September 27, 2010
Obama and peace

With well-meaning blundering, Barack Obama and his colleagues have set back the cause of peace between Israel and Palestine.

It was they who put on the table the demand for a total freeze in Jewish construction throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The result was to increase the political demands of the Palestinians, as well as the Israeli settlers and their supporters.

Increasing demands of both sides before the start of intense negotiations is not my understanding of wise guidance.

Perhaps the damage was slight, insofar as there never were great chances for a full blown agreement on the issues separating Israel and Palestine. However, the flub distracted the leaders of Palestine and Israel from domestic concerns. For Palestinians of the West Bank, the great advances of recent years came from foreign investments in housing, infrastructure, and industry, plus the upgrading of security forces with the help of the United States and Jordan. More effective security allowed Israel to reduce its own military incursions and restrictions of travel, and those provided further boosts to Palestinian development.

What Obama and his crowd did is to elevate expectations and stimulate Islamic extremists to do what they can to provoke Israeli retaliations. Recent weeks have seen prominent attacks on Jews in the West Bank, IDF responses, and may lead to some checkpoints being reestablished.

One can find other errors in American strategy and tactics. Second to the blunder of putting the settlement freeze front and center was to make the whole process as public and transparent as politically correct Americans could imagine. The public bluster of Presidential demands, with the shrill back up by the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor and others angered Israelis and led Palestinians even further into the corner produced by six decades of welfare and political coddling. Someone else is sure to solve their problems. They only have to repeat their non-negotiable demands and hold out their hands for more help.

If agreement will demand compromise by both sides, which Israeli or Palestinian politicians can do that when everybody is looking?

One of the brilliant suggestions of recent days was for construction in some settlements to go forward quietly, with no one talking about it. Perhaps the Palestinians would not see that as an affront to their pride, and continue with the negotiations.

Whoever thought of that idiocy did not know the settlers and their friends. These are people convinced that they are doing God's work. Quiet and modesty are not in their vocabulary. The cement began to flow, with television crews present, a few hours before midnight on the day the settlement freeze was meant to expire. For religious settlers, the next day begins at sundown. There were balloons and speeches for the crowds and the television audience in case anyone did not get their message.

Before President Obama put a construction freeze on the table, Israeli policy was to build in the major towns most likely to remain Israeli, and to freeze in their own way the construction in settlements on the other side of the security barrier. Due to bureaucratic issues and political events put in process by the Americans, the current wave of construction seems most likely to expand the distant settlements that would be a problem in whatever agreements might have been feasible.

If you want pessimism, think of more Palestinian violence produced by Islamic extremists not wanting any agreement with Israel, and other Palestinians provoked by American led expectations. Then Israeli actions that escalate in stages to something like what happened in response to the previous intifada, the cross border attack from Lebanon, and the rockets coming out of Gaza. That'll be another goodbye to Palestinian development, and whatever dreams Barack Obama had of bringing peace to the Holy Land.

Does this look at least a little familiar to Americans trying to determine what the health reform means for them? A 2,000 page bill appears to have provided incentives for insurance companies to increase their efforts to fend off clients who think they have coverage. My reading of detailed articles in major newspapers that are generally friendly to the administration makes me appreciate the plastic card that provides me--and every other Israeli--with extensive service, modest co-pays known in advance and deducted from my bank account, and no paper chase.

Whatever good has come--or will come--from the President's health reform must also be discounted for the spurt it has given to the tea parties, and at least a few bizarre candidates able to foul national politics.

Far from me to advise a man skilled enough to work his way through American politics to the White House. Yet I will wonder if he has violated the cardinal rule of policymaking: Don't make things worse.

I'm less sure about American health care than about the care of the Middle East. Here he has made things worse.

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 01:49 AM
September 26, 2010
al Quaeda and others

Alongside the theatrics of back and forth bombast on the construction freeze and the sounds of explosions from a nearby Arab neighborhood, there is also the issue of Islam.

It would be an exaggeration to say that my mailbox has been deluged with commentary on the issue, but it is more than a trickle.

Two items attracted my attention. They are pointed, but not extreme. They lack the nonsense that also comes to my mailbox, that Barack Obama is a Muslim and anti-Semite. They are also similar, and come to the same basic points from different perspectives.

The first is a speech by Geert Wilders, the leader of a right-wing nationalist party in the Netherlands that owes its success to a reaction against the considerable immigration of Muslims. He details issues with Muslims that have also stirred feelings elsewhere in Europe. Here is part of his argument that deals with Israel.

. . . All is not well in the old world. There is a tremendous danger looming, and it is very difficult to be optimistic. We might be in the final stages of the Islamization of Europe. This not only is a clear and present danger to the future of Europe itself, it is a threat to America and the sheer survival of the West. . . . .

The war against Israel is not a war against Israel . It is a war against the West. . . . If there would have been no Israel , Islamic imperialism would have found other venues to release its energy and its desire for conquest. Thanks to Israeli parents who send their children to the army and lay awake at night, parents in Europe and America can sleep well and dream, unaware of the dangers looming. . . .

Many in Europe argue in favor of abandoning Israel in order to address the grievances of our Muslim minorities.. But if Israel were, God forbid, to go down, it would not bring any solace to the West It would not mean our Muslim minorities would all of a sudden change their behavior, and accept our values. On the contrary, the end of Israel would give enormous encouragement to the forces of Islam. They would, and rightly so, see the demise of Israel as proof that the West is weak, and doomed. The end of Israel would not mean the end of our problems with Islam, but only the beginning. It would mean the start of the final battle for world domination. If they can get Israel , they can get everything.

Another item that came to me from an internet friend was said to be the New Year sermon of Atlanta Rabbi Schlomo Lewis. The sermon is long, and in that sense reminds me of sitting in Temple as a youth in Fall River, and wishing that the Rabbi would finally end and let me get outside. This sermon impressed me as strong, but also moderate and nuanced.

Seeking a link that I could use on this note, I only found the sermon on the site of the Canadian Jewish Defense League.

In the sermon the Rabbi identifies himself as a member of the ACLU. It was not something I expected from someone whose material appeals to the organization founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane. The lack of symmetry led me again to Google, where I found Rabbi Shalom J. Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, Georgia. The activities of Rabbi Lewis reported on the internet seemed more in line with the ACLU than the JDL, and I e-mailed him to establish if that was, indeed, his sermon. In a quick reply he acknowledged his authorship, and said that he had no connection with the Jewish Defense League.

Those wanting his full sermon, with or without the added material from the JDL can click here.

We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazis but one wouldn't know it from our behavior. During WWII we didn't refer to storm troopers as freedom fighters. We didn't call the Gestapo, militants. . . . . We did not grovel before the Nazis, thumping our hearts and confessing to abusing and mistreating and humiliating the German people. . . .

