A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
25 Tamuz 5760
July 28, 2000
Issue number 282
Labor MK Avi Yechezkel said Wednesday that Camp David proved that Yasser Arafat was not sufficiently mature to make historic decisions. When asked about the further concessions made by Barak after arriving in Camp David, MK Yechezkel said, "I assume that Begin, too, left Camp David [in 1979] with different red lines than that which he entered." Arutz-7's Ariel Kahane then asked, "Could it be that the Palestinians do not want peace, but just territory?" Yechezkel: "No, I believe that most people in the Middle East really want peace, but that Arafat did not want to make a decision..." Likud MK Danny Naveh said that the Camp David summit caused irreparable damage to Israel, given the extent of Barak's concessions there: "We received nothing, while Arafat received clear promises by Barak... Maybe [the diplomatic points scored by Israel in having been declared 'less stubborn' than Arafat] can be counted as a short-term advantage, but Israel should not concern itself with such short-term gains. We have to be worried about the implications of Barak's behavior for the future. As long as he remains Prime Minister, he can return to the negotiating table, and he will begin his talks with Arafat on the Old City of Jerusalem, and with Bashar Assad on the banks of the Kinneret!" Arutz-7's Ariel Kahane: "But Barak stressed in his speech last night that nothing he offered legally obligates Israel, and that the offers are now null and void." MK Naveh: "Formally, this is correct, but I ask you and your listeners: If he returns to the negotiating table, or a U.S. official comes to the region, do you at all doubt that discussions will begin from the point he left off at Camp David - including the division of Jerusalem, the handing over of 97% of Yesha, and the acceptance of 100,000 Arab refugees? Even if he says he is not legally bound, he will be diplomatically bound, as long as he is Prime Minister. We must go to elections, and a nationalist government must replace his." Naveh said that a new Likud-led government would not be bound to any promises made by Barak, given the fact that the offers were not approved by the cabinet or Knesset.
Dr. Daniel Tropper of the Gesher Foundation issued his response to the end of the Camp David summit Wednesday: a call for renewed dialogue between religious and non-religious Israeli Jews. "We have failed at this point to achieve an external peace," Tropper declared, "and we should therefore now try to obtain peace at home... We should use this upcoming period to heal the rifts in the nation, and to increase unity in preparation for the difficult struggles waiting for us in the not-too-distant future." On the eve of Prime Minister Barak's departure for the Camp David summit, Dr. Tropper was among a group of left-leaning religious-Zionist leaders who went to wish him success. (arutzsheva.org July 26)
Education Committee Debates Temple Mount
The situation on the Temple Mount was discussed Tuesday at a tense session of the Knesset Education Committee, chaired by National Religious Party MK Zevulun Orlev. Dr. Shmuel Berkowitz, who heads a citizens' committee opposing the illegal Waqf construction activities on the Mount of the past several months, challenged Antiquities Authority head Amir Drori's claims at the session that the Authority was conducting regular inspections of Moslem activities on the Mount. "Until Sept. 1996," said Berkowitz, "there was such ongoing supervision. The Waqf would present its plans to the Antiquities Authority for feedback, and would adhere to the guidelines set by the Authority. After the Palestinian 'tunnel riots' in the fall of '96, however, when the Waqf expelled the Authority from the Mount, the situation changed. Since then, there has been no supervision, nothing - until a few months ago, when Minister Chaim Ramon achieved a slight improvement. According to the new arrangement, Antiquities Authority inspectors may go up to the Mount, but they cannot write anything down or take pictures, and must be accompanied by the police. The inspectors are also forbidden from giving direct instructions to Waqf officials on what may or may not be done there. This, then, is the level of 'supervision' being carried out at present. The Waqf need not submit its plans in advance to anyone, and needs no official approval from either the Antiquities Authority or the Jerusalem municipality." Minister Ramon, also speaking at the session, blamed the previous Likud government for Israel's diminishing control over the Mount. MK Abdel Malek Dahamshe, speaking to the Knesset Monday, said, "If you or anyone else wishes to touch the Al-Aksa Mosque, it will be my honor to be the first holy martyr to defend Al-Aksa." (arutzsheva.org July 25)
