Monday, January 30, 2006

More analysis on Hamas win

I have linked Shaul Arieli's article in today's Ynet. Shaul Arieli is a former brigadier general in the IDF and was advisor to Ehud Barak during the period from around Camp David in July 2000 to January 2001. He more recently was a signature to the Geneva accords. Arieli is considered a leading expert in maps and for example is regarded as an expert in the intricacies associated with the route of the separation fence separating Israel from the West Bank. His opinion should be listened to carefully.

Arieli first notes that there are two main refrains that have been heard since the Hamas win: That a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority cannot be considered a partner, and the second says that because of this, Israel must continue to make unilateral disengagements. He suggests, however, that those making the first claim must ask themselves honestly: Did they consider the PA under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei was a credible partner? If so, why have they stubbornly refused all efforts to renew negotiations with them over the last five years? And if not, why should Israel get so excited that there is no negotiating partner? According to that approach, not much has changed, and the policy of unilateralism based on this logic should remain the preferred one.

The truth as Arieli notes is that there is a substantial difference between Fatah and Hamas. He notes that Hamas is unprepared, in contrast to the PLO, to recognize the principle of two states for two peoples, because "All of Palestine, from the river to the sea, is Islamic holy land." Hamas unlike Fatah even if they were to recognise a two state solution would not consider land swaps, dividing East Jerusalem or a demalitarized Palestinian state (as the Palestinian delegation at Geneva accepted) let alone Israeli sovereignty over "united Jerusalem, the Jordan valley and settlement blocs". Hamas in any event does not believe that the right of return should take into account "demograhic concerns" as Fatah have at times indicated.

In short, Hamas is no partner to any serious diplomatic negotiations. Arieli notes that Israel must not fantasize about turning Hamas into a possible partner for a final status agreement because of its religious outlook. In addition, it must reject any process by which the Palestinian leadership goes back to developing an illusion of power and refusal to compromise as a preferred method to establish a state and to solve the refugee issue. Using Gaza-style withdrawals, the Sharon government did all it could to avoid renewing negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas. This mistake must not be repeated, because that will serve Hamas' long term strategy.

He concludes by suggesting that Israel should go back to the Palestinians to present diplomatic alternatives for a just settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 242, not the cursed "Road Map for Middle East peace." Such moves could strengthen moderate forces amongst the Palestinians as a secular opposition to the Hamas government.

Spielberg's Munich : A review

After all the hype over Spielberg's Munich, I managed to see it last night. I had heard and read of the criticism against the film in particular by Jewish conservative columnists. Their main complaint as I understood it was that Spielberg morally equated the act of the terrorists with the acts of the Mossad agents; a very dangerous comparison indeed. The columnists pushing this line were the usual suspects, the same ones who support the war in Iraq, scorn the United Nations and international diplomacy; and are more comfortable when Israel is involved in some military operation or other then engaging in peace negotiations (that is Krauthammer, Brooks, Wieseltier, Levin from CAMERA, Jonah Goldberg amongst others).

My review of the film is mixed. On the one hand it does attempt to deal with the complex reality of assassinating terrorists (or extra-judicial killings whatever you want to call it) and the moral and legal ambiguities associated with it. It also questions the value of these kinds of operations and whether they in fact increase rather then reduce terrorism. It certainly does not condone terrorism or as critics contends morally equate the actions of terrorists with the actions of the Mossad. It certainly attempts to humanise terrorists and frames the motives of the terrorists in terms of Palestinian occupation/dispossession. I am not troubled by this. As a society we should be mature enough to accept this. This does not excuse their actions. Take for example when a crime is committed and the police investigate the case. Central to the police's investigation will be to consider the motive of the crime. The fact that there is a motive does not mean their actions are excusable; but it does help us to better understand the facts of the situation. There is nothing wrong with asking the "why" question.

The weakness of the film I found lay in the actual credibility of the story. From my readings of books by ex-Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, the Mossad agents as depicted in the film did not seem to describe the reality of how the Mossad would operate. I am sceptical that the Mossad would send 4 relatively unprofessional and untrained men to perform such a high responsibility task. I also doubt whether Mossad agents in the 1970's would have felt such moral angst or at least expressed it in the way depicted in the movie. There seemed in short something overly Holywood about the way the agents were presented - and lacked an authentic Israeli feel that I was expecting. A movie such as The Little Drummer Girl for me more accurately depicted the workings of the Mossad then this film, which to me really did not come close. Haaretz washington reporter Shmuel Rosner commenting on the film puts it as follows "Israelis don't speak to one another the way Spielberg thinks they do (they also don't speak English to one another, but what can you do), nor do they behave the way he portrays them as behaving. And most of them don't have significat (sic) doubts regarding the Israeli government's decision to hunt and assassinate the perpetrators of the massacre at the Munich Olympics".

Despite its faults, Munich is a film well worth seeing. The main critiques against the film are illfounded. The arguments against the film are being raised by the usual Jewish conservatives who are unable and unwilling to acknowledge any form of nuance. At the same time the historicity and authenticity of the film are for me aspects of the film which were lacking.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Best analysis of Hamas win

A fascinating interview of Matti Steinberg, former advisor on Palestinian affairs to the Shin Bet was published in the Friday Haaretz 'Weeksend' (linked below).

The article indicates that Dr Steinberg never stopped warning cabinet ministers and army generals about the impending Hamas win. Since the eruption of the intifada, he tried to persuade the decision-makers and the army chiefs that if they turned their backs on the pragmatic camp in the territories, Hamas would be strengthened and come to power. The article goes on to says that since Ariel Sharon conceived the unilateral withdrawal plan, Steinberg swam against the major current that brainwashed the Israeli public on both the right and the left. Dr Steinberg quotes "I am furious at the senior levels, who did not do what was obligatory," he says. "They are behaving like a cat that is dazzled by the headlights of the car that is about to run him over and remains nailed to the spot."

Steinberg goes onto say that "indeed, the blame is divided between us and the Palestinian Authority [PA], but since we are the strong side, the brunt of the burden falls on us. The constantly surfacing corruption in the PA is a major issue when the public loses hope about political progress, when it [stops hoping for] economic and social improvement. A political horizon is the only thing that can neutralize criticism about the corruption. In periods when negotiations were held with Israel, the Palestinian public supported the PA and Fatah. They were not known for their incorruptibility then, either. The Palestinians understand that Hamas did not sully its hands for the simple reason that it did not have the opportunity: it was not in power. The defects of Fatah and the PA stand out when there are no political achievements."

As to future, Dr Steinberg indicates that "Hamas will not forgo [its goals] but will suspend the resistance [the violent struggle]. It will mothball its weapons, not hand them over. The resistance is a means which is sometimes utilized and sometimes shelved until the right time. The main danger does not lie in Hamas' military threat, but on the political plane, in the empowerment process, what they call tamkim, through which Islam rises to power in the Arab world. Before our eyes, a state of the Muslim Brotherhood is taking on flesh and bone ... for the first time in history, we are witnessing a transition from a conflict which is innately political-national, in which the territorial dimension is of great import, to a religious conflict whose territorial dimension is derived from the theological campaign".

As for final status negotiations with Hamas he notes that "their room for maneuverability is extremely limited. A permanent settlement is forbidden at any time and under any conditions by the Muslims, because its implication is to legitimize the plundering of Islamic lands and a total forgoing of jihad as a means to restore them. This category includes agreements to end the conflict of the kind Fatah espouses, such as the Clinton blueprint or the Geneva Initiative. In the eyes of Hamas, that is like delegitimizing Islam itself. Hamas, like the Muslim Brotherhood in general, is ready for a compromise along the lines of a hudna (cease-fire). That is a temporary settlement, like the Khudaybiya agreement in which the prophet Mohammed declared a cease-fire with the Quraysh tribe for 10 years. It can be extended for 10 years, provided this is to the benefit of the Muslims ... they are sticklers when it comes to the return of the refugees to their homes. They are not ready for any compromise in Jerusalem and they insist on the dismantlement of all the settlements and do not want to hear about settlement blocs".

