Paradoxes characterize life in Israel


To be an Israeli at the time of the state’s 60th anniversary means to be resigned to living with insoluble emotional and political paradoxes. It means living with a growing fear of mortality, even as we celebrate our ability to outlive every threat. We are almost certainly the only nation that marks its Independence Day with an annual poll that invariably includes the question: “Do you believe the country will still exist 50 years from now?”

Most Israelis continue to answer in the affirmative, precisely because we know that the odds have always been against us, and that we have thrived in the face of dangers few nations would likely have survived.

We are still “the only country” — the only country whose borders are not internationally recognized, the only country whose capital city has no foreign embassies, the only country expected in negotiations to yield tangible assets in exchange for mere recognition of our existence, the only country on which a death sentence has been passed by some of its neighbors.

Terror enclaves impinge on our borders, while the threat of a nuclear Iran grows. Our wars have shifted from the battlefront to the home front. Katyushas on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem — the inconceivable has become routine.

As the jihad against us intensifies, we long for the ever-more elusive promise of normalization. Perhaps only now, in our fitful late-middle age, do we realize how touchingly naïve it was for the Zionist movement to imagine normalizing the Jews by creating the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East, in a land holy to three competing faiths, in proximity to the world’s most coveted oil fields.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be proud of unimagined achievements, of being a world innovator in science and technology, of being second, just behind America, in the number of high-tech start-ups represented on the NASDAQ. And it means carrying the shame of chilul, desecration of the name “Israel.”

We have allowed ourselves to be represented by a president accused of rape, a prime minister voted the most corrupt politician in the country, a deputy prime minister convicted of molestation, a former finance minister accused of massive embezzlement. Other countries may have leaders even more corrupt than ours, but that is no comfort for a people facing life-and-death decisions and repeatedly summoned to sacrifice far beyond the capacity of any other Western citizenry.

In our late middle age, most of us are wary of the notion of fulfilling the biblical imperative of becoming a light unto the nations. “Let’s first be a light to ourselves,” we say.

Still, we suspect that we may be a light after all. In our war against the suicide bombers, we proved that a consumerist society can defeat terrorists and reclaim its public space — a historic victory for the world, even if much of the world doesn’t know it.

This is the third time in less than a century that the Jews find themselves on the front line against totalitarian evil — Nazism, Soviet communism and now jihadism. Each of those movements aspired to remake humanity in its image, and each defined the Jews as its main obstacle.

It is difficult to celebrate that pattern of enmity, but understanding the nature of our enemies should, at least, give us confidence in the essential rightness of our cause. By being the front line against jihad, Israel is performing the work of tikkun olam, helping to heal the world.

Not only are we fighting this war while bereft of inspired leadership; for the first time in our history, we lack a vision that can summon a majority of Israelis.

One after another our ideological certainties have collapsed. The dream of “greater Israel” ended in the first intifada; the dream of “peace now” ended in jihad. Finally, there was the hope of unilateralism: If we can’t occupy the Palestinians and we can’t make peace with them, we can at least determine our own borders. That fantasy ended with the missile attacks from Gaza. Now there are no answers, only improvisations.

Still, in place of ideological certainty there is hard-won sobriety. Most of us would make almost any concession to end this conflict and achieve genuine recognition of our legitimacy. But most of us realize that at this point in the conflict, no concession will bring us that recognition.

The left has won the argument over concessions; the right has won the argument over peace. For the first time since the Six-Day War, we are facing reality without ideological blinkers. The collapse of ideologies depresses but also clarifies: Finally, we understand the complexity in which we live, and that enables us to cope.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to acknowledge that our internal conflicts over identity can only be managed, not solved. As a modern state in a holy land, we are fated to remain at once secular and religious, without a decisive tilt in either direction. And with Arabs constituting over 20 percent of our population, we are fated to be both a democratic state and a Jewish State, aspiring to somehow include all its citizens in its national identity, while maintaining responsibility even for Jews who are not its citizens.

No less extraordinary than the multiple fault lines in the society is the fact that the society is holding. We have survived the murder of a prime minister and the uprooting of thousands of our fellow citizens from their homes in Gaza. We know our capacity for self-devouring, the Jewish yetzer harah (evil temptation).

The vast immigration waves of the last two decades from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have yet to be integrated. But we know, too, that the ingathering of the exiles has its own momentum, and that, somehow, a people is being formed out of disparate and even antithetical communities.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be privy to a secret that most Diaspora Jews don’t know, and which we often don’t acknowledge even to ourselves: Israel is a great place to live — to cherish the informality, the vitality if not the rudeness, the endless surprises and permutations of Israeliness. Within unbearable tension, we have created ease. The food is great, the humor beyond politically incorrect. Hebrew culture scandalizes the sacred and sanctifies the mundane.

The other refugees



Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Briefs: Some West Bank settlers would agree to leave, Israel OKs Palestinian police stations


Some West Bank Settlers Would Leave If Offered Government Support, Poll Finds

Approximately one in five Israelis living east of the West Bank security fence would leave if offered government support, a poll found. According to an internal government study, whose results were leaked Tuesday to Yediot Achronot, approximately 15,000 of the 70,000 settlers whose communities are not taken in by the fence would accept voluntary relocation packages.

The poll was conducted at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Minister Ami Ayalon, who want Israel to group settlers within the fence on the assumption that it will serve as the de facto border with a future Palestinian state. The newspaper did not provide details on how many people were polled or the margin of error.

Israel’s failure to satisfactorily rehabilitate many of the 8,000 Jews it removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has raised speculation that West Bank settlers would think twice about accepting government relocation offers.

Israel OKs Reopening of 20 Palestinian Police Stations in West Bank

Israel will allow the reopening of 20 West Bank police stations under Palestinian control. The stations will have a staff of approximately 500 and are located in a zone under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. This is the first time Israel has permitted such a move since 2001. It is part of commitments made last week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

“This aims to enhance security and impose law and order under the Abbas security plan,” Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

Al Qaeda Assails Hamas’ Purported Willingness to Support Peace Accord

Al Qaeda came out against Hamas’ purported willingness to support a future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement on the Internet Tuesday attacking the Palestinian Islamist group after its leaders told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that they could support a future peace accord if it passes a Palestinian referendum.

“As for peace agreements with Israel, they spoke of putting it to a referendum, despite considering it a breach of shariah,” Zawahiri said, referring to Muslim law. “How can they put a matter that violates shariah to a referendum?”

