|Israel Resource Review
||9th January, 2008
Senior Research Policy Analyst, Center for Near East Policy Research
Posting: January 9, 2008
There may be a lot of hoopla with regard to Bush's visit here. But many Israelis find there is little genuine joy in their hearts at the arrival of the American president.
The editorial in today's Jerusalem Post puts it well:
" . . . this visit is overshadowed by undeniable tinges of sadness, desperation and even a feeling of betrayal. The first visit as president of such a great friend should be a tremendous occasion, yet it is serving as a tragic reminder of how skewed American policy has become, and how far the messenger seems to have strayed from his message."
The Post, actually, is full of ads, several full page, exhorting the president to re-think what he's doing. On the front page is one placed by a number of prominent Israeli citizens that asks, "PRESIDENT BUSH, How did we lose you?"
Inside, a full page ad by One Jerusalem admonishes that "Suddenly, the unity of Jerusalem is being spoken of as a political bargaining chip . . . There is no moral or political justification for rewriting history to deny Jewish heritage, no justification for redividing Jerusalem, no justification for, God forbid, turning King David's City of Peace once again into a devastated war zone . . . "
It was reported that Olmert, in his talks with Bush today, intended to lay down red lines, specifying what, from Israel's perspective, was not negotiable. And the suggestion was that there would be some confrontation on certain matters.
Well . . . I listened to the joint Bush-Olmert press conference this evening and would like to comment:
The atmosphere was incredibly gushy , with Olmert over and over praising Bush for being such a good friend. And yet, and yet . . . I strongly suspect there was dissension during their private conversation on the issue of settlements, and that, indeed, Olmert did draw some lines. I read what was said as having significance.
First, Olmert declared that Israel is open and honest about her position. Even if everyone doesn't necessarily like that position, he believes there is respect for our forthrightness. (This is more than an idle statement, in my opinion.) He said that he recognizes a commitment to not build new settlements or to appropriate new land in Judea and Samaria. (Important note: He said nothing about an Israeli obligation to refrain from building inside existing settlements to accommodate natural growth -- and there's a bone of contention with regard to this.)
However, he explained, Israel does not regard Jerusalem to be in the same category. I liked it that he said this, because it flies directly in the face of Rice's comment -- and she was sitting there and heard him. Condi did not have a happy look on her face. As well, said Olmert, Israel doesn't apply this principle of no building to certain "population centers." He did not specify which centers, although he was obviously speaking of major settlement blocs.
When a journalist asked a question regarding taking down of "illegal outposts" and whether Bush cares, the president said that of course he cares and this has been under discussion for some time. Olmert simply smiled -- he pointedly did not rush to say, yes, they will all come down immediately (although indeed he might intend this).
And so, as much as Olmert frequently makes me despair, it seems that here he has drawn some lines -- almost assuredly from a pragmatic and not principled perspective -- but lines.
And then there was another issue that may be more significant yet: Olmert said that he has made it clear to Abbas that there is no deal while rockets are being launched at Israel. An agreement, he said, must include Gaza.
Bush then said that the first thing he is going to ask Abbas when he sees him tomorrow is, "What are you doing about the rockets?" (Abbas is going to love that.)
Well, Abbas has less than no power in Gaza. He certainly cannot control the terrorists launching those rockets and he cannot get Hamas on board to agree to a full peace treaty with Israel. It ain't gonna happen.
I believe that Olmert laid it on the line today with regard to PA complicity in terrorism, and the vast failures of their security services. I suspect that Bush now has a clearer picture of what we're dealing with, and better understands our security demands.
Bush's final word on the subject was this: No one can ask Israel to work for the establishment of a state at its border that will harbor terrorists. Well, good morning! Of course, Bush then goes on about his goal of a free and democratic Palestine, as if this were remotely within the realm of possibility. But if he recognizes what Israel simply cannot accept, then we've come a long way.
Of course, Bush would never say that this isn't going to work. He's unendingly "optimistic" that we may achieve peace by the end of the year. But it's possible that in his heart of hearts he knows better now.
If that's the case, then my own heart beats just a bit more easily. And Bush's visit will have turned out to be a good thing.
I know, it's a stretch, but . . . If these two men are even halfway serious about what has to happen before there can be a final deal, then we know there will be no final deal.
Just in case you hear -- and it is likely that you will -- that most Israelis are in favor of withdrawing to the '67 lines and dividing Jerusalem to achieve peace, allow me to set the record straight:
B'nai Brith International has just done a poll of Israelis and has found that:
66% oppose withdrawal to '67 lines to achieve peace
68% of Israelis believe Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel
It was announced yesterday that Olmert and Abbas, following a meeting, had agreed to instruct their negotiators to start dealing with all core issues -- Jerusalem, refugees, borders.
