A Collection of the Week's News from Israel

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

20 Nisan 5759    April 6, 1999    Issue number 212

NEWS

Netanyahu: No Yesha Townships Will Be Uprooted

In an exclusive interview with Arutz-7 Friday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated unambiguously that he will not evacuate or transfer to foreign rule any residents or communities in Yesha (Judea, Samaria, and Gaza) in the framework of a peace agreement with the Palestinians: "We will not evacuate anyone; we will not transfer anyone to Palestinian sovereignty, and we will not uproot settlements." In a previous interview with Arutz-7, in early November of last year, Netanyahu was similarly asked if he could guarantee that no Jewish settlements would be evacuated or moved under the permanent status. Netanyahu answered somewhat more evasively then, "This is the intention, this is the goal, and this is the policy." Beit El Mayor and Knesset-hopeful Uri Ariel, running on the National Union ticket, praised Prime Minister Netanyahu's pledge this past Friday not to evacuate or transfer to foreign rule any residents or communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza within the framework of a peace agreement with the Palestinians: Ariel said that Netanyahu's remarks highlight the need to guarantee a strong political force to the right of the Prime Minister to enable him to resist the combined pressure of U.S. President Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat and the Israeli opposition parties. Netanyahu also discussed with Arutz-7 the continued implementation of the Wye Agreement, and said that the Wye-mandated withdrawals will only be continued if Arafat fulfills the Palestinian commitments: "If they give, they will receive; if they don't give, they won't receive." He sharply attacked Labor and Ehud Barak, mentioning the "great dangers" facing Israel if Barak is elected. (Arutz 7 Apr 2,4)

Beilin Proposes New 'Secular' Conversion

In a recent book, Labor MK Yossi Beilin has put forward a proposal for what he calls "secular conversions" for non-Jews married to Jews. In the book, in which he prognosticates on Israel-Diaspora relations in the next century, Beilin argues for the need to make a Jewish identity attractive to non-Jews. He wrote that many non-Jews in mixed marriages are not interested in religious ceremonies of any kind, whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. "The Jewish people in the Diaspora is shrinking," Beilin wrote, "and numbers only 5.6 million in the U.S. - but if you count the number of people in Jewish households [meaning families in which at least one parent is Jewish], it comes to 8 million." "On the basis of conversations with such non-Jewish partners in mixed marriages," he said, "many were ready to join the Jewish people, but were not ready for any religious conversion ceremony ... therefore, I believe that alongside the religious door to the Jewish people there ought to be another door, a national-secular door." Beilin's book, published in Hebrew with the title, "The Death of The American Uncle," will soon appear in English. Admitting that he hasn't fully worked out the details of what would be the appropriate criterion for such a "secular conversion," Beilin suggests "it should be some form of test in the history of the Jews and a readiness to tie one's personal destiny to the national one. But not more than that." (Ha'aretz Apr 2)

Passover Celebrations in Hevron And in Jerusalem

A reported 50,000 people arrived in Hevron today for a multi-faceted Passover celebration. The entire Cave of the Patriarchs - Me'arat HaMachpelah - was open exclusively to Jewish prayers Sunday and Monday. (During most of the year, the large Isaac Hall is closed to Jewish worshipers.) Many public figures, government ministers and MKs took part in the Hevron festivities, and well-known pop-Hassidic singers provided musical entertainment. Speakers in Hevron Sunday included Rabbi Dov Lior, Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush, Rabbi Yosef Gutnik, Hevron spokesman Noam Arnon, MK Rehavam Ze'evi, MK Moshe Peled, and others. Arens and Porush participated in the laying of the cornerstone at the site of the future Beit HaShishah apartment building near Beit Hadassah. Arens said that the new building - to be built in memory of the six young Jews who were murdered in a Sabbath-night Arab terrorist ambush attack outside Beit Hadassah in 1980 - will be only one of many residential buildings to be built for Jews in Hevron.

