April 30, 2010
Immigration reform

You want to look at a conundrum? (a problem without a solution)

Immigration reform is a good example.

A NYT article describes efforts at producing some kind of amnesty along with "tougher enforcement."

Can any country control its borders, and also preserve its morality?

Tougher enforcement will mean random deportations while pressure in the source countries will keep the migrants flowing.

And as the NYT article indicates, the ideological desire of conservatives to guard the borders comes up against another ideological principle of the same people: no national identity cards.

It may be possible to cobble together what politicians will applaud as a reform. It might clean the books of some millions presently defined as illegal, and manage to keep a bit of the continuing flow south of the border or on the other side of the barriers in international ports. Then the next generation or half-generation of observers will notice that there are millions of others who have slipped through the safeguards.

Would anyone out there prefer remaining in Mexico, where some 22,000 people have been killed in an undeclared civil war over the last four years? The people most likely at risk if they stay in Mexico are those most likely to risk a great deal in order to reach someplace better.

European countries are no better off. Their problems are not with Hispanics but with Muslims and other Africans. Perhaps they are a tad worse, insofar as at least some of the Muslims are nastier than Hispanics.

While Hispanics may turn the American White Protestant paradise into something else, the migrants to Europe may extend the Islamic conquest throughout what had been Christian Europe.

Israel's problems are with Africans who come through the Sinai and over the border from Egypt. Occasionally Egyptian soldiers shoot migrants before they get to the border. It is not the best solution for Israeli moralists.

Illegal immigrants to Israel aspire to sympathy by saying that they come from Dafur. Some few may actually be Sudanese, but most are Nigerians, Eritreans, Ghanaians, and a scattering of other Africans.

As elsewhere, the problems are what to do with them? Humanitarians do not want to send them back. Often they cannot be sent back because they come without any documents that would indicate where they should be sent, or what countries should accept them. Some come from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Generally they are allowed to work. As in Europe and America, Israeli restaurants need dishwashers, hotels need maids, and the better neighborhoods need gardeners, house cleaners, and care providers for children and grandparents.

There are occasional sweeps by the immigration police, but random justice does not solve much of the problem. Often it puts individuals in confinement who cannot be sent any place. That keeps the unfortunate from working and supporting themselves, while it provides work for journalists and social activists who lament their treatment.

Illegal immigrants also have children, either with the help of one another or with proper Israelis. Kids born here have citizenship, and present the problem of confining or deporting a parent without the child.

Some illegal immigrants bring children with them. They retain their illegal status while going to school, learning Hebrew, and in some cases serving in the army. They identify as Israelis rather than with a place they do not remember. The messiness of the Law or Return produces situations where non-Jews who immigrated with a Jewish spouse find themselves subject to deportation after a divorce.

Each of these oddities provides material for the media and problems for the authorities.

And let's not forget the other significant class of illegal immigrants: Eastern European women.

Some claim to have been duped into thinking they would be waitresses or models. That excuse may have been valid for the first lot of girls leaving their villages in Moldavia or the Ukraine, but is not persuasive as the trade is well beyond its first decade.

Honesty requires one to admit that this migration is no less useful than that of African dishwashers, cleaners, gardeners, and care givers. Some may claim that the ladies serve Arabs and sailors, but there is also a market among ultra-Orthodox men and other Jews, present company excluded.

The NYT article suggests that immigration reform is a plaything of politicians trying to please inspired constituents. They want solutions now, without reckoning with next year, or what it might take to actually solve a problem that seems endless, with many Americans who benefit from the work done by the migrants.

Better to enjoy those restaurant meals, neat gardens, clean houses, and well tended children and grandparents.

No country that I know of has found an acceptable solution, and it ain't gonna to come from the US Congress.

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 11:59 PM
April 29, 2010

Among the problems in the Jewish State are some of the Jews.

The Supreme Court is hearing a petition concerned with the violation of a previous court order that an ultra-Orthodox girls school in Emanuel must integrate Ashkenazi and Sephardi pupils.

Ashkenazi parents are keeping their girls away from school rather than integrate, and claiming that they would rather go to jail than to violate their religious norms. To them, the interference of the state in their education, despite the financing of the education by the state, is a violation of their religious freedom.

You want more?

The ultra-Orthodox deputy of Jerusalem's mayor is quoted as saying, "We do not accept in our schools Sephardim, Ethiopians, or monkeys." He denies saying it, but two witnesses claim that they heard him.

I cannot remember language like that from the time I spent at the University of Georgia in the mid-1960s.

I am not aware of any commandment in the tangle of Judaic doctrines that rules against ethnic mixture among Jews. However, the rabbi who speaks for the refusniks of Emanuel asserts that families of the Sephardi girls are not sufficiently learned in Judaic lore. They are not ultra-Orthodox Jews like his father and grandfather. He faults them for a lack of discipline in adhering to the strictness of kashrut and other matters. He also notes that ultra-Orthodox have a tradition of separating themselves into communities, and using congregational affiliation as important considerations in deciding with whom it is appropriate to study, to pray, and to marry.

This is not the only instance of ultra-Orthodox congregations refusing the authority of Israel. Efforts by the Education Ministry to impose a basic curriculum on ultra-Orthodox schools have met with limited success. In many schools there is no teaching of history, geography, science, mathematics, and languages other than Yiddish, Aramaic, and Hebrew. In previous notes I have described ultra-Orthodox Israelis who do not know what is a map, cannot identify the countries neighboring Israel, and do not know what is Africa.

The products of ultra-Orthodox schools have no skills other than continued learning, or teaching in the same kinds of schools. They contribute to one of Israel's problems compared to other countries that aspire to modernity: a low percentage of the adult population that is working.

Demographic projections are hopefully wrong, but they show the high fecundity of ultra-Orthodox families threatening the well being of Israel in another generation or two.

Ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazim have refused, on principal, to accept positions as ministers in the government, but they do take positions as deputy ministers in cases when the prime minister agrees not to appoint a minister. It is a fiction of the kind that religious Jews construct to live within their norms but also to benefit from the violation of the norms.

The Deputy Minister of Health is Ashkenazi and ultra-Orthodox. He insisted on constructing the emergency room of the Ashkelon hospital 300 meters from the main hospital in order to avoid disturbing ancient graves that might be Jewish.

It took a great hullabaloo by the physicians of Israel and the residents of Ashkelon, with the help of the mass media, to convince the Prime Minister to intervene and change the decision of the Deputy Minister of Health. It is too early to know if construction will actually go forward, against the declaration of ultra-Orthodox rabbis to prevent it with their bodies.

The strength of ultra-Orthodox nay-saying is not only a result of the 16 or so Knesset members affiliated with ultra-Orthodox parties. If they are not members of a government, no aspiring leader wants to annoy them beyond the point where they would refuse to join a subsequent government.

Aside from their representation in politics, ultra-Orthodox Jews also benefit from the vicarious identification of Orthodox, traditional, and not a few secular Israelis. Individuals remember grandpa, or have some genetic trigger linked to Yiddishkeit that makes them vulnerable to financial appeals, as well as opposing any efforts of the police and other authorities from imposing the same weight of the state on religious Jews as they impose on the rest of us.

This vicarious identification is part of the strength enjoyed by Religious Nationalist Orthodox settlers insisting on staying in communities throughout the West Bank, including those defined as "illegal." It contributed to David ben Gurion's decision 60 years ago, when he gave in to the demands of ultra-Orthodox leaders to exempt their boys from compulsory military service. Activists insist that their study of the Torah contributes more than the IDF to Israel's defense.

