Saturday, November 10, 2007

Arafat’s Tomb and Legacy

David Bedein

This Sunday, November 11th, 2007, after three years of planning and construction in the courtyard of Yasser Arafat's "mukataa" headquarters in Ramallah, a mausoleum in memory of the Godfather of Terror will be inaugurated with a full military ceremony.
It will launch the memorial day to mark the three years since his death.

Machmud Abbas, a.ka. Abu Mazen, Arafat's protégé and successor, will cut the ribbon, followed by the entire Palestinian and Fatah leadership that will enter the mausoleum. Also invited to the ceremony are ambassadors, diplomatic representatives and heads of international organizations. After the visit to the tomb, a prayer session will be held at a new mosque built next to the mausoleum.

Arafat's tomb is located within a huge spacious oblong building in the form of the Qaba at Mecca, painted white. On the building are inscribed quotations from the Koran.

Having covered Arafat for more than a decade, I am often asked what was it like to cover Arafat and to speak with him.

Indeed, the news agency that I work with in Jerusalem had become known as the "Arafat tape" agency, because of our editing and distribution of Arafat's numerous appearances on the official media of the PBC, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation TV, which belied any true hint of peace. These videos were also shown in Congress.

In November 1996, on the day that coincided with Thanksgiving eve in the US, this reporter covered a delegation of 10 Israeli residents from Judea and Samaria who met with Yasser Arafat at his domicile in Bethlehem.

To summarize the purpose of the meeting in two words, one participant described it as "reality testing." Arafat had maintained a consistent policy of saying one thing in English, advocating peace and co-existence, while conveying quite another message in Arabic, as he continued to incite the Palestinian Arab people to war with the Jewish state. Arafat had yet to deliver even one message that calls for peace with the state of Israel in the Arabic language.

What the delegation wanted to know was with whom they were dealing: a neighbor of peace or an antagonist at war?

This unofficial "settler delegation" asked Arafat very specific and pointed questions as to whether he would indeed embark on a policy of peace or war.

The idea was to look to the future, not to the past. Would Arafat finally make a speech in Arabic in which he would call for peace with the state of Israel? Would the PBC "Voice of Palestine" Radio, which was under the direct control of Arafat, stop its invective against Israelis, especially against the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria (The West Bank)? Would Arafat encourage teachers and other officials of the Palestine Authority to participate in programs that encourage tolerance and co-existence?

Arafat was all smiles throughout our two-hour sessions delivering long-winded speeches in which he professed to be a man of tolerance and understanding, well deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.

I then asked Arafat a pointed question: Would he get on the airwaves of the Voice of Palestine and proclaim reconciliation with Israel in the Arabic language to his own people, and would Arafat denounce any and all murders of Jews on that same station, if future murders occur. Arafat nodded his head and said that he "speaks about peace all the time", to which I responded that we have no such record. "You will see," Arafat said and finished the meeting in a cordial manner.

What the participants thought and felt after the meeting was that Arafat would deliver his answer through actions, not with words.

Arafat's "answer" was not long in coming. Exactly two weeks later, on the seventh night of Chanukah, a dimly lit drizzly evening near the Israeli community of Beit El, three Palestinians shot up the car of the Tzur family of Beit El, killing a mother and child in the car. The killers' smoldering vehicle was found in one of the "safe havens" of the Palestinian Authority.

We called Arafat after the attack. So did all major media. He was nowhere to be found.

However, the next morning, Arafat's PBC radio newsreel broadcast that an "incident occurred on the settler road" where "two criminal settlers were killed."

The next day, our news agency dispatched a TV crew to Gaza to give Arafat the direct opportunity to say something about the attack. We had the opportunity to see Arafat once more.

Smiling widely again, Arafat greeted reporters and waved away the question about the murders in Beit El. A few hours later, Arafat then issued a public order that if the killers at Bait El are caught, they would not be turned over.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority confirmed that 10 recent killers of Israeli civilians had been hired as officers in the Palestinian Liberation Army police force.

Arafat had delivered his answer loud and clear to the delegation that came to see him.

In the topsy-turvy Orwellian world in which we live, Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, defined under Israeli law as a terrorist organization, was a Nobel Peace Laureate, while Israeli residents of Judea, Samaria and Katif (in Gaza) are often thought of portrayed as warmongers.

And when Arafat made his first visit to the UN in 1974, the PLO leader grasped an olive branch in one hand and a pistol in the other.

Epilogue One: Two years later, on December 1st, 1998, Arafat appeared at a US State Department briefing that I covered. US Secretary of State Madelyn Albright gave me the opportunity to ask a question of Arafat. I asked Arafat if he would stand by the commitment to preach reconciliation in the Arabic language that he had given two years before, and I presented Arafat with the records of his speeches from the previous few weeks, in which, among other things, Arafat had called the Jews "the Sons of Satan."

Arafat's response was to foam from the mouth and pound on the State Department platform and scream that "I love the Jews, I love the Jews!

Epilogue Two: As the United Jewish Communities meets in its annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations this Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee on the day that marks three years since Yasser Arafat's death, it should be recalled that in October 1999, the same United Jewish Communities (UJC), almost awarded Arafat the Isaiah Peace Prize.

After I was provided with written documentation of the prize, and after I published in the Jewish Advocate in Boston and the Forward in New York, the UJC peace prize to Arafat was cancelled, with no explanation as to why such an award was offered by a Jewish group to Arafat and as to why it was cancelled. What the UJC did, however, was to hire Kroll Associates, a private investigation firm, to determine how the news of this prize was leaked to this reporter. They never found out.

Learn the full story about the UJC/Isaiah Award for Peace that was to go to Arafat to appreciate where we are today.

David Bedein is the bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency, located at the Beit Agron International Press Center in .

US to purchase $700m worth of arms from Israel

Weapons and technological systems to be acquired from Jewish state's defense industries include navigation and attack sensor system for combat aircraft, UAV and advanced pilot helmets WASHINGTON – The US Congress on Friday approved the purchase of weapons and technological systems from Israel's defense industries for $700 million.

The advanced technological products will be acquired as part of the American security budget for the coming year to be used by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

United States offers Israel unprecedented $30-billion military aid package. ‘We look at this region and we see that a secure and strong Israel is in the interest of the United States,’ Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says during signing ceremony in Jerusalem
Full story

The purchase of weapons from Israel is not part of Israel's annual defense aid from the United States, which amounts to $2.4 billion and is expected to grow in 2009 to an annual average of $ 3 billion for the following 10 years.

Only one part of the security budget – the production of the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system and the research and development of other defense missiles, the cost of which is estimated at $155 million – is related to special US aid, with the American Boeing company involved in the manufacturing of parts of the Arrow missile.

The weapons and components to be purchased by the US include Lightning – a navigation and attack sensor system for combat aircraft produced by the RAFAEL Armament Development Authority.

This system replaces obsolete systems and enables US pilots in Iraq to operate both in the day and in the night under all weather conditions. The system's purchase price is estimated at $39.6 million.

The Israel Aerospace Industries' Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle will be bought for $36.5 million. The use of UAVs allows the US military to locate targets and then examine the results of the strike without putting pilots in danger.

Elbit's pilot helmet systems will be purchased for $37.5 and RAFAEL's Typhoon stabilized marine gun system will cost $16 million.

In May, the US Congress also approved the purchase of reactive Israeli defense systems placed on American Bradley fighting vehicles in Iraq. This systems helps the American APCs escape antitank missiles.


Overhead woes

The recently released city comptroller's annual report comprises more than 1,200 pages in two volumes. The findings range from the political fallout from the decision to rebuild the Mughrabi bridge above the women's section at the Western Wall, to the alarming way the municipality has handled the issue of the installation of gas tanks throughout the city, some of them in a very dangerous condition. Year-round, attorney Shlomit Rubin and her staff compile the wrongdoings, shortcomings and problematic handling of the different municipal departments, partly according to her own research and partly from information she receives from residents.

One of the most serious findings concerns the way the gas companies install their tanks, which is often done without the required permits, thus endangering residents.

As for the Mughrabi bridge, according to Rubin's investigations, its rebuilding "did not take into consideration the highly sensitive location and situation" and was not conducted in accordance with municipal guidelines.

Rubin also found that the municipality is neglecting some of its own assets: Dwellings owned by Kikar Safra are wrongly exempted from arnona (property tax), which for 2005, amounted to NIS 40 million. The municipality gives different organizations the right to use these dwellings, but neglects to charge arnona.

But the highlight of this year's report is the Calatrava Bridge at the entrance to the city. The bridge, which was approved by former city engineer Uri Sheetrit, is a part of the light rail project. "Had we known before the ultimate cost of the bridge, there is a doubt if we would have approved this project," writes Rubin in her report. Rubin even adds that she is not convinced that there was a real need to commission the design from the famous architect Santiago Calatrava himself.

According to her findings, the cost of the bridge has reached an extravagant NIS 250m. "Within less than five years," notes Rubin, "the cost of the bridge has increased from NIS 71.4m in 2001 (when the project was approved) to NIS 246.2m at the end of 2006."

Another worrisome finding on the matter: At least NIS 26m of the bridge's cost (nobody knows if this is the final cost) are not part of the project's approved budget, meaning that the Transportation and Finance ministries, along with City Pass, which is charged with overseeing the light rail project and its accompanying bridge, did not authorize these additional sums.

Rubin also reports that Calatrava's wages have mysteriously risen as much as 38% from an original NIS 7.5m to NIS 10.3m. As for the decision to secure Calatrava's services for the bridge design, Rubin writes that a conflict of interests may have been involved, which should have been resolved before signing a contract with him.

Also in the report, Rubin points out that the light rail is way off schedule, while the bridge is actually on schedule. What this means is that the municipality will be financing at least two years of maintenance of the bridge (a matter of some NIS 500,000 a year, at least) for nothing.

According to the arrangement, the bridge's maintenance is to be financed by Kikar Safra for eight years, but as the light rail is slated for completion only in 2010, this translates into two wasted years (and at least NIS 1m) of bridge maintenance.

In response, Moriah, the municipal company that is building the bridge, said: "This is a unique project and the budget hasn't risen three times, but merely from NIS 220m to NIS 246m, a realistic additional sum, and we are on time."


Report: Mideast summit with a focus on Syria to take place in 2008

At the beginning of 2008 there will be another international conference similar to the one which will take place in Annapolis in the coming weeks, except with a focus on Syria and Israel, the Saudi newspaper Al Watan reported on Saturday. The report also quotes Palestinian sources as saying that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas convinced US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of the importance of Syrian participation in the upcoming Mideast summit, and that she in turn convinced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The report went on to say that on Friday Abbas sent an envoy to Damascus to discuss the developments.

However, Israel Radio reported that Syrian officials insisted that they would only participate in the Annapolis conference if the issue of the Golan Heights was to be discussed. They added that they would not object to the Palestinian participation in the conference

Friday, November 09, 2007

Huge Increase In Arabs Seeking Israeli Citizenship

Israel's Prime Minister Olmert and some of his cabinet ministers, most notably Avigdor Lieberman, have suggested a willingness to give up so-called "Arab neighborhoods" in Jerusalem. They argue this is a way of ridding Israel of some Arabs.

This populist argument flys in the face of reality.

On average in Jerusalem 300 Arabs a year seek Israeli citizenship. In the four months since talk of dividing Jerusalem has increased that number has exploded to over 3,000.

These numbers indicate that creating a Palestinian capital out of Arab neighborhoods will result in a flood of Arabs seeking Israeli citizenship and choosing to live in Jewish neighborhoods.

Why should they give up the security and the economic benefits of living in Israel?

Labor Minister: Disengagement a Very Big Mistake

Minister of Infrastructure and former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) is the latest senior politician to admit that the 2005 Disengagement was a mistake. Speaking in an interview with Radio L’lo Hafsaka, a regional radio station, Ben-Eliezer dropped the bombshell: "I admit and I confess that I was among those who strongly supported [former PM] Ariel Sharon [and the Disengagement]. Today I say, with my head held high, ‘We erred, we made a very big mistake.’”

Ben Eliezer did not say it was the withdrawal itself and abandonment of parts of the Land of Israel that was the problem, but rather the nature of the recipients of the territory. "Withdrawals can only work when the areas are handed over to responsible hands and rotted in agreements and international guarantees,” he explained. “Here we have a precedent - a territory we left turns into a base for terror - period."

Ben Eliezer also called for a wide scale counter-terror offensive in Gaza, complaining that Israel’s fear of harming civilians was harming its own populace instead. "Israel continues to say we bind ourselves to these ethical obligations that no other country in the world is bound by. We are facing a conflict here between two disciplines. One nation is prepared to commit suicide and sees it as a religious imperative and an honor, the other wants to spare every ounce of blood."

MK Reuven Rivlin, an opponent of the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria from the outset, responded to MK Ben Eliezer’s about-face with alarm. “It is horrifying that someone who pushed for the Disengagement and saw in it a ‘window of opportunity’ can now simply say such a thing while his colleagues in the government are signaling that they once again see it as proper to give up the essential interests of the State of Israel,” Rivlin said.

Ben Eliezer is but the latest in a parade of Disengagement-regretting politicians and public figures, including:

Maj.-Gen (ret.) Yiftah Ron-Tal, IDF ground forces commander at the time of the Disengagement
Left-wing journalist Ilana Dayan
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, Chairman of the National Security Council and one of the Disengagement’s chief architects
Avri Gilad, broadcaster and TV personality who supported Disengagement
Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff at the time the government decided to carry out the Disengagement
Yoel Marcus, left-wing commentator for Haaretz and ardent Disengagement supporter
Yehoshua Sobol, author and prominent left-wing spokesperson and proponent of left-wing refusal to serve in the IDF
IDF Central Commander Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh
Yair Lapid, popular TV personality and commentator
Senior TV news anchor Dan Margalit, a strong supporter of Disengagement
Maj.-Gen. Gershon HaCohen, who commanded the Disengagement and expressed his public agreement with it prior to implementation
Several others

IAF chief says criticism against force 'unfair'

Maj.-Gen. Shkedi says air force pilots doing their utmost not to hurt civilians during air strikes against terrorists; 'I would never order my troops to hurt civilians or children,' he states IAF chief, Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, spoke about the problematic issue of targeting terrorists operating from within the civilian population in crowded Gaza neighborhoods at a conference on terror and democracy at the Shaarei Mishpat Academic College in Hod Hasharon on Thursday.

"I would never give my troops an order to hurt civilians and children. We make every effort to hit the terrorists themselves and not the civilian population," he stated.

Shkedi addressed criticism against the accumulation of civilian casualties resulting from IAF operations in Gaza.

"Sometimes it's a statistical matter, we are all humans and we all make mistakes. We sometimes have to deal with unfair criticism… this is one of the most frustrating things."

According to Shkedi, the IAF pilots do their best not to harm innocent bystanders. "This activity causes some frustration, we do whatever

we can… to hurt only terrorists and not civilians, in order to stand by our moral commitment to only hit those we want to hit."

Shkedi said that the air strikes were effective in targeting between 1-3% of the Qassam launching cells. "If we want to fight, we have to hurt those who manufacture the Qassams, issue the orders, transport the cells, develop the explosives and everything else related to this industry. We can't ignore the other 97%."

'Israel can cut off Gaza's power'
Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the military advocate general, was also in attendance at the conference and he raised the issue of the legality of the suggestion to cut off power supply to Gaza.

"The cabinet has branded the Gaza Strip a hostile entity, and therefore there is no obligation to provide its citizens with their financial needs.

"Obviously, in Gaza's case the situation is much more complicated, and there are grave issues such as what is our commitment and whether Israel is still considered an occupying force, or rather a former occupying force," he explained.

"However, according to international law we are only committed to providing the most basic humanitarian needs, and we are effectively providing more than that, so this decision (to cut off electricity) can be implemented."

Civil Fights: The preoccupation continues

Evelyn Gordon

Commentators these days are increasingly bewailing the state of the country. In Friday's Post, David Kimche justly assailed a host of ills, from poverty to soaring crime to a "floundering" education system to mistreatment of foreign workers. Yoel Marcus did the same in Friday's Haaretz, declaring that Israel has become "a country full of corruption, con men and thieves; a country of violent teenagers walking around on the third week of the teachers' strike with knives in their pockets … a country of wild drivers, fatal accidents and a police force that is never there when you need it … a country where sipping coffee at a nightclub ends in a brawl..."

And while some commentators seem bewildered by the decline, leftists often have a stock culprit: "the occupation." In Kimche's words, "it has corrupted our morals, undermined our values, divided our society, encouraged violence, and drained away billions of dollars." Unfortunately, this explanation presents a problem: "The occupation" is 40 years old, whereas the ills that Kimche and Marcus cite are relatively new. In the late 1980s, for instance, Israel still had an exceptionally low crime rate, relatively modest income gaps and functioning schools, even though a whole generation had by then grown up with "the occupation." Teens who had never known Israel without "the occupation" still felt no need to carry "knives in their pockets"; young soldiers who served three years in the territories nevertheless became upstanding citizens.

Indeed, the deterioration has occurred mainly over the last 15 years, when Israel has been desperately trying to end the occupation.

Nor is this surprising - because human beings do not have unlimited energies; they can focus on only one or two big issues at a time. And since 1993, the energies of both successive governments and the public have been devoted almost entirely to two issues: trying to solve a conflict that (as I argued two weeks ago) is currently unsolvable, and coping with the disastrous consequences of these efforts.

Yitzhak Rabin, for instance, was elected largely due to domestic problems (a recession) and initially focused on them. But after the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993, domestic issues went by the wayside: His government was fully occupied in negotiating new Israeli-Palestinian agreements (one each in 1994 and 1995), trying to muster Knesset majorities for them, countering massive public opposition and combating the soaring post-Oslo terrorism. The public was similarly preoccupied with these issues, which dominated the 1996 election.

Binyamin Netanyahu's term was perforce devoted to dealing with Oslo's fallout: terrorism, which killed more Israelis in the two and a half years after Oslo than during the entire preceding decade, and an economic crisis (a $6 billion current account deficit) that the Rabin-Peres government had ignored in its obsession with the "peace process."

Moreover, pressure from both the US administration and the Israeli media forced him to invest considerable energy in negotiating further Israeli-Palestinian pacts (1997 and 1999) and suppressing consequent opposition from his own coalition partners. He had no time or energy to spare for major domestic initiatives.

NETANYAHU'S success in reducing terrorism enabled Ehud Barak to win in 1999 by pledging to address domestic problems. Once in office, however, he ignored these issues, focusing instead on the "peace process": withdrawing from Lebanon, negotiating with Syria and the Palestinians. Instead of peace, these efforts produced a terrorist war (and, eventually, the Second Lebanon War as well). But they devoured both the government's and the public's attention and dominated the 2001 election.

Ariel Sharon of necessity spent his first years in office dealing with the terror war and the consequent recession. By late 2003, enough progress had been made to enable other initiatives - but instead of domestic reforms, he launched the disengagement. For the next two years, both the government and the country were convulsed over this issue. His government's one significant domestic initiative, the Dovrat educational reform, languished for lack of attention.

AND NOW, we have Ehud Olmert, who has also neglected domestic issues to focus on the conflict: first his unilateral withdrawal plan, now the Annapolis conference.

The "peace process" has also had other negative domestic consequences. One is money: Because terrorism soared, so did the defense budget, leaving less for other priorities. Indeed, defense is the largest 2008 budget item, for the first time outstripping even debt servicing. And the disengagement diverted billions of shekels from other needs into relocating army bases and compensating evacuated settlers.

Another negative consequence is social cohesion. While Israel has always had left-right disputes, those of the past 15 years have been especially bitter, due mainly to the democratic deficit that has characterized the "peace process": Rabin passed Oslo-II by buying the votes of two Knesset members from a right-wing party; Barak went to Washington and Taba after having lost his Knesset majority; Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza after both being elected on an explicit pledge not to do so and losing a referendum that he himself called. The consequent decline in social solidarity has inevitably increased crime and violence.

Moreover, because governments now revolve entirely around the "peace process," coalition partners often disagree vehemently on domestic issues, meaning that few governments could enact domestic reforms even if they so desired. Nor can parties that disagree on the conflict unite around common domestic interests (say, Labor and Likud on electoral reform), because they dare not alienate smaller coalition partners.

Nevertheless, the biggest problem remains the human incapacity to focus on more than one or two big issues at a time. As long as successive governments, and therefore the public, remain obsessed with (a) trying to solve the conflict and (b) picking up the pieces afterward, domestic issues will continue to be neglected, and the problems will only worsen.

Only by reversing our order of priorities and giving domestic problems top billing can these problems be solved - which means accepting that for now, the conflict will only be contained, not ended. But if leftists like Kimche and Marcus persist in seeing "solving the conflict" as the top priority, the deterioration of the past 15 years will inevitably continue.


'Lebanon, Israel should end war'

The time has come to take Lebanon out of the Israeli-Arab conflict, Druse leader Walid Jumblatt said in an interview with the pan-Arab satellite television station Al Arabiya, Thursday overnight.

In the interview quoted by Israel
Radio, Jumblatt said that Lebanon should rest after being in a state of war with Israel for thirty years.

Jumblatt called on his country's citizenry to join forces in order to return the Shebaa Farms to Lebanese sovereignty using peaceful means.

The contested farms are a small plot of land located on the convergence of three borders - those of Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Referring to Hizbullah, Jumblatt condemned the group vehemently, calling it "a division of the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards," adding that the organization's sole role is keeping the Syrian regime in place and protecting Iran's nuclear plan.

Jumblatt comes from an ancient Druse family that settled in Lebanon in the 16th Century. He is considered the worldwide Druse leader. His father, Kamal Jumblatt, a major political, cultural, and philosophical figure of the Middle-East, was assassinated in Lebanon in 1977 at the hand of Syrian agents.


Israel-USA relationship

Tension is high and nerves are becoming frayed as a date for President George W. Bush's Annapolis Mideast peace summit nears and no agreement between Israel and the Palestinians appears to be any closer. On Wednesday the American administration issued a rare public reprimand to Israel, complaining that their actions in the West Bank city of Nablus are preventing the Palestinian Authority, its prime minister Salam Faya'd, and its chairman, Mahmoud 'Abbas, from being able to assert control. At issue was an Israeli military operation in which its army seized 86 sets of body armor from 'Abbas' Presidential Guard. U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones was ordered to issue the rebuke, joining with the Palestinians in accusing Israel of undermining the esteem of the newly deployed Palestinian forces. Three Hundred Palestinian security officers were sent to Nablus last week with 300 Presidential Guardsmen due to be added to that force. Remaining unsaid in the American reproof is the insinuation that the Olmert government wants the Palestinian effort to fail in order to justify Israeli reluctance to capitulate to American pressure to turn over security control of more cities to the Palestinians.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rockets, Shells Batter Negev; Electricity Still Flowing to Gaza

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday afternoon to push off for at least two weeks the government's decision to reduce electricity to Gaza in response to ongoing Kassam rocket fire. The Court - Judges Dorit Beinish, Esther Hayut and Yosef Elon - ruled that the State has one week in which to document its claim that reducing electricity to Gaza would not cause unreasonable harm to the Arabs of Gaza. It also ruled that the left-wing groups who oppose the electricity cut-off could then have another week in which to prove the opposite.

A Kassam rocket fired from northern Gaza exploded near a kibbutz in the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council on Wednesday afternoon. No casualties or damages were reported. Earlier, four mortar shells were fired from central Gaza and landed near the border fence; no one was hurt. In the morning hours, Palestinian terrorists fired at an IDF patrol jeep near northern Gaza, without effect.

On Tuesday, a Kassam rocket hit a residential home in Sderot, sending four residents to the Shock Treatment Center for treatment. Another rocket hit the city at the same time, without incident.

The government decided two weeks ago to cut down on the electricity it supplies to Gaza in response to Kassam rockets fired at Israel. Just before the decision could be implemented, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered it suspended, until safeguards are instituted to prevent humanitarian harm.

Leading figures in the IDF, State Prosecution and the Knesset argue that cutting fuel supplies to Gaza would have a positive effect in pressuring Hamas to end rocket attacks against Israel, but would not affect Gaza hospitals, sewage systems or the water supply. The idea received legal support by the Military Advocate General, Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mendelblit.

Minister Chaim Ramon (Kadima), a proponent of giving up parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, said, "The State of Israel is making a very terrible and grave mistake by continuing to supply electricity, water and other infrastructures to Gaza." Ramon, one of Israel's Deputy Prime Ministers, said it is legitimate to impose such sanctions on Gaza "in light of its having been defined as a hostile entity [by the Israeli government]."

Earlier, Attorney Yossi Fuchs of the Land of Israel Legal Forum said that Mazuz's decision "shows concern for the residents of Gaza, but [ignores] the suffering of the children of Sderot."

The Rabbinical Council of Judea, Samaria and Gaza similarly condemned Mazuz's decision, saying it "could lead to the deaths of soldiers and civilians." The rabbis laid the blame for recent IDF casualties in Gaza on orders intended to protect "so-called innocents among the terror-supporting population." The Council stated that Jewish Law allows for siege measures against the population of the enemy entity in Gaza, "because the daily Kassam rocket barrages on the precious residents of the [Negev] constitute war in every respect."


'Why has Israel failed with Pollard?'

In an initiative being promoted by State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will try to unearth the reason for Israel's 22-year-long failure to bring about the release of Jonathan Pollard, Army Radio reported Thursday. The decision's implementation is pending approval in the Knesset plenum; however, Orlev claims that his initiative has received the backing of numerous MKs.

"I have held deliberations with various MKs who are members of the committee, in order to arrive at a majority of [MKs] who support the decision," he told Army Radio. "I wish to examine whether the Israeli government is doing everything it takes to bring about the release of Jonathan Pollard."

Orlev also wishes to ascertain whether "all of Pollard's rights as an agent and an Israeli citizen are being exercised." According to Orlev, since Pollard was recognized as an agent and an Israeli citizen 10 years ago, Israel's responsibility towards the spy has grown.

"I feel obligated - as a Jew, as an MK and also from a conscientious standpoint - to help Pollard," he said.

Israel has not made any effort to release Pollard in the nine years that have transpired since the Wye Plantation conference in 1998, former minister and MK Danny Naveh told Army Radio.


Ben Eliezer: 'The disengagement from Gaza was a big mistake'

"I admit and confess," Ben Eliezer said, "I was with those who strongly supported [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon, and today I say with my head held high: We erred, we made a very big mistake." According to Ben Eliezer, a move such as the Gaza pullout can only be successful when the territory one leaves is "handed over to responsible hands and anchored in agreements and international guarantees. Here we have a precedent - a territory we left turns into a base for terror - period."

Regarding the ongoing Kassam rocket fire at Israel from the Gaza Strip, Ben Eliezer said there is no escaping the need to act and to respond to the barrages.

When asked about potential harm to the Palestinian population in Gaza that would likely result from an Israeli military response, the Infrastructure Minister said attempts to prevent harm to civilians are futile in light of the current situation.

"Israel must respond, what else?"

Ben Eliezer continued: "Israel continues to say 'I bind myself to ethical obligations,' that no other country in the world binds itself to.

"There is a contradiction here between two disciplines," he said. "One nation is prepared to commit suicide and sees it as a mitzvah and an honor, and another wants to spare every ounce of blood."

Ben Eliezer's comments came Thursday morning as three Kassam rockets landed in Israeli territory. Two of the rockets landed in open fields near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon - one near a strategic installation. No one was wounded and there was no damage to property.

Dear Friends

With rockets falling on Israel's south daily, a debate is raging whether to cut off power supply to Gaza for a short period after every rocket. A message to the Palestinian population that their fate is inter-dependent with that of Israel. If they continue to behave as enemies, they will be treated as enemies . Ironically, as the questions of morality, Israeli and international law, and effectiveness of the measure occupy more and more of the Israeli political scene and media, Sderot suffered a two hour black-out on Sunday, when a Gazan missile hit a high voltage power line in the city.

What is really going on in Gaza? Does the local population really support the incessant rocket attacks and violence against Israel? Would they prefer peace with their neighbours, as the Ramallah based Fatah government claims in the West Bank? The Hamas' election victory was brought about by a convergence of forces, and their bloody take-over had mixed local support. An unusual insight into the situation and views of the local Gaza population is provided by an interview with Gaza journalist Taghreed El-Khodary. In a short piece, she covers a wide range of topics; corruption, internal violence, coercion, Islamisation and the violence against Israel and the inevitable Israeli attempts to stop it. The whole piece is worth reading - but the telling line is no surprise to those of us that have been following the events in Gaza over the last decade:

Shockingly, a significant number of people have told me, 'we want to go back to have Israel in direct control, like it was under occupation, before Oslo.'

The Entitlement Society

Bill Murchison
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
This has to be the Entitlement Age, because nobody I know of would call it the Age of Common Sense
You take these two, I suppose you call them, ideals -- entitlement to blessings and benefits on the one hand and shrewd appraisal of the way life works, and you find, I think, they match poorly, if at all.
Take the driver's license flap -- the one that arose when Hillary Clinton couldn't or wouldn't come out and say what she thought about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal for the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens. From the media Mrs. Clinton took a drubbing. She wouldn't say yes and she wouldn't say no; or anyway she wouldn't say either with any conviction, calling into question her credentials for taking charge of the world's still, despite reverses, No. 1 nation.
Put the lady's electoral prospects to the side. A matter worth more extensive chewing is the inability, wherever it exists, to shut off the driver's license argument on account of the sheer unacceptability of such a notion -- i.e., bestowing an entitlement of citizenship on non-citizens.
Let us see why this might be so. We could venture that in general you don't acquire privileges in consequence of being somewhere you aren't supposed to be. If anything, you acquire liabilities. Your job is to rectify the situation rather than reshape it to your own tastes.
Plenty of good arguments exist for rectifying and redrafting immigration policies that presently help no one -- those who come illegally, those in whose midst they take root. Is a grant of driver's licenses to violators of the law -- which is what illegal immigrants are -- an instrument of rectification? Or is it, far likelier, a white flag of abject surrender? Surrender to what? To the notion that racial politics disobliges America from making everyone in America play by the rules established for all.
Common sense tries to interject a couple of points: First, that when illegal immigrants start to receive the entitlements of citizenship, such as the legal right to drive a motor vehicle, it won't be long before they demand, or someone does it for them, new and enhanced benefits. Second, that when you start to break down the urgent distinctions between citizenship and non-citizenship, you debase and trivialize the former. Third, that it's just plain bad policy to break rules when you don't have to.
That's the voice, I say, of common sense: the apprehension of what works and what doesn't work; what one deserves and another doesn't. Common sense says that, even in situations where the maintenance of law is imperfect, you don't engender respect for law by rewarding transgressors.
Ah. But that's common sense -- a commodity that modern politics instructs us not to worry about when large voting blocs want something, or think they do.
Group entitlement -- this I want, so gimme -- rests upon an assumption of inherent rights. Thus, I may not be here legally, but look how hard I work, and what if -- here's the kicker -- some day I get to vote?
The privileges and immunities of citizenship formerly got conferred after some exertion on the part of the newly arrived. It's been a long time since exertion cut much ice with policymakers more intent on playing ethnic politics than with insisting on some degree of performance prior to the conferral of rights. Not even in the public schools is there much sense of a duty, an overriding necessity, to perform on tests in order to qualify for advancement.
As for a driver's license, and what the possession of one signifies in terms of personal responsibility -- shall we just acknowledge that responsibility isn't the point in New York; that vote-courting and -counting is the point?
The present value of denying a request for the automatic fruits of citizenship or the proofs of personal responsibility is so low you have to stoop to notice it. Of course the New York Democrats can always make it lower, with a little help from the voters.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Three Arab residents of East Jerusalem were recently indicted for planning terrorist attacks for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Exploiting their freedom of movement in Israel, they were part of a plan to carry out a suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem. 1 1. On November 1, 2007, an indictment was filed by the Jerusalem district attorney's office against three residents of East Jerusalem who had been detained by the Israeli security forces at the end of 2006. Two were Mamoun Abu Tir , 19, and Atallah Abu Tir, 20, both residents of Um Tuba in southeast Jerusalem . The third was Sayid Amira , 20, a resident of Sur Baher in south Jerusalem .2. According to the indictment, the three were planning terrorist attacks. Through the Internet , Mamoun Abu Tir became acquainted with an individual who represented himself as a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative and promised to put the cell in contact with PIJ operatives in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria . He also used the Internet to send them instructions for manufacturing explosives.3. A short time later Mamoun Abu Tir was contacted by a Gaza Strip terrorist operative nicknamed Abu Haritha . Initially, the two examined the feasibility of assassinating important Jewish figures, among them the mayor of Jerusalem . Abu Haritha also examined the possibility of sending a suicide bomber from Hebron to Beersheba to carry out an attack. According to the indictment, the two, accompanied by newly-recruited Hamas activist Sayid Amira , examined other possible modes of attack, including shooting at the Israeli security forces near the Mugrabi Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem or using explosives.4. They eventually decided on a suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem and began making plans . Mamoun Abu Tir toured Jerusalem to locate suitable targets for the attack. Abu Haritha even asked him to be ready to go to Jenin (a PIJ stronghold referred to as the “suicide bomber capital”) to pick up his “present,” that is, an explosive belt or suicide bomber, which he was supposed to escort through the security fence.5. It was not the first time East Jerusalem Arabs were involved in terrorist attacks in Israel . East Jerusalem Arabs carry blue Israeli identity cards which makes them a priority target for enlistment in terrorist organizations. They are familiar with Israel 's geography and can easily escort terrorist squads to the sites of attacks (including suicide bombing attacks). 2 It should be remembered that during the worst wave of suicide bombing attacks (2002-2003), the Palestinian terrorist organizations made wide use of the services of the Arab residents of East Jerusalem , who were involved in some of the most deadly suicide bombing attacks. 1 According to the indictment handed down by the Jerusalem district attorney. 2 For further information, see our August 15, 2007 Bulletin entitled “Following a shooting attack at a roadblock southeast of Jerusalem in May 2007 Israeli security forces detained Hamas operatives and arms dealers from Jabal Mukabir”

Hizballah commando units slip back into South Lebanon – with upgraded missiles, new Iran-built military highway network

No Israeli response According to two Lebanese dailies As Safir and Al Akhbar, Hizballah is staging the biggest military maneuver in its history under the eyes of UNIFIL and Lebanese army in S. Lebanon. They disclose that the Iran-backed terrorists’ three day-exercise, including anti-tank anti-air, missile, engineering and logistical units, is overseen by Hizballah secretary Hassan Nasrallah.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that these largely inaccurate reports aim at boosting Nasrallah whose prestige took a knock recently when Tehran replaced him as Hizballah’s military commander with the ace terrorist and abductor Imad Mughniyeh. The goal of the exercise he is supervising in the last ten days is to train Hizballah fighters in the use of the fast military highways Iranian engineers have been laying. They are also testing Israel’s response to the southward transfer of Hizballah commando units including missiles in broad daylight, for the first time since Hizballah agreed to withdraw from South Lebanon under the 2006 UN-brokered ceasefire.
Six Israeli fighter-bombers executed several low passes over South Lebanon Sunday, Nov. 4, and the Hizballah troop movements halted. But the units and missiles already transferred have stayed put.

Nov. 1, DEBKAfile revealed that since May Hizballah has augmented its fighting strength by 20 percent, including anti-air units freshly-trained in Iran and armed with Iranian anti-air missiles and guns. Iranian engineers are also paving 1,000 km of strategic highways across Lebanon to speed up military convoy movements.
Israeli military circles are perturbed by the Olmert government’s laxity and inertia in the face of Hizballah return to South Lebanon on Israel’s northern border, “rearmed at a level higher than prior to the conflict,” as the UN Secretary reported last week, with missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. The government equally is failing to address the Hamas buildup in the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southwestern border. Military experts say that Israel’s passivity serves only to encourage the cooperation between the two terrorist groups and their willingness to confront Israel on two fronts. The guerrilla exercise Hamas carried out in Gaza on Oct. 30 followed the same training format as Hizballah and focused on maximizing troop casualties and abductions. Israeli leaders’ lame pretext for inaction is the approaching Annapolis peace conference whose significance fades day by day.

US trained Palestinian special force routed in West Bank Nablus camp by Hamas-led extremists Monday

The 300-man force, introduced to Nablus Friday, Nov. 2, was thrown back in a two-hour battle Nov. 5 with five critically wounded troops in its first attempt to assume control and detain terrorists in the Nablus Balata bastion of the Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Hamas, Jihad Islam and the Palestinian Fronts. This is reported by DEBKAfile’s exclusive military sources.

The Palestinian Authority timed the assault to coincide with the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s meeting in Ramallah with its chairman Mahmud Abbas. The plan was for the special force to carry the day in its first anti-terror operation and so demonstrate that the PA was finally capable of subduing terror and so meeting the first proviso of the Middle East Road Map for progress in the peace process. However, the PA’s special force was expected and greeted in Nablus’ Balata camp by an ambush and crossfire on all sides from the Palestinian extremist groups, who were clearly acting on an advance tip-off.

The force retreated with a single prisoner, only to be faced with an ultimatum. They were told to release him by nightfall or else face a wholesale assault on the bases and roadblocks they set up in the West Bank city three days ago. In consultation with Mahmoud Abbas, it was decided to give in to the demand and let the captive go after the PA special force’s commander said his outfit would cave in if forced to withstand another round of combat and more casualties.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Americans, Palestinians and Israelis had clearly overestimated the capabilities of the new force before introducing it to the Nablus arena. It had been hoped that its success in beating down Palestinian terrorists would be followed by a victory parade led by the PA chairman around the streets of Nablus prior to the handover of more West Bank towns to his security control ahead of the Annapolis peace conference. These hopes were dashed Monday.

Hamas urges Abbas to stop "futile" negotiations with Israel

Arab media

GAZA, (PIC)-- Hamas Movement has urged PA chief Mahmoud Abbas to immediately halt the "futile" negotiations with the Israeli occupation government to protest the IOF troops' kidnapping of a Palestinian lawmaker and a national figure in the West Bank. "We urge the PA presidency to take clear stand towards the Israeli occupation practices and to stop the PA-Israeli negotiations in show of protest to that kidnapping", the Islamic Movement stressed in a statement it issued Tuesday, and a copy of which was obtained by the PIC.
Palestinian lawmaker Hatem Kufaisha of Hamas Movement in Al-Khalil city, and Sheikh Maher Al-Kharraz, one of the prominent Hamas figures in Nablus city, were kidnapped at the hands of the IOF troops Tuesday.
Israel kidnapped more than 40 Hamas lawmakers in June 2006, they are still held hostage by the Israeli occupation.
"At a time PA chief Mahmoud Abbas continues his negotiations with terrorist [Israeli premier] Ehud Olmert, and while the Oslo team holds secret negotiations with their Israeli counterparts, the IOF troops persisted in their arrest campaigns against symbols of the Palestinian legitimacy", the Movement underlined.
The Movement also pointed out that the kidnapping of Kufaisha and Kharraz was almost simultaneous with the transfer of PLC speaker Dr. Aziz Dwaik, who has been in detention for more than 17 months, to hospital after his health deteriorated further.
The Movement lamented the inexplicable silence on the part of the Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and the international community, urging them to expose the [Zionist] entity's terrorism that violate international laws on human rights.
Tug-of-war at the PLC:
Responding to reports suggesting that Abbas was gearing to endorsing a law authorizing him to dissolve the PA legislature, which is a duly elected council, Palestinian legislator MP Mushir Al-Masri of the Hamas Movement affirmed that "Abbas has no authority under the constitution to dissolve the PA legislature because it is an independent body and the master of itself with supervisory powers over the executive branch of government represented by Abbas".
The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi affirmed in its Monday edition that a draft resolution granting the PA chief full authority to dissolve and replace the duly elected PA legislature with any other legislation bureau in a clear attempt to abort efforts of the acting PLC speaker Dr. Ahmad Bahar to convene the council.
Hamas Movement had contested and won the PA legislative elections in 2006, granting it majority in the PLC.
"Talks about terminating the PLC were indeed harmonizing with the relentless efforts of the Israeli occupation government to neutralize the PLC, and comes after tens of kidnapped Palestinian MPs completed all the legal procedures to authorize their colleagues in Hamas to vote on their behalf", explained Masri.
Masri also pointed out that the timing of the reports of Abbas's plans, in addition to Fatah and PA leadership rejection to Bahar's call for a PLC session proves that the IOF troops' kidnapping of the Hamas lawmakers was coordinated with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah city.
He also stressed that the PLC will serve its four-year term, and that it will be convened on Wednesday as planned.
"We will foil this scheme and all those involved in it, and we shall not agree to annul the PLC role as it will serve its full term of four complete years", Masri stressed.
In apparent undermining to Fatah's threats to boycott the PLC session, Masri affirmed, "Hamas forms majority in the council, and other parliamentary blocs, including Fatah faction among others, were minorities in the council".

Black money

Petrodollars changing Middle East, but Israel left out of the picture After the annual convention of the International Monetary Fund in Washington ended and everyone went back home, the Fund’s research department published its yearly review of the region known as “Middle East and Central Asia,” which includes, among others, all oil-exporting Arab-Muslim countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Persian Gulf Emirates. It’s a fascinating report – and for Israeli eyes, also a scary one.

The main findings are as follows: Oil-exporting Mideastern countries earned roughly $600 billion from oil and gas exports. In the years 2003-2006, the export revenues of these countries totaled about $2,100 billion.

This year, export revenues of Middle Eastern oil-rich nations will reach another $700 billion; should the price of oil reach $100 dollars a barrel, the revenues will leap forth to $850 billion. Next year, in 2008, the Arab-Muslim Mideast’s oil revenues will cross the $1,000 billion mark. We should remember this number: One thousand billion dollar revenues from oil and gas exports in one year.

Israel’s GDP, that is, the total value of all the products and services produced in Israel, will total roughly $170 billion this year. Or in other words, the Muslim-Arab world’s oil export revenues are at least six times higher than all of Israel’s domestic production.

Which country makes the most money? Saudi Arabia gets about $250 billion a year, the Gulf Emirates get about $180 billion a year, and in third place we have Iran, with revenues of $100 billion a year.

During the six good years, 2003-2008, the 11 Arab-Muslim oil-exporting countries will receive roughly $4,000 billion in exchange for their exports to the energy-hungry world. It’s an imaginary sum; incomprehensible.

Oil money revolutionizing Mideast
What do they do with the money? First of all, they buy. About 60 percent of the income from oil and gas exports is used to finance various types of imports. Last year, imports to oil-exporting countries totaled $360 billion, and this year it could reach $500 billion. By next year the figure could climb to $600 billion, although it’s difficult to see what the rulers of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya can spend such huge sums on.

The other 40 percent of oil exporting revenues are saved and are accumulated into governmental and government-like foreign currency reserves. According to the calculations of the IMF, by the end of the year these reserves will reach $1,200 dollars (including about $800 billion official reserves.) By next year the sum is expected to reach $1,600 billion.

In order to disguise their wealth, several Mideastern countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and Iran) deposit their oil money in investment funds owned and monitored by the regime. These are seemingly not considered “reserves” based on the IMF’s definition.

What is the expensive oil doing to the Mideastern economy? Its change its face completely. Since the oil prices revolution started, the per capita product there has been doubled, Arab governments paid off all their debts, the stock markets skyrocketed, poverty was cut down by a quarter, life expectancy rose by at least six years, accessibility to water and electricity has reached 90% of the population, and the natural growth rate has declined by the “most impressive rate in the world.”

And here is yet another important aspect: Iran’s development. According to the IMF, since 2002 the Iranian economy has been growing by an average annual rate of 5.5 percent. As a result, Iran’s GDP rose from $120 billion in 2002 to $280 billion this year, and is expected to rise to $330 billion by next year.

Peace with Palestinians key Israeli interest
It’s hard to exaggerate the implication of such figures. They shape a new Middle East, but not the kind of Mideast President Shimon Peres dreamed of. Arab and Muslim oil exporters no longer need Israel’s assistance in order to integrate into the global world. The world is knocking at their doors. The approved investment plans of the Emirates alone are estimated at $800 billion for the next five years.

And we are not there.

A two-hour flight away from Tel Aviv, on the sands of the desert, we are seeing the emergence of an oil- and gas-based Arab-Muslim economic empire never before seen in this region. Its power will grow from one year to the next. It will be a major player in deciding the fate of the global economy.

Yet all of this is happening without us. The Arab economic prosperity, which is so close to our borders, is completely skipping us. It is still not being directed at us. The Arabs have not yet internalized their power and wealth. It came too quickly and too easily. Yet they will internalize it, grasp it, and start conducting themselves accordingly.

For Israel, this is the last chance to “get on the bandwagon” and join this new reality. We must change our national perception: Israel’s economy, with all its technological achievements, will continue to dwarf in the face of the accumulated wealth of the Arab-Muslim Mideast. Our economy will decline to a much greater extent if we do not have any access to this wealth.

Such access can only be facilitated by signing an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to end the conflict. The most blatant Israeli existential interest is to advance the signing of such agreement, and through it normalize our ties with wealthy oil exporters – we can then start trading with them, selling to them, and taking part in their development plans.

The opening of Mideastern markets to Israel could double the annual growth rate of our economy from 5 to 10 percent. The Arab wealth would also enable an economic-financial resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, once such agreement is reached by all parties. This will require no more than a donation of 5% of the foreign currency reserves of oil-exporting countries or of their annual export revenues. There would still be money left, via wise business investment, to turn the future Palestinian state into a growing region.

Those who prefer to keep dozens of West Bank settlements over the opening of Israeli embassies in Riyadh and Qatar and over opening the Saudi and Libyan market to Israeli exports are anti-Zionist in my view. They understand nothing when it comes to the new Mideastern balance of power. They will leave Israel deep in the shadow, and in practice jeopardizes the foundations of our existence.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Olmert: Not yet on Jewish refugees

Ben Harris
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is cautioning advocates of Jewish refugees from Arab countries that any discussion of the issue is premature.
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Organizers of a major conference on behalf of Jewish refugees from Arab countries were told by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that any discussion of the issue was premature.
In a recent letter to leaders of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, which organized the conference here Monday, Olmert said it was premature to raise the refugee question now. But he gave assurances that when the issue is eventually put on the table, Israel would "reaffirm its commitment to resolving the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as well."

