June 30, 2008
Difficult decisions

The government has completed one decision with high emotional costs, and it is coming up to another that will be even more difficult.

It has decided to accept a deal with Hizbollah. Israel will release a terrorist responsible for the deaths in 1979 of two young children, their father and another adult, as well as some Hizbollah fighters captured during the fighting in 2006, several dead bodies and an unknown number of Palestinians. In exchange, Israel will receive what is likely to be the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006, and some information about an airman who parachuted into Lebanon in 1986, and subsequently disappeared.

Only 3 of 25 ministers voted against the deal. The others raised their hands for what many thought was a bad deal. Most likely, it was the only way of confirming the death of the soldiers, obtaining their bodies for the sake of the families, and freeing a young widow from the status of an agunah who cannot remarry.

Still at work are negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier known to be alive, who was taken into Gaza two years ago. His captors are demanding the release of about 1000 prisoners, including a number sentenced to multiple life sentences for attacks that killed Israeli civilians.

Similar to the campaign in favor of the men who disappeared into Lebanon, Shalit's family members, his friends, comrades in his army unit, and an increasing swath of the general public are demanding that the government pay "any price" for his release.

It will be hard not to. We frequently hear about how many days Shalit has been held captive, unhealthy conditions of his confinement underground without sunlight, as well as his deteriorating condition.

Numerous military and political figures have spoken out against the price that Hamas is demanding. The problem is not so much the number of prisoners, but the nature of the crimes committed, the number of victims, the short time they have served in prison, and the likelihood that many will return to a career of violence against Jews.

The Lebanese terrorist about to be freed served more than 25 years in Israeli prison. The widow and mother of his victims appeared in public prior to the government's decision. In a statement that was painful to hear, she urged that the government accept the deal for the sake of the soldiers' widow and other family members.

In the case of killers who may be released for Shalit, hundreds of victims' families will demand to be heard.

Among the sources of anger about both of these cases is the silence of official bodies, "civil rights" organizations, Israeli and others, as well as Christian Churches that complain loudly about Israeli actions in every forum attainable. None has mounted a sustained campaign against the Palestinian and Lebanese who have prevented all contact with the prisoners by the Red Cross or other organizations. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, that ended the fighting in Lebanon, demanded that Hizbollah return its prisoners immediately. It has bickered on and off for two years about their release, and still has not indicated whether they are alive or dead.

There is no shortage of suggestions as to how to pressure the people who are demanding so much for the release of Shalit. They include cutting off supplies of food, fuel, electricity, and other necessities to Gaza, and an artillery response for every rocket or mortar shell sent toward an Israeli settlement, perhaps with a prior warning for civilians to leave the areas in Gaza to be targeted.

Such suggestions invite ridicule from Israelis who call themselves realists. The humanitarians of Israel and elsewhere, plus the United Nations, other governments, and Christian Churches that tolerated the inhumane treatment of Israelis by Palestinians and Lebanese would find their voices. They will pass resolutions about the indiscriminate harm to innocent civilians, and threaten international sanctions. Within hours there will be petitions to the Israeli Supreme Court. If the justices' record to date is any indication of how they will rule, they will outlaw anything that threatens the civilians of Gaza.

It will not be clear for some time what the government will decide about Gilad Shalit. Whatever happens, it will not be pleasant.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:33 AM
June 25, 2008
Another chapter in the career of Ehud Olmert

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been prominent in Israeli politics for more than 30 years. He has moved up the ranks from a back bench member of Knesset, through appointments as minister in charge of minor and major departments, with a period as mayor of Jerusalem.

A short while ago commentators were saying that he was a lame dunk, and more likely a dead duck.

The Knesset was scheduled to vote on a proposal to call new elections. There seemed to be a majority assured for the proposal, and Olmert's career was thought to have, at the most, another few months to sputter toward its end.

Then Olmert agreed that his political party, Kadima, would have a primary to select its party leader before the end of September. This caused Ehud Barak to withdraw Labor Party support from the proposal for an early election.

Olmert's colleague and long time ally, who arranged the deal with Labor, said on national television that he did not expect Olmert to run in the party primary.

