November 30, 2012
Politics and coping

Politics is a trait of advanced civilization. It allows dispute on the way to voting or some other way of deciding. Politics aspires to nonviolent resolutions of disagreements about who should be a leader, or what should be public policy.

Politics is not always pretty or admirable. Sometimes it reaches a level of the ridiculous that makes it entertaining in the mode of a Charlie Chaplin film. Politics is difficult and demanding. It is challenging to stand before a diverse population and claim the right to lead. Those who aspire to hold office may not tell all the truth, and may say things that are not true. We overlook such lapses in the morality applicable to a seminar or a living room, for a context in which politicians seek to include people with competing interests under their tent.

Democracy is better than the alternatives, but politics also moderates problems in autocratic regimes. Wise kings and dictators listen to advisers. Compromise is likely to be better in the long run than enlarging one's list of enemies by killing or persecuting the opposition.

If politics is my religion, coping is the essence of my Supreme Being. It is often the problems without solution that find their way to the top of governmental agendas. It may be possible to imagine solutions, but they are not practical due to limits in technology, economic resources, or the intensity of political opposition likely to remain as far into the future as it is possible to see. A politician should never say "never," but an inability to find a solution heightens the value of coping.

Coping involves lowering expectations, dealing with a problem that can't be solved by providing assistance to those who suffer, not inflaming passions by extreme measures, delaying decision, or promising more than can actually be delivered in the hope of reducing demands for "action now." Don't make things worse is the principal theme in my hymnal.

Before accusing me of blasphemy, check out these references in the Hebrew Bible showing that God also coped. He instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh that he only wanted to lead the Hebrews to the desert for an occasion of prayer (Exodus 9-10). Later He told Moses to detour around a powerful tribe on his way through the desert (Exodus 13:17). God also wagered with the Devil about Job, and then compensated Job with additional children in the final chapter (42), without bringing back to life the children killed in the first chapter.

The Pope may claim infallibility, but the Jews' God should not claim omnipotence.

Two events on Israel's agenda provoke these lofty thoughts about politics and coping. One is the run up to the election scheduled for January 22nd, and the second is the Palestine's achievement of some degree of statehood in the UN General Assembly.

Election campaigns, especially the preliminary stages, are more likely to entertain than to solve anything. A wide range of candidates elevate themselves, get exposure and then embarrassment as the competition shows them to be unworthy of reaching a position of leadership. Competing to obtain a party's nomination or victory in a final election are admirable but risky exercises. Good government may require turnover. Israelis who began a campaign to push 89 year old Shimon Peres to head a political party (for the nth time in a long career), went beyond even his competitive juices. Ego is essential, but so is a thick skin.

Noam Shalit announced his candidacy for a place on Labor's Knesset ticket, apparently to capitalize on his prominence during several years' efforts to free his son Gilad from captivity in Gaza. Noam Shalit was an impressive and effective figurehead for a campaign staffed by public relations professionals. However, he announced political intentions long before the campaign for the next Knesset got underway, and sunk into the flood of other aspirants and the efforts of sitting MK's to obtain another term.

Tsipi Livni's governmental and political experience dwarfs that of Noam Shalit, but she invited the virtually unanimous ridicule of the country's political commentators by the manner in which she dithered and delayed announcing her candidacy, came close to uniting with other old campaigners tarnished by convictions for criminal offenses, and then became the third head of a party claiming to represent the center or center-left of the political spectrum, competing with admirable platitudes as ways to solve a host of difficult problems. Livni, calling her new party "The Movement led by Tsipi Livni," Yair Lapid, calling his "There is a future," and Shelli Yehimovich the head of the Labor Party sought to unite their forces, but none of them would agree to become #2 on someone else's list.

One poll show those three parties dividing votes worth 33 Knesset seats, Likud our Home winning 39 seats and its likely coalition partners on the right winning another 24. Another poll shows 33 percent favoring Netanyahu as Prime Minister, and only 12, 7 and 4 percents favoring Yehimovich, Livni and Lapid, respectively. Yehimovich and Lapid, but not Livni, have indicated an openness to coalesce with Netanyahu.

Livni's speech announcing the formation of her new party was impressive enough to earn her a future as a political commentator with a distinguished media outlet or an honorary professorship at a leading university. However, her record frittering away the leadership of the country's largest party in 2009 by refusing to tarnish her purity by coalescing with objectionable partners marked her as unsuitable for the messy give and take that is inherent in politics.

Ehud Olmert has also dithered, and may continue doing so up until the final date for enrolling parties and fixing their lists of candidates. Current signs are that he and Tsipi could not agree on a union, and he has gone back as a senior advisor to Kadima, his own and Tsipi's former party which just about everyone else has abandoned, and may fall below the minimum number of votes to re-enter the Knesset.

The other show prominent in our political theater is the Palestinians' achievement of statehood via the UN General Assembly.

Israel lost its campaign, along with the United States, to sidetrack the Palestinian initiative, or to persuade leading countries to oppose the move or at least to abstain, on the ground that statehood for Palestinians should be achievable only via negotiations with Israel. We are hearing that European governments decided to support the Palestinians, at least partly to endorse the moderate leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas should be admired by a frequent assertions that the way forward is via politics and not by violence. His UN gambit is political, but it will obtain the cheap, quick, and superficial award of something less than a recognized state instead of negotiating for the best deal achievable with Israel. In this, Abbas is repeating his own failure as a negotiator with former Prime Minister Olmert, and Yassir Arafat's failure with the combination of Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President Bill Clinton. Signs are that the present government of Prime Minister Netanyahu would not offer a deal as good as Olmert or Barak-Clinton, and Abbas took the easy road of declaring pompous and unattainable preconditions as his price of negotiating.

Palestinians began celebrating victory hours before the UN vote. Abbas has been honored by political leaders of many countries as the great hope of Palestine and the two-state solution.

The fourth anniversary of when Abbas' presidential term's expiration (January 2009) will pass without congratulations or celebrations. The Palestinians of the West Bank have continued with Abbas without benefit of an election. The Palestinians of Gaza view Hamas member, Aziz Duwaik, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as President pending an election.

Palestine represents the best example of an unsolved problem that has been on Israel's agenda since the beginning. Prominent among Israel's recent coping techniques is to deal with periodic upticks in terror without the military onslaught that would be possible, but would cause Israel problems with Western democracies and might arouse powerful Muslim countries to threaten serious action.

Israel does as much propping up of Abbas' regime as any country. It has announced that it will not punish it for the initiative in the UN, and it has paid the most recent amount of taxes it collects on goods passing through its ports for Palestine, without reducing the amount for the substantial sums owed to Israel for electricity. Palestine's electric bill is somewhere around $200 million. Israel's continuing with the juice without getting the money makes it one of Palestine's major sources of financial assistance. Israel is also trying a amorphous solution for the problem of Gaza (you be quiet and we'll be quiet). While it may seem to be insulting Abbas by entering his cities to make arrests, the people it nabs are disproportionately his political enemies.

Coping may not be pretty or elegant, but its test is holding off something worse. Coping does not assure political bliss, but its practitioners realize that there is no such thing. Essential to coping is knowing what is appropriate today, trying not to do something that will spoil tomorrow, and recognizing that the distant future is beyond one's capacity to predict or control.

Coping may entail arguments about what can or cannot be solved in the near future by forceful action that may be dangerous.

Currently, that seems to be what is going on in connection with Iran's nuclear program.

Uncertainty is the fate of observers expecting that policymakers are working in secret, trying to decide about an awesome problem that may be insoluble.


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 12:55 AM
November 27, 2012
Israel is not a colonial outpost and it is not South Africa

Palestine is poised to receive recognition as a state by the United Nations General Assembly. Someone has labeled this as its arrival to the level of a "virtual state" without membership in the United Nations or recognition as a state by the two governments most important, i.e., Israel and the United States. Its new status may allow Palestine to trouble Israel by bringing cases to international courts, but Israel will not be without its own leverage.

Just last week Israeli security forces entered the major cities of the West Bank to arrest Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament. Was that an affront to Palestine of the kind likely to recur, or Israel's cooperation with the Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas, which is likely to recur in order to limit the power of Hamas? We must ask questions like that--which we cannot answer with certainty--in order to understand events in this region of amorphous realities.

Those who will applaud Palestine's elevation in status may also be joining Hamas' claims of victory in the most recent mini-war with Gaza.


Not only was Hamas' victory the kind that cannot be repeated without further disastrous results to its population and resources, but the very existence of the Hamas regime in Gaza is one of the principal conditions that will keep the idea of a Palestinian state at the level of virtuality. Palestine may now be more likely to appear as a state in computer games, but it will still be less than a truly independent entity in world politics capable of supporting itself economically, with functioning systems of taxation, an independent judiciary, or social services responsive to popular demands. Palestine's president will boast of statehood without mentioning that his term of office expired in January, 2009.

Even with all of the above reservations about the success of Fatah in the United Nations or Hamas on the battlefield with Israel, the two events push us to consider some of the expectations about a Palestine ascending to statehood.

Lest I be mistaken, it's appropriate to indicate at this point that I would welcome a real state--with a disciplined security force and a government responsive to its population, able to support itself with taxes and other fiscal mechanisms along with decent social services--alongside Israel to the east and the southwest. It would be possible to arrange secure ground connections between the West Bank and Gaza, if only the leaders of the two areas could talk with one another without the threat of yet another civil war between them.

The thrust of this note is more in the direction of dismissing any fantasies that Israel is on a cliff, about to tip over into the graveyard of former countries.

The United States Government may be close to a financial cliff. Israel is vibrant economically, politically, and militarily. Palestine, in contrast, may win a majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly, but is heavily dependent on others for financial assistance and the surreptitious supply of arms, and has been on the edge or over the edge of a civil war since the rise of Hamas.

Among the expectations we read about from commentators gleefully confident about Israel's end are those derived from western colonialism and South Africa. The image conveyed is that Israel is an outpost of the West in the Muslim Middle East, and will crumble like the colonial outposts in the 1960s, perhaps in response to economic sanctions as did white South Africa in the 1990s.

However, Israel is not a colonial outpost, but a country with a large Jewish majority that relies on its own military and economy. Nor does it practice anything like the apartheid of South Africa, no matter what Jimmy Carter and others claim.

Algeria was the colony with the most European of populations, but its non-Muslims prior to independence were less than 15 percent; South Africa's white population prior to the out migration that came after the end of apartheid was less than 12 percent; Close to 80 percent of Israel's population is Jewish. Not all "Jews" meet Orthodox rabbinical definitions of being Jewish, but most of those who fail that test identify with the Jews. The latest Statistical Yearbook lists the country's Arab population as 20.5 percent.

Those who imagine that Israel practices anything close to racial segregation should meet my Arab students, colleagues, neighbors, and the friends who share with me the university pool, gym, and no end of political discussions.

South Vietnam fit the image of a propped-up country that fell when its patrons tired of supporting it. Israel receives political, economic, and technological assistance from the United States and Western European countries, but sheds its own blood in national defense. Moreover, its defense industries are among the world's most advanced. It is more appropriate to consider American and European support as helping their governments to keep Israeli security activities modest, than being essential for them.

There are no guarantees about the future. Those who are certain about any drift, trend, or inevitability must wait and see. Beyond a few years, it will be the next generation of leaders and observers who will decide and comment about their present and future. A few years ago Americans were concerned about learning Japanese. Now it is Chinese, but again it is too early to declare the end of the American era and the beginning of Asian hegemony.

It would be an exaggeration to describe Israel's future as "rosy," but "secure" appears appropriate. Not only is there a population tilt the opposite of what it was in the most European of the colonial outposts and in South Africa, but many--perhaps most--Arabs of Israel appear to be better integrated and appreciative of the country's benefits than wanting to become part of Palestine. The Arabs of Jerusalem are less well integrated in Israel by virtue of language and citizenship than Arabs living within Israel's pre-1967 borders, but 35% of Jerusalem Arabs responded to a 2011 survey that they preferred Israeli citizenship to that of a Palestinian state; 30% preferred affiliation with Palestine, and 30% didn't know, or preferred not to answer the question.

The recent Gaza operation may not be the last, but the Hamas regime is much closer to the cliff of extinction than Israel. Moreover, the Netanyahu government--considered right-wing and extreme by detractors--proved itself able to obtain international legitimacy for the start of the operation, and then fit within the frameworks promoted by the United States, European countries and Egypt in bringing it to a close.

The immediate future is likely to include verbal and ceremonial excesses over another declaration of Palestinian statehood. There was already such a declaration by Palestinians in 1988, proclaimed by Yasir Arafat and the Palestine National Council sitting in Tunisia. New York is no closer to the many times declared Palestinian capital of Jerusalem.


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 04:26 AM
November 25, 2012
Where we are

Wars begin with a bang. They may not end with sudden quiet. Sudden quiet is most unlikely when one of the sides is not the disciplined army of a state, but a collection of organizations and gangs, competing with one another, with members intense to show their heroic loyalty to a cause. When the cause has all the drama and emotion of Islam, with patrons claiming theological and political leadership from across the world, the furies are considerable and expectations of quiet should be modest.

We are seeing this process playing itself out in the aftermath to last week's Gaza operation.

The United States and other western nations are also seeing the process in Iraq and Afghanistan. Claims of victory or success in dealing with those places should be viewed with a king-sized grain of salt.

Hamas and its competitors are claiming victory. Some of them fired off a few rockets after the agreed time of the cease fire. Some are asserting that they will rearm, in order to defend Palestine and to prepare for an eventual victory even greater than that of last week.

Lots of Israelis are unhappy. They object to the stopping of the operation before the Gaza problem was solved. Some advocate occupying Gaza. Some object to the benefits granted to Hamas, such as letting Gaza fisherman operate 6 kilometers from shore instead of 3 kilometers previously, and letting farmers work the fields closer to the border with Israel. Israelis from the middle of the country to the south, and further north, are sure that Hamas et al will acquire more powerful rockets, and that they will again be under constant threat of attack. Some object to the lack of a formal agreement that specifies the obligations of Hamas, other organizations, and Israel.

It is not possible to reject any of those concerns as being worthless.

However, total victory and unconditional surrender were justified in World War II, but seldom if ever in previous wars and in none since. Contenders operate with calculations of costs, benefits, and probabilities of achieving aims at costs they are willing to bear. The costs include the lives of their own soldiers and civilians, the expense to their economy, and the costs to their own moralities represented by the lives of soldiers and civilians on the other side. Each have their own rankings of the costs that are more and less important.

We can view Israel's concessions to Hamas, represented by ceasing the destruction, and allowing more extensive fishing and farming, as the incentives to bring Hamas to cease its own aggression, and to impose its discipline on rivals within Gaza.

Experience has shown that it would take a long time to reach a detailed agreement about each side's obligations, and that signed commitments would not be worth much once individuals or gangs feel an itch to kill Jews.. Easier is the Israeli declaration that quiet from Gaza will be matched by quiet from Israel. Nothing more is necessary, or would be more certain of assuring quiet.

Israel has released the 40,000 or so reservists that it enlisted for this operation, and returned regular troops to their training and other activities elsewhere. Many, as before, remain close to Gaza.

It will not be easy for Israel to do another call up in the near future, and to reposition soldiers in preparation for a ground assault. But it will be easy to stop the farming and fishing benefits, and to begin the air assault if the need arises. The goodies granted--with their implications for popular support for the Hamas region--are easy to take back.

Israel has warned Hamas about rearming, and has threatened action if that occurs.

Who knows how much of Hamas' claims of victory and intentions to rearm, and Israel's threats, are empty bluster?

We must rely on the political leadership, along with the army and the various security auxiliaries to ponder the possibilities and decide. For those unhappy with the results to date, and firm in their expectations, there is a national election in less than two months. This week the people who have registered as party members, and paid their nominal dues (equivalent to about $15 a year), can express themselves by voting to rank the candidates for the Knesset in the primaries of Likud and Labor.

Those who want to reoccupy Gaza ought to think again about the consequences and benefits. We've been there and done that, with high continuing costs of soldiers' lives and nothing approaching absolute quiet. The urban congestion of Gaza provides no end of places to hide fighters and munitions, launch rockets toward Israel, and to ambush Israeli soldiers on patrol. The appropriate object is not total control, but an overbalance of threat. Violate the quiet, and you will lose much more than we.

Those who want to rid Gaza of Hamas, or Palestinians, must ask, to where? and with what result? Such fanatics should take another look at the map, and see the potential sources of trouble. The list begins with Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the West Bank, and extends to other countries dominated by Muslims, totalling about one billion people with substantial resources and weapons.

For the political and religious leaderships in those countries, Israel (along with the United States plus other countries of Western Europe) provide the list of heretics and enemies to justify repression at home. We do not like to hear their rants, but we do not expect them to stop. It's part of the atmosphere poisoned by religion and political cultures that have not progressed beyond the Middle Ages.

We regret the ignorance and suffering of the masses in Gaza and other Muslims, and we listen cynically to Americans and others who say that the problem is not Islam and that Arab spring signals the onset of democracy. Such claims may be the politically correct ways of avoiding a world war with Muslims. We may have to accept the blather as lip service, but not as accurate descriptions of reality. We should pity Westerners who actually believe them, just as we pity the Muslim masses convinced by their leaders that they will reach a paradise on earth without Jewish or Christian heretics.


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 12:46 AM
November 23, 2012
Politics in the shadow of war

Israel is currently in the verbally explosive situation of a political campaign that began hours, or perhaps minutes, after the end of a week-long military operation. Politicians, media personalities, and just released reservists are all over the map in their expressions. It is not difficult to chart them according to where they were politically before the operation, now expressing what could be expected from members of one or another party, followers of one or another of the newly ascendant claimants of leading a new party, or one or another faction within an existing party. As I learned long ago in Fenway Park, you can't tell the players without a score card.

It is the height of Israel's primary season. Dues-paying Likud and Labor members will vote early next week to rank the candidates on their party's lists. According to proportional representation on election day January 22nd, each party will send to the Knesset its proportion of the vote, beginning with the candidate ranked highest on its list and going down until it finishes with its share of the Knesset. Currently rankings 1-50 on Likud's list are considered "realistic" (with the lower numbers only "possibles"), with lower rankings having a diminishing chance to become Knesset Members; rankings 1-30 on Labor's list are considered realistic, with both party numbers changing according to each day's opinion polls. Both Likud and Labor have internal factions ranging from moderates to extremists, in the case of Likud to the right of center and in Labor to the left.

Candidates are traveling the country, meeting small and large gatherings in living rooms and community centers, hugging, shaking hands, encouraging supporters and being assertively polite to critics, before rushing off to another session organized by their friends, relatives, supporters, or--in the case of sitting MKs--their parliamentary assistant. The talk, discussion, and news programs on radio and television are providing opportunities to those candidates who succeed in getting air time.

Not to be ignored are other parties. Polls are showing that Jewish Home, under new leadership, is appealing to Likud voters who feel that their party leaders have not been far enough to the right. Tsipi Livni may be coming to the end of her publicly ambivalent pondering and may announce a new party early next week. If so, she is likely to clip some votes from the other new centrist party headed by Yair Lapid, and assure an even dimmer result for her former colleagues and rivals in Kadima, now said to be on the edge of falling below the minimum number of votes required for entering the Knesset.

Ehud Barak's Independence Party has improved its polls as a result of the Gaza operation, and is now predicted to enter the Knesset. Predictions are that the triumvarite of Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman will return as Prime Minister and Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs.

The greatest portions of the political noise are about national defense and the recent operation in Gaza. Most are saying it didn't go far enough in destroying Hamas. Reservists who had spent the week sitting around and training near Gaza, with two killed and several injured by mortars or missles, are saying they wanted to go in and finish the job. Some are more modest, eschew a costly ground operation, but say that the air and artillery bombardment should have gone on until Hamas called "uncle."

Ultra-Orthodox parties are off in their own cluster of voters they can count upon. There is a squabble among the Sephardim led by a Knesset Member who has dared challenge the leadership of SHAS's revered leader, now over 90, still showing some signs of wisdom, but impossible to understand without translations and explanations of what he says by loyal interpreters.

Parties that aspired to gathering votes on their claims of new directions on social policy are suffering under the preoccupation with national defense. Most of them are joining in the easiest and most common themes of criticizing the end game chosen by Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman for Operation Pillar of Cloud.

Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman are united in explaining their accomplishments, and hoping that the flurry of frustration will lessen as January 22nd approaches. They are counting on Hamas to honor the cease fire and impose it on rivals, along with more portrayals of the extensive damage throughout Gaza. They will continue to threaten much greater mayhem if the cease fire does not hold, and claim credit for leading a campaign that was destructive despite the enemy's claims of victory, with a minimum cost in Israeli lives, and to produce an extensive period of quiet for Israel's south and central regions.

Politics being what it is, there is no certainty in any of this. A faction of Hamas or one of its rivals (most likely the Iran-linked Islmaic Jihad) can upset things with rockets or some other violence. Mahmoud Abbas might repair his image of impotence by gaining the recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations General Assembly. That will bring forth demands within Israel to formally annex areas of the West Bank and other steps to punish the Palestinians of the West Bank. Already the American State Department has urged caution about such moves, so we will see once again how Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman work between the temptations of assertiveness and moderation.

For those convinced that Israel has lost the upper hand, its security personnel were rounding up the parliamentarians and other prominent activists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad throughout the West Bank early Friday, doing it in the major cities the Palestinians claim as their own. That level of aggression is not likely to stop even if Abbas wins UN recognition of statehood, then celebrates it with world class parades and other festivities.

Also in the news are shootings by the IDF of Gazans who approached the border with Israel, along with claims that those represent violations of the cease fire.

