July 30, 2008
No peace, but no war

Not much seems to be happening behind the curtain drawn around the peace talks between Israel and Palestine (West Bank).

Prime Minister Olmert has said that no agreement on Jerusalem is likely before the end of the year. This brought a comment from a senior Palestinian that there would be no agreement that did not provide for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. It also brought a statement from the White House urging greater effort in order to reach an accord.

In what sounds like desperation, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team proclaimed

If the situation does not progress toward putting an end to the construction in the settlements and toward a serious and continuous negotiations, we must undertake steps similar to that in Kosovo and unilaterally declare independence.

This is not the first time the Palestinians have talked about a unilateral declaration of independence. The Palestine Liberation Organization actually produced one in 1988, at a meeting of its "National Council" in Algiers. Nobody important on this side of the Mediterranean did anything in response.

President Mahmoud Abbas has shown some nervousness in the face of more substantial diplomatic action on the Israeli-Gaza front. A cease fire agreed via Egyptian intermediaries is holding, and there are further discussions about trading Israeli prisoners for Gilad Shalit. Hamas, in charge of Gaza, is demanding the release of Hamas ministers in the Palestinian National Authority being held in Israeli prisons. Abbas has threatened to dismantle the whole Palestinian National Authority if Israel takes such a step.

So much for the unity of Palestine.

Israeli politicians are doing what they can to cool the prospects of any agreements. Knesset members of several parties have said that Prime Minister Olmert lacks the authority to decide anything important. Expectations are that his career will end with the primary called by his Kadima party to select a new leadership in September. Nothing is sure, but it appears that the Israeli political crises outweighs everything else.

We hear positive things about Israeli-Syrian negotiations via intermediaries of Turkey. Here, too, nothing is likely to happen before Israelis are more certain about their prime minister.

Numerous commentators from the military and political sectors have been worrying about military preparations of Hizbollah in the north, and Hamas in the south.

No one should discount potential threats, but it is possible to perceive more positive prospects.

In both cases, there may be some benefits for Israel due to Arabs with power.

Hizbollah does not rule Lebanon, but it is a major factor in a country that no one else rules. Hamas controls Gaza. In the West Bank, about the only thing Abbas can do is find his way to Jerusalem for yet another meeting with hugs and handshakes. Israeli security forces are doing the heavy lifting in the West Bank. Nightly incursions occasionally produce Palestinian casualties, as well as more inmates for Israel's security prisons.

Israel has learned from 35 years experience that a strong government in Syria can provide quiet on the northeastern border, even without a peace treaty. Perhaps the same can result from the strong authorities of Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Both Hizbollah and Hamas have recent experience with the power of Israel. The Lebanese suffered some 1,200 deaths and a great deal of property damage in a month of fighting during 2006. Hamas and its allies in Gaza suffered more than 500 deaths at about the same time. There were several hundred more until the recent cease fire, and there remains substantial Israeli control of the fuel, food, and other supplies that reach Gaza.

The situations in the north and south are far from ideal. Neither Hamas or Hizbollah can offer the assurances of a state. Problematic agreements may unravel at any moment. We would prefer both organizations to control their borders out of love for Israel. Lacking that, we will settle for control out of fear.

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 01:07 AM
July 23, 2008
A president and prime minister who should not have been

Israel chose for itself a president and a prime minister who should not have held those offices.

Both are tangled in criminal investigations that seem endless. Aside from resulting in their ouster from office (not yet accomplished in the case of the prime minister), neither process may produce significant punishment.

The case against the former president, Moshe Katsav, is beginning to smell from age. The police and prosecutors have been working on it for two years. It began when Katsav shot himself in the foot by complaining to the attorney general that an employee was trying to blackmail him. Since then two employees claim to have been raped, and there are countless tales of sexual harassment. The prosecutor dithered about the charges that would stand up in court. The woman making the most serious charges seemed likely to be a poor witness. The prosecutor and president agreed to a plea bargain that would entail a resignation, relatively minor charges, and no jail time. The president suspended himself from office and then resigned a short time before his term was to end. The plea bargain fell apart in the face of demands reaching the supreme court that trial courts be able to consider the most serious charges, and Katsav's insistence that he had done nothing wrong. Occasionally he has denied having sex with any of those women.

