April 22, 2014
A gangland view of international relations

What links behavior in the underworld and international relations is what are called in international relations "spheres of influence."

The equivalent in the world of gangs and higher levels of business and warfare in the underworld are territories, or markets.

Boardwalk Empire is a TV series centered in Atlantic City during Prohibition, with mob rivalries and alliances ranging up to New York, down to Philadelphia, and out to Chicago. The principal business was alcohol, but there was also prostitution, loan sharking, and drugs. The series has vignettes about the tensions and accommodations among Jewish, Italian, Irish, and "Negro" outlaw entrepreneurs and their organizations, stories of love and frustration, and lots of bare breasts that would not have been allowed on the large or small screens in my youth.

Newspaper readers and viewers of other series can perceive both real life and fictional depictions of what is current in many places, with the principal role now played by drugs in the economics and territorial warfare of the underworld.

Israeli police have their hands full not only with threats of Palestinian violence, but with drive by shootings and explosions associated with territorial disputes between crime families. There is warfare among among Jewish crime families, mostly in cities near Tel Aviv, and among Arab crime families in Jaffa and Lod. Illegal gambling, loan sharking, prostitution, and drugs are at the heart of the country's organize crime.

The cops are forced to take things seriously, rather than pass over killings and attempted killings as disputes among criminals, when they occur in public places and injure innocent by-standers.

Parallels of such territorial stuff in international politics are currently prominent in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

As in the underworld, peace in international politics depends on a delicate balance between recognizing various spheres of influence, with powers on each side of the borders wise enough to know their limits, and not provoking their rivals by overreaching.

Front and center in each region, but not the only issues, are the Ukraine and Palestine.

For reasons of history, ethnicity, and economic relations, the Ukraine is best seen in the Russian sphere of influence. European and US efforts to wean it away have contributed some or much of the current crisis. Hopefully the dust will settle with a minimum of casualties, and no work for the Russian troops arrayed on the Ukraine's eastern border, or the American and European troops exercising in the Baltic region.

There are reports of gunfights between "unofficial" gangs of pro-Russians fighting with "unofficial" gangs of Ukrainian nationalists, with some casualties.

The rhetoric coming from German officials is more moderate than what we are hearing from the Americans.

Explain that by greater German economic interests with Russia, its closeness to whatever bad might happen, or the greater sway of pragmatism in Europe as opposed to the idealism in America's civic religion.

The White House may be going into high gear, or perhaps only full gas in neutral.

"Just as the United States resolved in the aftermath of World War II to counter the Soviet Union and its global ambitions, Mr. Obama is focused on isolating President Vladimir V. Putin's Russia by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state."

Russia is not what the Soviet Union used to be, but it's still too much to be made into a pariah.

Yet again, the President may be aiming high and shooting low.

"So far, economic advisers and White House aides urging a measured approach have won out, prevailing upon a cautious president to take one incremental step at a time out of fear of getting too far ahead of skittish Europeans and risking damage to still-fragile economies on both sides of the Atlantic. . . . The more hawkish faction in the State and Defense Departments has grown increasingly frustrated, privately worrying that Mr. Obama has come across as weak and unintentionally sent the message that he has written off Crimea after Russia's annexation. They have pressed for faster and more expansive sanctions, only to wait while memos sit in the White House without action."

Palestine, for reasons of its history and Israel's concern for its security, as well as geography and Israel's economic and military power, is best viewed as part of Israel's sphere of influence.

Or maybe an Israeli protectorate. The people swept up in recent Israeli activity throughout the West Bank are Hamas and Jihadist rivals of Mahmoud Abbas' PLO, who are inclined to violence against Israelis and Palestinians.

Russia is in the league of great powers, while Israel is only a regional power. Despite these differences, both Eastern Europe and the Middle East are likely to be more stable if both spheres are recognized.

As in the underworld, nothing is simple in international politics. There are various centers of concern, several aspirants for a greater share of whatever comes from power or influence. Beyond the Ukraine, other points of Russian-Western rivalry are the Baltic countries and Poland. None of those places are strong enough to stand alone against Russia. Their futures may depend on Russia not wanting to provoke too great a response from the US or the EU, and the willingness of Poles, Latvians, Estonians, and Lithuanians not to drift too close to the West or too far from cooperation with Russia. Complicating the stability, especially in the Baltic countries, are substantial minorities of ethnic Russians who might be hoping for something like what happened in Crimea, and what may be developing in the eastern part of the Ukraine.

Seeking clout in the Middle East are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey with lesser efforts coming from Dubai, along with persistent efforts by Washington to assert US interests..

The principal site of the competition involving Saudi Arabia and Iran is Syria, with Russia a major player, the US trying hard, and Israel mobilized enough to deal with any spillovers.

As in the underworld, nothing is absolutely clear. There are movements and motives, sometimes traceable to heads of state, and sometimes to units or individuals flexing their muscles from somewhere down in the state organizations or among non-governmental organizations or gangs with nationalist or religious inspiration pursuing their own agendas and trying to justify their fundraising among governmental and other donors.