Even for a politics and policy maven like myself, the noise quickly tires. Fatigue was alrady a problem, given last week's incessant and competitive commentary about the missiles and the activity of the IDF. The claims of primary candidates are slightly different, but not too much so insofar as most of them are saying what Netanyahu et al and the IDF should have done. Positions are clear, simple, and repetitive. It takes only a few minutes to realize what the debates are about, and to tire of the arguments. There is a good classical music station, thankfully free of political discussion. And the greater isolation of my own music collection, or the additional possibility of absolute quiet.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:26 AM
November 22, 2012
Who won?

It's too early to be certain. Recent hours have been without attacks on Israel or Israel attacking. Beyond caution about the violence, it is also not easy to ponder the variety of commentary, much of it hyperbolic.

With all the reservations that are appropriate, the following points are worthy of thought.

Hamas and its allies and supporters are claiming victory. They measure it by damage done to Israeli property, especially the drama of a partly destroyed 7-story apartment building south of Tel Aviv, perhaps 6 Israeli deaths and several hundred injured, and the million Israelis who spent a week close to shelters and the couple of million more who were wary of venturing too far from shelter.

The Sharkanskys spent 10 minutes in what we considered the safest part of our apartment in response to the one time we were in the city during an attack. On both occasions of the sirens sounding in Jerusalem, the missiles didn't reach the city, but landed somewhere south near Gush Etzion and Arab villages.

Israeli commentators are emphasizing the cost to Israel. Few are emphasizing the enormous damage done to Gaza, far out of proportion to what the Gazans did to Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Hamas and its allies dropped one ton of explosives on Israel, while the IDF dropped a thousand tons on Gaza.

No doubt that Israel's response was disproportionate. As it should have been. We will see if it was disproportionate enough to keep Hamas and its allies quiet for an extended period of time.

Netanyahu and his political allies appear to have scored better among their international peers than among Israelis. Some 70 percent of the people answering an instant poll said that they opposed the cease fire. However, Netanyahu and Obama are on the same page, providing one another with praise for restraint and political assistance, respectively.

It may be too early to call the Bibi-Barack alliance a love fest, but it is far difference from what was expected after the Bibi-Romney-Adelson romance earlier this month. The more important test of the new alliance will be Iran, which has been on the shelf during Gaza's week. Signs are that Iran worked hard to start and keep going Israel's problem with Gaza. The cease fire and the rubble in Gaza may render Iran the big loser. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi may be a big winner, receiving praise from Obama and Netanyahu for his work in producing a cease fire, with American aid likely to come. Morsi's efforts appear much more responsible than what was expected when the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Cairo.

Egypt's ascendance and the blow to Iran is the latest event in a competition for Middle Eastern leadership that has been going on for close to three millennia, now heated up by issues of Sunni vs Shia.

Turkey also claims leadership in the Middle East. Its Prime Minister was prominent on the media expressing himself about Israel's aggression in Gaza. Signs are that he was ignored by other parties, and is paying the cost of extremism showed in recent years toward Israel.

Another big loser is the Fatah party and West Bank regime of Mahmoud Abbas. When Hamas is up, Fatah is down.

We'll see what happens next week when Abbas is planning to ask the United Nations for recognition as a state. If he persists and wins that round, he may lose support from Israel and the US. It will take time to see what, if any, will be the practical effects of being a state recognized by the UN but not by Israel or by the US. (Some would put a question mark alongside the issue of the US not recognizing Palestinian "statehood" obtained by a UN vote without negotiating the point with Israel.)

The likelihood is that the chorus singing a "two-state solution" may continue to clog the airways, while the reality will be two non-states, intense rivals, alongside Israel. The United States, Israel, and some others will continue to prop up the Fatah regime in the West Bank, others will do the same for the Hamas regime in Gaza.

The bottom line about who won the week's conflict appears to be something that is not exactly a tied score between Hamas and Israel, but has elements of that, as well as benefits for both parties.

No doubt that Gaza suffered much more damage with more deaths and serious injuries than Israel. A significant number of men who had been Hamas leaders are now enjoying the 72 virgins in Paradise due to Muslim martyrs.

Despite the losses of life and extensive damage, Hamas continued to function during the week of conflict, and succeeded in sending many rockets to Israel. Perhaps most landed in empty fields, and quite a few landed in Gaza. Israel's anti-missile missiles destroyed 85 percent of those likely to hit populated areas. In one case, the debris of destroyed missiles landed on an empty car and destroyed it,

Hamas boasts that its power kept Israel from making a land invasion. Israeli officials claim that they inflicted sufficient damage on Hamas and its allies without risking the lives of its soldiers, and without risking Israel's standing as a moderate defender of its people among Western governments.

Israel suffered, and did not solve the Gaza problem once and for all times. However, no serious Israeli expected a solution, or should have expected it.

The best guess I can make--shared with a number of more renowned commentators, is that the extent of the damage will weigh more seriously with Hamas and other Palestinians than their loud cheers about victory. The model is Lebanon. Israel pounded and killed the assets and people of Hizbollah in 2006. Since then, there has been extensive violation of the agreement against importing arms to Lebanon. Hizbollah could do considerable damage to Israel, but it recognizes what it would suffer in return. Israel's northern border has been quiet since 2006, despite a constant flow of Hizbollah boasts about past and future victories.

Remember the theme of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that prevailed between the US and the USSR during the Cold War. What we have here is something like Mutual Assured Non-Nuclear Destruction. Not exactly. It is tilted heavily in Israel's favor, and Israel also is said to have nuclear weapons. However, the image of MAD has its merits in describing the balance of threat between Israel and Hizbollah, and now likely between Israel and Hamas.

Israel's election remains on schedule. The campaign has begun again after a week of patriotic quiet. Early on Thursday morning I heard blood thirsty Israelis from the south claiming affiliation with Likud saying they will vote against Bibi, and the mayor of Sderot expressing his anger that Hamas was celebrating victory while continuing to send a few rockets toward his city a few hours after the onset of the cease fire.

The leaders of parties with a chance of getting into the Knesset are on record saying various things in recent days. Over the next couple of months they'll stutter their way to claiming wisdom then, now, and in the future. Iran will come back to the headlines, here and elsewhere. It may be a long two months.

For those who celebrate the holiday, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving. And I urge caution about over-eating. Excess food must be considered alongside religious extremism as limiting longevity.


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 03:03 AM
November 21, 2012
Nuances of war and peace

Strenghten Hamas and come close to destroying it.

That, as best as a close outsider can determine, is what Israel is trying to accomplish with its bombardments and its negotiations.

The problems in analysis and accomplishment should be clear.

I'm making these guesses in Jerusalem, within site of the barrier that separates us from Palestinian areas of the West Bank, without access to the people planning the operations and making the difficult decisions, but with nearly 40 years experience with Israeli media, having had close contact with people involved in such things and occasional participation. I trust my guesses about what is happening now, but they are guesses.

Why strengthen Hamas?

To create the most effective government likely to be attained in Gaza. There are 1.5 million people there, Many are intense about their religious fantasies and have connections to governments that supply money, motivation, and munitions. The multiplicity of extremist organizations or gangs is the greatest danger, insofar as any one of them can act in a way to threaten Israelis, and bring about an Israeli retaliation that provokes others to join in the fray. Hamas appears to be the best option of imposing order on the area.

Those who want Israel to push Gazans into Egypt, or into the sea, are not part of this conversation. They are in the same dreamland as Islamic extremists, urging something that is not going to happen.

Why bring Hamas to the point of seeing the possibility of its own destruction, without quite getting there?

The explanation should be more obvious than why to strengthen Hamas.

It is appropriate to kill senior Hamas operatives, whether they call themselves the political or military leadership, and destroy as many of the facilities as feasible throughout Gaza used to store or fire munitions, as well as facilities used by the Hamas administration and the infrastructure that enables all of the above to operate. It is regrettable that many targets are close to or within structures that also house civilians, but that is part of the price that Hamas must pay. The people who look to it for leadership must see enough rubble around them, including their own possessions, acquaintances and family members, to realize that attacking Israel has a price that they do not want to pay again.

It is common among people who claim to be concerned about the Middle East to blather about Israel's disproportionate response, to accuse the Jews of barbarity or--slightly less offensive--being bullies.

That's the point, you self-appointed humanitarians of limited wisdom, some of you close to or over the border of the great sin called anti-Semitism which renders you outside the pale of individuals Israelis will include in the conversation. That some of you are Jews does not keep you from that netherworld of being ignored on account of foolish ideas or a foolish way of expressing yourselves.

The point of unleashing violence is to make it persuasive. To bring those who want to destroy us close to their own destruction, and to actually destroy many of the individuals and their assets. Ideally, Israel will do all of this with the minimum cost of its own military and civilian personnel. Best to do it with air and artillery bombardments, without a ground invasion that will cause greater casualties to Palestinian civilians and to Israeli soldiers.

If there is collateral damage of individuals called innocent, that is regrettable but unavoidable despite all appropriate efforts to avoid it. "Innocents" is a term commonly assigned to women and children, but it is not appropriate for many of the women and not for many of the "children" over the age of whatever it is when they join in the violence.

None of the above argues against Israeli efforts to achieve a cease fire. I perceive no aspiration to solve this problem once and for all times. That is beyond the edge of what is feasible. Israeli officials demand maximum protections for its civilians and soldiers, but also want to maintain membership in the community of civilized nations and all that provides by way of economic, cultural, and political opportunities. Israel is also governed by Jews motivated by the values brought to the world by earlier generations of Jews. Government and military personnel are serious about avoiding unnecessary or undesirable carnage. In all the nuances involved in the mixture of values and purposes, however, the operative goals are to produce as much destruction as necessary in order to delay as much as possible the next time of having to do the undesirable.

Those who see in this uptick of violence as an opportunity to settle the Israel-Palestine dispute should take a more powerful pill and go back to a deeper sleep.

Indications are that strengthening a weakened Hamas will actually work against a larger arrangement, and push the fantasy of a Palestinian state even further from reality.

Nothing is more intense in this neighborhood than the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Remember what may have been 200 deaths in their most recent transfer of power in Gaza.

What is likely to result, for the future that it is possible to imagine with a high degree of realism, is two non-states with high levels of autonomy alongside of Israel. One in the West Bank and one in Gaza, with nasty relations between our Palestinian neighbors. They may hate us more than they hate one another, but it is possible to argue about those degrees of hatred.

Secretary of State Clinton's meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah may be politically correct, but has no utility. He is persona non grata in Gaza.

There are no Israeli settlements in Gaza. There are settlements that complicate things on the other side of the security barrier in the West Bank. The present conflict will reduce whatever sentiments were among Israelis for withdrawing those settlements, with the possible exception of the tiny ones inhabited by our own extremists.

So here we are. Not optimal, but with an economy and services for health, higher education, and other facilities among the best. And better weather--especially in Jerusalem--than almost everyone else.

