Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"The Good and the Bad"

Arlene Kushner

It's helpful sometimes to start with positive news. We should never think that it's all bad.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee has approved the construction of 32 new units in Pisgat Ze'ev, which is an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood over the Green Line.

This decision was delayed for weeks because of the visit of Netanyahu to Washington -- to avoid charges of sabotaging his meeting with the president. Now it is said that construction can begin immediately.
The 32 units represent just a small part of a larger project of 220 units that is in the works. Another 48 units are expected to be approved next week.

According to YNet, Attorney Elisha Peleg, a member of the committee and head of the Likud faction at the Jerusalem municipality, has said, "We will continue to build Jerusalem in all of its neighborhoods, without political considerations, in the planning and construction committee."


Of course, the furor has already begun, with PA officials claiming that we're destroying chances of peace, etc. etc. Especially in light of Netanyahu's recent comment on Jerusalem, we must hope that the municipality stands strong.


The latest not-so-good news comes from the PA side: Reportedly, Abbas might reconsider and come to the table for direct negotiations after all. This will be determined after Mitchell's next visit, which is to take place soon.

It is quite clear -- but I feel the need to make this explicit -- that a promise by Israel to make such gestures as taking down some checkpoints is not what would be bringing the PA back to the table. Hardly.

PA officials are saying they've now had "direct assurances" from Obama. Exactly what those assurances are is left unsaid, but they are claiming that the president briefed them after his meeting with Netanyahu.

If this is true, it is not exactly surprising, but would be MOST unsettling. We still don't know what Netanyahu promised Obama -- and there is certainly no reason whatsoever to trust the president when he offers conciliatory words regarding his deep and abiding concern for Israel.

But I wonder if there is not something additional going on. For Netanyahu met Obama a week ago. Would the PA have first been briefed now? On Saturday, three days after that meeting, Abbas was still saying there was no reason to go to direct talks. Obama is undoubtedly applying a great deal of pressure. It would be the style of PA officials, when pressed, to make it appear that they weren't conceding anything, but had been "given" something.


The PA position, which really hasn't changed, is that before they go into direct talks they want answers on whether Israel will be willing to freeze construction (after September) in Judea and Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem.

This is where we come smack up against the announcement regarding building in Pisgat Ze'ev. I must assume that if Netanyahu had made a commitment to Obama regarding no building in eastern Jerusalem, he would act now to stop the building. Whether or not it actually moves ahead is not an insignificant matter.

The PA, additionally, wants to know if Israel will commit to recognizing the pre-'67 line as the future border for a Palestinian state.


It may be that PA officials are simply posturing to appease Obama, and that they intend to blame Israel for lack of cooperation and refuse to come to the table. The blame game works both ways.

What is certain is that -- no matter if they sit at the table -- no deal will be reached. Quite simply, if Abbas wishes to live (and I mean this literally) and perhaps retain his position, he cannot accept as his closing deal -- which would include "end of conflict"-- anything that Israel is prepared to offer.

In the end he would walk away as Arafat walked away from the offer made by Ehud Barak in 2000. It is said that no PA leader can accept less than what Arafat demanded. Abbas knows that Hamas waits eagerly to be able to finger him as the sell-out.

Perhaps Netanyahu is not intimidated by the possibility of Abbas coming to the table because he is counting on being able to throw up his hands and say, "See, world, I tried my best, but look what I'm up against."


There has been talk for many months about a bill that would require a public referendum within 180 days if our government made a decision to cede land in the Golan Heights or Jerusalem. Only the approval of 80 members of Knesset (out of 120) would render the referendum unnecessary.

At one point I was quite excited about the possibility that it would pass, thus tying the hands of the prime minister with regard to his ability to unilaterally commit to giving away these significant parts of Israel. There was a great deal of discussion on the issue -- including expression of concern about how the referendum would be structured. In December, in the course of a Knesset debate at the time of the first reading of the bill, it became clear that a majority of the members of Knesset supported this.