This process, it was said, would begin soon, and would involve a three-tiered procedure: First, the heads of the negotiating teams, Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, would discuss the issues directly in meetings. (Which is exactly what Haaretz had reported days ago, and what was subsequently denied.) Then committees would work out details. And where there was disagreement, Olmert and Abbas would intervene.
Makes it sounds simple, doesn't it? But we're talking here about discussions on who controls the Temple Mount and whether any settlements at all remain and what happens to neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line and whether any so-called "refugees" get to live in Israel.
We're talking about things that should never be on the table. Ever, ever, ever.
What I note here for the record is that Bush also spoke today about a three-part process, but his three parts were different: the process to define a Palestinian state; adherence to the demands of the road map; and efforts to strengthen the PA economically and with regard to its security services.
With regard to the announcement about negotiations, we must ask where Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman -- who said his party ,Yisrael Beitenu, would pull out if core issues were discussed -- now stands.
He has now said he'll pull out. But discussions won't start until after Bush leaves and he doesn't want to cause a crisis while the president is here, so he'll wait a few days.
This equivocating and hedging is just a tad nauseating.
In one place I read a comment that he said he'd pull out if committees to discuss these things are formed, and they haven't been formed, so he doesn't need to pull out yet. Come on!!
Then there has been another observation : That originally Lieberman assumed that he'd pull out in concert with Shas, and it seems less significant to pull out now since, without Shas, he won't be bringing the gov't down.
Well, as of today I'm not sure about Shas . The party had been bought by Olmert with the reinstitution of the religious affairs ministry in new guise.
However, there's a new development: Shas religious leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who has the last word on Shas issues, has reportedly called MK Eli Yishai and told him not to engage in negotiations with the Palestinians, as Jews were being killed by rockets from Gaza.
So we must see how this plays out.
There were two barrages of Kassams aimed at Sderot today. In the morning there were nine rockets and in the afternoon five. The second barrage injured four; one rocket landed on a home.
Yesterday two Katyusha rockets were shot from Lebanon into Shlomi, a town in the Galil. It is thought that they were launched by a group associated with Al Qaida rather than Hezbollah. Barak said that while this is taken with utmost seriousness, no change in current policy is anticipated as a result.
Al Qaida has been making a great deal of noise of late. Just days ago a spokesman for the group urged on the Internet that Palestinians greet Bush with bombs and booby-trapped cars. Hostility has been aimed, in several respects, not just at Israel, but also at the US.
More to come on the politics, hopefully tomorrow.
Posting: January 8, 2008
"First the Hope"
I want to start with the news that's hopeful, precisely because so very little is hopeful. According to a spokesman for MK Effie Eitam (National Union), as reported by YNet, Eitam is going to join with Nobel laureate Israel (Robert) Aumann, to form a new right wing nationalist party that would serve as an umbrella for several smaller parties.
That is all together a good thing, for part of the problem in the right wing camp is that there are several small groups. If a cohesiveness is established, then with it comes greater electoral strength and greater political clout. And boy, do we need it.
Aumann is a man who engenders enormous respect: he demonstrates solid traditional values and great insight in analyzing the problems of this nation. His stated views have been most somber. He himself has no interest in running for the Knesset -- he only wishes to help establish the party. It speaks well for him that he is stepping forward out of concern for the nation, and not for personal political gain.
Let's watch, and hope , and see where this goes.
So . . . Bush is coming and the news this morning was that the US was preparing a plan to station third party troops in Judea and Samaria. Why? Because there is a problem regarding how to deal with "the period between when Israel leaves large swaths of the West Bank and the PA is able to take over control."
Well. I try. I really do. I want to live a long life and fury is not good for my health. But I don't know how to avoid that fury when I read garbage such as this. Foreign troops in Judea and Samaria would be a disaster for a variety of reasons -- not least of which because we would be prevented from going after terrorists, who would essentially be shielded by those international troops.
But there's more: why is anyone even talking about our pulling back before the PA can handle security? This business of negotiating a state before the PA is ready is horrendous. But according to that plan (something Rice and Livni cooked up, I think) we're supposed to determine what that state would look like -- in the diplomatic jargon, to give them a "political horizon" -- to motivate them to relinquish terrorism. Nonsense, but that's the plan. However, according to this, we do not actually give them anything until they have proved themselves. The plan Bush envisions pushes it all further, to a point that is even more ridiculous.
The Palestinians, it seems, will be held to zero accountability.
Who ever heard of giving people land when they are not equipped to hold it and maintain it? They have this coming to them? This is going to solve the world's problems?
I raise this entire issue because it is indicative of how the president of the US is thinking, and of the dangers we face.