Additional thousands attended festival prayers at the Western Wall Sunday morning, including hundreds of Kohanim (priests) who took part in the Priestly Blessing ceremony. Members of the Temple Mount Faithful held prayers near the gates of the Temple Mount, commemorating the Biblical commandment and historic tradition of visiting the Temple during each of the major festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Police estimate that over 100,000 people toured the Old City of Jerusalem today. (Arutz 7 Apr 4)

Israel Sends Aid to Kosovo, To Send Field Hospital

The Israeli airplane carrying emergency supplies for the victims of the war in Yugoslavia landed Friday morning in Skopje, capital of Macedonia. The small Israeli delegation, headed by Science Minister Silvan Shalom and Israeli Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, was greeted by Shalom's Macedonian counterpart. Ben-Eliyahu took advantage of the trip to make a quick visit to his birthplace in Skopje. The plane brought medicines, tents, and blankets, and will make a delivery in Albania as well. Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon emphasized today that the "terrible human tragedy taking place in Yugoslavia, and particularly in Kosovo, must be drawn to an immediate close." Sharon said, "As steadfast friends of the United States, we expect that the United States and the NATO forces will do everything possible in order to end the suffering of the innocent, and to bring about the resumption of negotiations between the parties." The Foreign Minister added that, as in the past, Israel is rendering assistance to the casualties. "This is our moral responsibility as Jews, and the consistent policy of the State of Israel."

The Israeli government decided Sunday to establish a field hospital for the Albanian refugees from Kosovo. Two planes containing emergency supplies and 8-10 doctors will depart for the region in a mission jointly organized by the Health and Defense Ministries. The field hospital will be situated in either Macedonia or Albania, both of which border Kosovo. Defense Minister Moshe Arens said that the venture is "very large and complex, in both resources and manpower."

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia published a letter last week strongly condemning the NATO air strikes. The letter reads, "The bombing hurts all Yugoslav citizens, including Jews, as we also are citizens of Yugoslavia. Bombs and missiles do not select victims according to national or religious criteria. The FJCY and members of the Jewish community in Yugoslavia condemn the bombing, and request that it be stopped at once." A FCJY press release notes that "Jews of Yugoslavia origin demonstrated on March 26 in front of the British Embassy in Tel Aviv against attacks of NATO forces on our country. Demonstrators carried slogans saying 'Kosovo is the Serbian Jerusalem,' 'Kosovo is the Heart of Serbia', 'Kosovo today, Jerusalem tomorrow' in English, Hebrew and Serbian."

Former Meretz member Prof. Yehoshua Porat told Arutz-7 yesterday, "I condemn the killings of innocent people, but the fact is that NATO is shamefully taking advantage of a small country to show that it is not always against the Moslems. The Albanians in Kosovo denied Serbian sovereignty there, and shot Serbian policemen and civilians. Would France or the U.S. ever allow a minority to have national rights within their countries?"

Arutz-7's Haggai Segal spoke last week with Mr. Albert Ashkenazi, Secretary of the Jewish Community in Belgrade. Ashkenazi said that the Jewish community in Budapest, Hungary, has agreed to provide refuge for several Belgrade families until the end of the war. "Belgrade itself boasts a vibrant Jewish communal life," Ashkenazi explained, "including courses in Hebrew language and Saturday night lectures of Jewish interest. Each year, our synagogue hosts 200 people at our community Passover Seder, but tomorrow night, after services, we'll have to settle for something more symbolic - because of the war. Despite the situation, our rabbi has ensured that basic supplies such as matzah and wine are available." He added that the Belgrade community has contacted senior officials in Israel to ask that Israel do what it can to have the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia halted. (Arutz 7 Mar 30-Apr 4)

Arafat Enlists for Barak

Labor party leader MK Ehud Barak has asked Yasser Arafat to instruct the 20,000 eligible-to-vote Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem to support Barak for Prime Minister in the May elections. Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports, based on Palestinian sources, that Arafat has recently told his close aides several times that Barak's candidacy must be bolstered. Arafat said that the Palestinians must not do anything to hurt Barak's chances. He said that the candidacy of Arab MK Azmi Bishara for Prime Minister is "a bad move - it will hurt Barak." Huberman add, however, that Arafat's opponents claim he is playing "both sides," as he has approved the running of his close aide Ahmed Tibi on the same Knesset list as Bishara. (Arutz 7 Apr 4)

