|Israel Resource Review
||8th August, 2008
Witness to a the FreeGAza.org press conference in Nicosia: A Slow Boat to Gaza
David Bedein, writing for the Philadelphia Bulletin and FrontPageMagazine.com
Nicosia, Cyprus -
On Monday, a movement known as FreeGaza.org held a press conference in Nicosia, Cyprus, in which a group of 40 people from around the world announced that they would board two small boats to travel by sea to Gaza to "break the siege" that Israel has placed upon Gaza.This reporter was there to cover this event.
There was no acknowledgement that in June of 2007, the Hamas regime took over Gaza and formalized a total state of war against Israel with the aim of liberating all of Palestine and using Gaza as a stepping stone to recoup any and all land ruled by the Jewish state.
With increasing boatloads of Iranian military hardware landing on the Gaza coastline, the Israeli navy was forced to impose an embargo of goods coming into Gaza. Israel offered to oversee goods and services for humanitarian needs in Gaza, by allowing specified supervised land crossings for supply to Gaza.
The press conference, held at "Journalist House" in Nicosia, was launched with an opening statement by an Israeli American Jerusalem resident, Jeff Halper, who alleged that Israel was behaving in defiance of international law by closing shipping lanes to Gaza. He also claimed that the people of Gaza faced a severe shortage of milk and medical supplies.
Mr. Monir Deeb, a native Gazan who has lived in Los Angeles since 1979, explained to the media that he was boarding these boats to reunite with his siblings in Gaza. Mr. Deeb described Gaza as a "peaceful community under Israeli military siege" and said that this small convoy was meant to deliver a message to Israel to stop the siege of Gaza.
This reporter asked Mr. Deeb about the armed Gaza militias who have fired thousands of missiles over the past eight years against Israeli civilian communities that surround Gaza. I also asked for his comment on how the Hamas government is using the current cease fire period to regroup and train for the next attack on Israel. Mr. Deeb said that he "could not relate to this question," since it was "political" and his concern was "only humanitarian" in nature.
The convener of the FreeGaza.org press conference, Ms. Greta Berlin, an American woman formerly married to a Palestinian whose family was dislocated from Safed in Northern Israel during the 1948 war, gave examples of the humanitarian mission on which they were embarking. "One of her missions," she said, "was to supply 9,000 hearing aids for Palestinian children who suffer hearing loss at a young age, due to Israeli missile attacks on Gaza."
I asked Ms. Berlin if it were not the case that the missile attacks that she had claimed had been fired at Palestinians in Gaza by Israelis were actually fired by Palestinians towards the Western Negev, as they screech over Palestinian villages en route to hit Israeli civilian targets.
Ms. Berlin would not comment, saying repeatedly that the purpose of the voyage to Gaza was not political, even though the press statement issued by FreeGaza.org touched every raw political nerve possible.
FreeGaza.org also clearly stated that it strongly condemns Israel for not allowing "refugees and their descendants the right to return home" to the villages that have since been resettled by Israel after the 1948 war. Meanwhile, the "FreeGaza.org" press statement also decried "Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine," laying aside any pretensions that the group only favored Israel's full withdrawal from Gaza.
Ms. Berlin reported that the operation to bring two boats into Gaza was independent of any foreign entities. She mentioned that FreeGaza.org had already raised $210,000 of the total budget needed, more than $300,000 for the boats. However, on July 31st, the Palestine Information Center issued a press release in which it stated that a member of the Lebanese Parliament had confirmed to Hamas leader Abu Marzook in Cairo that the boats had been provided by Palestinian popular committees by the Hamas. That would mean, in effect, that FreeGaza.org received two sources of support for its work - from American Jewish groups and from the Palestinian popular committees which are run by Hamas.
Nothing like the profit motive to move things along the high seas.
The boats are timed to arrive in Gaza this coming Saturday night, which this year marks Tisha 'av, the ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar, a fast day which marks disasters which have befallen the Jewish people.
By coincidence or not, pro-Palestinian movements around the world have designated this Friday and Saturday as a time of solidarity with their cause.
Indeed, an international Palestinian solidarity conference will convene this coming weekend at Wyndam Ohare Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, where a coalition of fifty Arab groups will gather under the umbrella of the first "Palestinian Popular Conference in North America." The theme of the conference, promoted in all of their publicity, leaves no room for the imagination: "Ending Zionist occupation and colonization of Palestine."
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Jews Observe Solemn Fast, Recall Historical Tragedies
This Sunday, Jewish people around the world observe the fast day that marks the ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar. The fast of the Ninth of Av is only one of two days of the year that Jews observe the command to fast for a full 25 hours.
The other full fast day is the Day of Atonement, known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur, when Jewish people ask God and their fellow man to forgive them for sins that they have committed, knowingly and unknowingly.
The fast of the Ninth of Av is decidedly different.
While Yom Kippur focuses on the individual in the context of the greater community at large, The Ninth of Av focuses on the Jewish people as a whole, and the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. It was on the Ninth of Av that both Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, in 586 BC and 70 AD, respectively.
It was on the ninth of Av that the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.
It was on the Ninth of Av that the first trains of Jews were dispatched by the Nazis to the Auschwitz death camp in 1942.
