A Collection of the Week's News from Israel

A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee
of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation

19 Tevet 5759    January 8, 1999    Issue number 199

NEWS

Arab Terrorism Strikes Again: Two Women Wounded

Arab terrorists opened fire on a van carrying seven people to Hevron Monday morning, wounding two women. 55-year-old Fanny Eliezra (daughter of Chana) is very seriously wounded from shots to the chest - although her life is not in danger - and Flora Hofi is in moderate condition. The attack occurred near the Machpelah Cave, on a narrow, winding route traversed by the van several times a day. The terrorists apparently shot from the roof of one of the many Arab buildings that closely crowd the street leading to Me'arat HaMachpelah. Sources in the Hevron Jewish Community report that over 20 bullets hit the car, noting that "miraculously, only two people were hit." The Israeli Army has declared a curfew in the area, as well as in the Arab neighborhoods of Israeli-controlled Hevron. Arabs rioted and threw stones at IDF soldiers throughout the day in various areas of the city. Sources in Hevron said, "Whoever transferred the city to the Arabs is responsible for these acts of terrorism." Labor party leader Ehud Barak called upon the Palestinian Authority to arrest and try the terrorists. Transportation Minister Sha'ul Yahalom said, "Hevron has become a city of refuge for murderers of Jews. The IDF must go into every corner of the city to search out the terrorists." Communications Minister Limor Livnat said, "It was clear ever since the signing of the Hevron agreement, which I voted against, that the situation would be very difficult and complex, because of the Arab terrorism there." David Bar-Illan, Director of Policy Planning and Communication in the Prime Minister's Office, blamed the Palestinian Authority. "Today's attack in Hevron was the 13th of its kind in the recent past," he said. "This is a clear indication that the Palestinian Authority is totally ignoring the commitments it made in the Wye and Hevron agreements. Arafat is simply unwilling to prevent attacks of this nature or to capture the perpetrators." Bar Illan said that the attack proves the correctness of the government policy of not retreating from areas that can later serve the terrorists. (Arutz 7 Jan 4)

Hevron Residents Reject Bullet-Proofing as a Solution

Shani Horowitz, a resident of Beit Hadassah, explained to Arutz-7 why the Hevron Jewish Community refuses to bullet-proof their cars, as the army has asked. "First of all, what about all the thousands of people who come to visit us during the course of the year? They won't be able to come here anymore because their cars won't be bullet-proof, and the Arabs know this. This is entirely contrary to the whole concept of Hevron's Jewish Community, which is based on vital and natural living - not life inside bunkers. In addition, it won't even help. If we bullet-proof the cars, then what about when I go out to play with the kids in the yard or to take out the garbage, and when the children take a walk to visit their friends - how will we be protected then? Such protection will not only not help us, it will actually hurt us." Hevron spokesmen David Wilder and Noam Arnon also addressed themselves to this issue. Arnon said, "The security forces should be dealing with the terrorists, not with us!" Wilder said, "[With this protection,] we would probably not even be safer. Rather than shoot at us, the Arabs would use land mines or car bombs..." (Arutz 7 Jan 4)

Arab States Advise PA to Push off Declaration

Senior figures in the Palestinian Authority have reported that Egypt and Jordan are pressuring it to delay its declaration of a state. Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports, "Of late, Arafat is under real pressure from the Arab states not to declare a Palestinian state on May 4th. They seem to feel that this might play into the hands of Netanyahu, who may respond by annexing large portions of Judea and Samaria. These countries prefer that any such declaration should be issued when Israel finds itself in greater isolation. Moreover, many Arab countries are not particularly thrilled with the idea of a Palestinian state. Jordan is certainly against the idea, and Syria sees Israel as 'Southern Syria' and the Palestinian ambitions as an irritant. A few days ago, [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak dumped a pail of cold water on his Arafat's head, by also advising him to avoid the May declaration. Mubarak was quite insulted when Jordan's King Hussein was given the honor of participating in the Washington signing ceremony after the Wye talks." Huberman reports that the Palestinian Authority may go along with the wishes of the Arab states, declaring only their 'right' to a state, and not an actual state itself. "Arafat has a personal interest in declaring the state as soon as possible, since he doesn't know how much longer his health will hold out, and would enjoy going to the next world as the president of a Palestinian state," surmised Huberman. (Arutz 7 Jan 4)