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 12:32 AM
November 20, 2012
Where we are

We're somewhere in the middle of the intermediate level of warfare routines well known to Israelis. We have been through
•Stage one: occasional violence directed at random against Israeli targets, civilians or soldiers
•Stage two: increased incidence of that violence

Stage three: Break in the Israeli tolerance of inconvenience and occasional casualties that had been met with focused responses, leading to a significant escalation against sources of the violence. In recent years, this kind of serious response has been the protracted air attacks seen since last Wednesday

Now we're in Stage four, when there is feeling out, reports of negotiations and movement toward a cease fire, accompanied by overseas politicians and media expressing a collective oy gevalt, most often directed against casualties caused by Israel under the mantra of "disproportionate response."

Prominent at this point is the continued support of Israel by the Obama administration, standing along with Britain, France, and Germany against a Security Council resolution demanding a cease fire but not mentioning the Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians.

Not surprising are sympathetic portrayals of brave Palestinians in western media. Anyone yearning for an example can start with this item from the New York Times. It describes young Palestinians aspiring to become martyrs, along with parents who feel fear and sorrow, along with pride, about what their children would like to become.

Today, Tuesday, one week into Israel's attacks, the Secretary General of the United Nations will make stops in Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah, urging all to stop the violence. The standard of judging his success will be the efforts of his predecessor, Kofi Anan, once confident of arranging a cease fire in Syria.

For those no longer noticing that civil war, recent estimates have gone above 30,000 deaths. Among the possibilities consistent with this region's traits, is that Syria and Iran worked to provoke last week's escalation in rocket attacks against Israel, in the hopes that an Israeli response would lessen attention and pressures focused on those governments..

Arab and left-leaning western media, along with in-tuned Israeli commentators and politicians are reporting that conversations toward a cease fire have made considerable progress, with only minor and easily-solved gaps between the parties remaining.

Easily-solved? The gaps are significant, representing hyperbolic demands of Hamas, and questions about the willingness of Iran-backed Islamic Jihad to accept whatever agreement is formulated. Also in the air are claims by Hamas spokesmen that it is Israel asking for a cease fire, insofar as Hamas has the upper hand in this interchange. Israeli television personalities report such claims with wide smiles. Who knows how many Palestinians believe them, or view them cynically as the expressions of leaders who receive enormous financial aid from Islamic backers but have not provided shelters for the population.

Among the competing demands are which side will stop the firing first, whether Israel will commit itself not to assassinate fighters when intelligence shows they are close to an attack, whether Israel will stop the sea blockade, whether Egypt and/or some other power will be serious about stopping the flow of munitions to Gaza, and whether Hamas and all its rivals will commit themselves to stop the violence against Israelis.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israeli troops, along with tanks, artillery, and other heavy equipment are camped around the borders of Gaza. The IDF has escalated its targeting, going after apartments used for munitions or the homes of key personnel, at the risks of killing civilians at the same time.

Significant is what Israel is not doing, or--by all indications--even considering. Think of lining up the tanks and artillery along the borders and massed firing at a safe distance from any retaliation. There would be no threat to Israeli soldiers other than the air pollution associated with the gunfire. The carnage and destruction would be catastrophic. It would provoke unlimited verbal warfare from all concerned with international law, but might also be a moral equivalent of what Hamas et al are sending toward Israeli civilians.

Significantly less aggressive than apocalyptic tank and artillery attacks from over the border, but significantly more aggressive than in the early days a week ago are IDF attacks against civilian areas where fighters have sought refuge for themselves and their weapons.

Israel has signalled its intention to attack on the ground if there is no acceptable cease fire agreement within a limited time. Israeli opinion polls show 70-90 percent support for the operation to date, but a close split with respect to continuing the air attacks, invasion by ground troops and tanks, or continued efforts toward a cease fire.

Until last Wednesday Israel was in the midst of an election campaign, with voting scheduled for January 22. There are earlier deadlines for submitting the lists of each party's candidates that may prove impractical, and cause a change in the dates. Current signs are that the Gaza operation has boosted the standing of Netanyahu and Likud.

No doubt that Israel's response is disproportionate, but that is the point of successful warfare. Among Israel's advantages are mechanisms of a responsive state to prepare the population for its protection, including requirements for including shelters in all construction built since the 1960s. The Iron Dome anti-missile system has proved capable of identifying incoming missiles heading for populated areas and intercepting more than 70 percent of them. So far there have been three Israeli deaths against more than 100 Palestinian.

Depending on what happens in the continuing conversations about cease fire, and Israeli deliberations about escalation, those numbers will increase, but the proportions are not likely to favor Palestinians.

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 02:57 AM
November 18, 2012
A higher education in civilized warfare

Listening to Israeli radio and television provides an advanced education in the military and political possibilities being considered in the midst of an operation. Invasion on the ground, more air strikes, increasing probability of civilian casualties as the IAF goes beyond the easy targets and into the neighborhoods where munitions are stored and fired from a setting where those firing them are counting on civilian casualties as useful propaganda.

The propaganda is working, insofar as the news of the carnage appears in prominent international media. There it competes with thousands of rockets that have been fired intentionally toward Israeli civilians.

Israel's commentators compete in their projections. While some see only pressure coming from the United States and Europe to end the bloodshed, others see justification for costly attacks against munitions and the leaders of the violence located in crowded neighborhoods.

While some are certain in predicting a cease fire within hours or days, others talk about the coming entry of tanks and ground troops, with most of the fighting to be done by youngsters doing their basic service, supported by the 40,000 reservists already called, with an additional call-up of 35,000 approved by the government.

Israel aspires to legalized warfare, with lawyers of the IDF along with those of the government deciding on what targets are appropriate and what are off limits. Difficult are the cases where the other side stores and fires its missiles from civilian areas, including the upper and middle floors of apartment houses. As fighting intensifies, the weight of military justification and judgement carries the disputes against legal advisers who work in the murky domain of international law.

No one expects a solution. The object is an extended period of relative quiet. Many would settle for only a rocket or two per day. Others are more demanding. Not likely that an agreement with Hamas would be honored over time by the variety of groups outside of Hamas, and not by all the groups within Hamas.

Israel's problem is the same as that faced by the United States and others having to deal with the region from Libya eastward toward Pakistan and south to Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan. The enemy is the slippery stuff of competing gangs, each operating with its view of religious justification led by its own theologians and charismatic preachers and self-appointed generals.

How to make an agreement with something that lacks the discipline of a state? Yet has wealthy and sophisticated states supplying munitions, training, money, and religious incentive. That's Iran. It used to be Syria as well, but that evil empire is currently suffering the problem that it promoted elsewhere. A multitude of gangs, without a central leadership, but with supplies from various countries that prefer chaos over the strong country that Syria used to be. Syria's problem in the Middle East is that the Alewite regime is an outsider, not proper enough in the framework of Islam held sacred by those who claim greater ethnic and theological purity.

Israel is in the unenviable situation of being even more of an outsider than Syrian Alewites. It's a finger in the eye of those who see the Middle East as Allah-decreed Muslim, including the Iberian peninsula and the Balkans north to Vienna. What had once been Muslim must again become Muslim, on the way to making other regions Muslim.

Say again that the problem is not Islam. Believe it, as long as you continue to support a Crusade that dwarfs anything from the 11th and 12th centuries.

Islam provides the religious intensity, but no less problematic is the multiplicity of perspectives, groups, gangs, and inspired leaders claiming greater insights, truth, and other justifications than their rivals. It may be easy to eliminate one leader, or persuade one gang to desist, but there are hordes of others. Americans who think that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a historic event must think some more. Volunteers stream from place to place throughout the region, and come as well from native born Americans and Europeans, not from Muslim families, who enter the struggle with the intense certainty of the newly converted.

Where it is impossible to solve, it is possible to cope. It is not easy, partly because it comes without the feeling of being able to end the carnage once and for all. It is possible to destroy a great deal, kill key individuals, and count on upping the costs and the popular pressure from the Muslim masses on their leaders to stop the warfare, at least for a while, until the next aspiring Mahdi recruits enough support for another round.

The key is that entire populations are not intense participants, but realize who profits and who suffers from the continued conflict. Gaza has no sirens warning of approaching mayhem, and no shelters built for the people. Leaders find refuge deep under a hospital not likely to be attacked by Israelis.

Outsiders can help with the coping mechanisms available, as in the case of American aid--along with Jordanians--training Palestinian security personnel for service in the West Bank. It's not perfect, with the problems measured by the personnel who depart from their training to kill Israeli civilians. In providing greater security for both Palestinians and Israelis, however, it demonstrates the imperfect arrangements, short of the ideal, that are worth the effort.

What we have seen so far in the present Israeli operation represents another mode of coping. It will not end the violence. There are too many elements, each with their outside patrons, who compete with their hatred of Israel as well with their efforts to frustrate whatever political arrangements their rivals might be tempted to accept. No one is sure about the continuation or escalation of this operation, or the ongoing efforts to bring it to an end, Only the innocents expect anything approaching "peace,." and they have minuscule support in a country that has been through too many of these episodes to be persuaded by fantasies, Realities being what they are, the most to be expected is a limited time of limited quiet, until the incidence of daily rockets or other violence produces the next breaking point in Israel's tolerance.


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 08:14 PM
November 17, 2012
Not the first time, nor likely to be the last

Wednesday was time for another trip to the Galilee. Weather forecast was good. There would be some warm and dry days after early winter rain, and the expectation was for more days of quiet from the south and not much to worry about--for us--from Syria.

We had a good drive, alone most of the time on the road through the Jordan Valley, then Tiberius and onto our favorite Kibbutz guest house..

The holiday from tension lasted until we turned on the car radio while driving to dinner in Rosh Pina.

Bibi was showing that he could do more than roar.

The naming of an operation indicated a significant escalation. It was not a pinpointed assassination, no matter how important the man sent to meet the virgins promised to Islamic martyrs. Giving the operation a name indicates that it is mid-way in the hierarchy of military seriousness. Calling something a war is of the highest seriousness, and not giving an operation a name is the sign of least seriousness.

The name of the operation, "Pillar of cloud," (עמוד ענן) comes from the 13th chapter of Exodus.

"By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night (13:21)"

An earlier comment by Benny Begin, that the violence had passed, may have been planted disinformation. Begin is the son of . . . , a minister in the Netanyahu government and widely viewed as one of Israel's most thoughtful politicians. His comment about a lull was one of the items that convinced Israeli commentators, and maybe Hamas activists, that the wave of violence was over.

The IDF has warned Gazans living near weapons to leave those locations. In congested Gaza, with numerous stockpiles of weapons and other targets, the people don't have many places to hide. Their leaders are deep under the main Gaza hospital, confident that Israel will not target that building.

The IDF has moved troops and heavy equipment close to Gaza, and has begun a call-up of 75,000 reserves. During our weekend on the roads, we saw tank-carriers headed south, and empty carriers going in the other direction, seemingly on the way to take another load toward Gaza.

As in previous wars and operations, there are reports of individuals who have not received orders showing up at the assembling points and asking to serve.

Listening to the radio periodically during our time in the Galilee, we heard the routines associated with a serious military operation. The popular news-talk-music station (Reshet Bet) provided constant coverage of events, interviews with citizens from southern regions expressing their fatigue and that of their families in the face of repeated waves of rocket attacks, and saying they are willing to comply with security restrictions and otherwise support the government now that the IDF--with which they closely identify--has finally been given the go-ahead to end the absurd situation of being dependent on the timing of Hamas as to when to fight and when to call a cease fire. Politicians have also been supportive, with those of the center and right more explicit in calling for continuation until Hamas is destroyed, or at least sufficiently shocked to assure quiet for an extensive period. Politicians and commentators of the left are saying that the lesson has already been taught, and it is time for Israel to signal its openness to the Egyptians or someone else to negotiate a cease fire.

Whenever there is a localized warning of a missile on the way, the existing conversation stops for a warning to residents of the place at risk.

On the Sabbath one of the radio stations broadcast quiet, except for warnings about where incoming missiles are headed. The Chief Sephardi Rabbi gave religious Jews within the range of missile fire his endorsement of tuning in to the station for the duration of the Sabbath.

We sought to escape the constant radio chatter in the alleys of Sefad, a path along the upper Jordan, a historic site on the Golan, and the Hula Nature Reserve where we thought about the cormorants, pelicans, turtles, muskrats, and fish in the quiet of a light wind and clear sky. We heard artillery, and asked ourselves if it came from training exercises of the IDF on the empty acres of the Golan, or if it was the sound of the nearby civil war in Syria. News of the likely entry of reserves to the southern fray brought us to talk about our son-in-law Noam, an officer in the IDF reserves, our daughter Tamar, now six months pregnant with their first child, and Noam's younger brother, who already has reported to his reserve unit. Both Noam and his older brother may be involved if things escalate further.

Think of those hurricanes along the east coast of the US, along with the excitement and concern of what might happen.

Still pending is a ground invasion. The enlisting of 75,000 reservists is an expensive undertaking with awesome implications. An extensive land operation will entail substantial losses, with heavy civilian casualties likely from the firepower associated with combat in a congested urban setting. The pictures will not be pretty, either for the families of Israel's soldiers, or for international audiences concerned about Palestinian women and children.

News is that just about everyone who counts is reluctant to see the onset of a ground operation. Some kind of negotiations may have begun. Among what may be the disinformation in the fog of warfare are reports of contacts and denials. Experience indicates that the piles of rubble will produce some months of relative quiet. We are living alongside religious intensity with a barbaric disregard for human life (ours and theirs) that comes with a religious justification.

So far Netanyahu has not blustered about his intentions and successes. That may come, but meanwhile he deserves credit for working the phones and recruiting understanding, and even support for this operation from the heads of prominent governments. They may not like him, but they listen. No one is offering a blank check, and no one here should expect a solution.

The equation at stake includes lives and the risk of international support along with how much quiet will be obtained before the next time.

Call it the arithmetic of civilized warfare.

I have heard from overseas correspondents to the right and the left, accusing Bibi of a foolish escalation, four square in favor of peace, or demanding aggression to the point of a final solution.

We appreciate expressions of concern for our safety.

I concede the right of all to express themselves, while I'll reserve my right to pay most attention to Israelis with experience, and a stake in what happens.

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 08:49 PM
November 14, 2012

Bibi isn't what he sounds like.

He is a fascinating mixture of the distasteful and admirable, a politician who remains on top of a contentious and highly competitive heap despite promising much more than he has delivered.

What follows is not an endorsement, but an exploration of how his various traits fit with what is essentially political, as well as appearing undesirable and praiseworthy.

In both the case of Iran and the most recent dust-up with Gaza, we see a politician whose nuclear weapon is his tongue. He speaks with great toughness and some eloquence in both Hebrew and English. His accomplishments and commitments are at the front and center of his perorations. There is no modesty or shyness in his public persona. Yet he acts deliberately. Critics liken him to a mouse who knows only how to roar.

His pronouncements have gotten him into trouble with Barack Obama and the heads of important European governments. Netanyahu's public appearances with them demonstrate courtesy and mutual praise (they are all politicians wanting to seem accommodating to many voters), but the comments about Netanyahu among the leaders of other nations--some of them picked up on microphones that should not have been open--indicate something between bare tolerance and loathing whenever it is necessary to communicate with Israel's leader.

His caution appears in what he does not do, and how he prepares for what he does not do.

An experience in Netanyahu's first term as Prime Minister may have contributed to his timidity. He ordered the opening of a tunnel alongside the Western Wall. Palestinian hypoerbole described it as a threat to their mosques, and produced several days of rioting that caused the deaths of Jews as well as Arabs.

For some time now he has been threatening to unleash the Israeli Air Force against Iran's nuclear facilities. Either he has listened to the public comments--presumably reflecting what he has heard in private--from other heads of state as well as from Israelis with military experience urging him to avoid acting alone, or acting in advance of giving sanctions and political pressures more time to do their work, or he has had no intention of acting. His bluster may be directed at pushing other governments to act--with greater sanctions or something else--in a case where the heads of those governments might not be certain whether or not Netanyahu would actually act alone.

Again in the most recent days, he has joined with other Israeli politicians in threatening mayhem in Gaza in response to more than 100 rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The Air Force has acted, but not in any proportion to the Prime Minister's verbiage. It has not gone beyond attacking sites from which missiles have been launched. What has occurred are extensive discussions within the top circles of the IDF and between military commanders, the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister. Actual operations have fallen far short of the demands made by local government personnel in the areas exposed to the missiles and the expectations pronounced by a range of media commentators who specialize in military affairs. Pressure comes from a million Israelis told to remain within 15 seconds of a secure facility, and industrialists who have located near Gaza in response to government subsidies, but cannot function when their workers stay home with the kids, or take their families to refuge somewhere north.

Commentators generally note that Israel has passed through another wave of rockets without doing great damage to Gaza or causing an escalation costly to Israel in property damage, casualties, and international condemnation. Quiet has said to return to the south, even though three rockets arrived in what was called a quiet day. Netanyahu and his government colleagues continue to speak of imposing a heavy cost on Gaza, but they say it will come at Israel's choice of targets and timing. Between the lines one can hear them saying that it won't come before another uptick in the rocket attacks, and maybe not then if the Egyptians or someone else manages to arrange a cease fire after a few days of rocket fire and a minimum number of Israeli casualties.

Netanyahu has not limited his lion-like roars and mouse-like actions to the realm of national defense. He frequently claims to have dealt heroically with the national economy. While serving as Finance Minister 2003-05 in Ariel Sharon's government he worked to privatize concerns that had been run by government officials with a pronounced tilt toward jobs for the party faithful, and to reduce the inflated family allowances that benefited large Haredi families. As Prime Minister, however, he coalesced with the Haredi parties and refrained from pressing their voters to enter the workforce or to serve in the military, despite promising to spread such burdens equally among all sectors of society.

Even too much for Netanyahu may have been an introduction which he later said was arranged by overly enthusiastic aides. It came at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of a forest fire that caused 44 deaths. The Prime Minister claimed to have dealt with the disaster by deciding to rent a Boeing 747 fire fighting plane, which critics say cost a great deal and was too cumbersome to be effective. The announcer who introduced Netanyahu at the memorial ceremony later claimed that he had tried to tone down the verbiage, which was almost as incendiary as the fire.

"The memorial site was created at the initiative of Prime Minister Mr Benyamin Netanyahu. The memorial was approved and created by the government and the man who stands at its head, Mr Benyamin Netanyahu. I want to invite to the podium the man who was the first to recognize the extent of the disaster, who brought help from throughout Israel and the world to deal with the fire, and since has done everything to care for the families who lost their loved ones: His Honor, Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Benyamin Netanyahu."

One should be wary in criticizing Netanyahu for his style. It is extreme enough in its bombast and self-centeredness to arouse the ridicule of Israelis as well as others, but it fits within the realm of political pressure that moves only modestly and after considerable consultation into the realm of action (including violence for the sake of national defense). Netanyahu may be fearful of criticism, as claimed by his critics, but that is a way to stay close to the center of political consensus.

Domestic and overseas critics accuse Netanyahu of duplicity. Key to the charge is his expression of support for a two-state solution and an expressed openness to negotiations with Palestinians, but at the same time supporting settlement expansion likely to frustrate any chance of the Palestinians coming to the table.

Netanyahu is not the only politician accused of duplicity. Speaking ambiguously or differently to various constituencies is an essential part of a profession that is meant to serve a wide and demanding population. Netanyahu's constituency includes settlers as well as Israelis and others wanting to reach an accord with the Palestinians. Moreover, the Palestinians' constituency extends to violent extremists, as well as those called moderates who cleave to what many Israelis cannot accept, such as 1967 borders, a capital in Jerusalem, some resolution for the refugees of 1948 and their descendants.

If the Palestinians ever get their moderate and violent factions together, Israeli leaders--even Netanyahu and those like him--may concede some of the demands currently described as unacceptable. They may find room in Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital, and be willing to hive off some of the Arab neighborhoods that Jews avoid in order not to fall victim to yet another attempted lynching by residents. At present, however, Netanyahu holds to a bargaining position that includes "no division of Jerusalem" which has considerable support among his voters, at least as the starting point of negotiations.

The Prime Minister's comments during the lull (i.e. not complete quiet, but a minimum number of daily rockets coming from Gaza) is to threaten something massive in the event that the quiet does not continue. Critics, especially from the south, express their doubts. On the other hand, he may be angling for international legitimacy for a more severe response next time, via his moderate approach to this wave of rocket attacks, and he may be marshaling whatever international credibility he has for the larger issue of Iran. Who really knows what is behind the comments, actions, and feints of a politician?

Persuasion is the essence of democratic politics. While Netanyahu emphasizes and exaggerates his skill as a persuader, he might also be able to take credit as a persuaded, even if he cannot admit to being led by someone else.

Although Netanyahu's bombast and slipperiness cause mass discomfort, there are few who deny his skill as a politician. Many may not like the partners he accepts in his coalition and the goodies he provides to keep them happy, but political longevity and standing in the polls leading up to the next election are tests of something.


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 01:43 AM
November 12, 2012
We've been here before

My correspondents on the East Coast of the United States may view this note as a parallel to waiting for Sandy as she moved slowly towards home. It is the feeling I recall from my youth in Fall River, wondering every so many years if a hurricane said to be heading our way would actually take some of our trees and part of our roof.

What I'm talking about is the looming possibility of a severe Israeli response to the most recent wave of rocket attacks from Gaza. Like a hurricane still somewhere in the Atlantic, but following a course that might reach home, it appears that such an attack is more than a possibility, perhaps a probability, but not a certainty.

Something close to 100 rockets have been fired toward Israeli civilians since the most recent weekend. Several Israelis have been been treated in hospital for physical injures, and many more for shock and elevated tension. Schools have been closed, and more than one million people kept with 15 seconds of reaching a place of security in response to warning sirens. So far there have been no Israeli deaths. A number of homes and businesses have been damaged. Anti-missile batteries have succeeded in identifying incoming missiles heading for heavily populated areas, and destroying them in flight.

