Monday, June 30, 2008

Bad agreements

The sense of frustration many feel in the current situation is exemplified by the so-called Gaza truce. Every day since the truce supposedly came into effect there have been firings of mortars or rockets from Gaza into Israel. Fortunately, these have not caused any damage or injuries and so have been ignored by the IDF. The BBC, in reporting these violations of the truce, stated that Israel had violated the truce, although they were referring to IDF actions on the West Bank that was specifically excluded from the truce. Nevertheless, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah military wing Izzadin al Kassem both claimed that they had deliberately violated the Gaza truce because of the Israeli attacks in the West Bank. Hamas is considered to be in charge of Gaza and their Foreign Minister as-Zahar announced that any armed groups that fired on Israel and violated the truce would be arrested by Hamas, although this actually had no effect on the continuing violations.
Israel opened the border crossings on the first day after the truce went into effect and delivered hundreds of truck-loads of goods into the Strip. But, when the rockets started again they closed the borders. However, even though the rockets are continuing, Israel has again opened several crossings and resumed delivering truck-loads of goods. What is going on here, is there a truce or is there not? If there is not, why is Israel still delivering food and materiel to the Gazans?
I suppose all of this could have been predicted given the fact that the Arabs never honor their word and the current Israeli Govt. is confused and feckless. Another example of this attitude is the negotiations for the release of IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser from Lebanon. Today the Cabinet met and voted 22 to 3 to accept the agreement that has apparently been reached with Hizbollah (these negotiations were thru the German Red Cross). Israel will release a major terrorist, Samir Kuntar, with Israeli blood on his hands, and many other prisoners in exchange for the two Israelis, without having any evidence of their being alive. Usually this is the first thing that any negotiators require before releasing anyone in exchange for a hostage, but the Israeli Govt. is so weak that it does not even demand that. This sets a dangerous precendent, suppose the captors of Cpl. Gilad Shalit who is currently held in Gaza and who recently was allowed to send a letter to his parents, decide to kill him now, will the Govt. still honor the agreement that has apparently been agreed with Hamas? Will any future IDF captive be safe?
On the other hand, the military supported the agreement, Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi voted for it, giving the reason that it is his duty to get the soldiers back, alive or dead, while the security chiefs voted against it, because they see it as a victory for Sheikh Nasrullah, who has publicly commited himself to get Kuntar back. Some Israelis argue that Kuntar has been in prison for 30 years and so we may as well release him for a tangible benefit, and a bad agreement is better than no agreement But, there will be celebrations in Beirut when he is released and it will be considered a victory for Hizbollah.

Fictional elections

Why is it that absolute dictators like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe need the fiction of fake elections to justify their continued control over their country? The beating and killing of opponents reached a pitch in Zimbabwe so that the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tzvangurai, was forced to withdraw from the run-off election to avoid futher murder and maiming of his supporters. Yet, Mugabe has continued with the farcical, predetermined election by forcing people to vote for him! Evidently, even for absolute dictators, a vote has some sacred manifestation.
Many dictators have likewise manipulated elections to rise to and continue in power, such as Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Nicolae Ceaucescu, Kim Il Sung and Fidel Castro. They require the fictional support and adulation of the people in order to feel justified in doing what they would do anyway, murder and maim in the name of their own selves, sometimes under the fiction of an ideological party such as Communism, Fascism or Nazism.
Of course, none of this would happen without the guaranteed support of the army or equivalent armed forces. Both Castro and Khomeini of Iran swept away previous dictatorships, that after their own depradations appeared benign by comparison. Solzhenitsyn pointed out that while the Czar filled prison cells built for one, with 5 prisoners, Stalin filled the same cell with 100. In the prisons of the Shah hundreds were incarcerated and dozens were killed, but the same prisons in Iran now contain thousands and the numbers killed are uncountable. So it goes, the forces that called for change, offering a vision of hope and utopia for the people, lead only to greater repression and reaction.
How to protect ourselves from such monsters? Perhaps only for legal protection, the constitution of every country, guaranteed by the UN, should contain a clause that no one man can control all the power without a strong and viable opposition, and the guarantee of free speech and fair elections. Of course, this would make no actual difference, but it does emphasize that democracy is not only a Western tradition, but a universal right that all peoples aspire to.
In this respect, it is unacceptable that the Organization of African States and the South African Government itself, have done nothing to prevent Mugabe from consolidating his dictatorship and control over Zimbabwe. Those of us who supported the anti-apartheid movement see that the commitment of the ANC was only to their own struggle and not for that of a black citizenry against a black dictator.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jerusalem happenings

Three separate events occured in in Jerusalem, independent but not without connections. The major one was the opening on Wednesday of the new bridge at the entrance to the city. This is an impressive and beautiful structure consisting of a very tall metal spike with cables strung on both sides looking rather like a harp, that holds up a single curved span. This is supposed to be deliberate according to the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, since Jerusalem is David's City. As usual the construction was over-budget and cost ca. m$80, that some think could have been spent more usefully elsewhere and others call it a bridge of strings and a phallic symbol. But, the light rail system is not yet completed and is not expected to be operational for another two years and the bridge will no doubt become a symbol for Jerusalem itself. At the ceremony a controversy was caused by an order from the City administration that a group of young female dancers must "cover up" - they were forced to wear woolen hats and long costumes - and were dubbed "the Taliban" dancers. This outraged many people and may tell against Orthodox Mayor Lupolianski in the next election.
On Thursday, the Gay Pride parade was held in Jerusalem. As usual this was opposed by a coalition of ultra-orthodox groups, who tried to stop it or at least reduce it. They argue that Jerusalem is a sacred city and so such "abominations" as the Gay Pride march are inappropriate. Of course, the gays argue that they are residents of Jerusalem and have the right to defy the strictures of the religious establishment. Since the parade has been held in one way or another for 4 years, it proceeded without incident, and eventually may peter out. Gay pride parades are held in many cities around the world, and particularly in Tel Aviv where it seems appropriate, but it doesn't fit Jerusalem.
A demonstration of "messianic Jews" is due to take place in Jerusalem this weekend. About 300 from the US joined by local adherents are planning to protest alleged discrimation against them as Jews. They claim that they are Jews and should be treated as everyone else in Israel, but in fact many Jews and Israelis reject them. They claim both to be genuine Jews, born of Jewish mothers and accepting Jewish history and culture, but they are believers in Jesus as the Messiah. This seems contradictory to many Jews, but there are 80 congregations of them in the US and their numbers seems to be growing. The ultra-orthodox will no doubt find their presence in Jerusalem as particularly unpleasant, but the only answer for them is to pray and have faith. There is no doubt that Jerusalem is a magnet for all kinds of strange people.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Calev Ben-David, a writer for the Jerusalem Post, described the two Ehuds, Olmert and Barak, as two drivers playing chicken, driving rapidly towards the edge of a cliff, while each dares the other to jump first. Neither of them wants to jump, i.e. have new elections and probably lose their seats. But this was going to be forced upon them by a vote scheduled Wednesday in the Knesset, sponsored by Likud MK Silvan Shalom, to dissolve the current Knesset. Olmert had threatended to fire any Labor MK who voted for the proposition, against coalition orders. But, if he did this it would also have effectively destroyed his coalition and forced him to resign.
As reported by the Jerusalem Post, at a meeting Wednesday morning Kadima's steering committee unanimously approved an agreement with Labor whereby Kadima would hold a primary for the party's leadership by September 25 and Labor would not vote in favor of the bill to dissolve the Knesset. The agreement lead to the postponement of the vote and gave the government a much-needed lifeline. In effect Olmert won a reprieve of another three months as PM and Barak got to remain Defense Minister. This resulted in angry exchanges in the debate in hth Knesset, between the sponsors of the bill and the members of the coalition that scuttled it.
However, there are alternatives to a new election, either Olmert may rescue himself by bringing Shas on board in place of Labor, although it would be a shaky coalition and he would have to pay a high price for Shas' loyalty, or in the Kadima primary the party may choose to replace Olmert by someone else as leader of the party. That someone else is likely to be Tzipi Livni, our current FM, and she may be able to do a deal with Barak to keep the coalition alive. But, Olmert has not ruled out the possibility that he might run again in the Kadima primary (nothing precludes this), but that depends on how the corruption case against him goes, and the testimony of Morris Talansky, the American Jews who passed envelopes of money to Olmert, is due to take place in July.
Failing these possibilities, if there is a new election, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to win by a wide margin, and take the country in a new and more popular direction. Most Israelis are fed up hearing about corruption, dividing Jerusalem, withdrawals, making deals with Hamas, not including our kidnapped soldiers in deals, depending on Egypt for our security, false deals with the Palestinians, etc. Perhaps this is expecting too much from Netanyahu, who few think is a perfect candidate for PM, but at least it will represent a "change." Isn't that what someone in the US keeps preaching, and look where that got him!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


We went down last weekend to the Eilat area for a barmitzvah at kibbutz Ketura, which is about 30 min north of Eilat. We had a great time, although the temp was above 40 deg C (over 100 deg F) most of the time. It was like being in an oven, although a/c makes life bearable. We stayed in their guest house, which was a nice little modern motel.
Ketura is one of the few successful kibbutzim because it is diversified (see Along the Arava Valley between Ketura and Eilat are dense growths of palm trees from which dates are harvested. Also, they produce fish, particularly salmon, in ponds near the Red Sea, and they grow red algae that are both used to feed the salmon and to extract a product that is used in cosmetics and other products worldwide.
There is also the famous Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, an ecology school that was started by Alon Tal, who is now organizing a new green party for the next Knesset elections. There is already a Green Party, but he wants a new one that is both more professional and more serious, and that is not so left-wing. Whether or not his party will succeed is questionable, but since the Pensioner's Party won 7 seats at the last election in its first try, everybody wants to have a specialist party to get into the Knesset.
In the kibbutz, we noticed some black Africans. Several of them are Sudanese refugees, mostly children, who have been adopted by the kibbutz, and two have been adopted by one couple. It was amazing to see how fluent they were in Hebrew playing with the other children in the pool. Also, there were several Ethiopian workers on the kibbutz.
On Sunday after the barmitzvah we drove down to Eilat and wandered around a bit. It was so hot that we were glad to take refuge in a modern airconditioned mall. I counted at least 14 large hotels, making Eilat the largest resort in Israel. Eilat is unique in that it has grown so fast that the airport is now literally in the center of the city. There is the south beach and the north beach and the airport is in between. The planes land and take off as if between the hotels. It seems very dangerous but no accident has occurred to my knowledge.
We went out on a boat that had been hired for the barmitzvah, and it was great. We took a cruise of the Eilat bay. Aqaba is right next door, and although we didn't cross the line, we could see it very clearly. It has definitely developed since we visited there about 10 years ago. There is good cooperation between Eilat and Aqaba, especially in the marine area, and there is talk of the two countries Jordan and Israel building a new joint international airport for the two cities. It makes economic sense, but maybe not political sense yet.
We drove back in two stages, stopping as usual in Beersheva, which is about half way (each stage about 2-2.5 hours). The road is long and the scenery dramatic but also tedious, since from Eilat to Beersheva there is almost nothing, no greenery, few settlements and no people. It is desolate, but distinct. The Ramon crater is very stark and beautiful and the scene from Mitzpe Ramon is exhilerating, but for weary travellers it was good to get home and rest.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Energy policy

On Thursday, President Bush announced a new initiative in energy policy that results from the fact that gas prices at the pump in the US have jumped to over $4 per gallon, due to the price of crude oil reaching $140 per barrel. While these high prices make many alternative non-fossil fuel sources of energy, such as wind, sun and alcohol, more commercially viable, only an increase in oil supply in the US can make a significant dent on these prices.
Pres. Bush announced a four-pronged policy to achieve this goal:
1. Open up the outer continental shelf (OCS) around the US for oil drilling.
2. Open up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) in Alaska for oil exploration.
3. Develop the shale (oil rich rock) deposits in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.
4. Facilitate the building of new oil refineries that have been prevented by red-tape for 30 years.
While all of these options have been opposed by environmentalists and the Democratic Congress, now with the gas prices really pinching the economy, the time has come to take firm and drastic action. With the new technologies that have been developed in the past few years the danger of oil leakage and pollution have been greatly reduced and the safe-guarding of the environment while finding and exploiting these proven reserves has been greatly enhanced.
As an environmentalist myself I am concerned about the danger to ecology and wildlife, but as a pragmatist I know that the only way to avoid greater dependence on foreign oil (from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Gulf) is to increase US production. The measures that Bush proposed seem to represent a reasonable approach to do this. By the way, the only candidate who has a similar policy to improve US oil production is John McCain (although he previously opposed the exploitation of ANWR).
It should be noted that prices in Britain are twice those in the US and in parts of Europe and Israel are three times higher, but if nothing is done to increase oil supply, the market forces of reduced availability will undoubtedly push the prices even higher, and this could have a devastating effect on the US and global economy.
The development of alternative energy sources, such as focussed sunlight, wind turbines, even wave energy, are now economically viable, but none of these can supply more than a few percent of the world's needs within the next few decades. Only the production of gasoline susbstitutes such as alcohol can make a big contribution as vehicle fuels, but the production of corn to make alcohol is also fraught with the problem of transferring food production to fuel production, leading to the scarcity of corn and an increase in the price of basic foods. In Brazil sugar cane is the main source of alcohol that is used to run buses and taxis. Alternative plant sources for alcohol are currently being researched and developed, but this will also take time.
While the short-term prospects do not look good, in the long-term the selection of the most efficient and economical means by the market will eventually bring down energy prices.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The truce and other fables