Seven Contractors to Build Har Homa

The Housing Ministry has decided to award construction rights in Har Homa to all seven contractors who submitted bids there. They will build a total of 700 housing units as the first stage of the neighborhood. In addition, a new tender will be offered for another 150 units in the south - eastern Jerusalem neighborhood. (Arutz 7 Jan 4)

Politics

Uzi Landau, running against Binyamin Netanyahu for leadership of the Likud, said Monday that the Likud's chances of winning the national election with Netanyahu at the helm are "zero." Landau said that the Likud is a dying movement - "its branches are closed, and its institutions are paralyzed." He said that so many voters on the right are disenchanted with Netanyahu that "once they have voted for their chosen parties in the first round, there will be nothing to drive them to vote for Netanyahu in the second round..."

The former Director of the Prime Minister's office, Avigdor Lieberman, announced the formation of a new immigrants' party. The new party, which will be called "Yisrael Beiteinu" [Israel is our Home], will compete with Yisrael B'Aliyah for the Russian immigrant vote. Lieberman said at the press conference that he would "support Netanyahu with all my might" for Prime Minister. In answer to a question by Arutz-7 correspondent Asi Talmon, Lieberman said that he would view the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state as a declaration of war against Israel...

Moshe Arens, former Defense Minister under Likud Prime Minister Yizchak Shamir, is considering running for head leadership of the Likud party. Arens is waiting for the results of an internal Likud survey which will help him decide whether to enter the fray against Binyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau. The deadline for submitting one's candidacy for party leadership has been extended until Sunday... (Arutz 7 Jan 3,4)

Arafat's Plane Is a Hazard

Yasser Arafat's private plane is a hazard to Israel's air safety - or at least it has been, in recent weeks. Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports, "With the opening of the Dahaniyeh airport, the Palestinians apparently want to show that they are responsible for their own airspace. This notion contradicts the Wye agreement, which states that flights in and out of the airport are subject to Israeli aviation regulations. On at least two occasions in recent weeks - once when Arafat returned from Europe, and again when he returned from Egypt - he did not submit a request in advance for Israeli approval of his flight plans. On both occasions, Arafat's pilot contacted Israeli air-traffic controllers only once he had already reached our airspace." Huberman added that experts in the field have declared that such behavior greatly endangers other airliners entering Israeli skies. "The Israel Air Force could potentially shoot down such a plane if it suspects that it might be a hostile intruder," said Huberman. Israel has issued a protest to the Palestinian Authority on the matter. (Arutz 7 Jan 3)

Hizbullah Explosives Expert Killed by Israel

An elite IDF unit succeeded in liquidating a top Hizbullah explosives expert, Zahi Mahbi, last week. The Israeli forces used an explosive device for the mission, which they were able to place in the Lebanese city of Baal Bek, 100 kilometers north of the Israeli border. Additional details were not forthcoming from Israeli sources. Mahbi was instrumental in the preparation of roadside bombs, which have killed many Israeli soldiers over the past year. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Sha'ul Mofaz said, "We are now on the way to finding a solution to the problem of roadside bombs. We have uncovered six such devices in the past two weeks, and we are beginning to hit the bases at which they are prepared." Baal Bek and nearby villages are the site of a major Hizbullah center, including explosives labs, training camps, and warehouses full of katyusha rockets and weapons. (Arutz 7 Jan 3)

Arabs Attack Yeshivat Beit Orot; No Injuries

A mob of Arabs, having just completed their prayers at the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, attacked Yeshivat Beit Orot in eastern Jerusalem with stones this past Friday. The incident began when the Yeshiva's security officer noticed dozens of cars with Palestinian license plates parked illegally in the yeshiva's fenced-off private parking lot. He assembled an emergency squad of yeshiva students in preparation for all eventualities. When the Arabs arrived for their cars, they began to attack the Yeshiva with stones, and approached within 30 meters of the yeshiva building. The security officer called the police, but during the thirty minutes it took for the Border Guard to arrive, he was forced to shoot in the air several times in order to keep the mob at bay.