Netanyahu Begins His Comeback
Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appeared in a nationally-televised speech Monday night. He harshly criticized Prime Minister Barak's planned concessions in the Jordan Valley, regarding the Palestinian refugees, and in Jerusalem. "The forsaking of Jerusalem could become the catalyst for the disintegration of our nation and our state," he said. Television and newspapers commentators suggested that Netanyahu is now attempting to cash in on Prime Minister Barak's shaky political condition and present himself as a viable option in case of new elections. Natan Eshel of HaTzofeh, a close friend of the former Prime Minister, hinted today that this may in fact be the goal, but noted a point in his favor: "Only a few leaders in history have been called on by the nation, and Netanyahu hears the calls," Eshel said. "I asked him why he chose to speak, noting that it would possibly harm him, given the legal charges he may soon face. He told me that more important than his personal career is the plight of the Jewish nation." Eshel indicated that Netanyahu may offer himself as the head of a united center/right-wing political faction, and not necessarily run on a Likud ticket. (arutzsheva.org July 25)
Palestinians Rob Another Pharmacy
Yet another burglary occurred Monday night at the pharmacy of the Binyamin community of Kokhav HaShachar. The thieves made off with medicines and first-aid supplies, but took no money. Arutz-7's Kobi Sela reports that this is the fifth such theft in the area over the past two weeks, after pharmacies in the clinics of Ofrah, Ma'aleh Michmash, Dolev and Rimonim were also robbed. Security officials believe that the thieves are Palestinians who wish to stock up on medical supplies for use in the event of an Arab military clash with the IDF. (arutzsheva.org July 25)
Most Jerusalem Arabs Choose Israel
Tuesday's Washington Post featured an article entitled, "Some Arabs Reluctant To Be Free Of Israel." The piece paints a picture of a Jerusalem-area Arab population not enthralled with the deal brewing in Camp David that would see Jerusalem-area Arab neighborhoods transferred to Palestinian control. Some excerpts from the article follow:
"Ze lo gmishut ze hitkaplut". He also said "Hu (Barak) machar l'palestinayim et hakol". [Freely translated: "This isn't flexibility--it is folding", "He sold to the Palestinians everything" Minister Ben-Eliezer (Labor/One Israel) in an interview on the Arabic program Mifgash, trying to convince the audience that Barak went very far in order to obtain a "peace" agreement. (July20)
Simply, there was no way for it to succeed.
Two weeks is enough. After days of grueling talks and negotiating - and the principals no closer to final agreement on Jerusalem - White House officials are now declaring the Middle East Peace Summit over.
The idea behind President Clinton's dealings at Camp David seem to have been based on that old Scandinavian hostage ordeal, the Stockholm Syndrome. If Clinton could only get the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, and Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, together in a secluded location long enough, he could get them to acquiesce on almost anything.
But Clinton did not bargain that Arafat is a lot more familiar with hostage taking than Arkansas's favorite son.
Nevertheless, the failure at Camp David does not rest in Clinton's inability to convince Barak and Arafat to sign a deal. It failed because any deal it produced would not have been satisfactory or final. While many glum voices will soon warn that the breakdown of talks will lead to physical conflict, they will neglect the fact that an unsatisfactory deal would probably have lead to violence anyway.
Clinton has never understood that a steadfast and even-handed approach by America to issues between the Israelis and Palestinians is more than likely to produce a Camp David-style impasse. This has happened at each juncture during the "peace process." When the Palestinians ventured off the Oslo reservation, they were met with only the most polite admonishments. After Arafat gave the green light to violence when Israel opened the tunnel in Jerusalem, the United States responded tepidly. The Clinton administration's even-handed missives - warning both sides to avoid intemperate actions - would almost be comic if not for their damaging effect.
This permissiveness on the part of the Clinton administration - the looking the other way at Arafat's violations of Oslo, the winks, the nods - served to encourage an ultimate breakdown in the negotiations. Because Arafat came to believe he could use Clinton as a lever against the Israelis, he learned that he should always hold out for more. Even at the beginning of Camp David, this strategy seemed to work for Arafat. When Barak offered civil control of parts of Jerusalem, Arafat balked. Barak came back with a more generous proposal. Knowing that the Israelis are weary, that their morale is low, that they recently unilaterally surrendered Lebanon, Arafat had every incentive to push for the maximum - and then walk away.
Now, with the administration doing a collective head-scratch, wondering what went wrong, it might be a good time to review the events since the signing of the first Oslo Agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. During this period, there were at least four occasions when Israel traded a real, concrete concession in exchange for a Palestinian promise to renounce violence and live peacefully with Israel. This made up the substance of the first and second Oslo Agreements, the Hebron Agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and Arafat, and the Wye Agreement.
Not once following these agreements did the Palestinian leadership begin to prepare their people for peace. Textbooks were not altered in a way to open the possibility of accommodation with the Israelis. Political rhetoric delivered in Arabic did not become more welcoming of Israel and more positive about the prospects for lasting peace. In retrospect, the most newsworthy thing about Suha Arafat's statement that Israel poisoned the water of Palestinian children - Hillary Clinton by her side - is that it got any attention at all. A savvy administration would have asked the question, "What could have possibly prompted the wife of the Palestinian's top leader to think that uttering such an outrageous statement was the right thing to do at all?" The answer is that Suha Arafat's now infamous statement reflected the real hostility of the Arafat regime towards Israel, and a fundamental unwillingness to make real peace.
In March 1996 - peak season for bus-bombing terror in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - the Jerusalem Post reported a statement that garnered only small attention at the time. The newspaper quoted a Palestinian Authority official and Arafat ally, Nabil Shaath, as saying, "If the negotiations reach a dead end, we shall go back to the struggle and strife as we did for 40 years. . . . As long as Israel goes forward (with the peace process), there are no problems, which is why we observe the agreements of peace and non-violence. But if and when Israel will say 'That's it, we won't talk about Jerusalem, we won't return refugees, we won't dismantle settlements, and we won't retreat from borders,' then all acts of violence will return." Shaath concluded menacingly: "Except this time we'll have 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers who will operate in areas in which we have unprecedented elements of freedom."
Clinton and his cronies didn't want to listen to the Nabil Shaaths at the time. The president just wanted to encourage Israel to "take risks for peace." Now that Barak has conceded everything that he possibly can concede - including parts of Jerusalem and rights for the refugees - the violent plan articulated by Shaath will soon be in operation. That - more than Clinton's dalliance with an intern - may be the president's most pernicious legacy.
The writer is a political writer for the Boston Phoenix and former national editor of the Forward (National Review July 25)
Two diplomatic fiascoes in the past four months suggest this is the moment for American politicians to do some hard rethinking about the effort to help bring peace to Israel and the Arabs.
When negotiations between Syria and Israel floundered back in March, the American side brought out President Clinton, its ultimate diplomatic heavy hitter, to clinch a deal.
Though the lower ranks had not put together the elements of a deal - the usual step before letting the president to get involved - Clinton traveled to Geneva and met with the Syrian leader. The rendezvous went so badly that the White House spokesman reported afterwards that his boss did not believe "it would be productive" for Syrian-Israeli talks to resume.
When negotiations between the Palestinian and Israel floundered this month, Clinton again took almost precisely the same step - except this time he invested not an afternoon's tea but 15 days on and off with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders. This time, too, the talks began without any assurances of a deal. Again they collapsed - so badly that Barak told a news conference afterwards that all ideas discussed at the summit had become "null and void."
