A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
A collection of the week's news from Israel
February 2, 2001 - 9 Shvat 5761
Issue number 311
In Taba Ehud Barak's negotiators agreed to compensate the Arab refugees not only for their loss of property, but also for what was termed "the years of suffering of the Palestinian refugees." The Barak team also agreed to cede Bet El and Ofrah to the Palestinians, contrary to Barak's specific promises of last year. Another aspect of the Taba talks involves the construction of a new Palestinian city in the sands of Halutza, southeast of Gaza. Ma'ariv reports today that the Palestinians had agreed that refugees would only be allowed into the Palestinian state-to-be-created, and that Israel would help build them a new city or two in Halutza. Ramat HaNegev Council Head Shmuel Rifman, a Labor party member, wrote to Prime Minister Barak that he "cannot support a Prime Minister who has led me astray for the last several months." Rifman said he wrote the letter after learning that Barak has in fact made an offer of a Halutza city to the Palestinians. Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian negotiating team denied the reports, however, and said that the PA had rejected all Israeli plans regarding Halutza. "Only minor issues were agreed upon in this matter, nothing worth relating to," Erekat said. (arutzsheva.org Jan 31)
Editorials in both Ma'ariv and Ha'aretz Monday aver that the joint declaration following the Taba talks showed that the Palestinians understood too late that Ariel Sharon is likely to become Israel's Prime Minister next week. Regarding the optimism expressed by Barak and Ben-Ami to the effect that "we have never been closer to a final agreement," Ma'ariv writes, "When someone 1,000 kilometers away from you moves one centimeter in your direction, it is possible to say that he has never been closer to you..." Ha'aretz ridicules Justice Minister Yossi Beilin's comment that negotiators would need only another two weeks of work after the elections to complete the agreement, and writes, " A more sober and honest assessment of the last week of negotiations would yield a simple, sad truth: the last minute, pre-election effort to reach an agreement¼ failed because the differences over the core issues - right of return, Jerusalem, borders and security arrangements - were not settled." (arutzsheva.org Jan 29)
"The current Government of Israel is waging, for the last four months, a savage and barbaric war, as well as, a blatant and fascist military aggression against our Palestinian people. In this aggression it is using internationally prohibited weapons and ammunitions that include in their construction depleted uranium. In addition, Israel is laying against us total siege, indeed, worse than that, it is imposing this siege against every village and town. It is prohibiting the freedom of movement and travel of our people. It is jeopardizing the basic human rights of our Palestinian citizens, dismissing our workers, closing our factories, destroying a number of these, so much so that 90% of our workers are forcibly unemployed, destroying our farms and fruit trees and prohibiting export and import, indeed it is forbidding us to receive, from brothers and friends, donated provisions. All this is in violation of all resolutions of international legality, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Human Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Times of War. Have you seen a more ugly policy than this policy of collective punishment or more destruction in the contemporary age? Israel is putting all of our people in confrontation with this dangerous military escalation, and its occupational, settlement, aggressive and armed expansionism as well as in confrontation with its dreams of achieving territorial and regional gains at the expense of our people, in a manner, which is in contravention of international legality and the rights of our Palestinian people to their land, Christian and Islamic holy places and to their natural resources. Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, leaders and members of the delegations, Whoever wants really to achieve peace and seeks it with belief and sincerity, does not resort to killing, persecution, assassination, destruction and devastation as the Government of Israel and its army of occupation are doing to our people these days and since four continuous months."- President Arafat addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos. (WAFA Jan 28)
Though there are many today who say "I told you so," in retrospect it is clear that the vision of Oslo as a gentle glide path to peace was mistaken. But if the premise of Oslo proved overly optimistic, the conclusion of the Taba talks was harmfully deceptive.
The joint Taba declaration seeks to sell Israelis a bill of goods: peace is at your fingertips, all you have to do is make the right choice at the ballot box. According to the declaration, "The two sides are convinced that in a short period of time É it will be possible to bridge the differences remaining and attain a permanent settlement of peace between them." Justice Minister Yossi Beilin was even more explicit - two weeks after the elections an agreement can be reached.
That such statements are being made for election purposes is transparent to the point of banality, but the harm is not so much in the drafting of the peace talks into an election campaign, as serious as that is. The harm is in continuing a national delusion that prevents Israel, both psychologically and diplomatically, from returning to some semblance of reality.
The phrase, "never been closer to reaching an agreement," used to characterize the result of the Taba talks, is emblematic of the attempt to prolong the delusion. The idea that Israel has "never been closer" to real peace with the Palestinians recalls the story of a man falling off a tall building who reports on the way down, "so far so good." In the summertime, our part of the earth is "never closer" to the sun, but that does not change the fact that the two bodies remain light years apart, and not about to move closer any time soon.