Not all Germans were Nazis - most were decent . . . But, too many looked away, too many cried out in lame defense . . .

Today the enemy is radical Islam but it must be said sadly and reluctantly that there are unwitting, co-conspirators who strengthen the hands of the evil doers. Let me state that the overwhelming number of Muslims are . . . fine human beings . . . but these good Muslims have an obligation to destiny, to decency that thus far for the most part they have avoided. . . .

Despite all the rhetoric (about Cordoba House), the essence of the matter can be distilled quite easily. The Muslim community has the absolute, constitutional right to build their building wherever they wish. . . . May they build? Certainly. But should they build at that site? No -- but that decision must come from them, not from us. Sensitivity, compassion cannot be measured in feet or yards or in blocks. One either feels the pain of others and cares, or does not.

If those behind this project are good, peace-loving, sincere, tolerant Muslims, as they claim, then they should know better, rip up the zoning permits and build elsewhere. . . .

Israel is the laboratory - the test market. Every death, every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated, strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West.

Israel in her struggle represents the civilized world, while Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Queda, Iran, Islamic Jihad, represent the world of psychopathic, loathesome evil.

As Israel, imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many in the Western World have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel's galling plight, but downright hostility and contempt. . . .

I my view, the war is with Islam. There are moderate Muslims who write no less forcefully than Geert Wilders and Rabbi Lewis against the radicals. Yet the passive support of radicals by those who are not overtly radical, described by Rabbi Lewis, is also true.

The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and others labeled as moderates act against extremists who threaten their own regimes, but they are careful not to oppose extremists' condemnations of Israel. The leaders of Syria, Lebanon, and now Turkey are unrestrained in their sycophantic identification with Iranian madness.

The promoters of Cordoba House pledged their openness to the wide variety of American Muslims. Taking them at there word, it will not be long before jihadists are giving lessons near Ground Zero. At the same meeting about Cordoba House, participants refused to denounce Hamas.

To date the tilt of Western leaders has been concerned with avoiding offense to Muslims. One can understand the reservations of Western political leaders beholden to Muslims and Muslim governments. Alongside their careful phrasing, however, are military activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia that amount to the greatest crusade against Islam since the 13th century. The formula used to explain this is that the war is directed only against al Quaeda. But al Quaeda is more clearly a symbol than an well articulated organization. It is an amorphous amoeba with many copy cats that have considerable support, active and passive, among Muslims worldwide.

We may have to be satisfied with an extensive military campaign but wishy washy explanations. One cannot demand too much in a political conflict. Absolute truth is not relevant. If we insist on too much we risk getting nothing. (The lesson should not be lost on the Palestinians, currently in danger of making themselves like the Kurds and Basques, i.e., a perpetually stateless people, by demanding too much of their friends and Israel.)

There are a billion or so Muslims in the world, and substantial voting blocs of Muslim countries in international forums. The struggle will be long and difficult. Jewish tradition cautions against rushing the Messiah.

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 09:22 PM
September 25, 2010

French Hill is one of the neighborhoods begun soon after 1967 on land included in the enlargement of Jerusalem. Now there are about 8,000 residents, the large majority of whom are Jews. There are also Arab, East Asian, and other students from the nearby Hebrew University, and Arab families who are renters or home owners.

Isawiyya is a neighborhood across an empty field whose buildings begin about 200 meters from our apartment. It is one of the Arab neighborhoods that share with French HIll, Pisgat Zeev, and Neve Yaacov the northeastern sector of Jerusalem The 12-13,000 residents of Isawiyya pass through French Hill on their way elsewhere, and patronize the post office, bank, shops, parks and playing fields located here. Isawiyya is not a run down slum, but a substantial place with construction similar to that of Jewish neighborhoods. The cars that come from there resemble ours.

Isawiyya does not have the vegetation that marks French Hill, and the lack of parks, playgrounds, and pavement on the streets represent the shortfalls of municipal services typical of Arab neighborhoods. The residents and Jewish sympathizers assert discrimination. A political analysis is that boycotts of municipal elections that have continued since 1967 deprive the Arab 30 percent of Jerusalem's population the capacity to shape services in their favor. One of democracy's rules is that you have to participate in elections in order to influence the results, and then the outcomes of public policy that derive from elected authorities. Very few of Jerusalem's Arabs accepted the citizenship that was offered them in 1967, but they gained the right of residents to vote in municipal elections.

Arabs from Isawiyya who pick through French Hill trash containers for usable clothes or utensils. Occasionally we have narrowly missed throwing our sack of waste on an Arab child digging around in a dumpster. We also pass well dressed families and individuals from Isawiyya on the sidewalks that serve us for daily walks. Arab men come to a French Hill park to drink, and young couples neck on the benches of a small wooded area. Neither of those activities would gain the same indifference in Isawiyya as in French Hill.

Jews are advised not to visit Isawiyya. For us it is not likely to be friendly place, and may be dangerous. It is one of the neighborhoods often in media reports.

In recent days we have heard the shouts of crowds and explosions from stun grenades and tear gas canisters. One explosion occurred while I was drafting this note.

Palestinian sources report that a baby in Isawiyya died after inhaling tear gas, but the police claim that there were no injuries in the relevant time frame. This may be police underreporting, or one of those occasions when Palestinians try to assign responsibility to the army or police for a death that never occurred, or resulted from something else.

It is the Border Police that handles hostile crowds. This is a quasi-military force, comprised of Bedouin volunteers, plus Druze and Jews with roots in Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, or Jews from poor urban neighborhoods who do their compulsory military service in the Border Police.

One of my experiences with the Border Police occurred when I was a private in the IDF lecture corps, spending a day on reserve duty at a training camp. It was the first month or so of the intifada that began in 1987. My mission was to urge restraint on the recruits. Violence was not playing well in international media.

Looking around the auditorium, I concluded that I may have been the only Ashkenazi among the 100 or so individuals (this was prior to the large immigration from the Soviet Union). The commander introduced me as a soldier, but also as a professor at the Hebrew University. When I finished my talk, one of the trainees began, "Professor" (in a tone that was not clearly a compliment), "you should know that most of the people here like to hit."

Looking out from our balcony, we see the Arab village of Anata to the left, while Isawiyya is to the right. Anata (perhaps the site of the Biblical Anathoth, the home town of the Prophet Jeremiah) is not in the Jerusalem municipality, and it is on the other side of the security barrier. Isawiyya is part of the Jerusalem municipality, and there is no barrier separating us. Often there is a police check point on the road out of Isawiyya. It is likely that some residents of Isawiyya report to the security forces on the actions of their neighbors. There are frequent police patrols of French Hill, and we hear that there are undercover personnel in our neighborhood in the evenings. Often there are Border Police at the gas station that serves both Isawiiya and French Hill. Station employees come from Isawiyya. Some of their neighbors have targeted it with fire bombs.

We are now at day three or four of demonstrations starting with who knows what, and feeding off several injuries, one acknowledged death and another claimed. The impending end of a construction freeze in the settlements may be part of what began this. If there are Palestinian instigators opposed to peace with the Zionists, any one of several scenarios can give them reason to continue. If Mahmoud Abbas continues the talks in the presence of an extended freeze or a partial or complete end of the freeze, the talks themselves can serve as a reason for demonstrations. If Abbas suspends or ends the talks on account of limited or widespread building, the building on Jewish settlements can provide the reason.

Yet we must remind ourselves that Palestinians politics respond to different stimuli than our politics. We can guess about likely scenarios, but we should not fool ourselves with misapplied certainty.

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 10:04 PM
September 23, 2010
Unpleasant surprise

Another one of America's presidential has-beens is causing a stir in the Holy Land. It's not Jimmy Carter this time, but Bill Clinton. The unpleasant surprise from the mouth of someone thought of as a friend, reasonably bright, and socially adept is that the right-wing and settler-friendly Russian immigrants are a major barrier to peace; Moroccans are easily swayed by leaders and cannot be counted on to help, and it is the Ashkenazim that right thinking people of the world must rely upon.

"Wow" and "Oh My God" are the only responses that come to mind.

Imagine an Israeli leader talking in public about the intelligence of African Americans.

Clinton and that imaginary foolish Israeli might be assiduous enough to find some data to substantiate what they say, but no politician (or perhaps anyone else) in their right mind should express such things, and certainly not in public.

Whether he knows it or not, Bill Clinton targeted for condemnation the two largest Jewish ethnic groups in Israel. There are Ashkenazim in the present government and among its supporters, but if any Israelis are most likely to be found in the left wing parties that are out of the loop, it is the well-education, upper-income Ashkenazim who seem to fit Clinton's description as the most preferred.

What the former president has done in the short run is to excite the leaders of Israel Beitenu, the second largest party in the governing coalition and the most prominent home of Russian-speaking voters. SHAS is also a major player in the government. Its parliamentary leadership and the bulk of its supporters are Moroccan.

One of my Russian speaking good friends is significantly to the left of center, and even he may be upset by Clinton's remarks, along with left wing Moroccans who are leading members of the Labor Party. All told there are about a million Russian speakers and perhaps another million who trace at least part of their families to Morocco. That's some 30 percent of Israelis who Clinton has insulted.

Will this count for anything, other than miffing more than one-third of Israel's Jewish population? (For someone as politically inept as Bill Clinton, one could describe the Jews as the politically relevant population of Israel.)

We are in the realm of speculating, but that is usual in politics.

Clinton is attached to the American Secretary of State. Could his blunder reduce her weight in the calculations of Israeli leaders? One can count on some nasty remarks, and maybe more than that, the next time she screeches her commands in the direction of the Israeli government.

Clinton's timing is not good. Not only are we at the expiration of the freeze declared for building in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank, and the repeated threat of Palestinians to leave the talks, but the last couple of days have been especially tense. A guard at a public facility in East Jerusalem fired his weapon when threatened by a mob of stone throwers. He killed a Palestinian youth who was participating in the mayhem. Protests spread to several Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and the police stormed up to the Temple Mount. Varda and I did our walk around the neighborhood last evening to the sounds of stun grenades from Isaweea, and a police helicopter circling between nearby Arab neighborhoods and us in between.

Friday will be difficult with the usual tens of thousands of Muslims who come to pray at al-Aqsa (Temple Mount), and the Jews assembled for Sukkot rituals at the Western Wall just below. If the stones start falling on the Jews, all bets are off. One of the thugs among the political leadership of the Palestinians has said the third intifada has begun. (Not all members of the Palestinian leadership deserve the label of "thug," but at least a couple of them do.)

It may be early to declare the start of an intifada. We are used to occasional flurries of violence, death, demonstrations, and more violence. But if this does escalate, Mrs Clinton and Senator Mitchell can stay away. Bill's stupidity will not have caused anything, but it may make its small contribution to getting in the way of Americans' efforts to calm Israelis.

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 04:06 AM
September 21, 2010

Sukkot begins on Wednesday evening. It may not amount to much in America, but it is a major event here. Religious Jews and some not so religious are building a sukkah (hut) in their yards or on their balconies, and the observant are acquiring an etrog (citrus with a bump), palm branch, myrtle, and willow branch. An acceptable set of the objects this year is going for the equivalent of US $6 to US $15. The especially well off who are willing to examine at length an etrog for imperfections will spend up to US $300 for one that meets all the specifications that their eyes can see.

The political significance of this holiday competes with the details of ritual. Almost all government offices, public institutions, and many companies shut down for the week. Like Passover, Sukkot is a time for vacation. The middle days of Sukkot and Passover, are not days when travel is forbidden, so the religious will be seeking space on the roads and at vacation spots. Politicians can move around without fear of violating any constituent's sense of proper observance.

The airport will be jammed on the eve of Sukkot and its final day, and there is scant room left in the inns of the Galilee and other Israeli sites. The highly touted construction freeze in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank comes to an end in the middle of this, but there may not be anyone minding the store. Insofar as the religious settlers will be celebrating the holiday, they might not be home to supervise the Chinese, Romanians, legal and illegal Palestinians who do the work.

However, there is a nationalistic element to this holiday. It was one of the feasts (along with Passover and Shavuot) when Jews were commanded to visit Jerusalem and to provide a sacrifice for the priests to burn on the Temple altar. There has not been a proper sacrifice in about 1,940 years since the Romans destroyed the Temple. Several hundred years later its remnants were covered with Muslim construction. Muslims now claim that there was nothing Jewish there before them.

Instead of sacrifice, Jews arrange trips to Jerusalem, with groups organizing marches, and individuals choosing an option of many or few kilometers leading to Jerusalem, depending on their physical condition. These groups will parade through the center of town and assemble at the Western Wall. On several occasions, this has been an occasion for Muslims on the Temple Mount to hurl stones and other things on the Jews below, and then for the police and army to storm the Temple Mount and do their mayhem.

In this time of national feeling, there may be settlers who assure that foreign workers start some construction, whether or not the government indicates that the freeze will end, or where it will end. Few members of the government may be at their desks during the holiday to notice what the settlers are doing. In any case, a fracas on the Temple Mount may grab the headlines, with or without a formal continuation of the freeze.