Among the latest Palestinian threats is one to cancel Oslo and declare the end of the Palestine National Authority (PLA), "give the keys" back to Israel and accept the status of occupied territories. Or maybe to hope for the UN to administer whatever the UN is willing to call "Palestine."

That is not a pleasant prospect for Israel, but even less pleasant for the Palestinian leadership and those close to it.

We've heard those ideas several times in the past. Likely to block it would be the need of Palestinian elites to accept substantial losses in prestige and business opportunities. They would have to readjust from the widespread corruption of the Palestine National Authority to whatever they could obtain from another regime.

Abbas Junior would probably lose his Palestine cell phone company if Dad actually disbands the PLA.

More recently we hear that the Palestinian leadership now has several conditions for the extension of peace talks.
That Israel agree to draw the outline of the borders of a Palestinian state within the next three months;
Halt settlement construction;
Withdraw Israeli troops from the West Bank's Area C to the lines held before the Second Intifada;
Release the fourth wave of prisoners that it has until now refused to do;
End what are called "disruptions" in Jerusalem; and
Open Palestinian institutions in the city.
With such a list of pre-conditions for talks, the Palestinian negotiators can plan doing something else for the next weeks, months, or years.

We hear about justice, democracy, and human rights from the advocates of both the Ukraine and Palestine, but those terms appear out of place.

Both Ukraine and Palestine are a long way from gaining membership among the enlightened, providing justice, democracy, and human rights to their residents, or expected to be treated as such by others..

No one should envy either Ukrainians or Palestinians, but much if not the vast majority of their problems come from themselves. Both have long traditions of widespread corruption, ethnic and religious hatreds.

Reports are that Vice President Joe Biden has given the Ukrainian leadership a stern lecture about corruption.

That might temper the adjectives that his boss can use in justifying US support for Ukraine.

Influencing Israeli perspectives toward those places is anti-Semitism of the old Christian variety in the Ukraine, and the Muslim version among Palestinians.

American officials upset at Israel's delegation in the UN for not supporting US resolutions in behalf of the Ukraine showed again that they don't know all that much about history or international politics.

Pleasing the United States is a higher priority for Israeli policymakers than pleasing Russia. However, pleasing Russia is a higher priority than pleasing the Ukraine.

It isn't easy being a world leader. Not only is the Obama team having trouble in the Ukraine and the Middle East, but there are problems where an ascendant China is concerned about its sphere of influence, North Korea is rattling its capacity, and Japan and South Korea are still tense about their shared history.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:53 PM
April 20, 2014
The Kerry charade

Let's call it what it is.

The US has used its muscle to get Israelis and Palestinians to discussions that neither of them wanted.

Both sides speak and deal with one another all the time. It's part of living side by side, with pockets of one inside the other, and no clear boundaries. Arabs with Israeli citizenship ponder their identities and loyalties. Some Israeli Jews with more than one passport question the validity of Arab/Palestinian divided loyalties, without considering their own situation.

What defies solution is a general agreement, covering boundaries, refugees, Jerusalem, Israel's legitimacy and an end to Palestinian claims.

Geopolitically, the West Bank is a mess, created largely under the direction of earlier Labor governments then Ariel Sharon during his time as Housing Minister, and meant to get in the way of any Palestinian state that would threaten Israel.

This was before Sharon's epiphany with respect to withdrawing Jews from Gaza.

Palestinian response to the Gazan withdrawal makes a West Bank parallel unlikely.

Gaza was simpler, with relatively few Jews, a high level of human costs to settlers and soldiers meant to protect them, and clear boundaries around Gaza, most of which Israel controls.

Now Kerry wants to solve a macro problem that has been proven to be insoluble.

Are his motives any more complex than a Nobel Prize? Or a need to echo his boss's desire for success where there might be enough American clout to pressure both sides?

The problematic elements should have been clear to all who would look.

The Palestinian leadership cannot give up the right of refugees' return, which Arabs have preached for decades. Family members preserve the keys to homes that no longer exist. Some may be fabricated only as symbols, and passed on to generations whose parents had yet to be born in 1948.

The Palestinian leadership might not be able to admit the legitimacy of Israel's existence, in the context of Muslim religious leaders demanding its destruction, with Iran keeping up the drum beat, and when intra-Muslim bloodshed is at one of its historic heights. Jihadists in Gaza and the West Bank are always ready to accuse a Palestinian of heresy who would concede anything to the Jews.

In recent days a Minister in the West Bank branch of the Palestine National Authority claimed that a religious principle stood in the way of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The details of his argument are muddled, and not as important as his citation of religion somewhere in his explanation.

Israelis are not only reluctant to let in thousands, much less millions of Palestinians. There are also Israelis who cannot accept the rights of Palestinians to any of the land ceded by the Almighty to the Jews.

Israelis may justly pride themselves in being by less bloody and more rational than their Palestinian adversaries, but the settlers and their government allies have so complicated the map of the West Bank as to challenge anyone in John Kerry's chorus.

Involved in the problems is a cultural divide that gets in the way of two sets of performers actually communicating with one another.

Trust is non-existent from either direction.

