the Defense Minister’s office said Sunday.

But in adopting the army’s recommendation not to pull troops from Hebron for the time being, Ben-Eliezer cited security warnings and concern that terrorist groups there might exploit the holiday period to launch attacks. Comments from the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, publicly confirmed the army’s point of view — and the unlikelihood of the cease-fire plan actually working.

Addressing a conference of rabbis on Sunday, Ya’alon said a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be seen as submission to terrorism. He added that the Palestinian Authority’s adoption of terrorism as a tactic reflected its refusal to accept Israel’s existence. Israel must decisively defeat the intifada so the Palestinians don’t conclude that terrorism pays, Ya’alon said.

Ben-Eliezer also noted that Israeli troops could withdraw only if it was clear that the Palestinian security forces taking responsibility for maintaining order were capable of doing so. Israeli security officials gave a negative review of Palestinian efforts to halt terror attacks in the Gaza Strip in the week since the accord was signed, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Israel has been waiting for evidence that the Palestinians are serious about stopping terrorism in Gaza, where the Palestinian Authority security apparatus is largely intact. Israeli military officials said P.A. security organs have yet to take serious steps to crack down on Palestinian terrorist groups, Ha’aretz reported.

For his part, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Israelis are stalling. "What I can describe the situation to be is nonmovement, as if the consistent position of the Israeli government is to keep the status quo," Erekat was quoted as saying.

But not all the news is negative.

Israel agreed to begin lifting restrictions on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip due to a drop in violence. The move was agreed upon in a security meeting Monday night between Israeli and Palestinian security officials, Ha’aretz reported.

The Israeli army also announced it began easing restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem starting Wednesday. The measures include letting Palestinian workers into Israel, lifting travel restrictions on teachers and permitting clergy to travel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the paper said.

In Bethlehem, Palestinian security forces have displayed good intentions, according to Ha’aretz. But the Palestinian security apparatus in the West Bank faces a formidable task of rebuilding physical structures, personnel and morale.

Palestinians say it will take them time to rebuild their security forces before they can take effective measures on the ground. Israeli skeptics say that is the Palestinians’ way of signaling that they will continue to allow terror attacks, while disclaiming responsibility.

In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority’s interior minister, Gen. Abdel Razek Yehiyeh, called on Palestinian militias to rethink their strategy of armed struggle. He urged them to abide by P.A. decisions and the rule of law, and called on Palestinian factions to renew a dialogue toward formulating a united strategy.

But the militant groups, ranging from the fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the Al Aksa Brigades of P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, rejected any cease-fire and urged continued warfare against Israel.

Earlier, the "Intifada leadership council" issued a statement in the West Bank calling on the Palestinian Authority to cease security contacts with Israel, including the cease-fire plan.

Marwan Barghouti, head of Fatah in the West Bank, told a Kuwaiti newspaper that he opposes agreements with Israel unless it ends its "occupation, recognizes an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital" and accepted the "Right of Return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Currently in an Israeli jail, Barghouti is slated to go on trial next month for allegedly masterminding terrorist attacks that killed scores of Israelis.

Violence — and Israel’s anti-terror operations — continued this week, albeit at a slightly slower pace.

Four armed Palestinians were killed in weekend clashes with Israeli troops. Two died while attempting to infiltrate an Israeli settlement in the Gaza strip last Friday night, while the other two died in a firefight with Israelis soldiers patrolling in the West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday.

On Sunday, Israeli troops nabbed a suspected suicide bomber and two alleged accomplices near Jenin.

Israeli troops continued arrest operations throughout the West Bank. Among those detained was another Palestinian allegedly connected to the Jerusalem-based Hamas cell captured a week ago that is blamed for at least eight terrorist attacks, including the July 31 Hebrew University bombing.

On Monday, Israel arrested local Hamas leader Jamal Abu Haji during a raid in the Jenin refugee camp. In Tulkarm, troops demolished the home of a Palestinian suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks that killed eight people.

Seven Israeli Arabs have been arrested on charges that they assisted in an Aug. 4 suicide bombing that killed nine people and wounded 50. According to information released for publication Monday, seven members of a Galilee clan were arrested several weeks ago and have confessed to allegations regarding the attack in northern Israel.

Two of the principal suspects, Ibrahim and Yassin Bakri, allegedly helped the Palestinian bomber choose a bus to bomb and drove him to the stop where he boarded. Other family members allegedly gave the bomber shelter.

Israeli army plans to demolish the East Jerusalem homes of two suicide bombers were delayed Sunday when the terrorists’ families appealed to the military prosecutor in the West Bank.