Security forces are preparing for an onset of violence if a start of construction leads Palestinians to announce the end of peace talks and their people increase the normal incidence of stone throwing, rocket launches, attempts at drive by shootings or random stabbings.

No one is predicting an early onset of major violence. The thinking is that enough Palestinians have learned that the IDF can be more violent than they. The construction and new jobs that have brightened things in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank may send a message that they have a lot to lose if they react badly to Jewish construction.

There are always Palestinian factions, with help from elsewhere, ready to move things in their way. Paradise and virgins beckon, and may yet again attract enough followers to end this burst of peace making.

Oh, my.

It is one of those times of impending uncertainty. The Sharkanskys will be spending the latter part of the holiday and some additional days in scenic cities of Central Europe. Whatever happens closer to home will no doubt still be happening, or producing spin offs when we return.

Have a good holiday, if you notice its arrival.

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 08:29 AM
September 19, 2010

The pressure is building, both on Israel and the Palestinians.

The immediate issue is the freeze on building in the settlements, set to expire in about a week.

Various Palestinians have said, time and again, that they would cease the peace talks if there is construction of even one building in the Jewish settlements.

The American President and Secretary of State have said on several occasions that it would be wise for Israel to extend the freeze on building in settlements as a gesture to the Palestinians in order keep the peace talks going.

The General Secretary of the United Nations has signed on to the campaign, along with the Chancellor of Germany.

The Geneva Initiative is an Israeli organization that claimed years ago to have found Palestinian partners to its proposals of divisions of the land, including Jerusalem. The Initiative receives financial support from European governments, foundations, and the United States government agency, AID. At least some of the Palestinians claimed as partners by the Geneva Initiative deny having agreed to the deals that Initiative people say they reached with them.

Today's Ha'aretz has a paid ad from the Geneva Initiative, covering a quarter of its front page, inviting us all to a meeting on the peace process that will feature a speech by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He is scheduled for 6:30 PM on the 19th of September, presumably a day and time when he will not be in court listening to witnesses concerned with his trial on several varieties of corruption.

When he was still in office, but a lame duck and perhaps concerned about criminal indictments and the impending end of his political career, Prime Minister Olmert made what was said to be the most far reaching offers to the Palestinians ever made by an Israeli official. Israelis were concerned that he had gone beyond any terms likely to be accepted by his government. Mahmoud Abbas saved Israelis the need to continue their debate by rejecting Olmert's offers as insufficient.

Pressure on the present government is also coming from the settlers. They are demanding no continuation of the freeze on construction. Their supporters in the government are threatening a political crisis if building does not go forward in all parts of the West Bank. is asking for responses to the following:

Palestinians demand the continuation of the settlement freeze.

24 percent indicate that the freeze should continue, in order to give peace a chance
25 percent indicate that it would be wrong to agree to the Palestinians insistence
16 percent say that it is necessary to reach an understanding between the sides
35 percent say that it is necessary to build without considering Palestinian opinion

588 people have answered the query so far. Respondents to Walla's queries appear generally to be a bit right of center, but I would not say that they are usually extreme. Those capable of following the Hebrew can check the latest numbers at

Speculation about what will happen when the freeze is due to expire has been among the most prominent items in Israeli media. The topic does not appear in the headlines of the foreign sites on my home page, so it may only be a tempest in a local tea pot.

One can guess from the comments of the Prime Minister, several members of his government, and various public personalities that there will not be a continuation of a total freeze, but neither will there be the wholesale onset of construction. Perhaps building will proceed in the large blocs that Israel expects to absorb, or some continuation of projects that had been approved before the onset of the freeze 10 months ago. Actions on the ground may differ from what prominent actors say will happen. The implementation of declared policy is not assured from either Israeli or Palestinian officials.

There is also pressure on the Palestinians not to abandon the talks if there is construction. Hillary Clinton, who has screeched at the Israelis on several occasions, said recently that if these talks do not produce results, the United States would be inclined to abandon its mission of bringing peace to this part of the Middle East. Together with her public urgings on the Palestinians to keep talking, that amounts to at least the same amount of pressure applied to the Palestinians as she is putting on the Israelis.

The settlement freeze is not the only concern in this besieged little place. A headline on the web site of Aljazeera:

New aid convoy sets off for Gaza

Viva Palestina vehicles leave London en route to besieged Strip for what organisers say will be biggest aid convoy yet.

Organizers say that this will be a combination of trucks moving through Europe to ports on the Mediterranean, along with at least one ship leaving from Britain. They are talking about a docking of ships in Egypt, and the movement of supplies from there over land to Gaza.

Previous efforts of this kind have been halted by countries not letting ships leave from their ports, and the Egyptians not letting someone else control what goes into Gaza.

All this may look like nothing more than waves in a tea cup from where you sit. And by sometime next week, maybe also from where I sit.

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 03:01 AM
September 16, 2010
Doing one's best

After doubtful claims of success in Iraq, and clearer failure in Afghanistan, the United States is tackling the problematical task of picking the good guys in Yemen.

Maybe not the good guys. Hopefully the best guys, or those who score least bad on the score of unreliability. Or more likely, those who are said to be reliable by Americans who may understand what is going on in that place.

Here as elsewhere, however, there is disagreement among the Americans who claim to know what can be done.

A few snippets that describe some of the problems:

"Opponents (of American military aid among American officials) . . . fear American weapons could be used against political enemies of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and provoke a backlash that could further destabilize the volatile, impoverished country.

The debate is unfolding as the administration reassesses how and when to use American missiles against suspected terrorists in Yemen following a botched strike in May. That attack, the fourth since December by the American military, killed a provincial deputy governor and set off tribal unrest.

Administration officials acknowledge that they are still trying to find the right balance between American strikes, military aid and development assistance -- not only in Yemen, but in Pakistan, Somalia and other countries where Islamic extremist groups are operating.

Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, said in a policy talk last week that American-backed assaults by Yemeni forces on Al Qaeda may 'deny it the time and space it needs to organize, plan and train for operations.' But in the long term, he added, countering extremism in Yemen 'must involve the development of credible institutions that can deliver real economic and social progress.'"

"Credible institutions that can deliver real economic and social progress." Sound familiar?

Again we see the problems of the world's leader, having to work through locals in distant places, with languages, tribal, family, and personal rivalries, and ways of doing things that challenge understanding by outsiders.

What else is possible? my American friends may be asking themselves. Bad people from those places did 9-11 and are probably planning other attacks on us. We do the best we can.

That may sound good enough from where you are, but here in French Hill, 200 meters from Isaweea, one is not sure that the Palestinians chosen as reliable by Americans can lead Palestine to its place in the Promised Land. Their rivals in Gaza fired 12 rockets toward Israeli civilians yesterday, and those people have friends in the West Bank. Is it they who are stealing cars from French Hill for export to Palestine where they are sold as is or broken up for parts, with some of the parts sold to low-end Israeli garages? Further up the chain of hostility are Palestinians in the West Bank who attack Jews. Not well known, or not known at all, is the capacity of people like that to challenge Mahmoud Abbas and his coterie.

Lovers of democracy should remember that Abbas' term as President of the Palestine National Authority ended in January 2009. It has not been convenient for the Palestinians to implement the various dates for polling they have set since then.

Few Israelis worry about the lack of democratic niceties in Palestine. However, the failure of the regime to gauge its popular support is a cause for concern. Surveys done by Palestinians are no more encouraging. They show a fluid public opinion, with a willingness to engage in violence competing with a desire for peace. The surveys published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research do not even ask about peoples' willingness to accept anything other than the conventional mantras of refugee rights or what Palestinians claim as their old borders.

Can Israelis do any more than hope for the best, as they do what they must to satisfy their American supporters?

The IDF is making only modest responses to those rocket attacks from Gaza. Perhaps the political leadership does not want to weaken Abbas, or provoking him to say nasty things, with pictures of dead Gazans. That may change if the people sending the rockets get lucky and kill Israelis.

Meanwhile, there is no hurry to provide the concessions urged by Americans, Europeans, and the United Nations General Secretary. Given the capacity of the Abbas regime to unravel, it is best not to hasten agreements that will not hold with whatever comes next.

When Americans fail far from their country, they can say, "Gee whiz. Sorry. We tried our best."

That might work in America when expressed about Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, but the prospect must be better for those of us who see places like Isaweea across a nearby street.


Among the topics of Jewish quarrels is whether it is proper to wish an "easy fast" on Yom Kippur. Against that is the claim that the fast must be painful enough to force one to contemplate the sins of the past year.

Whatever you say, and whatever you do, I wish you all the best for the coming year.

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 01:39 AM
September 14, 2010
Optimists, pessimists, and something in between

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is one of the most prominent of the world's unsolved problems. The casualties are small in relation to what occurs wherever the United States military is directly involved. It is the location in the land considered holy by contending faiths, and the weight of Arab onlookers in international forums, that keeps this in the headlines.

Are we at the edge of a process that will solve this conflict?

Only time will tell.

Here I will focus on the complex political map of Israel, as I see it from public opinion surveys, media reports and commentators, and 35 years of talking to people with sharply different views.

There is a substantial portion of the population, perhaps a majority, willing to make substantial territorial concessions for "real peace." However, a substantial number of people, perhaps as many as 100,000, are living on land that the national majority would concede. Some of those settlers are willing to move elsewhere, and some would jump at an attractive financial incentive, but many remember what happened when Israel removed its settlements from Gaza, and they are unwilling to move. Moreover, there is a substantial number of Israelis, including individuals who say they are willing to make substantial concessions, who express concern or major distrust about the willingness of Palestinians to do what it takes to assure "real peace."

These "substantials" are vague, and do not fit together into something that we can interpret with a great deal of confidence.

Somewhat influenced, but also somewhat independent of public opinion, are policymakers with long experience in dealing with Palestinians, who are less than certain about the reliability of Palestinians. These include politicians and professionals in the military and civilian ministries. The politicians concerned about Palestinian reliability are not only members of right wing and centrist parties, but also those left of center. Knesset members of Labor and Meretz speak more often and more fully about the need to give up large portions of the West Bank. But some politicians on the left also indicate their concern about the intentions of Palestinian, especially those on the Islamic fringe. And the public has not shown a great deal of support for left of center politicians . Both Meretz and Labor are at historic low points in their Knesset representation.

Americans, Europeans, and the UN Secretary General are pressing Israeli leaders to make concessions that will keep alive the prospect of reaching agreement. Some are also pressing the Palestinians to show flexibility, and not to walk away at the first sign of disappointment.

The formats are not promising. The emphasis is on meetings between the most senior politicians, in the presence of senior politicians from other countries. It is not the setting for hammering out detailed agreements about land, water, defense, temporary or permanent borders, refugees, waste disposal, environmental protection, the transfer of individuals from Israeli administration and Israeli health insurance, and the content of Palestinian education (relevant to Israeli concerns about incitement). It is also not the setting for Israelis or Palestinians ratcheting down from often proclaimed demands. Transparency is fine, but agreements may only grow in the dim light of private meetings, with participants explaining later what they have given up in order to get what they obtained.

There is no end to the scenarios that the hopeful and doom sayers describe.

Many of them begin from the widespread pessimism about the partners, onlookers and outside troublemakers, and the contrasting demands that argue against success.

Already the fighters of Gaza have stepped up their rocket launchings in hopes of doing something that will hasten the end of the peace talks. So far the IDF has not responded with anything more than pin point reprisals, but no one should rule out another round of widespread destruction.

The hopeful pessimists of Israel, i.e., those who are pessimistic about the peace talks but otherwise hopeful, see a continuation of economic progress in the West Bank, a continued refrain from violence on the part of the Fatah government, and a gradual development of Palestinian society and economy in the West Bank alongside Israel. Those goodies may come along with continued Israeli restraints with respect the extension of settlements, but that requires an added dose of optimism.

I have not noticed anyone who is optimistic about Gaza.

There are some who are pessimistic about peace talks, and pessimistic about the continued restraint from violence of West Bank Palestinians. Settlers and their friends, and some who are not their friends but see the settlers as something to reckon with, see periodic waves of violence on the West Bank, Israeli reprisals, and continued expansion of Israeli settlements. Their scenario extends to the eventual dominance of Israeli settlers throughout the West Bank, and a one-state solution between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

This one-state scenario differs by 180 degrees from the one-state seen by those who see Palestinian gaining dominance via a demographic advantage.

The settlers are patient, and none of the adults I know assume that they will see the end of conflict. It will take time, perhaps several waves of Palestinian violence and Israeli destruction in response, a gradual tiring of international watchers and minders, the drying up of overseas Palestinians willing to invest time and again in something that is destroyed, and the continued outmigration of Palestinians.

I would not count on such a unfolding of events that depend on so many assumptions, but neither would I dismiss it out of hand. Settlers think about something like this scenario, and mainstream Israeli politicians are sufficiently concerned about the reliability of Palestinians so that they may avoid any wholesale movement of the settlers that would nip it in the bud.

Some of my American friends might view all of this as Israeli arrogance, and a refusal to make the agreements that everyone else sees as essential. Americans can do their best in places like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and then leave when it is apparent that they cannot get what they want. They can soothe their national conscience by granting citizenship to the Vietnamese, Iraqis, and Afghans who succeed in leaving their countries.

