June 27, 2011
Gilad Shalit

If he is still alive, and if he is still in Gaza, Gilad Shalit has now passed five years as a captive. The lack of certainty reflects the absence of information about his existence for a year or more. His captives have never allowed a visit with an independent source, such as the International Red Cross.

The days surrounding the anniversary of his capture have seen an increase in media exposure for his family, and those protesting the lack of success in arranging a deal for his return.

There is at least a bit of politics in the events. A left leaning media has given a great deal of attention to those protesting against the government for not complying with the Gazans' shopping list of prisoners to be released. Some of those protesting are retired senior officials of the security services, along with individuals prominent in the entertainment industry. All that I have noticed are familiar from their involvement in other causes that I would not taint as extreme, but which have been left of center.

Prominent among the demonstrations has been the filming and screening on prime time news of well known figures spending an hour each in a mock-up of a grimy cell. Some of them have acted out a sense of rage, screaming and throwing things against the wall. One is a prominent singer who has been shunned by some audiences on account of dodging military service.

Activists have claimed that the Israeli public is four square on their side, but indications from opinion polls and the numbers coming out to planned demonstrations cast doubt. Organizers have posted a telephone number and urge individuals to send a text message reading "in favor" (of a deal). I have not heard them inviting text messages reading "opposed."

Several commentators have criticized the current campaign, and especially the play acting in a mock-up of a prison cell. One public relations consultant noted that if the campaign goes over the thin line bordering acceptability, it may backfire and add to the apathy, or opposition to freeing murderers in exchange for Shalit.

There is a counter public that is strongly opposed to freeing individuals "with blood on their hands," and especially those guilty of the ugliest or most costly actions. Family members of those killed are prominent among those opposed to a deal. However, some family members of victims support a deal, and say that peace will only come with reconciliation.

Military norms have played a part on both sides of the issue. In favor of a deal, or even "of paying any price," is assertion that Israel has always done everything possible to return its soldiers to their families. Individuals have called this the unbreakable covenant between Israel, its soldiers, and their families. The term "covenant" has religious overtones, suggesting a sacred bond.

On the other hand, senior military officers have noted that soldiers are trained to do everything possible to avoid capture, and to foil attempts to capture any of their colleagues. The definition of "everything" is not spelled out publicly in a culture opposed to suicide or killing, but the IDF's policy does challenge the claim about an unbreakable bond that is worth any price in order to maintain.

The possibility of a rescue operation has not been prominent among the topics discussed in the media. Military officers have said they have not succeeded in locating the place of his captivity. Even if that is disinformation meant to lull the enemy, the prospects of a rescue are affected by the same kind of arithmetic motivating those who oppose the release of prisoners likely to engage in further violence. How many soldiers or civilians do you risk to save how many? And what is the prospect of getting to Shalit and bringing him back to Israel while he remains alive?

Negotiations involving Shalit have been at one or another level of activity or inactivity for the whole time of his capture. Due to his French as well as Israeli citizenships, Nicolas Sarcozy has stated on several occasions that his government is doing everything it can. Jimmy Carter played a role some time ago in trying to carry messages between Shalit and his family.

The family has come to accuse the Prime Minister of major responsibility for not agreeing to the Gazans' demands. Shalit's grandfather has been the most extreme, saying that Netanyahu's obstinence will cause Gilad's death.

As far as we can tell, the picture is more complex. Netanyahu has said that he is willing to pay a great deal. The numerical demand of 1,000 prisoners does not seem to be a stumbling block. More important are some of the individuals being demanded, and the refusal of the Israeli government to release young murderers likely to cause the deaths of more Israelis. Some individuals may be released if they are prevented from returning to the West Bank or Gaza. European countries have been approached for providing them entry and supervision. A German mediator has worked to arrange a deal, and occasionally officials from Egypt and other countries have put their hands into the pot. Gazans are widely condemned for violating international law for not permitting any visits, or assuring a minimum level of conditions for Shalit.

Here as elsewhere, international law is more often proclaimed than enforced. There is also a problem in that it is designed to operate against states, while the various groups in Gaza are not that.

The Israeli government has indicated that it will worsen the conditions of its prisoners who are affiliated with Hamas. Among the reductions mentioned: fewer visits, a cancelling of academic programs that have allowed prisoners to pursue advanced degrees, and some cases of solitary confinement. This has brought a sincere sounding proclamation from Hamas that Israel is threatening to violate international law.

The variety of Gazan groups and those affiliated with them has been part of the problem in arranging a deal. While reports provided to the public may be less than complete and less than accurate, there are indications that the Israeli government and some Gazan organizations have reached draft agreements, only to be vetoed by other Gazan organizations or the "Diaspora" affiliates of the most prominent organization, Hamas.

Signs are that this will continue for some time.

Next up: a media frenzy about a flotilla that may already be heading toward Gaza.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:57 AM
June 25, 2011

It's been my good fortune to spend adult life as an academic at decent or distinguished institutions. The work has been challenging and satisfying, with colleagues and students from the better classes of both. Compared to a physician's career, or an attorney's, the vast majority of my clients have been young, healthy, engaging, and in no more trouble than having to finish their semester's work. My career involved considerable travel and encounters with a variety of culture and politics, even aside from the voluntary uprooting and hard work of adjusting during the 60 percent of my career spent at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

I have thought about all that as the result of an Israeli film meant to be experienced by academics, and especially those of my generation and older having an association with the Hebrew University. I use the term "experience" rather than "enjoy." The film is painful as well as brilliant. The dialogue is Hebrew and the setting Jerusalem, but there are English subtitles. International prizes should help it gain an overseas audience. Here the film is הערת שוליים, and the international version has the direct translation of Footnote.

The plot deals with different kinds of academic careers. One prominent figure is the specialist who plods through ancient texts in a narrow field, concerned to detail only what can be established with the utmost rigor. He produces few publications, has few students, and has received no more recognition than a footnote expressing respect for him in another scholar's highly specialized publication with few readers. Another figure works in the same field, with more concern to portray insights of wider appeal. His numerous publication and lectures gain him students and recognition not acquired by the first, who is also his father.

Yet another figure is of the father's generation, whose chance discovery of an obscure document undercut the importance of the plodder's findings, and reduced the plodder's career to insignificance.

Involved in the film are father-son dependence and rivalry, academic egos, jealousy, backbiting, and the politics associated with tenure and promotion decisions, as well as the awarding of a high profile academic prize.

The characters bear resemblance to figures I have observed over the course of 35 years. To some extent, the themes and personalities pertain to an older generation. The people I have conjured up after seeing the film are senior academics who came to Palestine or Israel with an Old World style of research, along with the insecurities of Jews in pre-war or wartime Europe.

The film touches academic themes with wider relevance. There are downsides to an academic career that have their impacts in the better institutions of North America and Europe as well as Israel. A probationary period of several years and a demanding review of candidates for tenure produces personal insecurity and the pathologies that may be associated with it. Doubts felt on the committees that decide on candidates for hiring or promotion are also painful, although less fateful than the worries experienced by candidates.

Those tensions may be less apparent in institutions of lesser prestige, where tenure comes automatically, to almost everyone hired who manages to avoid the violation of general norms. However, budget limitations have added a constraint to an academic career at all institutions. Temporary positions offering low salaries and fringe benefits, heavy teaching loads, and no chance of tenure now account for 30 percent or more of university and college teaching opportunities in Israel and elsewhere.

The awarding of academic prizes is likely to have elements of politics or a crap shoot everywhere, and is not foreign to the committees that award the Nobels. Barack Obama's receipt of the Peace Prize is no less bizarre than the story of the Israel Prize told in Footnote.

In keeping with its focus on senior professors at a distinguished university, the film does not concern itself with students. There is no attention to the worries involved in gaining acceptance to the school of one's choice, the social insecurities of later adolescence, temptations to cheat, or the quandaries of choosing a course of study that will be rewarding intellectually as well as functional economically. One can find all of those phenomena on Israeli campuses. However, there are no competitive athletics associated with Israeli universities. Most students come to campus after two or three years as the property of the IDF. They apply to the department in which they choose to study, and gain entrance almost exclusively on the basis of a nation-wide examination.

Life is good in the thin slice of academia portrayed in Footnote, but not entirely so.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:31 AM
June 23, 2011
Winning the war against terror is not the point

In 1966 Senator George Aiken (R Vt) said that America should declare victory and leave Vietnam.

What he actually said was more nuanced, but the press simplified it in a way that did not distort his message. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Aiken

Between 1966 and the final US pullout marked by the panicked flight of personnel via helicopters from rooftops, there occurred 49,000 out of the total 58,000 American military deaths.

Now it looks like President Obama has adopted the Aiken strategy for Afghanistan. The President said that the United States has largely achieved its goals, and that the country that served as a base for 9-11 no longer represented a threat to the United States. He announced the onset of a phased withdrawal from the 100,000 troops currently deployed, aimed at handing over security to Afghan personnel in 2014.

An important--perhaps major--part of the President's decision has to do with the allocation of resources. The domestic economy--and his political standing--require serious attention. At the same time that he announced the troop withdrawal, he said "it is time to focus on nation-building here at home."

The withdrawal does not signify an end to the war against terror. The President indicated his support for intelligence-driven, closely targeted operations like those seen recently in Pakistan and Yemen, rather than the use of large armies meant to slug it out on the ground.

The President went against recommendations received from military advisors, and against the epigram that you cannot win a war with airpower. That expression began as a criticism of excessive reliance on strategic bombing, but may also apply to targeted killings with unmanned aircraft.

The President's announcement suggests that winning wars is not the point, as much as convincing terrorist organizations not to target the United States.


Total victory was appropriate in World War II, but not in the vast majority of earlier or later conflicts.

Large scale troop deployments in Third World countries are not only expensive in money and personnel, but have involved close association with corrupt and unreliable local authorities. The picture has repeated itself from Vietnam onward to Afghanistan. Pulling out from alliances with the likes of Nguyễn Văn Thiệu or Hamid Karzai is another retrospective victory for George Aiken and those who adopted his view of leaving a losing cause before it became even more intolerable.

Barack Obama did not cite George Aiken or the Israelis for the inspiration of his decision to withdraw.

Why Israel?

It learned the painful lesson of prolonged and massive troop deployments during the 18 years it tried to conquer or pacify Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. Prior to the war, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon thought that he had arranged an alliance with the Christian leadership of Lebanon. At first, IDF troops found themselves showered with rice and sweets by people who saw the Israelis as liberating them from the Palestinians. Later those same people were planting roadside bombs and sniping at Israeli troops. Christian militias did not help Israel, but tarnished it with their massacre of Palestinian civilians in Sabra and Shatila.

Israeli operations in Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2009 may be part of the inspiration for President Obama's latest move. Lebanon 2006 lasted 34 days and resulted in at least 10 times the number of Lebanese as Israeli casualties. Gaza 2009 was even shorter, and may have produced 100 times the incidence of Palestinian as Israeli casualties.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Lebanon_War; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_War

Those operations may be compared to the initial American attacks against Afghanistan after 9-11. The American error, by this kind of thinking, began with the commitment to large scale and prolonged investments with ground troops, and the aspiration to remake and modernize a place that was a state in name only.

Israel's antagonists bleat about disproportionate responses, but short encounters that are costly for the enemy may be what it takes to limit the problem of terror. Neither Lebanon war nor any Gaza operation has ended the problem of terror for Israel. That may be impossible, or so costly as to be impractical. Keeping evil at bay is a moral goal. It should be no surprise that the chronic threat against Israel has produced a calculation that adversaries who direct or support terror should pay the higher price. The goal is not to defeat terror, but to increase the losses in the supportive population enough to minimize their efforts.

Israel's response to the Palestinian intifada that began in 2000 will not bring peace. Neither, apparently, will negotiations. However, a forceful response to the past intifada may lengthen the time until the next one.

There are several ways to deal with terrorists beside the occasional large scale but short lived operation. Another is the surgical strike at key personnel. Targeted killings when done by Israel bring shouts of murder. The Seal's killing of Osama bin Laden brought the same calls from various quarters, but also produced a presidential announcement and considerable applause.

If the American government now sees that victory against terror is impossible, but one or another kind of defense is tenable, Israelis can welcome the news without expecting credit.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:59 AM
June 21, 2011
It's not really about cottage cheese

Israel aspires to be a normal country, but can't make it.

Two issues dominant in recent news are the price of cottage cheese, and a prolonged labor dispute between physicians working in the public sector (the vast majority of the country's medicine) and several governmental agencies about salary, working conditions, and an increase in the supply of physicians, hospital beds, and other items.

Cottage cheese and the physicians' disputes resemble numerous other tensions in normal countries. There is never enough money for what people want, and prices of this or that often spike high enough to provoke a protest and a chorus of politicians concerned to be on the wave, ahead of it, or at the least not silent when the voters are excited.

The State Comptroller appeared before a Knesset committee and got into the squabble over cottage cheese. He would begin examining the factors responsible for the price hike, and said that it was intolerable that the poor should suffer.

Most state auditors limit themselves to the financial accounts of government agencies, or whether government officials are following the rules. Israel's State Comptroller is unusual in that the law authorizes it to inquire into just about everything, and to evaluate actions according to the standard of "moral integrity." That sounds more like the Prophet Amos calling for justice rather than an introductory textbook in accounting. (See Amos 5:23-24) The State Comptroller's involvement in cottage cheese is one of the lesser indications that while Israel is normal arguing about prices, the figures doing the arguing are not those active elsewhere.

Some time ago Israel was a standout in the incidence of physicians and hospital beds in relation to population. That is no longer the case. The supply of physicians that came with the mass migration from the Soviet Union is aging out of the profession, and the increase in population has been greater than the increase in hospital facilities. Changes in the economy and mores have produced a situation where the best and the brightest of young Israelis are more likely to study computer science and business administration than medicine. Physicians complain that good graduates are more inclined to specialize in fields that pay well in the private sector and have good hours, like plastic surgery, and avoid drudge fields like internal medicine. However, enough good students apply to fill available places in the country's medical schools, and additional aspiring physicians go abroad to study in Hungary, Romania, and Italy. The country performs well on international measures of health like longevity and infant mortality. On longevity, it ranks better than France, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Austria, Netherlands, the U.K., Germany, Finbland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Denmark and the U.S. On infant mortality it ranks better than the U.K., Canada and the U.S. Politicians have a while to decide how much they want to spend on medicine until those measures are likely to dip.


The most prominent indicators of Israel lack of normalcy appear in its region, its security, and international politics.

Not far from the northern border the Syrian regime is slaughtering citizen protesters, and claiming that the country is peaceful except for the work of outside agitators. Commentators are asking why the great powers are intervening in Libya and not Syria. One contentious answer is oil. Another is that the intervention in Libya is not going well, and western governments do not want another mess on their plate.

Israelis wonder if Arab Spring will work in their favor or bring disaster. We agree that it will impact. We have to wait for the how.

Currently the country is experiencing a week of civil defense exercises, reflecting decisions to upgrade security concerns with the home front made after the 2006 war in Lebanon. That produced extensive missile attacks, civilian casualties and destruction across the northern region. Since then there has been a substantial increase in the capacity of Hizbollah to launch missiles that will reach more extensively into Israel, and there remain threats from Hamas in the south and Iran not too far over the horizon.

Israel's lack of normalcy follows from Jewish history. And for the same historical reasons, Jews elsewhere are not quite normal.

One should not exaggerate. Both Israel and Jews elsewhere are closer to normality than in the not so distant past. The World Bank counts Israel among the world's wealthiest countries. The country has overcome past resistance to find its place among OECD members. Reports are that there is considerable international commercial interest in its anti-missile system that proved itself against attacks from Gaza, and a tank mounted defense that works against anti-tank rockets.

Jews living in western countries can assimilate as much as they prefer. They reach positions at the summit of economics and politics that were rare a generation ago.

Nonetheless, one sees in the politics of Jewish communities an ambivalence between fulsome support for Israel, and an identification with policies pursued by their governments that are less than supportive. Again, one must be careful. Motives are impossible to define, often for oneself and more certainly for others.

With all the appropriate reservations, I am tempted to see an example of wannabe Americanism in the writings of Thomas Friedman. He exemplifies American Jews who recognize the problems of Israel, yet take a lead in the chorus supporting a aggressive policy of forcing Israel to do what some Americans--but few Israelis--think is in Israel's best interest.

Friedman practiced his music under administrations less friendly to his ideas, and the Obama-Clinton duo seemed made for him.

But not quite. Now Friedman is admitting

"they've made quite a mess in Israeli-Palestinian relations, where they've alienated all sides and generated zero progress. They've been inconsistent -- demanding a settlements freeze then backing down -- unimaginative and politically wimpy. Then again, the actors they've had to work with were both lemons -- a Palestinian government that was too divided to make any big decisions and an elusive right-wing Israeli government that was strong enough to make big decisions but had no will to do so."

Friedman's solution? Pressure the Jewish state by giving the Palestinians what they want. Going back to a United Nations resolution of 1947 and creating the Palestinian state.


To be sure, Friedman he is saying that Palestinians would have to negotiate with the Israelis over the details, but his proposal would remove considerable leverage from Israeli negotiators. It would also challenge the recent poll indicating that 72 of the Israeli population opposes withdrawing any Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while Palestinians have defined those withdrawals as non-negotiable.


A lot can happen between now and September, when Palestinian say they will seek salvation from the United Nations. Not likely to happen by September is:

The emergence of civilized regimes in Syria or Libya, or the development of regimes anywhere in the Middle East where westerners would find a good life and political freedom. (Except of course, for Israel.)

Harmony between the various factions aspiring to control the future of Palestine, and their uniting behind a proposal likely to attract an Israeli government and producing the Palestinian state all are saying that they want.

A Thomas Friedman article that admits the insolubility of the settlement issue in the context of Palestinians firmly opposed to the presence of Israeli Jews in what they claim as their land.

Israelis satisfied with the allocation of resources to the various sectors demanding more.

The last of these impossibilities renders Israel like all other countries. The others touch on one or another feature of its lack of normalcy.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:57 AM
June 17, 2011
Multiple scenarios, please

The future is not clear. Yet it is common to frighten or encourage with predictions that appear to be certain. Those who know that things will get worse have no more claim on our time than those who are certain that everything will work out fine.

Bibi's rejection of Obama's latest proposal, or the Saudi peace initiative first heard in 2002, is widely viewed to be disastrous.

But take your pick. The refusal of Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state will doom Palestinians to statelessness. Or assure that there will be a "one state solution," sooner or later taken over by an Arab majority.

President Shimon Peres is front and center on page one of Ha'aretz Friday edition (usually the most widely read of the week). "We are rushing at full speed to a condition where we will lose the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." (June 17)

One can argue that Peres went beyond the bounds of his largely ceremonial office, and provided post-hoc justification of those Knesset members who chose Moshe Katzav over him in the presidential election of 2000. The slogan at the time: "Anybody but Peres."

More important for this note is the folly of a blatant and certain projection (whether it be dismal or optimistic), especially at a time when there appears to be a multiplication of the variables that may affect the future of Israel and other countries in the region.

The same is true of those who insist that if Israel does not act against Iran's nuclear program there is certain to be a catastrophe equivalent to the Holocaust. Or if Israel does not wipe out the nest of Hamas in Gaza, or the leadership of Hizbollah in Lebanon, Iranians and others will continue on a course that will be the end of Israel.

My collection of future-oriented e-mail is impressive.

Several of my correspondents are certain that God will determine (or has determined) our future. However, they differ in their reading of the Almighty's intentions.

I've stopped trying to figure out if more if it comes from the left or the right, and have given up trying to persuade the sources that their verbal blast is nothing more than hot air.

I doubt that I will be any more successful with those reading this, but here is one more effort.

Think of everything that can influence the nearest future. If we are talking about Israel, those include Israelis close enough to the various arms of government to influence their actions. Notice the plural. "Government" in this country and elsewhere is a flowing together of numerous institutions, which may be summarized by the terms "separation of powers" or "checks and balances." The condition exists in all democracies, although in different formats. Separation and checks differ from one country to the next, but they are meant to complicate anyone's effort to exercise control.

Remember that the language of politics is ambiguity. An official concerned about continuing influence in a setting that is always fluid is more likely to speak in shades of gray, rather than clear threats or commitments.

Political competition adds to the plurality of government. Parties simplify politics, and lessen the likelihood of chaos. However, intra-party competition complicates any projection of who will be on top next week, or the lines followed by any branch of government influenced by elected officials.

