August 27, 2008
Via Dolorosa

Israel's status as the Promised Land, and a central site in the history of Christianity and Judaism has helped this little country a great deal.

It has also caused some problems.

Israelis welcome support. We are less united in our view of foreign politicians with messianic visions about a future we should embrace.

Bringing peace to the Promised Land is an admirable goal. By now it should be obvious, however, that politics and religion do not mix well. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the road to peace in the Holy Land must traverse a Via Dolorosa.

The Muslims also have a stake here. It may not be as central to their history as in the case of Judaism and Christianity, but it is close. What the Jews call the Temple Mount is to them the Noble Sanctuary, which has moved up to be a point of no compromise since Israel became a thorn in their side.

Israeli news is featuring a report by Gregory Craig, said to be Obama's National Security Advisor, that his candidate will turn immediate attention to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and not let it rest without personal presidential attention. Along with this is a report that Senator John Kerry, said to be a candidate for Obama's Secretary of State, is concerned that the Bush administration has squandered the country's standing among Muslims. He proclaimed that he and Obama are staunch friends of Israel, and that an Obama administration must repair America's standing among Muslims..

Those are good reasons for applause from the Israeli left. Those of us who deserve the labels of skeptics or cynics may be wondering how much of a problem is John McCain's age.

It has long been said that the support for Palestinians expressed by leaders of Arab countries is, in large part, a way to distract their people from the problems at home. It is easier to rant about Israel than to deal with corruption and poverty in one's own country.

At least some American enthusiasm for the Middle East may reflect a similar process. It is easier to garner attention by dealing with distant problems than with the knotty issues of health care, environment, and economic security among all those interests at home.

The difficulties begin when American politicians and their aides travel far with home-spun images of good and bad, and overlook complexities of a kind that they could not avoid at home.

Now let us hear from all those Jewish Americans who have been loyal Democrats since 1932:

Obama is brilliant and flexible. And a good friend of Israel. All will be well.
Gregory Craig was speaking for Gregory Craig, not for Barak Obama.
Obama is smart enough not to appoint John Kerry as Secretary of State.
It is in Israel's interest to be more flexible, to heed its friends in the Obama White House, and to make the concessions necessary to achieve peace with the Palestinians and Arab countries.
Gregory Craig and John Kerry are not the first individuals who have looked at us with messianic visions. So far we have managed to resist, and to survive.

John McCain is only a bit older than me, and I think of myself as a young man.

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 09:49 PM
August 23, 2008
Annoying, but not likely to be fatal

When ordinary people and professional intellectuals have limited understanding of an issue, it is tempting for them to express what has become the conventional wisdom. If lots of people are saying it, it must be all right.

By professional intellectuals I mean professors and media commentators, expected to know, and viewed as at least minimally authoritative. Some of these people move in and out of governmental positions, or communicate frequently with officials, and this adds to their aura of understanding.

As an American who has become also an Israeli, lived and worked here for more than 30 years, I may be unusually sensitive to elements of conventional wisdom that come largely from professional intellectuals in the United States, and concern the region that I now call home.

I am aware that the conventional wisdom is not all the same. There are different perspectives. The West is intellectually free. There is room in the universities, government, and the media for widely different points of view. Remembering the diversity is the best defense against paranoia, or even worry. Nonetheless, there are elements of the conventional wisdom that invite a response.

Landmarks are Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby. Both were widely panned as bad books, but sold enough copies to be called best sellers. Both reflected and added to the conventional wisdom that Israel was a significant part of the world's problems. Do away with the cruel policies toward Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, reduce the influence of Israel's supporters in American politics, and all will be better.

Alfred de Grazia had a distinguished career as professor of political science. Now, at the age of 89, he has produced CANAAN STATE, USA: ISRAEL-PALESTINE as the 51ST AMERICAN STATE. Perhaps because no main-line publisher was willing to produce it, de Grazia is distributing it free over the internet.

I admit to not having the patience to do more than page through the book. Its message is clear: solve the problems of the Middle East by combining Israel and Palestinian areas into one entity. Call it Canaan and accept it as the 51st American state.

I received de Grazia's e-mail, with the book attached on the 9th of Av. It was not the wisest move to send it to Israelis on the date that memorializes the destruction of the Temples and Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the sixth century BCE, and again by the Romans in the first century CE.

The timing added to the content to make clear that de Grazia wants to destroy the Jewish homeland once again.

