Iron Dome battery deployed to central Israel


An Iron Dome anti-missile system battery was deployed to central Israel.

The battery was moved to the Sharon region north of Tel Aviv for the first time, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The region, which includes Netanya and Hadera, is believed to be within range of rockets fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon.

According to the IDF, the battery is being deployed as part of the regular operational process. Israel now has six operational Iron Dome batteries.

An Iron Dome battery deployed near Eilat in southern Israel intercepted rockets fired from Sinai at the tourist enclave last week.

Israel observes Memorial Day with siren, ceremonies


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a national memorial ceremony for Israel's fallen soldiers that no one will succeed in destroying Israel.

“Since the birth of the State of Israel, many have tried to destroy it. They will never succeed. The IDF is stronger than ever,” Netanyahu said Monday at the ceremony on Mount Herzl, moments after a two-minute siren that brings Israelis throughout the country to a standstill on Memorial Day. “We will continue to strengthen our forces and act toward achieving peace with our neighbors and to protect our state. We always remember that we wouldn't be here without our soldiers' willingness to fight for our existence.

“We salute the fallen, our loved ones, the heroes of the State of Israel. May they rest in peace,” he said.

The ceremony was one of hundreds across the country in which Israel remembered its more than 25,000 fallen soldiers and terror victims

Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day, began in Israel on Sunday night with the sounding of a siren.

“We will not forget even for a moment and will always remember those for whom the survival of Israel and its glory are indebted,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an address to bereaved families Sunday night at the national ceremony held at the Western Wall.

Peres praised the courage and spirit of Israeli soldiers and their commanders.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also addressed the bereaved families.

Judah Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, lit the memorial flame Monday at the annual Yom Hazikaron ceremony at the Jewish Agency and National Institutions Compound in Jerusalem in memory of Jews killed in terror attacks and anti-Semitic incidents around the world.

“The last words of my son were, 'My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew and I am a Jew.' For 11 years I have prayed for the moment that I would have the honor to read Daniel’s words in Jerusalem, the city where he celebrated his bar mitzvah,” Pearl said. “Today I can realize that privilege by lighting the memorial flame here in Jerusalem. This is a memorial flame, but it is also the flame of Jewish pride and a collective pledge that terror and evil will never be victorious and that our grandchildren will enjoy a better world.”

Also participating in the ceremony were Daniel Pearl’s two sisters; his wife; Mariane; and his son, Adam, who was born several months after his father’s murder in Pakistan.

Netanyahu at the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting said Sunday, “We are here thanks to Israel's fighters who joined the struggle for our existence, thanks to those who survived the wars and thanks to those who fell. We do not forget, even for a second, that we are here thanks to the fallen.”

On Saturday night, Netanyahu visited the grave of his brother, Yonatan, who died in 1976 during the rescue of kidnapped Israelis in Entebbe, Uganda.

Some 92 names were added to the list of Israel's fallen this year.

According to the Ministry of Defense, there are 17,553 bereaved families of security personnel in Israel, 2,324 orphans, and 4,964 widows of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment.

More than 1.5 million Israelis will visit military cemeteries throughout Yom Hazikaron. The end of Yom Hazikaron on Monday night marks the start of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

Also Sunday, in advance of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics released its annual population report, which found that Israel’s population hit 8 million for the first time. It represents an increase of 1.8 percent, or 137,000 people, over last year.

Sharon marks five years in coma


Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in a coma five years after suffering a massive stroke.

There were no official events Tuesday to mark the five-year anniversary of the stroke, which ended Sharon’s political career. But he was briefly remembered Monday at a Likud Party briefing and in a column written by former colleague Tzachi Hanegbi in The Jerusalem Post.

Sharon remains hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center of Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv. He has returned home for weekend visits, according to reports.

Ariel Sharon moved to ranch first time since coma


Ariel Sharon was moved to his ranch for the first time since he fell into a coma in January 2006.

The former Israeli prime minister will spend the weekend at the ranch in the Negev desert, aides said of his move Friday.

Next week, he will return to the Tel Aviv hospital where he has been since he suffered a massive stroke while prime minister.

He will return to the ranch in upcoming weekends to test the possibility of moving back to his home permanently.

More on this story from these sources:

New York Times: In Coma, Ariel Sharon Is Moved Home
Ha’aaretz: Comatose ex-PM Ariel Sharon about to return home

Northern Israel needs investment to bolster it — security and development are linked


The graffiti on the Galilean bomb shelter that greeted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wasted no words: “Wake up Sharon, Olmert’s in a coma.”

Watching Olmert tour upgraded and refurbished bomb shelters in the north after the release of the Winograd Report last spring prompted jokes in Israel about rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Much worse, the hapless images of Olmert checking the bomb shelter shower knobs suggested unfortunate associations for more than 1 million Israelis who fled the war temporarily, many of whom have been scouting for new locations ever since.

As a former intelligence chief told me upon reading Milken Institute’s data on Galilean economic conditions: “You are right. There is negative out migration from the north to the center of the country and from the center to the Diaspora.”

And that out migration is Israel’s enemies’ ultimate objective in launching wars they can’t win in conventional terms. They seek to create the perception that the country has no future.

Thanks in part to the Israeli government’s inaction, that plan is succeeding. The economic situation of northern Israel was deteriorating even prior to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Five years before rockets fell, the north experienced net negative out migration of 23.2 percent. In other words, 33,000 Israelis had already abandoned the north even prior to rockets falling.

These problems were only exacerbated after the war. Poverty levels continue to hit 29 percent of families in the north vs. 20 percent nationwide. Regional family income in the north is only 74 percent of the national average, and unemployment rates run 20 percent higher in the north than in the rest of country.

But now we are told, the showers in the bomb shelters now are supposed to be working, even if the people aren’t.

All measures of the growing social and economic gaps in Israel are refracted and amplified in northern Israel. According to national security authorities, the strategy of Iran and Hezbollah is to weaken Israel’s northern region what Israelis call “the periphery” economically and make a small country claustrophobic.

This strategy successfully weakens morale and created military and diplomatic advantages during and subsequent to the war. Facing conditions of asymmetric warfare, where the home front and front lines of conflict blur, the linkage between national security and economic security become central. Investment is of urgent importance to fully integrate regions of Israel that are peripheral, due to lack of physical, transportation and social infrastructure.

Many long-term and long-promised projects by the central government in the sphere of infrastructure and commercial/industrial development have been postponed. Emergency aid that poured into the north was insufficient and targeted to relief, rather than economic development. Conditions in northern Israel remain vulnerable and its status is worsening.

According to the evaluation by the government examiner’s report (May 21, 2008), most of the Israeli government’s actions in response to the north remain unfulfilled. The report concludes:

  • The government budgeted NIS 4 billion for northern Israel economic development but only allocated NIS 1.6 billion since the war.
  • The government based the budgetary increase upon contributions from abroad that failed to materialize or were deployed to the southern front with the attacks on Sderot and the northern Negev.
  • The government did not operationally execute the rehabilitation plans proposed by government ministries.
  • Government ministries were not obligated to execute northern Israel rehabilitation plans and failed to allocate budgets for that objective.

The next Israeli prime minister, like all the others, will speak loudly and often about national security. But the goal of national security is inextricably linked to economic development.

The next government must lead a private-public partnership that will invest billions in infrastructure and economic projects to fully integrate the north to the country’s dynamic growth center. Israel and the Diaspora have the resources to make “periphery” an anachronistic word in the Hebrew lexicon. But we don’t have much time.

Glenn Yago directs the Milken Institute’s capital studies program and the Koret-Milken Institute Fellows program in Israel. Further information can be found in their report on northern Israel at www.milkeninstitute.org.

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.

Holy Moly! Robertson Apologizes


The Rev. Pat Robertson has long preached as though God is on his side — including when he recently cast the stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as God’s punishment for “dividing” the Holy Land by pulling Israel out of Gaza.

But last week, Robertson apparently decided that he’d better have the government of Israel on his side, too, especially if he wants to build a sprawling evangelical center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

In a letter to Sharon’s sons, Robertson asked forgiveness for his comments.

“My zeal, my love of Israel, and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father’s illness,” Robertson wrote.

He also mentioned his concern over the danger to Israel posed by two terrorist groups — Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as by Iran and international anti-Semitism.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said he believed that Robertson had taken to heart the outrage over his comments.

“I felt he was very sincere. He is a great friend of Israel,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon added that he expected that Robertson will again be allowed to participate in the evangelical project. Plans for the site include an auditorium, a broadcast center and a chapel, as well as paths to connect holy sites, according to the Associated Press.

Robertson’s contrition did not arrive in time to head off a rebuke by David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

“Robertson’s comment,” he said, “reflects the height of insensitivity and is also a perfect example of what happens when theological fanaticism clouds good judgment.”

And there was this from fellow evangelical Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: “I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God.”

On the other hand, the episode does suggest a name for Robertson’s proposed theme park: Holier-Than-Thou Land.

 

AFTER SHARON


History will note the premiership of Ariel Sharon as the pivotal moment when Israel decided that ending control over the Palestinians was in its own, crucial interest. And it was the time that Israel took dramatic unilateral action to pursue that course. Disengagement, defeating terrorism and building the security fence have been essential in cutting the Gordian knot between Israel’s interests and Palestinian political will and capacity.

Negotiation, by contrast, is what unites Sharon’s critics. From the Left, Yossi Beilin contends that, since the contours of a final status agreement are known, all that remains is to seal the deal. From the Right, Binyamin Netanyahu advocates the logic of the quid pro quo — “if they give, they’ll receive” — implying that time is on Israel’s side and the ball is in the Palestinian court.

But what if the Palestinians are unwilling or unable to end the conflict? What if they don’t “give”? Does that mean that Israel will stay in the Palestinian areas indefinitely?

Though a regional economic and military superpower, Israel had been powerless in the world of negotiations to address the clearly identified threat to its survival. The Palestinians had the ability to hold Israel hostage by refusing to agree to any settlement that would end Israel’s occupation.

History teaches that a stand-off between “occupier” and “occupied” leads to one outcome: liberation and independence. The Palestinians had time, or at least they used to have it until disengagement.

Before the summer of 2005, the Israeli public had two choices before it, both of which depended on negotiations. The first was the pursuit of a final status accord that was going to face implacable obstacles. A failure to reach agreement on the status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem also would mean no agreements on economics, security or civic issues. The other option was the U.S.-backed “road map” — a sequenced approach to establish a Palestinian state in provisional borders before a Permanent Status Agreement.

Over the past few years, both tracks seemed doomed to deadlock. Profound disagreements on content and structure, the weakness of the Israeli political system and a dysfunctional Palestinian leadership all blocked a permanent accord. The roadmap also seemed stuck due to disagreements on the entry point, and on each of its phases. It is these perceived deadlocks that have legitimized Israeli unilateralism, transforming it into a compelling option.

The powerful logic of disengagement is that it has partially ended Israeli control over the Palestinians without their consent, but with U.S. endorsement and in coordination with other relevant third parties. This combination has galvanized international support and disarmed Palestinian opposition.

The secret of the successful execution of the Gaza disengagement — and an essential part of its logic — relates to Israel’s internal politics. Sharon succeeded in bridging the gap between the requisites of a deal with the Palestinians, on the one hand, and the positions and perceptions of the Israeli mainstream, on the other.

Sharon decided to focus on the latter, designing disengagement around the “stomach” of the Israeli public. He understood that support for disengagement would be solid because it is perceived as good for Israel even under fire and with no reciprocity. At the same time, Sharon understood that expanding disengagement too far might compromise public support, so he rejected all temptations and pressures to go further or to negotiate.

Sharon assumed that politicians would follow the public. He was right.

Disengagement was just the first step of Sharon’s strategy. His public statements reveal that he was seeking to create a new Israeli-Palestinian equilibrium based on five tenets: ending Israeli control over the Palestinians with international recognition; creating a Palestinian state in provisional borders that will assume control over its territory and population; securing Israeli control over issues critical to its national security, such as the airspace; designing a new framework for reaching permanent status; and beginning to permanently resolve the refugee issue within the Palestinian state.

