Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The latest Israel elections polls

Yossi Verter in Haaretz today reports on the most recent Haaretz-Channel 10 poll:

1. Kadima remains comfortably ahead of its rivals with 39 projected Knesset seats.
2. Labor is predicted to receive 19 Knesset seats, while the Likud is at 14 seats.
3. Following the merger of the right-wing National Union and National Religious Party, the joint list climbed from 10 to 11 seats at the Likud's expense.
4. Meretz is maintaining stability with five projected Knesset seats.
5. Shas is weakening a little (nine seats), and United Torah Judaism is strengthening (seven seats).
6. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is still leading leading as the most suitable candidate. The public currently views him as "left," while on entering his post on January 9, he was placed at the center of the political map, with a slight tendency toward the right. Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu's position remains unchanged at 1.99 - far right. Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz has moved further left, from 3.89 on January 9 to 4.02.
7. The paralysis gripping the Likud is beginning to look irreversible. Netanyahu plucked two aces from the electoral card pack in the last two months - Sharon's collapse and his being replaced by Olmert and Hamas' rise to power. Yet nothing has happened. The Likud rose by just two-three Knesset seats.
8. Asked how they defined the demeanor of Olmert's government versus Hamas, 42 percent of the interviewees replied it was "too soft," 38 percent said it was appropriate for the circumstances, and 12 percent said it was too harsh. A very large majority of Kadima and Labor voters believes Olmert acted appropriately.

Looking at these figures it appears Kadimah is assured victory but a moderate coalition is not necessarily. The right will attempt to do anything to ensure that they at least they can get a majority(61 seats) to prevent any future withdrawals. This is the stated objective of the National Union/NRP. What happens in the next month and whether there are any further complications will be crucial. Were there to be a number of terrorist attacks by Islamic Jihad or others could cause a shift to the right sufficient to prevent a moderate coalition. Alternatively, were say Sharon to die in the next few weeks, the association between Olmert and Sharon would be emphasised leading to an increase in Kadimah's number of seats.

Btselem's recent report: Is the fence/wall based on purely security needs?

Btselem has released a report claiming that the route of the separation barrier/wall/fence is based on political (ie - for the benefit of settlement expansion) rather than simply security as Israel claims.

The report claims:

1. the settlement's expansion plans significantly affected the Barrier's route.

2. The currently approved route of the Barrier leaves fifty-five settlements, separated from the rest of the West Bank and contiguous with the State of Israel. The Barrier's route was set hundreds, and even thousands, of meters from the houses at the edge of the settlement.

3. The route of the Separation Barrier running near each of the twelve settlements discussed in the report more or less follows the borders of the outline development plan for the particular settlement, making it impossible to argue there is no connection between the route and the plan.

4. Not only were security-related reasons of secondary importance in certain locations, in cases when they conflicted with settlement expansion, the planners opted for expansion, even at the expense of compromised security.

It is now broadly admittedy even by a moderate like Tzipi Livni that the fence serves a political as well as a security purpose; namely determining the future border of the State of Israel. The Btselem report is in a sense simply documenting what is already known. Bibi Netanyahu has even suggested that were he be elected PM he would change the route of the fence so it goes deeper into the West Bank, which is a ridiculous proposal.

I for one am sceptical of the claim that the fence will determine a final political border. No palestinian leader including Abu Mazen will accept the current route of the fence and nor will it be recognised as a border by the international community. Incidentally, I support the building of the fence/wall. It is obviously something which Israel ideally should never have had to do but given the reality of Palestinian terrorism was necessary. That does not mean, however, that the route of the fence/wall should meander around settlements (including consideration for settlement growth) and to create more facts on the ground.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The "wisdom" of former chief of staff Bogey Yalon

As reported in Haaretz, former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon had this to say today:

"Hamas' rise to power was directly tied to the disengagent from the Gaza Strip last summer."When we look at the profit and loss from this move," Army Radio quoted Yaalon as saying in a reference to the disengagement, "Israel is certainly the poorer for it." He goes on to say "the Palestinians of Gaza should be disengaged from all dependency on Israel, employment, economics, medicine and infrastructure."

It is correct to say that a withdrawal from Gaza uncoordinated with the PA was likely to be seen as a Hamas success. Indeed to Yaalon's credit he is not making these claims retrospectively but was weary of disengagement prior to the end of his term as chief of staff. It is for these reasons that Ari Shavit in a rather bizarre op-ed a week or so ago in Haaretz suggested that the voices we should be listening to post Hamas are Yaalon, Bibi and Uri Avnery - if ever there was a bizarre mix of people.

What Yaalon fails to mention in his interview is to what extent Yaalon's own actions whilst chief of staff are responsible for the mess Israel finds itself in. It was Yaalon as deputy chief of staff together with Mofaz who added so much unnecessary oil to the flames at the commencement of the intifada with the excessive response of the IDF. It has been well reported by Israeli journalists that in the first few weeks of the intifada when things could have been "cooled down" that the IDF used massive firepower and according to Amos Malka (then head of Military Intelligence) that 1.3 million bullets were fired in the first few days of the intifada. Beyond that, it was Yaalon who myopically suggested that the policy of Israel should be to "burn into their consciousness" [ie the Palestinian] through military victory that violence does not pay. And now Israel has to deal with Hamas. Military action alone without diplomacy has proven disastrous (to Yaalon's credit he was critical of Sharon's approach to Abu Mazen when he was prime-minister).

And now Yaalon seems to endorse Weissglass's description that the Palestinians should not be "starved" but on a "diet". He of all people should know that were Israel to completely to disengage from the territories in terms of employment, economics and medical care things in the territories would be disastrous. I don't see what the point is in punishing Palestinians for electing Hamas. Do they really think this will make Hamas less popular?

The colunist for Yediot, B. Michael wrote back whilst the intifada was in full swing about Yaalon's predictive power that "He did not foresee the future. He created this future". Yaalon can criticize disengagement all he likes; and can see this as the central cause for the rise of Hamas. The truth, however, may lie a little bit closer to home.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Responding to Hamas

Sharon's aide Dov Weissglass who only a year and half ago described the intent of the disengagement plan to put any peace process into "formaldehyde" has come up with another one of his "gems". This time he suggests that Israel's response to the Hamas election win is to put the Palestinians on a "diet" but not to "starve them".

The fact that such a crude analogy can be made about 2.5 million people is worrying. Is it not enough that Palestinians are living under occupation that they have to hit with more punitive actions simply because they democratically elected Hamas. Israel over the last few days has been pondering its response. Its response has been so far (with more to come) to confiscate tax revenues Israel collected on behalf of the PA and to prevent Gazan workers from entering Israel. These punishments in short are ridiculous and smack of electioneering more then anything else. With all due respects - what is the point of preventing Gazan workers from not entering Israel - is that really effecting Hamas or ordinary Palestinians? As for tax revenues, the problem is that the revenues is not Israels in the first place but money which is rightfully the PA's. The next month could be potentially a dangerous month as election day gets closer. Olmert want to maintain his centre and centre/right base and doesn't want to lose it to Bibi. Any sign of weakness on Olmerts part by not "punishing" the PA may lose him a few seats to Likud irrespective if the policy makes sense.

Israel is in a difficult bind. It can not negotiate with Hamas until they renouce violence and accept a two state solution to the conflict. At the same time on a day to day practical level, the PA relies on Israel's assistance. Should the PA collapse, Israel will be obligated under international law as belligerant occupiers to take care of all service in the territories. At the same time Abu Mazen is trying his best to consolidate and gain as much power as he can. He is attempting to take control of PA's foreign policy, its security services and other areas. Abu Mazen clearly accepts a two state solution which was plain to anyone to see watching the opening of the Ramallah parliament.

One hopes that in the next month as election days approaches cool heads will prevail. And enough of listening to security experts, terrorism experts and the like. For the last 5 years they've utterly stuffed things up with their talk of "victory" on a daily basis and now we have Hamas in power desite their talk of "victory". The Israeli/Palestinian conflcit is an authentic national political conflict, which requires a policy framework beyond the narrowmilitary framework that the defence ministry sees things through.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kadimah, Labor, Likud - no contest at the moment?