The prosecutors are again considering what charges to bring.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been the subject of criticism from the State Comptroller, and investigations by the police and prosecutors as he climbed through minor and major public offices since the early 1990s. Currently there are six or more investigations, mostly about actions alleged to have occurred before he became prime minister. The number of inquiries depends on how one separates or joins actions that overlap even while they refer to distinct issues and participants.

For the better part of a week, we have been entertained by the testimony of Morris Talansky concerned with the transfers of large amounts of cash. Occasionally the media labels him "Uncle Moish," reflecting an appealing personality who sang a political ditty in court, and approached the attorney who was the leader of a prolonged attack against him in order to express a lack of hard feelings. We have seen a film that Olmert made in celebration of Talansky's 70th birthday. It is a testimony of great praise that Talansky used in promoting his business interests.

The same man is "Mr Talansky" when described as a political and business operator who worked for himself while working for others. He evaded, or did not recall, when pressed by questions that seemed likely to produce criminal charges against him in the United States and/or Israel.

The conventional wisdom is that Olmert's political career is all but over. So far there have been no clear signs of serious bribery or other crimes likely to produce a long prison term. A generous view is that he is guilty of what George Washington Plunkitt called honest graft. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Plunkitt

Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've

made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but

I've not gone in for dishonest graft--blackmailin' gamblers,

saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc . . .

There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might

sum up the whole thing by sayin': 'I seen my opportunities and I took 'em'.

How did Katsav and Olmert get as far as they did? Do their careers signal anything basically corrupt about Israeli society or politics?

Both had long careers in the Knesset. Katsav languished in lower and middle ranking ministerial positions until he appeared as Likud's candidate for the presidency against Shimon Peres in 2000. Insiders claim that Katsav's sexual appetites were well known among government secretaries and members of Knesset, but the mood was "anybody but Peres." One Knesset member reports that several of his colleagues hoped that the presidency would reform Katsav.

His public face was that of a non-controversial president, who expressed himself correctly, until that fateful complaint to the attorney general.

Olmert climbed higher in ministerial positions than Katsav. He eventually won the big prize when Ariel Sharon suffered the stroke that ended his career. Shortly before the election that confirmed Olmert as prime minister, the lead article in Ha'aretz weekend magazine, spread over 12 pages, was headlined, 'Prime Minister of Lack of Evidence'. It detailed numerous cases where he was accused and investigated, but ended with no charges brought, the case closed, or dismissed for lack of proof.

Since then, Olmert has also survived widespread public criticism, as well as a damning official report, about his performance in the war labeled Lebanon II. Talansky's testimony, for all of its quirks, may be enough--along with other information recently exposed--to produce criminal charges and end his career.

The Promised Land is not paradise, and its public servants are not angels. We can quarrel as to whether Katsav and Olmert have been more or less immoral than John F. Kennedy or Richard M. Nixon, more or less foolish as policymakers than George W. Bush.

We always hope for better. Often we select the least undesirable of competing candidates. We are not shy in criticism. The judicial process is slowed by procedures that assure protections to the accused. It also suffers from an overload due to a surplus of characters who do not qualify as angels.

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 08:46 PM
July 21, 2008
Lebanese lessons for Iraq and Afghanistan

Barak Obama and John McCain are trapped by recent events to express themselves on Iraq and Afghanistan.

We should not expect complete honesty from candidates. Humility can add to their stature among those who will read history years later. It may not help with the voters in November.

An unpleasant Israeli episode is relevant.

For several years leading up to the 1982 war, security and political figures developed what they thought were close working relations with counterparts among the Lebanese Christians. The background was Palestinian attacks against Israel from Lebanon, and the aggressiveness of armed Palestinians in the weak fabric of Lebanon.

