April 28, 2009
Palestinian land

The Palestinian news agency Ma'an reports that a military court has imposed a sentence of death by hanging on 59 year old Anor Baririt, of a village near Hebron. He was convicted by unanimous vote of the judges for the crime of selling land to Jews.

There are several other cases under investigation.

According to the newspaper al Halig, published in the Persian Gulf, authorities released three Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, also accused of selling land to Jews. Their release came when Israel threatened to impose a military blockade on the Palestinian capital of Ramallah if they continued to be held.

Palestinian authorities said it was necessary to publicize the names of those involved, in order to dissuade others from this kind of crime.

Individuals accused of cooperating with Israel have been seized by their neighbors, judged and executed in the street, all within minutes, before a cheering crowd.

Will Israeli authorities act to prevent such an occurrence?

Not if they heed those worthies who accuse them of taking Palestinian land, and interfering in the internal affairs of Palestine.

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

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:58 PM
War is merely a continuation of politics; politics is a continuation of war

Carl von Clausewitz's most famous line is "War is merely a continuation of politics." In this age of warfare that is less than total, it is appropriate to indicate that it also reads well as: politics is a continuation of war.

In all the years since 1945, there has not been an all out effort to destroy an enemy, or to demand unconditional surrender.

Perhaps some have not got the message. In wars and politics, it is not always easy to decipher the message. There is a great deal of disinformation. It is easier to pump up the rhetoric than to pursue outright victory.

Did George W. Bush mean it when he said that he would remake Iraq and Afghanistan into stable democracies? So far there have been 5,000 American deaths, and who knows how many others. Bush's goal remains elusive.

Warfare is more prominent than politics in the United States efforts in those countries. It has supported governments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and may be getting ready to be more forceful in Pakistan. However, it does not seem to be dealing (or even hinting that it might deal) with the likes of al Qaida or Taliban.

Politics is prominent in the conflict that is closest to me. Israel has entered at its own volition, and has been pushed into conversations and cooperation with various elements in the Palestinian leadership. Israel also sends units into the West Bank, is only three months away from a devastating operation in Gaza, and maintains a tight (but not total) blockade on Gaza.

Some of the difference between Israel and the United States reflects what Israel has learned. It cannot bring the neighbors to their knees. Moreover, much of the world accepts the Palestinian narrative, or is paying lip service to the weight of Arab governments in energy and international politics.

We all might be better off if the United States would deal with al Qaida or Taliban. It is likely to happen. Remember Korea and Vietnam.

The United States is negotiating with Iran and North Korea. They are antagonists at a distance. The difference between them and the people waging war against Americans may be small, but enough for Obama and even Bush to send in the diplomats.

Like war, politics can involve outright opposition without a prospect of compromise, as well as feint, deception, occasional accomplishments and losses, and a great deal of uncertainty.

On April 28th, Ha'aretz carried a headlined that Israel was surprised by a story in the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration was asking Congress to change the laws that prevented aid to Palestinians if Hamas is part of their leadership.

We can expect Israelis to protest in response to this news. And if the LA Times account is correct, and if Congress cooperates with the Administration's request, and if Hamas and Fatah reach an accord that allows Hamas to enter a united Palestinian leadership, then there will be more Israelis considerably more upset.

Temperate voices will note that Israeli officials have been dealing with Hamas for some time. Partly this has been under the umbrella of indirect talks via the Egyptians. At one time, no Arab countries were willing to deal with Israel except secretly or only indirectly through third parties. There still are countries like that, but Israel is not a supplicant in those discussions.

In this age of non-total war and non-total political conflict, the persistent questions are:when to fight, when to deal, and how modest or severe should be the military and the political activity?

In Israel's case, another question of some importance is, how to counter what may be a spreading acceptance of the Palestinian narrative?

Just as there are no absolute victories in limited war, there are not likely to be total victories in competing campaigns of persuasion. Israel has a good case. It has offered reasonable compromises to the Palestinians. Neither Fatah nor Hamas seem ready to reduce their extreme demands. Israel remains in the political game, has some success in persuading others of its justice, and uses a level of force that is, arguably, appropriate to the threat of the moment.

Not making things worse is the prime consideration, and an appropriate standard of judging performance in both war and politics.

There are no easy answers to the open questions, just as there are no clear victories, and are not likely to be an early end either to the conflict involving Israel and the Palestinians, or that between the West and radical Islam. Von Clausewitz, as modified, should remain our guide. Politics is less destructive than war for all concerned, but at times it is not sufficient.