But it is all moot. For later tonight, this plan was rejected: The PA will not consider foreign troops in Judea and Samaria. Well, this was good news. And it was also good for my health, because laughter releases tension. The reason why they rejected it? Because, according to a senior PA official, "the Palestinian security forces are capable of assuming their responsibilities in the area."
That is good for a very big laugh. These are the security forces that arrest people who steal olive oil instead of going after gunmen. Whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is afraid to leave Ramallah and go into Jenin or Nablus.
We're dealing in some sort of alternate universe here, for sure.
I cannot write off so glibly the comments of Sec. of State Rice, who, incidentally, is coming along with Bush's entourage. Says she: " . . . the United States doesn't make a distinction" between settlement activity in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. She claims that we have to stop all construction past the Green Line. It's our obligation under the roadmap, you see.
I would have problems with what she says in any case, because I believe absolutely that this is our land and we have a right to build -- and no where so more than in Jerusalem.
But what irks me even further is that the PA is not remotely meeting its obligations, although it does a surface job of pretending to do so. We've been seeing a spate of terrorist killings and planned killings by Al Aksa gunmen who are members of the security forces of the PA, for heaven's sake. We've just seen security forces personnel who cover for such murders, lying to the IDF in the process. Condoleezza Rice is advised to cock an eye in that direction and see exactly what we're dealing with before talking about how we must met our "obligations."
Tomorrow is another day, a day in which I will be at my computer. No where I intend to go with the roads closed for Bush's visit. And so I'll pick up then and look in more detail at a variety of other political and security doings. Things are happening quickly and matters are often muddled.
Posting: January 7, 2008
"Bush Is Coming"
He arrives on Wednesday and leaves some time on Friday. For those of us who live here in Jerusalem we know what this means: incredible traffic jams as streets are closed off for security reasons. The president is bringing a huge entourage that will be utilizing three different hotels. More than 10,000 police will be out guarding them. And I think I'll stay home.
The papers are full of the predictable "human interest" nonsense associated with the visit of a head of state: things like a bathrobe being provided for him with his name embroidered on it.
But issues of a most serious nature present themselves regarding what is on Bush's agenda as he comes here.
It would seem that the major focus of his Middle East trip is Iran. Bush has sent out numerous signals regarding continuing concern about Iran, some of which lead to confusion following the release of the NIE, which downplayed Iranian nuclear intentions.
In one interview with Yediot Ahronot , Bush said, "My message to the American people is that a non-transparent society that had a program could easily have another program. And therefore, the intensity of the effort must not decline, but must stay strong - and the intensity of the effort being to prevent them from developing the know-how."
Elsewhere, he said, ""If I were an Israeli, I would take the words of the Iranian president seriously. And as President of the United States, I take him seriously . . . . One of the concerns I'm sure among the Israeli population is whether this intelligence estimate that came out, what does it mean. It means to me that Iran was a threat and Iran is a threat."
And so, OK, Bush intends to rally support to stop Iran. But so?
The Jerusalem Post editorial on this issue is well worth reading. Bush, wants to develop a "security plan," it says. But "Bush himself is a leader who presumably understands that it is the bottom line that matters, and that line is a simple one: Will Iran be allowed to go nuclear or not?"
"No amount of arms sales, basing commitments or new defense pledges will be sufficient to counteract the impact of a nuclear Iran."
One Bush statement examined by the editorial had caught my eye -- and seriously unsettled me -- as well:
"If Iran did strike Israel . . . We will defend our ally, no ands, ifs or buts."
Totally insufficient and not reassuring. The way to defend America's ally Israel is with preemptive measures that insure Iran doesn't have the power to attack Israel in the first place. After Iran attacks it would be a little late.
The likelihood that Bush's focus will be on Iran rather than Annapolis is reinforced by two events:
-- Israeli security determined yesterday that the longer-range rocket that was recently shot into the region of Ashkelon was made in Iran.
-- Over the weekend, according to CNN , five Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels harassed three US Navy ships in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route off the Iranian coast. The Iranian vessels came with 200 yards of the US ships and sent threatening radio transmissions. If they hadn't turned away when they did, they would have been fired upon. Seems a deliberate provocation short of full confrontation.
Be that as it may, the other obvious , albeit very possibly secondary, focus of the Bush visit is Annapolis.
Some of the preparations in this regard are laughable . Reports are that Israel and the PA are seeking to create a "positive atmosphere" before Bush arrives. To that end there are attempts to hammer out a framework for negotiations -- something that apparently has not been achieved until now. The Post says that Abbas is eager to set up working groups to discuss the core issues, while Olmert is in no hurry. (I am aware this is not the same as what Haaretz stated yesterday -- and I frankly hope this version of events is more accurate.)