Yesha Council and Golan Committee Respond

"Arafat won't be allowed to dictate." This is the motto of the Yesha Council ad campaign - which begins today - which will warn of the dangers of a Palestinian state. The slogan will be featured in newspapers and on 400 billboards throughout the country, and will address three issues: "Arafat won't dictate the future of the Yesha communities," "Arafat won't dictate Israel's security," and "Arafat won't dictate the final borders." The four leaders of the Centrist Movement party - Mordechai, Shachak, Meridor, and Milo - toured the Golan Heights this morning. Chairman of the Golan Residents Committee Avi Ze'ira expressed "surprise" at the visit, since the party's platform includes a clause in favor of territorial compromise in the Golan. Golan leaders met last night with former Finance Minister Ya'akov Ne'eman, and said afterwards that Prime Minister Netanyahu's stance on the future of the area remains clouded in ambiguity. MK Tzvi Hendel - formerly of the National Religious Party and now of the new National Union party - called on residents of the Golan yesterday not to support parties that have only a slim chance of receiving the minimal number of votes necessary to obtain a Knesset seat. Hendel was referring to the Third Way, which continues to emphasize the preservation of the Golan but is not certain to win even one Knesset seat. He said that it is preferable to support parties and MKs who have proven that they have the required tenacity to block scheduled withdrawals from the Land of Israel. "Those who prevented the withdrawal from Judea and Samaria will be the ones who will halt the same process in the Golan," Hendel stated. (Arutz 7 Apr 4)

Young Stoning Victim Still in Serious Condition

Yael Amar, a five-year-old Israeli girl injured when Palestinians hurled rocks at her family's car last Wednesday afternoon, remains in intensive care at the Tel HaShomer Hospital. She was driving with her parentsto celebrate the Passover Seder in central Israel when the rocks shattered the car's back windshield, knocking her unconscious. Yael's father told reporters that the incidence of stonings and Molotov cocktail attacks on Jewish traffic near his Binyamin community of N'vei Tzuf has greatly increased over the past several months. An IDF unit captured 12 Arabs this past Friday night who are suspected of involvement in the attack on the Amar family. The mission was led by the new Binyamin Brigade Commander, who was himself seriously injured when Palestinians stoned his vehicle in the Bir Zeit area several months ago. (Arutz 7 Apr 4)

Christians and Moslems Clash in Nazareth

An ongoing local dispute over a piece of downtown real estate led to the injury of twenty Nazareth citizens. Moslems in the city wish to build a mosque on the half-acre former bus parking lot, while Christians claim it was allotted to them. The Mayor of Nazareth stated today that the issue must be decided by the government of Israel. (Arutz 7 Apr 4)

Soldier-Hero Remembered

A Torah scroll was completed and introduced into a local synagogue Sunday morning, in memory of the soldier Alexei Naikov - credited by 36 school children with saving their lives. In what participants called a "joyously moving and meaningful ceremony," the children, their families, and many friends and well-wishers danced the newly-completed Torah scroll into the synagogue of Kfar Darom, in Gush Katif (Gaza). Last Oct. 29th, Arutz-7 reported: "Thirty-six Jewish school children were miraculously saved this morning, thanks to the courage and dedication displayed by IDF soldiers. A Palestinian Arab terrorist detonated tens of kilograms of explosives next to a school bus, killing one soldier - Alexei Naikov, 19, from Haifa - and injuring two others, in an attack at the Gush Katif junction in Gaza this morning. At 7:30 AM, a Palestinian suicide bomber attempted to direct his explosives-laden car alongside an Egged bus full of schoolchildren on their way from Kfar Darom to Atzmona. The army jeep accompanying the school bus blocked his way; the car [exploded on] the jeep, which went up in flames, killing the soldier." (Arutz 7 Apr 4)

Palestinian Arab Violence on More Fronts

Three Palestinian Arabs are currently being questioned by the police, after they were caught last night attempting to kidnap a Jewish taxi driver. Three Arabs entered a taxi in Tel Aviv, and asked to be driven to Beit Shemesh. On the way, they pushed him into the back seat at knife-point, and drove off towards Ramallah. Border Guard policemen heard his shouts at the A-Ram junction, just north of Jerusalem and south of Ramallah, and rescued him. The day before, an Arab taxi passenger who alighted in Herzliya threw out the driver and stole the taxi.