All this was in keeping with what we have been hearing from prominent journalists, who were repeating what they heard from close allies of the prime minister. Olmert has been preoccupied with his personal problems; and has not shown the decisiveness he previously displayed, and which is necessary to operate a state with the problems that Israel faces.

Again we see that there is not much room for loyalty in politics. Alliances change with assessments of a colleague's strength, and "what's in it for me." Several Kadima party leaders were saying that they hoped Olmert could clear his name, even while they were lining up support for their own candidacies in the coming primary.

Olmert's problems reflect several investigations concerned with criminal violations. Most prominent in recent months was testimony provided an American fund raiser and political operative, Morris Talansky.

For a few hours after the deal was announced to avoid a call for a new election, expectations were that Olmert would time his resignation as prime minister according to the selection of a new party leader. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was leading in the polls, and people were thinking that she would be running the country before too long.

Not so fast.

In a heated exchange in the Knesset, Olmert indicated that he would be a candidate in his party's primary, and that it was "business as usual" in the prime minister's office.

Was this anything more than the last gasp of a dying ego uttered in the heat of a parliamentary debate?

Morris Talansky may be as vulnerable in his own behavior as his testimony suggests about the prime minister. Olmert has suggested that Talansky is part of a right-wing campaign to discredit him in order to end any chance of making an agreement with the Palestinians.

Olmert's lawyers will cross examine Talansky in July. A current poll indicates that if Talansky's testimony proves disappointing, and if Olmert runs in his party's primary, he would lead his competitors.

Politics puts a premium on the skills of maneuverability, craftiness, bluffing, understatement, exaggeration, dissembling, timing, and flexibility. None of these may be the traits desired in a close friend with whom one would exchange confidences. But they may be essential in a governmental setting like Israel's. No political party has ever won a majority in a national election. All ruling cabinets are coalitions among politicians looking out for their own interests, who may leave the team at short notice. A prime minister must view his colleagues as potential competitors, and keep them in line. The country as a whole faces tough antagonists on the international front, who are looking after their own interests. There are also intense enemies intent on doing great harm to Israel.

The latest news is that Olmert was booed when he spoke at a public ceremony opening a prominent new bridge at the entrance of Jerusalem.

It is too early to conclude that he will survive another challenge, or is stumbling toward the end of a long career.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:52 PM
June 21, 2008
Difficult decisions

For those who perceive that it is not easy being an Israeli citizen, consider the plight of Israeli pollicymakers. They are among the citizens, with spouses, children and grandchildren exposed to the problems of living on the edge. And they have the tasks of making decisions that may push the country closer to the edge, or over it.

Some time ago, Varda and I were visiting American friends. Our hostess and another friend spent considerable time arguing the aesthetics of competing salt and pepper shakers.

Often we remind ourselves of that when we tire of our problems.

News of an airforce exercise seemingly meant as practice for attacking Iran has stirred international concern to the point of increasing the price of oil, and dropping the indices at major stock exchanges.

Does Israel have a right to disturb the world in this fashion? Further, does it have a right to actually carry out such an attack, with its implications beyond the priced of oil and our favorite stocks?

The answers depend on one's view of the threats against Israel issued repeatedly by Iran's president, and the measured way (some would say the lethargic way) in which the International Atomic Energy Agency and the great powers are trying to convince Iran to desist from its nuclear program.

If actions that may affect many millions of people in numerous countries are too big to ponder, there are competing issues, no less sensitive, that concern only three Israelis. Gilad Shalit is a soldier held prisoner in Gaza for two years. His captors have not allowed visits by international organizations, but there is a high probability that he is alive. Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were captured in an incident that provoked the 2006 war in Lebanon. Their captors have not allowed visits by international organizations or confirmed their well being. It is widely thought that they died of wounds suffered during their capture, or since then.

All three soldiers, their families, and ranking policymakers are currently in the headlines, competing for attention with the prospect of attacking Iran.

The parents of Shalit have initiated a suit in the Supreme Court against the possibility that Israel will allow the opening of Gaza's borders without obtaining their son's release. They assert that the decision to go ahead with a cease fire not tied to the soldier's release violates a government decision that his release would be part of any agreement with Hamas.