Then there are other countries. There are 192 members of the United Nations, but only a dozen or so are likely to have a significant impact on Israel. My list begins with the United States, along with Britain, France, and Germany in Europe, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. And maybe the United Nations itself. As an independent actor, however, the United Nations is not much without taking account of what the United States and the major European countries do in it.

Also important are various non-state movements, such as Fatah, Hamas, and Hizbollah. A problem with these non-state movements is that they lack institutional ways to resolve internal conflicts. One can reach a deal with one faction, and see another faction act against it.

One might also add Russia and China. They impact Israel via what they sell to other countries. China and Japan influence us all by their weight in the world economy.

Syria and Egypt are unsettled at present, to say the least. Their capacity to affect Israel depends on who currently has the upper hand in their inner circles, and if they have the capacity to do anything significant toward Israel while they are heavily engaged in keeping their heads above the domestic waters. Governments of just about every other Muslim country are worried about the spread of Arab Spring, or the Middle East Flu. Reports are that Saudi Arabia is spending $ 300 billion on increased salaries and social services to ward off protests. Turkey has backed off from its leadership of the next flotilla toward Gaza, and seems less worried about Palestinians than the actions of its friend Bashar al-Assad, and the refugees crossing its border with Syria, and the prospect that Syrian fighters will attack those refugees on Turkish soil.

So far I have drawn a still picture. The problem with projections into the future is that the present moves. Everything mentioned to this point responds to a large number of influences upon it, which continue to alter what each is likely to do with respect to any particular irritant on its horizon. Among the changes affecting any one of us are the political relations between countries, and the economics that affects international and domestic politics.

None of this should dissuade people from thinking about trends, planning, and avoiding impulsive actions. However, one must never take one's plans too seriously. "Forward planning" means forever reconsidering one's plans in light of the changes likely to affect them.

Force yourselves to think about multiple scenarios, insofar as there is a slim probability that any one of them will come true.

Continue to look both ways before crossing the street.

And be prepared to cope with the moving present while thinking about the future.

For those who spend many waking hours worrying about Israel, they should know that there is an issue that currently seems to excite us more than Shimon Peres' latest fears, or ambiguous statements from Washington suggesting an Administration upset with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

What is described as popular fury about the price of cottage cheese suggests that the average Israel is not at wits end worrying about the great powers, or about the latest Muslim plot meant to bring about our downfall.

What is said to be an unwarranted increase in the price of cottage cheese was the dominant story on page one of Ha'aretz' economic supplement (The Marker) on June 17, and a prominent subject of a discussion on a prominent Friday evening news show that turned into an shouting match. Everyone talking at once, each certain about the forces responsible for the price of cottage cheese, rendered their comments unintelligible.

And tomorrow's headline will be . . .


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:54 PM
June 16, 2011
Not much that is new

The results of a poll, just released, shed light on the stall in what optimist label the peace process.

It is just a bit of light, insofar as the results should not surprise anyone.

A majority of Israelis (54 percent of those polled), are willing to withdraw from territory in exchange for a peace agreement with Palestinians.

Nothing new here. Israelis have been saying that for years.

What is more instructive, and destructive of any foreseeable agreement, is that a larger majority (72 percent) are not willing to withdraw all or part of the settlements in exchange for an end to the dispute with Palestinians.

That finding gains weight when viewed in the context of those polled: the sample did not include Israelis living in the settlements.

Other findings are that only 14 percent are willing to withdraw all settlements in the West Bank, and only 4 percent are willing to return to the borders of 1967.


The large majority not willing to withdraw settlements constrains any Israeli government, and reinforces the inclinations of the present government. Suicide bombers, rockets fired in response to the withdrawal from Gaza, and continued killings, although at a reduced rate, have made their contribution to distrust of the Palestinians. Peace is desirable, but the prospects do not seem equal to the costs of moving tens of thousands of Israelis, or perhaps even a small portion of them.

Israel is not a democracy governed by referendum. A future government might risk a great deal for peace. Menachem Begin did it with respect to Egypt and the Sinai. Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert tried it with the Palestinians.

Immediate chances are not encouraging.

In a recent interview, Benyamin Netanyahu said,

"This is an insoluble problem, because it is not about territory. It's not that you cannot give up another kilometer in order to solve it. The root of the problem is elsewhere. Until Abu Mazan recognizes Israel as a Jewish state there will be no way to an agreement."


The prevailing explanation for Palestinian reluctance to recognize Israel as a Jewish state--while they insist on removing Israeli Jews from what they claim as Palestine--is a concern for the rights of Arabs living in Israel.

Should we say "hmm," chuckle, or roll on the floor in our giggles? Or grant that the Palestinian leadership has a genuine concern for human rights?

Could they have learned that from its people pushing out the Christians from Bethlehem and Ramallah? Or perhaps their Israeli cousins taught them about human rights after turning Nazareth from a Christian to a Muslim dominated city? Or from Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East, such as those who have served Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, or Bashar al-Assad?

Israeli Arabs do endure discrimination. They have fewer occupational opportunities than Jews, and do not benefit from the law of return that Israel grants to Jews worldwide. Their towns are not served as well with paved roads, parks, schools, and other social services as Jewish towns.

One can argue with statistics and anecdotes if Israeli Arabs do better or worse than minorities in North America and Western Europe. They have about 20 percent of the population, lower than average levels of education, a history of hostility toward the Jewish majority, and a culture that differs from that of the majority on language and a number of other traits. Most Arabs vote for political parties in national elections that are chronically anti-governmental and do not play the game of going along in order to get benefits for their constiituents. Their local authorities are generally in the hands of extended families that look after their own, and do not collect taxes at the levels of local authorities in Jewish towns. Among the cultural differences is a rate of violent crime that is three times the rate among Jews. Most of that is internal, Arab against Arab. It includes "family honor killings" of women, and protracted feuds between extended families with waves of revenge killings that erupt periodically for several generations.

We all have enough experience to keep the salt handy when listening to politicians who have reached high office.

Today's news provokes skepticism not only about the leaders of Palestine. Egyptian authorities appear to be serious about charging Ilan Grapel with espionage and other anti-state activities. Based upon reports about other cases that appear to have been fabricated, the young man moved more by his heart than his head may be facing 15 years in a prison he will be lucky to survive.

The New York Times is reporting that the White House is excusing itself from having to comply with the War Powers Resolution in the case of the pummeling it has helped to direct against the forces of Muammar Qaddafi. The reasoning: "U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops."

The Times reporters express their own skepticism. "(T)he White House acknowledged (that) the operation has cost the Pentagon $716 million in its first two months and will have cost $1.1 billion by September at the current scale of operations."


The preacher said it well

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

The preacher also wrote "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." (12:12)

Let me hope that he was not projecting forward to my notes.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:14 AM
June 14, 2011
Don't play in traffic

Last weekend the Egyptian government announced that it had arrested an agent of the Mossad who had been sent to Cairo to provoke demonstrations against the regime.

The culprit is Ilan Grapel, since featured in a number of media reports.

