Friday, August 05, 2011

"Those Tel Aviv Demonstrators"

Arlene Kushner

I want to return to the issue of the housing demonstrators, because there continues to be a good deal of misunderstanding -- in no small part because of media coverage -- regarding who they are and what they are about.

Let me begin with a description by Sarah Honig from her column in last Friday's Jerusalem Post magazine. Honig -- who is far closer to the situation than I am -- pulls no punches:

"News flash: There’s cheap rental housing in Tel Aviv. Dirt cheap. So cheap, in fact, that illegals from Ghana and Nigeria, Guatemala and Columbia, Thailand and Outer Mongolia, can afford it. But that’s not where the privileged children of the well-heeled classes wish to fulfill fantasies..." Their preference, she explains, is for the equivalents of fashionable, upscale Manhattan: "'Heart-of-Tel-Aviv' neighborhoods...But topping it all for prestige and desirability is Tel Aviv’s 'Old North,' radiating from the upmarket Habimah Theater-Mann Auditorium hub.

"At that posh pivot, trendsetters and groupies pitched their tent city to campaign for lower/subsidized rents. We, wage-earners in the rest of the country, are presumably required to foot their extravagant bills and make Israel’s Manhattan ambiance more affordable...

"I personally know some of the Rothschild Boulevard protest-instigators. I also know their affluent families (whose incomes far exceed my own meager salary)...

"Several of the tent-happening’s ringleaders are my daughter’s erstwhile schoolmates and friends to this day. Their exceptional good tastes have always meant shopping for the most impressive brand-names and running up bills that annoyed even their prosperous parents. They also gravitate to pricey eateries, drinking holes and clubs...

"Some are chronically 'between jobs' and/or between schools, seeking to find themselves and their true calling. Some dabble in showbiz...Some smoke funny things, and all, without exception, are trendily left-wing – as befits rebels against bourgeois mom and dad (who nonetheless help pay the rent and provide laundry services)...

"They flaunt political affiliations like Hadash – the largely Arab remnant of the local Communist Party...

"Political patrons purchased nifty tents for the sons and daughters of our well-to-do compatriots. These pampered radicals, with less-moneyed hangers-on, hanker after thrills...Note the pervasive anti-Bibi/bring-the-government-down slogans chanted by the mobilized/manipulated thousands who joined their march last weekend."


Meir Indor, head of Almagor, a terror victims association, has spent time visiting the tent cities and has this additional information to provide:

"...having discovered who the lead protesters are, I am not surprised by their antidemocratic tendencies. The disturbances were initiated by Daphne Leef, an employee of the New Israel Fund, which is known for funding organizations that work to stigmatize Israel and the IDF, and to promote boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.

Another leader is Stav Shafir, a self-avowed semi-anarchist in the employ of the news company Yediot Aharonot, which opposes Netanyahu and has been covering the protests nonstop.

Other prominent participants include Asaf Nadiv, who was convicted in 1989 of membership in the Trotskyite terrorist group Derech Hanitzotz; writer Anat Rosilio, who in December 2008 strongly opposed Operation Cast Lead against rocket fire from Gaza; Tzvika Besor, a self-described devotee of communist Dov Khenin; and more than a few other communist and anarchist activists."


I want to reiterate here what I wrote about earlier: there really is a housing problem, both with regard to availability and cost. I don't know any one who would dispute this. And some of those who have joined the demonstrations truly are hurting and hope for redress of their housing situations.

However, the problems with these demonstrations include:

[] An ideological predisposition toward bringing down the government rather than negotiating for an understanding that would ameliorate the situation. With this has come a tendency to take on more and more issues, so that it is not just about housing and it becomes near impossible to resolve problems.

[] The unreasonable expectation of the demonstration leaders that -- as so forcefully put forth by Honig -- they have a right to housing they can afford in upscale population centers. The protest leaders claim to represent the middle class, not poor people.

[] Some notion of totally restructuring the Israeli economy in accordance with leftist/communist ideology -- a restructuring that would destroy the free market economy that has brought Israel to such financial success.

Their demands, in line with this, are counter-intuitive and non-productive:

Because they are ideologically opposed to private builders making a profit, they insisted that Netanyahu had to withdraw proposed legislation that was intended to ease the situation. (He didn't and more on this follows.) They don't want contractors to construct new housing in a free market situation; they want the government to step in and provide rent supports for that upscale housing. They are adamant that housing construction should not be permitted in Judea and Samaria, even though this would go a good way to solving the housing shortage. And they are pushing for more refugees/illegal immigrant workers from Africa to be brought into the country even as they are charging that there is insufficient housing for Israelis.


Caroline Glick's most recent video satire, Latma, addresses this same issue. In her introduction, she writes:

"...a consortium of the New Israel Fund, various other leftist pressure groups, the Communist party, the media, Israeli celebs, and Tzipi Livni have been organizing large protests replete with NIF-funded props including tents to bring down the government..."

The video -- -- pokes fun at the fact that the poor who are most in trouble are being left out of the current housing demonstrations.


As to the housing bill, after lengthy and contentious debate, it passed in the Knesset yesterday, the last day before the summer recess, by 57-45.

The prime minister, addressing the Knesset, said that Israel was enjoying unprecedented growth, with the average Israeli salary higher than that of many European countries. The socioeconomic problems, he maintained, are caused by high prices, and it is this that the reforms instituted by the legislation are meant to address. There will be reforms, but the market will remain free.

A key element of the bill is the formation of six temporary national housing committees, for different regions of the nation, that would work over the next 18 months to bypass the bureaucracy that stalls housing projects. These committees will provide all authorizations necessary for beginning construction for projects with more than 200 units to be built on state land. Some of the homes will be designated for rentals for the next 10 years.