One of my Jewish friends announced the formation of a French Hill-Isaweea joint committee to deal with mutual problems, but a description of one meeting did not name any Isaweea partners. The report featured French Hill complaints of fire bombs and other violence coming from Isaweea.

Another Jewish friend is considering a literary project that will involve an exchange of letters with a Palestinian friend, but he has yet to find a friend willing to write.

I once asked a Muslim if there was anything in their holidays the equivalent of the Jewish Purim or the Christian Carnival. His answer-- "We don't need to dress up. We're always wearing masks."

It is common to accuse both national leaders of wearing masks. Benyamin Netanyahu says time and again that he is working toward a two-state solution, but critics see him raising the bar too high for the Palestinians. One can quarrel about the importance of their recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or the state of the Jewish people. However, it seems a fair test of their capacity to live alongside Israel in peace. Their claim that such a recognition would limit the rights of non-Jews living in Israel flies in the face of the reality that Israeli Arabs have more political rights than the residents of any Muslim country.

Mahmoud Abbas is fond of sounding forthcoming to audiences of left wing Israeli politicians or students selected for an invitation to Ramallah. Speaking to Arab audiences, however, Abbas notes the impossibility of conceding what he conceded in front of Israelis.

One of his latest demands is a capital in all of Jerusalem over the 1967 border, which he justifies by his concern for al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

His patronage of a Christian holy site provokes wonder or guffaws, against the record of Muslim harassment of Christians that has produced sharp declines in the Christian populations of what had been the largely Christian cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nazareth.

Can the world's greatest power, with most of the greatest universities, be so naive as to miss the cultural differences between the Middle West and the Middle East?

Obama's Cairo speech suggests that the culture of this region is beyond the ken of the man who prides himself on having Muslim relatives and having part of his schooling in Indonesia.

Kerry's investment of personal time, effort, and rhetoric suggests that he doesn't comprehend the difference between East Jerusalem and East Boston. There Italians, Irish, and Jews learned to live alongside one another, not without a history of harassment and low level bloodshed. However, more than a century of assimilation has done its work, and made things easier for the influx of African Americans and Hispanics. Boston's ethnic mix is less than ideal, however, as shown by last year's disturbance of the Boston Marathon by migrants from the Middle East.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas want to keep the talks going, without aspiring to an agreement, and intent on avoiding too high a price for the other's agreement to talk.

It'll take a while till we can see how this works.

Israel's week of Passover, and the following day of a Moroccan Jewish festival that has become another national holiday may give the participants time to clear their heads.

Predictions are not positive.

The European Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has condemned the addition of some 250 acres to Gush Etzion, which is a site of old Jewish settlements overrun by the Jordanians in 1948, and re-established after 1967, and the transfer of one building to Jews in Hebron, after a long judicial process that reached Israel's Supreme Court..

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has condemned Ashton for paying more attention to small Israeli property actions than to more than 160,000 deaths so far in Syria.

American is big enough, rich enough, and isolated enough to worry more about local matters than any implications of what it's government doesn't get right overseas. The White House and Departments of State and Defense can blunder here, in the Ukraine, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a few other places, while the folks at home worry more about the price of gas, the murder down the block, the success of high school or college sports stars, or how they'll pay for medications.

The best thing that Americans can do for Israel, the Palestinians, and their own reputation is to allow the Kerry process to wind down without a declaration that it is over. It could be replaced by committees of Israeli and Palestinian technocrats that will ponder issues below the high profile matters of refugees, borders, Jerusalem, and an end to the historic dispute.

If all this proceeds without a Palestinian intifada and Israel's repression, then John Kerry and Barack Obama might boast that they had not made things worse.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:38 PM
April 18, 2014
Political survival and national survival

Israeli politics is straining under the pressure of the US, and those led by the US to keep conversations with the Palestinians going, and the counter pressure from coalition members who are tired of the charade, and resist paying the price of prisoner releases.

The potential for this conflict has been around since the onset of John Kerry's obsession with achieving what most in the know have considered unattainable.

The issue is not conversations with Palestinians. Those are part of the environment, essential to deal with daily issues of mutual interest.

The problem is the American conception of grand negotiations meant to settle all the issues (refugees, borders, Jerusalem) that have proven too sensitive for either Israelis or Palestinians.

A State Department spokesperson has said that both Israelis and Palestinians want the conversations to continue.

The reality is that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have wanted to negotiate in such a format. Whatever claims they are making seem designed to avoid offending the American initiators and promoters of the negotiations.

Among the fears of Israelis, are that the one and perhaps only friend and source of support will tire of Israel, and stop the flow of money, technical cooperation, supplies of equipment, and political backup.

The money is less important than it was at one time. A total cutoff of technical cooperation might be catastrophic, but that is unlikely given the support of Israel in Congress, and at least the small awareness in the administration that the failure of the peace process is not entirely Israel's fault.

US political support in international forums might falter, with who knows what tangible results.

The UN's recognition of a Palestinian state will be an insult to Israel, but may not do much by way of practical importance.

A spread of the BDS movement is worrying, against the possibility that its impact may be blunted by pro-Israel activists in the United States, and the spread of concern about Muslims in European countries with aggressive minority communities.

In the domestic mix is the weight of the settler/religious nationalist bloc, best represented by Jewish Home.

Party leader Naftali Bennett is standing up to the Prime Minister, who has been willing to please the Americans by releasing murderers from Israeli jails.

Within Jewish Home is a conflict--perhaps within some of its Knesset members--between a concern for Jonathan Pollard and a reluctance to free more Palestinians in a Pollard-prisoner deal to keep the conversations going.

In the background is some personal animosity between the Netanyahus and Bennett. The national scuttlebutt is that Sara was instrumental some years ago in Bennett's having to leave his post as Netanyahu's Chief of Staff.

Bennett's threat to leave the government if there is another prisoner release has raised the prospects of an election, with surveys and speculation on what changes, if any, would result.

Poll results depend on maneuvers among the players, especially the question of whether Likud and Israel our Home will run again as a team, or separately, and the prospect of a new player in the game.

Lieberman has his eye on the big prize, if not in the next election, perhaps the one after that. His party has gone beyond its initial Russian base, and he has made some effort to broaden his appeal.

The big loser at the present time is Yair Lapid, likely to drop from 19 to 10 Knesset seats. He has not satisfied middle class aspirations for more goodies, or for an evening out of the military burdens with the ultra-Orthodox.

The media prospect is Moshe Kahlon, who made his name as a Likud Minister of Communication by reducing the cost of using cell phones, then had a falling out with Benyamin Netanyahu. He may be the next Yair Lapid, i.e., someone new and exciting. Kahlon is currently polled to get 10 Knesset seats, although he is yet to name his party or his colleagues on its list of candidates.

Tsipi Livni remains the most outspoken advocate of negotiations. She and her party colleagues are about the only Israelis claiming progress in those talks. Recent leaks are that the participants have only been talking about talking (i.e., extending the discussions) since December. Livni's party's decline in the latest poll from 6 to 4 seats, and close to unanimous rejection of her claims of progress by other politicians and commentators, suggest her limited credibility.

Political survival appears primary, as suggested by Livni's claims of progress, and Naftali Bennet's threat to take the settler-religious nationalist party out of the government on the issue of more prisoner releases. Their concern for political survival should not surprise anyone who has spent a bit of time observing politics here, there, or anywhere.

"Settlements" are front and center in the conflict between the Livni and Bennett wings of the Israeli government. Livni sees them as a problem in reaching agreement with the Palestinians. Bennett sees them as the heart and soul of his political party.

"Settlement" has taken on the character of a four letter word. You can tell a person's politics by their use of it. Some, including occupants of the present White House, use the word for everything over the 1967 borders, including my neighborhood of French Hill. Extremists use it for all of Israel. Moderates use it only with respect to locales outside of Jerusalem, or only for smaller communities beyond the wall. The most settler-friendly use it for only the tiniest clusters of trailers scattered here and there.

Political survival in Israel is at least somewhat tied up with national survival.

Such a view gains weight in the light of Jewish history, the resurgence of animosity cloaked in anti-Zionism and humane or legalistic justifications for the Palestinian narrative, along with BDS, all of which may be anti-Semitism in contemporary dress.

Iran isn't too far over the horizon, and few are relying on Barack Obama to prevent that country from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The season of Passover urges us to hope as well as despair. Misery and salvation are the competing themes that we recite and sing at the Seder, between the four glasses of wine required by the ritual.

Good Friday and Easter used to be times for special concern among the Jewish communities in Christian countries. It was then that the theme of Christ killers could spur a deadly pogrom.

Now the Christians of the world are largely civilized, and many of them are fervent supporters of Israel. Muslims have taken their place as the most virulent of the anti-Semites, but Good Friday and Easter do not figure in their calender.

Thanks to Israel's own creativity, along with help from Germany and the US, the Iranians have to worry about what's in the Israeli arsenal.

The nation of Israel (אם ישראל או אם יהודי) which includes the Jewish Diaspora as well as those of us here, is arguably stronger than at any time in history. John Kerry's obsessions do not reflect a united view in the American establishment. At least some Europeans have been sensitized by their own problems with Muslims about Israeli claims of Palestinian intransigence.

Israelis are far from abandoning the Jewish traditions and strengths of internal dispute as to our interests.

Muslims have been tearing themselves apart since the onset of Arab spring, and are unlikely to have much energy for Israel during the coming years.

Quiet dealing between Israel and countries across the Middle East and the repeated failures of Arab countries to deliver on promises of financial aid suggest that Arab bluster in behalf of Palestine is at least partly lip service.

The most recent bad news is that a senior police officer was killed, and his wife injured as they drove alongside a Palestinian village to a Passover seder. The residents of that village will suffer the inconvenience of a heavy security presence until personnel put their hands on the killer. The Prime Minister is assigning responsibility to Palestinian incitement, and citing the leadership for its failure to condemn the killing.

A corrective perspective is that on the same day five Israelis died in road accidents associated with the mass movements for Passover celebrations. One of those who died was a senior media commentator and university lecturer in political science.

In that sad statistic, the country isn't all that different from what happens in other countries when the people go on the roads to celebrate a national holiday.

As always, and for good historic reasons, Easter weekend generally coincides with Passover.

This is a busy weekend in Jerusalem, where a lot happened. Jews may think about the hatreds and carnage associated with the season in times past, but we shouldn't neglect to wish our Christian neighbors all that is appropriate for the season.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:22 PM
April 16, 2014
Another New York Ttimes Op-Ed

This one praises Iran's move away from theocracy and toward secularism, while describing Israel is moving in the opposite direction.

It seems a bit premature to applaud any sign of reasonable activity from the mullah's of Iran, I am even less certain that the authors (one Iranian and one Israel. both writing from Palo Alto, California) are seeing clearly when they describe a parallel between Israel and what has happened in Iran since its theocratic revolution.

For one thing, they lump together the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, and note that their political parties make up 25 percent of the Knesset.

What they do not say is that the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox are rivals, sometimes bitter in their antipathy, and usually on different pages when addressing Israel's public policy.

They also mix the Israeli right wing with religious nationalists, citing among other things Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's comments about John Kerry being obsessive and messianic.

Numerous other Israelis--including those who are overtly secular or on the fuzzy borders between religious and secular--have expressed similar views about John Kerry.

Moshe Ya'alon may be to the right of center. We can quarrel as to how far right he is on various issues. We know little or nothing about his personal beliefs and practices. However, there is no indication that he should be identified as "religious" as the term is usually employed in Israel.

Religious politicians--more often the Orthodox than the ultra-Orthodox--are known for a hard line on issues of Palestine and generally protective of the settlers in the West Bank. How many of them support an aggressive campaign of expanding settlements is another issue. Some do, but many do not. I'm not aware of any reliable indication of the proportions.

Most important, and left out of the NYT Op-Ed piece, are the actions of the Israeli government to reign in the most aggressive of the religious nationalists.

Currently there is a test in Yitzhar, close to Nablus, one of the settlements where it is possible to find aggressive religious Jews, and rabbis who urge them on.

Last week they attacked a small military outpost, meant to defend them from nearby Palestinians. It wasn't so much an attack as a symbolic response to the government's destruction of some illegally built structures in Yitzhar. The few soldiers posted at the base, reservists rather than regular troops, stood by while young men from Yitzhar trashed their tent and some equipment. The soldiers felt no personal threat from the attackers, and were following orders not to use deadly force against Jews who were not threatening them with bodily harm. Israelis argue as to whether they should have used whatever they had by way of crowd control. At least one of the reservists was himself a settler who lived nearby. Subsequently all of the soldiers had trouble identifying their attackers in a police line-up.

Much of the secular and many religious activists have condemned the extremists who violated the major icon of Israel's civic religion, i.e., the IDF. . Moreover, the government has sent the Border Police to occupy a yeshiva in Yitzhar that had been a center of extremist teaching.

For those unfamiliar with the Border Police, it is Israel's gendarme, used to send a tough response to those (Arabs or Jews) who are thought to deserve such a message. A high incidence of Border Police recruits are Druze and Bedouin. Others tend to be Jews from poor towns and urban neighborhoods. Sending them to occupy a Yeshiva is not the message of a religious government. Or a government moving in a religious direction.

During the first intifada, I was sent as a reserve Private in the IDF Lecture Corps to the basic training base of the Border Police. My task was to speak to the recruits about the government policy of using appropriate force against Palestinian demonstrators and stone throwers. Excessive force, of the kind used against Rodney King, did not play well on international television, would hurt Israel's image, and would provide further provocation for Palestinian violence.

I did what I had to, before a group of perhaps 200 Druze, Bedouin, and Jews from development towns and urban neighborhoods, with a Druze officer introducing me and providing a glass of traditional tea brewed from leaves he had picked in a nearby field. I was pretty sure that I was the only Ashkenazi in the room.

At the conclusion of my talk, one of the recruits asked permission and made a comment that I've thought about since in connection with the Border Police. He addressed me as "Professor," and I wasn't sure it was meant as a sign of respect. Then he said, "You should realize that a lot of us in this room like to hit people."

The young men I spoke with in 1989 are now well beyond their service in the Border Police. However, a group of today's young Border Police, most likely of a similar demographic profile, with the addition of Ethiopians and Russians, are stationed in Yitzhar's yeshiva.

We should not expect nuances from the New York Times. Not only does it join the US government in referring to neighborhoods of Jerusalem as "settlements." It also likes the image of Iran becoming secular while Israel becomes theocratic.

The day when other papers were featuring news of the attack by an aged white supremacist on Jewish facilities in Kansas City, one had to look hard to find a report in the New York Times. But there is was. The layout of internet editions changes from time to time. When I looked, the Kansas City story was somewhere below an item about the anniversary of terror at the Boston Marathon.

Perhaps the Jewish issue wasn't enough to excite the Times. Two of the three victims of the schmuck were Christians, despite reports that he was asking people if they were Jewish.