Descriptions by those who knew him are of an innocent abroad. An American with family roots in Israel, Bronx High School of Science and Johns Hopkins, immigrated to Israel, joined the IDF, trained for one of its elite units but dropped on account of weak Hebrew, said to identify with underdogs, variously described as leftist, Communist, oddball.

Egyptians showed pictures of him in an Israeli army uniform that they found in his belongings, which hardly seems to be the equipment that a Mossad agent would take to a field assignment.

Also available are pictures of him at a demonstration, holding a sign in English and Arabic, "Oh Stupid Obama It is a Pride Revolution Not a Food Revolution."


According to friends:

"His love of Arabic culture and the immense effort he put into learning the language ‏(which is what first brought him to Cairo's American University a few years ago‏) wouldn't make him that unusual in Israel. The fact he chose to go by the name "Illanhu Akbar" around the offices of an organization often tasked with presenting some of the region's most delicate issues to the outside world, would. His sense of humor was interesting, to say the least."


Grapel provided just what the Egyptians needed: a foreigner with an Israeli identity, who fit the claim that "outsiders" were causing the trouble that brought hundreds of thousands to demonstrate against the regime.

I cannot count the number of bright young people, perhaps like Grapel, who I have encountered in a long career of teaching in good universities. A number of them were Jews from good homes. They stood out as different from most peers, adventurist, willing to visit out of the way places and participate in concerns that did not promise to advance their own lives in any material way.

Some might have seen some of that in own behavior. I was brought to a police station in Accra, held up by a bandit while being driven through the Khyber Pass from Kabul to Peshawar, had a flat tire on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere south of Nairobi where its repair might have invited an unwanted visit from a large cat, and walked away from a hostile crowd in Santo Domingo. My own service in the IDF at the age of 40, as a draftee and private in the lecture corps, brought me to Lebanon. One morning I woke to learn that there had been a fire fight with casualties about 50 meters from my sleeping bag.

Somehow I made it to the status of an Emeritus Professor.

I have been luckier than Grapel, but also more careful.

Beyond the edge of wisdom was participating in an anti-regime demonstration in a place not known for the rule of law, and hostile to both of the countries that Grapel called his own.

Israeli officials are saying that Grapel entered Egypt with his American passport, and that is one of the reasons they are leaving his care to the Americans. American officials may also have more leverage with Egyptians.

Franz Kafka might be Gapel's best guide. With luck, American diplomats will work hard enough and Egyptians will let him go before a trial. Without luck, prosecutors will portray him as the essence of Jewish, Israeli, and American evil, and it may be years or forever before he gets back home in Queens, or to his home in Israel.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:13 AM
June 13, 2011
Plato and others on democracy and anarchy

The lead story in Monday's Ha'aretz carries the headline,

"U.S. pressuring Netanyahu to accept Obama's peace plan

Israeli source says Americans frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for hampering U.S. efforts to stop Palestinians trying UN route to statehood in September".


It is not clear if this is coming from the President, or from underlings who are trying to carry a ball as far as they can, with or without the President's personal direction. Things like that happen in White House organizations that number in the tens or thousands of people, depending on whether one is talking about those who really are close, or only formally associated with the White House but far from the Oval Office.

A number of other events suggest that the pressure is not coming from the top, or that the top is itself disconnected with other things that impinge on the activity.

•The marriage between Fatah and Hamas may be heading for the rocks. Fatah's nominee for Prime Minister has been vetoed by its ostensible partner. http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=224698
•Things are not happy within Fatah. One report is that it expelled one of the most senior people due to accusations of corruption and his working to undermine the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. However, some members of the Fatah Central Committee are denying the reports, so who knows what is happening in that intense little political party. http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?ID=224732&R=R1

The disagreement between the American and Israeli governments is said to focus on those borders of 1967. Although President Obama has said they should only be the starting point of negotiations, Palestinians seem to be accepting them with the understanding that they will be the end point, while Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated that his desired end point will be as far as possible from them. Even he cannot aspire to anything all that far from 1967 borders, insofar as the whole of the West Bank is only about 65 miles from north to south and 25 miles east to west at the farthest points in an outline that twists and turns along mountain ridges and deep valleys.

Chaos or commotion extending outward from the West Bank is not encouraging Israelis to be trusting or generous. If we want any reminder of the madness that reaches high positions in this region, we can turn to the comments expressed by the Vice President of the University of Tripoli in Lebanon. He appeared on Saudi television to proclaim that 9-11 was a fiction produced by Americans and Jews to provide an excuse for their ravishing the Middle East. http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2962.htm

Web sites suggest that there is a University of Tripoli with faculties of architecture, arts and human science, business administration, engineering, public health, science and agriculture. It has yet to appear on world rankings of top institutions, but it may be training students to think like its Vice President.


A recent New York Times item speculates about a scenario that may be worrying Israeli, Americans, and Palestinians associated with Hamas as well as Fatah. That is a spread of unrest to Palestine, and the march of Palestinians seeking freedom toward Jewish settlements and/or those 1967 boundaries. One can see in the item the journalist's affinity with the romance of Arab Spring. She quotes inspired Palestinians who see a future of enlightenment, democracy, economic development and all else that might be good.

The journalist also notes the discomfort of Americans, Hamas, and Fatah that the movement will not be under their control or according to their timetable. She speculates about Israel's "nightmare scenario . . . that Palestinian refugees would simply start walking from their camps toward the border and would try to exercise their right of return . . . a West Bank uprising would . . . be . . . seismic for both Israel and the United States."


Leaving aside the indication that the New York Times journalist buys into the Palestinian narrative that individuals can maintain a status of refugees for six decades and several generations, she may be exaggerating the notion of an Israeli nightmare. Such a march toward Jewish communities will not be pleasant for the IDF and other security personnel, but it would not be wise to doubt the government's willingness to defend Jewish settlements and Jerusalem, even in the absence of internationally recognized boundaries.

Plato may not have been the first, but he was one of the ancients who recognized that democracy was not all that far from commotion, anarchy, or chaos. It would help if commentators in our time reminded themselves of the issue, and if power holders took care not to encourage the people of cultures foreign to them--motivated by who knows what mixture of ideas--to rebel in the hope that all will work out for the best.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:34 AM
June 10, 2011
With enemies like ours . . .

The United States has added another Muslim country to the list where its soldiers are fighting. The administration that is dead set against condemning Islam is now active in Yemen as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya. Some are major battlegrounds, others provide occasional activity against targets of opportunity, cooperation with Western allies, or with Saudi allies who want quiet near home. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/world/middleeast/09intel.html?scp=2&sq=Yemen&st=cse

9-11 produced an uptick, but did not begin the fiction of not fighting against Islam along with the reality of a deep immersion in the Middle East. The first Gulf War was 1990, and the first attack on the World Trade Center 1993.

Israel appears to be no more than a rhetorical diversion. It is a Western country, vulnerable to pressure, with internal divisions between left and right that invite demands from outside.