So finally a truce (tardiyeh or calm) has been arrived at by Israel and Hamas in Gaza through Egyptian mediation due to start Thursday at 6 am. However, in order to achieve it, Israel gave way on several points, first, the release of Cpl. Schalit is not a condition of the truce but will be discussed later. Second, after the shelling from Gaza stops (and hopefully all terrorist groups will honor the truce) and Israel stops attacking Gaza (note that 5 Hamas terrorists were killed yesterday) then Israel will open all border crossings into Gaza for all goods and the blockade will end. Then the entry between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah will be opened with Israeli cooperation. Finally, even though Israel wanted to include an important point about stopping the smuggling of arms from Egypt into Gaza, this is now left entirely to the Egyptians.
So while Israel gets a temporary cessation of rockets, Hamas gets everything they wanted. Well, at least the residents of Sderot and surroundings will be relieved. But, after a period of time (6 months) then the whole thing will start all over again, and this time Hamas will have managed to smuggle long range missiles into Gaza. Nice prospect.
Negotiations are also underway between Israel and Hizbollah thru Red Cross and German mediation to release the two kidnapped soldiers, Regev and Goldwasser. Hizbollah wants all Lebanese prisoners in return, that isn't a problem except for Kuntar, who murdered a child in front of its parents and then killed them in Nahariya in the 1980s. He is a cold blooded killer and should never be released. The catch is that Hizbollah has not released any information to prove that the two Israelis are still alive. So the question is asked why should Israel release live prisoners for possibly dead soldiers. Only the incompetent Govt. of PM Olmert could answer this. Israel may also retreat on the Shaba farms area, and give it up to Lebanese sovereignty in exchange for a commitment of Hizbollah to cease military attacks against Israel (good luck with this one)
Concurrently, Israel is negotiating with Syria thru Turkish mediation. Why now, why has Bashar Assad given his assent to this process? Maybe he feels isolated, or he and Hamas have been given the word that their source of richesse and rockets, Iran, is soon going to be partially destroyed because they will not give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons and because they continue to threaten to destroy Israel and the West. The US cannot accept this, and so not only are there severe sanctions in the works, there are also counter-threats. If you were Syria and Hamas and knew that something very bad was going to happen to your godfather, maybe you too would seek a way out. But, on the other hand this may be wishful thinking.
On the other hand, the explanation for all these negotiations may be that Olmert is imminently going to be charged with corruption and this may be his way to try to distract attention and win support.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Condy's surprises

The current brief but unheralded visit by US Secty. of State Condoleeza Rice to the Middle East had two unpleasant surprises for Israel. Apparently, we have now come to that well-known phase of a lame-duck president when the lack of progress on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, in this case the so-called "two-state solution," results in pressure being put on Israel. This is because the Palestinains anyway never compromise, so putting pressure on them is pointless, while Israel is so dependent on US support that it is the usual target of American pressure. As the Arabs constantly claim that the US is too pro-Israel (and why not) they lobby continuously for the US to put pressure on Israel to "force" concessions.
This time the first "surprise" was that Condy openly criticized Israel for its plans to build housing units in several locations in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This was one-sided criticism and was certainly designed to placate and support PA Pres. Abbas and PM Salam Fayyed in their roles as the West's favorite Palestinian leaders. Of course, the US is against Hamas as a terrorist group, but Condy's attention was not focussed on their daily bombardment of Israel with rockets and mortars.
Although it has been US policy to oppose construction of "settlements" on the West Bank for some time, Pres. Bush has also stated in an important letter to the Israeli PM that the US agrees that the whole West Bank need not be "returned" to the Palestinians, but that "territorial adjustments" are expected due to the changed situation there, i.e. the development over time of large Israeli settlements and towns. So this is an ambiguity in American policy, that can be interpreted either way, depending on whether or not the Administration wishes to seem to be more or less pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. While Pres. Bush basks in the praise of being the most pro-Israel President, nevertheless he wants to go down in history, like all other Presidents, as the one who "solved" the Mid-East situation, so now he is pressuring Israel.
The Palestinian/Arab position is that all building by Israel on the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is illegal. But, this blanket prohibition is not accepted by Israel, which recognizes three aspects, 1. a prohibition on establishing new settlements, 2. the right to expand existing settlements, and 3. the right to build in those areas that Israel intends to retain in any settlement with the Palestinians, particularly in Jeruslaem. While the US sometimes calls Israel's continued expansion of settlements "unhelpful" this time Condy went further and actively criticized Israel while in Jerusalem for holding up progress towards the "two state solution."
After doing this, Condy took a surprise trip to Lebanon, where she met with the new President Suleiman, and congratulated him on his appointment. This was a result of Qatari intervention that resulted in an agreement between the anti-Syrian factions and the pro-Syrian Hizbollah, that avoided another civil war, but gave Hizbollah veto control over Lebanese Govt. policy. Some might interpret this as a setback for the pro-Western forces, but they paid this price for avoiding further fighting. In order to show support for Lebanon and Suleiman, Rice stated that it was about time that the Mount Dov (Saba Farms) region was settled.
This is a small region that was part of Syria, that was captured in 1967 and is still occupied by Israel, and that now Lebanon claims. Hizbollah has been using this Israeli occupation of a tiny slice of land (actually two farms) as a basis for their "resistance" to Israel. Rice's support for Lebanon can be viewed as a reversal in US policy from supporting Israel's (and the UN's) position to that of Lebanon, in other words Israel should give up the Sabah farms to Lebanon. This is once again attempting to placate Hizbollah.
While neither of these "surprises" are very significant nor shocking, they both indicate that "lame-duck" pressuring of Israel is in season.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Religion in democracy