Ariel Sharon was Defense Minister, with a long background in the military. When the invasion of Lebanon came in response to a Palestinian attack on the Israeli ambassador in London, Sharon thought he had a deal for Israeli and Christian cooperation against their mutual enemy.

The Christians sat on their hands until the Israelis were occupying Beirut. Then they sent their fighters into the Palestinian neighborhoods of Sabra and Shatilla, and massacred old men, women and children. This was not to help the Israelis, but to take revenge in the style of Lebanon for the killing of Bashir Gemayel, the Christian president-elect of Lebanon.

Largely as a result of this, 400,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the government; Sharon lost his position as Defense Minister; and the Israeli military began a withdrawal after achieving only part of its mission.

What is the point?

Israeli figures with substantial backgrounds found themselves suckered by people they thought they knew well.

My own sense of being close to Lebanon comes from the day I was called to a brief stint of reserve duty. I ate an early breakfast in Jerusalem, drove to the border, crossed over in a military vehicle, did my job, had lunch, returned to the border and reached home in time for a late dinner.

Can we hope that Obama, McCain, and their many advisers will do better on the other side of the world than Israelis who thought they had the cooperation of neighbors?

I am pretty sure that Americans and Canadians understand one another. Also Americans and Western Europeans. Often they disagree about their national interests, but they are likely to understand one another.

Americans and Mexicans? Less so.

Americans, Iraqis and Afghans?

If I had a scheme for American action in Iraq or Afghanistan, it would come here.

What I read is the arrogance of people who call themselves experts.

A New York Times article about Obama's visit to Afghanistan noted that he met with a provincial governor with a "brutal past . . . (who) nevertheless (is) favored by the United States as someone who can get things done." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/20/us/politics/20cnd-obama.html?pagewanted=2&sq=obama%20afghanistan&st=cse&scp=3

This figure may deserve the praise of Americans "for his tough action against poppy cultivation and official corruption," or he may have hoodwinked the foreigners. It is not easy to acquire the power of a war lord and regional leader without being involved in the principal national ventures of poppy growing and smuggling. The International Monetary Fund estimates that opium amounts to one-third of the national economy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Afghanistan Production reached record levels in 2007-08 despite programs of aid and eradication. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2008/cr08229.pdf

Obama is selling norms of openness and morality as part of his campaign in the United States. They have limited relevance for his aspiration of making policy about Afghanistan.

Part of the Israel lesson in Lebanon were the problems in learning the social map. Groups of Christians, Muslims, and Druze could be allies one day and fighting the next. Family is more important than political slogans, religion, or agreements. It is important to know who is related to who, and the history of bloody feuds that can return in a moment to end what seems to be an alliance.

Iraq and Afghanistan are also tribal societies, where national development is not what is described for Europe and North America in the textbooks of political science.

Neither of the American candidates can undo the most recent seven years. 9-11 really happened, along with the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Victory is not likely in either of those countries. A presidential campaign is made for heroic promises rather than honest concessions about the limits of power.

Those of us who remember Vietnam know that a country that aspires to world leadership can leave a situation it helped to create, and overlook whatever occurs. The Americans hurt the Taliban badly, but did not defeat them. If they return to power, it will not be pretty. And without the Americans in Iraq, the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites are unlikely to live alongside one another peacefully.

Israeli leaders have become more modest in their plans for what should be done with respect to neighbors and enemies. There was no prolonged occupation of Lebanon in 2006, and there is great reluctance to invade Gaza. There is no occupation of the West Bank, but small unit incursions and departures.

The threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranians who have spoken about Israel's destruction may produce something more dramatic. Those who relish dismal realism should read a scenario by an Israeli academic that includes escalation to the use of nuclear weapons. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/18/opinion/18morris.html?sq=Benny%20Morris&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=all

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 05:05 AM
July 17, 2008
It's terrible, but

I doubt that there are many Israelis who admire Ehud Olmert. We have heard about his desires for first class travel, opulent hotels, expensive fountain pens and cigars. From the six or so police investigations underway are other stories about the receipt of money-filled envelopes, sweetheart deals for private residences, multiple billing for travel, and doubtful actions for friends and supporters while occupying key posts in a long career.

