Ehud Olmert: A political time line


NEW YORK (JTA)—The following is a time line of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political career:

Sept. 30, 1945 Born to Bella and Mordechai Olmert in Binyamina, near Haifa.

November 1963-1971 Begins military service in the Golani Brigade, but hand and feet injuries that predate his service force him out of the combat unit. He completes his service as a reporter for the IDF magazine, Bamahane.

1965 As student representative of the Herut Party, the predecessor to Likud, Olmert makes a name for himself by demanding the resignation of party chief Menachem Begin.

December 1973 Elected to the Knesset as a Likud Party member.

December 1976 After Olmert discloses to the Knesset that Housing Minister Avraham Ofer is likely to be the subject of a police investigation, Ofer kills himself.

December 1988 Appointed minister without portfolio in charge of minority affairs by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

April 1989 Comes under criticism for receiving a $50,000 loan from a fictitious company owned by the head of the Bank of North America, Yehoshua Halperin. Olmert is tried and acquitted.

June 1990 Appointed health minister under Yitzhak Shamir.

November 1993 Elected mayor of Jerusalem, defeating longtime incumbent Teddy Kollek.

September 1996 Indicted with other Likud party members for illicit fund raising from corporate donors and for knowingly signing a false statement. Olmert is acquitted of the charges.

February 2003 Appointed deputy prime minister and minister of industry, trade and labor by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

December 2003 Throws his support behind Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza, retreating from his former assertions that high Arab birth rates are not a threat to Jewish democracy.

November 2005 Leaves Likud and follows Sharon to his newly formed centrist party, Kadima.

January 2006 – Becomes acting prime minister after Sharon suffers a debilitating stroke.

March 2006 Wins general elections and becomes prime minister.

July 2006 Wages a 34-day war against Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist group.

September 2006 Questioned by the State Comptroller’s office over suspicions of bribery after purchasing a property in Jerusalem for far less than market value.

January 2007 Questioned by investigators about whether, as finance minister, he used his influence to favor a friend in the sale of a large portion of the newly privatized Bank Leumi.

April 2007 Found ultimately responsible for the failures of the Lebanon war in the interim report by the Winograd Commission appointed to investigate the war’s failures; commission stops short of calling for his resignation. In the same month, the commissioner for standards in public life speaks out against Olmert’s activities during his term as industry minister, accusing him of a conflict of interest when a friend, Uri Messner, applied for government financial benefits.

October 2007 Diagnosed with non-terminal prostate cancer.

January 2008 Leadership during Lebanon War determined by the Winograd Commission’s final report to be conducted in good faith, despite serious failings and faulty decisions.

May 2008 Investigated by police for illegal fund raising, possible bribery and double billing overseas trips in the years before becoming prime minister. Olmert denies any wrongdoing but promises to resign if indicted.

July 2008 Accedes to calls for his ouster and announces he will resign the office of prime minister after Kadima primaries in September, allowing the party’s new leader to form a new government.

Golan’s Druse live with hope and anxiety


Under a darkening sky in the northernmost corner of the Golan Heights, a small crowd gathers at the town square in this Druse village late in the afternoon and unfurls a few Syrian flags.
 

For Middle East Women, ‘Cavemen’ Are Not Wanted


Little noticed among the vast media coverage of the latest Middle East crisis were a couple of dispatches by journalists highlighting the actions of an admittedly few
women in Israel.

Given that it is an act of considerable bravery to protest in the streets at a time when their fellow citizens were so up in arms about the Hezbollah rocket attacks, I knew the sentiments of this handful of protesters would be shared by many more Israeli and Palestinian women who could not be there. After all, I had spoken during the past 30 years of covering the Middle East to many of these women — Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, rich and poor alike — who have told me again and again how appalled they have been at the seemingly endless number of wars in the region.

Tamara Traubman and Ruth Sinai-Heruti, both correspondents for the leading Israeli daily, Haaretz, pointed out at the bottom of their July 17 article, “More Than 500 Protest in Tel Aviv Against Israeli Defense Force Raids in Lebanon, Gaza,” that a “woman’s protest was also held Sunday morning next to the central Haifa train depot, where a Hezbollah rocket landed early Sunday, killing eight people.” The women, they added, “said that in the coming days, they would be assembling a new group of Arab and Jewish women against the war.”

Rory McCarthy of the United Kingdom’s Guardian daily, in a dispatch the same day titled, “Israeli City Shaken by Hizbullah Rocket Attack,” noted that “as the sirens continued to sound, a small group of women stood outside the entrance to the train depot to lodge a small protest against the fighting. Yana Knoboba, 25, a psychology student from Haifa University, sat on the pavement holding a banner that read in Hebrew: ‘War will not bring peace.'”

“We don’t want a great war in the Middle East,” McCarthy quoted Knoboba as saying. “We want Israel to negotiate to bring back our soldiers and stop the re-occupation of Gaza. It isn’t about showing strength. I think strength is making peace, not war.”

Three years ago, here in London, I was a guest at the local Quaker meeting house, where a panel of eight women from Israel had been invited to speak. Having spent so much of my life covering “men’s” activities in the Middle East — investment and trade, oil and politics, as well as outright war — I thought it about time I took a look at what women were doing. The panel included four Palestinians and four Israelis, all from divergent backgrounds: a poet, sociologist, historian, social worker, Christian, Muslim and Jew.

There were some quite direct, pointed questions from the audience about where truth, justice and progress lay. Would Israelis be better off without the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza? Would Palestinians agree to end suicide bombings? The answers varied, both among the Palestinian and Jewish women and amongst themselves, whatever their nationality.

But when the moderator asked the final question, “What, in your opinion, do you think is the worst problem you face?” the answer was surprising. One would have expected the Palestinian women to say, “The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel since 1967.” For the Israeli women, one would have thought the answer would be, “Security, a right to live in peace with Israel’s neighbors and, above all, an end to suicide bombings.”

Surprise, surprise. One by one, the eight women stood up, faced the 70 or so in the audience of mostly women and declared: “The militarization of our men.”
For the Palestinians, seeing their sons subjected to the cannon-fodder rhetoric of ignorant sheikhs, the test of manhood their teen sons were exposed to when it came to throwing stones or the death and injury of their fathers, sons and brothers were the key points. For the Israeli women, the brutalization of the men they must live with, their sons, brothers and spouses in the Israel Defense Forces, was the main point.

And, unlike the Palestinians, Israelis are required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces unless they can prove they are conscientious objectors or members of certain Jewish religious denominations.

Shades of Vietnam here? Just as then, members of the peace movement in Israel have highlighted the comments of former members of the Israeli military who have spoken out against the climate of opinion in the forces, which, in their view, disregards the value of civilian life, whatever the faults on the other side may be.

But such sentiments must often be put aside by their fellow draftees, they say, resulting in a dehumanization of the attacker, as well as the attacked. The result: As in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, there is a growing refusal by some Israelis to serve in the military, particularly when it comes to fighting in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

What I wondered yet again the other day was what were the Jewish women in Israel doing and feeling? Were those women at the Quaker meeting house representative of their compatriots? And how had the peace movement there affected the willingness of women, as well as men, to accept conscription into the Israeli military forces?

Further south in Tel Aviv, McCarthy’s article gave me a clue and a sense of what might really be wrong. A quote he published from Abir Kobti, an activist in Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace, who was on the front line in Israel’s capital city when Israeli police broke up their peaceful protest on July 16, said it all:

Staff Loyalties Stir Concern Over Work


There may be no greater test of the United Nations’ vaunted neutrality than to be a Palestinian staffer of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip or West Bank.

UNRWA has 12,000-plus employees in those areas — where it’s the second-largest employer after the Palestinian Authority — and similar numbers in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In all, more than 99 percent of its staff members are Palestinian. No other U.N. agency boasts such an overwhelming ratio of local to foreign field staff. Nine of 10 UNRWA employees are themselves refugees, according to the agency’s definition of a refugee.

UNRWA employees and their families in the Palestinian territories go through everything that society at large endures, which during the intifada meant the self-described “daily humiliations” of restricted movement, material deprivation and Israeli anti-terrorist raids. Nevertheless, UNRWA employees must sign a code of conduct that compels them to avoid actions that “may adversely affect on their status, or on the integrity, independence and impartiality which are required by that status.”

Realistically, though, some observers ask: Would it be surprising if UNRWA employees were to loathe Israel and embrace the Palestinian cause — and have it influence their work?

Some of UNRWA’s harsher critics speak as if the agency were actively complicit in terrorism, but others say the situation isn’t black and white. With lawlessness, intimidation and violence now widespread — UNRWA itself has relocated some international staff from Gaza to Jerusalem — Palestinian staff members may simply find it prudent to avert their eyes from the militancy around them.

UNRWA officials note that the U.N. General Assembly never gave the agency policing or intelligence-gathering responsibilities in its camps. Moreover, UNRWA officials say, it could be dangerous to ask too many questions about what’s going on around them.

Yet staff certainly can make a difference, said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which takes care of the world’s 19 million non-Palestinian refugees.

In some cases, Van Genderen Stort said, UNHCR teams with local military, police or foreign peacekeepers to look out for armed elements stirring up trouble. In other cases, camp residents have established something of a “nightwatch.”

“It’s not that we have intelligence on the ground or that they’re spying on their neighbors, but they know who’s in their community and they keep an eye out,” said Van Genderen Stort, who recently worked in Liberia’s refugee camps. “We, of course, want to help only those who are refugees and in need of help. We don’t want to be an agency that helps rebels who go out at night and fight.”

When it comes to UNRWA, at least some staffers seem to share their clients’ more extreme views. The UNRWA teachers union, for example, reportedly is dominated by members affiliated with Hamas, listed as a terrorist organization in much of the West. Observers have cited numerous instances where suicide bombers and other terrorists were glorified in UNRWA schools, whether through graffiti on school walls or posters in the classrooms. In one incident, Hamas convened a July 2001 conference in an UNRWA junior high school in Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp.

“The road to Palestine passes through the blood of the fallen, and these fallen have written history with parts of their flesh and their bodies,” UNRWA teacher, Saheil Alhinadi, said in praise of “martyrdom,” a euphemism for suicide terrorism.

Former UNRWA chief Peter Hansen got into hot water in October 2004, when he told Canadian television, “I’m sure there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime. Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant, and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another.”

Hansen later explained in an interview that he meant Hamas sympathizers, not members.

“Don’t judge people by what you think they may or may not believe,” he said. “Judge them by what they do, in their actions and in their behavior. And there we get back to the very strict behavior code we have in the agency for what staff members are to do and not to do in their behavior.”

Israel, however, says the question isn’t just staff members’ political allegiances but, sometimes, their actions. In recent years, Israel has arrested dozens of UNRWA staffers — 31 from mid-2004 to mid-2005 alone, according to UNRWA — for alleged involvement in terrorism and other activities. Most are released within days or weeks without charges — but not all.

Nahed Attalah, an UNRWA official arrested by Israeli forces in 2002, reportedly confessed to using his U.N. travel permit and his UNRWA car to transport terrorists to attack sites and to entering Syria and Lebanon to arrange weapons purchases for terrorist groups.

In August 2002, Israel arrested UNRWA ambulance driver Nidal Abd Al Fatah Abdallah Nazal, whom officials later said confessed to being a Hamas member and using his ambulance to transport arms and messages to Hamas activists.

In 2003, Israel convicted three staffers: A Hamas member got 32 months for having a machine gun and delivering chemicals to a bombmaker, an Islamic Jihad member received two and a half years for possessing materials for possible use in explosives and a third person was sentenced to seven and a half years for shooting a gun and firebombing an Israeli bus.

In May 2004, Israeli television showed gunmen piling into an UNRWA ambulance.

UNRWA officials said it’s unfair to tarnish an organization of thousands for the actions of a few. They also claimed the Israeli judicial system is biased, with UNRWA denied access to both detainees and the evidence against them — so they’re skeptical about staff arrests and convictions.

Even a former Israeli diplomat chastised his government’s policy of claiming it has a smoking gun that proves UNRWA’s terrorist links, then withholding the evidence on grounds of “national security.” That fuels speculation that Israel doesn’t have the goods, the diplomat said.

“When the U.N. asks for proof and Israel says it’s classified, to me that’s like not having any evidence at all,” the official, who requested anonymity, said in an interview.

The most notorious instance occurred in early October 2004, when Israel announced it had footage of a Kassam rocket being loaded into an UNRWA ambulance. UNRWA asserted that the object in question was a rolled-up stretcher. After further scrutiny, Israel conceded it had blundered — It was indeed a stretcher. But the incident reflected how, after years of tension with UNRWA, Israel was inclined to believe the worst about the agency.

Even UNRWA leaders, however, admit their camps are heavily militarized.

“Of course I don’t condone it, but it’s a fact of life,” Hansen said of the presence of heavily armed militants at an agency function, according to the Associated Press. “Look around the camp. We can’t stop it. We don’t have guns.”

As Hansen later confided to the Danish paper, Politiken, “Who in this camp dares to speak up against an armed man?”

Though U.N. resolutions require armed elements to steer clear of refugee camps, Karen Koning AbuZayd, an UNRWA official, conceded in an August 2002 Jerusalem Report that expelling gunmen from the camps would be “difficult in this region.”

In Gaza and the West Bank, everything is “upside down. The refugees are the armed elements,” said AbuZayd, who at the time of the interview was Hansen’s deputy and who has now succeeded him.

Then there are instances of Palestinian violence that target UNRWA itself.

Last August, three UNRWA staffers — two Europeans and a Palestinian — were kidnapped in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza by what UNRWA described as a “militant group.” UNRWA protested, and the staffers were released unharmed later in the day.

Last New Year’s Day, Palestinians firebombed the U.N. club in Gaza City, which flies the UNRWA flag and is said to be the only establishment in town that serves alcohol, drawing the ire of Islamic fundamentalists. The club’s guard was tied up and beaten.

UNRWA staffers who venture into the fray may risk repercussions.

In April 2004, Israel’s assassination of Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi sparked an outpouring of emotion among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

According to The Daily Star of Beirut, the UNRWA chief in Lebanon, Richard Cook, ordered his staff to go into agency schools and tear down posters glorifying “martyrdom.” Refugee leaders declared Cook persona non grata and reportedly barred him briefly from the camps.

“We have to take the safety of our staff into account,” AbuZayd explained to the Jerusalem Report in her 2002 interview. “If we were to ask our staff to do certain things, we realize that would get them into big trouble.”

At the very least, the United States expects UNRWA to speak up. Washington is UNRWA’s largest donor, providing about 30 percent of the agency’s roughly $400 million budget in both 2004 and 2005. Section 301(c) of the 1961 U.S. Foreign Assistance Act compels UNRWA to “take all possible measures to assure that no part of the U.S. contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.”

That pressure to vet seems to make the UNRWA hierarchy squirm.

In a November 2003 report, the U.S. General Accounting Office noted that UNRWA balked at the obligation to report what staff members see and hear, “owing to concerns for its staff’s safety” and the “inability to verify beneficiary responses.”

UNRWA’s lawyers countered with a proposal that staffers not “knowingly” provide assistance to those involved with terrorist activities — a standard that critics say sets the bar too high, allowing for plausible deniability. But UNRWA’s request that Congress clarify the meaning of “all possible measures” is a cop out, said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on International Relations’ Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee.

“The representatives of this U.N. agency will argue that they cannot account for their employees’ activities, given the large number of Palestinians on their payrolls,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview. “If they are not exerting oversight over what is taking place in the institutions run by their agency, then the U.S. must exert strict oversight over its contributions to this agency.”

UNRWA camps also have seen a slew of “workplace accidents,” a euphemism for bombs that explode prematurely as terrorists prepare them.

“We talked to UNRWA about it, that if it happens that’s prima facie evidence the person was a terrorist,” a State Department official said in an interview. “But UNRWA’s lawyer says, ‘Well, not really. It’s not a terrorist act simply to make a bomb.’ We say that’s really getting into the weeds legally. We don’t know what other purposes they would be constructing a bomb for, and they fall into our definition for what ought to be excluded. UNRWA agreed in the end, and one reason they did, frankly, is we’re the biggest donors, and they don’t want to get into a spat with us.”

Olmert’s Conversion From Pol to Leader


As far as personality goes, Ehud Olmert is not my kind of guy. He comes off like he thinks he’s God’s gift to humanity, riffraff that we are.

I remember several years ago when as mayor of Jerusalem, he came to view the damage to a local Conservative synagogue that had been firebombed. He didn’t walk through the blackened sanctuary, he sauntered through in a stately way, his head in the air. Wearing a very expensive-looking suit and shoes, he was the picture of an aristocrat, of someone who’s always known he’s entitled to power and all its perks. He didn’t light up one of his big cigars, but he might as well have.

This was before the intifada. In those days, and even earlier, I couldn’t bear Olmert. In both personality and politics, he was offensive. He seemed the ultimate sleaze, a cynical pol thoroughly mobbed up with every conniving businessman who had a hand in Israeli politics.

As mayor, he sold himself to the capital’s haredim. Worse, he was the government patron of the radical settler movement in Arab East Jerusalem. Worst of all, he was the prime mover behind the Netanyahu government’s crazed decision to open the Western Wall Tunnel in 1996, which ended with 16 Israeli soldiers and about 80 Palestinians dead.

This is a lot to put aside when judging Olmert today as the interim prime minister and as the man very likely to be confirmed for the post in the March 28 election. But, finally, political leaders shouldn’t be judged on personality, because they’re all full of themselves to a greater or lesser degree. And, unfortunately, Olmert’s attraction to money and the moneyed makes him fairly par for the course among his peers; he’s probably no worse than Ariel Sharon was on that score.

You have to judge politicians, especially those running for prime minister, without sentiment. And if they’ve changed direction, you have to give more weight to what they’ve done lately than what they did before. Unless the candidate is a truly malevolent character, you have to judge him or her on two things: leadership ability and political direction. And on that basis, I think Olmert is better suited to be prime minister than anybody else around.

My opinion of him began to change during the intifada. As Jerusalem mayor, he did a solid job of bucking up a public that was reeling from the suicide bombs. He didn’t talk empty slogans; he didn’t use bombast. Instead, he showed empathy for people and urged them not to heroism or patriotic fervor but to a kind of head-down, workaday, human-scale resilience. I don’t know if it’s better to say he rose to the occasion or bent to it, but this “prince” proved himself an inspirational leader of ordinary people during a long, agonizing ordeal.

Maybe more than anything else, that trial by fire prepared Olmert for the emergency role he just assumed.

The other reason he’s the best suited to be prime minister is his political turnaround, which has been more emphatic and far-reaching even than Sharon’s. As Sharon’s vice premier and closest political ally, it was Olmert who gave the first signal of the disengagement plan to come in his ground-shaking interview with Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea in December 2003.

Without laying out a map, Olmert made it unmistakably clear that he wanted unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank interior and even from the outlying Arab neighborhoods and villages of Jerusalem. This, from the fellow who came up with Binyamin Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign slogan, “Peres will divide Jerusalem.”

The reasons Olmert gave weren’t moral, they were pragmatic. He argued that if Israel didn’t unilaterally narrow its borders, the world, including the United States, would force it back to even narrower ones. He also warned that if Israel didn’t separate itself from millions of Palestinians, it would stop being a Jewish state and become a binational one.

“We didn’t fight here for 100 years, we didn’t spill our blood to lose the Jewish state,” he said.

Very soon afterward, Sharon unveiled the disengagement plan. It was not easy overcoming the resistance within the Likud, let alone that of the settlers, and the most important soldier in the fight, after Sharon himself, was Olmert.

Cliche or not, he really did show vision and courage. He, too, is a transformed politician. Last week he didn’t hesitate in saying East Jerusalem Arabs would be free to vote in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. The old Olmert would have called such a decision national suicide.

Also to his credit: His worst political enemy is Netanyahu. They can’t stand each other. Enough said.

But one final point: Since 2004, I’ve been writing that Amir Peretz, because of the strength of his leadership in the cause of economic decency — something this country needs desperately — should become prime minister. I changed my mind during the current campaign and before Sharon had his stroke.

To be Israel’s prime minister, it’s not enough to show the way to raise up the poor — you’ve also got to show the way to fight Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc., and to end the occupation. Peretz has shown only that he doesn’t have a clear way in mind. He gives hardly a clue about how he’d handle the Kassams coming out of Gaza.

As for ending the occupation, Peretz promises to sit down with Mahmoud Abbas and reach a final agreement in a year. Hasn’t he noticed that Abbas isn’t exactly running the show over there?

Peretz acts as if running the State of Israel will be a piece of cake, as if that’s supposed to inspire confidence in him. And when he declares “Oslo is alive and well,” it sounds like the intifada made no impression on him; that the last five years hasn’t affected his thinking at all.

I’d probably feel enthusiastic about Peretz becoming prime minister if we were living in a country whose overriding problem was poverty, one that was not surrounded by enemies — say, Brazil. But we are not Brazil.

Still, if Kadima goes into Election Day with an insurmountable lead over Labor and Likud and is guaranteed to end up running the government, then I’ll vote for Labor. I want there to be a strong voice for economic change, and on that issue, Peretz is by far the best.

But if it’s a close race, and it’s not certain which party is going to form the government, then I’m going to vote for the one that has the best candidate for prime minister. That party is Kadima.

Times have changed dramatically and for the better, and Olmert was out in front when they did. I believe he’s got further changes along those same lines in mind. I still wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable buying a used car from him, but as prime minister of Israel, I trust him.

 

Clear Ideological Focus Marks Olmert


Ehud Olmert, who took over as acting Israeli prime minister following Ariel Sharon’s debilitating stroke, is a career politician with a clear ideological focus. If he becomes prime minister in his own right, Olmert can be expected to carry on peacemaking efforts with the Palestinians where Sharon left off.

Olmert was one of the chief architects of Sharon’s main foreign policy achievement — last summer’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. When Sharon broke away last November from his ruling Likud Party to form a new centrist party, Kadima, Olmert was one of the first to follow him.

In late 2003, it was Olmert who first outlined Sharon’s new thinking on the Palestinian issue: In a string of interviews in Israeli media, Olmert argued that Israel could not allow itself to remain stuck forever occupying territory where Palestinians lived, which could undercut the Jewish and democratic nature of the state.

If agreements with the Palestinians proved impossible, Olmert said, Israel would have to set its borders on its own. It soon became clear that Olmert was floating the ideas as trial balloons for Sharon, but the same thinking probably would inform his decision making as prime minister.

Olmert, 60, has been in politics all his adult life. Supporters see him as an experienced and savvy politician with proven leadership qualities; opponents denigrate him as an opportunistic wheeler-dealer.

Olmert first was elected to the Knesset in 1973 at age 28. At 43, he was minister without portfolio responsible for Israeli Arab Affairs. At 45, he was health minister, and at 48, he became mayor of Jerusalem, a post he held for 10 years before returning to politics on the national stage.

Olmert was born in Israel into a politically active right-wing family associated with the Herut movement, but he showed his intellectual independence by joining Shmuel Tamir’s Free Center, a breakaway faction from Herut, in the mid-1960s.

The formation of the Likud in 1973 brought the Free Center, Herut and three other parties together, and in 1977, Olmert played an active role in Menachem Begin’s successful bid for prime minister.

As a young Knesset member, the highly articulate Olmert gained attention for his anti-corruption efforts. He also was part of a group of Likud rebels who voted against Begin’s 1978 Camp David peace agreement with Egypt.

Since then, Olmert’s views on the territorial question have changed dramatically. In a recent newspaper interview, he declared that “I am sorry Begin is not alive for me to be able to publicly recognize his wisdom and my mistake. He was right, and I was wrong. Thank God we pulled out of Sinai.”

Olmert is trained as a lawyer, with degrees in philosophy and psychology. He exercises frequently, speaks excellent English and can be extremely charming. However, he can also can be very aggressive in response to media questioning.

His wife, Aliza, a playwright and artist, voices views on the left of the Israeli political spectrum. They have five children. Olmert often jokes that, as the only right-winger, he’s often a minority within the family.

In 1993, running on a right-wing ticket, Olmert defeated the legendary Teddy Kollek for mayor of Jerusalem. He made a political pact with the fervently Orthodox to cement his power in the city, alienating many left-wing and centrist secular voters.

In 1996, when the Likud regained power under Benjamin Netanyahu, Olmert was not invited to take part in the government. He and Netanyahu have remained bitter rivals ever since.

In 1999, Olmert incurred the wrath of many Likudniks when he mocked the party’s election slogan that Labor Party candidate and future prime minister Ehud Barak “would divide Jerusalem.” Olmert later was humiliated when Barak did back a division of the city.

In 1999, after Netanyahu lost the premiership to Barak and resigned as Likud chairman, Olmert challenged Sharon for the Likud Party leadership. He won about 25 percent of the vote, less than half of Sharon’s tally.

In 2003, Olmert returned to national politics as one of Sharon’s closest allies against Netanyahu. Deeply disappointed when Sharon gave the finance portfolio to Netanyahu, Olmert insisted on a deputy premiership as compensation.

Now the wheel has come full circle: He succeeded Netanyahu as finance minister last August and now, as Sharon’s deputy, is acting prime minister.

But it will not be easy for Olmert, who lacks security credentials, to fill Sharon’s shoes. A lot will depend on the extent to which his Kadima colleagues unite round him, and for now, they say they intend to do so.

Olmert is not the most popular politician in Kadima. Recent polls indicate that voters would prefer ex-Laborite Shimon Peres or Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to step up and lead the party. Still, he hopes that their support, and a few weeks in the top job, will persuade the public that he has what it takes to be prime minister full time.

Pundits note that when Golda Meir took over the national leadership from Levi Eshkol in 1969, she had only 3 percent public support but within months had become a very popular prime minister. Olmert, who starts off with higher levels of support, hopes incumbency will create the same widespread acceptance of his leadership.

 

Enemy Ties


 

I hadn’t been to a Tel Aviv bar for a while, and I was craving one. I had recently returned from a vacation to Los Angeles, where there were no worthwhile singles bars. Last call for alcohol in Los Angeles is 2 a.m., and a good Jewish girl like me prefers to pick up and be picked up by Jewish men.

That’s why Eliezer, a new bar on Ben Yehuda Street, was a relief for me and also for my friend, Tali, who had just returned from her native Melbourne. Inhaling the smoky air and swaying to the rock music, we reveled in the dozens of masculine men around us.

“Welcome to Israel,” we proudly toasted. “Where you know the men in the bars are Jewish.”

A beer and two vodka shots later, I let my guard down and scoped the scene, looking for hot prospects. Gradually a group of short, stubby men surrounded us. I sighed. None of them had been on my radar, but, nevertheless, we all danced and laughed and flirted.

Suddenly, a man in a gray shirt and gray tie walked in. I was not particularly attracted to him, but I noticed that his tie was practically strangling him. I gestured to him to take it off. We were in a bar, not a conference room.

Tali and I continued to dance and flirt, and the man in the tie passed us by, stiff-necked. I motioned to him again to take the thing off.

Finally, we headed out to go salsa dancing, and I noticed the man in the tie had taken it off and began waving it like a flag, signaling me over.

“Congratulations,” I said. “That’s much better.”

“Where are you from?” he said in an unidentifiable accent.

“I’m from Israel, but originally from L.A.,” I said. “Where are you from?”

“I’m Palestinian.”

“Oh,” I said. “Palestinian.”

No wonder he wore a tie to a bar. Israelis just don’t do that.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“I’m very Jewish,” I said proudly.

There I was. Face to face with the enemy, in a Tel Aviv bar. I immediately recalled the Stage nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv a week earlier, and I looked for a backpack strapped to his waist, but he was strapless. I was safe, but I couldn’t help but provoke confrontation. I wasn’t about to be fake or polite or cordial just because he was Palestinian. A Tel Aviv bar, to me, did not provide sanctuary.

“You know, I’m very right wing,” I said.

I didn’t think he understood what I said or what I meant, or maybe he didn’t want a bar brawl, because he ignored my comment and instead asked me where I lived.

I almost made myself more explicit by adding: “If I were a soldier with a gun, and this were a battle line, I would shoot you. By the way, I entertain the idea of transfer.”

But I stopped myself. This was a bar, I reasoned. He wasn’t the enemy, he was a descendant of Abraham who wanted to break Islamic law and have a drink. I had to respect him for that. So I dropped the politics and told him I lived in Tel Aviv.

“Israeli women are hotter than Palestinian women, aren’t they?” I said, trying to find some common ground.

“No, no.”

“Why, do you like it when they are covered from head to toe, with those veils?”

“Well, women in Ramallah are not so hot. Yes, Israelians are hot,” he said awkwardly.

It seemed like that was the first time he used “hot” in that context.

I told him I had to go, and he presented his tie and said: “For you.”

“What?” I said. “I can’t take this.”

At first, I felt bad. It looked expensive, and don’t most Palestinians live in dire poverty?

Then I thought about the implications: I take this tie, and my hands are tied. I’d forever have to remember that one night a Palestinian gave me an expensive tie, and that he was nice to me. I’d have to question all my stereotypes and generalizations, and recognize that there are good, normal, generous Palestinians who just want peace, who just want to be my friend, who just want some fun.

I couldn’t take the tie.

But then I looked down at its elegant striped pattern. It would look smashing with a white tank and hip hugging jeans, I thought. He insisted, so I gracefully accepted.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling, and blew him a kiss.

As we sauntered out, Tali, a pro-peace activist, said, “You see, they’re not all bad. You’ll switch sides.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe.”

As long as I felt good and stylish with the tie on, I couldn’t resent the fashion benefactor or his people.

I woke up the next morning, both me and the tie hungover in bed, alone.

I glared at it, frightened. Is this the first step toward my own private reconciliation with the Palestinians? If I keep it, is it a personal symbol of possible peace? Or should I just burn the thing?

Eventually, I hung it in my closet as the accessory that will forever go down in my wardrobe as “the tie the Palestinian gave me.” It’s not an enemy tie I’m ready to make, but it’s an enemy tie I’m ready to wear.

A friend told me that wearing a tie is a proven pick-up technique. It worked well for Abbas. Maybe it’ll work for me.

I’ll wear it next time I go to a bar. And when I do, I’ll use it to pick up and tie up a hot Jewish Israeli man, and I’ll have a Palestinian to thank for it.

Maybe then we could start talking about reconciliation.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Israel.

 

Some See Signs as Pointing to Peace


 

With Palestinian terror groups generally committed to a lull in the fighting with Israel and Arab countries debating normalizing ties with the Jewish state, some in Israel see signs that the 57-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict finally may be winding down.

However, despite a hesitant optimism, certain factors suggest that an end to the conflict still appears far off:

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• The current cease-fire is fragile and could unravel at any moment.

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• The terrorist Palestinian organization, Hamas, which opposes peace with Israel, is getting stronger.

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• Most Arab countries still oppose normalization until Israel withdraws from all of what the Arabs consider “occupied territory.”

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• Israel insists that the Palestinians fulfill their promise to disband terrorist groups before the peace process advances, a commitment the Palestinians show no inclination to meet.

On the Israeli side, opponents of withdrawal, both within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party and further to the right, are trying to torpedo the disengagement plan.

The lull — or tahdiya, as the Palestinians call it — was announced March 17 in Cairo, after a meeting under Egyptian aegis of all the main Palestinian militias with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The bottom line is that the terrorist groups say there will be no more terror attacks against Israel, at least until the end of 2005.

But the truce is heavily conditional. For the quiet to continue, the Palestinians demand that Israel meet a number of conditions:

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• Halt assassinations or arrests of wanted terrorists.

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• Release Palestinian prisoners.

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• Refrain from building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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• Stop “Judaizing” eastern Jerusalem.

A six-point document released after the Cairo parley also reiterated the Palestinians’ strategic goals: Establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and securing a right for Palestinian refugees to return to homes and property they abandoned in Israel more than half a century ago. The document makes no mention of a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully next to Israel and offers no hint of compromise over the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

If the strong, heavily conditional wording was designed to get Hamas and Islamic Jihad to come aboard, it succeeded. But it also gives the militias a range of pretexts for returning to violence whenever they see fit.

The Israeli assessment is that the lull probably will hold until after this summer’s planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, despite the possibility of intermittent rogue attacks.

What happens next is anybody’s guess, Israeli analysts say. It will depend to a large extent on how the new relationship being forged between Abbas’ secular Fatah movement and the powerful fundamentalist groups plays out.

In the long term, Israeli analysts say, the fact that the radicals have decided to join the political process is even more significant than the lull in violence. Hamas boycotted the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 1996, but now the group says it will run in elections scheduled for July.

Hamas already has had some significant successes in municipal and university balloting. In local elections in January, it won 70 percent of the councils it contested. Last week, it won 25 of 41 seats in student elections at Hebron University.

Both Israeli and Palestinian pundits predict a strong showing by Hamas in July parliamentary elections. They say Hamas never has been stronger, and that the election could well be fought over socioeconomic issues, rather than political, with Hamas picking up a strong anti-establishment vote that works against Fatah.

Writing in the Yediot Achronot newspaper, Alex Fishman maintained that Hamas could win enough seats to virtually dictate the Palestinian political agenda.

“Central Fatah people are really concerned about the Hamas momentum: They say that ‘unless something dramatic happens, 70 percent of the delegates Gaza sends to parliament will be Hamas people. Abu Mazen will have to dance to their tune,'” he wrote, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. Danny Rubinstein, chief Arab affairs analyst for the newspaper, Ha’aretz, takes a similar view.

“East Jerusalem people say the public is angry at Fatah activists who have not been serving the public but rather handing out perks to cronies,” Rubinstein wrote. “The way to punish Fatah, they say, is by voting Hamas.”

If Hamas does gain a good measure of political power, the question is how it will use it. Will it become more moderate and responsible, accepting the need for a two-state solution with coexistence with Israel and a practical solution to the refugee issue? Or will it radicalize the entire Palestinian movement, rendering peacemaking virtually impossible?

Those could be the key questions in Israeli-Palestinian politics for years to come.

Israeli generals and politicians envisage more immediate problems. The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, is suspicious of the motives behind the lull.

“The militias want the lull, but see it as a time to regroup and rearm before the fighting resumes, without waiving their strategic goals,” he recently told businessmen in northern Israel.

Sharon has described the lull as a “positive first step,” but added that for “progress in the diplomatic process, the terrorist organizations will not be able to continue existing as armed militias.” In other words, Sharon insists that Abbas fulfill the Palestinian commitment to disarm terrorist groups, while Abbas prefers to try to co-opt them politically. The result could be deadlock.

In an attempt to break the looming logjam, Jordan’s King Abdullah is proposing some bold, out-of-the-box thinking. The normal Arab sequencing in peacemaking with Israel should be reversed, Abdullah says.

Until now, Arab proposals have insisted that Israel withdraw from occupied territory before the Arabs normalize ties, but Abdullah argues that if the Arabs first normalized ties, Israel would feel secure enough to withdraw from territory. Not only that, he believes that if the Arabs made such a collective gesture, there would be enormous international pressure on Israel to pullout of Arab territory.

Behind the scenes, some Arab and Muslim countries appeared ready to buy into Abdullah’s ideas. But Egypt, Syria and the Palestinians were instrumental in preventing the proposal from being raised at an Arab League summit in Algiers in late March.

The key to a breakthrough in peacemaking therefore remains what it always has been: progress on the Palestinian track. And despite the lull in violence, political differences between Israelis and Palestinians seem as acute as ever.

For example, where Sharon sees the “road map” peace plan leading to an interim Palestinian state, Abbas wants to move straight to full-fledged Palestinian statehood and a final territorial settlement with Israel. Even if Sharon were ready to make that leap, would an empowered Hamas allow Abbas to make the offer?

Sharon and Abbas are due to meet separately with President Bush in the United States next month. After those talks, perhaps the way forward will become a little clearer.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report

 

Times’ Shalhevet Article Is Not News


I have tried explaining it to friends outside Los Angeles. But the Los Angles Times of Sunday, Aug. 3, cannot be explained in words alone. One must have held the paper in hand to appreciate what appeared that day.

A dear friend from the East, who that morning had e-mailed me the story that captured Page One, still would not appreciate what I felt as I physically held the paper. It was the Sunday edition, the biggest paper of the week. The story occupied virtually half the front page — it was gigantic.

Turn inside and the continuation occupied an entire page inside Section One. Turn the page and the story occupied another complete page and another page. And — this is just amazing — yet another page. There was not a column inch set aside on any of the pages for advertising. Just one page after another after another after another.

It appeared to be the biggest story in Los Angeles since 19 Middle Easterners — 15 of them from Saudi Arabia — commandeered some civilian airliners and crashed two jets into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and another in a field in western Pennsylvania. As big a story as the destruction of the space shuttle. The story of the year.

And what was this story of the year? The recall of Gov. Gray Davis? Nope. The search for weapons of mass destruction? Wrong again.

Rather, the story of the year was that, well, more than a year ago — in June 2002 — a local modern Orthodox middle school opted not to rehire an English literature teacher. Hold the front page of the Sunday edition! Block out four full pages!

The English teacher had been teaching students at the Jewish parochial school to reassess the Middle East situation, to see things from the Arab viewpoint. Religious faculty objected. Some parents objected.

He had them read a novel about a Palestinian American family that moves to the West Bank from St. Louis and encounters Israeli militaristic barbarism while there. Now — get this — some parents objected! Big news!

The notion that parents pay $6,000 or $8,000 or $10,000 or $12,000 tuition to send their child to a yeshiva, instead of a public school, to study Judaism, instead of moral relativism, pales when compared with the censorship and blockheaded closed mindedness of a liberal Jewish administration that chose not to rehire this guy. Wow!

The guy was not even fired. The liberals at the school actually let him stay the school year. They let him continue teaching the book. They simply did not rehire him.

And then a whole school year passed. A whole doggone school year passed, from June 2002 to July 2003. Then, suddenly, on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2003, that became the biggest story in the Los Angeles Times since Sept. 11.

Los Angeles is a city without a second major daily newspaper. Competition is gone. Mediocrity rules.

There is neither rhyme nor reason to the utterly skewered treatment of Israel in that newspaper. And, when there are no Israelis to fry, the paper will turn a minor incident that happened a year ago in a seventh-grade classroom into a story that rivals the paper’s coverage of the Columbine shootings and the space shuttle Columbia tragedy.

It is for that reason that the paper reaches fewer homes in the pro-Israel community. So many of my colleagues and congregants just do not care. Whether Israel will stand, whether she will hold Judea and Samaria — none of it seems interrelated to the coverage in the Los Angeles Times. So we care less.

It is remarkable that Shalhevet permitted a character like this fellow to teach his politics there in the first place. Not Page One remarkable — just small-time remarkable. So he taught. He is gone. A year passed. End of story.

Faced with the ultimate plight of the liberal, Shalhevet drew from distinctly nonliberal sources — Jewish sources — and ultimately made a gentle decision that the right to survive is not a subject for debate. Liberal to the end, it did not require the English literature teacher to stop teaching nonsense or to go home. It let him finish the year.

But, in the end, Shalhevet swallowed hard and chose Jewish survival. As a result, it taught some of its students that there are red lines that many Jews will not cross. And survival is one of them. Survival is not for discussion. Survival is not for debate.

And the greater community of Los Angeles read all about it in the Sunday Times.


Dov Fischer, an attorney and political affairs commentator in Los Angeles, is rabbi of Congregation Kol Simcha of Calabasas, a modern Orthodox synagogue.

Regally Blonde


“Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life” (Miramax, 2003), theautobiography of Noor Al Hussein, Queen of Jordan, has been on The New YorkTimes Best-Seller List for six weeks now. This week it was number one. MoreAmericans might get their news from ABC, but these days many Americans aregetting their history from Queen Noor.

And that’s too bad.

Alongside languorous accounts of various holidays in England, Austria andWyoming (Gee, it’s good to be queen), the book is threaded with a grosslyinaccurate version of Middle East history. By the end of the last chapter,readers will have ingested a negative, one-sided view of Israel.

This is a particularly dangerous brand of propaganda. The queen, staringback at readers from the book’s cover, looks sincere and caring, with cleargreen eyes and her blonde hair cut network anchorwoman style. Why would JanePauley lie?

Between the covers, the queen constantly recites her progressivecredentials, and they’re solid. Born Lisa Halaby and raised part of herchildhood in Santa Monica, she earned a degree in architecture and urbanplanning from Princeton in 1974 and devoted her early adulthood todo-gooderism. After marrying King Hussein in 1978, she worked hard on behalfof women and children’s rights, against land mines, and for, as she writes,building “bridges between cultures to promote constructive dialogue.”

Her husband, who inherited his throne in 1952, was more supportive of theOslo peace process than any other Arab ruler. The king and queen wept atYitzhak Rabin’s funeral, and though she doesn’t mention the fact in herbook, both were card-carrying members of the Museum of Tolerance — really.These, in short, are the good guys.

All of which makes it more depressing to read her autobiography. I don’texpect Queen Noor to be a Zionist, any more than I expect the memoirs ofnotable Israelis to be pro-Palestinian. Memoirs are politics by other means,and for Noor to be anything less than anti-Israel would, given theanti-Western mood back in her adopted homeland these days, seriouslythreaten her family business. But if her aim is to promote dialogue, whytell lies and half-truths about the people you need to be speaking with?

Noor accuses Israel of undermining international intentions for aPalestinian homeland in 1948. In fact, it was the Arabs who rejected the1937 Peel Commission decision to grant them 80 percent of the land inPalestine. Israel has killed, dispossessed and oppressed hundreds ofthousands of Palestinians, according to Noor. The fact that her husband’scountry occupied the West Bank for 19 years, itself suppressing Palestiniannationalism, goes unmentioned. She writes that her husband did everything hecould to avoid war in 1967, but “one fact is indisputable: Israel struck thefirst blow.” Somewhat closer to the truth, as historian Michael Oren writesin “Six Days of War” (Oxford, 2002), is that King Hussein’s capitulation toa militant Egypt and Syria compelled Israel to strike. Later, she writes,her husband disapproved of any peace that infringed upon Jordan’s “historicguardianship of the holy sites” of Jerusalem. Historic? How about ignoble?Jordanians barred Israelis from entering those holy sites from 1948-1967,destroyed Old City synagogues and built latrines from Jewish tombstones.

These are just a few examples of Noor’s “Zionism for Dummies.”

Sadder than the fact that she thinks sowing such falsehoods (and that isjust a sample) helps any bridges get built, is the fact that she just maybelieve her own book.

The Arab elite’s obsession with Israel has crippled their good sense, writesTunisian intellectual Al-Afif Al Akhdar, a former columnist for theinfluential Arab-language daily Al-Hayat, in a recent essay translated atmemri.org. To a shameful extent, Noor’s book carries echoes of thisobsession. She can recount Yasser Arafat’s venality and blame the PLO foralmost toppling the Hashemites, but somehow she expects Israel to yield tohim. She spends page after page trashing Israel, but spends two briefparagraphs at the end of her book addressing Jordan’s legal practice ofhonor killings, which enables Jordanian men to kill with impunity a femalerelative they suspect of having immoral sexual relations. Nor does sheaddress the suppression of political opposition and free speech in Jordan.Israel, for all its faults, is a democracy, not a dynasty.

“The intellectual class has only itself to blame,” writes Fouad Ajami in”The Dream Palace of the Arabs” (Pantheon, 1998). “It had not looked realityin the face; it had not sought to describe the political world as it was.”

Ajami goes on to note that the Hashemite dynasty paid a significant pricefor stepping out of the dream palace and acting pragmatically toward Israel.Noor doesn’t need to be told this.

But her book was an opportunity to back up such actions with words. That,unfortunately, is one leap of faith the queen couldn’t make.

Real Peace Moves, or Just Politics?


After more than two years of a downward spiral in
Israeli-Palestinian relations, the prospect of a new regional balance after an
anticipated American war on Iraq is concentrating Israeli and Palestinian
minds.

Both sides want to be ready for any new American demands
after the dust settles in Baghdad. And so, after months of icy silence, Israeli
and Palestinian officials have started talking again — and the upshot could be
a new cease-fire.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says his aim is to create a
basis for a major peace initiative later in the year. His critics, however,
aren’t so sure: They accuse Sharon of going through the motions to keep the
international community happy and to lure the Labor Party into his coalition.

Talks have been taking place on three levels:

Sharon himself met Ahmad Karia, the speaker of the
Palestinian Parliament, to discuss renewing the peace process and what it could
offer the Palestinians;

Sharon’s bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, has been discussing
cease-fire terms with the Palestinian Authority’s interior minister, Hani
Hassan, who is in charge of Palestinian security affairs; and Ohad Marani,
director general of Israel’s Finance Ministry, negotiated with P.A. Finance
Minister Salam Fayyad the transfer of $60 million in Palestinian tax money that
Israel had withheld since the intifada began in September 2000.

In addition to those cynics who say Sharon’s recent flurry
of moves aren’t sincere and intended to attract the Labor Party to the
government, others say Sharon simply recognizes that the overthrow of Iraqi
dictator Saddam Hussein will create a window of diplomatic opportunity in the
region, and is signaling to the international community that he is prepared to
move toward a Palestinian state as envisaged by President Bush.

But Sharon doesn’t want to be rushed. Therefore, he recently
set up a team under dovish Likud Party legislator Dan Meridor to coordinate
future moves with the United States, preempting pressure on Israel from the
international community, especially the European Union.

Meridor is said to be working on a new Israeli-American
peace plan based on understandings reached by Sharon and Bush in a number of
recent conversations.

Sharon also invited Fayyad to his farm, where he outlined
reforms the Palestinian Authority must make before serious peace talks can
resume.

Sharon’s main demand is that P.A. President Yasser Arafat be
stripped of his executive powers and pushed into a ceremonial role, with real
power transferred to a prime minister. Fayyad is a leading candidate for the
job — and would probably be the first choice of Israel and the United States.

In the few months since he took charge of Palestinian
financial affairs, Fayyad has proven himself competent and trustworthy,
sincerely committed to Bush’s vision of Israeli and Palestinian states living
as peaceful neighbors and cooperating economically.

With Fayyad as prime minister, Israeli and American
officials believe Bush’s two-state vision could become a reality. But it’s not
clear whether Fayyad has sufficient standing among the Palestinian public to
win the job. Nor is it clear whether American and Israeli support will hurt
Fayyad’s chances of taking power.

Most pressing, however, is a cease-fire, without which
nothing will go forward. In talks with Hassan, Israeli officials are reviving
the idea of a “rolling” cease-fire that would begin in a limited geographic
area and, if it holds there, would spread until it encompasses the entire West
Bank and Gaza Strip.

At that point, Israeli troops could withdraw to positions
they held before the intifada began, and more comprehensive peace talks could
begin.

The trouble is that similar ideas have been tried before and
failed. Putative cease-fires in Gaza and the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Hebron
failed to hold when the Palestinian Authority declined to confront terrorist
groups.

Hassan suggested that things will be different this time.
Speaking in Nablus last weekend, he said he soon would present a detailed
Palestinian proposal for a cease-fire beginning in Ramallah, where Arafat has
been holed up in his battered headquarters for more than a year.

This time, Hassan said, a cease-fire would be respected by
all parts of Arafat’s Fatah movement, including Al-Aksa Brigade terrorists who
have carried out dozens of bombings and other attacks against Israel.

Hassan acknowledged that one of the main reasons for the
Palestinians’ newfound seriousness is the anticipated war on Iraq, which he
believes will radically change the rules in the Middle East.

The Palestinians must change course, he believes, by
stopping terrorism and turning to political moves.

“It is time to harvest the political fruits,” Hassan said,
“and we cannot afford to make any mistakes this time.”

Both Jordan and Egypt are actively involved in the efforts
to revive the political process. On Sunday, Weisglass went to Amman to brief
the Jordanians, while Ephraim Halevy, the new chief of Israel’s National
Security Council, has been keeping Egypt updated.

Jordan and Egypt also are motivated by visions of a changing
Middle East: Egypt especially hopes to impress a presumably victorious United
States by helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Egypt has made a major effort to get all Palestinian
terrorist organizations to stop attacking Israel, and risked losing face when
the radicals refused.

Undeterred, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Sharon
for talks in Sharm el-Sheik, the first invitation by an Arab leader since
Sharon was first elected prime minister in February 2001.

Still, some pundits argue that Sharon is only feinting
toward a peace deal to entice Labor into his coalition. If so, it’s not
working.

Labor Party leaders say they don’t believe Sharon has any
real intention of moving toward peace. In a recent meeting with Amram Mitzna,
they note, Sharon lectured the Labor chairman on the importance of Netzarim and
Kfar Darom, two Gaza Strip settlements that Mitzna says should be evacuated.

Mitzna maintains that Sharon’s attitude to the settlements
shows he isn’t ready to make peace, and that he wants Labor in his coalition so
he can drag his feet indefinitely. Sharon aides retort that the prime minister
sees a post-Iraq situation in which peacemaking with the Palestinians will be a
real possibility: After Saddam falls, Sharon reckons, Arafat will be the next
to go.

Then, Sharon said, people like Qurie, Fayyad and Hassan, who
want a new deal for the Palestinians, will be able to make reciprocal moves toward
peace without hindrance.

World Briefs


Amnesty Blasts Suicide Attacks

A report by Amnesty International calls Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians “crimes against humanity.” None of the Israeli military’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip justify Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, the report added.

Land Bill Stand Reversed

Israel’s Cabinet retracted its support for a bill that could bar Israeli Arabs from owning homes on state-owned land. The Cabinet voted 22-2 Sunday to refer the bill for review by a governmental committee on constitutional affairs. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the decision, saying it could harm Arab-Jewish relations. Last week, the Cabinet created a furor when it voted to back the bill.

Yeshiva Bill Sparks Threat

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers threatened to bolt the Israeli government over a bill granting draft exemptions for yeshiva students. The lawmakers took issue with a provision in the bill requiring yeshiva students to serve 12 days a year in the Civil Guard. Meanwhile, the secular Shinui and Meretz parties threatened to submit no-confidence motions in the government, charging that the bill institutionalizes draft-dodging.

Deri Released on Parole

Aryeh Deri, the former leader of Israel’s Orthodox Shas Party was freed Monday after serving two years of a three-year sentence for accepting bribes and misappropriating state funds. Deri said upon his release that he would fight to clear his name. When granting him early release, a parole board ruled that he cannot enter politics for one year.

Toronto Murder Suspect Arrested

Toronto police arrested Christopher Steven McBride, the prime suspect in the murder of a Chasidic man, late Monday night following a raid on an apartment in the city’s West End. Police soon began to interrogate the prisoner, who is a slight 20-year-old with a shaved head and tattoos.

According to police, David Rosenzweig — a father of six who was wearing a kippah — was approached from behind by two men and a woman early Sunday morning. After one of the men stabbed him in the back, all three assailants fled the scene. While not ruling out that the attack was a hate crime, police said Monday there is no concrete evidence that Rosenzweig was murdered because of his religion.

Bedouin Judge Sworn in

Israel’s first Bedouin judge was sworn in. Nasser Abbed-Taheh, 39, was one of 35 new judges who were sworn in Monday at a ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.

Paris Exhibit Vandalized

An exhibition in Paris about children who were deported in 1942 by the Nazis was vandalized by a 55-year-old woman. Christiane Castillon, who had no prior police record and is not believed to belong to any extremist organization, explained the July 7 incident by saying that “people make too many allowances for Jews where the Holocaust is concerned.”

Seeds of Peace Founder Dies at 59

John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace, died July 10 of lung cancer at 59. In 1993, Wallach proposed to then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that the group be created to bring Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian youths together on neutral soil in the United States. Each summer since then, hundreds of Israeli and Arab teenagers have gathered in the woods of Maine in an effort to increase mutual understanding.

Shabbat Law Vetoed in Brazil

A law that would have recognized Saturday as a day of rest was vetoed by the governor of a Brazilian state. The bill would have given official recognition to the beliefs of some 12,000 Jews who live in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Following the governor’s veto, a movement has been launched in an effort to reverse that decision.

ADL Provides Workplace Guide

The Anti-Defamation League released a guide detailing U.S. laws on accommodating religious observance in the workplace. “Religious Accommodation in the Workplace” offers employees and employers general information on relevant federal laws. It is available at www.adl.org.

Briefs by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The Democracy Trap


In diplomacy, it’s important to be careful what you wish for, because you may get it in spades.

That’s the joker in the deck as the Bush administration begins looking for ways to implement President Bush’s latest Mideast vision — a stunning policy turnabout that demands serious democratic reforms in the Palestinian Authority as a prerequisite to U.S. support for statehood. The most critical reform is the removal of Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader and terrorist-in-chief.

The new policy demanding "a new and different Palestinian leadership" will also generate pressure on the administration to apply the same principles to its dealings with other Middle Eastern states. These include allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which regard every flicker of democracy as toxic. That represents a giant time bomb in broader U.S. policy in the region.

The most obvious gap in the new Bush approach is its assumption that the Palestinian people really want peace, and that it’s just a corrupt, unaccountable leadership that wants to intensify the fight against Israel, said Daniel Pipes, a longtime peace process critic and president of the Middle East Forum.

"It assumes that the Palestinian people have accepted Israel, and that bringing good governance will bring peace," he said. "There’s no evidence to back that up. The Palestinian public is extremely radical."

Polls show strong popular support for suicide bombings and inconsistent support for peace negotiations with Israel. According to some analysts, the new squeeze on Arafat — who has called for presidential elections in January — has just increased his popularity, at least for now.

That opens up several prospects that could upset the administration’s new plans: Arafat could get resoundingly reelected, or he could be replaced — democratically — by someone even worse, possibly by Islamic radicals.

"What happens if you have elections and the Palestinians choose somebody you don’t happen to like?" asked Edward S. Walker, president of the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. "Do you go back then and say, ‘That’s not what we had in mind?’

"The problem is, if you want democracy and are serious about it, you have to accept the results. And the results today would not be something that would please the United States or Israel," he said.

Walker said that Bush’s focus on exporting democracy to the Palestinian Authority ignores critical questions of sequencing. "What’s missing is the how-to-get-there part," he said. "Democratization has to be integrated into changes of attitude on the ground, otherwise, elections are going to wind up with some very unfortunate results."

Walker, like other supporters of an active peace process, also worries that the green light Bush flashed to Ariel Sharon last month could lead to Israeli policies that just fuel the anger among the same Palestinian voters who they are counting on to "reform" Palestinian governance.

In the long term, the new U.S. policy of demanding democratization could produce a climate more favorable to peace.

Robert J. Lieber, a professor of government at Georgetown University, said that "democracy by itself is not the answer, but it could provide a contribution to the answer. A demagogue and a dictator may be more likely to resort to inflammatory appeals to legitimate himself than a democratically elected leader," he said.

