Saturday, January 29, 2005

Encouraging signs

The steps taken so far by the Government of Pres. Abbas of the PA are encouraging. PA security forces have fanned out through northern Gaza and have prevented the continuation of rocket attacks on Israeli territory. Similar forces in the thousands are being deployed in southern and central Gaza to prevent attacks on IDF posts and the continuation of tunneling under the Egyptian border. Meetings have been held to coordinate these deployments between the PA and IDF leadership, the latest one held today between Mohammed Dahlan and Defense Minister Mohfaz. Dahlan was a critic of Yasser Arafat and was fired by him as head of security in Gaza, but he is now back in a senior role under Abbas.
Incidentally the UN Security Council has criticized Lebanon for not doing a similar thing and moving its armed forces to occupy the area of Southern Lebanon that it has left under the control of Hizbollah. While there are still 30,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon this move is unlikely.
Hamas has announced a temporary ceasefire to allow Abbas to negotiate a longer term one with Israel. The IDF have already ordered a reduction of actions in the territories, including cessation of targeted killings, except in the case of a "ticking time bomb," someone who is actively engaged in organizing or carrying out an imminent attack. This happened last week when Hamas fugitive Maher abu Sneineh was killed in Kalkilya. He was planning to carry out a suicide bombing in Rosh Ha'ayin nearby. He refused to give himself up and was killed in a gunfight, and two others were injured and captured, including the 16 year old intended suicide bomber. The important fact is that this incident did not stop the ceasefire going ahead, and other incidents of bombings and shootings continue in Gaza daily. The Karni crossing that was closed two weeks ago after the major terrorist attack that killed 6 Israelis was reopened by Israel for short daily periods.
Abbas has reportedly ordered changes in the Palestine Broadcasting Authority, that until now was a mouthpiece for the PA and Yasser Arafat. He has ordered that they should work as an independent reporting organization, not subject to PA censorship or merely as a propaganda arm of the PA.
As well as security contacts with the Abbas Government, Israel has decided to initiate diplomatic contacts with them, and there has been a meeting between PM Sharon's chief advisor Dov Weisglas and Saeb Erakat, PA Minister of negotiations. It has been announced that the two leaders Abbas and Sharon will meet in about 10 days. Even Sharon has gone on record that he is optimistic about these developments.
One notable exception to the positive changes is that in the municipal elections in Gaza last week Hamas won about 70% of the seats! This could be very bad, but may be ironically a way in which Hamas will be transformed from a military to a political party.
At the Davos Conference in Switzerland, the Arabs generally have taken the attitude that all Israel has to do is release ALL prisoners, withdraw from ALL illegal settlements back to the line of June 5, 1967, and magically there will be peace. However, the fact is that the settlements are definitely not illegal and Israel is not required to leave ALL the territory according to UN Resolution 242, and all of these changes require specific negotiations with the PA as well as continued coordination of security moves. But, all the developments so far are encouraging.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Israel and the Holocaust