Yet it was also on the Ninth of Av that, according to the Biblical account, the spies who were sent by Moses to check out the land of Israel came back with a negative report, saying that the Israelites should go back to Egypt.
The "nay saying" of the spies who did not want to inherit the land chosen by God for the people of Israel was a portent of things to come, because Jewish tradition has it that it was the deterioration of integrity among the Jewish people values that led to the destruction of both Holy Temples, by Babylonia and by Rome, respectively.
The teachings on the Ninth of Av focus on the Book of Lamentations, which, according to the Jewish tradition, was authored by the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the Jewish people being taken into exile.
The Book of Lamentations commences with the question as to "How Jerusalem stood alone," with hints throughout the book of the moral degradation of the Jewish people which caused the inner weakness of the communal Jewish resolve, which caused Israel's enemies to besiege and conquer and try to destroy the people of Israel.
While the Ninth of Av is widely observed in Israel by the Jewish people who live in Israel, this is a fast day that is not as well known or respected amongst Jews of North America. The reason given is that it occurs in the summer, when people are on vacation. Yet there may be a deeper reason.
In Israel the subject of the threat to destroy Israel and the threat to murder the Jewish people as a whole remains part of the national culture and, in many ways is part of the daily news story.
A high percentage of Israelis are descended from people murdered by Hitler in World War II. A high percentage of Israelis are survivors of that catastrophe. And Israel has been fighting a war for its existence for 60 years.
Jews who live outside of Israel rarely speak about such things in their common parlance. Although the Jewish holidays of Purim and Passover relate to the threat to the people of Israel, from Persia and Egypt respectively, these are happy, joyous occasions, where families gather and also enjoy themselves.
There is no joy on the Ninth of Av. The tradition of the Ninth of Av is that people do not even greet each other with a friendly hello.
This year, with Iran and its clients Hamas and Hezbollah gnawing at Israel from the north and south of the country, echoing the Iranian call for Israel's obliteration, the message of the Ninth of Av could not be more relevant.
The Jewish answer to this reality is stated near the end of the Book of Lamentations, where Jewish people are asked to "examine their ways and to return to God's path," with a deep understanding that the persecution of the Jews can be somewhat reduced by a choice to live a more ethical life in the path of the Torah through which God has commanded the people of Israel.
On this Ninth of Av, Jews in the United States may be somewhat awakened by an international conference that will gather at the Wyndham Hotel near O'Hare Airport, taking place on Saturday and Sunday.
The theme of that conference: to "eliminate the Zionist presence from Palestine" - not for Israel to withdraw from areas taken by the Jewish state in 1948 or 1967.
Indeed, a call for Israel's destruction will be heralded on the Ninth of Av in Chicago, for anyone who wants to listen.
Most Jewish people whom this reporter meets in North America would rather not hear that message.
This piece ran in the Philadelphia Bulletin on June 8th, 2008 - http://tinyurl.com/64xqu4
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Insight Behind the News in Israel
Senior Policy Research Analyst, Center for Near East Policy Research
Posting: August 8, 2007
Immediately upon the close of Shabbat tomorrow night begins Tisha B'Av (the ninth of the month of Av), a day of Jewish national mourning because it is the day on which our Temples were destroyed and on which we fast, and recite Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, and additional Kinot (elegies). We are drawn to a painful remembrance of destruction -- and our responsibility to this, coupled with an on-going praise of Zion, and a hope for the future as we look to G-d.
The observance of Tisha B'Av is a culmination, following a solemn period of three weeks that precedes it and an even more intense nine days immediately prior, during which we don't eat meat (except for Shabbat) or go swimming.
This year it is all particularly poignant, as we are bidden to be reminded of the value to us of Jerusalem, and to take care that we not lose her again.
And so . . . just briefly on other subjects here:
Olmert is being questioned again by the Fraud Investigation Unit, on several issues.
An interesting note: I've learned that the Hilles clan Fatah members who were rescued by Israel from Gaza were questioned with regard to Shalit. Don't know if anything was learned, but it makes a great deal of sense.
Regarding Iran: The EU is announcing new economic sanctions. Unfortunately they don't sound nearly stringent enough to me: EU nations will show restraint (restraint?) in giving public loans that help companies trading with Iran and . . . will inspect airplanes and ships traveling to and from Iran, notably Iran Air Cargo and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, to check that they are not carrying contraband.
Meanwhile, Israel is greatly concerned about reports -- which remain a bit vague -- that Russia has sold to Iran the S-300, a very sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system, which may be delivered to Iran by the end of the year. Israel is threatening Russian that we are in the process of completing development of an electronic system that would neutralize the S-300, and would use it as necessary in Iran, thus exposing Russia as vulnerable.
And President Peres is in China, as guest of the Chinese government, for the Olympics. He has spoken with Chinese president Hu Jintao regarding Chinese assistance in the blocking Iranian nuclear intentions. The response was positive, but I don't know what, if anything, this means in practical terms. I do know that China is interested in being involved in the Middle East and in many ways positively disposed to Israel.
Pray, one and all, for the safety and the peace of Jerusalem.
Posting: August 7, 2008
What do you do if you are a lame-duck prime minister with a single digit approval rating and you've been negotiating a very problematic deal with a party of exceedingly limited power?
