It is not possible to find a more left-wing, large circulation media outlet in Israel than Ha'aretz. It is as close as anything Israeli comes to the New York Times: not in the quality or extent of its coverage, but in having as its readers the intellectual, political, and economic elites of the country, and being severe in its criticism of what they are doing. Amira Hass has lived in Gaza and Ramallah, and can be counted upon to fill a page or more with one or another kind of Palestinian misery. Gideon Levy and Ze'ev Sternhill do not pass up an opportunity to scald their country for a lack of humanity and wisdom. The banner headline in the midst of the Biden scandal--that Israel is planning for the construction of 50,000 homes throughout East Jerusalem--reflects the paper's passion. The article made no mention of construction for Arabs, or how many of the claimed 50,000 apartments are at an advanced stage of planning or suitable for market projections extending over several years.
There is an occasional op-ed piece by Moshe Arens to gain the paper a fig leaf of balance, but the thrust is far to the left of him.
Given the critical nature of Ha'aretz, today's cartoon is instructive. It shows the president and secretary of state watching television coverage of Palestinian rampage, with the president saying, "It doesn't look like they are approaching face to face discussions."
A late report is that Obama is reiterating the close rapport between the United States and Israel, and describing the Biden incident as a quarrel between friends.
That is a lot better than what we heard earlier, including reports that General Petraeus has said that Israel's stubborn resistance to the United States peace initiative threatens his country's national interests, and his soldiers' lives throughout the Muslim world. That was too close to the anti-Israel line used by Arab autocrats to distract their own masses from serious problems, and suggests the classic practice of scapegoating the Jews.
Israel has friends in the United States, but it would be another cheap shot to ascribe the moderation of White House rhetoric to Jewish political clout. Facts as well as pressure matter.
If any party has shown itself unready to negotiate, it is the Palestinians. The rejection of what Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton offered in 2000, and what Ehud Olmert offered in 2008 is indication enough that Ramat Shlomo or other construction in Jerusalem is not the core of the problem, and maybe not even a significant element.
The disproportion between public pressure on Israel and insistence on engagement with Iran and Syria is so bizarre as to be potent politically. Some Members of Congress might be wondering if an administration so unbalanced in its foreign policy could be counted upon for the contents of a health bill too large and complex to be understood before having to vote on it.
Iran is another reason for the White House to moderate its pressure on Israel. While my guess is that there will not be an Israeli attack, one should avoid certainty. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not moderated his threats. Should Israeli leaders take him at his word, give up on any prospect of meaningful sanctions, recall the fate of their grandparents, and feel themselves alone in a corner, they may do something that really will impact on General Petraeus, his troops, and his bosses.
Currently, Israel's immediate neighborhood appears to be in a quiet phase. After several days of letting off steam, or responding to the incitement of religious extremists, Palestinians have returned to their routines. Fatah security personnel worked to moderate protests throughout the West Bank, even while Fatah leaders lent their voices to claims of abomination in Jerusalem.
There is little reason to perceive that negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians will get anywhere. Working on the quiet, and endorsing the economic progress in the West Bank would be more hopeful.
It may not be wise to rely on a cartoon, but let us hope for a bit of sobriety in the White House.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem