|Israel Resource Review
||22nd September, 2008
News Analysis: Dr. Guy Bechor Says Israel is Under 'Media Occupation'
Noted Middle East expert and commentator Dr. Guy Bechor accuses Israel's media of turning itself into an "occupying force" within Israel and behaving like an unelected, yet all-powerful, political machine.
In an article entitled "Down with the Occupation" that appears on his Hebrew-language website, Dr. Bechor – one of Israel's top experts on Middle Eastern affairs and a popular lecturer and interviewee – identifies a process that he says began after 2000.
"With the collapse of the Left in Israel's political system . . . and the tremendous disappointment from the 'peace process'," he says, "a strange process began gathering force in Israel's media, which was, to begin with, a closed club numbering about 20 movers and shakers. Strange as it may sound, this media, which is supposed to cover events and report them, took a step forward and took upon itself to represent the Left which had collapsed in the Israeli populace. It became a political party."
Media crossed the lines
"No one gave [the media] this mandate," writes Bechor – who was himself a journalist for Army Radio and other news organizations. "No Divine order was given here, and in this act, it did not represent any
"The more the Left in Israel shrank in size, the greater its influence became in the media . . . because at its core, the media in Israel is not elected and does not change. It is made up of several 'gurus' who carry on for decades, without any real change in its personal makeup."
The media in Israel, he emphasizes, "has turned into an active political force that serves as a substitute for the political parties of the past. The more the Left in Israel shrank in size, the greater its influence became in the media, although [this influence] was always hidden and camouflaged."
"Thus the Israeli media crossed the lines, and moved away from its western counterparts. Thus it also betrayed the Israeli public, which expected, and expects to this day, that it will cover events."
Anti-sephardic but Arab-idolizing
Bechor claims that young journalists who do not toe the leftist line know that they will not be promoted. While they do not tout themselves as leftists, he says, "their entire essence is just that. The disparagement of patriotism and of the military, the dislike of the government… the self-praise as a 'peace' camp, the revulsion from Middle Eastern Judaism combined with an idolization of the Arabs, and the deep-seated grudge against the Right, against Netanyahu (the Waldemort of Israeli politics) and capitalism."
Even the state-run media – Channel 1 TV, Voice of Israel Radio, IDF Radio and Educational TV – has come under the control of "the party," Bechor notes, as have Channel 10, Ha'aretz and recently Ma'ariv. "As the
"The media in Israel is made up of several 'gurus' who carry on for decades."
The Israeli government is weakened and scorned, and talented people stay away from it, a vacuum is formed, into which this party media enters with great force," he says.
The media crowned Livni
The political media served as investigator and judge in the latest war in Lebanon, Bechor states, and now it has decided who will be Israel's prime minister, too, while cancelling democracy, in effect. The media, he says, strengthened Tzipi Livni, "hoisted her up with false polls, and cheered when she appeared to win. It is true that some feeble protests were heard here and there in view of the unbelievable scandals in the latest elections, but the caravan moved on, needless to say. It is easy to surmise how the same media party would have reacted if [Transport Minister Shaul] Mofaz had beat his rival by one percentage point. Indeed, the media is manipulating politicians instead of being manipulated by them."
"The politicians are terrified because these same 'commentators' and 'journalists' are stronger and more stable then they are."
The change in Israel's media over the last three decades is one that induces despair, Dr. Bechor says. "The politicians are terrified of this process, which they view with fear, because these same 'commentators' and 'journalists' are stronger and more stable then they are. The politicians depend on them and so they are afraid to talk." Bechor even adds that certain prominent female television reporters, whom he does not name, supplement their incomes by holding news panels on Sabbaths, which the politicians know they must participate in, or else.
"Because we are not a healthy society, this process proceeds smoothly," Bechor sums up. "The more powerful it becomes, the more the undemocratic disease spreads. It is time to say 'no more.'" He recommends abstaining from Israel's Hebrew language mainstream press and says that alternative media channels hold the hope for a better future.
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Incisive News Coverage of Israel
Senior Policy Research Analyst, Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd
Posting: September 21, 2008
In the Torah reading for this past Shabbat -- Ki Tavo -- Moses speaks to the children of Israel shortly before they cross the Jordan River "into the Land that G-d is giving you . . . " The people are instructed to make an alter and to bring offerings of thanksgiving and to "be glad" (samachta) before G-d.
How powerful is this message in its many parts, and -- sadly -- how much of this has been lost: The ability of (some) Jews to know that this is our Land, and to rejoice in this. To embrace our heritage and value it.
I write a good deal about narratives. Here we have a small but extremely significant piece of the Jewish narrative. Those of us who understand this narrative -- whether Jewish or Christian (and some Christians understand better than some Jews) -- have a solemn responsibility to keep telling it, so that it not be lost. For this would be a tragedy of immeasurable dimensions.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, wrote an op-ed the other day in the Wall Street Journal. As he often does, he inverted the truth of our narrative. And he did it in tones so reasonable that without a doubt many a Jew (as well as many non-Jews) read what he wrote and embraced it as positive -- not even understanding that he was stealing from and destroying our narrative. That he spoke lies and distortions, and not truth.
This cannot go unanswered. Hopefully I will have the opportunity for a more extensive response elsewhere. Here I will address a couple of major points:
1) He speaks about an agreement based on the 1967 "borders." But these were armistice lines, not borders. Not sacrosanct and not anything we are obligated to return to.
2) He says -- with breath-taking chutzpah -- that the Palestinians already made a sacrifice by agreeing to a two-state solution, which meant that the Palestinian state was to be established on only 22% of their "historic homeland."
No, no and no!
The Mandate for Palestine promised the land of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean to the Jews as a homeland; this is an article of international law since 1922. It is our governments of the past 15 years that have made a sacrifice (ill-advised, in my opinion) in offering to share this.
There is more, but this will suffice here. My friends, stay vigilant and do not be fooled by misleading words, please.
Olmert informed the cabinet this morning that he would be officially submitting his resignation to President Peres this evening. This should be taking place as I write.
Once Olmert submits his resignation, his government becomes transitional, staying in power only until a new government can be established.
Officially, Peres must now select the faction head to be given the opportunity to establish a coalition. This is a formality, as it is clearly understood that this will be Livni. Peres is expected to meet with her later this evening.
But it looks as if Tzipi Livni, as new head of the Kadima party, is on shaky ground with regard to being able to establish a solid coalition. The departure of Mofaz, and the anger of his supporters, is a step towards the disintegration of Kadima, which means she is not negotiating from strength.
Mofaz has refused to join Kadima meetings meant to strengthen party cohesion. His absence leaves a considerable hole in the party.
It hasn't helped that key Mofaz supporter MK Ronit Tirosh went on Israel Radio last night with the claim that the primary was riddled with irregularities. While MK Ze'ev Elkins, of Kadima, has said he will petition the Kadima court for a recount because of those irregularities.
Seems, in addition, that Livni is not handling the current coalition partners well. Her message: We were supposed to get rid of Olmert, and this we've done, so there's no need to make any other changes -- stay where you are and we'll keep going. But her coalition partners are not so sure. Shas is still holding out, at least as of this writing. (Actually, many of the statements by Eli Yishai, head of the Shas faction, are so convoluted they are making no sense.)
And Labor is cool. Last night Barak met with Netanyahu. Though there is nothing official at this point, the rumor is that they were talking of a national emergency government -- one that excludes Kadima. Speaking to the Labor faction today, Barak said:
"In light of the political, security and economic challenges, the correct move for the people of Israel is [the formation of] a very broad national emergency government. What interests me is what is good for Israel."
While it's hard not to choke on the suggestion that Barak works for the good of Israel, if it turns out that he has decided that what's good for his party and for himself is to separate from a Kadima-led government, this is a step in the right direction. Aides are suggesting that he may prefer that national emergency government to continuing in a Kadima government.
Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, of Labor, predicts that first there will be elections and then the national emergency government.
"The coalition talks are nothing but a game, since everyone knows elections are near," he told Israel Radio.
And Livni? She is saying that if a stable coalition cannot be established soon, she'll go to elections. She's not afraid of this, however, because she is confident that Kadima will win. Talk about bluster!
