January 31, 2009
More on the war of public opinion

Soon after I finished a note on the propaganda war, and pushed the send button, I went into the living room to watch a weekly program that provides a look at what others are saying about us.

On the screen was a lengthy segment from 60 minutes, with Bob Simon showing the ugliness of IDF operations in the West Bank. He portrayed harassment at roadblocks, and interviewed a Palestinian physician who asserted that the vast majority of roadblocks had no justification for security, but were only meant to keep Palestinians from traveling within Palestine and to frustrate the development of a Palestinian state. There were aerial shots of Jewish settlements and roads (for Jews only) that were said to cut up the West Bank in order to make that state an impossibility.

The ugliest segments showed occupations of a large family home in Nablus, which the IDF used for observing the surroundings. The homeowner complained of being locked in his house, his wife and children kept in a side room when soldiers came repeatedly, always unannounced and uninvited, and took over the rest of the house.

Daniela Weiss, a political leader of settlers, spoke at length about God providing all that Jews needed by way of authority to occupy all the Land of Israel. She said time and again that any effort of the Israeli government to remove settlers would be met by a mutiny of army officers and soldiers. Meron Benvenisti has been criticizing settlement policy since the 1970s. He said what he has written countless times: settlements reflect Israeli machinations to control the land and to frustrate Palestinian aspirations. There was a snippet of Tzipi Livni saying that she would remove settlements for the sake of peace, and that law abiding Israelis would implement what the government decided.

For those who think that American Jews dominate the media and use it to reinforce Israel's actions, the program proved that "with friends like that we do not need enemies."

What was missing was a balanced discussion of Israeli actions.

The physician said that he was denied access to Jerusalem, despite applying for an entry permit more than 20 times and never receiving an explanation for the rejection of his applications. What the program did not report was that he has been arrested several times in Jerusalem for entering the city illegally. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustafa_Barghouti That may not be the only reason for denying him a permit, but it is the kind of reason that bureaucracies consider sufficient.

Daniela Weiss and Meron Benvenisti are caricatures of the extreme right and left. The program offered no mention of the violent Palestinian response to withdrawing settlements from Gaza, the historical context in which Palestinians and other Arabs refused to negotiate with Israel for some years after 1967, the periodic outbursts of violence since then, and the assertion, repeatedly made, that only Israelis have to make concessions. These points should figure in reasonable explanation for settlements that do not rest on God or scheming Israelis. The segment of the roads built for Jews only did not mention drive-by shootings and ambushes of Jews on roads in the West Bank available to both Jews and Palestinians.

Tzipi Livni came through as a caricature of a left wing politician, intent on withdrawing settlements, and confident that as prime minister she will have to the power to enforce her wish against all opposition.

That portrait of Livni, in her own words, could lose her votes in next week's election. But it is not the whole picture of Livni. In other presentations, not edited to show an unnuanced picture of Israelis, she emphasizes the need to negotiate in good faith, willing to make sacrifices like withdrawing settlements, but also waiting for movement in the Palestinian position. She is not the martinet portrayed on 60 minutes.

Reasonable people disagree about Israeli policy, as well as particular actions in the West Bank. There are decent Palestinians who want opportunities to travel for purposes of business, family visits, medical care, or religious ceremonies, and who aspire to create a state of their own. Not every Israeli soldier is a saint. Long hours on guard duty may limit sensitivities in dealing with those who wish to pass. But some who wish to pass are intent on evil. Suspicion results from female suicide bombers dressed as if they are pregnant, men and women who attack soldiers with knives, and ambulances used to transport fighters and weapons.

What Israelis face when they ponder the West Bank is a complex story composed of Palestinian violence, as well as Palestinian aspirations that are admirable. Israeli citizens, politicians, and military personnel ponder the difficulties, and argue about actions proposed as well as those already taken. An earlier program on the same channel was a lengthy interview with a recently retired member of the IDF General Staff. He talked about conflicting religious norms, and other issues that made him ambivalent about the use of force. His ruminations provide an insight as to why it may take so long for Israelis to respond to Palestinian violence. He is not a pacifist. He also showed that once convinced, he and his colleagues, could order the kind of response we have seen in Gaza.

Compared to him, Bob Simon's presentation was as shallow as a single sheet of paper.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:47 PM
A war of public opinion?

Is there a "war of public opinion?" If so, is it important? And is Israel losing it?

These are old questions, which surface whenever Israel does something perceived as ugly or disproportionate.

There is no obvious measure of the current surge in anti-Israel demonstrations, editorials, or letters to the editor, in comparison with the levels reached during the Lebanon War of 2006, attacks on the West Bank after the suicide bombing at a Passover Seder in 2002, or any other event in the bloody history.

We should not overlook those who support Israel. There are letter writers, blogers, lecturers, and politicians who justify and even applaud what Israel has done, often with greater impact than official representatives.

Much of the leadership and the noise against Israel is coming from Muslims in Europe and North America, as well as those in the Middle East. There are reports that Europeans' opinion moves toward Israel when large number of Arabs march in their cities.

Among the protesters are leftists who flock to the cause of the moment. There are also people who make an effort to say that Israel has a right to defend itself, but ask to what extent.

There are those in the latter group I would consider reasonable. However, there are also many who do not trouble themselves to ponder the problems that appear daily in the Israeli media, affect individuals at the pinnacle of the government and throughout the military.

Israelis are not as completely pacifist or humanitarian as populations that have not fought in decades or centuries, or among those in the United States or Europe who would be the last to go into the military or send their children to the military. However, Israelis continue to worry about the implications of how they defend themselves against evil.

Nothing is more likely to sharpen one's capacity for moral introspection than frequent attempts at terror, shielded by Arab civilians, by people who see themselves served by pictures of women and children killed as the "collateral damage" of Israeli actions. Military and political leaders realize that their attacks will bring retaliation, and continue a "cycle of violence." That concern might stop the process of national defense among those who do not have to worry about the realities of Israel.

The realities go beyond the spectacular events that get to the front pages of western newspapers. The inner pages of Israeli newspapers report, virtually on a daily basis, attempts at violence against civilians. Even if they do not succeed in killing or injuring Israelis, these efforts fuel a lack of confidence that persuasion, or votes in the United Nations will protect against violence.

How many troops has the Pope?

The old question is relevant to the war of public opinion. It is not a matter of quantity of opposition to Israel, but who opposes Israel. In these days after Gaza, there appears to be considerable understanding of Israel's position where it counts, among those actually in government positions.

"World opinion"so far has not deterred Israeli politicians or soldiers. A recent headline is that there has been a decision to give Hamas another massive blow, in response to continued missile and mortar attacks toward Israeli civilians.

The public opinion that counts most is that of Israel. There is an Israeli left which criticizes excesses and is certain that authorities missed an opportunity to convince Hamas with persuasion and decent offers. The stronger opposition is one that feels the government stopped too soon, without destroying Hamas completely. Pre-election polls show an increase in the support for right of center Likud , and a party further to the right, Israel our Home.

There will be efforts in the United States to cut aid to Israel. There always are, especially when Democrats dominate Congress. In a period of economic crisis, there may be cuts in aid to every recipient. There may be efforts to deny Israel's requests to sell it munitions to replace supplies used in Gaza. If they are denied, Israel's own munitions plants will produce items, perhaps of different quality than those purchased abroad. If next time Israel has to use bombs and shells less "smart", there will be more damage to civilians.

Israelis do not enjoy all those demonstrations, or accusations of war crimes.

Israelis also do not like to kill. The military knows the cost of its actions. It moves only after prolonged deliberation. The Gaza operation came almost eight years after the rockets started to fall on Sderot and other towns. The commanding officers, and the politicians who lead them, are not sure that it is time to stop.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:03 AM
January 28, 2009
Tom Friedman and the Saudi king

An American friend called my attention to a recent article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/opinion/28friedman.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

Friedman writes about a 5-state solution for Palestine. It consists of money from Saudi Arabia, and cooperation between that country, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel to meet the needs of Palestine.

Friedman continues his obsession with Jewish settlements in the West Bank as the key to peace, even while he has moved beyond a simplistic view of unilateral withdrawal. He recognizes that Israelis are not enthusiastic about dismantling settlements after years of rocket attacks following their departure from Gaza. Now he is proposing a phased withdrawal, along with inch-for-inch land swaps for land that Israel retains in the case of its largest settlements.

The greatest oddity of the piece is that Friedman writes it in the name of the Saudi king, Abdullah II. He concedes that the king has not agreed to be interviewed. Friedman writes as if he is reading Abdullah's mind.

Friedman's idea will have some support in Israel. It resembles the "Saudi plan," muted in 2002, and viewed by reasonable Israelis as the point at which negotiations might begin.

One problem is that the Saudis themselves, other Arabs and the Palestinians appear to view the plan as "take it or leave it," without room for modification. The Saudi plan leaves vague the issue of Palestinian refugees. Friedman does not mention them. Palestinians have not given up the demand that refugees and their descendants return to their homes in Israel.

Since the Saudis presented their proposal in 2002, the future of Palestine has been confused by a civil war, intense antagonism between Gaza and the West Bank, and whatever will result from Israel's recent operation in Gaza.

Rather than Friedman's proposal that relies on reading the mind of a king who will not speak with him, it is time to consider the possibility that those leading the Palestinians have adopted the model of suicide bombers. They have killed the idea of Palestine state, without significant damage to their Israeli target.

The question that remains is one of disposal. What to do with the people living in the deceased entity? Neither Israel, Jordan, nor Egypt want them.

I have no solution.

For the time being, however, which may last for many years, they will continue in something like local autonomy. Palestinian institutions will provide social services, but without the features associated with states, such as recognized sovereignty, full control of borders, or an army. From all indications, the West Bank and Gaza will remain separate. Jordan, Egypt, and Israel will provide access to those areas for civilian needs, and try to keep out munitions beyond those needed for local policing.