In the Dec. 1 attack, the two bombers blew themselves up among Saturday night revelers on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, killing 11 people and wounding more than 180.

Whether the "Gaza/Bethlehem First" plan has any chance of preventing such attacks in the future remains anybody’s guess.

Ross Options

In his featured speech to the crowd assembled for the Yom HaShoah program at Sinai Temple, Ambassador Dennis Ross, the diplomatic point man for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during previous administrations of George Bush and Bill Clinton, acknowledged his disappointment in the current violence and outlined what he views as the likely possibilities for the conflict.

"The Palestinian people are being victimized. We have to ask ourselves who is responsible," Ross said. "I was at the negotiating table when Arafat had a chance to end the occupation." Now, he said, "It is a war. Arafat helped to bring that war on."

Noting that "it doesn’t matter" whether Arafat is unwilling or unable to stop suicide bombers, he said, "It is hard to escape the conclusion that we have crossed that threshold, where peaceful coexistence is no longer possible."

Ross laid out three options he views as possible solutions to the current fighting.

First, the "bypass Arafat" option, which he also referred to as the "exile" option. Though the suggestion that Israel "can’t deal with [Arafat] anymore" drew spontaneous applause from the crowd, Ross emphasized that "you don’t beat something with nothing," and Israel would still need a political solution, with or without Arafat.

Ross’ second option is the ideal — create a timeline of responsibilities, starting with security for both sides. Ross shared, based on his experience negotiating with both men, what he feels is the major difference between Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. With Sharon, he said, "it is hard to get him to make commitments, because he actually believes he has to fulfill them."

And so, Ross arrived at the third option, "not one I have personally favored," he said, but one that "probably will happen." The third option is unilateral separation, in which the Israelis withdraw completely from the settlements and build a wall between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The unilateral move is "not a solution," but "a way station."

"I’d like to be more hopeful," Ross said, "but I can’t be right now." — M.L.

Mixed Messages

With U.S.-Israel relations facing an explosive new crisis, a number of Israel representatives were in Washington this week, offering mixed messages about the intentions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government.

Some Jewish leaders here said the conradictions could increase the likelihood of serious misunderstandings between the two allies as the U.S.-led war against terrorism intensifies and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsens.

But the messages from the Bush administration were just as contradictory, touching off ripples of anger and concern across the Jewish world.

In private conversations with Jewish leaders and several public appearances, administration officials sought to counter fears that relentless diplomatic pressure by Arab and Muslim nations enlisted in the anti-terror fight was undercutting U.S.-Israel relations.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, speaking to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) national convention Sunday, said that despite the coalition-building effort, America would not abandon Israel.

“We cannot have a victory if we make a coalition that sacrifices the interests of some for the interests of others,” he said.

But administration actions seemed to tell a different story.

On Monday, the administration used its harshest language yet when it condemned Israel’s incursion into six Palestinian towns in response to last week’s assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.

State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said, “Israeli Defense Forces should be withdrawn immediately from all Palestinian-controlled areas, and no further such incursions should be made. We deeply regret and deplore Israeli Defense Force actions that have killed numerous Palestinian civilians over the weekend.”

That infuriated leading pro-Israel lawmakers.

“It’s obvious they are caving in to Arab pressure,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the Jewish delegation in the House. “It’s so transparent, it’s obscene.”

Engel accused the administration of “rank hypocrisy” in criticizing Israel for doing the same thing U.S. forces are trying to do in Afghanistan: root out terrorists.

Jewish organizations were no happier with the new U.S. squeeze.

The State Department comments were “inappropriate, intemperate; and [they] defy logic in the face of current U.S. efforts in the war against terrorism,” said leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Sharon, citing Israel’s defense needs, rejected the U.S. demand for an immediate pullout; the administration then cranked up the pressure.

On Tuesday, Bush “dropped by” on a meeting between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Even before the supposedly spontaneous meeting, the White House made it clear Bush would repeat his demand that Israeli troops be withdrawn immediately.

Bush reportedly told Peres that escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence is impeding U.S. coalition efforts in the war against terrorism.

The administration is also sending out conflicting messages about the ultimate scope of the U.S. war.

Wolfowitz, in his AJCongress speech, promised that Washington would expand the anti-terror effort, once Osama bin Laden and his network are destroyed. “We are not going just to pluck off individual snakes; we intend to drain the entire swamp,” he said.

That could mean an eventual focus on Iraq, he told the group. But the State Department continues to emphasize the bin Laden fight and downplay concern about Saddam Hussein.