Well at the moment as you can see Kadimah according to the latest polls is a miles ahead on 41 seats. It looks like a landslide. The relevant issue is who will Kadimah form government with. It is important that a Kadimah/Labour coalition is formed. For one thing it will make it easier for Israel to govern with only two parties in the coalition. Secondly and more importantly only with Labour as a partner will there be any rational and sensible policy towards the Palestinians. A coalition with Likud and anyone else bar Meretz and the Arab parties would make the task of developing good policy towards the Palestinians difficult. What's more there is genuine talent in the Labour party like Ayalon, Braverman and Yuli Tamir. It would be comforting to see the defence minister being someone like Ami Ayalon as opposed to a hawk like Mofaz (if only he had stayed in Likud!). Israel is undergoing a complicated time at the moment with Hamas in power. All it needs is the hot heads led by Bibi and Likud to be part of a coalition.

The polls are also showing that the extreme right wing (NRP and National Union) have increased their number of seats. They will if anything be taking seats off Likud and are therefore unlikely to make any difference to the right preventing a Centre/left coalition. Olmert, however, can not get complacent. The "Sharon effect" is beginning to wear off and all it all takes is a few bad judgment calls (and terrorist attacks) for his numbers to fall.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Trying to persuade Israelis to believe in Greater Israel

I notice the following article in Haaretz today:

"The newly merged National Religious Party and National Union plan to try to recreate the success of the "Face-to-Face" project on the eve of the Likud members' referendum, in which tens of thousands of volunteers paid home visits to the Likud rank-and-file to persuade them to oppose the disengagement plan. That position swept the referendum by a 60 percent majority. The NRP-National Union is now formulating a similar plan for volunteers to go from house to house throughout the country in an effort to get as many voters as possible to support the joint list, or other parties opposed to removing more settlements ... the organization's stated object is to get at least 61 MKs into the next Knesset who will vote against future withdrawals".

All I can say to these people is good luck. You don't have a chance. The Israeli majority reject your position and don't sympathise with it. The settlement movement for good reason is no longer seen as a pioneering enterprise but as a pointless burden. What solution/alternative does this party have. Maintain control over the West Bank forever? And where's that going to lead - binationalism, apartheid? My suggestion to Israelis is to invite them in, listen to them and escort them kindly out of their homes. But whatever you do, don't take them seriously.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The moderate voice of religious zionism

You will recall back in December I made a prediction that the National Religious Party would merge with the National Union. In January I blogged that this prediction had proved false. Alas- I should have given myself my time as the NRP and National Union have now merged.

The merger is in a sense a natural continuation of the NRP's move to the right. Since '67 when it broke off from its historic relationship with the Labour party it has moved further to the right making the Likud look like a bunch of moderates. The tragedy of the situation is that the national religious community was meant to be the link with the Israel secular majority. Its main political party the NRP, with their extremist right wing views is anything but a link. Saying that significant sections of the national religious community haven't voted for the NRP for years and have increasingly voted for major parties. At the same time, it can not be denied that the overwhelming majority of national religious voters have views far further to the right then the secular majority. Indeed, the ideological power of the settlement movement derives from the national religious community.

In Ynet recently, Shai Binyamini, the head of realistic religious zionism wrote an interesting op-ed. Groups like realistic religious zionism, meimad and netivot shalom are what I consider the sane moderate voice of religious zionism. They acknowledge that the dignity of individuals takes precedence over the sanctity of land and are willing to accept the Israeli situaton for what it is rather then get caught up in a greater israel messianic perspective.

Binyamini in his article argues that Religious Zionism has gone bankrupt, most aptly demonstrated at Amona for all to see and on national television. He goes on to say that "the event at Amona brought out several important facts: First, that religious Zionism is no longer a single homogeneous group – the relative minority of law breakers at the outpost attests to this fact. Many teenagers filled up Amona, but many more never showed up. Religious Zionism is crumbling. There are many streams within it, with more dividing them than uniting them. Not Zionist, not religious The law breakers, the "Hebronites" or "Amona-ites" may consider themselves connected to religious Zionism, and may even be considered by the public at large as such. But they can no longer reasonably be called "Zionists", not even "religious." The second fact, that influences and is influenced by the first, is that today's religious Zionism has no leaders. There is no power leading it or determining the path it will take. The cement and mortar of Judean and Samarian hilltops have taken over the religious-Zionist vision and pushed aside the values that defined the movement in the past ... On one hand of the barricade are extremist rabbis, preaching their political beliefs to excited and excitable young people under the guise of "Torah," just like in ultra-Orthodox circles. The same rabbis and teachers who send their disciples – for reasons of convenience or to create a community of admirers – in front of the TV cameras, to take and give out a few punches."