Her first concern, she insists, is the good of the nation.
All I can say is that if the people making these declarations really cared about the good of the nation yea these past few years we wouldn't be in the place we are now.
And what's good for the nation?
Elections, for certain. Not a Livni-run government. And a solid coalition that at least tilts right. We are facing difficult times and there must be a government with the strength to act decisively in the name of the people -- decisively both in terms of having the courage to act in our defense and to refuse to be cowed into making dangerous concessions.
We need a government led by people who will not defy the will of the nation, as Olmert and Livni have, and move unilaterally on existential issues when there is no national consensus. As Minister Eli Yeshai has just said:
"There is not one person . . . who has the moral, political or practical authority to push issues that are subject to disagreement."
Without doubt, he is referring primarily to willingness to negotiate the division of Jerusalem, although the majority of Israelis are against this.
A Palestinian Authority security official, reports YNet, has registered concern that Hamas is planning a series of attacks to weaken the Authority at the time that Abbas's term as president comes to an end. Reportedly, these planned operations are being headed by Ahmed Jabri, who is understood to be deputy chief of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing.
What is the way to weaken Hamas? Says the official:
. . . "the way . . . is to speed up the peace talks and dismantle Israeli outposts and even settlements in the West Bank, as well as remove IDF roadblocks, grant entry permits to Palestinian workers and cease the IDF's operations in the West Bank."
I am not making this up. I couldn't.
The unnamed PA official is mum on how speeding up the peace talks will weaken Hamas, when the Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida has declared that the PA's increased cooperation with Israel was one of the factors that has "pushed the moment of punishment forward."
I hasten to point out, as well, that the PA does not do the sort of military operations against terrorists that the IDF does. They have neither the will nor the capacity. They take out common thugs and shut down Hamas charities.
It's shameful on several counts and I cannot let this posting pass without mention of this, although, surely, many readers are already familiar with the situation:
Ahmadinejad is coming to New York to address the UN General Assembly. In protest, the Conference of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations -- a major umbrella organization for establishment American Jewish organizations, headed by Malcolm Hoenlein -- organized a rally.
Among the speakers they invited were Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. The intent, clearly, was a unified, non-partisan protest. There are times when politics are not appropriate: McCain and Obama, for example, came together at Ground Zero for 9/11.
But Hillary Clinton, acting with consummate foolishness, politicized the situation. When she learned that Palin was also invited, and had decided to come, she withdrew her agreement to participate, expressing concern that this was becoming a "partisan political event."
So far, her mistake and nothing more. As JINSA pointed out, her participation would have insured that the event wasn't partisan, and she blew it.
Pressure was then brought to bear upon the Conference of Presidents to withdraw the invitation to Palin. This was reportedly done so that there should be no impression of partisanship, but what actually happened is that an opportunity to show the world that everyone in the US stood against the intentions of Iran had been lost and the major issue was obscured by trivializing politics. And the Conference conceded.
JINSA reported that the pressure came from the National Jewish Democratic Council. I have since picked up information that JStreet, the leftist political group, is taking credit on its website for having accomplished this. It should be noted that there are links between the two groups.
What is most disgraceful here is not the pressure brought to bear by Jewish leftist groups, but the fact that a mainstream Jewish group caved.
I am aware of two organizations -- JINSA and CAMERA -- that have publicly protested the Conference's decision and the fact that they, as members of the Conference, were not consulted before that decision was made. There may well be others similarly incensed.
Head of Military Intelligence, Brigadier-General Yossi Baidatz, today briefed the Cabinet. Among the matters he addressed was Iran:
"Iran is focusing its efforts in enriching uranium and improving the operational capabilities of its centrifuges. It is mastering the necessary technology and now has one-third of what it needs to create a bomb.
"In view of the UN Security Council's inability to enforce a fourth round of sanctions, Iran's confidence is increasing and they now believe there is nothing the international community can do to stop them. Time is on Iran's side."
Baidatz additionally said that Teheran is strengthening its relations with Hezbollah, Syria and various Palestinian terror groups in an attempt to position itself as the lead radical force in the Middle East, while "The more moderate Arab states are not united in the wish to act against Iran."
Put simply, he said the international community is not doing enough to stop Iran.
G-d help us, that there are fools worried about partisan politics when this happening. If ever there were people fiddling while the world threatened to burn.
Please, if you American, take a look at this from Jeff Jacoby, on a drilling bill that bans drilling.
"According to the Interior Department, the offshore areas where drilling is restricted contain more than 19 billion barrels -- that's equal to 30 years of current imports from Saudi Arabia. The bill would deny Americans access to as much as nine-tenths of that oil."
But if America were to avail itself of oil reserves it would literally shift the dynamics of the Middle East and loosen the stranglehold of the oil-producing nations.
Posting: September 18, 2008
So, Tzipi Livni has won the Kadima primary, making her the new head of the party, beating runner-up Shaul Mofaz not by the landslide polls had predicted but by a mere 431 votes.
But the nation deserves better than her as prime minister. The last time I heard her speak, I walked out because I found her "logic" as to why we must give away our country unbearable. She, too, has lost the Israeli narrative.
She is now starting the process of trying to put together a coalition. She has a month to do this(and can request another 15 days beyond this). In some quarters the betting is that she won't be able to do it. It's difficult to call.
If she doesn't, the nation then goes to elections.
There are those -- not just opposition head Netanyahu, but members of Labor as well -- who say elections are imperative now because a primary election in Kadima shouldn't determine who becomes prime minister, our nation must do that.
Olmert had said he would resign as prime minister as soon as the new head of Kadima was elected. But he has not yet handed his resignation to President Peres, and there is now some talk of his delaying until after Rosh Hashana -- which would mean October 2. At the moment he is an anomaly -- a prime minister who is not also head of his party. I don't believe this has ever happened in this country before.
Even after he does hand in his resignation, he can remain in office as head of a transitional government until such as we have a new government. What he should do is step aside immediately, declaring that he is unable to fulfill the functions of his office, and allow Deputy Prime Minister Livni to take over the transitional government. But I'm not sure "should" is in his vocabulary.
When Mofaz first got the news about how close the vote was, he said he would challenge it. He then pulled back on this and has now announced that he intends to take a rest from political life.
Please see my article on the "right of return" from Front Page Magazine:
Posting: September 16, 2008
In a word, Ehud Olmert is not even a poor excuse for a prime minister. For he has abandoned the Israeli narrative and lost the ability to speak on behalf of our nation.
He made a statement to the Knesset Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense yesterday. My first impulse was to respond to it, argument by argument, but I have decided not to because we are on the cusp of changes (please G-d!) and my energy is best spent doing other things.
Just two days ago, a report -- unconfirmed -- came from Channel 2 saying that Olmert had agreed to give away over 98% of our land in Judea and Samaria. Olmert's statements to the committee, however, seemed to imply a 100% giveaway (I don't believe that Jerusalem was included in this).
Whether he meant it -- he certainly seems to mean it -- or he was simply grandstanding is something I ponder.
On the one hand, he caves ever more to PA demands. As if -- and I've described this before -- we and not the Palestinians are in greatest need of a settlement. This is how he presents his case. So that finally he comes to the point of totally acceding to PA demands, while the other side concedes nothing. I speak with certainty when I tell you that this is not the position sanctioned by the majority of Israelis. For those of us concerned with our heritage as well as with security issues -- which he totally and disgracefully discounted -- it is all fairly unbearable and enormously enraging.
For the record: The '67 lines were only armistice lines. They were not borders and it was not expected that they would become Israel's borders. Jordan, in signing an armistice agreement, acknowledged that the lines weren't final. The UN, in resolution 242, also structured matters so that Israel was not expected to return to the '67 lines -- issues of secure and defensible boundaries (which the '67 lines do NOT represent) were alluded to.
There is nothing sacrosanct about those lines and no reason in the world we should be expected to return to them. That's from a legal perspective -- in short, with much more that might be said.
From the perspective of our heritage, there is solid claim to territory beyond the '67 lines as well. From the perspective of heritage it is our land.
And yet, the Arabs have been so successful in their PR that they have convinced the world that they have a "right" to everything beyond the '67 lines. It simply is not so.