With enemies like that, things could be worse.

And the New York Times could be better.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:19 PM
April 13, 2014
Drums of war?

Two issues are at the roiling stage, and threatening the capacity of Barack Obama to run the world by means of his political wisdom and the aides he sends forth to do his work.

Ukraine and Israel-Palestine are much different in the nature and what they threaten.

Israel and Palestine are on the front pages more clearly as the result of Obama's bumbling.

For Israel, Palestine is more a nuisance than a threat. Violence is manageable, perhaps less destructive than what Americans suffer as the result of drugs and guns.

Jewish "settlements" are a blot across international media. In reality, however, the vast majority of what is being built is within Jerusalem or the major towns of Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel, and the area around Gush Etzion. Those who see the settlements as blocking peace haven't been looking at Arab then Palestinian intransigence that began in the 19th century and has continued until today.

Even many Israeli leftists are tired of Palestinian dithering, and much of the center as well as the right couldn't care less about settler efforts to expand. Settler extremism is something else, especially when they attack the national icon of the IDF. A trashed tent and generator in a small outpost, with no threat against the few reservists at the post (one of whom lived in a settlement) has rebounded to the closing of an extremist yeshiva, and its occupation by a unit of the Border Police.

Ukraine is potentially explosive. It is not easy to decide to what extent citizens of the Ukraine who are ethnic Russians are demonstrating and seizing government buildings in behalf of their claims of greater regional autonomy, and to what extent they are encouraged and even joined by personnel sent by Russia to produce a crisis that will justify an invasion by the troops and equipment being massed on the Russian side of the border,

A Ukrainian security officer has been killed and several wounded in a confrontation with what the government is calling "terrorists" occupying government buildings. Ukrainian authorities are threatening an armed takeover of the buildings occupied by ethnic Russians, but casting a wary eye at the Russian troops and equipment massed on their border.

Serious warfare has begun like this.

It is more a European and a Russian than an American issue, but Obama's bombastic threats and piddling action on Syria and Iran have made their contribution. An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal puts it this way

" the West could win a sanctions war with Russia, but it would take an iron political stomach. Mr. Putin knows Mr. Obama. He knows that the U.S. president has the digestive fortitude of a tourist in Tijuana."

Israel and Palestinians were getting along on their own, with some focused help from US and others, until Obama and Kerry waded in with their proposals that made things worse while trying to make things better.

John's brother Cameron, who converted to Judaism and married a Jewish woman, has written about his family's Jewish and Holocaust roots. He asserts that brother John is by no means the anti-Semite that extremists have claimed. Rather, he has strong feelings for the Jewish people and Israel, and is doing what he thinks is in the best interest of Israel.

Perhaps, but John Kerry and his boss are showing us once again what the road to hell is paved with.

It is hard to see more than bluster from a distance in what is developing in the Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is clearly a more potent force, perhaps emboldened by Obama's fumbling in Syria and Iran.

There are enough ethnic Russians in the eastern regions of the Ukraine to unsettle things and put Europe on higher alert, with or without the incitement of Putin. Next in line, with similar possibilities of Russians who want to join their homeland, are the Baltic countries. The capitals or major cities of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania have substantial populations of ethnic Russians or Russian speakers, in some cases a near or more than a majority of the local population. Poland is worrying about a repeat of its unpleasant history, if Russia truly is in an expansive mood.

Can we rely on the rationalism and restraint that marked both American and Russian actions in the Cuban crisis?

Or will there be the self-destruction that marked the American adventure in Vietnam and the Russian adventure in Afghanistan?

Israel is preparing sanctions against Palestine, and Palestinians responding with claims of making their own preparations.

At an extreme that none are predicting, Israel can bring Palestine quickly to starvation rations with limited if any electricity, and constraints on politicians who may no longer be able to travel conveniently if at all.

Palestine can encourage its popular resistance (read that as terrorists) all the while claiming to be avoiding any intentions.

To the extent that Obama and Kerry have any credibility (a tough question to answer), they might contribute by back room arguments, urging the principals to ratchet down from their extreme threats against one another.

John Kerry lost what little credibility he had left with a number of key Israelis when he criticized the planned building of "settlements," i.e., in Gilo, which is a neighborhood of what Israelis have considered their capital city for nearly a half century. With this and similar comments, the Obama administration appeared to be backing off from George W. Bush's recognition of demographic changes that have occurred since 1967.

A few days later, a State Department official criticized the possibility that Israel would withhold import taxes collected for the Palestine Authority. What the official did not mention was that withheld taxes would be used to cover unpaid Palestinian bills for Israel electricity and other supplies.

The Americans may manage to keep the Israelis and Palestinians at the table by leaning on Israel to pay the Palestinians with the release of Israeli prisoners, and paying Israel with Pollard and perhaps some other American goodies. Yet no one is making a convincing argument that anything more substantial will result than Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans sitting around a table and not saying anything constructive.

It is common to think of the the period since World War II as the era of Pax Americana. The reality is that American dominance began to crumble within a decade on the Korean Peninsula. The notion took another blow in Vietnam. Unfulfilled plans to improve things in Iraq and Afghanistan, bluster with respect to Syria, and what looks like appeasement of Iran may put an end to what was left of American leadership.

Neither the Ukrainians nor the Palestinians should expect salvation from Obama's White House or State Department.

Ignore it all, along with the blot on Kansas City, and concentrate on not eating too much after an hour of ceremony. חג שמח

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:48 PM
April 11, 2014
Politicians and administration

Politics is the civilized way of dealing with disputes. Campaigns, voting, and the routine displacement of the losers by the winners is the way of enlightened government.

Making policy and managing programs are more complicated than election campaigns. They require professional expertise in the myriad of fields that government touches.

Politicians skilled in appealing to the masses may not know as much as they claim about the details.

The present impasse between Israel, Palestine, and John Kerry is the best illustration currently available about the weakness of politicians.

More than 40 years of teaching policymaking and administration, researching policy issues, consulting with administrators, and talking with former students who reached high positions have brought me to respect the people who do the work of government. More than politicians who are attracted to the issue of the moment, administrators.know. the details of problems they have worked for years. The good ones know what has been tried by their government and.others, the pitfalls and advantages of numerous possibilities.

In the present case, John Kerry is playing the part of a man with ideas he thinks are great, who delights in speaking to the masses. Yet either he hasn't consulted with experts who know the history of Israel and Palestine, or he hasn't listened to them. It's not pleasant to think that the cadres of staffers in the State Department and White House might not know what has been proposed and rejected over the course of 80 years, since the British were in charge. Or those experts did not plumb the inclinations of Netanyahu and Abbas and the pressures upon them.

Kerry is a caricature of the politician concerned for his own thniking, with little recognition of essential facts. Not only has he disturbed several years of peace with his illusion of having the solution to a problem others have found to be insoluble. He screwed up at a crucial point by not clarifying for the Palestinians what he heard from the Israelis, i.e., that Israel would not release Israeli Arabs in its prisons for acts of terror. Then he blamed Israel for the breakdown in his process, by accusing it of declaring new buildings in "settlements," while the building at issue was in a Jerusalem neighborhood where Israelis had made clear that they would not stop building.

Whatever the failings of American experts or the stubborn obsessions of John Kerry, or perhaps the crafty counter maneuvers of Bibi or Mahmoud, all those politicians have failed.

In the process they may have spurred those inclined to violence to undo the incremental progress accomplished in years of work by Israeli and Palestinian professionals, with the help of American money plus American and Jordanian personnel.

There has been an uptick in violence. And with Abbas and Netanyahu, as well as Kerry--in the style of politicians--blaming one another for the failure of talks, we can expect more violence.

If we can get through this--with or without a significant wave of Palestinian terror and whatever the IDF does in response--there remains a lot more that can be done.

Success may require leaving things to the professionals in each branch of public service, without politicians insisting on their own idealized solutions.

Let's not delude ourselves. Peace of the kind that now prevails across Western Europe, or between the US and Canada is not in the cards.

A few days ago at 6:30 PM a hopeful, left of center journalist, broke into a TV program with the breaking news that an agreement was imminent. It would be the same thing almost accepted a week previously. There would be an Israeli commitment to release another 400 or so Palestinian prisoners, a pause in Palestinians' efforts to join international organizations as a new state, the release of Pollard, and the continuation of talks.

By 8 PM of the same day a competing channel was emphasizing details still being disputed by the parties. By next morning, the new agreement was somewhere among the possibilities, but the American mediator had gone home for several days of consultation. Members of the Israeli government and Palestinians were upping their demands, each in opposite directions.

Nothing would be expected during the week of Passover.

Whether talks continue or not, chances are slim that Israel will recognize Palestine as a state, and respect its claimed boundaries when having to go after individuals who have acted, or who appear about to act against Israelis.

Israel has announced the preparation of sanctions against Palestinians, to be implemented if the Palestinians continue their efforts to gain international recognition as a state. Such a step may set back any accommodation possible, but it will send a message to the Palestinians of the costs associated with their own initiatives. The sanctions possible include a withholding of taxes that Israel collects for Palestine at the ports, in order to pay for electricity, fuel, and other products that Israel provides to the Palestinians. Even more drastic may be canceling the VIP treatment of Palestinian political leaders, and forcing them to wait in line with the commoners every time they wish to enter or leave the Palestinian territories.

Assuming that the period of anger will pass sooner or later, a management of tensions and a better life for both peoples are within the range of possibilities.

It would help if the Americans or Europeans adopted the pattern of paying for an upgrading of Palestinian security personnel--which contributed to several years of relative peace--to an upgrading of Palestinian personnel in other fields.

Teaching Palestinian teachers not to preach that Jews are dogs and apes, and not to teach that Palestine properly covers the whole of Israel, would be useful first steps.

Dealing with water and sewage would be just as useful. But it would have to overcome what appears to be a higher Palestinian priority for corruption than public service; or a Palestinian inclination to use suffering as a card in international politics, and a way to keep the population angry and primed for violence.

Not all administrators are geniuses. Some are evil. Some adhere to the same ideologies that move politicians, and seek to emulate their political bosses.

With all that, professionals as a group are ahead of the politicians in knowing what they are doing.

So it would help if the politicians stay away or muzzle themselves, and let the professionals do their work..

But we should be wary of optimism.

Whoever can hope for politicians keeping quiet may also believe in the tooth fairy, or that the Prophet Elijah will drink that glass of wine.

May you all have a good Passover.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:51 PM
April 09, 2014
Thomas Friedman and Sheldon Adelson

When writing about Sheldon Adelson, Thomas Friedman gets some things right, and others very wrong.

He's right to see Sheldon Adelson as an overly friendly threat against Israel. Friedman calls him "Iran's Best Friend" in a recent NTY op-ed piece.

If anyone currently active threatens the image of the Jew by the way he spends money, it is that poor boy from Boston who made billions from the scurrilous business of gambling, and is using it in a brazen way to buy votes for what he considers to be the best interests of Israel.

His daily give-away Israel Hayom has become the newspaper with the largest circulation. Critics exaggerate by calling it Israel's Pravda, but do not exaggerate by calling it Bibinews or Bibipress. It does what it can to put the Prime Minister in a good light, and downplay the nasty stuff that other media report about Sara. On the other hand, it includes a lot of news and a decent collection of commentators. It is arguably no further to the right than Ha'aretz is to the left on issues concerned with Palestinians. And it provides more detailed news per kilo of paper than its closest competitor in the circulation struggle, Yedioth Aharonoth. Yedioth matches or exceeds Israel Hayom in the range and quality of its commentators, but it reduces the amount and quality of its news content with gigantic headlines, and is the most inclined of Israel's popular media to feature the scuzzy stuff about the country's low life.

Where Adelson is more clearly threatening the quality of Israeli politics is his open-handed, nouveau riche style of bankrolling American politicians who--according to Friedman--he insists on keeping to a simplistic pro-Israel line in exchange for his money.

It is no great task to question the wisdom of Adelson's choices. He is reported to have spent $100 million in the 2012 presidential race in behalf of Newt Gingrich then Mitt Romney, along the way enticing Prime Minister Netanyahu to be more overtly supportive of an American candidate than had been customary for Israeli politicians. The results were predictable in contributing to problems in the Obama-Netanyahu relationship.

The style of politicians' meetings may not add much to what is primarily a matter of interests between the heads of government. But at the least, it is hard to imagine that the $100 million Adelson spent in 2012 helped Israel.

According to Friedman:

"Iran has an ally: Sheldon Adelson -- the foolhardy Las Vegas casino magnate and crude right-wing, pro-Israel extremist. Adelson gave away some $100 million in the last presidential campaign to fund Republican candidates, with several priorities in mind: that they delegitimize the Palestinians and that they avoid any reference to the West Bank as "occupied territories" and any notion that the U.S. should pressure Israel to trade land for peace there. Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took the money and played by Sheldon's rules.

"Adelson personifies everything that is poisoning our democracy and Israel's today -- swaggering oligarchs, using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will."

Friedman goes on to describe the latest event in Adelson's shower of cash: the appearance of Republican presidential potentials at his Las Vegas Casino for a pre-convention convention. One of the notable events was the error of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey to employ the unacceptable label of "occupied territories" for what Israel controls in the West Bank. "Disputed territories" or "Judea and Samaria" are the labels favored by the Israeli right. "West Bank" is barely acceptable. "Occupied territories" is almost as bad as "Conquered territories."

Christie's gaff produced murmurs in the Adelson-friendly audience, an invitation to a private meeting, then an acceptable "explanation" and "apology."

If that is the way to acquire respect from the politicians competing to be the next President of the United States, it doesn't sound that way to Friedman.

Iranians and others who have been relying on Nazi style cartoons and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion can modernize their propaganda by depicting Adelson as an old, overweight Jew with dyed hair, sitting in a wheelchair with an evil look in his eye, spewing cash to non-Jewish looking men in suits, and screeching "the Land is Ours. All Ours."

Where Friedman goes predictably off the rails is in his usual peroration about what settlements are doing to Israel's future.

"I don't know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will. But I know this: If Israel wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state, it should be doing everything it can to nurture such a partner or acting unilaterally to get out."

How many do you want to relocate, Tom? The 300,000 or so beyond the borders of Jerusalem that have served the city for almost a half century, or only the 50,000 or so beyond the walls? Or maybe the other 300,000 or so of us living in French Hill and other neighborhoods of Jerusalem that some insist on calling "settlements"?

Have you figured out where to put us? How to induce us to move? How to pay for it all? And how to protect us once we have moved and Palestinians transfer their missile firing zeal from Gaza to their new lands in the West Bank?

And going back to the roots of your thinking, where actually do the settlements serve in the pre-settlement antipathy to Israel that has been widespread in the Palestinian leadership and their Arab allies since the latter part of the 19th century?

Neither Friedman nor Adelson makes an impressive contribution to the discussion of Israel and Palestine. Each of us can decide which of the two does more harm.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:38 PM