Yet another indication of Israel's demonized role in the conventional wisdom appears somewhere down in a negative New York Times review of Kenneth M. Pollack's A PATH OUT OF THE DESERT: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East. The reviewer chastises Pollack for what he does not write: that Palestinians' "agony of military defeat or the humiliation of life under Israeli occupation" is an important element in the problems of the Middle East. The reviewer bolsters his case by accepting a claim of Osama bin Laden. "What converted him from dreamer to murderous activist was Israeli bombs falling on Beirut in 1982."

The people of Israel have survived worse in our long history. However, I must ask my colleagues among the professional intellectuals to look at some details. Of the 100 or so countries that came on the scene after World War II Israel is, arguably, the most successful. Its democracy is the most vibrant, and its economy the healthiest. Israel's Arab minority does better on measures of income and health (absolutely or in relation to the Jewish majority) than the prominent ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. If Israel imposes restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank, the reasons should be clear to anyone with an open mind. Israelis cannot rely on the Palestinians to control those among them who aspire to violence against Israelis.

Is this a country that should be erased via a merger with not-so-successful Palestine? Canaan is ancient history. From what we know of it from a few sources, its name would not add to what Israel has achieved in the most recent 60 years.

I would not defend every action of personnel in the Israeli military or police, just as I would not expect people of other countries to defend all that their security people do by intention or accident. I would urge comparisons of civilians killed by Israeli forces to those killed by Americans and their allies in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

There are also Israelis in the media and the universities who express the same conventional wisdom as their colleagues overseas. They all make me itch, as with poison ivy. It can be annoying in the extreme, but is not likely to be fatal.

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 12:09 AM
August 22, 2008
Things to worry about

There are similarities between the United States decision to position anti-missile missiles in Eastern Europe, and the concerns of Israelis about threats from north, south, and elsewhere.

An article in Economist ponders the wisdom of provoking the Russians with defensive missiles when there is no assurance that they will work.

The technical elements of the dispute are beyond us simpletons. We can read about advocates and skeptics, each claiming professional expertise, and do little more than wonder about their motives and certainties.

Likewise among Israelis who point to threats from Hamas, Hizbollah, al-Qaeda, as well as ordinary Arabs not affiliated with any organization who seize a knife or bulldozer and set forth to kill Jews.

Just this week the media highlighted a warning from a government organization concerned with combating terror. It said that Hizbollah is well advanced in plans to seize Israelis traveling abroad, but it could not identify the locations where the kidnapping might take place. It named several broadly defined areas, such as West Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and parts of Turkey, but did not rule out danger in the rest of the world.

What to do? Stay home? Perhaps under the bed and hope for the best? Should we tell recent graduates of the IDF to cancel their overseas hike? Or assume that the odds are with them, and that they are likely to be more cautious and capable than the average tourists.

How much to invest in protecting ourselves against possible harm? According to the Economist, the United States has spent $110 billion on missile defenses since Ronald Reagan launched "Star Wars" 25 years ago. The system designed for Eastern Europe is likely to cost another $10 billion per year. Israel has its own advocates of missile defense. There are competing systems claiming to defend against the kind of missiles launched from Lebanon in 2006 or those made in the workshops of Gaza and launched against nearby settlements. Skeptics note that the Israeli inventions are yet to be tested against a real attack, and are likely to cost hundred of thousands of dollars per shot against missiles that range in price from $50 to $100.

Both the United States and Israel can threaten unsustainable damage if attacked. Is that not enough, as against all the money spent on technically sophisticated defenses that might not work, or can be overwhelmed by lots of cheaper weapons?

Must the residents of Sderot remain frightened of a missile falling near them? How many soldiers should Israel be prepared to sacrifice in an invasion of Gaza that might lessen the threat of those missiles? Or how many Palestinian civilians should Israel be prepared to kill in air attacks that could bring international sanctions for violations of international law?

The threats against the United States and Israel are only potential. Both countries are enjoying a period of relative calm. Should the United States provoke adversaries by agreeing to position missiles of doubtful effectiveness in Eastern Europe? Should Israel make a pre-emptive strike against Hizbollah missiles in Lebanon that have not been used, or an even more daring raid against Iranian nuclear facilities?

Both Americans and Israelis hear frequent tales of impending doom and the proposals of politicians, soldiers, scientists, and engineers who are certain of efforts that should be made to counter the threats.