"In order to understand that the youth did not initiate the struggle at Amona, it is enough to look at the religious-right wing media that incited and continues to incite its public with encouragement from rabbis and teachers ... On the other side of the same leadership is the so-called "moderate" National Religious Party and the remnants of Meimad, both of which are breathing their last breaths. The National Religious Party is dying because it has been moved rightward to satisfy a public it hasn't really had for years, while ignoring the deafening roar of religious Zionists that have already defected to Kadima. And Meimad? It's condition is comparable to the current state of Prime Minister Sharon".

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Camp David and the election of Hamas: a connection?

I am currently reading an interesting book entitled "The Camp David Summit - What went wrong?". It is a collection of papers written by American negotiators, Israelis and Palestinians which was given at a conference at Tel Aviv University in 2003.

I have read a number of books on the Camp David summit and its aftermath and I have concluded that the simplistic narrative that Ehud Barak presented to the Israeli people and the world as to what happened at Camp David and beyond is self-serving and inaccurate. Barak's narrative was essentially that Israel made a generous offer at Camp David and the Palestinians rejected it and shortly afterwards started an intifada. For Barak, the conduct of the Palestinians prove that they reject the two state solution and are committed to an armed struggle. If the Palestinians had been committed to a two state solution, then according to Barak's argument they would have surely accepted his offer - given he was offering around 90% of the territories and some degree of sovereignty over Jerusalem.

I am inclined to favour the analysis of the US official Rob Malley and others in the Israeli negotiating team like Yossi Ginnosaur, who argue that the Camp David summit and its aftermath was a complex series of events, which can not be simplified in one basic narrative. To understand the events, we need to look at what happened the year before Camp David, the events on the ground, the actual offer in detail which was made at Camp David and the further proposals put forward in December 2000 by Bill Clinton and at Taba in January 2001.

You may be asking what is the relevance of this discussion to current events. The Camp David Summit now occurred over 5 years ago. What does this have to do with Hamas winning the elections? I believe that there is a strong connection. Let me explain.

The reason I think the Barak narrative is so relevant to today is that from this narrative developed the 'no parter' thesis [ie - there is no Palestinians partner], which largely became a concensus position within the Israeli polity. This has largely guided Israeli policy for the last 5 years. Sharon winning the elections in January 2001 largely took off where Barak left off, if anything making the policy more pronounced. Barak, in the end of day continued negotiating with the Palestinians even after the intifada erupted. There were numerous discussions between Israelis and Palestinians including the Taba talks. Had Barak won no doubts those talk would have continued, even with Arafat as the head of the PA. I therefore doubt to what extent Barak himself believed in the 'no partner' thesis back in 2000.

For Sharon, the 'no partner' thesis fitted in perfectly with his own world view. Arafat, who was certainly no saint (mendacity springs to mind) was isolated both physically and diplomatically as was the PA generally. The PA security service was smashed most notably in Operation "Defensive Shield" where even Jibroul Rajoub's headquarters were attacked. In the first few years of the intifada Israel whilst going after Hamas largely went after and destroyed the PA's security infastructure in the West Bank.

The serious error came in my view when Abu Mazen became first prime-minister and then president after Arafat's death. Rather then stregthen Abu Mazen, Sharon did everything in his power to weaken him. Sharon barely met with him and when he did nothing productive came out of those meetings. I recall reading an interview given by Mohammad Dahlan, the PA's "strongman" in Gaza, describing the way Sharon would humiliate Abu Mazen at those meetings with him. Sharon provided few concessions on things like prisoner releases, check points or moving diplomatically forward with the Palestinians. The one move he made was of course was to withdraw from Gaza but this was made unilaterally with little cooperation with the PA. Working out arrangements with the Karni Gaza crossing with the PA proved disastrous and it was only because of intervention with Condi Rice involved that the matter could be resolved.

Whilst this was going on conditions on the territories were not improving. The wall/fence was continuing to be built meandering around East Jerusalem and other parts of the territories, checkpoints were not being removed, the PA was virtually going bankrupt and daily occupation was still much the same as beforehand (bar Gaza which was seen as largely a Hamas inspired success).