The IDF has imposed a closure on the Arab villages in the area of the attack. Arabs prevented development works this morning near the community of Ma'aleh Shomron. HaKol MeHaShetach News Agency reports that the Arabs lay down in front of the tractors. Ma'aleh Shomron sources report that the works are totally legal and have received all the necessary permits. (Arutz 7 Apr 2)

Syrian Economic Woes

Syria is suffering a heavy economic crisis, according to official American reports. The gross national product is less than $900 per capital - about 1/15 of Israel's. Ha'aretz newspaper reports today that the problems are affecting all walks of society, including the army. One of the Americans involved in preparing the report said that when he crossed the border from Syria into Jordan, he felt as if he had left Nigeria and arrived in Switzerland. (Arutz 7 Apr 2)

No Change in American Position

Contrary to earlier reports, the official U.S. position in favor of continued Israeli withdrawals from Yesha has not changed. U.S. Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz was quoted last Monday by an Associated Press reporter as saying that Israel need not resume withdrawals until the Palestinians meet their Wye commitments. "The handover of territory is the last step," AP quoted Schwartz as saying, "[after] other conditions [are] met first by the Palestinians." Schwartz listed the collection of weapons from Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas, the prosecution and imprisonment of murderous terrorists, and consistent security cooperation with Israel. He stressed, however, that the United States still expects Israel to act on other aspects of the Wye agreement, such as releasing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, opening a 'safe passage' between Gaza and Hevron/Ramallah, and allowing a seaport to be operated in Gaza City. However, State Department spokesman James Rubin denied yesterday that there had been a change in the American stance. Rubin said it was not correct to say that because the Palestinians have not done what is expected of them, the Administration does not currently expect Israel to pull back. Rubin said, "The issue is not who goes first. The parties should be focusing on a serious process of implementation. If we had a serious process underway, one in which both sides were fulfilling their obligations, we would not be having this discussion." IMRA interviewed Schwartz today, and the latter said that the AP reporter, through no fault of his [the reporter's], misunderstood the interference-racked cellular phone call. When IMRA asked Schwartz what he really meant to say, Schwartz repeated Rubin's above-quoted words. (Arutz 7 Mar 30)

Palestinian Tax Against Yesha Communities

A new tax will be imposed by the Palestinian Authority on its workers: a tax to finance the struggle against Jewish settlements in Yesha. The tax will be 5% of their salaries. An additional 1% tax on imported goods will be levied for the same purpose. PA "Finance Minister" Muhmad El-Nashashibi has called upon private entrepreneurs within the PA to support projects to stifle the growth of the settlements. El-Nashashibi is not alone: Director-General of the PA's Agriculture Department Mahmad Abu Samrah has just completed a proposal to discourage Palestinian laborers from working in the Yesha communities, with the aim of halting construction there. Arutz-7 correspondent Ariel Kahane reports that roughly 2/3 of the Palestinian Authority's yearly budget is financed by Israel.(Arutz 7 Mar 30)

Housing and Politics

The Supreme Court has forbidden the Housing Ministry to rent some 600 housing units in hareidi neighborhoods. The judges ruled that the criteria for eligibility for the apartments are able to be met only by Yeshiva students, and are thus discriminatory. Petitioners Yossi Sarid (Meretz) and Eitan Kabel (Labor) expressed satisfaction at the decision. (Arutz 7 Mar 30)


Commentary

The Media's Right to Know by Emuna Elon

The media in Israel treats the four prime minister candidates as the Passover Haggada relates to the 'four sons': one is wise, one is wicked, one is innocent, and one doesn't know how to ask questions.

About the wise candidate, what does the media say? That he's not appealing enough, but at least he's smart. There's some doubt that he's talented enough to run the state, but he must be supported, because it's obligatory to change regimes in the country. In his wisdom, the smart candidate is busy now trying to erase any trace of the party which he heads, because only a 'wise' candidate such as himself is able to fathom how hated his party is by the public. So the wise candidate has changed his party's name, and is now working to alter the letters which have represented his party for generations of voters.

What does the media say about the wicked candidate? That he's talented, but wily and sly, loyal to his positions but also a liar, a magician but also infuriating. And if he has a frighteningly wide pool of support among the public, that's because a lot of voters love tricks and gimmicks. In his evilness, the wicked candidate has endeavored to irritate our wonderful, long-standing ally, the United States. Only a 'bad' candidate like this one would opt for his perception of Israel's interests, at variance with the desires of this beneficent patron. Only such a bad candidate would dare work for the future of the country, even when that is at variance with the American demands. What good does the majority of Jewish voters in the country do him, when Clinton invites to the White House candidates whose characters have other traits, and aren't 'wicked.'

What does the media say about the 'naive' candidate? That he has good intentions, but that his party's support is dwindling fast, and he has no chance of being elected. But, in any event, one has to be careful relating to him, because maybe, perhaps, despite it all, voters will decide in the end that only he can win big -- and so in the end he will win, with the 'wickedÆ candidate falling. In his naivete, the innocent candidate stubbornly refuses to give up on his candidacy, thus frustrating the 'wise' one. Only a 'naive' candidate would refuse to understand how 'the time isn't right for playing games', and that all of his efforts amount to childish simplicity.

What does the media say about the candidate 'who doesn't know how to ask?' That the man has principles, and is one of the last ideologues in Israeli politics, and precisely for that reason he isn't relevant. Ideological principles are wonderful in the abstract, but they aren't good for ratings and have no place at the helm of the ship of state. This candidate doesn't know how to ask questions. Everything, as far as he's concerned, is crystal clear, and so you only hear answers from him. Only one who doesn't know how to ask, would categorically reject the Oslo process, without asking about the wonderful sort of peace which is being promoted here in partnership with Jibril Rajoub, and his cohorts.

The Israeli media has taken its position vis-a-vis each of these four candidates. Most journalists have indeed already made up their minds, but they have the right to do so. (Yedioth Ahronoth Apr 4)


Snakes and Ladders By Aaron Lerner

Theoretical ladders may play well with some of the Israeli electorate that seeks simple solutions to difficult problems.

How did the philosopher get out of the slippery pit? He asserted that there was a ladder and climbed out.

These days such theoretical ladders abound.

The European Union justified its declaration reaffirming "the continuing and unqualified Palestinian right to self-determination including the option of a state" by asserting that the EU "is convinced that the creation of a democratic, viable and peaceful sovereign Palestinian state would be the best guarantee of Israel's security." But the EU has no grounds to assume that such a state would be either democratic or peaceful.

As Yossi Sarid, an ardent supporter of a Palestinian state, declared (Ha'aretz March 23, 1995) "We have to recognize that the elections in the region are not democratic but I have not taken it upon myself to change the traditional Arab society."

Palestinians also don't share the EU's illusions about democracy. In late January, the Center for Palestine Research and Studies survey of Palestinian adults found only 35.5% rating the status of democracy and human rights under the Palestinian Authority (PA) as "good" or "better" (in contrast, 64.2% gave Israel that score).

As for "peaceful?" The situation among PA security forces has gotten so out of hand that LAW - the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human rights and the Environment, called last week for the PA to disarm its security forces and issue weapons only to a "limited number of properly trained personnel" and then only "on occasions where such force is warranted.

"The carriage and ownership of firearms," LAW notes, "should be made illegal." Yes, many tens of thousands of weapons are out there. In March of 1995, then US secretary of state Warren Christopher demanded that Yasser Arafat immediately seize all private weapons inside the autonomy. At the time, according to Arafat's own report to the US, there were some 26,000 illegal weapons in the Gaza Strip alone. Nothing happened then and nothing has happened since.

The EU assertion that the Palestinian state would be "peaceful" also assumes that the Arab-Israeli conflict would be resolved with the declaration of the Palestinian state. But that is not in the cards.

Last Sunday, PA Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Nabil Shaath's interview in Le Monde wheeled out a favorite ladder of Oslo supporters, when he mentioned discussions he held with Yossi Beilin about declaring a Palestinian state with a land swap of no more than 5% of the West Bank which has Israeli settlements, for Israeli territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

But as Shaath explained to Le Monde reporter Mouna Naim, the most difficult issues - including Jerusalem - would be left unresolved.

With the February CPRS poll finding 91.3% of Palestinians rejecting Jerusalem remaining Israel's unified capital and only 3.3% preferring the Israeli Left's proposal of having the Old City under joint sovereignty and the remainder of east Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty, the die is cast for conflict. So much for Beilin's ladder.

Perhaps the most prominent theoretical ladder this week was the Central Party platform. Sure the platform calls for "defendable borders, strengthening [Israel's] defense-technology strength, setting security arrangements that would foil the possibility of a surprise attack on Israel and a heavy price to states that would consider returning to the cycle of war." (Paragraph 9). Yet for all those platitudes, the platform clearly has complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights in mind, mentioning "territorial compromise" for both parties and "no return to the 1967 lines" only within the context of final status with the Palestinians.