Can something like this be institutionalized in formal agreements?

No chance. The self-serving demands of all those Muslim states will prevent it. For more than 60 years they have been fanning the idea of Palestine rather than using resources to serve their people, and they are not about to stop. Western governments will continue to bankroll Palestinian institutions. The United Nations will feed and educate many of the Palestinians, and do what it can to keep alive the idea of Palestine.

The hope is that Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others will accept the fiction of a prolonged coma, perhaps while continuing their rhetoric in behalf of Palestine and against Israel.

In other words, the body is starting to smell, but the neighbors cannot agree to a funeral.


I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:59 PM
Unpleasant welcomes for George Mitchell

Welcome to the Middle East, Mr. Mitchell, and good luck in behalf of President Obama's commitment to work aggressively to bring peace to two states, Israel and Palestine.

Your reception has not been pleasant.

It began when Hamas, or a group that Hamas chose not to control, killed an Israeli soldier. Soon after, the Israeli air force reported that it liquidated one of the men involved in the killing. Later it bombed tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Each of the political triumvirate that decides on such things (Olmert, Barak, and Livni) has promised more retaliation. Expectations are that Hamas or its allies will use some of the remaining rockets to retaliate against Israel.

Mitchell and others will be working to quiet Gaza and its surroundings, as well as to assure an end to the smuggling of munitions into the area. That will not easy. They come from Iran and move in various ways through the Sinai and into Gaza. The Bedouin of the desert do much of the transporting. They are chronically at odds with Egyptian authorities. Bedouin are also involved in moving drugs, European prostitutes, and African migrants into Israel.

Important in American and European aspirations for Palestine is the "moderate" regime of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party. One can quarrel as to how moderate they really are. Descendants of Yassir Arafat's PLO, they have formally renounced terror, but not all of their factions have signed on to the renunciation. Abbas has negotiated with Israel, but insists that Israel is totally at fault for Palestinian suffering. He has demanded the non-starters of withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and rights for the refugees of 1948, as well as (what may be possible) a state with its capital in Jerusalem. Abbas is currently leading the charge to arraign Israel on war crime violations for its actions in Gaza, without a concern for the war crimes of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians.

Abbas and his regime are known more for weakness, incompetence, corruption, and lack of political support among Palestinians than for any more attractive traits. Anyone thinking it capable of taking over Gaza must deal with its failure to hold off Hamas in a short but bloody encounter that peaked in 2007.

Someone attempting a sober assessment of the Fatah establishment may wonder if the topic is governance or comic opera.

Important in Hamas' victory in the most recent Palestinian national election was a feeling widespread among voters that corruption prevails in ranks of Fatah and among its elected officials. http://www.mepc.org/journal_vol12/0509_denoeux.asp

Among the players is Muhammad Dahlan. He served as Fatah's head of security in Gaza, but managed to be away from Gaza during fighting between Fatah and Hamas. Reports are that he made himself rich by monopolies in the importing of oil and cement, and diverted 40 percent of import taxes at one crossing into Gaza into his personal account. He purchased a hotel on the beach, and made himself unpopular by living in one of Gaza's largest and most opulent homes.

At various times Dahlan was the target of a conventional accusation used by rivals in the regime (collaborating with Israel), and was also involved in the initiation of intrigues against others. He exposed payments of $11.5 million to Yassir Arafat's wife, and reported that the family of Ahmed Qureia (former prime minister of the Palestine National Authority and recently one of the principal negotiators with Israel) was heavily involved in the sale of cement meant for Palestine to Israel for construction of housing in the West Bank and the security barrier. Palestinians of all stripes repeatedly condemn the housing and barrier as violations of agreements and Israeli schemes to undermine the peace process. http://www.geocities.com/lawrenceofcyberia/palbios/pa05000.html

Adding to the Palestinian opera were: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1206632349492&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter

*One of Abbas' personal aides caught trying to smuggle 3,000 cell phones into the West Bank
*Qureia's deposit of $3 million of Authority funds into his private bank account
*Involvement of Palestinian physicians, pharmacists and officials of the Authority's Health Ministry in the smuggling of expired medicines, said to have caused the deaths of numerous patients
I*nvestment of $600 million in a Jordanian tourist project by Arafat's financial advisor, who is said to have close ties to Abbas and his colleagues

Another welcoming message for George Mitchell was arranged by the Israeli organization, Peace Now. It produced a report about the expansion of Israeli housing in the West Bank, in apparent violation of the commitments made to the United States and others by the Olmert government.

Settler representatives were quick to charge Peace Now with inaccuracies.

Assuming that construction continues, perhaps at a rate lesser or greater than claimed by Peace Now, the question to be asked is, "Even if construction is not what officials promised, does it represent a greater problem than other factors that have derailed the peace process?" Prominent among them are the rocket attacks from Gaza that followed the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from that area, and the lack of any sign that the Abbas regime is prepared to adjust its demands from the conventional package that have proved to be non-starters.

Good luck, Mr. Mitchell. I do hope that you can repeat your success in Northern Ireland. The key to your aspiration, in my view, is to make the Palestinian Authority more unified, with key officials less concerned with personal profit, more concerned with serving the people, and making demands flexible enough to attract the sizable number of Israelis who have long aspired to a reasonable deal.

I am not confident that you or anyone else is up to the tasks.


I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:24 AM
January 25, 2009
Now its politics

Last week was the war in Gaza. The election campaign begins in earnest this week. Voting is on February 10th..

This note is for all political mavens dying to know what Israelis do when we are not fighting, preparing to fight, arguing about the most recent fighting, or that on the horizon.

Israelis vote for party lists in one nationwide district. The parties getting at least two percent of the total vote send a proportional number of members to the 120 seat Knesset. No party has ever won a national majority. The leading party gets a chance to put together a coalition that can garner majority support in the Knesset.

Each successful parties sends the appropriate number of individuals on its list to the Knesset, based upon their ranking on the list. The parties differ on how they choose and rank the individuals. The major parties have primaries, open to individuals who pay dues of perhaps $7 per month. Other parties employ committees set up by party leaders. Religious parties rely on distinguished rabbis to select their candidates.

Here are the choices being faced, in the order of relevance.

First, the parties that won seats in the previous election, and seem likely to win seats in the next Knesset.

Secular parties:

Likud: right of center, in opposition with only 12 seats in the current Knesset, but leading in the polls
Kadima (forward): a centrist party, leading the current coalition with 29 members, but trailing Likud in the polls
Labor: left-of-center, the dominant party from the pre-state period until 1977, a major contender and occasional leader of governing coalitions since then, currently with 18 members of Knesset and the second party in the coalition, but ranking only third or fourth in the polls
Israel our Home: right of center party growing beyond its roots among Russian-speakers; it has campaigned to exchange of territory and population between Israel and a Palestinian entity, currently with 11 members of Knesset, with polls showing it increasing in number, to the point where it may become the second party in a coalition led by Likud
Meretz: left of center, emphasizing social justice and accommodation with Israel's neighbors, currently with 5 members of Knesset

Likud, Kadima, and Labor are at the focus of the campaign, with Israel our Home nipping around their heels. Meretz will get a few seats, but probably remain marginal. The religious and Arab parties will appeal to their traditional and disciplined voters, and return to the Knesset within a seat or two of what has been typical.

Likud's campaign relies on Benyamin Netanyahu's rhetorical skills in Hebrew and English, and his claims of being responsible and successful in managing the country's defense and its economy. Against Kadima, the Likud campaign asserts that Tzipi Livni "is not ready," and has proved to be vacillating and indecisive.

Kadima's campaign focuses on the bluster and unreliability of Netanyahu, as well as Livni's lack of taint by scandal.

Ehud Barak and his success in the recent Gaza operation is at the center of Labor's campaign. Troubling for Labor is a party that includes enthusiastic socialists and a concern for making peace, along with others impressed with the power of the market. An emphasis on compromise for the sake of peace may have special difficulty in this campaign, when the party leader takes primary responsibility for the efficient destruction in Gaza.

Religious parties:

Sephardi Guardians of the Torah (known by its acronym, SHAS): Sephardi ultra-Orthodox, currently with 12 members of Knesset
Torah Judaism: Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox, currently with 3 Knesset members
Jewish Home: a descendant of the National Religious Party, representing Religious Zionists or modern Orthodox, with a heavy vote in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank; its predecessor party won 7 seats in the last election, but was troubled by splits and the establishment of competing parties

Largely Arab parties. The electoral commission decided that two of these parties (Balad and United Arab List) would not be allowed to run on account of campaigns threatening the continued existence of Israel. The Supreme Court accepted their appeals and overturned the decisions of the electoral commission. Personalities and family connections appear to be more important than nuances in platforms to affect the relative success of these parties.

National Democratic Covenant (Known by its acronym, Balad): the party of Azmi Beshara currently outside of Israel evading arrest on suspicion of treason. With 3 Knesset members, Balad aspires that Israel will become the state of all its citizens, withdraw from all the territories, and accept the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem
Hadash (new): descendant of the Communist party, aspires to a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and to full equality of Jewish and Arab citizens; it currently has 3 Knesset members (two Arabs and one Jew)
United Arab List: aspires to a solution of the economic and social problems in Israel, closing social gaps, equality between all citizens, and a just peace between Israel and its neighbors

What follows is a motley list of those likely to be also-rans. In a system of free air time for all parties on radio and television, with allocations reflecting the proportion of votes in the most recent election, these parties will receive a minimum of air time.