Olmert's letter, dated Oct. 8 and obtained by JTA over the weekend, came as Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, an advocacy coalition of 72 groups, was preparing to unveil documentation showing how Arab states conspired to persecute their Jewish citizens. In the aftermath of Israel's creation, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Arab lands where they had lived for centuries, a total roughly equivalent to the number of Palestinian refugees that fled or were driven from Israel.
Estimates of the number of Jewish refugees range generally from 700,000 to one million, a majority of whom were absorbed by Israel.
Leaders of the coalition insist that their efforts to publicize the rights of Jewish refugees, and the culpability of Arab governments in exacerbating their plight, have nothing to do with winning reparations. Instead, they say, they are seeking justice and establishing an accurate historical record. With a major peace conference planned for Annapolis in the coming months, they say, raising the profile of Jewish refugees could provide the Israeli government a powerful bargaining chip to offset claims by Palestinian refugees.
"This is not about money. This is not anti-Palestinian refugees," said Stanley Urman, the executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.
"We have one simple objective and that is, in the context of peace, the issues for both sides must be addressed. And our objective is to ensure that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by an explicit reference to Jewish refugees, as a matter of law and equity."
Previously, Israeli leaders appeared committed to that objective. In March 2002, and again in December 2003, the Israeli Cabinet decided to pursue the restoration of property owned by Jews who fled Arab countries and authorized cooperation with other ministries and organizations toward that end. But in more recent statements, Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have acknowledged the suffering of Palestinian refugees without mentioning the plight of Jewish refugees.
Olmert's letter, while pushing off the issue, was intended to reassure the coalition of Israel's continuing commitment to the rights of Jewish refugees.
Urman told JTA that delegates to the New York conference were "gratified" by Olmert's assurances. According to Urman, delegates planned to issue a declaration on the conclusion of the conference outlining the organization's plan of action.

On Monday, the coalition released documents discovered in United Nations archives showing that following the General Assembly's partition resolution in November 1947, the Arab League drafted a law allowing for various measures to be taken against their Jewish citizens. Among the measures were the freezing of Jewish bank accounts, imprisonment, exile and forced conscription into the military.

In a 1948 memorandum to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, the World Jewish Congress drew attention to the draft law and warned that the situation of Jews in Arab countries had become "critical." Consideration of the matter was subsequently killed by a pro-Arab parliamentary maneuver.

"We seem to have found a body of evidence relating to both events and materials that suggest that the displacement of 1 million Jews in 10 Arab countries did not happen by happenstance," Urman told JTA. "The documents we have uncovered reveal that there was an orchestrated effort by the Arab League to have all its member states react in a coordinated fashion to persecute their Jewish populations and use them as political weapons in their struggle against the State of Israel."
Although this history has long been known, Urman said the new documents are the "smoking gun" that conclusively demonstrate collusion among Arab leaders in driving out their Jewish citizens.

Top Police Investigator Recommends Indicting Olmert

The head of the police investigative team probing Olmert's alleged intervention in the Bank Leumi privatization recommends charges against the Prime Minister.According to a report in the Yisrael Hayom Hebrew-language commuter paper this week, the entire investigative team that was actively engaged in the probe supports the decision to indict the Prime Minister, in opposition to the stance taken by the head of the Police Department's Investigations Wing, Yochanan Danino.
The Bank Leumi case is one of four cases against the Prime Minister currently being investigated by the police. It involves suspicions that Olmert, as Acting Minister of Finance in late 2005, attempted to change the terms of the sale of the bank to fit the terms of two of his friends, who were in the bidding to buy it. The friends later dropped out.

The police have apparently found that had the sale gone through according to the amended terms, the State of Israel stood to lose $250 million. Olmert's defenders, on the other hand, say it is normal to amend the terms of a deal during the negotiating stage.

The investigation was opened based on testimony by Dr. Yaron Zelicha, the Finance Ministry's Accountant-General. Current Finance Minister Roni Bar-On attempted to cut short Zelicha's term in office because - Zelicha says - of his whistle-blowing, but the State Comptroller prevented him from doing so.

State Prosecutor Eran Shendar, who was to have made the final decision on an indictment against Olmert, has left his position. A replacement is to be chosen within a few weeks, and must be approved by the Olmert government.
Other Police Investigations

Another investigation against Olmert involves his purchase of a luxury apartment on Jerusalem's Cremeiux St. for a discount of at least $330,000, in exchange for Olmert's influence in expediting municipal construction. He is also under investigation in the matter known as the Investment Center case, for which State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has recommended that Olmert be indicted for his intervention in a case involving his friend, former partner and current lawyer Uri Messer. Finally, the police are also investigating alleged political appointments Olmert made as Trade Minister in the Small Business Administration.

Winograd Removes Last Vestiges of Threat Against Olmert

Amidst all the police investigations against him, Olmert received some good news regarding the Winograd Commission that was charged with investigating the government's failures during the Second Lebanon War. The Commission informed the Supreme Court officially on Sunday that it does not plan to issue criticism of specific persons. It had long been expected that the Winograd recommendations would be so strong that Olmert would be forced to resign - whereas it now appears that Olmert has nothing to fear from Winograd.

Finally, some reasoned thinking!

'Nakba' to stay out of school curriculum The Knesset Education Committee on Monday voted against Education Minister Yuli Tamir's proposal to include discussion of the "Nakba" (catastrophe), the Palestinian version of the events of 1948, in the school curriculum.

The committee voted six to one against, with one abstention.

"The Education Committee rejects presenting two perspectives in textbooks of the events of the War of Independence and the creation of the state and the reasons for the creation of the refugee problem," the committee said in a statement. "The inclusion in the curriculum that the Arabs view the creation of the state as a disaster is serious and leads to a process of alienation of the Arab community from the state and damages coexistence."

In July, the mention of the Arab term nakba in an official third-grade Education Ministry textbook for Arab schoolchildren caused an uproar among Israeli politicians.

In a discussion on the Jewish victory in Israel's 1948 War of Independence, the textbook, meant for Israeli Arab nine-year-olds, notes: 'The Arabs called the war 'nakba,' a war of disaster and loss, while the Jews call it 'the War of Independence.''

That line in the textbook, approved by the Education Ministry for distribution to Arab Israeli schools that ask for it, has garnered angry condemnation and at the time even raised calls for Tamir's dismissal from right-wing MKs.

'If the State of Israel gives legitimacy to the Arab sector to see the War of Independence as a nakba - for a period, they even called it a Holocaust - it tells them they can deny that Israel is a legitimate Jewish state,' MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) said in July. 'If Israel arose on the disaster of the Palestinians, it can't be legitimate. But the Jewish right to Israel isn't dependent on the Holocaust. It's inherent and part of Jewish history, a legacy of our nakba 2,000 years ago.'

Responding to the criticism, Tamir said it reflected 'a real fear to deal with the reality of a complex society, which has at least two narratives. There's a lot of tension, and the fact that we don't talk about it doesn't make the tension or the conflict go away.'

Tony Blair urges Israel to make 'psychological shift'

David Horovitz

Middle East envoy Tony Blair on Sunday urged Israel to make a "psychological shift" from indifference and skepticism about the prospects of progress with the Palestinians to an active determination to "make it happen on the right terms."
He said Israel, which turns 60 in May, would "absolutely" still be here in another 60 years, but that "to guarantee its long-term security I believe it needs a viable Palestinian state."

If Israelis feel the same, Blair told The Jerusalem Post, then "the psychological shift that has to happen in the Israeli thinking is to move from saying, 'Well, if it happens, it happens, but frankly I'm skeptical about the whole thing,' to saying, 'Okay, I'm going to try and make it happen.'"

He said he was "sure that the Prime Minister [Ehud Olmert] is absolutely up for it. I've got no doubt about that at all. The next few weeks will tell whether everyone is prepared to get behind that."

At the same time, however, Blair stressed Israel should not "yield" at all on security. And he stopped short of expressing full confidence that the Palestinian leadership, under Mahmoud Abbas, was capable of carrying out the necessary reform to meet Israel's vital security needs.

It was "not impossible" for the Palestinians to transform themselves into the kind of "stable partner for Israel" that Jordan constitutes, he said. But the new Palestinian leadership is living "with a very long legacy from the past," Blair said, in a reference to the Yasser Arafat era. The question for Abbas and his colleagues was, "Do they break out of that whole mindset? Do they regard themselves as people who are going to take the risks, shoulder the responsibility and get it done or not?... All I say to Israelis," he went on, "is, well, put it to the test... What is the alternative?" Blair said he fully understood that Israel's mistrust of the Palestinian leadership was a consequence of bitter experience. Indeed, he had been telling critics of Israel that, in the light of what went wrong in the Oslo years and in the wake of the Gaza disengagement, he too, were he leading Israel, would be wary of dramatic territorial withdrawal and giving the Palestinians' statehood. "When you're saying to [Israel], 'We now want you to pull out of everywhere and give [the Palestinians] a state, you know, any of us who were in the shoes of the Israeli prime minister or any Israeli minister would be saying 'Whoa.'"

Nonetheless, he went on, "the danger in this situation, if I can be very blunt about it, is that you say 'There have been 60 years of failure of negotiation and therefore it's always going to fail,' whereas actually sometimes things aren't like that. And to be fair to this Palestinian leadership, as I keep emphasizing, they're living with the legacy of a certain type of politics and you don't escape from that immediately."
Asked whether Abbas was prepared to renounce the "right of return" and to take other viable final status positions, the former British prime minister said, "It's not for me to negotiate for Abbas, but I think Abbas knows exactly what he needs to do to have a proper final status negotiation." He added that the respective final-status positions of the two sides were such that "it is possible to see how an agreement could be reached... In my view the Palestinians are prepared to be realistic, sensible and focused in agreeing those terms in the final status negotiations."
Crucial though he considered the diplomatic track leading to the planned Annapolis gathering, Blair stressed that an international donors conference scheduled for Paris in December was "every bit as important," since it is there that the Palestinians are supposed to produce "a medium-term strategy" for reform of their security and other institutions.

Blair, 54, who has been making frequent visits to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders since taking up the post of Quartet envoy in June, was interviewed by the Post during a whirlwind 24-hour trip. While much of the conversation naturally focused on his efforts to work with the Palestinians on institution-building, his primary task as envoy, he also set out hard-hitting positions on the battle against Islamic extremism, the root causes of terror, and the need to stand firm against Iran.