It would be wrong to expect serious movement on what optimists call a peace process. Who should Israelis trust in a time of uncertainty? Who should Westerners trust among the Palestinians when calls for turning back history to 1967 are the same stuff as less restrained talk about conquering for the Prophet all the way to Andalusia, and adding to Muslim populations further north and west until they can seize it all?

The Economist is anything but a Zionist mouthpiece, but its most recent issue contemplates the success of uprisings against the regimes of Yemen and Syria, and the improbability of Palestinians forging a unity that will enable them to govern together. An item on Israel tucked away on the side of its web site does not concern domestic warfare, but arguments among politicians and technocrats about how to deal with demands from the Middle East and the West.

http://www.economist.com/node/18805423 http://www.economist.com/node/18805738 http://www.economist.com/node/18806169 http://www.economist.com/node/18805766

One of the lead articles on The New York Times web stie describes the worsening economy of Egypt, and what that means for democratic aspirations held by Egyptians or those who cheered their rebellion.

"The 18-day revolt stopped new foreign investment and decimated the pivotal tourist industry. The annual growth slowed to less than 2 percent from a projected 5 percent, and Egypt's hard currency reserves plunged 25 percent.

In a region where economic woes enraged an entire generation, whether and how Egypt can fix its broken economy will be a crucial factor in determining the revolution's success. It could also influence the outcome of the revolts across the Arab region, where economic troubles are stirring fears of continued instability, authoritarian crackdowns, or even a backlash against what had appeared to be a turn toward Western-style market reforms."


The government of Turkey have been even more hostile to Israel than The Economist or The New York Times. Now, however, the Turkish Prime Minister is accusing Syria of atrocities. http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/2/1830960

September may be unpleasant. Despite opposition from the United States and Germany, Palestinians may continue with their intention to obtain recognition as a state by the United Nations General Assembly. There are indications that Mahmoud Abbas recognizes that he has gone too far with the statehood threat, but cannot resist Palestinians who are pushing him forward. Palestinians have spoken about delaying a declaration of statehood if Israel recognizes Palestine with the borders of 1967, or if the United States commits itself to prohibiting further construction by Israelis beyond those borders.

There are no reports about Israeli or American accepting those proposals.

A Palestinian said, "We are trapped with September. We don't know what to do after that."


Palestinians in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Gaza are talking about marching toward Israel. Israelis are arguing among themselves about the force that should be directed against those who get to the fences. Local and overseas activists decry the 9 deaths on the Mavi Marmara and the 10 or so on the Syrian border, without comparing them to the numbers killed routinely by Arab regimes elsewhere in the region.

Nothing is humane enough for Jews who have trouble viewing Islam as a problem, and trace their heritage to protests against European, Latin American, and North American abominations.

Arab Spring has not been good for the Palestinians. Dreams of democracy have fallen to reports of Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey, and Qaddafi's army passing out Viagra and ordering offenses of rape.

It is tempting to wonder if the Viagra story is the same stuff as British claims of German atrocities in World War I. Has Viagra really become a weapon, or only a figment of propaganda? Likewise the report that senior officials in Syria are contemplating a war with Israel as a way to dissuade their people from attacking the regime.

Israel remains with advantages of political stability, economic and military prowess, a willingness to talk, and security activities infinitely more restrained than practiced by Muslim regimes against their own people. None of those traits persuades those who have nothing but criticism for the Israeli government, but they contribute to unity at home and the support of some who count overseas. Paradise is not on the horizon, but our future looks better than what Palestinians and other Arabs are cooking for themselves.

May I not tempt fate with a conclusion that is excessively confident, but with enemies like ours we do not need too many friends.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:03 AM
June 08, 2011
Well meaning, clumsy, stupid, or destructive?

Go to war. Then think about it.

It's the story of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya.

"As NATO airplanes and attack helicopters struck fresh targets in Tripoli and the oil port of Brega on Sunday, senior British and American officials said there was no way of knowing how long it might take for the rebellion against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi -- already in its fourth month, and the third month of NATO airstrikes -- to drive him from power. . . . Britain's foreign secretary . . .hinted at concern in Western capitals about what might come after the toppling of Colonel Qaddafi. . ." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/world/africa/06libya.html

Libyan TV may not be the most reliable source, but it broadcast comments from a French journalist and a former Foreign Secretary of France.

"The NATO countries . . . are perpetrating crimes against humanity."


"You ask me about the conduct of the French leaders, but the only thing I know is that they have gone crazy. President Sarkozy hosted Qadhafi a few months ago at the Élysée Palace,with a red carpet and all the grandiose honors. Two months later, Sarkozy is leading a crusader war. . . ." http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/5351.htm

What looks like service to Muammar Qaddafi finds confirmation in no less than the Washington Post.


These stories are not simple. From Vietnam onward the cases began with credible justifications, but continued into swamps where good intentions went seriously bad. John Kennedy explained an escalation in Vietnam as part of containment against Communist expansion. Neither Lyndon Johnson nor Richard Nixon got out of a civil war where the United States was backing an ally that early on proved embarrassing. The cost was more than 58,000 American deaths, and perhaps one million Vietnamese.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties

Iraq began with concerns about weapons of mass destruction, along with asperations about a cruel dictator and democracy. It cost more than 5,000 American military deaths, and the figure of one million appears in estimates of the Iraqis killed in the chaos that continues. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War

Afghanistan began with 9-11 and a concern to deliver a heavy blow to the Taliban, al-Quaeda, and others considered to be its sources. It continued, like Vietnam and Iraq, with a reluctance to leave a situation that was far from stable, even though foreign intervention may have been contributing to the instabliity. Afghanistan has yet to produce death estimates in the ranges associated with Vietnam or Iraq, but it falls short of success by any measure. http://www.unknownnews.net/casualties.html

The criticism of European and American activities in Libya by distinguished personnel also had their parallels in movements against Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. None of those wars had produced sizable casualties before reservations or outright condemnation came from well known sources with backgrounds in the military, government, academy, and media.

Beginning one of these adventures is easy. Ending is the hard part.

Vietnam may have had the most understandable beginning. It was still in the shadow of World War II, which may have convinced generals and politicians that it was possible to win a war. Korea was not a rousing success, but helped to establish the principle of containing Communism. Iraq may yet prove to be the war with the flimsiet reasoning, the highest cost, and the least accomplishment. The onset of operations in Afghanistan may have convinced Islamic extremists about the costs of attacking the West, but the subsequent failure of outsiders to find an end game may convince Islamic extremists that they can outlast the West.

Libya may have started well by governments ashamed of their lack of action to prevent slaughters in Rwanda or Yugoslavia, but previous records of outsiders joining civil wars does not bode well for what has yet to come.