It in this context that Hamas was able to consolidate and win the elections. Whilst Fatah's corruption certainly played a role in Hamas's success in the election, what in my view was the key factor to Hamas's success was that Fatah could not show any achievements over the last 10 years. In Palestinian eyes, Fatah's approach which largely supported the Oslo process and negotiations had proved fruitless whilst Hamas's approach - armed resistance had achieved more then summits and meetings at Wye, Camp David, Taba or Sharm Al Sheik.

People in Israel now ask why Israeli intelligence did not predict a Hamas win. This is not the role of Israeli intelligence - anyone with any political acumen would have worked out that Hamas was going to do well - true not win but do well nevertheless. Israel must now in my view carefully reflect on its 'no partner' policy over the last six years. Israel may not be negotiating with Arafat anymore but Israel now has Hamas instead - who Israel can rightfully not negotiate with given their commitment to violence and their non-commitment to a two state solution.

In Israel's short-sightenedness it squandered its opportunities it had to stregthen Abu Mazen and Fatah, which was realistically Israel's best option out of a series of bad alternatives. The days of returning to a Camp David style summit now seem far away given Hamas is in power. The tragedy is that as proved by initiatives like the Geneva accord is that despite the difficulties in reaching a final status deal, such an arrangement is possible provided both parties are willing to make the necessary concessions. Oslo and the peace process unfortunately has proved to be reversable.

More on the settlers and the "Amona episode"

I could not but enjoy this wonderfully witty satirical essay written by Doron Rosenblum in Haaretz regarding the settlement movment (linked below).

There is now going to be a public inquiry into what happened at Amona. I disagree with this action. Whilst the police need to review their actions, an inquiry is unnecessary. If anything there should be a public inquiry into how illegal outposts like Amona were built in the first place (rather then just simply producing the Sasson report which has been largely ignored). The bottom line is thousands of religious youth came to prevent the police from destroying nine illegally built structures on private Palestinian land and did everything in there power short of shooting at the police to prevent them from doing their job.

The real question we should be asking ourselves is why thousands of people were preventing the police from doing their job. What legitimate argument did these youths have for preventing the police from doing their job. It has been suggested that the government could have spoken to the settler leadership to prevent the confrontation. Let's stop the games. The Amona outpost was not built yesterday, it was dragging in the courts for months. The settlers would not have reasonably retreated. They wanted a confrontation to get over the humiliation after the evacuation of Gush Katif.

The Israeli government for too long have given in to the settler movement. Amona like Gaza gave a clear message to the settlers that the days of the winks and undercover deals with the settlers is over.

Interesting interview: Shavit interviews Ami Ayalon

I have linked an interesting interview from Haaretz's Friday magazine with Ami Ayalon.

Ami Ayalon is currently running on the Labour party ticket in the Israeli elections. Prior to that he was head of the Shin Beit in the mid - late '90's and more recently collaborated with the Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeih developing a grass roots movement "the people's voice" to try and develop dialogue with Palestinians.

He is a wise person and his views should be listened to very carefully indeed. Below is a brief excerpt to his interview setting out what Israel should do in the territories:

AA. "I cannot be blind to the reality. And therefore I say that we must come and tell the truth to these settlers. We must accelerate the construction of the fence, in accordance with the High Court?s directives, and we must tell the settlers that the State of Israel will not be on the eastern side of the separation fence. We must apply the Evacuation Compensation Law immediately to all the settlers to the east of the fence."

AS: You're essentially talking about the evacuation of about 100,000 people from their homes within a few years.

AA:"I'm not talking about 100,000. It's more like 50,000 or 60,000. And I say that by the end of the decade, within about five years, we will evacuate them. By the end of the decade, we'll create a reality of two states."

Monday, February 06, 2006

More on the Muslim reaction to the Muhammad cartoons

Well - the debate continues in respect of those Muhammed cartoons.

Newspaper editors from around the world are deciding whether to print the cartoons or not. In most European countries they have been printed. The UK press have not. In Australia apart from the Queensland Courier Mail they have not. The Australian daily The Age in its daily editorial in deciding not to print the cartoons editorialised that"The antidote to extremism is dialogue and understanding between communities - whether their values are liberal secular or devoutly religious. The Age's handling of this issue reflects a long commitment to good intercommunal relationships, which is the bedrock of Victoria's multicultural success story. This is one of the great challenges created by globalisation, which must necessarily be met at community level. Media and individuals of goodwill can have no illusions about its importance".