The parallel between these two failures goes deeper. On both tracks, the Israeli government made far more extensive concessions to its Arab interlocutor than anyone expected. Ehud Barak was ready to turn over the whole Golan Heights to Damascus and showed an unheard-of willingness to compromise on Jerusalem, the most emotional issue facing his people.
More: To make a deal more palatable to the Arabs, Barak made very few demands from his opponents - not normalized relations from Syria, not a significant gesture to end the conflict from the Palestinians.
These developments prompted a fine-toothed analysis in U.S. media and policy circles about Israeli methods. Could Barak win a referendum on his proposed deal with Damascus? Did his concessions to the Palestinians doom his governing coalition? Trouble is, this focus on Israel meant pretty much ignoring the other side of the conflict. Not many people paid attention to the very negative reactions among the Syrian leadership and on the Palestinian street. And so it came as a surprise when the negotiations broke down. It was predictable to anyone paying attention to Arab politics.
Sure, Hafez al-Assad found it appealing to be handed back the very same Golan Heights he had lost in war 33 years earlier, plus the billions of dollars in aid he would have received from the West. But he rejected Barak's bountiful offer for domestic reasons, apparently fearing for his control over Syria if he signed a treaty with Israel.
Sure, Yasser Arafat liked that Israel was offering terms that would have been unthinkably generous just months ago, but a large portion of the Palestinian body politic (and standing behind it, the larger bodies of Arab and Muslim opinion) sees no reason to accept anything less than all its demands. Why settle for 90-some percent of the territory the Palestinian Authority claims when Hezbullah in Lebanon got 100 percent of its demands?
In this spirit, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin of Hamas, the fundamentalist Muslim group, views any deal with Israel as "not peace" but a "surrender imposed by America and Israel." He called on Arafat to drop the Camp David negotiations, saying that the Palestinian Authority "is required to stop the entire political process with Israel and to join us in the trench of resistance and jihad [sacred war]." The popularity of this outlook prevented Arafat, ever the pragmatist, from cutting a deal.
Errors at Geneva and Camp David offer some simple lessons for Americans.
First, always keep in mind that it was the Arabs who started the conflict, and it is they who must end it. Both negotiating tracks wrongly assumed that Israelis are in the driver's seat: should they decide to turn over the heights or the holy city, then that's a done deal.
In fact, Israel lacks such power. In the final analysis, key decisions of war and peace are made in Cairo and Damascus, not in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
This means, second, that truly to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict requires paying more attention to the forces that drive Arab politics. What fears shape the decision-making by Syrian leaders? How does one unravel the complex bundle of relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas?
This is not easy; in contrast with Israeli affairs, which are seductively familiar, it is hard just to get factual information about Syria, and the Palestinian Authority is an unusual hybrid of democratic and despotic ways.
Hard though it may be, understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict means getting a much better fix on the Arab side of the equation. (New York Post July 26)
The writer is the director of the Middle East Forum.
A think tank is publishing paper after paper documenting what it sees as the threats to Israel's very existence
The studies and papers prepared by the Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR) should come with a warning: not for the faint-hearted. The general message that arises from them is: Get ready for the end, an Apocalypse Now of blood, sweat and tears. This is also the message one gets in reading the ACPR's bi-monthly publication, Nativ, which is aimed at a lay audience. Nativ raises important global and local issues related to strategic and political subjects, but makes one major graphic error: the abundance of quotation marks. Words like peace, final status settlement and peace process appear in quotation marks in order not to leave any doubt in the mind of the reader as to the authors' views on these subjects.The ideas coming out of the ACPR, as expressed by major scholars and experts in their fields, are important, worthy of being heard. This is of course based on the working assumption that the public debate in Israel will free itself from the plethora of slogans on which it is currently fixated. So far, the ACPR, which in a way is the right-wing response to the Jaffee Institute for Strategic Studies, has not yet succeeded in filtering down into the public discourse, or even to attract the attention of policymakers in Israeli governments, not even of the right. In this respect, the researchers of the ACPR share the same courageous fate as scholars of other think tanks, in view of the lack of a tradition of this kind in the Israeli political system.