Is this asking a judicial body to interfere in decisions properly reserved to political entities? Is the action fair within the primary concern of a family to look after itself, no matter what the implications for the public? Should the fate of one soldier endanger a cease fire with implications for thousands of Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza?

Some Israelis are willing to pay the price for Shalit demanded by Hamas: the release of 450 prisoners, including many who would add to Hamas' arsenal of committed fighters.

Others are saying the price is too high, and will encourage Palestinian extremists. Better to delay the return of one Israeli soldier, even if it endangers his life.

The case of Goldwasser and Regev is no less vexing. Hizbollah demands the return of a Lebanese kept in Israeli prison due to an especially gruesome killing of civilians in 1979, as well as several Lebanese fighters captured in 2006, and the bodies of several other fighters.

The mother of Ehud Goldwasser is sure that he is alive. She demands that the government pay the price of his return. Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, married shortly before his capture, has become a prominent and attractive media figure since his capture. She has appeared in Israeli and overseas settings demanding information about his condition and his release, all the while earning a engineering masters degree with honors at the Technion. She is an impressive woman, and arguably the key figure in the drama. Without proof that her husband is dead that will satisfy the Rabbinate, she must live in the limbo of an agunah, a woman who may be a widow but cannot remarry.

Few Israelis object to trading dead bodies for dead bodies. Many are willing to pay the price demanded for Goldwasser and Regev if the soldiers are alive, or if it will release Karnit Goldwasser from her difficult status. Some members of the government are not willing to go ahead with the agreement without confirmation of the soldiers' well-being. All signs are that Hizbollah is not willing to provide that information without the return of the Lebanese held by Israel.

Army policy is to thwart the capture of its soldiers. This is part of a larger policy that soldiers are trained to fight aggressively in order to achieve their objectives, and to avoid the protracted and difficult problems of having to free captors. Like other things that the army does, it involves teaching nice Jewish children to do ugly things.

It is not army policy to kill its own soldiers who have been captured. It is my understanding of army policy, however, to direct deadly fire at any group of enemy fighters that may be in the process of capturing an Israeli.

It is easier to argue about salt and pepper shakers.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:35 PM
June 19, 2008
Jewish wars

Even before we have settled our problems with the neighbors, we are causing trouble for ourselves.

Almost 2,000 years ago Josephus wrote The Jewish Wars, in which he described wars against the Jews and wars among the Jews. Fighting among internal enemies helped the external enemies to wreck havoc among all of God's Chosen, and to destroy His Temple.

One front in the current war among the Jews deals with the efforts of a Rabbinical Court to invalidate all the conversions linked to a program run by the well known Orthodox Rabbi, Chaim Druckman. Acting with the authority of the Israeli Rabbinate, Rabbi Druckman has sought to facilitate the conversion of those among recent immigrants (mostly from the former Soviet Union) who wish to change their status of not being Jewish according to religious law (halacha).

Somewhere in religious law is an expectation that a convert will live subsequently according to religious law. Those of us born Jews can eat pork three times a day; work, light fires, and ride on the Sabbath; and proclaim that we are atheists. We will not lose our status as Jews. Not so a convert, according to some rabbis. On the basis of finding a convert who was not living according to what they viewed as a religious life, members of a court are making an effort to challenge all the conversions overseen by Rabbi Druckman.

The issue has simmered for some time without a resolution. Rabbi Druckman is not without influence and allies, some of whom occupy distinguished positions and are threatening to resign if their opponents do not back down. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/126432

Another issue concerns the Conservative Movement.

It is broadcasting commercials on the most popular radio station calling Jews who are planning their wedding to do it with a Conservative Rabbi. The promise is that the service will be kosher according to religious law, as well as being open to modern innovation and without the strictures demanded by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Those interested may obtain details via telephone, or www.masorti.org.il.

It took me a few minutes to confirm the false advertizing I was suspecting. Those interested in checking the details may have to don a pair of magic spectacles. There is no English language button on the Conservative Movement's Israeli web site. Or you can trust me that the wedding promised would not be kosher according to Israeli rules.

