October 20, 2014
The fog of politics

You know the fog of battle, when the smoke, noise, and panic are so heavy as to confuse one's views about what is happening, and which side has an advantage.

Politics isn't all that different. In this case, the fog is not so much the result of smoke as of confusing verbiage backed up by body language that seems to belie realities. But no one is sure about the realities.

One example swirling around this place is the appearance of hyper-activity from the Palestinians, while their realities appear to be so dim.

This is not new. The Arabs then principally the Palestinians have been speaking and shouting in hyperbole since the 1940s, threatening time and again to do more than they were able. Perhaps we should recognize 1973 as an exception, given the costs to Israel. However, the war ended with the IDF closer to Cairo than the Egyptians were to any major Israeli settlement. A few years later the two countries signed a peace treaty that has held despite some friction. Now it seems stronger than ever with our mutual enemy being Hamas and its allies.

One can fear the support being given to the Palestinian cause by important figures in major countries (Sweden, France, Britian, Russia, the US), and the masses trumpeting Palestinian slogans on college campuses, and city streets, and among some dock workers who should be unloading Israeli cargo. Yet the destruction across Gaza hardly seems to be the sign of an ascendant political entity. One can also doubt the willingness of major powers to undo one of the world's most successful states, with a serious military, impressive economy, and most likely nuclear weapons.

Yet for a people remembering the Holocaust that came from what Germany's Jews saw around them as the height of western civilization, anything may come out of the fog.

The latest news (itself a problematic concept due to the thick fog) is that Mahmoud Abbas insists on going to UN Security Council to get what he wants, despite the warning from the United States pf an inevitable veto.

Abbas is also raising an issue about the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary/al-Aqsa, historically one of the most sensitive few acres in the world. He is now demanding that it be kept free of "settlers," by which he may mean all Jews.

Jews are also adding to the noise about the same spot, with efforts to pray and talk about a Third Temple.

The recent holiday of Succot may be responsible for this issue, with its mass pilgrimages to Jerusalem by Jews and traditional stone throwing by Arabs. Hopefully there will come a period of calm, but against this prospect is a concern that a wave of rock throwing in Jerusalem may have a life of its own, with each neighborhood gang having to prove its enthusiasm for the cause.

On account of the fog, it is not clear how many Jews simply want the right to pray on the Temple Mount, how many aspire to the creation of a Third Temple with or without the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa, and with or without a renewal of animal sacrifices.

Those of us trying to understand can ponder the likelihood of unrest by the folks concerned with animal rights and the environment. There will be confrontation about mass slaughter, ritually done, causing a cloud of stink coming from the altar, with problems of water as well as air pollution against demands for religious freedom in the Jewish state.

So far the ultra-Orthodox are quiet, which adds its own bit of confusion and apprehension..Will some of their rabbis sign on to the campaign currently being waged by a fringe among the Orthodox? It is hard to imaging that such intense rivals will coalesce, but who can really read what is happening where intense spirituality adds its confusions to the political fog. It's not a setting that invites secular outsiders to predict..

Iran and ISIS add their noise and obfuscations to what we are trying to understand.

Hints of an agreement between the American and Iranian governments come along with renewed efforts by Israel to scuttle the deal, and some threats about the IDF being able to assure our safety. For his part, Barack Obama appears to be maneuvering for a deal, and trying to avoid the involvement of a hostile Congress.

That may be the President's right as chief maker of foreign policy, or a struggle shaping up in an election context, with the outcome of Senate control doubtful, and Israel competing on what some will say is the President's turf.

The President may be at a low point of popularity. Part of one crowd expressed the ultimate in rejectionism by walking out in the middle of his speech. His Secretary of State--accused and most likely guilty of pompous paternalism--is dependent on his spokeswoman to clarify what he may have wanted to say, but did not say. The Obama-Kerry campaign to recruit non-American fighters against ISIS has only achieved 200 soldiers from Australia.

To the credit of the Americans, their air campaign appears to be a serious problem for ISIS. Yet to the credit of ISIS, it has been able to recruit a decent caliber of personnel from Muslim communities. One example is an Israeli Arab, a young physician, who completed his internship and was about to begin a residency, but did not show up as expected. He had gone to fight or to serve as a physician with ISIS, and was reported killed in Syria.

As always, comments welcome.

The prize will go to he/she who sees clearly through the fog.

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 09:59 PM
October 18, 2014
It's after the holidays

Israel's three week holiday season from Rosh Hashana through Simcha Torah resembles the shorter period in western countries from Christmas through New Years. The western holiday is actually longer than a week, due to pre-Christmas work, school, and bar parties, and time in early January for sobering up.

What is common to both Israeli and western holiday periods is that no serious work is contemplated or accomplished.

Israel's celebration involve less drinking than the western equivalent, and perhaps more religious observance. However, the secular majority of the Jewish population views it as a time of family meals, except for Yom Kippur, the closing of schools, most government offices and many businesses, and travel within Israel or overseas. It is a time of clogged highways and airport, and no space in the inns.

"Wait till after the holidays" is a sure way to postpone an issue, begun to be heard a month before Rosh Hashana.

Now that it's over, we should consider what has happened, what must be done, what it is possible to do, and what is likely to be done.

All those are different questions, with answers that depend on who is asking.