International action is an attractive idea, but the politicization and corruption of the United Nations are prominent warning signs. Big powers have meddled in the details of those they consider their underlings since the earliest use of the term "empire." Clumsy rather than elegant is a term proving useful right up to the present.
•French efforts to convene an Israel-Palestine peace conference, which the American State Department calls premature
•American and United Nations condemnation of a burning of a West Bank mosque, apparently by Jewish settlers, including an official comment that they "undermine efforts to promote a comprehensive peace in the region" http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=224109&R=R1

Insofar as the attack on the mosque had already been condemned by Israeli authorities, the language of American and United Nations officials may only add to Palestinian feelings that they have a monopoly of justice in this fight, and increase their resistence of any compromise. Barack Obama did no less when he demanded a halt to construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and an agreement about a Palestinian state within a year.

Palestinian calls on the international community to intervene and protect it from the settlers is one more expression of the Palestine Authority's pathological dependence on others. A reasonable person might ask if the PA needs help to keep a gang of settlers from burning a mosque, how ready is it for statehood.

We can argue if the American President, and colleagues in France and elsewhere have done no more than add some nails to the coffin of a peace process that was already dead and awaiting burial, or if they are provoking an uptick in animosities that will produce a new wave of violence where there had been relative quiet.

Well meaning, clumsy, stupid, or destructive?

Pick an adjective and stick it on the picture of your choice.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tel: +972-2-532-2725

Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144


Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:33 AM
June 06, 2011
Frustrations of peace

When I lit up my computer on Monday morning, the lead story on the New York Times Internet site reported on Palestinian-Syrian efforts to send a mass of demonstrators toward the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. The article described the motives of the Syrian regime to distract attention from its own bloody response to domestic protests, It quoted Israeli sources about efforts to resist the border crossing with non-lethal means, and cast doubt on the numbers of Palestinian dead and wounded claimed by Syria. It noted that Lebanese and Gazan officials had worked to prevent massed challenges of their borders with Israel. It quoted an Israeli commentator as identifying peaceful border challenges as a new Palestinian tactic, likely to be polished on the basis of this experience and used again.. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/world/middleeast/06mideast.html

Official Syrian sources are claiming 23 deaths at its border with Israel. Israeli sources admit to being unsure of the numbers, but say they may be no more than 10. Deaths in Syrian domestic protests are in the range of 120 for the most recent weekend, and 1,000 or more since the protests began.

Reports from Syrians opposed to their regime say that the Assad government promised the equivalent of US $1,000 to everyone who marched toward the border, and US $10,000 to the families of anyone who would be killed.

The event is at the center of Israeli media. Among the commentary is an emphasis on the quandary of the IDF: not to allow border crossings, but not to produce a high number of civilian casualties.

More important than details of what happened at the border this time is what this suggests about the larger picture of Israel-Arab relations, and the elusive peace with Palestinians.

Once again we are seeing an Arab regime using Palestine for its own purpose, and Palestinians unable to refuse the opportunity. "Arab unity" has been a myth at least since Gamal Abdel Nasser made it his message. It is a myth that is useful even while it is deadly to the Palestinian cause that it claims to serve.

Variations between Arab and Muslim countries, and fissures within them assure that there is always a regime or movement anxious to escalate the Palestinian cause. The effort of the Assad government to distract notice from its internal problems is the latest example.

The appeal of Palestine among Arabs and Muslims is widespread. It is the cultural and religious mantra, standing for injustices that all can recognize. Crowds in Cairo protesting the lack of progress towards who knows what in Egypt shout slogans accusing the current junta of not pursuing a solution for the Palestinians. The obsession of the Iranian regime with Palestine has been its international trademark. It justifies money and military supplies sent to Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

The appeal of the Palestinian cause appears in President Obama's insistence on a halt to Israeli construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and his call to base negotiations on the borders prior to the 1967 war. Rahm Emanual, David Axelrod, and J-Street provide all the Jewish support that the President needs for what appears to be his own deeply held feelings. While the President took care to say that the lines of 1967 would only provide the basis of peace talks, the Palestinian News Network is reporting that France as well as some lesser countries "will recognize Palestine Along 1967 borders."


With that kind of language afloat in world capitals, Palestinians officials can claim no less.

Justice is elusive. It has no precise definition, but is prominent in the multitude of variations each of us can imagine. Its lack of concreteness may explain the blindfold on those statues of a lady with scales. While it is common to interpret her as weighing claims and deciding on the basis of law and truth, it is also reasonable to read the symbolism to say that because there is no absolute justice, the lady can reach her decisions without the benefit of eyesight. It is also relevant to a discussion of justice that there were no female judges, attorneys, or even women allowed to testify in many of the courthouses where such statues was placed from the 16th century onward. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Justice

It is easy to conceive of justice. We can all do it by ourselves, each of us describing our own ideals.

Deals, on the other hand, require agreement. They are harder to achieve, especially when each side has its cheerleaders insisting on formulations that have proved to be attractive.

We can argue forever if the 1967 lines or the Land of Israel is the greater obstacle to peace. The dispute is without an objective answer, but I would cast my vote for the 1967 lines as the symbol that causes the most trouble.

Israeli leaders of right, left and center (Begin, Barak, and Olmert) accepted or offered significant territorial concessions, while Palestinian leaders have been stuck in the ruts of pursuing their goals by violence or remaining fixated on historical points long ago. Those who want to turn back history by 46 years earn the label of moderate. Those who claim nationalistic or Islamic purity would send us deeper into the past.

Neither side will resolve the conflict by rhetoric. My own taste is for presenting the Israeli case via Jewish humor. One of the better examples is a Youtube video advocating giving all of the Middle East to the Jews. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIEeiDjdUuU&feature=player_embedded

Anyone who applauds the idea as a serious suggestion belong in the same dustbin of history with Palestinians walking toward the borders of Israel.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:16 AM
June 04, 2011
On the stability of governments

People fortunate enough to live in Anglo-Saxon regimes may be forgiven for assuming that governments are likely to be stable. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have good records, but the blessings were generally not passed on to other places they governed. Except for Israel and India, none of the countries let go after World War II by Britain or the United States can claim stable and reliable governments.

It's Saturday, and reports from Syria are that the after-Mosque demonstrations on Friday produced the highest number of killings since they began three months ago. Later reports usually are that participants exaggerated the carnage, but cell phone videos continue to be unpleasant.

After the killings come the funerals. One does not have to be a great prophet to expect another round of violence as crowds carry the bodies through the streets.

In Yemen there was shelling of the compound where the president was seeking shelter along with subordinates and loyal troops. Reports are that the president suffered injuries, while people close to him did worse.

The Europeans attacking the forces of Muammar Qaddafi are escalating their firepower, while saying they are trying to minimize collateral damage. However, they may be no nearer to resolving whatever is happening there.

Crowds in Cairo are unhappy with the continuing interim. Some are shouting for Mubarak's head, and some for further change in the people claiming temporary authority. Planes and ships have not returned with the tourists that are the major input to the country's economy, so things may get worse before they get better.

What we are seeing is the problem of dictatorships without an institutionalized way of transferring power.

They live by the sword and die by the sword.