Emanuel is a small community, mostly ultra-Orthodox, with about 300 families, east of the 1967 border in the northern part of the West Bank. Much larger ultra-Orthodox communities, Beitar Ilit and Modiin Ilit, have also been built in the territories. They reflect the pressure of large families against the cost of housing in the established ultra-Orthodox communities of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. The new communities have produced an awakening of territorialism among the ultra-Orthodox. Previously their politicians left the defense of settlements to rivals among Religious Nationalist Orthodox politicians.

Ramat Shlomo is an ultra-Orthodox community that got in the news due to sensitivities of the Obama administration. It is also east of the 1967 border, but within the Jerusalem municipality as defined by Israel. Ramat Shlomo has been a substantial neighborhood with thousands of residents for 15 years or so, without noticeable comment by Palestinians until the Obama administration demanded the cessation of construction in new Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Our own neighborhood of French Hill is also treif according to the Obama Rabbinate. Recently there has been a movement of both Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews into what had been a Jewish neighborhood that combined secular and Orthodox families.

Conversations deal with who would one rather not have as neighbors. I have made no survey, but have found individuals preferring Arabs over the ultra-Orthodox, the ultra-Orthodox over Arabs, those who want neither, and some who do not care.

Does this note reflect my infection with anti-Semitism? I plead not guilty, but admit to an occasional temptation.

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 01:55 AM
April 26, 2010
Israel's Great Game

For those of us more interested in world affairs than sport, "The Great Game" was the competition between British and Czarist Empires for Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia, with implications for India and access to the sea, that prevailed through much of the 19th and into the 20th centuries.

Israel now has its Great Game. It consists of responding to international and domestic demands for "solution" and "peace" with respect to the century-long conflicts over Israel's place in the region.

Any optimism apparent in Israel is microscopic compared to the rhetoric currently fashionable in the White House and among those who follow its lead. Since the mighty efforts of Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton in 2000, and more recently the fragmentation of the Palestine National Authority, it appears that Israeli officials are going through the motions because they must. While some Israeli politicians accuse their colleagues of being short sighted or stingy, the louder clamor, coming from politicians and commentators across the political spectrum is "Impossible."

What makes it impossible?

Rivalry among the Palestinians, with extremists encouraged by Iran against the background of radical Islam, with the loud cooperation of Syria and the lesser noise of Turkey, as well as other occasional participants. All this makes it impossible for any Palestinian leaders to face their people directly and explain the need for compromise.

As far as we can tell from reports coming out of negotiations in 2000, and the efforts of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, Palestinian leaders are unable to accept anything less than their expansive demands of a state with the borders of 1967, plus a capital in Jerusalem, and the rights of refugees to return to what is now Israel.

Israel has developed since 1967, and some 50,000 Israeli Jews are living in settlements scattered throughout the West Bank, beyond the line of the security barrier. More than 200,000 others live in areas of Jerusalem and major settlements close to, but east of the 1967 borders.

Palestinians have rejected Israeli offers to provide them with territory equivalent to size of the pre-1967 area of the West Bank, with parts of pre-1967 Israel making up for what Palestinians would lose to the large Israeli settlements, plus a place for their capital in Jerusalem and a partial solution for the refugees.

There is good reason to believe, based on the comments of prominent Hamas figures, as well as frequent speeches from Iranians and others, that Fatah's mantra of 1967 borders, Jerusalem, and refugees is a fiction for a party that could not survive if--Allah forbid--the Israelis agreed to all of its demands.

So Tom Friedman, Barack Obama and many others are right in saying that Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace. But they miss the larger point when they claim that the settlements are the major obstacle, or even a significant obstacle.

As far as we know about the negotiations of 2000 and 2008, they never got to the issue of settlements beyond those close to the 1967 borders. Would they be abandoned? That is no longer likely, due to the reception Palestinians gave to the abandonment of settlements in Gaza. Would they be granted something like ex-territorial status, with the residents granted rights as Israelis while living in Palestine? Would they be islands of Israel within Palestine, protected by Israeli security personnel? Or would Israel's refusal to withdraw 50,000 Jews, or abandon them, make it impossible to reach any agreement?

Roger Cohen is right when he says that Israeli angst is one of the obstacles to peace. But he misses the point in claiming it an important obstacle, given the nay sayers who speak for so much of the Arab and Muslim communities, and the failure of any Palestinian leaders to say anything that suggests flexibility.

Israel itself is the principal obstacle for Islamic theologians and Arab ideologues who are guarding the flank of Palestine, and have a following among Palestinians who others call "moderate."

So Israel's Great Game is largely pretense. Currently the conversation between Jerusalem and Washington is about more goods allowed into Gaza, the release of some Palestinian prisoners, and the removal of some check points in the West Bank, as inducements for some kind of negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian (Fatah) officials.

The game being played by Palestinian moderates is also a shame. Mahmoud Abbas spends his time in conferences, many of them in the capitals of Muslim and Western governments, marked by handshakes, photos, and the platitudes of peace and justice. Another one of those meetings is scheduled for the White House.

If words meaning "flexibility" or "compromise" figure in those meetings, they have eluded the media reports.

Will negotiations occur? Will the participants show any flexibility? Will they get to issues of water, sewage treatment, and other knotty issues that never seem to have been the subject of previous negotiations?

And what about the 250,000 or so Palestinians living in East Jerusalem? The assumption is that they will become Palestinians. But no one to my knowledge has raised the issue of a referendum. Maybe the people would prefer their status quo, with assured access to employment in Israel, as well as Israeli health insurance and social services.

In short, if anyone is really serious about ending this game, there is a great deal of work to do.

So far, we have not gotten beyond opening gambits, Obama rhetoric, and all those who sign on to his slogans.

The White House demands Israeli flexibility, so Israeli officials scurry hither and yon among themselves to produce yet another list of concessions, while holding to what they are not ready--or not yet ready--to concede.

Instead of any effort to educate his people about the essence of give as well as take, Mahmoud Abbas, the aging leader of Fatah, still in office 15 months beyond the end of his term, has asked President Obama to impose a solution on Israel.

The Great Game of Russia and Great Britain petered out without clear resolution with the end of the Czars and the weakening of Great Britain in The Great War.

Israel's Great Game is puttering along on an appropriately low flame, waiting for the end of the Obama presidency.

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 01:50 AM
April 24, 2010
Is this a time to lose sleep, or to relax?

Zionists of the world, relax. Your allies are the Palestinians. They will protect you even from the White House of Barack Obama.

Again the Palestinians have said no to efforts of White House emissaries to extract what they can from Prime Minister Netanyahu. He proposed to negotiate toward a Palestinian state with temporary borders, with the final lines to be decided some time later.

No doubt some will say this was not a serious offer. What self respecting politician can tolerate a state with undefined borders?

Israel is a decent example. From 1948 to 1979 Israel had no defined borders. Then it had one with Egypt. It acquired part of another, with Jordan, only in 1994. There remain problems with the northern border, and that between Israel and Palestine is anyone's guess.

Sixty-two years and counting, this country with indefinite borders is on the World Bank's list of wealthy countries, and is arguably the most successful of the 100 or so new states to emerge after World War II.

Another sticking point for the Palestinians, according to Saeb Erekat, is Israel's refusal to stop construction in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu has refused to take that step. Some say that he has agreed to "avoid provocations" in Jerusalem, whatever that means.

President Obama has said that he cannot force the Israelis and Palestinians to do what they refuse to do, but he keeps trying.

Could it be that the American president has a Messiah complex, feeling that he must solve what has eluded others?

