January 23, 2005
Letter from Jerusalem, Jan. 22

The silence is defening. A couple of days without mortars or missiles landing on Israeli towns. Palestinians security forces have been posted along the borders of Gaza, and may be doing what we hope. Israeli officials express guarded optimism. The American State Department is sending its Middle East envoy to see if it's possible to move forward.

But the optimism is guarded. We are still in the midst of a Muslim holiday that goes on for several days of feasting and gift-giving. It celebrates the almost sacrifice of Ishmael by Abraham at Mecca. Millions of Muslims are slaughtering millions of sheep to commemorate the story in the Koran. They are visiting relatives, and gorging like Jews and Christians on their principal festivals.

Sixty-four percent of almost 13,000 people answering a www.walla.co.il poll about the posting of Palestinian security forces said that it does not change anything, or that it will increase terror. Thirty-six percent feel that it will prevent the missiles.

What happens when all the fighters finish with their meals? And what about the gangs linked to Hizbollah? Mahmoud Abbas is pursuing a deal with Hamas, but the Hizbollah groups are something else. Will the Syrians and the Iranians allow the Palestinians to get on with the Israelis, or will they seek to kill that prospect before it is born? An explosion in Israel, and an Israeli retaliation, can push all the gangs back to the point where each has to demonstrate that it is more committed than the others to the rights of Palestine.

Then there is Abbas' shopping list. It is a long one. Before he can assure a cease fire, he must have the release of prisoners, the stopping of Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory (including overflights by pilotless plans), the stopping of construction on the barrier, as well as beginning of final status talks about a Palestinian state and the rights of refugees.

How much of this is blather for the sake of his standing in Palestine, and how much of this is serious? Abbas was a hard-line advisor to Arafat at Camp David. Now we will see if he knows how to bargain. My guess is that the Israeli government will give a lot for peace, but not as much and certainly not as quickly as Abbas is saying that he wants. The Israeli right is reminding us that the Oslo accords were a Trojan horse for the arming of Palestinian terrorists. The Israeli center is listening, and will demand more by way of Palestinians than it did a decade ago.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:41 PM
January 17, 2005
Letter from Jerusalem, Jan. 17

When God made the Palestinians, he left out the part that allows political learning.

He gave a double dose to the Jews. We have known from ancient times the prime principle: every day you have to eat some shit. Politics gives nobody everything they want.

Jews have been weak since biblical time. The more I learn about archeology, the more I realize that stories of grandeur in the days of David and Solomon are mythic. The children of Israel were poor. Not likely that they had great empires or grand palaces. They learned how to survive between the people who had larger populations, more resources and power: Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. The Jews also learned how to criticize one another, which is also important to the political craft. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah set the standard for modern Israelis and other Jews. The Talmud is filled with the nuances of justice. Nothing is good enough to escape criticism.

Some will say that I'm expressing Jewish arrogance. Perhaps. But it is the arrogance of humility. We know how to accept limited results, because of our weakness. It is an essential lesson.

The Palestinians have not had such good fortune. They emerged from an Arab/Muslim mass that has been dominant regionally for the better part of 1500 years. They do not know how to live alongside powerful others. They demand everything, not just enough to prosper.

Mahmoud Abbas inaugural speech as head of the Palestine National Authority was a horrible example of political ignorance. After a sentence of extending the hand of peace to Israel, he returned to Arafat's mantra: a list of what Israel must give to the Palestinians. A Palestinian state in all the pre-1967 territory, with Jerusalem as its capital. A solution for the refugees. Taking down the barrier being built. He condemns violence against civilians, but says he will not act forcefully against the violent bands. He hints that violence against Jews living in Palestinian areas is all right.

Palestinians say that Israel has destroyed their capacity to act against violence. Israeli officials say that there are 30,000 official armed Palestinian security personnel in Gaza. Not enough to act against those who fire rockets and mortars from a small part of territory that in its entirety is about 20 miles long and 3-4 miles wide?

Every few years I have an attack of optimism. It happened at the signing of the Oslo accords, and again when Prime Minister Ehud Barak was offering just about everything that the Syrians and Palestinians were demanding. I was part of the Israeli majority that was willing to give up a great deal for peace. At the time of Oslo, however, I remember talking with a Palestinian colleague. I said that Arafat could end his career as President of Palestine, or mayor of Jericho, depending on how he maneuvered amidst constraints and opportunities. I missed. He ended his career as head of a battered headquarters building, unable even to walk the streets of Ramallah. His aides had to clear some of the rubble in order to prepare a place for his burial.

I had another attack of optimism recently, with Arafat's death and Abbas' election. But now I fear that I am cured.

The rockets and mortars are still falling on Sderot, as well as Jewish settlements within Gaza. The poorly aimed, primitive weapons usually fall in empty fields, But they managed to injure severely several children in the last couple of days. Three residents of Sderot died in Thursday's attack on the Gaza border crossing. The pressure from that small border town is now intense. Small army groups and snipers are in Gaza, picking off individual Palestinians. The Israeli government is giving Abbas a bit more time, but large army groups and heavy armor are said to be gathering.

Saturday our aging hiking groups massaged its muscles and walked seven kilometers from Beit Jamail, a Christian monastery, ending in the Valley of Ayalah, where David and Goliath are had their encounter. Over lunch, one of our friends said that she did not buy vegetables labeled as originating in the Jewish settlements of Gaza. She also said that she was fed up with the shelling of Sderot. Her solution: artillery barrages of Palestinian settlements in Gaza. That is anger heard from the Israeli left. It is still a couple of steps beyond what the IDF has done, or perhaps can do. On account of civilians mixed with fighters, the army has yet to employ artillery in this war. But Abbas options are limited. He has to eat some shit. He cannot have everything. If he continues demanding and not doing his part, he will end with nothing.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:01 AM
January 16, 2005
I'm still here

Yes, I'm still alive and all is well. In fact, I'm even blogging up a storm -- over at Sound Politics, where all the action is with the Washington gubernatorial contest.

Be sure to follow the goings on at Sound Politics. It's quite a story. I'll get back to updating the Shark Blog once life returns to normal.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:16 PM