Perhaps if you were in this position you'd pull back and table negotiations. Knowing that this is what is being demanded of you and what legal precedent in the nation requires. Recognizing that it's wrong to tie the hands of whatever government might follow you.
But Ehud Olmert isn't you. And his declared preference is for going full steam ahead. This makes little sense, and is, in fact, an outrage. But hey, if you're Ehud Olmert, you don't care.
Olmert met here in Jerusalem yesterday with PA president Mahmoud Abbas in order to advance "peace" negotiations. Negotiator Saeb Erekat declared that no real progress was made, but, still, the parties have begun talking again about reaching a shelf agreement by the end of 2008.
A shelf agreement, if you remember, means that all parameters for an agreement are set down on paper, but then the paper is "put on the shelf," that is, not enacted, until the PA is strong enough to fulfill its commitments with regard to security and more.
The argument is that if the PA doesn't come through we've lost nothing, as we will then have no obligation to proceed. But that is purely theoretic. Guaranteed, once we've committed to certain parameters, we'd be pushed to see them through: to start pulling out of Judea and Samaria. Guaranteed, the Palestinians would be cut slack, just as they always are: OK, they don't have a security force that is taking out terrorists, but they're working on it, so it's time to move ahead.
In all likelihood these are no more than empty words. I do not believe a "shelf agreement" or any other sort of comprehensive final agreement can be reached. The parties are too far apart. No way in the world that Olmert could come back to his government, never mind the Knesset and the nation, and say we'll be pulling back to the '47 Armistice lines -- which is what the Palestinians demand: that we'll not be keeping a single community in Judea and Samaria, and not even the Kotel or Jerusalem neighborhoods such as French Hill or Gilo. And that we'll be taking in millions of hostile "refugees" as well.
But there is no way in the world that Abbas can settle for less. He has no wiggle room, no authority to compromise. While we keep compromising, he keeps demanding. He has to, you see. Not just because he really wants all of this, but because he is weak, and Hamas is setting the agenda, and he has to account for himself with the Palestinian street. Abbas knows that if he were to concede too much, he would, literally, be dead. This is a man who never goes into cities such as Jenin because his life would be in danger if he did.
The danger is not that Olmert will forge a final agreement, but that he'll make some written commitments that will be considered binding by the international community and the Palestinians. That he will say, OK, we have to decide how to divide it, but in principle the Palestinians can have part of Jerusalem. Or, OK, we will certainly be pulling back from a substantial number of settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Rice, who is due here in two weeks, is pushing for precisely this sort of written statement. She wants a document that says what we and the Palestinians have agreed upon, and where our positions still diverge. This is because she's looking to show "progress," and ideally she'd like this before the beginning of the fall session of the UN.
If we were to give her what she wants, we would be putting our positions on paper in all regards -- a very foolish thing to do when there has not been a meeting of the minds with the other side. There is a tendency, when negotiations are picked up after a hiatus, even if it's a considerable hiatus and the Israeli government is a new one, for pressure to be put upon us to pick up where we left off.
The betting in many quarters is that this will not happen, but it is the most worrisome part of what might transpire now. For Olmert is predisposed to keeping Rice happy when it's possible.
As to Rice, I find her position increasingly incomprehensible. The writing is on the wall in huge capital letters: Mahmoud Abbas and his PA are failing. They are not capable of forging a reasonable agreement, and not capable of defeating terrorism, and are probably going to be overtaken in Judea and Samaria by Hamas at some point. Yet she goes on with her "business as usual" attitude.
Her hunger to establish a "legacy" at any cost (and it's our cost, first, that we're talking about, but also US cost) is breathtaking.
There is something that Olmert did promise in his meeting with Abbas: To release some 150 Palestinian prisoners by the end of this month, as a "gesture" to him. More one-way giving with us getting nothing in return.
The prime minister's office says it's to show Abbas that he can get more by dialogue than through extremism. Unmitigated nonsense. And it's no comfort that Olmert's spokesman made the comment that this release will be "above and beyond what has been done in previous hostage negotiations," which comment he refused to explain.
What's clear to me is that Abbas is unhappy that the terrorists -- negotiating releases for abductions -- are more successful in getting prisoners released than he is, and thus are accruing capital on the street.
We are still in the process of finalizing the last of the deal with Hezbollah, which involves the release of some Palestinian prisoners -- undoubtedly galling to Abbas.
There are rumors that Marwan Barghouti, Ahmed Saadat, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader, who planned the assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Ze'evi, and Hamas parliament speaker Aziz Dweik were on the list. But there has been absolutely no confirmation of this from our side.
Some other Palestinians have been released from prison by us this week -- these associated with Hamas. Omar Abdel Razzak, who served as finance minister in the Hamas government, and Muna Mansour, a Hamas legislator, were released at the beginning of the week. On Wednesday, Issa Ja'bari, who served as a minister for local government in the Hamas cabinet.
There is broad speculation that this is a precursor to a deal on Shalit, or some sort of "good faith" -- make things smoother -- gesture in that direction.
I note that the sort of prisoners released -- Hamas people who had governmental experience -- are just the sort that Abbas worries about.
There is enormous international equivocating in the face of continued Iranian defiance with regard to its nuclear development.
The US, which is showing signs of enormous impatience with the current situation and recognizing that any UN move is months away, is pushing for stringent sanctions with teeth in them in cooperation with Germany and the permanent members of the Security Council.
Today, a statement by Defense Minister Barak to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera was released, in which he declared that a nuclear Iran would be "dangerous to world order." Stressing the need for more stringent sanctions, he said that all options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat were "open and ready."
"Either way, we need to keep every option open. If they provoke us, or they attack us, our army is prepared to attack and to succeed uncompromisingly . . . it's up to us to find the best way to get the best result with minimum damage."
Then also today, Secretary of State Rice, while promoting the need for more effective sanctions, made a statement that "The president keeps all his options on the table . . . "
As to whether the US would object to an Israeli military strike on Iran, she declared, "We don't say yes or no to Israeli military operations. Israel is a sovereign country."
From Rice, who thinks nothing of telling Israel what to do, this is perhaps a strong statement.
At the same time that efforts are being made to prevent Iran from going nuclear, there are projects being developed to further protect Israel from attack by rockets.
The US Department of Defense has pledged financial assistance to Israel in developing the Arrow 3, a more advanced version of the Arrow 2 currently in use.
This new missile, which is in beginning stages of development with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) factory, is expected to be able to intercept ballistic missiles at heights of more than 100 kilometers (i.e. outside the atmosphere).
Used with an enhanced radar system and a number of interceptor missiles, the new Arrow will have enhanced possibility of hitting a ballistic missile, and would reach it earlier in its trajectory -- when it is higher up. This would reduce the danger of having the warhead and remnants of the ballistic missile land on Israeli territory after being successfully intercepted.
This would go a long way towards countering the threat of long range and nuclear-tipped missile attacks.
In addition, Israeli defense officials have indicated that in the event of a war with Iran, the US would probably deploy Aegis missile defense ships off Israel's coast to assist in intercepting incoming ballistic missiles.
There are multiple reports floating about that Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) is being seriously considered by John McCain for his vice presidential slot. This was the first good political news I'd heard in a long time: Cantor is a good man with a lot going for him.
See Wednesday's Washington Times editorial supporting this choice for more information:
Posting: August 5, 2008
"The Good and the Bad"
The recent incidents involving Hamas-Fatah violence have had some interesting and positive repercussions internationally. Less and less is the world sympathetic to a people that goes at each other's throats.
The Sydney Morning Herald has provided some examples of this feeling:
Mohammad Darawshe, co-director of the (US-based) Abraham Fund:
"Hamas might win the battle, but this behavior makes it so much harder to win international support to create an independent state. This is the behavior of a brutal dictatorship, not a political party working towards advancing the interests of its people."
Gabriel Motzkin, Hebrew University professor:
"It is beyond doubt that there are now two separate Palestinian territories, so who does Israel deal with? Mahmoud Abbas does not speak for Palestinians in Gaza. And Hamas is not interested in any negotiations with Israel at all. This civil war makes a permanent solution impossible to negotiate."
The question, of course, is how long it will take before the Israeli government and the US government wake up and face the reality here.
A vacillating Fatah has come out looking really bad. In the end, I must note, it was fewer than 90 people from the Hilles clan in Gaza that went to Jericho, while some dozens of others were returned to Gaza. I am assuming, but have no solid information on this, that the security status and official connections of those concerned were prevailing factors.
And -- in spite of the sense that there was madness in our rush to risk our boys to save Fatah men being pursued by Hamas -- we have accrued some very positive PR.
I especially like this from the Daily Star in Lebanon (from an Arab nation!):
"We have seen Palestinians making war on other Palestinians while the Jewish state has come to the rescue of those who fear for their lives. Israel has never looked so good."
Bravo to MK Limor Livnat (Likud). She has sent a letter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, requesting that he "instruct the prime minister to halt the carrying out of diplomatic contacts with the Palestinian Authority and with Syria (excepting vital and urgent matters) until the formation of a new government, just as was the practice for past governments."
"Upon the announcement [of pending resignation] of the prime minister, the government of Israel became, in practice, - if not also strictly according to law - a transitional government . . .
"The Supreme Court set in a series of decisions, that when a prime minister resigns from office, the government and its ministers are to act with the reserve appropriate for the standing of a retiring government, and to act only on pressing matters. This position is also set explicitly in Basic Law: Government . . .
"The . . . negotiations with the Palestinian Authority have been carried out for a long period by various Israeli governments. We are talking about processes whose outcomes may have a major influence on the future of the State for many years to come. The continuation of these contacts during the short period remaining until the replacement of the current government varies from the area of reasonableness. There is no critical public need for the carrying out of negotiations during the short period remaining for this government, and it is prohibited that such important and critical negotiations be carried out . . . when . . . what is said . . . may tie the hands of the next prime minister and government ministers. The self control in the exercise of the authority of the regime require the prime minister not to tie the hands of the next government and not to hurriedly complete complicated processes that have been underway in one form or another for years."
For fuller legal arguments see: http://imra.org.il/story.php3?id=40209
The problem here, among many, is that the left-leaning Mazuz likely is pleased with what Olmert is doing with regard to negotiations. What further recourses might remain to Livnat and her associates I do not know.
The deadline for Iran to reply to an international offer for an incentives package has passed -- although an negative response is expected soon. The media is filled with news and ominous predictions about what comes next.
Rafsanjani has announced that Iran the first stage of nuclear fusion.
The State Department says more severe sanctions are in order.
And John Bolton has sent a most sober and somber warning:
"The rationality of continued Western negotiations with Iran depends on two assumptions: that Iran is far enough away from having deliverable nuclear weapons that we don't incur excessive risks by talking; and that by talking we don't materially impede the option to use military force. Implicit in the latter case is the further assumption that the military option is static - that it remains equally viable a year from now as it is today.
"Every day that goes by allows Iran to increase the threat it poses, and the viability of the military option steadily declines over time . . .
"Iran is pursuing two goals simultaneously, both of which it is comfortably close to achieving. The first -- to possess all the capabilities necessary for a deliverable nuclear weapon -- is now almost certainly impossible to stop diplomatically. Thus, Iran's second objective becomes critical: to make the risks of a military strike against its program too high, and to make the likelihood of success in fracturing the program too low. Time favors Iran in achieving these goals. U.S. and European diplomats should consider this while waiting by the telephone for Iran to call."
See his full article, "While Diplomats Dither, Iran Builds Nukes," in the Wall Street Journal at:
In truth, this issue overshadows all the other issues we deal with. The issue of timing -- how long can we wait before making a strike -- is paramount.
In passing here, likely with more to follow: Taking the title, "FreeGaza," Pro-Palestinian NGOs (non-profits), including some in the US, have taken on a venture to "break the Gaza blockade." A group of activists are waiting in Cyprus for the arrival of two ships, which are supposed to pick them up and move down the Mediterranean in an attempt to land on the Gaza coast.
The Israeli navy is preventing ships from reaching that Gaza shore because of a serious issue of smuggling of weapons for use by terrorists against Israeli civilians.
I have studied the literature of this group, which, needless to say, is rife with misrepresentations. Israel is represented as the bad guy -- keeping poor innocent Gazans locked up out of the most malicious motivations. Nowhere is Hamas terrorism mentioned. Nowhere is it said that there would be no need for a blockade if weapons weren't being brought in and used. Nowhere are the people of Gaza called upon to be peaceful.
One of the claims made is that humanitarian aid workers are not allowed into Gaza. This, I know for fact, is false. Actually, for all that is said about the siege of Gaza, the reality is, as well, that large numbers of trucks bearing items for use in Gaza are permitted by Israel to go in regularly. Some might be qualified as emergency humanitarian relief, but one is struck, when learning about all that is brought in, by how much is not of an emergency nature at all: furniture, anti-dandruff shampoo, etc.
They also claim that some of them are not even allowed into Israel. And my response here is that there are undoubtedly reasons why not. But what is most disturbing for me is that there is a handful of Israelis who are participating. These are the sort of people who work to damage the state.
I learned from the project coordinator today that there will journalists on the ship, and one of them is Lauren Booth, who is the sister-in-law of Tony Blair.
Posting: August 4, 2008
"Update and Onward"
Well, seems Abbas has been convinced to take the members of Fatah who fled from Gaza, saying that he recognizes their lives would be at risk if they were forced to return. This decision was made after overnight discussions between our Ministry of Defense and Abbas's office. At first it was said they would be sent to Ramallah, but now it appears their final destination will be Jericho.
Khaled Abu Toameh, of the Post, has provided some insight into Abbas's reason for not wanting them: The Hilles clan is, in Abu Toameh's words, a bunch of "Fatah thugs." The PA is having trouble maintaining law and order in Judea and Samaria as it is. The presence of this gang, which was pretty much a law unto itself and had its own military training base -- which is why Hamas was after its members -- is bound to cause trouble for the PA. What is more, there is hostility between Fatah people of Gaza and Fatah people of Judea and Samaria.
This last reason shines a light on what is becoming more and more obvious: There is no "Palestinian people." There are only various factions. Never mind that Hamas and Fatah don't get along, there are cultural differences and animosities between the Arabs in Gaza and those in Judea and Samaria, even if they are both loyal to Fatah.
With this latest action against Fatah in Gaza, which completes the Hamas takeover there, it is also clear that the PA is growing ever weaker. Hamas is biding its time in terms of a takeover in Judea and Samaria.
According to Pinchas Inbari, writing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Hamas is planning this after the release of Shalit, which will secure the release of Hamas parliament members and cadres who will go back to the West Bank and strengthen the infrastructure there.
If you remember, I reported the other day that Abbas said he might disband the PA if Israel releases these Hamas members in an exchange. It is something he very much fears.
Just two days ago there was a report that Hamas is thinking of freezing negotiations on Shalit until the political uncertainty here in Israel passes.
However, here yesterday formation of a panel on prisoner release criteria was announced -- to be headed by Vice Premier Haim Ramon, and including Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon.
As I understand it, in an effort to have more flexibility regarding who might be released, they are going to reconsider the definition of who has "blood on his hands." Right now those who do have blood on their hands are not released. What is being considered is removing from this category those who organized and dispatched others to carry out attacks that failed.