The tent city leaders responded by announcing their intentions of continuing to protest; a mass rally is scheduled for Tel Aviv on Saturday night.


Just today, the Interior Ministry announced that approval has been finalized for 930 units in Har Homa C, on a hill adjacent to the current Har Homa neighborhoods. It had been two years since approval for this project was originally sought. Twice final approval was delayed for political reasons, as Har Homa is beyond the Green Line. It is solidly within the municipal boundaries, in a strategic location, and built on Jewishly owned land.

Even with this approval, it will be something like two years before the apartments are constructed: tenders have to be published and a contractor approved, and then infrastructure must be set in place.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) has announced that 20% of the apartments will be smaller ones, making them more accessible to young couples. (It is my understanding, which I am unable to confirm as I write, that the new housing bill is supposed to encourage this same approach -- with some priority given to those contractors who will build smaller or more accessible apartments.)

Peace Now has objected to the project.


Within a variety of forums, a number of Palestinian Arab spokespersons responded almost immediately and most negatively to news about the new offer being worked on by the US and Israel to bring the PA back to the negotiating table. They are bound for the UN, they declared decisively.

However, Khaled Abu Toameh, writing in the JPost, now reports that the US administration has invited PA officials to discuss the resumption of negotiations. For the second time in a matter of weeks, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, will soon travel to Washington.

According to an PA official cited by Al Hayat (London), the US is searching for a formula that would bring the Arabs back to the table, but has not found it.


What can we assume from this information, when so there is so little transparency? Netanyahu was said to be considering a package that would involve Israeli compromises. Has it moved beyond "considering" to "has agreed to"? Does that package, as is frequently indicated in press reports, include '67 lines with land swaps -- a formula that is not acceptable? Has it been put into a written document? Or is Obama first sounding out the other side?

What we have been told is that Netanyahu is linking the concessions he's made to a demand that the PA recognize Israel as the Jewish state.


A report done for the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the possible repercussions of the declaration of a Palestinian state in the UN is due to be published next week. But the Committee has already been advised that findings were inconclusive, with different defense experts and professionals offering different opinions.

Why am I not surprised?


Steve Rosen, director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum, has written a piece, "The Palestinians' Imaginary State," that is enlightening with regard to this issue.

Rosen outlines the legal standard for determining a state, as spelled out in 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

Says Rosen, "From a narrowly legal point of view, the Hamas Gaza entity could become a state, another miserable addition to a very imperfect world." It "controls a permanent population in a defined territory (i.e., Gaza within the armistice lines of 1949). Gaza has a functioning, if odious, government. And Hamas-controlled Gaza already conducts international relations with a large number of states. "

"The Fatah Palestinian entity in the West Bank also could meet the legal requirements for statehood...It has a functioning government in the Palestinian Authority (PA), a permanent population, and international relations with a very large number of states. It also controls a defined territory, which comprises what are called areas A and B as defined under the Oslo II agreement of September 1995, plus additional territory subsequently transferred by Israel in agreed further redeployments. (Area A is the zone of full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority, and Area B is a zone of Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.) The Fatah West Bank entity within these lines also could be recognized as a state under international law."


However, Rosen goes on to say:

"Fatah, the PA, and the broader PLO do not seek statehood for this West Bank entity that arguably could meet the legal requirements. Their minimum demand is a state that includes Gaza along with the West Bank, the eastern part of Jerusalem, and all the other parts of mandatory Palestine that were under Jordanian and Egyptian control before 1967. Fatah, the PA, and the PLO are demanding title to lands and authority over populations they do not they are under the rule of Hamas and Israel. (Emphasis added)

"Unlike the two Palestinian entities that already exist...the Palestinian entity that a General Assembly majority will recognize as a state this September does not actually exist on Earth. It is imaginary and aspirational, not real. And it does not meet the legal requirements. (Emphasis added)

"First, it will have two rival presidents pursuing incompatible policies. Mahmoud Abbas is presenting himself as the president of the Palestine that is pressing the claim in the U.N. General Assembly, but he is not considered to be the president anymore by Hamas, the largest political party in the putative state."

When Abbas's term of office expired in 2009, he unilaterally extended his term by a year. Hamas did not recognize that extension, but it has expired, in any event. "...the legally empowered president of Palestine, since January 2009, has been Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik," who represents Hamas.

"Second, the Palestine that the General Assembly will recognize also will have two rival prime ministers pursuing incompatible policies. Hamas denies that Abbas has the authority to appoint Salam Fayyad as prime minister, because Abbas is not legally the president..." Ismail Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas, is viewed by Hamas as prime minister, and, says, Rosen, "has the law on its side."

"Third, this putative state of 'Palestine' will also have a legislature that never meets..."

"Fourth, this Palestine that the General Assembly will recognize will also lack the ability to hold presidential or legislative elections as required by Article 47 of its Basic Law...because the rival Palestinian rulers will not allow them to happen...Neither of the rivals wants an election to be held under the electoral rules recognized as legally binding by the other, and neither will permit the other to compete freely on territories it controls as required by both sets of regulations.

"So there you have it. The General Assembly will make a remarkable decision about all this in the next few weeks. Instead of recognizing either of the two state-like entities that already exist...the General Assembly will create an imaginary state that has two incompatible presidents, two rival prime ministers, a constitution whose most central provisions are violated by both sides, no functioning legislature, no ability to hold elections, a population mostly not under its control, borders that would annex territory under the control of other powers, and no clear path to resolve any of these conflicts. It is a resolution that plants the seeds for civil and international wars, not one that advances peace."

How crazy can it get? We've got an inkling here.

© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

No comments: