17 Av 5759 July 30, 1999 Issue number 228
PA Reject Barak's Proposals, Will Think about Them for 2 Weeks
The Palestinians claim to be "very disappointed" with Tuesday night's meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, labeling it a "resounding failure." A senior Palestinian Authority official said that there has not been, and will never be, a change in the Palestinian position opposing a delay in the implementation of the Wye withdrawals. Officially, however, Arafat said he would respond to Barak's proposals in two weeks. Nabil Sha'ath, PA Planning Head, stated that Barak "must stop talking and start acting "- and that Barak, too, "has blood on his hands." Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Erekat, too, came away with predictably hardened positions after meeting Wednesday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mussa. Erekat said that Arafat intends to phone Clinton and ask for his help in rejecting Barak's proposals. Arutz 7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports that Israel is quite satisfied with the talks last night, and that the public Palestinians statements are for external consumption only. "Arafat's acceptance of the two-week period is a good sign," he said. "It happened like this: Foreign Minister David Levy told Barak that it would not be advisable to simply present Arafat with a demand, or request, to change the agreement. Instead, Levy said, Arafat should be given time to think about it, so that the ball will be in his court, and that he will be the one to make the decision. While Barak was meeting with Arafat, Levy procured Abu Mazen's agreement to the two-week idea. Meanwhile, Barak was telling Arafat that the proposal to carry out a smaller Israeli withdrawal in exchange for lesser Palestinian compliance of other Wye clauses had several benefits for the Palestinians. Barak told him that if he continued to insist on the current arrangements, the coming talks would revolve exclusively around the next stage of the Wye Agreement, and that Israel would demand full Palestinian compliance on reducing their police forces, collecting weapons, and the like, and that these negotiations could take months - during which time, no one could know what might happen with the Syrian talks. Barak said that he simply could not hold two sets of intensive negotiations at once, and that basically it's first come, first served.
Final-status talks now between Barak and Arafat would put Syria on hold for a while, to the benefit of Arafat." The PA chairman agreed to consider the proposal during the coming two weeks. "Not many people realize," continued Huberman, "that Arafat actually returned from King Hassan's funeral in Morocco in very bad spirits - and not only because he had just buried one of his staunch supporters. Arafat saw the royal way in which the world leaders treated Barak, and how the Arab leaders stood in line to shake his hand - even though he has not yet given them anything! Arafat saw how Barak spoke freely and frequently with U.S. President Clinton, while he, Arafat, was barely able to approach Clinton. The point is that Barak, unlike Netanyahu, has taken his own initiatives. The Americans like this, and it is manifest in the new flowering relations between Clinton and Barak - a return to the old 'special relationship' between the U.S. and Israel. Arafat is no longer sure that the Americans will continue to take his side, as they did in the past six months." (Arutz 7 July 28)
After the entire first stage of Oslo withdrawals was executed from 1994-97, under the Rabin, Peres, and Netanyahu governments, the second withdrawal was re-arranged in the Wye Accords, which divided it into three stages. Israel completed the first stage last November, when it shifted 7% of Judea and Samaria from the status of "Area B" (Palestinian civilian and Israeli military control) to "Area A" (complete Palestinian military and civilian control), and 2% of Yesha from "Area C" (complete Israeli control) to the status of "Area B." The second stage of Wye is now up for implementation, including further
Israeli withdrawals and terrorist-releases, as well as Palestinian reduction of its para-military police force, collection of illegal weapons, and more. Barak's intentions are reportedly to:
(Arutz 7 July 25)
* pledge to immediately continue the second stage of Wye withdrawals by transferring another 5% of Area C to Palestinian civilian control;
* propose that the third and final Wye withdrawal - changing another 5% from C to B, 1% from C to A, and 7% from B to A - be delayed until a joint draft of principles for the final-status arrangements is prepared. Barak sees this process as lasting 3-6 months. He will apparently promise that if such an agreement fails to materialize by that deadline, Israel will still carry out the third stage of Wye. In total, the Wye agreement calls for the transfer of 15% of Yesha to full Palestinian control. Barak also reportedly intends to demand that the Palestinian Authority:
* finally arrest and incarcerate the terrorists according to its commitments at Wye Plantation,
* submit a complete list of PA para-military policemen, since it is clear that the current numbers greatly exceed the number permitted by Oslo,
*collect the illegal ammunition that has been distributed within its autonomous areas, and
*cooperate in the resumption of the joint anti-incitement committee aimed at monitoring anti-Israel propaganda in the Palestinian media and educational system.