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

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:04 AM
April 26, 2009

Incrementalism is dominant in the affairs of government. Reformers come and go. Occasionally they have an impact, but usually it is no more than an increment added on to what exists.

The past is powerful. Civil servants, politicians, and citizens who benefit from what is do not want to lose it for something that may be better. It is especially difficult to take money from a program that benefits one group of people to pay for something that will help others.

Simple assertions that a government must do this or that are seldom helpful. Policy accretions and judicial precedents limit the capacity of any proposal to affect the change that its advocates desire.

Dramatic changes do occur. A crisis may produce the condition that leads people to accept something new, even at the cost of losing something old.

President Obama is facing an intersection of several crises. First up was the threat of economic collapse. Whatever happens with that will limit the money he can spend on any of the other crises. Among them is the prospect of military collapse in Afghanistan. He talked about transferring military personnel from what seemed like success in Iraq. Now multiple attacks in Baghdad have killed 160 in the space of two days. The president may have to reconsider the option of downsizing. And with the Taliban threatening Islamabad and even Karachi, things may get worse before they get better.

Iran is another problem. Its leaders made positive responses to an American proposal to begin talks, but now assert that they must do what they want.

The latest panic focuses on an illness that may spread from Mexico. It would help if there was better health care in the United States, especially for the poor. All those people having ties to Mexico may not come forward with their headaches and sniffles. And with insurance companies demanding their considerable slice of health expenditures, there may not be a thorough, quick, or cheap fix for the country's ills. In any case, it will not happen in time to deal with this health crisis. Maybe this one will spur an increment of progress that lessens the impacts of a later one.

Israel also figures in these musings. Forty-two years ago it experienced the Six-Day War, then settlement in the West Bank, Golan Heights, and Sinai. Those in the Sinai were modest, and opportunity came a decade later to reverse course for the sake of peace with Egypt.

Israel's presence in the West Bank has continued to grow. Arabs want to turn back the clock. A substantial number of Israelis do not even want to stop where they are in hopes of getting an agreement with Palestinians they have come to know, but not to trust.

The Golan is another story. Peace with Syria is tempting, and the Golan is not right up against major Israeli cities. However, Syria has ties with Iran and others that may keep it from more than occasional expressions about the Golan and peace.

As far as it is possible to tell from the media, Israelis with responsibilities for defense and foreign policy have been arguing about Iran. The threat is considerable. Sanctions have not deterred those who deny the Holocaust and condemn Israel to oblivion. President Obama's commitment to engagement is not assuring. Will Mutually Assured Destruction work against the mad mullahs, or equally fanatic Muslims who may gain control of Pakistan?

Thomas Jefferson occasionally tired of piecemeal reform. "A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing." "The tree of liberty must . . . be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Those sentiments are inspiring but dangerous, especially for intellectuals who may be the first to demand change, and the first to be trundled off to something unpleasant. It is safer to stand on the sidelines, and wonder what, if anything, will change dramatically in response to multiple crises.

Some may dream of starting over and making the world rational and stable.

Not likely.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:08 AM
April 23, 2009

One of my correspondents asked that I write about my life in Israel.

I did not grow up in a Zionist atmosphere. My parents were proud to be Americans. My father was either not able or not willing to contribute to Israeli causes. The last time I visited with my mother, after living in Israel for 15 years, with an Israeli wife and two children born in Israel, she asked, "Ira, when are you coming home?"

I first visited Israel on my return to the United States after six months doing research in East Africa. I had spent a decade teaching and writing about American politics and government administration. A colleague suggested that we examine some developing administrative procedures in Kenya and its neighbors.

That project opened my eyes to the importance of understanding other countries. A short visit to Israel exposed me to a society and a group of scholars more attractive than I expected.

A year later, I found myself glued to 24-hour news radio during the Yom Kippur War. What happened in Israel had become important to me.

Then there was another visit, meetings with professional colleagues, my request to be invited for a visit of a year or two, followed by an offer of a permanent position.

As an undergraduate I had studied the migration of Europeans to the United States. What I read occurred in my own experience. Although I had a tenured position as a senior professor at the most distinguished Israeli institution, I had trouble with the language and the culture. Divorce is a frequent experience of immigrants, and I shared in that pain.

Over the years, roughly one half of immigrants to Israel from North America and Western Europe return home. I can think of several explanations for my persistence.