Unfortunately religion plays a large role in the workings of the State of Israel. How could it not, given that religious interests have taken over many areas of political activity. I remind the readers that the founding of the State was almost entirely secular. The early settlers were mostly Jews who had thrown off the yoke of religious passivity (leaving everything to God) and had taken action for their own survival. The early Zionists saw this as only being possible in a Jewish State with its own sovereignty. I emphasize that contrary to wide-spread belief the State was not founded because of Jewish belief in biblical prophesy!
There are two main areas in which Judaism has currently interfered in the progress of the State's functioning. The first is the area of conversion, which has become an area of contention between ultra-orthodox and merely orthodox and other denominations. At first the clash was between all orthodox on one side and the more liberal groups, Conservative and Reform, on the other. But, several years ago accomodations and compromises were arrived at allowing the State to establish Committees that could accept conversions to Judaism, basically under Orthodox guidelines. One has to be Jewish (by birth or conversion) to automatically receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return (although it is possible for non-Jews through a different process).
However, recently, a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi who was investigating a case of divorce, discovered that the woman in the case was a convert, and he decided that her conversion had not been "kosher" and so he abrogated it. In doing so he effectively cancelled the conversions of hundreds of other people who had been processed by the State-approved conversion courts. This was not a chance incident but was deliberate, since the cancellation of someone's conversion is both religiously and morally questionable. It was in fact a direct attack on the religious court chaired by Rabbi Haim Druckman, who is certainly Orthodox, but not haredi. This action has now thrown the conversions of hundreds of people into doubt and has resulted in a crisis facing those who seek to convert to Judaism but who do not intend to live as ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Another area where religion has raised its ugly head is in relation to politics. Of course, the religious parties seek to improve the situation of their supporters and adherents through the political process. But, this has become a situation of naked blackmail, where the religious parties, notably Shas, exact a large price for their involvement in a coalition government, as is currently the case with Kadima. But, then being Ministers in that Govt. they have the power to control and prevent legislation that they don't like.
Amazingly a coalition of the three main parties, Labor, Likud and Kadima agreed on a draft bill to replace the current electoral system of proportional representation, that represents party interests before it represents those of the people, with a system of direct representation. In this bill between 30-60 of the MKS would be elected by district or direct representation, the rest being elected as now. This bill was all set to leave the committee and be presented to the Knesset, when in steps a Shas MK named Meshulam Nahari (Minister without Portfolio), who vetoed it! Because it is now vetoed it cannot be presented to the Knesset and cannot become law. The sponsors of the bill may try to present it as a private member's bill, but that has reduced chances of passing. Nahari stated that he opposed the bill because it was against his party's interests. In this way religious interests frustrate the workings of the democratic system.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


How can the IDF maintain its deterrent capability relative to Israel's enemies if the Govt. continues to threaten action and does not act?
The fact is that the Olmert Govt. has stated many times over a period of years in response to continuous rocket, mortar and other attacks from Gaza that it will act. Last week after another Israeli was killed, Min. of Defense Barak threatened a major response soon, but within a few days he changed his mind. Instead a representative was sent to continue negotiations in Cairo, but came back without any truce agreed upon. The Egyptian intermediary announced that Hamas would not agree to condition the release of Cpl. Schalit on the ceasefire, while Israel had announced that this was a condition of any ceasefire. So the game goes on, Hamas realizes that it can continue attacking us with impunity while stringing us along in useless and futile negotiations.
This weekend in an attempt to carry out a large terrorist attack (before any possible ceasefire), Hamas bombarded Israel with ca. 50 mortars and 20 rockets, and then drove an armoured bulldozer to the border in order to break thru and allow the entry into Israel of jeeps filled with explosives. However, an alert IDF guard spotted the bulldozer and it was destroyed by tank shells. So Hamas has it both ways, continuing to attack us while running out the negotiations. This whole process gives Hamas credibility on the year's anniversary of its takeover of Gaza, that Israel is actually negotiating with them, and they consider this in itself a victory. Incidentally, the house that blew up in Gaza killing a Hamas leader and his whole family was not blown up by the IAF as they first claimed (and as the BBC reported), but later Hamas admitted that it had been a "work accident."
The IDF has in fact lost its deterrent capability and this has serious consequences. When Hizbollah, at Iran's insistence no doubt, crossed the Lebanese border into Israel in 2006, killed 8 IDF soldiers (they tend to be forgotten) and kidnapped two (Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser) they did so because they did not fear the consequences. Although the IDF did not achieve its objectives in the 2nd Lebanon War, nevertheless the destruction wrought by the IAF on south Beirut and the Shia heartland in Lebanon was enough to make them think hard again before launching another such attack. But, the fact that they were able to bring the north of Israel to a standstill and that the IDF did not stop the rockets and the subsequent continuous bombardment of the Negev without any major response, seems to indicate that the Govt. of Israel has lost its nerve and will not strike back again. Anyway, this is no doubt how the aggressors see it on the other side of the border. Whether or not this is due to the policy or the weakness of the Olmert Govt. is unknown.
Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon are stockpiling rockets with a long enough range to hit Tel Aviv and the most densely populated parts of Israel. Since the IDF could not stop the rockets from Lebanon in 2006 and now from Gaza what chance is there that they could stop them if a huge shower of long-range rockets rained down on Israel? Perhaps we shall see.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Gender and policy preferences