Sharon Warns That Barak Will Remove Yesha Towns
Acting Likud Chairman Ariel Sharon, in a rare press interview Wednesday, told Arutz 7 that he fears that Prime Minister Barak is not attempting to "correct deficiencies" in the Wye Agreement, but rather to "prepare the ground for an evacuation of several Yesha communities." Sharon said, "Barak has said clearly and often that he will fulfill the Wye agreement as written, while the Palestinians 'try' to keep their commitments. This is not an improvement in Wye, but the opposite. Wye clearly states that the Israeli withdrawals will be carried out together with the implementation of Palestinian commitments." Sharon took umbrage at Barak's recent criticism of the previous government's supposed 'Wye withdrawal maps:' "There is no such thing as a government withdrawal map, but only one prepared by the military. He's the Defense Minister - if he wants, he can prepare a different map! Why does he want to discuss these maps with Mubarak and Arafat - he should talk to us, and he'll learn some things! We can help him make other maps - I myself presented a version." When asked if he would support Barak's diplomatic plans in the Knesset, Sharon said, "If his proposals contribute to Israel's security and existence, we will support them. If not, we will wage a staunch struggle, as is not only our right, but our obligation as an opposition." (Arutz 7 July 28)
Right-Left Government Disputes
National Religious Party MK Zevulun Orlev, Chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, succeeded in thwarting an initiative to deny free public education to nursery-age children in Yesha communities. Education Minister Yossi Sarid (Meretz) had announced two weeks ago that parents in Yesha do not necessarily meet the socio-economic requirements that would entitle their toddlers to free education. Orlev, explaining that socio-economic status is not the only criterion for these benefits, made Sarid an offer he could not refuse. Chairman Orlev said that he would not bring Sarid's new proposed list of benefits-worthy towns for Education Committee approval, unless the Yesha towns were restored to the list. Sarid, who wished to add some 24 new towns to the list - most of them Arab ones - agreed to restore the Yesha towns. In a related item, Yesha Council Chairman Benny Kashriel has suspended the understanding reached with the government, according to which neither side would "surprise" the other with unilateral actions. Kashriel took the step after meeting today with Industry and Trade Minister Ran Cohen, who refused to rescind his decision to stop providing aid to factories in Judea and Samaria. (Arutz 7 July 28)
Abu Ala, in Knesset, Demands Eastern Jerusalem
Palestinian Legislative Council Chairman Ahmed Qurie, known also as Abu Ala, did not hide his maximalist views on Jerusalem while visiting the Knesset Monday. In a joint press conference with his host Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, Qurie related to remarks by Jerusalem Mayor Olmert, who said that Qurie's visit is a recognition of Israel's annexation of Jerusalem. "I don't agree," Qurie said, "because Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian and Arab territories occupied in 1967 and it is subject to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, that there should be a withdrawal from east Jerusalem. Secondly, Jerusalem is one of the issues of the permanent-status negotiations and therefore when we sit at the table we will determine together the future of Jerusalem. And thirdly, we are looking to Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. That's the only solution in my point of view. The only solution is as a capital of two states." Burg said that his own stand, "is of course completely different: United Jerusalem is Israel's capital," but agreed that Jerusalem's status will be determined in the final-status negotiations. This prompted National Union MK Benny Elon to call out, "You are using your official position to advance extreme-left political views!" Some Qurie clips:
* The Jerusalem Post reported on July 13, 1997, "Qurie walked over a freshly burned Israeli flag during a protest in Ramallah [yesterday]... A TV camera caught Palestinian protesters burning an Israeli flag as leading Palestinian Authority and PLO officials watched. Witnesses said Qurie smiled as he watched two Palestinian men burn the flag and then stepped over its charred remains."
* Asked by the BBC Radio on February 17, 1997, which parts of Jerusalem should be negotiated between Israel and the PLO, Qurie replied: "Not East or West - Jerusalem, the whole of Jerusalem."