Other preparations are not funny at all: Under orders from Defense Minister Barak, the IDF will be cutting back large scale operations that might lead to an escalation in violence while Bush is here. We will only go after "ticking bombs" - terrorists in the advanced stages of planning an attack.
The relationship between Annapolis and the US approach to Iran is a serious and complex one. Gerald Steinberg, in his piece, "The Bush Visit and Tensions in the US-Israel Relationship" for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, makes an excellent point in this regard:
"Within two weeks following publication of the NIE report, China signed a major contract on energy development and supply with Iran, and Russia quickly dispatched two shipments of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear reactor. Egypt moved to improve relations with Iran, and Saudi Arabia welcomed Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Mecca for the Haj.
"Prime Minister Olmert had explained the logic of the 'Annapolis process' in terms of the coalition to stop Iran, but two weeks after Annapolis, with the release of the NIE report, this rationale has lost much of its relevance."
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) is accusing Olmert of blocking a meeting between Netanyahu and Bush, even though visiting heads of state routinely meet with opposition leaders. Olmert's office says they have nothing to do with it, that Bush is simply not meeting anyone who doesn't support Annapolis. That would be most regrettable, and shortsighted, if true.
Bush has made the anticipated statements about the need for us to take down outposts, etc. But it seems a note of realism has crept into his outlook, for he has also now said that he doesn't expect a final peace treaty in 2008.
Any honest security reports delivered to him regarding the PA security services failure to function (which failure has been worse than might have been anticipated) have got to help him see with a clearer vision.
Bush, of course, will also be visiting Ramallah, where, I am happy to report, he has indicated he will not be visiting Arafat's grave -- causing disappointment among PA officials.
According to a recent article by Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily, members of Al Aksa Brigades who are incorporated within the PA security forces have been tapped to help guard Bush. Al Aksa is listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. That they should be involved in "protecting" Bush highlights the absolute ludicrousness of the current US method of dealing with the PA.
It has been announced that the final Winograd report will be released at the end of this month. I will deal in further detail with some of the implications in a future posting.
So often I am asked why there is so little protest from the people of Israel to what the Olmert government is doing. Well, we are not seeing the groundswell of response that would be most powerful, but now we at least begin to hear voices raised, and to see some action on several fronts.
This is a response to Olmert's recent statements to the Jerusalem Post, which are enough to give any sane person nightmares.
And to the news that an Israel negotiation team is about to negotiate "core" issues. This means, among other horrors, that Jerusalem is up for discussion.
And to the coming visit of Bush.
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) has called for civil disobedience and said that residents of Judea and Samaria should keep building in their communities no matter what freeze the gov't puts on them.
MK Benny Elon (National Union) in an interview with AP said that Olmert is "disconnected from reality." His Israel Initiative is being pushed in substantial venues, including on YouTube, where he hopes to attract new young followers with a mock trailer called "The Last Fanatic,. It is receiving considerable attention:
There are events scheduled for Tuesday, the day before Bush's arrival:
-- Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich of Maaleh Adumim Hesder Yeshiva will be leading prayer at Har Habayit.
-- This will be followed by a human chain around the Old City of Jerusalem, organized by One Jerusalem.
-- And then there will be a protest rally, "We will continue to build the Land of Israel," at the entrance to Har Homa.
Last Thursday, a spokesman for a group called "Homesh First," said residents of Judea and Samaria had gained a new willingness to resist government policy. "The 'sucker settler' is gone. We will not agree to be the state of Israel's national punching bag anymore."
Now after speeches at the Har Homa rally, people will move out with building materials to (symbolically) expand locations in Judea and Samaria. What is perhaps most pertinent here is the statement issued by the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria:
"We cannot remain silent after the publication of the White Paper decrees by a tired Prime Minister, and his shameful surrender to every American and/or Arab dictate.
"Consequently, we call upon the entire public of Eretz Israel loyalists to join every protest activity under the leadership of the heads of the struggle.
" . . . [as we start the] "We continue to build the land of Israel" campaign . . . we shall declare in a clear voice: Jews continue to build, settle, and go about throughout all of Eretz Israel - in the mountains and hills, in the settlements and meahazim (outpost settlements), in the capital city of Jerusalem, and in the periphery - whether or not the authorities consent."
The day Bush arrives, Wednesday, there will be a vigil in Tel Aviv. (Security will have streets blocked off in Jerusalem.)
Then there are the legal actions , which will be followed here.
Posting: January 6, 2008
"Understanding the Incomprehensible"
To anyone with eyes open , the current political/security scenario truly is incomprehensible.
And here we have a superb example of goings-on that leave one with head spinning:
On Friday at a Hamas rally , Hamas leader in Damascus, said that Shalit would not be released if Marwan Barghouti -- who is serving five life sentences for planning and directing terror attacks against Jews -- and other Palestinian leaders were not released.