The agendas of Israel and the world (if there is such a thing) are not the same. Numerous prominent figures, each with their own perceived pressures and competing with one another's national and personal interests, gives some wiggle room to Israel, despite what may appear as Everyone is against us.

Palestinians are coasting on a wave of verbal support heightened by pictures from Gaza.

It reminds me of coasting downhill on my sled. Montgomery Street was one of the places that the City of Fall River set aside for the kids during the season of snow. There I learned that there was an end to coasting, which could mean a painful crash if I did not take account of the obstacles at the bottom of the hill.

The Palestinians coast without a concern for the consequences. They threaten Israel with the loss of Jerusalem, access to the Temple Mount, and everything over the 1967 borders. Yet they haven't the capacity to deliver, and they will remain dependent on Israel for the reconstruction of Gaza and their management of Palestinian areas in the West Bank..

The Israeli left is hyperventilating, demanding the government offer something, but hopeless to suggest what might get a Palestinian response that would actually move things along in the direction of accommodation.

Jerusalem is on edge, elevated by Succoth and all the visitors from elsewhere in Israel. There have been lots of targets for Palestinian stone throwers among the tour buses, the Jews gathered at the Western Wall below al Aqsa and its plaza, or riding on the light rail from Jewish to Arab and again to Jewish neighborhoods.

The first shipment of concrete has gone to Gaza, but it may be nothing more than a gesture while the folks convening in Cairo to discuss reconstruction were still in the area.

It's a huge challenge to convince the world that Jewish settlements are less the problem than Palestinian intransigence.

It may be impossible, or unnecessary, especially if the world's attention (i.e., that of the US and EU) remains on ISIS and Ebola

Israel even more than usual is a relatively quiet island is a sea of deadly turmoil. We are safer than elsewhere, given tight control of our borders, sophisticated security forces always considering likely threats, a population used to the inconveniences, and medical personnel capable of dealing with the few travellers from West Africa.

There has been a popular campaign concerned with Israelis who move to Berlin, orchestrated by activists protesting the relative high costs of food and housing in Israel.

However, recent data shows substantially more immigration than emigration, due to anti-Semitism in Europe, and relative economic stability in Israel.

It is conventional to welcome immigrants as part of the national ethos and Israel's role as a haven from hostility. Yet it is a small country already crowded.

Welcome to Israel, but wouldn't you prefer settling in the Negev rather than Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?

NIMBY competes with Zionism.

Israel's claim to having fought a defensive war in Gaza is not lost amidst populations and politicians despite the prominence of hostility. Nor is Israel's point that the collateral damage had a great deal to do with how Hamas operated.

Israel's case gets better with every televised beheading, every story of young girls being sold to ISIS fighters; and every mass slaughter of prisoners.

John Kerry livened things up toward the end of the holiday season by a statement that a renewed peace process between Israel and Palestine would help to defeat ISIS.

Right wing Israelis came close to calling the US Secretary of State mad.

According to Naftali Bennett,

'Even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, there will always be those who blame the Jews . . . We don't justify terror; we fight terror . . .The Israeli-Palestinian conflict statement encourages ISIS, and is a boost to terrorism worldwide."
Gilad Erdan, Minister of Communication and a MK of Likud, is closer to the center than Bennett. He said that Kerry has "broken the record for lack of understanding" the region, and his comments prove he is totally detached from the realities.

A commentator on one of Israel's prime time news programs described Kerry as "a man not connected to the electricity."

One of Yair Lapid's colleagues in the Knesset took the occasion to threaten, once again, to leave the government if there was no peace process.

State Department personnel said that Bennett distorted Kerry's words for political gain, and that the Secretary did not link the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians to the rise of Islamic State, but merely that solving the conflict could have a stabilizing impact on the region.

What Kerry actually said, according to an official Department of State website,

As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL coalition, the truth is we - there wasn't a leader I met with in the region who didn't raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment . . . "

That may be true, but Kerry lacks the savvy to recognize that he is hearing an Arab slogan, well known from 1948 onward, that Israel is at the heart of the region's problems. Political and religious elites have found that blaming Israel works to deflect dissatisfaction from their own rule. Now they may be learning that blaming Israel may also deflect the US Secretary of State from pressing them to get serious about ISIS.

Israel's Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense did not parse the various charges and counter-charges, but urged their colleagues to cool it, rather than offend the generous Uncle.

The Kerry-centered brouhaha erupted on Friday, a day after the end of the holiday and few hours before the beginning of Sabbath and its weekly halt in politics. Many vacationers, including politicians and their families, were still away from home. Sunday will be the real start of things, and the day to see how this develops, and what else will occupy us. .

There are too many individuals capable of provoking Israel, either from inside or out, and too great a variety of relevant political dynamics from Washington across Europe to the Middle East to justify specific predictions. Except that this country is not about to disappear.

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 08:51 PM
October 16, 2014
Islam and Palestine

Islam is a problem for the faithful, as well as for the rest of us.

Its 1600 years of accumulated doctrines may not differ in essence from what Jews have accumulated in 2,500 years or Christians in 2100 years. What is problematic, however, are all those Muslims stuck in a cycle of warfare against heresy and non-believers.

It's the same problem that produced centuries of killing among Christians from their earliest period, and hopefully has petered out in its last bastion of Northern Ireland.

Jews have avoided killing one another over affiliation with the wrong sect or faulty interpretations of holy text since the Jewish War described by Josephus.