Public opinion polls find him with about the same level of support in this country as George W. Bush has in his country.

There are no active indictments, and it may take a while for a cumbersome justice process to work its way. Rights of the accused are well entrenched in Jewish laws of ancient lineage, as well as the procedures of a politically correct modern state. Israel has enough good attorneys to mount impressive lines of defense for a prime minister accused of numerous kinds of impropriety, as well as equally good attorneys kept busy with the file of a former president renowned for his sexual appetites.

Moshe Katsav is no longer the president. His case drags along without public damage except for another flush of embarrassment whenever it returns to the headlines. Treasury officials recently ruled against his requests for office space in a pricey tower and a new luxury car. Former presidents are due a long list of benefits, but this is a special former president.

The issue of the prime minister is something else. He is still in office, and the most important figure in a government that deals with national defense as well as economic and social policy.

If the legal process is not ready to oust Olmert, what is the problem with his colleagues in the Kadima Party and other members of the Knesset?

The rules do not make it easy to dispatch a prime minister. An absolute majority of Knesset must agree not only to oust a prime minister, but to agree on a replacement.

Ehud Olmert did not get where he is without considerable skill. Religious and Arab parties have gotten some of what they want, and have not cooperated with anti-Olmert proposals.

The Kadima Party is committed to holding a primary to select a leader in September. Olmert has not yet agreed not to run, or to relinquish his post as prime minister if his party chooses another leader. The two leading competitors for party leadership (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz) and two also-running (Domestic Security Minister Abraham Dicter and Interior Minister Meir Shitrit) are doing what they can to mobilize supporters, but have refrained from attacking Olmert in strong frontal assaults. He is still the prime minister with his hands on numerous levers, including those that can order the dismissal of errant ministers.

So what?

The problems are obvious. The public has shown, at least by opinion polls, that it wants a new prime minister. The suspicion may be well founded that he is so concerned with his personal problems that he is not functioning as a national leader.

However, the evidence of current improprieties is not strong. In recent days Olmert has participated in difficult decisions about Israeli captives held in Lebanon and Gaza. To be sure, there is dispute about his decisions, and with those of other ministers, but he has articulated his views in ways that appear reasonable. There is no indication that he has given away the store in negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians.

We do not know what is being decided about the threat from Iran, or the rearmament of Hizbollah north of us or Hamas south of us (both in contrast to international agreements). These involve the most delicate decisions of going to war, but there is no sign of irresponsibility from the prime minister.

Pending a crisis initiated by some other power that demands an immediate response, there is no reason other than good taste or political morality for pushing the legal or political figures to move faster. Good taste and political morality are important, and they are playing their part in Israeli politics. So far they have not produced mass demonstrations. There has been no end of tongue clucking, but that is not enough.

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 11:56 PM
July 16, 2008
Not a fun day

It was not a fun day on Israeli media. From early morning until late in the evening, all of the major stations carried live the various stages of exchanging bodies and sending back Lebanese prisoners. It culminated with the identification of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and the travel of family members to the army base where they could be alone with the coffins. We also saw the celebrations in Lebanon for the return of their hero, and further declarations of Hizbollah's victory in the 2006 war.

Included in the coverage were interviews with politicians, military personnel, and commentators about the importance of the exchange, the errors made in the negotiations, the high price paid for two bodies, and how the interviewees would have done better if they were in charge.

It was a day to revisit the war that began two years ago, and to look forward to what several of the experts are certain will be further rounds in the conflict. For the families of the soldiers returned, it was a day to end a long period of not knowing for sure their condition, hoping for the best, but hearing that they probably died during, or soon after their capture. It was not until the middle of the morning that the Lebanese produced two coffins, and thus indicated that the soldiers were no longer alive.