The ACPR was established in 1997 in the settlement of Sha'arei Tikva when then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested to millionaire Ted Arison that he establish a think tank (which Netanyahu proceeded to ignore). Arison agreed and donated five million dollars, and the interest on that donation has funded the ACPR's activities ever since. Officially, the institution dedicates itself to "the examination of all aspects of the peace process." The prolific think tank has published 107 studies since its establishment, a number of books and countless position papers.
Aryeh Stav, the director of the ACPR, rejects the claim that the institute's voice has remained muffled because of its clear political leaning. "We are much less political than the Jaffee Institute," says Stav. "Following the negotiations with Syria, the Jaffee Institute published a paper on the Golan Heights, the sole purpose of which was to provide support for the approach taken by Barak. And it indeed won broad media coverage. At exactly the same time, a large group of retired American generals visited us. We read the Jaffee report together, and I don't want to repeat some of the expletives they used. If that is not political bias, then I don't know what is. We in fact harshly criticized Netanyahu and the Wye agreement. We have an independent agenda in our attempt to contend with the peace process from a rational point of view. In the book we published on the ballistic issue ("Ballistic Missiles: The Threat and the Response"), we included eight Israeli writers who disagree with me politically. We are open." The world rational comes up very often in conversation with Stav, who is perhaps keen to distance himself from the irrational-messianic image of the religious right.
The latest position paper, just recently completed, deals with "the fate of the settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza after the declaration of a Palestinian state." "This paper is an introduction to a study on the preparations taken by the Palestinian Authority for war on the Jewish settlements with the goal of destroying them," says the introduction. "This would take place immediately after the establishment of a Palestinian state on September 13 or soon after that date." The introduction to the paper argues that the Barak government is deliberately deceiving the settlers, and that the only one openly stating the truth is Yasser Arafat, who has declared his intent to "drive out all the settler-criminals from our land." He recently said this at a Fatah gathering in Gaza, which was screened on Palestinian television on June 18 this year. "We consider it an obligation to present the settlers with all the possible options after the establishment of a Palestinian state in all their severity. Nonetheless, we have refrained from presenting the horrifying scenarios disseminated by the Fatah leadership and Arafat's associates concerning the destruction of the settlements, although massacres should not be ruled out either."
The working assumption underlying the document, which is signed by Professor Ezra Zohar, Aryeh Stav, Moshe Shamir and Dr. Martin Sherman, is that even if an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is signed, Israel will have no real ability to enforce the agreement. The thrust of the frightening scenario is that the Palestinian state will demand that Israel remove its army and citizens from its newly sovereign territory, a demand anchored in international law and backed up by the across the board support of the international community. According to the fourth Geneva Convention, the occupying aggressor is prohibited from settling its population in occupied territory. A country violating this article of the convention is defined in the convention as a "rogue state," and the settlers representing it are "war criminals," deserving far-reaching sanctions.
The removal of the IDF from the sovereign territory under threat of war is presented here as something obvious and feasible, unlike the situation of the 200,000 Israeli residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza who will be abandoned to Arafat's rule.
The position paper presents two options defined as "less severe," because they enjoy the support of international law. The first is the disarming of the settlements and individuals, with the argument that it is unthinkable that the armed citizens of a foreign country defined as war criminals be located within the borders of another sovereign country. This situation would leave the settlers with no means of defense. The second option, also anchored in international law, is the disconnection of the infrastructures. According to this scenario, all the infrastructures - water, sewers, electricity, access roads - would be in Palestinian territory and cut off regularly or intermittently, in order to induce the residents to leave. "It should be noted again that as long as extensive massacres are not conducted, the illegal status of the settlements and the designation of their residents as war criminals will justify the cutting off of the infrastructures," says the paper. "This fact will serve as convenient grounds for the Israeli government [any government] to justify its lack of intervention for its citizens."