“They want to have it both ways,” said an official with a major Jewish group here. “The result is a message that is very garbled.” – J.D. Besser

Comedy Relief

When Heidi Joyce thinks Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she thinks comedy. It’s worked for her before in an effort to combat domestic abuse, and it works again in her new play, "Friends and Enemies."

Best known for her "Stand Up Against Domestic Violence" comedy fundraisers, Joyce opens her first full-length play this week, which runs through July 29 at North Hollywood’s Bitter Truth Playhouse.

Joyce wrote and directed "Friends and Enemies," the story of two 13-year-olds rooming together on a cultural exchange program. Both David, a Jewish boy from Cleveland, and Mahmoud, a Palestinian from Jordan, bring with them the prejudices of their parents. "Are you a terrorist?" asks David. "A Jew is a soldier with a gun," says Mahmoud.

The teens find they have more in common than inherited biases.

By the end of the first scene, David and Mahmoud are playing a video game together, crossing a line they’ve taped across their room. The play humorously tracks the boys over the next four summers. As the conflict in the Middle East grows, so, too, does their friendship as they bond over girls, family life and teenage rebellion.

Joyce wrote "Friends and Enemies" in 1992, and then set it aside as the peace process made it seem irrelevant. She brought it to the attention of colleagues as they worked on "Stand Up Against Domestic Violence" in May, as tensions in Israel escalated. Both projects are "connected to the cycle of violence," Joyce says, "a violence that gets into you before you really have a chance to know what you think."

Heidi Joyce feels that humor most effectively highlights the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it did in her domestic-abuse project. "There’s so much pathos and tragedy and nowhere to go with that. Humor is where hope lies."

"Friends and Enemies" at the Bitter Truth Playhouse, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Saturdays, 8 p.m. until July 29. For more information, call (818) 755-7900.

Hard Talk

I have written about Yitzhak Frankenthal before, and I will no doubt write about him again, because the man has the gravitas to say just about whatever he wants about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Frankenthal is one of a distinct minority of Israelis and Arabs these days who are engaged in dialogue with their political adversaries.

The last time I wrote about Frankenthal was to tell how the father of a son murdered by a Palestinian terrorist had become Israel’s most eloquent spokesperson for peace. On July 7, 1994, the body of Arik, Frankenthal’s 19-year-old son, was found dumped in a village near Ramallah, riddled with bullet holes and stab wounds. Arik, an IDF soldier and an Orthodox Jew, had been hitchhiking home on leave when he was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists.

Before his murder, Arik had been drawn to the nascent religious Zionist peace movement. He had spoken to his father about Oz V’Shalom/Netivot Shalom, a group that maintains that halacha (Jewish law) requires Israel to compromise with the Palestinians. One month after his son’s death, Frankenthal dissolved his business interests and threw his considerable energies behind Oz V’Shalom — eventually becoming its executive director.

Frankenthal’s authority doesn’t rely solely on tragedy. He is also an Orthodox Jew, a Zionist, a successful Israeli entrepreneur and politically connected. Many readers will be shocked by his statements; few have his credentials.

Last week, Frankenthal came to Los Angeles to raise awareness of his newest project, Parents’ Circle. This is a group of 190 Israeli and 140 Palestinian parents who have lost their children to acts of terror or violence and who have made the commitment to work together in building a consensus for peace.

The European Union gave $450,000 to the group, and it received $1.1 million as part of the Wye River Agreement. The Mitchell Report, not a document full of bright spots, actually singles out Parents’ Circle as one of two cooperative projects doing very important work (the other is the Economic Cooperation Foundation) toward alleviating suffering in the region.

Frankenthal told me that bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents are meeting “more than ever” to discuss their feelings and differences over the Mideast crisis. The meetings are brutally honest and difficult.

Though the Israeli left is reeling from the backlash against rapprochement, some groups, such as Peace Now, Hand in Hand and Parents’ Circle, forge ahead with dialogue. At the start of Intifada II, Palestinian nonprofit organizations pulled out of Peace Now’s Youth Dialogue Program, which brought together Arab and Jewish teenagers at schools throughout the country. But, according to Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, the group was recently asked to resume dialogue by the largest youth movement in the West Bank, the Nablus Youth Movement. Frankenthal said the point of his group is not to provide healing or closure — he cringes when I speak the words — but to bring about reconciliation. “We cannot forgive them, and they cannot forgive us,” he said. “We are not doing it for us. We are doing it for our people.”

At a meeting in Gaza, a Palestinian father stood up and told Frankenthal, “As a father, I’m sorry you lost your son. But as a Palestinian, I need to tell you I’m happy we killed him, because he was in the army.” Frankenthal rose from his seat. “As a father,” he began, his voice trembling, “I want to pick up this desk and throw it at you. But as an Israeli, I will tell you a story about my son.”