What is said to be 60 organizations fighting Assad and one another is one manifestation of the problem that troubles Muslims. Another is the refusal of Saudi Arabia to countenance a rapprochement between the US and Iran that will involve a mutual campaign against ISIS at the expense of tolerating the continuation of the Assad regime. Turkey's on again off again acceptance of a role against ISIS, even to the extent of letting NATO planes use NATO airfields in Turkey to attack ISIS, may also be part of intra-Islamic warfare. Or it may be mostly an ethnic thing with Turkey shying away from anything that will help Kurds anywhere.

Turkish warplanes have bombed Kurdish sites within Turkey, on account of Kurds demonstrating against Turkish refusal to act against ISIS forces fighting against Kurds in Syria.

Among those who suffer from sectarian conflict within Islam are the Palestinians. Problems among Muslims are arguably more important than problems with Israel in keeping the Palestinians from realizing their dream of a state.

This may sound strange in a week when ranking Swedish, British, French, Russian, and American politicians spoke in support of a Palestinian state.

However, the ease of getting international endorsement, along with the warfare among Muslims, is a deadly combination for the prospects of a Palestinian state.

The setting leads the Palestinians to wait for others to act, and excuses them from tough decisions that will accommodate Israeli needs, partly out of fear about arousing conflict among Palestinians about some of the issues that keep Muslims at one another's throat.

In a situation where a test of Muslim loyalty is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel's legitimacy, or Israel's character as a Jewish state, the Palestinians remain stuck without their all-important recognition by Israel.

The Palestinians may be tempted by the good words heard from across the Muslim spectrum as well as from Western do-gooders that come with nastiness toward Israel. However, those words come with nothing tangible. Israel's accomplishments in science, medicine, technology, politics, and its military prowess are more tangible, and the Jews of Israel have more than two millennia experience in living with nasty words.

Ranking Palestinians have responded to the symbolic vote of the British Parliament, from which a majority of Members abstained, like they respond to resolutions of the UN General Assembly, i.e., as if the realization of their dream is moments away. Among the comments heard from prominent Palestinians is that Parliament's actions are a step in the direction of atoning for the Balfour Declaration.

Could this be the first step of the British Parliament to cancel the Balfour Declaration?

Need we remind the Palestinians who may be hoping for such a thing that such an act, even if accomplished, would not cancel what Israel has achieved?

Is it easier for Palestinians to expect someone else to turn back history, in this case by nearly a century, than to accommodate themselves to a state that will have to exist alongside Israel, with the borders and other traits that will attract Israel's acceptance.

Palestinians fear making the concessions that might bring them a state, even to the extent of saying that Israel is a Jewish state. They also cannot accept that their state might only be on the land that is left, after a half-century of rejecting what Israel was prepared to offer since 1967.

There are now 600,000 Israeli Jews living over the 1967 borders, and it is not wise to assume that all, most, or even a substantial number will move for the sake of Palestine.

A Palestinian heresy of accepting Israel as is, if committed, might get them a violent response from other Muslims or a stoppage of the financial aid they receive from elsewhere the Middle East..

So the Palestinians remain stuck in the nether-land of being the darlings of politicians across the world, but with no accomplishments.

Currently Muslims are as deep in mutual animosity as were the Christians in their long history. Among the end points of intra-Christian warfare cited by scholars are the French Revolution that replaced Protestant-Catholic warfare with an ascendance of secularism; the end of severe anti-Mormonism in the US with the Church's renunciation of polygamy in the 1890s; or the dampening (dare anyone say ending?) of violence in Northern Ireland a decade ago.

Israelis may be better off than others in the Middle East and elsewhere due to their practiced defense against Arab violence. One can guess that the dithering of the US and its nominal allies among the Muslims will allow ISIS to expand. ISIS personnel speaking for the cameras threaten actions against the West on the soil of Western nations. Observers are warning of another 9-11, or at least a series of smaller incidents like Ft Hood and the Boston Marathon.

The recruitment of fighters, the armaments used by ISIS and their battlefield successes suggest considerable support among Muslims, despite the voices from Saudi Arabia, elsewhere in the Gulf, Turkey and Egypt speaking shrilly in opposition.

If it will take boots on the ground to end the ISIS advance, it is only the US that has the boots and other military wherewithal. It may not happen during Obama's Commander-in-Chiefdom, so we should hope that the casualties will not include people we know.

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 09:09 PM
October 14, 2014
The conference to decry destruction and announce donations

Sound and fury signifying nothing?


Delegates representing some 50 nations and 20 regional and international organizations met in Cairo to talk about peace and reconstruction, and fill the hat being passed by the President of the Palestine National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Neither Israel nor Hamas were invited, which threatens the nothing part of the opening line taken from Macbeth.

Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said any efforts at rebuilding would need his government's consent. Some of his colleagues have spoken about disarmiing Hamas as a price of reconstruction. Some say that reconstruction is essential for long term quiet, but talk about strict controls over the use of building materials.

Abbas said that he needed $4 billion, and received pledges of $5.4 billion.

Qatar was the biggest donor, at $1 billion, but animosity between Qatar and Egypt, as well as Qatar and Israel may complicate that transfer. Other big givers were Saudi Arabia $500 million, the US $212 million, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Kuwait $200 million each, Norway $135 million, Germany €50 million (c$63 million), France €40 million ($50 million),UK $32 million, Catherine Ashton said that the EU would contribute €450 million, which may include the separate contributions from Germany, UK, and France.