So, the first question to be asked is why would Hamas promote Barghouti, who is Fatah all the way down the line? He has served as secretary-general of Fatah; helped found a Fatah youth organization called Shabiba; was a commander of Tanzim, a Fatah paramilitary force founded by Arafat; and is closely allied and likely a founder of Al Aksa Brigades, a terrorist spin-off of Fatah.
Barghouti -- touted as having charisma and anti-corruption credentials -- has been seen by some as a way to bolster Fatah as a foil to Hamas. Just three months ago, former defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said, "if talking with Barghouti results in him leading the Palestinians in the direction of making Hamas knuckle under, then that is what counts . . . Barghouti . . . wins a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of respect, not only because of the fact that he is in prison, but rather because . . . 'he is the cleanest of them all.' But you have to remember that we are also talking about a leader, who, even when he is a prisoner, should not be not be scorned and should be listened to."
We could focus on the sickening spectacle of a member of the Israeli cabinet referring to a terrorist as a leader who should be listened to, who says he shouldn't be scorned even though he is a prisoner. We could ask what this makes of the PA, if this is their vision of leadership. But let's look at something else:
The Hamas demand tells us something we need to know about Fatah-Hamas connections. For the current scenario flies in the face of what people such as Ben Eliezer have been promoting.
But those advancing that theory haven't been paying careful attention: A full two years ago Barghouti was saying from his prison cell that Hamas and Fatah were moving in the same direction and Palestinian guns should be aimed only against the "occupation."
The supreme irony is that Abbas is said to be opposed to Barghouti's release now because it would be counted as a Hamas victory that further weakens Abbas.
So, the next question is whether Israel would go along with this. And, wouldn't you know it, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said yesterday that, "He will probably be on the list [of prisoners presented by Hamas for release], and if there is a need then yes, [I'm for releasing] him too."
Vilnai explained that he could not look people in the eye and say "we're giving up on Gilad Shalit." Will he look the families of terrorist victims in the eye when Barghouti institutes more terror?
And Ben Eliezer? He's still on board with this, saying now -- Heaven help us! -- that, "Barghouti is someone you can sit and talk to." If you like to chat with terrorists.
Olmert's office denies that there is consideration being given to releasing Barghouti. And you know what? That denial counts as nothing for me.
Turns out that Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) believes that Barghouti shouldn't be released. He recognizes that Barghouti would strengthen Hamas.
Finally, Lieberman is talking about pulling out of the coalition, although I have to see it to believe it. He says he'll go if Israel negotiates on the "core issues."
If Lieberman's party, with 11 seats , does leave, it will not reduce the coalition to less than 61.
Originally it was thought that if he left , Shas would too -- and that would have done it. But things have now changed. Olmert, you see, has reactivated the defunct Religious Affairs Ministry, which Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen will head. That's enough reason to stay in a government that is endangering the country, don't you think?
Just for the record, the new Ministry is being called the Religious Services Ministry, and Olmert is adamant that the Religious Affairs Ministry has not been brought back -- as the new Ministry will stay under Olmert's jurisdiction and only some of the functions that adhered to the Religious Affairs Ministry will apply here. He says it's a "fabrication" that he made this move now to keep Shas in the government with Winograd pending.
Right . . .
According to Haaretz today, a special committee headed by Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei will negotiate the core issues -- Jerusalem, borders, refugees -- after Bush leaves.
Posting: January 5, 2008
Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
"Telling It True"
It's a rare pleasure to read a forthright statement regarding the legality of settlements from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- on their website and reproduced by IMRA -- and so I want to feature this.
The hype is so misleading -- not just from Palestinians themselves but also from left wing Israelis -- that it's extremely important to set the record straight. It's easy even for persons of good will to begin, after a time, to wonder if Israel is a "stumbling block to peace."
"Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legal both under international law and the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Claims to the contrary are mere attempts to distort the law for political purposes . . .
"The Palestinians often claim that settlement activity is illegal and call on Israel to dismantle every settlement. In effect, they are demanding that every Jew leave the West Bank, a form of ethnic cleansing. By contrast, within Israel, Arabs and Jews live side-by-side; indeed, Israeli Arabs, who account for approximately 20% of Israel's population, are citizens of Israel with equal rights.
"The Palestinian call to remove all Jewish presence from the disputed territories is not only discriminatory and morally reprehensible; it has no basis either in law or in the agreements between Israel and the
"The various agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians since 1993 contain no prohibitions on the building or expansion of settlements. On the contrary, they specifically provide that the issue of settlements is reserved for permanent status negotiations, which are to take place in the concluding stage of the peace talks. The parties expressly agreed that the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction or control over settlements or Israelis, pending the conclusion of a permanent status agreement.