In this list are several parties competing for the same voters: those concerned with the environment, social welfare, vaguely defined moral values, equality of Jews and Arabs, a just peace, or rejection of Palestinian demands. Duplication adds to the problems of any one to gather enough votes to enter the Knesset. There might be a chance of a Green (environmental) party winning Knesset seats. However, the competition between two parties that emphasize the environment, plus others that mention the environment among other goals, works against that possibility.

In this list are several parties created and led by distinguished individuals long active in politics, including a prominent academic, two retired generals, and a singer of some fame. One wonders why the seemingly well informed, with secure personal status, risk embarrassment in what seem bound to be losing causes.

Our Land of Israel: a clone of the late Rabbi Kahane's Kach, opposing political agreements with Arabs, with aging pop singer Ariyeh Zilber among its candidates
Responsibility: refurbished party established around a retired general who has run before, advocating a renewed emphasis on values and legality
Light: aspires to an enlightened democracy based on human rights as articulated by the United Nations
International Covenant: would fan a new humane spirit to engender a lasting peace between people, and between them and the earth.
National Unity: to realize the right of the Jewish people to all their homeland
Workers Party: advocates a "sane alternative to capitalism"
Israelis: established by a professor of political science to reform the electoral system so that residents of separate districts can choose their representatives instead of selecting party lists in a national poll
Green Party: environmental quality essential to national renewal
Idea of Equality: to solve the inequalities imposed on men in cases of divorce and child support
Green and Social Standing: combines environmental quality, education and other social issues
Power to Influence: representing the physically handicapped
Strong Israel: established by a former leading Knesset member of Labor, to provide an alternative emphasizing moral values and a fight against crime that will strengthen Israel against its enemies.
Renewed Israel: to represent Russian speaking immigrants and others concerned with a social democratic alternative
United Fighters for Society: concerned with social rights of divorced men and women, children, and the handicapped
To Move: improve the economy, society, security, health, environment, and limit traffic accidents
Sabra: promotes the needs of young voters concerned with values, equality of rights and obligations, education, culture, welfare, employment.
Green Leaf: to legalize the medical, personal, and industrial use of cannabis, as well as rights of privacy, single-sex marriage, and environmental quality
Pensioners: concerned with the aged, and a surprise winner of 7 seats in the last election. Its Knesset members came under suspicion for financial irregularities and sexual harassment. The party split, and its remnant is currently polling too low to win any Knesset seats

None of these 17 also-running has made enough of a dent in the polls to be listed in their results. It takes some hunting through the internet to find a complete list of the parties registered for the election. For some of the parties, it is a further task to decipher what they have written about themselves iin order to to uncover what they are offering.

Openness is part of democracy, which in Israel means 30 or so parties competing in elections. Another part of democracy is the right to free expression. Free expression includes the right to mount a campaign that most people will ignore.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:38 PM
January 24, 2009
Obama and implementation

As I read the flood of articles devoted to President Barack Obama's initial activities, I am impressed that a new day has dawned. I am also confident that the sky is not falling.

By that I mean that he has signaled changes in some highly symbolic issues. However, he can do nothing with a "stroke of the pen." As JFK once said, "There is always a schmuck who doesn't get the message."

Laws passed by a legislature, and orders signed by a chief executive do not enforce themselves. They depend on the cooperation of professionals in one or more government offices, and most likely individuals in the private sector. In a complex system like the United States, many federal actions also depend on 50 state governments, plus thousands of local authorities and quasi-governmental organizations.

Political scientists who study what is called "implementation" find numerous cases when expectations about laws or executive orders fail to materialize in small or large measure. It may not be the isolated schmuck who does not get the message, but many individuals in key positions who read central government decisions in their own way, do not give them high priority, do not allocate matching funds that are required, or otherwise delay, distort, or ignore what comes down from on high.

Look at the economic recovery steps to rescue banks and, presumably, to increase their lending. Banks retain discretion of what to do with the money under their control, even if it originates with the federal government. Early signs are that they remain tight fisted, perhaps on account of their continuing fear of widespread insolvency. Does this indicate a flaw in the details of the policy to rescue the banks? Or does it reflect a wise decision by federal officials to rely ultimately on bankers to judge risk.

One can applaud President Obama's decision to end the ban on financing organizations concerned with population control that practice or advise abortion. However, his stroke of the pen does not mean that all of the clerks who must approve government spending will adhere to the spirit of his decision.

One can also applaud an end to the abuses at Guantanamo. However, the closing down is scheduled to take a year. Still waiting are decisions about what to do with the prisoners.

Campaign rhetoric to end involvement in Iraq has been watered down to diminish markedly US military involvement. We do not know what will happen during the extended timetable with respect to the development of Iraqis' own security capabilities, or how counter arguments by generals and other functionaries will get to the President's pragmatic side.

The new head of the CIA is against "torture." So are we all. Most likely we do not agree on its definition. We may agree that information will not come from bad people simply by asking for it. Waterboarding and sleep deprivation may be out. There are other techniques. It's a platitude to say that pressure does not produce useful information. Sometime it does. Sometime it does not. The detailed information that guided the IDF in Gaza, and leads it to bad people in the West Bank virtually every night does not come from being nice.

We do not know what will be the new American policy with respect to our immediate surroundings. When Bill Clinton was president and Ehud Barak prime minister, I was prepared to see an international boundary 100 meters from these fingers. The Palestinians chose violence instead. Early signs are that the fantasy-sellers are not on the Obama team to deal with the Middle East. The President's first telephone calls were to Mahmoud Abbas, Husni Mubarak, and Ehud Olmert. There is not a revolutionary on the list.

George Mitchell is coming this week. It will not be a social visit, but neither will it involve maps of final borders, and demands about concessions. He describes his first task as firming up the cease fire concerned with Gaza. That suggests that he recognizes the impact of the recent three weeks on what can happen subsequently.

We hear that something will have to change, or efforts to achieve peace will go nowhere.

There are Israelis who do not want peace efforts to go anywhere. Others do not expect them to go anywhere. A lot of us are tired, and somewhat fearful of clumsy and repetitive efforts by Americans and others that overlook Palestinian realities.

As I read the research about implementation, the process is more difficult, and less certain when issues are complex, emotionally sensitive, and especially when they require the cooperation of different governments that are suspicious of one another.

Current polls show right-of-center Likud in the lead less than three weeks before a national election. A party further to the right, Israel our Home, may become the second largest party in a Likud-led coalition. If that happens, it will add to the challenges of outsiders who want to do better than others who have tried before them.


I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:27 PM
January 22, 2009
A new start?

President Obama says that he will act aggressively to bring about peace between Israel and Palestinians, as well as between Israel and other Arab countries. His delegate to the Middle East, George Mitchell, says that there is no problem without a solution.

Welcome to the latest round in American efforts to settle affairs of the world.

I hope these folks do better than their predecessors' aspirations for Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Vietnam.

Since America's ascendance to a world power, the record has been mixed.

Credit is due for decent jobs in post-war Europe and Japan, and helping bring stability, prosperity, and democracy to South Korea and Taiwan. George Mitchell did well in Northern Ireland.

Latin American continues with its ups and downs on scales of governance and prosperity, and Africa mostly downs.

Not all of the blame or praise should go to American efforts. Others have meddled more heavily, and with no greater success, in Africa. Europeans, Japanese, Koreans, and the people of Taiwan deserve a good deal of credit for their success, and Latin Americans a good deal of the responsibility for what happens there.

Likewise, the people of South Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan share responsibility for the frustration of American aims. The pity lies in investments of blood and treasure wasted in Vietnam, and heading that way in Iraq and Afghanistan.

India and China have done well, with little input from American administrations.

The problems of our tiny spot may produce more of an embarrassment than accomplishment for President Obama.

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazan) is the hope of the United States and European governments, but is widely scorned among Palestinians. Some view him as a collaborator for dealing with Israel and not coming to the aid of Gaza. Some view him as a figurehead for the aged and corrupt. Staying in office beyond the end of his term does not add to his standing. Many view him as incompetent, weak, and irrelevant.

Gaza may be one of those defining moments in a people's history that requires a rethinking of where they are going, and how to nudge them. The destruction is profound. Providers of the aid necessary to reconstruct are saying that they will not pass their assistance through Hamas. Palestinians are not enthusiastic about relying on Abbas and his friends.

What will happen at this intersection of refusing to help those defined as terrorists, and relying on those defined as corrupt and incompetent?
Many of the residents will recall earlier days of living rough. Perhaps they are in for another 60 years defined as refugees, nurtured by the food and propaganda of the United Nations and its local staff.

Radical Islam remains prominent, if not dominant. The Palestinian civil war is not over. Hamas took advantage of the confusion of recent weeks to kill people identified as Fatah.

Among the challenges of George Mitchell will be producing some kind of unity among the Palestinians, finding a leadership that is not fanatic and suicidal, and willing to deal with Israelis who just now have produced so much death and destruction.

The quick fix should not be a wholesale withdrawal of Jewish settlements from the West Bank.

The destruction of Gaza, and its complications for any prospect of peace, flowed directly from the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza. The response of the Palestinians was an escalation of rocket and mortar fire toward Israeli civilians. After years of Israeli dithering, threatening, and preparing, came three weeks of destruction.

A magician may find a way to withdraw Jewish settlements from the West Bank without escalating Palestinian terror, but part of the magic must be convincing the Israeli public.

The more extreme of the settlers have little support. Jewish religious fanatics do not engender any more empathy than Muslim religious fanatics. The government has, on occasion, dismantled small and isolated settlements, established without prior authority. Uprooting families that have lived where they are for decades is another matter, especially after the Palestinian response to withdrawal from Gaza.

The Holy Books describe miracles in this place. Secular scholars call them myths. Even some religious leaders describe them as "stories for children.".