A loving couple could arrange the ceremony with a male or female Conservative rabbi, and invite male or female friends as official witnesses. None of that would pass muster with the Israeli Rabbinate. Guests could be well fed and entertained, but the couple would have to marry again in order to make their union official.

The web site advises a couple to marry according to a civil ceremony in another country, and to register that marriage with the Israeli Interior Ministry.

It might also work to marry in a small office ceremony arranged by the Israeli Rabbinate, and then do the Conservative ceremony with a crowd of guests and a festive meal. That should also work, but I would not mention to the Rabbinate that there was a plan to marry again according to a Conservative ritual. Perhaps the people running the Conservative Movement web site are not advising this option in order to keep people away from Orthodox rabbis. It is possible to find an Orthodox rabbi who is flexible with respect to details of the ceremony, and who does not make a couple feel that it is subject to a cold, archaic, and sexist ritual.

The web site of the Conservative Movement also claims that there is a growing chance, in the not-too-distant future, that the Israeli Knesset will legalize weddings performed by Conservative rabbis.

I would not bet on that. There are always 20 or so Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset opposed to non-Orthodox weddings. One or more religious party is likely to be part of the current governing coalition, and all are likely to be wooed after an election by potential prime ministers interested in forming parliamentary majorities.

Religious politicians may start proclaiming against the Conservative Movement's advertisements, and open a new front in the wars among the Jews. Or Orthodox politicians may feel secure enough in their capacity to keep non-Orthodox wedding ceremonies non-legal and off the public agenda. Often they prefer to ignore non-Orthodox Jewish movements. Occasionally an Orthodox rabbi will say that Conservative and Reform Movements are not Jewish, and therefore none of their business.

As a secular Jew I have no stake in any of these fights.

However, I would like the Rabbinate to make a reasonable effort to help non-Jews who want to convert, without provoking battles among senior rabbis along the way.

I also have a concern for honesty in advertizing. I am inclined to accept exaggeration in claims for soap, toothpaste, or automobiles. It is another matter for religious groups to be less than candid about what they are promoting.

There is a bit of work for Conservative Jews to make sure that all is kosher in their corner of the Promised Land.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:42 AM
June 17, 2008
A lousy agreement

One definition of a good agreement is that no partner really likes it.

That pretty much sums up how Israel and Hamas are viewing the terms of a cease fire for Gaza.

It does not give either partner what they had described as non-negotiable demands.

Voices on all sides are saying that the principle of a Hamas-Israeli agreement is intolerable, and that the details are lousy.

Hamas spokesmen do not expect Israel to honor the agreement.

For Israelis, the agreement depends on Hamas controlling rivals for the leadership of Islamic radicalism, who may wish to provoke Israel with a rocket or two, and on Egypt to limit the inflow of arms to Hamas.

Members of Israel's military and political elite say that the agreement is fragile, and is not likely to last beyond a few days. Some describe it is a sell-out; an agreement with arch-terrorists that will prevent Israel from insisting that other governments not deal with Hamas. We hear that it is the product of a prime minister who will do anything to keep his job, and a defense minister who will do anything to advance his chances to become prime minister.

The agreement does not keep Israel from continuing its campaign against their Hamas' allies in the West Bank.

It does not assure the freeing of the Israeli soldier. It is not expected to cut the flow of arms to Hamas via Egypt, or to limit the capacity of Hamas to improve its political and military capacity to deal more forcefully with Israel in the future.

The several partners to the agreement (Israel, Hamas, other Islamic movements, and Egypt), are purveying different interpretations of what is agreed, and what will remain for further negotiations. None of this adds to optimism.

Those of you who think Hamas has won can volunteer to clean up the rubble in Gaza.

Be warned, however, that such altruism might provide quicker rewards in the world to come than in this world. Visitors might find themselves caught in the squabbles between Hamas and its rivals, or facing the onslaught of Israeli tanks and aircraft.

Israel has killed more than 500 Palestinians since the Annapolis meeting in November, and the number of prisoners in Israeli hands is somewhere in the range of 12,000.

Those numbers, and the meager flow of supplies let into Gaza, may explain why Hamas has agreed.