In recent months we saw an escalation of the campaign led by the families to pressure the government to reach an agreement for their return, against those who opposed paying Hizbollah's price of Samir Kuntar, responsible for the death of a father, his two children, and two police officers in 1979. Families of the victims were divided. The mother and widow of three victims urged Kuntar's release, while other family members went to court in order to stop his release.

Goldwasser's young wife was prominent in the campaign, and the considerations of the government. They married only a few months before his capture, and her status as a widow was not clearly established. Without evidence of his death, she could not get on with her life. Also in the air were sentiments that soldiers be brought home from war, dead or alive.

We saw the father of Gilad Shalit. He is managing his own campaign to keep pressure on the government with respect to his son, taken into Gaza shortly before the onset of the was in Lebanon. On this occasion, he resisted the efforts of media personnel to interview him, and emphasized his concern to show support for the Goldwasser and Regev families.

While the mood on the Israeli side of the border was somber, there was celebration in Lebanon. Kuntar and four lesser returnees flew to Beirut for a celebration with the president and prime minister, plus thousands of others. Kuntar received congratulations from President Abbas of Palestine. If Abbas' standing in Israel is anywhere above zero, it might fall a bit lower as a result of that move.

Hassan Nasrallah provided the keynote address. It was another occasion for him to declare victory over Israel. Not prominent in the ceremony was an accounting for the damage in Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut and towns in southern Lebanon, and the thousand or so Lebanese who died in the war. The day's transfer involved two Israeli bodies moving south, and almost 200 Lebanese bodies moving north.

Nasrallah came to the celebration under heavy guard. He remained on the platform for a few moments, and then disappeared. His victory speech came on a large television screen, photographed somewhere where he is secure. We do not know if the Israeli government has marked him for liquidation. It does not announce such things. The man credited with planning the capture of the two soldiers, and several other actions went to his paradise via an explosion in Damascus earlier this year. Israel did not claim credit.

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 11:32 AM
July 12, 2008
National leaders

Ehud Olmert's problems have deepened, with accusations that he doubled-, tripled-, and quadrupled-billed for his overseas trips while Mayor of Jerusalem and Minister of Trade and Commerce. His lawyers and supporters assert that the violations are technical, the fault of bureaucrats, and trivial. Countering this are claims that Olmert's profits exceed US $100,000, that he managed the techniques employed, and used the money for family travel.

We hear competing reports of a government that is not functioning alongside claims of business as usual. Some prophets predict that the prime minister will resign this month. Others say he will dig in, and take advantage of legal and political realities that make it difficult to carry him off against his will.

The legal and political work involved in all of this may not end quickly. Pending that, it is interesting to consider the personalities who are jostling to become the next prime minister.

The candidates in the Kadima Party are
Tzipi Livni, currently serving as Foreign Minister, and who has served in ranking administrative and political positions for more than two decades that include service as Ministers of Justice, Immigrant Absorption, and Agriculture;
Abraham Dicter, currently Minister of Public Security with responsibility for the police, and formerly the head of the General Security Agency (Shin Bet);
Meir Shitrit, currently Minister of the Interior, who began his political career as a mayor, and has served in numerous ministerial positions including Justice, Transportation, Education, and Finance;
Shaul Mofaz, currently the Minister of Transportation and formerly commanding general of the IDF and then Minister of Defense.

The major candidate in the Labor Party is Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He served as commanding general of the IDF, and then a previous term as Defense Minister, and Prime Minister.

Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is the leading candidate from Likud. His background includes service as Ambassador to the United Nations, Prime Minister, and Finance Minister.

Compare these folks to the candidates running for the American presidency. Neither of the Americans has any major administrative experience, and Obama has yet to serve a full term in a national position.

None of the above assures that Israel's government will function better than the American government. The head of government is only one factor in determining national fortunes. Arguably the national fortune is more important, and the American fortune dwarfs that of tiny Israel. Neighbors are also important. Israelis would be willing to trade the Arabs and Persians for the Canadians and Mexicans.

One can think of the comparative benefits of heroes or managers as national leaders.