The problem is how to get there and what role democratization should play in the effort to tamp down today’s violence. The new Bush approach seems unlikely to help produce a stable cease-fire now, and it could make the effort all the more difficult. Free, open elections in the current climate are unlikely; so is the prospect of more moderate leadership rising to the fore.

The policy also poses serious problems as far as other U.S. allies are concerned. Washington has been more than willing to look the other way as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, among others, trample human rights and quash any hint of democratic reform. They may be authoritarian regimes, but they’re our authoritarian regimes.

"That hypocrisy has always been a problem in our dealings in that part of the world," said a top pro-Israel activist here. "It will be much harder in the weeks and months ahead to pretend that the Saudis believe in the same values we say we’re fighting for in the region. If we try, we risk our credibility."

There will be huge pressure on the U.S. by its Arab allies for the administration to continue the sham that we are all fighting for the same values, despite the demand for democratization in Gaza and the West Bank. Then, if the president succumbs, the smug Europeans will use that as an excuse to spurn Washington’s appeals for support.

The new focus on democracy will touch off diplomatic currents that will affect U.S. policy in unforeseen ways. And for now, it is unlikely to do much to tamp down terrorism that has produced so much recent Mideast misery, especially in the past 21 months.

Selling Israel to Progressive Latinos


Although progressives’ cause-of-the-month is criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, it has been endemic in the Latino left for years.

These progressive Latinos claim solidarity between themselves and Palestinians based on their supposed shared experience of being "people of color" resisting an invading "white" conqueror. Many Latino student organizations have formed alliances with Muslim and Arab groups in support of Palestinians, while rarely acknowledging Jewish groups, and often standing in direct opposition to them. The Palestinian-Latino left relationship is so entrenched that in the 1980s, for example, members of La Raza Unida Party (a Chicano political party) sent a delegation to meet with Yasser Arafat to discuss their respective situations.

This stance in and of itself is not anti-Israel, although it can easily be construed as such when fringe groups like La Voz de Aztlán are mistaken as an accurate reflection of the sentiments of the Latino community. But Latino students’ championing of the Palestinian cause should cause concern for Jews, since the end result can be an entire generation of Latinos who equate Israel with a terrorist state not worthy of existing.

As a young Latino progressive, I believe in the state of Israel, despite what I feel to be sometimes unfair actions towards Palestinians. I’m sure that many of my peers who protest against Israel and claim allegiance with Palestinians would feel the same way I do if they knew the special ties between them and the Jews, and how the ideal of Israel can serve as an example for us and our parents. This week, with the opening of the Latino-Jewish festival, would be a good time to start.

Amid a Southern California demographics change of increasing Latinos, and with more Latinos involving themselves in politics, it is imperative on the behalf of Jews to show Latinos why Israel is important. Moralistic and theological arguments are not enough; the best way to do this, is for Jews to reconnect with a community that they have largely ignored for decades and emphasize still-salient ties. Latino-Jewish relations are currently at the point where each side has a set construct of the other community, making it complicated and nearly impossible to understand each groups’ special issues. If Latinos and Jews cannot relate on a personal level, then how can Latinos be expected to support an idea as complicated and special as Israel?

Each side’s respective dehumanization of the other must be changed before any discussion of Israel is brought into discussion. Many Latinos stereotype Jews as uncaring Westside socialites who never bother to venture into the Latino sections of Los Angeles. Conversely, some Jews see Latinos as unmotivated Third World migrants and are weary of their growing political clout.

One starting point in breaking down these stereotypes is pointing out the likeness of the Latino and Jewish immigrant experience. Like their Eastern European Jewish counterparts of the 20th century, Latino immigrants today flee repressive regimes and horrific economic conditions in search of a better life in the United States. By each side taking note of this, Jews can better understand the current situation of many Latinos, and Latinos can view the Jewish success story as an assimilation model to emulate.

Having connected on such a personal and historical level, Jews can start explaining Israel in an immigrant context that can be better appreciated by Latinos. For example, Jews have always raised money to support Israel. Many Latino immigrants, likewise, remit much of their hard-earned pay to improve living conditions in their home countries. But Israel is rarely depicted as an immigrant project and Latinos instead have to navigate through mainstream media reports of American government (as opposed to community) funding for Israel. If Latinos were to know the individual monetary (not to mention personal) investment proffered by Jewish Americans to Israel, Latinos would be much more concerned about its gradual destruction, since the parallel between Israel and their home countries would be unmistakable.

Viewed this way, the actual meaning of Israel will become a common theme that can be considered a shared ideal for both groups. Dispossession from their ancestral homelands is a central tenet of the Jewish and Latino experience, and Jews have managed to stake a claim to what was once theirs. Though Latinos are not seeking a homeland for themselves, they nevertheless pine for the land of their youth, back before it was ravaged by revolutionary and economic chaos. Emphasizing Israel as the culmination of an immigrant dream, rather than a God-mandated search, would play much better for overwhelmingly Christian Latinos who could care less about the religious aspect of Israel.

To make all of these points possible, the historical Jewish-Latino relationship in this city — one that has been largely forgotten by both sides — must be renewed. The barbed-wire fence surrounding the still-magnificent Breed Street shul is the only reminder for today’s Latinos that Jews once lived among them in Boyle Heights. Jews forget that their support of councilmember-turned-Congressman Ed Roybal, during the 1950s, was one of the first indicators of Jewish political influence in traditionally anti-Semitic Los Angeles, and also paved the way for other cross-ethnic coalitions that continued up to last year’s mayoral race. Though inroads have been reestablished by the Jewish and Latino elite, the common communities on both sides must be included in this dialogue in order to begin having a fuller understanding of Israel by all — most importantly, the students.

It’s up to American Jews themselves to reach out and teach us in the Latino community. If they don’t, then Jews shouldn’t be surprised when they see a young Latina claiming she is a Palestinian, denouncing Israel as a terrorist state.

Students Prepare for War of Words organizations.


The long-term forecast predicts a very hot autumn on American college campuses, as Israel advocates challenge a well-organized, well-financed anti-Israel campaign by pro-Palestinian activists.

Not needing a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, the national Hillel organization in late May mounted an "Israel Advocacy Mission" that brought some 400 Jewish college students to Israel for a four-day mission aimed at showing — and building — solidarity with the Jewish state.

Under the slogan, "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel," the mission included briefings by Israeli officials, such as Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s deputy foreign minister for foreign affairs; meetings with journalists and educators; a day of service projects to help those affected by terrorism; and workshops on how to educate and advocate for Israel including strategies for building coalitions with other student groups and reaching out to uninvolved Jewish students.

The need is undeniable. "Not a day goes by that I’m not upset by something anti-Semitic on campus," said Adam Tichler, a 20-year-old UCLA junior.

"We’re vocal, but the whole school is against us," said Dikla Uchman, a Southern California native studying at San Francisco State, which was the site of an anti-Jewish near-riot in the spring. She said it is "very hard to be Jewish on campus," citing hostility from both Arab and left-wing groups who called Jewish activists "filthy Jew!" and told them to "get off campus!"

Students from around the country complained of campus newspapers filled with anti-Israel articles and editorials and of professors encouraging students to protest against Israel.

Of 400 participants on the four-day mission, nearly 80, including a good handful from Los Angeles, remained in Israel for an intensive and intense two-week training program aimed at providing them with resources and honing their skills for the coming battle to win the hearts and minds of fellow students. The two-week program featured in-depth background classes at Tel Aviv University, a trip to Gaza, skill-building workshops and practice sessions.

All 400 participants of the four-day mission were required to promise to return to their campuses to support Israel in September. Though the mission was "free," each student paid $250 to participate — with $180 of that sum earmarked for their local Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund.

The advocacy mission was organized with support from pro-Israel lobbying group America Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Agency and the United Jewish Communities. Footing the $300,000 tab were five noted Jewish philanthropists: World Jewish Congress Chairman Edgar Bronfman, Tulsa philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, Hillel board member Michael Steinhardt, Estee Lauder cosmetics heir Ron Lauder and Leonard Abramson, benefactor Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Philadephia.

Los Angeles participants praised the program for giving them confidence to advocate for Israel on campus, as well as for the sense of solidarity and connection they felt with other students from around the country.

"When I read what’s happening on other campuses, I think ‘uh oh, we’re in trouble,’" said Talia Osteen, a USC film student. "But when I see these other students, I know we’ll get through this, too. I met amazing students and saw my passion for Israel and for supporting Israel reflected in so many others."

Tal Zavodaver, a USC student who grew up in Woodland Hills and Agoura, agreed. "When I’m back on campus, I’ll have authority when I speak out, because I was there. People will listen and hear me, even if they don’t agree."

The student advocates from Los Angeles were all previously active in campus Hillels or in organizing pro-Israel activities. Almost all have at least one parent born in Israel and a fairly high proficiency in Hebrew, a circumstance reflecting in part the demographics of the L.A. Jewish community.

Ruth Yomtoubian, a Los Gatos native attending USC, called the trip "one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’d organized rallies before but now I can educate people. I got into the politics and history this time and I can teach people the facts. I feel empowered."

Dirty Facts


The lawyers have a term for it, of course. A situation where certain facts don’t make their client look so good, even though their client is innocent and righteous. They’re called “dirty facts.” The Middle East is hardly a courtroom, yet I think the term applies. I’m thinking of things like Israelis bulldozing homes with people inside them. Like sharp-shooting soldiers taking out old women in the street. Like denying food, water and medical care to those who are injured and dying. Get the picture?

These could certainly be considered “dirty facts” when describing Israel’s behavior in the ongoing military offensive in the occupied territories. When they’re reported, independently, repeatedly, by respected news organizations, both print and broadcast, they do have a tendency to undermine the overwhelming public support Israel correctly enjoys in this country. But if you bring these “dirty facts” up, if you discuss them, debate them, invite people of all backgrounds to examine them, does that make you less Jewish? Less concerned? Less horrified by the barbaric suicide bomber attacks on innocent civilians? I would maintain the answer is a resounding no, yet that is often the accusation, and it’s happened to me. In my case, it’s particularly offensive as someone who grew up a Conservative Jew, whose great-grandfather started the temple in my home town, who was bar mitzvahed, who’s daughter was bat mitzvahed, whose son will be bar mitzvahed, who goes to temple, who’s proud to be Jewish. These dirty facts are just that — facts of life in a war that seemingly has no early end. What the Palestinians are doing is simply wrong. What Israel is doing is trying to right centuries of wrong in the best, most forceful and decisive way they know how, at a terrible price in both life and prestige and sometimes even respect.

Where is this coming from? Well, in talking with some of the fine folks at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose work is more relevant now than ever, it came to my attention that at least a dozen people e-mailed the ADL to complain that I was “too critical of Israel” on my weekly radio show on KABC. This after spending half of a recent program with an Israeli-born doctor who quite eloquently portrayed the plight of the Israeli people and also briefly expressed empathy for the innocent Palestinians who are suffering, emphasis on the innocent.

But it seems to be all or nothing with some people. It’s a no-win situation. These seem to be the same people who accuse some of being unpatriotic if they question George W’s erasing of years of hard-fought civil rights in the name of fighting terror in this country. That’s absurd. This is America. We all have the same goals, or we should. We want to see terror and terrorists wiped out. We want to make sure Israel survives and flourishes, we want justice and humanity, its form still to be determined, for those Palestinians who deserve a place to call their own. What is the “better” or “right” way to do all this? I don’t know. If I were Ariel Sharon, what would I do? Perhaps the very same things he is doing. That’s why all this is so maddening and so heartbreaking. Yet through it all, we express our opinions. We discuss. We talk. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. But if a Jew in this country points out that Israel has been less than perfect, that Israel cannot always, automatically, every time claim the moral high ground, he’s criticized like he’s committed a sin.

Here’s a news flash. Israel is not perfect. Sharon is not perfect. They admit it. Having said that, when it comes to ‘choosing sides,’ there’s no question whom to support. And there’s no question that I can “take the heat” for at least trying to encourage intelligent debate about the ongoing violence. I don’t write this now motivated by some whining plea for understanding or sympathy. I don’t need it and don’t want it. I write it to remind people that everyone’s entitled to their opinion and that expressing a thought that doesn’t automatically fall in line with the conventional wisdom of a certain group of people shouldn’t make you an outcast, shouldn’t be taken as a violation of faith. And in radio, the idea is to generate discussion. Not to inflame or embellish, but to talk responsibly. Some say those in the media will do anything for ratings or for attention. Some might. Not me.

It’s been interesting to note that in a year -and-a-half of hosting the radio show, talking about everything from capital punishment to presidential politics to the mayor’s race to the police chief’s future, nothing has generated calls, emotion, passion and even hatred like the violence in the Middle East. Nothing. Not even close. And that’s not surprising. Emotions are running high on both sides. That will certainly continue. Something else that will continue, for now, will be the bloodshed and loss of life on both sides, while the soldiers, terrorists, politicians and diplomats work toward the ultimate and inevitable solution, a Palestinian state, side by side and, hopefully, in peace with Israel. And every time the Los Angeles Times prints a front-page article detailing the destruction of a Palestinian home or family, and every time a talk show host discusses what’s happening and tries to keep an open mind to varied points of view, it doesn’t mean that other Jews claiming some higher moral ground need to be outraged and angered. Outrage and anger is what we need to continue to direct at Yasser Arafat and his misguided and cowardly suicide bomber brigade. Let’s remember where we are and who we are. OK?

Likud Vote May Help Sharon


It’s no secret that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to challenge Ariel Sharon for leadership of the Likud Party and, he hopes, succeed Sharon as prime minister of Israel.

So when Netanyahu moved to have Likud’s Central Committee vote May 12 against the establishment of a Palestinian state, it seemed he had found the perfect weapon to accelerate Sharon’s political demise.

Indeed, Netanyahu succeeded in pushing through the vote against a Palestinian state over Sharon’s vehement opposition. Yet after being seen for some time as the front-runner for the next leader of the Likud — and possibly the next prime minister — Netanyahu may have embarked on a gambit with unintended consequences.

Paradoxically, the fact that the policy-making body of Sharon’s own party turned against him has only shored up Sharon’s credentials among the general Israeli public as a centrist and a responsible national leader. Internationally, too, Sharon’s strong statements repudiating the Central Committee vote reassured world leaders that he would not spurn the slight recent opening toward peace, and painted him as a statesman able to rise above petty domestic politics.

This was a week that included Yasser Arafat’s announcing new elections and a need to reform, and Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer reintroduced the Clinton peace plan to his party’s central committee. Sharon’s trouble with the Likud, however, didn’t begin this week, but last September when he declared that, unlike the Turks, British and Jordanians, Israel was prepared to allow the Palestinians to establish a state of their own. That set off alarm bells in the Likud, where the idea of Palestinian statehood long has been an anathema.

Prompted by Netanyahu, some party activists decided to bring Sharon’s deviation from the party line to a vote. Sharon tried to defer the vote against Palestinian statehood, but was soundly defeated. Still, commentators lauded his courage in presenting the motion, despite the certainty of a humiliating defeat.

Sharon made clear to the committee that he was not prepared to rule anything out at this juncture, and that he wanted to keep his diplomatic options open.

“I was elected to bring security and peace,” he thundered, “and that is what I intend to do.”

Even after the voting, Sharon stressed that he had no intention of allowing the Central Committee decision to bind him in any way. He would act, he said, as he had always done — according to his understanding of Israel’s national interest.

Sharon also told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that he would not allow party machinations to deflect him from his search for peace with the Palestinians.

Glowing media reports the next day said Sharon had come across as a national leader, ready to take a political beating within his party rather than compromise the national interest.

Netanyahu, on the contrary, was widely depicted as an opportunist, willing to undermine Israel’s international standing for the sake of petty political gain.

Worse, by opposing Palestinian statehood so vehemently, Netanyahu may have painted himself into a far right-wing corner, which will make it difficult for him to win support from the center if he runs again as a candidate for prime minister.

Indeed, the vote might even hurt Netanyahu’s chances of winning the Likud nomination: The party leader and prime ministerial candidate is elected by the full Likud membership, currently estimated at about 150,000, not by the more militant, 2,600-member Central Committee.

As columnist Nahum Barnea put it in Yediot Achronot: “Netanyahu has placed himself so far to the right, that soon they’ll be comparing Sharon to Chirac and Netanyahu to Le Pen.”

Netanyahu supporters, however, argue that it was their man who was going out on a limb for the national interest. They contend that a Palestinian state would be a mortal danger to Israel, because statehood entails control of airspace, borders, armed forces and water.

Even if limits are imposed in these areas by treaty, Israel could hardly guarantee that the Palestinians would observe the restrictions.

Netanyahu backers also dismiss Sharon’s argument that the issue is not relevant now, and say Netanyahu acted just in time to subvert secret government plans to grant Palestinian statehood soon.

Netanyahu says he suspects that Sharon intends to go to a proposed Middle East peace conference this summer with a plan for early Palestinian statehood, based on a formula devised by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority official Ahmed Karia.

“Whatever talks have been going on with the Palestinians behind the scenes will now come up against a very strong barrier,” warned legislator Yisrael Katz, a key Netanyahu supporter.

Netanyahu backers depict the Central Committee vote as the beginning of the end for Sharon. They predict a snowball effect as allegiances shift to the man perceived as the stronger candidate.

Internal party polls show Netanyahu 15 percent to 25 percent ahead of Sharon among the full Likud membership, they say.

But independent polls say otherwise. A recent Ma’ariv poll showed Sharon leading Netanyahu by 44 percent to 35 percent among right-wing voters, and a poll in Yediot Achronot showed Sharon even further ahead in the Likud, by 54 percent to 35 percent.

A few months ago, it was a foregone conclusion among Israeli pundits that Netanyahu would supplant Sharon as Likud leader sometime before the next national election in October 2003. That’s no longer the case today.

Ironically, the new faith in Sharon, which started with Israel’s invasion of the West Bank in late March in response to Palestinian terror attacks, gained further momentum through public perceptions of what happened in the Likud Central Committee.

Ultimately, though, Sharon’s grip on power depends on two factors largely outside his control — the Labor Party’s continued support for the national unity coalition and the level of Palestinian terror. If terror returns to Israel’s streets, voters may look further to the right. But if a peace process is launched and Sharon follows through, he probably will retain the broad-based popular support he enjoys today.

Labor leader and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has made it clear that he will continue to support Sharon only if he keeps peace options open. Ben-Eliezer, who announced Wednesday that he supports a Palestinian state, bluntly warned that if Sharon allows the Likud Central Committee to dictate policy, Labor will leave the coalition.