I found Israel to be an attractive venue for my interests. It is fascinating, and even thrilling to see how the Jewish people from radically different backgrounds have managed to cope with one another, and with the problems of economics and defense. Of the hundred or so countries founded in the period after World War II, Israel is arguably the most successful in maintaining its democracy and developing its economy. Yet few of its founders came from democratic societies, and the problems of defense, mass immigration, and initial poverty have been at least as severe as those faced by other new countries.

Like many immigrants here and elsewhere, I remain something of an outsider. I also have felt like an outsider in my homeland, during visits and year-long sabbaticals at different universities. My Hebrew is good enough to teach students, lecture and consult at the upper reaches of government and the army, and to have directed a respectable number of MA and PhD theses, but not good enough to satisfy Varda or our children.

A recent conversation with a Russian friend at the gym began with him talking about the catastrophe of Israel. My response was that the country was in better shape than the place he came from, and the place that I came from.

The United States dwarfs Israel in size, power, and wealth. No doubt many more people (Jews included) aspire to live in the United States than aspire to live in Israel. Yet Israel compares favorably to the United States on the quality of health care and education, especially higher education available to the average citizen, indicators of health and longevity, income equality, levels of addiction and crime, and family stability. Despite persistent assertions of discrimination, Israel's Arab minority does better on those indicators than American minorities. Israel has learned more than the United States how to deal with its enemies, without occupying them or aspiring to change their societies.

Being Jewish has figured in my life more than Judaism. As a teenager, I was pleased to be expelled from religious school. My parents had insisted on attendance against my resistance. The rabbi I did not admire solved my problem. Much later I began writing and teaching about religion and politics. Weekly study of the Talmud with a religious friend has not made me religious. It has added to my identity as a Jew, and provided me with a sense of taking part in arguments that have gone on for more than two millennia.

When I came here, my monthly income declined by more than 60 percent. Over the course of 34 years, Israel has become less socialist and more capitalist. Some want it to become even more like the United States, but wiser heads have prevailed. From what I hear from American friends, my old age is better protected than theirs. I may have decided well after all.

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

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:31 AM
April 22, 2009
Fences and neighbors

Among the attractions in my life is a good view. On a clear day, I can stand on my balcony and trace the line of the Jordan River in the Valley ten or so miles to the east, and see the buildings of Amman on the Mountains of Moab 15 miles further to the east.

In recent days, I've seen the construction of Israel's security barrier about a mile from me. If good fences make good neighbors, this may improve the quality of our life.

Israel has been building a barrier between it and the West Bank for eight years. It currently bends and twists for more than 700 kilometers, about 60 percent completed. Less of its planned route has been finished in the area of Jerusalem.

Construction began in the high-casualty years of 2002 when 457 Israelis were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers and other acts of terror. The barrier's advocates credit it with helping to reduce the deaths to an annual average of 26 in 2006-08.

There is now a bit of the wall going north from the road to the Jordan Valley. Other sections that we see from our neighborhood are several kilometers in overall length, but include gaps between what has been built.

Some of the delay and gaps reflect legal challenges mounted by Palestinians who protest land being taken for the barrier, or the inconvenience it causes for their travel between areas of the West Bank or into Israel. Much of the barrier is close to the armistice line that prevailed from 1948 to 1967, with variations to include major Jewish settlements close to that line. Lack of completion also reflects ambivalence about the barrier, and the lack of desire to spend huge sums all at once on a project that may not be all that effective.

Skeptics admit that the barrier has added to the problems of Palestinians from some areas to enter Israel. However, a quarter million Palestinians will be on the Israeli side of the barrier in Jerusalem. Recent shootings and rampaging heavy equipment have been the work of Jerusalem's Arabs.

To the left of the road to the Jordan Valley is Anata. It is outside the municipality of Jerusalem, and meant to be on the other side of the barrier. To the right of the road is the Arab neighborhood of Isaweea. It is part of Jerusalem, and will be on our side of the barrier. Its residents drive through our neighborhood of French Hill, and some of the boys from Isaweea play soccer in the school yard right alongside these fingers.

Arab friends have advised me not to visit Isaweea. Police observers have photographed the area from the roof of our building. Occasionally we see police check points on the road, and read of violence nipped in the bud, or traced to Isaweea..

The best explanation of the reduced carnage may be Palestinian fatigue. There are also some 12,000 Palestinians in Israel's security prisons, most of them seized since the onset of the intifada in 2000, and about 5,000 Palestinians in cemeteries due to the work of Israeli security forces. The Palestinians killed and captured have come disproportionately from the leaders and activists of the violence. There may be no shortage of Palestinians willing to replace them, but the overall quality and intensity of potential terrorists have declined.

Israel has invested heavily in intelligence, and frequently enters the West Bank for a short time in order to seize people wanted for questioning or incarceration. Palestinians still intent on doing us harm must evade that intelligence, even before they set off for one of the gaps in the barrier.

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

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:45 AM
April 20, 2009

Uncertainty is chronic.

Aside from uncertainty about personal matters (job, health, pension) are uncertainties about the public sphere. Will the leaders of my country succeed in achieving X or preventing Y?

The authors of the Hebrew Bible described uncertainty in a setting where the Jews were fewer and poorer than the people of nearby empires. It was usually a problem of which empire would prevail.

Until not so long ago, Jewish uncertainty, like that of others, concerned how many children would survive poverty and disese to reach adulthood. Occasionally, there was concern for the neighbors, and the prospect of unrest.

At the present time, things have never been better. Pessimists would remind me that my late father-in-law thought the same in Germany during the Weimar period.

Uncertainty is universal, but Israelis may be more uncertain than the average. Until recently, we felt uncertain whenever we climbed aboard a bus or entered a restaurant. Currently the style of Palestinian hatred makes us uncertain whenever we see a piece of heavy equipment being driven by someone who might be an Arab. Some may feel uncertain whenever they are alongside a road, concerned that a car may swerve intentionally onto the sidewalk.

The president of Iran is scheduled to speak at the United Nations Conference on Racism. No one should expect him to embrace Zionism and renounce his nuclear program. In anticipation of what is expected, the governments of numerous civilized countries have decided not to send delegations, or not to send ranking politicians.

With so many boycotting, a bad conference may be nothing more than an event that once again to divides the world into those who are acceptable and those who are not.

More troubling is the concern that the American administration and the Israeli prime minister have not been reading from the same page about the future of the Palestinian people.

We depend in large part on our own wisdom. When young, it is wise to prepare for a career, and then to move or change jobs when conditions warrant. As citizens young or old, we should vote for politicians not likely to make things worse.

For Israelis, that means leaders who will stay on the same page as the leaders of the United States, Western Europe, and a few other worthy places.

In the last week we have seen the flexibility of Benyamin Netanyahu. Some will see him holding to what is important, and praise him. Some will see him bending to accommodate the person he has most recently met, ridicule his bombast, and worry about relying on a leader who is so fluid.

He began by indicating that the idea of a Palestinian state was not on his table. It would be much better to aid the Palestinian economy and demand that the Palestinians learn governance. After meeting with George Mitchell, his posture was that Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would be a precondition for re-starting negotiations. After meeting with Ehud Barak, he would be willing negotiate without preconditions, but condition progress on the Palestinians' willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The issue of Israel as a Jewish state resonates. Until now the Palestinians have demanded that Israel recognize Palestine as a state and remove Jewish settlements, while Palestinians recognize Israel as a state. One suspects that the vast majority of Jews living in what might become Palestine would not want to remain there, just as the vast majority of Arabs living in Israel would not want to move there. Nonetheless, the demand that Palestine be Judenrein has weight. In this time of commemorating the Holocaust, we read that there are a quarter million survivors living among us.

Defining Israel as a Jewish state has symbolic importance. No one here expects a significant number of Jews to remain in Palestine if it attains statehood, or expects Israel to expel its Arab citizens, to prevent them from calling themselves Palestinians, or to curtail their political and civil rights. There is a fringe who demands drawing the borders of Israel in a way to exclude many Palestinians, or to take citizenship from Arabs who do not conform to their standards of loyalty. Occasionally the man who is now the foreign minister has given voice to such sentiments, but the prospect is about as realistic as "back to Africa" or "back to Latin America" movements in the United States.

In recent days Palestinian officials have argued that the United States recognition of Israel in 1948 did not define it as a Jewish state. My distinguish colleague, Professor Shlomo Avineiri, has noted that the draft of the brief statement of recognition, written before the Jewish leadership of Palestine had decided on a name for their state, was of a "Jewish state," and was changed to a recognition of "Israel" only when the Jews chose that name. George Mitchell may have been articulating the United States government's sensititivity for the issue with his statement that referred to Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu's flexibility, whether an appropriate topic for praise or ridicule, may have gotten him over this hiccup in relations between Israel and the United States over the subject of Palestine. Now we are reading that he will visit the White House in the middle of May.