Israel's reasons are more complex: to give the people living near Gaza a respite from the mortars and rockets; to give Egypt a chance as a mediator; to strengthen support within Israel and elsewhere for the military campaign that may come.

No one that I have heard is saying that the agreement is a first step toward peace.

I recall one cease fire that lasted from 6 AM to 11 AM of the same day. We will see if this does better.

Among the possibilities:

If it fails, it will unite Israel in a campaign to move more forcefully against Hamas.
In that event, we can count on both Israel and Hamas to blame the other. The Israeli and international left will find support for its view that Israel does not depart from the policy of conquest. Others will find support for their view that agreements with Arabs are not worth the value of their paper.
Whether the agreement fails, or stumbles on imperfectly, I will find support for my view that there is no solution to Israel's basic problem. It has to cope from one crisis to another. The point is not to make things worse. Heroic actions are seldom successful. Doubters should considered Iraq.
The goal is to maintain and improve Israel's standing among the civilized, and to enjoy decent relations with them.

So far, so good. The European Community has upgraded Israel's status among non-members; candidates for the American presidency are competing with good words about their friendship; life is more than tolerable.

Not everybody loves us, but we have known that for a long time.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:46 PM
June 14, 2008
Timetable for war

Reasons for delaying a major attack on Gaza are well known. They include the cost in Israeli casualties, compared to what Israelis currently suffer; the likelihood of international condemnation; and the temporary and partial relief that such an attack is likely to produce.

Now there is another factor. Egypt is trying to mediate a cease fire between Israel and Gaza, and Israel wants to give the Egyptians sufficient time to probe the prospects. Perhaps they will come to see the impossibility of dealing with Hamas, and thus add to the international credibility of Israeli actions when it does attack.

The issue of relative costs is complicated. Tension on the people living alongside Gaza is a real problem. They deserve better. But one recent day illustrates the arithmetic. There were more than 50 rockets and mortars fired toward Israel. The sole physical injury was a woman injured by shrapnel. The hospital defined her condition as from light to moderate. There was property damage, less than due to a Midwestern tornado. On the same day, 14 Palestinians died and many more were injured.

The people of Gaza are not eating as well as they were. Supplies of petroleum are limited, and causing more of them to walk, or ride donkey carts rather than spend a couple of days in line at a gas station. Electricity is available, but not always.

In short, Israel is putting significant pressure on Gaza without a major invasion. It may be a cost-effective way of dealing with Palestinian aggression.

There is also a bit of party politics in the calculations of those Israelis making decisions.

A prominent opponent of a major assault is Ehud Barak. He is head of the Labor Party, Defense Minister, former Prime Minister and former chief of the IDF general staff. Why does he oppose? See the above. Plus he may want to firm up his party's reputation as being accommodationist with respect to the Palestinians. He wants to give maximum chance to prospects of a cease fire.

Accommodation may not be a good move for the party. Many Israelis want to deal forcefully with Hamas. The Labor Party's posture in favor of accommodation, plus occasional expressions in favor of socialism, has seen its fortunes fall from 44 Knesset seats in 1992 to 19 today.

Barak may also not want to invade while Ehud Olmert is the prime minister. A major operation could boost Olmert's flagging reputation, less than 20 percent approval according to recent polls.

It is not clear how much Olmert wants to attack. His hasty decision to invade Lebanon in 2006 is one of the things that got him into trouble. Also, the Kadima Party foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, usually says positive things about Condoleezza Rice's peace efforts. She may not want to spoil those prospects with a military campaign.

The right wing opposition is all in favor of an invasion. Bibi Netanyahu, head of Likud, is one of the loudest voices. Currently he is leading 12 seats in the Knesset, down from 32 in 1992 and 38 in 2003. He is hoping for bigger things in the election that several parties say they want.

Leading members of the new party, Kadima, came from Likud and Labor. Kadima soaked up many of the seats previously held by those parties, but its fortunes depend on what happens to Olmert. He has agreed, with some qualifications, to his party getting ready for an election by organizing primaries. He has not said if he will be a candidate.