The Israeli left is urging Ben Eliezer not to wait until Sharon reveals his intentions. The night before the Likud meeting, an estimated 60,000 demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square calling on Israel to pull out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and demanding that Labor leave the government. The growing left-wing pressure does not affect Sharon directly, but it does resound in Labor.

The result is a chain reaction: Left-wingers pressure Labor to leave the government, and Labor leaders, who very much want to stay, pressure Sharon toward peacemaking.

Matters could come to a head at next month’s Labor Party convention.

There the party will have to decide whether Sharon is moving quickly and seriously enough in the direction of viable Palestinian statehood — which Labor, the left and virtually the entire international community see as the only long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saudi Arabia Stirring


Henry Kissinger famously said that Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic politics. Last Sunday’s cabinet decision to pull back the tanks from Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, but keep the Palestinian leader quarantined in that West Bank city, was a classic vindication of the former secretary of state’s wit and wisdom.

The decision was dictated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, against the more generous urgings of his foreign and defense ministers, Labor’s Shimon Peres and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and even some of his own Likud legislators and the Shin Bet security service. Never mind that it insulted Arafat and played badly abroad. It kept Sharon’s ungainly coalition intact — and put off the moment when far-right ministers like Avigdor Lieberman will defect to Binyamin Netanyahu’s campaign to replace Sharon as party leader and ultimately as prime minister.

The Palestinians were furious. This was not the response they had been led to expect after arresting three of the alleged assassins of the Israeli Tourism Minister, Rechavam Ze’evi, and agreeing to an informal truce during a Jewish and Muslim holiday week. Saeb Erakat, a senior peace negotiator, condemned the cabinet resolution as “despicable and shameless.” It showed, he said, that the Israelis had no political program. “They just want to take the path of escalation and destruction.”

Peres and his Foreign Ministry professionals were left to pick up the pieces. Like half-hearted cheerleaders, they accentuated the positive. Israel, one diplomat said, was signaling Arafat that “there is a reward for good behavior.” The Palestinians had yielded to pressure and arrested the Ze’evi suspects, “a move in the right direction.” So Israel pulled back the tanks.

Sharon’s spokesman, Ra’anan Gissin, put a less sunny spin on it. The arrests, he acknowledged, were a small step in the right direction, but the Palestinians needed to do more. “If Arafat doesn’t want to be humiliated,” he said, “let him act against the terrorists. If he wants to leave Ramallah, he knows what he has to do.”

The dovish half of Sharon’s coalition argues that the partial lifting of the Ramallah siege is not the end of the story. They highlight the key clause in the cabinet resolution which says that Israel’s answer to any request by Arafat to leave Ramallah will be determined by the prime minister and defense minister. The issue will not have to go back to the cabinet. “That leaves a lot of leeway in the hands of Sharon and Ben-Eliezer, who also have to compromise with each other,” a Foreign Ministry official suggested.

On this optimistic scenario, Arafat will get the message, rein in the gunmen and make more arrests. Then Sharon will let him travel more freely. The same diplomat was ready to bet that the government would allow Arafat to go to Beirut for an Arab League summit at the end of March.

There are a lot of “ifs” along the way. A month is an eternity in the Middle East. Arafat is not known for swallowing his pride, nor is Sharon for flexibility. As Yediot Aharonot’s political analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote on Monday: “If it were up to Sharon, Arafat would remain imprisoned in Ramallah forever.”

The doves are pinning their hopes on a gathering diplomatic momentum. The world will not leave the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to spiral into chaos. The Egyptians, who have influence with Arafat and a peace treaty with Israel, are active. So are the Europeans and the Americans.

Most intriguingly, Saudi Arabia is stirring. Crown Prince Abdullah’s initiative under which all the Arab states would recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it, in return for Israeli withdrawal from all the territory occupied in the 1967 war. Abdullah expects an Arab League summit next month to back his peace initiatives, EU foreign policy chief Javer Solan told Reuters on Wednesday. “He expects at the Arab League summit they will be approved,” Solana told Reuters.

The Israeli right remains suspicious. Is Abdullah laying a trap? Does he simply want to show how “intransigent” Israel really is? But even Sharon acknowledges that the initiative cannot be brushed aside. He has asked the Americans to investigate it further, not least because the prince has won the endorsement of Arafat, the Arab League and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. “I think it’s an important step that we have welcomed,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday, adding that he hoped “that in the weeks ahead, it’ll be flushed out in greater detail.”

The Israeli media have given it exuberant, even enthusiastic, coverage. “What looked like a brilliant public relations ploy,” star columnist Nahum Barnea commented in Yediot Aharonot, “has developed, maybe, a life of its own. The optimists among us recall President Sadat’s peace initiative. It also began with a declaration that looked like a public relations ploy.”

The Israeli diplomat offered a more sober assessment: “The Saudis are saying to Arafat, if you don’t get your act together, we may make a deal without you. They are also giving Israel an incentive to be more forthcoming.”

Henry Siegman, an American Middle East analyst who knows the Saudis and the Israelis well, was even more phlegmatic. In an interview with Israel television, he said he did not expect the Sharon government to accept the initiative, but the Saudis were planting a seed for the future. They were telling the Israeli public that the Arab world was not bent on destroying them.

He is probably right, but, as Barnea wrote: “The excitement caused by the Saudi initiative attests to how great the thirst is for a new, redeeming idea that will fill the void that has been created between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

U.S. May Be Giving Up on Arafat


What a difference a year makes.

A little more than a year ago, then-President Bill Clinton detailed a Mideast peace plan that included deep Israeli concessions and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

This week, as Clinton visited Israel for the first time since leaving office, the vision of a "New Middle East" that developed under his watch appeared little more than a pipe dream.

During the past 12 months, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was tossed out of office in Israel and has retired from politics. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat remains in power, but is under virtual house arrest in Ramallah, his office ringed by Israeli tanks.

Lately, Israelis see signs that the U.S. administration that succeeded Clinton’s is moving toward the conclusion that Arafat is indeed "irrelevant," as the Israeli government recently declared.

If so, it’s unclear what that would mean for a future Palestinian leadership, and for that regime’s relations with America and Israel.

The evidence of a policy shift by the Bush administration toward Arafat is still largely circumstantial. Indeed, the most that can be said with assurance is that the policy is still shifting, and has not yet reached a definitive position.

The signals of an American shift include:

  • Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reported Tuesday that the Bush administration’s envoy to the Middle East, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, has asked to end his mission brokering a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians.

    The information came from Western sources, the station reported, adding that Zinni asked U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to be relieved of his mission because he cannot trust Arafat and does not feel his return to the region will result in any progress.

    State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that the report was completely unfounded, but added that no new date was set for Zinni to return to the region.

    Even before Tuesday’s Al Jazeera report, the word in Washington was that senior members of the Bush team believed the chances to reduce violence were so slim that it was not worth sending Zinni back to the region for a third round of shuttle diplomacy.

    Even if it’s not accompanied by explicit criticism, declining to send Zinni would essentially confirm that the Bush administration "has had it with Arafat," as Sharon confidants say. The Palestinians have demanded that Zinni return to the region as soon as possible. In contrast, Sharon told visiting American Israel Public Affairs Committee leaders last weekend that sending Zinni would show Arafat that he can avoid moving forcefully against terrorist groups yet still court the United States as Israel’s putative negotiating partner.

  • The United States conspicuously avoided criticizing recent Israeli military moves, including deep incursions into the West Bank cities of Tulkarm on Monday and Nablus on Tuesday. While the Nablus action was based on pinpoint intelligence and aimed at ranking Hamas terrorists — four were shot dead and a bomb factory destroyed — the incursion into Tulkarm seemed as much a demonstration of Israel’s dominance as a specific policing measure.

    As such, the Tulkarm raid was bound to further weaken Arafat’s prestige in the Palestinian Authority, possibly hastening his fall from power. There was a spate of reports here over the weekend — vigorously denied on the Palestinian side — that Arafat was considering resigning or voluntarily going into exile in Tunisia.

  • When Israel retaliated for last week’s terror attack on a bat mitzvah in Hadera by bombing a Palestinian police station in Tulkarm, Bush did not criticize Israel, but restated his support for the Jewish state’s right of self-defense. The Bush administration appears to remain unmoved by the spectacle of Israeli tanks outside Arafat’s office in Ramallah, and by the sight of them storming into Tulkarm and Nablus.

  • The Israel Defense Force’s destruction of the Voice of Palestine radio in Ramallah was another step to weaken Arafat by smashing the symbols of his rule. Despite outspoken reservations in Europe, the Bush administration again looked on in silence. For many key figures in the Israeli government and army, this silence is interpreted as a "green light" of approval to chip away at Arafat until he topples.

  • Even Clinton, the president who invested so much in bolstering Arafat, added to the veteran Palestinian leader’s alienation this week. In an emotion-laden two-day visit to Israel, Clinton did not schedule any meetings with Arafat, and reportedly even declined to speak with him by telephone.

Accepting an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University, Clinton accused Arafat of "missing a golden opportunity" for peace at the Camp David summit in July 2000, and dismissed the subsequent intifada violence as "a terrible mistake."

Mobbed by well-wishers wherever he went, Clinton urged his Israeli audiences not to give up hope of a miraculous return to the peace process, but he seemed to hold out little hope that, if negotiations did somehow resume, it would be Arafat sitting opposite the Israelis.

If Arafat eventually does succumb to mounting Israeli military pressure and declining American support, what then?

Optimists here and in Washington believe power in the Palestinian Authority could pass relatively smoothly to another member of the present leadership. That could be one of the older generation of Arafat lieutenants such as his deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, or one of the younger generation of security officials such as Jibril Rajoub or Mohammad Dahlan.

But many experts call this scenario wishful thinking. More likely, they say, is that power would fragment in the Palestinian territories, strengthening the radical and fundamentalist factions.

One can assume that American policymakers contemplating the prospect of Arafat’s departure are applying their minds, too, to what comes next.

In-Your-Face Crusader


For years, a photograph of Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) was pinned to a wall in a basement office of the Capitol Police.

Much like a "wanted" poster, the photograph was a warning to Capitol security officers: Thick braids and all, learn this woman’s face. More important, know that she is, indeed, a member of Congress. McKinney is one of the few members who brazenly refuses to wear her member’s pin, and instead lets it dangle on a chain where security can barely spot it.

Known for her combative nature, McKinney has never been mistaken for a shy woman, though members who know her well say her outward controversial persona hides an inner loneliness. Her pro-Palestinian stance has prompted some Jews in her district to favor a redistricting plan that moved many of them into the district of another black Georgian, Rep. John Lewis (D).

Even though McKinney angered Lewis by choosing Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for House whip over him, he had no formal reaction to what many of the Jewish voters wanted, as their neighboring districts prompted him to err on the side of political caution. "There’s no doubt that she has alienated the Jewish community," said state Rep. Doug Teper (D-Ga.), a Jewish lawmaker who threatened to withhold his vote for the redistricting map last year unless relief was found for Jews in his district. "She has a way of using race as a political tactic. If you don’t agree with her, she sometimes calls you a racist."

But Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) says McKinney may be feeling "black pressure" to maintain a pro-Palestinian stance.

"I see more and more blacks identifying with Arabs and Muslims than I do with Jews," Hilliard said. "They see Arabs being treated differently from other people. They identify with them on their history of discrimination."

When asked if Jews haven’t been treated similarly, Hilliard explained, "But you don’t see it now, particularly when you see Arabs profiled like we are."

Anything but politically cautious, McKinney recently scalded herself in hot water that could ultimately land her in trouble with the Justice Department for allegedly violating state and federal election law.

In December, she and her father, state Rep. Billy McKinney (D), came before the Georgia State Elections Board. The board — in a vote of 4-0 — found probable cause that the McKinneys violated state elections law by going to a precinct on election night 2000 and attempting to interfere with the duties of poll officers. They also found that the McKinneys campaigned within the 150-foot limit of a polling venue. An administrative law judge is expected to address the matter early this year at a hearing in which the McKinneys will be required to testify under oath. McKinney and her dad could face fines of up to $5,000 per violation for six to 10 violations. The case could wind up at the Justice Department, which would review the case as a violation of federal election law.

"Oh, I think Cynthia McKinney is a disgrace," said Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a 25-year-old Atlanta-based conservative public interest law firm that calls itself "nonpartisan," but works closely with former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. "The word in the legal community is it’s a slam dunk against the McKinneys."

But McKinney’s lawyer, J.M. Raffauf, insists his client will be "completely vindicated" by the time it’s over.

"No, she didn’t break any laws in the cases," said Raffauf from his office in Decatur, Ga., on Monday. "It’s purely political."

Raffauf blames three white Republican officials who were at the precinct that night with "interfering with the black people’s right to vote" and for the allegations raised against his client. They include DeKalb County Republican Party Chairman Jill Chambers, who filed the charges against the McKinneys to the State Board of Elections, poll volunteer Adrienne Susong and DeKalb County Election Board member Nancy Quan Sellers.

Raffauf’s account of the evening: Approximately 500 people were standing in line to vote at Stoneview Elementary School. The time was 7 p.m. when voters began being turned away. Voters called McKinney’s headquarters. She came over to find out why they didn’t have enough machines to handle the voters.

"The Republicans got there and tried to claim all these people were illegally in line, and when that didn’t stick, they went after Cynthia McKinney," Raffauf said. "She did take a bullhorn over there to urge people to stay and have their vote counted, and she did not exhort anyone to vote for her."

McKinney failed to return several phone calls asking for comment.

Few are surprised she isn’t honoring media requests.

"She’s someone who thumbs her nose at the establishment," said Chuck Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. "My understanding is that the press can’t get ahold of her."

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who served with McKinney in the state Legislature, said she is calculated.

"Listen, she is not dumb," Kingston said. "She is a savvy politician … is a little more Clintonesque, and knows who will vote for her and who won’t, and will offend those who won’t to ingratiate herself with those that will."

Kingston explained, "I think she kind of wakes up in the morning and says, ‘You have to be tough.’"

Nonetheless, the Southeastern Law Foundation’s Kent called McKinney’s tactics the "in-your-face" brand of politics she and her father have utilized for years. He wasn’t surprised to learn that McKinney is a guest columnist for "The Final Call," a Web site published by Louis Farrakhan which serves as the official communications organ of the Nation of Islam. He said McKinney has long been aligned with the Black Muslim organization.

"She has played footsy with those radicals for years," Kent remarked.

Dr. Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University, said the charges against McKinney aren’t likely to damage her.

"She’s very important in terms of producing statewide Democratic votes," said Black. "She’s one of the main reasons [Roy] Barnes (D) is governor of the state. He certainly has an interest in not criticizing her."

One lawmaker who requested anonymity spoke of McKinney’s loneliness, describing her as someone alienated from both Republicans and Democrats in state politics. "I feel really sorry for her," the lawmaker said. "She lives from spitting contest to spitting contest. Under that bravado is a lost little girl."

With bulging eyes, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) explained, "She’s just sort of her own person."

In 1996, when McKinney’s Republican opponent was John Mitnick, who is Jewish, McKinney’s father accused him of being a "racist Jew." McKinney asked her father to apologize, and he withdrew from her campaign. She won the race with 58 percent of the vote.

Thompson noted that McKinney’s controversial brand of politics plays well in a safe district that has voted her back to Congress for five consecutive terms, and is more than 50 percent African American. "She sees it as something positive," he said. "I’m not clear on how it would play out in other places."

In the latest example of her aggressive politics, she criticized ex-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for turning down a $10 million donation from a Saudi prince for terrorist victims. She pleaded with the prince to instead give her constituents the money that Giuliani refused.

Hilliard explained that McKinney’s boldness is exactly why her constituents adore her. "I wish he had given it to her," he said of the prince. "The only thing wrong with it was that he didn’t give it to her."

Hilliard called McKinney "easy" to deal with.

He added, "You’re going to find she’s an easy person to talk to."

Reprinted with permission from Featurewell.com.

Islam Is the Answer


I was visiting a dear Palestinian Muslim friend in Jerusalem some years ago during the first intifada. I had noticed that he was becoming more religiously observant at the time. His wife had begun covering her hair, and he was more punctilious in his prayers and in what he ate and drank. His cousin and business partner had made the Hajj pilgrimage, and he was also making plans to do so.

During one of our many conversations, he lamented the failure of the world to help the Palestinians create a future for themselves. The West had failed them, as had the communist world. The pan-Arabism of Egypt’s Nasser had failed, as well as had other expressions of secular nationalism. It was clear that he was seeking a political, as well as an existential, answer in his return to religious tradition. Islam had become a vehicle for his own personal and communal quest, and he was relieved and comforted by his increased observance.

I also noticed during that visit that many children were running around within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem with a T-shirt that said in Arabic, “Islam Is the Answer.” No question appeared on the T-shirt.

Back in the United States today, the public debate is beginning to slow over whether Islam is to blame for the horrific events of Sept. 11 and the great increase in terrorism by Muslims during the past few decades. It is slowing, in part, because Americans are gaining more insight into the complexities of the contemporary Middle East, thanks to the sudden surfeit of articles in the print media and on the Internet.

While much of the material out there is still shallow, partisan or simply full of errors, some excellent essays have been produced that have clearly raised the level of discussion. The debate seems to be concluding with a consensus forming around the position that Islam is not the cause of this terrorism. Rather, the cause is rooted in a complex bundle of factors.

These factors include the failure of the Middle East to compete with the West economically, politically and militarily in the modern era; and more than a century of Western colonialism, imperialism and now globalism that have successfully exploited Middle Eastern resources cheaply and caused great hardship and resentment among the local populace.

Other contributing factors are bad Middle-Eastern governments run by brutal and selfish leaders who have no desire to share the national wealth with their citizens, plus a narrowing of the direction of anger since America has emerged in the last decade as the greatest and most visible world power.

On the other hand, despite our growing realization that Islam is not the cause of this conflict, we have learned that — at least to those terrorists who justify their violence according to what they interpret as Islamic values — this is a religious war. We have not taken the bait. In fact, our refusal to target Islam, despite the religious rhetoric of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, has been exemplary.

It is true that the politics of this war require that we remain careful not to alienate Muslim countries and friends on whom we must rely today. But we have, as a whole, also demonstrated moral and intellectual integrity when we refuse to wage a war against Islam.

There are good Muslims and bad Muslims, just as there are good Christians and bad Christians. We have been careful to separate Islam and terrorism. But many of us still feel uneasy. If there are lots of good Muslims out there, as we suspect, why aren’t they standing up en masse and condemning the likes of Osama, Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

This is very troubling. If Islam is not the cause, then why aren’t Muslims doing more to separate themselves from the radicals? We just aren’t getting what we really want from the “good Muslims” we know are out there. We want them to show us that they are just like us, that they are civilized like we are, that they share our American values of pluralism, universalism and individual autonomy and freedom.

It’s not going to happen. Not now and not soon. Oh, there are clearly some Westernized Muslims who have assimilated our core American values, and there are other moderates here and abroad who struggle with the difficult and problematic religious teachings of Islam, just as we do with our own religious teachings. However, modern Islam is different in fundamental ways from modern Christianity and Judaism. We need to know more about this, as well.

While Islam is clearly not the cause of the increase in terrorism, it has been used successfully as a powerful vehicle for it. Islam’s holy scriptures and traditions, its laws and its customs, its very self-concept as portrayed in its classic sources provide Muslim believers with a set of assumptions and principles that can easily be understood to justify violence against non-Muslims, and especially non-Muslims who are perceived as threatening Islam or its adherents.

Of course, one could say the same thing about Judaism and Christianity. The Christian Inquisition and Crusades killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people who either weren’t Christian or who weren’t Christian enough. And although Jews have lacked the political and military power to wage war on non-Jews for thousands of years until only recently, the forced conversions of the Idumeans in the first century BCE and today’s vigilante killings of Palestinians by Orthodox Jewish settlers clearly demonstrate that Judaism may also have been recruited in order to justify the persecution and slaying of the Other.

The Hebrew Bible has many passages that call for war against the opponents of ancient Israel. The biblical worldview establishes a universe divided into two social groupings: Israel and everybody else. And the everybody else, the Other, is almost always considered the enemy.

Israel needed to carve out a safe haven for itself, where its unique monotheistic theology could be put into ritual and moral practice, and the political environment was such that it had to do so through military means. God is even depicted in the Bible as fighting on behalf of Israel so that it would succeed. Some verses even call for the complete destruction of certain peoples living in the Holy Land who were obstructing Israel’s entry, an act that today would be universally condemned as genocide.

Biblical laws and stories clearly depict a historical context in which warring was common and in which violence was a normal part of life. In fact, it seems that it was because of the violent nature of the world in which ancient Israel lived that it longed for a future when violence would cease entirely, even to the extent that a lion and a lamb could lie together in the same field without fear.

The Bible depicts a violent reality, and the religious system of the Bible incorporated that reality into its own ethos. But today, there are no people who practice the religion and mores of the Hebrew Bible. There are no more Israelites. Only Jews and Christians.

Although both Judaism and Christianity accept the divine sanctity of the Hebrew Bible, both religions emerged after the biblical period, during the period of Late Antiquity when the Roman Empire controlled Palestine and much of the Middle East. It is common knowledge that Christianity is different from the religion of the Old Testament, but some are still unaware that Judaism (sometimes referred to as Rabbinic Judaism, as opposed to the religion or the Judaism practiced during biblical times) is a different religion from that of the Hebrew Bible.

What is different about it? Nearly everything: its liturgy, its forms of worship, its codes of laws and its theologies.

Both Christianity and Judaism emerged as weak religious expressions under the yoke of a very powerful and businesslike Roman Empire. This is not to suggest that, in contrast to the Biblical Period, the era of the Roman Empire was not rife with violence as well. It was, although the nature of its violence was different and tended to be directed downward from the top, in contrast to the biblical situation, in which all the actors tended to play on a common field.

The point is that neither Christians nor Jews found that violent actions against the pagan Romans brought it success. The rare times violence was attempted resulted in disaster.

Therefore, although both Judaism and Christianity inherited the violent traditions of the Bible, they buried or ignored the old exhortations to violence as best they could in their newly emerging post-biblical religious literatures. One cannot find a god of war in the religious literatures of emerging Christianity or Rabbinic Judaism, no divine call for war or conquest. Both religious civilizations had to be content with a kind of religion that would no longer be anchored to a land or a polity, as had biblical religion. These vital aspects of biblical religion simply dropped out of the religious expressions of its heirs.

It was always theoretically possible, of course, to make an end run around Jewish or Christian tradition in order to go directly to the ancient texts of the Bible, still held sacred by both new religions. Some Jews and Christians occasionally did so during the long ages from Late Antiquity to Modernity in their attempt to revive certain pre-Christian and pre-Rabbinic ideas. However, it was always a great effort, because it meant countering the new foundation texts of Christianity and Judaism, and it often failed. When Christianity found itself a political and military power as well as a religious system, it was forced to combine Caesar’s and God’s jurisdictions, and many of its leaders had no problem doing so.

But it was forced to develop a new and innovative system to justify warring. It was not part of the foundation texts of Christianity. Some Jews in Israel now find that they need religious, as well as nationalist, reasons to justify their taking up arms, but they are forced like their Christian compatriots centuries earlier, to develop a justification that ignores much of the foundational messages of Rabbinic Judaism.

Exegesis is powerful. Where there is a will, there is often a way to locate the right sacred texts and then find a way to read them so that they can be understood to support a broad array of beliefs and behaviors. But in Judaism and Christianity, engaging in such activity in relation to warring was an effort and sometimes required real interpretive pyrotechnics. The basic religions themselves and their formative sacred texts did not offer much support.

This is not the case for Islam. Islam emerged out of seventh century Arabia, a place and a time of much physical fighting and aggression. Pre-Islamic Arabia consisted largely of tribes in perpetual war against one another.

Fighting was built into the culture in a complex and integral way, because it served to keep down the natural growth in human population in an extremely harsh physical environment that could support only small numbers relative to area. Warring would distribute and redistribute limited resources (from raiding and plundering) and ensure survival of the fittest.

Raiding between tribes was such a part of the universal culture that three or four months of the year were designated as “time-out” periods, when no fighting was allowed. This was necessary in order to allow trade between tribes that were constantly battling, and to promote mixing of the gene pool between tribes otherwise always separated and in a state of war. Raiding and battling was so deeply imbedded into the pre-Islamic Arabian ethos that the great British scholar of Islam, W. Montgomery Watt, referred to it as the old Arabian “national sport.”

Islam emerged out of this environment, which resembled far more the environment of the Hebrew Bible than that of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. And Islam had to fight to survive. It was opposed by powerful individuals and tribes, and it had to defend itself for its own survival. As it evolved into a religious system, that system began to resemble the organization of the tribes of Arabia.

The early Muslim community referred to itself as the Umma, a term that has the meaning of nation, religion and tribe (from the word umm or mother). Muhammad the Prophet was rejected from his own tribe of Quraysh and banished from the community of his birth.

He created a new concept for Arabia in the umma (religious tribe) when he settled in Medina. He found that his religious tribe, like the kinship tribes throughout the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, was in constant conflict with the other tribes in the area. It was only natural and only to be expected that in order for his followers to survive in such a harsh economic and political environment, they would have to fight their way to establishment.

The Koran, the divine revelation sent down by God to Muhammad through the intermediacy of the angel Gabriel, confirmed the need for fighting. In some verses it gives permission to the early Muslims to fight in defense; in others it encourages the Muslims to go out and initiate the fighting.

In fact, many verses urge the early Muslims to go to war when they didn’t seem to want to: “Fighting is commanded of you even though it is hateful to you; but it may well be that you hate something that is good for you, and it may well be that you love something that is bad for you; God knows, but you do not” (2:16). Dozens of koranic verses promote fighting against unbelievers — that is, those Arabs in the vicinity that were organized around kinship tribes rather than the new religious tribe-community of Islam.

The second most sacred religious literature in Islam, the Hadith, comprising the sunna (words and behavior of the Prophet Muhammad), also has a great deal to say about warring. Entire books of sunna, with such titles as The Book of Jihad or The Book of [military] Campaigns, contain the record of anything Muhammad said or did in relation to war. In the later legal literatures, this material was systematized and formed the basis of treatises and law codes about war and fighting.

Warring thus became deeply integrated into the Muslim self-concept, and this occurred quite early on in the emergence of the religious civilization of Islam. As is well-known, the early Muslim community became extremely successful at fighting, and within a generation after the death of Muhammad, succeeded in conquering the great Persian Empire and pushing the Byzantine Empire off most of its Middle Eastern holdings.

This incredible and quick success also became integrated into the Islamic worldview. Muslims, like Christians before them when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, saw history as proof that God loved the religion of the victors. The astonishing success of the conquest demonstrated the truth of Islam. Islam was held up by its followers as the perfect religion, the best expression of monotheism.

As in the case of biblical religion, Islam soon saw the world in the binary terms of believer/non-believer, but because it had become a great world power, it established this worldview in relation to a much larger piece of world geography.

The binary nature of the Islamic worldview is best- expressed by the two terms, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. The former is the world of Islam, in which Islam is the hegemonic religio-political system, where Islamic law obtains and where Muslims and non-Muslims live under Islamic rule.

The Dar al-Harb is the world of war. This is the rest of the world not yet under Islamic rule. Muslims have interpreted the meaning of world of war in two basic ways: it can refer to an uncivilized world where lack of good government and religion cannot avoid constant warring among its own peoples, or a world in which Islam is in a state of constant war. This binary worldview is deeply ingrained in the religious civilization of Islam.

As the scholar Majid Khadduri, put it in his opus on war and peace in Islam, “The Islamic state, whose principal function was to put God’s law into practice, sought to establish Islam as the dominant reigning ideology over the entire world.” But like all empires, the caliphate could not expand ad infinitum, and it eventually weakened and disappeared.

The religion was forced to come to terms with the failure of the universal state. It did so in a variety of ways, but it never severed itself from the combativeness of the Koran and Hadith, as did Judaism and Christianity from the martial worldview of the Bible.

No New Testament or Talmud mitigates the militancy of the foundation texts of Islam. It is still there and largely unchallenged, and it still infuses the worldview and self-concept of Islam.

Neither did the discourse of modernity enter Islam as it did Christianity and Judaism. Islam had its reformist movements during the first part of the last century, to be sure, but they have become largely discredited because of their close association with the West and the activities of first colonialism and then imperialism. Muslims may choose to ignore or moderate the militant nature of classical Islam and its binary division of the world, but this takes some effort and must be a conscious act.

Such an approach is much more likely when Muslims are living in a pluralistic Western society than when they are living in the Dar al-Islam. It is easy and natural for Muslims in the Islamic world who are unhappy with their lot to observe the West as a world of infidels who, indeed, had a part in bringing on their suffering. It also is easy and natural for Muslims in the Islamic world to long for the good old days when the Islamic state provided adequately for the physical and spiritual needs of its citizens.

Islam, like all world religions, is an extremely complex phenomenon. It has its ascetics and mystics, as well as its militants, moderates and radicals. Most Muslims are neither ascetic nor militant. They are simply people who try as best they can to live out their lives fully and happily within the framework of a deep and wise religious civilization. Like most people, they abhor the death of the innocent, they believe in fair play, and they long for compassion as well as justice.

But with all this, Muslims who have grown up within the framework of Islamic civilization tend to see the world in certain ways that are fundamentally different from most Westerners. Especially among the angry and disillusioned, Islam has become the answer. The problem is that there are just not enough questions.

Dr. Reuven Firestone will be teaching “Introduction to Islamic Civilization,” beginning this January. For information, call (213) 749-3424 ext. 4242.



Reuven Firestone is professor of medieval Islam and Judaism at Hebrew Union
College in Los Angeles. He has authored “Jihad: the Origin of Holy War in
Islam” (Oxford University Press, 1999), “Journeys in Holy Lands: The
Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis” (State University of New York
Press, 1990), “Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims”
(Ktav, 2001) and dozens of articles on Islam and its relations with Judaism
and Christianity.

Revenge or Restraint?


As the week began, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon resolved to confront his old friend Rechavam Ze’evi, minister of tourism and leader of the National Unity faction, who had been urging the premier to get much tougher with the Palestinians.

Sharon had just ordered the army out of Palestinian sections of the West Bank city of Hebron, occupied a week earlier to prevent gunmen from shooting at Jewish residents. In response, Ze’evi and his seven-member National Unity-Israel, Our Home bloc threatened to secede from the government.

Sharon told Ze’evi from the Knesset podium Monday that if he left the coalition, "You’ll make Arafat’s day."

Ze’evi and his colleague in the Cabinet, Avigdor Lieberman, did, indeed, leave. Less than 48 hours later — the time needed for his resignation to take effect — Ze’evi was dead, killed by a Palestinian assassin’s bullet in a Jerusalem hotel corridor.

As the week ended, Sharon still confronted the same dilemma, only this time with more poignancy.

The murdered man’s colleagues — who rescinded the resignation and said they would reconsider after the mourning week — along with others on the right of Sharon’s unity government were urging the premier to ratchet up Israel’s military measures against the Palestinians.

Some ministers were explicitly demanding that the Israeli army target Palestinian political leaders in response to Ze’evi’s killing.

From the other wing of his government, Sharon heard voices questioning the wisdom of the "targeted killings" policy. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility for Ze’evi’s slaying — in revenge, the group said, for the Aug. 27 killing of the PFLP secretary-general, Mustafa Zibri, also known as Abu Ali Mustafa.

Following a string of terror attacks in Israel carried out by the PFLP, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired two missiles into the window of the Ramallah office where Zibri worked, killing him and leaving the rest of the building intact.

Over the phone, from Washington and from China, where Secretary of State Colin Powell is travelling, world leaders called on Sharon to exercise restraint.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, also facing U.S. pressure, telephoned Foreign Minister Shimon Peres late Wednesday to say he was cracking down on the PFLP. The organization’s spokesman in Bethlehem, Ali Jeradat, who was the first to take public credit for the killing of Ze’evi, has been arrested, Arafat said, along with two others.

"Arrest them all," Peres replied somberly, "or else one pistol shot will have set fire to this entire region."

By mid-evening, Israel Television was reporting that Jeradat was free again.

Earlier, Sharon told the Knesset in a special mourning session that Arafat "and Arafat alone" was responsible for the assassination.

He had done "nothing serious" to curb terrorism, Sharon said, despite his pretense to the world that he had taken action. By doing nothing, he had in effect given the go-ahead for attacks such as the one that killed Ze’evi, Sharon implied.

Sharon convened his security cabinet Wednesday evening to discuss possible responses to the killing of Rehavam Ze’evi. Israel will present an ultimatum to Arafat and will demand that he take severe actions against the PFLP and hand over to Israel those responsible for Ze’evi’s murder.

Ze’evi’s killing clearly has heightened tensions and dangers in the region. Yet it could, paradoxically, enhance prospects for an end to the violence and a return to peace negotiations. If Arafat, under American prodding and fearful of massive Israeli retaliation, finally takes convincing action against terrorist elements — and if Sharon again, as he did at the beginning of the week, chooses moderation — it could add to the incremental momentum toward a stable cease-fire and new talks.

Israel said Wednesday that it would cut off further diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians until there was a firm cease-fire.

But the Americans are certain not to be deterred by that initial reaction. And, despite his fury and his determination to strike back, close aides say Sharon will be mindful of Washington’s call for restraint when deciding on reprisal actions.

If the military response is relatively moderate, and if the Americans press on with their peacemaking efforts, then presumably Ze’evi’s seven-man faction — which consists of his National Unity Party and Lieberman’s Israel, Our Home immigrant party — will quit the government after all. That would dangerously weaken Sharon’s survival prospects.

The prime minister still would have a comfortable margin of 16 seats in the 120-person Knesset, but looks can deceive.

If Shas, the Sephardic Orthodox party that has 17 seats and a largely hawkish electorate, were to defect, Sharon would lose his majority. And Shas will be under constant pressure to do so, because it is competing for some voters with the National Religious Party, which is not in the coalition.

Similarly, Yisrael Ba’Aliyah, a smaller coalition party that also serves the Russian immigrant community, will be vying for voters with Israel, Our Home, which by that time would be in the opposition.

However, if he veers rightward to keep those parties Sharon risks losing Labor, which itself is subject to constant sniping from the dovish Meretz Party and is divided internally over its junior role in Sharon’s government.

And in the wings, Benjamin Netanyahu is waiting to challenge Sharon for leadership of the national camp. Together, those challenges mean that the decision of Ze’evi’s faction — and Sharon’s choice of steps now — could have serious repercussions for both Israel and the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, as with Yitzhak Rabin’s killing six years ago, the assassination has raised questions about the efficacy of the Shin Bet’s bodyguard department.

Avi Dichter, director of the Shin Bet, issued a statement Wednesday accepting full responsibility for the failure to protect Ze’evi. In fact, not all Israeli ministers are guarded at all times, and the tourism minister had not had guards with him in the hotel, where he often stayed when in Jerusalem.

Ze’evi, moreover, was a particularly obstinate client for the Shin Bet. He often bristled at protection even when it was available, arguing that he deserved no greater security than any ordinary citizen.

Still, the Shin Bet has set up an internal inquiry board, and its work could be followed by an examination by an external panel if the results are unsatisfactory. Moreover, the Shin Bet is reconsidering its protection procedures and has attached security details to all ministers for the time being.

Sharon Wednesday night issued a statement voicing his full confidence in Dichter.

On the personal plane, Ze’evi’s tragic death seemed to bring out the best in Israeli politics Wednesday as the Knesset united to mourn him.

Despite his far-right views, "Gandhi," as he was universally known since his days in prestate Palestine’s Jewish fighting forces, was well-liked across the board.

"He knew how to respect a fellow human being," said Abdulmalik Dehamshe, an Arab Knesset member and bitter ideological foe of Ze’evi.

Yossi Sarid, leader of the opposition, eulogized Ze’evi from the podium as "an opponent who was a friend," recalling "moments of real closeness" that had spanned the political distance between them.

Back on Track?


It is too early to tell whether the long-awaited and controversial meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat will produce a true cease-fire and a resumption of peace negotiations between the two sides.

Wednesday’s meeting, which produced a commitment to turn a shaky, week-old truce into a lasting cease-fire, had a symbolic significance that went beyond any of the details contained in its final communique.

It almost brought down Israel’s unity government, with intense arguments raging about whether to hold the meeting at all. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon found himself awkwardly placed between his government’s rightist faction and Peres, his Labor Party foreign minister.

And it became entangled in a web of diplomatic maneuvering by the United States to form an international coalition against terror.