According to the Taba declaration, "The political timetable prevented reaching an agreement on all the issues." By this we are to understand that, by cruel coincidence, the election happened to fall just two weeks before an agreement would be in hand. But if an agreement was so close, why did it not happen at Camp David, during Bill Clinton's marathon push over his last few months in office, or at Taba? The reason is not because it took the Palestinians this long to realize that Ariel Sharon might be Israel's next prime minister. The reason is that the parties are genuinely far apart and, each for its own purposes, chose to minimize those differences until February 6. .
For the Barak campaign (for now it is more a campaign than a government), presenting the parties as tantalizingly close is part of portraying the choice to the electorate between war and peace. For the Palestinians, the Taba talks served to neatly erase the stain of rejectionism that was left from Camp David, without having to modify their rejection of both Camp David and the subsequent Clinton parameters. Post-Taba, the Palestinians have an Israeli stamp of approval on the notion that it was not their extremism that scuttled a deal, but the changing of the guard in Israel.
The reality papered-over by election-driven deception remains the same reality: The problem is not Israel's unwillingness to accept a contiguous, viable, Palestinian state, but the Palestinian unwillingness to give up destroying Israel.
In a January 23 op-ed in Yediot Aharonot, Amos Oz described the situation cogently: "Peace will arise only when the two peoples face the reality: There is your house and your garden and here is my house and my garden. Now, however, the Palestinians are saying to us: You get up and leave my house (evacuate settlements) and I will also come and live in your house (the right of return)." In other words, the Palestinians have not yet come to the point that they supposedly came to when Yasser Arafat renounced terrorism in 1988 and again when he signed Oslo in 1993 - the fundamental acceptance of a "two-state solution." Not only are we not "close" to a settlement, we are further than we thought we were 12 years ago and certainly seven years ago.
As if to clarify matters further, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi helpfully suggested that Palestinians and Israelis "unify and establish a common state." Even Gaddafi has caught on to the new, almost politically-correct way to call for Israel's destruction: not by missiles and poison gas, but by demographic homogenization. Once the Palestinians finally do accept the Jewish nation's right to independence in part of what they call Palestine, the road to peace will still be a long one. A "two-state solution" must still pass the test of reducing the potential for conflict rather than increasing it. But as long as the Palestinians do not truly accept, and have not prepared themselves for, a "two-state solution," we have never been further from a lasting peace. (Jerusalem Post Jan 29)
Many Israelis will long remember the last five months of Ehud Barak's term in office as a living nightmare.Although the daily routine and sense of security of the country's citizens has been seriously prejudiced, Israelis have learned how to adjust to such "novelties" as the need to travel in bullet-proof vehicles, to avoid going to the neighborhood shopping mall or even to give up the idea of traveling on buses altogether. Even the heavy price in human lives has had many, much more painful precedents.
The fact that the Israel Defense Forces was not always able to effectively deal with the Palestinians, despite their military inferiority, has not been as demoralizing as the message of total powerlessness that this government has consistently conveyed with every fiber of its being. This powerlessness has been a contagion that has generated a mood of despair and a feeling that Israel has reached the end of the road.
Many Israelis have started to feel as if they are living in a state that is only a paper tiger and is run by a make-believe government. This feeling has been heightened by the empty threats and the arrogance of the verbal responses in the wake of terrorist incidents; by the self-congratulatory attitude over the adoption of a principle of restraint that has almost become an ideology in itself; and by the knowledge that the IDF, although a highly-trained army and although aware of and longing to do what has to be done, has been hamstrung by Israel's political leaders.
The outcome of next week's prime ministerial election has nothing to do with real or imaginary disputes over borders or over the Jewish settlements in the territories, but has everything to do with feelings that go right to the core of the human soul, with the frightening sense of being paralyzed, of bearing witness to wholesale destruction and calamity. All of these feelings have been churning inside the souls of Israelis for several months.
Barak and his advisers are still inside the bubble of their concept of "peace" and they simply do not realize the intensity of the anxiety felt by the Israeli public. Over the past few months, it has been difficult to escape the impression that in many respects, Israel under Barak's leadership has regressed to the terrible period before the creation of the state, when Jews were attacked time and time again by Arabs.
The fact that public figures, intellectuals and columnists from both the right and the Zionist left have, for the last few months, frequently quoted the poetry, prose and quasi-prophetic writings of poets and intellectuals who lived during that pre-state era has reinforced the feeling that the present period is a throwback to an earlier one that was fraught with terror and that very few Israelis believed would ever return.
In addition to their day-to-day existential fears, many Israelis sense that during the course of Barak's term in office, Israel has degenerated to an unprecedent low in terms of the realization of the Zionist vision of the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland.
After Barak agreed to a partitioning of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, the mayor of the nation's capital, accused the prime minister of planning to dismantle the entire country, while Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein has declared that the excavations being conducted by the Waqf (Muslim religious trust) on the Temple Mount constitute a gross affront to Jewish history. The statements by these two officials indicate that in addition to the foundations of our physical existence in this country, the spiritual foundations of the Jewish state have been seriously undermined over the past year.
For all the above reasons, the expectations of nationalistically-minded Israeli Jews from the only prime ministerial candidate they regard as a real alternative, namely Likud leader Ariel Sharon, are not focused on the survival of this or that Jewish settlement in the territories; nor are they the expression of a fervent desire to maintain the present borders. Their expectations from Sharon go much, much further.
The real question here is whether, after the "Oslo approach" (the total implementation of which was Barak's goal, which he failed to attain) almost led to the death of Zionism, Sharon can successfully usher in a new perspective that will relegitimize the Zionist enterprise.
Many rightists, as well as a large number of leftists, will be voting Sharon on February 6 not because they really believe that he will bring peace or that he will keep every Jewish settlement intact or that he will retain the Golan Heights. The Jewish settlers in the territories know Sharon extremely well and they are already expressing the view that like his rightist predecessors in the Prime Minister's Office, Sharon will break or will be forced to break some of the promises he is making now. The question that the settlers are asking themselves is which promises will he fail to keep.
In this election campaign, the expectations of the voters from one of the candidates go well beyond the agenda and "historic importance" of all previous elections in Israel. This time, the expectations are emerging from the very depths of the emotional and spiritual debacle Barak has wrought in the souls of many Israelis, after breaking every vow and pledge he ever made and after shattering every taboo in his pursuit of an illusory, abstract concept of peace.
The task awaiting Sharon entails the reconstruction of a ruined building, namely, the resuscitation of the national consensus on Jerusalem and the reestablishment of Israel's national pride, which has been trampled into the dust. "Reconstruction" is not some empty campaign slogan, but rather an urgent need to banish the dark mood that has pervaded Israeli society, a mood that also has many grave implications.
Sharon will have to "rehabilitate" both Zionist-Jewish education and the IDF's deterrent force, which has been ground to a fine powder during the Barak regime. He will also have to restore the feeling that was once prevalent in Israel: the belief that the foundations of the Jewish state in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people are just. In other words, nationalistically-minded Israeli Jews are expecting Sharon to mend Zionism's broken tools, or totally reconstruct them, so that Zionism can take root once more, not only in the soil of this land, but also in the hearts of Israelis.
Barak, the arch-destroyer of these tools, sought to build his dream atop the ruins of the dream of many Israelis and he will almost certainly lose the election because in the way he performed his duties as prime minister, he has conveyed the impression that Zionism is already a lost cause (Ha'aretz.Jan 30)
Channel 2 managed a great and unique scoop in its interview with Palestinian Authority ChairmanYasser Arafat last Monday: Arafat brought the good news to the Jews that he would permit them to pray at the Western Wall according to the rules made by the Shaw Committee. In other words, in accordance with the decrees of the British mandatory rule over the Jewish Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael 70 years ago.
You didn't notice Arafat's sensational announcement? This isn't your fault: the Channel 2 reporter, Emmanuel Rosen, either because of his ignorance of history or because of his desire to present Arafat as a moderate, charming person, didn't question the PA chairman further about this matter.
After all, this interview was designed to serve Arafat's interests.
On Sunday Arafat made a terrifying appearance in Davos, where he spat in Israel's face and vilified Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz by saying that "Israel is conducting a fascist and barbaric war against the Palestinians," and lied that Israel was firing low-uranium-content shells.
Regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres made no attempt to deny Arafat's accusations. Even Yediot Aharonot economic columnist Sever Plotzker, a strong supporter of the Peres-Arafat alliance, felt insulted: "Nothing like this has ever taken place in Davos," he lamented.
When Arafat's advisers discovered the extent of the damage caused to the Palestinians (and also to Barak) by the exposure of their leader's real face, they hurriedly recommended that he give an interview to Channel 2 and sing a lullaby to the Israelis so that they would fall asleep again on the way to disaster.
Rosen, the interviewer, did indeed act like a good boy and conducted a friendly interview with Arafat, as if with "one of the boys."
Arafat naturally boasted about how the Temple Mount ("Haram-a-Sharif" as he called it) belongs solely to the Moslems. The Jews would be permitted to pray there in accordance with the rules of the Shaw Committee. The Israeli media, which oscillates between ignorance and Leftism, naturally failed to notice Arafat's code words, that meant that Arafat is prepared to allow the Jews to return to the Wailing Wall, as the Western Wall was once called, and pray according to the decrees of the British Mandate.
According to the 1930 regulations, the Jews were permitted to come to the Western Wall in small groups only and were forbidden to pray there on Moslem festivals and on Fridays. On page 358 of the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences there appear the other decrees of the British mandatory authorities regarding worshipers at the Wailing Wall: "They are forbidden to bring Sifrei Torah to the place, they may not place chairs in the open space and they are not permitted to blow a Shofar there."
The British Government appointed a committee of inquiry, headed by Sir Walter Shaw, in order to investigate the causes of the acts of violence perpetrated by the Arabs against the Jews, after the Jews made a quiet procession to the Western Wall. The Hebrew Encyclopedia describes how, in the 1929 Arab riots, 133 Jews were killed and 339 were injured by armed Arabs in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and other places. The Shaw Committee caused the imposition of regulations regarding prayers by Jews at the Wailing Wall that outraged the Yishuv, until young Jews came and blew the shofar at the Wall, even though they were subsequently arrested by the British police. If Rosen did not understand what Arafat was telling the Jews through him, this is not surprising. But when Barak hurriedly canceled his previous decision, and once again requested to meet with Arafat saying that the interview seemed to him to be satisfactory, this proves once again that Barak is living in a virtual world. Or perhaps it doesn't worry him in the least. Since he is willing to hand over the Temple Mount to foreigners, he is also ready to return the Western Wall to its former status as the Wailing Wall.
And so next Tuesday Barak will finally go home.(Jerusalem Post Feb 1)
The writer is an author of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israel Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.
"It was impossible to bake matzo in Leningrad," the grandson said. "It was the law of city. And he had made it for all the Jews.
"They took him and my mother. But my mother had small children, me and my brother. So they just kept him. They called him in every day for interrogations, then gave him a pass to go home."
After three weeks of that, he collapsed on the street and died. "My grandfather was killed for baking matzo," Mr. Kogan said.
So it is all the more amazing that Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan spent Sunday in a slaughterhouse here, knife in hand, making sure that the meat and fowl served tonight to the president of Russia, himself a former K.G.B. agent, were killed in accordance with Jewish dietary law.
President Vladimir V. Putin dined this evening with the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, and the meal was kosher, making the occasion no doubt a first for a Russian leader in a thousand years of history. The vegetable-stuffed veal was kosher. The roast turkey with fruits was kosher. The mushroom soup was kosher. The caviar was kosher — red salmon caviar, because black caviar comes from sturgeon, which have no scales, which is not kosher.
Nor is that the most amazing part. The Kremlin created an entire kosher kitchen for the occasion, an undertaking that required, among other things, an army of rabbis, all-new cooking utensils and a blowtorch.
For a place that branded Israel a pariah state not two decades ago, this is no small gesture. Even the White House, which has embraced Israel for half a century, still has to order kosher takeout when an Israeli dignitary visits. "This is evidence of the great respect which we have toward Jewish culture and Judaism," Anton A. Ignatenko, who heads the Kremlin department responsible for relations with religious organizations, said in an interview. "Judaism and Jewish culture are an inseparable part of the common cultural heritage of the people of the Russian Federation." They also appear to be of special interest to Mr. Putin, who has gone out of his way since becoming president to publicize Russia's Jewish heritage and to preach acceptance of Judaism and other religions that were persecuted in Soviet times.
Mr. Putin attended the dedication of a Jewish community center last fall and delivered a brief and eloquent speech on ethnic and religious tolerance. Not long afterward, he lunched with Natan Sharansky, the onetime Soviet dissident who now heads an Israeli political faction that represents Russian immigrants.
Today, at a news conference with Mr. Katsav, Mr. Putin said Russia was disgusted by the terrorist attacks that have been waged against Israeli civilians, saying the toll of injured and dead children was "hard to take in for any Russian." Skeptics question Mr. Putin's consistency. The Kremlin has brushed aside compelling reports of atrocities by its own troops, in the case of its civilians in Chechnya, and the Russian police and militia regularly harass Chechens and other ethnic Caucasians.
That said, Mr. Putin's endorsement of Russia's Jews and his repudiation of their persecution in Soviet times seems heartfelt. And leaders of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, who appear to have the closest relations of any Jewish group with the Kremlin, have credited his statements with helping to spark a renaissance in Jewish culture in Moscow in the year that he has been in power. (New York Times Jan 24)