In the apparent absence of a Palestinian “partner,” Sharon’s strategy would have required further unilateral withdrawals. The logic of disengagement may have not been exhausted. For example, under the new unilateralist paradigm, Israel can dismantle isolated settlements and illegal outposts or transfer the Palestinian neighborhoods in north Jerusalem — which are already outside the security fence — to the PA. More powers and responsibilities could be transferred to the PA in the spheres of economics, civic affairs or diplomacy. Eventually, Israel might consider recognizing the PA as a state.

Palestinian statehood has been incorporated into Sharon’s strategy for years. His statements suggest that he may have perceived Palestinian statehood to be as much an opportunity as it was a threat. For example, he assumed that the existence of a Palestinian state would mean that Palestinians could no longer claim to be refugees and that powers of UNRWA, the United Nation’s agency with jurisdiction over matters pertaining to Palestinian refugees, could be turned over to the Palestinian government.

A Palestinian state, furthermore, is a precondition for restructuring the approach toward final status. Once a Palestinian state exists, Israel would be able to negotiate multiple state-to-state agreements focused primarily on the West Bank and Gaza. These agreements might be made piecemeal, rather than holding all progress hostage to a potential comprehensive accord.

Sharon’s strategy to end control over Palestinians enhanced unity within Israel and the Jewish world, boosted Israel’s international standing and offered the only feasible path out of the deadlock. That is his enduring legacy. But he also exits the political stage as the exemplar of pragmatism and realism focused on the pillars of Israel’s national security: preserving a Jewish majority, fighting the nuclear threat, securing personal safety, and bolstering Israel’s alliance with America. This is the consensus agenda that Sharon galvanized into a political force that will transcend his tenure.

By taking the excruciating and courageous step of distancing himself from political and personal friends and allies, as well as, ultimately, from his own political party, Sharon plunged himself and the nation through two years of constant crisis-management toward disengagement and beyond. He demonstrated an outstanding leadership, political skills and executive management. This performance extended beyond security to socio-economics as well.

Many may challenge the logic of disengagement or the wisdom of Sharon’s socioeconomic policies. Few would contest that a large part of his legacy was the capacity to get things done.

Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Re’ut Institute (

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.

 

Israeli Government Gets on With It


Israel is resigning itself to politics without Ariel Sharon.

Shock gripped the Jewish state last week when Sharon was hospitalized with a massive stroke, turning to fears for the worst when he underwent repeated surgery.

Doctors said it could take time to ascertain whether Sharon had suffered cognitive damage or permanent paralysis on the left side of his body from the Jan. 4 stroke. At press time, it also was not certain that Sharon would recuperate at all — his condition was such that it could deteriorate at any moment.

Still, a prognosis took shape whereby Sharon could survive but in a form of forced retirement. Sharon’s chief surgeon, Dr. Jose Cohen, said this week that Sharon had a “very high” chance of surviving.

“He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Cohen as saying. “He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak.”

As the prime minister lay in a post-operative coma Sunday, his temporary replacement, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“We hope that the prime minister will recover, gain strength and with God’s help will return to run the government of Israel and lead the State of Israel,” Olmert said.

While noting that doctors’ reports from Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem had given a “glimmer of hope” as to Sharon’s chances of recuperating, Olmert said matters of state were as robust as ever.

“We will continue to fulfill Arik’s will and to run things as he wished,” he said, using Sharon’s nickname. “Israeli democracy is strong, and all of the systems are working in a stable, serious and responsible manner. This is just as it should be and how it shall continue.”

With general elections looming on March 28, the 60-year-old Olmert has his hands full. But he received an early show of support with a weekend phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There was also an internal reprieve from the Likud Party, which decided against resigning from the government, reversing a decision made before Sharon suffered his stroke last week.

“Now is not the time for such moves,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, one of four Cabinet members from the Likud, told Army Radio.

A Channel 10 television survey issued after Sharon was stricken predicted that his new centrist party, Kadima, would take 40 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election if it is led by Olmert. But analysts suggested the showing reflected short-term public sympathy.

The political correspondent for the newspaper Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn, recalled the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, when opinion polls showed his successor, Shimon Peres, as a clear favorite for re-election. In the end, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Peres by the slimmest of margins.

“Instead of presenting himself as pressing ahead with Rabin’s path, Peres made the mistake of insisting that he was an autonomous candidate,” Benn said, suggesting Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, was wise to portray himself as a reluctant stand-in for Sharon.

Yet the Channel 10 survey found that Peres, should he lead Kadima, would perform better than Olmert, taking 42 Knesset seats.

Though Peres quit the Labor Party last year to back Sharon, he has yet to formally join Kadima. But he voiced support for Olmert, who advanced the idea of a unilateral Israeli pullout from occupied Gaza prior to Sharon’s public embrace of the strategy.

“He supported the policies of Mr. Sharon and even occasionally was ahead of him,” Peres told Britain’s Sky Television. “The policies for peace, the continuation of the policies of Sharon, will have my full support.”

 

Not All Wish Sharon Well


Words of concern and sympathy poured in from all over the world after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a major stroke. Especially striking were supportive comments from quarters that had once cast Sharon as an inflexible hawk — or even a war criminal — but who now gave him credit as a force for progress toward peace in the Middle East.

The condolences, however, were not unanimous — and some critics made for odd bedfellows.

Predictably, a barb arrived from new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s quickly become the most quotable anti-Semite in office today in the wake of his calls for Israel’s destruction and his questioning of whether the Holocaust occurred.

“Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final,” said Ahmadinejad, as reported by the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency. Ahmadinejad was referring to the 1982 massacre of Palestinian civilians by a Lebanese Christian militia at two refugee camps.

An Israeli commission of inquiry held Sharon, who was Israel’s defense minister at the time, indirectly responsible for not anticipating the carnage. Sharon was forced to resign, which, at the time, seemed to end his political career.

Ahmadinejad, at least, was referring to events on earth. It was for the Rev. Pat Robertson, the warhorse of America’s religious right, to bring higher powers into his critique.

Speaking on the “700 Club” last week, Robertson suggested that Sharon and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995) had been treated harshly by God for dividing Israel.

“He was dividing God’s land,” Robertson said. “And I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, ‘This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.'”

 

Port Town Harbors ‘Oasis of Judaism’


The captivating simplicity of Onset, Mass., sneaks up on you. In this quaint harbor town, the main activity is perhaps taking walks to the harbor to watch the boats sail and the sun glisten on the water. Therein lies its charm, as well as a hidden jewel of a shul near the bridge at the entrance to town.

Housed in a small, clapboard synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel has somehow stayed afloat since the 1940s. The architecture isn’t ornate, and the minyans are modest, but the sweetness of davening in its intimate sanctuary evokes an old-country feeling.

It’s a far cry from Onset’s heyday in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when the village served as Boston’s equivalent of the Catskills. The town, located in Plymouth County, is an hour by ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and 20 minutes from Plymouth. It takes about four hours to travel from New York City, but that hasn’t stopped many regular summer visitors. (From the ’50s to the mid-60s, when his wife died, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the Rav, summered here.)

Families from Boston’s Brookline area, about an hour away, who had bought summer homes in Onset, helped the community hold on. The atmosphere began to change in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when the Brookline families started to sell. A number of Conservative families also moved from Onset further down Cape Cod.

Until about 10 years ago, there was a holdover from busier times: a kosher bakery next door to the shul. The town has slowly become more of a tourist destination for Jewish visitors, mostly from Montreal, Toronto and New York.

It’s like “a little oasis of Judaism in the middle of the desert,” community stalwart Eli Hauser said.

For 50 years, the shul has pulled together a minyan throughout the summer and into the High Holy Days. Since the mid-80s, that has often involved relying on residents from the nearby town of Sharon, a heavily Jewish-populated suburb of Boston. With lots of phone calls and some cajoling of college kids and young couples, it somehow always works out.

Hauser, a resident of Sharon — about 40 minutes away by car — remembers when his father bought their summer home in 1959.

“It was cheaper for him to pay the mortgage than to rent for the summer,” Hauser said.

Nine years later, his father upgraded and moved next door, beginning a family tradition that Hauser, his wife and three children still maintain. He comes down for the weekend; his wife and children stay for a week or two each summer. They all remain for the High Holy Days.

“You get folks who come every year for a week or two or three, or a weekend every single year, going for 10 or 20 years,” Hauser said. “Some come every third year, and others come and become members.”

Over the years, of course, the makeup of the minyan has changed from a more homogenous crowd to a wide cross-section of Orthodoxy, creating a palpable sense of achdut, or unity. During the summer, the shul draws anywhere from 10 to 15 men and an equal number of women. At the peak vacation time in August, those numbers can double.

All sorts of traditional Jews help comprise the minyan. There are representatives of Young Israel, Chabad, Chasidim from Montreal, Charedim, Carlebach Chasidim, very-left wing and Conservadox.

“Everyone wants to come together,” Hauser said. “They really value that here in the middle of nowhere, there’s a minyan.”

For more information on Congregation Beth Israel, e-mail CapeShul@att.net.

 

Center Court


At the Mercedes-Benz Cup doubles final last Sunday at UCLA, the clumps of Israelis in the grandstands waved their blue-and-white flags between points and yelled out encouragement in Hebrew. They were cheering on the team of Yoni Erlich and Andy Ram, who had reached the finals by defeating the top-seeded team in the world, Americans Bob and Mike Bryan.

At one point a woman began chanting, “Yisrael! Yisrael!” and a few others joined in, but mostly people just clapped and smiled, thrilled that their country could put such a team on center court.

Given the news from Israel this week, the tournament setting — a spirited but genteel competition on a quiet, sunny day — was all the more incongruous. The country faces one of the watershed moments in its history. Make no mistake: When Israel begins its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza — the slated date is Aug. 16 — a new chapter of history books will be written. It is a huge event in the life of the country, and in the saga of the Jews.

Much of this issue is devoted to the pros, the cons, the risks and the rewards of the withdrawal. “Disengagement” is a plan that has the support of the majority of Jews in Israel and America, but thoughtful and caring critics also have raised their voices.

Indeed, the plan promoted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pull Israeli citizens and soldiers out of land Israel has controlled since 1967 has shattered long-standing political categories and created a confusing political realignment.

Are left-wing supporters of the Sharon’s Likud government now de facto right-wingers? Is Sharon, once the nation’s fiercest hawk, now its most effective dove? What of right-wingers who championed Sharon two years ago? Where do they turn for political leadership? And what of Sharon’s long-standing left-wing critics? Is it strategically wise for them to put forward a left-wing critique of Sharon at this critical moment, when the prime minister has embraced a major tenet of the left-wing agenda? What are the nuances of and divisions within the new left and the new right?

“I’m for getting out of Gaza,” one left-wing Israeli diplomat told me last week. “But I’m against unilateral withdrawal.” Sharon, he said, has gone about it all wrong: using anti-democratic means to ensure a demographic result that he hopes will strengthen Israeli democracy. The diplomat would have preferred more coordination with the Palestinians, including more concessions from Palestinians.

The diplomat also said that there’s a very good chance the withdrawal will be seen by Palestinians as a victory for terrorism, even though such a conclusion would be yet another catastrophic mistake on their part.

Leaders like Natan Sharansky have voiced similar warnings from the right, or the new right, and Sharon has successfully squelched their influence for now.

“Oh, it’s going to happen,” the diplomat told me, when I asked if opponents and threats of civil war would deter Sharon. “There is going to be a withdrawal.”

And so, no one knows what will happen.

Viewed from this side of the ocean, Israel should be reaping praise for all its pain. The American churches that have supported total or partial divestment from Israel need to reconsider their foolish untimely punishment in light of Israel’s unprecedented step. Sadly, some critics on the left can’t bring themselves to credit Sharon and the Bush administration for pursuing a risky step toward de-occupation; these naysayers most likely will never be satisfied with anything short of Israel’s demise.

As for the choices available to Sharon, the real world offered him a messy set of options, and he chose the one he believes will make his country safer.

Trying to understand Sharon’s position, I thought again of the tennis match. Never mind that the doubles team, in the end, lost. Anybody with even a cursory understanding of Jewish history will tell you there was something miraculous in their being there at all. Throughout Jewish history, normalcy has never been a given.

Israel remains a small country of great promise, great achievement and great peril. Ideally it would be a bigger country, but the dream of modern Zionism has always been to sustain a normal life in a normal country.

What Sharon has done is seize an opportunity to come closer to the Zionist dream, by sacrificing the Zionist ideal. Let’s pray he’s made the right call.

