Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Time for Peretz to go

One of the greatest disappointments of the present Israeli govt. has been Amir Peretz. In my earlier blogs, I anticipated that Peretz as a civilian and claimed peacenik would provide a fresh approach the IDF. He hasn't. He has effectively been sidelined. The IDF, the govt and the public don't take him seriously. The IDF do what they please regardless of what Peretz thinks.

Peretz is a good man but the job is way above him. Unfortunately, in Israel you need someone with real military experience in the role. Someone, who can outsmart the generals.

Judging from the cabinet decision, Israel is heading towards another "operation defensive shield" but this time in Gaza. Whilst the cabinet did not authorise such an operation as yet, they have signalled an intention to escalate Israel's response with the attacking of Hamas institutions, military or not. Inevitably, this will lead to more futile response and counter-responses before a large scale operation is ordered.

Israel like in the early days of the recent Lebanon war is dismissing as per normal any diplomatic route suggested. Ironically, it will only take an invasion of Gaza, resulting in large scale Pal. casualties, where again the problem of Kassams will not be solved, before a diplomatic option will be considered by Israel, exactly like in Lebanon. Unfortunately, this govt. believes in exhausting every military option before considering a diplomatic option rather then the other way around.

Peretz needs to go and go now. My own suggestion is that Ami Ayaalon, the former Shin Bet Head and Labor MK should be defence minister. He is a decent man, has a military background but thinks outside the conventional IDF General Staff way of thinking. His views in short are far more credible then Peretz.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Time for something positive to finally happen

In many respects, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict could not be worse. The PA is ruled by Hamas, a rejectionist Palestinian movement, who are utterly incapable of recognising Israel. The Pal. territories are in anarchy, particularly the Gaza strip where a major humantarian crisis seems in the offing.

On the Israeli front, we have a leadership utterly incapable of developing a diplomatic agenda apart from some new "creative ways" of using military means against the Palestinians. According to a report in the British Sunday Times (which is known for its reliable scoops) Olmert has ordered the IDF to assassinate members of the political wing of Hamas, a foolish policy in my opinion. Beyond that Israeli leaders have gone back to trying to scare the living shit out of Jews and Israelis in relation to the Iran issue; yes - the issue is serious but the recent speaches given at the GA Assembly were ridiculous, and seemed at leasted in Olmert's case to be another diversion from dealing with the Pal. issue.

In short, what we are seeing is an utterly hopeless situation, the two state solution further from reality and no intelligent policy emerging from either sides.

A new European proposal has just been released, which seems on face value a step in the right direction, which calls for a cease fire, followed by the release of prisioners and the emergence of a national unity PA govt. According to reports in Haaretz, FM Livni has rejected "out of hand" the proposal and is annoyed that Israel was not consulted.

A piece in Haaretz on friday suggests that a far more signicant proposal may be in the offing. It is reported that Yossi Beilin has crafted after having consulted or relevant parties within the territories a detailed documents setting out a process to get Israel from the current track towards final status negotiations. Details are still thin and I haven't been able to see what it is involved. I sense its likely to be significant. One has to admire Beilin's perseverence. Many indeed credit his "Geneva Initiative" with partly spurning Sharon towards the disengagement plan. That is Sharon, seeing that the world may put pressure on Israel to make really sign. withdrawals (such as in the Geneva Initiative) saw disengagment as the best worst option. The thing with Beilin one has to admire is his ability to go to detail and to provide an alternative non-violent approach to conflict resolution as opposed to the rather lame and pathetic attempts the current Israeli govt. has engaged in conflict resolution.

My sense is that in the next two weeks something significant will happen. I am not sure what - but the current situation in Gaza can not continue for much longer. Something has to give.

The plans for an "operation defensive shield" in Gaza would be a disaster. Should the current policy vacuum continue, however, such a course may prove inevitable. Something different needs to be tried: not the same lame responses.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Where is Israel heading now?

The Olmert/Bush meeting should have resulted in Olmert finally having a clear conceptual understanding where he is heading vis a vis the Palestinians. From early accounts, it hasn't. The government ever since the Lebanon disaster has looked aimless and is focussing more on daily survival then strategy. The approach in short, has been grossly negligent to Israel and its citizens. More is expected of Olmert and his government.

Significant changes are happening. Within the territories, the possibility of a national unity govt of technocrats is moving forward. Whether it eventuates is another story - the Pal. have for the last several months been close to a breakthrough but nothing has happened. Further, the approach by Hamas has been quite appalling. Their non-recongition of Israel is something deep in their ideological position and any hope that Hamas will moderate this position is naive. The only solutions therefore remains a techn. governtment which endorses the quartet's 3 conditions or the dissolution of the Hamas govt. by Abu Mazen with fresh elections to be held. The Pal. favour the former approach.

The other sig. change is what is happening in the US. The Democrat takeover of the Congress and the appointment of a realist, Mr Gates as Secretary of Defence suggest the possibility of a change of US policy to this conflict. Mr Gates, a former deputy CIA director in George Bush Snr's presidency is likely to return to the model of US involvement in the same spirit as former Secretary of State James Baker who advocated active involvment in the Israeli/Pal. conflilct. The report from the Iraq Study Group, which James Baker heads is similarly likely to recommend a renewed engagement by the US between Israel and Pal. Beyond that, there are other smaller sig. steps most notably Tony Blair strongly advocating a renewed push by the West to intervene in the Israeli/Pal. conflict.

It is hopefully clear by now that the neo-conservative dreams of reshaping the middle east have proveb to be foolish and utterly naive based on a basic ignorance of the middle east. The US is finally returning to the 'realist' approach in its foreign policy, most notably with the appointment with Gates.

So what should happen? A lot depends on what the Pal. do. If they are able to assemble a technorat govt. with Abu Mazen at its head and accept the 3 conditions of the Quartet, then the international community should firstly commence refunding the PA. Further, Israel must in coodination with Abu Mazen start a number of practical measures to assist the PA (assuming a techno. govt is set up) most notably strenghten security in the boarder crossings in Gaza to ensure that they remain open, limit military operations, release prisoners (subject to Shalit's release) and release funds that it is withholding. A bold move would be to release Marwon Barghouti, seen in many circles as a future PA President.

Above all, should such a techno. govt be set up, Israel must display a new approach and attitude towards the Pal. It must genuinely show a commitment that it is serious about a negotiated withdrawal from the territories and in this regard need to take a tough line towards settlement growth and the dismantling of settlement outposts. Whether Olmert has the strength to carry out these moves I doubt. He has proven unfortunately to be a leader lacking in vision and basic historical insight. Where Hamas fits into this question is complicated - they have proven since the commencement of Oslo to be the most dangerous actor in the Israeli/Pal. conflict and they have proven a disastrous to the reasoning. The dire financial straits of the PA are solely due to their stubborn refusal to accept 3 basic premises vis a vis Israel.

And finally there is the US. A more engaged approach is the only answer, who should be willing for Israel's own sake to go against its Govt. obstinance.

The next few months as always in the ME will be critical. Let's hope this time something positive will happen.