December 30, 2008
Cease fire?

You have heard about the fog of war. Now we are in the fog of peace.

The droplets in this fog are the demands and proposals to stop the fighting. So far the participants include officials from France, Turkey, European Union, United Nations, Egypt, Britain, United States, Russia, China, and a host of lesser actors.

Each has a slightly different idea. Israel should stop its attacks; should stop for 48 hours in order to give Hamas a chance to consider its options; Israel and Hamas must stop together; Israel must open the borders to Gaza for food and supplies, with or without stopping its attacks.

The noise is just as loud, and no less confusing from Israelis. We are hearing about elected officials with direct responsibility for the war, other politicians who want us to know what they think, and commentators from every point of the ideological spectrum. There is an election in six weeks. So far there has been some measure of unity among the heads of major parties, but they are, after all, politicians.

Military officers cannot speak about policy issues publicly, but we hear about "senior officers" who have said this or that, either in the closed forums where they speak to policymakers, or where they speak without attribution to a friendly journalist.

The fog gets thicker when we hear one report about an official who supports a cease fire, and in the same newscast the denial by the same official or those claiming to be a spokesperson.

Yet other elements of the fog are actions that belie words. Last night we heard that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was supporting the French proposal of a testing ceasefire of 48 hours, and that Defense Minister Barak was increasing the call up of reserves by another 2,500 soldiers.

Assuming that he is supporting the cease fire, commentators are predicting that Barak will lose the political advantage he gained from the success of recent days. If he quits now, his Labor Party may sink to the level it was before this began, or maybe even lower.

The latest report is that Barak opposes the idea of a cease fire, even a temporary halt of 48 hours.

The number of outsiders advocating one proposal or another, and their exalted status in their home countries and in the international community means that there must be considerable discussion, coordination, and preservation of egos for these efforts to go forward.

The French are pressing for a unilateral temporary cease fire, and will send ranking officials to Israel next Monday in order to press the idea.

Does this reduce their proposal to lip service? By next Monday there will be less of Gaza worth saving.

There is no obvious answer to the question, What should Israel do now?

*The IDF has sent a clear message. Hamas may claim victory for one reason or another, but it knows the cost of attacking Israel. Even if it does not stop firing immediately (we know about Arab pride), it will stop. Just as Hizbollah in *Lebanon proclaims victory but stays away from the Israeli border, Hamas will demonstrate the wisdom of those who wish to survive.
*Israel has not yet lost the support of the actors who count in international affairs. That may change if a bomb errs and kills too many woman and children all at once. Israel should quit while it can report that the vast majority of Palestinian casualties are young male fighters.
*Stopping now will accomplish the bulk of Israel's intentions, without the casualties inevitable from a ground assault.
*Remember Lebanon. The air war was a success. The ground troops were not well prepared for what they encountered, and Hizbollah claimed victory.

There is another hand. There always is at least one of those in a Jewish conversation, even when a Jew is talking to himself.

*Hamas is intense. It advocates suicide, and may be intent on a collective demonstration. Its motivations are spiritual. There may be no message that can convince it to desist from a divine call to destroy Israel, other than a defeat that is more total than it has suffered to date.
*The further punishment of Hamas can make the point even more strongly than at present that other fanatics should think yet again before accepting a call from their god or their prophet to destroy Israel.
*In order to punish Hamas more completely, it will be necessary to use those tanks and ground troops massing on the border. There will be casualties, but the advantages gained to date will be lost if the humiliation is not more complete.
*It is not certain that the Lebanon scenario is relevant. The IDF has prepared itself more thoroughly for this invasion.

Currently the best argument against using the ground forces is the weather. It is likely to rain for another day or so. Dithering may continue until the sun comes out.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:10 PM
December 29, 2008
Gaza, Day Four

No end in sight. Palestinian casualties are above 350 dead and 1,500 injured. Others are still buried under the rubble. Many of the injured are not able to obtain adequate treatment. Protests mount across the Middle East, as well as in Europe and North America. So far the governments of the United States, Germany, France, Britain, and Egypt accept the Israeli narrative. With allies like that, the United Nations and the international left can protest without much effect.

Disinformation is part of this war like any other. It began with Israeli deceptions meant to convey that attack was not imminent. Hamas did not stop its ceremonies or send its people underground, and suffered significant losses in four minutes.

As best as can be gathered from actions and statements, Israel's purpose is to destroy the infrastructure and will of Hamas. This is set against the Lebanon War of 2006, which ended with both achievements and problems. The achievement was the extensive destruction, which sent a message that adventures against Israel would be costly. Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has spent most of his time in hiding since then, speaking to his audience via television.

The problem of Lebanon was the sense that Israel could not overcome Hizbollah despite a month of fighting. Hizbollah recovered via imports of munitions, and a stronger position in Lebanese politics.

Israel's purpose now is to attain the achievement of Lebanon: to send a message of destruction, without leaving Hamas as a leader Islamic extremism.

No one should view this as Israel's war to end all wars. Fatah is unlikely to lead a Palestinian community that will live in peace. Iran, Syria, and Islamic Palestinians will do what they can to revive Hamas. We should expect an escalation of Palestinian nationalism and hatred of Israel, the United States, Egypt, and other Arab elites that have not signed on to the Hamas rhetoric. Signs are apparent in demonstrations in Arab villages, urban neighborhoods, and the universities with concentrations of Arab students, along with their Jewish supporters.

Mahmoud Abbas is not the man to exploit the situation. Nor is there anyone else in the aging cadre of Fatah leadership who seems up to the task. Younger Palestinian politicians may be just as intransigent, at least in the period after this war.

It will be enough, for the time being, if Palestinians and other Muslim extremists fear Israel.

Is this pessimism?

I view myself as a sad optimist. Palestinian casualties and the persistence of the traditional Palestinian posture sadden me.

I am optimistic for Israel. I admire its capacity for lively debate, opposition to any simple view of a national mission, and ability to cope with serious problems. The IDF was busy during the years of tolerating missile attacks on civilian areas close to Gaza, and seems to have recovered from Lebanon 2006. The homefront command is better prepared for rocket attacks. Intelligence is impressive, including telephone numbers of families living in buildings also used for storing or manufacturing missiles. The army phoned them, in Arabic, and warned of impending destruction.

Four Israelis have died as the result of Hamas missiles, two of them Arabs. Casualties will escalate if the hundreds of tanks and thousands of ground troops now on the borders move into Gaza. The costs to Hamas will also increase. It will not be an invasion to solve Israel's problems. Enough if it dissuades Hamas and its friends from madness.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:58 PM
December 28, 2008

I have lost count of the wars and lesser operations experienced here over the course of 33 years. For some of them I was in uniform and armed, and sent to a combat zone. I never fired anything stronger than a lecture on public policy to the troops doing the actual fighting. On other occasions there were attack helicopters circling above our neighborhood of French Hill, waiting for an assignment that would take them to a target 5-10 kilometers to the north or south.

This time the action is 60 kilometers southwest of here, but neighbors 200 meters away have been restless. No attack helicopters above us, but there have been police helicopters probing with spotlights. Border police units have been on the road to Isaweea. Thick black smoke probably came from burning tires, and explosions that sounded like stun grenades marked a confrontation with marchers protesting what was happening in Gaza.

The Border Police is a quasi-military force. Wags say that its troops remain in cages, fed on raw meat, and let out only to wreck havoc on whoever they are told to wreck havoc upon.

Some years ago, the Lecture Corp sent me to a base of the Border Police, with instructions to talk with a group of trainees about the advantages of restraint. (Excessive violence does not look good on CNN.) The audience resembled what we know about the people attracted to the unit: Druze and Beduin, as well as Jews from poor towns and urban neighborhoods. I might have been the only Ashkenazi in a hall with more than 100 people. When I finished my presentation, one trainee said, "Professor (I'm not sure the title was meant as a complement), you should know that we like to hurt people."

So far the IDF has been fighting entirely from the sky. Palestinian reports have reached 300 dead and 1,000 injured. The targets have been installations of the Hamas forces and government, workshops and university laboratories used to fashion missiles, tunnels used to smuggle material from Egypt, and a mosque said to be a center of militant activity. There are hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces, along with ground troops lining the borders with Gaza. Either they are amassed as psychological warfare, or are meant to do what the missiles and bombs cannot accomplish.