"It has been charged that the provision contained in the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement prohibiting unilateral steps that alter the status of the West Bank implies a ban on settlement activity. This position is disingenuous. The prohibition on unilateral measures was designed to ensure that neither side take steps that would change the legal status of this territory (such as by annexation or a unilateral declaration of statehood), pending the outcome of permanent status talks. The building of homes has no effect on the final permanent status of the area as a whole. Were this prohibition to be applied to building, it would lead to the unreasonable interpretation that neither side is permitted to build houses to accommodate the needs of their respective communities.
"As the Israeli claim to these territories is legally valid, it is just as legitimate for Israelis to build their communities as it is for the Palestinians to build theirs. Yet in the spirit of compromise, successive Israeli governments have indicated their willingness to negotiate the issue and have adopted a voluntary freeze on the building of new settlements as a confidence-building measure."
On the Palestinian side , we have continuing intransigence, coupled with attempts to place all onus for lack of "peace" on Israel.
Yesterday Khaled Abu Toameh reported in the Post that Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah were saying that Israel was demanding that a future Palestinian state be demilitarized. And thus, they say, prospects for a negotiated peace have dwindled. Apparently (I haven't heard it from this side), Israel will want the right to operate inside a future state to foil terrorism or any military offensive from the east.
The PA also objected to Israeli security operations, which, they say interfere with their ability to consolidate their power. What power? Nothing stands between them and Hamas in Judea and Samaria but the IDF.
And here we have it, with regard to settlements: one PA official said that Israel's talk about . . . retaining control of Ma'aleh Adumim [that was Olmert's recent statement] and other settlement blocs "proves that Israel is not working towards achieving a two-state solution . . . Our position remains unchanged. There will never be peace without a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem. We insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders (sic -- those are armistice lines, not borders).
Meanwhile PA negotiator Abed Rabbo has been sent to Washington to meet with officials before Bush travels, where, it is said, he will demand that Bush call for an end to construction in all settlements, including in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.
Demand? In all of my life I've never encountered people with the brazen effrontery that the Palestinians have.
The IDF, working with the Shin Bet , today completed a four day operation in Nablus (Shechem) during which more than 20 were arrested, 19 with Al Aksa Brigades (of Fatah).
This is some of what they found:
A rocket manufacturing lab. Though the rockets were not operational this underlined the critical necessity for continued intense operations in the area.
A ready-to-use suicide belt.
And . . . two officers of the Palestinian Authority's Military Intelligence Force for allegedly helping the Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
But does PA prime minister Fayyad hang his head in shame at this information? Of course not! In a radio interview he said, "The current Israeli operation aims to heat up the atmosphere before Bush's visit. They are trying to sabotage the Palestinian Authority's successes in the city."
Oh. A joke. I wrote back a while ago about the "successes" of the forces deployed in Nablus. They had no orders to take on gunmen -- especially not the gunmen of Al Aksa. They climbed up on roofs and walked around. And they arrested people who stole olive oil or shot in the air during weddings.
If this weren't serious business it would be very very funny indeed. There is no line between PA security forces and Al Aksa terrorists.
Posting: January 3, 2008
"The Ongoing Saga"
I would like to return just briefly to the matter of the two terrorists who murdered our soldiers outside of Hevron. I wrote yesterday that they had surrendered to PA security services (with which they were connected) to avoid capture by the IDF, and that the PA didn't tell us right away. Well, it's worse than that. If you go back to my Monday posting that talked about this, you will find that the PA said that they believed the murders were "criminally motivated" -- they said there was "no evidence" of any reason for the murders other than an "arms dispute" -- implying that the soldiers were involved in a weapons deal.
Now, we knew this was a bunch of garbage , a pathetic excuse. But what we didn't know then was that the PA security services had the murderers in custody as they delivered this excuse: they were covering for their guys.
Does it get much more incredible?
I'm happy to report that the Israeli government intends to raise the issue of the involvement of PA security personnel in terror attacks with Bush when he comes.
Less encouraging is the report that Israel intends to seek Bush's understanding of Israel's security interests in a final status agreement. We need Bush's permission to stand for our own security?
There's only one rational response to what's going on: We should halt all negotiations because there's no one credible on the other side.
Tensions with Egypt are increasing considerably.
There has been tension for some time because we know full well that they allow the smuggling of weapons from the Sinai to Gaza; and things got hotter when we produced a video of Egyptians soldiers assisting terrorists crossing the border.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit , angry about Israeli protests, countered with a threat: "If they [Israelis] continue to push and affect US-Egyptian relations and harm Egyptian interests, Egypt will certainly retaliate and will harm their interests. We have claws capable of retaliating in all directions and through diplomacy."