Everyone acknowledges that the Holocaust was a major factor in the founding of the State of Israel. Certainly the justification accepted by the world after the end of WWII was that the time had come for the founding of a Jewish State, if only to compensate the Jews for what had been done to them in the absence of such a protection. The voting in the UN in 1948 was a clear reflection of the European and other "Christian" nations guilt for their complicity in the murder of 6 million Jews.
But, on the other hand, it is my contention that the State of Israel would have come into existence anyway, even without the major factor of the Holocaust, perhaps not as early and perhaps not as popularly, but into existence nevertheless. All the aspects of the State were already there even before WWII. Immigration had started in the 1870's with the first aliyah. There were sizable Jewish communities in Haifa, Jaffa and especially Jerusalem, where Jews constituted an absolute majority over all other groups since the early-1800s. Jewish towns were founded in the 1880's, Gedera, Hadera, Rishon Lezion, Zichron Ya'akov, Yemin Moshe (outside the Jerusalem walls), Neveh Tzedek (outside Jaffa), and so on. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 and grew significantly. Then after WWI with the Balfour Declaration the community continued to grow in size and strength.
It was the opposition of the British after their turnaround of the White Paper of 1939, not the Arabs, that prevented the formation of a State. Unfortunately the Jewish community in Palestine, the Yishuv, never managed to establish enough credibility to have any effect on the Holocaust itself. Golda Meir describes how powerless she felt when the Conference in Locarno called by the powers to discuss Jewish emigration from Europe was controlled and limited by the British. British intransigence against emigration to Palestine led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews. But through the years of WWII the Palestinian Jews prepared themselves, mainly by training in the British Army, for the coming conflict. When it came they were well prepared, they defeated first the British in 1946-48 and then the Arabs in the War of Independence.
One factor that is often neglected is how did the survivors of the Holocaust affect the formation of the State. The fact is that few of them had a major role. Some became leaders of the nascent IDF, but it took most of them several years to be repatriated from the DP camps in Europe through the British blockade, from camps in Cyprus, etc. until they were actually in Israel. The fact is that the 650,000 Palestinian Jews fought the Arab armies for independence without a massive influx of the survivors of European Jewry, most of whom arrived only in the early 1950s, after the State had been founded.
One brave example where survivors of the Holocaust played a role was in the battles for Latrun. The Haganah was desperate because the Jordanian Arab Legion under Gen. Glubb and British officers, was given the huge British police station at Latrun, from where they controlled the road to Jerusalem and prevented supplies getting to the city. They were on the heights overlooking the road to Jerusalem, and they were bombarding the Jewish parts of the city. Ben Gurion decided that they must try to capture the Latrun police station, and ordered that new immigrant survivors be sent immediately off the boats into the battle. Many died without even a rifle, but they fought hard to secure Latrun. After three battles failed, the Jews were forced to give up. But, the battles allowed convoys to reach Jerusalem and relieve it. Jewish Jerusalem remained in Jewish hands and was incorporated into Israel. The Latrun area was only captured by Israel in 1967, and now the police station is a museum for the IDF Armored Corps.
That is to say that although survivors played a role, it was a relatively small one in the actual events that led to the founding of the State. The role was more psychological in the minds of Jews and non-Jews alike. But, it was the sacrifice of the Zionists who preceded the Holocaust into Palestine that brought about the birth of the State of Israel.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz it is impossible not
to write about the Holocaust, yet it is impossible to write about it. What
can one say that has not already been said, and better. It was distinct
from all other human massacres in its size and scope and it was the first
organized attempt to murder an entire people, thus giving rise to the word
Although the sacrifice of the soldiers of the Allied armies liberated
Auschwitz and the other camps and defeated Nazism, the world in which we
live was built on the bones of its victims. The UN came into existence
because of it, and the State of Israel also, to safeguard forever the
remaining Jews and our special culture, religion and heritage.
It is commendable that a special session of the General Assembly of the UN
is being dedicated to this commemoration. Elie Wiesel spoke on behalf of
the survivors, and Sir Brian Eckhardt on behalf of the liberators. There
were heartfelt and moving addresses by FM Silvan Shalom of Israel, and
representatives of Poland, Germany (FM Joshcke Fischer) and the US (Dep.
Secty. of Defense Paul Wolfowitz). But, what is perhaps most notable is
that it took 60 years for such a special session to take place. Before now
the forces arrayed against Israel would not have allowed it to happen.
So why now? What has changed. Perhaps two things, first the past 50 years
of demonization of Israel around the world, in the UN, in the European
media, and amongst so-called liberals, has resulted in a culture of
tolerance for anti-Semitism that has not been seen since before WWII.
Second, the actions of militant Muslims, mostly in Europe, but also as
terrorist groups around the world has alerted the powers that be to the
dangers of ignoring these forces of intolerance and hatred once again. This
twin threat of anti-Semitism and terrorism has galvanized some countries to
take action.
On the same day that this special session of the GA took place in NY, the
headline in the Jerusalem Post reported record increases in anti-Semitic
acts around Europe, and notably a doubling of such acts in Britain, a
supposedly tolerant country. Since I come from Britain and grew up there
after WWII, I can testify that anti-Semitism has always been a fact of life
there. It is largely the "polite" kind, that accepts canards about Jews and
discriminates against them. Add to this the violent Islamo-fascists and the
influence of pro-Palestinian left-wing extremists, and you have a dangerous
It also cannot be pure chance that the same day (!) as the special session
on the Holocaust, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced a temporary ceasefire
of the Palestinian terrorist groups (not yet confirmed). They demanded a
commitment from Israel not to continue attacks against them, but Israel
announced that if there are no rockets fired and no suicide bombings then
there will be no need for Israeli counter-actions. The passing of Yasser
Arafat, and the partial break-down of the Arab campaign of vilification
against Israel at the UN, have all contributed to this transformation.
But, it may be too little too late. The number in violent anti-Semitic acts
is still increasing, the Arab States have not made any commitment of peace
with Israel even if a negotiation does take place between Israel and the PA.
And in the background you have the hatred of Iran and Syria and Hizbollah
and all the murderous agents in Iraq, blowing up and killing mainly their
own people.
The millennium of peace has not yet dawned, and things may still get worse
before they get better, but we can say this for sure. While we have our own
State and our own army to protect us it will never happen again to the
Jewish people.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