For all major decisions, including perhaps an invasion of Gaza, Olmert is waiting on the cross-examination of the witness who testified to some activities that look like deception, violation of duties, and perhaps money laundering, tax evasion, and acceptance of bribes. That witness seems flakey, and sometimes worse. He may fall apart in a cross examination.

If that happens, the electoral calculations of Kadima, Labor, and Likud may go back to where they were some time ago.

There is no reliable way of concluding what is the importance of each of the elements causing a delay with respect to a major operation in Gaza. Virtually everyone is saying that it is inevitable. Virtually no one is saying what form it will take, or that it will happen soon.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:30 AM
June 09, 2008
A circus run by the clowns

Remember Yassir Arafat?

Until he was confined to a heavily damaged headquarters by the Israeli army, he traveled the world. He consulted with the Saudi king, with the princes of the Gulf Emirates, with Saddam Hussein and other Arab presidents, with European heads of state, and whoever was supposed to be in charge of the United Nations. News about those meetings dealt with one or another option the Palestinian leader was exploring at the time, and his pursuit of financial aid.

In the final analysis those trips did not seem to help the Palestinians or Arafat. When he died, his successors had to clean a few square meters of rubble from the courtyard of his headquarters in order to bury him.

Guess what Mahmoud Abbas is doing?

Currently he is traveling to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, talking about the prospects of making peace with Israel, and making peace between his party, Fatah, and with the people of Hamas who are in control of Gaza. Yemen has its own active civil war, but it has put on the table a scheme for bringing peace between Hamas and Fatah. Another proposal is for the two parties to sit together under the auspices of the Arab League, and sort out their difficulties there.

Abbas also talks to Condoleezza Rice when she visits the region, and enjoys invitations to consult with George W. Bush in the White House. In this respect, he still has more respect than Yassir Arafat in his final days.

Meanwhile, the Palestine National Authority is saying that it cannot pay its bureaucrats this month. It is Israel's fault, insofar as Israel has not transferred the moneys it collects as import duties on goods destined for Palestine. Surely this is one of the items on Abbas' agenda when he meets with the heads of all those governments, and talks with others on the telephone.

Israel's position about this flap is that as long as the Palestinian prime minister lobbies against Israel's admission to the international economic group, OECD, his government may have to do without the money expected from Israel.

I have a feeling that I am living alongside a circus, being managed by its clowns.

Israel is not a paragon of virtue or good management. The prime minister has been living for years with occasional visits from the police concerned about his financial dealings. The case currently in the headlines may be the most serious yet, and is troubling the attorney general who has to decide on the next steps toward a possible indictment.

The same attorney general has not finished with the convoluted allegations against the former president, including sexual harassment and rape.

But in contrast to the Palestinians, we have a functioning administration that collects taxes, and allocates funds to competent people who operate the public services. Israel's health and higher education programs are arguably better than those which serve the average American. Palestinians have not much of either, or anything else.

Israel has an army that can do a lot of damage in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere, but waits on the government to give it orders. Its soldiers are trained to avoid civilian casualties. When Hamas sent thousands of people toward the border with Israel, the officers of the Israeli army had to prepare their troops so that on this occasion they might have to fire on civilians.

Rather than street trials and instant executions, or prisons with open doors that we hear about in Palestine, the attorney general, police, and courts of Israel are professional, and dealing with the detritus in our public sector. A former finance minister has been indicted and is waiting for the onset of his trial. A former health minister has been found guilty, sentenced, and is waiting for the court to hear his appeal.

We are not perfect, but we are not clowns.

I will leave it to my American friends to comment on their political leaders, and the people they are dealing with who are in nominal charge of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:50 AM
June 07, 2008
The way we live

Hamas is now claiming responsibility for nine attacks that killed 26 Israelis from 2002 to 2005. http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/06/07/africa/ME-GEN-Israel-Hamas-Attacks.php

Hamas says that it has kept quiet about its role in these attacks until now "for security reasons." Other organizations claimed responsibility for the attacks at the time. Occasionally several groups boast about the same deed, and it may not be clear who really participated.

What can we learn from this latest revelation?

That an organization that engaged in suicide bombings has a wish for suicide.