But what it turns out is that Egypt has been attempting to harm our diplomatic interests for years.
Now there is a new issue as pilgrims from Gaza who had done the hajj to Mecca were permitted to return to Gaza via the Sinai, without passing through inspection, which was a violation of agreements between Egypt and Israel. The pilgrims were supposed to return via the Keren Shalom crossing (through Israel) so that Israel could do inspections. Instead, Egypt allowed them through Rafah, from the Sinai, without inspection.
Hamas had insisted that their people shouldn't have to undergo inspections because Israel demanded it, and Egypt caved to them. Right now Hamas is celebrating a "victory over Israel." It is understood that both Hamas gunmen and funds raised abroad were brought in with the "pilgrims."
Of particular note here is the fact that the "moderate" Saudis are seen as behind this -- promoting Hamas interests and pushing Egypt to do the same.
The annual Shin Bet report, which has just been released notes a marked decline in suicide bombings but warns of a substantial increase in rocket attacks. Anyone who follows the news has already figured this out, in general terms. There were 1,200 rockets fired at Israel in 2007. There has also been an increase in the number of smaller attacks against Israelis, such as with Molotov cocktails.
What is significant is that the range and power of the rockets is increasing.
Today a rocket landed on a beach near an Ashkelon hotel. It is speculated that this may have been a Katyusha, as this was out of Kassam range. Ten Kassams were also fired today.
This means, of course , that the brief operations and targeted killings in Gaza aren't stopping the rockets.
While most of the rocket action originates in Gaza, terrorist groups there are working to strengthen their counterparts in Judea and Samaria.
Yesterday Al Aksa Brigades (that's the group that no longer exists because PA security put them out of business) announced that from Samaria they fired a "Bashaar 1" rocket into Israel. There is no evidence of that rocket. But the announced intention is clear.
A spokesman for the group said they intend to continue to manufacture rockets in Judea and Samaria:
"We are obligated to the path of the (armed struggle), the Fatah movement's path. We won't put our guns down and we'll continue resisting the occupation. Our weapons will continue to be steadfastly pointed towards the Zionist enemy."
Some 4,000 terrorists were arrested by Israel in Judea and Samaria between January and October 2007.
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Bethlehem Churches Bear Brunt Of Religious Hatred:
Final piece in Five Part Series; Can a Christian Walk in Bethlehem?
published on January 9th, 2008 in the Philadelphia Bulletin
Previous articles in this series:
Tense Relations Between Christians And Muslims Have Changed Bethlehem's Demographic
Christians Uneasy In Bethlehem
"Walking With Fear In The Holiest Of Lands"
Bethlehem - In certain parts of the Holy Land, you can't go too far without seeing a church.
For centuries, millions of Christian pilgrims visited the Holy Land to pray in the holy houses of worship. Palestinian Christians from all denominations who built these churches for centuries had the freedom to worship, without any problems from the nearby Muslims.
Things began to change a decade ago, after the Palestinian Authority took control of major sections of the Holy Land. And, as Islamic fundamentalism has risen in those territories during that time, relations between the two religions began to deteriorate. As Islam has grown, lawlessness has spread throughout the territories, where Islamic militants have been emboldened to act - sometimes illegally - to advance their cause.
Christians now say they have experienced anti-Christian sentiment from Muslims that have ranged from verbal accusations to vicious beatings and murder. And basic holidays that Christians always celebrated have now been forbidden. In December, the Hamas government in Gaza banned any celebrations of New Year's eve and New Year's day, a traditional Christian holiday period. Also, in the West Bank, an Islamic group, "Keepers of Sharia (Islamic Law) warned residents not to celebrate the holidays.
Besides being shaken down by the Palestinian Authority for blackmail money, and having their land stolen in elaborate schemes from Palestinian Authority officials, some Christians say they have looked on helplessly as they suffered what they call the ultimate injustice: the burning and
desecration of their holy churches.
Christians are still reeling from September, 2006, when seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza were attacked in a three day period after Muslims were infuriated by comments made by Pope Benedict VVI about Islam and the prophet Mohammed. The pope's comments followed the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Dutch newspaper. After the churches were attacked
by Islamic fundamentalists, a Hamas leader, Imad Hamto, called for the Pope to repent and to convert to Islam.
The attacks were not the first on churches in the Holy Land in recent years. In 2001, Palestinian gunmen took over Christian-Palestinian churches in Beit Jallah - a city near Bethlehem - so they could fire into Israeli neighborhoods. At the time, Palestinian snipers said they took control of
the holy churches because they were confident the Israelis would not attack them.