The reason why I wonder if Olmert might be simply grandstanding -- simply setting up a situation that shows how willing he was to sacrifice -- is this: He also said that we cannot accept the "return" of "refugees." Indeed, we cannot, and survive. But Olmert knows that Abbas cannot accept any final deal that does not include refugees returning. And perhaps then Olmert knows that in the end there will not be a settlement on a two-state solution arrived at now, or in the next four months.
On Sunday, the website of the armed branch of Hamas (carried by IMRA) delivered a message of severe criticism of Abbas for caving in negotiations with the "Zionists." (The term "Israel" is never used.) Said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum, the negotiations with "the Zionist entity" are "very dangerous and will not be accepted by the Palestinian people who will resist and foil these agendas." Abbas, he said, is turning his back on "millions of displaced Palestinians" who had a right to "return to their homeland."
This is why Abbas, even if he were inclined (which he is not) to compromise on refugees returning, is not able to do so. And why the negotiations ultimately cannot succeed. (Of course, much the same might be said about PA demands in Jerusalem, which is an issue still to be resolved.)
There continues to be trepidation that Olmert, in his last, reckless days as PM, might commit us to something in principle that will come back to haunt us at a later date.
As Olmert rambles on about what we must give in order to make a deal with the Palestinians immediately, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) -- former chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee -- has come out with a statement that strongly opposes such negotiations:
"For any foreseeable future I do not see a partner, or any possibility to leave Judea and Samaria or even part of it.
"The idea of a two-state solution should be dead, today, because unfortunately a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria would bring about Israel's demise."
Steinitz's concerns happen to be strictly based on security considerations. He is, I would suggest, worth attending to because he started as a supporter of Peace Now and moved right because of what he saw happening on the ground.
Tomorrow, the Kadima primary. The two leading candidates, Livni and Mofaz, have both spoken about forming coalitions for new governments so that it will not be necessary to go to elections.
There is the possibility, just a possibility, that Shas Chairman Eli Yishai has now diminished the odds of this happening. In a Sunday interview with Maariv, he made a declaration -- for whatever such declarations are worth -- that Shas will not be party to a government "that does not declare that Jerusalem is not on the diplomatic agenda and is not to be included in negotiations." (This means more than just postponing such talks -- which is the game that has been played until now, it means not having them.)
Livni, who is very much the front-runner, is for such negotiations. Mofaz has spoken out against them.
There have been several speculations regarding Yishai's motives.
Posting: September 14, 2008
"Rumors and Games"
Changes are rapidly approaching: There is the Kadima primary, scheduled for this Wednesday, and then, three months hence, the end of Bush's administration -- by which time parameters of a "peace" agreement were supposed to have been nailed down.
Reporting on objective "facts" with regard to what's happening in the run-up to these events is sometimes close to impossible, as the rumors are flying fast.
Last week, US Consul Jacob Walles, in an interview in the Palestinian paper Al-Ayyam, stated that Israel had started negotiations with the PA on Jerusalem -- something Olmert promised not to do until all other issues were resolved.
The response from the Olmert government was two-fold: First, official fury at Walles for talking when it had been agreed that the content of negotiations was not supposed to be discussed publicly. And then, a denial by Olmert that Jerusalem was on the table, as this caused something of an uproar inside of Kadima.
But it seems that a bit of mental dissonance has been generated. Says Olmert: We are angry that Walles spoke about something he was pledged not to talk about, but we're not doing what he says we are.
Tzipi Livni, Kadima frontrunner and chief negotiator, also issued a denial.
Meanwhile, Al Shariq, a newspaper in Qatar, has described an agreement that is allegedly taking shape between Israel and the PA; it was carried by YNet yesterday. Reportedly there are 12 clauses, due to be released by the end of this year. Two are of particular note.
First, the Palestinian capital will include "several neighborhoods of Jerusalem."
And then, 20,000 refugees will be permitted into Israel within ten years -- refugees, aged 60-80, who had been uprooted in 1948, not their families, who would be permitted to live out their lives in Israel.
As to the first: One would have to be an incredibly trusting person to believe Olmert's and Livni's denials that Jerusalem has not been discussed. Of course it has! But is the PA going to accept "several neighborhoods" rather than all of eastern Jerusalem (which includes the Jewish holy sites and substantial Jewish neighborhoods)?
And the second: In spite of the cry about "right of return," are we to believe that the Palestinians will settle for a small number of elderly people, without family support, coming to live in Israel? As the Arabs are claiming 4.6 million refugees, this is a token .043%.
And here we are: On Friday, Abbas gave an interview with Haaretz in which he said that "We presented our ideas and demands regarding the six issues, but have not received any answer from the Israeli side."
Abbas, in this interview as elsewhere, is adamant about Israel accepting responsibility for the refugee problem and a "practical" right of return -- which he would base on the Arab initiative of 2002.
That Arab -- read Saudi -- initiative was a horror for Israel. With regard to the refugees, it called for a "just" solution based on UN Resolution 194. (For over 60 years, the Arabs have been basing their claims to "right of return" on this document, which in point of fact guarantees nothing with regard to return.)
What is more, which is a tip-off, it "Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries." This means that Syria and Lebanon, and other Arab states that currently host "Palestinian refugees" in an on-going limbo status are being reassured that they are under no obligation to absorb them permanently.
This morning, an aide to Abbas said that reaching a peace deal this year was becoming more difficult, but that the Palestinians were interested in continuing talks after Olmert left office. What's clear is that they are counting on Livni replacing Olmert. See following . . .
A Kuwaiti paper, Al-Jarida, also cited by YNet, says that Ahmed Qurei, the chief PA negotiator, supports Livni for head of Kadima because she is "willing to give them what others have not." Understand, Qurei and Livni have established a solid working relationship already in the course of negotiations.
Qurei, according to this report, is structuring things so that she appears tough, in order to win votes. A bit of unintended humor: What was actually said was that he is helping her establish a "radical right-wing aura." Livni cannot convey a radical right-wing aura any more than I can project an aura of being an avid supporter of Peace Now. This is a window on PA thinking: Concern about protecting Israeli security -- which is what Livni is expressing --is in their eyes the mark of a radical right-winger.
In spite of this, Qurei said he would not sign the current agreement that was taking shape on Jerusalem (uh huh . . . ) because it would allow the city to be "an Israeli military camp," which is his version of Israel retaining some areas with security measures.
In fact, he said that the negotiations, in his expectation, would amount to nothing. My expectation as well, but I ponder why it matters to him whether Livni wins the primary if nothing will come of it anyway.
Possible scenarios to watch for, coming down the road when the negotiations run their course:
Another Intifada -- greatly increased violence (terrorism) against Israel. This is hinted at in some quarters, but others suggest that either there is not the resolve for this within the populace or that politically this is not the way to go.
Push for a "one state" solution. In this scenario PA leaders declare that they've given up on a two-state solution and want Israel to incorporate all Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and Gaza so that there is one bi-national state. A dangerous concept.
But perhaps the negotiations will be dragged out for longer than expected (and perhaps this is what Qurei is thinking about):
According to PA Basic Law -- you may read reports to the contrary, but there is no PA constitution -- the presidential term is four years, which means Mahmoud Abbas's term as president runs out in January 2009. Reports are circulating about unease here that after Abbas leaves chaos in the PA will follow. In fact, the Post has indicated that the IDF has held special exercises in preparation for a potential increase in violence.
The Basic Law says that until new elections are held (and this would require 60 days), the Speaker of the Legislative Council takes over once the president has left office. Hamas is pushing hard for this, for the speaker is Hamas-affiliated Abdel Aziz Duwaik. Abdel Aziz Duwaik, it happens, is sitting in an Israeli prison right now. (Acting speaker is Sheikh Ahmed Bahar, who in a Friday sermon a year ago called upon Jews and Americans to be killed "to the very last one.") Undoubtedly, it is the prospect of Duwaik receiving the title of PA president while in prison here that is unsettling the IDF, with good reason.