As to what Acting Prime Minister Olmert should do today he says"I would stop declaring and hinting at unilateral measures. I would invite Abu Mazen in order to create the political tie that will connect his supreme powers with broad public support. Already today, before Abu Mazen starts to think about resigning, we must present to him a permanent agreement on the basis of the Clinton blueprint and discard the road map, which is a recipe for deadlock. It is important to do this so that Fatah will not be tempted into forming a unity government with Hamas, as that will mean total surrender and the erasure of the separation between two worldviews. I would give him a few assets to show that pragmatism pays. If we do that, there is a chance that Hamas will become captive to Palestinian public opinion. Its hard core is no more than 15 to 20 percent. Two-thirds of those who voted Hamas do not support its theological worldview. They went to Hamas because of their disappointment in the failure of the political path. They are a reversible mass."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Palestinian election "earthquake"

I must admit to feeling sick in the stomach, with the news that Hamas has easily won the Palestinian elections and now has the capacity to form government.

The implications are startling. Hamas does not accept the two state solution nor does it renounce violence or terrorism. They are an Islamic fundamentalist organisation. The capacity for the conflict turning from a political/territorial conflict to a religious one is now real. For the Palestinians the election of Hamas may likely turn into a disaster for them. Dependent on overseas financial support and dependent on Israel for basic things such as electricity and water, should Hamas not dramatically change their positions, the PA is likely to go bankrupt shortly and lose any legitimacy, outside of the arab world. For Israel, the election of Hamas poses the final nail in the coffin of the Oslo and The Road Map. Hamas are not partners for peace. Unless they accept Israel's existence and renouce violence they can not be partners for peace. These are the foundational axioms Israel has accepted when negotiating with Palestinians and which will not and should not change.

The cause of Hamas's rise is complicated and it would be a mistake to think that the majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas because of their political platform essentially to destroy Israel. No doubt Bibi, the Israeli right and their diaspora supporters will attempt to construct such a narrative. The real reasons for Hamas's rise has been two fold; firstly the Palestinians were fed up with Fatah and the corruptions associated with it. They saw in Hamas an organisation free of corruption who had already demonstrated a capacity in their volunteer health and educational work for improving Palestinian society.

Secondly, Palestinians believed that they had given Fatah the benefit of the doubt in 1993 supporting Oslo hoping it would led to a Palestinian state, and Fatah had failed in this regard. The roadblocks, the economic stagnation, the settlerments were still there and not going away. The only achievement that had been made was Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, largely seen as a Hamas success. In this regard, one has to question the tactics of the Sharon government over the last six years who successfully nutured the "no partner" thesis which in the process weakened Fatah and strengthened Hamas. Since the death of Arafat and the election of Abu Mazen, there was adequate time for Israel to strengthen the PA and to coordinate the withdrawal from Gaza with them. Instead, Sharon at every point humiliated and weakened Abu Mazen. The opening of the Gaza crossings was one such example, which over a number of months after exhaustive negotiation was finally resolved but only through Condi Rice and Wolfenson negotiating. The matter needless to say could have been resolved in weeks. It seems that Israel has been caught slightly off guard by the result. After years in which security personnel have declared "victory" against terrorism, Israel now has a terrrorist group in power. Surely, the wisdom of Israel's past approach needs to be questioned.

In the end of the day, however, the responsiblity for this result lies with the Palestinian people. They chose Hamas knowing full well what they represent. They full know well that Hamas is the principal engine of terrorism within Palestinian society and that their election to power, makes any diplomatic opportunities slimmer and their international and economic position weak. They also know full well that Israel's military responses have largely been a result of Hamas terrorist's actions. In short, it is due in no small part to Hamas's vicious terrorist campaign that the Palestinians find themselves in the position they are in: further away from statehood then ever. The election of Hamas makes statehood for Palestinians ever more further and Palestinians in the end of the day only have themselves to blame for that.

So what are the likely scenarios:

1. Hamas forms government and declares a Hudna. Abu Mazen negotiates with Israel through the vehicle of the PLO effectively bypassing the Hamas controlled parliament. Israel ignores the Palestinian parliament and with an Olmert victory, makes a further unilateral withdrawal or negotiates solely with Abu Mazen.

2. Hamas forms government and indicates its intention to continue the arm struggle. Abu Mazen resigns creating a vacuum in the PA. Israel treats Hamas's position as a declaration of war and effectively takes control of the Palestinian area. Parts of the territories are then eventually handed over to an international force who acts as trustees for the time being.

3. Hamas is forced to deal with the pragmatic reality and indicate their intention to renounce violence. They also accept as an "interim long term arrangement" the concept of a two state solution. Abu Mazen negotiates with Israel through the vehicle of the PLO or makes a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the territory.