He stressed that he did not believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the cause of attacks such as the 2005 London public transport bombings, and neither were the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This terrorism is not our fault," he said. It needed to be fought through a combination of military action where necessary and "a galvanizing idea that is more powerful" than the extremists' message. "And that idea is not simply about freedom and democracy, though it should be about that, but also about justice," he said.
"The trouble with a large part of the Western world is that we're in a state of semi-apology the whole time, and that's an absolutely hopeless position from which to take this thing on... A large part of public opinion in the West is basically saying, 'We have caused this. It's our fault they're like this.' I just think that's nonsense."

He said he had personally found himself "in profound disagreement with a large part of public opinion" in Britain on this, "which is tough." But he felt it was better to hold to his positions than to embrace what he considered misguided policies. "If you look at the posture of much of the Western world on Iraq and Afghanistan," he said, "it is, 'If you come after us really, really hard, we'll give up.' I mean, how do you win a battle from that perspective?"

Blair said he was "completely on the hard side of the argument in terms of staying the course" in Iraq and in the wider battle against terrorism. This was why, he said, "I get your security situation completely. If I was you, I would not yield on security at all. That's not my point. My point is a different one: If a Palestinian state is ultimately in your long-term interest for reasons of security, you should try and make it happen on the right terms."

As for Iran, Blair was blunt: "The tougher we are, actually the easier it will be... What they need to know is that the international community is united, strong and determined that they should not have a nuclear weapons capability and they should not continue to support terrorism."

(The full interview with Tony Blair will appear in the Post later this week.)

Officials divided on al-Dura footage

The upcoming showing in a French court of raw footage taken on the day of the shooting of Mohammad Al-Dura - September 30, 2000 - has brought the two sides in the case into sharp relief. In support of Phillipe Karsenty, the appealing defendant in a libel case brought by the France 2 television station which took the footage, stand Israeli government officials such as Government Press Office director Danny Seaman, senior IDF officers and many French Jews. In opposition stand, among others, the Israeli ambassador to Paris, representatives of Jewish organizations and some Israeli officials who believe the case is doing needless damage to Israel's image.

The image of 12-year-old Dura, shot dead during a gunfight at the Netzarim Junction at the outbreak of the intifada - allegedly by IDF troops - has become a symbol for anti-Israel sentiment throughout the Muslim world and even in Europe. From Tunisian postage stamps showing the boy under fire to public squares and monuments named for him in major cities throughout the Muslim world, the Dura death quickly became a potent symbol of Palestinian victimhood.

Yet many questions remain unanswered about that day - from the handful of bullet holes in the wall behind Mohammad and his father Jamal (when cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma spoke of 45 minutes of continuous IDF gunfire aimed at the pair), to the embarrassed admission by Abu-Rahma in an interview with German television that "we have some secrets for ourselves" regarding the location of the bullets involved in the shooting, which were never recovered.

"The version that has been accepted and shown - in which [France 2 bureau chief in Israel Charles] Enderlin said Israelis were shooting and the boy is dead - has killed people," believes Richard Prasquier, head of the Representative Council of French Jewry (CRIF). "It has promoted hate for Israel and a large part of the negative reaction at the beginning of the intifada. These pictures are not like any pictures. They are [important] because of the reaction to them."

One Israeli supporter of Karsenty's legal struggle, launched after he publicly demanded the resignation of Enderlin, accusing him of presenting staged footage of a staged event, said "the problem isn't going to go away, no matter how much people in [the Israeli] government want it to."

Unlike some conspiracy theorists, Karsenty has not maintained that the boy is still alive, but insists that images of shootings and wounded were being staged that day at the Netzarim Junction. Karsenty has said that Israeli soldiers stationed at Netzarim did not shoot al-Dura, but that the shots came from Palestinian gunmen who were intentionally trying to create the image of Israelis killing Palestinian children.

France 2 has refused for seven years to release footage beyond the edited 3-minute version given out in 2000, reportedly saying it was either irrelevant or that the child's death-throes would be too traumatic for the public to see. It will present the 27-minute footage to the court on November 14, showing it publicly for the first time, after it was asked to do so by the presiding judge hearing the appeal.

Reached for comment, Enderlin noted that "no formal [Israeli] official asked us to join an official investigation that meets international standards. The first letter from the IDF, I got in September [from deputy commander of the IDF Spokesman's Office Col. Shlomi Am-Shalom] after seven years. I'm willing to present the [footage] to the deputy chief of General Staff, but we won't give tapes to someone who wants to help someone who is on trial for libel."

Enderlin added he was convinced France 2 would win the case. "There is no staging. The pictures weren't staged. There are witnesses from 2002 that say Karsenty and others planned a campaign [around the al-Dura footage]. I'm willing to take a polygraph test, and so is Talal Abu-Rahma. But I want all the soldiers [who were at the roadblock] to do so as well, and where is the incident report from the IDF officer at the scene?"

The call for a comprehensive inquiry is echoed on both sides of the issue. According to Prasquier, "a very harsh inquiry should be made. I do not want to accuse anybody, but I think things have been hidden, and they should be shown to the public. Some people have seen the [uncut footage], and they were very surprised."

While the Israeli government has yet to decide on its official position regarding the Karsenty case or the veracity of the France 2 footage, different officials have made opposite statements to the media and behind closed doors. While the GPO's Seaman and others in the Foreign Ministry, the army and elsewhere have expressed doubt as to France 2's version of events, Israeli ambassador to Paris Danny Sheck and other officials have blasted Karsenty for reviving the issue.

One Israeli official said the government has been too lax. "The prime minister doesn't know the details, and they haven't been presented to him," he said. "The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has to check into this, and find out why the government bureaucracy hasn't come up with a position."

The official, who supports Karsenty, accused Israeli government officials of not fulfilling their duties toward the country. "Charles Enderlin defamed Israel, and those people, paid by Israeli taxpayers to defend the country, are not doing that," he declared.

Nablus clashes pose new threat to Abbas’s authority

Khaled Abu Toameh
Nov. 6, 2007

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's efforts to impose law and order in the West Bank suffered a setback Monday when gunmen belonging to his Fatah faction opened fire at Palestinian policemen in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad during a meeting in Jerusalem on Monday night that if the deployment of additional Palestinian security forces in Nablus succeeded in establishing order, the IDF would permit similar deployment in another West Bank city.
Five people were wounded in the armed clashes between the two parties in Nablus, prompting the PA leadership in Ramallah to dispatch additional reinforcements to the city.
The confrontation is an indication of the huge challenges facing Abbas and his security forces in asserting their authority in the West Bank after losing the Gaza Strip to Hamas.
However, all indications on Monday were that Abbas was not interested in an escalation because of his desire to avoid internecine fighting ahead of the US-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
Besides, there is no guarantee that his security forces would agree to participate in a crackdown on Fatah militiamen.
Several Fatah-affiliated gangs in the city have vowed not to surrender their weapons to the Palestinian security forces under the pretext that they were still being targeted by the IDF.
The Fatah gangsters, according to local residents, have been behind a spate of crime that has hit Nablus over the past few years. "They're not fighting Israel as much as they are terrorizing the residents of Nablus," said a prominent businessman. "They are the de facto police."
Over the weekend, some 300 policemen were deployed in Nablus as part of a US-backed security plan to boost Abbas's standing in the West Bank ahead of the planned peace conference.
But residents said that other than patrolling the streets and occupying rooftops, the policemen have taken no measures against dozens of gunmen who have long been imposing a reign of terror and intimidation in the largest West Bank city.
Under the terms of the security plan, Palestinian policemen have been permitted to appear on the streets only until midnight, when the IDF becomes responsible for security. PA security officers in Nablus complained Monday that this arrangement made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to carry out their duties.
"People here don't take us seriously because we are not allowed to operate after midnight," one officer told The Jerusalem Post.

But the officer also told the Post that he and his men had not received clear instructions to crack down on the gunmen, especially those belonging to Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. "No one told us that our mission was to disarm or arrest members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades," he said.

Gen. Diab al-Ali, the PA security commander of the Nablus area, admitted that Monday's clashes were not the result of a decision to crack down on unruly members of the Aksa Brigades. He said the armed clashes began after policemen "mistakenly" detained the brother of a Fatah gunman from Balata.

"The gunman, who is wanted by the Palestinian Authority, fled to Balata," he said. "We released the brother and apologized to him because he had been detained by mistake."

According to Ali, when a police force tried to enter Balata to search for the gunman, dozens of gunmen and residents pelted them with stones and forced them to flee, leaving behind a police vehicle that was seized by members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades.

Balata, like most of the Palestinian refugee camps, has always been off-limits to PA security forces.
In the West Bank, the camps are exclusively controlled by Fatah gunmen who function as policemen, judges and executioners.

Balata, the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, has always been considered a hard nut to crack. Several attempts by former PA chairman Yasser Arafat to deploy policemen inside the camp were thwarted by Fatah gunmen, who are esteemed by many camp residents as heroes.

As such, Abbas can't afford a major confrontation with gunmen from his own faction, especially not when many of them are being pursued by Israel. A crackdown on the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank on the eve of the Annapolis conference will only undermine Abbas's power and depict him as a pawn in the hands of Israel and the US.
That's why Abbas's instructions to his security commanders in Nablus were to do their utmost to avoid a confrontation with the gunmen inside the refugee camp and to try to resolve the crisis peacefully.

In fact, this has been the undeclared policy of both Arafat and Abbas since the establishment of the PA.

