Sunday, March 15, 2009

"As a New Week Begins"

Arlene Kushner

The traditional greeting at the end of Shabbat is "Shavua tov" -- have a good week. And dearly do I wish for all of us a good week. But as I look at the news I have more than a little ambivalence.


Big news here (which may come to nothing) is that Ofer Dekel, chief negotiator on the release of Shalit, and Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, have been sent to Cairo by Olmert for last ditch negotiations on Shalit before a new government takes over. With the Shalit family in a protest tent this past week, pressure has been growing to secure a final deal. They will remain in Cairo until tomorrow night, and will return to report any progress to the Cabinet, which would be called into special session on Monday.. There is such a hullabaloo with regard to Olmert's obligation to secure the release of our kidnapped soldier, that it's difficult for me to tell whether I'm in the minority in opposing what is being projected: the trade of Shalit for hundreds of terrorists who have taken many Jewish lives and would undoubtedly work towards that end again if freed. I shudder at the prospect.

While Olmert is thinking about becoming a hero at the last minute, I am thinking ahead to what this projected deal means:

There is an issue of justice: The urgent necessity to hold those who kill our people accountable and make them pay for their deeds. There is enormous compassion for the pain of the Shalit family, but what of the disregard for the pain of the families who lost members to these terrorists, and the ultimate insult of letting the murderers of their loved ones go free? This is also essential so that potential terrorists understand what would be facing them if caught and are disabused of the notion that they would be freed in a trade.

And there is the risk posed to others in several regards -- the soldiers who would be at risk of kidnapping so that the release of additional terrorist prisoners might be secured, and the ordinary Jews living here would be at increased risk of terrorist attack.

The price is not acceptable.


And I think of something else, as well: We are supposed to have just "won" a war with Hamas. This is what is necessary following a victory? Does this not make fools of us?

We stopped too soon. That much is clear. And we failed to sufficiently weaken them. We should be setting terms, and this is not what is happening.

We indeed should secure Shalit's release; he deserves this from us, but in ways other than what is now under consideration.


More on Hamas.

According to a Reuters report, the US, the UK, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway have just signed on to an agreement to try to stop smuggling of weapons into Gaza. They have devised an anti-smuggling policy which would include interception at sea, information sharing and diplomatic pressure, declaring that they will "take action, to the extent that national legal authorities permit and consistent with international law, to support interdiction efforts."

Hamas's reaction, as might be expected, has been one of anger. They accuse these nations of "canceling our right to resistance." According to Arutz Sheva, "Hamas leaders claimed that international law allows them to smuggle weapons, which are then used against Israeli civilians, as a means of 'resisting the occupation.'"

I give Hamas leaders credit for one thing: they are honest in their intentions and don't endorse subterfuge. If we listen to their words, we know where they stand.


Unfortunately, not everyone listens.

According to the Boston Globe, Economic Recovery Adviser Paul Volcker, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and six others have signed a letter to the president calling on him to talk with Hamas in order to coax them to disarm and join the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

The other members of this group are former Republican senators Chuck Hagel and Nancy Kasselbaum Baker, former House International Relations Committee chairman Lee Hamilton, former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, former United Nations ambassador Thomas Pickering, former US trade representative Carla Hills and former special counsel to President John F. Kennedy Theodore Sorensen. The full contents of the letter have yet to be made public.

I ask you (rhetorically, of course): Where are their heads, that they can even suggest "coaxing" Hamas to disarm?

Anyone who suggests this likely has not the remotest concept of the revolutionary Jihadist ideology espoused by Hamas. To stop trying to destroy Israel would be for Hamas to surrender its raison d'etre. Would that more people understood this.

Or perhaps these particular letter writers really do understand Hamas ideology, but don't particularly care, and are using this as a lead-in to the ultimate suggestion that Hamas be embraced with eyes averted.

Either way, beware.

Reportedly, the White House has said they will be given an opportunity to make their case with the president.


In phone calls yesterday to leaders in the Philippines, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, President Obama has declared that he will forge new ties with Muslims.

But he's not yet at the place of embracing Hamas. Recently, Great Britain began outreach to Hezbollah, and now a top US official has said that the Obama administration is not in favor of this. The reasoning is worth noting:

A State Department official said that while the Obama administration is ready to meet with regimes such as those of Syria and Iran, which support terrorism, their governments might be swayed on the basis of national interests, while terrorist organizations have a single agenda. Hezbollah and Hamas are both listed as terror organizations in the US.


A coalition agreement has still not been signed between Likud and Yisrael Beitenu. Seems Lieberman is playing his hand for all it's worth. Some of his demands -- e.g., civil marriage -- are unacceptable to religious groups slated to also join the coalition and compromises must be worked out.

There is still time, but it is scant, and there is now the possibility that Netanyahu will request of the president a two-week extension for completing negotiations.

This is distressing first because it signals a coalition that will not come together smoothly at a time when stability in government is urgently needed, and then because we need very badly to be done with the Olmert administration.

There are rumors -- just unsubstantiated rumors that I am hoping carry no weight -- that Barak might reconsider joining the coalition now that Friedmann, to whom Labor objected, will not be Justice Minister. This would likely place Barak as Defense Minister again, and it is Yaalon who would be best in this position. Along with these rumors are reports that other members of the Labor faction are still adamantly opposed to joining the coalition.

None of this is a done-deal until it's over. Let that be soon.


IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi is in Washington this weekend. Iran is high on the agenda in meetings, and, if truth be told, the issue of Iran trumps all the rest in importance.

Just days ago, US Intelligence Director Dennis Blair indicated that it would be "difficult" to get Iran to give up nuclear efforts via diplomatic efforts. (Is Obama listening?) They might reign in their nuclear development, he said, via "credible" incentives and "threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures," but "it is difficult to specify what such a combination might be."

What is more, this would not indicate a change of Iranian heart, so much as a response to a particular set of circumstances, and efforts might resume at any time.


Can I avoid mentioning this? It is an uncomfortable, but very public subject: That of the indictment, at last, of former president Moshe Katzav on sexual charges that include rape. This entire process has not been one of the prouder moments for the legal/justice system of our country, for the matter has dragged on altogether too long and with too much vacillation. The issue at hand was whether the witnesses were truly reliable and whether the charges should include rape. The public has been left with the uncomfortable impression that what should have been irrelevant side issues helped to shape the final charges.

Katsav, who has been prone, during the unfolding of this process, to furious responses that border on the hysterical, called a press conference Thursday night that went on for 2-1/2 hours. During this time he blasted law enforcement officials, the attorney general, the witnesses, and others involved. Sadly, while it is credible to believe that he has reason for anger, this behavior does not serve his cause well.

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