Ironically, the very week that Yitzhak Mordechai outlined a philosophy that relies on Israel's defense-technology edge to compensate for the withdrawal to less defendable borders, the Pentagon announced the F-16 sale to Israel with American, rather than the more appropriate Israeli ELTA radar.

As defense minister, Mordechai failed to parlay his status as Clinton's favorite to include the ELTA radar in the package rather than the same US radar that the United Arab Emirates will be getting.

Last year the Israel Air Force's (IAF) fallback position, if it was stuck with American radar, was that the IAF should at least get its operating codes so that its key could be changed to prevent others from jamming it. Israel couldn't even achieve that minimum demand.

If Mordechai believes Israel should sacrifice strategic territory to satisfy the Arabs, yet declines to follow through on insisting, in practice, that the Jewish state retain its technological edge over America's Arab arms clients, I can only wonder what theoretical ladder he has left.

Such theoretical ladders may play well with some of the Israeli electorate that seeks simple solutions to difficult problems. But the State of Israel doesn't just deserve - its long-term survival requires - a direction firmly grounded in reality. Otherwise we will find ourselves stuck in an ever deepening pit. (Jerusalem Post Mar 30)


Missed Opportunity Jerusalem Post Editorial

According to Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, "In a serious struggle there is no worse cruelty than to be magnanimous at an inopportune time." Despite the rhetoric of the Histadrut, it is the majority of Israelis, not the strikers, who must struggle through national strikes. Though the Histadrut did not achieve anything approaching its initial demands, it is the public that will ultimately pay for the political system's relatively magnanimous attitude toward the strike.

The strike ended on Monday when Finance Minister Meir Sheetrit broke his commitment not to raise real wages, which the Treasury claimed would have been maintained by a 3.1 percent wage hike. In the end, the Histadrut won a 4.8% wage hike covering the years 1997 and 1998. According to Sheetrit, the agreement guarantees "industrial quiet" until October, when a new agreement will have to be negotiated.

This time, the government had a rare opportunity to make the overused charge of a "political" strike stick. Even President Ezer Weizman, no government sympathizer, wondered out loud whether a strike just before elections was not politically motivated. Add the fact that the strike's leader, Histadrut Chairman Amir Peretz, was in the process of forming his own Knesset list, and the conclusion that the public was being victimized for political ends becomes almost inescapable.

The government's opportunity to confront the Histadrut was even more pronounced, given the thundering silence from the two major opposition candidates, Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Mordechai. These politicians, both claiming to represent a different kind of leadership, showed no outrage as the

mounds of garbage rose higher, the sick had to wait longer for treatment, children were deprived of their schooling, and the crowds at Ben-Gurion Airport grew angrier.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for his part, did argue that the strike was "political," but did not draw the requisite implications from this observation. If the strike was indeed illegitimate, then why did the government not rise more vigorously to the public's defense? The government could have announced that it would agree to wage hikes, but only on condition that the size of the public work force be cut proportionately. Sheetrit deserves some credit for chopping down to size the Histadrut's initial demands of a 14% wage hike (over two years). But the task of mapping the road to renewed growth, higher wages, and combating unemployment was, as usual, left to Bank of Israel Governor Jacob Frenkel.

"The central challenge for economic policy is to bring renewed, sustainable growth - this is the correct solution to central social and economic problem of the economy: unemployment," Frenkel declared in his statement on Monday releasing the bank's 1998 annual report. The report found that per capita growth was negative in 1998, partly as a result of the slowdown in much of the world economy. At the same time, the government was given credit for laying the groundwork for growth by "continuing and accelerating" the reduction in the balance of payments deficit: from 7.4 percent of GDP in 1995 to 2.3 percent in 1998.

To replace the current slowdown with sustained growth, the bank is calling for other necessary economic corrections: "a clear preference within government spending for physical infrastructure - mainly in the transportation and communications sectors - and investment in human capital and research and development." Finally, Frenkel pressed for "a comprehensive reduction in the high tax burden." Netanyahu, Barak, and Mordechai all know that Frenkel is right, but Netanyahu is the only leader who speaks fleetingly along these lines. Given Netanyahu's known economic proclivities, his unwillingness to confront the many opponents of Frenkel's advice is all the more glaring. Without any leader with sufficient talent or conviction to promote the economic interests of the public, the debate becomes dominated by those willing to hold the entire country hostage to their narrow economic and political agendas.

