This is one of those weeks when it is not easy living with the Israeli media.
However, the big stories may blow over with no impact. Currently there is a lot of August hot air and many excitable Jews, but we are likely to survive.
One wrenching set of headlines concerns meetings with the Palestinians. Reports are that the prime minister looks with favor on an idea being put forth by President Shimon Peres, to cede the equivalent of the whole West Bank to the Palestinians for their state. This may be is Olmert's last chance to do something big enough that will save him from criminal investigations concerned with actions when in prior offices, and from the pressure to resign that might come from the commission investigating last year's war in Lebanon.
No surprise about Peres. The concern that he would do something like this with the presidency was the major reason for choosing a rapist instead of him at the last presidential election, and for expressing concern about him this time. About the only manifestation of his New Middle East with economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is a world class auto theft operation. They disappear into the West Bank, and used parts come back to Israeli repair shops.
There are several reasons to believe that the deal will not work out as some would like.
*The Palestinians have not yet budged on the issue of refugees from 1948 and 1967, which is the reddest of red flags for just about all Israelis.
*What to do with the 11,000 (more or less) Palestinian security prisoners, many with Israeli blood on their hands, and sentenced to long terms by Israeli courts? One of them, sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for involvement in murder, is the favorite candidate of many Palestinians to be their next prime minister. Letting him go will not be easy.
*How many Jewish settlements would have to be withdrawn, to the dismay of how many settlers and their many more supporters in Israel?
*How much weight will be put on the scale by the family members of the 1,100 Israelis killed by Palestinians since Yassir Arafat was offered a similar deal in 2000?
*What part of Jerusalem will be given to the Palestinian state? Will the Palestinian residents of those neighborhoods want to become citizens of the new entity, perhaps at the cost of their health insurance and other benefits they currently receive from Israel?
*Who will get control over what parts of what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram esh Sharif or Noble Sanctuary? Despite the fact that most Israelis are not religious and do not visit this place, the issue was one of the deal breakers in 2000.
*And what about Hamas, defined as beyond the pale by Israel and numerous western governments, now even by the Norwegian foreign minister? Currently Hamas controls Gaza, and may get the West Bank if Fatah does not act with somewhat more effectiveness than it did in Gaza.
*Olmert is pressing the Fatah government to abandon Hamas (and Gaza?). If Fatah seeks an accommodation with Hamas, there may be no discussions with Israel.
*But religious Palestinians, including Muslim religious leaders in Israel and at least one member of the Knesset, are urging Fatah to seek an accommodation with Hamas. Egypt, other Arab governments, and the Russians are pushing for a Fatah-Hamas accommodation. If that happens, it would not be the first time that outsiders, seeking their own benefits in local politics or international relations, have scuttled a deal between Israel and one of its neighbors.
There is so much to worry about, and so much to do. Probably too much to do. Maybe we should relax and avoid the media for the next week or two.
There is another issue roiling the public: "Holocaust survivors" are claiming that Israel is denying them compensation in their last years. We have had demonstrations, marches, yellow stars, and assertions that Olmert is like Hitler.
Once the issue of the Holocaust appears, one has to be wary of criticism. Large majorities have answered polls saying that the survivors are completely in the right. Media personalities make it clear that the government is in the hands of cruel misers.
Friends and family members have shown a bit of temper when I have raised questions about details and justice. But I spent more than 40 years dealing with public administration. The devil is usually in the details. And sensitive issues draw demagogues.
In this case, the notion of "Holocaust survivor" is problematic. The aged and infirm leaders of these demonstrations speak decent Hebrew and display the tattoos put on their arms by the Nazis. But depending largely when they arrived in Israel, they may already be receiving special payments because of their status. Those who were Germans are likely to have received considerable sums, as well as life-long monthly pensions, from the German government.
As far as one can determine in this complicated matter with numerous categories of "survivors" and "entitlements" enacted over the years, the people who are really short of support are aged immigrants who came in the last 15 years from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere in eastern Europe. Their former governments refused to deal with the West Germans on issues of compensation. They asserted that the West Germans were the successors of the Nazis supported by the capitalist West. In Israel these immigrants receive modest payments given to aged immigrants who did not work in Israel long enough to build up credit in National Insurance. Now they are being swept into the group of "Holocaust survivors" on the basis of having lived in countries that were occupied in part by Nazi forces. Some of them fled the Nazis. Some of them lived in areas not occupied. Including them in the category of Holocaust supporters increases the population of those claiming hardship, and has the support of a political party (Israel Our Home) heavily dependent on the leadership and votes of Russian immigrants. Benyamin Netanyahu, who usually prides himself on reducing welfare payments when he was Minister of Finance, and a leading possibility to succeed Olmert as prime minister, is giving his support to the campaign of the Holocaust survivors.
ICommentators are beginning to see the complexities and the politics in this issue. It is hard to imagine that it will disappear before the government offers increased payments to the whole spectrum of "survivors." Unless of course, even more emotional headlines fall upon us before the politicians can decide on the details.