He is not a Muslim, but has identified with their sensitivities due to the slights and insults of others. If he absorbed anything from all those sermons by Jeremiah Wright, he may view Israel as one of the reasons for the ill feelings of other people in this region.

Is it the curse of Americans and those dependent on them that they select attractive and articulate individuals with no experience in international affairs?

George W. Bush created no end of harm by his missions to bring democracy to Iraq and provide Afghanistan with a better regime than the Taliban.

We are still waiting for the results of Obama's engagement with Syria and Iran.

It is not a good time to create a Palestinian State. Hamas, widely viewed as an impossible partner, has control of Gaza. One of its reasonable claims is that rivals in charge of the West Bank are illegitimate, insofar as they remain in office 15 months after the end of their term.

Given the prominence of an assertive Islam, we should not expect Hamas to soften its position about Israel, or for the Fatah cadres around Mahmoud Abbas to depart significantly from their demands.

No one in a key Israeli position can say an explicit "No," or "Leave us alone" to the head of the country that is vital for it economic well being and security.

The essential function of whoever is the prime minister is to avoid the absolute negative, and to demonstrate a willingness to help the American president.

Aid will come from Palestinians' sense of having a monopoly of justice. Their penchant for saying no, without talking to their people about flexibility and compromise, may eventually convince Americans that the game will not end.

Aid is also coming from respectable Americans, such as Ed Koch and Charles Shumer, who are trying to hold the White House to a standard of fairness in apportioning blame to itself and to others for the impasse.

We can conceive any number of scenarios emerging from a failure to achieve peace. No one of them is more certain than any other.

Tensions may continue indefinitely with occasional violence, kept in check by Palestinians not wanting a repeat of what Israel did to Gaza in 2008-09, or before that to both Gaza and the West Bank after 2000.

Violence may flare. We hear threats of a "third intifada." If the most recent decade is an indication, that would weaken the Israeli left, and increase the misery of Palestinians.

Palestinian nationalism can weaken, and people continue to drift away. That may seem unlikely due to assertive Islam and a friendly White House, but several Palestinian Diasporas beckon with economic opportunities.
If the American president views himself with a sacred mission about Palestine and Israel, we won't have a good night's sleep until 2013 or 2017. American demands, echoed by Europeans and Israeli leftists, will produce much nervous scrambling to please, or to look like one is trying to please.

Then whoever comes to the Oval Office may recognize the folly of President Obama, and define this part of the Middle East--perhaps without saying so--as an issue too hot to handle.

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 09:10 AM
April 21, 2010
The Middle East and Mexico: More Questions than Answers

Numbers are not everything in the assessment of public policies, but they can at least justify questions about the efforts officials are making in X as opposed to Y.

The X in this case is the dispute between Israel and the Arabs. The Y is greater violence close to the Mexican border with the United States.

Currently we are seeing another concerted effort to deal with Israel and its neighbors. President Barack Obama made it the subject of a major speech in Cairo, as well as several meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, trips to the area by special emissaries, and frequent high profile comments by the President, Secretaries of State and Defense, the National Security Advisor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other ranking generals. Some have gone so far as to say that the lack of resolution is a key interest of the United States; that it threatens American troops active elsewhere; and that it gets in the way of American efforts to deal with terrorism.

No doubt that both Israelis and Palestinians would profit from a resolution of their dispute. Yet the prevailing view that seems most persuasive, and has penetrated the comments of President Obama, is that neither Israeli nor Palestinian authorities are prepared to make essential concessions. Better for both is the status quo than dealing with the numerous issues that have resisted efforts by foreign powers or the parties themselves for a century or more.

The deaths of Palestinians and Israelis during the latest flare up of violence are not the only measure of the dispute's importance, but they help to gauge it in comparison to other problems.

According to the Israeli human rights organization Btselem, the period from the onset of intifada al-Aqsa in late September, 2000 to the end of 2008 saw 4,907 Palestinian deaths attributed to Israeli security forces or Israeli civilians; 593 Palestinians killed by other Palestinians; and 1,062 Israelis killed by Palestinians. All told, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been responsible for 6,562 deaths in recent years.

It is something of a stretch to link this conflict to important American interests. The deaths occurred about one-third of the world away from American shores, and the most persistent claims of its impact on the United States and other great powers come from Muslim countries that have their own reasons for seeing Israel as the source of all their problems.

Much closer to the United States, arguably more directly linked to it, as well as being more costly in human lives is what The Washington Post headlined as a "drug war . . . near (the) Texas border."

"More than 22,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since . . . December 2006 . . . powerful and warring crime syndicates have now launched a campaign of terror . . . abducting journalists, beheading police officers and assaulting military garrisons."


Comparing the drama of conflict in the Holy Land to chaos in Mexico is the stuff of apples and oranges. Every dispute is unique. But the differentials in numbers cause me to wonder.

Since I am writing from Jerusalem, it may only appear to me that the White House is spending more effort on a relatively small conflict far from the United States than on a larger conflict right along its border. Moreover, the nearer conflict is integrally associated with Americans.

I am aware of Israeli and American rhetoric about a special relationship. I also know something about the history involving the Untied States and Mexico, as well as the current American appetites for narcotics, and for low-wage, low-skilled workers. The Washington Post claims that 22,000 deaths are due to drugs meant for the American market. Presumably other deaths come from human traffic to the United States, including competition between the gangs that do some of the work.

It would be quite a show if President Obama decided to send his troops south of the border, like Presidents Polk and Wilson before him. Yet some of his advisers would impose a solution on Israel and Palestine. He has also increased American activity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Rather than trying to untangle the arguments for what the United States is doing--or should be doing--in one place or another, let me throw up my hands and ask for help.

Some of you may be wiser than me, or at least better informed about what is closer to your home than mine. This old professor needs your guidance.
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 11:41 AM
April 20, 2010

National holidays are occasions for reflection. The linkage of Memorial Day and Independence Day was designed to focus on the miseries and hopes of being Jewish and Israeli, so there should be no surprise that they work on our emotions, this year as in the past.

Memorial Day is heart wrenching stories of husbands and sons who did not return from duty, and the struggle of survivors to keep going. Independence Day begins in the evening with boring speeches, music and dance that ranging from local amateurs to world class artists, and then fireworks. Daytime is an occasion for family picnics, cheek by jowl with other families and the smells of too much broiling meat.

Analysts argue the merits of what was done at crucial points in the past, and what must be done at this year's confluence of opportunity and danger.

Shlomo Avineri wrote about the prospects of a Palestinian declaration of independence, and Ethan Bronner described Israel's "dark mood."


Bronner is the New York Times correspondent who kept his Jerusalem assignment despite his son's recruitment to the IDF. He reports on Israel's prosperity--approaching Germany's level of personal income--along with international isolation and an unsympathetic White House.

Avineri has been a colleague and friend for three decades, served for a while as Director General of the Foreign Minister, and is widely known for his insights. In this article he considers what might happen if Prime Minister Salam Fayyad actually does declare Palestine's independence.

A unilateral declaration would free Israel from all of its agreements. Then a positive scenario would range to Palestinian maturity in controlling its extremists and positive Israeli actions, allowing meaningful negotiations about final borders and shared spaces. A negative scenario could involve Israel sealing its border between with Gaza, and stopping the flow of food, fuel, electricity, the closing of the West Bank except for Israeli troops concerned to protect Jewish settlements, and whatever would then come from Palestinians and others.