Since then, however, it has been lost in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. It eludes me as to why it ended back there if there had been one reading: I see it as a delaying tactic. As wise and sensible as such an approach sounds to some of us, it is something of a political hot potato. Those on the left oppose it, because it makes less likely the possibility that the government could concede these areas in the course of "peace" negotiations. That is the point, is it not? The prime minister is also undoubtedly opposed. Whether he would choose to give away these areas or not, he would not want his freedom to do so restricted. (When does a head of state ever willing accept additional limitations placed on his or her power?)


Right now, passage of this bill would have a significant impact on the possibility for direct negotiations. The PA would know, up front, it was not going to get any of Jerusalem, even if there had been Obama reassurances.

And precisely because of the current political situation, those on the left are saying passage of the bill now would be an affront to Obama -- and would undercut Netanyahu's declarations about putting everything on the table for discussion. While those on the right are thinking, "If not now, when?"

Enter MK Yariv Levin (Likud), Chair of the Knesset House Committee and one of the bill's initiators. He says he will not wait for a vote in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, but will soon be bringing the bill to the Knesset for its required second and third readings.

If only!

You can be sure that I will monitor this carefully. Given various legalities and political pressures, I hardly see this as a done deal.


A note of explanation: Some of you may be wondering why this bill wasn't worded to apply to surrendering land in Judea and Samaria as well. While it is fervently to be wished for -- that our government should be prevented from facile decisions to give away any part of the land -- there is legally a difference between Judea and Samaria on the one hand, and eastern Jerusalem and the Golan on the other.

Civil law was applied to all of Jerusalem and to the Golan. These areas are considered to be fully Israeli. Foolishly, the same was not done with Judea and Samaria. These areas remain a theoretically contested region that Israel administers.

Thus a bill that restricted giving away any part of these areas would have a tougher time passing in the Knesset. (Certainly a higher percentage of Israelis would consider a surrender of some of Judea and Samaria than would permit giving up of some of Jerusalem.) As I understand it, it was thought wiser to present a narrower bill that has a better chance of passage.

In point of fact, if a national referendum prevented surrendering any of Jerusalem, there would be no deal and no surrender of Judea and Samaria anyway. For the PA would accept no deal that didn't include Jerusalem.

Finally, I add that there are those today pushing for applying civil law at least to the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, if not to all of the region. This is past due if only because residents of Judea and Samaria live under different (military) administrative law, when they should be counted as equal to every other Israeli citizen.


The investigation of the Turkish flotilla incident by a committee headed by Maj.Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland has ended and the report has been presented. In brief he faulted the IDF for "mistakes," but not failures. He criticized the lack of a back-up plan, and inadequate sharing of intelligence. He said, however, that the commandos conducted themselves with "professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness," and that the actions taken on the ship that resulted in nine deaths were justified.

The Turkish foreign minister, while welcoming this report, says his government will continue to push for an additional international inquiry.


Now, hopefully having learned the necessary lessons from the confrontation with the Turkish ship, we are on the edge of confronting a Libyan ship.

The ship, known as the Almalthea, which left from Greece over the weekend flying a Moldovian flag, is reportedly being"shadowed" by the Israeli Navy; if it were to continue on course, unimpeded, it would reach Gaza tomorrow. Oue navy in touch with the ship; the message that has been delivered is if it does not change course by midnight tonight and head for El-Arish, Egypt, it will be intercepted.

Allegedly, the ship is carrying 2,000 tons of food and medicine, under the auspices of a charity chaired by the son of Muammar Gaddafi. But there are no limits to the amount of food and medicine that Israel would permit into Gaza via land crossings. Carrying these goods by sea is an exercise in futility, unless the intention is simply to break the blockade. Once unloaded in Egypt and inspected, all humanitarian goods would be transferred to Gaza.


It should be worth your while to read JINSA Report 1005, "The President's Tin Ear."

This examines the "disconnect [on Obama's part] between words, attitudes, facts and policies that makes a lot of people - not just Jews, not just Israelis - anxious."


Brigitte Gabriel -- an American journalist with Christian Lebanese roots and founder of ACT! for America -- has written a stunning response to journalist Helen Thomas, in which she documents Jewish rights to the land better than many Jews might be able to do it:

Read it, and share it:

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