The IDF has responded with limited responses on identifiable targets. Perhaps 10 Palestinians have died and several dozen injured, but those casualties have spurred further attacks rather than ending them. Off and on we've heard reports of cease-fires negotiated by Egyptian officials, then reports that one or another Gazan faction expressed its dissatisfaction with Egyptian efforts by another barrage of rockets.

Politicians are making the rounds of the country to improve their chances of getting a high ranking on party lists in primary elections or committee selections in advance of January's national election, and they are competing with apocalyptic descriptions of what the IDF must do to stop the attacks. Local government officials from the border with Gaza onward to Ashkelon and Beer Sheva are in the media on an hourly basis, describing the suffering of their residents and demanding a firm response. The front page of Monday's Yedioth Aharonoth is typical of the coverage and commentary. The most prominent headline reads "Gaza trap." Op-ed pieces that begin on page one are:
•"Operation on the way"
•"How to reach kindergarten safely"
•"Hit hard and quickly"
•"There will be someone to talk to" (Dealing with Israel's capacity to threaten Hamas with its destruction if it does not reign in smaller and more extreme groups.)
•"Not only power" (Dealing with the need to build international legitimacy for a severe Israeli attack.)

An inside page of the newspaper reports the expressions of various party heads
• From SHAS: "Israel must regain the credibility of its threats"
•From Labor: "Create pressure"
•From Jewish Home (the new National Religious Party) "A powerful attack"
•From There is a Future (Yair Lapid0: "To renew targeted assassinations"
•From Kadima: "Hurt the leaders"
•From Meritz: "Arrange cease fire"

Among the other proposals are cutting off the substantial portion of Gaza's electricity that comes from Israel; destroying the limited generating resources in Gaza (likely to bring forth denunciations from the European governments that financed those facilities); and bringing down the upscale apartment blocs inhabited by Gaza's political and economic elites.

The heads of the IDF are consulting among themselves and with the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. Reports are that they are assessing the situation and pondering appropriate responses. The Prime Minister has been contacting other governments to explain that Israel's patience has reached its limit.

For those of my correspondents who think about warfare as something heroic, to be done by other people far from them, or by the children of those other people far away, it would be appropriate to consider a number of the constraints facing Israel.

The friends of Israel's government, including leaders of the United States, Germany, Britain, and France, have limited tolerance for Israeli operations on the order of what happened in Gaza in 2009. That produced more than a thousand Palestinian deaths compared with about ten Israeli deaths. That operation came response to a heavy wave of rocket attacks, and produced a period of quiet that lasted for about a year.

Another constraint comes from Gaza itself. Hamas and other factions have acquired missiles, so far not used, that could reach Tel Aviv and beyond. Israeli officials do not want to provoke an attack on the country's congested center. The best case analysis is that the IDF knows the location of some long range missiles, and may be able to neutralize them before they are fired. However, they may be stored in the basements of apartment houses, whose residents would pay a heavy price for their destruction, with their misery portrayed on international media.

And unlike 2009, Hosni Mubarak is not the President of Egypt. Barack Obama threw him under the bus of what he perceived to be a democratic revolution. Now the Muslim Brotherhood controls the Egyptian government. That is the parent movement of Hamas, and the current Egyptian President has spoken of his commitment to protecting the Palestinians of Gaza.

It is not be all that clear what such a threat means, but Israel places high regard on keeping its most populous and powerful neighbor in a passive mode.

One wonders if the Iranians are involved in this, hoping that their Gazan allies will keep the Israelis busy, and away from their own nuclear installations.

There is other activity on the Syrian border. Mortar shells have landed on Israeli territory, perhaps directed against Syrian rebels fighting on the Syrian portion of the Golan. Israel initially complained to the United Nations forces meant to keep the armies apart. Then the IDF expended an expensive but accurate missile, which it could be sure would land as a warning without any injuries of Syrian personnel. More recently, in response to other Syrian mortar shells landing in Israeli territory, the IDF has--for the first time since 1973--directed fire against Syrian forces.

Latest news is of continued consultations at the peak of the Israeli government and military.

And to note another perspectives on all of the above, there are Arab voices, including one from a Member of the Knesset, blaming Israel for instigating the current escalation.

Whatever is decided, and put into operation, it will demonstrate once again the epigram pronounced by Yitzhak Rabin, i.e., "there will no bang and we're finished."

Not only have we been here before. We'll also be here again.


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 09:52 AM
November 10, 2012
Jews in Moscow and Boston

Is it better for the Jews in Moscow than in Boston?

Just my asking the question will start Grandpa Sharkansky spinning in his grave.

I never knew the man, but I know that he left the Czar's realm in 1880, part of the first wave of Jews spurred on by pogroms and attracted to the Golden Land across the sea.

Why even ask the question?

On the one hand is news of a grand new Jewish museum in Moscow, perhaps the largest Jewish museum in the world, heavily funded by a Jew who may be the richest man in Russia, and supported in its development by President Vladimir Putin, said to be favorably inclined toward Jews by virtue of having a Jewish babysitter when his parents worked.

On the other hand things are not as good as they should be for the Jews of Boston, only 50 miles from where Grandpa put down his roots and began peddling. A Lebanese student at the Harvard Business School complained about an Israeli food day in the student cafeteria, saying that listing couscous and hummus as Israeli foods is an insult to their Arab origins and represents yet another indication of Israeli aggression.

The complaint itself should not bother anyone, but the response from an official of the Harvard Business School is an affront to good sense and suggests a larger problems of Jews on American campuses. Rather than treating the issue as an indication of a student's hyper-sensitivity or sense of humor, the Harvard spokesman was "deeply troubled" for having offended Arab sensibilities due to the mischaracterization of various foods. He went on to say, ""We've been following the comments . . . prompted us to have some extensive conversations here internally. . . to understand how this happened and to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

Com'on, Harvard. Who the hell knows, for sure, the origin of couscous and hummus? Or whether there are Israeli versions that differ from what is common elsewhere? Do the Italians have a patent on pizza and the Peruvians on potatoes? Just last month I dined on flammkuchen in Germany that bore a profound resemblance to the pizzas I have had elsewhere. My own extensive hummus experience, sharpened by tasting a great deal from Arab and Jewish kitchens, is that all Israeli varieties exceed by far the merits of the stuff I've tried to eat in Boston.

If there is a serious element in this comparison of what's happening to the Jews in Boston and Moscow it suggests--admittedly with a leap beyond the hard evidence--a repeat of the old phenomenon of the goyim alternately wanting to attract and to be rid of Jews. The cycle is well known in European history, with princes accepting Jewish migrants, or even recruiting them for what they offered to the economy. Jews provided capital, traded in goods needed by the peasants and aristocrats, operated inns, managed woodlands and agriculture, passed information across borders, offered advice on the basis of their international contacts, engaged in medicine, and did some of the smelly and undesirable crafts like tanning (the work of Varda's family in Bernkastel) that Christian guilds shunned.

On the other side of the cycle were anti-Jewish riots, sometimes promoted by the Church and secular authorities.

The less than ideal situation of the Jews in the Soviet Union, with individual Jews prominent in politics and the professions alongside discrimination and waves of persecution, produced a mass exodus with the collapse of the regime. The Jewish population in what had been the Soviet Union declined from 2.3 million in 1959 to less than a half million in 2000. Roughly a million "Jews" migrated from the former Soviet Union to Israel, with other substantial waves going to Germany and the United States. As a result of the out migration, there are stories of towns in the range of 25,000 population left without any physicians.

("Jews" are in quotation marks insofar as many people who think of themselves as Jews--perhaps a third of the migrants to Israel--do not pass muster according to religious doctrine.)

After a period of disinterest or relief at the Jewish exodus, the Russian posture has gone to the cyclical posture of wanting more Jews. Times are better. The economy and domestic security in Russia and some other parts of the former Soviet Union have stabilized, and there are reports of 100,000 migrants returning from Israel. One hundred thousand is a lot of people, but it is a small incidence of returnees compared to up to one-half of immigrants to Israel from North America who are said to return home. (It's appropriate to note that figures for immigration are more reliable than those for emigration.)

What's happening in Boston?

It is too early to fly off the handle about the insecurities of Jewish students on campuses, even though the stupidity associated with the Harvard Business School might give us an excuse to do so. Whatever one concludes about his politics, the billions and generosity of the Bostonian Sheldon Adelson is at least a match for the Russian who contributed to the Jewish Museum in Moscow, and there are other Jews (including descendants of Isaac Sharkansky) who have done well in and around that city.

Which is not to say that conditions in colleges and universities are benign. Fashions prevail in academia as elsewhere. Lecturers and student organizations have claimed that Israel and Jews as the sources of all that is problematic in the Middle East and American foreign policy. British Jews and even Israelis worry about episodes in their own universities. In addition, pro-Israel activists have claimed that as many as a third of the Democrats in the U. S. House of Representatives have signed on to anti-Israel documents.

That some of those Representatives are Jewish, and that "anti-Israel" postures have come from a Jewish organization (J Street) complicates the accusation.

Yet those who know Jewish history should be sensitive to dangers from others and ourselves. One should appreciate the positive signs coming out of Moscow, and note the other signs from Boston, without going too far in any direction, or assuming that all is well for Jews anywhere.


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 10:36 AM
November 09, 2012
It's America

When more than 100 million people vote, there is no end of the interpretations that are possible. And when they select one president, more than 450 members of the national legislature, and who knows how many officials of state governments, there is a huge range of possible impacts on public policy.

The people who framed the constitution, on the basis of profound distrust of the people, did their job well. No new departures will be possible without agreement between individuals from enough institutions to assure moderation in the change.

With all that can be said about what happened, and what will result, it is possible to see some features that can be described as "typically American."

One was a classic clash between mobilized masses and a group of elites who sought to buttress themselves against the inevitable.

Well-mobilized African-American and Hispanics, along with white women voting against white men cleaving to their sacred values should remind us of the Irish and other immigrants mobilized against the WASPs from the 19th century until Richard Daley's end as one of the last Irish bosses.

This will not be the end of the Republican Party, but if Tea Party enthusiasts haven't gotten the message they ought to complete their historic scenario by drowning themselves in Boston Harbor.

No one is about to burn the churches of the Christian Right, and they will continue to limit women's rights in the less enlightened parts of the United States, but they, too, should rethink priorities and possibilities.

We'll see how the drama of politics comes up against the details of government. There remains substantial American sentiment in favor of small government, with a good position in the House of Representatives. The game to watch will concern the resolution of financial problems. The immigrants took over city halls but did not empty the WASP-controlled banks. Likewise, this year's slogan of Forward, which replaced the 2008 message of Change, is not likely to produce anything revolutionary.

Obamacare was the best sign of change coming out of the first term, but there is modesty apparent in the reliance on profit-making insurance companies, and what else may lie in the muddle of legislation with more than two thousand pages.