Of course, Abbas could still schedule those elections. But he has made no mention of this to date, no move to set things in motion. Abbas, it seems, has a different interpretation of Basic Law. The election for president, he says, is supposed to coincide with elections for the Legislative Council, which are scheduled for January 2010 -- four years after the Hamas electoral victory of 2006. (My assumption is that Abbas is claiming the presidential elections are out of synch because of Arafat's death in November 2004, and the need to elect his successor in early 2005, one year before presidential elections would otherwise have been held.)
Anything can happen, and the political in-fighting is likely to be substantial, but there is solid betting that Abbas is about to extend his presidential term to January 2010.
Israel is suffering from drought. But this is apparently nothing compared to the drought being endured right now in Iran. From the Jordan Times, carried by IMRA, comes a report of extreme suffering in the southern Iranian province of Fars, where rainfall is down 68% and 10 of its 11 rivers have dried up. Not only are people without drinking water, but this agricultural region, where 85% of the population relies on farming, is in dire straits.
This is of significance with regard to Iran's strength. The Iranian government has allocated $5 billion to fight the drought, and will have to import 5 million tons of wheat for domestic consumption.
Hard times, it would surely seem, make Iran more vulnerable to the impact of serious economic sanctions. What is more, it's a good guess that the population must have grievous dissatisfaction with the focus of its government in this time of hardship.
This is good news:
Just days ago news reports were saying that the US has been declining in recent months to respond favorably to Israeli requests for military equipment that would make an Israeli attack on Iran more effective. But now in the wake of this comes a different sort of report from Haaretz.
The U.S. Department of Defense announced on Friday that it will sell the Israel Air Force 1,000 new "bunker buster" smart bombs. What we're talking about is the Guided Bomb Unit-39 (GBU-39), which was developed for penetration of deep fortified facilities.
This Boeing-developed bomb is able to successfully penetrate more than 1.8 meters of thick reinforced concrete, and has a 50% probability of hitting its target within 5-8 meters. Because of its small size -- 113 kilograms, four can replace a single conventional one-ton bomb on an aircraft.
This, needless to say, will considerably enhance our ability to mount a successful strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should such a strike be decided upon. It also gives some credence to the theories I've encountered maintaining that public US disapproval of our intention to hit Iran, if necessary, is at least in part smoke screen.
You might want to take a look at Charles Krauthammer's perceptive piece, "Obama's Altitude Sickness," in which he takes a clear-eyed look at the reason why Obama is now losing steam in the campaign.
" . . . Obama was the ultimate celebrity candidate. For no presidential nominee in living memory had the gap between adulation and achievement been so great.
" . . . The unease at the Denver convention, the feeling of buyer's remorse, was the Democrats' realization that the arc of Obama's celebrity had peaked -- and had now entered a period of its steepest decline. That Palin could so instantly steal the celebrity spotlight is a reflection of that decline.
"It was inevitable. Obama had managed to stay aloft for four full years. But no one can levitate forever.
" . . . With every primary and every repetition of the high-flown, self-referential rhetoric, the campaign's insubstantiality became clear. By the time . . . of the last primary [it was] tired and flat. To top himself, Obama had to reach. Hence his triumphal declaration that history would note that night, his victory, his ascension, as 'the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.'
The moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal??
"Clang . . . . That grandiloquent proclamation of universalist puffery popped the bubble. The grandiosity had become bizarre.
" . . . One star fades, another is born. The very next morning McCain picks Sarah Palin and a new celebrity is launched.
" . . . her job is easier. She only has to remain airborne for seven more weeks. Obama maintained altitude for an astonishing four years. In politics, as in all games, however, it's the finish that counts."
Jeff Jacoby, writing in the Boston Globe, has another take on the current Obama slide: People, he says, are being to see through the Obama economic proposals.
Posting: September 11, 2008
It's been seven years since the horror of the World Trade Center destruction and the attack on the Pentagon.
As with the Holocaust, the by-word must be: Never Again. But words are cheap and vigilance is required. The people of the US -- now, especially, with an election close at hand -- must ask what is being done, and what must be done, to insure that there is never another Nine-Eleven.
One of the lessons of that horror has never been adequately learned and assimilated: The perpetrators of 9/11 were not poor, not lower class, not uneducated, not hopeless. They acted out of a radical ideology. Throwing money at terrorists does not moderate them.
Al-Qaeda certainly is not what it was seven years ago: It has been substantially weakened. But while it's down, it is not yet out. We are being told that the message of Jihad still retains currency.
While counter-terrorism efforts have yielded successes, US intelligence officials say Al-Qaeda "remains the most serious terrorist threat to the United States."
According to some reports, Al-Qaeda is seeking to attack inside US borders, but is finding it difficult because of the increase in vigilance. Thus it looks, instead, to hit in Europe.
There is concern in security circles about evolving techniques -- such as increased use of the Internet, which spans local groups. The situation is actually far more complex now than it was seven years ago, because of these localized Al-Qaeda groups. Between January 2005 and April 2007, 40 organizations -- located in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Europe, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt -- announced formation and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Additionally, an enclave in tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan has been carved out as a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban fighters from Afghanistan (the guessing is that Bin Laden is there somewhere). This "safe haven" has permitted Al-Qaeda to "regain its equilibrium."
Says a senior British anti-terrorism official:
"We don't want to let complacency sink in. That is exactly when something can happen,. The threat hasn't manifested itself in the West recently, but the picture looks a lot different if you are in Algiers or Islamabad."
Another lesson not yet assimilated adequately: The presence of Israel and the fact that a Palestinian state has not been established have less than nothing to do with the larger Jihadist picture. All those who imagine that if only Israel would shrink back to the '49 lines and give the Palestinians half of Jerusalem all would be well are very much mistaken. Most Muslims care not a whit about the establishment of a Palestinian state; in fact the Palestinians are broadly disliked.
The historical roots of Islamic extremism, and Jihadism, are deep, going back centuries, and the goal of a widespread caliphate to rule according Sharia'a (Islamic law) is hardly new. The much analyzed tensions between Sunnis and Shias derive from a conflict over which group would form the legitimate caliphate.
From The Jordan Times yesterday -- cited by IMRA -- is a piece discussing how furious with the Palestinians the Arab League is. Furious because the Palestinians are so busy fighting among themselves that they can't get their act together. Arab League secretary general Amr Musa told a press conference Tuesday: "We are studying the measures to be taken in the face of the current Palestinian chaos."
You know the saying that a good deed never goes unpunished?
For Ramadan, Israel is attempting to ease the passage of Palestinians through checkpoints. At the checkpoint at Hawara, outside of Nablus, where numerous terrorists have been nabbed, a humanitarian lane has been established for emergencies. An Arab woman ran through that lane and threw acid in the face of the soldier manning the post.
Each year it is traditional for the president of Israel to host leaders of the Arab-Israeli community during Ramadan. Present this year at President Shimon Peres's dinner was Sheikh Abdallah Nimr Darwish, founder of the Islamic Movement.
With regard to the "peace" negotiations, Darwish explained that, "The Palestinians can't give up any more."
This was fascinating for me, as I'm not aware of anything they have given up.
Posting: September 9, 2008
"Warming That Molasses"
Yesterday I wrote that the process of removing Olmert from the government is as "slow as molasses." But what I'm seeing now might -- just might, no guarantees -- push things ahead more quickly. There is heat being generated:
Quite simply, there are people in the government who are weary of the thought of having him at the helm, and people in his own Kadima party who are getting worried about the liability he represents. A prime minister, making major decisions, who is about to be indicted? Not a great scene.
Members of the opposition in the Knesset called a special session today to address what they called the "illegitimate conduct of government regarding political affairs."
MK Aryeh Eldad (NU/NRP) has always been outspoken and direct, and today was no exception. What he said was:
"How do we know what is behind this man's decisions? Maybe tomorrow, Olmert will want to give away land to the Arab enemy . . . Maybe someone paid him to change his mind and give away land that belongs to my people, to my heritage. A man suspected of receiving bribes cannot be Israel's prime minister since we don't know what motivates him."
And I salute him for this honesty. He is not saying that Olmert has been bribed already to negotiate with the PA, but that Olmert cannot be trusted.
