Sunday, July 27, 2008

Netanyahu Better Than Mofaz

The leadership contest in the Kadima party, set for September, will determine who will replace Ehud Olmert as prime minister. Hopefully, Tzipi Livni will win. She's the most qualified person in Kadima. She's still leading in the polls, but retired Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, the former IDF chief of staff and defense minister and current transportation minister, seems to be getting stronger. If he wins, it will be a huge disappointment. The guy is not a centrist but a hawkish Likudnik who left the Likud for his own political benefit, not because of ideological differences.

Shaul Mofaz shares the same views as Benjamin Netanyahu. The difference between the two is that Netanyahu is much more intelligent and an excellent executive. Mofaz, on the other hand, didn't handle the army and the ministries of defense and transportation very well. So if the two share the same hawkish views that will send Israel in the wrong direction, I'd rather see Netanyahu at the helm. He would be less harmful to the country.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Brilliant Olmert Cartoon

By the way, the cartoon was in English in the original Hebrew edition of Haaretz today. This is not a translation.

Cartoon by Amos Biderman, Ha'aretz, July 21, 2008.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Goldwasser and Regev's Privacy

I couldn't help feeling like I was invading the privacy of the Goldwasser and Regev families today. As much as I tried to avoid watching the funerals and eulogies, they were all over the news shows (and in Israel, there are lots of them). Channel 2's "6 with Oded Ben-Ami" dedicated almost 15 minutes, television eternity, to the eulogies by Udi Goldwasser's wife Karnit and mother Mickey, and Eldad Regev's brothers.

I feel sorry for the families and angry at the media. The news outlets have basically declared two days of mourning over two deaths that occurred two years ago. Yes, only yesterday did Israel receive final confirmation that the two are not alive, but this fact has been widely known for quite a while. I can understand that the families were in denial, not wanting to accept the fact that their loved ones are dead, but I can't understand why the media and, if the media truly reflects public opinion, the whole nation have been in denial.

It is a sad day, but it isn't a tragic day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Israeli Soldiers Dead, Kuntar Should Be Too

Today, Israel received the dead bodies of Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two soldiers abducted by Hezbollah two years and 4 days ago. In return, Israel will release a few Lebanese prisoners, hundreds of bodies of Lebanese terrorists and, at a later date, a few Palestinian prisoners will be released as well. One of the Lebanese prisoners being released is Saleem Kuntar, the cold-blooded murderer who killed a father and daughter, as well as a policeman, in 1979. Kuntar shows no remorse.

This deal's stupidity angers me. I hate the idea of Hezbollah terrorists holding parties for this horrible murderer and the other prisoners, while Israel mourns the death (or confirmation of death) of its two reservists. I truly do hope that one of the people in charge of transporting Saleem Kuntar will shoot him in the head. This way, it is not the Israeli government that reneges on the deal. It is just a single person losing his cool with a lowlife terrorist that should have been hanged long ago.

I know this is politically incorrect. I don't care.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Acceptable Iranian Nukes

Monday's Ha'arerz ran an article, reprinted from the New York Times, about how the Iranian people like Americans and American culture, and would like to restore relations with the United States. This made me think about the sad fact that Iran, one of the greatest nations in the world, is run by one of the worst regimes in the world. Sadly, unlike the United States and Israel, where the horrible governments currently in power could be replaced through elections, in Iran an election is not enough. The regime has to change into the kind of democratic regime the Persian people deserve, and nobody can do this but the people of Iran themselves.

I don't want the Ayatollahs to have nuclear weapons. However, were the regime to change into a non-theocratic Ayatollah-free democracy, I'd have no problem with the new Iran having nuclear capabilities. That is, if the new form of government is stable enough not to fall and be repaced by a second Islamic revolution.

The chances that the Islamic Republic of Iran would attack Israel with a nuclear weapon are not great, but the possibility still exists. The main threat from a nuclear Iran would be a change in the balance of power toward the governments and groups more hostile towards Israel, the United States and Western Europe. Reaching peace with our neighbors would be even more difficult than it currently is. However, a secular Iran that does not support groups like Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, would be a positive force in the region, with or without nukes.

The Iranian population supports the nuclear program. Once they get rid of the theocracy, there will be no reason to deny them their wishes.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Kicking Out East Jerusalemites

Ann El-Khoury of People's Geography referred me to a blog post in The Magnes Zionist about a policy I did not know existed. For Palestinians from East Jerusalem, who as Jerusalemites have Israeli residency permits but not citizenship, moving abroad, even temporarily, makes them lose their residency permits, and so they cannot go back to their families in East Jerusalem. I assume Palestinians in the rest of the occupied territories also lose the right to live in the territories if they move abroad.

While I oppose the right of return, this is not the issue. This isn't about refugees from 1948 returning to Israel and flooding the country. It is about Palestinians in the territories arbitrarily being barred from returning to where they actually still live. This is a disgrace and should stop immediately. The Magnes Zionist calls this ethnic cleansing. I'd say it is a semi-passive form of ethnic cleansing; passive because Israel isn't actively yanking people from their homes in East Jerusalem and kicking them out, but only semi-passive, because it is, after all, actively cancelling their residency permits when they leave.

It would be one thing to deny residency from people active in terrorist activity against Israel. This is something else completely. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem aren't residents like other people who have residency status. They aren't foreign workers. They've been there since before Israel captured the area. They deserve to have irrevocable residency status, unless convicted of terrorism. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, too, should not be denied re-entry into the territories only because they move abroad temporarily or marry a foreigner.