Alas, the leader of the world's greatest power cannot spend all of his energy on local matters, no matter how important they may be for the American economy (and by obvious extension the world's economy).

The first trip abroad, with all the symbolism inherent in the headlines, will be to Myanmar.

Why Myanmar? Or Burma, which appears in virtually all the reports about that far off and all but forgotten place to remind us of its former name.

One explanation is China, and the President's concern to express his commitment to the area labeled "Pacific" in the American press even though Myanmar is a thousand miles from the Pacific. Americans see China as restive, in territorial squabbles with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines and building aircraft carriers. China also owns lots of US government bonds, bought with the profits from what we all buy from the Chinese, so the tensions are bound to be interesting.

I am not one of those complaining that the first post-election trip should have been to Israel. Indeed, I don't want the US president in this country. The benefits are not worth the inconvenience of closing the road from the airport to Jerusalem while the mighty and his huge entourage come to Jerusalem, and then closing down movement in the city while they are here. Better that business be handled via telephone, Skype, or visits of Israeli leaders to Washington.

Whatever is the reality of the claims about the lack of an harmonious relationship between the American President and the Israeli Prime Minister, the lack of an early Obama visit will be a tolerable cost. The international credibility of Israel as well as the United States suffers from the image of unity between the two countries. Symbolic distance will benefit both, assuming there remain agreement about the evils that cannot be tolerated.

Read that to be the threats coming from Iran, which resemble what commentators are calling the American slide toward a "fiscal cliff." Both ought to be high priority for the President, and for neither is there anything like an easy solution.

Obama's election in 2008 reflected, among other things, an American capacity to elevate an untried but superficially attractive individual to the highest political office. It wouldn't be likely in a European or Israeli parliamentary regime where slow rise and experience count for a great deal. Obama's American naivete showed itself in that Cairo speech, which assumed that all people are enough like Americans to be prodded to American styles of equality and democracy. Claims still heard from Obama-loyal correspondents that Americans support Arab spring and see it as the road to widespread democracy reinforce the image of parochial ignorance. More than 50,000 dead and many thousands more injured and displaced in Libya and Syria, Islamic extremists prominent in the Egypt government and opposition groups in Syria, and rival tribes fighting in Libya should not boost anyone's confidence in the spread of democracy.

Hopefully the trip to Myanmar and the photo-op with Aung San Suu Kyi are not more of the same Obama naivete. Positive signs are that the President learned from frustrations about the surge in Afghanistan and seeing the freezing of construction in East Jerusalem as the key to Middle East peace. Less promising are statements from individuals who may be close to the President that it is time to return seriously to negotiations about Palestine, and to try yet again to persuade Iranians to give up the nuclear option.

The claim of someone--or about someone--that he/she is "close to the President" defies precision and verification. The reality may be that no one is close to the President. The American presidency is a lousy job, demanding great work and stress to obtain, with the glory but also the burdens of living in the spotlight, working under the weight of countless expectations and demands not only from Americans but also from Myanmar, Israel and just about every other place. The power is enormous, but the difficulties in using it can be gauged by the agenda of unmet aspirations.


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 01:00 AM
November 07, 2012
Will it make a difference?

Presidential election returns suggest more of the same.

No doubt about Obama's victory, in both electoral and popular vote.

However, talk about a "mandate" would be exaggerated. Not only is there a small difference in popular vote, and mixed results in House and Senate races, but talk of a mandate is always doubtful when there are more than 100 million votes and perhaps as many reasons for choosing one candidate over the other.

We all drowned in advocacy and commentary, and there will be no let up for several days. My own reading, along with those from two distinguished "foreign" papers, is that many Americans voted against one candidate and many others had less than robust enthusiasm for the candidate they chose.

The headline from the Economist op-ed piece that endorsed Obama, but with reservations, not as strong as the paper's reservations about Romney:

"America could do better than Barack Obama; Sadly, Mitt Romney does not fit the bill"

Ha'aretz did not pronounce an endorsement, but shortly before election day headlined the race as

"יתרון קל לאובמה כשהאמריקאים נדרשים לבחור בין הרע לרע במיעוטו"
("Narrow advantage for Obama as Americans are forced to choose between the bad and the least bad.")

Obama partisans claim success for his economic rescue effort, but the data is too diverse to justify applause. The record on foreign policy is even less positive. Claims of leaving Iraq in decent shape and being about to leave an improved Afghanistan clash with assessments from the generally supportive New York Times. There is even less praise due Obama for whatever he did in spurring Arab spring via his Cairo speech and abandoning Hosni Mubarak.

Obama deserves considerable praise for breaking a jam on health insurance. Still to be tested is his program's success in the context of profit-seeking insurance companies, and the strong opposition to anything like what is available in other democracies.

Also among the factors muddying the claims of "mandate" are the generally low turnout rates for American presidential elections. While historic data from Western European and Israeli elections generally show turnout rates in the range of 70-80 percent of eligible voters, and ocassionally reach 90 percent, American rates often do not reach 60 percent and virtually never get to 70 percent. While some party and election officials expressed optimistic views of this year's turnout, it is too early to find reliable data.

What explains American indifference? A culture that denigrates the public sector may have something to do with it, along with cumbersome registration procedures and ballots crammed with offices elsewhere filled by appointment and numerous referendum questions. Pictures of long lines at the polls and reports that each voter was spending a half-four making choices could discourage me from the effort to express myself. Other democracies deal with voter registration automatically by universal id cards and required registration of one's current address (anathema to anti-governmental Americans), and lines are shorter when the offices to be chosen are fewer. Americans, in effect, limit their democracy by expanding the people's right to choose beyond the average citizen's knowledge or interest.

Skimpy voting hours and elections on a working day also differ from Western European (and Israeli) models. Complex procedures under the heading of "provsional ballot" do not promise a great move to citizen friendly voting, especially in the context of partisan conflicts, tinged with racial and ethnic interests, about easing or stiffening requirements for verifying identity and eligibility.

What's in the outcome for the Jews, notably those of Israel?

My own guess is more of the same. While many view Benyamin Netanyahu as having supported Mitt Romney, the Prime Minister and prominent colleagues in his government deny any such thing. The closest Netanyahu came to endorsing Romney was to appear along with him and their mutual banker, Sheldon Adelson, at a fund raising event attended by American Republicans in Jerusalem. Likud-friendly commentators say that was an invitation no donation-dependent politician could refuse. Not a few Israelis view Adelson as an ugly American on account of his brazen funding of right-wing candidates and his support of the give-away newspaper Israel Hayom that is not only tilted strongly to the right, but has endangered the financial health of established Israeli papers.

Even if Obama may not like Netanyahu, and futhermore sees him as supporting Romney, that may not overcome other reasons for continued cooperation between the Obama White House and whoever is the Israeli Prime MInister (most likely Netanyahu according to the polls). National interests generally surpass personal feelings, especially in the case of figures always in the media spotlight. There remain divisions at the peak of American national politics, and the muddied nature of the region extending from North Africa to Afghanistan and down into Muslim Africa. All suggest a continuation of cooperation between the US and Israel, along with expressions of comity despite disagreements along the way.

The closest flash points will be Iran, and Palestinians' inclinations to increase their standing in the United Nations.

Elections may be landmarks for commentators' judgments, but they do not stop the clock. History and politics do not end. Who knows what we'll be arguing about next week?


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 06:09 AM
November 04, 2012
Here we go round again

Imagine a dance highly formalized, without emotion, between partners who don't even like one another, never mind pleasure or lust.

That's what we've been seeing the last few days around an interview given by Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazan, a.k.a. President of the Palestine National Authority, but not recognized as such in Gaza.

Quoted several times is a line that Abbas would like to visit his home town of Safed as a tourist, but would not see himself as a resident.

"Palestine for me is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, this is Palestine, I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, everything else is Israel."

He also denounced rocket attacks from Gaza, and other kinds of violence as a way of moving forward.

Israel's peace camp is ecstatic. Its activists read his comment on Safed as giving up the right of return for Palestinian refugees. His interview proves that Israel has a partner. It's Netanyahu who has sabotaged the peace process by refusing to negotiate.

Tzipi Livni telephoned Abbas after the interview, and told him how important it was to say such things in public. She appeared on Israeli television to blame Netanyahu and his government for poisoning the opportunity for negotiations. When the interviewer pressed her by saying that virtually no centrist and few leftist politicians were urging negotiations, she retreated to her posture that it was necessary to bring down the present government. She was not prepared, however, to say that she would be a candidate.

Two politicians who may actually lead some Knesset members after the next election, and describe themselves as centrist or left of center, were less outspoken. Yair Lapid refused to answer questions from an Ha'aretz reporter about Abbas' interview. Labor Party leader Shelli Yacimovich did not sound like a leftist waving a firebrand and demanding peace now. According to her, "A retreat to the borders of 1967 isn't acceptable,"

Netanyahu and his party colleagues in Likud, now Likud our Home, are skeptical in the extreme. Netanyahu said that Abbas has dithered for four years, not coming any closer to negotiations than expressing preconditions, like having a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and recognizing the legitimacy of the 1967 borders. Netanyahu's new party partner, Avigdor Lieberman, referred to comments among left-of-center Israelis when he said, "The attempt to lie to ourselves amazes me every time."

Ha'aretz summarizes divisions among Israelis with the headline: "Peres: PA president is partner for peace; Netanyahu: Abbas' words are empty."

Palestinians are in their own uproar. Spokesmen of Palestine-Gaza have again called Abbas a traitor. Abbas was expressing his personal opinions, and does not have the right to speak for the Palestinians without a referendum. The editor of an Arab newspaper in London accused Abbas of making "free concessions" by saying that he does not want to return to Safed.

"If Abbas does not want to return to Safed, and to continue living in Ramallah or Amman, that's his personal decision . . . But in such a case he should not be claiming to represent - or talk on behalf of - six million refugees scattered throughout the world."

Representatives of Abbas' own party assert that he did not give up the right of return, that the Israeli interpretation of his remarks is a misreading of what he said and what he did not say. Abbas himself says that his interview was not broadcast in full. He told Egyptian media that he will continue to demand the right of return for any refugee who wants to return.

Observers linked Abbas' remarks to their timing. They came a few days before an American election whose winner might respond to Abbas' effort at accommodation by supporting, or at least being quiet about an Abbas effort in the United Nations to upgrade Palestine's status to that of an observer state without full membership rights. It also coincided with the Balfour Declaration's anniversary. That document of 1917 announced the British government's support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Thus, Abbas means to remind the world of some unfinished business in Palestine. And it came in the early days of Israel's own national election, and might have been meant to boost candidates inclined to favor another effort to reach agreement with the Palestinians.

It may be a while before the President of the United States and other world leaders respond to Abbas' interview and the variety of reservations and denunciations. Whether it is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, both seem to have been sobered by events since Obama's Cairo speech, his surge in Afghanistan, the attack against American diplomats in Libya, the ongoing bloodbath in Syria, and the reluctance of both Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate seriously. It would not be uncommon for a re-elected President to change key personnel in his foreign policy team, or to give his aides an opportunity to resign in response for warm praise.