When one considers the notion of "bribes" broadly, it becomes even more disconcerting. For there can be financial gain via investments that motivates decisions as well -- even though this has nothing to do with what is good for the nation.
Within Kadima there are individuals decidedly not happy with the very convoluted scenario I described yesterday in which Olmert would head a transitional government even if he had been indicted. In some quarters there is a push to have him really step down so that the new head of Kadima -- who will be elected next week -- can head that transitional government.
Others are declaring with confidence that the winner of the primary (most likely Livni) will be able to form a new coalition so quickly that this would not be an issue.
So . . . for now we'll keep waiting and seeing.
Olmert had been scheduled to visit Russia next week, where he was going to be lobbying against arms for Syria, but that trip has been cancelled because of his tenuous position.
Similarly, there is speculation that there will not be any more indirect negotiations with Syria, either. Which, in my book, would be the best thing that could happen. The next round was due to take place on the 18th.
There are Israeli officials lamenting that Assad may feel he already got what he wanted -- an end to international isolation -- and that he didn't "need" Israel any longer.
When French president Nicholas Sarkozy came to Syria last week, and then was joined by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, some high level Israelis were lamenting that these people were giving Assad too much recognition. I found this highly ironic, because it was the fools in Israel who broke Syria's isolation and started the process. Who were they to criticize?
Assad had been making a bid for US involvement in direct talks with Israel -- he had said that the talks would only work with US participation. But the US is none too keen to be involved here. One guess is that this is because it would tie Olmert's successor into this prematurely. But the fact is that the American administration has shown no desire to promote this in any event.
Gen. James Jones, the US security advisor on the Israeli-Palestinian talks, is due here tomorrow in an attempt to define Israel's vital security needs that would have to be addressed in any Israeli-PA agreement.
As a last ditch effort, it seems, the Americans are hoping to draft a "security document" -- a document defining Israel's security needs that would be acceptable to Israel and the US -- even if a diplomatic agreement isn't reached. Israel, however, isn't keen on putting anything in writing in this regard without that diplomatic progress.
What infuriates me considerably is the audacity of suggesting that the US has to pass on -- or voice acceptance of -- our defined security needs. No one, but no one, should sign off on this except Israeli security and military experts. We tell them what we insist upon. And if the rest of the world doesn't like it, tough. The US thinks it has a say in whether we need certain areas of Judea and Samaria to be secure? Or whether it's safe for our citizens if we allow PA security personnel carrying guns to locate in such and such a region?
It was Secretary of State Rice who coerced Israel into leaving the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, when we were supposed to have stayed there. She did this in spite of Israeli security objections (and were those objections correct!) because her priority was moving a process, not protecting Israel.
Interesting: Like clockwork, every so often there is a bid to release Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Sometimes this is from the Palestinians, but sometimes it comes from our side. There are Israelis convinced that if Barghouti were released he would have such charisma, such impact on the street, that he could move forward a peace agreement and help cool the tensions with Hamas.
Foolish, foolish thinking in any event, I believe. For if the "best" we can find as PA leader is a convicted terrorist, these are not really people we want to deal with. Never mind that because of the Israeli lives he has taken, he should never be free again.
Now the Israel Radio Arab affairs correspondent has reported on a study by our security forces that indicates that Barghouti's popularity in the street has been severely over-rated. In fact, the last time there were Legislative Council elections, no one who had connections with Barghouti won.
Good. Can we stop talking about letting him go now?
The taskforce, headed by Haim Ramon, charged with coming up with the names of 450 Hamas prisoners we would be willing to exchange for Shalit, has completed its work. This is a list --with new guidelines on who can be released -- that Israel decided to submit to Hamas, with initiative coming from our side. This is not in response to specific Hamas demands.
But Hamas is now asking for 1,500 prisoners, so this is not going to play.
And there's more that is deeply disturbing:
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has been acting as go-between on negotiations, has been unable to get those negotiations started again. Hamas is playing hardball. And so, according to Haaretz, Suleiman told Yossi Beilin in meetings in Cairo on Sunday that he's working on a new approach. This would include extending the "ceasefire" and securing guarantees from Israel that we would not harm Hamas leaders.
This is what follows from what has been our foolish acquiescence to terrorist demands We have been acting too hungry and too eager.
I much prefer the suggestion of some defense officials -- including Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin -- that we increase pressure on Hamas instead, even if it means limited military action against Hamas that threatens the "ceasefire." Our message then changes from "Oh, please, tell us what else we have to do for you to make you happy?" to "Let us tell you what we've going to do to you if you don't act as we want you to."
Gabriela Shalev, Israel's first female ambassador to the UN, submitted her credentials Monday to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She was at one time a professor of law at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Posting: September 8, 2008
"Slow Like Molasses"
Getting rid of Olmert is that slow.
At long last, after months of investigation, the police on Sunday evening recommended that Olmert be indicted on charges of bribery, breach of public trust, violation of anti-money laundering laws and fraudulent receipt of goods.
The two cases involved -- that will generate these charges -- are the Talansky affair, in which he is alleged to have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally in exchange for promises to promote Talansky's business interests, and the Rishon Tours affair, in which he allegedly double billed non-profit organizations for trips, thereby amassing for himself considerable excess funds.
And this is not the end of what he may yet be charged with.
But the process is hardly complete. Material collected in the two cases mentioned will be turned over to the Jerusalem District Attorney's office, where Eli Abarnel, district attorney for criminal affairs will assume the investigation. He will submit his recommendations on indictment to State Attorney Moshe Lador, who will present his recommendation to State Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who will render a final decision on indicting.
The indictment is now not expected before December. And there's more: Olmert's associates are saying that he will stay in office even after indictment, and until a new government is formed.
My assumption, based on standard form and expectations, was that a head of government under indictment would step down. Just a few months ago, in early May, Olmert himself had declared that he would step down if there were an indictment against him. A deputy premier would then take over.
But following this, in July, he declared that he would resign after a new head of Kadima was elected in the primary due to take place this month. And in that instance he would stay in place until the new government was formed.
Now what is being said is that if he is indicted in December, and a new government is not in place by that point, then Olmert -- who would already have resigned in principle -- would remain at the head of the transitional government until such time as the new permanent government was in place, rather than allowing a deputy premier to become prime minister until the new government was established.
Do not be disturbed if this is confusing to you. It's possible that there would be something wrong with you if you were not just a bit confused, actually. For this is a convoluted scenario filled with "if's" and "maybe's."
Part of what remains to be seen is whether the new head of Kadima is able to put together a coalition, which might happen before December. Or if an election is called, which would mean everything would not be finalized by December. Livni, who is riding high in the polls these days, was said to be thinking of calling for a national election if elected head of Kadima, but is now talking about establishing an emergency government. Mofaz, who is running second in the polls, is also talking about forming a new coalition quickly.
All I can promise is to do my level best to keep you informed as this unfolds.
Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Cairo on Saturday, told Egyptian president Mubarak that he doubted an agreement could be reached with the Israelis by the end of this year. He reiterated his desire for a total agreement:
"The solution that we Palestinians want must include all matters, and not defer on any. Both Jerusalem and the right of return are Palestinian rights."
Now, it actually is not the case -- there is no "right of return" in international law. Yet certainly the Arabs have been claiming it for over 60 years, drawing on UN Resolution 194 (which was only a vague recommendation without legal teeth).
But it would be interesting to see how Abbas and company would demonstrate -- legally, historically -- the claim to Jerusalem as a "Palestinian right." They've got a good part of the world believing this, without a basis for it at all.
Top Israeli defense officials, cited by The Jerusalem Post, are now saying that Iran is consolidating its hold on Hezbollah, so that Nasrallah is no longer in exclusive control.
Reportedly a delegation of high level Iranian Revolutionary Guards visited Beirut last week to coordinate the incorporation of Hezbollah into its forces.
According to a Syrian opposition newspaper, this was being done in case Syria were to establish relations with Israel and back off on its involvement with Hezbollah (something that seems extremely unlikely from this vantage point).
What seems to make more sense is the speculation that Iran is seeking to control Hezbollah sufficiently so that it would be able to order it to attack Israel, were Israel to attack Iran.