A tentative ceasefire (or hudna) is currently operating in the Gaza Strip,
without any actual agreement between the PA and Israel. Although the
terrorist groups, al Aksa, PFLP, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, have all issued
separate statements, most of them demanding pre-conditions from Israel, the
Israeli Govt. has pointed out that it is not negotiating with them. And
even with the PA there have been no direct diplomatic contacts, since the
writing is on the wall. Sharon has made it clear to Abbas that either he
can engineer a ceasefire and hold back the terrorists or the IDF will be
given the go-ahead to invade northern Gaza. At present no rockets are being
fired at Sderot and no attacks have taken place for 4 days. This is a minor
victory of sorts, but it is highly tentative at present.
To show their solidarity with the inhabitants of Sderot the Israeli cabinet
met there today. This follows the death of Ayala Abukasis (17) who died
after shielding her younger brother from a rocket last week. Many of the
Ministers were upbeat about the ceasefire, including Shaul Mofaz (Defense)
and Shimon Peres. But, there are still conflicting reports since there are
at least three levels of each of the terrorist organizations, the local
level, the command level in Gaza and the HQ, usually in Damascus. It seems
that at the local level there are different factions that have issued
different responses from each other, but the main relevant response is the
Command level. However, the HQs in Damascus are saying that they have not
yet agreed to any ceasefire.
It seems that Abbas is most concerned to get the ceasefire on the ground,
and so has deployed 3-4,000 armed troops around the border regions in
northern (Beit Hanun) and southern (Khan Yunis) Gaza to prevent attacks by
the irregular forces. The fact that he was able to do this quite easily
shows how irresponsible the previous regime of Yasser Arafat was in not even
attempting to prevent terrorist attacks. Now the terrorists have a choice,
either continue with their attacks and risk a clash with the PA security
forces, or toe the line.
There are at least three reasons why they are prepared for a hudna now: 1.
The general malaise of the Palestinian population. This is perhaps the most
important and least recognized factor. The Palestinian population is
suffering from casualties, destruction of their homes and infrastructure,
and lack of work and money. In fact, if one compares the two sides one can
state emphatically that the IDF has won the war of the second intifada. In
many cases Palestinians have died from terrorist bombs going off prematurely
in densely populated areas, or have even been hit by rockets and mortars
that have gone off course. Also, there is a pervasive lawlessness, men are
still being abducted and murdered by gangs in the street with the excuse
that they are "collaborators." This happened in Nablus again last week
(while 5 others were arrested and jailed by the PA security forces for their
'protection'). All of these losses have demoralized the Palestinian
population and so there is a publicly unstated underswell (popular opinion)
to change the situation and stop the attacks in order to relieve the
population of its stress. The advent of Abbas is the reflection of this
2. The terrorist groups have lost hundreds of their leaders, and thousands
of their men either killed or captured. And they have not been able to
deliver any tangible results to their constituency. Under the circumstances
they are better off to leave the field for a time, in order to regroup
and/or change their strategy.
3. Seeing the advent of Abbas, and sensing the change of the Palestinian
population's attitude, Hamas and the others are considering accepting Abbas'
offer for them to join in the new political process rather than concentrate
mostly on the 'military' solution. Abbas has said to them in effect, "yes,
maybe you do have the right to wage the 'armed struggle', but what good does
it do you if you are both losing militarily and losing the public's
This is why they need say a month to decide which way to go, since it would
be a change in strategy not only for the PA, but also for the resistance
groups that until now have essentially operated independently of it. There
are supposed to be further talks in Cairo soon between Abbas and Hamas.
Some commentators are saying that now is the time for Israel to act to
"empower" Abbas, to make concessions to him so that he can show the
terrorist groups that Israel is really ready to reciprocate. But, this is
precisely the mistake that Israel made under the Oslo accords, taking every
opportunity to empower Arafat, while he was using that power to support the
terrorists in their attacks. It would be a mistake to prematurely start to
make concessions to Abbas until actual negotiations take place. If Israel
makes commitments to Abbas on behalf of the terrorists that is a kind of
acknowledgement of their "victory." On the contrary, let him negotiate
within an internal Palestinian context, as it should be, and then come to
Israel and indicate what he wants. Only then can Israel evaluate the
circumstances and what actions it is prepared to take.
One thing that Abbas clearly wants is to be able to take over any areas of
Gaza that the IDF withdraws from in a coordinated bilateral way, rather than
have Israel withdraw unilaterally and leave areas 'up for grabs.' You can
be sure that Abbas is prepared to do a lot to prevent another IDF attack
into Gaza, ensuring another terrible defeat while it is under his command
and also to avoid squandering the possibility of coordinating with Israel
when the disengagement plan goes ahead. These issues reflect positive
possibilities in the future.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Over there

During WWI and to some extent WWII there was a popular song that went like
this "Over there, over there, the Yanks are coming the Yanks are coming, and
we won't be back 'til its over, over there." Did the nation as a whole and
the media spend years regurgitating the reasons for being in those wars, for
being "over there"? The answer is no, once the decision had been made, once
the die was cast, the nation supported the war effort. Now, perhaps because
the reasons for the war in Iraq have been questioned so many times, support
for the "war" has waned. But, in fact the casualties compared to previous
wars are minimal (1,300 compared to 50,000 in Vietnam). Of course, each
death and injury is a tragedy, but let's have a sense of proportions.
To accuse Condoleeza Rice and Pres. Bush of lying, when absolutely no one
knew the truth about WMDs and all the Govts. of the world accepted that
Saddam Hussein was developing them, as exemplified in constant UN
resolutions, is in itself dishonest. Given the existing circumstances the
attack against Iraq was the prudent thing to do.
Now the US is there and must remain until "its over, over there." Any kind
of precipitous withdrawal would be a disaster. In any case, after his
inauguration speech yesterday, Bush could hardly withdraw short of some
stable democratic type of Govt. in Iraq. There are two possibilities, that
the Sunni insurrection, for that is basically what it is, will be defeated
and will die down after the elections next week. Or, if the Shia win big
and take over the Government, the Sunnis will either boycott the election en
masse or decide to fight the Government even more strongly after the
election, then the US will have no choice but to oppose them. This could
have serious consequences because other Arab (Sunni) countries may take this
as an anti-Sunni (Muslim) war by the US and may become less cooperative or
antagonistic to the US effort. But, as of now there is no choice but to see
it through.
People are concerned that Bush wants to "invade Iran." I am sure that this
would be a last resort. Bush wants to deal with the Iranian threat of
nuclear weapons diplomatically, as the EU has been trying to do. But,
failing that, and if the threat from Iran becomes real, what will the
critics say "Oh, how can we believe you, when you got the WMDs in Iraq wrong
last time." Should we stand by and accept the threat without serious
action. I don't think so. And if the US decides that it must face the
threat (absent any Israeli action) should people once again find excuses to
carp against the decision.
I compare the situation to that existing in 1981 when Saddam Hussein was
known to be developing atomic weapons, hidden under a lie of "peaceful
uses." Not only was the US not alert to the threat, but the French and
Russians were actively supporting Saddam. When PM Begin was told that the
point had come when a decision had to be made, either strike now or accept a
nuclear threat from Saddam, Begin chose the right course, and dispatched
planes to destroy the Osiris reactor in Baghdad. It was very lucky for
subsequent enemies of Saddam, including the US forces, that Begin decided
this. We are in a very similar situation with regard to Iran now.
It is possible that the US will first focus on Syria, because its a much
easier nut to crack (17 million people as opposed to 66 million in Iran).
And it's known that both Syria and Iran are feeding arms and insurgents into
Iraq as well as to Hizbullah and the Palestinian resistance. But, given
these threats isn't it better to have US forces on the ground there (on both
sides of Iran) rather than having to start from scratch.
But, that aside, Bush has now embarked on a campaign to foster Democracy
around the world, and those regimes that are a threat to democracy, Syria,
Iran and N. Korea, the remainder of the "axis of evil," must be opposed in
one way or another, until "its over, over there." By denying them
cooperative enclaves and access to nuclear weapons only in this way can
international terrorism be defeated. It will be a long and hard fight, but
at least the US is in it for the long haul.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Secty. Rice

I welcome the confirmation of Condoleeza Rice as US Secretary of State. She
is a strong supporter of freedom and democracy around the world and of
Israel as a loyal US ally. In her confirmation hearings she made two
important comments related to the Middle East:
1. That PA President Mahmoud Abbas must stop all violence against Israel
from the PA as the first step in the Road Map towards peace, and as a
prerequisite for future negotiations with Israel. The fact that Abbas
agrees with this and is now in Gaza negotiating with the terrorist groups
indicates that their actions are the main impediment to progress, not the
so-called "Israeli occupation" that they use as an excuse to justify their
attacks. Note that Abbas has announced that he will deploy security forces
to stop the rocket launches, but the number reported varies from 8,000 to
700, and it has been announced by the PA security chief that these forces
have not been ordered to fire on the terrorists, rather to "persuade" them
to stop firing. Hands up who thinks this will work! Meanwhile Israel has
renewed security cooperation with the PA, but has a large invasion force
standing by in case the persuasion doesn't work!
2. Arab States must stop their incitement against Israel and their support
for terrorism 'under the counter' while at the same time claiming to want
peace. One should remember that under the Oslo Accords, that Israel
partially implemented, including withdrawal from Arab-majority areas in
order to establish the PA, the Arab States agreed to then recognize Israel,
but they never did (only Egypt and Jordan). Now they will be given another
chance to show their true feelings.
One way that Secty. Rice could facilitate a settlement of the Arab-Israel
conflict would be to stop US payments to UNWRA, the peculiar UN Agency that
perpetuates the conflict. If the standard UNHCR definition of a refugee is
accepted, namely one who has left his country, excluding descendents, then
there are in fact very few Palestinian refugees left in the world. The
return of the remaining refugees to Palestine could easily be arranged by
the UN. Those of Palestinian origin born in other countries should be
settled where they live according to international norms, and this is the
precedent established for those born in Jordan who are Jordanian citizens.
Notably all those Jews (ca. 450,000) who came from Arab lands and settled in
Israel became Israeli citizens.
With a commitment to peaceful resolution of conflicts, the second term of
Pres. Bush with Secty. Rice by his side could usher in a new era of peace in
our region. The two sticking points beside the future of Palestinian-Israel
relations are of course,
1) Iraq: If enough Iraqis survive the terrorist onslaught to vote, then in a
few weeks there will be a new government in office to draw up a democratic
constitution for Iraq. Depending on how many Sunnis vote and what their
continuing reaction will be to Shia domination, we may see either a decrease
or an increase in violence, it truly could go either way.
2) Iran: the nuclear threat form Iran becomes more tangible every day.
Seymour Hirsh's article in the New Yorker magazine attracted a lot of
attention to the possibility of US military action against numerous atomic
sites in Iran. But, one can regard this major leak as a warning to Iran.
However, since Iran is not likely to get the message, and they have
announced that they are capable of resisting any attacks, don't expect this
situation to die down soon. If the atomic threat looks imminent there may
be a US and/or an Israeli attack that could greatly exacerbate the
Meanwhile Pres. Bush is happy that Sharon has delayed the threatened IDF
invasion of Gaza, in order to give Abbas a chance to arrange a ceasefire,
until after his second inauguration today.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Turning point