4. Hamas takes power, but the Palestinian policeforce mainly consisting of Fatah supporters objects. A civil war breaks out in the territories.

There are of course a myriad of other possibilities, which are likely to be far more complicated then the ones above. Another factor to take into account will how the PA elections will effect the upcoming Israeli elections. I do not foresee Kadmah losing. The Labour party may shed some seats which are likely to go to Kadimah but Bibi is still a long way from winning. It is essential that Israel has a responsible judicious leader at this time and Olmert fits the bill quite well.

Resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict continues to seem so far off. One only hopes that a modicum of peace and stability will one day prevail in this troubled region. At the moment, we're further away from that then ever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Palestinian elections

Well, Palestinians are now going to the polls to determine the make up of their parliament. An interesting interview was given by jailed leader Marwon Barghouti, No 1 on the Fatah list which is linked below.

Obviously Israel and the west generally are hoping for a Fatah win. A Hamas win will likely stifle any diplomatic attempts by Abu Mazen to negotiate with the Israelis. Ironically, the conflict is at a stage where Israel has a leader in Ehud Olmert who is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians and possibly move to discuss the final status issues. Sharon would never have accepted this approach.

Two additional points should be pointed out.

Firstly, as Amira Hass argues in today's Haaretz "the Palestinian parliament and government lack the authority and rights their counterparts have in sovereign states. They have no control over the external and internal borders that Israel draws between the various Palestinian districts, to the point where they are cut off from each other. Sixty percent of West Bank land, the primary physical resource of the Palestinian people, are under total Israeli control, and no Palestinian government will be able to do with them what sovereign entities do in their territory: sow and plant, build, develop, maintain". In short, until a real and viable Palestinian state is created, the actual power of a Palestinian parliament is pretty weak.

Secondly, the reason for the popularity for Hamas is not primarily because the Palestinians want to see Israel "thrown into the sea" but due to a number of factors including the perception that they are less corrupt then the PA. Primarily their popularity is due to the fact that the Oslo approach which Fatah supported is perceived by Palestinian as a failure and that in their eyes it was only through violence that they have achieved anything, namely the withdrawal from Gaza. They see the PA as ineffectual against Israel in achieving their national goals. This is a dangerous perception for Palestinians to have. For one, a significant reason for a lack of diplomatic process is because of Hamas and its terrorist actions. But for the 1996 terrorist attacks by Hamas, there is no question Peres under Labour would have smashed Netanyahu at the 1996 elections. The wicked suicide bombing campaign over the last six years by Hamas is what has largely convinced Israelis of the insincerity of Palestinians towards peace and from making further diplomatic moves (not that Sharon was that keen on territorial withdrawal until more recently anyway). Not to mention devasted the Palestinian economy and their society.

If the Palestinians think they can achieve more through violence they are mistaken. With Sharon gone, there is now a better opportunity for serious territorial concession then beforehand and it would mistake to think a Hamas leadership can achieve better for them. If anything a Hamas win is likely to strengthen the Israeli right and Netanyahu who will argue that the true intentions of Palestinians has been exposed namely rejecting a two state solution (not that Netanyahu actually believes in a genuine viable solution). Again the right will repeat Abba Eban's mantra "the palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Let's hope that does not happen and that the rational and pragmatic elements within Palestinian society prevail.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Interesting interview

An interesting interview regarding Sharon in the New Yorker with Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ehud Olmert: promising signs

After the mainstream press outside of Israel (and in particular the Murdoch press) believed that after Sharon, the prospects of peace became dimmer and that Israel would undergo a period of instability, it appears that they were utterly mistaken.

The Israeli government continues to function fine, Sharon's party Kadimah is comfortably leading its rivals without Sharon and in particular the acting prime-minister Ehud Olmert is showing promising signs - that is "prime-ministerial" qualities. His strong response against the settlers in Hebron indicates that he is not going to allow unlawful conduct to be rewarded. It waits to be seen whether in fact he will order the IDF to forcibly remove the settler families who have illegally encamped on private property. His response towards the Palestinians has also shown promise in allowing Palestinian East Jerusalemites to vote in the coming Palestinian parliamentary elections and he has also indicated that he is willing to meet Abu Mazen after the election.