Israel's problems are closer. We are stuck with hostile neighbors, still being taught in their schools that we have no rights here. Israelis listen to a thoughtful President and leading Europeans, a Secretary of State who sometimes screeches, and overseas Jews who think about what is best for us. But Israelis have not the option of retreating to the other side of the world if their hopes turn bad.

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 05:42 AM
September 12, 2010
Salt for a president's speech

It is customary to invest little in a serious reading of politicians' speeches at long standing national holidays, like the 4th of July or Thanksgiving in the United States, Independence Day or Rosh Hashana in Israel.

What about presidential statements at occasions where the feelings of those who have suffered are still fresh?

September 11, 2010 was such a time.
There was still a gaping hole in place of the World Trade Center
alongside the ongoing construction was a platform where surviving family members recited the names of those killed
close by were demonstrators with respect to Cordoba House
supporters claimed it as an expression of religious freedom and accommodation
opponents said it would mark one more stage in an Islamic plan of conquest
back and forth pronouncements of a Florida pastor who leaped from nothing to a world figure on the basis of saying that he would or would not burn the Koran
his daughter has said, "Papa, don't do it," and "I think he's gone mad."
whether that particular pastor burns it or not, he has produced anti-American demonstrations by hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan
and whether the Florida pastor burns it or not, a Tennessee pastor has burned it, but not with the same attention by the media
anonymous others tore pages from the Koran in public demonstrations, without even gotten their names in a newspaper.

How should we take President Obama's remarks that the United States is not at war with Islam, but only with al Quaeda?

With at least a pinch of salt.

He has to say something like that. Not all Muslims have taken upon themselves the task of replacing Western Civilization with their own faith and values. President Obama wants to limit those recruited to the cause.

However, it is more than al Quaeda. Just how much more diverse, and how likely to expand is beyond me. Most likely the details are also beyond the President of the United States, his agencies and advisors.

Remember how the French welcomed Allied soldiers liberating them from the Nazis? If you are not old enough to have seen it as a newsreel along with a double feature at a local movie theater way before the multiplexes, you have probably seen films on television of the parades, flowers, and kisses.

That is not happening in Afghanistan. Westerners have applauded the liberation of Afghan women, but the ladies said to be liberated are not burning their burqas.

The latest news:

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war . . .Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence -- even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban's only supporters. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east.

It is possible to defeat the armies of an organized state and celebrate a conquest with a formal ceremony. Defeating terror is like more like combating road accidents. One or another tactic might limit the carnage, but victory is something else.

Religion is stronger than political ideology. God is greater than history or nation. Who knows how many individuals are willing to sacrifice their lives for a place in paradise? Attacking the fighters of today helps their preachers recruit others. And there are countries helping with money and the stuff that does the damage.

This wave of violence might not last forever, but the Islamic genie is out of the bottle, and it is bigger than al Quaeda.

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 12:50 AM
September 07, 2010
An Ecumenical Pantheon

Let me welcome Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida to join Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of SHAS, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the promoter of Cordoba House to the Pantheon of religious leaders whose commotions have ranged beyond local and national borders.

There is no requirement that members of this Pantheon be judged for their wisdom, or even their knowledge of the religious traditions they claim to lead. Enough that they have done something to produce headlines in many countries.

God forbid that I would hint that such distinguished persons do not understand the nature of the religions they claim to lead. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are comprehensive in the ideas apparent in their writings and customs. Love, hate, fanaticism, tolerance, moderation, and lots in between appear in these monotheisms. Jones, Ovadia, and Rauf have provoked sharp criticism from those who share their faith, but distant themselves from what they are promoting.

Jones' call to burn the Koran reminds me of a personal experience. In 1965 I was teaching at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and signed on to a research project investigating how local governments were dealing with rapid development around Cape Canaveral (or maybe by then it was Cape Kennedy). On several Sunday mornings I made the long drive across central Florida in order to begin interviews on Monday. Looking for something to hear on the car radio I happened on sermons that shocked me for the virulence of their anti-Catholicism. I had read of the Pope being called the devil and whore of Rome, and of his plans to rule the world, but had never heard those things spoken by living preachers. I felt that somewhere between Tallahassee and the Florida coast, perhaps near Gainesville, I had fallen off the edge of civilization.

I see these notes as my part in conversations, rather than one-way reports of truth as I see it.

Comments on the nuttiness of Israeli concerns with Summer Time and Yom Kippur brought me a note from a friend who once worked in the Kansas Governor's Office, screening the mail from citizens. One letter came from a farmer intense about the damage done by Daylight Savings Time. By his reckoning, the extra hour of sunlight was destroying his crops.

Another friend who gets these notes, along with some of his students, are at the University of Florida. I'll rely on them to report if they know of anyone joining the burning of Korans, and if there are still preachers burning up the airwaves with curses against Rome. Newspapers report that Jones' church has only 50 members, but that he is receiving Korans from elsewhere for his pyre.

Jones has received more attention than the fire that destroyed a mosque being constructed near Nashville, Tennessee. Jones is a preacher explaining his intentions, rather than an anonymous arsonist.

We will see the downside of Jones' crusade--as well as that mosque burning--in whatever is added to attacks against American troops, or by noisy parades and denunciations. Rabbi Ovadia's call on the Almighty to destroy the Palestinians has brought something between ridicule and protest from Palestinians and others, including Israeli Jews. Rauf's efforts to create an Islamic Center near Ground Zero has resulted in polls showing a majority of Americans opposed, as well as comments from Muslims divided between those who fear the repercussions, applause for his expressions of multiculturalism and moderation, and from those who admire what they see as his furthering the Muslim conquest of the United States.

Ranking Americans have condemned Jones in the strongest of terms. His feeble gesture may be enough to undue whatever Barack Obama was able to achieve by his Cairo speech and everything else he has done to distance his wars against Muslims from a conflict with Islam.

In these disputes along the borders between religion and politics, everyone can claim to be on the side of God and Justice. Jean Paul Sartre's description of the God-shaped hole in the human heart alludes to the near universal phenomenon of belief, while leaving room for the hole to be shaped differently in each of us. The Pantheon is ecumenical. It offers a home for those who hate as well as those who love.

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 11:36 PM
September 06, 2010
Not a good sign

Israeli media are quoting comments made by Mahmoud Abbas, that the Palestinians will not give up any of their principles in dealing with the Israelis. Among the items he considers cardinal are refugees, the 1967 borders, and the presence of Israeli civilian or military personnel in Palestine. Pressure on those issues, he says, will cause him to walk out of the talks.