Iran continues to head the list of major international concerns:
A Russian state-run company that -- in return for $1 billion -- has been helping Iran build its first light-water nuclear reactor in Bushehr says that it should be launched by the end of the year. In theory, this plant is in line with international agreements. The US withdrew objections when Iran agreed to return spent nuclear fuel to Russia so it could not be used for weaponry.
David Kay, who headed the UN inspection program that uncovered the Iraqi nuclear program, writing in The Washington Post, estimated that Iran is two to four years away from developing some five nuclear weapons (a more modest estimate than what Israeli intelligence predicts). He had this to say:
"My humble best guess is that Iran is pushing toward a nuclear-weapons capability as rapidly as it can. But if Tehran were to believe that American - not Israeli - military action is imminent, it might slow work on the elements of its program that it thinks the world can observe."
Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, one of the very best friends we have in Congress, offered this in a piece she wrote for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
"The best way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities is to impose a cost so high that it threatens the Iranian regime's survival unless that regime changes course. U.S. sanctions have hindered Iran's ability to attract capital, materials, and technical support, and have created extensive and growing financial difficulties for the regime. Yet although Congress has repeatedly passed sanctions legislation which has been signed into law, its implementation has been watered down or ignored by successive administrations.
"The latest U.S. response has been to join the European Union's efforts to bribe the mullahs into suspending uranium enrichment, while failing to apply U.S. sanctions . . .
"We must impose immediate, comprehensive, tough economic sanctions, along with every other source of pressure that we can muster, in coordination with as many countries as we can persuade to do so . . .
"The United States should make a moral statement that we will not deal with pariah states and will not help such states to fortify themselves and thereby endanger our own national interests and the interests of our allies, such as Israel.
"The Iranian regime's expanding political and military involvement across the Middle East and South Asia is a force to be reckoned with. We need to wake up and understand the implications of this matter . . . History has taught us that failing to act when threatened by a deadly foe like Iran usually ends in an avoidable tragedy. We ignore Iran's growing hegemony at our own peril."
Posting: September 4, 2008
Yes, hope. I didn't realize how hungry for it I was, how bereft of it I felt, until today . . .
I sit here, along with many others, and I watch how the world has been turning, and how the bad guys are gaining traction, and there is a small wedge of terror in my heart. I go about my business as if it weren't there. But the flicker of hope that rose up in me today reminded me of its presence, and of how serious are the issues we all face.
Many Americans are also hungry for hope. That's why they've latched on to Barack Obama with such passion. He promises hope. But his promises are cheap and without substance. Many facts have been presented in these postings -- carefully documented facts -- that demonstrate his weaknesses and the problems inherent in his candidacy.
But now it must be said outright: The hope Obama promises is no more than vacuous, elitist egotism. There's no substance, no constancy to the man, and certainly no ability to stand strong before our enemies. ("Our" enemies: the enemies of Israel and the US are one and the same.) Barack Obama terrifies me.
So, why do I feel a flicker of hope now?
Because I listened to Gov. Sarah Palin's speech accepting the Republican nomination as vice president -- found on the Internet at http://www.gopconvention2008.com/videos/. And I was blown away. Because she's genuine and gusty, and she has values. And she talks about putting the country first.
So, I say to myself, maybe a McCain-Palin win is a possibility. Maybe the US won't implode into a shivering mass of appeasement after all. Maybe there will be a US administration that will stop pressuring us to give away half our land to a bunch of terrorists, and will mean what it says to Iran. Maybe . . . There is my hope.
Let us move for a moment from the usual topics discussed here to abortion -- since many people seem to think that McCain-Palin are unacceptable because of their pro-life stand. Liberals -- who are Obama supporters -- are pro-choice. But a solid case can be made for the position that "choice" is not a valid option -- a women cannot blithely dispose of the growing life inside her just because it doesn't suit her to have a baby. Jewish law (halachha) certainly does not acknowledge a woman's right in this respect. There are situations in which abortions are appropriate -- cases of rape, incest, emotional or physical inability of the mother to cope (and indeed the rabbis find ways to address these instances).
What is being said is that the McCain-Palin stand permits no abortions at all. But that beats Obama's position by a great deal. It was Michael Gerson, writing in The Washington Post a few months ago who called Obama's abortion stand "extreme." Obama opposed the legal ban on partial-birth abortions. Imagine: partially delivering a fetus -- a fetus close to being or perhaps already viable -- and then inserting something sharp into its brain to destroy it. This is OK so that a woman can have a choice? Forgive me, this is a moral obscenity. Saying it's very rarely done excuses nothing.
"And in the Illinois State Senate, [Obama] opposed a bill similar to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which prevents the killing of infants mistakenly left alive by abortion." How close to infanticide does it get?
It moved me today, to see Sarah Palin's husband cradling their baby son, while Sarah spoke about the unique joys and challenges of their special needs (Downs) child, the child she refused to abort . This speaks to me of character. Just as it speaks to me of character that John and Cindy McCain adopted a Bengali baby with a severe cleft palate from Mother Theresa's orphanage.
Maybe that's another source of my hope. There's been such a paucity of character in our leaders.
Please, see Jeff Jacoby's piece, "A stark choice on abortion":
More about Obama.
Journalist Kenneth Timmerman has just written that as a young man Obama was assisted by Khalid al-Mansour, who is "well known within the black community as a lawyer, an orthodox Muslim, a black nationalist, an author, an international deal-maker, an educator, and an outspoken enemy of Israel."
At the time that al-Mansour sought to give a boost to Obama, he was serving as an advisor to Saudi billionaires Abdul Aziz and Khalid al-Ibrahim, as well as to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the nephew of King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia.
Why would al-Mansour have been interested in promoting Barack Hussein Obama? I suggest that most Americans haven't a clue who Obama really is or what he stands for.
It's another flicker of hope I felt on reading news about Olmert today. This is a negative hope (is there such a thing?): The hope that we may soon be done with him, at long last. Things have dragged on so long that the end, when it comes, will be almost anti-climactic.
The evidence on Olmert with regard to at least three different cases -- it's not just the Talansky case -- are being consolidated by the police in the National Fraud Unit, who met today to discuss it. Within a week the decision as to whether to indict will be sent to the State Prosecutor, though it seems an indictment wouldn't actually be filed until late October, after the Holidays
It is my impression that if he were indicted he would be expected to step down -- even if a new government had not yet been formulated.
Syria's President Assad has announced that talks with Israel have been postponed because Olmert's aide, Yoram Turbowitz, who was heading up the indirect negotiations with Syria has resigned. A strange story here: he resigned but has offered to continue to do the negotiations on a volunteer basis. No, says Attorney General Mazuz, he has to be paid. Why does it matter? A volunteer has less accountability. Need more be said?
According to Assad, the up-coming fifth round of indirect talks, with Turkey as go-between, is supposed to lead to direct talks. He says he has now submitted proposals for peace to Israel.
There's a trap here, though. Assad is eager for international involvement in and support on these talks because then the international community would "make sure" that Olmert's successor followed down the same negotiating path. Allegedly, Olmert has agreed to give up the Golan Heights for peace. This man cannot be gone fast enough.
When MKs questioned him yesterday about Olmert's legitimate use of power -- since he has already committed to resigning -- Attorney General Mazuz replied that the government has characteristic in common with a transitional government.
The government is not formally transitional, as a new government is not being formed nor are we in the period before [announced] elections. However, decisions from the High Court regarding transitional governments elections should serve as guidelines here:
" . . . on the one hand, the government must provide stability and continuity so that there is no government vacuum. On the other hand, it must show restraint in applying its powers . . . [and] the government and its ministers must show restraint in applying their prerogatives regarding matters where there is no special, urgent need for taking action during the transitional period."
At this time, Olmert certainly has no business making promises to Syria that might have the effect of pushing his successor in a particular direction.
Olmert is allowing himself to be used by Assad, who is seeking a way out of his isolation.
Mere hours after making statements about peace with Israel, Assad was interviewed on Al Manar TV in Lebanon. He said:
"Syria has no interest in relinquishing its ties with Hezbollah. The Syrian stance towards Hezbollah remains unchanged . . . . Our attitude towards the resistance is clear wherever it may be; against the occupation in Iraq, Lebanon or Palestine."