No doubt that the public admires heroic promises to solve big problems. Think of the Kennedy and Johnson missions to deal with Communism in Vietnam, and George W. Bush's mission to settle the problems of evil and terror coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Management is dull, and gives up the dream of peace or prosperity without blemish. On the positive side, it is less dangerous than heroism. Managers want to improve things, but "Do not make it worse" is a prime motto.

Israel benefits from the small size of its fortune. Neither current nor potential leaders propose to conquer or reform the enemies. Experience has put the emphasis on limited use of the military, and limited occupation of hostile territory.

Things are far from optimal. Hizbollah has rearmed, and that Hamas is doing what it can to prepare for nasty things. Israel's threats against them may be enough to keep them quiet. Each has learned what the IDF can do.

Iran is another story. If an attack comes, we can hope that it is well managed. There has been a great deal of preparation, and extensive discussions of likely consequences.

Again this is a time to envy the Norwegians. They have both fortune and decent neighbors. As far as I know, heroism has not part of the national character since the Vikings.

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 11:37 PM
July 08, 2008
Rethinking Judaism and Christianity

Another discovery may shed light on the period prior to the birth of Jesus, and add to discussions about Judaism and Christianity. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/world/middleeast/06stone.html?sq=jesus&st=nyt&scp=4&pagewanted=all

What is called "Gabriel's revelation" is a stone tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew writing. It describes a prominent national leader who died and came to life after three days.

A day after an article about the stone appeared in the New York Times, a Hebrew translation of the Times article began on the front page of the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz. That evening two professors from the Hebrew University appeared on a major television news program to discuss its significance.

Analysis of the stone has appeared in a prominent journal serving the professions of archaeology and biblical studies. Experts quarrel about individual words that are blurred, and may be crucial to the interpretation. The provenance of the stone, or its history and authenticity, may yet be subject to dispute.

Given the standing of scholars who have invested their time in the stone, we can at the least speculate about its impact on conceptions of Judaism and Christianity at about the time of Christ.

A prominent conclusion is that an important element in the story of Jesus is not unique. Jewish ideas of that time and earlier also conceived of a messianic figure who would die and come back to life.

Add this to readings of Jesus' preaching that find them similar to ideas expressed by Hebrew prophets for several hundred years. The conclusion is that Jesus did not differ from other individuals circulating in the Jewish community. The Roman occupation was oppressive. It produced not only the rebellion of Jesus as described in the New Testament, but two widespread uprisings of Jews, including one civil war. It is not surprising that the period included messianic figures who were said to produce miracles, and predicted an end to suffering.

The New Testament is not the work of Jesus, but appeared several decades after his death. The claim that he is the messiah, along with reports of his virgin birth and resurrection came from his followers. They worked to elevate his status, and distinguish themselves from the Jewish establishment. Ideas about the corruption of Jewish leaders, their lack of morality, and their inflexible preoccupation with small details of law appear in the New Testament, and made their contribution to anti-Semitic stereotypes promoted by Christian Churches subsequently.

Jesus might have had the standing to earn a place in a Hebrew Bible if it was not for his followers. It is they who declared war against the Jews, and made it difficult for Jewish scholars over the years to view with equanimity the affinity between Jesus and Judaism.

Writing by Christian and Jewish scholars in recent decades have contributed to a rapprochement that sees Jesus not only as a Jew, but as one who reflected sentiments apparent in Jewish thought at the time of his life. Commentators see the Holocaust as impacting on the work of Christians about Judaism. Jewish scholars have contributed their own evolving ideas about Christianity. Pope John Paul II symbolized the new spirit when he referred to Judaism as Christianity's older brother while on a visit to Jerusalem in the year 2000.

No one should expect Christian churches to fold themselves into Judaism, or to be received as Jews as a result of the stone called Gabriel's revelation. Theological tensions remain. Religious movements resemble government bodies and large corporations. The perpetuation of their structures, key personnel, laws, traditions, and customs take priority over new ideas that challenge what is well established.