Mr Abbas should know that Israelis also have some principles. The most prominent may be the Land of Israel, a principle that has been in existence for something like 3,000 years. The Palestinians have thought of themselves as a nation for about 100 years. However, one wonders about the solidity of that concept due to fighting between political factions, clans, Muslim extremists and others, as well as the pressure of Muslims that turned Christian Palestinians into a stream of outward migrants.

Like all principles, the Land of Israel has its problems, but it is not hard to find interpretations that it does not leave much room for Palestine, or too many Palestinians.


Israelis have pretty much given up any insistence on their monopolistic control of the Land of Israel. The point is, they expect Palestinians to be equally flexible about what they claim to be their principles. If not, there is little purpose in negotiating. The coming year, which is the Obama administration's idealized timetable, will not be an exercise in Israeli surrender, or Israeli flexibility and Palestinian steadfastness.

Israelis generally recognize that as the stronger power they are expected to be more forthcoming than their weaker neighbors. But within limits.

There will have to be a better deal for those 50-60,000 Jews living in the West Bank beyond the security barrier than for the 8,500 Jews withdrawn from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinian response to that move has not made many Israelis keen to move tens of thousands.

And those refugees who claimed to have been pushed out by the Israelis in 1948, as well as their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren will have to get use to living where they are, or go someplace else. A few may be let back in as a gesture when everything else is settled, but by that time there won't be many of the original refugees left. There is not much inclination to make gestures toward those claiming to be descendants of refugees.

There will be some who say that Abbas' comments are meant for home consumption. He must know that he will have to be flexible with Israel under the eyes of the American and European observers.

Such an excuse is just as troubling as his comments. The Palestinians have been investing in the demonization of Israel for more than 60 years. Incitement continues in their schools and mosques, and may enjoy only occasional pauses in the mass media controlled by Fatah when it suits party leaders. If there is no preparation of the Palestinian public about the need to rethink their principles there will be little prospect of a deal anytime in the near or not so near future.

Other signs suggest that this appears to be an ideal time for negotiations. They include Netanyahu's strength, the lessons of flexibility he has learned, plus the support for accommodation that appears among some of his leading party colleagues and even more so in the parliamentary opposition, plus the persistence of Barack Obama, and the relative prosperity in both Israel and the West Bank.

Without Palestinian flexibility, the stars may not align so favorably for many years. This might be their last chance.

Some years ago Anwar Sadat indicated that the last Egyptian had given his life for the sake of Palestine. While Palestinians figure prominently in the mantras recited by rulers throughout the Muslim world, they have not had significant military help since 1967. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 was not aimed at helping Palestinians, but at regaining Syrian and Egyptian territory. Occasional efforts coming out of Lebanon and Gaza have resulted in devastation in those places rather than in Israel. The aid provided by the United Nations, Europeans and Americans is best described as political lip service and a level of welfare assistance that has reinforced a culture of helplessness.

Palestinians should recognize that most nations do not have their own state. There is not much between their present condition and that of the Kurds, Druze, Basques, Catalonians, Welsh, Corsicans, and who knows how many African tribes who maintain their own languages, but are powerless outsiders in countries ruled by others.

Bombast will not give the Palestinians their own state. Political savvy would be better.

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 05:52 AM
September 05, 2010
Israel's nuttiness

Lots of countries do something nutty. That's a practice that does not make sense, but has the support of entrenched politicians and much of the public as "the way things are done."

In Germany it is superhighways without speed limits. In the United States it is easy access to firearms. In Britain it is the definition of one's body weight in stones.

In Israel it is what the locals call Summer Time, and what is known in the United States as Daylight Savings Time.

Israel's nuttiness may not be as dangerous to life and limb as those of Germany and the United States, but it is no less nutty.

The deal is that Israeli Summer Time must end on the weekend before Yom Kippur. Advocates claim that it makes fasting easier, but skeptics note that the fast lasts 25 hours, whether from a clock hour later or earlier on one day to a later or earlier clock hour plus one hour on the next day.

Could the fast be easier when it begins at 5 PM and ends at 6 PM than when it begins as 6 PM and ends at 7 PM?

I know of no survey that answers that question. However, the ultra-Orthodox parties are insisting that it stay that way.

The coming Sabbath begins at 6:12 and ended at 7:27 in Jerusalem. Summer time ends between this coming Saturday and Sunday. The Yom Kippur fast should begin no later than 5:03 the following Frday and end no earlier than at 6:16 on Saturday. The times for other cities differ by a few minutes, and can be found on published calendars.

An industrialist, who may or may not be planning to fast, has begun to wage a campaign to do away with the nuttiness. He asserts that it costs money, puts Israel out of sync with its overseas markets and suppliers, and that he will order his company to stay on Summer Time until Europe makes its change at the end of October.

The head of the SHAS delegation in the Knesset and the Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, is the man in charge of this, and he insists that Summer Time must end on the weekend before Yom Kippur. But whether he is serious or not, he is proposing a super-nuttiness: re-instituting Summer Time after Yom Kippur.

This would mean that Israelis would move their clocks back on the coming weekend, them move them ahead after Yom Kippur. Since the fast falls this year on Friday-Saturday, that would presumably mean that Israelis could be changing their clocks soon after breaking the fast. So far Yishai has not said when he would suggest going back again to Winter Time.

Insofar as there is less than a week to the scheduled end of Summer Time, Yishai's super nuttiness probably won't be vetted by the professionals in his ministry, formally proposed, debated, and voted on this year.

But maybe next year.


There is only so much that the Israeli majority can demand from its minority of religious extremists. It is pressing hard, with tiny results, to induce ultra-Orthodox youth to spend a bit of time in the military; to end the rejection of Sephardi pupils by Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox schools; to facilitate the continuation of construction projects whenever there is a discovery of ancient bones that may be Jewish; and to insert courses in English, mathematics, science, and technology to the ultra-Orthodox curriculum.

No one should expect that the Education Ministry would try to impose on the ultra-Orthodox anything like evolution or sex education, and maybe not anything to do with biology, history, or social science.

Ultra-Orthodox kids are as bright as any. They begin school at the age of three, handle Aramaic as well as spoken and Biblical Hebrew (and the Ashkenazim Yiddish), and understand convoluted Talmudic logic by their teens, and can be taught to make a living doing computer programming.

Israel has been able to create technological colleges for ultra-Orthodox post-teens, with the young men separate from young women, but putting those subjects in the curriculum of most schools for ultra-Orthodox adolescents has so far eluded the Education Ministry or the Government.

Putting off the end of Summer Time until after Yom Kippur?

It's less of a priority than the army, ethnic segregation, finding a solution for bones that may be Jewish, and the school curriculum.

One should not expect Israel to get to it in our life time.