Hamas has made clear, however, that it would continue in its refusal to recognize the Jewish state, no matter what peace terms Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reaches with the Israelis. The referendum demanded by Hamas also would have to include millions of “exiled” Palestinians, many of them radicalized refugees, making it a nonstarter in terms of logistics and of the possibility of endorsing a vision of two-state coexistence.

Rising Anti-Semitism in Muslim Countries Fueling Hostility to Israel, Study Finds

Official anti-Semitism is on the rise in Muslim countries of the Middle East, fueling long-term hostility to Israel, a study found. Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a study this week arguing that in Iran and Arab states — even those that have recognized the Jewish state — officially sanctioned statements of anti-Semitism with a Muslim slant are increasing, often as a means of diverting internal dissent from the government.

One salient example is Holocaust denial twinned with allegations that Israel is practicing a “real” holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism tends to rise in parallel to progress in diplomatic rapprochement between Arab regimes and Israel, calling into question the long-term efficacy of such accords.

The study singled out Iran as a country whose anti-Semitism poses a potential threat to Israel’s existence, given Tehran’s supposed nuclear program.

“Anti-Semitism supported by a state, which publicly adheres to a policy of genocide and is making efforts to arm itself with nonconventional weapons which will enable it to carry out that policy, is unprecedented since Nazi Germany,” the study said.

IDF Investigating Cameraman’s Death

Israel announced an investigation into the killing of a Reuters cameraman by its forces in the Gaza Strip. Following calls for a probe by Reuters and international watchdog groups, the Israeli military said Sunday it was gathering information to determine the circumstances behind the death of Fadel Shana.

Shana was killed while filming a central Gaza combat zone, and film from his camera showed an Israeli tank firing in his direction. An autopsy revealed that he had been hit by a kind of dart used in Israeli shells.

Some critics have suggested the tank crew targeted Shana, although it knew he was a journalist. The Israeli military rejected this.

“The IDF wishes to emphasize that unlike terrorist organizations, not only does it not deliberately target uninvolved civilians, it also uses means to avoid such incidents,” the IDF said in a statement. “Reports claiming the opposite are false and misleading.”

Israel Foils Two Hamas Border Attacks

Israeli forces foiled a massive Palestinian assault on a key Gaza Strip border crossing. Using an armored car and two explosives-laden jeeps painted to resemble Israeli military vehicles, Hamas terrorists rammed the Kerem Shalom border terminal before dawn last Saturday. Israeli soldiers at first responded with small-arms fire, but took cover as the jeeps were blown up by their drivers.

In parallel, another Hamas armored car tried to smash through the Gaza-Israel border fence north of Kerem Shalom but was destroyed by tank fire. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the Kerem Shalom incident, and four Hamas gunmen were killed.

Israel’s top brass said Hamas had been denied its objective of killing a large number of troops and abducting others in a blow to the Jewish state’s morale on Passover eve. Six Hamas gunmen and another Palestinian were killed in later Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Israel Upgrades Dress Code for Official Meetings

A more formal dress code is being adopted in the halls of Israel’s government. Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel sent ministers and other top Israeli officials an advisory that following the Passover vacation, they will be expected to dress formally at government-level meetings, Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday.

Can Olmert’s goodwill gestures kick-start peace?


After the plethora of goodwill gestures Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made in his meeting Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, politicians and pundits on both sides are asking one question: Will it be enough to kick-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Leaders on both sides are optimistic. They see Olmert’s moves as part of a new and wider American plan for Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.

Pundits, however, are downbeat. Few believe Abbas will be able to create the necessary conditions on the Palestinian side for successful negotiations with Israel.

The meeting was the first between the two leaders since Olmert’s election victory last March. Its primary purpose was to help strengthen Abbas and his relatively moderate Fatah movement in their ongoing power struggle with the radical Hamas.

Olmert’s moves were part of a two-pronged plan: To show the Palestinian people that more can be achieved through Abbas-style dialogue with Israel than armed confrontation, and to strengthen Fatah militarily by allowing it the wherewithal to build up its armed forces ahead of a possible showdown with Hamas over approaches to Israel.

With this in mind, Olmert made the following goodwill gestures:

  • Israel would release $100 million in frozen Palestinian tax money.
  • It would remove dozens of checkpoints to facilitate Palestinian movement in the West Bank.
  • It would ease passage in and out of Gaza to enable the free flow of goods and medicines.
  • It would consider freeing a few dozen Palestinian prisoners in early January to mark Id el-Adha, the Muslim feast of the sacrifice, ahead of the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas-affiliated terrorists.
  • It would agree to set up joint committees to consider further prisoner releases and the removal of key Fatah operatives from Israel’s wanted list.
  • It would allow Egypt to supply Fatah with 1,900 Kalashnikov rifles.
  • It would allow the Palestinian Badr Brigade, currently stationed in Jordan, to redeploy in Gaza.

Olmert went out of his way to show friendship and respect for Abbas and his presidency, waiting for Abbas outside the prime minister’s residence and embracing him warmly on arrival.

Olmert also made a major symbolic gesture: For the first time, Palestinian flags were flown in an official Israeli state building.

“Abu Mazen is an adversary — he is a not an easy adversary, but with an adversary like this, there is, perhaps, a chance of dialogue that will bring an accord between us and the Palestinians,” Olmert said in a speech Sunday, his first public comments following the two hours of talks with Abbas.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat also was cautiously optimistic.

“It would be a mistake to think that all the problems could be solved in one meeting, but the meeting improved the feeling on both sides,” he said.

Writing in the mass-circulation daily, Yediot Achronot, political analyst Itamar Eichner summed up the new friendship between Olmert and Abbas.

“They have a common interest not to mention a common enemy: to block the rise of Hamas, which enjoys massive support from Iran,” he wrote.

The Israeli moves complement U.S. and European efforts to strengthen Fatah.

The Americans are soon expected to release about $100 million to Abbas, and they also have been training Fatah forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a mid-December visit to Ramallah, outlined economic projects from which the Palestinians could benefit if they reached accommodation with Israel.

All of these moves are part of a wider plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that has begun to take shape in the U.S. State Department. The new American thinking envisages leapfrogging stage one of the internationally approved “road map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace and moving directly to stage two, which calls for the establishment of an interim Palestinian state with provisional borders.

Discarding stage one means that talks could go ahead without the Palestinians first stopping all violence and without Israel dismantling West Bank outposts.