Condi’s Shame

The respected left-wing journalist Aluf Benn recently reported in Haaretz that “When Condoleezza Rice talks about the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel, she sees in her mind’s eye the struggle of African Americans for equal rights, which culminated in the period of her Alabama childhood.” Though Benn never cited any source for his description of Rice’s deep personal identification with the Palestinian national cause, he has interviewed Secretary Rice before and obviously felt his source was good enough for print. He went on to “guess” that Rice’s feelings were based on the similarity between the separation fence and checkpoints in the West Bank and the Jim Crow laws that prohibited blacks from exercising their most basic civil rights. For good measure Benn also threw in the suggestion that Rice often confuses Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with Martin Luther King.
Benn’s article has become a favorite topic of conversation in American Jewish circles this month because it speaks aloud a painful idea that has haunted Jews on the Left and the Right for some time, which is that the world no longer sees us, as it did for perhaps twenty years between the Holocaust and the release of the movie “Exodus,” as living angels in a fallen world. It is a fact that the comparison of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank with Nazis has gained currency over the past two decades in Europe and on college campuses in America. Yet the deliberately obscene nature of this analogy makes it hard to swallow for anyone who is not eighteen years old or blinded by hate. After all, why compare Israelis to Nazis when so many other historical exemplars of badness are available – apartheid-era South Africa, say, or the Chinese in Tibet.

That many Americans no longer see the comparison between the loathsome apartheid regime in South Africa and Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as loony is due in large part to the efforts of former president Jimmy Carter, who has enjoyed a successful second career as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and freelance crackpot. Carter’s diligent efforts to stigmatize the Jewish state for not being peaceful and generous enough for his liking have been supported by the work of his fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who shares with Carter a willful ignorance of basic facts about the history of the Jewish people, Christianity and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as the physical geography of the Middle East.
The comparison of Israel and apartheid-era South Africa has also been furthered on American campuses by an endorsement by Nelson Mandela, another Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who is definitely not a crackpot. The fact that Mandela’s supposed endorsement was actually written by an Arab propagandist, and that Mandela himself has repeatedly refused to say any such thing, has done little to dampen the general enthusiasm for analogies in which Israelis aren’t Nazis exactly, but are definitely the worst kind of racists and devils.

So, to have an American secretary of state – an accomplished black woman with a Ph.D. in political science, who plays the piano, who grew up as a little girl in the South and lost a friend when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the churches in Birmingham – compare Israelis to Southern whites and Palestinians to Southern blacks is definitely news, even if the comparison is not exactly original. Benn’s off-the-record/on-the-record “hint” that Rice might be personally sympathetic to Palestinians has naturally excited Jewish right-wingers, who fear a sell-out at the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis, just as it pains left-wingers, who worry that she might think that they, too, are racists, the worst sin in the liberal “Al Cheyt.”

Sixty years after the founding of the State of Israel, it is also a fact that Jews remain uncomfortable with exercising power. Instead, we like to celebrate our moral authority, which comes out of the Mosaic tradition, is connected in our minds with our long history of martyrdom and victimhood and our sympathies with other oppressed groups. The fact that few people who aren’t also Jewish appear to care much for Jewish moral authority has little influence on our attachment to the ancient idea that the Jews were created as a light unto the nations.

Perhaps being a “light unto the nations” is easier in exile, or perhaps the meaning of the phrase “light unto the nations” is more enigmatic than our sages let on. It is no secret that many Jews in Israel and in America feel anxious and torn about the de facto segregation of the Israeli and Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza which is backed by the full force of the IDF, by extrajudicial measures like targeted killings, and by a full range of security measures like fences and passes and bypass roads which can appear to be physically indistinguishable from the landscape of apartheid in South Africa. There are good reasons to believe that many of these measures are necessary to protect the lives of Israeli citizens and that much criticism of Israeli behavior is historically ignorant and morally obtuse. But the reality – however necessary – still makes many Jews wince.

At the same time, it is also important to remember that Condoleezza Rice is not a talk show host but the U.S. secretary of state – which is not a job that leaves very much room for personal moments. Her private rhetoric (if “off the record” conversations with foreign politicians and journalists can even remotely be considered private) is simply rhetoric – that is to say, words intended for a purpose. Every word she speaks embodies the political will of the most powerful nation in the history of the planet – a nation currently having a bit of trouble in the Middle East.
Rice is a skilled political tactician who is fantastically loyal to President Bush, who has repeatedly declared his intention to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza before he leaves office. It seems wise to take the president at his word, not because he will succeed but because he has laid down a marker that a future U.S. president will be obliged to pay off. If playing the race card makes Palestinians feel loved, Israelis feel guilty, and American Jews feel that their own moral purity is being endangered by Israel – so be it.

The amount of leverage Rice can gain by a few well-placed whispers is obvious. Secretary Rice rarely hesitates to use her personal biography to her political advantage in a refined but very effective way. While the intent of Aluf Benn’s “guesses” about Rice’s innermost feelings about the Palestinian cause is clearly incendiary, I have little doubt the secretary and her aides have whispered sweet nothings into the ears of Israeli and Palestinian politicians and even to Aluf Benn himself, suggesting that she can empathize with the Palestinian sufferings under Israeli occupation by virtue of having been born black in Alabama. Benn’s dramatic embellishments should not diminish the fact that empathizing with Palestinian suffering is a minimum requirement for having a political conversation that involves Palestinians as well as Israelis.

At the same time, it seems highly unlikely that Secretary Rice’s sudden empathy for the Palestinian cause is anything more than a tactical maneuver in the service of her forthcoming peace conference at Annapolis, which itself is a tactic to help ensure Arab support for an orderly American withdrawal from Iraq and a future attack on Iran. After all, neither Mahmoud Abbas nor Ehud Olmert can command the loyalty of more than a small fraction of his own electorate. Neither man has the slightest amount of room for maneuver in negotiations, or the slightest ability to compel his political opponents to accept an agreement. A comprehensive peace agreement signed by Abbas and Olmert would have only slightly more significance than the same agreement signed by Bishop Tutu and the King of Thailand – who, as far as I know, couldn’t care less.

Based on my own interviews with Rice, and my analysis of what she has said about the conflict over a long period of time, I have concluded that Rice is an agnostic on the subject of Israeli-Palestinian peace – but she believes very strongly that the appearance of an active effort to cut a deal is important to America’s interests in the Middle East.

The paradox of Rice’s conduct is that she is taking the role of an activist secretary of state while believing very strongly on an intellectual level that events are driven by underlying historical circumstances and currents on which our actions and desires can have only a very limited effect. She has repeatedly stated that the deal cut between East and West Germany and the Soviet Union to end the Cold War would have been impossible even a few years earlier. She told me more than once that it seemed quite possible that historical circumstances may not be ripe for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rice clearly hopes to use whatever leverage she can get to bring the two sides closer to a deal within the parameters of the 2004 exchange of letters between Dov Weisglass and herself, which should be read very carefully for what they say and what they do not say about subjects like the future of Jerusalem and the settlements in the West Bank. In the current climate, she may well believe that a failure in which America is seen as having pressed the Israelis hard and outlined the parameters for a future deal is better than nothing. Rice’s assumptions are certainly questionable, especially in view of what happened after the Arafat/Barak negotiations fell apart in 2000.

Pressuring Israel to make concessions to active terrorists in the hopes of bringing about a future peace is not a political strategy with a long history of success. Yet it might behoove Rice’s right-wing critics in the American Jewish community to stand back from their rhetorical rocket launchers for a moment and ask themselves whether the greater existential threat to Israel’s existence comes from rag-tag Palestinian militias penned up in the West Bank and Gaza, or from a nuclear-armed Iran – a threat that Israel will most likely have to meet on its own in the same way the IAF took out Saddam’s Osirak reactor. Given the nature of the Iranian threat, Israel may have little choice but to pay whatever price the Americans ask up front – and then strike.

Yet there is still something disturbing about the remarks Rice is reported to have made, however direct or vague they might have been, and however tactically clever they might seem to their author. Offhand analogies between Palestinians and Southern blacks or Israelis and Southern whites make a mockery of real pain and suffering by ignoring the specificity of actual historical experience. Comparisons of Palestinian “freedom fighters” with the American civil rights movement would merely seem ridiculous (imagine the membership of Hamas and Fatah joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome”) if they were not also part of a bullying assault on historical specificity that has come to characterize much recent political discourse in America. The determination to avoid dealing with historical reality is evident both in the angry, unreasoning assaults of the Left (9/11 was an inside job!) and the grand follies of the Right (let’s remake Iraq!).

It is ironic, or perhaps depressingly inevitable, that we are awash in this kind of 1930’s European-style gutter politics at a moment when the stakes could not be higher. Comparisons of Israelis to history’s most devilish racists and Palestinians to history’s most noble victims are hardly meant to further anyone’s understanding of a complex situation in a part of the world with no shortage of local history. Rather, the point is to shut down discussion before it begins by threatening that anyone who disagrees will be branded as a racist.

Condoleezza Rice, the political science professor and provost of Stanford University, would likely judge such bullying and divisive rhetoric harshly, as the product of a second-rate mind afraid to engage in reasoned discussion and debate. When she returns to private life, she will feel ashamed of herself.

That said, I don’t see the slightest bit of evidence that the secretary of state actually believes Mahmoud Abbas is Martin Luther King in disguise, or that she has flashbacks to her childhood in Birmingham every time she sees the Separation Fence on her way to Ramallah. But a whisper or two can’t hurt, right?

David Samuels lives in Brooklyn. His account of Secretary of State Rice's diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, "Grand Illusions," appeared as the cover story of the June 2007 issue of The Atlantic.