Those numbers are impressive, but they came along with comments about the futility of actually sending the money and rebuilding without a peace treaty, which would most likely bring together many of the same donors for the same purpose in another year or two.

John Kerry was among those speaking about the need to restart a peace process, but he offered no explanation how such a move would be more successful than that which recently failed.

Several delegates endorsed the notion that the Palestine Authority, with Mahmoud Abbas at its head, would manage the reconstruction along with the UN. But the Fatah-Hamas peace accord is still to be tested by any tangible cooperation (as opposed to words of commitment), and there is a long record of previous accords that did not make it beyond the speeches.

Skeptics note that much of the destruction traced to previous confrontations between Hamas and Israel (2008-09, 2012) has yet to be repaired. They also cite the record of donors not providing anything close to what they promise, and sizable amounts siphoned off by well placed Palestinians.

Also in the air are the Swedish Prime Minister's pledge to recognize the State of Palestine, a similar resolution passed by the British Parliament, a French proposal to convene a joint meeting in Paris between leading figures of the French and Palestinian governments, and a statement by Russian Foreign Minister supporting the Palestinian draft resolution to the UN Security Council which sets a two year deadline for the end of Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Ban-Ki Moon's speech at Cairo was a canned set of platitudes expressing opposition to the destruction of Gaza and the threatening of Israelis by Hamas rockets. It demanded an end to the blockade of Gaza, along with reconstruction and agreements to assure that there would not be another round of warfare.

A day after the conference, Moon sounded tougher. According to one headline, he demanded that Israel scrap the East Jerusalem settlement plan for Givat Hamatos.

During a visit to Gaza, Moon escalated his rhetoric further, slamming Israel's attack on UN facilities where Palestinians had sought refuge. He passed over as much less problematic the practice of Hamas in using those sites to store their missiles and fire them toward Israeli civilians.

Moon shifted the tone of his comments when visiting Israel's region alongside Gaza, and the family of a young boy killed by Hamas mortars. The General Secretary of the United Nations tries to be fair to all, with the likely result that he is effective for none.

At his meeting with Moon, Prime Minister Netanyahu made his own slam against the UN for returning rockets found in UNRWA schools to Hamas so they might be fired at Israel.

John Kerry also gave an interview in which he seemed to write off the Syrian city of Kobani, currently under attack by ISIS. He called the possible take over of the city by ISIS a tragedy but not a strategic loss. Others are speaking about the likely slaughter of thousands if ISIS gains control.

Kerry repeated the American line that the defeat of ISIS would take time, and that the first order of business was to improve the training and morale of the Iraqi army, something the US has been working on for a decade or more.

A US Government spokesperson has expressed official regret about the destruction of Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank, without pointing a finger of blame.

In some of these regrettable actions, the perpetrators appear to be settler extremists. In others, we hear that they are Palestinians doing the work of family feuds against other Palestinians..

Whatever occurred in this instance, it's good to see that vandalism is worrying someone close to the top of the US Government.

President Obama has scheduled phone calls with the national leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy to talk about dealing with Ebola.

That is also a serious problem. It is good to see that the White House is involved.

Abbas' contribution to the Gaza conference was a hyperbolic speech blaming Israel for slaughter and massive destruction, which hardly seemed likely to increase Israel's willingness to cooperate on reconstruction.

"The most recent Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, which resulted in vast destruction and uncountable catastrophes is unbearable and cannot pass without consequence. Yet, we will continue to work and coordinate closely with Egypt and all relevant parties to maintain and consolidate the cease-fire . . .
The international community should undertake its responsibilities by preventing the aggression, destruction, displacement and suffering of our Palestinian people and supporting our demand in ending Israel's occupation of our land and in realizing the vision of the two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative,"

Abbas was generous with respect to his concern for the people of Gaza.

"You are in our hearts. We will work relentlessly to undo the injustice that befell you and end the suffering that you've been experiencing for years. We will heal your wounds that are deeply entrenched in our souls. We will re-build the Gaza Strip, relying on God first, then on the determination of our people. We will also rely on resources and capacities available to us and on the assistance and support of our brothers and friends from around the world, who we trust will not disappoint you in supporting our economy and improving its lot and who will also support you in reclaiming a dignified life in your homeland and in lifting you out of this disastrous situation caused by this unjust war. Your plight has touched and shaken the world's conscience."

Hamas is not certain that money will flow from Abbas' people to its list of administrators and security personnel. And the half of donations destined for Abbas to manage for the sake of Palestinian economic development may not find its way to Gaza.

Israeli sources see both the Abbas and Egypt as having an interest to assure that rebuilding will proceed slowly, if at all, in order to keep Hamas weak. From this perspective, the comments by the Egyptian President about the appropriateness of the Arab peace initiative of 2002, long ago rejected by Israel, suggest that avoiding substantial progress is the name of his game.

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 08:49 PM
October 12, 2014
Let Putin try

Please be advised the following may be offensive to many readers. Those who should be wary of going further include American patriots, especially those Cold Warriors still anti-Russian, proponents of high moral virtues, individuals squeamish with the use of force, or who view collateral damage as the worst of evils.