And, some say the worst case took place in 2002, when more than 100 Palestinian fighters loyal to former PA President Yasser Arafat took over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and held dozens of hostages - including priests and nuns. Inside, the gunmen used bibles for toilet
paper, emptied the church's charity boxes, and sold gold and silver crosses that had been in the church for centuries. They even lit a fire in a section of a church during the siege.
Christians say that the 2006 church burnings and attacks were a turning point in Christian-Muslim relations in the Holy Land.
"The Islamic people want to kill us. That's their principle and belief. They don't want Christians in this country. They don't want to hear our names; they don't want to see us. That's the reality," said Reverend Tomey Dahoud, who heads the Greek Orthodox Church in Taubas, a city near Jenin.
Dahoud's church, which was built more than 100 years ago, suffered extensive damage after its entrance hall was firebombed in September of 2006. That attack sent shivers through the remaining 14 Christians in Taubas, causing some to consider leaving.
"We've had problems before with Muslims but they never touched the house of God," explained Dahoud. "What does it mean to set a church on fire? It's terrorism, it's a crime."
In Tulkaram, the last Christian family that takes care of the 200-year-old Greek Orthodox Church say they've had enough and want to practice their religion freely.
"We are preparing to move abroad to a place where we can live a better life as Christians," said Reverand Dahoud Dimitry, who heads the Tulkaram's Saint George Greek Orthodox church that burned to the ground in an arson attack on September 16, 2006.
More than 30 years ago, the Christian community numbered close to 2000, but now Dimitry's family of 12 is the last remaining Christian family in this Islamic stronghold.
To date no one has been arrested or charged with the arson, which occurred after extremists poured gasoline throughout the church and on its alter.
The church was rebuilt but there are no funds for a security guard or for security cameras. During the fire, all of the church's contents except one bible were incinerated.
"We had two icons from the 15th century and they were destroyed. We had a small library and the most important thing that we had was a registry of all the names of Christians who had ever lived in Tulkaram. All of that burned and now we don't have any records of our ancestors."
In Nablus, there are now just 700 Christians left - down from 3,000 just 40 years ago. And, last year, the small Christian community was hard hit after four of its churches were burned by Islamic fundamentalists following the Pope's comments.
"We were afraid," explained Jamal Mahmud, who works at the Jacob Well Greek Orthodox Church in Nablus. Mahmud said during the days when Muslim rioted, 25 Molotov cocktails were thrown at the church, which suffered minimal damage. "When somebody throws a Molotov cocktail at you it's frightening," added Mahmud.
"The future will be even more dangerous for Christian people, added Reverand Yousef Jibran Saade, the spiritual leader of the Greek Catholic Church in Nablus. Saade's church was firebombed and riddled with bullets by unknown attackers on September 16, 2006. No one has been arrested for the
attacks, and, like other West Bank Christian clerics, he said the attack caused parishioners to consider moving abroad.
In Gaza, following the Pope's remarks, Islamic extremists bombed a 1,400-year-old Greek Orthodox Church. In addition, a group of Catholic nuns were threatened, and a bomb was placed outside of another church.
The attack and threats instilled fear into many of the church's parishioners. But even before the September, 2006 rioting, the small Christian community of 2,000 - mostly Greek Orthodox - felt unsafe. Since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January of 2006, Sharia - or Islamic law - has
been the informal law of the land. These days, Christian women cover their hair like Muslim women so as to not attract attention.
"It is dangerous for Christians in Gaza," explained Pastor Hanna Massad, a Palestinian-American who runs the 200-member Gaza Baptist Church.
Massad's church has been repeatedly threatened by fundamentalists in the last several years, and the bible store that his wife runs in Gaza City was firebombed twice in the last year. And in October, a bible store worker and one of his parishioners, Rami Ayyad, were kidnapped and murdered by Islamic fundamentalists. He was found near the Christian book store.
In Bethlehem, the threats, shakedowns, and anti-Christian sentiment have taken their toll on former Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser. Nasser said the community is still in shock over the 2002 takeover of the 1,400-year-old Church of the Nativity by Palestinian gunmen.
"For Christians it was a brutal feeling," said Nasser, who was born in Bethlehem, and also baptized and married inside the Church of the Nativity. "We were astonished and very angry. The church was not destroyed but we as Christians in Bethlehem, remain wounded."
At 70, Nasser plans to stay in the city. But, like other Christian families that trace their roots to this city for centuries, he has watched family members, like his son and daughter leave the city.
"There is no future for Christians," said Nasser.
Reverend Tomey Dahoud also says the pressure is mounting for all Christians to leave Palestinian-controlled lands. Still, he is prepared to stay, even if it means enduring violence. "Even if they are going to set fire to all of our churches we will stay and die here," said Dahoud.
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