The idea is that once a ministate is established, those things would be much easier for the parties to handle.

By strengthening Abbas, the Americans hope to create conditions for the establishment of a new Palestinian government that would recognize Israel and become a serious negotiating partner. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to make a visit to the region soon to press the plan.

The American approach is not much different from ideas being bandied about in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and supported by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Livni, who favors going directly for an interim Palestinian state, told a meeting of Europe-based Israeli ambassadors in Jerusalem on Sunday that the Olmert-Abbas meeting was important not as “a lone gesture, but as a process of which gestures are a part.” She added that in her view, moderate Arab and Muslim states should be involved, as well.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas also expressed the hope that the meeting would lead to peace talks.

Israeli pundits, however, are skeptical. They doubt Abbas will be able to carry off the necessary first step: the establishment of a Palestinian government that makes the right noises about recognizing Israel, accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renouncing violence.

“First that must happen, but as we know from experience, something on the way is bound to go wrong, and all we’ll get is more of the same,” political analyst Ben Caspit wrote in the Ma’ariv daily.

“Many meetings between Palestinian and Israeli leaders have taken place up till now, but it seems that never have two such weak partners sat on either side of the table — Abu Mazen on the verge of a civil war and Olmert after a war and embroiled in an investigation,” Caspit wrote.

“They have a great many qualities in common: not a bad vision and considerable courage. On the other hand they are lacking in leadership and confidence, exhausted and shackled by political constraints, enemies inside and out.”

The trouble is, Palestinian society is deeply divided over how to proceed.

In Abbas’ view, the Palestinians will always be outgunned and therefore will lose in any violent confrontation with Israel. Thus, negotiation is the way forward.

Hamas holds that time is on the Palestinians’ side, and the best path is to establish a temporary truce, use it to stockpile weapons and wait for Iran to become the dominant regional power.

Israeli intelligence estimates that if Abbas is able to rekindle a peace process, Hamas will escalate its violence against Israel in a bid to extinguish it.

Complicating matters even further, the fight on the Palestinian streets is not only between Fatah and Hamas. Poverty and the breakdown of law and order have spawned violent, armed gangs loyal only to themselves and contemptuous of authority, whether from Fatah or Hamas. They will probably continue to use terror against Israel, even if Abbas and Hamas agree to a cease-fire.

If the latest American initiative is to succeed, it will have to find a way of neutralizing both Hamas and the street gangs. Otherwise, new peace prospects will drown in a sea of Palestinian chaos.

Making peace at the best of times would not be easy. In these circumstances, it will be a very tall order indeed.

Leslie Susser is diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem report.
JTA correspondent Dan Baron in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

U.S., Israeli officials see conflicting Iraq study ideas


American and Israeli government officials agree on two things: Iraq has nothing at all to do with Israeli-Arab issues.

Except when it does.

From President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on down, the leadership of the Israeli and U.S. governments are simultaneously embracing and rebuffing last week’s conclusions of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, which makes Israeli-Arab peace progress a linchpin of a successful outcome in Iraq. The crux of their argument is that while it is wrong to blame the Israeli-Arab impasse for any part of the crisis in Iraq, actors in that crisis — chief among them Iran and its allies — are successfully using Israel as a justification for raising the stakes in Iraq.

“We do this not because we are persuaded by some linkage or another, but because it is in the U.S. national interest,” David Welch, the top U.S. State Department envoy to the Middle East, said Friday of U.S. involvement in Arab-Israeli peace when he addressed the Saban Forum, an annual colloquy of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Another Bush administration official put it more bluntly: “Palestine is not a relevant issue to Iraq, but it is an issue exploited by Iran and extremists throughout the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab-Israeli peace talks would have a “positive, emboldening effect,” the official said. “If progress among Israel and the Palestinians is manifested, then moderates throughout the region win and extremists lose.”

Conversely, the official said, “We believe that a success in Iraq, a success for moderates against forces of extremism, whether secular or religious, will have a very significant impact in the region, in Syria, in Lebanon, as well as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Bush administration has welcomed Olmert’s recent overture to the Palestinians, in which he promised a release of prisoners and increased mobility, should a cease-fire hold and the Palestinians prove themselves able to present a negotiating team that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s existence.

Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president, has all but given up on such concessions from the Cabinet, led by the terrorist Hamas group, and has proposed new elections.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, said at the Saban Forum that Israel and the West should encourage alternatives to the Hamas government, although she did not elaborate.

Bush launched a weeklong review of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on Monday, starting with meetings with top State Department officials. Later in the week he was to have met with outside experts, top U.S. diplomats in the region and top military brass.

His primary concern about the report is its deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. Bush has steadfastly resisted timetables until now. However, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is scheduled to tour the region, Bush suggested that he embraces the report’s Iraq-Israeli-Palestinian linkage, counting it as one of three ways to move the Iraq process forward.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to be solved,” the president said.

That’s music to the ears of Blair and other Europeans. They enthusiastically welcomed the recommendations of the commission headed by James Baker, secretary of state for Bush’s father, and Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana Democratic congressman.

“The German government shares many of the political observations in the report,” a statement from the German Embassy in Washington said last week on the eve of a U.S. visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The entire Middle East region must move into the international community’s scope. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance.”

Such views were hardly welcome at the Saban Forum, where the Iraq Study Group’s report lent an anxious irritability to the weekend proceedings. The Saban Center, a Brookings Institution subsidiary funded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, attracts top names to its annual colloquies. Last year’s was in Jerusalem.

“The Iraqi conflict has very little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” Yuli Tamir, Israel’s education minister, said during a break from the conference’s closed sessions. “I don’t think it’s relevant — it’s a good justification but not a reason.”

On Sunday, Olmert, who had earlier suggested that he disagrees with the report’s conclusions, ordered his Cabinet not to comment on it, saying it was an internal American affair.

Livni did not mention the Baker-Hamilton report by name, but its conclusions were clearly the focus of her keynote address at a gala State Department dinner last Friday.

“There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East; that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region,” Livni said. “So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism.”

Nevertheless, in the same speech Livni was preoccupied by how Iran would fare in the Iraq crisis — and what a success by its Shiite Muslim protégés in Iraq would bode for Israel and the region.

“The idea of spreading Shiism all over the region is a threat not only to Israel but the region itself,” she said, citing efforts by the Hezbollah terrorist group to topple Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Bush expressed wariness about the commission’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria. He was adamant that those countries are out of bounds until they stop backing terrorists. If Syria and Iran are “not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up” to a regional conference on Iraq, he said after meeting with Blair.

Iran’s ambitions dominated much of the Saban Forum. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke darkly of the possibility of war in a Saturday panel with former President Bill Clinton.

“Iran’s strength derives from the weakness of the international community,” Peres said. “If there was an international coalition, there would be no need to go to war against Iran, and Iran would return to its natural dimensions.”

Israel backs U.S. and European efforts to sanction Iran until it gives up enriching uranium, a step toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Peres described a range of options to prevent Iran’s nuclearization: monitoring its missiles with nuclear warhead capability, economic sanctions, limiting its oil production and assisting regime change.

Abbas’ Move Challenges Olmert


As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presses ahead with plans for another unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined not to be sidelined by Olmert’s go-it-alone approach.

In late May, as Olmert tried to convince President Bush of the need for unilateral action, Abbas urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to accept a package that would enable the Palestinians to break out of diplomatic isolation and emerge as full-fledged negotiating partners with a say on Olmert’s pullback plans.

The vehicle Abbas hopes to use to regain international legitimacy is an agreement hammered out between Palestinian prisoners from Hamas, being held by Israel, and his own Fatah organization, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The so-called “prisoners’ covenant” is based on the Saudi-initiated peace plan of 2002, which received widespread international support at the time.

As of May 26, Abbas gave Hamas 10 days to accept the package.

If not, he says he will go to the Palestinian people and ask them to approve the prisoners’ covenant in a referendum within six weeks. Should the Palestinians accept the covenant, analysts believe there could be strong international pressure on Israel to engage in peace talks on the basis of the Saudi plan. In this way, they say, Abbas hopes to re-establish the Palestinians as players and undercut Olmert’s unilateralism.

But it won’t be easy.

Hamas leaders have already rejected the plan and question Abbas’ constitutional right to call a referendum. Moreover, without Hamas’ compliance, Abbas may not have the power to stage and secure a nationwide ballot, even though most Palestinians seem to want one. Latest polls show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of Palestinians favor a referendum.

The Saudi plan is based on a “land for peace” formula. It stipulates that if Israel withdraws from all territory gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, all the Arab states will normalize their relations with Israel. Hamas, however, continues to reject anything that implies recognition of the Jewish state.

The radical movement’s leaders also reject other key elements of the “prisoners’ covenant.”

For example, they refuse to be bound by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and insist on the right of Palestinians to use force against Israel, not only in the disputed territories, but in Israel proper as well.

Abbas has evolved several strategies to overcome Hamas intransigence. One is the planned referendum. Another is the establishment of a national-unity Hamas-Fatah government in which he, as the senior Fatah representative, would be empowered to conduct negotiations with Israel, not only as the president, but in the name of the government as a whole.

Then there is the ultimate weapon: Abbas could dissolve the Hamas-dominated Parliament and call new elections.

If he manages to get the Palestinian people and polity to commit to the Saudi plan, Abbas will create a major dilemma for the international community.

On the one hand, senior American and European officials are highly skeptical about the Palestinian president’s ability to deliver. They note that in the three years since the formulation of the internationally approved “road map” peace plan, Abbas has done virtually nothing to implement it, and doubt whether things would be different with the Saudi plan.

On the other hand, both the Americans and Europeans would much prefer a negotiated settlement to unilateral moves by Israel, which they fear might spark more fighting rather than less.

Olmert is not only skeptical about Abbas. He also has deep reservations about the Saudi plan, which calls for withdrawal to the 1967 lines, without Israel retaining any of the large settlement blocs he wants to keep.

Moreover, the Saudi formula insists on eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the projected Palestinian state and it suggests that Israel would have to accept the Palestinian refugees’ right of return — positions Olmert rejects out of hand.

The prime minister, therefore, hopes to keep the Saudi plan off the international agenda. He plans visits to Egypt and Europe in the coming weeks to persuade key players that Abbas cannot be relied on to deliver, and that Israel’s unilateralism is the only game in town.

Olmert, however, may not have things all his own way. If Abbas is able to get the Palestinians to accept the Saudi initiative, Olmert could find himself under strong domestic and international pressure to make a serious negotiating effort, despite the skepticism about its efficacy.

After a recent meeting with Abbas, Ami Ayalon, a leading Labor Party legislator, declared that even though he rejected many of its stipulations, the Saudi plan “could be a basis for negotiation,” because it “supports the idea of a two-state solution.”

The key to whether the Saudi plan becomes a serious option — even if adopted by the Palestinians — lies in Washington. The American goal remains a negotiated two-state solution based on Bush’s “vision” that he outlined in June 2002.

U.S. leaders hope to further this aim by strengthening Abbas and using economic and political leverage to bring Hamas down or force it to moderate its positions. Backing the Saudi plan as a basis for negotiations could promote these ends.

But there is another possibility: that the Saudi plan be put on the table only after Israel completes its planned pullback or what Olmert is now calling “realignment.”

In his Washington meeting with Olmert last week, Bush made it clear that the United States was in no hurry to see unilateral Israeli moves, and wanted to give negotiations another chance. But Bush also assured Olmert that as soon as it became apparent that negotiations are going nowhere, Washington would back Olmert’s unilateral alternative, as long as it does not contradict Bush’s vision of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Most importantly, Bush emphasized that the United States will not recognize the borders Israel pulls back to unilaterally as permanent. And he reiterated the American view that final borders must be agreed upon in negotiations between the parties.

It is here where some analysts believe the Saudi plan could come in: not as a means of pre-empting Israel’s “realignment,” but as a way of taking things further once it is achieved.

 

Letters


Discussion Difficult

Bernard Goldberg’s response to Rob Eshman’s critique turns out to be a fine example of why some conservative voices make intelligent discussion so difficult (“My Work Is Not to Blame for Jew-Haters,” Aug. 5).

Goldberg starts out with, “Usually I only respond to fair and thoughtful criticism, but I’ll make an exception in this case, because people I respect tell me that Rob Eshman … is both a smart and decent guy.”

Let’s look at that sentence. Despite the begrudging “smart and decent,” Goldberg reveals that he really does not believe Eshman’s criticism to be “fair and thoughtful.” In that case, why is he sending in a response?

He goes on to whine, “It never occurred to me to count people by their religion. It’s my friends on the left who love to put people in groups…. Liberals love diversity — just not the intellectual kind.”