Commentators are clucking their tongues about disproportionate force.

A columnist for The Guardian has put all the onus on Israel for what the people of Gaza have suffered from 1948 to the present.

". . . the death and fear that Gaza's gunmen and rocket teams and bombers have inflicted upon Israel have been returned 10, 20, 30 times over once again. . . . Something to be ranked with Deir Yassin. With the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Something, at last, that Israel's foes can say looks like an atrocity."

Not to be outdone, Ha'aretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote a piece headlined, "The neighborhood bully strikes again."
"Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy. . . . Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom."

One popular web site records 55 percent support among those answering a question about the operation, 14 percent opposed, and 31 percent skeptical about its results.

Hamas has responded with its own rockets, but at much less frequency than during the two days prior to IDF's operation. The air strikes and constant patrols of manned and unmanned planes may be foiling the routines of setting up and firing the rockets. Some of the strikes have destroyed stockpiles of the missiles, and the teams sent to fire them.

The shrapnel for one rocket killed an Israeli who stood in the entrance to his building after hearing a siren, contrary to the advice provided time and again by army personnel. Ten or so other civilians have been injured, and more sent to hospitals in shock.

The rumble of international powers has been subdued, perhaps reflecting a frustration at the stubborn refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel, or to stop firing at civilian targets. Most casualties have been young male fighters, and a stray rocket has not yet produced large numbers of dead women and children for the TV cameras.

We have heard the first signs of Hamas calling "uncle." Someone speaking for the organization asked the Norwegian government to pursue a cease fire. The public utterances from Hamas leaders, seemingly recorded from deep underground, are for the people of Gaza to remain steadfast until death.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:27 PM
December 27, 2008
Crises here and there

As I was drafting this note, I heard the first news of Israel's attack on Gaza. It had to come sooner or later. Two days ago Hamas and its friends fired 80 missiles and mortars toward Israeli civilians. There are extensive casualties in Gaza, as well as the ritual of protests and calls for international intervention, and threats of massive retaliation from Gaza.

When this will be over, we shall still share uncertainty and worse from the economic crisis that I was beginning to write about.

It was depressing to watch the fall of bonds and banks in September. Now it is even more depressing to read about America's indebtedness to China, and what it may mean for the world as we know it. The trigger of this catastrophe may have been free houses for those unable to pay, but it was compounded by money schemes too complex for those who invented them and those who invested in them. Now we read that the huge bubble was financed by the Chinese. According to several commentators, they enticed Americans to overspend for cheap goods, and then bought many of the bonds that financed America's debts. The Chinese hold a mortgage on America. Will they be content to accept re-financing at reasonable rates, or will they demand an early return of their capital? If the latter, we can expect political as well as economic upheaval.

What does this mean for Israel?

Americans may be insulted by the question. They, of course, are far more important in their eyes. But my eyes are only partly American, and so I will proceed with the question.

There are pluses and minuses in Israel's situation.

It helps to be a small country, away from the mainstream of the international economy. Like other small countries, Israel's industry and agriculture cannot produce all that it needs, and it depends more than large countries on international trade. As a small player, however, Israel can be more agile than the 800 pound gorilla that is the American economy. It is partially dependent on many countries, but not entirely dependent on any one of them.

Israel is more centrally controlled, and more authoritarian than the free-enterprise United States. Financial regulation is tighter. Israel has shysters among its money managers. However, they did not operate with the blessing of so-called regulators as did the mortgage sellers and financial wizards of the United States. Israeli lenders did not follow a policy of giving large mortgages to families who could not make the first payment.

Israel's social services are more thorough than those of the United States. The country retains a socialist inclination, despite several years privatizing and outsourcing. Israelis are less vulnerable than Americans to economic distress. The health system is high quality, and close to egalitarian.

Israel has been hurt. The stock market index that measures the fortunes of the 100 largest companies has fallen from its peak even more than the S&P 500. There is considerable damage among the universities, hospitals, religious academies and other institutions that benefit from international Jewish philanthropy. Bernie Madoff is not popular here, except as a symbol of all that is foul.

This crisis will test Israeli wisdom and flexibility in politics as well as economics.

One pleasant event is the drop in the price of oil, and what that may mean for Iran's own adventures, as well as those of its allies on Israel's northern and southern borders.

Israel does not aspire to police the world. It has no troops more than a few miles from its borders. It has learned the lesson of occupying hostile populations. Note what it did in Lebanon during 2006, and the West Bank since 1993: in and out, without a continued presence. No military leader or mainstream politician is talking about occupying Gaza.

Politicians as well as generals urge restraint. It is common to say that Israel should negotiate, directly or indirectly, even with those cursed as terrorists. It is not easy. There is no assurance of success.

It is a game for the agile. Limited goals are better than apocalypse. Wise Israelis do not aspire to an end of national problems. "Final solution" are dirty words.

Pessimists say that if the United States catches cold, Israel is sure to get pneumonia. Optimists put the emphasis on knowing the risks, and being wise enough to avoid the most threatening of them.

Think of this while you are studying Chinese.

It is comforting to remember that just a few years ago, cynics urged a study of Japanese.

Things change. Disaster is not inevitable.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I welcome them sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:04 AM
December 23, 2008

Israel copes, and pays the price of unsolved problems in uncertainty and frustration.

Last weekend was difficult. The period of calm with Gaza had formally ended, after ending in practice some time earlier. The rain of rockets and mortars increased. Also increasing was the incidence of Israeli politicians calling for a solution.

We have heard it all before: cut off supplies; invade; respond with bombardments for every missile fired at Israel; destroy the Hamas regime; make Gazans pay with their blood for the constant tension, the property damage and injuries caused by their missiles and mortars.

The political campaign focused on February 10th added to the intensity of opposition candidates. If they were in the government, Israel would act rather than dither. The present leadership is failing once again.

Other politicians urged restraint and criticized their colleagues for stirring passions. The counter messages were also well known: the military is prepared for all contingencies; it has the power to do what it must; however, we will choose the right time to implement our plans; Hamas will pay a heavy price for its actions; before doing anything, we must take account of the Israeli prisoner, the response of the international community to civilian casualties among the Palestinians, and the capacity of Hamas to use newly acquired weapons (smuggled from Egypt) that can cause greater damage, further from Gaza, than what it is using currently.

Adding to the discussion was a reminder from an official charged with interpreting international law: the IDF must not bombard civilian areas.

Ordinary citizens are not so certain about international law. If Hamas and its friends send missiles and mortars toward Israeli civilians, why cannot Israel respond in the same way? What about the right of defense? And what about international law that assures Gilad Shalit visits from the Red Cross to see that he is being treated humanely?

It is not so simple, respond the experts. "National defense" is important, but does not provide total freedom of action. Hamas is a gang that operates outside of the law. Israel is a sovereign state committed to the rule of law.

Must Israel act differently than the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan or Russia in Georgia?

Of course. One expert admitted that great powers can thumb their noses at notions of international law. He asserted, however, that when they bomb indiscriminately and violate rights in prisons like Guantanamo they suffer not only criticism but also a lack of cooperation from governments that pride themselves as law abiding.

Israel is not so privileged. It has enjoyed some latitude to defend itself as against the attacks of Hizbollah, and will enjoy some latitude to deal with Hamas. But the international community provides its latitude on a short string, depending on how much time it takes and how horrendous the civilian casualties.

International law is more nuanced in practice than the laws applied at home about criminal violence or financial misdeeds. If Israel wants to maintain membership among the civilized, and enjoy opportunities for trade, scientific cooperation, travel and other modern conveniences, it must accommodate itself to the tolerances of greater powers.

Currently the Gaza front is complicated. Hamas and its friends are sending mixed signals. They want to reestablish the period of calm. Some messages indicate they demand greater concessions from Israel, such as extending the calm to the West Bank (i.e., no more seizures of Hamas operatives there) and opening the borders to Gaza for the transfer of supplies. Some messages indicate that they will accept an agreement about calm without any change in conditions.

One moment Egyptian authorities say they are fed up with Hamas and will not mediate between Gaza and Israel. The next moment Egyptian authorities urge restraint on Israel.