So now we know that the American electorate, or the Democratic portion of it, would rather have any man, black, white or indifferent, than a highly qualified woman. There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton is a highly qualified woman to become the first Lady President, she has extensive experience in the political arena, and has suffered a few hard knocks. She is also a "wonk" on such subjects as health care and campaign reform (OK, the last is a bit of humor).
Having selected Barack Obama as their candidate, the most liberal Senator in the current Senate, the Democrats have taken a sharp turn to the left. Meanwhile the rest of the Western world has gone in the opposite direction. Germany has Angela Merkel, France chose Nicolas Sarkozy and Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, and Britain is expected to dump the colorless Gordon Brown for the new, young Conservative leader David Cameron.
So why this turn to the left by the Democratic Party? The answer lies mainly in the visceral hatred of Bush by all liberals. According to them he instigated an unnecessary war using manipulated intelligence, he caused many American boys to be killed, he failed to kill/capture Osama bin Laden, and he has screwed up the economy. If we examine these statements singly, we can see the shallowness of this position. First, two high level Committees failed to find any evidence of Govt. manipulation of intelligence data showing that Saddam Hussein had WMD. At the time almost everybody believed it and it was not intelligence that was manipulated, it was intelligence that was wrong! These things do happen, but the Commander-in-chief (C-in-C) must act on what is believed to be known at the time!
Those who died did so in the course of a just war, and although every death is tragic, for a country the size of the USA the casualties were minimal. Noone could have accurately predicted the insurrection in Iraq after the war, coming as it did from several sources (Saddam hard-liners, Shia militants and al Qaeda), why should Bush be blamed for this? It has been said that there were no al Qaeda in Iraq before the war (a dubious distinction since it was an extreme dictatorship) and Bush caused them to focus there. But, that's the nature of the beast, it moves and changes with time and opportunity. Nevertheless, on its own ground, the US Army, with the surge of troops (an extra 30,000) has apparently managed to reduce, if not defeat, the insurgency. And Osama bin Laden himself has become an irrelevancy. Those who criticized the Bush administration for not sending enough troops in the first place can hardly also criticize them for then sending reinforcements that are taking care of the job by occupying dissident areas. Americans should be happy that the future of Iraq now seems to be assured, but the anti-Bush, anti-war faction are unable to face the truth. So to elect someone who opposed a war that is long over, and who has had no actual contact with the situation in Iraq for years, is on the face of it, absurd.
Screwing up the economy is also a serious complaint against Bush, but actually even with the war and the insurrection ongoing, the US economy had shown great strength. It is only recently with the incredible increase in the cost of crude oil, doubling in the past six months to $150 per barrel, that the economy has come under strain. But, Bush can hardly be blamed for the rise in the cost of oil. For that, blame OPEC and the oil states of Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc.. What is happening in effect is that US wealth is being transferred to the oil states at the rate of ca. 1 billion dollars per week. And some of this money is undoubtedly being used to undermine the West and to support terrorism. So to deal with this serious and potentially critical situation, part of which is the nuclear ambitions of Iran, one needs an experienced President to be C-in-C, one well-versed in military and security affairs, which McCain is and Obama certainly is not!
Anyway, may the best man win, but next time let it be a woman.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ethiopian immigrants

About once a month I deliver food parcels to poor Ethiopian immigrants. It so happens that Netanya has a large contingent of Ethiopians living here, and some of them are of course unable to find work and have many children. A small proportion of the poor immigrants are also Russians. The recipients are chosen by social workers who work for the Welfare Dept. of the City and select the most needy.
The all-volunteer private organization that buys the food and is responsible for its distribution is called Keren Olim (Fund for immigrants) and is a registered Amutah (non-profit organization #58-041-255-9) that has been functioning here for ca. 19 years. I am one of ca. 40 drivers that deliver the food to different routes of usually 8 families out of a total of ca. 300 families. I have seen the gratitude on the faces of mothers and children when we come with the food parcels. In two cases the fathers were crippled. Clearly they are not able to afford enough food, and would otherwise go hungry.
The price of food has been increasing dramatically around the world, causing food riots in Mexico, Spain and India. Also here in Israel this rise in prices has caused Keren Olim to experience for the first time financial difficulties such that the contents of the food parcels had to be cut down and there was a concern that it might have to close down altogether. The leaders of Keren Olim have recently been to Jerusalem and fortunately their appeal to a large chain of food stores to provide food to Keren Olim at reduced rates has been successful. This has ameliorated the situation, but has not solved it.
The problem is, if we don't help our Ethiopian immigrants noone else will. These are not people who can work, these are the poorest of the poor, who cannot speak Hebrew and often have medical problems. The Govt. and municipality for whatever reasons cannot provide them with enough welfare. I am appealing to you, anyone who reads this, to please send an emergency contribution to the Keren Olim fund. This is a real person-to-person organization, and without an infusion of funds in the near future to purchase the food the whole organization may collapse. As Jews we cannot allow people to go hungry in our cities and we cannot allow a black underclass to develop.
This is a genuine crisis, and I am doing this purely on a personal basis. Here is the information, send checks to: Keren Olim Fund for People in Need, 10a/33 Rehov Nitza, Netanya 42262, Israel. See the attachments for further details.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The strong shekel

"The Israeli shekel is the strongest currency in the world!" Take a moment to savor that incredible concept. This was stated by an economics expert who spoke to a group regarding investment opportunities. While this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, nevertheless, the shekel has undoubtedly increased in value relative to the dollar over the past year (from ca. 4.4 to 3.4, a 22% increase). The factors causing this increase are mainly the weakness of the dollar itself, that has decreased in value relative to most other international currencies, and the cost of oil, that has sky-rocketed from what was considered a high of ca. $70 per barrel, to now when it is twice that!
Since the dollar has been the main international currency, most investors had put their money in the dollar. One reason that has accelerated its slide has been the transfer of funds from the weaker dollar to other stronger currencies. These include the Euro, the Yen and yes, the shekel!
As a result of the strength of the shekel the international agency that controls the convertibility of currencies (the Continuous Linked Settlement Bank in NY) has added the shekel to its short list of 14 convertible currencies (see ). This means that henceforth shekels can be traded and exchanged anywhere in the world where there is a money market. This is quite a coup for Israel, long gone are the days when the Israeli Govt. had to control the amount of shekels that people could convert and take out of the country.
One corollary that supports the contention that the shekel is strong is the strength of the Israeli economy. Notwithstanding the political situation, both internal regarding PM Olmert's pending criminal charges, and external regarding Iran and Gaza, the Israeli economy has continued to grow and strengthen. Annual average increases in GDP per capita have been somewhere around 5-6% annually, and the growth and stability of the economy has attracted foreign investment. It is even rumored that certain Arabs have bought shekels as a hedge against the dollar's weakness.
Actually in the past week the shekels gradual increase in value relative to the dollar was somewhat reversed when Min. of Transportation (and former Min. of Defense and Chief of Staff) Shaul Mofaz made a public statement that Israel would have to attack Iran to stop its nuclear program. While this might be a possibility, Mofaz has been widely criticized for both discussing future government plans and giving away Israel's possible strategy. A similar situation existed regarding the Gaza Strip and the Hamas Govt. there. Last week Min. of Defense Ehud Barak said that the time had come for Israel to take military action to stop the daily rocketing of Israeli territory. This also contributed to the slight fall of the shekel. But, today, after a Cabinet meeting, he reversed himself and the Cabinet decided to send another representative to Cairo to engage in talks with Egyptian mediators with Hamas. There are now reports that a temporary ceasefire may be in effect by next week. So while Israel avoids military action the shekel will continue its climb.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tennis anyone?

I must confess that I have let other activities slide while I sit (or wallow) in front of my TV set watching tennis on Eurosport. I have watched sequentially the Italian/Rome Open, the German/Berlin-Hamburg Open, and now the French/Paris Open. Quite a lot of watching. Although it appears passive, watching so much running around can be exhausting.
What are my thoughts after all this obsessive viewing? That I still fail to understand the difference between clay, as in Rolland Garros in Paris and grass, as in Wimbledon, London. Never mind that its the main focus of all comments about tennis. The commentators wax poetic about the difference between clay and hard court (or asphalt as in the US), but it turns out that all "clay" is is brick dust (yes, because its plentiful and cheap) spread out on a hard base. They say such things as "Nadal is the king of clay," and they discuss at great length whether or not Federer (the "king of grass") can beat Nadal on clay.
Frankly there seems little difference to me (I know this is tennis blasphemy), but I presume that the French decided on clay because they can't produce a nice green lawn to save their lives. So tennis balls bounce less off clay than on asphalt and less than on grass, that has a certain spring to it, but so what? Also, players can slide on clay, while they can't on asphalt and grass. So it's a bit different, but if someone is supposed to be one of the best players in the world, they should stop hiding behind this little difference and blame the real culprit if they lose on clay or grass, namely themselves. If someone consistently hits the ball into the net or over the baseline its not because of clay its because they aren't playing well! I'm fed up with them using the surface as an excuse!
In my opinion there are two kinds of players, those who go out to win every point come what may (as represented by Nadal), and those who are too diffident (such as Federer). It seems that Federer, can't play well unless he's losing, while Nadal can't play well unless he's whopping his opponent. The difference between Federer, a gentleman player who prefers conservative navy, and Nadal, who is flashy and likes bright green, is absolute.
I've seen some epic battles, such as Nadal vs. Djokovic at the Berlin Open; now that's a pair where the game is really a matter of life or death and winning is all. And anything with Safina; I happened to see Safina close up at the tennis center in Ramat Gan playing in the Federation Cup for Russia against Israel. She looks like a ruddy Russian farm girl come straight out of the harvest. She is the opposite of Sharapova, who is beautiful, classy, poised and deadly. Yet, Safina, who was classified as no. 53 in the world, won the German open and she came from one and half sets down twice to beat Sharapova and Dementieva (who wears pink frilly costumes), and then she beat Kuznetsova in the semi-final.
Now there is one mystery in tennis, how is it that the majority of the best players are Slavs. In the women's game they dominate (Russians: Sharapova, Dementieva, Safina, Kuznetzova; and Serbians Ivanovic and Jankovic and also Djokovic in the men's game). Where are the Brits, the Americans and the Australians who used to dominate the game until a few year's ago? This year the two women's semifinals in Paris were all-Russian and all-Serbian. Finally, Ivanovic, who has a sweet smile, at the top of her form beat Safina in two sets in the final, and went to No.1 in the world (after last year's champion Henin retired and Sharapova was beaten) and earned 1 million euros. Not bad!
In Paris, five French men were in the last 16, but only one of them, Gael Monfils, a tall, lanky, black guy, survived. He was finally beaten in the semi-final by Federer. Monfils has great potential but his playing is erratic and unpolished. Once again, Federer couldn't win without giving away a set to Monfils. Now the denouement, Nadal defeted Federer in what was a disappointing final of the French Open. Federer seemed to be hardly trying, although Nadal was his usual aggressive self.
By the way, Rolland Garros was a famous early aviator - typically French, he had nothing to do with tennis.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Iran first?

I received this in response to my previous message entitled "Iran's proxies":
Dear Jack:
If Iran is pulling the strings, what is the point of attacking the puppets? They will also be regarded as martyrs, and new puppets will replace them. Why not launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran, before it has a nuclear arsenal, and send them an e-mail that that's just a taste of what they are going to receive from Jews if they don't cut out all the shenanigans and killings?
Israel has every right to defend itself. No one criticized the US when we attacked Germany or North Korea. If Israel is a world power, then it needs to demonstrate that. It seems like Israel is always on the defensive, despite overt aggression that no strong country would ever tolerate from its enemies.
May the Force beat swords into plowshares only after the war is won.
All best. Frank
Dear Frank:
The answer (to why we should attack the Iran proxies first) is that it is both necessary and easier. Israel absolutely should not allow itself to be hit by rockets and have its people killed, injured and terrorized. We must re-establish our military credibility. So we should definitely take care of Hamas in Gaza. The IDF is certainly powerful enough to do that. But Iran is another matter, it is a nation of 68 million people, ten times the size of Israel, and although I am sure we can discount the difference when it comes to the efficacy of armed forces, nevertheless Iran has an army of ca. 1 million, and is a huge country. For Israel to attack Iran is inviting a terrible war. The only advantage is that Iran is quite far away while Hamas is right here. So if we hit Iran before it has nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver warheads, then we may be able to prevent a preemptive attack. But, their nuclear facilities are dispersed all over the country. But, lets say that with stealth fighters (which we don't yet have) and bunker-buster type bombs (that we do), we could destroy the most important sites. Nevertheless, Iran can be expected to respond all over the world. They could hit Israeli and Jewish targets all over as well as specifically initiating attacks by Hizbollah in Lebanon and Palestinians on the West Bank. Although the Sunni Arab states fear Iran and hope that Israel would "win," nevertheless don't expect any support from them. The Saudis, Egypt and so on would probably support the Iranians on the grounds that anybody that fights Israel deserves their support. The EU would remain neutral, Russia and China would criticize Israel, and only the US might give actual support (although not military support). So when Iran counter-attacks what should we do? That's the problem!
Dear Jack:
At one time control of the skies was deemed pre-eminent for military success. I don't know if that is still true. I would assume that Israel's airpower would trump Iran's at this point, but possibly not in the future. Iran has an army of 1 million. But how does it get that Army to Israel safely, particularly if Israel has air superiority?
The issue it seems to me from the safety of my home in Potomac isn't who is closer and more convenient but rather who/where/what is the greater threat. Time is on the side of Iran, as it was for Germany and Japan. When nothing is done, dictators take advantage of the prevailing vacuum. Time is not on Israel's side.
Iran can hit Jewish targets all over even today. Iran needs money to purchase the equipment and supplies for nuclear activities. Where does that money come from? If it comes from oil, then take out the oil wells. Iran has basically declared war on Israel by pledging to destroy the Jewish state. A state of war exists. Israel has not sought the demise of Iran, does not supply terrorists to attack Iranian citizens, and does not seek to use its nuclear capability for offensive purposes.
Here's what concerns me. Do we currently have a modern interpretation of Jewish attitudes prevalent in Germany prior to and even during the early stages of the Holocaust -- rationalization of events, Jewish desire not to cause problems or bring attention to Jews, a burning desire to be accepted by the gentile world, a long history of suffering that Jews seek to always avoid, etc? Is the Iranian nuclear threat against Jews assembled in the equivalent of a modern ghetto (Israel), the new version of a Holocaust?
All best.
Today the price of crude oil went up $10 a barrel because Shaul Mofaz, current Israeli Minister of Transport and former Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, stated that Israel will have to destroy Iran's capabilites because of the nuclear threat. Well, there are no doubt other reasons for the price of oil to rise, but you see how sensitive the whole situation is. Iran is ca. 1,000 miles from Israel, and although the IAF controls the skies, and the Iranian air force is not expected to be a great factor, nevertheless for the IAF to fly so many missions that distance is far from easy and would cost a lot in money, men and materiel. Israel will not act peremptorily and initiate a Middle East war, even though Iran is already fomenting one, because the price of oil will skyrocket and will cause an international financial crisis, even if the IAF doesn't hit the Iranian oil fields (which I hope they will). Israel will only initiate such an attack when it is sure (from intelligence) that Iran has reached the point of no return in developing either nuclear capability and/or the missile capability to deliver it. According to reports this might be within a year or two. At present expect more comments from Israeli sources indicating that the attack on Iran is imminent, and this will provide the US with further means to pressure the EU, the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians themselves, that to avoid a disastrous war and the consequent disruption, they must stop their nuclear development. If this doesn't suceed then expect an Israeli attack.
But, before this will happen it seems that the Israel Govt. has finally wound itself up enough to attack Gaza in force and hopefully destroy or at least diminish Hamas. This is what Defense Minister Barak implied two days ago after the attack from Gaza that killed a man in Nir Oz. At least all rocket firings onto Israel territory must be stopped (something the IDF failed to do in Lebanon in 2006). What will Israel do once it has captured part or all of Gaza? Will it simply withdraw again (under UN pressure) or will it hold the areas and return them to the Fatah PA Govt. of Pres. Abbas. This is what Abbas wants, to control Gaza, but can he afford to be tarred with the Israeli brush? Now that the prospect of an agreement, so far unimplementable, between Israel and the PA has been broached, maybe he can finally afford to actually cooperate with Israel. That might alter the situation fundamentally. But, the destruction of Hamas might also activate Hizbollah and Iran in ways that are unpredictable.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Iran's proxies