We hope for the best, but should not expect miracles. We know that President Obama can talk. He and his emissaries must also demonstrate creativity. Pushing the same old solutions will not solve the same old problems.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:13 PM
January 21, 2009
No end of woe

There are no total victories in war or elections. Enemies/antagonists/opponents remain active. Dealing with one problem is likely to produce a host of others. Von Clausewitz told us that war is a continuation of politics with other means. In both war and politics there remains work to be done after the fighting or the voting.

The Gaza operation has produced its share of spin offs, some of them predictable.

There is no shortage of claims that Israel ought to be held accountable for war crimes. A minister in the UK Foreign Office is demanding an investigation into the improper use of phosphorus munitions. Human Rights Watch is also convinced that Israel is guilty on this point, and wants an inquiry that will prove it.

Ban-Ki Moon is focusing on Israel's attacks on UN installations. What else? The Secretary General is standing up for his employees among the Gazans who are sure that there was no improper use of their facilities.

Israel is conducting its own inquiries into both charges, as well as other claims that soldiers acted improperly. In order to minimize problems, the military employed a staff of legal advisers along with its commanders. It is compiling dossiers that include evidence of the enemy using residences, mosques, schools, UN installations, and clinics for military purposes. The material is not likely to silence those who are feverish in their intent to convict Israel and its soldiers, but it might be useful if charges are brought before courts or committees of inquiry willing to listen.

Less expected has been the appearance of supernatural forces, working in behalf of Israel's soldiers.

Making the rounds of those inclined to believe, and bolstered by the internet, is a story that former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu prayed at the tomb of Rachel prior to the Gaza operation, and that a mysterious woman appeared at several points during the fighting to warn Israeli soldiers against deadly traps.

The word is that the woman is Rachel, or sent by Rachel, or somehow connected to the biblical figure revered for her capacity to protect Jews and respond to special requests.

Judaism does not easily revere the supernatural. According to Deuteronomy 18:

Let no one be found among you who . . . practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens. . . or who . . . consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. . .
On account of language like that, hapless sorts from Salem and elsewhere paid with their lives.

Individual rabbis, including the son of Mordechai Eliyahu, have lent their support to the story of Rachel. Other rabbis put themselves somewhere between polite skepticism and outright rejection. The head of one religious academy bristles at the thought of Jews relying on those who have died. Judaism emphasizes life, according to his view, and the responsibility of the living to deal with the here and now.

There is much to do. Gazans are repairing damaged tunnels, digging others, and already transporting fuel, men, and munitions from Egypt into Sinai. Israeli officials are threatening to retaliate, and working toward setting up committees with Egypt, the United States, and European countries to deal with the problem.

Should Israel send its warplanes after every report of a new tunnel, and destroy yet additional buildings close to the Egyptian border? Should it rely on others to stop the traffic, when earlier promises proved useless? Or should it rely on the death and destruction it has wrought to be the most effective way of postponing the next round of fighting?

I can wish for an obvious answer, but I fear there is no one way that is clearly superior to others. I doubt, too, that Rachel or any of her biblical colleagues will make it easier for us.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:52 PM
January 20, 2009
Still upside down

Gaza did not fix everything. Our part of the world is still upside down.

Hamas fighters are strutting on the main streets with their weapons, while their leaders proclaim victory from underground shelters.

Like Hassan Nasrallah, their counterpart in Lebanon, they may stay underground for the indefinite future. Perhaps they fear Israel if they peek out to the sunlight, or dare hold a victory rally in the open. Or they may fear the people of Gaza, faced with the rubble of wild promises.

Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary General, is visiting Gaza and Sderot. He laments violence against civilians in both places, but only in Gaza does he call it totally unacceptable, requiring international investigations and charges of war crimes against those responsible.

Israel survived Kofi Anan's tantrums. It will still be here when Ban Ki-Moon is collecting his pension.

One should not expect much better. With a third of the world Muslim, and much of that off the rails of rationality, one must expect persistent claims of victory from the likes of Hamas, Hizbollah, and Iran, as well as condemnation from United Nations personnel beholden to the votes they can muster.

The noise does not make for gaiety in the Promised Land, even though we are doing better than those claiming victory in Lebanon and Gaza.

The latest sign of Israeli caution, also against the grain of what is happening elsewhere, appears in the responses to a query on a popular web site:

21 percent of 6,000 respondents answered that "Obama's swearing-in fills me with hope for a better future"

43 percent answered that "Obama's swearing-in fills me with dread for the future of Israel and the world"

36 percent answered that "I don't have expectations and therefore will not be disappointed."

Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion to rebuild Gaza, Kuwait a quarter of that, Dubai a bit less than Kuwait, and Bangladesh $20,000. If there is a repeat of past financial pledges to Palestine, substantially less than those amounts will leave the pockets of the donors, and an impressive portion of that which leaves their pockets will end up in the pockets of well placed Palestinians.

Oil is back into the $30s. Along with recent events, that might limit Iran's inclination to make another sizable investment.

European governments are talking about aid, not to Hamas but to the "official" government of Mahmoud Abbas. Should we remind them that his term has expired?

For some time to come, Gaza is likely to be an organizational as well as a physical mess.

Palestinian suffering does not make me happy, except that keeping busy with scrounging money, and rebuilding, may keep them away from rocket launchers.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:34 AM
January 18, 2009
What happened, and what is next?


It may not be over, and it is not likely to be the end of history or even the end of Israel's problems with the Muslims, but the early indications about Israel's Gaza operation are not all that bad.

Leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Britain, and the Czech Republic came to Jerusalem and spoke in support of Israel's accomplishments and intentions. Earlier in the day Husni Mubarek hosted the same group, along with prominent Arab leaders, and they did not condemn Israel.

Israeli leaders are expressing what seems to be widely felt here: sorrow for the deaths and suffering of non-combatants in Gaza, which is not the same as an apology. Already the government along with numerous volunteers has set up a field hospital on the borders of Gaza to provide treatment of civilians, and screening of cases to be sent for further care in Israeli hospitals.

The army has begun pulling its troops out of Gaza. Not all of them have left, and reservists have yet to be released. Forces are positioned close to the border. Israeli leaders do not enjoy killing, and they do not want to rule a hostile population, but they are not idiots. The IDF has already liquidated one group that fired rockets after the cease fire. It has signaled that it may tolerate some infractions of a cease fire for a short while without a massive response, but there is a limit to its patience.

The scenes of destruction in large parts of Gaza testify to the limits of Israeli tolerance. It will be best for all of us if the leadership of Hamas, Hizbollah, and Iran get the message.

As yet there is no resolution for the Israeli soldier held prisoner by Hamas for more than two years.

The world's attention will go to Washington, and the extravaganza of the Obama inauguration. That also is good for us, better than saturation coverage of destroyed buildings, screaming Gazans, and human interest stories about those who have suffered.

Not all the stories of suffering are as they look at first.

Most prominent is that of the Gazan physician, fluent in Hebrew, who acquired ranking Israeli friends while working in Israeli hospitals. The media extended time and sympathy in response to the deaths of three daughters, and his claims that there was no reason for the IDF to shell the building in which they were sheltered.

All the results of inquiries are not yet final, but the initial response from the IDF is that snipers were firing at its soldiers from the building. Initial medical tests of a surviving daughter found fragments in her body typical of the missiles used by Hamas rather than the IDF.

There is an election scheduled for February 10th. We are likely to move quickly from the efforts of ranking politicians to appear cooperative during the fighting.

The most recent polls show an increased probability for a right of center government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu. Tip Livni and Kadima lost some ground from previous polls.

The question is whether these are temporary changes. They may reflect the fighting to move people to the right; the skill of Netanyahu to express sentiments appropriate to a time of national threat; and the laid back, even passive nature of Livni.

The popularity of Ehud Barak and his Labor Party improved significantly during the war, but not enough to make him a serious prospect as prime minister. Commentators view him as the likely defense minister in either a Likud or Kadima government.

If Gaza remains quiet enough to keep the IDF quiet, the political squabbles will increase in volume. The parties will unveil songs and slogans for the time slots allotted on television and radio, most likely updated to show their claims about Gaza from those produced earlier. Each major party will talk about its accomplishments, make promises about the future of national security, and devote some time to other issues. The parties supported by most Arab voters will be critical, and get their customary ten or so seats in the Knesset.

We will also hear from the wanna bees among the other parties registered for the election. The two green parties (environmentalists) will try to distinguish themselves from the green leaf party that wants to legalize marijuana, and hope that competition between two sets of environmentalists will not keep both of them out of the Knesset. The pensioners are tottering on the edge of the minimum poll required to receive any seats. Twenty or so other parties will get their few minutes of media time, and nothing more. A few thousand Israelis will decide that no party is worthy of their support, and insert a blank paper into the ballot box.

If recent history is the best predictor of the near future, as it usually is, the next Knesset and government will not be all that much different from the present Knesset and government. Some of the faces will be different, but the same old problems will continue to generate the same old responses.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:46 PM
January 16, 2009
A virtual ceasefire?

The Israeli government is contemplating a virtual cease fire.

It is far from perfect.

It will be opposed and ridiculed by those who think they should be elected to lead Israel, as well as by those who fear that the sky is falling, that the whole world is against Israel all of the time, and that Israel must look after itself in apocalyptic ways. Also, those who look under the bed each night before retiring will not like it.

In the case of a country that cannot aspire to total victory, it may be the best attainable.

When has any country achieved total victory since 1945? And that victory was not totally total insofar as it led to the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and other messiness.

Israel has killed more than 1,100 Palestinians and wounded more than 5,000. Many of the wounded will not get decent care.

Israel has lost 10 soldiers and three civilians. Its two hundred or so wounded will get decent care.

A reasonable reckoning is that Israel has killed enough, and caused enough damage.

Not only should Hamas think carefully about starting something else, but so should other movements and countries that dream of eliminating Israel.

Could Israel have done more?

Rooting out all the religious fanatics, and causing the survivors to admit their error is impossible, especially in the case of those claiming leadership of the faith from safely away in Syria, Iran, and elsewhere.

As much as we can tell from the media, Egypt is telling Israel that Hamas has said it will honor a cease fire. The United States will help Israel and Egypt stop the rearmament of Hamas. Israeli forces will stay in Gaza for a while, to serve as a threat against any reluctance of Hamas to stop firing.

As far as we know, Israel has not committed itself to keep open its border with Gaza for supplies. That will remain a way to pressure Hamas.

Also as far as we know, there is no agreement about the Israeli prisoner held since 2006. However, Israel has resources for dealing with the issue. It has taken upwards of 250 new prisoners in this operation, and holds more than 11,000 other Palestinian prisoners. Many of those have been convicted in Israeli courts of murder and other serious crimes, and are serving long sentences. Others are Hamas politicians swept up in one operation or another.

Should you expect this to produce a wider settlement, and the aspiration of two states living in peace side by side?

Not unless you are living in la la land.

There has been no indication in recent years that the nominal leadership of moderate Palestinians has shown enough flexibility to reach a deal. Most likely Gaza will increase Palestinian animosity toward Israel, make any deal more difficult to achieve.

No amount of pressure on Israel, as imagined by Americans, Europeans, and others, will produce the miracles required.

Israel has acted reasonably in this round of the conflict. It has acted against those who have attacked its civilians, and said they want to destroy the country. It will not occupy a hostile population.

Its accomplishments are no less admirable than other countries can claim for their military activities in recent years.

Those who have signed on to the campaign to punish Israel severely for war crimes must consider the problems in fighting in crowded cities, when the enemy uses residences, mosques, schools and hospitals to shelter its munitions and fighters. A decent analysis of the problems appears in http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/17/world/middleeast/17israel.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Those who want to help Israel should continue to support it with crucial material, and political assistance in international forums. They should not assume that they know its needs better than its elected government, or to pressure it into achieving their own improbable dreams.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:58 PM
January 14, 2009
The end of Palestine?

In 1982, Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, was selling the idea that an invasion of Lebanon to destroy the Palestinian bases used to attack Israel would also destroy the idea of a Palestinian homeland in the Land of Israel. Palestinians would take over Jordan, whose population already had a near or actual Palestinian majority, and Jordan would become Palestine.

It did not happen that way.

In 2009, Israel is fighting Hamas in Gaza. No one in the Israeli government is saying that the purpose is to write finish to the idea of Palestine, but it may happen.

The logic appears in the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/world/middleeast/15fatah.html?_r=1&hp

The Times correspondent argues that neither Hamas nor Fatah can govern Gaza or the West Bank. Hamas because of Israeli and international opposition, and Fatah because of corruption and a well-earned reputation for irrelevance among the Palestinians.

To go a bit beyond the Times analysis:

You support Palestine, you get Hamas.

You support Hamas, look what is happening in Gaza.

The idea of Palestine may go into a deep sleep, or even die. But what about the Palestinians? Estimates range between 9 and 11 million worldwide. One million of them are Israeli citizens; a bit over 3 million live in the West Bank and Gaza. There are more than one million living in Middle Eastern countries that define them as "refugees," without rights as citizens. The rest are scattered to places where they have assimilated more or less.

For more than 60 years they have been a football for Muslim and other ideologues, or the Palestinians claiming to lead them.

What becomes of Gaza is the most pressing unanswered question.

Who will put up the cash to rebuild it?

Remember that there is an international financial crisis. The price of oil has dropped by 70 percent. Iran has problems at home. China is the only cash cow on the planet. It may not love Palestine enough to bankroll it.

The Israeli government does not want Iran to gain the credit for rebuilding Gaza. Israel does not want to rebuild it, or otherwise govern it.

The next most pressing question is what happens to the West Bank as a consequence of what is happening in Gaza.

One should not assume that the leaders or people of the West Bank will applaud Israel's operation, even though the war may write finish to the major competitor of the Fatah party.

Assuming that the recent past is the best predictor of the near future, Fatah will run basic services, and the IDF will intervene when it identifies someone with evil intent.

Something like that may also be the near future of Gaza. The IDF may withdraw, but go in an out to deal with threats.

One can expect a continued outflow of Palestinians from the West Bank to more attractive settings. Most of the Christians have already gone, and Muslims are leaving. The out migration will weaken the professional and social infrastructures of Palestine.

Currently no one can leave Gaza without hard-to-get permits from Israeli or Egyptian authorities.

Whatever happens is not likely to be pleasant for Israelis. Many Palestinians will be angry, and have access to firearms and explosives. All of them have access to knives, stones, and slingshots.

The idea of a Palestinian state will not easily disappear in the presence of Muslim and other ideologues. If they do not shift gears from the ideas they have promoted since 1948, however, it may look increasingly like they are beating a sick horse, if not a dead one.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:43 PM
Olmert's last act?

Ehud Olmert enjoyed a long upward climb despite slighting the rules. His two years as prime minister have included several police investigations for alleged corruption, and a still tentative decision by the Attorney General to issue an indictment. His tenure also featured two wars, with the second more successful than the first. For those who thought that he might be refurbishing himself with Gaza, the last 48 hours have seen him stumble over a political cliff, perhaps while he thought that he was reaching a political mountain top. We can only hope that he has not struck a painful blow to his country along to himself.

He has been in the Knesset since 1973, when he was only 28. He came on the scene even earlier, and in a way that might have been seen as foretelling his brashness. When he was only 21 years old, he challenged the mythic Menachem Begin to step down as party leader.

He climbed through several sessions of the Knesset with memberships on important committees, then appointment as minister without portfolio. His first opportunity to make policy was as minister of health, and was called to order by the State Comptroller. He had ordered the purchase of hospital equipment from a company run by a party activist, without competitive bids.

Olmert outpolled the tottering Teddy Kollek in 1993 to become mayor of Jerusalem. After two terms he returned to the Knesset and leadership posts in the Likud party. Then appointments as minister of trade and industry, with his hands on a good deal of government money; minister of finance, with his hands on more government money; and deputy prime minister. From the latter position he became acting prime minister and then prime minister with the illness of Ariel Sharon and the election of 2006.

Olmert knows how to speak. Sometimes he speaks too well, as when he gets carried away with an idea that best be kept under wraps. In 2006 he proclaimed his intention to follow up the withdrawal of Jewish settlements in Gaza with similar actions in the West Bank. He would make peace without having to negotiate.

Rocket attacks from judenrein Gaza had already begun.

At the onset of the 2006 Lebanon war he proclaimed his intention to fight until the freeing of soldiers captured by Hizbollah, and the destruction of Hizbollah's capacity to endanger Israel. After the fighting stopped it took two years for Israel to negotiate with Hizbollah for the return of the soldiers' bodies. By that time Hizbollah had replaced its munitions several times over from their level at the start of the war, and achieved a more prominent place in Lebanese politics.

While police investigations of Olmert proceeded, he conducted negotiations with the Palestinians, charged by President George W. Bush with reaching an agreement before the end of 2008. On several occasions Olmert proclaimed the success of the negotiations, and indicated specific territorial concessions and the number of Palestinian refugees that Israel would accept. Other politicians and commentators charged that Olmert was selling out the country, without authorization, in order to save himself from a criminal conviction. Palestinian negotiators indicated that there was no progress in the talks, and that Olmert's offers were not good enough.

Olmert's management of the Gaza operation seemed to refurbish him, at least partly. He had stopped selling out the country. We heard that he was taking the most aggressive posture among the three key policymakers. In contrast with his practice in the Lebanon war, he was modest in talking about war aims.

It was early to talk about a career rehabilitated. When a popular web site asked readers to indicate if Olmert was improving his reputation via Gaza, 61 percent of 5,200 respondents said that he was not erasing previous mistakes and corruption.

The cliff that got in the way of his career pinnacle was the Security Council resolution calling for a cease fire, which passed with a United States abstention.

The resolution was nonbinding, and did not threaten Israel's capacity to continue fighting.

Nonetheless, Olmert announced to a party meeting, covered by the media, that he had heard that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to support the resolution. He said that he called President Bush, and insisted on talking to him even though he was giving a speech away from Washington. Olmert claimed that he pressed the President to order Secretary Rice not to support the resolution, and the President complied.

Spokesmen of both the White House and the State Department have said that Olmert's story bore no resemblance to what happened.

We do not know the truth. Who said what to whom on the telephone is not important. The leader of a small and dependent country should not boast about his actions in a way that can embarrass the closest thing that exists to a world emperor, and his chief minister.

Olmert's revelation may have impressed some of those sitting in the party meeting, but it violated the norms of diplomacy.

What did he have to gain?

I have no answer.

What he had to lose was animosity toward himself, and his country, by the present and future American administrations.

God help us.


I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:36 PM
January 13, 2009
American arrogance

A recent article in the NY Times represents American arrogance that once again may bring more frustration than success to the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian accord.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/world/middleeast/13diplo.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The key to the Middle East, it says, is in the United States. It will just take the right key to do the job.

The article portrays five Jews, all who have been close to the pinnacle of the State Department, and who want power again in the Obama administration. They are Martin S. Indyk, Daniel C. Kurtzer, Aaron David Miller, and Dennis B. Ross. Each thinks that he know what to offer, how, with what kind of pressure. At the same time, each knows why his rivals cannot succeed.

What is missing is a consideration of the structure of Palestinian society, its leadership or lack thereof, and the games being played elsewhere among Muslim countries.

It's an old story, but Americans do not seem to get it.