 

The Disengagement Summer


The column of armored SUVs waited, engines humming, as a phalanx of bodyguards ushered Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into the third truck from the end. As the convoy cleared the main gate of the Israeli government head’s residence, a set of decoy vehicles turned north, toward Jerusalem, while the remaining units proceeded south toward the Negev, where Sharon planned to tour absorption sites being built for hundreds of Israeli families soon to be evacuated from their Gaza Strip homes.

For Sharon, the site inspections this spring were a welcome excursion beyond his Jerusalem office compound or his Negev ranch. But for officers charged with protective security, the outing rivaled an elite combat operation.

Hours earlier, crack teams descended on each of the six kibbutzim and farming villages on the morning’s itinerary, creating “sterile” zones for Sharon to meet with prescreened residents and local leaders. At each stop, a bridgehead of agents cleared the way for the advancing prime minister while, 15,000 feet overhead, an unmanned reconnaissance drone scanned the scene with high-powered optics.

“We don’t spare any effort, money and tools in order to protect the prime minister from the growing threat,” Avi Dichter, the recently retired director of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, told JTA.

Dichter was talking less about Palestinian terrorists seeking to harm Sharon than about “Jewish ultra-extremists who are sure that one way to block the disengagement is by harming, if not killing, the prime minister,” he said, referring to the controversial plan to withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank that Sharon pushed through his government.

As the planned mid-August pullout approaches, many fear that protests against the Sharon government could give way to acts of violence. As ringleaders from the far right vow to thwart the withdrawal, security officials are increasingly warning of the prospect of Jewish terrorism.

According to Dichter, the Shin Bet has assessed a number of scenarios, including the prospect of a Jewish suicide bomber.

“We’re not ruling out a Jewish suicide bomber who might use ‘tamut nafshi pilishtim’ as his rationale,” Dichter said, referring to Samson’s words in the Bible as he brought down the Philistine temple around himself, “Let me die with the Philistines.”

The Knesset Finance Committee last month authorized a budgetary increase of nearly $90 million to cover extra costs associated with Sharon’s personal protection, which a committee aide estimated at some $230 million a year.

While many protective measures were mandated by a commission of inquiry following the 1995 assassination of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — and extended to a wider net of officials after Palestinian terrorists murdered Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze’evi in October 2001 — one recently retired Shin Bet official said the security around Sharon was unprecedented and was directly related to the Jewish terror threat.

“The tension here, the atmosphere here, seems like we’re on the eve of a civil war,” Sharon noted in an interview earlier this year on NBC television. “All my life I fought to defend Jews. Now, for the first time, I am taking steps to defend myself from Jews.”

Little more than a decade ago, Rabin used to walk the Tel Aviv streets to his Shabbat-morning tennis session. With his security detail trained to keep watch from a deferential distance, dog walkers and other early risers had no difficulty approaching Rabin in his tennis whites.

“Rabin rejected the notion that he could become a target for domestic violence,” said Oded Ben-Ami, who served as Rabin’s media adviser at the time.

Even as the atmosphere grew increasingly menacing, with political opponents and rabbinical authorities demanding Rabin’s removal for his “traitorous” dealings with the then PLO leader Yasser Arafat, his 1995 slaying by a religious university student stunned Israel and the world.

On that fateful night in November 1995, Israelis lost not only a leader but also their relatively free access to those in positions of power in the government.

In retrospect, said Hezi Kalo, a former Shin Bet official, the incitement against Rabin pales in comparison with the invective hurled at Sharon and supporters of the withdrawal plan, such as “Sharon: Lily is waiting for you,” a reference to the prime minister’s recently deceased wife.

“Today it’s much uglier. We haven’t learned our lesson,” Kalo said. “We’ve already seen how verbal violence can lead to murder.”

Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party legislator who chairs the Knesset Subcommittee on Defense Planning and Policy, is privy to what he said were ominous briefings by security officials concerning the Jewish terror threat.

“The potential for political assassination and civil war here are no longer just rhetorical,” he said. “The poisonous atmosphere is getting worse.”

“We’re hearing very disturbing reports about the theft and stockpiling of IDF weapons by a small minority of fanatics who could sweep up the entire Israeli society and the region into catastrophe,” he said.

Beyond political assassinations, catastrophic scenarios range from the indiscriminate killing of Jewish civilians to guerrilla-style warfare against military and police units charged with implementing the withdrawal. Details of one plan that could have resulted in scores of victims were revealed May 18 in an indictment brought against two brothers, residents of the West Bank settlements Yitzhar and Homesh.

According to charges brought in Tel Aviv District Court, the pair loaded two gasoline-doused vehicles with mattresses, tires and other flammable items and planned to set them ablaze at one of the most congested areas of Tel Aviv’s Ayalon freeway during the morning rush hour.

“The suspects practically and intentionally endangered the security and the lives of all drivers and citizens in the vicinity of the vehicles,” the charge sheet proclaimed. “All this was driven by the suspects’ opposition to the disengagement plan.”

Dichter said the early May plot easily could have become a double suicide attack.

“Certainly they would have been killed instantly,” he said of the two planners, “but the rest would have depended on who crashed into them — a passing bus filled with children? A fuel tanker? God only knows what could have happened there.”

Soldiers will not be precluded from defending themselves if settlers open fire during the withdrawal, said the IDF’s new chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who called on settlement movement leaders to rein in extremists and prevent events from spiraling out of control.

So, too, have dozens of rabbis who have banded together to criticize colleagues whose interpretations of Jewish religious law appear to sanction violence and insubordination in the army.

“We have a special responsibility to preserve pikuach nefesh,” or the sanctity of life, Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, the head of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, told JTA in July.

Leaders of the Yesha settler council have backed resistance to the withdrawal but stress that such resistance should be nonviolent.

Gilad and 80 other rabbis — many of them passionately opposed to the withdrawal plan — insist that civilians must not take the law into their own hands, nor should soldiers refuse orders from their commanders.

Kalo, now a research fellow at the Herzliyah-based Institute for Counter-Terrorism, stresses that most in the right-wing camp are patriotic citizens exercising their right to protest nonviolently against what they truly believe is a betrayal by Sharon and his government.

Nevertheless, Kalo estimates that there are dozens of hard-core opponents, many of them veterans of elite IDF fighting units, with the capability and intention of carrying out terrorist acts.

Meanwhile, Sharon and top brass from the IDF and police force are trying to boost the morale of soldiers who will have to confront any anti-withdrawal extremists. As the clock ticks down to the mid-August evacuation, senior officers sense that the esprit de corps is eroding, particularly among troops from nationalist communities where the anti-withdrawal slogan “A Jew does not expel a Jew” has deeper resonance.

In the past several weeks, nearly three-dozen soldiers have been disciplined, reassigned or arrested for refusing orders, a top Israeli general told JTA in late July.

In addition to the possibility of Jews attacking other Jews, security officials also are afraid of a Jewish extremist attack on the Temple Mount mosques in Jerusalem or other Islamic sites. Their vigilance led to the arrest in April of four suspects in two separate attack plots.

Those who hope for a peaceful outcome this summer often look back to the 1982 evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Sinai — part of Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt — when worst-case scenarios didn’t materialize.

“We were ready for the phenomenon of snipers,” recalled Oded Tyrah, a retired IDF brigadier general who managed the withdrawal operation in Sinai’s Yamit settlement. “We had a unit of Golani anti-terror forces ready to go, but we didn’t deploy them.”

As challenging and heart-rending as the Sinai evacuation was, security sources say it may seem like child’s play compared with the pullout from Gaza and the northern West Bank. This time around, they face a more emotional and committed group of resisters who have a much more spiritual, financial and cultural attachment to the place they’ve called home — some for more than 20 years.

Simha Weiss, 47, who has lived for 16 years in Shalev, a tiny settlement in southern Gaza, insists most longtime residents of the cluster of Jewish communities known as Gush Katif would never think of provoking violence against Israeli forces who come to evacuate them.

“These soldiers are like my own children,” she said. “I think I speak for most when I say we will never lift a hand against them, nor will they against us.”

Nevertheless, the mother of six said she fears events could lead to bloodshed.

“I’m afraid there will be very tough violence,” Weiss said. “It will be Jew against Jew.”

“More than 90 percent of the people in Gush Katif are very loving and law-abiding. We don’t want violence,” she said. “But the other small percentage, they are looking for trouble.”

There’s also concern about what will happen in the northern West Bank communities that also are scheduled for evacuation. Since Passover, 30 families and another 25 young men have moved to Sa-Nur to “assist us in our fight against the government’s expulsion plan,” the community spokeswoman Miriam Adler said.

Speaking to reporters in early July, ahead of the government’s closure of Gush Katif, Adler said thousands of people might flock to Sa-Nur to join what she predicted could evolve into armed resistance. And while security forces also are expected to cordon off Sa-Nur and the other three northern West Bank settlements slated for evacuation after Gaza, residents say it will be much more difficult to limit the influx of supporters due to the area’s hilly topography.

Adler said plans called for groups to hide in the hills, barricade themselves in structures and otherwise “drive the security forces crazy.”

“We won’t initiate any violence, but developments in the field will depend on the military,” she told visiting reporters. However, she warned, “If security forces will start to beat pregnant women or pull babies out of mothers’ arms, things may spiral out of control.”

Adler said residents have no intention of turning in their weapons to security forces, insisting that they need them for self-defense against “the enemy.”

Asked if she considers the IDF the enemy, she replied, “The IDF is our opponent, not our enemy. By Ariel Sharon sending the army in here against us as if we are terrorists, he is turning the army into our opponent.”

The IDF’s Tyrah said he’s tired of the doomsday scenarios about withdrawal, which lend what he considers unwarranted credibility to “marginal criminals and hooligans.”

“After the evacuation,” Tyrah said, “we’ll have to live with these people and fight alongside them against the real enemy. So it’s imperative that our government and our security establishment accomplish this mission with utmost determination and professionalism, but also with compassion.”

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Israel Is Smaller in Size But Stronger in Spirit


The withdrawal from Gaza, scheduled to begin in mid-August, is one of the most important events in the history of the State of Israel. It will determine whether Israel can continue to be a Jewish and democratic state.

In an Alert Paper published in June 2003 by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, titled “Jewish Demography: Facts, Outlook, Challenges,” a renowned demographer, professor Sergio DellaPergola, makes the following prediction: Sometime around 2014, there will be between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea more Arabs than Jews. My interpretation of this chilling statistic is that in less than 10 years, if Israel keeps the West Bank and Gaza and still wants to remain Jewish, then it will become an apartheid state; and if it wants to remain a democracy, then it will lose its Jewish nature. Or, in the words of a Palestinian poet-in-exile, Mahmud Darwish, “If you don’t want a Palestinian state on 22 percent of the land today, in 20 years there will be a Palestinian state on the whole land.”

Pulling out of Gaza, then, is the beginning of a long journey, which will hopefully bring Israel back to its senses. But is it indeed? Many Sharon mavens believe he wants to get rid of Gaza only to strengthen Israel’s grip on the West Bank and thus coerce the Palestinians into accepting some kind of “autonomy.” The trauma of the Gaza pullout, with the ugly scenes expected to flood TV screens, should supposedly convince the Israelis and the world community that further withdrawal is impossible. Sharon even went to Ariel (a West Bank city of 18,000) recently and promised it would forever be ours.

If I were living in Ariel, I would start looking for a moving company, just in case. Not only because Sharon said something and maybe meant the opposite, but because the basic analysis of DellaPergola remains unchanged. Whether Sharon meant it or not, he has just started a process bigger than he had envisioned — namely, bringing Israel to its viable borders. It remains to be seen if in due course he will be the one to break the bad news to the West Bank settlers or if someone else will lead us in the next painful phase. Either way, it has to be someone from the right, because in Israel, only the right can carry out the policy of the left.

Settlers and opponents of the evacuation claim that the way Sharon brought about this plan was undemocratic: He dismissed his campaign promises, disregarded his reluctant Likud party, fired two right-wing ministers and refused to hold a referendum on the evacuation plan. His conduct reminds one of the Jewish woman, who, in the darkness of the shtetl, mistakenly prepared the cholent (traditional Shabbat stew) in the night pot. The worried woman asked the rabbi if it was kosher. It is kosher, he told her, but it stinks.