Skeptics may wonder if all this is significant. A "two state solution" seems nothing more than a fig leaf for politicians to remain politically correct. They are not likely to demand great progress in negotiations as long as Gaza remains firmly in the hands of Hamas, Hamas remains firm in articulating the line of Iran, and the West Bank leadership remains out of the hands of Hamas only due to the work of Israeli security forces.

Fig leaves are important in politics, or at the least they are prominent. Perhaps they will postpone the time when Palestinian frustration turns into Palestinian extremism, the start of another intifada, and however Israel chooses to respond.

If Jews feel more uncertain than others, we also have learned how to deal with it. Israelis study that Bible, as well as other writings that come disproportionately from Jewish hands, in homes and universities that our neighbors envy.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:39 AM
April 14, 2009
Smoke and mirrors

When people agree, they do not need politicians. One of the things that politicians do is to arrange deals when there are disagreements.

The easy way is to compromise. But what happens when the parties are not inclined?

Then it is time for deceptions. These include empty promises, commitments not intended to be kept, posturing as if everything is all right, acting as if there will be a deal when it is pretty sure that they won't be.

Often it requires smoke and mirrors, or the geometry involved in squaring a circle.

The purpose is to save face for those who know

Politics is a noble craft. If it is done well, it comprises the most civilized way to handle disputes. It is better than one on one dueling, and far better than warfare.

A case in point is what has been happening, and what I hope will continue between officials of Israel and the Palestine National Authority.

As I read the news, there is no deal close, or likely. Palestinians cannot ratchet down from the right of refugees to return to homes they left 60 years ago, as well as what they call the 1967 border of Palestine, the dismantling of Jewish settlements over that line, the dismantling of the barricade Israel is building to keep evil out of the country, and permanent Muslim control of what the Jews call the Temple Mount.

Some think the Palestinians are exaggerating for the sake of bargaining. Maybe. But maybe not. Some see more flexibility when they listen to Palestinians in Hebrew or English than when the same people speak in Arabic.

There is a concern that if Palestinian leaders cannot renounce slogans they have been repeating, and teaching in their schools for generations.

It can't be fun being tossed from the roof of a tall building, as happened to one of the moderate Palestinians in Gaza.

There are signs that majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis want to avoid violence.

Smoke and mirrors is what I see in play over the last few years, and what I see as the greatest hope for the time being.

What do I mean by the time being?

As long as it takes.

Both sides had agreed that they were negotiating toward a two-state solution, but they did not get anywhere. Israelis offered the equivalent of almost all of the territory the Palestinians say they held prior to the 1967 war. It was actually the Jordanians in charge of the West Bank prior to 1967, and Egypt in Gaza, but Israelis are willing to overlook those details. In exchange for land over that line that it will keep, Israel has offered other land. The Palestinians have offered a cessation of violence, but not much else that I can see.

There remains the problem of Hamas. Israel has been helping itself and helping the Fatah regime of the West Bank by going into the West Bank frequently, and taking away or otherwise neutralizing Hamas personnel seen as a threat to both Israel and Fatah.

Without this, it is doubtful that Fatah would survive. If Hamas captures the West Bank, and uses it against Israel like it has used Gaza, the West Bank may experience something like Gaza.

Fatah cannot thank Israel in public for keeping it alive, but we can live without that.

The new government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have threatened this arrangement by saying that the Palestinians are not ready for a state; that it would be better to talk about something else.

They've broken the mirror and stopped the smoke.

President Barack Obama and other world figures have said that Israel and Palestine must work toward a two-state solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (whose term has expired, but let's not bother about that detail) has said that he will not negotiate with Israel unless its government agrees to a two-state solution.

How to fix the mirror and produce enough smoke to keep it cloudy?

Surely there is language that will do it.

Netanyahu has already said that he will continue working toward a peaceful solution.

Those who know Netanyahu say that he is flexible. Some say that he is so flexible that he adopts the view of the last person who speaks with him.

For some years now, it has been the task of the United States President to make Israel an offer it cannot refuse. Sometimes it looks like a carrot, sometimes a stick.

Netanyahu has a good point about the Palestinians. Even without the Hamas-Gaza problem, they have not shown a capacity to use the aid they have receive to provide decent services to their people. Taking account of the Gaza-Hamas problem, they are a long way from a state that Israel or many other governments would recognize.