We can expect Palestine to remain a matter frequently mentioned, perhaps described as the highest priority. However, for Abbas' speech to move support for Palestine beyond lip service will require a sea change in Israeli politics, cooperation from Gaza's leadership, the acceptance of Gaza's moderation by Iran, and decisions in American and European capitals to try, seriously, once again, to achieve something in this part of the Middle East.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a breakthrough. Beyond a minute or two, optimism will endanger your health.


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 08:44 PM
November 02, 2012
Is Palestine history?

Is Palestine history?

That is, have its various leaders lost the opportunity to make their place name into a country?

Most likely yes, but it will not disappear soon from agendas of international politics.

In other words, the idea will hang on, and provide stimulus to Palestinians and others feeling they have justice and history on their side. However, if the past is any guide--and it usually is--nothing will come of it.

The story is well known, encapsuled in that epigram made famous by Abba Eban, that Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

The other side of the story is that they are darlings of the third world, and of much in the first world. It's politically correct--from Obama Washington across all of Europe and beyond to unimportant places--to say that they deserve a state, that the "two state solution" is the best alternative available, and that Israel has not done enough to bring it about.

Iran plus a few others go beyond what is conventional and provide money and munitions to the most extreme Palestinian groups that reject all compromises with Israel.

Indications are that things are not going well for the Palestinians. An insistence on explicit Israeli preconditions for beginning negotiations, like accepting the legitimacy of 1967 borders and the idea of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, has not gone well even with diplomats friendly to their cause. The United States and other western governments are urging--even warning--the Palestinian leadership not to venture into the United Nations to improve the status of Palestine. Individuals said to be part of the Palestinian leadership (a group whose amorphous character is part of the Palestinian problem) are showing something close to panic by urging Jordan to re-occupy the West Bank. Not only would that absorb the Palestinian idea into something else, but it would require the very unlikely assent of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas gave a rare interview in English to Israeli media in which he asserted that he would welcome an opportunity to visit his home town of Safed, but that he recognized the city as Israeli. As long as he was in charge, there would be no armed uprising. His path is that of politics, diplomacy, and passive resistance.

That is an admirable posture, but must be viewed in the wider context. Abbas' term as president ended almost four years ago, Hamas and other extremists are in control of Gaza, and are projected to win any fair election in the West Bank.

Also working against Palestine is the confusion tending toward chaos coming out of Arab spring. At the least, this weakens the Palestinian case in the short run. Diplomats of the world are more concerned with Syria, Libya, Egypt, and a few other places.

At the worse, from the Palestinian perspective, the results so far of Arab spring have given a lift to anti-western Islamic extremists who weaken enthusiasm for Palestine in western capitals. To be sure, there are those who say that Israel must forestall extremism by giving in to Palestinian demands. However, current and foreseeable Israeli governments are unlikely to cooperate. The Palestinian issue has all but disappeared from Israel's political campaign. Distrust and disbelief about the Palestinian cause is widespread in Israel. One sign of it is the 3-1 preference for Mitt Romney among Israelis polled on the American presidential contest.

With all of the problems facing the prospect of a Palestinian state, and the likelihood that its time has passed, the idea is deeply embedded in the conventional wisdom of the politically correct.

This may only mean that the idea cannot die. The medical analogy of coma is appropriate. The patient is showing minimal signs of life, but without indications of death or recovery.

Perhaps the best argument for keeping it alive is that it cannot die. There are perhaps 3-4 million Palestinians without a state framework divided between Gaza and the West Bank, plus uncounted others claiming refugee status unto the third and fourth generations. It is assumed that many want to come home, and some actually say that, with some of them waving keys to homes that no longer exist.

All this represents an anomaly, i.e., unusual but by no means unique in international politics. Close to the situation of Palestinians is that of the Kurds as well as numerous unhappy tribes in Africa. Other unhappy national groups, e.g., Scots, Welsh, Basques, Catalonians, and a few others, benefit from living in countries that grant formal or informal kinds of autonomy, allow nationalists to express themselves, with less carnage that associated with Palestinians or Kurds.

Israelis being Jews, and the land at issue being holy, complicate any assessment of Palestine's future in world politics.

Those elements help to keep spirits alive. We can count on no end of political speeches, international travel by Palestinians claiming leadership, visits to Palestine by governmental leaders and aspiring activists, financial aid to Palestine out of proportion to aid given elsewhere, along with vocal support in favor of the two-state solution by one and all, including Israeli politicians who want to preserve their country's status within the orbit of the politically correct. The idea of Palestine is too well connected to disappear. "Hanging around" is the best description for its status and prospects. It's here, won't disappear, but has shown no signs of accomplishing its advocates' aspirations.


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 06:18 AM
November 01, 2012
Politics very big and very small

There is concern here not only for Obama vs Romney next Tuesday, or Netanyahu vs who knows on January 22nd, but also for the more difficult choices facing French Hill in the election for a neighborhood committee (מנהלת) November 22nd.

You've heard about a storm in a tea cup. This is a storm in a tea spoon.

Obama vs Romney is too big for personal comprehension. The likely outcome appears to be very close, and will depend on a host of factors not in any one's control, certainly not in the control of anyone in French Hill. Not only will there be a lot of money spent over the next few days on the candidates' travels and advertising, but media personalities from around the world will fill our ears with their assessments. Will there be a spillover from Sandy? So far it looks like it has helped Obama's image as the caregiver-in-chief offering the resources of the Federal Government to all in need, along with well-spoken feelings and encouragement. However, sentiments may change as days without electricity continue. Differentials in enthusiasm may leave some kinds of voters at home while others are so intense as to climb over all obstacles on their way to the polls. The mechanics of the electoral college may affect the outcome. All Americans may think they are equal, but procedures created 230 years ago make some more equal than others.

Here new parties keep sprouting. Earlier in the week there was the registration of an Ethiopian party. That's a sign of political coming of age. Other immigrant groups feeling themselves poorly treated have gone the same route. However, the Ethiopians do not have the numbers of the Russians, and so far have not put forward personalities with the pulling capacity of Natan Sharansky or Avigdor Lieberman. So the new party probably will not do any better than Romanians who keep trying every so often.

Currently in the headlines is the prospect of a new party said to be centrist-left on social issues but centrist-right on issues concerned with the Palestinians, likely to be created by the current Minister of Communications. He made a name for himself by evening the playing field between consumers and cellphone companies. He wanted a promotion to Finance Minister in the next Netanyahu government, but did not get a commitment from the Prime Minister. So he may try his luck with the voters. What that does to the prospective line-up is too early to predict. Still pondering the possibility of running and creating other party(ies) are at least two other potential stars.

The election for the neighborhood committee is simpler, but more difficult. Essentially, it involves selection to a body without significant authority, but there is a hot issue, and we are facing the prospect of more good candidates--who we know well--than we can select.

Those with Hebrew capacity can read about the functions of Jerusalem's neighborhood committees here. Basically they represent the views of the neighborhood to officials of the municipality, and organize a variety of self-help, voluntary programs along with the professional staff of the neighborhood community center. The community center is a body with a building and some resources that runs sport and social programs for different age clusters.

So much for the formal picture. The real issue involves a kulturkamp between Haredi newcomers and everyone else.

French Hill is suffering from an invasion of mostly young ultra-Orthodox couples with lots of children. They represent an extension from the earlier conquest of the next neighborhood to the west, which was taken over by the ultra-Orthodox from what had been a mixed neighborhood of religious and secular Jews. In modern, Israeli Hebrew, "religious" means non-ultra-Orthodox. French Hill has three Orthodox synagogues and one Conservative synagogue. The language of prayer in all is Hebrew. The language of conversation in the Conservative synagogue is American English.

French HIll's population had been a comfortable mixture of religious and secular Jews, with a few ultra-Orthodox and a sprinkling of East Asian and Arab students from the nearby university, along with some Arab families and a variety of others. The most recent years have seen a marked increase of ultra-Orthodox, with a fear among other residents that the future can become unpleasant. Likely demands include Sabbath elevators. Those are elevators that run continuously on the Sabbath and religious holidays, stopping at every floor or every second floor, so that religious Jews can ride them without violating the Sabbath by pressing buttons. Israeli elevators might be converted to Sabbath elevators without great cost, but the subsequent use of electricity is expensive and the noise annoying. There may also come demands, as have occurred in other neighborhoods that have "tipped," to halt the sale of "trash" (i.e., non-ultra-Orthodox) newspapers in neighborhood kiosks, halt the use of radio and television that bother ultra-Orthodox families, and close the roads to vehicle traffic on Sabbath and religious holidays. Also in the air is the lack of military service by the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox men. French Hill has memorials for young men who attended school with our children, and gave their lives for national defense.

We have heard from Orthodox friends about the pressure of Haredim in their synagogues to change things in undesirable directions. Meetings of synagogue participants have agreed with the desire to perpetuate the "open and pluralistic" nature of the neighborhood. That means, without quite saying it, to vote against ultra-Orthodox candidates for the neighborhood committee.

The line-up for the neighborhood election features ultra-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox candidates. Sidewalk conversations are more likely to be about who is who in this fight rather than the big stuff concerned with the American president or the Israeli prime minister.

Chief among our problems is that each voter gets to select two candidates, but there are three attractive non-ultra-Orthodox candidates. We know and admire them all. One is a resident in our building, a friend for 20 years, who has dedicated herself to the committee that manages the building, and looks after our apartment when we travel. Another is a former student, who wrote a good paper on social policy in my seminar, and has become a friend along with his two young boys who smile and say Shalom when we see them frequently here and there. The third is the husband of a university colleague, himself a professional in a government ministry, who would bring considerable expertise to neighborhood affairs.

Our rational analysis is that it is best to vote for the two candidates most likely to be elected. A precise weighing of qualifications isn't all that important in an election whose importance is much more likely to be symbolic than substantive. In other words, it's important to choose the right kind of members for the neighborhood committee, even though the committee has no real power.

Among the items on the agenda is a proposal to develop an ultra-Orthodox educational center in the next neighborhood to the west. That's close enough to spur the attraction of French Hill for ultra-Orthodox families.

Secular people in French Hill are disappointed that the secular mayor supports the project. No surprise. At least 30 percent of Jerusalem's voters are ultra-Orthodox. Expecting a mayor to resist a major ultra-Orthodox project would be like expecting Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to have campaigned against the arrival of Sandy.

Altering plans for an ultra-Orthodox educational center nearby isn't in the cards, but it is part of the emotional picture. And as my late colleague Murray Edelman taught us all, symbolic issues are among the great factors that move politics. Nothing may be more symbolic in the Promised Land than the line up of the ultra-Orthodox against the rest of us. Most of us may be Jewish, but how Jewish we must be involves tough conversations and unhappy prospects.


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 05:51 AM