Hamas declared a one day unilateral cease fire. It passed with only six rocket attacks.

According to one report it was in response to Egyptian requests to allow mediation to proceed. According to another report it was in order to allow the transfer of humanitarian supplies from Egypt to Gaza.

With the end of the one day cease fire, attacks have began in greater earnest.

Turkish officials, currently mediating talks between Israel and Syria, warn that their success may depend on Israeli restraint toward Gaza.

Senior military officials are saying that a destructive attack is ready, and will be implemented when the time is right. One has hinted that it will come when the weather clears. Another says that even one day of calm is worth reconsidering a move that would escalate the violence.

Can Israel attack on Christmas? Maybe after Hanukah.

There have been no Israeli deaths and few injuries in this flurry of missiles and mortars. There have been a number of Palestinian deaths, including those of civilian bystanders, due to limited attacks on those firing, or preparing to fire at Israel. The people of Gaza continue to suffer from the nonviolent economic constraints. One day the border is open for supplies. The next day it is closed in response to a rocket attack.

How much more do we want to do, and how much of a cost in retaliation or international censure do we want to endure? If you think the answers to those questions are easy, think again.

While thinking, enjoy the holidays, but do not overeat. We are not as young or as healthy as we used to be.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:59 PM
December 20, 2008
Political vignettes

Israel is a media icon standing for hope, admiration, and even salvation; or vilification and unrestrained hatred. Stories concern violence (either Israelis' struggle for survival or their destruction of others): terror attacks, missiles landing in towns, retaliation that pinpoints the guilty or errs and kills the innocent. Related to this is Israel's place on the agendas of the United Nations and international wannabes. Here the focus is condemnation by those obsessed, and defense by others.

In this season of political campaigning, there are vignettes that seldom reach the international media. Most are unimportant, except to the people who participate, or political mavens for whom every quest for votes merits attention. They reveal something about the country's style, even if they do not have much impact on what happens.

To understand the little dramas it is necessary to know some essentials of Israeli democracy. (We should ignore those who assert that such an evil place cannot be a democracy.)

Israel's politics begin with proportional representation. In the final election, citizens vote for parties, and each party sends to the Knesset a number of candidates on its ranked list according to the proportion of the total votes received. If a party gets enough votes to send 20 members to the Knesset, it sends the highest 20 on its list.

For our purposes, we can ignore the rules that apportion votes left over after assigning whole memberships. These fascinate some political scientists and a few others, but they do not affect a significant number of seats.

Individual citizens can vote in primaries in order to rank candidates on the lists of the major parties (Kadima, Labor, and Likud). To vote in a primary, a citizen has to join the party, and agree that monthly dues (about US $7 a month) will be deducted from one's bank account. There may be 100,000 members in each of the major parties. No more than 50 percent of each membership voted in this year's primaries.

The parties manage their own primaries, and they occur on different dates. A citizen can join only one party. There are central lists, and party functionaries examine them to spot individuals who have registered in more than one party. But others seek to recruit more members, and the checks against doubling up, or tripling up are not foolproof.

There is more thorough regulation of campaign financing for the final election than for primaries. Individual candidates do what they can to raise money and spread it around for advertisements and other purposes . If you want to find corruption in Israeli politics, this is a place to look.

Vote contractors claim to deliver support in the primary for candidates who are their favorites, or who have employed them. Prominent among the contractors are union officials, individuals in companies with numerous employees, and men who have come to prominence in Arab villages. Contractors buy party memberships for the people they manage, and provide a list of favored candidates. They also hire buses to transport their people to the polls, and check off who come to the primary. Individuals say that they are loyal to X, and X has told them how to vote. One can expect that large or small favors depend on appropriate behavior. The actual voting is secret.

Where do the contractors get the money and the inspiration for their lists?

There are lots of stories.

How important are the contractors?

Money spent is not a sure fire investment. This year the incumbents won high places on the lists of the major parties. Some of the names on the contractors' lists are prominent incumbents who again ranked high. Who knows how much their reputation carried them, or whether they benefited from the help of contractors? Some of the less well-known candidates on a contractor's list did well enough to win an assured a place in the Knesset. Most of these will be back benchers and remain unknown to the public.

Below the level of the major parties are the ultra-Orthodox parties, a new party that combines Modern Orthodoxy and nationalism (Jewish Home), a more explicitly right wing nationalist party (Israel Our Home), a number of Arab parties, and special interest parties for retirees, environmentalists, and the legalization of marijuana. If history repeats itself, individuals will create parties for taxi drivers, men disadvantaged in divorce cases, the advance of one or another Jewish ethnic minority. There is a party that curses all others and seeks to change the political system, and there is talk about a party that will abandon politics for something close to anarchism.

No more than 10 parties are likely to gain the minimum number of votes required to enter the Knesset.

Ultra-Orthodox parties rely on councils of elder rabbis to select their list of candidates. Other parties claim do it by committee, some of them dominated by the party leader. The new party calling itself Jewish Home has already split due to disagreements over the ranking of its list. There are two parties competing for the environmental vote, each claiming to be more green than the other.

Violence is seldom an issue in Israeli elections, but there was a commotion outside a Kadima party center. Druze politicians and their supporters insisted that the vote count did not rank them as high on the list as they should have been.

Meretz is a left of center party supporting social progress and peace with the Palestinians. It held a primary, but fudged it by inserting into a high slot a media personality who has editorialized in favor of the environment and welfare. Early in the campaign there was a gathering of prominent intellectuals who declared their intention of influencing politics. They have held talks with Meretz about joining forces, but it is still not clear who will get what. Unlike Druze villagers, these people are not likely to hit one another if disappointed. The most the losers will do is insult the winners with well crafted sentences.

Benyamin Netanyahu fiddled with the line-up of Likud candidates after the voting in order to lower the chances of an undesirable to reach the Knesset. Tzipi Livni committed the number two place on Kadima's list to Shaul Mofaz, who she barely beat in an earlier election for party leadership. Presumably she wanted to neutralize his efforts to lead an opposition slate within the party. Nonetheless, he worked with vote contractors in the bus cooperative and among Druze in order to create a bloc, but did not get any of his people into leading positions.

It is fun to read and write about these stories, but the international media is wise in ignoring them. Vote contractors and prominent intellectuals are colorful, but not likely to affect anything significant. The lists of the major parties look pretty much like they did last time. Incumbency is important here as in other democracies. Current surveys show Kadima and Likud tied with 30 seats, and Labor a distant third at 12 seats. On the prominent issues of peace and economic policy, there are no great differences between the major parties. No party is close to a majority. Another coalition is a certainty. After the election the details will differ from those of the current Knesset and government, but the general picture is likely to be familiar.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my personal e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:01 AM
December 18, 2008
Government and scandal

Government ain't what it used to be.

Maybe it never was.

We learn that elected officials make the key decisions, and professional administrators implement them. We should all vote in order to influence what is done in our name, and how our tax money is spent.

It is time to revise the lesson.

If we did not know it until now, the economic crisis and assorted swindles should teach us.

Government officials throughout the world cannot, or do not want to run everything that is formally accountable to them. More than a century ago they established government owned companies to be run by "business methods" without political interference. There is an equally long history of commissions, set up at "arm's length" from politicians and given responsibility for overseeing whole segments of the economy like banking, transportation, communication, and the stock exchange. Universities and hospitals, whether ostensibly public or private, operate with a combination of public and private funds. There is likely to be a board of directors with government appointees, or a board that is partly or entirely independent and perpetuates itself by appointing successors to those who retire. The professional personnel of hospitals and universities (i.e., professors or physicians) also have a hand in running them.

Social services are provided to the public by bodies called non-profits, tax-exempt, charitable, or quasi-governmental. They may be secular or associated with religious congregations. They offer soup kitchens, home care and transportation for the elderly and handicapped, hospices, clinics, legal services for immigrants or indigents, counseling of various kinds, half-way housing for released prisoners, the mentally ill, or others in need of custodial living, as well as housing for the homeless. Originally these organizations may have supported themselves with contributions, plus nominal fees for services. Increasingly, however, they offer their services as contractors to government agencies. They supplement or replace programs that government agencies had provided. A government may supply most of their money, as well as share formal responsibility for selecting clients and defining services.

Usually the actual work of government agencies is minimal. The theory is that private organizations can do it better. The people in charge of the organizations want government money but not government interference. Elected officials like the role of supporting social services, but few of them look closely at what the organizations are doing with the public's money.

If all these devices work well, and they do much of the time, everyone is happy. There are services for people with need. Both elected officials and the people running the organizations share the credit. The organizations have autonomy, and government officials have none of the headaches associated with administration.

It does not always work well. Of course, this is also true of things still run by government, like public schools, the police and the army. (We will leave aside the industries of private schools, security guards, prisons, and military contractors. They are part of the larger story. There are more employees of contractors providing food service, laundry, transportation, and guarding in Iraq than American soldiers. They do jobs that soldiers used to do. Contractors may be cheaper.)

Nothing works perfectly. Federalist Paper #51, written in 1788, put it this way:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

During Israel's 2006 war with the Hizbollah of Lebanon, 3,986 rockets landed in the northern region. They caused 44 civilian deaths and close to 2,000 injuries. They also caused a collapse of social services. Care givers, paid as well as volunteers, chose to stay home or leave the north for safety elsewhere. Clinics associated with the quasi-governmental health services did not open, home helpers did not show up, the cadres of volunteers that supplement the police virtually ceased operation.

As some workers fled south, the media portrayed the problems, and a stream of ad hoc volunteers headed north. Often they traveled with their own money and supplies. The results may not have been catastrophic, but they were not orderly and predictable, as we expect from government and government-supervised activities.

Meet Bernie Madoff.

According to the headlines, $50 billion invested with him went somewhere else. A large slice of it came from universities, hospitals, and foundations that support research and social services. We do not know everything, but each day's news portrays other organizations that have cut back, cannot meet their obligations, or have closed altogether. The Hebrew University is on the list. My friend the budget officer is busy.

All those people who trusted Bernie with their money, and that of their organizations, may have thought he was an angel.

He is not.

Neither are the personnel in government bodies with responsibility for overseeing him and other financial wizards. Nor all the bankers and entrepreneurs who got the world into a bind with sub-prime mortgages and more complicated inventions.

What is the solution?

I do not know.

"More regulation," "Better regulation," or "Better people in government and business" are not likely to solve the problems. Remember the Federalist Paper. Men are not angels. Women were not an issue for political commentary in 1788, but we can guess that they are not angels.

Even more oppressing are all the responsibilities that governments have acquired. They continue to increase with demands by citizens and their representatives for additional services. There is too much to be supervised. Officials do not want to, and cannot implement, all the controls that laws provide to them.

The Federalist perceived a "great difficulty" back in 1788, and does not offer a foolproof solution. Then government was nothing like it is today.

Every once in a while, there is a scandal.

We hope that they are not too severe, nor too frequent.

Not enough angels.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I welcome comments sent to my personal e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:03 AM
December 15, 2008
Gaza, again.

The issue of Gaza has returned to Israel's agenda. The reason? What may be the expiration in the next few days of the "period of calm."

"May be" is part of the problem. There is no clear end date, recognized by all parties, just as there is no clear specification as to what is permitted and forbidden in the period of calm.

Hamas officials cannot talk directly to Israeli officials, because Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Israeli officials cannot talk directly to Hamas officials because Israel has declared that Hamas is a terrorist organization beyond the pale.

The result is that discussions are indirect, largely via Egyptian intermediaries, or even more vaguely one-sided. Each declares what it thinks the period of calm ought to include, and when it is meant to expire. Some of those declarations vary from one announcement to another. They may carry some weight even while the other side declares a different set of assumptions.

A recipe for ambiguity or confusion? You bet. But it is the best attainable under the circumstances.

The fogginess of the situation also permits latitude in each side's behavior. In recent weeks there have been daily firings of rockets and mortars toward Israel. Israel has responded, but not in a massive way and not in response to each cluster of firings. Israeli soldiers have fired upon suspicious people approaching the border, or looking as if they are getting ready to fire missiles, or looking as if they have just fired missiles. Israel has also cut down on the food, fuel, and other supplies going into Gaza from the points of entry that it controls.

Who is violating the agreement about a period of calm? Whose violations are legitimate responses to the violations of the other side?

In a setting of ambiguity, there are no clear answers.

Another puzzle concerns the lack of damage done by recent missiles. It appears that a larger incidence than in past have fallen into empty fields, or have not even made it out of Gaza's airspace. Perhaps the pressure of perpetual Israeli surveillance has limited the capacity of Palestinians to concentrate on the work of setting up, aiming, and firing. Or perhaps Hamas and its friends do not want to provoke Israel into serious retaliation. They may be firing rockets aimed away from population centers only to satisfy activists who want to do something against the Zionist enemy.

The fog of this demi-war is thick.

So is the fog surrounding Israeli policymaking. Israelis in and outside of the government, as well as ranking officers of the IDF and overseas friends have called for a serious response to the rockets and mortars. They are intolerable, as is Hamas' continued importation of munitions through tunnels to Egypt. The solutions range from an all-out invasion, complete cutting of the electricity, water, food, and fuel that passes from Israel to Gaza, to more focused attacks on the Hamas leadership, workshops, arsenals, and activists.

Against these comments are those from other Israelis in and outside of the government, including ranking officials of the IDF, and overseas friends. They recite the reasons for respecting the period of calm, and allowing it to continue beyond its amorphous end date.

Among the arguments against a significant escalation is that important members of the international community (read that the American president and a small number of key Europeans) would have difficulty accepting a major Israeli onslaught, or significant further reduction in the supplies let into Gaza.

Perhaps more important, there is no apparent solution to the question, what next? In other words, after Israel invades, kills, destroys and takes over part or all of Gaza, what does it do?

We have been there before. We do not want to go back. Attack in order to punish and leave is one thing. Occupation is something Israel does not want. If you do not know why, ask Americans who are trying to manage Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even attack and punish has its costs, not only in international condemnation but in the Israeli soldiers who will become casualties.

There is also a fog of confusing statements about the freeing Gilad Shalit, held prisoner without even access to his rights as a combatant for Red Cross visits. Israeli politicians and generals say that he must be released, even at high cost. By "high cost" they may mean freeing Palestinians murderers in an exchange, or the casualties involved in a rescue attempt. A number of other prominent individuals, including some who call for Shalit's release, have said that certain costs are too high. In other words, Shalit may not come home.

By the same token, Israel recognizes that it may not be able to do what is necessary, or may not want to do what is necessary, in order to assure that all attacks by rockets or mortars from Gaza stop.

I have heard from several Americans that this is shameful. If America was attacked from Mexico or Canada the way Israel is attacked from Gaza, the response would be immediate and overwhelming.

Maybe. Who knows?

In any case, Israel is not America. It has no leading role in the world economy, or capacity to meet much of its needs from domestic resources. It has no preponderance of military power against all likely enemies. And it has no veto in the United Nations to protect against condemnation or sanctions.

Israel has to cope with its weakness. Its leadership has also learned from sad experience. It is easier to act heroically and attack than to end a cumbersome occupation.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:43 AM
December 13, 2008
Prayer and Politics

Urging great efforts and outside pressure to reach a peace between Israel and the Palestinians is like going to church or synagogue. Many decent people do it. Few should expect any tangible results.

This is the season for renewed efforts. Hanukah and Christmas are upon us, and the next president of the United States campaigned on the theme of Change. The appointments and statements he has made since the election imply something else. Advocates hope that he will stick to the theme as it will apply to Israel and Palestine.

It should be no surprise that we have heard from Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as well as from liberal Jews who are positioning themselves for a return to the top, like Martin Indik and Dan Kurzer. The Saudis remind us that they have obtained widespread Arab agreement to recognize Israel in exchange for its return to the borders prior to 1967, and doing something acceptable about Palestinian refugees.

Like the Book of Common Prayer and the Hebrew Sidur, the words are the same from one occasions to the next. Palestinians must recognize Israel and desist from terror. Israel must make painful decisions about retreating from the West Bank.

As in religion, there are differences among those who utter spiritual doctrines about the Middle East. Unitarians are not Catholics. Reform Jews do not pray like the Orthodox.

The biggest difference in the Middle East, it should be no surprise, is between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians in nominal control of the West Bank recognize the legitimacy of something they call Israel. Hamas and its friends in Gaza have not gotten to that point. Differences among Israelis are more subtle. None with a chance at attaining leadership denies the need for negotiations and difficult decisions.

We can estimate the chances of expectations expressed by concered outsiders by considering what seem to be the positions of the West Bank Palestinian leadership, and the two prominent candidates in Israel's political campaign. "Seems to be" is an important qualification. The language of politics is seldom precise, especially when it touches on a subject of great sensitivity.

Palestinian leaders called moderate have not conceded the designation of Israel as a Jewish state. Their Palestine will be for Palestinians, apparently without Jews, while Israel will be for all its citizens, Arabs as well as Jews. The Palestinian capital must be in Jerusalem, and there must be an solution for the refugees. The borders must be those of pre-1967, perhaps with some adjustments and territorial compensation for whatever Palestine loses.

The Palestinians in charge of Gaza may be too extreme, in both religion and politics, to qualify as partners in any negotiations.

On the Israeli side, Binyamin Netanyahu emphasizes the need for security, and his refusal to divide Jerusalem. Tzipi Livni is quiet about Jerusalem, but has recently disturbed the Palestinians by saying that Israel must remain a Jewish state. She went on to commit herself to democracy and equal rights for minorities, but said that Israel's Arabs must pursue their national aspirations elsewhere. Presumably she meant in the as-yet to be created Palestinian state. It is anyone's guess what she means by "national aspirations."

Are the differences between Palestinians and Israelis small enough to be bridgeable by pressure from Americans and other enlightened people?

The devil will be in the details. There are many, as well as countless proposals.

Jerusalem, for example, may offer enough opportunities to satisfy both parties.

It is Israel's largest city, whose borders have changed many times since the reigns of ancient kings. The Palestinians can call their section "al Quds" (the Holy City), and all will be well.

Opps. That overlooks the problem of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, and the Muslim view that Jews were never more than marginal tenants in the city's history. That means no rights to the Temple Mount. Also a problem is Israeli distrust. Yassir Arafat is the Palestinian icon. To Israelis, he is the man who could speak of accommodation in English, sign agreements, receive a Nobel Peace Prize, and provoke violence in Arabic. The Jewish experience with their Palestinian neighbors since the beginning of the 20th century includes multi-year periods of violence separated by relative calm. The most recent violence began in 2000, and may not be over. Its casualties have been greater in number than any conflict other than wars with Arab armies in 1948 and 1973. It should be no surprise that suspicion remains.

Proposals to deal with Israeli distrust involve positioning American or other reliable troops in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and along the Jordan River. The principle has worked between Israel and Egypt. However, the Sinai is a sizable desert, with few inhabitants. It provides a buffer between Egyptians and Israelis. The West Bank and Gaza have sizable populations, right up against Israeli cities. The Palestinians would not be enthusiastic about foreign troops patrolling their cities. Israelis have few complaints about the Americans in the Sinai, but many complaints about UN troops in southern Lebanon. Israelis are united in seeing Jerusalem as their capital. Some might agree to hiving off of Arab neighborhoods for the sake of peace. The vast majority reject any "internationalization" of the city.

Urging peace in the Holy Land is a ritual on the borderline between religion and politics. Evidence is that people who pray are happier and healthier. Some expect the Almighty to help in a time of distress. Along with a minimum degree of piety, working for peace is expected for those who aspire to leadership. It is risky, however, to rely on others. My Grandmother prayed on a regular basis. She also said that God helps those who help themselves.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:48 AM
December 11, 2008
Moshe Feiglin

According to recent polls, Benyamin Netanyahu (Bibi) is leading the Likud Party to a likely victory in the February election. For the time being, however, his greatest problem is with voters who identify most strongly with his party, i.e., members who paid their dues and voted in the party primary. A new and cumbersome computer voting program caused long lines, and gruesome scenes of congestion. An emergency meeting of party leaders kept the polls open until 1 AM. Nonetheless, less than 50 percent of registered members kept at it until they reached a console and figured out how to use it.

Netanyahu did not like the results, and he has been twisting and dodging to find a reason that will change the line up of potential Knesset members.

His problem is Moshe Feiglin, a gadfly who has been a thorn in the side of establishment politicians, and finally found a way (according to the rules before Netanyahu sought to change them) to penetrate one of the country's major parties.

Feiglin stands outside of the dominant categories of Israeli politics. He is a religious nationalist, who does not fit in the conventional religious or nationalist parties. Among his aspirations is a state governed by religious law, which would make Israel into a Jewish Iran or Saudi Arabia. His preferred treatment of those who attack Jews resembles what the Nazis did when resistance fighters killed their soldiers. Feiglin would have left no stone standing upon another stone in the city of Ramallah, where residents lynched two Israeli soldiers early in the most recent intifada. His model of education would be Jewish in the extreme. Israel would not use international dates. Only the Jewish calendar would do for his country, leaving aside the issue that Hebrew names for the months came from our Babylonian neighbors some 2,500 years ago. Feiglin has used the Biblical term Amalek to refer to Arabs, and he has advocated their transfer to Jordan (which he refers to as the Palestinian state) or elsewhere, either by force or by economic incentives. The Amalekites were a desert tribe that harassed the Israelites and figure in some of the least politically correct passages in the Bible: "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." (I Samuel 15)

Feiglin's people proved themselves dedicated in Likud's cumbersome primary. He received enough votes to be ranked 20th on the party list, which would assure him a Knesset seat if the party lives up to recent polls. Feiglin distributed a recommended list of nominees to his voters, some of whom were also on Netanyahu's list of favorites. A number of people on both lists did even better than Feiglin in the polling, which presents a problem for deciding how much influence he actually has in the party.

Whatever he has is too much for Netanyahu. He campaigned against Feiglin in the run-up to the primary, and now has mounted a case in party tribunals to alter the list so that Feiglin drops below the number of Kneset seats Likud is likely to win in the general election.

(Each of Israel's parties that operates a primary does so according to their own rules, and each on a different day.)

Netanyahu's campaigns against Feiglin have not been elegant, and may have increased the outlier's prominence. Likud's standing in the national polls declined after its primary, which differs from the bounce upward that a party often receives due to the publicity surrounding a primary. Either Feiglin's success, or antipathy to Netanyahu's blunders, may account for the decline of the party's support. From all the signs, Netanyahu is right in concluding that Feiglin is too extreme for Israel's voters, and his place in Likud is likely to hurt the party.

Why is Feiglin playing on Likud's turf, rather than in one of the parties more overtly religious and nationalistic?

Feiglin is too extreme for the religious parties. There is some doubt as to whether he studied in a yeshiva. "He is not one of us" according to a rabbi well plugged into religious politics. If Feiglin had studied in a yeshiva, according to this informant, he would have learned to respect authorities and adversaries, and not to push himself to the front. Overt antipathy to Israel's Arab minorities is also beyond the pale among the religious establishment. It is also a direct challenge to what is politically correct among Western democracies. Jewish tradition has long concerned itself with acting according to the expectations of dominant powers.

Beyond his doubtful status in the eyes of the religious, there are practical reasons for Feiglin's choice of Likud.

None of the religious parties, or the nationalist party to the right of Likud (Israel Our Home) select their Knesset nominees by primaries. They rely on a council of distinguished rabbis, a council of elders, or a committee beholden to the party leader. Likud's Knesset list is open to an organized campaign, and Likud is likely to be one of the leading parties. If it does not gain a plurality and the right to form a government, it is most likely to be a member of the coalition, or--at the worst--the most prominent party in the opposition.

Those who might be searching for something even more extreme than Moshe Feiglin may appreciate an e-mail that came to me recently. The author was protesting the removal of Jewish settlers for a building in Hebron:

Myopic and coward Politicians, who castrate themselves by expelling circumcised Jews from Abraham, and who not dare the vision of rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem on its authentic Site, will soon be swept out of History by the irrepressible Destiny of true Israel.

The sender identified himself as the author "of the sole authentic History of the Jews (2.500 pages), since the colossal Work of Flavius Josephus."

What can we do? Israel attracts the otherworldly, like the sender of this message, or extremists who aspire to play in the dominant game, like Moshe Feiglin. By no means is it the only country that has its outliers. Location and history affect the details of those on Israel's fringe.

Arguably Israeli politics are less soaked by religious extremism than the politics of the United States. Religious parties with weight in the governing coalition limit their demands to money for their schools, and housing for their neighborhoods. Occasionally a religious politician speaks publicly about personal morality, but there is nothing like the pressures in the United States to deny opportunities for abortions, or to deny gays and lesbians civil unions, the recognition of marriages performed elsewhere, or adoptions.

Israelis should not feel threatened by someone comparing himself to Josephus, or by Moshe Feiglin. Hamas and Hizbollah are more worrisome, and Iran even moreso.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:15 AM
December 09, 2008
George W. Bush on the Middle East

It is no exaggeration to note that the American public is doubtful about President Bush's accomplishments. Disapproval ratings in some polls are above 70 percent.

He is talking about the brighter spots in his eight years. We should expect no less from a man who worked his way to the top. Modesty is rare among politicians..

He has described the dismal scenes in the Middle East early in his administration, and the improvements since then.

*The end of Saddam Hussein, cruel to his own people and the initiator of two wars.
*The beginning of American troop withdrawals. "Iraq has gone from an enemy of America to a friend of America, from sponsoring terror to fighting terror, and from a brutal dictatorship to a multi-religious, multi-ethnic constitutional democracy."
*An agreement with Libya to end that country's developing weapons of mass destruction.
*Increases in freedom, dignity, and hope in several countries of the Middle East, including greater rights for women.
*The end of Syrian dominance of Lebanon. ". . . for the first time in three decades, the people of Lebanon are free from Syrian military occupation."
*Rejection of terror, and a recognition of Israel's right to exist by the Palestinian leadership, along with the beginning of fruitful negotiations between Israel and Palestine."There is now greater international consensus that at any point in modern memory. Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs recognize the creation of a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state is in their interests. And through the Annapolis process, they started down a path that will end with two states living side by side in peace."

The president acknowledges that not all is rosy. Iran continues to advance its nuclear option. The United States and its allies have imposed sanctions, that so far have not achieved their goal. "We have made our bottom line clear: For the safety of our people and the peace of the world, America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. "

One is tempted to let the president retire with polite applause. It is his due, and he shall receive it from me after some modest comments about his claims.

*The appearance of a multi-ethnic democracy in Iraq may only be the product of America's forceful babysitting. Car bombs and other abominations occur frequently. President-elect Obama says that he can withdraw combat troops, but not right away, and he expects to leave support troops indefinitely. We should remember what support troops produced from the early days of Vietnam. It is too early to conclude that conditions in Iraq and for its neighbors are better or worse than before the American invasion. Saddam was a cruel dictator, but restrained by sanctions. The invasion and the American-protected regime have escalated Islamic extremism, directed against America and its allies.
*It is always a puzzle to figure out who is ruling Lebanon. Currently it looks like Hizbollah is close to the driver's seat. Political and military leaders, Christian as well as Muslim, are making obsequious pilgrimages to Damascus.
*Palestinians complain about the lack of movement in talks with Israel. When Ehud Olmert claims real progress, few Israelis believe him. None of the contenders in the run up to the Israeli elections are emphasizing how they would deal with the Palestinians. If the issue is not dead, it is not a burning item on the agenda.
*An explanation for Israel's lack of enthusiasm for Palestine is an issue that George W. Bush did not emphasize in his remarks: Gaza. His administration pushed the Palestinians to the election that put Hamas in power, and has resulted in Gaza becoming one of the darker spots in the Middle East. The regime ascribes to Islamic fundamentalism. An Israeli invasion in response to continued rocket attacks seems inevitable, sooner or later. Meanwhile, a blockade is keeping the people of Gaza on short rations. Israelis wonder if they can make peace with the Palestinians of the West Bank while Gaza remains as it is.

The president did not mention Afghanistan in this presentation. Outside of the Middle East? Not according to conventional definitions. An attack against Afghanistan in response to 9-11 was more justified than the attack against Iraq, and it worked initially to crush the Taliban. Now American planners are talking about concentrating defenses around the capital of Kabul. That is not a good sign.

It is time for polite applause. The Middle East might have been worse without President Bush's eight years.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome them, sent to my e-mail address below.

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 12:08 AM
December 06, 2008
My own open letter to the President-Elect

If I may be so bold as to issue some advice to President-Elect Barack Obama, it is to be cautious in the extreme about two issues on his agenda: Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine.

His campaign rhetoric included proclamations that Afghanistan is "the right war" "It's time to heed the call . . . for more troops. . ." and "I'd send at least two or three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan."

Since then, Obama has been cautioned by a variety of experts. There are no clear signals as to his intentions as president.

Afghanistan is far from being a governable society, much less a responsible democracy. Profits from opium permeate the economy; corruption is pervasive; regional war lords may cooperate with one another at the behest of greater powers today and seek to liquidate one another tomorrow. The country is a killer of empires. Ask the British and the Russians. The initial American-led onslaught hurt the Taliban, but they have regained strength. The terrain of the country, established loyalties, as well as sanctuaries in areas of Pakistan never under the control of Islamabad challenge any modern army. Pakistan is part of the problem, and is both fragile and armed with nuclear weapons. The setting in one where well-intentioned outsiders may blunder into making things worse.

Israel-Palestine is not large enough to be a killer of empires. But it has been a source of frustration for the mightiest who trumpet a mission of pressure toward peace. Obama may start by asking Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, James Baker, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Condoleezza Rice.

It may be due to the coincidence of the Christmas season and the presidential transition that I received copies of two messages wanting to heighten Obama's concern for Israel-Palestine. The Institute for Global Engagement sent an ecumenical letter to the president-elect, signed by representatives of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and several Protestant denominations. (

". . . we are united by a Biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace. As Americans, we urge you, Mr. President, to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority during your first year in office. . . . We know the work for a just peace will not be easy. It will require great courage and resolve, but the risk of inaction is even greater. Without active U.S. engagement, political inertia and perpetuation of the unbearable status quo will make achievement of a two-state solution increasingly difficult. Moreover, we are concerned about the negative impact a further delay will have on the Christian community in the Holy Land, whose numbers continue to decline."

The last item in this excerpt points to an issue that is part of the Middle East story, but seldom highlighted by Christian organizations concerned with Palestinian suffering: the flight of Christians. Neither Bethlehem, Nazareth, nor Ramallah have Christian majorities any longer. Christians who used to be dominant there, and those from numerous other communities with ancient roots throughout the Middle East have left the region. In 1948 there were 40,000 Muslims and 25,000 Christians in Jerusalem; in 2007 there were 253,000 Muslims and less than 13,000 Christians. Just between 1998 and 2005, the Christian population of Bethlehem declined from 33 to 20 percent.(;;

One can explain the migration of Christians by reference to violence and harassment, but not by the Jews.

The Economist published an open letter to the president-elect (

"Palestine fouls up our diplomacy: Israel is thrown at us whenever we ask Muslim allies for help. Unsolved, this conflict generates wars. . . . You'll lose nothing by saying forcefully before Israel votes that we want a two-state solution with a shared Jerusalem and little modification of the pre-1967 line. Spell out the percentages. Netanyahu might as well know he won't get another free pass to jerk us around on settlements. . . . Hillary must help you sell this in New York as well as Riyadh. Only then should you step in to close the deal--after figuring out what mix of heat and reassurance to apply to the Israelis. They're the ones who have to give up something real."

The Economist goes part of the way, but not all the way in saying that Israelis are the problem.

"Hillary will tell you Bill spent more time on this than anything else in foreign policy, but he failed too. His excuse is that Arafat suckered him ("Don't you ever trust that son of a bitch," was his parting advice to Colin Powell), but now that Arafat's dead the Palestinians have two addresses instead of one. The Europeans tell us that Hamas can live with a two-state deal, despite its spiel about destroying Israel. But if we talk to Hamas we knock the legs from under Mahmoud Abbas. "

The last time I looked, the Economist was a British publication. It has a sizable circulation in the United States, but not enough to include"our" "we" and "us" in its letter to the American president-elect.

A lack of American realism, that led the current administration to insist on the Palestinian election that brought the fanatics of Hamas to power, does not bode well for the Economist's recipe. Neither does the image of New York and Riyadh. It will be the Jews of Israel, and not those of America who decide on what to offer the Palestinians. It will be the Arabs of Palestine rather than Saudi Arabia who decide what to demand of the Israelis, and what, if anything, to offer them in exchange.

I see no success for outsiders, whether they be Jews or others, who think they can press Israel into bringing peace to Israel-Palestine. It will take two to make that deal. Israelis have made decent offers, and are willing to control its minority of nay-sayers. It is the Palestinian camp that remains hopeless. The moderates insist on a historical narrative that describes Israel as responsible for all the harm, and require it to turn back the clock. The extremists want Israel out of the region. Few Israelis wish to settle again in Poland, Iraq, Yemen, or North Africa, and few of the natives in those places are putting out the welcome mat.

Whoever leads Israel as the result of the February election will comply with American wishes, to a point. Either Livni and Netanyahu will continue to talk to the Palestinians. Neither will give away the store, or even take great chances with neighbors who might speak well, but have shown themselves time and again unwilling or unable to control the violent factions within their community.

I worried about the prospect of a demagogue with vacuous proclamations of Change. Since the electionI have seen moderation in the extreme. As president, I hope that he will be careful in two issues where enthusiasts are pushing him. One is likely to be dangerous (Afghanistan), and the other frustrating (Israel-Palestine).

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

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 09:11 PM
December 04, 2008
Mumbai and Hebron

After 60 years as an independent state, Israel is far from a united society.

We should expect nothing else. The Arabs are 20 percent of the population, and the Jews have come from diverse cultures. Some Diaspora communities existed for more than two thousand years. Migrants and their children have included the overtly secular and intensely religious. Among the religious are those who view the State of Israel as a creation with theological significance, and others who see it as an affront to the Almighty.

Currently the Jews of Israel are wrestling with their diversities. One story comes out of the tragedy at the Chabad Center in Mumbai. Another is still evolving around a contested building in Hebron.

A man killed in Mumbai was a member of the Satmar community of the ultra-Orthodox, among the most outspoken of the anti-Zionists. Family members protested about the transport of his body, along with the others, on an Israeli air force plane, and again when officials covered his coffin with an Israeli flag at an official ceremony upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport. A friend of the deceased agreed to be interviewed on Israel radio. He insisted that the family did not ask for the body's transportation on an Israeli plane, and referred to the offensive flag as "that thing." On the insistence of the family, no state official attended his burial on the Mount of Olives.

Much more explosive, on account of the numbers of disaffected as well as their activism (as opposed to the usual passivity of Satmar) are the children of religious settlers who curse, kick, spit, throw stones, and threaten to do worse against police and soldiers who would enforce the state's laws on the West Bank. Some of these children uproot Arab olive trees, attack Arab women and old men who tend flocks or harvest olives. They have vandalized mosques and Muslim cemeteries.

Hundreds occupied a building in Hebron against a ruling of the Supreme Court.

It is not the first time, and is not likely to be the last time, that intensely religious and nationalist Jews oppose the government on the issue of settling wherever they want.

The troops of this extra-legal army are 13 to 17 year old boys and girls, led by rabbis and other activists, and supported by untold thousands of Jews who are sympathetic to their cause, or may be made sympathetic by "overreactions" by authorities. Supporters insist on the legal and moral justice of the young people. They are sweet children, the salt of the earth, idealistic Jews doing the work of the Lord despite the personal price they might pay. One should not expect any less of Jews given our suffering at the hands of the Arabs.

Those who worry about the status of women in Judaism might notice that one of the most vocal of the settlers is a grandmother who pays no heed to authorities who dare violate her reading of the Bible. We have seen pictures of young people jumping with excitement when she urges them onward to ever more daring missions. She has been criticized by other leaders of the settlers as too extreme.

If it were the Arabs of Hebron acting like these Jews, we would be counting their bodies. Against the violent Jews of Hebron, officials are reluctant to use any force, and certainly not deadly force. Typically the most aggressive offenders are seized one at a time by several soldiers or police, dragged kicking and screaming to a bus, transported to a holding pen, and released after a few hours unless their offense has been especially severe.

After previous encounters, settlers have pressed authorities to forgive their rambunctious youngsters so they can join elite units of the army. Religious Zionists are superpatriots. Supporters are not altogether wrong when they describe them as one of Israel's most valuable resources. The state they adore to is not the same as that of moderates who strive to make peace with the Palestinians. Nonetheless, they make aggressive officers and soldiers when they are not demonstrating forcefully against the soldiers.

The current issue involves a building that Jews claimed they purchased, but which authorities did not approve as a place of residence for Jews. Such decisions are meant to prevent uncontrolled settlement in areas likely to provoke unrest from the Arabs. The Supreme Court ordered the building to be cleared on account of its illegal occupation. A lower court is still considering the legality of the purchase. Opponents charge that documents involved in the sale were forged.

There is a long history of irregularities in the sale of Arab properties to Jews. Family members risk being lynched if they sell openly to Jews, so a sale will pass through several hands. Original owners take their money and move to some distant country, hopefully beyond the wrath of their former neighbors. There have been forgeries, either by someone in the chain of Arab owners or mediators, or by Jews wanting to advance the deal.

The Defense Minister (who has ultimate responsibility for Israeli activities in the West Bank), and other politicians dithered. All expressed platitudes in favor of law, but none wanted to shed Jewish blood.

The problems of officials, and the politicians in charge, include the numbers of people, and the intensity that can be ignited by a forceful removal. There is a national election in February. At stake are the votes of religious Jews that might be floating, as well as votes of secular Israelis who can be sympathetic to Jews who cast themselves as a vanguard against the Arabs.

After several days of negotiations, the police moved in and removed the settlers from the building.

Political loyalties affect one's terminology and views. Politicians on the right supported continued negotiations, or waiting on further decisions from the courts. They called the structure the "House of Peace," and described the removal as premature, brutal, and motivated by left-wing politics.

Supporters of the settlers are sure that the sale was legal, and claim that a favorable ruling from the lower court is certain. They discount the decision of the Supreme Court. Some said that the high court should have waited for the lower court to decide on the legality of the sale. Others said, as they did in the past, that religious law has precedence over the laws of the state, and that Jews can settle where they want in the Land of Israel.

Those in favor of the removal called the building the "Contested House." They demanded that Israel enforce its laws and judicial decisions. Tzipi Livni said that the Jews of the West Bank cannot act like bandits of the Wild West. After the settlers' removal, those in favor of the action praised the police for their restraint, and a relatively quick and effective operation. Some 20 settlers and police were injured seriously enough to be taken to hospital.

This removal resembled previous actions. It involved a period of substantial advance warning, several efforts at negotiation, and limited force. The men and women doing the work operated with helmets, face shields, body armor, tear gas, and truncheons. Settlers adhered to the unwritten rule of not using firearms against the police or army.

A complication focuses on the young peoples' capacity to provoke a violent response from the Arabs of Hebron and elsewhere. A pogrom in 1929 ended 800 years of Jewish residence in Hebron. Since 1967 the city and a nearby town have--even more than other West Bank settlements--attracted a restive population of Jewish extremists. An Israeli-American physician killed 29 Arabs at prayer and wounded some 150 others in 1994. The killer was beaten to death by Arabs who survived his attack. Jews who view his action as sacred make an annual pilgrimage to his grave.

It is too early to record all the spillovers from the present confrontation. There has been settler vandalism against Arab properties, and violence against Arabs of Hebron and nearby communities. Opponents of the settlers are describing a "Jewish intifada" meant to provoke Arab violence, and then a massive Israeli response.

Hamas is beating its own drums, charging that the Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas has stood silent while Israelis plunder Arab property and attack Arab civilians.

Should Arabs react violently against what they view as Jewish provocation, one can expect a body count, and a hue and cry internationally. Then there will be further reason for the Jews of Israel to express their rage against one another.