This is cowardly game-playing based on a technicality. The person who planned an attack intended to kill Jews is not necessarily any less evil or dangerous because the attack failed than someone whose attack succeeded. But such is the hunger within the government to be done with the Shalit issue at last.
Even this "redefinition," I am certain, will not totally satisfy Hamas demands. We've agreed to fewer than 100 of 450 being demanded.
The problem at this point is that we are negotiating from weakness. After what we agreed to in the negotiations with Hezbollah, Hamas is emboldened. They are convinced that we want Shalit badly enough so that if they hold out, they'll get what they want from us.
Indication of the need to bring back Shalit was highlighted by a small incident today: When Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi greeted new IDF recruits at an induction center, he held a question and answer session. One new inductee said, " . . . after we complete our recruit service and advanced training, we will be on the front line. But in the meantime, Gilad Shalit is in captivity and this is a very disturbing issue."
Replied Ashkenazi: "Gilad Shalit has been held hostage for more than two years and we must return him and make every effort on this matter. We know that Gilad Shalit is alive, where he is being held and by whom.
" . . . I can't go into details, but efforts are being exerted on the Gilad Shalit issue on all levels.
"[soldiers] must always remember that if anything happens to them, we will make sure they are returned to their families.
An IDF spokesman promptly rushed to explain that there is no new information, and there are no plans for a rescue operation. Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi, he explained, simply meant that Shalit was being held by Hamas in Gaza
Posting: August 3, 2008
"Where to Start?"
I confess: I feel so inundated with evidence of official stupidity -- including some very dangerous stupidity -- on both sides of the Atlantic that it's hard to know what to kick off with.
Let me start with reference to a stunning report by key US anti-terrorist Steve Emerson, founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism:
In spite of attempts by Islamic organizations to block him, Emerson testified last Thursday before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.
His message was that Congress must investigate collaboration that the State Department has initiated with "many radical Islamist organizations and individuals in its attempts to engage in outreach to the American Muslim community at large."
Emerson testified that while the outreach to the Muslim community by the State Department "is an honorable and worthwhile pursuit, the State Department has conducted outreach to the wrong groups, sending a terrible message to moderate Muslims who are thoroughly disenfranchised by the funding, hosting and embracing of radical groups that purport to be opposed to terrorism and extremism."
The State Department has cooperated with and done funding of groups that have links to Al Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah, thereby helping "to support an ideology that focuses on eliminating secular Western powers and promoting their stringent ideas of Sharia law . . .
"This approach . . . will help to aggrandize fundamentalist theology worldwide. The focus of the State Department's funding should promote genuinely moderate voices within the Muslim community, rather than reaching out to those who justify violence, support designated terrorist groups, and promote the funding and support of jihadist ideology globally."
You can read his full testimony here:
Americans, wake up! Make your voices heard on this, loud and clear.
The other part of this story, however, involves someone with courage who has his head screwed on exactly right. I refer to the chair of the Subcommittee before which Steve Emerson testified:
Congressman Brad Sherman (D- CA 27th --San Fernando Valley). Congressman Sherman had to stand strong against a great deal of pressure from Arab lobbies in order to make certain that Emerson would testify; this effort serves the nation well. He needs to hear words of support and gratitude now, needs to know that his effort is recognized and appreciated. If you are an American citizen, please let him hear from you:
In Washington DC: tel. (202) 225-5911 and fax (202) 225-5879
In Sherman Oaks, CA: tel. 818) 501-9200 and fax (818) 501-1554
Please pass this to others on your list as well.
I wrote the other day about the report by Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin saying that since the period of quiet known as the tahadiyah was established between Hamas and Gaza in late June, the smuggling from the Sinai has not stopped, with some four tons of explosives, 50 anti-tank missiles and dozens of light arms having been smuggled into Gaza.
Well, today, in the course of some research I'm doing for a writing project, I happened upon a statement from a site called globalsecurity.org. Seems that on June 19, when the ceasefire had just begun, Mark Regev, who serves as the spokesman for the prime minister, said the following:
"If we see Hamas using this period of quiet just to rearm and regroup, all bets are off. There will not be an understanding."
Israeli citizens, please: Contact Mark. Quote his words back to him. Provide information on what has been smuggled in since the tahadiyah, and ask him when you can expect the prime minister to call it quits with regard to the current "understanding" with Hamas.
tel. (02)670-5354 fax (02) 670-5394 Faxing when possible is good.
Credible reports are mounting regarding the possibility of anti-aircraft weaponry from Syria being passed to Hezbollah. On Friday, an article by Alex Fishman in Yediot Ahronot analyzed the significance and dangers inherent in this possibility:
Monitoring of Hezbollah activity -- which in the main must be done from the sky -- is exceedingly important for securing information about the highly secretive building of Hezbollah's forces, for monitoring of particular individuals, and for preparing lists of targets. Intelligence must be very tight. It would represent a major blow to Israel's ability to function if planes doing surveillance were at risk of being shot down.
Additionally, any government, cabinet or general staff that had to approve an activity in Lebanon that required air cover - such as an incursion, targeted killing, kidnapping or retrieval - might hesitate to take the risk.