New discoveries may nonetheless blunt antipathies between religious communities as they pass from scholars to professors of religious history and theology, and eventually to teachers in religious schools and preachers. We may also hope that something will come out of an invitation for an Israeli rabbi to attend an interfaith conference in Spain, organized by the World Muslim League, and sponsored by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2008/07/03/israeli_rabbi_invited_to_saudi_interfaith_meeting/
The applause would be louder if the conference was in Saudi Arabia, and if a Saudi official did not deny that an Israeli rabbi had been invited. http://www.gulf-news.com/news/gulf/saudi_arabia/10226693.html

Currently we have to rest with the realization that it has been a while since Christian authorities burned Jews. Hopefully it will not take as long for the jihads to stop, and for leaders of all the Muslim countries to welcome Israel's presence in the Middle East.

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 04:57 AM
July 04, 2008
Political earthquake?

There are signs of a political earthquake in Israel.

They have nothing to do with charges of corruption against the prime minister, or the maneuvering of aspirants to seek advantage in the expected collapse of Olmert's government, or the election that will follow it.

The shock appears in comments of the national peacemaker, President Shimon Peres. He said that there is no chance of peace with the Palestinians. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/998836.html

He explained himself by reference to the split between Hamas and Fatah, and the lack of legitimacy of the nominal president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, who is the primary "partner" in current negotiations with Israel. According to a newspaper account, at a meeting that included ambassadors from France and Jordan, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Peres said:
Abbas (has) no support among his people, no power to carry out security agreements . . . any agreement Israel and the Palestine Authority (make would) crumble a day later due to the Palestine Authority's weakness. Therefore there is no chance of agreement.
Peres has been at the pinnacle of Israelis urging peace with the Palestinians. His mantra has been the New Middle East, with Israel providing investment capital and economic know-how, along with other well-to-do Arab states. He has worked to create Israeli-Palestinian industrial zones, as well as Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordan joint ventures. He has promoted one or another proposal for peace with Syria and Lebanon. Peres was among the principal promoters of the Oslo Accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat.

His preoccupation with peace, sometimes at what seemed like "peace at any price," was among the issues that led a majority of the Knesset to choose Moshe Katsav as president in 2000. Katsav received 63 votes in that election to Pares' 57. Peres was a candidate again in 2007. He still provoked suspicion that he would use the presidency to further his obsession with peace. Others thought he was too old to be harmful, and that he had earned the largely ceremonial office after a long career in government. He received less than a majority of Knesset votes, but led with 58 against 37 and 21 votes for two other candidates.

What is the significance of Peres' latest statement?

It suggests that not many people beside George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, and perhaps Ehud Olmert are talking about a break through that will create a Palestinian State, or perhaps a bit less than that before the end of the Bush term.

The split between Hamas controlled Gaza and the weak to non-existent authority of Abbas' regime in the West Bank should make anyone wonder about the prospects of an agreement. Hamas is explicit in rejecting Israel's legitimacy. Its patron, Iran, has called repeatedly for Israel's destruction. Currently there is a shaky cease fire between Gaza and Israel. Hamas has violated its part of the agreement by not stopping the occasional missile fired into Israel. In response, Israel has not honored its commitment to keep the gates of Gaza open for the shipment of fuel, food, and other supplies. Hamas, in turn, has suspended conversations about the release of the Israeli soldier being held in Gaza.

How long the cease fire will last is anybody's guess.

Hamas and the Fatah Party of Abbas have been pushed by other Arab politicians into negotiations about solving their problems and re-creating a united Palestine. The demands of each are far enough apart to convince an outsider that on-again, off-again meetings are not likely to produce anything.

Hamas won the last parliamentary election held in all of Palestine. The prevailing opinion is that its victory was due to the widespread feeling among Palestinians that Abbas and other leaders of the Fatah Party are old, corrupt, incompetent, and not concerned with developing Palestine for anyone other than themselves. This explains Peres' statement that Abbas lacks the legitimacy necessary to make an agreement with Israel.

