Friday, March 27, 2009

"The Mess Persists"

Arlene Kushner

The political mess I wrote about yesterday is not resolving itself.

When Netanyahu presents his government to the Knesset next week, it is possible that as many as five members of the Labor faction will abstain from voting for it. They have indicated they would prefer to vote against it, but Labor by-laws would prevent them from running with the party in the next election if they did that (bucking a party decision), and they're not prepared to leave Labor. Eitan Cabel, who is Labor's secretary-general, put it thus: "I want to respect the convention's decision, but I can't vote for this government and I certainly don't want to join it."


And just as there is discontent with the coalition agreement in the ranks of Labor, so, it seems, is there in Likud. Members of the Central Committee of Likud today filed an emergency petition with the party's court, claiming that party by-laws require that the Committee review coalition agreements. They want Committee Chairman Moshe Kahalon to convene the Committee for this purpose. The petitioners maintain that if the Committee does not approve the agreements, they won't be binding and members of the party's Knesset faction can vote against them.

Doesn't exactly promise good things for coalition unity down the road -- if this coalition does get approved by the Knesset. What have Netanyahu and Barak wrought?


HaBayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) has now signed a coalition agreement with Likud. This will make the head of the party, Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, Science Minister.

This brings the coalition to 69 mandates.


HaBayit Hayehudi is pushing a law (a variation of what is called the Norway Law) that would permit one member of a party who had become a minister in the government to resign from the Knesset, allowing the next person down on that party's list to become an MK. (I believe if the minister is no longer in the government, his/her position in the Knesset would be re-instated.) This would bring some new people into the Knesset if it is passed.


Even though UTJ negotiations had stalled over the issue of conversions, there is indication of an attempt to reach a compromise that would bring this group into the coalition


And National Union? Two sides to this story persist. I stand by what I had said yesterday, regarding the regrettable way that this party, which boasts good people and solid principles, has handled itself. In fact, I've had further confirmation of this in the last 24 hours, including from someone inside Likud who said the party is not seen as "a team player."

However, the other side is the suspicion that Netanyahu would just as soon not have his government associated with a group that is internationally perceived as very right wing.


Arutz 7 ran a story quoting Ya'akov Katz (Ketzeleh), head of the party, who was certainly sounding conciliatory now:

“Our talks with the Likud were broken off when Netanyahu suddenly started talking with Labor. But Labor’s entry into the coalition does not mean that we are out. We are still waiting for the Likud to contact us and resume the talks, but we can’t force them.

“The issues between us can be reconciled. An agreement between us and the Likud can certainly be signed, enabling us to do what we were elected to do – serve the People of Israel with a strong nationalist government.

"...It appears that now that he [Netanyahu] has won, he has become scared; he would rather have in his government those who fight against the Land of Israel [Labor]."

Ketzeleh says that Barak demanded that National Union not be part of the coalition and Netanyahu rejected this.

We'll see soon enough...

A very strong case can be made that Netanyahu has an obligation to bring in all of the right wing/nationalist parties, as this is what the electorate chose.


In a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday, Head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin spoke about Iran:

They have crossed the technological threshold necessary for building a nuclear bomb, Yadlin said, and so now they are in no rush to do so. "Their strategy is to obtain the ability" to build a bomb quickly once the decision to do so has been made, he said. "They operate based on a strategy that would make it hard to incriminate them."

"They are enriching fissile material in a low percentage of 4.5, but whoever knows how to enrich [uranium to] 4.5% knows also how to enrich it to 20%, 60% or 93%. With 4,000 centrifuges spinning, to change from 4.5% to 93% takes only a few months to a year."

"They are enriching great quantities. They are doing it under the cover of civilian activities, as if they need the stuff for civilian enterprises."

(They are currently running 4,000 centrifuges, monitored by the IAEC, with the claim that they need this for 30 reactors for power.)


"The Iranian threat is a threat to the global order, not just to Israel, and to convince the world of the need for action, we need to present evidence that will incriminate Iran," Yadlin told the Committee. "The campaign to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear is not yet over."

Unfortunately, the Western world is not paying serious attention to Israel's warnings with regard to what Iran is up to.


CBS News broke the story today that about two months ago our air force hit a convoy of 17 trucks in Sudan carrying weapons to Egypt that were intended for Gaza.

This information came not from Israel, but from sources connected to Pentagon reporter David Martin; it was released by Washington-based correspondent Dan Raviv on his CBS-associated blog.

According to a Sudan Tribune website, Israel intelligence tracked down the convoy northwest of Port Sudan, as it was moving north; it was bombed near Mount al-Sha’anoon.


While there has been no direct Israeli confirmation of this story, PM Olmert, speaking at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, today, referred to it obliquely: "Israel has never had stronger deterrence than it has gained in the last few years. Those who need to know are aware that there is no place that Israel can't reach."

These words are also seen as a veiled threat to Iran. The greatest threat, he said, is the Iranian threat. "Israel is not the main player but it's contributing to the international effort to prevent Iran's nuclear armament."

"The main player who should lead on Iran is the United States."

"The choice is not between total war and total failure; there is a lot to be done between those two choices and the countries that can do these things know how to do them. Israel knows how to position itself on this issue in a way that reflects its uniqueness and capabilities."


What Olmert then addressed was disconcerting in a different way. This man who is obsessed with striking a "peace agreement" with the PA declared, not for the first time, that in the future if we wanted an agreement we would have to offer the Palestinians "more than what Ehud Barak offered at Camp David."

Nary a word about making sure the PA met its obligations first, or what constraints are placed upon us by security issues or what our inherent rights are here. Only what we "must" do concerns him. Concessions, concessions, concessions.

Then he offered the information that he had made a concrete offer that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has not responded to.

Abbas would not accept, because it is not his intention to seal a deal for a "two state solution." He values his life too much to compromise on any of the demands of the PA. But Olmert doesn't suggest that the ball is the other court now.

What occurred to me here is that Shas stayed in the Olmert government with the understanding that Jerusalem was not being negotiated. Ha!


For the record, under no circumstances could Olmert have signed away part of Jerusalem unilaterally. Basic law requires that any change in the boundaries of Jerusalem be brought before the Knesset and to a national referendum. This applies as well to the Golan, but not to Judea and Samaria, to which Israeli civil law has not been extended.

However, the day will probably come when we will be told by the international community and the Palestinians that we must start new negotiations where Olmert left off. That is what is always demanded. But it's not written into law -- not ours and not international law. (Olmert signed nothing, in any case.)

This is when a right wing government and a strong PM become very important.


Hamas official Ali Barakeh says that indirect negotiations with Israel on the release of Shalit, via the offices of Egypt, have begun again. There is no direct Israeli confirmation of this, or of our having sent negotiators to Cairo again -- just a statement from Barak about how we must continue to pursue this issue.


Three Palestinians were detained yesterday on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack. They were detained near Nablus, at Beit Dajan, by IDF Givat forces, called after Molotov cocktails had been thrown. They were found to be in possession of a pipe bomb, weapons, and maps of the area.


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