While this is looming before us with immediacy, our prime minister (and yes, unfortunately, he is still our prime minister) speaks positively about Syria and the possibility of successful peace negotiations. Fishman challenges Israel to start to think seriously about the issues:
Is Syria being warned of the consequences of supplying this weaponry to Hezbollah? Should Israel sit and wait until the first such systems are actually in Lebanon? What if a missile downs an unmanned craft?
For an English translation of the original Hebrew article: http://imra.org.il/story.php3?id=40146
In any event, the notion of achieving peace with Syria -- with Olmert promoting the notion that Syria would abandon ties with Iran to achieve this -- is simply more official nonsense. This weekend Syria's Bashar Assad visited Iran, and the guessing is that the purpose was to strengthen Syrian-Iranian ties.
SANA, Syria's official news agency, reported that a major purpose of the visit was "to consult on the nuclear issue and the right of states to peaceful enrichment." It declared that the two countries shared "identical views" on "major regional and international" issues, and rejected "foreign dictates."
Major Palestinian happenings -- violent and convoluted:
For five days, Hamas gunmen (aka security forces) had surrounded the homes of members of the Fatah-affiliated Hilles clan located in the Shajayieh neighborhood of Gaza City, whom they claimed were responsible for the explosion that had taken the lives of five Hamas men and a young girl some days before.
The clan, however, violently resisted any attempt by Hamas to enter their area. Ultimately nine Palestinians were killed and more than 90 wounded in fighting yesterday.
Last night, after the clan had surrendered, 188 Palestinians approached the border with Israel near Nachal Oz, threw down their guns and asked to be permitted to cross over. According to military sources, permission was given (by Defense Minister Barak) out of "humanitarian concern" that these people might be slaughtered. Those who were wounded were taken to Israeli hospitals.
The comment of a friend of mine: "We are out of our minds."
Although the humanitarian instincts of the Israeli military are being celebrated, and it has been pointed out that when Arabs pursue Arabs with murderous intent, those on the losing side more than once have sought Israel as refuge, I think my friend is correct. For our soldiers began the rescue "while being targeted by machine gun, sniper and mortar fire from all directions," according to Northern Gaza Brigade Commander Colonel Ron Ashrov. (The final portion of the rescue was then done after dark.)
Who are they, that we should have allowed any of our boys to be at risk, even temporarily, on their behalf? Do not imagine that because they were pursued by Hamas they were anything but bums. It is not altogether clear which members of the Hilles clan actually crossed into Israel, but Ahmed Hilles, leader of the clan, at one point, according to a YNet report, headed Tanzim -- a terrorist Fatah offshoot -- in Gaza.
Hamas reports that inside the clan stronghold it discovered large weapons caches, shells and explosive devices, and that it arrested Zaki el-Schany, an expert bomb maker with Fatah.
And just to show you how convoluted it all really is:
Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam said that the raid on the Hilles clan stronghold "was not aimed against the Hilles clan, which includes Hamas operatives and dozens of shahids [martyrs]." They were only after those members of the clan who, they claim, led an uprising against Hamas.
And, in case you think this is the end, allow me to share the clincher here: IDF intention was to turn these people over to Fatah in Judea and Samaria, but Abbas refuses to take them!
Fatah people located in Gaza should stay there, he says, and not abandon Gaza exclusively to Hamas. Excuse me while I choke on this. When Hamas was engaged in the takeover of Gaza, Fatah fighters complained that their commanders abandoned them in the field, and Abbas himself did not declare a state of emergency in Gaza until they came after his million dollar house.
Besides, says Abbas now, he's too strapped for cash to provide support stipends for additional people. This doesn't hold water either. Who's helping them survive in Gaza?
Some 34 Fatah loyalists have already been turned back to Hamas by Israel; they were arrested and reportedly most were then released. The Israeli intention, given Abbas's refusal, is to return to Gaza all those who aren't wounded. But the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has petitioned the High Court to prevent this from happening.
Posting: July 31, 2008
Political predictions are never written in stone, and certainly I make no claims that what I'm about to write here is anything other than a speculation. But I think it's a reasonably informed speculation and worth sharing . . .
I wrote yesterday about Netanyahu and Barak having met, and about thoughts that they might have been talking about more than defense issues.
Well, just suppose that . . .
Netanyahu has convinced Barak that he (Barak) will have a more solid political future if he throws the lot of Labor in with Likud rather than with Kadima. Suppose Barak is sold on the idea that the whole Kadima party is politically polluted and that something of their reputation would ultimate rub off on Labor (not that Barak himself is exactly Mr. Clean, you understand).
This notion that Likud now seeks to represent itself as the party of integrity (no laughing out there, please) is bolstered by Uzi Dayan having joined its ranks. Dayan's Tafnit party platform had a strong plank for clean government -- his endorsement of Likud is like the Seal of Good Housekeeping (for those Americans old enough to remember that).
Suppose Netanyahu has made promises to Barak about the role Labor can play in the coalition, and that Netanyahu and Barak together have decided to finish the Kadima party.
It could happen: they could do it. Without Labor, it is very unlikely that anyone at Kadima's helm would be able to put together a stable coalition.
All of this is by way of saying that it ain't over yet, and we cannot be certain how it will play out -- and certainly cannot be sure that the next government will be Kadima-led.
Haim Ramon, an Olmert mouthpiece and a deputy PM, told Army Radio this morning that Kadima's chances of forming a new coalition are very slim. While Shaul Mofaz, also speaking to Army Radio, said he thinks he has a good chance of winning the Kadima primary, and that he intends to put together a broad-based coalition for a unity government. Right now in polls on the Kadima primary Mofaz is running just a couple of points behind Livni, who previously had a major lead.
And Binyamin Netanyahu is calling for new elections, saying, "This government has reached an end and it doesn't matter who heads Kadima. They are all partners in this government's total failure."
It is apparently as I had speculated yesterday. (Making this speculation was a no-brainer, really.)
Police sources are saying that Olmert decided to step down now because "he recognized that the investigation evidence held by police is serious and solid . . . . The investigation Friday is expected to be difficult and uncomfortable for Olmert. He will be confronted with evidence and documents that have accumulated against him, and it is a fair assumption that he already understands that this involves substantive evidence." (Olmert is to be questioned again, this time with regard to alleged double billing for travel.)
There are actually commentators who are saying that Olmert has stepped down with dignity, doing what's right for the country. But, hey, I say he's doing what's right for Olmert, as he always does. Far better this than the possibility of being forced out after he's indicted.
What's clear is that he is without humility of any sort or a sense of responsibility for what has transpired. He is, he tells us, only a hard working and innocent man who has been set upon by enemies.
Most disconcerting is Olmert's pledge to keep working on peace negotiations. This raises the issue of exactly what would be tolerated in this country in terms of any commitments he might make to the PA when he is on his way out. We cannot let our guard down here.
Earlier this week, Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that it was highly unlikely that it would be possible to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians by the end of 2008. While there were gaps on issues such as borders and refugees, he said the main sticking point was Jerusalem.
Then, a day later, Olmert announced expectation that it should be possible to reach an agreement on everything else but Jerusalem by the end of 2008, with a mechanism set in place for how to reach a Jerusalem agreement in the following year.
Yesterday the Palestinians weighed in on this. If there is no comprehensive agreement by the end of 2008, we are being told, the PA may stop negotiations. "May " I have never known a group to make so many threats, all of which turn out to be nothing but hot air.
What Abbas's chief of staff, Rafik Husseni, said was, "We will negotiate until the end of the year, and then the president will review our options."
But here's the key: "Without a deal on Jerusalem, there will not be a peace deal at all."
Ahmed Qurei, head of the negotiating team, vociferously agreed:
"There will be no peace agreement with Israel unless there's an agreement on Jerusalem. And there will be no state without Jerusalem. Olmert and the rest of the world must understand that Jerusalem is the core of the problem."
Note: "Jerusalem" means a demand for all of eastern Jerusalem, with us returning to the Green Line. This means, aside from everything else, total relinquishment of the Kotel and Har Habayit (the Temple Mount). This is not going to happen.
So the bottom line is that I don't believe Olmert is capable of signing off on a final deal with the PA before he leaves office. But he can do us damage by going on the record as being committed to things that will come to haunt us later.
Abbas made yet another threat yesterday that is a sure sign of just how precarious the position of the PA is right now. If Israel releases Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament as part of the deal to secure the release of Shalit, Abbas would dismantle the PA. This information, according to Haaretz, came as a "personal message" from Abbas delivered to our Central Command by head of the PA's civic affairs department.
Many Hamas parliamentarians were arrested by Israel after Shalit was captured and about 40 remain in our prisons. Abbas is afraid that their release would end up strengthening Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria significantly just at a time when Fatah and Hamas are embroiled in conflict.
The position that Abbas is taking on this might have the effect of weakening him on the Palestinian street, as Abbas is supposed to be working for the release of all Palestinian brothers.
There is no progress in negotiations to secure Shalit in any event, because Israel is refusing to release all of the prisoners demanded by Hamas -- not because they will strengthen Hamas civic infrastructure, but because they are terrorists. Neither will we permit the opening of the crossing at Rafah as a precondition.
But the question remains as to whether Israel might give credence to Abbas's concerns on this.
Yesterday, Khaled Abu Toameh reports, PA security was put on high alert because Hamas is threatening PA officials in Judea and Samaria -- especially in Ramallah, and the threats are being taken seriously.
Leaflets distributed by Hamas's military wing, Izzadin Kassam, targeted top PA leaders for "collaborating with Israel."
Specifically mentioned were Abbas, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, top Fatah officials Azzam al-Ahmed and Ahmed Abdel Rahman, and Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior adviser to Abbas.
"Collaborating with Israel": Great climate for negotiating serious "peace talks," no?
Eli Lake, writing in the NY Sun, discusses the fact that there is now likely to be a slow down in PA - Israel negotiations, which will be problematic for Rice, who is pushing for an interim document.
Lake cites David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
"Basically, Secretary Rice would like a summation document that points to the disagreements and the points of convergence between the two parties. The problem is that no political figures like to expose to the public the concessions they make in the absence of a diplomatic breakthrough . . . . There is not much hope for such an agreed-upon document."
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