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
April 08, 2014
The one-state solution

Whenever there is a hiccup in the peace process, or signs of real crises between Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli and international left trot out the one-state solution. Their message is that Israel will be stuck with one state between the Jordan and the Sea that will include both Israelis and Palestinians with full citizenship, if Israelis do not figure out a way to reach the two-state solution.

Demographics will do what they do, and sooner or later Israel will be voted out of existence by its Arab majority.

The idea sounds good, but it's nonsense.

As long as Israel retains its capacity and will, no imaginable government will agree to absorb the entire West Bank and Gaza.

The wall that Israel has built along most of its borders, and in protection of most Jews living beyond the 1967 lines, may not last forever. But as long as it is there, with its patrol roads, watch towers, cameras and other electronics, Palestinians should not delude themselves into thinking that they'll get anything on the Israeli side of it.

Thanks to Oslo, which succeeded more than its critics admit, Israel leaves Palestinians to run their own affairs. Exceptions occur when it is necessary to send in the troops for the sake of Israelis' security.

The profile of the left in Israeli politics should not encourage its activists or their overseas friends. Currently the Labor Party has 15 Knesset Members, not all of whom are warm and cuddly toward Palestinians. Meretz has six. The largely Arab parties have 11, but they are so anti-establishment that few of their MKs merit a listen.

Tsipi Livni's Movement has 6 MK's who have staked their party's existence on the peace process, but she raised her voice at the Palestinian delegation for breaking the rules of the game. Yair Lapid's There is a Future has 19 MKs, and peace is somewhere on its agenda. However, Lapid has recently expressed exasperation about Palestinians claiming to be partners for peace.

Some may dream about putting together a cluster of 57 Jewish and Arab MKs likely to support a deal, and reaching a Knesset majority by getting 4 more votes from somewhere among the other parties. However, their basic 57 would be a slippery gathering with more than a few doubters and self-servers inclined to trade their votes elsewhere. Moreover, the whole idea depends on Palestinians being more accommodating than have been any of its leaders over the most recent 80 years.

By all the signs, the world--along with Israelis and Palestinians--will have to accept the anomaly of a Palestine short of statehood, with substantial but incomplete autonomy. Or a state recognized by others but not by Israel that will continue to surround all of Palestine-West Bank and most of Palestine-Gaza. Egypt sits on the short part of Gaza's borders, and is currently no more friendly to the Gazans than is Israel.

Various British, American, Israeli, UN, European, Palestinian and other Arab officials and activists have worked to deal with the issue since the 1930s.

None has had a better record than John Kerry, currently scurrying to keep his talks going, or to trying to explain their failure by pointing to Israeli and Palestinian politicians.

He should have known better than to start something with such limited prospects.

Things have improved in recent years, despite the dim prospects for Kerry's process. The Palestinian leadership seems to have learned from their periods of violence not to provoke the Israelis with anything more than words. Continued conversations between various groups of Palestinian and Israeli technocrats, sometimes with the prodding and help of outsiders, have reduced violence to a manageable level, allowed more easy movement for Palestinians throughout the West Bank and into Israel, and the entry of more to Israel on a daily basis for work. These steps are less dramatic than what the politicians say they want, but they have served to increase investments and living standards for West Bank Palestinians.

Currently we are hearing a wave of commentators, with political and military backgrounds, accusing Kerry and Obama of unrealistic obsession with a general and final arrangement, which gets in the way of lesser bur more promising accommodations dealing with security, trade, transportation, communications, water, sewage, payments for electricity and other services, and border controls.

There are Palestinian individuals intent on revenge for one or another reason of personal suffering or their personal ideology of violence. Groups--now with the financial and material support of Iran--have sought to act, and occasionally produce limited damage or casualties.

Also active are Jews who seem fearful of an arrangement, and do what they can to remind us of God's Promised Land, relying on one of the more expansive promises in the confusing material of Torah.

The Arabs of Israel and those of Jerusalem limit their own capacity to benefit from what Israel can offer.