As to negotiations with Israel, well, that was being done "in order to serve our own interests and not in order to give away any gifts."
If the present government moves to do any further negotiating with Syria, with Turbowitz or anyone else, it's even more obtuse and destructive than it has currently shown itself to be.
In a press conference yesterday, Riad al-Malki, PA Foreign Minister, declared that there has been no agreement between Israel and the PA on the smaller issues, never mind the core issues. He says not a word has been committed to paper.
Posting: September 1, 2008
"Not To Be"
According to Wafa Amir, writing for Reuters, Abbas told Olmert yesterday that the PA would not be part of any interim agreement. What is more, we're not just talking about an agreement for a September 17 deadline (which is what rumor had it Olmert was seeking). Saeb Erekat told reporters in Ramallah that Abbas was not keen on a trying to reach a preliminary peace deal by the end of the year just to accommodate Bush's calendar.
This is not unexpected. Abbas may say he is reluctant to work according to calendar, but my betting is that he's reluctant to sign at all. Negotiating is in his best interest, signing is not.
The Washington Post is echoing a similar refrain:
"President Bush's goal of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal within five months is looking increasingly unattainable. These days it's hard to find anyone optimistic about the deal's January 2009 target date, announced with great fanfare at a U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference nine months ago."
According to the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, the Dutch intelligence service, the AIVD, has called off an operation aimed at infiltrating and sabotaging the Iranian weapons industry because an attack on Iran by the US is coming in a matter of weeks and will hit sites where Dutch saboteurs would have been located. According to this report, the hits would come via unmanned aircraft.
Reportedly the Dutch intelligence shared information with the CIA on targets such as launching equipment and parts for missiles (which at least at first blush makes it sound as if this wouldn't be primarily an attack on nuclear development sites).
Is this true? I wouldn't put money on this, but who knows? The Jerusalem Post, which reported this, could not confirm the story.
According to Al-Quds al-Arabi in London, Iran is mobilizing Islamic Jihad in Gaza -- which is very much dependant on Iran -- to sabotage the ceasefire.
Maj. Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror (whom I cited yesterday) says the ceasefire is in Hamas's interest, as it is giving the terrorist group time to strengthen and mobilize. Thus Hamas -- which is not as dependant upon Iran as IJ -- would not hesitate to put down Islamic Jihad and is quite capable of doing so.
And it's not only Hamas that is benefiting from the ceasefire with opportunity to strength. Maan, a Palestinian news service, reports that Al Aksa Brigades, which is part of Fatah (the "moderate" party) has just graduated a group of fighters in Gaza. Graduates had been trained in storming buildings and kidnapping soldiers; they demonstrated the launching of rocket-propelled grenades for the graduation ceremony.
"Al-Aksa Brigades asserted that the graduation of a class of fighters sends a clear message to Israel that resistance is still a valid choice for freeing Palestinian lands and the Al-Aksa mosque."
You think Condoleezza Rice has heard about this?
Just a word about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom McCain has picked as his VP candidate: What do I know about her? Not enough yet. That she has a very good relationship with the Jews of Alaska, including the Chabad (Lubavitch) rabbi there. That she is tough and principled and would not likely be an appeaser of terrorists or eager to dialogue with Iran. That she put out a very highly supportive (but not remarkable) gubernatorial declaration of support for Israel.
But what I do know is that the more I am learning about Biden, the more uneasy he is making me. It started with his soft-pedaling the threat that Iran represents. The Post has just carried a report saying that Israeli security officials are troubled by statements on Iran he is alleged to have made. And I have since learned that he once threatened cuts in aid to Israel because of our settlements. This is not encouraging.
Posting: August 31, 2008
"A Strong Stand"
According to a Friday report by Ben Caspit in Maariv, subsequently carried in The Jerusalem Post, Arutz Sheva and elsewhere, a decision has been made by the Israeli government to hit Iran if need be.
Israel, it is being reported, made the critical decision three months ago and is now preparing a military strike on Iran that would be activated whether the US approves or not. If the situation is not resolved by 2010 -- through an internal coup, sanctions that are genuinely effective, or military action by the US -- Israel will proceed.
Currently, the US is prepared to provide defensive weapons, but will not assist in making it possible for us to hit Iran -- has not, for example, provided necessary codes for flying over Iraq.
The report describes action to promote sanctions with teeth that has been taken by Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister who recently left the Labor party. He is pushing a total international embargo on spare parts for Iran's oil industry and a complete international boycott of Iran's banks.
Sneh wrote to both US presidential candidates outlining this plan, which would have to be undertaken within the next 18 to 24 months, and which would cause the regime to topple. It would. however, require recruiting all of Europe to be on board with this -- as partial participation does not constitute effective sanctions. Thus, as good as this plan might be on paper, we should not hold our collective breath waiting for this to happen.
Last week, Sneh visited Austria and Switzerland, which have both announced plans for major investments in gas and oil fields in Iran. As he listened to his hosts describe their plans, he replied, "What a shame, for Ido will set fire to all of it." Ido is Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, Commander of the Israel Air Force, who would be in charge of carrying out the air strikes on Iran.
"Investing in Iran in 2008," Sneh told the Austrians, "is like investing in the Krupp steelworks in 1938, it's a high risk investment." He reported that his hosts turned pale.
Could it be that talking tough and forcing a new reality might do the trick? European leaders would have to perceive their economic dealings with Iran as ultimately not being in their own narrow best interest. As Sneh said, "Talk of the Jewish Holocaust and Israel's security doesn't impress these guys." Plans -- made public -- for Israeli air strikes on Iran might be useful in this regard.
Iranian officials, responding to talk of an attack on their facilities, warned in al-Quds al-Arabi that they have supplied Hezbollah with longer range missiles that would be unleashed if we or the US were to hit Iran. This is supposed to be the "surprise" that Nasrallah has been referring to recently.
But security analyst Maj.-Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror says he doesn't believe this is the case:
"This is nothing new. Hezbollah has had these missiles - such as the Zilzal, which can reach Tel Aviv - for years. I don't think Hezbollah received longer-range missiles, but they are stockpiling more of the same."
According to the Post, the Arab states unequivocally oppose a strike on Iran.
I found this interesting because I sat just weeks go with an Arab-speaking Israeli investigative journalist who told me of the on-going animosity between the Sunni Arab states and Shia Iran, which is seeking to overtake them. According to him, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in particular, have been annoyed at Bush for softening his stance on Iran. The opposition to a strike may be a public stance only.
Let me return here to the issue of a possible signed agreement between Israel and the PA that might be secretly pushed through in a matter of weeks or days. There is an enormous amount of disinformation afloat, with responses that sometimes verge on the hysterical -- perhaps understandably, given the seriousness of the issue.
In a nutshell: The story circulating is that Olmert is pushing to get something on paper before September 17, the day of the Kadima primaries. He would still hold his position after that, but only as a caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed -- he would lack the authority to act on something as major as this. (Never mind that -- in the face of the multiple investigations he is dealing with -- he is currently lacking the authority as well.)
Olmert's "problem" is that the PA and Israel are still too far apart to finalize a deal. The sticking point being discussed most often is Jerusalem (although there is surely similar discord on the matters of "return" of refugees and borders).
Some sources have it that Olmert is pushing for a vague document that simply outlines what has been agreed on so far and can serve as the basis for a shelf agreement to be activated later. But according to Haaretz, Olmert's latest wrinkle on how to resolve differences and allow something to be signed is this:
There would be general framework signed now. But with a five year time-table for completing negotiations on Jerusalem, which would take place under an "international umbrella" with various parties able to "bolster" -- though not impose -- an agreement. His conceptualization is that in an international venue, with a number of nations privy to discussion and putting in their thoughts, there would be a "mellowing" on both sides and an inclination to come to terms. On the one hand, it would give the very weak PA backbone, and on the other, would coerce our public into accepting something that already had international sanction.
My conceptualization is that it is an obscenity.
To propose involving international parties at any level with regard to our heritage, our security, and our sovereignty is a disgrace of the first order. We have here a prime minister -- and I write this with a deeply heavy heart -- who cannot, or chooses not to, speak for and protect our heritage, our security and our sovereignty.