Outside Europe many papers have printed the cartoon. Most recently, the Jerusalem Post decided to publish the cartoons writing in its editorial that "If anyone wants to appreciate why the west views with such suspicion the weapons programmes of Muslim states such as Iran, they need look no further than the intolerance Muslim regimes exhibit to these cartoons, and what this portends. No one wants to add fuel to the fire. Mobs are more easily placated than reasoned with. But once this controversy passes it will be valuable to determine just who exploited the flap to foment anti-Western outrage, and to inquire what 'moderate' Muslim voices said".

The reaction of the Muslim world continues to be utterly unreasonable. According to a report in the Guardian Iran's best-selling newspaper announced it would retaliate by running images satirising the Holocaust. The Iranian government announced that it would impose a formal trade ban on Danish imports. In Syria protesters , set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies. In Lebanon protestors attempted to set fire to the Danish embassy. And it goes on and on.

What has annoyed me, however, is that despite what seems a fairly straight forward situation, a number of commentators have sought to argue in support of this outrageous reaction. Richard Itani writing in Counterpunch tries to argue that since it is prohibited in some European countries to deny the Holocaust it is hypocritical for the West to make a case for freedom of the press in the case of the Danish cartoons. This criticism is completely off the mark. To begin with, only a few countries have such laws (which I do not agree with) and their is an obvious distinction between the two. The one is criticising a religion, which in western tradition is utterly and completely acceptable; the other in the guise of antisemitism is making false historical claims about perhaps the worst atrocity in European history. Christianity and Judaism for hundreds of years have been thoroughly critiqued often in the most nasty and aggressive manners. This is part of living in a robust, liberal society - Islam had better get used to it.

In another weak explanation for the Muslim reaction Sukhivinder Stubbs writes in The Guardian that "Muslim grievances are not merely spiritual but, more pressingly, material. The rage expressed by demonstrators in Gaza against Scandinavian aid workers was, at a deeper level, the rage of the disenfranchised, the displaced. In the UK and across Europe, Muslims are socially and economically disadvantaged, among those at the bottom of the pile. Cultural gestures such as the Danish cartoons may please well-to-do secular liberals in helping push back the envelope of free speech and cock a snook at religious dogma. To Muslims, however, they merely add to a sense of disaffection, of themselves as a pariah people. Another insult to add to their social injury". I'm sorry - a small cartoon in a small Danish newspaper, however, offensive does not excuse the outrageous response throughout the Islamic world. No matter what there "spiritual" or "material" grievance maybe, come on - this is not adequate explanation for the response.

Robert Fisk often writes in criticising the West that we need to ask the "why" question. Why did terrorists blow up the twin towers on September 11? Why is there so much hatred against the US in the Arab world? I agree with him. However, if answering this question simply means to accept Western guilt and not address whether the Islamic world is also responsbile then you are not exactly answering the "why" question. In this case, the responsiblity clears falls on the side of the Islamic community. Oppression and disaffection are not adequate explanations.

Stuck in this mess is the voice of the moderate Muslim perhaps expressed best by Tabish Khair in The Guardian "Between the Danish government and Islamist politicians, between Jyllands-Posten and the mobs in Beirut, between Laban and Khader, the moderate Muslim has again been effectively silenced. She has been forced to take this side or that; forced to stay home and let others crusade for a cause dear to her - freedom - and a cultural heritage essential to her: Islam. On TV she sees the bearded mobs rampage and the clean-shaven white men preach. In the clash of civilisations that is being rigorously manufactured, she is in between. And she can feel it getting tighter. She can feel the squeeze. But, of course, she cannot shout. She cannot scream. Come to think of it, can she really express herself at all now?"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

That Danish cartoon - are Westerners entitled to satirise Mohammad?

Anyone reading the press over the last few days would know that the Muslim world is in uproar. Not because of the war in Iraq, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear issue but because of a cartoon that appeared in a Danish newspaper depicting Mohammed in a blasmphemous manner. In Gaza, mobs have tried to attack the EU building. In other parts of the Arab world there have been violent protests. Campaigns have been organised to boycott Danish goods.