It is tempting to wait for the dangers to be more immediate, and look elsewhere for less awesome reports. Perhaps something about a politician's sexual adventures or financial scam. Yet when an Israeli looks elsewhere, the story might feature the possibility of Judaism disappearing through emigration from Israel and assimilation in the Diaspora. Americans could find yet another report about a newly diagnosed medical syndrome that demands treatment.

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 12:28 AM
August 18, 2008
Someone else's election

I have not voted in the United States since I came to Israel 33 years ago. Participating in one country's politics is enough for me. On the other hand, I used to teach about American politics, and retain an interest in what happens there.

I cannot claim insight on many of the issues that concern Americans. Much of what I see has to deal with national security. That means the candidates' postures and experience, and what they may mean for Israel and other clients of the United States.

A television moment helps to define what is important to us and Americans. Varda and I were watching one of Israel's channels in the living room, where the principal item was the war in Georgia. Mattan told us that John Edwards' sex life was the only story on Fox news.

Both McCain and Obama have substantial negatives. I do not like McCain's inclination to solve knotty problems with the American military. I think he is wrong on Georgia, viewing it as a line to be drawn in the sand against an expansionist Russia. I admire his refusal to define an end date for Iraq, but I cringe when he talks about staying until victory. A re-ignited Cold War hardly seems the best way to deal with Iraq, when one of the source problems is Iran, a client of Russia.

The key element in Barak Obama's campaign is himself, his thrilling life story, and what it means for a promise of change. This year may provide him enough material for publishing a third autobiography, all before the age of 50.

His childhood and career could make a good movie. I do not see its relevance for the White House. One has to go back to Wendell Wilkie to find a candidate for the presidency with less of a track record in elective office. Wilkie's experience was richer than Obama's, since he headed a major electric utility with frequent involvement in the important policy issues of the time.

Among the problems in knowing what Obama would do as president is the large number of people who claim access to him. He has the largest number of paid staffers of any previous candidate. The 900 or 1,400 people on his still expanding payroll are twice the number in Bush's campaign of 2004, and three times the number of McCain's current staff.

Most of these are bush beaters in key states. However, enough names have surfaced with campaign titles to express the candidate's position as to leave me thinking of an organization gearing up for its opportunity to expand the Imperial Presidency. Along with Obama's lack of a track record, it adds to my wondering about where is the real Obama in all the noise, or what positions noted by a staffer reflect his own considered views.

I am not alone in my doubts. One article after another focuses on the weakness apparent among those inclined to vote for him, even according to polls that show him marginally ahead. One cannot overlook the lingering issue of race. For many people who have expressed themselves, what is important is not his impressive skills as a campaigner, but a lack of certainty about his substance.

Were I voting in this election, I would not choose the candidate I favor, because there is none. There remains the well know device of picking the least undesirable, or the better of the bad.

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 09:09 PM
August 14, 2008
Russians and Georgians

There are probably 1.5 million Russian speakers in Israel, and among them 75,000 speakers of Georgian.

So were are getting a lot of news and commentary about the war.

We may not know what is happening.

The people who know both countries well are saying, "Do not believe either of them."

It is also apparent that some commentators are articulating ingrown perspectives, as well as their assessments of what has happened since the last time they spoke.

On the one side are a lot of people who are supporting Georgia. Their cause seems just in wanting to keep control of ethnic enclaves within their country. The Russian attack has been brutal, and has gone beyond pushing Georgian troops out of enclaves whose residents had sought Russian protection. We have heard that Russian tanks are moving toward a major port, as well as toward the national capital of Tbilisi, or have even surrounded and cut off that city.

No assertions of Russian aggressive come without parallel denials from Russian authorities, and further warnings by knowledgeable Israelis that they are not sure who is telling the truth.

It is not only Israelis of Georgian origin who are supporting the Georgians. Some Jewish commentators from European Russia emphasize the aggression of Vladimir Putin. They assert that he has ignored the more conciliatory statements of the nominal president, Dmitry Medvedev. They say that Putin is exceeding his authority as prime minister by ordering continued military action, in the style of an aggressive Czar or head of the USSR.

Yet other views begin not so much with issues of justice as with issues of wisdom. It appears that Georgia began the fighting. Its leaders may have hoped for American, European, or even Israeli assistance, and did not take account of the prospect that Russia would invade and no one else would do more than criticize.

Israel had supplied Georgia with military equipment and training. Officials here say that they stopped responding when the Georgians requested weapons meant for attack rather than defense. Israel also desisted when warned by Russia that it was upset about the supplies, and would consider Israeli actions when making their own responses to Syrian and Iranian requests for weapons.

The comments of Israeli leaders about the Russian onslaught have been tamer than those coming out of the White House. No point in little Israel threatening big Russia, which holds many of the cards in this region and has not always shown itself to be restrained.

Seymour Yakobshvili, a minister in the Georgian government, is accusing Israel of being a traitor against his country for not continuing the arms shipments or otherwise helping in its predicament.

One does not have to be fluent in Georgian to recognize that Yokabshvili is one of the 12,000 or so Jews still living in Georgia.

It is not yet clear when the fighting will finally stop, and how much control Russia will assert. It is not pleasant to watch an invasion and the loss of national independence. In this case, however, events recall a slogan used to combat road accidents. Drivers and pedestrians should be wise, and not to insist on their rights in traffic. The same message also makes sense for little countries that live alongside big countries.

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 02:35 AM
August 10, 2008
Georgia and the rest of us

The fog of war in Georgia is very thick. Disinformation from both sides and early reports from outsiders have us wondering about the extent of the casualties (2,000 in the first days or a couple of hundred), and who started it.

At this point, it looks like the Georgian leadership made a serious error: embarking on a campaign to take control of a rebel area inhabited by one of the many ethnic groups of the Caucasus, in the hope that the United States, NATO, or somebody else would protect it from the likelihood of Russian intervention.

One guess is that the timing was linked to the Olympics, in the hope that the world would not notice the Georgian incursion.

If that was part of the planning, it did not distract the Russians.

Now we hear that the Georgians are stopping their combat, but the Russians are continuing. Reports are that they are attacking the international airport, and demanding the resignation of the Georgian president as the price of peace.

If Georgia disappears as an independent state as a result of this, if it causes another energy crises, produces a renewal of the Cold War or worse, it will rank on the order of American efforts to democratize Iraq and Afghanistan as among the worse mistakes of the decade.

The Caucasus has even more enclaves than the Balkans, and the people may be even less restrained in what they do to one another when annoyed. Wikipedia notes that the region is home to more than 50 ethnic groups. Remember what the Chechens did in Moscow before or after what the Russians did in Chechnya, and the slaughter at the school in Beslan. Since Thursday we have heard about fighting between Georgians, Ossetians, Abkhazians, and the Russian army, with the Russians concerned, among other things, with the Russian population of Ossetia.

It will be a task to learn the spelling of all the tribes, and then to acquire some knowledge of their histories and their hates.

"Late Marriage," an Israeli film from about 10 years ago, is a good introduction to Georgian culture.

There are substantial Jewish Georgian populations there and here. We saw the chair of the Georgian parliament on Israeli television news last night, answering questions in decent Hebrew.

Retired IDF officers, including a couple of generals, were involved in training Georgian troops. Today one of them is saying that he would not have done what the Georgians did.

His comments are part of a view widely expressed that, no matter what justice might be found in the Georgians' concern for part of their territory (South Ossetia), it was a mistake to provoke the Russians on what, for them, was bound to be a sensitive issue of controlling their own border area.

We are hearing of the problems of Israeli tourists, many of them on family visits, trying to get out of Georgia as fast as they can. Emissaries of the Jewish Agency are helping Jews leave the war zone, and there is one report of a family deciding to migrate to Israel.

The sudden onset of this war is one more reminder that the future is too complex for any kind of rigid planning. There are many domestic and international variables affecting so many different developments in various domestic and international sectors. And there are dramatic developments, viewed as surprises by people who were not looking closely at everything.

We want leaders to have general goals that we accept, but flexibility is essential.

Coping with fluid realities, and not making things worse are the keys to survival and prosperity. Essential for most countries is staying out of the way of Georgia's war with the Russians, and America's adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.

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 09:44 PM
August 08, 2008
This, too, will pass

As if a former president accused of rape, and a sitting prime minister being investigated for several kinds of misconduct was not enough, Israel is approaching an issue sure to be provocative.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has already announced his impending resignation, promised to his Palestinian partner in negotiations that he would implement a gesture of releasing a number of prisoners, said to be 150.

It is hard to find a commentator or a politician, except those close to Olmert, who can give a convincing explanation or justification for the action.

Perhaps it is a gesture to the American administration, still pushing for some kind of agreement with the Palestinians before the end of the Bush presidency.