If Obama and others talk as tough with the Palestinians as with Israel, it might be possible to keep this going.

With respect to the goal of a Palestinian state, it is likely that the talks will go nowhere. But that is better than nothing.

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:18 AM
April 11, 2009
The United States, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Israel

The drama of Barack Obama's personality and his campaign of Change have come under assault on several fronts. Reality is at least as tough as rhetoric. The skills that get a politician to office may not be those that enhance government. On the other hand, they might be. The man is smart, and he has good advisers. The test is ongoing. The jury will not decide for a while.

Americans elected Obama, but he must lead the world. On his plate are not only existing commitments to bad wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the pirates of Somalia as well as the lingering issue of conventional trouble making and nuclear weapons in Iran. Closer to home, the stock market has shown some promise that it may be coming back from its bottom, but there are other signs that the economic crisis has a way to go. http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13411349

Afghanistan strikes me as the most worrying issue on the president's agenda. It is a sink hole that cost the British dearly in the 19th century, and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 20th century. Its problems reflect a place that is not really a country governed by the people who claim to be in charge, and Islamic extremism that produces hatred of the West as well as the cruel repression of freedom. There is also a neighboring area of Pakistan not controlled by any government that shares the cultures of Afghanistan and serves as a staging ground and refuge for its fighters. Afghanistan is world class in its production of opium and all that means for financing the bad stuff. A recent article in the New York Times provides ample stories of the corruption in high and low places almost certain to frustrate American efforts to do good.

What to do?

Alas, it is far easier to criticize Obama's decision to increase America's military presence in Afghanistan than to propose something better.

Yet from my parochial perspective, it appears that there are some lessons in what Israel has learned the hard way.

It may not be easy for American officials to see the lessons, or admit that they are useful. It might be especially difficult for a Democratic administration to follow the road of a country accused of war crimes, but here goes

Notice what Israel has done in recent years with respect to Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. It does not occupy, but goes in after specific targets, stays a short time (often only hours) and then leaves.

In the case of Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2009 it created considerable destruction, but did not remain to occupy. It does not aspire to reform those places, but only to warn them of the costs associated with violence against Israel.

The Lebanon operation was widely considered to have been too long. It lasted two months. Most of the damage was done early, and many of the Israeli casualties came later without further accomplishments. The Gaza operation lasted only three weeks, and had very few Israeli casualties.

The policy does not produce victory, but it imposes a severe cost that may leave a lasting lesson. Its advantage is that it greatly reduces one's own casualties.

It is clearly easier for Israel, being right up against the relatively small Lebanon and even smaller Gaza. Afghanistan and Iraq are much larger, and much further from the United States. However, the United States has bases, as well as an enormous logistic capability that allows prolonged attack from some distance.

No less troublesome are those primitive pirates of Somalia.

Again the Israeli model offers some suggestions. The pirates have a naval infrastructure that allows them to operate hundreds of miles from shore, and they have built what some call palatial homes in their villages.

What the politically correct see as appropriate venues for negotiations, others see as targets.

It may take awhile for Americans and others to make the switch. It took Israel eight years to respond forcefully to the rockets coming out of Gaza.

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

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:22 PM
April 08, 2009
On the eve of Passover

Depending on perspective, there has been significant movement in the Israel-Palestinian peace process during the most recent decade, or not. The Road Map to Peace (2002) and the Annapolis Conference (2007) set the governments of Israel and the Palestine National Authority to a process of peaceful negotiation, and an agreement in principle about the creation of a Palestinian state.

That's the good news.

The other news is that, as far as us ordinary citizens know, there has been no significant movement beyond the declarations of principle. As I read the news, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made offers that were controversial in Israel for going too far in regard to territories and refugees that Palestinian officials dismissed as not sufficient.

The other bad news comes from Gaza, the bloody split of its leadership from the West Bank, its renunciation of peace with Israel, thousands of rockets sent toward Israel and more than a thousand Gazans killed in Israel's response.

At least part of the explanation of the electorate's move to the right in the recent election is a feeling that the peace process has gone nowhere, and that continued Israeli concessions will not end it well.

Now Avigdor Lieberman is at center stage. He is the foreign minister, and the point man in the government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, telling the world that Israel must rethink the peace process. His announcement that decisions of the Annapolis Conference do not bind Israel insofar as the government never accepted them comes along with the prime minister's comments that it is wiser to invest in improving the Palestinian economy and governance than working toward the declaration of a Palestinian state.