Also in the air are questions about the Obama White House. Does the President's musing about excess American commitments signal an exasperation with Israel, or simply an admission that he should minimize involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/world/middleeast/15mideast.html

Perhaps enough prominent Jews and others have convinced the White House that coddling dangerous states while beating up a close ally is not the best kind of foreign policy. Or the White House may only be pausing for Israel's holidays before renewing its pressures.

For good things to happen in the next year or so, people with major roles in Palestinian and Israeli politics will have to take risk leading their people away from fear and toward accommodation, rather than giving into the easy courses of staying with immediate self-interests. They will also need cooperation from outsiders. This means Iranians, Syrians and Hizbollah foregoing what they have been doing, and going along with moderate Palestinians. It would help if overseas Jews stopped fomenting and financing Israelis afraid of losing what they think is theirs, and demanding to live where they are not wanted.

American and European officials could help by keeping out of the way, rather than stimulating the worst sentiments among Israeli and Palestinians by their awkward efforts to settle someone else's problems.

In short, politicians and political activists in several places would have to stop acting like politicians and political activists.

Those hopeful of this Messiah equivalent should not look to American politics for indications that salvation might be possible.

If the reform of health is any indication of pursuing the public good, then we should all tear our clothes and cover ourselves with Icelandic ash. The self-interest pursued by insurance companies, HMOs, state governments, Members of the House and Senate, and assorted ideologues has produced even more complexity, and perhaps greater expense in what was already a world leader in its capacity to frustrate the delivery of medical care.

Israel will go back to work after the holidays, but no one should expect an early resolution of the big questions.

It will be a smaller issue that is attracts most attention. The police have identified former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the key suspect in Jerusalem's real estate scandal. We are wondering if he will be ordered to house arrest, with or without access to telephones, e-mail and all the rest, or maybe even confinement in the house of the police. And what else will we learn about those bribes that allowed the construction of our city's monstrosity?

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 12:40 AM
April 18, 2010
Israeli narratives and the peace process

This is the time of Memorial Day and Independence Day. Appropriate to the season, I've received two e-mails with items that some may see as a bit too assertive for their taste. Yet they tell important elements of the Israeli narrative. It is not the whole story of the Middle East, but it is one that is as worthy of consideration as any Palestinian narrative.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nwI2hzPjrA part one

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBHc0yvtrDw part two

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp5_LddyVys part three

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyaF0dXJdOE part four

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TJfEf5UMSI part five


The five chapters of youtube deal with Jewish refugees from Arab lands. It's a story of unknown weight in the unresolved disputes between Israel and Palestine plus other Muslim countries. Jewish refugees get far less attention than Palestinian refugees. Some may wonder if their story is nothing more than a chorus of the disaffected, like African-Americans who demand compensation for slavery.

Should the suffering of Jewish refugees be ignored only because they have become integral to Israeli society, with countless stories of success, as well as comprising some 50 percent of the population (a statistic that is increasingly difficult to calculate due to substantial intermarriage)? If Jewish refugees are largely ignored, why not also ignore the claims of Palestinians who call themselves refugees? Does the failure of Arab countries to absorb them justify political prominence and their continued weight on the budgets of international aid organizations?

The production of these chapters is dated by the snippet devoted to the Iranian-born President of Israel, Moshe Katsav. Here he is presented as what became of an impoverished refugee. The less attractive Katsav story was yet to be told.

The second item deals with the disproportionate treatment given to allegations about Israeli violations of human rights. No less instructive than the speaker representing United Nations Watch is the response of the chairman of the UN Human Rights Council. He considers the young man's accusations to be nothing more than an intolerable insult against the fine work of the UNHRC.

Some Jews want the return of assets that had to be left behind elsewhere in the Middle East. Many want only a recognition of the injustice done to communities that existed for as long as 2,500 years in places that came to be dominated by Muslims. Some want to cancel the obligations owed to Jews as the equivalent of canceling the obligations said to be owed by Israel to the Palestinians.

Memorial Day and Independence Day will provide the Israeli government more of a respite before answering the renewed demands of the White House and State Department for responses about negotiations with the Palestinians. The Americans want to hear about easing the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, West Bank settlements, and Jerusalem.

As I wrote this note, I was hearing the rehearsal in the elementary school yard next door for the evening ceremony that begins Memorial Day. These are days that prompt some Israelis to harden their postures with respect to Arabs, and others to insist even more forcefully on the need for an accommodation.

Justice will be elusive. The strengths of competing narratives may prevent any accommodation now, as they have for more than a century that has seen occasional spurts of intense debate, and longer periods of international indifference. Neither Barack Obama's well measured reasoning, nor Hillary Clinton's screeching may accomplish what has eluded generations of their predecessors.

Ed Koch and several other prominent Americans have weighed in against what they perceive to be the White House's disproportionate pressure on Israel. A common message is that the administration has insulted a friend while coddling those who support terror.

A month ago, General David Petraeus was quoted as saying that Israeli intransigence was endangering American troops in Asia. Either he had an epiphany, or he got a message from here on earth. More recently he has said that "the men and women who walked or were carried out of the death camps, and their descendants . . . helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies. The survivors have, in short, made our country and our world better, leaving lasting achievements."


Perhaps we are ratcheting down from intensity, and heading for indifference.

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 10:50 AM
April 14, 2010
Uri Lupolianski

Varda has not been this happy since she violated Obama-Clinton prohibitions by hanging new curtains in the living room.

Her smile, along with a loud "Aha," came with the news that Uri Lupolianski had been arrested for involvement in the Holyland scandal. According to the charges, he had received three million shekels (about US$800,000) as contributions to Yad Sarah, his election campaign, and a religious academy headed by his son.

Yad Sarah is an award-winning institution created and headed by Lupolianski that provides services to the aged, ill and handicapped Israelis, with facilities in both Jewish and Arab communities. Its large headquarters is the reason for Varda's delight at Lupolianski's arrest. It was built on the field opposite the small home that Varda's parents purchased in the 1950s with reparations from Germany. Varda and her sister Gabi, and later Gabi's children and ours picked wildflowers and chased butterflies in that field. The grandparents grew old in a quiet home with a small garden, separated by the field from a busy street.

The headquarters not only turned the field into six stories of glass and stone, but blocked the sun and spoiled the ambiance of a quiet neighborhood. Varda's parents protested the initial plans for the building, and received a bouquet of flowers in exchange. Varda and Gabi joined the neighbors to protest a plan to take more land and expand the structure. They learned from a municipal official that plans for expansion were approved "with the speed of the Concorde." Home owners later received bills from the municipality equivalent to several thousand dollars for replacing the pavement of their streets with more fashionable "Holland stones," seemingly at the initiative of Yad Sarah. Another protest brought nothing more than the addition of interest to the initial demands.

Lupolianski was a member of the city council, than deputy mayor and head of the local planning commission before becoming mayor when Ehud Olmert resigned to take a position as minister in the national government, on his way to become prime minister several years later.

Lupolianski was the first ultra-Orthodox mayor of Jerusalem. After serving as Olmert's replacement, he won a full term when the ultra-Orthodox turned out at rates in excess of 80 percent, while fewer than 30 percent of secular Jerusalemites voted in the municipal election. His trademark angelic smile served him in politics and as head of Yad Sarah, and was not altered when interviewed during a pause in his questioning by police.

Lupolianski was deputy mayor and head of the planning commission when Varda and her neighbors sought to block the expansion of the Yad Sarah building. When the commission considered his plans, Lupolianski absented himself from the meetings. However, the neighborhood committee could not find a Jerusalem lawyer specializing in planning issues who was willing to represent them. Lupolianski's concern for the project was known to all, as was his role in all other projects coming before the commission.