On Thursday an Israeli man, Amnon Rosenberg, 51, was killed by a rocket fired from Gaza. He was working in a paint factory on Kibbutz Nir Oz, that was hit by two rockets. When he and his companions went to investigate they suffered a direct hit from a third rocket. Four others were injuured and are currently in Soroka Hospital in Beersheva. Three other Israelis have been killed in the past few months. They are: Shuli Katz, 70, killed by a Qassam rocket which struck Moshav Yesha on May 12, 2008; Jimmy Kedoshim from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, aged 48, killed by a mortar shell fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip on May 9, 2008; Roni Yihye, 47, a mature student, killed on Sapir College campus while sitting in his car on Feb 27, 2008.
In his speech to the Knesset while Pres. Bush was visiting here a few weeks ago, PM Olmert said that the situation in southern Israel is "intolerable"! However, Israel and Israelis have tolerated it since then, and more casualties have resulted. It may be argued that Israel could take no strong action while Pres. Bush was coming and while he was here, or while Olmert is now in the US, or that there were indirect negotiations going on with Hamas thru Egyptian intermediaries. Many on the left say that Israel should negotiate with Hamas, and we have done so. Yet, the rockets keep coming and Israelis keep dying. Furthermore, such a limited ceasefire or hudna has been on the Hamas side they demand Israel to release 1,000 prisoners for him. At present the so-called negotiations are at a standstill and are not expected to produce any result.
For years, Israeli leaders have been threatening serious military reaction. Today Defense Minister Barak visited the site of teh attack at Nir Oz and again threatened military action. Yesterday a terrorist crew was caught on the gound setting up a rocket launcher and one was killed and three wounded in a missile attack. However, this kind of action does not stop the rockets. They are too small and too easily moved.
Yet, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PFLP don't mind losing these men, because they are considered martyrs to the cause and their families receive compensation. It is reported that Iran has given Hamas ca. m$20 every six months or so for its military activity (note this when they are claiming that they are suffering from the effects of the international blockade).
Military experts agree, the only way to stop the rockets launched into Israel; is to take and hold the ground form which they are launched to a depth of ca. 10-20 km, so that Israel proper is out of their range. Of course they also have longer range rockets (Grads and Katyushas) that must be found and destroyed before they can be activated. This was done in southern Lebanon during the 2006 war, but what has happened now is that Iran and Syria have more than replenished Hizbollah's rocket arsenal. Remember that Hizbullah entered the fighting in 2006 against Israel by attacking across the border during the military action in Gaza following the capture of Schalit, and they deliberately captured two IDF soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. It doesn't take a military genius to see that their aims were planned and coordinated in advance. While the IDF waits, Hamas and Hizbullah are preparing themselves for the next round of fighting, that is inevitable given their extremism and degree of preparedness. Iran is of course behind them pulling the strings. Israel must act against Hamas, and then also against Hizbollah if it responds again, in order to stop the continued rocketing of Israeli territory and to deal a blow to Iran's proxies on our borders.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

AIPAC speeches

Sen. Obama's first major speech as the Democratic nominee in all but name was at the AIPAC conference in Washington DC. And as usual he spoke well, but what was more important the content of his speech was all that any American Jew or Israeli could wish for. Not only did he pledge undying support for the US-Israeli alliance, but he also vowed that Jerusalem would remain undivided, something that even the current Olmert coalition cannot guarantee. However, today his staff issued a clarification, saying that he meant it would not be divided as in the past, but must be a subject of "final status" negotiations between Israel and the PA.
Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, the Republican nominee, also made comparable speeches, and each vied with the other in their pledges of support for Israel. They all also warned Iran that all possible means are "on the table" after sanctions and diplomatic attempts to stop Iranian nuclear development. What was most surprising was that Obama, after having previously stated that he would negotiate with America's enemies, including Iran, without any preconditions, now seemed to have backed away from that policy. He emphasized that even he would not shrink from the use of force if nothing else worked.
What are we to make of these policy turnarounds, or at least changes in emphasis, of Obama. He is clearly fishing for American Jewish votes, especially after separating himself from his former Church. But, that is not surprising. However, known true friends of Israel such as Hillary Clinton or John McCain, who have proved themselves over periods of years in all sorts of difficult situations, are much more trusted by American Jews than is Obama. He speaks well, but in the very dangerous times ahead, dealing with Iran and terrorism, actually he is an unknown. Yes, you can choose to believe him, but what politician keeps his campaign promises? It is only by his actions that you can know and trust him or her, and unfortunaely Obama does not have a record.
Hillary has all but admitted defeat now that Obama has reached the number of delegates required, so he is the projected nominee. That leaves Hillary to decide her options. Of course, the most often mentioned is VP, but most commentators seem to agree that Obama (and his wife Michelle) would rather drink poison than appoint Hillary VP. She comes with baggage, not only her own, but her husband Bill. Don't you think as a fomer Pres. he'd want to put in his few cent's worth and give Obama the benefit of his experience (on how to deal with female aides).
Although Hillary may have been defeated, there is sufficient animosity between some of her supporters (the women's groups, the blue collar workers) and Obama's that many will break with the Democratic Party and support McCain. It's been done before, remember the Reagan democrats.
So the conclusion is that all three Presidential candidates, or at least the two left standing, are very pro-Israel, but only if Obama gets elected and has some well known former Govt. officials for advisors, such as Dennis Ross, Daniel Kurtzer, or (God forbid) Zbigniew Brezinski, will we then have something to really worry about.
Olmert also gave an excellent speech at AIPAC, but since very few trust his word and his political future is in doubt, what he said may not be worth much.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Jerusalem Day