Frankenthal then related how he had once asked Arik what he would do if he were a Palestinian. Arik said he would kill as many Israeli soldiers as possible. “A week later,” Frankenthal said, “he was killed himself.

“Look,” Frankenthal continued, “it’s not easy to sit and talk, but we understand each other. We have both lost kids, and we are not looking for revenge…. There is no question there will be peace between us and the Palestinians; the question is, how many people will die before we make peace?”

Frankenthal said he has come to understand that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak could have sealed a deal with Yasser Arafat by offering the Palestinians de jure sovereignty over the Temple Mount, where they already have de facto rule, in return for Arafat’s forgoing the right of return for Palestinian refugees. “He wanted to buy an $80 watch from Arafat for $60,” Frankenthal explained. If Barak had offered the whole $80, Frankenthal believes, Intifada II could have been averted.

That is a minority opinion in almost all Israeli and Jewish circles, but Frankenthal promotes it fearlessly. “The hardest part for me is to stand in front of my son’s grave,” he told me. “Everything else is small change.”

Parents’ Circle has created a brochure in Hebrew, English and Arabic outlining its views, and intends to distribute it to hundreds of thousands of Jews and Arabs.

When I told Frankenthal about our cover story this week — how Jews and Arab leaders in Los Angeles have alternately suspended their participation in dialogue with one another — Frankenthal waves away their concerns. He has no patience for those on either side who see the current conflict as a reason to suspend dialogue. “Go the opposite way,” he stressed. “Don’t let Hamas win. You need to fight against terrorism and talk. That’s what Rabin said.”

You can learn more about Parents’ Circle by writing to .

Muslim-Jewish Discord Debated

Two of the keenest American academic minds on the politics of the Middle East — one Jewish, the other Arab — debated the present and future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Monday evening, and reached agreement on at least three points.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is inept and unpopular with the great majority of his people.

The American media, especially CNN, are doing a terrible job of covering the conflict and are thoroughly biased. However, the perceived bias is in favor of Palestinian “terrorists” in Jewish eyes, and is partial to Israeli “oppressors” from the Arab view.

Israelis and Palestinians regard each other with deep suspicion and hostility, but their mutual interests dictate that they ultimately reach an understanding.

Facing each other and more than 200 listeners at the UCLA Hillel Forum were political scientist Steven Spiegel of UCLA, an early Clinton adviser on the Middle East, and historian Rashid Khalidi of the University of Chicago, who was an advisor to the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 Madrid conference.

Both professors are leaders of international relations centers at their respective universities and have written authoritative books in their fields.

The event was the last of six in a lecture series on “Muslim-Jewish Relations: Harmony & Discord Throughout History,” sponsored by Hillel and various Jewish, Arab and academic organizations.

In a generally pessimistic survey of the current situation, Spiegel saw some hope in the newly proposed report of an international commission, headed by former U.S. Senate Democratic leader, George J. Mitchell.

The report calls for an immediate halt in violence, followed by a cooling-off period, a complete stop to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and denunciation of terrorism and apprehension of terrorists by the Palestinian authority.

Khalidi said that these points were not enough to satisfy Palestinian demands. In his criticism of Israeli and American peace plans, he argued that even the presumed and widely hailed concessions by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David last year would leave Palestinians with a series of disconnected “Bantustans,” or slices, in its territory and East Jerusalem.

Pessimism ran deepest on the Palestinian demand for the right of return of some 3.7 million Arab refugees to Israel, which is two to three times the number who lived in Palestine in 1948. The refugee issue is seen as a basic existential issue for both sides, and presents an even more complex problem than the future status of Jerusalem, the speakers agreed.

Spiegel said he regretted in particular the many opportunities lost by Palestinian leaders in reaching peaceful solutions.

The UCLA professor designated an indecisive Arafat as the primary culprit in the failure of recent peace efforts, asking, “Where is the Palestinian Nelson Mandela?”

Khalidi, while not accepting this appraisal, cited a change in Palestinian leadership as one of the requirements of a possible peace, along with U.S. pressure on Israel and a change in Israeli public opinion. Spiegel said that one sorrowful aspect of the second intifada over the last six months has been to destroy the peace camp in Israel and to elect, in effect, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

He added,”Sadly, both sides have lost their sense of interdependence, but they will either fall together, or triumph together.”

Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson and student Adam Rosenthal moderated the intense but civil two-hour debate.