Barack Obama has been prominent among world leaders in responding that the creation of a Palestinian state is the key to peace.

We do not know how this will end.

While thinking about it, however, it is helpful to recognize that President Obama and Foreign Minister Lieberman share some traits even while they differ in others. Obama's ascent to the presidency on the theme of Change is not all that different from Lieberman's claim to "tell it as it is." Both came to office from outside the establishment. Obama's racial traits were, arguably, about as far from the conventional in the United States as Lieberman's position in the community of more than one million Russian speakers who came to Israel in the most recent 15 years. Lieberman actually arrived earlier, in 1978, during a lull in immigration from the former Soviet Union. He reached the headlines as head of the prime minister's office during Netanyahu's first term, 1996-99. Subsequently, Lieberman entered the Knesset as founder and dominant figure in Israel Beitenu (Israel Our Home). The party won 15 seats in the most recent election, and became the second largest party in Netanyahu's coalition.

Lieberman's comments may be no more important than a small stone thrown into a puddle. After the ripples reach the end of the puddle and bounce back toward the center, the puddle reverts to its previous condition.

Both Netanyahu and Lieberman are talking about continued efforts at reaching peace with the Palestinians, even while they say that it may take a while for the new government to define its postures in this and other matters.

Several things are likely to keep the ripples contained. Netanyahu has proved himself to be enough of a pragmatist so that he is not likely to break the rules of dependence on the big uncle. Also pragmatic are President Obama, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi, and other worthies who express themselves about Israel and Palestine. As such, they may recognize what Lieberman and Netanyahu are saying, even though their many political commitments keep them from saying it out loud, in public.

What can we expect?

Most likely, there will be further efforts at dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Arrangements at lower levels, between officials concerned with policing, water, and sewage may go more smoothly than conversations between elected politicians about the sensitive issues of borders and refugees.

There are efforts at violence. Occasionally an incident slips through the nets of Israeli intelligence and security. Commentators who claim to know say that Palestinians are helping to minimize violence less than in the past, perhaps reflecting the leadership's frustration at the lack of Israeli concessions. If recent history repeats itself, there may be an uptick in violence, perhaps even another intifada, accompanied by an uptick in Israeli response. Palestinians would be wise if they noticed what the IDF did in Gaza, but Palestinians are not always wise.

At the Seder and other get togethers during Passover, we are likely to argue about what may have happened 3,500 years ago, and what is likely to happen in the next six months.


חג שמח

I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:24 AM
April 05, 2009
Unorganized violence

Last week a 16 year old Bedouin girl approached a base of the Border Police, pulled out a pistol and aimed it at the guard. The result was predictable. There were no injuries to the police.

Over the past year, there have been three incidents of Arab bulldozer operators who used their vehicles to cause mayhem in the streets of Jerusalem. Two of them killed pedestrians. All three of the bulldozer drivers died at the scene.

Some years ago there was a wave of individual Arabs attacking Jews with kitchen knives.

What links these incidents is that one or more Palestinian organizations claimed responsibility, but Israeli officials discounted the claims, and attributed them to individuals acting alone.

It is difficult to know what Israel can do to prevent random cases of violence. Intelligence often discovers planning by an established group, and frustrates the plans. Explanations of unaffiliated individuals cite personal rage traced to a relative killed by security forces, sermons at the mosque that incite hatred of Jews, an individual shunned by friends or family who wishes to prove his or her worth, and/or emotional disturbance.

The stories are not all that different from Americans or Europeans who run amok in schools or other public places. Friday's killings in Binghamton were not the last. A domestic dispute in Pittsburgh on Saturday resulted in the deaths of three police officers.

An American incident typically occurs with a firearm, and produces another round of demands to restrict their availability, and predictable responses from the National Rifle Association and its friends. Even if Congress or the Courts revise the conventional reading of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, it might be impossible to account for an estimated 200 million weapons in anything less than several generations.

A wide distribution of personal weapons in Israel, along with procedures to screen those who have them, has resulted in the deaths of Palestinians at the scene of their rampages. Innocents have also died in other episodes, due to imperfections in the screening mechanisms.

Unorganized wrath in Israel does not only occur among Arabs. Baruch Goldstein was an American-born MD who killed 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron. A soldier, judged unfit to carry a weapon but AWOL and not yet disarmed, took a bus to the Arab city of Shfar'am and killed four civilians and wounded 29 others.