According to a headline in Ha'aretz: "Lupolianski supporters say: 'He devoted his life to help people.' Municipal official report "To contractors it was hinted that a contribution to Yad Sarah would help.'"

Lupolianski is charged with receiving bribes, conspiracy to commit a crime, fraud, violatioin of trust, tax evasion, and money laundering.

Another headline quotes Lupolianski saying, "I was only the deputy."

Ehud Olmert was mayor when the alleged events occurred.

Ha'aretz cartoon shows two pensive individuals waiting for a plane ride home. One is Ehud Olmert. The other is the paper's journalist who is holding documents stolen from the IDF.

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 10:01 PM
Barack Obama: Aspirations and Reality

He ain't stupid. Stubborn is not all that bad. Neither is pressure.

The subject is Barack Obama. Signs are that he is backing off from saying that he expects early compliance with his demands on Israel and Palestine.

". . . even if we apply all our political capital to that issue, the Israeli people through their government and the Palestinian people through the Palestinian Authority as well as other Arab states may say to themselves, we are not prepared to resolve these issues no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear. . . We can't want it more than they do."

This came as the summit on nuclear weapons was ending. The President responded to a question asking if he was hypocritical for not demanding of Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, insofar as there is a widespread belief that it has an undeclared nuclear arsenal.

No Zionist should protest his response.

" . . . as far as Israel goes, I'm not going to comment on their program, but what I'm going to point to is the fact that consistently we have urged all countries to become members of the NPT."

What explains this turnaround?

No one outside the President's mind can be sure. Among the options, however, is the man's intelligence. He proposed and pushed, but recognized that he came up against firm opposition from the targets of his pressure. Israel, Palestinians, and other Arabs cited strong domestic opposition to the details of American proposals, and could not move without someone else moving first.

The President says that he intends to continue with his mission, but that may be no more than standard political rhetoric.

Whose fault?

There is room for endless accusation. The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Israel is ensnared in the grip of religious and nationalist extremists, certain that they have God's endorsement for controlling what they view as the Land of Israel. Arab governments are always on the verge of violent upheaval, and cannot challenge what they have created by 60 years incitement against the Jews. Obama went too far. He challenged Arab pride by calling publicly for concessions, and made an insulting demand of Israel to prevent Jews from living where they would in Jerusalem.

The President is good intentioned and smart. The proposals he made to Israel, Palestinians, and Arab governments would have gotten an A in any course on policy innovation. It offered something to everyone, as well as demanding concessions from everyone. However, he is no magician. He pushed too many hot buttons.

Was he naive? Of course, but no less than advisors and analysts in government offices, think tanks and elsewhere who claim expertise, contributed details, and joined his chorus.

Outsiders have a great deal of trouble manipulating someone else's politics. It has long been a curse of those who would manage empires, even if --like Americans--they shun the label of imperialist.

The urge to rule, or to shape, that comes out of the American capital has done more harm in Iraq and Afghanistan than in Israel or Palestine. It is easiest to call the 2003 invasion of Iraq an American folly, insofar as there is little indication that the Iraqi regime was a threat against the United States. Afghans were neck deep in 9-11, but that does not explain Washington's persistence beyond its first wave of destruction. The continued occupation of two Islamic countries appears to have made things worse, by spreading religious extremism beyond where it already thrived.

Iran is the blackest mark on the President's overseas aspirations. It is here where criticism, and even ridicule of his rhetoric appears to be most appropriate. Stopping Iran may always have been beyond the capacity of the United States. Could it have begun another war, when military and financial resources were already strained to the breaking point by previous commitments? The lack of international support for serious sanctions has long been apparent.

We should not expect quiet from the White House, and certainly not from the ranks of others who have been pressing one gimmick or another as the key to reforming the Middle East. Muslims of the region seem destined for more years of religious and political incitement, shabby education and other social services, as well as repressive rulers. The Jews of Israel will continue coping with restive neighbors and those of their own who aspire to moral perfection.

President Obama has done well in his aspirations for health reform in his own country, and may still be able to tinker with some of the patchwork to bring it closer to what Europeans and Israelis enjoy.

The world is even more complex than the United States Congress.

It is tempting to paraphrase a line from Fiddler on the Roof. May God bless and keep the President... far away from us.

No doubt the American White House has been better for the Jews that Tevye's Tsar. Yet some of its good intentions have been too much.

No one should not expect an uptick in the modesty prevailing in the White House and elsewhere in the United States, but a resident of Jerusalem should never discount the possibility of miracles.

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 01:54 AM
April 12, 2010
Holocaust Memorial Day

The Holocaust leads all other tragedies in the extent of its commemoration. Numerous countries have an annual observance on January 27th, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the Soviet Army liberated the largest Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. Some of them also commemorate Israel's observance in the Spring. It comes a week before the Memorial Day for soldiers and civilian victims of terror, and then Independence Day, i.e., a week to mark disaster and salvation.

The Holocaust has not entered Israel's collective memory easily, or uniformly. For many years is was a subject to avoid. Individuals were ashamed of those led quietly to slaughter, and a people so despised as to have no one to help them. Children born to survivors found their parents unwilling to speak about it. The State of Israel created a Memorial Day and established Yad Vashem, and included in the formal observance a reminder of rebels who resisted the Nazis. Nevertheless, the emphasis continues to be on overwhelming power. Those who opposed deserved heroic stature, but they did not accomplish much.

The figure of six million is an estimate, reflecting other estimates of Jewish populations before and after the Nazi conquests. The figure has entered into ritualistic expressions about the Holocaust, although some researchers cite other numbers that they have calculated.

The Holocaust is not the only case of mass slaughter or attempted genocide in history, but it stands above all others in the extent to which it is commemorated in national memorials and museums, and incorporated into school lessons.

Jews in Israel and elsewhere emphasize their own views of what they think is important to remember.

For some, the Holocaust is a story of Jews who aided the Nazis. They included individuals who served as police in the ghettos, helping the Nazis control or round up Jews for killing, and those who cleaned the gas chambers and crematoria. Israelis continue to debate whether such individuals had any choice, and cite the fate of most collaborators: killed when they could no longer serve.

One of Israel's few instances of political murder was that of Israel Kastner, a Hungarian who negotiated with Adolph Eichmann for a train load of Jews sent from Budapest to Switzerland. For some he was lionized, but for others he was a scoundrel who favored relatives for places on the train. He was shot on a Tel Aviv street in 1957.

One of my neighbors cannot hear the name of Franklin Roosevelt without comparing him to Hitler for his failure to save the Jews of Europe.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who have yet to recognize the legitimacy of Israel tend not to honor the Memorial Day that the State has declared. While other Jews stand quietly when the sirens sound in mid-morning, they may continue to walk. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis have a biblical explanation for their people's suffering: God's punishment for sin. In this case, the sin was the apostasy of Reform Judaism, which developed in Germany during the 19th century.

The media begins to report on Holocaust stories several days before the annual commemoration. There may remain several hundred thousand survivors still living in Israel, and the coverage emphasizes their memories. But now there is substantial attention to what their children remember about growing up in a family marked by tragedy, school groups visiting the death camps, the failure of Israeli programs to care for the needs of aged survivors, or to return resources to those with claims. This year the principal program on public television, immediately after the telecast of the national ceremony at Yad Vashem, featured a conversation between Shlomo Artzi, one of the country's most popular singers, and Yair Lapid, one of its most prominent newscasters. They spoke about their fathers, both successful politicians, who survived the Nazi regimes in Romania and Hungary, respectively.