Nor am I alone in voicing this opinion. Shas head Eli Yeshai (who could take apart the coalition if only he would lead his faction in resignation) declared that Olmert had no legal or moral authority to make such a deal.
"The leadership of the Palestinian Authority is virtual. Any agreement with them will be the basis for more terror. It is clear to everyone that Jerusalem's fate cannot be negotiated like it was a currency, and certainly not with international participation."
Foreign Minister and Chief Negotiator Tzipi Livni is also greatly unhappy with what Olmert is trying to do. She sees attempts to accelerate the negotiation process as a huge mistake:
"We must not let the pressure of time cause us to make one of two grave mistakes: To try and bridge the wide gaps [note please: there are "wide" gaps] in a manner that will lead to a collapse, or to compromise on issues critical to Israel just to achieve results."
I here reiterate my opinion that a precipitous agreement signed by Olmert would seriously damage Livni's chances of putting together a coalition that would allow her to be prime minister after the Kadima primary. She has to be fiercely opposed to this. (I note however, that, in due course she might well make concessions that are similar.)
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter expressed anger that Olmert was proceeding without the backing of his Cabinet -- without even informing his ministers. Said Dichter:
" . . . in light of the security-related circumstances, and even more so the political ones in which Olmert is about to step down and Abbas's term ends in four months' time – we cannot repeat the mistake from the [Israeli-Palestinian] talks at the Taba Summit in January 2001 and create a problematic standard for future negotiations that will be lead by Olmert's successors."
But what of the PA? Once again, they are likely to be our salvation. No, it should not be this way. And yes! we must work to have leaders that protect our interests. But this is how it seems to be now.
For some time PA negotiators have been expressing great reluctance to sign anything that is vague and incomplete. Chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei said, just over a week ago, that "We either agree on one package that includes all the issues, or we don't agree," and Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo has declared that they "will not accept any partial deal like a framework or shelf agreement,"
Most recently Abbas has said that the proposal for negotiating Jerusalem over five years represents an incomplete deal that would leave him weakened.
And then we have this, which represents a major stumbling block in negotiations from the PA side:
Rumor of late has had it that Rice is back-tracking on Bush's commitment -- made in a letter to then PM Sharon in 2004 -- regarding our right to retain major settlement blocs, and that Olmert is ready to go along.
But that's not how Nahum Barnea tells it in today's Yediot Ahronot. In conversation with Barnea, a "senior US government official" is reported to have said the following:
" . . . In her last visit ten days ago Secretary of State Rice heard opposition to the Israeli settlement blocs remaining in the area of the [West] Bank from the Palestinians. They said that this impairs Palestinian movement. We told them that this is a problem that has to be dealt with, but the settlement blocs would remain. We made it clear to them that they must understand the reality: no Israeli prime minister can abandon communities where tens of thousands of Israelis live."
I would suggest that the rumors originated with Palestinian sources, who implied that Rice agreed with their position. This serves as a prime example of how convoluted and complex this entire situation is, and how prone to misunderstandings.
Summing up more definitively, there is this, from Saeb Erekat, PA negotiator:
"The gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions still exists. This is especially true with regards to all the final-status issues: Jerusalem, borders, refugees, settlements, water and security. Therefore, I rule out the possibility that there would be an agreement or a written document this month.
"We are not in a bazaar or a market. We are talking about rights and we must ensure our rights in any agreement."
Along with the core issues, Erekat is looking for return of "detainees" (i.e., terrorists) to Judea and Samaria, removal of the security fence and of checkpoints, and the opening of closed PA institutions in Jerusalem.
The simple fact is that the more hungry Olmert has acted to reach an agreement -- an abysmally bad negotiating stance -- the tougher the PA demands have become. The PA presumably wants a state. Why should they not be petitioning us?
Olmert and Abbas met today, presumably for the last time before the Kadima primary. There was no press conference following, so it can be assumed nothing was resolved. It can also be assumed that Olmert used this opportunity to push Abbas to consider his plan, even though officials are denying that Olmert is pushing in this direction. Their claim is that the goal is still the end of 2008.
According to Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, "significant progress had been made in the talks" but "there are still considerable gaps between the two sides."
It was anticipated before the fact that Abbas would be requesting the release of more prisoners, and indeed that turned out to be the case, although no details are forthcoming and Israeli officials are saying no promises have been made.
Actually, a PA official had claimed that Israel has agreed to release Barghouti, Fuad Shabuki, who was involved with the Karine-A weapons ship, and Abdel Aziz Dweik of Hamas. And that Abbas would be demanding as well the release of Ahmed Sa'adat, connected to the assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, and hundreds of others. All of this was to strengthen Abbas, according to this official:
"It's better for all if Barghouti and the Hamas officials are released as a result of our efforts and not through a prisoner exchange with Hamas. Hamas is hoping to score points by releasing Fatah and Hamas prisoners in return for Gilad Schalit."
One needs a strong stomach to deal with this. Competition as to who gets credit for securing the release of more prisoners, with some perverted notion that if we are willing to give prisoners to Hamas to secure Shalit, we have to also do something to make Fatah look good.
The bottom line is that Hamas will seek prisoners in return for Shalit no matter what, and in fact, will demand more if we keep giving to the PA without a quid pro quo. (see more following)
In response to these claims, an Israeli official has said that "the release of Barghouti is not on the table today." But he also said that the release of 198 recently is not the end.
Haim Ramon is now convening a committee to decide on 450 prisoners to be released to Hamas for Shalit, but Asharq al-Awsat has cited Hamas officials who say the price is now over 1,000.
I imagine we now have to wait for the other shoe to drop, as Olmert announces what he he is willing to do for Abbas next.
One thing has been announced: Olmert reprimanded Abbas for meeting with Samir Kuntar during his recent visit to Lebanon. "You're not supposed to meet with killers," he told him. Not supposed to if he's a moderate, but this is an indication of Abbas's true inclinations.
A very solid reason (among many!) to not even attempt to complete negotiations by the end of 2008: Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin has reported to the Cabinet that when Abbas's term as president ends in early 2009, there is a good chance that political turmoil will ensue. The "rift between Palestinian factions is so deep it will be nearly impossible to hold an election."
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Ethical Indiscretion and Non Reportage of Lethal Threat to Israel
On Sunday, September 21st, 2008, the head of Israel Military Intelligence provided the first official report to the Israeli cabinet that the Israeli intelligence community had come to the definitive conclusion that all diplomatic efforts to stem Iranian development of nuclear weapons had failed and that Iran was, indeed, well on the way to producing its first nuclear weapon.
See: "Iran Has Enough Material To Make A Nuclear Weapon", Philadelphia Bulletin, 09/22/2008, http://tinyurl.com/4e6np9
JTA, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, did not report the IMI report to the Israeli cabinet, despite its alarming newsworthy significance.
Instead, on Monday, September 22, 2008, JTA featured and distributed an oped penned by the head of Americans for Peace Now, entitled "Engaging in diplomacy with Iran is a sensible, responsible policy", which advocated the notion that diplomatic negotiations with Iran is posssible.
The APN oped made no reference the seminal report from the day before from Israeli intelligence that all diplomatic efforts with Iran had failed.
The APN oped also failed to disclose that Peace Now receives funds from the German government [along with five other European governments] and that the position of the German government is identical to the APN oped, which is that diplomatic and trade relations with Iran must continue.
Meawhile, JTA distributed the APN oped in time for the Friday/Jewish New Year deadlines of Jewish newspapers in North America.
When the editor of the JTA was asked if he would distributing a counter oped to the tendentious APN oped, his answer was "Perhaps . . . We'll see if people want to respond".
JTA would not answer the question as to why it would not seek out an immediate "right of reply" to an oped which advocates an up beat diplomatic policy to the Hitler of the 21st century, in time for the deadlines of the North American Jewish media.
In other words, JTA refused to act upon the cardinal principle of equal time.
To ad credibility to the APN oped, JTA ran the APN oped contguous to an expensive banner ad on JTA that was paid for by APN
Nothing like giving service to a paying client.
Should such a JTA policy not be challenged?
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