He says that liberals love to put people in groups — not some liberals, not even most liberals, just liberals. The man has just put all liberals into a group.

His book includes one or two conservatives like Michael Savage, whose ravings are so maniacal that even Goldberg cannot stomach them. But aside from these exceptions, it is clear that the “people who are screwing up America” are the liberals. Another prime example of those conservatives who think that those who do not agree with them are unpatriotic and anti-American.

Lou Charloff
Encino

Junk Science

In the fossil record, many forms of complex life all of a sudden explode on to the scene. There is not a smooth transition from one species to another (“Junk Science,” Aug. 12).

Darwin’s theory is one that believes in gradual changes. In fact, in Darwin’s book, he pleads with the reader to ignore the fossil record. The more of the fossil record that is unearthed, the more it disproves the theory of evolution as Darwin proposed it.

The idea of intelligent design is just as valid as the theory of evolution. To believe in evolution takes just as much blind faith as believing in intelligent design. To teach evolution as if it is a proven fact is junk science.

Dr. Sabi Israel
West Hills

Gaza Disengagement

I am loath to understand why Jews should be prohibited from residing in areas under Palestinian control, when almost 1.3 million Arabs live in Israel proper (“We Must Show Unified Pullout Support,” Aug. 12). Why must it be that to establish peace and live in harmony with Arab neighbors, their territory must be Judenrein. No Jews allowed?

The very idea of establishing policies which preclude even one Jew from living in even one place unearth historic realities that are painful.

Rabbi I.B. Koller
Richmond, Va.

The matter of Israel’s expulsion of Jews from Gaza keeps many of us up at night, uncertain as to the efficacy of such a policy. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether or not it’s a good idea.

The letter from Dr. Aryeh Cohen (“Letters,” Aug. 12) is a disturbing example of an illogical argument used to support a policy of which many Jews are wary.

Cohen uses the specious, context-free logic employed by those who wish to destroy the State of Israel — just point out some statistics, and it seems obvious that Israel is “mercilessly oppressing” the Palestinian people, who are being “denied” their “rightful” homeland.

Cohen’s flawed argument in support of “disengagement” from Gaza assumes that there’s no history — that the United Nations has not been backing the maintenance of the Palestinian refugee camps all these years, that the Palestinians have not purposefully murdered innocent civilians for their own political ends and that the Palestinians have not missed numerous opportunities to make peace.

If I buy Cohen’s argument, we may as well withdraw from all of Israel proper right now to avoid any chance of ever being an “oppressor,” and then go heal ourselves by “re-engaging with morality.” By insinuating that the Israelis are the only ones who have acted immorally, Cohen undermines his own position.

Time will tell whether Israel’s expulsion of Jewish settlers from Gaza was wise or not. Cohen’s use of the flawed logic of our enemies to defend what may be a reasonable position is more appalling than deluding ourselves that we are as blameless and innocent as he posits the Palestinians to be. That such an argument comes from a professor at our distinguished University of Judaism is more appalling still.

I hope and pray that something good will come out of this heart-wrenching decision by the Israeli government. Am Yisrael chai.

Gary Lainer
Los Angeles

Baffled

Thank you for Toby Klein Greenwald’s thoughtful piece (“Barbed Wire Fails to Separate Hearts,” Aug. 12). Although I am sadly baffled by the pro-expulsion view of the Southern Californian Board of Rabbis, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee (don’t they read “From Time Immemorial” by Peters or arutzsheva.com?), I find it quite telling that The Journal’s “Losing Faith” (Aug. 12) headline really refers more to the Peace Nowniks’ unfortunate lack of faith, understanding in the Torah and vision of Yisrael.

Joshua Spiegelman
Sylmar

Mischaracterize

Rabbi Harvey Fields and David Pine mischaracterize support for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Gaza Strip as support for Israel (“We Must Show Unified Pullout Support,” Aug. 12). Those who truly support Israel oppose that gift to our enemies over which they have prepared a celebration.

Anything those would-be genocides of our people celebrate is cause for our mourning. They have made no secret of their intent to use every parcel of our land they grab as a base for grabbing all the rest of it, “from the river to the sea.”

There is nothing “courageous” in surrender, particularly when the enemy is militarily and morally inferior. No relief can be expected when we give them control over their air, sea and land conduits for re-armament.

The dream of a Palestinian Muslim state as a “peace-seeking neighbor” is contrary to all their propaganda, their declarations (in Arabic), their education in the schools and their actions throughout the generations.

That Jews occupy 18 percent of the land and use 75 percent of the water in the strip is indeed a shame: Both numbers should be 100 percent, as the ancestors of the present Arab occupiers, when first they invaded from Arabia, themselves were calling all the land “the land of the Jews.” They are imperialist settlers in our country, and have no right to be anywhere in it.

Despite that, we have generously allowed full Israeli citizenship to those of them that want it. What would the writers say had Israel made any province of the country Arabrein? Is there any place in the world outside of our homeland that they think should be Judenrein? Is there any other people they think should not be allowed to live in certain places?

Louis Richter
Encino

Independent Mind

I am a Jewish voter, and I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he runs again for governor, I will vote for him again (“Schwarzenneger Is Losing Jewish Votes,” Aug. 5) .

However, I vote as an individual and not as a member of religious or ethnic mindthink. This article states that Jews vote alike on a platform of democratic values, and are all pro-choice and advocates of reform.

While this may or may not be true, this is no different than the person who claims the African American vote is unilateral, and all African Americans think and vote alike. I personally find this not only a racist concept, but an offensive one. Jews, like all people, vote according to their own personal beliefs, and not part of a Jewish conspiracy.

I am also offended by the comparisons to the AM radio crowd, as if all who listen are again part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I stand as woman, a Jew and a person who is capable of making up my own mind on how to vote, who to vote for and on what issues are important to me, a citizen of the United States, a resident in California and of independent mind.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Valley Glen

Grim Faces, Tense Words at Summit


Â

As photo-ops go, this one didn’t develop quite as expected.

The meeting Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush at Bush’s vast Texas ranch was to have affirmed the special U.S.-Israel relationship and paved the way forward in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — a triumphant summit between two friends, farmers and statesmen.

Instead, what emerged between the tense lines the two men delivered as a stiff Texas breeze ruffled their scripts were profound differences over how Sharon and Bush perceive Israeli and Palestinian obligations and the future of the peace process.

Bush made his position clear: Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank must stop.

“I told the prime minister of my concern that Israel not undertake any activity that contravenes ‘road map’ obligations or prejudices final-status negotiations,” Bush said, referring to the “road map” peace plan his administration launched three years ago. “Therefore, Israel should remove unauthorized outposts and meet its road map obligations regarding settlements in the West Bank.”

That was just the first of three emphatic calls by Bush to end settlement expansion.

Just as emphatically, Sharon reserved the right to build in major settlements that Israel plans to keep in any final agreement.

“It is the Israeli position that the major Israeli population centers will remain in Israel’s hands under any future final-status agreement, with all related consequences,” Sharon said.

The only thing keeping a lid on the tensions was the joint commitment to the success of Sharon’s planned evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, scheduled to begin July 20.

Bush urged Israelis and Palestinians to coordinate the pullout.

“By working together, Israelis and Palestinians can lay the groundwork for a peaceful transition,” he said.

At the heart of the dispute were conflicting visions of the road map. Bush sees it as under way; Sharon believes the plan will go into effect only when the Palestinian Authority meets its initial obligations to eradicate terrorism, dismantle terrorist groups and end anti-Israel incitement.

Until that happens, he made clear Israel will not begin considering its settlement obligations under the plan.

“Only after the Palestinians fulfill their obligations, primarily a real fight against terrorism and the dismantling of its infrastructure, can we proceed toward negotiations based on the road map,” Sharon said.

Sharon was even more emphatic later, in a meeting with Hebrew-speaking reporters.

“We are not at the road map, we are before the road map,” he said. “As long as the Palestinians don’t take the necessary steps, the road map is not under way.”

Sharon acknowledged that P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas has made some progress in maintaining quiet since his January election, but argued that Israel has no simultaneous obligations — at least when it comes to settlements, which Sharon believes should be addressed only in the final stage of negotiations.

Sharon recalled Israel’s historic commitment to settlement building, a commitment he helped advance as a minister during the rapid settlement expansion in the first Menachem Begin government, from 1977 to 1981. The United States, he said, historically opposed the settlements, but Israel forged ahead because of its strategic interests; the bilateral relationship never suffered.

The history lesson was Sharon’s way of chiding Israeli reporters who asked whether his tense joint appearance with Bush was evidence of a “crisis.”

Even if there were a crisis, Sharon said, “not every crisis needs to lead to a revolution of the soul.”

Translation: Sharon, the visionary of the settlement movement, hadn’t given up on his dreams of expanding Israel’s narrow waist and offering the country a bit of strategic depth.

It was clear even before it began that there would be tensions, and the visit might not go as well as originally had been expected. Sharon spent Sunday night at a hotel in Waco, 30 miles away, while virtually every other world leader accorded the privilege of an overnight stay in central Texas has slept in the Crawford ranch’s guest house.

A preparatory meeting Sunday night between Sharon, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser, at a dimly lit Waco bar-and-rib joint, stretched to two hours as Secret Service agents kept locals seeking refreshments at bay. Participants finally emerged grim-faced.

The grim looks reappeared when the negotiators stood outside Bush’s office building, watching the two leaders deliver their statements. Almost all of the negotiators adhered to a White House-imposed dress code meant to suggest unanimity — dark blue jacket, open-necked shirts the color of the Texas bluebonnets dotting the Bush ranch, and khaki trousers — but the Israelis stood to one side, the Americans to the other.

Hadley is to visit Israel next week to resume the conversation.

Bush got no relief on the specific issue that helped precipitate the recent tension: Israel’s decision to add 3,500 apartments in Ma’aleh Adumim, a major West Bank settlement and Jerusalem bedroom community that Israel intends to keep in any final peace agreement.

The development would choke off a major north-south West Bank artery. Palestinians claim this would affect the territorial contiguity of the state they hope to build, something Bush regards as critical to the success of the peace process.

Sharon turned the contiguity question around.

“We are very much interested that it will be contiguity between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem,” he said, standing alongside Bush.

There were areas of substantial agreement: Bush restated his historic concession, made last year, that Israel’s major settlements are “facts on the ground” that must be taken into account in any final peace deal.

He also agreed to consider U.S. assistance in developing the Negev and Galilee, regions of Israel that are expected to absorb thousands of evacuated settlers. A senior Israeli Treasury official is to visit Washington next week to discuss the parameters of such assistance.

Bush is biding his time until the Gaza withdrawal. Sharon laughingly told Israeli reporters that U.S. admonishments about settlement expansion took the mild parental tone of “we’ll discuss this later.”

In his recent dealings with the United States, Sharon repeatedly has stressed that he must placate a restive Israeli right wing before the settlement evacuation this summer. He spoke Monday of a “civil-war atmosphere” in Israel.

That’s something Bush appreciates, but he has his own political constraints. Bush is trying to mend alliances with Europe and the Arab world that were fractured by the Iraq War, and he believes that substantial progress on the

Israeli-Palestinian front would heal many wounds. Bush also believes that the death last year of Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, removed the principal obstacle to progress.

Bush expects Sharon to change his mind once the trauma of evacuating Gaza is past. Delaying any Israeli action until the Palestinians have fulfilled all their commitments, he said, suggests “a rather pessimistic point of view.”

He glanced over at Sharon and continued, “I just suspect that if there is success in Gaza, in other words, if there’s a state that’s emerging, the prime minister will have a different attitude about whether or not it makes sense to continue the process.”

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One Tough Room


As a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher of world issues for seniors in Los Angeles, I began yesterday’s class by playing a taped interview of Michael Moore talking about his movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” I had suggested that the class go see the film, so we could discuss it.

Tillie seemed particularly interested, nodding her head up and down as she listened, so I thought I’d start with her.

“Tillie, dear, what do you think?”

“She can’t hear you,” said the woman next to her. “She’s deaf!”

“Then what did you think?”

“I ain’t saying. I don’t have to say.”

“Anyone else?”

“Excellent!” Fred said.

“OK. And…?” I asked, hoping for a more lively discussion.

“That’s it. I liked it. Period,” he said, with finality.

A hand goes up. “Yes, dear?”

“It left me disheartened,”

“OK. Can you say more?”

“I’ve said enough.”

Great — 10 minutes gone, one hour and 50 to go. I changed the subject. “Where’s Margaret today?”

“She’s in the hospital.”