After great accomplishments with post-war Europe, Japan, and South Korea, the US record in foreign affairs has been problematic. So far, the 21st century has been especially worrisome.
George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, at least partly for making its regime democratic, or at least more humane, has produced estimates in excess of one million deaths, plus unknown numbers of uprooted Iraqis made refugees in their own country or elsewhere. The catastrophe appears not only in Iraq's continuing civil war, but the spurt to Islamic extremism that came at least partly as a result of American intervention and subsequent bumbling, including Barack Obama's pullout against the advice of his military personnel.
Obama's 2009 Cairo speech calling for democracy and equality in a region not fit for either. His Nobel Prize seems more the result of Swedish sycophants than any serious assessment of his contribution to peace. Initial celebrations of Arab Spring and the onset of democracy are somewhere in the dusty archives, overcome by chaos in Syria as well as Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, Yemen, the continued festering of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, and however you want to describe Egypt.
Obama's speech about Syria's use of chemical weapons began with threat and ended with appeasement. Along with all of the above, it sent a message through the Middle East that the President should be ignored, and contributed to the lack of American successes indicated below.
American efforts to recruit Muslims to fight against Muslims, so far having limited success, as should have been expected, among the countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey) which have been funding the extremists and facilitating their recruitment.
A major effort to push Israel and Palestine to peace, despite the evidence of several decades. Initial comments among both Israeli and Palestinians should have cautioned the President and his Secretary of States. The appointment of Martin Indyk, an activist among left wing Jews suspicious of Israel (i.e., JStreet), to be the front man was yet another blunder, made clear by Indyk's obsessive blaming of Netanyahu for all that went wrong.
Seeking rapport with Iran on its nuclear program, so far without results, along with Iran's criticism of the US for meddling in the Muslim Middle East, and a lack of cooperation in dealing with Islamic extremism.
A long article circulated by Reuters is a devastating criticism of Obama, his White House staffs, and their handling of Syria and Iraq. It describes a combination of naive aspirations about the development of "responsible" alternatives to the Syrian regime in a setting of numerous ethnic, tribal, and local gangs fighting Assad and one another, along with the President's aversion to war, and an extreme centralization of decision-making among political appointees in the White House and by the President himself, tending to ignore advice from professionals in the State Department and Pentagon.

The Russia of Vladimir Putin and his predecessors has no great claims to success in international politics. The Soviet Union did not reshape any significant part of the world during the Cold War. Russia's adventure in Afghanistan was no more praiseworthy than the US experience in Vietnam. One can argue as to the costs and benefits of Putin's brutal dealing with Chechnya, measured by relative quiet but several bloody events directed at Russians in Moscow and elsewhere.

A story about a brutal; response to the kidnapping of Russians during the Lebanese civil war that brought an end to violence against them.

"KGB agents ran the name of a prominent Hezbollah leader through their computers and came up with the name and address of one of his closest blood relatives. They then kidnapped the kinsman, castrated him, and sent his severed organs to the Hezbollah honcho."

Whatever has been Putin's role in Ukraine is not yet done. One can guess that Russia will emerge with Crimea, as well as close ties with a Russian-speaking region of Eastern Ukraine. The regime anchored in Kiev--not commendable by any imaginable perspective-- may have to rest with supportive statements and economic aid from the US and the European Union..

Could Putin do better than Obama with ISIS?

There is no reliable answer to this question, except that he would most likely not do worse.

He would be less hesitant, and less concerned about collateral damage. He has sided with Bashar Assad, without dithering about civilian deaths or which of some 60 organizations fighting in Syria are worthy of encouragement. With Russian support, as well as that of Iran and Hezbollah, but without the carping of the White House, Assad might be able to regain control. So far, Turkey, the US, and other claimants to the moral high ground have looked on while the estimates of Syrian dead have approached 200,000, and refugees in the millions.

Moral judgments are best made along with the assessments learned in economics of benefits and costs. American pride in ridding the world of Saddam Hussein must stand with much greater carnage and dislocations that came after him. Likewise, American dithering about finding appropriate opponents to Assad have been associated with continued killings best described as everyone against everyone else. Obama's refusal to make a serious investment in a military effort (i.e., boots on the ground and the likelihood of US combat deaths) along with his demands for the cooperation of those disinclined to cooperate, are likely to produce years of killing by those who evade American bombs.

Nothing is certain in the complex games of international politics where the players have their own agendas, many of them hidden from public view.

Giving Putin a free hand with respect to ISIS may come up against his greater concerns for Ukraine or his reluctance to inflame his domestic Muslims in Chechnya and elsewhere. And it might add to the international weight of a government that is inclined to advance the political maneuverings of the Palestine Authority.

But it may be worth the gamble in a dangerous situation where the American leadership is reluctant to play, or does not know how.

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 08:47 PM
October 10, 2014
Competing Americanisms

There is something American about the most request quarrel between Barack Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu.

There are other things as well. A clash of strong egos, of the kinds required and nurtured by serious politics. And greatly different geopolitics. While Obama is required by his setting to play among the world leaders and strive for primacy while assigning secondary importance to the demands of any ally, Netanyahu seeks to defend a nation with a history of constant threats, and is a Jewish outlier among hostile Muslims.

Their Americanism are as different as they can be. Obama is the archetype of a liberal Democrat, not only speaking for but representing the Black underclass and seeking a better deal for the unfortunates of the Third World from which his father came.