For several years now, the Knesset's session on Holocaust Memorial Day has been devoted to "For everyone there is a name," with Members reading from the list of individuals who perished. This year Shimon Peres read the names of his relatives burned alive while seeking refuge in a synagogue.

Leftist Jews and others accuse Israel of imposing a Holocaust on the Palestinians, or using the Holocaust as an excuse for occupation and other persecutions.

The Holocaust may be a drawing card for traveling Israeli politicians, but it generally does not figure in policy discussions. More important are simpler concerns to defend against the violence of Palestinians and other Arabs, and frustration at their repeated rejections of what most Israelis perceive to be decent offers.

In recent years, however, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has elicited parallels with Hitler's intentions as expressed in Mein Kampf for his denial of the Holocaust, obsession with nuclear power, and predictions of Israel's destruction. The costs of attacking Iran are well known, but officials and others have also spoken about the costs of not dealing with Ahmadinejad's threat.

It has become conventional to ridicule the bombast, waffling, and delays associated with Barack Obama's assertions that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, as well as his ritualized commitments to Israel's defense. This year's Holocaust Memorial Day has been an occasion for returning to these themes, as well as remembering, and politicians' promise of "Never again."

We'll see.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:18 AM
April 09, 2010
A busy week

Israel returned from its Passover vacation, and unburdened itself of several files awaiting release from one official body or another.

The scandal of the Holyland apartment development gained more weight with the detainment of another real estate mogul, said to have bribed local planning officials with respect to that project, and officials of the Israel Lands Authority with respect to a project elsewhere. Like every other participant in the Holyland affair, he has been identified as a close associate of Ehud Olmert.

Where is Ehud?

Still overseas. The judges have suspended his trial on other offenses while officials sort out his involvement in these matters.

He is currently in Spain, protected by a diplomatic visa arranged by the Foreign Ministry that will keep him from being arrested on charges of war crimes. In Israel, a former prime minister has no immunity from arrest. He still has a bodyguard, but that person works for one of the security agencies, and is unlikely to offer protection from another law officer.

Holyland took second place behind a young woman, a former draftee who served as a clerk with high security clearance. She downloaded a couple of thousand sensitive documents, and gave them to a journalist who wrote up some of the details for Ha'aretz. Both the young woman and the journalist may have thought they were doing good by revealing a lack of justice in the actions of the IDF, but she has been charged with a security crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The journalist is somewhere in Britain, still on the payroll of Ha'aretz, but not returning home for the time being. He is said to have violated an agreement made with the security forces to return the material supplied to him in exchange for freedom from prosecution. One side says he returned only some of the material. The newspaper says he returned all that was important, and is standing on the side of journalistic privilege and the greater injustice of the IDF.

The journalist may be thinking of Mordecai Vanunu, who turned against Israeli policy (and Judaism) while working as a technician in the Dimona nuclear facility, photographed the workplace, and sold the pictures to overseas newspapers. Security personnel kidnapped him, brought him home to face 18 years in prison and a continued denial of permission to speak with journalists or to leave the country.

Israel may be sloppy in what it does, tolerant of extreme criticism, casual with respect to the implementation of its laws, and often seems passive in the face of violence. Yet when someone violates vaguely defined "red lines," the response can be severe. The young innocent who stole classified documents may pay a heavy price, despite the claims of friends and mother about her idealism. The residents of Gaza suffered from a military onslaught and still from a blockade, which came after seven years of wondering if Israel would respond forcefully to rocket attacks on its civilians.

It's a lesson that the American White House might ponder. Is it a good idea to be so flexible about the nuclear program of a country whose leader has threatened Israel's destruction?

Another scandal would be front and center if it was not for the competition. A military hero from the Yom Kippur war is charged with the illegal purchase and sale of human organs. Among the juicier features of this story are reports that poor individuals offered considerable sums for their organs actually received only a small portion of what they were promised.

We are on the verge of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It may give us some quiet from current events, but items in the media will not be joyful.

Varda will light candles for her grandmother and uncle.

She spent her childhood hoping for news of them on a daily radio program that sought to reunite individuals separated by war and migration. Later she contacted the tracing service of the Netherlands Red Cross, and received the dates and places of their killing.

My American friends occasionally tell me they know a Holocaust survivor.

I know few Israelis of European backgrounds who are not Holocaust survivors, or the children, grandchildren, or greatgrandchildren of Holocaust survivors. And few Israelis of Middle Eastern backgrounds without family stories of persecution and being forced out of places they had lived for a thousand years or more.

Past suffering is not useful as a blanket excuse for actions that are controversial, but is essential for understanding. Mix fear of powerful others with the Biblical notion of Chosen People, plus the norms of the prophets and 2,500 years of commentary, and you may begin to comprehend the Israeli mystery.

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 10:26 PM
April 08, 2010
What is exciting Israel?

Normally commentators would be worrying for days about the report in The Washington Post that a coterie of present and former National Security Advisors are pressing President Obama to proclaim their solution for Israel and Palestine.

However, that story was below the fold on the front page of Ha'aretz, and is missing from several of the internet news pages.

Above the fold on Ha'aretz, with a huge headline and large photo, as well as featured on radio headlines and internet news sites, is the story that will keep us on edge for several days.

It is being called the biggest corruption scandal in the country's history, focused on what is described as the ugliest eyesore on Jerusalem's skyline.

Those who visited Jerusalem through the 1980s might remember the Holyland Hotel. It was a small facility as hotels go, set in a piney wood, alongside the real attraction of the place: a scale model of the Old City as researchers said it looked in Biblical times.

Then the model was moved elsewhere, the hotel and trees came down, and up went a massive apartment development that overcame protests by neighborhood and environmental groups. The project grew beyond what was originally approved via subsequent modifications of original plans and approvals. The results dominate a prominent hilltop. They are the biggest things to be seen while driving on an intracity freeway, as well as from a large slice of the city.

Currently the head of the consortium that built the project, plus several people said to be go-betweens for the transfer of millions of shekels in bribes, and the chief city planner at the time of the project's development are sitting in jail while the police continue their investigations. The man identified as the major go-between is an attorney, who for many years was a close confidant of Ehud Olmert. The point is made in the headline, and for those who do not get its significance the attorney's picture is provided alongside a picture of Olmert.

We know there is additional information that the courts have sealed for the time being. Virtually everyone who is talking and writing asks, who else? There is little doubt that the unnamed individual is the missing piece in the incomplete puzzle: the prominent official who was the principal recipient of the alleged bribes.

And who else but the man who was mayor at the time, and later Minister of Trade and Industry, an office that is said to have been involved in the shenanigans?

Ehud Olmert is currently on trial for other alleged offenses against good government. Currently he is out of the country, and has had to delay his scheduled return. He says he will return next week.

It is not customary to actually arrest present or former presidents or prime ministers, even when allegations extend to rape or economic crimes. They are, after all, honorable persons, and should be counted upon to present themselves when called to court.

Now you know everything that I know.


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 02:02 AM
April 06, 2010
Palestine and its friends

Yesterday we read that the Hamas regime in Gaza had reached a consensus with other rejectionist movements to cease firing into Israel. They were not giving up the struggle, but agreed that escalation at this time was not in their mutual interests.

Today we read that six mortars were fired toward Israel, but none of them made it out of Gaza. There are conflicting reports of injuries.

Also today, one of my internet friends wrote that President Obama will join Europe in recognizing Palestine in the borders that it demands, with the threat of sanctions upon Israel if it does not go along.

So where are we?

First, the contrary indications coming out of Gaza are typical of Palestine. It is not an isolated incident, but an indication of an ostensible regime that does not function as such. Announcements mean little in the presence of factions that will go along, if at all, only for a moment of demonstrating unity.

Things in the West Bank things are hardly more orderly. Against the pledges of peaceful protest are those who stretch the concept to the throwing of stones at Israeli police and soldiers, shooting at cars or buses, and individuals waiting at bus stops. And the West Bank, as well as Arab communities in Israel, smolder from preachers and politicians who insist that the Jews are intent in occupying the sacred ground of Islam.

Will President Obama enter this thicket and bless the occupants with a recognition of a state that they cannot manage?

What I perceive in the White House is a man who is willing to push the limits, but not necessarily break them. Despite Israel supporters who faulted imperfections in the Cairo speech, I persist in seeing it as balanced. And for those who think that he is overreaching in pressing Netanyahu, I say again that many in the Israeli center agree that Netanyahu deserves pressure. If Obama overreached himself on demanding an end to construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Netanyahu is overreaching just as far in the direction of incitement when he goes along with Jews moving into hostile Arab neighborhoods.

In the shouting back and forth of various ideologues, it is easy to lose the delicate point that Jews should have a right to live where they want in Jerusalem, but it is not wise for the government (or overseas donors) to help them upset a delicate and fluid quiet in this most delicate of places. The prime minister and others at the summit of Israeli government cannot prevent Jews from moving into Arab neighborhoods, but they can use their prestige to dissuade them. Arabs also have a historical memory that includes Jerusalem. There is no way to deny it, or to minimize its capacity to ignite an international crusade.

News from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq does not suggest a White House on top of things, waiting for an opportunity to do something dramatic for Palestine and against Israel.

It is difficult for me to believe that serious western governments will recognize Palestine in the boundaries wanted by Palestinians, even those who enjoy a label of being moderate.

And if they do, Israel has more than a few ways to make everyone sorry. The menu includes delays at the borders, using the next drive by shooting as a reason for reestablishing road blocks throughout Palestine and doing other nasty things, to encouraging overseas friends to redirect their political donations.

It is best for all concerned to encourage the continued cooperation between Israel and Palestine that has seen an improvement in Palestinian security forces, and development in the economy of the West Bank.

If western countries go beyond the reasonable and actually impose meaningful sanctions or invade in order to implement their intentions?

That would be a world so far removed from what I recognize as to declare my retirement.

I have no greater threat.

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 11:43 PM
April 05, 2010
Scoring points and asking questions

The news was not good when Barack Obama opened his newspapers upon returning to work from his Easter holiday (assuming that the American president had a holiday, beyond a family photo-op at church).

From Afghanistan:

There are no good options on the horizon, many analysts say, for reining in Mr. Karzai or for penalizing him, without potentially damaging Western interests. . . .Many fear the relationship is only likely to become worse, as Mr. Karzai draws closer to allies like Iran and China, whose interests are often at odds with those of the West, and sounds sympathetic enough to the Taliban that he could spur their efforts, helping their recruitment and further destabilizing the country.


From Iraq:

The Iraqi capital echoed with explosions . . . as insurgents sought to exploit political uncertainties created by painstakingly slow talks on forming a new government, with three suicide car bombings at diplomatic targets killing dozens of people and other scattered attacks disrupting areas across Baghdad. It was the third day in a row of violent attacks . . .The furious drumbeat of attacks, at a delicate moment, was taken as a concerted attempt by insurgents to retake the initiative after years of retreat and to undermine confidence in Iraq's security forces as the American-led forces proceed with their withdrawal of all combat troops from the country before September.

From this part of the Middle East, Palestinians continue to talk about a unilateral declaration of independence while the Israeli government (without whom such a declaration is likely to be meaningless) continues its extended holiday without responding to American demands for concessions.

Beyond the details that may be sufficiently depressing for official Washington lies the possibility that we are seeing signs of the limits to American power. Perhaps Obama's preference for engagement is not enough. Or there may be nothing that is enough when three focal points of American foreign policy initiatives are beyond the capacity of the United States to obtain what its president wants.

Afghanistan is a prize that no one should desire. Its ostensible leader (it is doubtful that anyone can claim to be a national leader in that sizable place forever confounded by ethnic, tribal, and local divisions) may simply want to be left alone to select those who may help him navigate the problems of staying in office, without holier than thou Americans bothering him about corruption, opium, or sticking to their targets for defeating their enemies. Who better than the leaders of Iran and China to provide him with options, each of which has a border with Afghanistan, and is tangling with the United States?

Iraq is a different problem, but no less complicated by ethnic and religious divisions, as well as sharing borders with, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Not only can the Iranians aid their fellow Shi'ites but they can also cause problems for the United States while they are at it. Syrians and Turks can continue to tweak the tail of the American eagle with bits of assistance and bits of nuisance, depending on circumstances.

In none of this are there issues of great power defeat or victory, but the scoring of points.

Not the stuff of serious players?

Think again.

Start with the recent Obama victory in health care. It looks to me that the united Republican opposition had more to do with political points than actually shaping policy on an important issue. If policy had been primary, surely they could have contributed some of their votes to a deal on features important to them.

Or maybe the Democrats were scoring points, and taking advantage of an opportunity to keep the Republicans in a corner, away from the policy goodies?

The points to be won in Afghanistan and Iraq have to do with frustrating the proclaimed goals of the current American president. The Chinese and Iranians do not expect to take over the United States, Afghanistan, or Iraq, but to remind the White House of its place while they continue to do what is important for them.

Palestinian assertions are the weakest and most pathetic of those considered here. While there are many in Palestine and elsewhere who would applaud a unilateral declaration of independence as a way of scoring points against Israel, they would be well to remember Rhodesia's UDI (unilateral declaration of independence), supported at the time by little more than South Africa and right wing English speakers in several other places. Palestine has been down this road before. What claimed to be the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization declared the independence of Palestine in 1988, at a time with the organization was isolated in a small patch of Algiers. The issue surfaced again with speculation that Yassir Arafat was maneuvering toward such a declaration in 2000. That was at the beginning of the second intifada. At one of its later events Arafat's successors had to clear some of the rubble in the courtyard of their headquarters building in order to make room for his grave.

For some years now one or another formulation of a Palestinian ruling body has enjoyed diplomatic recognition in many countries, perhaps 100 or more, but it is not close to control over what may be described as even a limited version of what they claim as their own.

Points here, points there. It's a tough game these international politics. No victories that last for long. Always another nuisance, or worse, to spoil one's conception of the good life.

Is there any solution other than whimsical acceptance?

Some issues are worth fighting for, but they must be chosen with care. It is better to pursue points or frustrate an adversary than to send in the troops whose eventual removal is likely to be problematic. But on occasion it is appropriate to use force.

One question for us powerless, but curious folks is: Is it appropriate for Israel to do what damage it can to the nuclear facilities of a government whose leader says time and again that Israel must be destroyed?

Someone with more authority than me will have to answer that, one way or the other, sooner or later.

Given the failure of engagement and sanctions, continued threats from Tehran, and the problems likely to be associated with an Israeli attack, it is not wise to wager too much on what course will be chosen. Or on the outcomes of whatever is chosen.

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 01:02 AM
April 02, 2010
Who is wise, siimple, wicked, and does not know how to ask?

Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestine Authority, appears to be a decent and wise man. Along with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Authority, Saeb Erekat, prominent negotiator, and Sari Nuseiba, one-time minister in the Palestine Authority and more often President of al-Quds University, they are Palestinians who assert national interests, but have spoken against violence and in favor of accommodation with Israel.

A long piece in Ha'aretz presents an interview with Fayyad. It begins with his good wishes for Israel's holiday and extends to his comments on building Palestinian infrastructure to the point in 2011 when it will be appropriate to declare an independent state. Palestine, in his view, must be a viable entity, capable of providing dignity and security to its residents, in whose declaration Israel will participate.

Sounds good, but it gets dicey. He wants a state with credible boundaries, and not a "Mickey Mouse" state of leftovers. The pre-1967 lines are appropriate for Palestine, including East Jerusalem. When asked about refugees, he responded that they should have a right to live in Palestine. That is encouraging, without going so far as to renounce their right to live in Israel.

Also problematic is his reliance on the American White House. He says 2011 is crucial insofar as it is within Barack Obama's first term. Perhaps he is shrewd enough to doubt that his Messiah will win a second term. Yet the reliance is troubling insofar as it repeats the Palestinian mantra that their demands are just, waiting for an outsider to provide them, rather than relying on themselves to give as well as take in negotiations.

Leaving aside these blips in the interview, that optimists might view as ploys that might be altered for a good deal, Fayyad faces serious problems that have contributed to the failure of previous moments when Israeli centrists spotted signs of hope, and Israeli leftists sounded their trumpets.

First, these Palestinian moderates do not own their turf. They were expelled from Gaza, and continue to wrestle with West Bankers who would rather say no to accommodation with Israel, view stone throwing as peaceful demonstration, and applaud those who go beyond stones to firearms and suicide belts. There are also the mad mullahs who incite their followers with claims that the Jews are intent on destroying al-Aqsa mosque and expelling all the Arabs from Jerusalem.

Some years ago Sari Nuseiba provided me with an excellent cup of coffee and good conversation in the president's office of al-Quds University, but never responded to my suggestion that he develop a joint program along with the Hebrew University MA Program in Public Policy that I was directing. It was a time when the Olso Accords were unraveling to the sound of Israeli buses blowing up, and Nuseiba may have been hearing the early signs of an intifada to come.

Yet another problem for Palestinian moderates appears among Israelis who are not moderate. Just this week we have seen TV films of religious enthusiasts gathering at the Cave of the Patriarchs, praising the prime minister for including it on the list of national heritage sites, and asserting more general rights over the Land of Israel. We also saw the grave of Baruch Goldstein, seen by some of those enthusiasts as a martyr after killing Palestinians who were praying in their section of the structure.

These are the Israeli equivalents of Americans who attend tea parties and support Sarah Palin. They are clearly outside the center, but represent a faction with political weight. Their American equivalents helped produce eight years of Geroge W. Bush and the two frustrating wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are currently out of power, but well represented in Congress and cannot be counted out for the elections of 2010 or 2012.

Israel's religious and nationalist right appears to be a smaller percentage of the electorate, yet large enough to be serious contenders for most government coalitions. They may never gain the position of prime minister or the key ministries of defense, finance, or foreign affairs. However, the people who get those ministries in right-of-center governments like that of Benyamin Netanyahu are not all that hostile to what others call extremism. Signs of that are not in the government's resistance of a settlement freeze in Jerusalem, which is widely supported, but in the government's support of Jews moving with provocative bombast into Arab neighborhoods where the residents do not share the moderation of Fayyad, Abbas, Erekat, or Nuseiba.

One can wonder if it is appropriate to include Barack Obama along with the mad mullahs and Jewish fanatics as sources of doom rather than peace. Even leaving aside those who claim the President is a Muslim or anti-Semite, saner critics note that all those sermons of Jeremiah Wright left a mark on a man who has pressed Israel more forcefully and more publicly than he has pressed Palestine.

Salam Fayyad's interview in Ha'aretz might be an effort to defuse Obama's madness in insisting on a construction freeze throughout Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. That set things back by forcing Palestinians to stake out a more extreme position than in previous years.

The rabbis who contributed to the Passover Haggadah distinguished between the wise, the simple, the wicked, and the person who does not know how to ask. Among the arguments heard around the table is who among present figures most represents each type.

One should never say never. But doubt is reasonable in light of what is translated from the Arabic, as well as heard directly in Israeli Hebrew and American English.

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 02:32 AM
April 01, 2010
A sacred season

This is the season sacred to both Jews and Christians.

Passover and Easter are arguably the formative events of both communities. To this skeptic, there is no chance that the Easter story of resurrection is historically accurate. There may have been some historical incidents behind the biblical story of the Exodus, but no archaeologist has yet uncovered any sign of them. The parting of the Red Sea looked great on the silver screen, but there were no cameras to record the original. The giving of the Torah to Moses is as significant for Judaism as is the resurrection for Christianity, and about as doubtful.

Whether historically true or not, both holidays provide us with thrilling stories that touch eternal values. Freedom is the essence of Passover; rebirth and salvation the message of Easter. There are spiritual overlaps in those messages, and Easter depends on Passover. The Last Supper may have been a Seder, and it was on account of creating a disturbance in Jerusalem and at the Temple amidst the crowds coming for holiday sacrifices that Jesus got into his final troubles.

This year the holidays are providing a bit of quiet. The Jewish government is on leave for family vacations and avoiding a response to the most recent demands of its American nemesis, and the Americans are allowing the holidays to pass without public reprimands for tardiness.

We should not expect complete peace until the end of days, but that is more a Christian notion than a Jewish one.

The Russians have been reminded of terror. I have not heard of Israeli officials offering help on this occasion. Perhaps that will come when the Jews go back to work, or they may remember the last time they offered assistance, and were rebuffed. The Russians insist that their terror is not like Israel's, caused by unjust occupation. They should listen to my friend Igor, who said this morning that the Caucasus is as occupied as the West Bank, and its people deserve freedom every bit as much as the Palestinians.

There is also commotion closer to these fingers. Some of takes the form of traffic jams as Israelis clog the roads to Jerusalem for their sacred purposes, and to the Galilee for family holidays.

Think of what it was like driving home from a Seder, when the roads were crowded by drivers filled with at least four glasses of wine.

There continues an uptick in Palestinian demonstrations. They focus on the security barrier, the more general theme of occupation, fantasies that Israelis are about to destroy al-Aqsa mosque and expel Arabs from East Jerusalem, or protests about injuries and deaths suffered at earlier demonstrations that got out of hand.

The ostensible leaders of the West Bank have embarked on what they call legitimate, peaceful demonstrations against Israeli occupation, asserting that they are employing refurbished Palestinian security forces to keep the protests within bounds.

There has been a lot of stone throwing, but so far no suicide bombing.

Land Day is an annual event marking a protest in 1976 over land expropriation, which resulted in the killing of six Palestinians and the wounding of many more by the Israeli army and police. This year the march through the Galilee town of Sakhnin attracted an estimated 10,000 participants, including Arab and some Jewish Members of Knesset. The many Palestinian flags were not a reason for police intervention. The crowd was peaceful until a few individuals, with heads covered in the style of terrorists, waved pictures of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus in 2008, perhaps by Israeli operatives. That produced a televised beating of the picture wavers by other participants in the march.

Next week we return to normalcy, but then comes a two week period that includes Israel's day to commemorate the Holocaust, a Memorial Day to honor security personnel and civilians killed in wars or terror attacks, and Israel Independence Day. We'll be noticing if the holiday quiet so far honored on the Washington front continues through an extended hiatus, and if Palestinian efforts to demonstrate peacefully stay within their designated format.

May your holidays be peaceful as well as inspiring.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:19 AM