If the Peres-Arafat meeting does prove a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and the course of events in this troubled land is markedly changed, the catalyst will have been the terror attacks on America and the diplomatic aftermath.

The Palestinians say the armed intifada is now effectively over, or at least greatly reduced. They cite the categorical orders issued publicly by Arafat, in Arabic, last weekend to military and paramilitary groups under his command to cease their attacks on Israel and Israelis and to rein in the opposition and fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

They cite, too, the fact, confirmed by Israeli military sources, that the level of violence, though not completely halted — Palestinian gunmen carried out two fatal ambushes of Israeli women driving on West Bank roads — has dropped considerably during the past week.

Israeli sources also say that Arafat, for the first time since the intifada began exactly a year ago, is acting in earnest to restrain would-be terrorists.

This sentiment — along with much international pressure — helpedprovide the opening for Wednesday’s meeting near the Gaza airport.

In a joint communique issued after two hours of talks, the two sides renewed their commitment to recommendations made in May by the Mitchell Commission, a U.S.-led international panel that set out a series of confidence-building measures to help end the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The communique said the two sides would resume security cooperation, Israel would lift its blockades on Palestinian population centers and Arafat would clamp down on Palestinian attacks against Israel.

Peres and Arafat also agreed to hold a second meeting "within a week or so," the communique said.

Arafat’s decision to end the violence is seen as a direct response to the popular Palestinian reaction that followed the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Palestinian and outside observers say Arafat and his top leadership were appalled by the scenes of public rejoicing in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan.

For the Palestinian leadership, these scenes, captured by Western media despite the Palestinian Authority’s strenuous efforts, evoked memories of Arafat’s dalliance with Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War and the huge price, in terms of Western support and popularity, that the Palestinian cause paid for that blunder.

Indeed, American public support for the Palestinians fell dramatically after Sept. 11, according to polls.

Arafat knows, say analysts, that if the Palestinians’ standing continues to plummet in American public and governmental opinion, there will be powerful forces in Israel that will move to exploit his weakened situation, perhaps even by removing him and his coterie altogether.

On the Israeli side, that is precisely the sentiment one hears on the political right — much of which is represented in Sharon’s Cabinet.

"If I was hesitant before Sept. 11 about a Peres-Arafat meeting, but did not act to block it," says Eli Yishai, the Shas Party leader, "after Sept. 11, I see no reason to proceed with it. It will only strengthen Arafat and weaken us."

Yishai cited top Israeli intelligence officers who had warned that such a meeting would give Arafat legitimacy in American eyes and enable him to be part of the anti-terror coalition being built by the Bush administration. Early in the week, Yishai swung his considerable political weight against the meeting — and succeeded in having it delayed.

Without saying so explicitly, Yishai plainly agreed with hard-liners in Israel who believed that the new world configuration against terror immediately following Sept. 11 presented the Jewish state with a golden opportunity to defeat and perhaps even remove Arafat.

After all, Arafat had encouraged — or at least not prevented — acts of indiscriminate terrorism perpetrated against Israel over the past 12 months.

Another powerful player on the right, with influence over Sharon, is former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a slew of statements since Sept. 11, Netanyahu openly compared Arafat to Osama bin Laden and said Israel should take this opportunity to get rid of him.

The former premier is plainly preparing his political comeback, preparing either to directly challenge Sharon for the Likud leadership or to lead a right-of-Likud alliance of parties to topple the premier.

Political pundits here attributed much of the prime minister’s apparent zigzagging about the Peres-Arafat meeting to the Netanyahu effect.

Peres’ view, diametrically opposed to that of the hard-liners, is that the trauma of Sept. 11 provides a new opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians to set aside violence and return to diplomacy.

Peres also feels Israel must, for its own national interests, respond favorably and promptly to Washington’s request that it do its part to resume peace talks as its indirect contribution to the evolving anti-terror coalition. Peres broadly implied that there was massive pressure from Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Beyond the considerations of party and domestic politics, Sharon seems genuinely torn between his gut sympathy for the hard-liners and his realization that this position is out of synch with the U.S. administration, now girding itself for war.

Bush and his team, whatever their personal views of Arafat, clearly do not wish to extend their anti-terror war to include the Palestinian leader, or even the Palestinian radicals, at least at this initial stage.

What they do want is quiet on the ground and progress, or at least the impression of progress, in the long-stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Talks, Attacks, Resume


Lurching wildly from disaster to miraculous salvation to more death and mayhem, emotionally drained Israelis watched with little optimism this week as a new American peace envoy tried to offer hope in the eight-months-old violence with the Palestinians.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, who shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian officials early in the week, managed to engineer a round of security talks between the two sides.

But by midweek there was little evidence that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s repeated calls for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire would be answered by the Palestinian side, which seemed more intent on waging unilateral war.

With the toll from Palestinian terrorism mounting daily, Sharon and other top officials warned Tuesday that Israel’s unilateral policy of military restraint, enunciated by the premier a week ago, could not continue indefinitely.

“Both sides must declare a cease-fire, an end to terror, violence and incitement,” Sharon said Tuesday. “We did, but unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority not only did not make such a declaration, but we see the opposite — an increase in violence.”

For their part, the Palestinians have rejected Sharon’s unilateral declaration of a cease-fire last week as a public relations ploy.

The only slight glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal week was a meeting held Tuesday night in Ramallah between Israeli and Palestinian military officers and security officials, the first such encounter for many weeks.

But the meeting ended inconclusively after Jibril Rajoub, the head of Palestinian security in the West Bank, and Avi Dichter, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service, did not attend.

Even the planning for the meeting, which was to focus on violence in the West Bank, reflected the distance between the two sides: Israel spoke of a resumption of security “coordination,” while the Palestinians refused to use the word “coordination” and spoke only of security “talks.”

A second round of talks, this one focusing on the Gaza Strip, was scheduled for Wednesday night.

Optimists hoped the meetings portended a move to implement what both sides claim is their acceptance of a U.S.-led fact-finding panel’s recommendations.

The panel, headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, called earlier this month for an unconditional cease-fire as the first step toward moving from violence back to the negotiating table.

Under the Mitchell panel’s formula, a cooling-off period after the cease-fire will be followed by “confidence-building measures” by each side — including a total freeze of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel’s unity government insists that it endorses the Mitchell Report, but it has voiced reservations over the settlement provision.

Sharon told CNN on Tuesday that the government’s policy guidelines, which rule out building new settlements but allow for the expansion of existing ones, are flexible enough to enable Israel to accept the Mitchell plan.

Rightist members of the coalition have threatened to quit if a settlement freeze goes into effect.

On Wednesday, Sharon said in a speech before the Knesset that Israel’s “blood is boiling” over continued Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlers.

Nonetheless, Sharon said the army would maintain the limited cease- fire he announced last week.

Dismissing calls from some hawkish lawmakers to retaliate for the attacks, Sharon said, “The responsibility on my shoulders requires that I choose a path of patience and restraint.”

That same day, a car bomb exploded outside a high school in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, lightly injuring six people.

Hospital officials said four of those injured were teen-agers. Classes were not in session at the time of the explosion, which Israeli police called a Palestinian terror attack.

It came during a week filled with violence.

On Tuesday, an Israeli family of seven ran into a roadside ambush in the heart of the Etzion Bloc, just south of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

A resident of the settlement of Efrat — Sarah Blaustein, 53, an immigrant from the United States — was killed when shots were fired at her car near the Israeli settlement of Neveh Daniel. Her husband, Norman, was slightly wounded, and a son, Sammy, was seriously wounded with three bullets in his back.

Another Efrat resident, Esther Alva, 20, died several hours after the attack.

The attack occurred as the minivan was driving to the funeral of a previous terror victim: Gilead Zar, gunned down in an ambush in the northern West Bank earlier on Tuesday. Zar had been a security coordinator for the settlement of Itamar near Nablus.

According to reports, when Zar’s car stopped after the first round of gunfire, the gunmen approached and shot him at close range.

The militia of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party claimed responsibility for the attack.

Palestinian terrorists also fired shots at the funeral procession for Zar, but no one was hurt.

In the Gaza Strip, two Israeli soldiers were wounded by a Palestinian who exploded a bomb strapped to his body. In addition, Arafat’s Fatah party militia briefly kidnapped two Newsweek journalists, ostensibly to send a message to the British and American governments over their alleged pro-Israel bias.

Tuesday’s three murders, dreadful as they were, sent fewer shock waves through the Israeli public than a brace of bombings in Jerusalem two days earlier that miraculously failed to end in carnage.

The first came after midnight early Sunday morning, when a car bomb exploded along a row of popular bars that are the center of Jerusalem’s nightlife. Despite the large quantity of explosives in the vehicle, the only injuries were a few abrasions.

Early the following morning, terror struck again. Barely 50 yards from the first car bomb, another huge charge exploded, hurling mortars and bomblets from a parked car for a radius of hundreds of yards in the center of the capital.

Again, somehow, there were only light injuries.

The city center was closed for hours as bomb experts toiled in the blazing heat to neutralize the charges.

Israelis seemed paralyzed by a sense of impotence in the face of indiscriminate terror able to infiltrate their lives with such seeming ease.

There was more terror last Friday, when a car bomb exploded near the Hadera bus station in central Israel. At least 39 people were injured in that blast, which killed two suicide bombers.

Another suicide bombing took place later that day outside an Israeli army post in the Gaza Strip, killing only the perpetrator.

Hamas videotaped the Gaza truck bombing and later released the footage — a practice copied from Hezbollah, which often filmed its attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon before Israel’s withdrawal a year ago.

Familiar with the thinking of the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, diplomatic observers sought to draw parallels between them, despite the obvious differences.

Arafat, they say, believes he can wear out Israel with incessant violence, toppling Sharon and eventually installing a government that will offer him even more than former Prime Minister Ehud Barak did in rounds of peace talks last year.

Sharon, say these observers, believes that staunch military resolve can overpower the Palestinian Authority and force it — or its successor — to accept an interim arrangement far more stingy than the deal Barak offered and Arafat spurned.

Inside the Israeli political community, meanwhile, a third view appears to be gaining momentum.

Some politicians, among them Haim Ramon of Labor and Dan Meridor of the Center Party, increasingly speak of the need for Israel unilaterally to lay down its border line along part, at least, of the West Bank.

The tactical goal is to halt or much reduce terrorist infiltration.

The “price” is obvious, too: The dismantlement of far-flung settlements, and perhaps more than just the far-flung ones.

Such a step inexorably leads into the heart of the Israeli political divide. But the unilateralists say this is no time for politics; it is time, they say, for effective self-defense.

JTA correspondent Naomi Segal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Blurred Image


Israel is fighting a war of attrition with the Palestinians, and militarily, the Jewish state is holding its own. But it’s taking a drubbing in the battle over public opinion here and around the world.

In part, that failure is a natural result of the kind of battle that is shaping up — a powerful, high-tech military machine trying to root out terrorists and insurgents from a population that supports them.

But Israel is also losing, because its leaders just don’t seem to care enough about how they are viewed abroad.

The government has hired a leading U.S. public relations firm to generate support during this difficult period, and a group of Jewish philanthropists is setting up a foundation to do the same thing.

But over the years, various Israeli governments have commissioned expensive PR studies and programs, only to ignore their recommendations.

All the PR gurus on Madison Avenue won’t help much if the leaders in Jerusalem don’t clarify their message and expend some of their own precious energy in bringing it to the American public. And mere public relations won’t offset policies that may make political or military sense but that play into the hands of Palestinian propagandists.

The irony is that Israel enjoyed an unprecedented edge in the fight for world opinion in the days after Yasser Arafat spurned its offer at Camp David.

That, in fact, is one reason Arafat resumed his role as terrorist-in-chief; even the European countries that traditionally fawn over him had a hard time explaining why he fled Camp David, apparently terrified by the prospect of an actual agreement. New violence, and the predictable Israeli response, might win back some of that support, Arafat apparently reasoned.

Arafat may have blown Camp David big-time, but he knows how to exploit images of Palestinian victimization effectively.

The imagery of the emerging battle quickly turned the tide of world opinion against Israel: video clips of powerful helicopter gunships firing missiles at refugee camps, Palestinian civilians wailing after bulldozers level their houses, dispossessed farmers watching as their olive groves are uprooted.

Arafat effectively exploited Israel’s traditional vulnerability on the issue of settlements, turning world attention away from his own preeminent role in triggering the new bloodshed.

But Israeli officials seem blind to this tidal wave of negative imagery, or else they see it as something that can be fixed with a few PR experts — or with dutiful Jewish leaders here.

The Sharon government has shown little interest in sending high-ranking emissaries to this country to explain to Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — the reasons for the intensifying Israeli response to the new intifada.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres did meet with a number of Jewish groups recently, as well as countless reporters, but he is widely seen as part of a government whose hard-line views he does not really share.

Israel lacks an ambassador in Washington who is adept at appearing before the cameras and explaining Israel’s positions. David Ivry, the current envoy, is widely praised for his work with the Pentagon, but he is not the high-level crisis spokesman Israel needs at this juncture, in the view of some Jewish leaders.

In several recent conference calls, Israeli officials have signaled that it’s the job of Jewish groups here to shore up Israel’s deteriorating image. This week Jewish leaders were doing their best to do just that, but in private, they say they haven’t been given the resources to do the job.

How can they defend Israel’s controversial use of F-16s against Palestinian targets when the Sharon government itself has offered no coherent justification for the action; when even Israeli newspapers that have supported the prime minister blasted the attacks as ineffective and reckless?

How can they counter demands for a settlements freeze when the government offers mostly spin and obfuscation and funny numbers pointing to the demand for “natural growth?”

Israel expects American Jewish leaders to react indignantly to any hint that Washington is actively pushing a settlements freeze, but some polls show that a majority of Israelis might favor one.

Community groups around the country report getting very little help from Israeli consulates as they try to counter biased media coverage and increasingly effective public relations efforts by Arab-American groups.

Israel and the Palestinians are fighting a war that will force the government in Jerusalem to use tactics that will offend and shock the world — a reaction that will be multiplied by the fact that so many other nations are looking for excuses to bash the Jewish state.

But Israel’s leaders, by not waging an active campaign using their best representatives and by not offering cogent arguments for their actions, makes that job far more difficult. They compound the problem when they play domestic politics when choosing tactics in this grim new war.

And if reports that Sharon now wants to destabilize the Palestinian Authority and drive Arafat back into exile prove accurate, all the PR experts on the planet will not help slow Israel’s slide in world standing.

Intifada: No Let-up


Israel doesn’t understand the Palestinians, lamented a former official who has spent years trying to do so, and this is why Israel doesn’t know how to deal with them.

The speaker was Ami Ayalon, until recently the head of the Shin Bet security service, which fights an ongoing war against Palestinian terrorism.

Ayalon, who became a go-between for former Prime Minister Ehud Barak with Palestinian officials after his Shin Bet service, suggested a "simple" solution to the conflict with the Palestinians when he was interviewed this week by Israel’s Channel Two Television.

Give the Palestinians an independent state and the seven-month intifada will be over, Ayalon said in the interview broadcast Monday night. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat chose the path of violence over diplomatic negotiations because "Barak lost all the confidence the Palestinians had initially given him," Ayalon said.

Israel is "strong enough militarily, and I would like to believe morally, to give the Palestinians their own independent state," he said.

The interview was noteworthy because the comments sympathetic to the Palestinian cause came from a man who once stood at the core of the Israeli security establishment.

It also was noteworthy because of how isolated Ayalon is in his analysis of Palestinian motivations.

Not only hawkish members of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government disagree with Ayalon; many leftists, disenchanted with Arafat, also consider Ayalon’s analysis naive.

Across the political spectrum, Israelis feel they have good reason to suspect the Palestinians. While many Israelis had believed that the violent Palestinian uprising that began in late September would burn itself out, it shows no signs of abating.

Time and again, Arafat pledges to reduce the violence — and Palestinian attacks intensify. Shooting and bombing attacks continue at the rate of dozens a day.

This week, for example, just as Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was announcing that Israel and the Palestinians were nearing agreement on the terms of a cease-fire, Hamas terrorists killed an Israeli in a West Bank ambush. The victim’s father had been killed in another West Bank drive-by shooting in January.

Do the Palestinians really want to end the violence?

Some Israelis thought there was light at the end of the tunnel last week, when the two sides discussed reopening the casino in the West Bank city of Jericho.

Immensely profitable for the Palestinian Authority, which is a joint owner, the casino was among the first casualties of the violence that erupted last September. Before that, it provided a living to more than 1,000 Palestinians, drawing thousands of Israelis for whom gambling is illegal within Israel’s borders.

If Israel would let Israelis come back to the casino, Palestinian negotiators promised, the Palestinian Authority would bring an end to attacks on the Jordan Valley road, a major traffic artery between Jerusalem and the Galilee.

Israeli drivers have all but stopped using the road for fear of roadside ambushes.

Many Israelis were outraged, saying the Palestinians should not be permitted to keep the peace where it is profitable for them to do so while attacking Israelis elsewhere. Others noted that the offer seemed to resolve doubts about whether the Palestinian Authority can control the anti-Israel violence if it chooses.

The talks broke down when Sharon said he would not rescind an order preventing Israelis from traveling to the West Bank. Without Israelis, who were the leading patrons of the Jericho casino, there was little point in pursuing the idea of reopening the gambling mecca.

Israelis also were optimistic that the violence might end when Arafat reportedly issued an order last week for an end to Palestinian mortar attacks on Israel.

Within days, however, the attacks resumed — and Palestinian militia members denied ever having received the order from Arafat in the first place.

Even Peres, one of the lone voices in the Sharon government who still believes that Arafat is a partner for peace, said he has no explanation for the Palestinian leader’s behavior.

Even if Israel can reach agreement with Arafat on a cease-fire, many wonder whether he would be able to deliver on the deal.

Arafat often tries to shirk responsibility for Palestinian violence, saying it emanates from elements he does not control. Sharon, however, increasingly is holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for all attacks that originate in areas under its control.

Since taking office earlier this year, Sharon said he would target Palestinians responsible for attacks on Israelis but would seek to avoid collective punishment against the general Palestinian population.

The policy was based on the assumption that the civilian population eventually would force the Palestinian leadership into a cessation of hostilities.

So far, however, the opposite appears true. Far from seeking peace, the Palestinians have created a new militia that draws its membership from Arafat’s own Fatah faction, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

When rumors circulated this week that Arafat wanted to disband the new militia, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of the Gaza Strip in protest.