Many of the Arab cars parked illegally in the yeshiva parking lot had their windows smashed by the rocks they themselves threw - although they then accused the yeshiva students of damaging the cars. The Arabs indicated a particular student as the perpetrator of the damage; he was detained by police and questioned, and was released after ten minutes. Chaim Silberstein, Director of Yeshivat Beit Orot, told Arutz-7, "First of all, it is clear that the Arab accusations against us are baseless. In fact, the next day - Shabbat morning - a bunch of other Arab cars in the area were found damaged, and this was certainly not done by our students." He also said, "The feeling here was that the police almost abandoned us. Why did they take so much time to get here? And this comes after we have been attacked with Molotov cocktails 11 times in the past three months." Silberstein concluded, "I see this attack as another in a long series of provocations by the Arabs in our area, who are simply trying to threaten and scare us in our legitimate efforts to establish Jewish presence and sovereignty in all parts of Jerusalem."

Israel to Respond to Katyushas with Bombs Deep in Lebanon

The security cabinet came up with several operative decisions last week regarding Israel's future response to Hizbullah aggression. It was determined that Israel will bomb infrastructure targets deep in Lebanese territory in reaction to any future katyusha rocket attacks. No unilateral withdrawal will be implemented, and Israel sees the Lebanese government as directly responsible for any attacks upon Israel originating in Lebanese territory. Finally, the cabinet decided that the Israeli government will concern itself with welfare and future of the Southern Lebanese Army soldiers and their families. (Arutz 7 Jan 1)

Molotovs in Eastern Jerusalem

Three Molotov cocktails were thrown early last Friday morning at Police Headquarters in eastern Jerusalem. Light damage was caused, but there were no injuries. (Arutz 7 Jan 1)

Rains in North Cause Major Flooding

Sections of the coastal highway and the main Tel Aviv-Haifa highway were closed last Thursday, following flooding caused by heavy rains that have fallen in the north since last night. All the residents of moshav Tzerufah, south of Atlit, were evacuated from their homes, as were some in Daliat el-Karmel. Water in some homes in the latter town reached a height of one meter. (Arutz 7 Dec 31)

American Embassy Closed after Bomb Threat

An anonymous phone call to American Ambassador to Israel Ned Walker last Wednesday night led to the closing of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. The caller said that an attack would take place on the building today. American security agents treated the threat seriously, and Embassy employees were told not to come to work. (Arutz 7 Dec 31)

PM Netanyahu Responds to Chairman Arafat

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, 1.1.99, responded to statements made by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat at the convention marking the 34th anniversary of the Fatah, saying "If Arafat really wants peace, he had better stop making declarations about the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. I will not let Arafat again divide the capital of Israel and I will not let him unilaterally determine the permanent settlement. Any unilateral action will be met by a sharp Israeli response."(PMO Jan 1)

IDF Soldier Killed by Friendly-fire

St.-Sgt. Ohad Zach, 19 was killed in southern Lebanon last week. Zach, a Golani brigade soldier, was killed in tragic "friendly-fire" accident during an anti-terrorist offensive mission. (Arutz 7 Dec 30)

President Weizmann Back in Politics

President Ezer Weizmann is working to unify Ehud Barak and Amnon Lipkin-Shachak with the aim of toppling Binyamin Netanyahu. In recent meetings with friends, Weizmann has said that the split between Barak and Shachak hurts the political left and helps Netanyahu. The President was to have met Shachak for the second time in a week, but he cancelled at the last moment because of the negative publicity surrounding the issue. Weizmann has refrained from denying the reports. Speaking with reporters, he said, "The country is facing difficult times, and I will do whatever I feel is right to help it." Likud MK Doron Shmueli demands Weizmann's resignation: "He has placed himself at the head of the opposition groups working against Netanyahuà he must resign so that the Presidency can be rehabilitated."

Even Meretz MK Dedi Tzucker criticized Weizmann, saying, "His intervention only dirties those who wish to replace Netanyahu, and deters others who would like to join these efforts." Health Minister Yehoshua Matza said that Weizmann must be removed from his post, on the grounds that he is using his position as President for partisan political consultations. (Arutz 7 Dec 30)

Reform Conversions Ruled Legal

Another possibly precedent-setting court ruling in matters of religion in Israel. Jerusalem District Court Judge Vardi Zeiler ruled last Wednesday that Reform conversions to Judaism must be recognized by the State. The ruling refers to 23 non-Jews who underwent a Reform conversion ceremony. (Arutz 7 Dec 30)

Raful Joins Race; Yesha Council Stays Out

Tzomet leader Rafael Eitan announced last Tuesday night on an Israel television political affairs program that he still hopes to contribute to Israeli society, and is therefore declaring his candidacy for Prime Minister. Eitan expressed his opinion that any party running in the elections should concurrently run a candidate for Prime Minister. The Yesha Council decided today that it will not officially endorse any of the Prime Ministerial candidates. This will give each member freedom of choice, such that Aharon Domb can publicly support Prime Minister Netanyahu, while Uri Ariel can continue to work on behalf of Benny Begin. (Arutz 7 Dec 30)


Commentary

It's Not a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood By Tom Neuman

America is a large country with friendly neighbors to the north and south and oceans to the east and west. Israel is a small country in a bad neighborhood. The resulting difference in perspective may account for why the U.S. continually pushes Israel to make concessions to hostile forces in hopes of placating them, and why Israel resists - and is often stamped "intransigent." But Arabs with whom we attempt to curry favor often revile America - for our friendship with the democratic State of Israel, for our freedoms, for our free press. This last point is ironic because the unfettered American media has reported little of the rampant anti-Americanism in the neighborhood of some of our erstwhile friends.

The Associated Press reported that tens of thousands of demonstrators in Damascus protested the U.S. bombing of Iraq. About 1,000 were permitted to march to the U.S. Embassy where they shattered windows and breached the walls. They tore down the American flag and smashed the windows of the Ambassador's residence. For good measure, they stoned the British Embassy after they left ours. Syrian TV trumpeted the event. Did you see it? Do you think American policy makers did?

Palestinian TV and radio covered thousands of people rioting against U.S. policy in Iraq - burning American, Israeli and British flags, chanting "Death to America," and calling on Saddam to drop poison gas on Israel. After the PA shut down the Palestinian media the rioting disappeared from view. However, the newspaper Al-Ayyam (12/21) reports that the PA Legislature issued a statement condemning the "aggression" against Iraq and calling for "the convening of an emergency Arab summit in support of Iraq." It also "applauds the masses of the Palestinian people and the positions of the Arabs, Muslims and friendly countries who opposed the aggression and are demanding the lifting of the siege." Who knew?

Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, the official PA newspaper reported (12/18), "(Arafat's Adviser) gave a speech in the name of Yasser Arafat in which he said, 'Those who call for peace shall not deceive us, for peace is comprehensive and the blood of Iraq is the blood of Palestine and he who spills its blood does not wish us well. Iraq and its people and Palestine and its people shall remain while the invaders shall depart.'" The same newspaper editorialized (12-21), "No one could have imagined that the Christmas presents this year would have been dozens of American Tomahawk missiles raining down on the heads of Iraqi children. They are trampling on the sanctity of the religions and their holidays. Christmas has no importance for them and Ramadan has no value, but only their greedy colonialist aims."

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israel Television (12/17), "We stand by the Iraqi people, and support the Iraqi nation. We want to see the siege on the Iraqi people lifted. This is a known fact among the Palestinian people. We call for the cessation of these attacks as they carry negative repercussions for the region and its peoples."

The PA Ambassador to Iraq, Azzam Al-Ahmad got it right when he told the Palestinian English-language weekly The Jerusalem Times (12/18), "I believe the Palestinians will start burning the American flags they raised yesterday." If only we'd known.