Ehud is a smart, shrewd seasoned politician who can mix it with the best of them. I recall many years ago reading an article by Zeev Chafetz in the Jerusalem Report where at that stage Olmert was the mayor of Jerusalem. He compared Ehud Olmert to the other Ehud, Ehud Barak arguing that Olmert was a far slicker and better politician, which I would agree.

What remains to be seen is how far Olmert has moved from his previous positions to the left. He was of course known as a fairly right wing mayor of Jerusalem but since entering the Knesset his positions have moved leftward. He is on record for supporting significant territorial withdrawals including East Jerusalem suburbs and some suggest that his views had a significant effect on Sharon. Whether his views have even move lefter then this - ie - agreement with the Clinton parameters of December 2000 is yet to be seen. It will also be interesting to see whether he subcribes to the "no partner" thesis vis a vis the Palestinians which Barak and Sharon so beautifully cultivated.

How Olmert conducts himself in the next 2 months will be critical to Kadimah's chances in the elections. There are still so many variables - a Hamas win in Pal. parliamentary elections, further Qassam fire in Gaza, further nuclear development by Iran, settler outposts and no doubt more. Interesting and confronting times ahead indeed.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Fundamentalist fool

The current president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be the most ignorant, racist and dangerous political leader on this planet.

The Guardian reported the following:

"Iran announced yesterday it would stage a conference to question the authenticity of the Holocaust, a move certain to stir international anger. The statement follows a series of inflammatory remarks by Iran's hawkish president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has described the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis in the second world war as a myth and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". He has also suggested an alternative Jewish state should be set up in Europe or Alaska. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said the proposed conference would examine the Holocaust's "scientific aspects and its repercussions". The description echoes Mr Ahmadinejad's characterisation of Holocaust denial earlier this month as a "scientific debate".

What kind of fool is the man. Perhaps Iran should next stage a conference questioning whether the earth is not flat and engage in a "scientific debate" on this matter. That such an ignorant self-righteous man should be President of a country would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Iran is clearly looking to develop nuclear weapons whatever they say to the world community that they want nuclear energy for "peaceful means". The time has come to refer them to the UN with the intention to issue sanctions against Iran. We are not dealing with a sensible compromising Iran but with an extremist hardline leadership. One only hopes that the people of Iran, who several years ago looked on the way to liberalising their fundamentalist republic can rise up against this nonsense although it seems doubtful.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Those "evil leftists"

I am not a fan of the Jerusalem Post. Though I like the current editor (David Horowitz) and have subcribed for many years to the Jerusalem Report, which he was the editor of for a number of years, the Jerusalem Post is in my view a sinking ship. Once a highly reputable newspaper in the 1980's where the likes of Benny Morris, Hirsch Goodman, David Landau amongst others worked there its shift to the right and in the case of its former editor Brett Stephens, the hard right has made it a difficult paper to read. When you have an English translation of a quality paper like Haaretz I wonder why anyone would bother reading a second rate paper like the Jerusalem Post.

In this vein I read an appauling op-editorial in the Jerusalem Post (occasionally when I'm bored I read the Post) by ex-Australian Isi Leibler. The article contends that Jewish organisations and conferences and the like should limit public discourse to only people who are sufficiently "pro" Israel whatever that means. Anyone who is too critical (however honest that criticism) should be excluded from debate. To appreciate the silliness of this argument you really have to look at the article itself (shortned for convenience - Leibler tends to waffle), which is set out below with my comments.

Speaking of the release of Spielberg's film Munich he writes "What did Spielberg expect when he handed over this sensitive role to a man so bitterly hostile to the Jewish state? How was it possible for a good Jew to promote a film which undermines Israel's right to defend itself by implying moral equivalence between Mossad operatives and terrorist murderers?"

The movie, which Leibler has not seen does not imply moral equivalence between the Mossad and Black September. The movie I understand does humanise Black September but what's wrong with that. Simply because someone is a terrorist does not mean that they can not be portrayed as human and does not mean we can't understand in all its complexity why they commit terrorist acts. Simply understanding events honestly is not implying moral eqivalency.