Netanyahu has attached himself to Sheldon Adelson. Adelson's paper, a giveaway that is the most widely read in Israel, is officially Israel Hayom (Israel Today), but goes by the name Bibipress among those who see it as primarily concerned to put the Prime Minister and his wife in the best light possible.

Obama's efforts for the Palestinians come from his domestic and international perspectives, and arguably from his personal background. His birth resulted from a major American effort in the early post-colonial period to bring young Africans to American universities, in the hope of contributing to economic development in their home countries, and to add respect for the American values of individual freedom, opportunity, and democracy.

One can ask to what extent the program succeeded or failed in general, and whether the Obama presidency is worth the US Government's investment in his father.

Obama matured in a period when Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Community Action were prominent themes in domestic policy. He owes them his education, and his employment as a community activist.

Netanyahu also had a formative American exposure, that has left its mark on his language, and his sense of what appeals to many Americans. His father spent several years on American faculties, perhaps because he was judged too political on the wrong side of what prevailed in Israeli faculties. Netanyahu matured in American colleges soon after the end of Jewish quotas and other overt discrimination. The Jewish students he met would have access to employment in major corporations, but knew that their fathers would probably not have been accepted at the colleges where the young people studied, and would have had to make their careers in the limited fields open to Jews. Gentlemen's Agreements at country clubs and Restrictive Covenants in choice neighborhoods were on their way out when Netanyahu studied in the United States, but not by too many years, and perhaps not completely.

So there should be no surprise that Netanyahu defends the right of Israeli Jews to live where they choose, while Obama sees West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as threats to his international preferences.

Bibi's American experiences supply his rhetoric and maybe some of his motivation, but the power behind his support of settlement (confused as it is by overt or tacit agreements to halt construction or limit its extent) comes also from the political power of the settlers and their friends, currently most clearly expressed by Jewish Home.

Somewhere in the background of the squabble over settlement may be conflict between Blacks and Jews in US cities, tainted as it is by anti-Semitism and racism. Supporters of Barack and Bibi may talk about this dimension, but we can assume that that both Bibi and Barack are careful to keep such things out of their discussions.

Americans and Israelis argue among themselves about the issues surrounding settlement.

It is common to distinguish neighborhoods of Jerusalem from other settlements in the West Bank, and to distinguish the major settlements, or those on the Israeli side of the barriers, from isolated settlements. Each cluster has those who support it, but not others.

There are also those who support the right of Jews to live where they want, and criticize Palestinians for their lack of hospitality to Jews, but are not happy about individual Jewish families, with the financial support of overseas activists, to move into the most hostile of Arab areas. From this perspective, rights are one thing, but provocation is something else, especially when it is likely to involve the State of Israel in spending resources and risking the lives of its police and soldiers to protect individuals motivated by what qualifies as political and religious extremism.

There are similar divisions about the insistence of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. Here freedom of worship comes up against Muslim insistence that the site has always been theirs alone. Leaving aside that historical nonsense, the issue is complicated by Rabbinical rulings that Jews avoid that piece of holy ground.

Not a few American Jews and others have signed on to Obama's enthusiasm for Palestine, some of whom feel that Israel destroyed too much and killed too many in Gaza. That may qualify for another kind of extremism, i.e., showing excessive concern for Israel's moral purity without comparing it to the practices of other countries. Among the candidates, America's carpet bombing of Vietnam, and the recent relaxation of rules about avoiding civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq.

Israel is subject to judgments that are not comparative, and thus meaningless both intellectually and morally. It may have something to do with being the Promised Land and the reputed source of all that is holy. The US, in contrast, is pretty much invulnerable to criticism, given its power, its veto in the UN Security Council, and its people's sense of being superior to all others. Roots of American superiority go back to Puritans who thought of their colonies as the Promised Land, and the later fascination with Manifest Destiny.

One can expect that humanitarians of the world will be less assiduous about measuring the collateral damage done by US attacks against ISIS than Israel's attacks against Hamas.

Both Israel and the United States receive more than their share of attention from international media. One can boast or be worried about the attention, but there is it. Israel and the US are more at the focus of public opinion than other places, but the world does not yet run according to an ongoing referendum.

Israel and Bibi are more dependent on the US and Barack Obama, than Obama is on them, but the dependence is not complete. Bibi, like other Israeli Prime Ministers before him, have said, "No," or not entirely "Yes" to American demands. Tensions prevail due to contrasting constraints, but there are significant pressures keeping the two countries aligned, more or less.

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 09:03 PM
October 08, 2014
So many things to worry about



Too much is threatening.

Daesh, whatever that is, is chopping heads and managing to evade the US air campaign (along with a few other participants providing 10 percent of the airstrikes), and imposing its draconian Islam across much of Syria and Iraq.

Hamas says that it intends to do throughout Palestine what Daesh is doing in Syria and Iraq.

More modest Palestinians are demanding international recognition for something that would shrink and threaten Israel. Sweden's Prime Minister and the British Parliament are talking about recognizing Palestine, with or without, the agreement of Israel.

The White House sees a partnership possible with Iran, despite Iran's insistence on nuclear independence and viewing Israel as a cancer that must be removed from the Middle East.

Ebola has come out of West Africa along with the care providers who have been infected, traveled to the US and Europe, and have begun infecting people there. So far the numbers are small, but panic is starting to show.

The American President and the Israeli Prime Minister are squabbling in a more public and nasty way than in the past.

Looking beyond the debating points each has scored against the other, one is hard pressed to ignore the greater power behind the US President. The US can live without Israel, but Israelis are worried how well--or if it all--we can live without Americans to provide an occasional veto in the UN Security Council, as well as money from the government budget and private sector investors, and access to the American market for Israeli exports.

Israel seems unable to obtain what every other country in its league (Western, democratic, with high levels of income, education, and decent social services) has by way of clear and permanent boundaries, without serious threats against its existence.

Geography along with the doctrines of Islam and the warfare among the faithful in that "religion of peace" keeps our neighbors from conceding our legitimacy, even though many of them cooperate in ways that reflects Israel's accomplishments in economics, science, technology, and medicine, as well as its capacity to defend itself.

On the other hand, the contrasting religious observances of Yom Kippur and Eid al Adha passed quietly, despite the fears of their potential for disaster.

Due to the lack of a leap year in the lunar calendar of Islam, the two events occasionally occur on the same day, every 30 years or so.

This year they came against the background of Gaza, especially prominent murders of Jews by Arabs and an Arab by Jews in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and an escalation in stone throwing, fire bombs and other violence by young Arabs, including that burning of a gas station on the border of Isaweea and French Hill.

Yom Kippur demands quiet for the sake of contemplation. Streets are empty; there are no flights; radio and television are off the air for 30 hours. Surveys show that 60 percent or more of Israeli Jews fast.

Eid al Adha is a contrast on just about every dimension. The emphasis is celebration and feasting, with travel for family visits, the slaughter of sheep and roasting of its meat, with the aroma going here and there without respect for those nearby who might be hungry.

Religious leaders of Jews and Muslims preached tolerance for several days in advance of the holiday, and it passed quietly, without the catastrophe that was feared.

There were problems within the Jewish sector, but nothing unusual. As soon as the media began broadcasting in the evening after Yom Kippur, we heard the conventional announcements of how many people collapsed while at prayer and were brought to hospitals, and how many young bicycle riders clogging the car-free streets managed to injure themselves. One fell off a bridge in Haifa and was in critical condition.

Perhaps the Arabic media reported on the incidence of indigestion.

We are not out of the woods. A few days after Yom Kippur comes Succoth, and that has its own provocations that have produced communal violence. There has already been an incident on the Temple Mount, in advance of the holiday.

During the days between the holidays at the beginning and end of Succoth, groups form throughout the country organize for a modern version of the traditional pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Typically they equip themselves with uniform shirts and hats, carry banners, charter a bus to bring them within a few kilometers of Jerusalem, and walk the rest of the way while singing, smiling, and waving to the cameras. There are large crowds at the Western Wall, some praying, some being blessed by the Kohanim, and others milling around in a festive mood.

Above the Western Wall, on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif/al Aqsa Mosque there are likely to be counter clusters of young Muslims getting ready to throw stones on the Jews below.

The police get ready for this, with the results of bloody heads, protests from religious and political leaders of both communities about the provocation from their competitors, and several days of further scuffling where Jews and Muslims coexist.

Some years pass without incident, and most without serious incident.

The larger picture is that Jews have been worried, and unable to assure their security, for all of our history.

Our record of generally doing better than others may be one of the elements that threatens our security by fueling anti-Semitism, but ought to be recognized for the benefits it produces.

In the most recent 68 years of Jews' 3,000 years as a people, Israel has developed from a tenuous existence to being a regional powerhouse economically and militarily, and having to be reckoned with by just about everyone else.

The Jews who are quarreling with one another about Israel and just about everything else have acquired education, wealth, and position unparalleled in history.

Weimar Germans said the same. However, . . .

Israel's principal adversaries have dithered among themselves, and failed to produce a solution for their problems that we can accept. Most recently, Muslims claiming to be the purist, have descended to warfare among themselves and are threatening others by their barbarism, with the result that the most powerful nations of the world have mobilized against them.

Our glass may be half empty, or somewhat more than half full. Israeli wine provides a tasty medium to make your estimate. 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 08:49 PM
October 06, 2014
Barriers to change

One of the most powerful of political rules is that things are not likely to change a great deal.

It's called incrementalism, and appears all the way from domestic budgets to foreign policy. If things change, they change in increments from what exists.

Incrementalism is prominent among the routines that guide policymakers.

While many demand change, others support the status quo. Program clients and administrators do not want to give up "their" money to a competing program. The advocates of what exists usually have enough clout to hold off those wanting something else, especially something that threatens them.

This doesn't work all the time. Every once in a while there is a great change. It is also likely that small changes will accumulate over time. No country I know of is anything like it was years ago.

Nonetheless, the probabilities support expectations of stability or gradual change, and probabilities are what should guide us in politics, as well as in medicine and economics.

Probabilities point to good bets, but provide no assurances. Politics, like medicine and economics, should make no promises. Commentators and passive observers, as well as voters and politicians must develop a tolerance for uncertainty.

Just as it is unlikely that the supporters of one program will accept a budget reduction for the sake of giving their share of government money to other programs, advocates of existing policies dealing with land, national borders, and security know how to protect their interests.