Those of Israel support anti-establishment parties whose Knesset Members fail to play the conventional game of working with the majority in order to benefit their constituents. Those of Jerusalem--almost all of whom rejected Israel's offer of citizenship--can vote in municipal elections, but bow to considerable pressure from Palestinians to abstain. Thus they give up the prospect of electing a third of the Municipal Council and using their leverage to select the Mayor. Along the way, they also give up the right to complain about the minimal services received in their neighborhoods. In some of those neighborhoods, fire fighters and ambulances enter only at their peril, and the police enter only in force when essential.

Israel pretty much lets Arab localities of Israel and Arab neighborhoods of mixed population cities manage themselves, with the Arab villages of Israel and neighborhoods of mixed cities getting less services than the Jewish areas.

Not all Arab villages of Israel or Arab neighborhoods of mixed population cities are similar. One must know the social terrain in order to realize where Jews are welcome, tolerated, or likely to be threatened with bodily harm. There are sizable numbers of Druze, Circassian, and Bedouin Israelis, and others (calling themselves Israeli Arabs or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) who aspire to mutual accommodation, higher education in Israeli institutions, service in the IDF, Israeli police, prison service, or other governmental agencies. Some Israeli Jews enjoy personal friendship with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

The problematic nature of Israeli-Palestinian relationship is not unlike those which prevail on the borders or within other democratic states. One can think about the African and Muslim neighborhoods of cities across Britain and Western Europe, and African Americans.

Israel has nothing like the Black President of the United States.

Alongside Obama's accomplishments are lots of African Americans who have done well, especially since the inception of Affirmative Action. All that deserves praise, but it does not deal with the condition of Black ghettos, and residents who fail to escape the cycles of crime, drugs, violence, limited education, prison, and early death.

Israel has an Arab on the Supreme Court along with the dozen or so Members of Knesset, and Arabs who have reached professional and managerial positions, partly due to affirmative action written into law or practiced informally where it is not required. One must admit that the opportunities of Israeli Arabs are limited by Jews who do not have a level of trust that would facilitate greater opportunities.

One can quarrel about the relative intensity and justifications of opposition to hiring, promoting, renting or selling housing, or the significance of one or another social indicator pertaining to minorities in Israel and the United States, or the Black and Muslim neighborhoods in Britain and Western Europe.

It is not easy to do this in the context of political correctness and more exciting ideologies, but it is worthwhile keeping one's head and arguing about the data.

And arguing about further accommodations, without the illusion of a one-state solution.

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 12:29 AM
April 05, 2014
Post mortem, perhaps a bit early

John Kerry's peace process is dying. Or it was born dead, despite having parents who praised its prospects.

The fault is not Israel's, nor Palestine's, but John Kerry's. Or maybe Barack Obama's, due to his appointing a visionary for a job that is supposed to be serious.

Kerry's various ideas join the collection amassed since the 1930s, resembling the jumble of the Jewish graveyard of Prague, with stones leaning one on the other and hardly room to set foot among them.

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An item in the Washington Post called the process a fool's errand.

Israeli skeptics doubted Kerry's chances from the beginning. Their numbers have grown. In recent days only the most die hard leftists and optimists have spoken of what Israel could do to bring about an agreement.

Given Jewish history, it should be no surprise that skepticism is part of Israel's national culture.

Cynicism is a close cousin of skepticism, and the shallowness of Kerry and his American colleagues have provided ample reasons for disrespect, bordering on ridicule. Moshe Ya'alon is not the only Israeli to have described the US Secretary of State as messianic.

Among the faults of the Obama-Kerry team is investing a great deal of political capital in Israel-Palestine when other pressing issue seemed more capable of responding to American influence. Among them are soothing the ruffled feathers of Saudi Arabia, and getting back on track with Egypt. The Americans have also failed to lessen the carnage in Syria, or prevent continued bloodshed in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They have done little more than bluster with respect to Russia and the Ukraine, and do not seem likely to lessen the nuclear threats associated with Iran or North Korea.

Kerry has not only failed with respect to Israel and Palestine. He has made things worse.

After years of relative quiet and economic development in the West Bank, there has been an upsurge in violence. Rather than applause, Kerry and Obama will deserve condemnation for whatever Israeli and Palestinian deaths come from this.

At its heart, the failure reflects mutual distrust, derived principally from the lack of resolve among Palestinians to deal with Israel. It is not new, and has allowed a creeping spread of settlements that makes a Palestinian resolve to take what they can get even less likely.

Not too far in the background are the severe conflicts among Muslims, which--perhaps provoked by a visionary and naive American president--have erupted to new heights of casualties. What has come from Arab Spring make Israelis even more wary of helping to create another Muslim state, especially one that declares that it wants no Israeli residents.

The latest Palestinian demands do not make them more attractive. The list now includes a state with the borders of 1967, a capital in Jerusalem, no mention of giving up the rights of refugees, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or agreeing to end the conflict if those demands are accepted.

Abbas' demands recall the comment of Chaim Herzog when he was Ambassador to the UN, and on the table was the resolution that Zionism is racism. Let is pass, Herzog advised at a certain point. It would be better to have something so extreme as to make it easy to ridicule and oppose.

The next step, according to what we hear from ranking Palestinians, will be accusations of war crimes.

Naftali Bennet has already announced, in response, that he has begun to prepare a counter case against Abbas for sponsoring terror.

Initial sanctions have already been announced, against a cell phone company owned by Abbas' son.

Israel will no longer allow the erection of antennae for the company.

How's that for targeting the soft underbelly of Palestinian corruption, where concessions go to those well connected?

There is a lot else that Israel can do, given its control over Palestine's borders.

Neither Kerry nor the principal Israeli or Palestinian negotiators have formally called an end to the process. Israeli commentators continue to ponder what can happen to bring them back to the table, at least till the end of the month, the end of the year, or the end of the Obama presidency. However, none see anything like an agreement that an Israeli government or Palestinian leadership would accept. The New York Times correspondent in Israel concludes that all sides have an interest in keeping the process going, even though none see it as going anywhere.

Tsipi Livni is betting her political career on yet another effort to restart the negotiations. She is demanding that the Palestinians retract their applications to join UN affiliated organizations, and accept the deal that Israel was about to offer. She criticized the Minister of Housing and Construction for announcing a new building project that triggered the Palestinians breaking off the negotiations and turning to the UN. However, that project is in the neighborhood of Gilo, which has been part of Jerusalem for nearly half a century. With Livni seeming to accept the Palestinian (and American) conception that neighborhoods of Jerusalem should be labeled "settlements," she is not strengthening her position among other members of the Israeli government.

It is not clear if Pollard remains on the table, or if Israel would agree to release Israeli Arabs in the list of prisoners that Abbas demands.

Among the charges against John Kerry is that he failed to make clear to the Palestinians that Israel had not agreed to release Israeli Arab prisoners. The issue is important to members of the government, who see it as defining a crucial line between Palestinian aspirations and Israeli sovereignty.

Kerry has said that he remains committed to the process, but that he will consider with the President whether the United States should continue with its heavy role in the Middle East.

Kerry's career may depend on keeping this going, and neither Israeli nor Palestinians want to offend Uncle.

The most likely prospect is that Americans and others will have to tolerate the anomaly of a stateless people. Those in the West Bank live as well or better than the average throughout the Middle East. They invest, receive investments from the Palestinian diaspora, improve their living standards and travel internationally. Those of Gaza have less reason to be happy, reflecting the greater extremism of their leadership.

Humanitarians will screech at us, but their day may have passed.

Israel is not alone as a developed country that must cope with troublesome neighbors.

Various European countries are getting tougher with illegal migrants. Australia tows them to unpleasant quarters on distant islands. The US is buffering its border with Mexico.

America's internal problems are well known. Drugs, crime, violence, and guns for protection against all of that, with the world's highest incidence of incarcerated people. Americans may criticize Israel for its failure to make peace with the Palestinians, but Americans have not had any better results with their own citizens.

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 09:06 PM