"In a sense, Spielberg is not to be blamed. His attitude is merely a byproduct of the general drift which began with Oslo when Israeli governments began to soft pedal the justice of Israel's case, and concentrated on persuading Israelis and Jews that Yasser Arafat was a genuine peace partner. There were Israeli leaders who even instructed Diaspora activists to stop defending Israel's actions because the "irreversible peace process" made such activity counter-productive ... revisionist historians promoted the lie that Israel was indeed born in sin, and distorted the origins of the repeated wars of aggression Israel had to face. Invariably, the lies impacted on global public opinion and the image of Israel was transformed from that of an underdog to an aggressor and occupier".

For Leibler and his ilk Israel is perfect bar those stupid self-hating leftists. During the Oslo period Israeli attitudes thankfully were changing and for the better. They were able to look at their history more honestly and openly. Historians like Benny Morris presented far more intellectually rigorous narratives of Israel's early history, which smashed many of the myths Israelis had believed in. But this is a process most countries have gone through and is certainly not unique to Israel. Leibler's reference to Israeli leaders telling diaspora activits to stop defending Israel's actions is a reference to Rabin who told the right wing AIPAC to essentially shut up, again a good thing.

With respect to Israel being transformed from an underdog to an aggressor, that had nothing to with Israeli revisionist historians but everything to do with the reality in the Territories themselves with the IDF in control on the ground contending with a hostile Palestinian population. The image of the underdog surfaced much earlier then Oslo - try the first intifada and resurfaced at the commencement of the second intifada. When Israel was actually engaged in negotiations with the Palestinians no such analogies could be drawn (bar of course Netanyahu's 3 years in office who was never particulary committed to negotiations with the Palestinians).

"To make matters worse, elements on the Israeli Left initiated a drumbeat of unprecedented self-hatred in the media and universities. Outlandish views that had hitherto been restricted to inconsequential fringe groups filled the op-ed columns of Haaretz, the media flagship of the Israeli intelligentsia, and whose English-language edition began publication in recent years. Within the Israeli polity, such post-Zionist propaganda only had marginal impact because being in the front lines of terror, Israelis were not unduly influenced. However when the English-language versions of these masochistic articles were globally disseminated on the Internet, they impacted negatively - especially on Jews living in societies where application of double standards and demonization of Israel by the local media had already become daily fare".

A gross overexaggeration. Healthy debate concerning the nature of Israeli society etc as reflected in a quality paper like Haaretz is a good thing. The debate had contrary to Leibler virtually no impact outside of Israel. Yes, since the intifada Haaretz columns by Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Akiva Elder, which are critical of Israel's conduct with the Palestinians are often quoted by people hostile to Israel but that's the price we now pay for leaving in an age of instant communication where information can be accessed so readily. There opinions within Israel society itself are important.

"Limmud had no qualms in providing a platform to Queen Mary College Professor Jacqueline Rose whose The Question of Zion is an abominable book that conveys the message that Israel was a colonial implant and effectively a criminal state. On a previous occasion, Robert Fisk, the venomous anti-Israel demonizer, who was sacked from The Times for his unabashed anti-Israeli outbursts, had participated."

I wonder if Leibler has even read Rose's book. The main thrust of her book, which I do not agree with is not that Israel was a colonial implant and a criminal state. Rather, she suggests that both the messianic elements inherent in Zionist ideology and the Holocaust have had a direct impact on the way Israel has conducted itself against the Palestinians. Robert Fisk, whilst certainly very critical of Israel (I think describing him as a venomous anti-Israel demoniser is way over the top) was not sacked from The Time for his "unabashed anti-Israel outbursts". If Leibler had bothered to read Fisk's new book he would have found that 6 or 7 pages are devoted to this matter and that Fisk resigned on a matter of journalistic principle (concerning an article dealing with US warship crews in the gulf not the Israel/Palestinian conflict).

Needless to say, those exposed to anti-Israeli diatribes are not in danger of being transformed into enemies of Israel. But a basic question of principle is involved. Surely, even a pluralistic Jewish educational conference whose declared objective is the enhancement of Jewish identity must have its red lines. Are there no limits? Does anything go? Is it a requirement of freedom of expression for a Jewish organization to provide a platform for those who delegitimize Israel? Are views which question the right of a Jewish state to exist to be accepted as a legitimate "alternative" Jewish viewpoint? Would anti-Semites be tolerated? Would Kahanists qualify?