* He has often said that the permanent borders between Israel and a new Palestinian state should be determined by United Nations resolution 181, known as the Partition Plan. This plan, which was rejected by the Arab states in 1947, leaves much of present-day Israel outside the Jewish entity. Abu Ala told the Palestinian Authority newspaper Al Hayat al-Jadida last December, "The fact that we didn't take advantage of that resolution then doesn't mean that it is invalid today." (Arutz 7 July 27)
Jewish Population in Jerusalem Drops below 70%
Jerusalem's Jewish majority is on the decline. A report by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies shows that the Jewish population in the capital has fallen below 70% of the total population. Speaking with Arutz-7, the report's editor Dr. Maya Choshen said that of 633,700 residents, 433,600 are Jewish, and nearly 200,000 are Arab. "Since Jerusalem was unified in 1967," Choshen stated, "the city's Arab population has grown by 186%, while the Jews have increased by 119%. In the early 70's, [then-Prime Minister] Golda Meir set a yearly growth goal of 3.7%. This past year, Jewish growth reached only 1% - far short of Golda's hopes." Choshen added that net Jewish emigration from the capital last year was 7,600. The higher Jerusalem Arab birthrate - 32.5 births per thousand, as opposed to 25.2 per thousand Jewish births - is a significant factor in the city's demographic problem, Choshen noted: "Though the average hareidi family has more babies than its Arab counterpart, hareidim constitute only 30% of Jerusalem's Jewish population." Choshen observed that many secular Israelis feel a sense of alienation from Jerusalem. "The situation is not irreversible, however," she said. "We must strengthen the capital by drawing a population that both improves Jerusalem's image and contributes to its economic well-being. Young couples, for instance, would be attracted by less expensive housing options. Policy-makers should also encourage the establishment of institutions of higher education and investment in infrastructures in areas such as high-tech," she said. (Arutz 7 July 27)
Barak, Peres, Others at Hassan's Funeral
Israel was well represented at King Hassan's funeral in Morocco Sunday, with Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Ezer Weizman, Foreign Minister David Levy, Minister of Regional Development Shimon Peres, and others in attendance. Though PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are on hand, Syrian President Hafez Assad did not attend. Foreign Minister Levy originally announced that Barak would meet with Assad during the funeral. King Hassan II of Morocco died last Friday night at the age of 70. King for 38 years, he was the world's longest-reigning leader. Shimon Peres revealed yesterday that he met Hassan secretly ten times, beginning in 1978, and that in one of the meetings the King introduced him to PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Israeli law forbade meeting PLO officials before 1993, and Peres had always denied doing so. The late King is succeeded by his son, 38-year-old Muhammad VI. (Arutz 7 July 25)
Beilin Open to Releasing Murderers
Israel may be more open to releasing Palestinian terrorists "with blood on their hands," if a statement by Justice Minister Yosi Beilin last Thursday can be believed. He said that since Israel has chosen not to prosecute the Palestinian leadership for its pre-Oslo terrorist activities, those who carried out the actual terrorist acts must also not be incarcerated. "It is inconceivable that while we shake hands with Arafat, we continue to incarcerate those whom he sent to commit [the murders of Jews]. The agent cannot be more guilty than the one who sent him," said Beilin, in clear contrast with the Jewish legal principle, "There is no [such thing as an] agent for a crime." (Arutz 7 July 25)
Army Removes Caravans in Fumbled Settlement Effort
The IDF removed five caravans (mobile homes without wheels) from a hilltop named Shvut Rachel VI (between two and four kilometers from Shvut Rachel and Shilo), Sunday. The caravans were apparently placed there with the proper permits, but not in accordance with the pre-arranged schedule. The evacuation passed without incident, although its first stage on Friday began with "IDF diligence bordering on violence," according to Arutz 7's Kobi Sela; one resident was accidentally hit and lightly injured by an army jeep. The Yesha Council has not taken a strong stand on the matter, but outgoing Chairman Pinchas Wallerstein said that if the army had not removed the caravans, "I would have done it myself." Wallerstein told Arutz-7, "The premature initiative of local residents was a breach of understandings reached between Ehud Barak and Yesha leaders, according to which neither the government nor Yesha residents would launch surprise moves in the region." He said that the actions of the residents in bringing in the caravans last week were "irresponsible. The entire system, including the Defense Ministry, had given all of the required permits, and the move was set for Sunday [today]... Some people think that this all just a picnic, or a game - but the Jewish people will have to pay the price." Shvut Rachel resident Boaz Mellet, one of those who had moved to the new site, admitted that the move may have been the result of an error. "Even so," he said, "it amazes me that in a case where the caravans had the necessary permits, but were simply placed there ahead of schedule, the army should decide that they should not remain at all." Peace Now has called for the evacuation of all the outposts that have been constructed adjacent to Yesha communities over the past few years, but the Yesha Council says that they have received all the necessary permits and approvals.(Arutz 7 July 25)