And if Israel nonetheless decides to protect its trapped citizens? According to the paper, this is not a feasible option. A military invasion into a sovereign country would be a declaration of war, and the Palestinian state would have the military support of all the members of the Arab League. "It is unimaginable that Israel would place its existence in danger for the 'settlers,'" the paper sums up this chapter.
The payment of compensation to the settlers is not a viable option either. The cost of evacuation of the settlers from the Golan has been estimated at 15 billion dollars. A simple calculation shows that the evacuation of the settlers from Judea, Samaria and Gaza could be expected to cost 200 billion dollars, a sum greater than Israel's annual national product, and one that the Congress, which rejected the allocation of a much smaller sum to the residents of the Golan, would never agree to pay. Therefore, the abandonment of the settlers, according to the authors of the paper, is inevitable and unavoidable. The national camp cannot be counted on ("Any expectation that Likud will act responsibly is self-delusion."), and nor can the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza ("a group of excellent people who lack the characteristics of political leaders. The council's political outlook is limited and it lacks a long-term database and strategic evaluation.")
The ACPR does have a database. Stav claims that he has definite knowledge - although he cannot reveal his source - of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the transfer of the infrastructure of the settlements in order to settle half a million refugees. According to the information obtained by the center's researchers, the cheapest way to compensate the refugees is to hand over the settlements to the government of Palestine. The evaluation on the matter states that the infrastructure of the settlements with the homes can take in about half a million refugees. "This issue will be presented to the public by the government of Israel as a historic achievement to amend the injustices of the past in order to reach the long-awaited reconciliation with the Arab world," predict the ACPR researchers.
"I am prepared to gamble that Arafat will not accept an arrangement involving settlement blocs," says Aryeh Stav at the height of the Camp David summit. "But even if such an agreement is signed, our reliance on written agreements is laughable. After all, it was Shimon Peres himself who said that the number of violated agreements in the Middle East is identical to the number of agreements that are being upheld. Israel has no enforcement capability, and we have even lost the support of Congress. No one wants a small, weak ally. Leading figures there are starting to look at us like a tragic case."
A short time ago, the ACPR held a meeting of senior Israeli and international scholars. A discussion took place on the question of how much longer Israel could exist. The most optimistic scenario said ten years.
"The material is available for everyone to see, except that no one wants to treat it seriously, either out of stupidity or denial," says Stav. "Only recently, the Fatah published its constitution on its Internet site. Compared with that document, the Palestinian Covenant looks like a picnic. The thrust of the constitution is that the essence of the existence of the Palestinian state is to destroy the Zionist presence in Palestine. It is no coincidence that they chose this time to publish the constitution, which is to become the constitution of the Palestinian state. The fundamental difference between Arafat and Hitler is that Hitler understood that he could not speak openly because he faced the entire Western world, so he spoke in codes, such as the 'final solution.' The Arabs, on the other hand, have no such problem."
Stav rejects the claim that all these scenarios are based on the assumption of a certain animus on the part of the Palestinians, and that the moment the element of animus is removed and replaced by other interests, the horrific scenario collapses. "We are collecting facts," he says. "Political science is not an exact science but there is history, a potential threat and defense capability. If you try to analyze Israel's position with rational tools, what you see is a country committing suicide."
Stav, 59, has a degree in philosophy, with a specialization in aesthetics. He recently published a book, a translation of the poems by the French poet Romain Rolland, and now he is writing a book about Shakespeare's sonnets. He himself admits that his preoccupation with arts and letters serves as an escape from the material he deals with all day. He rejects out of hand the suggestion that his childhood in the Holocaust may be painting his world in overly gloomy colors. "I examine myself on this issue every day," he says. "I am a Holocaust refugee whose family was murdered, and compared to what I experienced there, Dante's Inferno is a piece of cake. That does not grant me any special moral right, but it is my only crucible. I grew up on a kibbutz, I am a disabled veteran, and I still constantly look to see where I may be wrong. Unfortunately, I have to reach the conclusion that I am not wrong. (Haaretz July 19)