It stinks, indeed, yet it’s kosher. It was repeatedly approved by the Knesset, the body representing all Israelis, and by the Israeli Supreme Court. As for Sharon’s sudden U-turn, wasn’t Menachem Begin elected in 1977 on the slogan of Greater Israel only to give Sinai back to the Egyptians when the historic opportunity presented itself? And anyhow, the settlers, who for decades benefited from Sharon’s talents when those helped them in cunningly maneuvering all governments in their favor, should be the last to be surprised and cry gevalt when he suddenly turns against them. As for a referendum, I don’t recall ever being asked if I agreed to settling the West Bank and Gaza. I didn’t.

At stake is not only the future of the settlements, it’s the future of Israel’s democracy. Sharon’s plan to pull out of Gaza is actually about the ability of Israel to turn the will of the people into political action in a democratic way. The execution of the plan will determine whether the Israeli democracy is still a functional one or a democracy in name only, incapable of implementing its most important decisions because veto power has been surrendered to a few extremists.

In the coming days, many of us will watch agonizing scenes coming from Gaza. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the wider perspective. Stepping into an operating room in a hospital while a patient is being operated on might be a disheartening experience. Yet it is a vital act in the road to recovery. Pulling out of Gaza — and later, out of the West Bank — is likewise vital to the survival of Israel. With self-defined borders at last, the State of Israel, democratic and predominantly Jewish, might be smaller in size but stronger in spirit, ready to defend itself if attacked or to give a helping hand to the Palestinians once they embark on a peaceful track.

Uri Dromi is the director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. From 1992 to 1996 he was the spokesman for the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments.

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Turmoil Grows as Withdrawal Nears


With Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip scheduled to begin on Aug. 15, escalating right-wing and settler protests threaten to plunge the country into anarchy and could provoke a strong anti-settler backlash.

Protesters last week blocked major highways, poured oil and scattered spikes across a busy road; occupied buildings in Gaza, and threw stones at Palestinians and Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The army and police responded by temporarily declaring the Gaza Strip a closed military zone, ejecting the extremists from occupied buildings and making dozens of arrests.

In an unprecedented spate of interviews and public statements, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned what he called the “hooliganism” of the far right, and vowed that he would not be deterred by it.

However, will authorities be able to maintain law and order in the face of even more extreme protest plans?

Even if they do, Sharon faces other serious challenges. Right-wing soldiers have begun refusing to obey orders, a phenomenon that some fear will spread. There also is talk among rebels in Sharon’s own Likud Party of a move to replace him as prime minister with the more hawkish finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. (See related story on Netanyahu’s visit to Los Angeles on page 20.)

On the other hand, there are signs that the settlers and other withdrawal opponents may have gone too far and have seriously undermined their cause. The media is rife with angry anti-settler columns, and the latest polls show a dramatic increase in support for withdrawal.

The last week of June may prove to have been a turning point. The repeated blocking of traffic on major thoroughfares has incensed ordinary Israelis, and the cat-and-mouse games that anti-withdrawal teenagers played with police trying to keep the roads open have exasperated authorities.

But more devastating for the settler cause have been the images of violence: the near-lynching of an 18-year-old Palestinian by right-wing extremists, and an Israeli soldier injured after being hit by a boulder. It was also feared that the oil and spikes on the highways could cause fatal accidents.

Right-wing leader Moshe Feiglin said that the possibility of a few Israelis dying now as a result of the protests pales in significance next to the large numbers of Israelis, he says, “will surely die” if the withdrawal goes ahead.

The oil and spikes prompted outspoken attacks on the protesters in the press. The most vehement came from crime correspondent Boukie Naeh in Yediot Achronot: “If the police don’t break your bones, I will.”

“The Israeli army and the police should kill a few members of your criminal Jewish gangs and stop the anarchy,” Naeh wrote. “Because if they don’t deal with you today, tomorrow you’ll burn down my house just because I don’t agree with you.”

Avi Bettelheim, deputy editor of the rival Ma’ariv newspaper, was more sanguine. He argued that the mayhem of the past few weeks has done much to discredit the settler cause, and said he now believes the withdrawal will go through more smoothly.

A July 1 poll in Yediot Achronot seemed to bear Bettelheim out. After a steady decline to 53 percent at the start of June, the poll showed support for the government’s withdrawal plan climbing back to 62 percent.

However, other observers aren’t convinced police will be able to handle future protests.

Writing in Ha’aretz, Amos Harel asked, “If the police deploy a 6,000-strong force throughout the country but are unable to prevent roads from being blocked, what will happen during the pullout, when a larger number of police will be busy evacuating” the Gaza Strip?

There is another looming threat that could compound the manpower issue: soldiers refusing to carry out evacuation-related orders. Three soldiers already have refused to participate in withdrawal-related operations, and have been sentenced to up to 56 days in jail.

Moreover, Orthodox soldiers, serving according to a special arrangement with their yeshivas, known as hesder yeshivas, are asking to be exempted from having to evacuate settlers.

The army does not intend to make it easy for soldiers who refuse orders. Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, military chief of staff, has warned that if hesder rabbis continue telling students to refuse evacuation-related orders, the IDF may reconsider the whole hesder project, which mixes religious study with army service.

Sharon, clearly disturbed by the threat of anarchy and refusal, gave brief interviews to all the major Hebrew dailies. He told Ha’aretz that “under no circumstances can we allow a lawless gang to take control of life in Israel.”

In Yediot Achronot, Sharon declared, “What we are witnessing is not a struggle over the withdrawal from Gaza, but a battle over the character of the state.”

He told Ma’ariv, “This wild behavior will stop. Period.”

Despite all the opposition, Sharon is determined to go through with the withdrawal.

One thing that could still stop Sharon would be a Likud Party coup to oust him and install Netanyahu in his place. Addressing a major economic conference in Jerusalem, Sharon declared that he was aware of how his opponents “are planning my political ouster.” Although Sharon didn’t mention him by name, everyone knew he meant Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s moves will be crucial. He is under pressure from the far right to put himself at the head of the Likud rebels and move to topple Sharon. But as a would-be prime minister himself, Netanyahu needs to be careful not to ally himself too closely with the far right.

Netanyahu voted Sunday to delay the withdrawal by three months, although the Cabinet defeated the proposal by an 18-3 vote.

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Israel Foresees Pullout Headaches


 

On the face of it, nothing illustrates Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s political odyssey from settlement builder to settlement dismantler better than a recently published report on West Bank outposts.

The report details how government ministers and officials broke the law and circumvented regulations in building and funding dozens of unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank.

Sharon, once one of the greatest culprits, was the man who, in his new incarnation, commissioned what he knew would be a scathing indictment.

But it’s not that simple. Sharon commissioned the report under intense American pressure to take down the outposts. And so far, despite the report’s findings and recommendations, the Americans are not convinced he intends to act.

The response to the report highlighted another key issue. It shows just how difficult it will be to implement Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank.

Israeli officials are expecting such massive resistance to the disengagement that they have developed a detailed plan of operation to carry it out.

After adopting the report’s findings, the government deferred dismantling the 24 outposts it had long promised the Americans to remove. That led some politicians and pundits to ask how, if it backs away from taking down tiny outposts, the government will dismantle 25 full-fledged settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank when the time comes this summer?

Sharon commissioned the report to demonstrate good faith and carry out commitments he made to the Bush administration last April. After promising the Americans to dismantle unauthorized outposts built since March 2001, he found he did not know the genesis and precise legal status of each one. Similarly, under pressure not to expand full-fledged, authorized settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he found he lacked accurate information on their precise borders.

So he set up two teams: One, under lawyer Talia Sasson, was to clarify the legal status and history of the unauthorized outposts. The other, under reserve Brig. Gen. Baruch Spiegel, was to demarcate the physical boundaries of all existing settlements.

But the Americans remain unimpressed.

American officials note that although Sharon had shown good faith, they still do not have a list of unauthorized settlements or a timetable for their evacuation. Nor has Spiegel yet produced the required border documentation.

The report by former chief prosecutor Sasson, released last week, charged that ministers and senior aides, some of them settlers, had systematically turned a blind eye to the law.

It also charged that budgets were funneled clandestinely through the Housing Ministry, that building permission was covertly granted by the Defense Ministry. There was a system of saying one thing in public and doing the opposite behind the scenes and Likud and Labor administrations were equally at fault.

“The picture that is revealed is one of crass violation of the law by state institutions, public authorities, regional councils in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and settlers, all by creating the false impression of an organized system operating according to law,” Sasson wrote.

The most important thing now, she said, was to regulate the procedures and stop the double talk.

In response, the government set up a committee under Justice Minister Tzippi Livni to root out the covert practices by laying down clear regulations for authorizing and financing outposts and initiating new legislation if necessary.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Sharon was adamant about the need to dismantle the 24 outposts established since March 2001. That was an Israeli commitment in the internationally approved Israeli-Palestinian peace “road map,” he explained. But he did not propose any timetable.

That brought deep differences between Likud and Labor ministers to the fore. The Labor ministers wanted to see immediate action; the Likud ministers favored waiting.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz of the Likud argued that disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank was Israel’s top policy priority, and the government could not afford to be sidetracked by other issues.

But Labor’s Haim Ramon countered that to do nothing now would be to show weakness and send a message to the extremists that they could stop the disengagement by using threats and force.

Rejecting the Labor argument, the government decided to concentrate only on implementing disengagement.

To that end, 18,000 police officers — three-quarters of the entire Israeli police force — and two army divisions have been assigned to the job, and already they are gearing up to meet a wide range of settler and extremist threats.

Only when this huge operation is complete, Sharon and Mofaz say, will they focus on the outposts that the Sasson report, American pressure and Israel’s road map commitments demand they take down.

Whether the United States and the rest of the international community have the patience to go along with this policy remains to be seen.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report

 

Making 2005 a Year of Peace in Israel


 

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon predicts 2005 will be the year of peace — and Israelis, Palestinians and key members of the international community are taking steps to make it happen.

In a keynote speech last week at the Herzliya Conference on Israel’s National Security, Sharon declared that “2005 will be the year of great opportunity,” with “a chance for an historic breakthrough in our relations with the Palestinians, a breakthrough we have been waiting for years.”

Sharon’s upbeat tone reflected a contagious optimism that has all the key players focused on an ambitious peacemaking timetable: establishment of a broad-based Israeli government in December; Palestinian Authority presidential elections in January; an international conference in London in February; Israeli “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in the summer; negotiations based on the “road map” peace plan leading to a Palestinian mini-state by early 2006; and then final peace negotiations between Israel and the provisional Palestinian government.

To help the Palestinians hold free and independent elections, Israel intends to limit military operations, pull the army out of Palestinian towns and cities and dismantle roadblocks.

The initial decision was to withdraw from urban areas 24 hours before the Jan. 9 balloting and return 24 hours later. But Israeli defense officials now say they’re considering staying out for longer if the new P.A. leadership shows that it’s willing and able to curb terrorism.

Israeli intelligence analysts say they expect PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas, the front-runner for P.A. president, to take on the terrorists in a way he did not as prime minister last year under Yasser Arafat, whose death Nov. 11 opened the way for diplomatic progress.

If Abbas does succeed in creating a more stable order, Israel will be able to coordinate much of the disengagement plan with him. Even if not, Sharon says he is determined to carry out the withdrawal to the letter and on schedule.

Sharon sees disengagement as the main engine for change in 2005, and says that while he is prepared to be open-minded on the amount of coordination with the Palestinians and other players, he is determined to stick to the timetable.

To ensure that the international community sees in the Israeli pullout an end to the occupation of Gaza, Deputy Attorney General Shavit Matias has recommended that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from all Gaza territory, including the perilous Philadelphia route along the border with Egypt. That will mean entrusting Egypt with the task of stopping arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip after Israel withdraws. Israel apparently also has become more open to the idea of an international presence in Gaza.

The National Security Council, which is putting the final touches on the disengagement details, sees two distinct stages in the plan: Israeli withdrawal, in which Israel is the main player; followed by utilization of the pullout to improve the quality of Palestinian life and create conditions for negotiations based on the road map.

This is where the British-initiated international conference comes in. The idea is for the Americans, Europeans and possibly other international players — but not the Israelis — to meet quietly with the new Palestinian leaders in London in February to assess how the international community can help them institute the security, governmental and economic reforms they pledged under the road map.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was due to arrive in Israel to discuss the conference’s terms of reference. His goal is to help bridge the crucial transition from disengagement to road map-based peace talks.