High Morale

As Israeli-Palestinian violence hits the six-month mark, Israeli military officials report that soldiers remain motivated to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Senior military officials report that reservists, who account for 70 percent of the army’s 639,150 troops, are reporting for duty at higher rates than before the intifada began. This contrasts with past years, when reservists often found excuses to evade service.

According to Brig. Gen. Avinoam Laufer, head of the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) planning and logistics division, about 95 percent of reservists who have recently been drafted have reported for duty.

This compares to about 85 percent who reported for duty before Palestinian violence began last September.

“The feeling among reservists, like in the public at large, is that something must be done,” Laufer said, adding that in recent years soldiers’ motivation has tended to rise when times got tougher.

The army does not yet have clear indications about how the intifada is affecting new recruits or conscripted soldiers.

Soldiers currently being drafted were polled about their attitudes last year, before the wave of violence began.

Those polls indicated that there had then been a 4 percent decline in the motivation of young Israelis to serve in combat units.

That decline came against the backdrop of political developments in which Israel appeared to be on the brink of peace deals, Laufer said.

“When there is a feeling that we are moving toward a good peace, motivation tends to decline,” he said. “When the situation deteriorates, motivation goes up.”

Nevertheless, Laufer admits that during the first intifada, between 1987 and 1993, there was a clear deterioration in the motivation of reservists to serve as the conflict dragged on and soldiers were called repeatedly to police the Palestinians.

The apparent increase in motivation, as measured in terms of reserve turnout, comes amid a rising death toll.

Since the violence began in late September, 67 Israelis — 38 civilians and 29 soldiers — have been killed by the Palestinians.

Israel has killed at least 348 Palestinians over the same period.

For Israel, the death toll is very high when compared with the number killed by Hezbollah gunmen during the last five years of the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon.

Between 1995 and 1999, about 25 Israeli soldiers were killed in Lebanon. Even that death toll was enough to break the Israeli consensus over maintaining a presence there.

Palestinians were jubilant when Israel withdrew from Lebanon last year, citing Hezbollah’s war as a model the Palestinians themselves should follow.

Israeli military officials, however, said the Palestinians were making a “crude miscalculation” if they hope to copy Hezbollah tactics and wear down Israeli society and military morale through a war of attrition.

If the Palestinians concluded from the Lebanon case “that with a big enough pile of bodies we will go home or go somewhere else,” they misunderstood Israeli policy, said one military official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If that’s the logic, if they think they will pile up the numbers and get a Lebanon outcome, it’s a historic confusion of the accidental and the existential,” the official said.

Military assessments of Israel’s staying power come amid reports that the Palestinians may be reassessing their strategy.

Some Palestinians are said to be calling for public protests with a lower level of violence, alongside the guerrilla-style warfare by armed militias that has been the staple in recent months — and that has cost the Palestinians a degree of international sympathy.

As recently as Sunday, however, another Israeli was wounded in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank.

While the continued violence appears to have rallied Israeli soldiers and society behind the national unity government’s refusal to negotiate under fire, there are some signs of cracks in the consensus.

Yesh Gvul, the movement that supports soldiers who refuse to serve in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, says it has handled 10 cases of conscripted soldiers and fielded calls from up to 80 reservists who refuse to help suppress the current intifada, including a “high proportion” of junior officers.

Yesh Gvul — Hebrew for “there’s a limit” — was created to protest Israel’s presence in Lebanon.

The group says 168 reservists went to prison during the 1982 Lebanon War for refusing to serve, while another 200 went to prison during the 1987-1993 Palestinian intifada.

Even the relatively small numbers are significant, however, since in the past, young conscripted soldiers almost never dared to challenge military discipline by refusing to serve, according to Peretz Kidron, a Yesh Gvul activist.

Kidron also said that most reservists who refuse to serve in the territories have been given other assignments instead of jail time, as the army wants to avoid public controversies that might affect morale.

“Outright refusal is the tip of the iceberg, and that has an enormous impact on army morale far beyond the numbers involved,” Kidron said. “They know that every time they throw one guy in jail, another 10 get the idea.”

Kidron also said Yesh Gvul has found in the past that many reservists will heed the call of duty the first time around but will think twice if called up again.

Tamar Hermann, director of the Tami Steinmitz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, said Israelis from across the political spectrum are rallying around the flag.

“Even those Israelis who supported unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon are now much more skeptical of such a move so close to home in the West Bank,” she said.

But Hermann’s polls also show that while Israelis have a high level of confidence in the IDF, 50 percent of the respondents do not believe there is a military solution to the current conflict, compared with only 41 percent who think more force would help.

“Israelis think some force should be used to suppress rising Palestinian violence, but they do not see it as a way out of the conflict,” she said.