Due to spam, I do not accept comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

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 10:20 AM
December 03, 2008
Israel's Labor Party

The once mighty Israel Labor Party has descended into a deep crisis, and may even be twitching in its final moments. It led the Jewish community of Palestine and then Israel unchallenged from before statehood until the election of 1977. It came as close as any party to winning an absolute majority in a national election when it gained 56 seats in the 120 member Knesset chosen in 1969.

Latest polls show it winning as few as seven or even six seats in the coming election. There are conversations that could join what remains of Labor with the Kadima party. The party may go the way of the Wachovia Bank, that is also poised to disappear into a merger meant to save something from annihilation.

In what may prove to be the onset of its final moments, party officials had to stop a primary election after two hours as a computer voter system failed to operate. Pictures from the event looked like tea time at an old folks home. The only people under 70 that I saw were technicians wrestling with the hardware. The next day's headline quoted a kibbutznik of 103, who promised to vote a second time when the party tried again, with paper ballots.

When I said that the party was dying of old age, my young 62 year old wife accused me of being a bad political scientist. "You should know that it is mostly retired people who vote in the morning. Party members who work vote only in the afternoon."

There may be some members who are not yet collecting pensions, but they had no chance in the primary that failed. A younger electorate might have gotten the equipment to operate. The party's mistakes might have been to introduce electronic equipment for a party membership so much older than the national average, as well as choosing the lowest-cost bidder for the system.

The problems of the Labor Party have been developing for some time. It has been struggling with its socialist past, while many of its middle-aged and younger voters are inclined to be liberal, but are upper-income yuppies. They see advantages in the market as well as a social safety net.

It did not help when a prominent representative of the party's socialist roots, the Labor Federation's General Secretary Amir Peretz, was chosen to lead the party and accepted the position of Defense Minister in the government headed by Ehud Olmert. It was his bad luck that the 2006 war in Lebanon erupted a few months into his watch. His lack of qualifications appeared in a widely circulated picture showing him alongside generals, trying to look through binoculars without removing the lens caps.

Ehud Barak staged a comeback to replace Peretz. Barak had reached the pinnacle of the IDF as its commander. Upon his retirement from the army, he moved through the posts of Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, party head, and Prime Minister, all in the course of four years. Two years later he lost a national election and retired from politics. Widely acknowledged to be brilliant but arrogant, he promised to consult more widely when he again sought party leadership in 2007.

With a paunch at 66, Barak represents the graying of the once dominant party. Among his competitors is an outspoken advocate of a more aggressive posture in favor of the poor, a young man of 47, but already with dyed hair and a wattle.

Barak's most recent efforts were a campaign to secure a place high on Labor's list for Benyamin Ben-Eliezer. This 72-year old former soldier, and holder of numerous ministerial positions, has often been outspoken on both sides of the hawk and dove divide that has been one of the party's problems. Alongside a history of Zionist activism to settle the land has been an accommodationist posture that has sought to make peace with Israel's neighbors. Barack sought to gain party support for saving Ben Eliezer place number 6 on the party list. That would assure him a seat in the Knesset under even the most dismal polls. Party democrats insisted that everyone compete for members' support. Ultimately Ben Eliezer tried to convince the public that he had no interest in a secure place, and was willing to compete on his record.

The basic problem of the Labor party is an insistence on holding to traditional loyalties, despite some internal confusion and an electorate that has passed beyond those concerns. Socialism has limited appeal, despite the handful of ideologues who won Knesset seats in the last election. The kibbutzim used to be at the center of the party's nucleus, but they have gone to private ownership and differential salaries. Highly rewarded entrepreneurs in high tech have replaced agriculture at the leading edge of the national economy. The kibbutzim have also lost their position as prime suppliers of the IDF's officer corps to the children of right-wing religious settlers.

Activists who aspire to peace with the Palestinians have not done any better than those (some of the same people) who yearn for socialism. Stubborn Palestinian adherence to their narrative (it is all the fault of the Zionists; Israel must admit its injustice and concede everything) have joined with Hamas' ascendance in Gaza to move Israelis out of the peace camp.

Benyamin Netanyahu has revived his own reputation and that of Likud. One should not accept all of Netanyahu's claims of being a confirmed hard liner. Despite his efforts to fudge or deny, his record includes concessions on Hebron and offering to withdraw from the Golan. He may be more an opportunist than an ideologue. Whatever he is, he may win six times or more the number of seats as Labor.

We must be wary of playing taps prematurely over an assigned place of Labor in the political cemetery, or--more appropriate--saying Kaddish. Likud's revival from a dismal showing in the last election is only the latest in the list of parties that came back from purgatory. More than once, American analysts have declared the end of Republicans as well as Democrats.

Currently, Labor seems fixed in a gerontological mode, and may not do much better than the Pensioners' Party. There are no youngsters, or individuals who seem able to excite young voters among its potential leaders. It does not look promising, or even hopeful, but it may be too early to call in the gravediggers.

On account of spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

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 12:11 AM
December 02, 2008

Events in Mumbai (Bombay) offer several lessons for the war on terror.

Sisyphus is the most helpful of all the experts. He is the chap condemned to roll forever a huge boulder up a hill, never reaching the top.

The war is enervating and--as far as we can see into the future--endless.

There is no substitute for a lot of work that does not contribute clearly to the protection of the innocent, yet may deter the violent. Israelis have gotten used to being inspected upon entering shopping malls and supermarkets. International travelers have learned not to carry fingernail clippers on their person, nor to approach check points with bottles of water, and to wear shoes that are easy to shed for inspection.

As I began to write this, information about a terror plot caused the police to erect roadblocks on the approaches to Tel Aviv during the morning rush hour. Traffic jams stretched over the horizon. The roadblocks did not produce any villains. Perhaps they dissuaded some from their mission.

Citizens gripe about threats to human rights, Guantanamo, ethnic profiling, as well as the expense and inconvenience of security. No one can be sure that any one action is useful. There are fanatics who do harm in the name of national security. Civilized countries must screen their protective services for sadists who would prey on the vulnerable.

Not all the Israeli soldiers and police at the checkpoints treat Arabs appropriately. There are back and forth claims of insufficient investigation of abuses, against assertions that most of the alleged abuses did not occur.

There are not enough geniuses to supply all the personnel needed in this war. Israeli Jews born in Iraq or Iran have more trouble than others getting visas to the United States. White haired grandparents of obvious European origin must pass through the same screening at airports as young adults, traveling alone, with dark skin and beards.

Despite the intensity of the safeguards, there remain soft areas, some of them known to the bad people, where it is possible to wreck havoc.

The point of all the preventative actions, many of which are trivial and disturbing, is to send the bad people to areas that are less thorough in defending themselves.

Some of these soft spots, like India, generate their own reasons for terror. High on the list of "injustices" that motivated the killers in Mumbai were Kashmir, and the alleged misfortunes of their Muslim brothers and sisters in India. Reports are that they did not proclaim their concern for Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, they made a point of going after Jews, as well as tourists from the United States and Britain. Fashions prevail in the world of Muslim fanatics.

The violent who targeted Bali had no trouble citing injustices in Indonesia, as well as finding visiting infidels who added to the pollution that they perceived.

The price of civilization is threat from the barbarians. The Chinese and Romans built walls. Israelis, Americans, and others maintain security at airports and elsewhere, limit privacy, and other civil rights. Those actions may help. They do not assure safety. We have all seen guards who were nonchalant or tired.

Americans might think of posting checkpoints and guards at the entrances to all public buildings, including schools and shopping centers. They could stop some of the deranged locals intent on killing fellow workers or schoolmates, as well as terrorists with more elaborate motives. Who wants the expense and the bother? Is the occasional disaster preferable?

It was possible to deal with earlier waves of terror by concerted action, as well as waiting for the passing of fashions among people who aspire to revolution. European anarchists, Weathermen, Beider Meinhof, and Black Panthers no longer trouble us. None had the theological infrastructure of radical Islam. We are still waiting for the magic bullets that will protect us from them without inconvenience or worse for innocent people, some of whom are Muslim, or look like they might be Muslim.

Sisyphus was miserable. So are the rest of us, especially when we lose yet another battle in the ongoing war. The hill is long and steep. We cannot see the top. We have no great ideas about how to get there.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

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 12:31 AM