Little if any of this nasty stuff received mention in the American press and few of the visuals made it to TV. Too bad. Americans are generally inclined to see the better side of everyone, but there are limits. To see our Embassy stoned and our flag ripped down in Damascus would help place the Assad dictatorship in perspective. To see the duplicity of the Palestinians who waved American flags last week and burned them this week would be an object lesson in the nature of the beast. It wouldn't make the neighborhood any better for Israel, but it certainly would help Americans understand Israel's determination to resist rosy prescriptions for their security. (JINSA Jan 1)


The More the Worse By Moshe Arens

Each succeeding day seems to bring with it news of another political party that is planning to participate in the upcoming elections. No matter that we are already suffering from an overabundance of political parties in the Knesset. It is just this profusion of parties that has made life so difficult for our prime ministers throughout the years. At this stage, we need more political parties like we need a hole in the head. The more the worse.

In addition to the Likud and Labor, representing the mainstream views of Right and Left, and the more extreme Right and Left politicians (Meretz and Moledet) that don't seem to be able to find a home in the respective mainstream parties, we have traditionally had the "single-issue" parties representing the national religious, haredim (both Sefardi and Ashkenazi), new immigrants, secular Arabs, fundamentalist Arabs, and the occasional odd duck like Tsomet or The Third Way.

Now appearing on the scene are a new center party (possibly more than one) and a new right-wing party claiming to be "the real thing," to be followed by a plethora of single-issue or narrow-constituency parties, claiming to represent various regions of the country or segments of society.

There is no doubt that the ill-conceived law for the direct election of the prime minister is in the process of turning what was already a bad situation into political chaos. By sending the voter to the polls with two ballots in his hand, it provides him with an almost irresistible temptation to cast the second ballot for one of the minor parties or special interest groups with whom he feels an affinity. If the coming elections are held in accordance with the two-ballot system, the next Knesset is likely to be a mosaic of mid-sized and small parties, and governing the country will become next to impossible.

Possibly, the most incongruous addition to the spectrum of political parties presenting themselves to the voters in the upcoming election is the center party, claiming to have a found for itself a "nice place in the middle" between the Likud and Labor. However, considering the fact that Labor has abandoned its past socialist ideology and that the Likud has, albeit reluctantly, begun to reconcile itself to the Oslo Accords, it is perplexing how a new party can squeeze itself, even edge-wise, into the disappearing middle ground between them.

The explanation is again to be found in the direct election of the prime minister. The emphasis that it places on the men or women who have put forth their candidacies to be elected independent of their own parties inevitably detracts from the importance attached to party principles and policies. If it turns out that the center party's platform does not differ significantly from that of one of the two major parties, or alternatively, that it is a collection of meaningless platitudes, what does it matter, as long as its candidate for prime minister seems to have an attractive personality?

We seem to be well on the way to emptying our political discourse of all intellectual content to the great detriment of democratic governance.

Another phenomenon, that seems to be gaining momentum, is the abandonment of the Likud by a number of its senior politicians, a process that could well lead to the disintegration of this party that has been one of the mainstays of our political scene for decades. Even the Likud's political opponents should find little solace in that.

Since the days of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizmann, two rival schools of thought have contended for supremacy, first in the World Zionist Organization, and later on the Israeli political scene. The Likud, heir to the original Revisionist-Zionist movement stands for the more hawkish, or more conservative position on the Jewish-Arab conflict. The Labor Party, heir to Mapai, advocates the more dovish view, less reticent to take risks in an attempt to reach an accommodation with the Arabs.

Throughout the years, the discourse between these two major parties, jarring and discomforting as it may have been at times to participants and observers alike, was essential in forming our foreign and defense policies. It was, and should continue to be, an essential element of adversary policy formulation.

The tremor presently shaking the Likud due to the desertion of some of its most senior figures may bring about a significant asymmetry in the political debate. This will impact negatively on the process of national policy formulation in an area of ultimate importance to our security and future.

Is it too late for politicians to return to their home bases, for the leaders of the center party to acknowledge that they are destined to be a "virtual" party, and for Israel to return to being a parliamentary democracy?

The writer is a former defense minister. (Jerusalem Post Jan 1)


Beyond Jewish-Christian Dialogue By Gerald M. Steinberg

Next year at this time, the country will host hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Christian pilgrims and tourists. The approach of this holy year for Christianity provides an historic opportunity for the different denominations to reexamine their relations with the Jewish people.