Other indications come from each of the homemade rockets, mortar shells and katusha missiles imported from Iran through the sieve-like Egyptian control of Gaza's southern border that Hamas is firing toward Israel.

Residents of Sderot, Ashkelon, and other places that have felt the damage and death, have been mounting as much pressure as they can on the government to "do something." Leading politicians are saying that the army has prepared for an onslaught, and that the "go signal" from the politicians is coming closer every day.

The same politicians have been saying the same thing for months. They repeat themselves every time the Palestinians get lucky and kill someone with their missiles.

We also hear is that Israeli politicians have been trying via Egypt to reach a cease fire with Hamas. Hamas has rejected Israeli conditions, and increased its rate of fire.

It is not that Israel is doing nothing. There are troops in Gaza almost every day. They and the air force are killing more Palestinians than the Palestinians are killing Israelis. Israel is maintaining a land and sea blockade on Gaza. It lets in enough food and fuel to keep the people alive, but not much more. It lets some people out of Gaza for specialized medical care, and is saying it will let out some of the young people who have won scholarships to study in the west.

None of that lessens the pressure on the people of Sderot, Ashkelon, or the other settlements near Gaza.

Reports are that Israel offered to conquer Gaza and turn it over for management to the Palestinian authorities of the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer. He has begun peace talks with Hamas along with his peace talks with Israel. Not so long ago Israel said that it would not continue its peace talks with the Palestinians of the West Bank if they cozied up to the terrorists of Hamas. Nonetheless, those talks continue. There is even a report that Israel and the Palestinians are close to a draft of a peace agreement.

Opposition politicians say that Ehud Olmert is trying to save his political career by reckless concessions to the Palestinians.

There are arguments against a major assault against Gaza. Many more Israelis die in traffic accidents than are killed by the Palestinian rockets. More Israeli soldiers are likely to die in any extensive assault than all the civilians who have died because of rockets in seven years.

On the other hand, continued attacks against civilian centers are intolerable. A government and army are not worth much that does not protect its civilians from threats like those.

Sooner or later, it is likely that Israel will provide Hamas with the suicide that it wishes. The humanitarians of the world, led by the United Nations Secretariat and other organizations will cry foul. European and American politicians will demand restraint, and increase their pressure to stop after a week or two.

Even if Israel kills hundreds of militants associated with Hamas and other organizations that operate from Gaza, as well as numerous civilians who get in the way, it will not solve Israel's problems once and for all times. Those rockets are cheap to make, easy to carry and fire. In all probability, they will continue to fly toward Israeli civilians even while the IDF is killing Palestinians in Gaza.

That is our life. Friday evening we marked the onset of Shabbat with a great meal, and conversation about charges of corruption against the prime minister, an impending war in Gaza, and the prospect of nuclear weapons in Iran. There were also a few words about the American presidential campaign. With topics like those on the table, no one talked about the food.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:05 AM
June 04, 2008
Obama and others

While we are waiting for what may be the final chapters in the political career of Ehud Olmert, it is appropriate to spend a few moments on American politics.

Barak Obama appears to be the Democratic nominee. His status relies on superdelegates, but I hear no one saying that Hillary Clinton or her people will press some of them to change their mind for the good of the party.

What is good for Israel? I do not assert that this is the appropriate question for Americans, but it is the question that will guide me for the next few words.

I hope we are beyond the idiotic Obama bashing. Barak Obama is not a Muslim despite his father's heritage or his own middle name. He did not swear allegiance to the United States on the Koran upon entering the Senate, and there is no evidence that he had a Muslim education.

There remains a problem with his affiliation with a minister who should be consigned to the ghetto in hell reserved for anti-Semites. Obama renounced the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but I hold it against him for not doing it several years earlier.

Obama spoke, along with others, at a convention of the pro-Israel interest group, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). I heard parts of a speech that could have been delivered, in Hebrew, at a convention of Likud in Israel. Strong words against terror and Hamas; Israel as a Jewish state; an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The only sentiments missing were support for expanding Jewish settlements, a commitment to Greater Israel, and both sides of the Jordan. The last two of those have also been absent at recent Likud conventions.

Response from the Palestinian leadership is far from happy.