Are we at the crucial turning point that must come in Palestinian-Israel
relations for there to be not only a new relationship, but an eventual
mutual compromise agreement?
The straws in the wind are as follows: (a) the deliberate challenge to
Abbas' control by the major attack by the three terrorist groups on the
Karni crossing and the continued rocketing of Sderot and mortaring of the
Gaza settlements; (b) the first meeting of the new cabinet and security
committee of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah two days ago that made decisions
declaring that violence must cease against Israel and all attacks must stop,
including suicide terrorist attacks and rocket/mortar attacks from Gaza; (c)
this decision was taken against the backdrop of the Israel Govt.'s decision
to cut off all contact with the PA due to the ongoing attacks; (d) a meeting
between Abbas and the so-called "Geneva Accords" supporters, particularly
the left-wing Yahad (former Meretz) Party leader Yossi Beilin, who while
opposing Sharon's decision to cut off ties, nevertheless warned Abbas that
terrorist attacks against Israel must be dealt with first before any
negotiations can proceed, and (e) a not too subtle warning that unless some
action is taken very soon, the IDF will launch a major "harsh" invasion of
northern Gaza and will further destroy areas of Beit Hanun to stop the
shellings. This message may have also been conveyed thru the US, that
supports the contention that terrorism must stop first, as the necessary
prerequisite before any progress can be made in the Road Map.
Note that while the official policy of the Govt. is to "disengage" from
Gaza, demonstrators in Sderot were waving placards calling for the IDF to
invade Gaza and take over large portions of the territory in order to
effectively stop the rocket attacks. Life cannot go on with such daily,
lethal, random attacks.
Two other related aspects. In order to protect their "bright eyed boy," the
Europeans are anxious for it to be seen that Abbas is the "man of peace," so
German Chancellor Schroeder stated today that Abbas has indeed acted against
terrorists. A bit premature actually, since he has not acted yet, but has
expressed an intention to act, so far only words. Today Abbas is in Gaza
telling Hamas and the others what his intentions are regarding a ceasefire.
But they have already in advance rejected any consideration of halting
attacks, their spokesman issued a statement saying that they adhere to
continuing the "armed struggle" until the end of the "Israeli occupation."
In order to accomplish his aims, Abbas has first instigated an investigation
into how a truck-bomb was able to pass through several armed PA checkpoints
in order to arrive at the Karni crossing. He has also issued orders to
station PA forces (there are between 30-50,000 security forces of various
kinds under his control) in the new no-man's land that Israel has created in
northern and southern Gaza in order to stop the attacks, both by rockets and
tunnels. Whether this deployment will actually be carried out, whether or
not it will be effective and whether or not the attacks will stop is the
acid test. If not, an IDF force is poised to enter Gaza. Abbas has at
least several days and at most a month to carry this out. If he can't
persuade the terrorist organizations with sweet reason, that has never
worked before and is not likely to work now, does he have the kind of
"balls" to actually act against them.
If not then we can conclude that nothing significantly has changed by his
assumption of leadership of the PA. If he does, then we may hope that
eventually there will be progress towards an agreement, and I promise you
this: that when peace dawns I will stop writing these messages, so you
should hope that he succeeds.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Sderot, a town of 20,000 people in the Negev, has become infamous as the
nearest Israeli town to Gaza that is within range of the Kassam rockets.
Today there will be a strike and a day of mourning in the town for the many
casualties they have taken in the past year or so of the continuing violent
intifada. There will also be a march by townspeople to the Gaza border to
protest the continuing onslaught of rockets. There is even talk of
evacuating Sderot, a major undertaking.
Yesterday the terrorists upped the ante by shooting dozens of mortars into
the Gaza settlements and rockets into Sderot. In Sderot, where they were
burying two inhabitants who were murdered in the attack on the Karni
crossing, Dror Gezri (31) and Ofer Tiri (23), two children were badly
injured, a brother and sister. In the settlement of Netzarim a child lost
his hand, and is clinging to life.
The terrorists want to maintain their attacks to provoke an Israeli
reaction, thus preventing Abbas from effectively calling for a ceasefire
while the Palestinians are under attack. But, Israel cannot afford to sit
by while the terrorists are given a free hand. Abbas has plenty of forces
under his control to stop the mortar/rocket attacks but chooses not to do
so, and if he leaves it to Israel to do that, then the IDF must act.
The TV (CNN, BBC) are playing the story with their usual pro-Palestinian
slant. Abbas wants peace and the big bad Israelis are preventing that. On
CNN they showed a dramatic film of a Palestinian child injured in the
cross-fire (he probably was throwing stones at an IDF position) while
mentioning that three Israelis were injured today. However, they did not
mention that all three of them were also children. It seems that only
Palestinian children merit media sympathy. Several Palestinians were also
killed in the IDF firing on the gunmen who tried to attack an IDF position
in Gaza near the border with Egypt.
Apparently general feeling in Gaza is building against the terrorists,
because without access through the border crossings Gaza is cut off.
Palestinians cannot go either way, workers are cut off from their jobs in
Israel and therefore from their income, all medicines, food supplies and
everything else is stopped. Palestinians in Egypt cannot return home. The
population suffers, but the terrorist groups don't care as long as they can
score political points against Abbas and military points against Israel,
both at the same time.
One of the main reasons why Sharon wants to evacuate the settlements in Gaza
is because they are untenable from a security pov. Even with a great number
of IDF troops protecting them, with a hostile population surrounding them
and the ability of the terrorists to lob a mortar in whenever they want to
and then just melt away, there is no way that the IDF can effectively
protect the settlers there. It requires a force to patrol the areas close
enough to the settlements from where mortars can be fired, but the IDF
doesn't want to station a permanent force there to do this, and until now
Abbas (who has been in charge of the PA for 2 months) has done nothing to
stop them.
The only solution is to take the settlements out and to free the IDF to
carry out its usual role of defending Israel. At the present time it is
estimated that Hizbollah has been supporting (with training and weapons)
about 70% of the terrorist attacks against Israel. Hizbollah in turn is
supported by Syria and Iran. It is clear that they are trying to
"Lebanonize" the conflict in Gaza and eventually in the West Bank. If they
manage to get enough mortars and rocket launchers into the West Bank the
Israeli situation could change drastically. That is why it is necessary for
the IDF to deal a significant blow to the terrorist organizations before the
withdrawal from Gaza. Either that or a ceasefire must be implemented, but
until now there is no sign of that from Mahmoud Abbas.
Today the PLO once again called for a halt of attacks on Israel (for those
who think it is the "occupation" that causes the violence you might want to
consider why the PLO would say this). But, as the Sharon Government said,
words are not enough, they have been talking about a ceasefire for months
with no effect. It is rumored that Sharon, while giving the IDF a free
hand, is nevertheless holding back a full scale invasion of southern Gaza in
order to give Abbas another chance. But, there is little hope, when the
Egyptians announce that they are in favor of an immediate ceasefire, but
without the use of force against the terrorist organizations. This is a
recipe for failure as before. We will see if Abbas is a new man or is
indeed just Arafat "with a suit and a shave."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Window of opportunity or not?

Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in today as the new PA President. In his speech he
said that he "extended his hand in peace" to Israel. Many have hailed his
election as presenting a new "window of opportunity" for peace. Although he
said he was against violence and called for a ceasefire, notably absent in
his speech was any follow-up on his message to the terrorist groups to stop
violence, that he previously had said was not helping the Palestinian cause.
After the attack last Friday that killed 6 Israelis at the Karni junction,
PM Sharon has cut off all ties to the PA. This, of course, has been
interpreted in a pro-Palestinian manner to indicate that Sharon does not
want to negotiate with Abbas. This could not be further from the truth.
However, Sharon is sending a strong message to Abbas that Israel will not
tolerate the situation to develop as before, especially as it was under the
Oslo accords, when negotiations proceeded while terrorism was at its height.
It should be noted that the PA has ca. 5,000 armed security forces
protecting their side of the Gaza crossings, yet in recent months there have
been attacks at all three crossings, killing Israelis, culminating in this
recent major coordinated attack. Israel has drawn the conclusion that the
PA forces are complicit in these actions, and Israel will not stand by and
pretend that this is a normal situation.
It is one of the cardinal aspects of sovereignty that any attack emanating
from a country or territory is the responsibility of the Government of that
territory to prevent. Not only that, the first requirement of the Bush
Administration's Road Map for peace is that the PA stop all such attacks and
destroy the terrorist infrastructure that allows them to occur. Not only is
the PA not doing anything about this, so far Abbas has indicated that he
does not intend to do anything, while at the same time calling for peace.
Who does this remind you of, why of course, his former mentor and boss
Yasser Arafat.
So now Israel has thrown down the gauntlet to Abbas and has said, in effect,
OK, show us, let us see you actually do something for a change, forget the
pretty words, show us some action. And remember, this is not just Israel's
demand, this is the position of the international quartet, the US, UN, EU
and Russia.
Of course, Israel is expected to do its share, but Israel is indeed acting.
First, they removed many checkpoints in the West Bank to facilitate the
election, and many have not been reinstated. Second they stopped
construction of the Security Fence/ Wall around parts of Jerusalem, and
indeed work has stopped again in order for the courts to reconsider further
local Arab complaints. Palestinian prisoners were released (some 150 last
time), and several outposts in the West Bank have been dismantled (the last
one was actually destroyed by the IDF). Israel also opened the crossing
points into Gaza to help the Palestinian workers, and indeed those killed in
the latest attack were Israeli workers, two of them Arabs, who were
servicing this transfer point. Indeed the crossing was kept open late to
help the Palestinians, but once again the terrorists took advantage of
Israel's cooperation. Finally, plans are going ahead for the major
Disengagement Plan from Gaza and northern Samaria, which is highly divisive
within Israel.
And what has the PA done in response, nothing! They did cut back on the
incitement in the PA media for a period of about 2 weeks, but this has now
reverted to the usual fare, and a very anti-Semitic sermon was broadcast
last Friday from a mosque in Gaza in which the actions of the Jews were
blamed for the tsunami in SE Asia (!)
So before any meetings or negotiations can occur Israel is saying to Mahmoud
Abbas let's see more than just words, let's see some action. To those who
would excuse him, and say he has to go slow and it takes time, we say too
bad, we will not continue to take casualties while he prevaricates. We've
been down that road too many times before. You can't have it both ways,
either this is a window of opportunity for peace or it is not!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Karni attack