For much of the past 2,000 years, Christian leaders have waged war against the Jews, promoting and preaching antisemitism. The denial of the legitimacy of the Jewish religion, and the use of force, torture, and murder to coerce Jews to adopt Christianity, helped to create the foundation for the pogroms of the 19th century and the genocide of Nazi Germany.

The behavior of the leaders of the Catholic Church, and Pope Pius XII in particular, during the Shoah is still very controversial. The roundup and murder of Rome's ancient Jewish community, under the shadow of the Vatican, is an ugly stain. Many analysts, including Christians such as Rolf Hochhuth, who wrote The Deputy, argue that the formal stance of neutrality adopted by the church was a form of complicity.

The recent Vatican document acknowledging that "some Catholics" were guilty of participating in Hitler's mass murder, and the creation of a joint research committee to investigate these issues were steps in the right direction (particularly as the Vatican has refused to release all documents connected with this period, suggesting that there is something to hide), but much more needs to be done.

Major changes in Christianity's relations with the Jewish people must overcome difficult theological challenges. Nevertheless, the decision of the Second Vatican Council (1965), "absolving" the Jewish people of collective responsibility for deicide marked an important beginning in this process. The belated public declaration that antisemitism constitutes "a sin against God and humanity" and the recognition of the need for "repentance and reconciliation on our part..." for "the fact that antisemitism found a place in Christian thought" are also important steps.

However, the gap between the formal statements and policies remains very wide. The continuing attempts to Christianize the Jewish tragedy of the Shoah, through the presence of crosses and shrines on the grounds of Auschwitz (in violation of repeated agreements), demonstrate insensitivity and moral blindness. Many Jews, particularly Holocaust survivors and their descendants, were highly offended by the recent canonization of Edith Stein (a convert to Catholicism who perished as a Jew in the gas chambers).

These actions raise the question of whether the policies of the Vatican have changed fundamentally. Is the Vatican ready to accept the Jewish religion on the basis of mutual respect and full equality, as in the case of Islam or Buddhism, or is conversion, whether by threat or other means, still its dominant goal? (In Rome, across the street from the central synagogue, a Hebrew inscription on a church wall, where Jews were once forced to attend sermons on Catholicism, still calls on Jews to abandon their religion.)

In any reexamination of the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, it is also necessary to include the Vatican's policies toward Israel. These relations have been very problematic and often hostile, in sharp contrast with some Protestant denominations. The Vatican did not establish formal relations with Israel until 1994, and since then, its leaders have often joined the chorus of one-sided criticism of Israeli policy in negotiations with the Palestinians.

This pattern is most disturbing with respect to Jerusalem. The Vatican is demanding a role in determining the "permanent status" of Jerusalem (and has a great deal of valuable property to protect). However, any claim to a seat at the negotiating table is undermined by the silence and complicity of Catholicism between 1948 and 1967. During this period of the Arab occupation, Judaism's holiest sites were systematically desecrated and destroyed, and Jews were barred from visiting these shrines, in blatant violation of the cease-fire agreements that ended the War of Independence. However, once again, the Vatican was silent in defending the basic rights of the Jewish people.

And since 1967, when Israel reunited the city, there has been no acknowledgment of the free and open access provided for Christians and Moslems to their shrines. Thus, when Vatican officials refer to Jerusalem as "the common patrimony of the whole of humanity" and support some form of international "guarantees," their words do not ring true to Jewish and Israeli audiences.

These issues are not limited to Catholic-Jewish relations. In Russia, after the demise of the Soviet Union, the official Communist-inspired antisemitism has been replaced by a revival of nationalist hostility to the Jewish people. Once again, Russian politicians are attempting to use the Jews as scapegoats for their failures, while the Duma (Russia's lower house of parliament) has failed to condemn this racist rhetoric. This is not only a challenge for the leaders of Russia, including the Russian Orthodox Church, but again raises the question of the role of other Christian groups and leaders.