Without power, Abbas cannot make concessions. He is not in a position to convince the Palestinians that they should give up any of their iconic demands for the sake of creating a Palestinian state. He keeps talking about the borders of 1967 and the return of refugees. This is the easy road of repeating slogans about Palestinian rights. It is a road to nowhere, but Abbas does not have the gas to take any other road.

Peres' comment about no chance for peace with the Palestinians was headlined on the front page of Ha'aretz on Friday, July 4th. By the Sunday edition there may be a clarification. Whatever he may say in the future, the ink is set on what he said. It indicates the work that has to be done to rescue whatever small prospects for peace may exist. Without Peres to carry a major part of that burden, the task is all the more difficult.

His comments may not be an earthquake, after all. They may, in contrast, indicate a bit of stability returning after his many efforts to create an earthquake by trumpeting the need for accommodations with Palestinians not ready for peace.

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 01:18 AM
July 02, 2008

Things are not going well for the United States in Afghanistan. The Washington Post headlines an increase in US deaths. Somewhere down in the article, we read that a ranking American official says, " . . . There has to be better governance, less corruption, more economic development and more vigilance paid to counternarcotics in order to ultimately bring peace and stability to Afghanistan." (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/01/AR2008070103070_2.html?referrer=emailarticle&sid=ST2008070103113&pos=)

That is spoken by someone who did not ask advice from the British or Russians, both of whom blunted their swords without much effect in Afghanistan.

I do not claim great expertise on Afghanistan. I spent a limited time there years ago, and have followed things from a distance. I think that I know enough to distrust experts who claim to know what is happening where, and how a foreign force ought to invest its efforts. I have seen the emblems on a cliff face in the Khyber Pass of all those British units that failed in the 19th century. Frustrated Russians left the place, having done little more than killing a lot of their own soldiers, perhaps more Afghans, and contributing to the destruction of the USSR.

Were I making US policy, I would have left Afghanistan after giving a massive post 9-11 blow to the Taliban. Whoever ran parts of the country would then know the cost of tangling with America. I would not have invaded Iraq. Never would I aspire to reform either country.

For those who think about Israel's efforts with the Palestinians as a model for how the Americans should operate in Muslim areas, I have bad news.

Palestine is much smaller in size and population than anything faced by the US. There may be 3 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, which together are smaller in size than many American metropolitan areas.

Israel has been dealing with Palestinians for its entire modern history. High schools and junior high schools teach Arabic. It is second to English as a foreign language. High school graduates who are close to fluent, or fluent, spend their military service in intelligence. Some stay for a career in the army or another of the security services.

The IDF takes youngsters right out of high school, and makes some of them officers. Later it invests heavily in education for those who stay on.

Last year I supervised the masters theses of five colonels in the National Defense College. They wrote their theses in about three months, compared to one to three years that civilian students allocate to the task. All of them were acceptable, within standards that I have learned over the course of 40 years. Two of them merited translation and publication in international journals. I offered to help, but the students who wrote them were assigned to functions that would demand all of their time.

The security forces also invest heavily in Palestinian sources of information, not in ways they wish to reveal. There are unmanned aircraft and balloons with cameras in the air much of the time. The result is that the army knows which car to destroy from the air, and which house to enter in order to take away more of the bad people.

Aspirations are no greater than to achieve a few years of relative quiet. Under pressure from the Bush administration, some politicians speak of making peace with a Palestine on the road to democracy. Few Israelis buy that line.

We know that concerted efforts against organized violence will lead enraged individuals to take a kitchen knife, or a bulldozer, and seek to kill Jews. I begin to cry whenever I read about the mother killed in the latest incident, who threw her baby out of the car just before it was crushed. The baby is all right.

American optimists see hope for their efforts in Iraq. I do not claim to be a prophet, but I expect that American troops will remain there and in Afghanistan for as long as they will be in Germany, Japan, and Korea. It is not easy being a world empire, with responsibility for everything.

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 10:27 PM