Six Israelis were killed and 20 injured in a major Palestinian terrorist
attack on the Karni crossing into the Gaza strip. Three Palestinian
terrorists were also killed, two of them possibly suicide bombers.
Apparently the raid was quite well planned, first gunmen fired on the
crossing, pinning the IDF guards down and causing some casualties, then a
large truck bomb was detonated next to the wall separating the Palestinian
side from the Israeli side blowing a large hole in the wall, then
Palestinian bombers came thru the hole and detonated themselves inside. The
Fatah al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas and Islamic Jihad all claimed part of
the operation.
This is a direct challenge to recently elected President Mahmoud Abbas of
the PA, as well as to the Israeli Government that is in the process of
planning the Gaza Disengagement. The terrorists gain by both thumbing their
noses at Abbas, showing that his persuasion so far has done nothing to stop
their attacks against Israel, and is also a blow to the IDF that has taken
so many casualties. The terrorists want to claim victory in forcing the IDF
to leave Gaza.
After the attack a helicopter fired two missiles into a Gaza refugee camp,
although this may not have been retaliation, but part of an on-going IAF
program using precision weapons to target known terrorists. Apparently
these aerial attacks have become more successful than the routine ground
attacks by the army, and may be the weapon used in the future if attacks
should continue after the IDF withdraws from Gaza. Yesterday an aerial
attack destroyed a car bomb that was being readied in southern Gaza, and two
Palestinian terrorists were also killed.
A few days ago a Jewish settler in Gaza was killed and two were injured in a
blast from a roadside bomb. The statement issued by Hamas after this
murder was directed specifically at Abbas and not even at Israel. In other
words, in the internal struggle in the PA, Israeli lives are used for
sending messages.
As many have warned, the mere election of Abbas, even with a large majority,
does not mean that peace will immediately break out. So far we have the
situation as before, the PA officially regrets terrorist incidents, but does
nothing to stop them. But, we may be prematurely judging Abbas, so far he
has not been officially inaugurated, and he is still reorganizing his
cabinet, and he has not announced the appointment of his new security chief.
This is expected to be Mohammed Dahlan, who was often at odds with Arafat
and was the rival of Musa Arafat, Yasser's cousin, who he appointed as head
of security in Gaza only a few months ago. Abbas has already announced that
the 12 or so security forces will be consolidated into three services, as
requested by the US for several years. It is hoped that this will get rid
of a lot of embezzlement and extra-judicial killings, and make the security
forces more professional. Until now they were paid not thru the PA but
directly from Arafat's "own pocket." Once these reforms are accomplished
maybe things will change, but it is clearly going to take some time. Don't
expect to see Abbas doing anything to confront Hamas or al Aksa, which
nominally reports to him, before then. However, there is also the distinct
possibility that such reforms will be mere window dressing, and Abbas may
never take real control of Gaza and break the power of the terrorist gangs.
While we wait to find out more Israeli lives are forfeit.

Monday, January 10, 2005

A New Day?

In the PA election on Sunday the Palestinians gave Mahmoud Abbas (abu Mazen)
a majority of 66% (unconfirmed reports). Now he has a mandate to act on
behalf of his own people to replace the chaos and lawlessness in the PA by
reorganizing the security forces into effective and loyal units that can
disarm the gangs of terrorists and thugs that are bedevilling the lives of
the Palestinians. For example, in the past few months over 45 individuals
have been summarily executed for being so-called "collaborators" with Israel
(you won't read about this in your liberal newspapers). The question is
will he do it?
He also has a mandate to negotiate a peace treaty with the Israeli Govt.,
that would manifestly improve the lot of his people. But, this cannot
happen unless there is a ceasefire, including a cessation of the rockets
that have been raining on the Negev. There have been hundreds of these in
the past few weeks (you won't read about these in your liberal newspaper
either), and although they are mostly ineffective, last week one of them hit
beside a school bus full of children in Sderot. Of course, the terrorists
of al Aksa and Hamas hope to continue and even step-up their attacks so that
Israel will be forced to respond and Abbas will not be able to curtail them.
Such an attack occurred on Friday when a car carrying 4 IDF soldiers in
civilian clothes was deliberately ambushed near Nablus. Sgt. Attiah from
Petach Tikva was killed and the three others wounded. Although the IDF took
this very seriously they did not change their tactics of opening up most
checkpoints and allowing Palestinians to move around freely in order to
vote. Although this was done, it did not stop the Palestinian elections
commission from criticizing Israel, even though the low turnout in some
areas, particularly southern Gaza, had more to do with the Hamas boycott
than Israeli checkpoints.
Coincidentally on the same day as the PA election, the new coalition Govt.
of Likud, Labor and the orthodox UTJ party (with 6 seats) was installed in
the Knesset, thus giving Sharon a majority again (66 out of 120). Now the
Disengagement Plan from Gaza will go ahead rapidly. Abbas will want to
coordinate the withdrawal of the IDF with the take-over by his forces to
make sure that Hamas and others won't steal the opportunity. So he will
have to meet soon with Sharon and come to terms with him over the
coordination of the disengagement process. This could augur well for the
The main fly in the ointment at the moment is whether or not the settler
groups will resort to force in resisting the evacuation of their
settlements. They will certainly resist, but the extent of their reaction
will make a very big difference. If they resort to the use of firearms then
a very serious situation will escalate within Israel. Also, whether or not a
large proportion of (religious) soldiers obey the Rabbinical ruling not to
force settlers to move will be important. We have been in similar situations
before, for example with the evacuation from Sinai, when the settlers in
Yamit (although they were not predominantly religious) fought the IDF. But,
then there was no shooting involved. Let's hope the Gaza withdrawal will
pass with minimal conflict this time too, both between the IDF and the
settlers and the IDF and the Palestinian terrorist groups.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Mantle