The European papers to their credit have not been intimidated by these protests. In fact, many other European newspapers have since republished the cartoon. The issue comes down to freedom of expression. Henry Porter in The Guardian writes "Would I have published the cartoons of Muhammad? No, they aren't funny and, frankly, they aren't worth the trouble. Do I applaud and defend the freedom to publish such offensive, asinine work? Yes, and that is my immovable position, as intransigent as the Muslims who have demonstrated across Europe and the Middle East".

It would seem a gulf has been been exposed between Western and Islamic tradition. Western thought which prides itself on tolerance and openess against Islamic tradition which stresses authority and respect. Not to say the two are incompatabile but the extreme response from the Islamic community throughout the world suggests that they have not come to an accomodation with western modern thought.

There also seems to be an incredible amount of hypocricy for segments of the Islamic world on the one hand to claim the West have offended their Islamic sensibilities yet seem to have no qualms publishing vicious anti-semitic tirades against Jews and republishing books like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a classic antisemitic European book. The Iranian President openly questions the veracity of the Holocaust, with not the slightest care of the consequences of what he is saying, yet for vast sections of the Islamic community this is acceptable.

The boldest move that has come out of this whole episode is the work of the editor of the Jordanian Arabic Weekly Shihan who published three of the 12 cartoons. The paper commenting on the cartoon wrote "Muslims of the world, be reasonable ... who offends Islam more? A foreigner who endeavours to draw the prophet as described by his followers in the world, or a Muslim armed with an explosive belt who commits suicide in a wedding party in Amman or anywhere else."

The Islamic world have every right to be deeply offended by the cartoons. No one should expect that they should keep quiet when outsiders have deeply offended Muslim sensibilities. At the same time, the excessive nature of the response does call into question segments of the Islamic communities commitment to tolerance and openness.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Settler hysteria at Amona

Police and troops are currently demolishing 9 structures illegally built and being occupied by settlers in the territories. The structures were built on privately owned Palestinian land. The settlers have no case, the Supreme Court rejecting their arguments (as if they ever have a credible case on anything) yet are creating a media extravaganza over these nine structures. According to reports thousands of settler supporters protested at Amona and prevented police from destroying the structures. One hundred fifteen people have been injured including two extreme right wing MPS - Eldad and Effie Eitam. The cost of the evacuation has been estimated at 5 million sheckels.

Yet despite this cost, the Olmert government is doing the right thing - in this case simply enforcing law and order. The settlers devastated since the Gaza disengagement see this as an opportunity to vindicate themselves and to intimidate the Israeli government. Amona is after all in the hinterland of the settler community near flagpost settlements Beth El and Ofra. The so called "vanguard", "cream" of the settlement movement live here.

The settlers are reading the Israeli public mood wrong. The Israeli public are sick and tierd of the settler community with all there schtick and false cries. They are sick of the settler community trying to dictate government agenda despite the dubious merits of their case. A recent survey suggested that the settler community is the most hated sector in Israeli society. Contrary to their beliefs the settlers are no "vanguard" of Israeli society and their basic immaturity not to accept that building illegal structures on privately owned Palestinian land is wrong is mindboggling. The behaviour of the Hebron settlers over the market in the last few days is again another example of their juvenile conduct. The families who moved into those buildings did not own that land. Even if the owners were Jewish (according to Haaretz the left wing thinker Haim Hanegbi may in fact have proprietary rights over the land and he does not want the settlers occupying it) does not mean that settlers can move in there. The settlers make an utter farce of basic property law.

It is true as the Likud's Uzi Landau (one of the "leaders" of the rebels) indicates Kadimah will be advantaged electorally by this confrontation. This does not mean it is not is right. Further, it exposes Likud's weak nerve who on the one hand want to get the vote of the extreme right and the centre yet by supporting the settlers would be losing support from the centre and vice versa. The Likud and Bibi's ambivalence towards such a straight forward situation where a bunch of law breakers are trying to steal private land is just another reason why the Likud is a bankrupt party with no ideas whatsoever. It was so predictable that Mr Spin, Bibi Netanyahu would compare Hamas to Hitler, a favourite analogy that the right loves to bring out all occasions (Begin thought Arafat was like Hitler, Bibi thought that the Oslo process was like Munich, some settlers thought the IDF were like Nazis during the recent disengagement, the right compared Rabin to a Nazi collaboator and it goes on and on).

As I have indicated on earlier posts Ehud Olmert is acting in a competent and responsible manner at the moment. Lets hope things continue that way.