“Why?”

“She fell down yesterday and broke her hip.” I changed the subject again. “Where’s Matilda?”

“She died.”

“She died? She was here last week! When did she die?”

“Two days ago.”

“So what are you telling me? She won’t be coming back?”

“Not unless she’s a Buddhist.”

I change the subject again. “Who has some good news for us?”

Ethel raises her hand.

“Yes, dear?”

“A man comes up to me yesterday, sits at my lunch table; I can tell he’s a goy and he says, ‘You’re Jewish, right?’ I says to him, ‘I don’t like you either, go to hell, I spit on you.'”

I try to use this as a discussion point. “Well, all right, that’s a nice thing to do…what could she have said to this gentleman, instead?”

Silence.

“So?” Ethel demanded. “What should I have said to him?”

“Well, you might have asked why he felt that way, you know, open a dialogue, maybe make a new friend?”

“With that goy?” sputters The Diplomat. “To hell with him!”

The woman next to Ethel raises her hand. “Can I ask a question?”

“Please!”

“What’s the problem with the Palestinians?”

Ethel answers: “I spit on the Palestinians! I am a Jew!”

“Yes, Ethel, we know that,” I say, “and I’m a Jew myself, but don’t you think we need to find a way to live together?”

“They blow themselves up!”

“Yes, darling, but that’s because they watch too much television.”

“Who watches television?”

“He said we should watch television?”

“No, I didn’t. That’s just a joke gone awry.”

“Rye bread? It’s dinner time?”

“No Fred, not yet,” I say. “I was just saying, what about the Palestinians who are doctors, lawyers and merchants and just want to raise their families and live in peace?”

“Lawyers are the problem!”

“Shut up, Murray! The teacher’s talking!”

“Actually, we’re all supposed to be talking here about world issues and I’m doing all the talking….”

“That’s what you get paid for!”

Suddenly, the distinct sound of snoring.

“What’s with Mary here?” I ask. Mary is asleep in her chair, her head thrown back, her mouth wide open, snoring.

“She takes Darvicet for her arthritis,” says Olga. Apparently Darvicet eases Mary’s pain but knocks her out. I have a microphone in my hand because half the seniors are hard of hearing so I put the mike by Mary’s mouth and from the public address system now comes the rumbling of Mary’s snoring. Two old wiseguys wink at me and giggle. One old gal’s mouth drops open in horror. The rest are oblivious.

Quality shtick. One tough room. Oy.

“Look, I’ve been talking nonstop for over an hour. I’m supposed to get you guys to talk!”

“We don’t want to talk. We want to listen to you.”

“But I’m tired of telling you bad news. Who has some good news for us? Yes, Martin?”

“I heard today the interest rates are going up.”

“And how is that good news, sir?”

“I don’t know.”

“I have some good news.” It’s The Diplomat. “This goy says to me, ‘You’re Jewish, no?’ So I told him, I says, ‘I don’t like you either.'”

“You told us that already, Ethel!” Ann reprimands .

“Leave me alone!” Ethel pleads. “I was in the camps!”

“Maybe you could share with us some of your experiences under the Nazis, darling,” I say. “What camp were you in? Auschwitz? Buchenwald?”

“I don’t remember. I want to forget.” Her voice trails off.

Who am I to pry into something like that? Especially if she doesn’t want to talk? The room is silent, except for the air-conditioning.

“What time is it?”

“It’s six past three.”

“We’re supposed to be done at three.”

“We know,” Sophie laughs. “We like being with you.”

“I like being with you, too. See you next week.”


Wildman Weiner is credentialed teacher of older adults.

U.S. Jewish Leaders Face Risky Situaton


As a new round of Mideast peacemaking begins, U.S. Jewish leaders are putting themselves on the line for a government in Jerusalem, whose real intentions are more impenetrable than ever.

In a flurry of actions and statements in recent days, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon just added to the confusion — and to the risks U.S. Jewish leaders face as they rally their troops to support his government in the face of a friendly but firm squeeze from Washington.

A lot is at stake for U.S. Jewish leaders, whose greatest fear is getting caught in the crossfire between the Bush administration, the government in Jerusalem and their own constituents — a Jewish community that will support Israel’s fight for security, but which has little interest in fighting to preserve Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

Sharon has made a tantalizing, hard-to-read series of moves on the political and diplomatic chess board in recent days.

On May 25, the old hawk and architect of Israel’s sprawling settlements network won his government’s conditional endorsement of the international "road map" for Palestinian statehood. He won by a comfortable 12-7 vote, despite threats by far-right parties to bolt.

In a startling break with the past, Sharon told Likud Knesset members that the "occupation" must end, because "ruling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on indefinitely." That marked the first time a leader on the Israeli right referred to Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an occupation.

At the same time, Sharon said construction in settlements will continue for generations. He has offered no clues about what kind of Palestinian state he will allow.

Sharon’s real intentions remain as opaque as ever. Is he prepared to offer a minimally acceptable amount of territory for creation of a Palestinian state and genuine sovereignty? Or are his recent statements and actions simply a new version of the old stall, meant to appease Washington until the pesky road map problem goes away?

Privately, members of his government say that accepting the road map wasn’t particularly risky, because they expect Yasser Arafat and Hamas to quickly undermine it.

The problem facing U.S. Jewish leaders, who have risked their relations with the Bush administration by lobbying against the road map in Congress, is that they don’t have a clue where Sharon is taking them and his nation. If Sharon’s endorsement was just a gambit, Jewish leaders here could find themselves in an awkward position, especially if the new Palestinian government tries to live up to its commitments under the plan.

A good-faith effort by the Palestinians could cause the administration’s enthusiasm for the road map, now tempered by low expectations, to soar. That could produce a White House backlash against those Jewish groups seen as trying to erect new road map obstacles on behalf of a balky government in Israel.

Alternatively, Jewish leaders could face a problem if the Sharon government really decides to embrace the plan. In the past, Israeli governments have abruptly reversed longstanding policy, leaving U.S. Jewish groups in the lurch.

That happened in 1993, when another old hardliner, Yitzhak Rabin, decided to talk to the PLO, while many Jewish groups here were still treating "dialogue" with Arafat as a mortal sin. It could happen again if Sharon surprises the world and decides to follow the road map’s route to a settlement.

Sharon’s whole history may argue against acceptance of the road map’s core demands, including quick timetables for statehood and a settlements freeze, but he has also demonstrated a fierce determination to preserve smooth relations with Washington.