Israeli-Arab Conflict Can't Be Resolved (Yet)

In yesterday's Ha'aretz, Shlomo Avineri, a political science professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says that it is time to transfer into conflict management mode, instead of conflict resolution mode. I think he's absolutely right. It seems impossible to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any time soon. What is needed is a longer process.

Palestinians will probably be against this, saying that this is good for Israel because it can keep hold of the West Bank. That's part of why they were very unhappy with the results of the Oslo peace process. They expected an immediate resolution: immediate independence and the immediate implementation of the right of return. They were unhappy with the smaller steps that took place, even though they were quite significant. Israelis, too, expected immediate change. These false expectations created the crisis that began with the second Intifada. A gradual strengthening of Palestinian independence is the best way to go.

Here is Avineri's article (the Hebrew version is available here):

There are good reasons to worry the current round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will yield no real results - not only due to the weakness of both two governments, but especially because the two sides are so far apart in their basic positions on borders, settlements, Jerusalem and the refugees. This expected failure is arousing fears the violence will resume and the region as a whole might slip into a new cycle of hostilities.

The fear is understandable - but it is not justified. It is based on the assumption that there are only two options: peace or war. But that is not true.

Part of the difficulty of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from its complexity. The conflict has a territorial dimension, of course, but it also has other components: It is waged between two national movements; it involves disputes over issues of sovereignty and legitimacy, as well as a clash of historical narratives; it is riddled with the occupation, terrorism, settlements and the future of refugees; and although it is not fundamentally a religious conflict, religious aspects intensify it. Furthermore, the conflict involves neighboring countries, and it also influences the relations between international powers. In this sense, the conflict is not unique. All of its components, in different dosages, have appeared in several prominent conflicts of the last decades: Cyprus, Kosovo, Bosnia and Kashmir.

Like the Israeli-Palestinian problem, each of these conflicts has lasted decades and is rooted in historical events, sometimes events that took place centuries ago; and in each of these cases, all attempts to find a solution have failed. And still, the alternative is not the eruption of a new war.

In Cyprus there was an enormous international effort to come up with a solution (The Annan Plan), which the United Nations, the United States, Britain, Russia, the European Union and even Greece and Turkey all embraced. Because of the opposition of the Greek Cypriots, however, the plan was an utter failure.

A similar attempt was made in Kosovo, and a plan that received broad international support (The Ahtisaari Plan) led to Kosovo's independence. But the objection of the Serbs, supported by Russia, is preventing a consensual solution. In Bosnia the Dayton Accords did end the fighting, but the political apparatus created there, a complex multi-ethnic federation, is not functioning, and only the presence of foreign troops prevents the outbreak of renewed hostilities on ethnic grounds.

The Kashmir conflict is as far from resolution today as it was in 1947, when British India was divided into two independent states, India and Pakistan.

In all of these cases, the international community understood, reluctantly but out of a realism based on both theory and practice, that there was no immediate chance of resolving the crisis. And so it turned to other channels of gradual restraint - what is known in political jargon as "conflict management."

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far more complex, but for some reason the international community believes it can offer a swift and immediate solution for it. Israel's internal debate also focuses on different proposals for resolving the conflict, and it does not try to confront the alternatives suggested by the lessons of other, similar situations.

Conflicts of this kind are hard to solve not only because of leadership issues: When there are such weighty issues at stake as clashing national narratives or deep feelings anchored in memories that are sometimes traumatic (just ask the Greeks in Cyprus what they think of the Turks), such obstacles cannot be removed in the blink of an eye.

We would do well to learn from these lessons and free ourselves of the provinciality that characterizes much internal Israeli debate. International bodies, which are not always aware of the necessary analogies, can also learn from the attempts elsewhere: Those who ask European leaders why they think they can succeed in the Middle East after having so clearly failed in Cyprus and Kosovo will see that they begin to think anew.

Changing the paradigm from "conflict resolution" to "conflict management" does not mean accepting the status quo. The recent initiative in Cyprus to open a crossing at Ledra Street in Nicosia offers evidence of this.

In our context, this means continuing to seek different ways of minimizing the friction between the two sides: real Palestinian steps toward creating governing institutions, particularly an effective security apparatus capable of dealing with militia and terrorist gangs; aid in economic development, which suits the interests of both sides; a significant easing of the roadblock burden and an end to new construction in the Jewish settlements; and, finally, once the political furor has subsided on our side, renewing the option of unilateral disengagement from specific parts of the West Bank.

Historic disputes are not resolved with a wave of the hand, much less by external directives (the U.S. has yet to "resolve" any one of them).

It takes lengthy internal processes, which alone can lead to the formation of a joint political desire to reach an agreement. Until then, the only options are not war or peace; there is always a third way - as Cyprus, Kosovo and Bosnia can prove.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt and Israel

Colombian politician and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has been rescued from captivity. Israeli military technology assisted the Colombian Army in this heroic and bloodless operation deep in FARC territory, which resulted in the rescue of several hostages . Israel's Channel 10 News reported that retired Israeli generals, officers and intelligence experts helped Colombia plan the rescue.

I wish Israel could conduct such an operation to release Gilad Shalit from captivity in Gaza, without the need to release hundreds of terrorists.