Mubarak was not among the bloodiest, but he may end badly. He planned to make his son the successor, but that was not well received by other power holders. Unrest spread quickly from Tunisia. Neither Mubarak nor his family felt a need to flee toward the places where they had stored the family fortune. Now they are in the hands of others, and facing a trial not likely to be conducted by rules that prevail in law-abiding countries.

Experts are speculating about the number of weeks, months, or days until something similar happens to Bashar al-Assad and his lovely wife.

Assad's father seized power in a coup, and it would be wise to bet against the family dynasty going beyond its second generation.

That was also the time frame enjoyed by the regime of the late Shah of Iran, whose father established what was called a dynasty. The son of the Shah, and grandson of the dynasty's founder, is a writer about Iran rather than a player in its politics. His younger brother committed suicide earlier this year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reza_Pahlavi

Some regimes appear likely to endure forever, and then collapse. Not too long after the time memorialized by Fiddler on the Roof ("May God bless and keep the Czar far away from us") there came the revolution, or perhaps two revolutions before a Communist regime lasted for 70 years. Things have stabilized somewhat in Russia since the 1990s, but personal security and the rule of law are not assured. Elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, conditions are no better.

Disorderly change breeds disorderly change. France is a place of place high art, culture, and cuisine in the midst of European civilization, but has had two Empires and five Republics since 1789. The Fifth Republic has lasted more than twice as long as the Fourth, but has yet to achieve the 70 years of the Third.

Latin America has its ups and downs. Argentina, Barzil, and Chile are better than in the past, but their most recent bad times were not so long ago. Most Central America republics are not credible. Among the large countries, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela are not as good as they were.

Greece and Portugal may require a good deal of foreign aid to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Stability along with democracy and the rule of law are not traits that are often achieved in a short period of time.

Admirable exceptions include Germany and Japan, stable and orderly since World War II. Israel shows no signs of crumbling after 63 difficult years. Post-war Italian politics have been noisome, but without a major change in regime. Spain's economy is rocky, but its politics remain decent. China's stability and economic growth are remarkable in light of its history. The country's power assures tolerance in the rest of the world for shortcomings as defined by Western European and North American standards.

All this is another way of saying that it is too early to begin the applause for what optimists are calling "Arab Spring." Islam is the great hurdle on the road to something other than autocracy. Say what you will about equal opportunity and providing a decent chance for the advocates of change. The liberal voices associated with Islam are more unusual than typical.

Is this the time for Israelis to be generous with respect to concessions, in the hope that Palestinians and other neighbors will make those gestures worth while?

Only if you are hopeful in the extreme, or live far enough away to feel safe from the consequences.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:15 AM
June 01, 2011
What's going on here?

This is a story still developing, with potential to harm or at least to intrigue. It concerns Sami Ofer, one of the world's richest men, and perhaps the richest of Israel, whose family businesses involve shipping, banking, chemicals, and refining. There are also addresses for the family and its businesses in Britain and Monaco, as well as an honorary knighthood from Britain and awards from Israeli institutions for major donations.

Sami is close to 90 and often photographed in the presence of the equally prominent of other businesses and government. He and the family have a firm place among the tycoons of Israel, with control over a sizable share of the economy, and close ties to officials. Ranking personnel have found positions as managers or consultants with Ofer companies after retiring from government.

While it is common to accuse the Ofers of using their wealth to obtain government influence in order to acquire greater wealth, the international ties of the company may also serve the government. Just how is a matter of hint and speculation, in the manner portrayed by friends in films like Exodus and Entebbe, or by enemies who propagate The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The Ofer family and its businesses rocketed to the headlines with news that the United States State Department accused them of violating sanctions against Iran.

By one view, someone was seeking to embarrass Prime Minister Netanyahu on account of his response to President Obama's mention of 1967 boundaries. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/world/middleeast/27israel.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=ofer&st=cse

The initial story dealt with the sale of an oil tanker, and the initial response of the Ofers was that may have been done by a subsidiary without the knowledge of the family or companies ostensibly in control of the subsidiary.

It did not take long for reporters to uncover at least 13 visits to Iranian ports by tankers associated with Ofer companies.

Of greater importance than the violation of sanctions declared by the United Nations Security Council is the image of an Israeli company doing business with the country intent on destroying Israel, against the background of reports about the Israeli Air Force preparing an attack against Iranian nuclear installations, and the prominence of Israeli officials demanding that the international community strengthen the sanctions against Iran.

Stage two of comments by people speaking for Ofer (stage one being it was a subsidy acting without our knowledge) was that official Israeli organs were aware of the dealings and had approved.

This produced a quick denial by the Prime Minister. No one in his office knew about Offer's dealings with Iran, and no one approved them. http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=222917

Iranians were no less quick to distance themselves from the news. For them, the image of dealing with a Zionist entity was just as unthinkable as an Israeli company dealing with a Holocaust denier and promoter of Israel's destruction.

Complicating the story was a recently retired head of a major security organ, who indicated amorphously that the story was more complicated than reported by the media. .

Opposition politicians smell a scandal likely to get worse. They are demanding a parliamentary investigation, or calling for the government's resignation even before an inquiry begins. The Attorney General and the Finance Ministry are looking into the matter. Law school academics have spoken about the possibilities of charges against an Ofer company for violating UN sanctions, or an Israeli law against trading with the enemy. http://www.haaretz.com/themarker/attorney-general-to-investigate-israeli-company-s-iran-dealings-1.365057 http://finance.walla.co.il/?w=/3/1828696

The Ha'aretz cartoon of June 1 portrays Sami Ofer as an Elder of Zion, along with his sons, intent on countering those ships sent toward Gaza. "We must send a flotilla to break the blockade."

Every few hours there is another detail reported, some presented as facts, and some as interpretation, attributed to unidentified sources, to nongovernmental commentators, or in one juicy case to a blogger.

Among the possibilities--
•Sanctions are often porous.
•Large companies look after themselves without reference to the citizenship or loyalties of individuals who control them.
•They employ subsidiaries, as well as subsidiaries of subsidiaries and other connections that can mask dealings not meant to be, or not meant to be observed.
•International shipping and the spot markets for oil and gasoline are complicated by leases, agents, and ship registrations in third world countries without supervision, all of which amounts to responsibilities that are diffuse in the extreme.
•Governments also fudge. During the many years of Arab boycotts against Israel and companies doing business with Israel there were Israeli sales to countries prominent among leaders of the boycott.
•Iran is a complex society with numerous ethnic and religious groups, and individuals with influence who do not identify with the Islamic regime. Israelis doing business under the table--perhaps with the tacit understanding of Israeli officials--may help to maintain ties that someday may prove useful.
•Ships in port loading or unloading oil or gasoline may also drop off or pick up individuals sent to maintain contacts with Iranians, to carry out intelligence or other activities.

What's going on?

Underhanded profiting, heroic service to Israel, or the lack of control over far flung businesses with weak links between the parts, whose 90 year old tycoon does not know what his partners and employees are doing?

Along with an ongoing tit for tat between the American State Department and the Israeli Prime Minister.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:02 AM