Justifications of revenge and "they started it" are as predictable among Jews or Arabs, as are demands for restricting gun ownership after an incident in the United States.

Literature suggests that there have been mad individuals in all societies and historical periods. The availability of guns increases the damage in America. Organized violence provides the sparks and the rhetoric for unaffiliated Arabs and Jews in Israel. Only the nonviolent mad think that meeting all the demands of the Palestinians will end these incidents.

Events in Finland, Germany, Britain, and Canada, which are relatively free of guns and violence, indicate that no people can feel themselves absolutely secure.

In this season of Passover and Easter, we celebrate different conceptions of freedom. We should enjoy the rituals, but realize that we are singing about aspirations and not reality.

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

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:11 AM
April 01, 2009
Avigdor and Bibi

For those who enjoy political drama, the new Israeli government may be their cup of tea.

The problem is that the drama is not on the stage, but here and now. The disappointment may be greater than pop corn with too much salt.

The opening scene was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman giving his first speech in office. To take him at his word, he will change the rules of the game. The time of one-sided Israeli concessions is over. They have not brought peace. Palestinians and other Arabs will have to match Israel with concessions. He did not denounce the goal of a Palestinian state, but seemed to be pushing it somewhere over the horizon. He will welcome peace with Syria, but not at the cost of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. He respects Egypt as an important force that works to stabilize the Middle East, but the era is over of the Israeli foreign minister visiting Egypt, when Egyptian leaders cannot tarnish their reputations by visiting Israel.

Counter thrusts in this drama were not long in coming. US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took a few moments from their meeting on the world economy to indicate that their governments stand by the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. A Palestinian spokesman said that no one could force the Palestinians to sit around the negotiating table with a racist like Lieberman. A leader of the opposition MK's of the Labor Party (i.e., those opposed to their colleagues who joined the Netanyahu government) said that the country's chief diplomat was using his first speech to speak about war. An Egyptian spokesman reiterated the posture that Lieberman would get no invitation to visit Egypt until he apologized appropriately for his earlier insult of President Mubarak..

One can view Lieberman's remarks as a refreshing wind that might clear the air of a "peace process" that has not accomplished much in 16 years since the Oslo Accords, as the first step in a dangerous descent to catastrophe, or as not much of anything.

The peace process is stale. As best can be judged from what gets to the media, the Palestinians are stuck in a mode of feeling that they have a monopoly of historical justice. It was their land. Israel took it, and continues to take it piece by piece with expanding settlements. It is moderate of them to demand a return to an earlier division of the land, prior to the 1967 war. They must have a just solution for refugees from 1948.

In such a mode, their demand is for Israeli concessions. They seem hard pressed to accept historical changes on the ground, and to admit that the refugees and their descendants will not return to what they claim as their homes. They are willing to renounce violence, but have not shown themselves capable or willing to resist those Palestinians who continue on the path of violence. Even more problematic is the posture of the Palestinians in control of the Gaza half of Palestine, that they will not recognize Israel's legitimacy.

The slippery slope may not only lead to an escalation in terror, a bloody Israeli response, and who knows what from other Arab countries and Iran. Undesirable responses may come from Europe and the United States, with a lack of invitations for leading officials, harsh words from world leaders, no cultural exchanges, and a cold shoulder the next time Israel wants support in an international forum, an additional dollop of financial aid or guarantees of its loans, and favorable trade terms.

There are several reasons for thinking that not much may come from Lieberman's tenure. The police continue to investigate his financial dealings. Should they reach the point where they recommend an indictment, and the attorney general agrees, Lieberman will have to vacate his office.

If he manages to remain in office, Lieberman's appearance on the international stage comes when the great powers have little time for Israel and Palestine. They are busy with their own economic problems. Moreover, they recognize that the Israel-Palestine process is stale. The two-state solution will not disappear, but those attending the theater may welcome a different performance. At least until the people in Gaza alter their posture toward Israel, there is not much point in pushing hard against the Israelis or the people in the West Bank.

Finally, Lieberman's prime minister is well known for getting Teddy Roosevelt's slogan backward. Instead of speaking softly but carrying a big stick, Netanyahu is known for talking tough and acting like a mouse. With all the good reasons for a fresh breeze in the peace process, he may cave in to the first signs of contrary sentiments from the great powers. He has already said that he will work assiduously for peace. With Bibi, it is hard to know what he means.

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

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:02 PM