It is said to be an effort to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas among the Palestinians, but this seems mistaken. Abbas and his colleagues have called for the release of two prominent prisoners (one involved in the murder of an Israeli government minister), which seems most unlikely to occur. If the deal goes through, Israel may find 150 prisoners from among its stock of 12,000 or so Palestinians who are old, sick, who have served long terms, or are guilty of minor criminal offenses (e.g., car thieves rather than murderers). Such a deal would be more a slap in the face of Abbas and his colleagues than anything that would strengthen them among Palestinians who think of them as toadies with respect to Israel, or simply as corrupt old men who have never done anything for their constituents.

The deal may not happen.

Noam Shalit, the articulate father of the Israeli being held by Hamas, has asked, "Where is my son, Gilad?" This is likely to be the icon of a campaign to scuttle any deal that does not involve Gilad's return.

It is difficult to see how a gesture for Abbas will help with his enemies among Hamas.

Others ask, "What has Abbas ever given to us?" He only demands concessions, and has not indicated what compromises, if any, he is prepared to make with respect to the rigid Palestinian demands of 1967 borders, a capital in Jerusalem, and the return home of 1948 refugees.

Beyond the details of the action are complaints about the status of Olmert. He is still prime minister, and has all the legal authority associated with the office. He can make an offer in negotiations with the Palestinians, but he lacks the political weight or moral authority to persuade his colleagues in the Cabinet who must approve it.

So far he has appointed a committee including two of his closest supporters and one other minister to define the kinds of prisoners to be released.

Whatever that committee decides (if it decides anything) will not pass without public commotion. Deliberations may drag out beyond the point where Olmert actually resigns and someone else must deal with the remnants of his commitments and concerns of the expiring Bush administration.

In coming days the world will be more concerned about the Olympics and fighting between Russia and Georgia than Palestinians.

This too, we will survive.

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 11:24 PM
August 06, 2008
Clowns in high position

In writing several of these notes I have been tempted to use the term "clowns" for the Palestinian leadership. Due to my standards of political correctness, I have deleted the term before sending on my composition.

Now there is another occasion to use the term, and to apply it to American officials as well. Two recent cases justify the word, and illustrate the folly of relying on American leadership to impose peace on this corner of the Middle East.

Maybe this time the word will survive my editing.

One case illustrates the severe retardation in the development of a Palestinian community. It justifies Golda Meir's comment that the Palestinians do not exist as a people.

The episode began in Gaza, whose antipathy to the Palestinians of the West Bank is part of the problem. A week ago forces of the ruling Hamas party attacked the homes of an extended family, identified with the Fatah party. Hamas charged that members of the family had killed a number of Hamas activists.

When the battled turned dramatically in favor of Hamas, some 180 surviving fighters fled to the border with Israel. Israeli forces granted them temporary refuge, with the intention of sending them to the West Bank.

But the people in charge of the West Bank did not want them, and urged that Israel return them to Gaza. One explanation was that the Fatah leadership on the West Bank did not want to encourage Fatah people to leave Gaza, and thereby assure continued Hamas control of Gaza. Another explanation was that the family that fled Gaza belonged to the wrong faction of Fatah, and was not welcome by the Fatah leadership in the West Bank.

When the Israeli military began sending the family back to Gaza, Israeli civil rights organizations obtained a temporary injunction from the Supreme Court. They argued that the fighters would be seized, tortured, and perhaps killed by Hamas.

Some members of the family had been returned to Gaza, and were immediately arrested by Hamas. Within a day, the Fatah leadership in the West Bank capital of Ramallah relented, and agreed that Israel could transport members of the family to the West Bank city of Jericho. Israel did this, except for those held for questioning because of suspicion that they had been involved in acts of violence against Israelis.

The bizarre behavior of American officials also concerns the Palestinians of Gaza.

The Fulbright Foundation and other American sources awarded fellowships for study in the United States to several young people from Gaza. Israel would not grant them permission to transit the country in order to reach the United States, in line with a policy of not granting entry to Palestinians from the Hamas ruled area, except for cases of medical emergency. Secretary Condoleezza Rice led a campaign of pressure. Israeli officials Israel acceded to its best friend, examined the cases, and found that some of the students could pass through the country.

Then State Department officials began acting like clowns. While two Palestinians were on the way through Israel to Jordan, the American consulate personnel accompanying them found that the passport of one student had expired. After some haggling at the border between Israel and Jordan, Israeli officials granted a new travel document.

Then the Americans discovered something else that they should have known earlier, that Jordan does not open its border to transits from Israel except in cases of prior notification.