Palestinian Police Beat Human Rights Worker
Tahsin Elayan, 28, a translator at LAW society, was severely beaten by Palestinian police at a station near Ramallah last Wednesday night. So announced LAW, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment. Elayan and others arrived at the police station to inquire about the detention of several people who had been involved in a fight. He said in his affidavit afterwards that he requested to see a high-ranking officer, but that the policeman at the station entrance refused, and then began insulting and pushing them. The shouts attracted the attention of another high-ranking officer, who gave orders for them to be brought inside the station, whereupon they were beaten. According to the affidavit, Elayan was pulled into a room and assaulted by two policemen for 15 minutes. They laid him on the floor and began kicking his head and prepared to beat him with batons, until an officer intervened and ordered them to release him. Elayan said that he noticed that many of those who had been detained with him bore the marks of similar brutality. A statement by LAW afterwards "express[ed] its deep concern over this behavior by members of the police and the security services, warn[ed] that such aggressive actions may be harmful to the relationship between human rights organizations and the Palestinian National Authority [and called] for an immediate end to actions of this kind." (Arutz 7 July 23)
An Anti-Semite And His Music
The long-lasting controversy surrounding the performance of the known anti-Semite Richard Wagner's works in Israel took an interesting twist this past week when his great-grandson, Gottfried Wagner, spoke at a Hebrew University conference on anti-Semitism last week. Ma'ariv reporter Gideon Shmerling described the younger Wagner's speech on Arutz-7 today: "The majority of the audience consisted of Holocaust survivors. A certain tension filled the air when he got up to speak. They expected that Wagner, like conductors Zubin Mehta and Daniel Birnbaum, would argue that people should separate Richard Wagner's music from his pro-Nazi views." Mehta and Birnbaum came under heavy fire in the past for conducting Wagner symphonies in Israel, but defended their actions by saying that though the Nazis used the music, it should be viewed only for its artistic value. Shmerling recounted Gottfried Wagner's remarks: "Not only did my great-grandfather write dozens of racist articles later used by the Nazis, but in his music as well, he continually glorifies the image of the blond, blue-eyed Aryan. It was not always so transparent, and sometimes you have to read between the lines to detect it... He did not create art for art's sake, but wanted to - and was successful at - influencing people's views with his music.." The younger Wagner, himself a student of music, said that Israelis simply do not understand his great-grandfather, and that if they would research the matter more, they would understand that even compositions that sound purely artistic contain strong traces of Wagner's strongly-held racist views." Gottfried concluded by calling on his audience not to play Richard Wagner's music, "since it is inseparable from his racist views." Shmerling said that with this statement, "the tension in the room dissipated noticeably, and amazed whispers filled the air..." (Arutz 7 July 26)
The Heights of Folly By Aaron Lerner
What do the experts think about Israel's alternatives to the Golan?
This week I checked with Dr. Edward Luttwak, a leading American strategist, and Israel Air Force Col. (res.) Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, a former chief of air force planning and operations.
Luttwak suggests that Israel can replace the monitoring posts on the Golan with a balloon.
Tsiddon emphasizes that balloons are easy targets for the opening moments of battle. Ground-based stations can be hit, but damaged equipment can be repaired or replaced. A downed balloon is a total loss.
An Israeli presence in a station located in a Syrian-controlled Golan may not be much better than a balloon. The most one can reasonably expect in wartime is that the Israelis would be escorted away rather than, in the Syrian tradition of '73, slaughtered on the spot.
Even if it were possible to replace observation stations on the Golan with gizmos in space, the primary value of the Golan, tactical depth, can't be replaced by technology.
According to Luttwak "a demilitarized zone (DMZ), weapons to attack from an effective distance and the political will to use them the moment there is a DMZ violation is the same as having barriers on the Heights."
Is it really the same as being on the Golan?
"Not quite," warns Luttwak, "because of the simple difference between a fixed permanent physical reality and a remote system that has to work and can also be attacked. Technology cannot fully replace the Golan."
Moreover, Luttwak doubts Israel would have the will to keep Syria out of a DMZ. "Violations of DMZs do not take the form of armies with flags flying but rather forces sneaking in. So the question is: Do you go to war over three tanks? But if you don't, they will put in six."