What about assessing things on their intellectual merit. What's wrong with having say Tony Judt speak in a panel whose article in the NYRB suggested that the concept of a Jewish State is an anachronism. Surely, if the person puts forward a robust argument, however, objectionable to mainstream positions it deserves a hearing. Antisemites and Kahanists are obviously a differently kettle of fish. They have no credible arguments.

"LIMMUD'S TOLERATION of anti-Zionist hate mongers is merely the latest example of a trend which is proliferating in Jewish communities throughout the world. Such a climate of permissiveness would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. Is it therefore any wonder that in this atmosphere, Spielberg, a liberal, did not feel inhibited from turning to a person like Kushner to write his script on Munich?"

Thank god for organisations like Limmud that won't listen to silly paranoid objections by the likes of Leibler.

"We live in complex times. Israel remains the principal anchor for Jewish identity for most Jews. If, distinct from legitimate criticism of Israel, reputable Jewish organizations are willing to tolerate debates in which the verities of the Jewish state are undermined, we are paving the way for our own moral self-defeat."

These debates are on the whole marginal in a conference such as Limmud. No voices should be shut up if they raise legitimate questions. Closing these question off and not engaging with these questions is what paves the way in my view for our "own moral defeat".

Saturday, January 07, 2006


My previous posts suggested that something dramatic would have to happen if Kadimah were to lose the election. Fall all intensive purposes Kadimah would win the elections by a huge margin otherwise.

Sharon of course is now seriously ill having suffered a severe brain haemorrage. His condition at current is stable but serious and even the most optimistic reports suggest that if he survives he will be permanently incapacitated in some way. Politically, it would seem Sharon's career is over.

Sharon if of course a first generation Israeli having been involved since 1948 in Israel's history. Sharon was a soldier in the 1948/49 war and his memories from the battles of Latrun informed his often hardline views. He was involved in the Sinai Campaign of '56, famously in the '73 Yom Kippur War when his troops crossed the Suez and the disastrous 1982 Lebanon war which he largely orchestrated. There is much of Sharon which is controversial and morally ambiguous. His role in Unit 101 and the Kirbya raid in the early '50's, his culpability for the Sabra and Shattila massacres in Lebanon, his harsh arial bombardments of Beirut in the '80's and of course his role in establishing settlements in the territories.

Yet despite this baggage, Sharon politically will largely be remembered for his decision to withdraw from Gaza in 1995 against fierce opposite from the settler movement. Despite his motives for doing so, which cynics rightly suggest may have been really to consolidate Israel's grip over the West Bank, his resolve and determination in proceeding with the disengagement was remarkable. After 6 days, the settlers had been removed, the talk of civil war had proven to be false and the country went back to normal. More recently, Sharon had rightly exposed Likud for what it is: a right wing extremist party with no sensible policies to deal with the Palestinians. His formation of Kadimah which I think will survive and still win the elections, has largely swallowed up the Likud of its remaining moderates.

Sharon's departure from the political scene, however, disturbing on the personal level, will not I don't think effect Israel's approach to the Palestinians. If anything things are likely to be signifcantly better on this front. Whilst Kadimah will not win 42 seats as the last polls predicted, Kadimah will still win the elections under Ehud Olmert. Kadimah will likely lose 10 or so seats, with Labour picking up 6 or 7 and Likud picking up a few seats - not sufficient to change the basic dynamic that has developed over the last few months.

Why I say things will be better on the political front, is as much as Sharon was a strong leader, it was unclear where he exactly was heading and I have strong suspicions that Sharon's commitment to a genuine 2 state solution was fairly weak. Judging from his conduct over the last 5 years, it would appear Sharon would likely have continued his 'no partner' approach to the Palestinians. He certainly would not have negotiated on Jerusalem and would have sought to ensure that large settlement blocs were retained -significantly larger then anything envisaged under the Clinton parameters of December 2000. Successors to Sharon like Ehud Olmert or Livni are likely to be more flexible on all of these issues and more open to negotiations with Palestinians. The suggestions in the press suggesting that Israel is in turmoil and that any "peace process" (which all said and done has not existed since January 2001) is in jepordy is utter nonsense.

The events of the last few days have come to a shock to many and are obviously distressing. Israel, however, as Haaretz writer Ari Shavit has constantly reminded us is a mature democracy and will survive this crisis like it has survived other problems in the past.