There are ample stories in the Israel-Palestine realm to illustrate the principle that things change slowly, if at all.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians has departed greatly from established policies. Palestinians have long been pursuing their state, either with the borders of 1947, 1967, or all the way to the Mediterranean. Israel has pursued a policy of holding off the Palestinians, and expanding its settlements in stages, with an eye to the international environment.

Israelis' initial advantages in organizational skill, then differentials in economics and military power have done their work.

Palestinians thinking they can reverse history should take another look at the barriers Israel has built around and through much of the West Bank. Construction of the wall has pretty much stopped with something between 60 and 70 percent of the plans completed. But that is more a reflection of Palestinians giving up on violence rather than any change in Israeli policy. Why spend the money and antagonize people alongside the planned but not constructed route when Israelis buses and coffee houses are not blowing up.

Restive Palestinians might also take a look at Gaza. Should West Bankers get too feisty, the same can happen to them, again. Israel may also respond to an increase in violence by closing its borders and replacing Palestinian workers with people wanting the jobs from Bulgaria, Romania, China, Thailand, and elsewhere.

Remember that things change. Flexibility on somethings helps maintain other things are are considered more important.

Removing sizable settlements is not in the cards as being played by Israel. Neither is giving up on the options of building within Jerusalem or areas alongside, between, or within established settlements throughout the West Bank.

How much to build? and where? are subject to discussion.

Time and again a leftist Jewish or Israeli organization (Peace Now, B'Tselem, J Street) has announced that an Israeli bureaucratic committee or a politician has proposed, or taken a procedural step in the direction of planning, authorizing building, or letting contracts for construction in East Jerusalem or elsewhere in the West Bank.

Then American activists and officials have expressed their shock and dismay, and speak about the dangers to the two-state solution.

Then Europeans and UN worthies have repeated the mantra.

Then Israel has explained that officials are still far from actually doing something significant on the ground, even though Israel has the right to do what it decides according to Israeli views of domestic and international law.

Then, depending on the uproar, the process may move forward slowly, if at all.

Israeli policy for several years has been to avoid making waves by too much building outside of Jerusalem or other established settlements.

Palestinians and other ARabs foiled the prospect of a two-state solution first against the proposal of the Peel Commission in 1937, then the UN in 1947, at Khartoum in 1967, at Camp David and Taba in 2000, in response to Ehud Olmert in 2008, and again when Mahmoud Abbas could not deal with Netanyahu's demand of calling Israel the Jewish state in 2014.

Signs of the weakness shown by the two-state solution, and perhaps its death appear in the multitude of fantastic proposals being expressed by prominent Palestinians. Once again they cannot get their act together and agree on a proposal with a chance to find support in the broad center of Israeli politics.

One would demand from the UN a ruling that Palestine become a fully independent state with all the territory from 1967 and a capital in Jerusalem, and require the withdrawal of all Israeli settlements along with their Jews within a period of two years. Another proposes to scrap the Oslo Accords as a failure, and create something to give the Palestinians what they want. (Oslo has actually succeeded in giving the Palestinians, for the first time in their history, substantial autonomy and an opportunity to learn how to govern themselves.) Another offers a period of peace for a limited period of time, during which Israel would do what it must to create a Palestinian state with the borders and powers demanded. Another would free Marwan Barhgouti from an Israeli prison, and elevate him to the leadership of Palestine. (Barghouti was convicted of complicity in several murders, and arguably would have been put to death if he committed those crimes in the United States.) Another would retire Mahmoud Abbas as a tired and out of touch old man, who has overstayed his official term by nearly six years, and has yet to achieve anything for Palestine. And every once in a while Abbas threatens to terminate the Palestine National Authority, and let Israel take the responsibility for governing the entire West Bank.

That Western powers continue with their mantra of the two state solution is yet another indication of incrementlism. It's their policy, and one doesn't change policy easily, perhaps not even in the face of reality.

Bibi himself spoke in favor of a two-state solution, perhaps due to the political weight of the US and its Western allies. Commentators note that he did not mention the phrase in his recent UN speech.

Israeli flexibility exists. It appears in the removal of roadblocks, the granting of entry permits to Palestinians workers, expansions of the fishing zone allowed to Gazans, and permits for religious pilgrimages of Palestinians from Gaza to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and opportunities for Gazans to visit the West Bank and sell their agricultural produce there.

On the agenda is the transport of building materials to Gaza.

That might not come smoothly, given Israeli suspicions about the intentions of Gazans.

Likewise, flexibility on other dimensions can harden in response to upticks in violence.

Reports about several hundred West Bankers, including juveniles, being held in Israeli jails pending trial for throwing stones and worse should indicate that Israel is not about to be pushed over or out.

Among the puzzles for those wanting to understand politics come when officials seem to advocate what they cannot achieve, or find themselves supporting what others see as policies that work against one another.

Currently the Swedes are stuttering among a recognition of the Palestinian state, expressing support for a negotiated arrangement involving Israel and Palestine, including Gaza, and saying they will recognize a Palestinian state no matter what happens in negotiations.

Barack Obama supports a better deal for Gaza, Israel's security, and a negotiations that will produce some kind of Palestinian state.

What to do when the Palestinians keep saying, "No," or "Not that way?"

Currently the American President may be distracted by a new war which he seems likely to escalate against Muslims, while holding to the expression that Islam is a religion of peace.

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 11:00 PM