Palestine does not exist as a unified community. Its several factions, based in localities, extended families, theology and/or ideology rank their own interests above any national interest. Among the ways they compete with one another is to be even more nationalist, religious, or violent than others.

Each faction has its own arms, is capable of embarrassing the Palestinian center with their own attacks on Israeli targets, and of holding off any aspiration of the center to impose order.

Some of the factions, now most prominently Hamas, have overseas patrons who push them to extremism, and supply money and weapons to use against Israel and other Palestinians.

These traits of Palestinians hardly seem likely to bend in the face of one proposal or another, and certainly not in the face of pressure on Israel. They rest on cultural traits going deep into Palestinian society, politics elsewhere in the Middle East, and Islam.

All this was true before Gaza. What comes next is anyone's guess. It may not be easier to move Palestinian moderates beyond the non-negotiable demands they have been putting on the table for some time: a return to the borders of 1967; the right of 1948 and 1967 refugees to return home; and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.

Only a limited version of the last issue (a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem) may find acceptance among Israeli leaders, and that may stumble, as it did in 2000, on an inability of Palestinians and Israelis to agree about dividing rights to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary.

The package insisted on by moderate Palestinians is not likely to win acceptance from extremist factions.

Gaza seems likely to increase Palestinian animosity toward Israel, and distrust of any Palestinian willing to deal with Israel. Persistent attacks on Israeli civilians and the record of Palestinian fighters using women and children as shields are likely to sharpen Israeli distrust of Palestinians.

There is an Israeli national election scheduled for February 10. If the war continues, the voting may have to wait. Whatever party is chosen will have its own agenda for dealing with the Palestinians.

There is also a question about the Palestinian leadership. Mahmoud Abbas' term as president has expired. So far there is no indication of an election. The war in Gaza will confound what in any case was shaping up to be a problem.

President-elect Obama and Secretary of State-designate Clinton say that they will go right to work on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Is it possible that the Israelis and Palestinians could do better alone, without Americans falling over themselves in an effort to propose, push, and prod?

It might be worth a try, after the dust from Gaza has a chance to settle, the Israelis choose the party that will lead them, and if the Palestinians can figure out who will lead them..

It would help if the Obama administration demonstrates patience and modesty in the face of the elements involved in the Israel-Palestinian impasse.

We can hope for miracles without expecting them. That applies both to an Israel-Palestinian accord, and to patience or modesty in the American administration.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:35 PM
January 12, 2009
Media and war

Israeli television and radio offer their insights about a country at war.

Evening news extends beyond its usual hour on each of the three channels to three hours or more. During the day one can find almost continuous coverage on TV or radio from 5 AM to late at night. There is considerable repetition. By a quarter hour into any program one is likely to have heard experts speculating on everything from early cease fire to operations that will continue for months or--according to a comment attributed to an active general--a year or more. Some are sure that the IDF will stop short of dealing with the fighters holed up in booby-trapped buildings. Others report that the tanks are already entering such areas, and that there is still much to be done. One view is that the latest movements are meant to pressure Hamas into accepting a reasonable cease fire. Another is that the IDF should occupy the border area between Gaza and Egypt, and only the IDF can assure the end of munitions smuggled from Iran that will produce more fighting.

The army may not be planning an early end. On my late afternoon around the neighborhood, I saw a sign at an intersection that was not there yesterday, directing reservists to their assembly point.

Prime time began with President Shimon Peres' visit with two families in mourning. He contributed to the 1956 invasion of Egypt, Israel's nuclear option, and in recent years one effort after another of compromise for the sake of peace. He hugged and kissed the father, mother, and grandmother of a Russian immigrant, controlled himself while they wept, and talked about the contributions of their son and his generation. No one wept in the home of religious Jews, which included parents and a young widow holding her small baby. They smiled with eyes that shined with the light of conviction. Their young man had died for religious values. His father talked about angels walking through the Land of Israel. It was not clear if he was talking about emissaries from Paradise, or people who dedicate themselves to the common good.

Next up was coverage of reservists called to service, who spent more than a week in retraining, and were just now entering Gaza. We saw pictures of their training, tanks, armored personnel carriers and lines of men moving forward, and somber interviews with the wives left behind. One was just home from the hospital with her new baby.

Between all of these segments was more news, pictures of explosions, soldiers on patrol, destruction and misery in Gaza, frantic Israelis immediately after missiles landed on or near their homes, clips of Muslim extremists and moderates, including the Hamas leadership, commentators who emphasized civilian suffering in Gaza and Israel, those who praised the Israeli military for good work with few casualties, and those who stressed that the war was not over, and that it could change dramatically from victory to disaster if Hamas got lucky.

The evening that began with weeping parents ended with a satire about the military commander and minister of defense. The general is widely credited with skilled management, and refurbishing the equipment and training of the military since the 2006 war in Lebanon. In the skit he was a hairy simian who devoured everything that came to hand. The defense minister has improved his personal standing and that of his political party. From being portrayed as a sure loser he is now described as a competitor for the post of prime minister. In the skit, he appeared as a strutting martinet, sure of himself, forceful but incomprehensible.

It was crude but funny. Israel would not be itself without self-criticism, and intolerable without humor.


I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:01 PM
January 11, 2009
Can President Obama solve our problems


The head of Israel military intelligence says that Hamas did not expect the severity of Israel's response to its rockets.

Hassan Nasrallah said that he did not expect the severity of Israel's response to Hizbollah's 2006 incursion into Israel.

I did not expect the severity of Israel's responses on either occasion. Israel had absorbed small losses with limited or no response.

Perhaps Hamas, Nasrallah, and I stumbled onto the nature of Israel's pursuit of security. It seldom uses much of its power, but when it decides to act, it moves with a strength designed to frighten its enemies. One should not expect surrender from religious fanatics. But there may be a reluctance to tweak the IDF again, in case the response will be apocalyptic.

This picture may be accurate in general, but it overlooks important particulars.

It is not the IDF that decides on a response. Israel's military is a tame tiger, fully committed to civilian control.

The civilians that decide represent different political factions, and they calculate the implications of the options. One can speculate into the wee hours as to how much the impending national election affected the individuals who decide at the present time. The prime minister was facing one or more indictments. Perhaps he was thinking of how to save himself. The defense minister was leading the Labor Party to the lowest point in its long history. Anything would have been better than continuing as he was. The foreign minister and head of the Kadima Party had a reputation as a wimp, not forceful enough to compete with Benyamin Netanyahu.

However, this war was not decided on the spur of the moment. Because rocket attacks have been a virtual constant for more than seven years, it was waiting to happen.. The IDF had been planning for a year or two. Officers were concerned to refurbish a reputation sullied by a notion--accurate or not--that Lebanon was less than an impressive victory. The end of a six month "quiet period", an upsurge in rocket attacks, and an army prepared for action made the war happen now. It helped that European and American governments were on extended holiday leave. There would be no effective American government until January 20th, and perhaps later while Senate committees were working their way through confirmation hearings.

Barack Obama is upset at the civilian casualties. He is intent on solving the crisis of Gaza, and will involve himself immediately in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He will also try something new for Iran.

The new president should be careful. There is a long history of proposals to solve the Israel-Palestinian impasse. Most presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have tried. Almost every day of this war, I find another bright idea in my inbox from lesser figures.

Martin Indyk and Dan Kurzur are prominent among those promoting a scheme that rests on increased presidential pressure on Israel to make concessions on West Bank settlements and other issues. "Tough love" is the motto meant to sound more supportive of Israel.

Bill Clinton tried the tactic. All those Clinton-era people being appointed to key positions can remind President Obama what happened.

One consequence was Intifada al-Aqsa, with at least 5,000 deaths. Another was the aging of the mantra, "If Israel dismantles Jewish settlements all will be well." The removal from Gaza in 2005 produced another three and one years of rocket attacks.

Israelis have signaled their willingness to accept several options. The impossible aspect of President Obama's mission is the number of extreme factions in the Palestinian community, the lack of a leadership that can impose peace among them, and deal seriously with Israel. Since 1948 there have been Muslim states stirring the Palestinian issue for their own purposes. Currently Iran and Syria support and encourage the extremists. Tough love may not work with them.

Palestinian unity, an essential prerequisite of any agreement, will not easily recover from the destruction of Gaza. Hamas' bloody nose will make the task harder. Hatred of Israel is bound to escalate, along with anger at extremists for pushing Israel to act as it did. Mahmoud Abbas and the aging crowd around him are not tough enough to control the chaos. Charges of collaborating with Israel come along with the continued smell of corruption. Abbas is serving beyond the official end of his term, which adds to the ridicule.

Concentrate on revitalizing the American economy, Mr. President. It is easier.
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I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.
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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:16 AM
January 09, 2009
The struggle for world opinion

The IDF has destroyed a considerable part of Hamas facilities, its munitions, and the homes of its leaders. It has killed more than 750 people, and injured more than 2,500.

What about the propaganda war?

Israeli officials, as well as countless Jews and other friends explain the IDF's actions. They may convince those already committed to Israel. They cannot convince those committed to the Palestinian narrative. The pictures and statistics make it difficult to reach people in the middle, including those who seldom pay attention to Israel, but are revolted by disproportionate death and destruction.

Israeli sources note the practice of Hamas to use human shields for their evil work, and to delight in publicity given pictures of dead women and children. Media friendly to the Palestinians have shown films from years ago as if they were current.

Israelis have described the nature of Hamas and unfriendly media, as well as Israeli efforts to provide for humanitarian needs. Such activities are not as strong as horrible pictures and casualty figures.

Is it important that Israel has failed to win the propaganda war?

Many of those truly interested in the conflict are already committed to the story of one side or another. And many of the uncommitted will turn to another crisis along with the media. The Congo, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar are no less dramatic in their ugliness, each in its own way. Before long Israel and Gaza should get lost in the surplus of unpleasant images.