In addition, many Palestinians believe that the success of Hezbollah fighters — whose war of attrition forced Israel to withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon — shows that Israel understands only the language of force.

Public opinion polls have shown overwhelming support among the Palestinian public for the violence — 80 percent of respondents in a recent poll by the Palestinian Jerusalem Media and Communications Center — with 75 percent supporting suicide bombings.

A rare dissenting voice is Bassam Abu Sharif, a political adviser to Arafat and one of Arafat’s closest associates. Abu Sharif criticizes Palestinian terror attacks directed at Israeli civilians.

"Your attacks should be aimed at the soldiers deployed at the entrances to our cities," Abu Sharif said during a television interview. "Why don’t you attack them, and not blow up children on their way to school?"

Abu Sharif charged that attacks on Israeli civilians give Sharon rhetorical ammunition against the Palestinians as he seeks support from the international community.

Abu Sherif’s interview did not play well in some Palestinian quarters.

Three days after it aired, Islamic religious leaders in Bethlehem demanded that Abu Sherif be declared a collaborator with Israel.

Little wonder that the Israel Defense Force continually warns that dealings with the Palestinians are likely to get worse before they get better.

Bush Ups the Ante — Cautiously


The Bush administration, this week facing its first critical Mideast crisis, is seeking a new formulation to enable it to play a role in keeping conflict from spreading without requiring intensive direct mediation.

The strategy included a blunt assessment blaming the Palestinians for "precipitating" the round of violence that ended with the brief Israeli occupation of land in Palestinian-controlled Gaza, but also unusually harsh criticism of Israel’s response.

That language, and some quiet diplomatic arm twisting, apparently resulted in Israel’s quick withdrawal from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

Israeli officials in Washington and Jerusalem insisted that the withdrawal was already in progress when Secretary of State Colin Powell launched his diplomatic blast on Tuesday, but statements by IDF officers on the ground suggested an abrupt about-face by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The reoccupation came during a major series of attacks on Monday aimed at ending Palestinian mortar fire into Israeli towns.

On Tuesday Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Israel response "excessive and disproportionate. We call upon both sides to respect the agreements that they’ve signed."

For the Palestinians, that means "implementation of their commitment to renounce terrorism and violence, to exercise control over all elements of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, and to discipline violators," Powell said.

But he also suggested that in entering Palestinian-controlled territory, Israel was violating earlier agreements.

"For the Israelis, this includes respecting their commitment to withdraw from Gaza according to the terms of the agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

Powell said that U.S. officials continue to work with both sides to resume the security talks that began two weeks ago.

The harsh response was prompted by comments by an Israeli commander in Gaza that the reoccupation could last for "days, weeks and months."

"That would have been an unfortunate escalation, and the administration reacted strongly to it," said Robert O. Freedman, a longtime Mideast analyst and peace process supporter.

But Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman called Powell’s assessment an "unwarranted overreaction. Palestinian mortar attacks against an Israeli town in the Negev desert introduced a new dimension into the seven-month long period of violence. Israel, which has the responsibility to protect its citizens, had no choice but to demonstrate that the Palestinian’s escalation of hostilities into Israel proper will not be tolerated."

Powell’s strong words came a day after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s reaction to the Israel raid on a Syrian radar in Lebanon won praise from Jewish leaders.

"In the last several days there has been a dangerous escalation across the line of withdrawal," Fleischer said. "And the United States condemns this escalation that was initiated by Hezbollah in a clear provocation designed to escalate an already tense situation."

Jewish leaders welcomed that assessment.

"Obviously, the administration wants to see the violence end, but they have a good understanding of who initiated it," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Analysts say it is too early to say whether the escalation of violence will force the new administration to abandon its hands-off policy when it comes to direct U.S. mediation.

"Obviously, events in the region have a way of drawing the United States in, because Washington is literally the only outside force capable of having an impact," said an analyst for a major Jewish group here. "But so far, at least, this administration is confining itself to carefully chosen words aimed at getting the parties themselves to limit their responses; there’s no indication they plan any more direct involvement at this time."

On Tuesday State Department spokesman Richard Boucher turned aside a question about whether Washington was prepared to become a more active participant, saying only that "we’re offering to facilitate, as we have in the past. We are encouraging the parties to engage each other bilaterally and offering to do whatever we can to facilitate those talks."

Washington sources say there are no plans to send any U.S. official to the region to try to mediate a reduction in the violence.

But officials here revealed that the CIA was once again involved in security talks between the two sides; early in his administration, President George W. Bush pulled the intelligence agency out of direct involvement in negotiations.

"That may indicate that under the surface, they are becoming more active," said Freedman.

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the Bush administration understands the difficult line Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is trying to navigate.

"On one hand he is trying to signal that Israel has the stamina to withstand any war of attrition, that Israel is not an ‘MTV generation’ that does not have the will to fight," he said. "On the other hand, he wants to avoid staging massive responses that would lead to a large loss of life and create tremendous international pressures."

Despite this week’s strong statement from Foggy Bottom, Makovsky said that the administration remains supportive of Israel’s overall position.

Only With Unity Can Israel Truly Soar


“There is no left.” That’s the refrain heard in Israel in the wake of Ariel Sharon’s election as Prime Minister. While there may be much truth to this claim, not only is there no left, there is no right either.

The assertion that there is no left refers to the fact that the majority of the left wing camp has come to understand that Yasser Arafat is not a real peace partner. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready to follow the instincts of the left and give away an astonishing amount of land — 95 percent of Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem. Still, it wasn’t enough. While peace is made with enemies, one cannot make peace with an enemy who does not want to make peace.

But the right is also almost nonexistent in Israel today. After all, for years those in the nationalist camp had insisted “not one inch.” This affirmation reflected the politics of aiming to incorporate all of Judea and Samaria into a “Greater Israel” and not giving away one centimeter to the Arabs. That position is null and void today. Nearly no one in the respectable right camp is prepared to retake Arab cities like Ramallah and Jenin.

While these positions have all but disappeared within the mainstream politics of Israel, right and left extremists still exist. Those in the far left still believe Arafat is a peace partner, and those on the extreme right may be ready to move Israel’s army into the areas of Judea and Samaria given away. But we must realize that the extremists represent very few people. Despite what the media claim, the mainstream right and left are closer to each other than ever before.

A real consensus is actually emerging in Israel today. The right has come to agree with the left that land must be given away. The left has come to agree with the right that alternative Palestinian leadership must be found to make peace.

This sense of unity is desperately needed today, as Israel faces what is perhaps the greatest danger since its birth. If war breaks out, not only will Israel be forced to fight on its borders, but Israel will simultaneously face insurrection from within. Sixty-thousand PLO are armed to the teeth. They have the wherewithal to wreak havoc if Israel is forced to call up its reservists. Whether Israel can withstand such a two-pronged attack, remains to be seen.

If we’ve learned anything from recent years, it is that Israel can only be governed if it comes together. During the ’90s, there were Israeli governments that represented the left and those that represented the right, but both were unable to rule. In Biblical literature, Israel is often likened to a bird. A bird can fly effectively only if it uses both wings. In order for the modern State of Israel to rise, fly and soar with success, it needs both sides to work together.

For years the right and the left had little trust of the other. The right failed to understand that they had no monopoly on loving all of the land of Israel. The left included many, including such stalwarts as Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, who undoubtedly love all of the land of Israel as much as anyone else. But while they have a deep love for the land, they felt that land had to be given away for peace. On the other hand, the left failed to recognize that they have no monopoly on wanting peace. The right wanted peace just as much as anyone but has came to the conclusion that Oslo was not the roadway to a true peace.

From this perspective, Prime Minister Sharon is to be commended for building a unity government. He could have created a narrow right-wing leadership but understood that that is no longer workable, and indeed is not the will of the people. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is also to be commended for telling his own party that it is time to listen to the will of the people — and the people want unity.

Some suggest that people often reflect the natural topology of their country. In Israel there is little twilight. It is either day or night. There is too often no in-between.

Today, we need consensus, we need unity in Israel. It is a time when, in the words of the haggadah read on Passover night, we’ve arrived at the point that is neither day nor night, not one side or the other, just a complete Israel — one Israel with balance and flight.

Bizarro World and ‘The Settlers’


Those of us old enough to have been seduced by the pleasures of Superman comic books probably remember Bizarro World, an alternative universe where norms and values were upended and recast: No became yes, ugly was beautiful, cruel was kind. When thrust into this psychotic realm, even the Man of Steel had trouble coping.

One wonders if Superman would find Middle East politics any easier.

Only in the Middle East could a tiny democracy be reviled by ostensibly right-thinking people as an oppressive occupier state, while its neighbors, a host of dictatorships and thugigarchies, are held up as beacons of freedom. Granted, Israel is an imperfect democracy and an often rude society, but for a 50-year-old country — in historical terms, an adolescent — it’s doing pretty well. Go back and read Alexis de Tocqueville’s description of the United States at a similar stage. Given the choice between living in Israel or its neighbors, how many of us would opt for Saudi Arabia or the Sudan, where slavery thrives, the Orwellian nightmare known as Syria, pseudo-parliamentary Egypt or "enlightened" Jordan, where young girls are murdered by their brothers if they act out sexually?

If my experiences as a college student during the late ’60s and early ’70s were any indication, the Bizarro demonization of Israel was no accident. Soon after the Six-Day War (renamed "the 1967 Middle East War" by the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, presumably to minimize embarrassment to the losers) the Arabs set out to reverse Israel’s military gains by waging a relentless, oil-state-financed propaganda war. At UCLA, this took the form of Libyan and Algerian students who seemed to spend a good deal more time handing out literature and orating in Meyerhoff Park than they did in the classroom. The faces were interchangeable — few of these older-than-average freshmen appeared to enroll for very long — but the tactics remained the same: an onslaught of anti-Semitic buzzwords. My friends at other universities described identical goings-on.

Arab student-propagandists exploited anti-Vietnam War sentiment by affiliating with leftist organizations. What resulted was a constant barrage of anti-Semitic venom printed in the official organs of the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and similar groups, disguised as "solidarity" with the newly minted "Palestinian people." (Prior to the early ’60s, the term "Palestinian" had referred to any resident of the region, including Jews.) Using a well-tested propagandist tactic — Bizarro Irony — hatred of Israel was justified by recasting the Jewish state as the reincarnation the Jews’ worst enemy: Palestinian Arabs became the "Jews of the Middle East," and Israel was now a "fascist, Nazi entity." One of my clearest UCLA memories is attending a speech by Golda Meir and being spat on and reviled as "a Nazi" by a covey of snarling, fair-haired, blue-eyed SDSers picketing Pauley Pavilion because I was wearing a yarmulke. Bizarro Irony continues today, on both extremes of the political spectrum, as the radical left besmirches Israel as a reactionary state and the neo-Nazi Christian Identity proclaims itself the synagogue of true Judaism and denigrates Jews as the bastard spawn of Eve and the serpent.

Bizarro Irony succeeds by raping the language. One revisionist perversity of the ’70s has endured and entered common parlance, even among Jews: the Settler.

Back in the days when Hollywood convinced us that the cowboys were the good guys and the Indians were bloodthirsty savages, "settlers" were viewed as heroic visionaries. When we finally realized that the Wild West didn’t go down quite that way, "settler" began to take on a different connotation.

Settlers were now seen as intruders, usually Caucasian, who invaded the homelands of dark-skinned indigenous people, enslaved the natives and wiped out centuries of noble civilization. Settlers were epitomized by the white, racist regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa. And Israel. For the Arab disinformation machine’s greatest success might very well be the psychosocial pairing of Israelis with the architects of apartheid. This allowed the an oft-repeated mantra to go unchallenged: "The existence of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are an illegal provocation and an obstacle to peace."

The only problem is, it just ain’t so. The Jewish people who live in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Israel are anything but colonial raiders. They are a continuance of the Zionist dream at its best: the most courageous members of an indigenous people sacrificing personally in order to resettle its ancestral homeland. As such, they deserve to be admired, not marginalized by liberation theologists and anyone else who claims to believe in justice.

The core issue is the right of Jews to live on ancestral soil — or anywhere else, for that matter. Why should the Nazi policy of Judenrein (Jew-free areas) be implemented anywhere in the world, let alone Israel? Does a black person have a right to live in Beverly Hills? Should a Latino or an Asian — or a Jew — be permitted to build a house in San Marino? Sure, the appearance of dark or ethnically unfamiliar faces in any well-entrenched white suburb will be viewed by certain residents as a provocation as well as an obstruction to an ethnically pure way of life. And until very recently, racial segregation was mandated in virtually every region of the United States. Did that make free choice in housing and integration wrong?

Put Arab-financed connotation aside and try some word substitution: How would you feel if some stiff-lipped State Department errand boy intoned, "The presence of Jews and Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem and the territories is a provocation and an obstacle to the peace process."

If you agree, you’re saying that a Jewish presence in Brooklyn, Brentwood and Berlin is kosher, but Jews in Bethlehem and Baka are verboten. And if that’s not Bizarro World spiced up by a touch of Joe Goebbels, I don’t know what is.

Mr. Big Lie must be laughing, from whatever dark corner of hell he currently occupies.

Fifty years of Arab propaganda to the contrary, the establishment of the State of Israel was not yet another example of Western colonialism. Israel represents the return of indigenous people to its homeland. As such, it should be admired by the most fervent supporters of liberation theology.


Jonathan Kellerman is the author of 16 novels and five nonfiction books. His latest novel is “Dr. Death” (Random House). He is clinical professor of pediatrics at USC School of Medicine and clinical professor of psychology at USC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Change of Pace


The election of Ariel Sharon in Israel is likely to bring a new dynamic to the relationship between the United States and one of its strongest allies.

In contrast to the close engagement that characterized U.S.-Israeli relations during the past eight years, the new administrations in Jerusalem and Washington are likely to pursue, at least in the short term, a hands-off approach toward each other.

With his Likud Party back in power, Sharon is less likely to seek active engagement from the U.S. government. And President Bush, settling into his own new administration, is less likely to want to give it.

"I think the new administration’s attention is specifically and intentionally elsewhere," Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, said referring to the Bush administration.

Bush’s announced agenda has been almost entirely domestic. His Middle East agenda has focused largely on Iraq, rather than on the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Most analysts believe that because of Sharon’s reputation as a military leader who opposes concessions to the Palestinians, he will be greeted by the Bush administration and Congress with respect, but with cautious pessimism.

It is too early to tell if the cordial relations that are likely to appear in the first few days and weeks will evolve into cooperation or confrontation, the latter of which was the case the last time a Republican administration in Washington — under the elder George Bush — faced a Likud government in Israel, then led by Yitzhak Shamir.

Much will be determined by events on the ground: What kind of government will Sharon form? Will Israeli-Palestinian peace talks disintegrate into all-out confrontation? What policies will the Israeli premier pursue in fighting Palestinian violence?

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the United States will wait and see whether Sharon is able to form a government and whether it incorporates members of the Labor Party.

The first test of the relationship between the two leaders may come when Sharon first comes to the United States and the Bush team must decide whether to invite him to the White House.

"They may be hesitant giving him the red carpet, but they are going to give him a chance," Makovsky said.

President Bush called Sharon on Tuesday to congratulate him and tell him he looked forward to working with him, "especially with regard to advancing peace and stability in the region."

At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell signaled Tuesday that while the Bush administration would not be "standoffish" with regard to Middle East peace, it would view it "in a broad regional context so that the quest doesn’t stand alone in and of itself."

He also said he expected to visit the Middle East and Persian Gulf and Europe later this month and urged calm in the Arab world.

For its part, the Arab world, analysts say, will be watching the United States’ interaction with Sharon.

It will be looking to see if the Bush administration will break from what they see as one-sided policies during the past eight years, said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Middle East history and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.

"I think, because of his record, Sharon will probably be held to a different standard than another Israeli government," Khalidi said. "If the Bush administration looks carefully at the mood of the Arab world in the last five or six months, they will listen to the anger that has permeated Arab opinions."

Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy said it was already working with official Washington to make sure that the new prime minister would "receive general support."

Just minutes after Sharon was elected on Tuesday, Mark Regev, a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy, said, "There are lots of biased and partisan selective histories of Sharon. "It’s very important to get the true picture of Sharon out there."

Tom Smerling, Washington director of the Israel Policy Forum, said Sharon will use his personal skills to reach out to both the Israeli public and the United States leadership.

Smerling predicted Sharon will attempt to soften his public image, much as he did while campaigning the past few months, from that of a military leader responsible for Israel’s engagement in Lebanon to that of an elder statesman.

Some analysts said it will be easier for Sharon coming into power with a new Republican administration, as opposed to one too closely tied to the Clinton administration’s investment in the peace process.

Sharon’s reception in Congress, however, could be a mixed bag.

On the one hand, Congress as a whole tends to be supportive of the State of Israel, passing large annual aid packages to the Jewish state and issuing resolutions such as supporting Jerusalem as its capital.

Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations predicted that Sharon will have strong support, at least early on, from key religious conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

These Republicans, he said, had embraced hard-line Israeli politics when Clinton took office as a weapon with which to criticize the Democratic president.

But many other members of Congress have been strong advocates of the peace process, and some may be less inclined to support an Israeli leader that takes a tougher line on concessions for peace and is still seen by some to be the spark that set off the latest wave of Palestinian violence.

Former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a strong proponent of the Middle East peace process, said his former colleagues will be "skittish and very apprehensive" about the new Israeli leader.

"The balance of sentiment in Congress is pro-Israel pretty strongly and they will stay that way," Lautenberg said. "But I don’t know, if you measured it in degrees, whether it will be the same as in the past."

Officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have gone on the offensive in recent weeks, seeking to educate lawmakers in the new Congress about the facts on the ground and the causes of the latest casualties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An official of a major Jewish organization said it is becoming clearer that Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in late September was not the cause of the violence, and that lawmakers who are less familiar with the situation in the Middle East must be taught that.

"Ariel Sharon does not come into power without significant baggage, no one can deny that," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But, he said, it is more important to focus on the situation that brought him to power — specifically Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s refusal to agree to concessions made in the last phases of the peace process.

AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr said his lobbying organization is not taking any votes for granted in Congress but remains confident that the pro-Israel lawmakers will continue their support despite hesitancy about the new leadership.

"There’s going to be an overwhelming willingness here, because it’s Israel, to work with the leader of Israel, no matter who it is," Kohr said.

JTA staff writer Michael J. Jordan in New York contributed to this report.