All this week there will be celebrations in Israel for the 41st anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six-day war of 1967.
To coincide with Jerusalem Day the Govt. announced approval for permits to build 900 more housing units in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev and the southern one of Har Homa. Some believe that this announcement was intended to provide cover for PM Olmert in relation to his criminal charges, but this would seem odd, since he left today for the US and the State Dept already issued a statement criticizing this approval decision. Why would he invite this expected criticism as he arrives in the US?
The US and the international community considers all building by Israel, in supposedly "occupied territory," as illegal. But, after the 6-day war Israel annexed certain territories, including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. So the neighborhoods where building is now being planned are actually part of Israel proper. Although others may not recognize this fact, Israel draws a clear distinction between these parts of municipal Jerusalem that are within Israel, and the "occupied" West Bank, that is not. The Israel Govt. has banned all new building within the latter areas, except for the approved expansion of established settlements. Since some of these have 15,000-20,000 inhabitants, it would be expecting too much not to allow natural growth, what should they do, stop having Jewish children?
So one must draw a clear distinction between areas that are under Israeli sovereignty and those that are not but are currently the subject of negotiation as part of a putative Palestinian State. Also, distinct are those areas that are already part of the PA, namely the cities of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Kalkilya, Tulkarm, Bethlehem, Jericho and their surroundings (containing 98% of the Arab population of the West Bank). In the negotiations, Israel intends to claim and annex those areas that have a dense Jewish population, including Maale Adumim, Kfar Etzion (that was Jewish-owned before 1948), and Ariel. These comprise about 7% of the total West Bank area. It was recognized that Israel could retain such areas in the letter of Pres. Bush relating to the Road Map negotiations.
An especially difficult area is that known as "E1" between Jerusalem (i.e outside the municipal and State boundaries) and Maale Adumim. This area could be a security bridge between the two cities, or if transected north-south, it could be a corridor beween the Palestinian north West Bank (Samaria) and the south West Bank (Judea). Yesterday, before his trip, PM Olmert met with PA Pres. Abbas, and the issue of E1 was raised. Until now Israel has not allowed any residential construction in E1, although a new Israeli Police Station has been built there. The negotiations have not progressed so far, and the longer it takes the more likely it is that Israel will allow building in E1 and this will make any future Palestinian State less contiguous.
There have been discussions about dividing Jerusalem between Israel and the future putative Palestinian state. Most Israelis strongly oppose this. Not only does it make little sense to re-divide a city and return it to the divisions of the past, but doing so would leave the Jewish heart of Jerusalem within mortar distance of any single terrorist who could bring the city to a standstill. Also, having an Arab sovereignty in Shuafat and other Arab neighborhoods would isolate some Jewish neighborhoods from Jerusalem itself and it would be difficult if not impossible to protect their inhabitants. Such a division would in effect be suicidal for Israel. Jerusalem must remain united and whole as the capital of the State of the Jewish people!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Down with monarchy

Nepal ended its monarchy last Wednesday when the newly elected Parliament, including Maoist representatives, abolished the Shah dynasty after 239 years. In 2007, Samoa also ended its monarchy when the last King died. In March, Bhutan ended its absolute monarchy when the King ceded power to an elected legislature.
There are quite a few remaining consitutional monarchies in the world, including of course, England (Great Britain), Spain, Thailand, and so on. But, there are very few remaining absolute monarchies, and surprisingly most of them are in the Arab world, including Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In some of these, including Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait and Qatar, there are moves towards giving the citizenry some rights, but the King or Emir still retains power.
Of course, there are some dictatorships whose rule has become hereditary like monarchies, including North Korea, Cuba and Syria. To all intents and purposes, the fact that one of more of these is called communist makes no difference. The fact is that one man controls the power of the state, even if the fiction is maintained that the power lies in the party. In some cases, a dictator lasts only "one term", such as Idi Amin of Uganda and Bokassa of the Central African Republic (his term as Emperor lasted two years after he had children massacred). When they become extreme in their repression they are eventually overthrown. The same should happen to Pres. Mugabe of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), who has caused enormous suffering to his own people.
It is notable that many dictators turn to elections that they rig in order to justify their control of power, examples are Hitler, Stalin and Mobutu, while absolute monarchs have no need to do even this. However, there are few people who believe any more in the "divine right of Kings" to rule. So it is a matter of time before the absolute monarchies and dictatorships are overthrown.
Looking at the record of history it seems that a revolutionary upheaval is often the only way to overthrow an absolute monarchy, as happened in France, Germany and Russia. Whether or not the State can return to tranquility after such an upheaval is uncertain but unlikely. It took 75 years for the Russian revolution to yield to representative government.
The noteworthy fact that the Arab world contains the most absolute monarchies, and some of the longest-running dictatorships, such as Syria, Egypt and Libya, reflects the comparative backwardness and reactionary nature of the Arab world and parts of the Muslim world (for example Iran). In all of these countries no citizen can criticize the government without severe repercussions, such as arrest, trial and death. No doubt religion, and particularly Islam, is related to this state of affairs (if not actually responsible for it). Probably the Arab/Muslim world needs a reformation or a similar upheaval, but unfortunately, since the powers-that-be and the majority of their people oppose western influence, then it looks like they are doomed to remain forever backward. Unfortunately it seems it is only Israel's and America's actions (such as in Iraq) that can show them the way forward. Not that they appreciate it.