It will take many years and generations to reverse the long history of anti-Jewish behavior in Christianity. However, if the Christian leaders use this period to gain an understanding of Jewish perspectives and traditions, and to appreciate the inseparable links of the Jews to Israel and Jerusalem, this will be a major accomplishment.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center of Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University. (Jerusalem Post Jan 1)


Netanyahu's Test By Uri Dan, Dennis Eisenberg

The writers are authors of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israel Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.

The very destiny of the Jewish state could be decided within the next four months.

Much rests on whether or not Binyamin Netanyahu can prove he is more than a glib TV performer. That he will cease dithering. And that he will make up his mind to combine oratory with positive action.

The insidious dangers of Israelis demeaning themselves, seeking outsiders to help solve their political problems, mount on all sides. Already Labor leader Ehud Barak leans heavily on American spin-doctors on how to persuade Israelis to vote for him. What need is there for foreigners - when he has a choice of five million fellow citizens who can give all the advice he needs for the next two thousand years.

In this matter, Netanyahu too is guilty. CIA operatives check whether Arab terrorists have been imprisoned by Yasser Arafat as agreed at Wye River. Without much success it seems. They still "escape" with the greatest of ease.

The majority of Israelis in the national camp - stigmatized as "right wing" - have during the past two years been thrown into disarray by Netanyahu's persistent and fruitless pursuit of the "center" by speaking from both corners of his mouth at the same time.

On the one hand, he claims he is determined to stand firm on Palestinians living up to their commitments to stop terrorism, arrest known killers of Jews, cease intifada-style street violence, surrender illegal arms and disarm the grossly overmanned Palestinian militia, which each passing day resembles a full-blown army.

Yet this very week Netanyahu's lack of resolve was demonstrated at the Palestinian airport in Gaza where, by mutual agreement, Israeli security officials have the right - and duty - to check incoming planes. When the Palestinians refused to allow the security officials to examine an Egyptian plane, Israel gave way - and there was no check carried out or efforts made to resolve the mystery concerning reports of four unidentified passengers on the aircraft. When is Netanyahu going to stand firm on Israeli rights? Time is short - every day of supine lack of purpose and real leadership qualities could drive a nail into his political coffin.

In essence, Netanyahu faces two major rivals for the premiership: Ehud Barak and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Both were highly successful army commanders - Barak in the Sayeret Matkal elite unit and Shahak, a paratroop commander. Both became chiefs of General Staff. But in truth neither made a deep impression in that role. Neither man came up with a military answer to the Lebanese problem. So there is precious little reason for either of them to even pretend they were of the same giant-like stature of a Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan in that role.

Barak's Operation Accountability in 1993 involving air strikes and Shahak's Grapes of Wrath onslaught by both artillery and air strikes, were failures. Neither of them came up with a military plan to handle the wave of suicide bombings after the Oslo Accords.

Both Barak and Shahak are politically left wing. Both championed Rabin's Oslo Accords and were major figures in politicizing the armed forces. Barak has proved an ineffectual leader of the Labor Party. Shahak is yet to comment on anything, let alone on any issue which as a prospective prime minister is important to the country.

Allied with them as a Netanyahu rival is Dan Meridor, a self-styled prince of the Likud who was and still is in a pique about not being granted greater honor by "his" party.

The onus of ensuring that Israel will continue to be a genuine sovereign state and have the courage and determination to stand up to external pressure now rests squarely on Netanyahu's shoulders. For a start, he must convince the voters who chose him two years ago that he will no longer treat them as idiots.

For instance, he has repeatedly made tough speeches about Jerusalem remaining a united city with the right to build anywhere within its boundaries. But to this day, not a single foundation stone has been set in place in the Har Homa neighborhood. Netanyahu talks about his commitment to the settlements, but there has been less activity there in the past two years than under the previous Labor administration.

Netanyahu faces the biggest challenge of his life in the coming weeks. Not only personally, but as prime minister of Israel. Is he big enough and courageous enough to prove himself worthy of the title by bold decisions and deeds? That matters not only to him personally, but to every single man, woman and child who lives in this country.

The writers are authors of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israel Secret Service and other books on the Middle East. (Jerusalem Post Dec 31)


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