The speech, delivered with typical Obama clarity and excitement, leaves me wondering about earlier comments when he said that he could support Israel without signing on to the program of Likud. There is also something of a clash between his overall theme of change, and leaving things as they are on the Israel-Palestine front.

Having heard about politics since the presidential election of 1944, I have learned not to accept every word of every politician at face value. The setting influences the content of a speech. Sooner or later there will be a speech for Arab-Americans. Nonetheless, it is difficult not to be impressed with Obama's position. Were I voting in the United States, I am not sure that I would vote for him, but the reasons go beyond his statements on Israel, per se.

Per se is important, because Obama's posture on Iraq is relevant to Israel. I have never been enthusiastic about America's wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I would be even less enthusiastic about the quick exit that Obama is advocating, and which is likely to be the darling of a Democratic Congress. What I see in an Iraq that is largely and quickly free of American troops is first, a great slaughter pursued by nothing like the rules of war recognized by civilized countries; and secondly, a threat that is likely to touch other countries in the Middle East.

I must admit, further, to be worried about a Democratic Congress, along with a Democratic president, putting pressure on Israel to be accommodating with the Palestinians, while not much pressure on the Palestinians to be accommodating with Israel.

I would like John McCain to be a few years younger and a bit healthier, but you have to take what you get in politics, and weigh the alternatives. Congress cannot make foreign policy alone, and the likelihood of a Democratic Congress adds to McCain's appeal.

Just yesterday I received the following e-mail from an internet correspondent, who seems to be looking under the rocks for his ideas.

"Those who subscribe to the conspiracy theory of government sometimes say that Johnson positioned himself as VP anticipating that JFK would not live out his full term.

Do you suppose that the conspiracy theorists might say the same about Hillary?"

I wish good health and long life to both of the major party candidates, and to their running mates.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:08 PM
June 01, 2008
A ticking clock

There is a clock ticking, and it does not sound like joyous music for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Politicians close to him for many years are saying that the Cabinet cannot deal with crucial issues when the prime minister is concerned with his personal fate. Members of his own Kadima party are talking openly about an early election, and the need to organize primaries to select the party leader. The implication is that it will be a new leader. There are four prominent candidates. Polls show a considerable lead for the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and not much support for Ehud Olmert.

I have not heard one commentator indicate that Olmert is likely to survive the police investigations and the political commotions associated with them.

We have not heard him talk about his political future since a public speech when he denied any wrong doing about two weeks ago. In the last few days he has indicated his agreement to a party primary, but asks that the setting of a date be postponed until his lawyers can cross examine Morris Talansky. Talansky is the American fund raiser who testified last week. Olmert's lawyers said that Talansky's testimony was full of holes, but it has traction as shown by the comments of politicians from all parties, and preparations for a primary in Kadima. Other witnesses are available if Olmert comes to trial. Reports coming out of police inquiries are that one of Olmert's long-time aides has turned against him, with information even more damaging than supplied by Talansky.

Senior officials in the Finance Ministry report that the prime minister has cancelled discussions about the details of next year's budget. They attribute this to Olmert's preoccupation with his personal troubles, and are saying that it will delay the enactment of the budget beyond the timetable legally mandated.

If there is no new budget, it will not stop the government, but it will keep it to current spending levels.

Interest groups want what is promised to them.

The committee of university presidents has said that they cannot open the next academic year without the increased allocations they are expecting. The national association of students is reminding us about agreements concerning tuition and other items important to them.

It will not take long to hear from the unions of primary and secondary school teachers, and all the organizations that have been told that they will get more money for health. There are some very sick people who think they will get better only if the HMOs can implement the additions to the list of medicines that are available at heavily subsidized prices.

The prime minister is scheduled to visit Washington in the next few days. On the schedule, so far, is a meeting with President Bush. If there is a joint press conference, it may sound like the quacking of two lame ducks. If there is no joint press conference, it may be because one or both of them cannot limp to the microphone.

The story is not over. Olmert may slip out of this scandal like he has escaped others, but I would not bet on it.

If he leaves office, many will applaud the rule of law. Some will see a tragedy in a skilled politician who did not get things quite right.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:54 AM