Indeed, for 2005 to become the year of peace, the road map will have to take off. A lot will depend on how Israel interprets Palestinian compliance with its demands for far-reaching democratic reforms and an end to terrorism.

European diplomats say they fear Israel will demand Palestinian democratization as an excuse to hold up the process. For their part, Israeli officials say that dumping the road map and trying to tackle final-status issues such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees prematurely — as the Palestinians and some Europeans have demanded — is a recipe for disaster.

Several months ago, according to Israeli officials, European decision-makers assumed John Kerry would win the U.S. presidential election and would be less committed than President Bush to the strict sequence of reciprocal steps the road map demands of Israel and the Palestinians. After Bush’s re-election and Arafat’s death, however, the Europeans apparently are ready to give the road-map formula another chance.

If successful, that formula will lead to an end to the terrorist war, further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian ministate. Only then would negotiations on permanent peace issues — including final borders, Jerusalem and refugees — take place.

If the two sides can make that kind of progress, 2005 indeed will be crowned as the year of peace. Despite the optimism, however, that’s still a big if.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

 

Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza


Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers — using both carrots and sticks.

Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.

Despite police objections — "no budget, no manpower" — the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.

So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.

Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers — about $400 million — the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.

The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it’s not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.

It’s assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.

Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.

The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.

Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.

An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.

Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.

The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can’t be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.

The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months’ salary to find alternative employment.

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.

"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."

The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."

When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party’s Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."

He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:

\n

• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.

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• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.

\n

• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.

\n

• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill — "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" — will be brought to the Knesset.

It’s assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.

After Likud voters rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.

"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I’m sure we will all be there to open the next school year."

Sharon Defuses Settlement Crisis


For a day or two in early August, Israel and the United States seemed to be heading for a showdown neither side wanted.

Quick action by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon managed to avert a looming crisis over Israeli building in the West Bank, but the tension could resume as Israel comes under pressure to meet its commitments to dismantle illegal settlement outposts and not to expand existing settlements.

Tension between Washington and Jerusalem was triggered by reports of massive Israeli construction in and around the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, a bedroom community about three miles east of Jerusalem.

The Americans also wanted to know why Israel hadn’t removed dozens of "illegal" or "unauthorized" West Bank outposts, despite earlier promises. In early August talks in Jerusalem, Sharon was able to convince a high-level U.S. envoy, Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council, that he was acting in good faith and that he soon would take extensive action to dismantle the outposts.

Simultaneously, Sharon took a number of steps to show the Americans that he meant business: He froze several Housing Ministry projects, despite the fact that they already had received government approval, and he offered the Americans detailed explanations of what was happening on the ground and his government’s difficulties in dealing with the settler problem.

Israeli officials also went to unprecedented lengths to coordinate data on the outposts with the Americans. For the first time, the two sides were able to produce an agreed-upon list of which outposts should be dismantled.

Sharon told the Americans that he had ordered a Justice Ministry attorney to prepare new legislation that would make it easier for Israel to dismantle the outposts before the U.S. presidential election in November. Sharon also ordered Dov Weisglass, his bureau chief, to give the Americans a progress report in the next few weeks.

To ensure that there would be no confrontation now with the Americans, Sharon froze a number of projects approved by former Housing Minister Effie Eitam, the hawkish leader of the National Religious Party, who resigned over Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.

In his capacity as acting housing minister, Sharon ordered the suspension of tenders for about 1,300 housing units in the settlements of Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Betar Elit, Geva Binyamin, Karnei Shomron and Ma’aleh Adumim until the new minister, Tzippi Livni of Sharon’s own Likud Party, examines whether the projects contravene understandings with the Americans on halting settlement expansion.

As for the building that is proceeding in Ma’aleh Adumim, Sharon explained that this was an old project approved by former Prime Minster Ehud Barak’s government in 1999 and now nearing completion. It was not something his government had approved or could stop, Sharon said.

Some in the Israeli media confused the building in Ma’aleh Adumim with a far more significant plan to join the city to Jerusalem through a continuous network of urban communities scheme known as A-1, which dates to the administration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994. The idea was to build a complex of residential and tourist areas all the way from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem, creating a huge metropolitan area and ensuring Israeli control of Greater Jerusalem.

According to Israeli officials, the A-1 plan was designed to preempt an opposing Palestinian scheme to cut Ma’aleh Adumim off from Jerusalem by continuous north-south building, connecting the villages of Abu Dis, Issawiya and Anata, preventing Jewish territorial contiguity.

So far, neither side has done very much on the ground. In his talks with Abrams, Sharon noted that the plan hadn’t yet been approved in its entirety and maintained that it was not on the agenda, at least for the time being. For now, the Americans seem prepared to give Sharon the benefit of the doubt on building in existing settlements, but they want to see action soon on removal of outposts.

As a first step to show it is acting in good faith, Israel has charged a senior Defense Ministry official, Baruch Spiegel, with comparing Israeli and American data on the outposts and reaching agreement on numbers and locations. The bottom line is that Israel and the United States now agree on the figures: There are 82 outposts in all, including 23 built after March 2001, when Sharon came to power, and which he has promised to remove first.

"These 23 are the main focus of our work now," Spiegel told Israel TV.

The same model has been adopted with regard to the legal issues pertaining to removal of the outposts: A Justice Ministry official, attorney Talia Sasson, has been assigned the task of formulating new legislation to ease their removal.

The old laws, based on Jordanian and Turkish precedents, afford protection for illegal buildings. Ironically, a system that successive Israeli governments exploited to build settlements is now being used to prevent the government from taking them down.

Sasson has been given two months to come up with new legislation that will radically alter the legal position. Sharon has promised the Americans to act quickly once the legislation is in place and to start evacuating outposts well before the presidential election.

As he seeks international support for his disengagement plan, Sharon has no wish for a confrontation with the United States — and the American president, in an election year, has no wish for a clash with Israel that could cost him crucial Jewish votes.

Though there is little American pressure on him now, Sharon is well aware that the Americans and the rest of the international community see his ability to remove outposts as a test of whether he will be able to carry out his far more ambitious disengagement plan, which calls for dismantling more than 20 bona fide settlements.

Sharon’s accommodating tactics seem to have won him breathing space until after the U.S. election. But if he fails to deliver by then or soon afterward, he knows that he will face strong pressure from the elected president and a possible escalation that could jeopardize his main strategic goal: achieving a separation between Israelis and Palestinians, backed by the international community, led by the United States.

Community Briefs


Hollywood Welcomes Israel Foreign Minister

Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a bevy of high-powered Hollywood stars, an achievement granted few foreign dignitaries, during a three-day visit to Los Angeles.

During the 45-minute meeting in his Santa Monica office on Friday, Schwarzenegger spoke with Shalom about trade, the rising global tide of intolerance and the governor’s trip to Israel for the May 2 groundbreaking for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

On Saturday evening, producer Arnon Milchan hosted a private party at his home for Shalom, his wife, Judy, and some Hollywood friends.

Joining in the five-hour party, which lasted late into the night, were the likes of power couples Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Warren Beatty and Annette Benning and Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman, as well as Denzel Washington, Kevin Costner, Angelina Jolie and Naomi Campbell.

Sharon Stone was there, as was director Oliver Stone (no relation), who has not been known hitherto for his pro-Israel sympathies.

The press was not invited, but Moshe Debby, Shalom’s spokesman, reported that the dialogue between the Hollywood contingent and the foreign minister was lively and ranged across the spectrum of Middle East and Israeli-Palestinian problems.

Shalom also met with some 150 community leaders at the headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

When Shalom mentioned that his office has only a very modest budget for hasbarah, or international information and public relations outreach, community activist Guilford Glazer rose and announced that he was giving $1 million in support of Israel’s hasbarah effort.

"I hope that other American Jews will join in this important cause," said Glazer, a retired commercial real estate developer.

During a Friday visit to the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, Shalom warned of growing anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe and the Muslim countries.

"Like terrorism, anti-Semitism is not only threatening Jews, but the whole world," he said.

Shalom announced that he was convening a high-level international conference in June at a Jerusalem venue on anti-Semitism and the danger it represents. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

AJC Takes L.A. Consulars on Whirlwind Tour

About 20 Los Angeles-based diplomats spent six hours on a bus March 16 to absorb Jewish Los Angeles in the first consular corps tour sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

Southern California’s 600,000 Jews seem, "well-organized, very strong, very accommodating, interactive," said Ethiopian Consul General Taye Atske Selassie, who toured several Westside Jewish institutions with colleagues from Argentina, Austria, Belize, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland.

The AJC tour stopped at the Wilshire Boulevard offices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which that same day was hosting Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (see story above). The diplomats did not meet Shalom and instead toured The Federation’s Zimmer Children’s Museum and heard presentations from several Federation-funded agencies.

On the bus, tour guide lecturers included Young Israel of Century City Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Jewish Historical Society President Steve Sass. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Sharon, Abbas Court White House


As the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process inches forward, leaders of both sides are looking to upcoming audiences with President Bush to exert pressure on the other and give the "road map" peace plan some momentum.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, each will seek to persuade the American leader to lean on the other side to move faster — and Bush will be ready to lean on both, Israeli analysts believe.

With domestic criticism growing regarding America’s imbroglio in Iraq, Israeli analysts believe Bush wants progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to help justify the strike against Saddam Hussein. If toppling the Iraqi dictator is seen to have paved the way for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation — and, with it, a better chance of pacifying the Middle East as a whole — the administration can argue that the war was worthwhile, the argument goes.

Bush, therefore, will want to resolve as many of the disputed issues on the table as he can. For the Palestinians, most important are releasing prisoners, dismantling settlement outposts, freezing construction of Israeli settlements and Israel’s West Bank security fence and easing restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

Israel will ask Bush to demand that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups and decommission their weapons and not make do with the groups’ tenuous cease-fire.

Most analysts agree that little progress will be made without concerted American intervention.

More importantly, in their strategic thinking, both Abbas and Sharon put a premium on ties with America. Even before he took over as prime minister, Abbas advocated the use of American and international pressure on Israel, rather than terrorism, to achieve Palestinian goals.

Sharon, who is to meet with Bush on July 29, sees American support as the key to Israel’s position in the world. He believes that ties with the Bush administration must be carefully nurtured and that Israel should seek prior coordination with Washington whenever appropriate, especially in dealing with the Palestinians. In Sharon’s view, it is absolutely vital that the Palestinian issue not be allowed to erode Israel’s ties with Washington.

Of course, there will be tactical maneuvering by both prime ministers, but their meetings with President Bush should be understood in a wider strategic context.

Abbas reportedly will highlight two key issues in his White House meeting on Friday: getting more Palestinian prisoners released and stopping construction of the security fence. He will argue that if Israel is really serious about turning over a new leaf, it should release all Palestinian prisoners, even those with "blood on their hands," i.e., those involved in terror attacks.

On the security fence, the Palestinians have noted the recent sharp differences between Israel and the United States. Israeli officials believe Abbas hopes to use the issue to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States and get the Bush administration to pressure Israel to stop building it, on the grounds that it takes in large swaths of the West Bank and thus prejudges a final territorial accommodation.

Abbas also reportedly will urge Bush to pressure Sharon to put more West Bank cities under Palestinian security control. He argues that unless he has real achievements to show the Palestinian people, his shaky position as prime minister in P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s shadow will be further weakened. Indeed, Abbas hopes his high-profile meeting with Bush will itself give him more standing and credibility on the Palestinian street.

Abbas also apparently intends to use his American sojourn to win support in Congress, the media and the American Jewish community, and has scheduled meetings with key figures in all three groups.

According to aides, Sharon’s main goal will be to convince Bush that the Palestinians must be held to their commitments in the fight against terror. Sharon, they say, will suggest linking further prisoner releases to Palestinian dismantling of militia groups and the collection of illegal weapons.

Sharon will point out that two months have elapsed since the road map was launched at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, in early June. During that time the Palestinians have not taken serious action against Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and Israeli intelligence sources say the terrorist groups continue to arm themselves under cover of the cease-fire. It is time for the Palestinians to act, Sharon will insist.

Sharon hopes to deflect American pressure on Israel by releasing a large group of prisoners and dismantling more illegal West Bank settlement outposts before his meeting with Bush.

As for the fence, Sharon will repeat what he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week: "I am a simple farmer, and I tell you plainly the fence is only a security obstacle to stop suicide bombers, and not in any way a political border."

Sharon has agreed to Palestinian demands to set up a joint Israeli-Palestinian team to agree on a list of prisoners to be released. Though the terrorist groups have made the prisoner release a condition of their cease-fire, it is not one of Israel’s obligations under the road map. However, Israeli officials believe that releasing prisoners may help Abbas’ public stature.

Out of sensitivity to the pressures on Abbas, Sharon has agreed to release some detainees who are members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In deference to Israeli public sentiment, however, he is refusing to release prisoners with blood on their hands.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Sharon’s Dilemma: Which Peace Move?


It has become a familiar equation: Hope for progress toward peace leads not to a drop in Palestinian terror attacks but to their acceleration. Throughout the 1990s, Palestinian terrorists often tried to sabotage the peace process by stepping up their attacks whenever progress seemed likely.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finds himself in a quandary: Does he halt recent momentum toward peace talks until the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, proves that he is willing to confront the terror groups? Or, as the international community is demanding, does Israel make concessions to show Palestinians that Abbas’ stated opposition to terror can pay dividends?

With Abbas in office less than a month, members of Sharon’s inner circle already are expressing doubts about whether the Palestinian can deliver. They believe the concessions that they already have made toward Abbas — such as easing restrictions on Palestinians’ movement in the West Bank — directly contributed to the renewed wave of attacks.

Senior Palestinian officials argue that Sharon has yet to give the embattled Abbas the concessions he needs to persuade Palestinian terrorists to agree to a cease-fire that could breathe life into the "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace, which the United States presented to the two sides late last month. On both sides, there is uncertainty over how much time and energy the United States is prepared to invest to make the road map work.

Sharon had hoped that Abbas’ installation on April 29 would presage a drop in Palestinian terror and at least some initial political movement. But a new wave of suicide bombings, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s incessant machinations against Abbas and open defiance of Abbas by terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have led Israeli officials privately to pronounce Abbas too weak to deal with Palestinian terrorism or take the peace process forward.

Arafat and the terrorists are using the bombings not only to hit at Israel but also to make Abbas’ position untenable, the officials say. Abbas "finds himself in an awkward position that the man who appears to be in charge there, Yasser Arafat, is in collusion with the terrorist organizations, because he has a common interest to make the peace talks fail," explained Avi Pazner an Israeli government spokesman.

In a three-hour meeting between the two prime ministers May 17, the first at such a high level since the Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000, Sharon offered to withdraw Israeli troops from the northern Gaza Strip, allowing Abbas’ forces to take control and show that they could maintain peace and quiet.

Over the last several months, the area has been used to fire Kassam rockets and mortar shells at nearby Israeli towns and villages, especially the Negev town of Sderot. It also is the area in which Mohammed Dahlan, the new Palestinian Authority minister responsible for security, is strongest.

Sharon also offered to withdraw from Palestinian city centers as soon as Abbas and Dahlan felt ready to take over.

In both cases, Israeli officials said, the Palestinians "found excuses" to decline, insisting that Israel formally accept the road map first.

These exchanges reveal a fundamental difference in approach: Sharon wants to see Abbas taking over wherever possible and, if necessary, using force to impose his will on the terrorists. Abbas says he is not yet strong enough and wants to bring about an end to terror through an agreement, rather than confrontation, with the terrorist groups.

The renewed attacks don’t "mean that Sharon won’t meet with Abbas again, but you will certainly understand that you can have no meaningful progress as long as blood is running in the streets," Pazner said.

Abbas urged Sharon to give him time to negotiate a hudna, or cease-fire, with the terrorist groups, saying he could succeed if Israel stopped its counterterror raids and targeted killings of terrorist leaders. What he had in mind was a yearlong cease-fire that would allow Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate without the threat or use of force, Abbas explained.

Dahlan added that it would take about a year to rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority security forces, after which they would be in a position to force the militants to adhere to an extended cease-fire. Until the Abbas meeting, Sharon had opposed this approach on the grounds that the militants would simply use the cease-fire to regroup before launching a new round of terror.

However, Palestinian sources said Sharon intimated at the meeting that if a cease-fire is achieved, he would be ready to give the approach a chance. If true, this constitutes a major change in the Israeli position.

Sharon’s dilemma is how to continue fighting terror without undermining Abbas to such an extent that he will be too weak either to negotiate a cease-fire or use force against terrorists.

Getting the balance right will not be easy: If Israel continues targeted killings and major raids, Palestinians may see Abbas as a straw man who has not eased their suffering. If Sharon holds back, on the other hand, Hamas may be encouraged to launch even bigger attacks on the assumption that Israel will not retaliate.

Another major Israeli dilemma is what to do about Arafat. His alleged role in encouraging terror and deliberately undermining Abbas has led to renewed calls for his expulsion. Three government ministers from Sharon’s Likud Party — Dan Naveh, Yisrael Katz and Tzachi Hanegbi — maintain that there will be no effective cease-fire as long as Arafat is around.

Sharon for now is against expelling Arafat. In a Cabinet meeting March 18, Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, army chief of staff, argued that Arafat would be more dangerous jetting around Europe playing for international sympathy than confined to his headquarters in Ramallah.

More than Arafat, though, it is the ongoing terror that constitutes the biggest threat to the road map and Abbas’ chances of success. According to Israeli security officials, there have been almost 50 attempted attacks in the three weeks since Abbas took office. Five attacks in a space of two days early this week left 11 Israelis dead and scores wounded.

Hamas terror threatens not only Israel and the road map but Abbas himself, especially after some Hamas leaders charged that Abbas is considering trading the Palestinian refugees’ demand to return to homes they abandoned inside Israel 55 years ago for Israeli acceptance of the road map.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, issued an open threat last weekend: "Anyone who bargains over the refugees’ right of return is bargaining over his neck."

Given the new wave of terror, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts agree that only a major U.S. effort can save the road map, and they are not optimistic. Reuven Paz, an expert on fundamentalist terror at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, said that "without a strong American lead, there will simply be more of the same: terror, counterterror and indecisive meetings between Sharon and Abbas."

Other Israeli pundits argue that Sharon willingness to cancel a crucial meeting this week with President Bush because of the bombings does not augur well. They believe it shows that Sharon, worried about possible U.S. pressure on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is stalling — and that Bush, with an eye on the Jewish vote as he moves into an election year, may allow Sharon to go on playing for time.

World Briefs


Ramon Memorial Service Held

A state memorial service for Israel’s first astronaut was
held at an air force base near Ben-Gurion Airport. A plane carrying Col. Ilan
Ramon’s remains from the United States landed Monday and was taken to the base
for the ceremony. Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon were among those participating in the service.

“Your pain is the pain of the whole nation,” Sharon told the
Ramon family at the service. A private burial service, attended by Ramon’s
family and close friends, will be held Tuesday at Nahalal, a moshav in northern
Israel located near an air base where Ramon served.

Court Leaves Way Open for Sharon
Trial

Belgium’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon cannot be tried while in office for alleged war crimes,
but left open the possibility of a trial once he steps down. The court upheld Sharon’s
diplomatic immunity, but did say that charges could be brought against
nonresidents of Belgium. That means that there could be further legal moves
once Sharon retires. The court also ruled that investigations could proceed
against former Israeli army commander Amos Yaron, who was also named in the
original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

Expanded Benefits for Some
Survivors

Some Holocaust survivors will receive an increase in
compensation payments as a result of an agreement negotiated Wednesday by the
Claims Conference with the German government. The Article 2 Fund, which
currently pays more than 46,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors in 40 countries,
will now distribute monthly payments of approximately $290, up from about $275,
according to the Claims Conference. Monthly payments from the Central and
Eastern European Fund, which pays 16,000 people in 23 countries, will increase
from about $137 to $145.

The programs are administered by the Claims Conference on
behalf of the German government. The negotiations also led to the expansion of
eligibility criteria for the two programs. As a result, some 4,000 additional
survivors, including some people from Romania, Hungary and some Western
European countries, may now get compensation.

Storm Over Quebec Jewish Magazine

The publisher of a Canadian Jewish magazine called Montreal
a “fascist and totalitarian” city because of recent anti-Semitic and
anti-Israeli incidents. Ghila Sroka, publisher and editor of Quebec’s
French-language Tribune Juive, wrote in the magazine’s recent issue  the cover
of which read “Montreal: Capital of Palestine” that the city’s facade of
open-mindedness hides a dark side of anti-Semitism in the trade unions,
universities and media. Her comments were criticized both within and without
the Jewish community.

“We don’t think that Quebec is fascist or anti-Semitic,”
said Joseph Gabay, president of the Quebec region of the Canadian Jewish
Congress. But Gabay did admit that the community was witnessing acts of
anti-Semitism. “It’s scary, it’s becoming worrying. Nobody is hiding,” he said,
but “the Jewish community cannot stay quiet. There is an ill-smelling smoke
over the city and over the country.”

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry and Montreal Mayor Gerald
Tremblay both said Sroka crossed a line. “Her language is clearly excessive and
unjust for Montreal. It saddens me and I hope that in other texts, her issues
will be more measured and in-line,” said Landry, who added that he considers
Sroka a friend.

A spokesman for Tremblay said, “We must wish that people
make efforts to not uselessly aggravate situations and conflicts that are
already quite complex.”

One-third of Tribune Juive’s funding comes from the Quebec
government and the separatist Parti Quebecois.

Changes in Mideast Panel

There are several new faces on the Mideast subcommittee of
the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee. The
subcommittee make up, announced Tuesday, now includes new members Nick Smith
(R-Mich.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-Mich.), William Janklow
(R-S.D.), Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.) and Katherine Harris (R-Fla.). Chris Bell of Texas
is the only new Democrat on the panel. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will
replace retired Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) as chair of the panel, and Rep.
Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) will remain the ranking minority member. Reps. Brad
Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) left the panel to become
ranking minority members of other subcommittees.

Briefs Courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Kenya Attacks Blur Lines of Terrorism


The attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya are not expected to divert the United States from a possible war with Iraq — or change U.S. limits on Israel’s response to Palestinian terror. One immediate effect of the Nov. 28 attacks, thought to be the work of Al Qaeda, may be a subtle change in the way Israel is perceived in the context of the war on terror.

Until now, the Bush administration has tried to distinguish between terror attacks like those of Sept. 11 and Palestinian terror attacks against Israel. Essentially, the administration has argued that the U.S. struggle is an uncompromising one against terrorists bent on destroying democratic values, while Israel’s war is a nationalistic dispute that must be solved through negotiations.

While the administration has condemned both kinds of attacks, some have argued that the distinction granted a sort of legitimacy — at least in many parts of the West — to Palestinian terrorism.

But last week’s attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and an Israeli passenger plane in Kenya may blur those lines, analysts said.

"It highlights the fact that the myth — that all terror against Israel is because it occupies Palestinian territories — is wrong," said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The blurring of the line between Palestinian and other terrorism may make Arab support harder to come by if the United States goes to war against Iraq, a State Department official said.

Arab states have been leery of what they see as the war on terror’s disproportionate focus on Arab and Muslim states. Their resistance to an Iraq war may rise if the Kenya attacks are subsumed into the war on terror and Arabs begin to believe that the United States is attacking Baghdad because of the attacks on Israel.

The attacks initially were claimed by an unknown group calling itself the Army of Palestine, but both Israel and the United States believe the attacks were carried out by Al Qaeda.

"Despite the name of the group that claimed responsibility, this does not seem to be a perceived act of Palestinian nationalism," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

An Internet posting attributed to Al Qaeda claims responsibility for the attacks. A "Letter to the American People," also purportedly from Al Qaeda and posted to the Internet several days before the Kenya attacks, for the first time defines support for Israel as the root cause of Al Qaeda’s hatred of the United States.

Analysts say the use of the front name indicates that Al Qaeda is trying to capitalize on the Palestinian issue to build support.

For Israel, the attacks may garner more sympathy from the American public and the Bush administration, but they are not expected to ease U.S. constraints on Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorism. They also are not expected to alter the U.S. position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be solved diplomatically, or change U.S. backing for the "road map" toward peace crafted by the diplomatic "Quartet" of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Israel probably will still find limits to the steps it can take against Palestinian terrorists, experts say.

The State Department frequently has criticized Israel for "targeted killings" and other tactics against Palestinian terrorists. Any Israeli actions that cause civilian casualties still will likely earn American reprimands. However, Israel may be given more leeway to strike at the perpetrators of the Kenya attacks.

"We recognize it creates pressure for the Israeli leadership," one State Department official said. "The Israeli people desire to have justice done as well."

If Israel does launch an attack with U.S. blessing, it will be a shift in policy for the Bush administration, which has tried to keep Israeli military action to a minimum during the run-up to a possible U.S. war with Iraq.

But the State Department seems to understand that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may feel it necessary to respond to preserve political face, especially as Israeli elections approach next month.

Israeli officials hope the Kenya attacks also will solidify perceptions of Israel as a victim of terrorism, and lead to an increase in international and American support. The attacks may make it easier for the United States approve up to $10 billion in loan guarantees and an extra $200 million in emergency aid for Israel. But the United States is not likely to shift its policies on the war against terrorism because of the Kenya attacks.

"Our problem with Al Qaeda didn’t need this to get people’s attention," Alterman said. "It highlights the importance of a global war on terrorism, with the emphasis on global."

Extra Israel Aid: No Slam Dunk


Republican leaders on Capitol Hill say they can’t wait to prove their friendship for Israel. They’ll get their chance when the new Congress convenes in January, but some may wish they could take a pass.

The test will come when lawmakers take up a huge new aid request Israeli officials presented to administration officials last week. Israeli newspapers say winning the multibillion-dollar package of grant aid and loan guarantees will be a political slam dunk, but veteran pro-Israel activists tell a different story.

In fact, much of this week’s aid talk may be political playacting intended to give a boost to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his reelection bid, not to produce real shekels in the Israeli treasury.

First, the numbers: Unconfirmed reports suggest Israel is asking for up to $10 billion, with most of that being in the form of loan guarantees, but also including up to $4 billion in extra military aid. The totals are huge, but few in Washington take them seriously.

Traditionally, Israeli officials begin arduous aid negotiations with high-ball figures, then negotiate down. The numbers may also be inflated by Israeli politics; recent leaks may be calculated to show that Sharon, running hard for reelection next month, is best able to manage relations with Israel’s top ally and boost the country’s battered economy.

The Bush White House, satisfied with Sharon’s leadership, has publicly signaled a willingness to talk about the new aid, especially since any aid package won’t hit Congress until long after Israeli voters make their choice.

But there’s no assurance the administration will even bring an aid request to Congress — or that lawmakers will act in a timely fashion.

The next Congress will face unprecedented budgetary pressures because of the recession, Bush administration tax cuts, escalating homeland security costs and the enormous price tag of fighting a worldwide war against terrorism.

A war against Iraq could cost up to $200 billion, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate.

With painful cuts in domestic programs as a backdrop, new foreign-aid spending will face particularly tough scrutiny.

President George W. Bush’s administration is said to be sympathetic to Israel’s new request, but there is a wide gap between sympathy and spending. That was evident in this year’s White House decision to yank $200 million in extra Israel aid from an emergency appropriations bill because of a dispute over spending.

Lawmakers are loathe to vote against aid for Israel, but many, facing voters worried about things like Social Security and Medicare, may be perfectly happy to drag out the debate for years.

Loan guarantees, in which Washington backs up loans from private lenders so Israel can borrow at favorable rates, will be an easier sell because Israel has always paid back its loans on time and because only a fraction of the face value of the loan has to be set aside as a guarantee.

Depending on how the guarantees are structured, they may not technically add to the federal deficit.

But those dollars must still be approved by Congress; with Congress facing a genuine budget emergency, that could produce significant discomfort on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. war on terrorism and the administration’s desperate hunt for allies in the fight against Iraq will also produce a line of Middle Eastern countries looking for military aid, loan guarantees and other forms of assistance.

Indeed, Israeli officials say their extra shot of aid and loan guarantees could be part of a regional package tied to the Iraq conflict. But when all the requests are added up, Congress and the administration may suffer from serious sticker shock.

The administration has also made it clear it wants to shift the focus of U.S. aid to democracy-building, especially in the Middle East. That could add to the competition for scarce aid dollars. Israel’s current aid is not in jeopardy, but new aid will require an extraordinary lobbying effort and genuine political courage by Israel’s newest friends in Congress.

Conservative leaders like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have been trying to portray themselves as more reliable friends than the liberal Democrats, whose ranks include some strong critics of Israel.

But those new friends have never had to take political risks to prove their friendship. It’s one thing to pass nonbinding "sense of the Congress" resolutions supporting Israel, something very different to cough up extra money for Jerusalem during a time of budgetary crisis at home.

The big new aid request will also give the Bush administration powerful new leverage in areas where there have been disagreements between the two allies.

That includes the always-contentious issue of Jewish settlements, which held up loan guarantees during the first Bush administration, as well as administration demands that Israel ease restrictions on the Palestinians.

In Israel, newspapers speak of the new aid package as almost a done deal; in Washington, pro-Israel activists are hunkering down for what is likely to be a long and grueling battle.

World Briefs


Committee Wants Inspection of Western
Wall

A U.N. group offered to inspect a portion of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that could soon collapse. It is unclear whether Israel will accept the offer from the group, which is affiliated with UNESCO. In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities, composed of leading Israeli archaeologists and public figures, said an area on the southern portion of the Western Wall’s retaining wall has gradually bulged out from its original position as a result of massive illegal construction on the Temple Mount by the Wakf, or Muslim religious trust, Israel Radio reported. A Wakf official denied that there had been any deterioration in the past 30 years.

Sharon Cancels Sept. 11 Trip to U.S.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is canceling a trip to the United States next month. Sharon was expected to visit Florida and California, in part to commemorate the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Sharon’s aides said the cancellation was caused by the security situation in Israel and the need to pass Israel’s budget, and not concerns that Sharon meeting with Republican Jeb Bush would benefit the Florida governor in his bid for re-election.

Palestinians Ban Kids’ Photos

The Palestinian press association banned journalists from taking photos of Palestinian children holding weapons because such photos harm the Palestinian cause. The Foreign Press Association called on the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate to withdraw the statement, saying it limited press freedom.

Web Site Promotes Arab Oil Boycott

A Web site is calling for a boycott of some of the largest American gasoline companies for using Arab oil.

Araboilboycott.com is sponsoring a boycott from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11 of companies that utilize Gulf region crude oil. Among the companies targeted are Texaco, Shell, Exxon and Mobil. “The boycott is designed to be a warning shot across the bow of large multinational corporations that continue doing business with nations that sponsor terror,” a statement on the Web site says. “American consumers don’t want their gasoline purchases to fund terrorist activities.”

Hate Group Plans Mail Blitz

A U.S. white supremacist group is planning a nationwide mailing to coincide with the High Holidays. The National Alliance’s activities are planned to “honor” the group’s late leader, William Pierce, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “William Pierce may be dead, but his legacy of hate and anti-Semitism live on,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

Other hate groups are planning to use the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks to spread racist and anti-Semitic messages, the ADL says.

Soldiers Suspected of Looting

More than 30 Israeli army soldiers are suspected of looting Palestinian homes during Israel’s anti-terror operation in the West Bank in March and April. The soldiers are suspected of taking money, jewelry and other belongings, including handguns, from the homes, Israel Radio reported. The army is investigating the incidents.

French Envoy to U.K. Recalled

The French ambassador to the United Kingdom, who has used expletives to describe Israel, has been recalled. Daniel Bernard reportedly told luncheon guests in London last year that current troubles in the world were caused by Israel and used an expletive to describe the Jewish state.

British Rabbi: Violence ‘Corrupting’
Israel

The Israeli Embassy publically rebuked Britain’s chief rabbi on Wednesday for saying that Israel has implemented policies that are “incompatible” with Jewish ideals. In an interview published Tuesday in England’s Guardian newspaper, Jonathan Sacks said the current stalemate with the Palestinians is “corrupting” Jewish culture in Israel, specifically mentioning recent reports of smiling Israeli soldiers posing for a photograph with the corpse of a slain Palestinian. Sacks’ new book, “The Dignity of Difference,” is being serialized in the paper this week.

Legislator Asks Iran to Free Jailed
Jews

Iran’s only Jewish legislator called on Iran to free eight Jews imprisoned on charges of spying for Israel. Maurice Motamed urged the country’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to pardon the men before Rosh Hashana.

In a closed-door trial in 2000, 10 Jews were found guilty of spying for Israel and sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to 13 years. Two have been released. Many of the accused “confessed,” but Jewish groups contend the confessions were forced. Israel denies that any of the Jews were its spies.

Despite many unsuccessful discussions with officials during the Jews’ imprisonment, Iran’s Jewish community hopes that this time the plea will be successful, sources say.

Palestinian Comic Gets the Boot

Comic Jackie Mason canceled a Palestinian comedian who was scheduled to open for him in Chicago. “It’s not exactly like he’s just an Arab American. This guy’s a Palestinian,” Mason’s manager, Jyll Rosenfeld, said of Tuesday night’s decision. Replaced performer Ray Hanania, who launched his career after Sept. 11 in an attempt to unify Americans, said, “I’m upset because I deserve to be on stage and it was a big break for me.”

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Labor Looks for Leadership


As the Israeli Government plays its coalition shuffle, the Israeli Left searches for a direction.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stood behind his decision Wednesday to fire four Cabinet ministers from the fervently Orthodox Shas Party for failing to support the government’s emergency economic plan, which passed on Wednesday after an embarrassing defeat days earlier. The events have left the government scrambling, and give new reason for the Left to find its course: in case the government falls.

Without Shas, which has 17 Knesset seats, and UTJ, which has five, Sharon’s coalition will shrink from 82 to 60 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Even so, Sharon’s government is not in immediate danger of collapse, because 61 votes are required to bring down a government in a no- confidence vote. Just the same, Sharon may have to depend more than ever on hisuneasy partnership with the Labor Party, which is lacking a clear leader.

Labor, for decades the near-hegemonic power in Israel, has now fallen into disarray. After winning a grueling battle to become party chairman just five months ago, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer faces a new challenge to his authority from Knesset member Haim Ramon.

And several different Labor legislators have presented conflicting peace plans.

Some pundits believe Israelis would welcome a credible alternative to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of the Likud Party, but if so, they don’t seem to be running to Labor. If elections were held today, polls show that Labor would win just 12 seats in the 120-member Knesset — barely half of the 22 seats it held under its last leader, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and a far cry from the 46 it held under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a decade ago.

For the first 30 years of the Jewish state, Labor was nearly synonymous with Israel, controlling the government, the Histadrut Trade Union, the industrial base, the health care organization and the main supermarket chain. Now it barely has a stake in Sharon’s national unity government, and strong voices within the party are urging it to give up even that. Moreover, 15 months after Barak resigned, the party still has no established leader and no clear policy.

But Ramon, who intends to challenge Ben-Eliezer for party leadership in the fall, claims he has the electoral formula to turn things around. His solution: Pull Israeli troops out of Palestinian areas and erect a physical border between Israel and the Palestinians (see page 25). Recent polls show that up to 74 percent of Israelis favor plans like Ramon’s for "unilateral separation" from the Palestinians. The idea is to withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, redeploy behind a sophisticated electronic fence and wait until the Palestinians are ready to negotiate a permanent border. Some security experts say the fence could prevent up to 98 percent of suicide bombings.

In Ramon’s version, the fence would run close to the pre-1967 border, but include the three large blocs of Jewish settlement around Ariel, Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. Isolated West Bank settlements would be evacuated, as would all the settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The plan offers clear benefits, Ramon argues: The Palestinians no longer could claim they were occupied; Israeli security would be enhanced; and Israel would offer the Palestinians a political settlement along the lines of the December 2000 proposals from President Clinton.

In vigorously outlining his plan to the Labor Party’s Central Committee in mid-May, Ramon maintained that it was "electoral gold."

"It’s there, lying on the streets and, incredibly, no one is stooping to pick it up," he declared. "We should pick it up."

More than anything, it is Palestinian violence that has brought Labor so low. Since the Oslo peace process collapsed under the weight of Palestinian terror, Labor has been unable to offer the public an attractive or relevant political alternative.

Oslo was the embodiment of the Labor thesis that peace is possible and provides the best long-term guarantee of Israel’s security. Coming just when peace seemed around the corner, the intifada shocked Israeli opinion, and seemed to prove the rival Likud thesis that the Middle East remains a dangerous and volatile place where true peace is not possible, and that Israel can survive only by being strong and holding on to key national assets.

Ramon now proposes a new Labor agenda based on the middle ground: Nullify the terror by withdrawing behind new lines, while keeping a viable political option open. In other words, he argues, Labor under his plan could fight terror better than the Likud — and could ultimately make peace, which the Likud can’t.

Just because Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is not ready to talk peace now, Ramon argues, Israel should not be trapped into spreading its forces too thin by guarding isolated settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel should not risk its soldiers’ lives "for the avocados of Netzarim or the lettuce of Kfar Darom," Ramon said at the Central Committee meeting.

But Ramon is not Labor’s leader yet, nor has his plan or anything like it been adopted by the party. Ben-Eliezer, the current leader, is pushing a very different strategy: A fence, yes, but no dismantling of settlements before peace talks.

That, says Ramon, means Israeli forces on both sides of the fence until Arafat or some other Palestinian leader deigns to talk peace. This week, Ben-Eliezer promised residents of border communities that a fence would be built within six months. At the Central Committee meeting, Ben-Eliezer emphasized his readiness to go back to the Clinton parameters, and even to give up Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

"Fine," Ramon chided, "but what do you do when there is no partner? And do you really think it is smart for us to argue now over how we would divide Jerusalem while the Palestinians are still killing us?"

The absence of a Palestinian peace partner has led others in Labor in a different direction. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, for example, argues that in lieu of a Palestinian partner, Israel should coordinate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with the international community.

Peres wants the "Quartet" — the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Nations — to endorse a plan for early Palestinian statehood, leading within two years to a final peace deal.

Peres’ predecessor in the Foreign Ministry, Shlomo Ben-Ami, agrees that Israel should coordinate final- status parameters with the international community and then close a deal on that basis with the Palestinians at an international conference.

Failing that, Ben-Ami is ready to consider a separation plan, but only on the condition that it has international backing and that an international force takes charge in the Palestinian areas, guiding them to independence, as the United Nations did in East Timor.

All these plans and more likely will be submitted at the Labor Party Convention in early July. What the convention decides will become party policy, and could have an enormous bearing on who eventually is chosen in October as the party’s leader and future candidate for prime minister.

Ben-Eliezer’s publicly declared readiness to give up Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount — before negotiations even begin — also has been widely criticized, with Ramon calling it "a dramatic mistake." But what worries Labor luminaries even more are his Ben-Eliezer’s public performances.

Ben-Eliezer, 64, has been leader for only five months, but already has made a number of gaffes. After meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in Washington in February, he indiscreetly told reporters what the U.S. officials had said about Arafat.

The quick-witted Ramon, 51, once widely touted as a future prime minister, lost ground when he bolted Labor in 1994 to set up his own Histadrut faction. Later, after he returned to Labor, he ran Peres’ lackluster losing campaign against Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996.

All that seems forgiven now, at least by the once hostile Central Committee. Come October, however, Ben-Ami, Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg and others may also decide to throw their hats into the ring.

Whoever wins will have some very big shoes to fill if he is to revive the once-dominant party founded and led by Israel’s legendary first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

Questioning Sharon


Since Israel launched Operation Protective Wall five weeks ago, rabbis and lay leaders of national and regional Jewish organizations throughout the United States have urged American Jews to stand with Israel and express their steadfast support for its leaders. Even those American Jewish leaders who have been critical of Israeli government action in the past have suspended their criticism of Israel in the name of unity.

Disgusted with Yasser Arafat’s duplicity and his rejection of ostensibly generous territorial concessions reported to have been offered at Camp David, liberals such as Alan Dershowitz and Arthur Hertzberg have joined the leaders of mainstream groups like American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League in rallying on Israel’s behalf. With a few notable exceptions, liberals have endorsed Ariel Sharon’s policy of incursions into the West Bank and defended this policy against its many critics in the United Nations, the European Union and even the Bush administration.

There is a long Jewish tradition of "circling the wagons" in periods of crisis. At a time when Israelis are afraid to step on a bus or go to a movie and Jews in Europe face burned synagogues and violent assaults, it is tempting to put aside our differences and criticisms in the name of the time-honored principal of kol Yisra’el ‘arevim zeh ba-zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another).

American Jewish leaders must not succumb to this temptation. Critical thinking and clear-headed analyses of Israel’s long-term interests are needed now more than ever. Sadly, many of our rabbis and lay leaders appear to have sacrificed these interests for the sake of easy gestures of solidarity and unity.

Those who have called for American Jews to stand with Israel in its hour of need argue that Israel’s very existence is threatened by the wave of terror unleashed by Arafat, and that the current Israeli policy of military incursions into the West Bank is the only way to eliminate the "terrorist infrastructure" responsible for the murder of many innocent men, women and children in Israel. This policy is justified, they tell us, because every nation has a right to defend its citizens from terrorist attacks.

And yet as many Israeli security experts, generals and journalists have noted, Operation Protective Wall is liable to lead to more suicide bombings, not fewer. The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) assault in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and other towns and villages in the occupied territories has only created more hatred, despair and desire for revenge. The number of desperate, enraged Palestinians who are willing to blow themselves up has surely tripled during the last three weeks.

The most recent suicide bombings indicate that all of Israel’s military might cannot stop fanatics from making their way into Israel. What use are Merkava tanks and F-16s when the only "terrorist infrastructure" required for a devastating attack against Israeli citizens is explosives and a volunteer to make the short walk from Qalqiliya to Kfar Sava?

It is also clear that as horrifying and demoralizing as suicide bombings are, they pose no threat to the existence of Israel. The IDF is much stronger than any army in the region, and for all of the world’s criticism, no country with existing diplomatic relations has cut them off, let alone threatened to launch a war. Indeed, many Arab countries recently offered to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal from the occupied territories. Moreover, the Jewish state still has privileged trading relations with the United States and the European Union.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy is aimed not at defending Israel’s existence or "uprooting terrorism." Rather, he hopes to prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state by creating "buffer zones" around populated areas of the West Bank and replacing Arafat with a leader more to his liking. To this end, Operation Protective Wall was launched to eliminate the implements and symbols of Palestinian independence. How else to explain the destruction of water and electricity supplies (and the offices which supervised them), the Palestinian Authority police (responsible for imposing order and reigning in terrorists in any future settlement), cultural institutions, even the studio where Palestinians and Israelis co-produced an Arabic-language version of "Sesame Street"?

While there has been no shortage of Israeli critics who have challenged the wisdom of his current policies, American Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum have contented themselves with expressions of support and unity, rather than asking hard questions: Who will fight terrorism after the IDF eliminates all the Palestinian police units? How will Israel’s campaign against the entire Palestinian population help against terrorism? How will it advance peace, or at least the security of Israelis?

What is needed now are not empty expressions of solidarity, but rather the mobilization of wisdom and common sense directed toward a long-term strategy to end the occupation and establish secure borders. Anything less is an abdication of responsibility — and of Jewish values as well.

What to Do About Arafat?


What to do about Yasser Arafat?

For months now, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been convinced that the main problem in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians is the president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.

With virtually any other potential Palestinian leader, Sharon believes he would be able to work out a cease-fire and make progress towards peace. That’s why in January he defined Arafat as "irrelevant," and why in March he made up his mind to expel him from the Palestinian territories.

In fact, when Sharon walked into the Cabinet meeting in late March where Israel’s biggest military operation against Palestinian terror since the 1982 Lebanon War was approved, he was determined to get approval for Arafat’s expulsion as well.

But when Sharon raised the idea of exile, he was met by a chorus of dissent. Defense minister and Labor Party leader Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was furious that Sharon had not told him in advance that he planned to discuss the issue. Moreover, Ben-Eliezer said, he was adamantly opposed to expelling Arafat, and Labor would leave the government if the step was approved.

The heads of Israel’s various intelligence services backed Ben-Eliezer. The coordinator of government activities in the West Bank, Amos Gilead, a former high-ranking intelligence official, said an exiled Arafat would stir up serious trouble for Israel abroad, particularly in Jordan and Egypt.

The compromise between the Likud and Labor ministers was the bizarre decision to "isolate" Arafat in his Ramallah compound.

If the aim was to bypass Arafat or pressure him into a cease-fire, so far it has failed: All it has done is win worldwide sympathy for the beleaguered Palestinian Authority president.

The Cabinet clash reflects a deep dilemma in the Israeli government over what to do about Arafat. A minority school of thought, led by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, holds that Arafat is the only Palestinian with the authority to push through a deal with Israel, and that the Israeli government has erred in trying to undermine his leadership.

The dominant school, to which both Sharon and Ben-Eliezer belong, maintains that Arafat has no intention of cutting a deal with Israel, and that a way must be found to bypass him. Where they differ is over how to do this.

The Sharon-Ben-Eliezer school was greatly strengthened by a series of damning intelligence reports that emerged late last year. For example, according to Israeli military intelligence, the day before Arafat announced a cease-fire in mid-December, he convened a group of Palestinian intellectuals at the Casablanca Hotel in Ramallah and detailed a long-term strategy for the destruction of Israel.

Israeli intelligence also reported that on numerous occasions, after condemning Palestinian suicide attacks on camera for the world media, Arafat celebrated the bombers’ "success" with his confidants, and made it plain that he would like to see more such attacks.

This shows, some intelligence officials argue, that Arafat is not interested in a deal with Israel under any circumstances, and that he has embarked on a fight to the death with the Jewish state.

Others don’t go quite that far: They say Arafat does want a peace deal, but only one imposed by the international community, so Arafat can say he was forced into it.

Sharon’s aides say it makes no difference: Either way, there is no point in talking to Arafat. Moreover, the aides say, the bottom line is that as long as Arafat is around, the Palestinians won’t do a thing to fight terror. They argue that the Tanzim, which has been carrying out most of the suicide bombings, is part of Arafat’s own Fatah organization, and would not act unless it had a "green light," whether explicit or implicit, from the president.

As long as Arafat gives the green light to terror, they say, Palestinian security chiefs like Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub won’t dare lift a finger against it.

Sharon is no longer prepared to tolerate Arafat’s double game of condemning terror while encouraging the terrorists, or to allow the Palestinian leader to subvert every attempt to reach a cease-fire, including the latest mission by U.S. envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni in March.

The trouble is that Sharon doesn’t have very good options. He feels he can’t kill Arafat, because he promised the American administration that he wouldn’t. Sharon made the pledge in his first meeting as prime minister with President Bush in March 2000 — and, he says, the Americans have gotten him to repeat it in every high level meeting since.

In addition, killing Arafat could inflame not only the Palestinian territories but the entire Middle East, and turn world opinion squarely against Israel.

Sharon can’t isolate Arafat indefinitely, because world public opinion also isn’t likely to stand for that, and because he has promised to pull Israeli forces out of Palestinian towns and cities as soon as the current military operation is over.

He also can’t expel Arafat unless the Israeli Cabinet relents — though he publicly stated Tuesday that he would offer Arafat a "one-way ticket" out of Ramallah into exile. Arafat rejected the idea outright.

In an attempt to simply circumvent Arafat, Sharon began meetings in February with other Palestinian leaders, including Ahmed Karia, known as Abu Alaa, the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council; Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, Arafat’s deputy in the PLO; and Arafat’s confidant and economic adviser, Mohammed Rashid.

But those figures very quickly — and publicly — made clear that the meetings had been sanctioned by Arafat, and that they would report back to him. Sharon’s ploy did nothing to weaken Arafat’s hold on power.

Sharon’s problem is this: If Arafat is not killed, expelled or replaced by alternative Palestinian leaders, and if he emerges unscathed from his isolation in Ramallah, he would win an enormous prestige-enhancing victory, and Sharon would have to eat humble pie.

So now Sharon has starting telling visitors, like European Union official Javier Solana, that Solana can see the "isolated” Arafat on one condition: That he take the Palestinian leader with him into exile when he leaves the country.

If Solana or anyone else agrees, Sharon will worry about persuading the Cabinet.

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