In the event that this nuttiness may represent my last note of the year, let me wish you all that is good for the coming year, whenever it comes on your clocks this Wednesday evening.

שנה טובה
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 04:42 AM
September 03, 2010
The odds are not good

From 1967 to the early 1990s, there was no Palestinian partner for the Israelis to speak with. Israel extended the boundaries of Jerusalem, and created major settlements near Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Additional settlements appeared here and there throughout the West Bank. There are now 50-60,000 Jews living in settlements beyond the major blocs, and beyond the security barrier that represents Israel's thinking about its eventual borders.

After the flurry of Oslo came the intifada that began in 2000.

The Sharon government withdrew about 8,500 Jews from Gaza in 2005. Perhaps on account of the way it was done (unilaterally without a quid pro quo from the Palestinians), or because of fixed attitudes among Palestinians, the withdrawal was viewed as a sign of Israeli weakness and produced a continued rain of crude missiles.

If the settlements remain as a major problem in negotiations, it should be no surprise. They reflect unrelieved Palestinian rejectionism from 1967 to 1990 as much as Israeli acquisitiveness. The intifada of 2000 and the response to the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 make it easy to believe that the Palestinians have not changed a great deal.

American media, Israeli media, and others have numerous items expressing hope and caution. There is the thoughtful, the superficial, and lots in between. While some are sure that only a final settlement would work, others are convinced that it would be impossible to agree on all of the outstanding issues, and have their own favorite topics for interim agreements meant to build confidence and let the Palestinians continue with their economic development and nation building in the West Bank.,,8599,2015602,00.html?artId=2015602?contType=article?chn=world

Hamas remains the knottiest Palestinian problem to match those 50-60,000 Jews on the other side of the security barrier in the West Bank.

This week Hamas has claimed credit for two attacks in the West Bank. Today its activists are threatening their superweapon of suicide bombings.

A number of commentators agree that Barack Obama will be too busy to play a personal part in the negotiations. More prominent on his agenda are the American economy, Afghanistan and other places east of Eden, and doing what he can to minimize Democratic losses in November, perhaps by staying away from Democratic candidates who fear his influence on their voters. If this leaves Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be the Administration's point person for Israel and Palestine, we can only hope that she does better than she did with health care early in her husband's presidency. Nuance, coaxing, building consensus, and speaking softly are not her strong points. No woman may be welcome in the inner circles of Arab politics, but that caution does not go over well West of here.

The best of the comments I have seen is that item in the Washington Post, linked above. It notes that Israel has a strong government that is capable of making far reaching offers, with substantial public support, and bolstered by an international constituency, while the Palestinians have neither strength nor public support, nor more help than hindrance from other Muslims.

According to, people willing to bet their own money are acting as if there is only a 5 percent chance of achieving an internationally recognized Palestinian state by the end of 2011, and a 20 percent chance that it will happen by the end of 2012.

Those numbers sound about right.

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 12:06 AM
September 01, 2010
Will they or won't they?

Will they or won't they?

Who is "they?"

There are several possibilities.

The couple killed last night were well embedded in the religious settler community. Six kids, another one on the way, and related to one of the leading activists in the settler movement.

While the crazies are trying to find olive trees to cut down, cars to burn, and a random Arab to kill, the moderates among the settlers are threatening their standard retaliation for a terrorist attack: Build. They have declared an immediate end to the construction freeze, rather than wait until its formal expiration on September 24th. They are promising to move the bulldozers and other stuff throughout the West Bank beginning tomorrow.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister has asserted that Israel is a land of law, and that there will be no construction without the government's approval.

We'll see.

That's the first "will they or won't they?" In this case, "they" is either the settlers or the Prime Minister, or the minister who controls the people who can actually stop the construction that the settlers begin. Some of those personnel are under the control of the Defense Minister, who is not likely to want that construction to go forward now. Others answer to the Minister of Housing and Construction, who is likely to want it to go forward.

Another "they" are the Palestinians. Will they deliver with their promise to stop the talks if construction begins? Is this going to happen a day after four Israelis have been killed in a demonstrated weakness of the security forces which the Palestinians are counting on to convince the Israelis and Americans that they are serious enough about governing to demand concessions?

There are two principal groups of Palestinians: Fatah behind the West Bank regime of Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas. Hamas people are passing out sweets in celebration of their successful killing of four Israeli civilians, and hinting at the onset of a civil war to take control of the West Bank. Will they do it, and enjoy the success that they had in Gaza? Will the forces of Fatah resist them? Will the Israelis help Fatah stay in power?

Fatah's security people are arresting Hamas activists in the West Bank. If Israel wants to hurt Hamas on account of the killing in the West Bank, there are appropriate targets in Gaza as well as the West Bank.

That's another "Will they or won't they?" Such an act by Israel, even if it occurs as part of an operation against Hamas, will kill enough Palestinians to give the Fatah regime a reason for ending the talks.

Another "Will they or won't they?" concerns the division of Jerusalem.

Defense Minister and Labor Party head Ehud Barak has said that the end game will include the transfer of Arab neighborhoods to Palestine, and some kind of joint sovereignty over the Old City. The Prime Minister has reminded him that it is government policy not to divide Jerusalem. We've heard the comments "New," "Extreme," and "What does that mean?" for the idea of dividing sovereignty over the Old City.

The Defense Minister does not have a firm hand on the Labor Party. There might not be much left of the Labor Party, but what still exists may proceed with their threatened rebellion if Barak does not stand firm for major concessions to the Palestinians. The concessions the anti-Barak Laborites desire are more generous than those wanted by the Prime Minister, and much more generous than those likely to be accepted by Knesset Members of the Prime Minister's party.

We get hints that the Americans will play tough if the Israelis do not offer enough to the Palestinians. No one has yet commented on what the Americans are likely to do if the Palestinians walk out before the ceremony setting the talks in motion, or soon after, in protest about new construction in the West Bank.

How tough might the Americans be? Heavily tilted leftists among the commentators have spoken of maneuvers to change the composition of the Israeli government so that it will be more in line with what the Americans favor by way of Israeli concessions.

Sounds like what the CIA did in Chile during the Nixon administration.

Will the Americans dare do that against Israel? Probably not when there are more right wing influential American Jews than there were left-wing supporters of Chile in positions of power in the United States during the Nixon administration.

Late news is that Prime Minister Netanyahu has told Hillary Clinton that Israel will not renew the freeze on construction in the West Bank.

That may take one of the "will they or won't they?" off the table. The settlers can thank Hamas for the gesture. However, those in the know are asking if the Prime Minister will approve building throughout the West Bank, or only in the major settlements. Assuming he has the capacity to stop the settlers from building wherever they want.

So many questions. So few answers.

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 10:43 AM