Mahmoud Abbas was raised on the shoulders of gun-toting al Aksa Martyr's
Brigades terrorists in Jenin the other day and he said that he will never
raise a gun against them. He was given unconditional support by Zacharias
Zubeidi, their notorious leader. Yesterday at an election rally in Gaza he
called Israel "the Zionist enemy," adopting the terminology of Hamas. He
has also taken to wearing a keffiyah, and in his campaign posters he is
shown next to Yasser Arafat, his long-term boss and mentor. Is this the man
to "reform" the PA and bring us peace?
In contrast, he was also quoted as saying that shooting rockets into Israel
should stop because it gives the IDF an excuse to come into Gaza and kill
Palestinians (7 on Tuesday) and cause destruction. He was strongly
criticized for this statement by the same terrorists who hoisted him aloft
so recently.
Of course, many people, including many Israelis, are prepared to give him
the benefit of the doubt. He is after all running for election as President
of the PA, and he must say what the Palestinian "masses" and the armed
gunmen want to hear.
So which way will he go? He is on the horns of a dilemma, if
he appears too conciliatory towards Israel he is called a US puppet, but if
he states his maximal demands (right of return, Jerusalem, etc.) he is
called an extremist by many Israelis, including some in the Israeli
In fact it is a mistake to believe that Abbas is a "man of peace," that he
is prepared to compromise with Israel and that his victory in this election
will usher in a renewed peace process. Abbas is busy working on his "image"
as the successor, wearing the mantle of Arafat, so we will likely have more
of the same, only a bit watered down. I hope I am proved wrong, but all
indications are that he is sincere in his statements, i.e. he will not
engage the terrorists, at most he will try to persuade them to provide a
temporary ceasefire (hudna) so that he can establish his credentials with
the US. He will not give up any of the Palestinian hard-line positions
(right of return, Jerusalem, etc.) that the Palestinians might have gotten
from PM Barak before the intifada, but will never get from PM Sharon after
it (unless he allows Peres to take over).
In Israel, the Govt. coalition crisis continues. Labor is poised to join
the coalition, with Peres named Vice-PM, a position that does not really
exist, since Ehud Olmert is Deputy PM, and this is a legal position that
cannot be duplicated. It is understood that if something should happen to
Sharon only Olmert who is from Likud can succeed him. But, the coalition
cannot be finalized because the United Torah Judaism party cannot make up
its mind what to do. The Rabbis are still consulting the Torah and their
pipicks. Shas is out for the moment and so is Shinui. So how Sharon will
cobble together a working coalition is anybody's guess. If he can't then
there will have to be new elections.
In an interview with the J'sam Post last week Olmert made a startling
statement for a Likud Deputy PM. He said that once the unilateral Israeli
Disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria takes place, Israel may have to
consider other withdrawals from the West Bank. This is contrary to
Government policy and resulted in a sharp reprimand from PM Sharon. But, in
the past Sharon has used Olmert to test various "trial balloons," and we are
left speculating whether or not Sharon is really against this or he is once
again preparing the ground well in advance.
Meanwhile the opposition to the Disengagement from Gaza is getting
organized. They have tents outside the PM's office, and today in J'sam I
saw that the security around the area has been considerably beefed up. The
firstshot was fired by a soldier evacuating settlers from an outpost (no-one
washurt) and the first soldier disobeyed an order and (in civilian clothes)
led a group of protesters against the removal. Where all this will lead is
anyone's guess, but we are mostly hoping for a peaceful disengagement
process and then a stop to all withdrawals until we have a serious and
trustworthy peace partner. Dream on...

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The threat of secular society

In their recent book "The Case for Democracy, "Natan Sharansky and Ron
Dermer argue that democracy can find a place in the Arab Middle East and
that only when it does will peace be possible between the Arab states and
Israel. They base this prediction, mainly on the fact that other
totalitarian societies, such as Japan, Germany, Russia, and so on, made the
transition to stable democracies and became peaceful partners to the West.
But, this happened only after major wars with them, including the Cold War
and the "containment policy" with the USSR. This is like the current war
against terrorism and the war in Iraq.
They argue that all people prefer to live in free rather than totalitarian
"fear" societies, and that such societies carry the seeds of their own
destruction. In order to continue to exist they must suppress their own
people, and in order to do this they need an external enemy and this makes
them incapable of coexisting peacefully with democracies. Thus, Sharansky
argues convincingly that Arafat could never have make peace with Israel, for
if he did he would have lost his control over all aspects of Palestinian
Neither can totalitarian societies compete with open, free, democratic
societies because they spend so much time, effort and money on suppressing
the freedom of their own people as well as engaging in external conflicts,
that they never have enough for development. And this is apart from the
systemic corruption of totalitarian societies, as found in the PA.
But, the absence of any Arab democracies is why many people are skeptical
about Sharansky's argument. Why are they all authoritarian and/or
dictatorships? There must be something about the Arab world that makes it
so backward and so lacking in human rights and democracy. I have argued in
an earlier piece that this is because Arab societies are essentially tribal,
and adopt a hierarchical system of government in which the individual will
is subservient to the group. The totalitarian tendency in Germanic and
Russian societies was similar, but of course different in certain respects.
One characteristic aspect of the reversion from totalitarian to democratic
societies is the development of secular society in the West. The reason it
developed in the West is because of the original separation of Church and
State, i.e. of religious and secular power. This was not true of Judaism
nor of Islam. It was the renaissance followed by the reformation, as well
as the suppression of Catholicism in Britain that led to the evolution of
secular power in the West (Henry VIII is one of my heroes).
Secular culture has been spreading around the world, as can be seen in the
common dress (jeans), music, appliances and reduction in religious
belief/adherence in the West. This is mainly what frightens the
Arabs/Muslims. Their leaders see the religious hierarchy that has given
them control and stability being swept away by a secular society in which
competition is expected and people are free to choose for themselves how
they want to live. This is the great "evil" that Muslims fear, and this is
why they call the US the great Satan and Israel the little Satan, because
they fear the spread of our secular culture. This has been behind their
antagonism to Israel from the start. They will do almost anything to
subvert this process, but at the same time they are totally dependent on the
West, for example for selling their oil. This is akin to the situation of
the Soviet Union when it wanted to suppress its dissidents, but needed
Western trade to survive, and in the end could not have both. By giving up
repression the USSR signed its own death warrant. Let's hope the
Arab/Muslim countries will do the same.