More important are governments of the United States and a few other respected countries, headed by Britain, France, and Germany.

People who speak for those governments know about Hamas, and its linkage to the resources and hatreds of Iran. Individual officials may cringe at the extent of Israel's activity, but they are reluctant to criticize Israel in a one-sided fashion, or to issue demands that go beyond what the Israeli government is willing to consider.

Israel's explanations have done their job where they are most important.

The power of the media is like that of the Pope. Both have an intangible impact, but do not control citizens or officials with agendas of their own. Democracy is fine, but there is no binding popular referendum on Israel's behavior. Israel may lose whatever standing it had as an upright international citizen. It will suffer along with many other countries with tainted images. What country is pure? Certainly not the regimes of Hamas and Hizbollah, entered on the lists of terrorism.

Israelis like to be admired, or at least tolerated. It hurts to receive hateful e-mails, u-tubes, and to see media reports about demonstrations, proposals of boycotts, claims about war crimes, genocide, and a Holocaust. Israeli media provides extensive coverage of what is said or written about Jews and Israel. Personnel identified with Israeli media, as well as other Israelis and overseas Jews would do well in any competition of who provides the most damning condemnation of Israel's actions. Among the outspoken are university colleagues and friends.

Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others have every right to speak, demonstrate, and vote as they wish.

However, they would be wise to recognize the costs associated with their words.

Strident opposition and accusations of vile crimes not only annoy Israelis on account of being one-sided and exaggerated, but add to a bunker mentality. Some call it the Massada syndrome, after the site in the Judean desert where rebels against Rome chose to commit suicide rather than surrender.

Israelis suffer from the reality of isolation, and a fear that may exaggerate the condition. They feel unable to rely on anyone other than themselves. Israelis have learned to scoff at international resolutions and efforts to prevent the smuggling of arms. If there is nothing that others are willing to do in order to restrain Hizbollah or Hamas, Israel can demonstrate its capacity to impose great destruction, and thereby discourage use of the weapons received from Iran and others.

Unrestrained criticism may add to the carnage, either this time, or the next time that Israel considers a military response more destructive than the damage it has suffered.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:37 AM
January 07, 2009
To those who say we are brutal

Some comments for those who write to me about the brutality of Israel's attack on Gaza.

Think of persistent rocket and mortar attacks, aimed at Israeli civilians, from 2001.

Recognize the intensity of anti-Jewish, anti-Western religious fanaticism expressed by Hamas, Hizbollah, and their patrons in Iran.

Think about the Holocaust. What Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaims is an epilog to Mein Kampf.

Iran and its allies say that Israel has no right to exist. They arm themselves as if they intend to implement their threats.

Remember the denials, passivity, and higher priorities of western democracies in the 1930s and 1940s.

What we are seeing in Gaza is Israel's effort to destroy the will not only of Hamas, but also of Hizbollah and Iran, to focus their religious extremism, hatred and weapons on this country.

The descendents of the worthies who exhibited denial, passivity, and other priorities in the 1930s and 1940s urge Israel to show restraint. Many of them are condemning Israel for its forceful defense despite more than seven years of attacks on civilians.

Some are accusing Israel of conquest, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

Some of those who condemn, and some of those who simply criticize Israel for excesses, are stumbling over themselves to formulate a statement to end the carnage.

The IDF may have done enough to convince Hamas, Hizbollah, and Iran that it is dangerous to attack Israel.

On the other hand, the intensity of religious fanaticism should make us wary about assuming rationality on their part.

Some of what we are hearing is too similar to what has not worked in the past.

Should we rely on Egypt to monitor its border with Gaza for the smuggling of weapons when its has failed to observe similar commitments?

Should we accept the offers of Turkey to monitor the border, when in recent days its prime minister has accused Israel of committing "inhuman" acts in Gaza, and met with ranking officials of Iran and Syria, but not Israel?

Should we accept a proposal to cease fire immediately, and use the period to work out a permanent cease fire and other issues, when Hamas insists on open borders that will allow it to rearm, and has consistently ignored the most basic of international norms by denying access of humanitarian organizations to its Israeli prisoner?

Should we accept European offers to send experts and technology to monitor the border with Egypt? "Monitoring" in diplomatic parlance does include acting to stop infringements. European monitors had been at the Rafah crossing, but left in frustration at their inability to stop Palestinian flaunting of agreements, and on account of Palestinian threats.

Should we expect the disinterested mediation of the United Nations when the Secretary General has slipped from the platitudes of condemning both Israel and Hamas to a one-sided condemnation of Israel for its "unacceptable" activity, and demands that it stop immediately.

Should we trust anyone, after an agreement to prevent the rearmament of Hizbollah has demonstrated, once again, the impotence of international monitors?

Israel in 2009 is stronger and more self-confident than the Jews of 1940. What we are seeing at present is the expression of that strength, and a residual distrust of others to stop those who say they are committed to destroy us.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:00 PM
January 06, 2009
Approaching enough?

It is getting uglier.

The worse reports are about more than 40 people who died while seeking shelter in a UN school. We also hear of families being wiped out, and widespread suffering on the verge of a major humanitarian crisis.

So far those reports are from UN personnel, or journalists allowed to operate in Gaza by Hamas. The IDF has not allowed international or Israeli journalists into Gaza.

Nothing associated with the United Nations has much credibility. Even lower on the scale than speeches in New York or Geneva are comments from UN personnel in Gaza. Israelis view them as spokesmen for Hamas, and wanting to perpetuate dependence on UN food and facilities for at least another 60 years. Thereby UN personnel maintain their budgets, staffs, pensions, and prestige.

Unfriendly sources do not provide details that we hear from the IDF. Hamas fighters mingle with civilians in order to gain a measure of protection; Hamas uses schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances as well as residential areas as places to store its munitionsand launch its missiles. In the case of the UN school, we hear that Hamas fighters were firing their missiles from alongside the school, and were storing munitions in the school.

It is not certain that an Israeli missile landed on the school. The deaths may have come from Palestinian munitions. It would not be the first time that Palestinians blamed their "accident" on Israel, and much of the world accepted the Palestinian claim at face value. Among the pictures of injured Palestinians are young men. They are not wearing military uniforms, but Hamas has abandoned those in order to mix more easily with civilians.

We have heard about Hamas fighters dressed in physicians' gowns and given shelter in the main hospital; fighters who hold children by their ears in order to keep them alongside, as shelters against fire from Israeli soldiers; and Israeli soldiers who see women accompanying groups of children, asking themselves if the women will turn out to be suicide bombers seeking to get close to an Israeli position.

What to believe where the most troubling pictures are shot by unfriendly personnel, and we have learned skepticism from several decades of American, Israeli, and other spokespersons of armies at combat?

Pressure is building to end the carnage. Comments that Israel is violating international law from ranking Turks and Jordanians are mildly disturbing. The rants of Muslim-led parades in Europe and America are expected and tolerable. So far important governments like France, Britain, and the United States are close enough to the Israeli position when they say that a cease fire must be lasting, and include provisions to assure that Hamas will not rearm.

Ranking Egyptians are still holding Hamas responsible for the catastrophe, and demanding that it must stop firing missiles at Israeli civilians.

Efforts of the Foreign Ministry of Senegal to involve itself in peacemaking have passed without much impact on the Israeli media.

Israel and others learned from Lebanon that a cease fire without muscle is not likely to stop rearmament from Syria and Iran.

Five Israeli soldiers have died in combat. The fighting occurs in congested areas with limited visibility, at night as well as during the day, and involves foot soldiers, tanks, artillery, and aircraft. Just as some Israeli missiles hit Palestinian civilians, others hit Israeli soldiers. Four of the five soldiers died as a result of "friendly fire."

News programs begin with the names of the dead after the IDF has informed family members, the times and places of funerals. After the funerals there are interviews with a parent, sibling, or spouse, sometimes sobbing, talkiing about the soldier, and recounting their last meeting or telephone call. Some attest to the sacrifice for the sake of Israel. In the case of religious families, this means a sacred people and not a country, and comes in language learned in the yeshiva and synagogue. Then we go to interviews with the wounded, and reports of people streaming to hospitals with food, blankets, and socks for the soldiers. Hospital supplies are adequate. The donations provide an opportunity to share in the national mission.

Ranking intellectuals and left-of-center politicians are calling "enough," or "too much," but support for the IDF is extensive. Eighty-eight percent of the people answering one popular web site's query said that the death of Israeli soldiers did not affect their opinion about the war, that "we have to continue despite the sadness."

The officials running the war for Israel (Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak, and Foreign Minister Livni) are saying that Israel will continue until it destroys Hamas' willingness and capacity to fight, and assures that it will not rearm. They claim that no resolution of the UN or other body will deter them.

Israel's resolve may weaken with an increase in pressure from countries that is respects, but it will take a time for numerous participants to produce a workable formula. Israel is strong enough to have something to say about the end of this operation. Meanwhile it goes forward, and the damage to Hamas and its allies increases. Sooner or later, it will be enough.


I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:10 AM
January 05, 2009
Looking beyond Gaza


It is early and presumptuous to call the operation in Gaza a defining moment in the history of Israel and Palestinians, but it might be that. The number of Palestinian casualties are, for the days involved, greater than at any time since 1967 or 1948.

Some wish that it will facilitate the peace process. By this view, a weakening of Hamas will remove a primary impediment to agreement. It will add to the capacity of the moderate Mahmoud Abbas to represent all of Palestine and move ahead in conversations with whoever wins the Israeli election.

Against this optimism, there are several points of skepticism.