At this point, one of the American officials sat on the ground in protest against the Jordanians. Perhaps it was a case of "how dare" the Jordanians embarrass the United States Government.

Then the Jordanian border post closed for the night.

Further communication between American and Jordanian officials managed to wave the lack of prior notice and the closing of the border post, and the students entered Jordan on their way to the Amman airport.

They flew from Amman to the United States, but on arrival in America they learned that their visas to the United States had been cancelled. Immigration officials put them on the next plane back to Jordan.

The Americans are not explaining the visa cancellations other than by saying that information received after the visas were granted led to their being cancelled. Secretary Rice has ordered an investigation.

What should Israel do when pressured by the American government to accept the creation of a Palestinian state? The Palestinians are light years away from being ready to manage their own affairs in a way to serve their people and live in peace alongside Israel. The highest ranking American officials do not seem to understand Palestine, or some other places in this region. Lower ranking Americans have not shown the sense to check the validity of passports before beginning a journal, transit requirements of Jordan, or whether the visas earlier granted by their own government are still valid.

In the presence of the American empire, no matter how incompetent, Israel can never say no in a manner than is explicit and insulting. But Israel must look after its own interests. This may involve some tough negotiations and occasional military incursions when there remains intense hostility in the West Bank and Gaza. It may also involve independent action with respect to the more ominous problem of Iran.

Clowns should limit themselves to circuses and birthday parties. In positions of authority they may make us laugh, but only to hide our 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 12:14 AM
August 01, 2008
Common sense, please

It is difficult to believe the opening paragraph of a New York Times article, that

The official line in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah is that the decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to resign will not affect American efforts to negotiate a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians before the end of the year.

The article goes on to state that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other State Department officials have not given up their goal of an agreement before the end of the year. "Fundamentally, as Americans," (an) official added, "we don't give up." Ms Rice has told Israeli and Palestinian officials that she will return to the region in late August for more talks.

The article also cites Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans who recognize that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not have the political or moral legitimacy to sell any agreement that he might achieve, either to his Cabinet or to the larger Knesset.

While the details of Israeli-Palestinian discussions to date are not public, there are enough signs to indicate that the Messiah himself (or herself) could not produce significant movement.

Palestinians have not shown themselves ready to compromise on their iconic issues of the 1967 borders, a capital in Jerusalem, or the return of refugees from 1948. Occasional threats of declaring independence unilaterally, withdrawing from discussions, or dismantling the Palestine National Authority if they do not get what they want indicate that Olmert has not been overly generous. If the Fatah party government of the West Bank would agree to an Israeli proposal, the Hamas government of Gaza might well react with violence against both Israel and Fatah.

On the basis of what he has said publicly, one should not rely on still-Prime Minister Olmert to exploit an interregnum in order to make as-yet unheard of concessions. It is more likely that the state prosecutor and police will reach the point in their investigations where they present a bill of indictment. That would trigger Olmert's immediate resignation, and put international negotiations even further away from the politics relevant to Israel's future.

We should never say never. One day a Palestinian regime might emerge across the West Bank and Gaza that is willing to accept something like the deals that Israelis have been contemplating since 1967.

It may be too late for the Palestinians. Israel has it own advocates of total control who would not give up any of the Promised Land. At least some of those who were inclined to territorial compromise have been soured by the response of Palestinians to the withdrawal from Gaza. And some gave up on them earlier due to Intifada al-Aqsa, or previous waves of violence.

We have to live alongside the Palestinians. That does not mean that we have to trust them, yet.

The American administration that still seems intent on a quick deal is the same administration that said it was intent on bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Were they serious in those cases, or simply trying to add a positive fillip to game plans built on violence?

We may never know what American leaders really think. We can hope that the most important Americans are not those concerned about never giving up on their goals, but who are intent in staying within the bounds of good sense. If not, we hope that Israelis will evade whatever messianic wishes come out of the White House prior to, or after, January 20, 2009.

There are four synagogues within 100 meters of my home. Not much further away, and well within the range of the muezzins' calls for prayer, are numerous mosques. Often I hear the bells from churches in the Christian quarter of the Old City about three kilometers to the south. While I do not participate regularly in religious rituals, I spend part of every Sabbath morning studying Talmud with a religious friend.

Reason, a recognition of realities, compromise, and political negotiation are prominent in my conceptions of good works. May I not be judged for blasphemy if I ask friends of all faiths to pray that God save us from those who believe in miracles.

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 08:27 AM