Even if Israel could prevent a creeping Syrian build-up in a demilitarized Golan, there is no comparison between distant missile batteries and a solid presence on the Heights.
If anything, technological developments have made leaving the Golan a less viable alternative, warns Tsiddon. "Take the example of the American experience in Kosovo. Shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles prevented their using Apache helicopters. These same missiles would impinge on Israel's ability to fight if we are not on the Golan. The Golan today provides us with natural topographical and man-made barriers against invasion, as well as optimal positions for tactical intelligence and anti-aircraft missile batteries. Not one element of the non-Golan alternative is an improvement over being on the Golan. These factors work together. Even if you take an optimistic view that each factor is only 10 percent inferior off the Golan, it doesn't take much, on a cumulative basis, for the non-Golan alternative to have only half or even only a quarter of the effective overall force of being on the Golan."
AS chief of General Staff, Ehud Barak saw no military alternative to the Golan. Has anything really changed? Does he honestly believe that he can stake Israel's survival on the assertion that, in defiance of the entire history of the region, Israel will never again be challenged from the north if it relinquishes its deterrent strength?
I find it hard to accept that Barak has joined the ranks of the utopians. There has to be more to it. And it isn't the Lebanon quagmire. Even a unilateral withdrawal would cost less than the Golan.
I believe I know the real reason: The Golan is Israel's desperate pay-off for American support in the development and deployment of anti-missile systems. Our neighborhood is already bristling with missiles and more advanced models are on the way. Time and again, particularly after dangerous Israeli concessions, American presidents have reiterated the US commitment to maintain Israel's edge. But this commitment is ephemeral. The very fact that anti-missile system funding is commonly mentioned as part of the pay-off for Israeli withdrawals is indicative of the conditional nature of the support.
Yes, Israel needs an effective anti-missile defense. But if US President Clinton can use Israel's need for American support in the anti-missile program to blackmail Barak to relinquish the Golan, why assume it will stop there? How about Jerusalem? What red line can withstand the prospects that Israel fails to acquire a viable missile defense in time?
Is there an alternative? I would like to think that Congress would support the development of an anti-missile capability - for both countries - on its merits alone. But even if all the funding is not forthcoming unless Israel succumbs to a "land for funding" deal, that's not the end of the story.
Israel may be weathering some tough economic times, but we are far from paupers. The cost to Israel of covering whatever financial gap not leaving the Golan creates is dwarfed by the potential disaster - both human and financial - that Israel could face without the Golan advantage. (Jerusalem Post July 28)
Israel has no problem releasing 500-600 security prisoners immediately. The problem concerns the specific group of security prisoners that the Palestinians want released -- those defined by Israel as having "blood on their hands" -- which can be set free only if the Cabinet decides to alter the Oslo and Wye accords signed with the Palestinians.
Today, there are about 2,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and they can be divided into four groups: * About 600 criminal offenders * About 600 security prisoners being held in Megiddo military prison for relatively minor security offenses. * About 1,000 security prisoners being held in Prisons Authority jails for offenses committed after the signing of the Oslo Accords. Most of these are members of PLO rejectionist groups or of various Islamic organizations (such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad) * The most problematic category includes 400-500 security prisoners being held by Israel for acts committed before the signing of the Oslo Accords. These prisoners -- known as "hard-core" offenders, or as prisoners "with blood on their hands" -- have been sentenced to long jail terms for murder, serious injury and/or accessory to the murder of Israelis and Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority is now insisting upon the release of members of this last category, including several hundred Fatah members, and it views
this issue as the actual test of confidence between the parties. But if the Government of Israel is interested is such a gesture, it will have to overcome its legal problem. According to the Oslo Accords, only during the stage of the final status negotiations can there be any examination of an early release for "hard-core" prisoners.
It should be noted that, in the wake of the Oslo Accords, and in keeping with the criteria set forth therein, Israel has already released about 8,000 prisoners -- those who have served two-thirds of their sentence, detainees or prisoners held responsible for security offenses not involving death or serious injury, and citizens of Arab countries being held in Israel prior to the issue of deportation orders.
In addition, beyond the established criteria, Israel has also released prisoners over the age of 50 and under the age of 18, prisoners who served over 10 years of a jail sentence, and ill prisoners. An exception was also made in the case of the 30 "hard-core female prisoners who were released in February 1997, following the Hebron Agreement.