In general, Israeli politics seems to take for granted a number of eminently addressable public ills - whether it be the anemic economy, the ritual of paralyzing strikes, the death toll on the roads, or the continued good standing of a major politician convicted of taking bribes from public funds. For all the heat and light surrounding the contest to become the next prime minister, none of the major parties seems willing to question, let alone confront, the taboos and interests that perpetuate many concrete problems facing Israeli society. (Jerusalem Post Mar 30)


Kidnappings Boom in Lawless Gaza By Patrick Cockburn

A cook in a seafood restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean in Gaza might imagine he was not employed in a dangerous trade. But Rafiq Yusuf Abu Hasira, working in the popular Salaam restaurant in the centre of the city, found that even a life devoted to preparing fish and shrimp did not save him from the spreading tentacles of the 11 Palestinian security services.

A month ago he was kidnapped by Palestinian Military Intelligence, headed by Moussa Arafat, a cousin of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Jocular stories circulated in Gaza about intelligence officers objecting to the quality of the food they were served in the Salaam. By another account Mr Abu Hasira's detention was connected to his late brother's alleged links to the drugs trade.

The kidnapping turned out to have a more prosaic explanation. Military Intelligence wanted $50,000 (£31,000) to let Mr Abu Hasira go. They never got it. The Salaam is the favourite eating place of foreign diplomats visiting Gaza and the story of the abduction became well known. On 8 March Mr Abu Hasira was released.

He was lucky. Foreign diplomats estimate that Military Intelligence has carried out 20 kidnappings of local businessmen and refused to release them except for cash. Not surprisingly, many potential targets now only move outside their houses accompanied by armed bodyguards.

"Power in Gaza is flowing to the security services," says one diplomat. "You only do business with their permission." Just at the moment when Mr Arafat is threatening to declare a Palestinian state on 4 May, the civil institutions of his Palestinian Authority are disintegrating. Ministries, courts and even Mr Arafat's political organisation, Fatah, are marginalised.

Mr Arafat has always ruled through multiple and competing security services. His methods in Gaza are little different from those in Beirut 20 years ago. The result is a luxuriant growth of security services, ranging from Preventive Security, the most powerful, to General Intelligence, Force 17, the presidential guard and the Special Security Services. There is even a naval intelligence, though Mr Arafat has no navy. Small in size, even this organisation is to be feared. In 1996 it tortured to death a local businessman in Nablus, a town on the West Bank, using an electric water heater.

The security services ignore the court system. In 1995 Mr Arafat set up special state security courts which supersede the judicial system. Trial is by military officers, is held in secret and there is no appeal, though the Palestinian leader can confirm, increase or reduce prison terms. The special courts also pass death sentences.

Exactly how these special security courts operate is illustrated by the trial of Colonel Ahmad Abu Mustapha, a member of the Palestinian border guards, a video tape of which was seen by The Independent. It is a nasty case. Colonel Abu Mustapha, 54, a Bedouin, was on trial accused of raping a six-year-old boy named Saed Abu Shamaleh in Gaza last month. The victim picked him out at an identity parade.

Proceedings are summary. A witness for the prosecution gives a rambling account of what he knows. There is no cross-questioning. Col Abu Mustapha vigorously denies the charges. He says he was at home asleep when the rape took place. He adds: "I never saw this boy before in my life. I didn't do this. The court isn't acting justly."

Col Abu Mustapha, looking as if he is about to collapse, pleads with the three grim-faced Palestinian officers judging him. He asks them to re-open the investigation. One of the officers says: "Don't give a speech." Col Abu Mustapha replies: "I am not giving a speech. I'm asking the court to reinvestigate. If I had done it I would have gone to the court myself."

He does not finish his plea. One of the blue-uniformed policemen standing behind him in the dock places his hands on Col Abu Mustapha's shoulders and forces him back into his seat.

Col Abu Mustapha is not kept long in suspense over his fate. After a brief adjournment the judges return. They give him 15 years' hard labour for the rape. But for the peculiar offence of "motivating people against the Palestinian Authority" they sentence him to execution by firing squad. There is applause in the court room.

The colonel looks stunned. He looks down as the camera zooms in on his face and a policeman jerks his head back so the cameraman can get a better shot. A few hours later Mr Arafat confirmed the sentence and Col Abu Mustapha was shot dead. (The Independent (UK) Mar 30)


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