Jewish groups here need to be prepared for sharp policy changes in Jerusalem, as Sharon weighs his options. Harder to deal with will be the already wide gap between community leaders and rank-and-file Jews on peace issues.

Polls show that a majority of U.S. Jews still support the road map’s basic principles, including Palestinian statehood, security for Israel and a negotiated end to the occupation, despite almost three years of horrific terrorism. If the plan moves forward, Jewish leaders, who seem to be fighting a rear-guard action against it, could find themselves at odds with a community that may be much more willing to see Israel take risks for peace.

American Jews will support Sharon as long as they believe he is fighting for Israel’s security. That support has generally encompassed even the tough military actions he has taken in recent months to do what the Palestinians have failed to do — put the terror groups out of business.

But they are unlikely to rise to the defense of an Israeli government that seems more intent on preserving settlements than on serious negotiations.

If the administration pursues the plan and Israel resists, the gap could widen between a Jewish leadership that defends the policies of the current Israeli government and a Jewish public that is not yet ready to abandon active, difficult peace efforts, despite two very grim years.

World Briefs


U.N. Approves Six Anti-Israel
Resolutions

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved six resolutions criticizing Israeli policies. Though such resolutions are passed annually, most noteworthy was the U.S. vote against a resolution condemning the Israeli law that declares Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. For the past two years, the United States has abstained on the resolution, but this year, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the resolution prejudges key issues that must be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, called the U.S. rejection of the Jerusalem resolution “a slap in the face” to all Arabs, Muslims and Christians.

Jewish Republican Gets Key Post

The only Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives has been chosen for a key leadership position in the next Congress. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was selected Monday to serve as the chief deputy to incoming Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), making Cantor the highest appointed leader in the House Republican caucus. Both men have been strong supporters of Israel. Cantor will be the only Jewish Republican in the House once the retirement of Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) becomes official in January.

U.S. Finds Palestinians
Noncompliant

President Bush determined that the Palestinians are not living up to agreements signed with the United States and Israel. Just the same, the White House on Monday waived sanctions against the Palestinians in the interest of national security. Despite the waiver, this marks the first time a U.S. president has found the Palestinian Authority and PLO noncompliant since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993.

In another development, the State Department issued a report saying the Palestinians have not complied with several elements of its agreements, including recognizing the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. In the report, obtained by JTA on Tuesday, U.S. officials also said the Palestinian Authority had not fulfilled commitments to solve all disputes through negotiation and peaceful means and renounce the use of violence.

Barghouti: New Palestinian Leaders
Needed

Jailed Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti called for a change in the Palestinian leadership. In a written response to questions from The Associated Press, Barghouti said, “It is time for many of the Palestinian leaders and officials to leave their positions after failing in their roles and responsibilities in this decisive battle [against Israel].” Barghouti did not mention Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat by name, nor did he condemn the violence of the intifada, as some Palestinian officials recently have. Barghouti, who was arrested by Israeli troops in April, is standing trial in Israel on charges of involvement in killing dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks.

School Settles Anti-Semitism
Charges

A Minnesota-based university agreed to pay nearly $1 million over the next five years to settle allegations of anti-Semitism. Three faculty members who sued St. Cloud State University a year ago will receive a total of nearly $315,000, while other faculty members who filed discrimination complaints will share $50,000, according to The Associated Press. The lawsuit alleged department administrators attempted to get students to avoid classes taught by Jewish professors and that Jewish faculty members were paid less, denied promotions and not given full credit for their teaching experience. Under the proposed settlement, which still requires approval from a federal judge, the university also agreed to create a Jewish studies center, according to the report.

Film Screening Benefits Hebrew
University

Actor Billy Crystal held a benefit screening of his new movie for Hebrew University, motivated by the July 31 bombing at the school. “I hated what I saw on television,” Crystal said of the deadly attack at the Jerusalem-based school. He spoke moments before the Dec. 3 screening in New York of “Analyze That,” which stars Crystal and Robert DeNiro. Crystal also supports a theater program sponsored by the university called “Peace Through the Performing Arts,” which promotes cooperation among Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli Arab students.

Canada’s Terror List Criticized

Canada added Hamas, Islamic Jihad and four other radical groups to its list of banned terrorist organizations. The list, created under legislation passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, now has 13 groups that are banned from the country. Anyone belonging to them or helping them faces a possible 10-year prison sentences. Following the government’s latest move, B’nai Brith Canada filed an appeal in federal court to have the government list all of Hezbollah, including its political wing, as a terrorist organization whose assets must be frozen.

El Al Facility Evacuated

The El Al cargo facility at the Los Angeles airport was evacuated for nearly two hours Monday. Bomb experts were called in after a suitcase containing airline parts was found. The package turned out to be harmless. Passengers and flights were not affected.

Lawsuit Filed Against Arafat in
Belgium

A lawsuit reportedly was filed in Brussels against Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, charging him with involvement in terror attacks against Israelis. The lawsuit filed Monday includes reports, documents and testimony intended to prove Arafat’s role in financing and orchestrating acts of terror, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. The lawsuit was brought under a 1993 law on “universal jurisdiction,” which enables Belgian courts to judge atrocities committed elsewhere, regardless of whether or not they involved Belgians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was sued in Belgium by Palestinians and Lebanese who accused him of responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon, which was carried out by Lebanese Christian militias allied with Israel. The courts in Belgium dismissed the case against Sharon earlier this year. The lawsuit against Arafat was submitted on behalf of Knesset member Avraham Hirschson, the victims of Palestinian terror attacks and their families.

Hillel Head Up for Y.U. Presidency

Yeshiva University officials are expected to approve hiring Hillel President Richard Joel as the school’s next president. The Y.U. Board of Trustees, its executive committee and the board of Yeshiva’s seminary are scheduled to vote late Thursday, according to university spokeswoman Hedy Shulman. Joel, 52, who invigorated Hillel and made it into a high-profile organization on college campuses, is the sole candidate to replace outgoing president Norman Lamm, Shulman said.

World Jewry Declining

The world’s Jewish population is declining, according to a survey carried out by an institute affiliated with the Jewish Agency for Israel. According to the institute, which convened a session in Jerusalem this week to address what it called the “demographic crisis,” the number of American Jews dropped by 300,000 in the last decade, while other major Jewish communities around the world also declined. Only Israel’s Jewish community is growing, the institute said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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