After the Wye River accord, Israel attempted to make the criteria more flexible, and a list of 100 hard-core prisoners -- who had been sentenced to lengthy prison terms after being convicted of acting as accessories to murder, but not on actual murder charges -- was prepared, however then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the list. Incidentally, 15 members of said list were, in any event, released a few months ago.
(Yediot Ahronot July 28)
It is hard to think of any subject about which more nonsense has been spoken in the last few weeks than the proposal to expand the cabinet from 18 to 24 ministers.
There are certainly excellent reasons for opposing this move - and to be fair, these reasons have not been ignored in the public debate. The most obvious of these is the sheer cost. According to the Treasury, the cabinet expansion will cost NIS 10 million a year directly (ministerial salaries, car and driver, etc.). To this must be added the tens or hundreds of millions per year that each minister will need to spend on pet projects in order to make himself feel important, plus the administrative expenses of running six more offices.
One would think that a prime minister whose main campaign pledge was more money for education and jobs could think of something better to do with all these millions than offer them as playthings to his colleagues.
The fact that a 24-member cabinet will be more unwieldy and less effective than a smaller body is also a valid objection.
Where the nonsense comes in, however, is on the constitutional front.
Politicians from both coalition and opposition - including the new justice minister and the Knesset Speaker - have united with the attorney-general, the
Israel Bar Association and numerous public figures to protest the fact that expanding the cabinet will require amending a Basic Law. Since the Basic Laws are part of Israel's constitution, the argument goes, to amend them for a mere political whim does grave damage to Israel's constitutional structure.
The most recent person to join this crusade - the Knesset Law Committee's legal adviser, Shlomo Shoham - expressed the idea very well. Frequent changes in a Basic Law, he said, produce the feeling that the law "is not a repository of solid national principles, but rather a law like all others. Such a feeling destroys the institution of the Basic Law and the future constitution as a unifying factor."
It also, he said, weakens the future status of the entire constitution.
The absurdity of this argument rests in the assumption that the Basic Laws are, in fact, a constitution - an assumption which, despite the currency it has gained in recent years, has absolutely no foundation in the procedures for either adopting or amending these laws.
Since constitutions are supposed to express a country's consensus on fundamental issues, they are usually ratified by large majorities. Basic Laws,
however, require no special majority to pass, and many have been adopted without even 51 percent support. The Basic Laws on human dignity and freedom and freedom of occupation, for instance, passed by votes of 32-21 and
23-0 - in short, with the support of a mere quarter of the Knesset. To come to the public and demand that laws passed with such feeble support be treated with the respect accorded a constitution is risible.
THE same holds true for the process of amending the Basic Laws. Here, the requirements are slightly tougher than for ordinary laws: An absolute majority of 61 MKs is required. But since in a parliamentary system, every government by definition has the support of 61 MKs, this is not much of a hurdle.
The message being sent by those who trumpet the Basic Laws as a constitution is the following: "These laws are not important enough to justify serious procedural barriers to amending them, but we nevertheless expect the government to treat them as if they were, and refrain from changing them."
How can the government, or the public, be expected to take this message seriously?
Shoham, like many of his colleagues in the "pro-constitution" front, was distressed by a comparison between Israel and the US. The American Constitution, he noted, has been amended 27 times in its 212 years of existence, compared to 46 amendments to Basic Laws in their less than 50 years of existence.
Yet this difference is exactly what one would expect. The American Constitution was adopted with widespread public support: It did not become binding until it was ratified by three-fourths of the states. This is a level of support most Basic Laws have never come close to attaining.
Furthermore, amendments to the Constitution require a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress plus ratification by three-fourths of the states - again, a level of support that far exceeds what is needed to amend a Basic Law.
Respect for constitutional legislation is an excellent principle. But insisting that such respect be artificially given to legislation that bears none of the hallmarks of a constitution seriously cheapens this principle.
Israel's real constitutional problem, therefore, is not the overhasty amendment of Basic Laws: It is the illicit attempts to force the Basic Laws to be treated as a constitution. (Jerusalem Post July 27)
New Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak may not be as fluent in speaking American English as his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu. But he didn't need any assistance in making one thing clear to American Jews on his first visit to the United States following his election: He is not interested in interference on Capitol Hill from American Jews who are not supportive of his peace policies.
Barak's attitude toward American Jews is vastly different from those of two of his recent predecessors: his mentor, the late Yitzhak Rabin, and his defeated rival, Netanyahu.
Though Rabin was popular among American Jews, the fact that he regarded us as a nuisance was not exactly a closely guarded state secret in
Jerusalem. In his own way, Netanyahu was just as hostile. He deeply resented American Jewish support for his Labor opponents and viewed the press as an enemy. Even at the beginning of his term, when his future seemed bright, the chip on his shoulder seemed to weigh a ton.
Barak is definitely different. He acts like a man who believes there is no task he cannot accomplish and no one he cannot win over. He strides into rooms with the sort of self-confident air that breeds respect and affection rather than resentment. Perhaps it is his unimpressive appearance, but where in other men this kind of self-assurance would be viewed as hubris, on him it looks good.
Except for self-consciousness about his English, this is one former general who acts as if he can square the circle of Israeli politics. He believes he can have close relations with the Clinton administration, make peace with all of Israel's Arab neighbors, ensure Israel's security, and avoid blowups within Israel on religious-secular issues and with the Diaspora over the lack of religious pluralism in Israel.
That's a tall order, but to a man who isn't shy about letting you know he was directly elected by a landslide, they are just objectives to be encountered and overcome.
Can Barak count on American Jewish support as he begins his attempt to bring the Oslo peace process to a conclusion? The answer is undoubtedly in the affirmative. Most American Jews, no matter what their opinions about Israeli issues, are always prepared to defer to the government of the day. That is only appropriate. After all, it is the Israelis and not American Jews who will bear the burden of security decisions.
But what about American Jews who are not prepared to pick up their pom-poms and join the Barak cheerleading squad?
The days when all American Jews simply rolled over on command for an Israeli prime minister are over. Left-wing critics of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir were the first to stray off the reservation. Right-wing opponents of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres picked up where they left off. And nobody, including Likud sympathizers, seemed to like Bibi much during his time in office.
By contrast, Barak has it much easier. Netanyahu's embrace of the same "land-for-peace" strategies that he had opposed while in opposition damaged both the Israeli right as well as its American Jewish allies. If Bibi was prepared to give away all of the Golan Heights to Syria (as it was reliably reported by Prof. Daniel Pipes in a recent issue of The New Republic), that makes it even more difficult for American Jews to oppose Barak's plans to make such a deal than it was under Rabin.
Barak - like Rabin before him - is especially unhappy about efforts by groups like the Zionist Organization of America that impede his agenda. For example, the ZOA has been pushing hard - and successfully - for congressional legislation that would act to force the United States to make serious efforts to extradite Palestinian terrorists who killed Americans from the Palestinian Authority.
I think enacting this legislation is the right thing to do from the point of view of both American justice and peace. But the State Department and the Barak government oppose this measure.
Barak thinks of efforts to expose Palestinian violations of the peace accords as irrelevant, at best, and dangerous, at worst, to his goals. Though an ardent patriot and Zionist (he still talks about aliyah for American Jews!), Barak has come to view Arab claims as having a share of moral as well as practical justification. He believes a successful peace process is the best way to advance Israel's security. And if that means giving Arafat a pass on Oslo violations, letting terrorist murderers of Americans off the hook or giving up the strategic Golan, my guess is that he is prepared to do it. He thinks it is his call and not ours. No matter how strongly you may disagree with him, you have to admit he has a point there.
But before we start acting as if anyone who dissents from Barak should be shunned in decent company, let's remember that plenty of Israelis still disagree with him (as half of Israel did with Rabin and Netanyahu during their times in power) and their voices - and those of their American friends - should not be silenced.
Which leads me to propose a simple ground rule for debate on the peace process for American Jews. Let there be an end to the delegitimization of opponents. Both sides have a right to be heard and to be treated with respect. Sinat hinam - groundless hatred - has led to many ancient, as well as recent, Jewish tragedies. Let us learn that lesson.
Barak himself understands that American Jews, like Israelis, are a diverse lot. If, like Israel, the American Jewish community is to be a democracy, then it must be prepared to tolerate dissent - whether from the left or the right -and grant it a fair hearing.
Remember, the tables have turned more than once in recent Israeli politics; the person you seek to read out of the community today may be able to do the same to you tomorrow, if we allow it.
Tolerance for diverse points of view creates a messy situation that may make it harder for Israeli governments, and even American groups, to push their agendas. But the alternative is far worse.
(Jewish World Review July 23)