*As best as we can tell on the basis of occasional reports from closed conversations, Abbas and Olmert never approached an agreement on the key issues of territory, Jerusalem, or Palestinians refugees.
*Abbas' condemnation of Israel may be more than lip service. Extensive destruction and many casualties, plus angry demonstrations among Israeli Arabs and the Muslims of the Middle East, Europe, and North America echo in the West Bank.
*There are Gazans, as well as Muslims in the West Bank and elsewhere who view Abbas as a traitor for dealing with Israel, and not coming to the aid of Gaza. That he has nothing substantial to offer Gaza will not lessen the antagonism toward him.
*Extremists of Gaza, perhaps a higher proportion of its population after the operation, will remain a problem for any negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.
*Palestinians will find it difficult to accept an agreement as legitimate if it does not include Gaza as well as the West Bank.
*Abbas' term as president formally ends in a matter of days. Prior to the operation in Gaza, there was speculation about extending his term. The problems caused by Gaza might present the opportunity for the Palestinians to replace him with someone who can make a fresh start toward the future of Palestine. To date, there is no obvious replacement who can make such a claim, and appears to have wide support.
*More likely is a period of chaos as the Palestinians chew over the implications of Gaza and see how foreign powers express themselves.
*The practice among Palestinians is to cope with their numerous factions by extensive negotiations, occasionally with loud recriminations and violence. The groups that have been moderate toward Israel will have a difficult time persuading those pushed even further toward extremism by recent events. Whatever happens will not occur quickly.
*It is not only the Palestinians troubled by Hamas and Gaza. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf States see threats to themselves in the extremism that Iran promotes. They have not applauded the Israelis' operation, but some of their spokesmen have blamed Hamas for bringing it on themselves.
*What this does for "Arab unity" is yet to be seen. Early signs are that the Arab League can still host speakers who condemn Israel, but not reach any declarations that raise above platitudes.

By this analysis, Gaza will close the window of opportunity seen earlier by the Bush administration and others. Israel may be more secure due to what it is doing to Hamas. It may advance the cause of peace in the long run by showing the price of Palestinian extremism. Short run prospects are bleak.

Two of the major actors in the Gaza operation, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, had identified themselves with a posture of accommodation. Olmert soldiered on in talks with Mahmoud Abbas despite investigations on several charges of corruption. Time and again he announced progress, and repeated his commitment to reaching at least a partial agreement. When Barak was prime minister in 2000, he made far reaching offers to Yassir Arafat. Barak left politics when he lost the election of 2001 to Ariel Sharon. He returned to win a Labor Party election of leadership in 2007. Among the major Israeli parties, Labor's parliamentarians are the most outspoken in promoting significant concessions in order to reach agreement with the Palestinians.

Olmert and Barak did not pursue the Gaza operation in order to scuttle negotiations with the Palestinians. Hamas and its allies pushed them to prepare for a confrontation by persistent smuggling of weapons and--except for a lull of six months--continuous firing of rockets into Israel since 2001. The final decision to attack came when Gazans fired more than 80 missiles and mortar shells against Israel on December 24th.

Before deciding whether Gaza will be a landmark or a passing occurrence, it is wise to recall some other events that achieved headlines.

*The Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 assembled Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians, and Lebanese, under an umbrella provided by the United States, the European Union, the USSR, and Egypt.
*The Oslo Accords of 1993 involved a mutual recognition of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and seemed to open a road toward two states living at peace.
*The Hebron Agreement in 1997 and the Wye River Memorandum of 1998 produced redeployments of Israeli forces in the West Bank, as further steps under the Oslo Accords.
*The Camp David Summit in 2000, when delegations led by Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat met with President Bill Clinton, seemed to come as close as ever to a comprehensive agreement.

Equally important were the intifadas that began in 1987 and 2000. The latter was especially destructive, claiming 1,100 Israeli lives and more than three times the number of Palestinians. It is widely cited as reversing what began at Madrid and Oslo.

The Bush administration, together with the Russians, the United Nations, and the European Community sought to replace violence with peace. Some commentators said that they hoped to produce a Palestinian State in order to overcome problems with Muslims associated with 9/11, and subsequent American fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their landmarks were the Road Map to Peace in 2002, and the Annapolis Conference of 2007.

Landmarks or forgettable?

After January 20th it will be the turn of Barack Obama. The Middle East is not the only issue on his agenda. Continuing efforts to revive the economy may be more pressing. Also on his table will be domestic initiatives featured in his campaign, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you have anything left after disappointments from the stock market, real estate, and Bernie Madoff, it would not be wise to bet it on the early creation of a Palestinian State.


I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:28 PM
January 04, 2009
Hell

"War is Hell," according to someone who knew first hand. General William Tecumseh Sherman burned the South from Atlanta to the sea, and then northward through the Carolinas.

Israel's campaign in Gaza is not as extreme. Coming almost 150 years after Sherman, and managed by a country that honors the norms of international law enacted since then, destruction is accompanied by shipments of food and other supplies meant to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

The IDF has dropped leaflets advising residents to leave areas destined for attack. It collected 90,000 telephone numbers prior to the operation, and has phoned individual families telling them to clear out of sites that will be destroyed.

Nevertheless, it is far from pretty. The pictures show great destruction, screaming civilians, and bloodied children being carried to hospitals already jammed with the injured, the dead, and panicked relatives.

Israel justifies the destruction of homes, and a mosque during a time of prayer on the basis of their being used to store munitions. Those who support Israel's operation say it came after more than 10,000 rockets fired toward civilians since 2001. Many accept the carnage as the costs of a defensive war. Numerous heads of important governments have also recognized the justice of Israel's actions. Against them, however, are Arabs and Jewish leftists from within Israel, and crowds of demonstrators in many capitals.

The shrillest opponents are Muslims in the Middle East, Europe and North America who are prepared to condemn Israel on a daily basis before it does anything. Some who think Israel is justified do not accept its extent. The Palestinian death toll since December 27th is above 500 and the injured in the several thousands, while the latest figures show five Israelis dead and fewer than 100 injured, most of them lightly. While the principal weapons of Hamas are home made missiles that fly a few miles, are impossible to aim, and often fall short to kill Palestinians, Israel is using the some of the most destructive weaponry from its own workshops and those of friendly countries.

One can believe Israeli assertions that it does not aspire to rule Gaza. It is not clear if it means to destroy Hamas and leave Gaza without a government of Palestinians. Fatah leaders from the West Bank are not likely to claim Gaza as the spoils of Israeli bloodshed. It may not be easy to find countries acceptable to Israel that will send troops to guarantee whatever agreement will end the fighting, and.to police a population bound to be restive

Israel's primary concern is to assure that its citizens do not have to suffer daily threats of a rocket exploding on their home, workplace, or their children's school.

Arab governments warned Hamas about the consequences of continued firing at civilians. Israel's weapons, and the record of what it had done in the past rendered Hamas foolish in the extreme. Its actions were a piece with its litany from the Khartoum resolution of 1967: no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations with Israel.

Israelis do not expect to live in peace with Gaza, but hope that the length of quiet will follow from the extent of the death and destruction.

Anyone claiming to be humane may find that calculus uncivilized, but it may be the only way to deal with neighbors whose fanatic hatred has no limits.

One must also be prepared for something wider and more apocalyptic than what is happening in Gaza. Iran and Hizbollah are threatening to attack Israel from the north. If that comes, it could widen the war to Lebanon and Syria, and lead Israel to attempt the destruction of Iran's nuclear program. That could provoke Iranian missile attacks against Israeli cities, and whatever Israel chooses to do in response.


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
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:40 AM
January 02, 2009
What to do with Gaza

Who wants Gaza?

The Egyptians kept tight controls on its borders when they had responsibility between 1948 and 1967. They let few of the residents into Egypt for education or work. Since 1967, Egyptians have been assiduous in avoiding a commitment. They warned that persistent attacks on Israeli civilians were sure to bring a fierce reprisal, and.are blaming Hamas for what has happened.

Gaza is congested and poor. About one and one-half million people live in an area less than 25 miles from southwest to northeast, and three to eight miles wide. There are high rise blocks and grand homes for the elite. The mass of the population occupies low structures along twisting alleys, some of them no more than a meter wide. Donkey carts provide transportation for people who cannot afford more, and for others when gasoline is scarce. Before 1967, Gaza was a source of terror raids into Israel, and a target of Israeli reprisals. Its traditions of extremism, combined with an increase in religious fervor make it an obvious ally of Iran, and something to be walled off by Israel and Egypt.

In recent months Gaza has become a bone in the throat of West Bank Palestinians who say that they aspire to an independent state alongside of Israel. A sporadic civil war between 2006 and 2008 left Hamas in control of Gaza, and swearing that it would destroy Israel. Currently the West Bank leaders of Fatah and Hamas are accusing each other of collaborating with Israel. There is little evidence for either charge, but there is no greater curse that one Palestinian can hurl at another.

What to do with Gaza? is one reason that Israel waited so long before embarking on a military assault to end missiles fired at its population, and an explanation for its delay in beginning a land invasion.

The media say that any attack by tanks and ground troops will be limited: targeting specific installations or people, and leaving after a short time.

Like just about everyone else, Israel does not want Gaza. It's been there, and will avoid a prolonged stay.

More than 400 deaths and 2,000 injured, plus a great deal of destruction renders further responsibility unenviable.

Ideally, Hamas will raise the white flags, and agree to behave according to international norms.

I doubt that any Israeli expects that.

Death for the sake of religious certainty is the rationale of Hamas and its allies. Suicide is a prominent form of political expression.

Nobody aspires to control them. Israeli authorities are certain that they cannot beat them into submission.

They might beat them into recognizing the costs of attacking Israeli civilians, and persuade someone else to clean up and prevent further attacks against Israel.

If someone out there has a better idea, please let me know.

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
msira@mscc.huji.ac.il
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax: +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:29 AM