Israel News

A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

 

Av 10 5760
August 11, 2000
Issue number 284

Events

August 11-13

Jonathan Rosenblum, author and Jerusalem Post columnist, will be speaking on the following topics at the following locations and times:

Saturday Aug. 11, 7:15pm: "You can change the world", Hebrew Centre of Belle Ewart

Sunday Aug. 12, 9:00am: "Israel's crisis of spirit", Bnai Torah

Monday Aug. 13, 8:00pm "Educating for Kiddush Hashem", Agudas Yisrael


News

The Lieberman Choice

The nomination of Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew - no Jew has ever been nominated for American President or Vice President before - has aroused strong reactions in general, and within the Jewish community in particular. Lieberman's stance on Israel has been a matter of some debate, with pro-Israel supporters citing his voting record, and detractors claiming that his association with the Clinton-Albright administration does not bode well. His stance on Jonathan Pollard - the Senator was a driving force behind a letter last year asking Clinton not to release Pollard - may cost him support in the Jewish community. Lieberman's voting record on abortions during 1999 was in keeping with the positions of pro-abortion groups. He has supported legislation that would help parents who wish to send children to private and religious schools.

The National Council of Young Israel congratulated Gore on his selection of Lieberman, and said, "We have long admired Senator Lieberman, both for his dedication to upholding and remaining true to his Orthodox Jewish religious principles while serving in high public office, and for setting the highest standards of ethics and morality in government... We believe that he will continue to remain true to those principles, and [conduct] himself with the utmost honor and dignity in this new, most challenging role in our political system." The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem says that the choice of Lieberman "bodes well for Israel," that he has strong pro-Israel credentials... Lieberman has one of the most consistently solid pro-Israel voting records in Congress... At times, he has been a harsh critic of the Clinton-Gore approach to the Oslo peace process. Lieberman, for example, wrote to Clinton in 1997 that 'our government's Mideast policy of evenhandedness, in contradiction with reality, continues. It is wrong. Evenhandedness [to the Arabs] has not been earned... [Arafat is] the villain who is unwilling to stop the terror... [There should be] no more [Israeli] concessions.'" (A7 Aug 8)

Lieberman Supports US Embassy Move, But Not Now

In an exclusive CNN interview last night, Lieberman said, "I have been a supporter of moving our embassy to Jerusalem; it just seems to me that in every other country in the world, we put our embassy in the city that the country says is its capital... The piece of land which we already have designated for the American embassy in Jerusalem is in a part of Jerusalem that was Israeli back to 1948. So under no settlement would that change. I must tell you right now, I think it would not be a good idea to do that while there is still the flame of hope burning about the Camp David [talks]... I agree with what [President Clinton] said a couple weeks ago on Israeli television: Let's wait until the end of year, see where we are, and then, before he leaves office, he will make a decision about moving that embassy." (arutzsheva.org Aug 9)

Jerusalem Arabs Fear Final-Status Agreement

Jerusalem Arabs fear that a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will transfer them to Palestinian Authority jurisdiction. Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports that many of them have even begun paying their tax and other debts to the Jerusalem Municipality, as well as bringing their Interior Ministry documents up to date so that they will be able to claim, if a Palestinian state is established, that they are Israeli citizens in good standing. Senior Palestinian officials admit, Huberman reports, that an overwhelming majority of Jerusalem's Arabs would choose, if they could, to remain under Israeli control and not Palestinian. A poll published in Ha'aretz last week confirms these results: 83% object to transferring eastern Jerusalem to the PA, and only 11% support the idea. Those opposed were not bashful about their reasons: Israel's democratic regime, its higher standard of living, and its various social services. Ha'aretz concluded: "…the Palestinian Authority will be extremely embarrassed if it becomes apparent that many of Jerusalem's Arabs are angry at the high price they would be forced to pay in order to enjoy Palestinian independence." (arutzsheva.org Aug 8)

Katzav Against Expulsion from Hevron

President Moshe Katzav expressed his opposition today to the expulsion of Hevron's Jewish community. Katzav, reacting to Palestinian claims that Prime Minister Barak may have agreed at Camp David to the expulsion under a final-status agreement, said that Hevron was the capital of the Jewish people even before Jerusalem. "Can you possibly conceive of a situation in which Jews would not be able to live in Hevron?" asked the President. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat says that Israel offered to expel all the Jews of Hevron under the final-status agreement, to gradually empty out other Jewish settlements, and to release all imprisoned Arab terrorists. The response by Barak's office: "It's all speculation." The response from Hevron: "The Jewish Community of Hevron will not be evacuated, the plot will not succeed, and 'he who is wise will understand.' Hevron is precious to the entire Jewish nation."Minister Yossi Beilin reacted by saying that the claim is not true "both factually and conceptually." He said that the concept of the government is to concentrate Jews in blocs and not to evict them, and that he is personally against the expulsion of Hevron's Jews. (arutzsheva.org Aug 9)

How to Explain Barak's "Unfair" Tactics

Yesha Council spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef spoke to Arutz-7 Sunday about "the situation:" "Our information is that the talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are continuing, with the goal of holding another summit within a month or so. As the talks continue, so do the Israeli concessions: The latest is in the northern Dead Sea area, where Barak has agreed to give up the road from the Dead Sea to Jericho, Kalya - where the famous Attractsia water park is - and even the archaeologically-valuable Qumran Caves." Mor-Yosef said that Barak has slightly reversed himself on what he was willing to offer in Jerusalem, "but as he himself admits, that which was said is already engraved in the Palestinians' memory..." Mor-Yosef added, "They are working on a way for Israel to give over control of the Temple Mount and Jerusalem to the Palestinians without really saying so... But the most basic problem preventing an agreement, thank G-d, is that Arafat is demanding that Israel assume full responsibility for the refugees. He will not settle only for family-reunification and the like. We hope, therefore, that the Jerusalem-refugees combination will prevent an agreement..." When asked about prospects for the future, Mor-Yosef said that the picture is complex: "Polls show that the public is against each of the individual elements of Barak's proposed agreement, but that when these elements are presented all together and respondents are asked if they are in favor of 'an agreement,' slightly more than half say yes. It appears, then, that Barak is unfairly attempting to force the Israeli public into either accepting an agreement that it doesn't want or facing war. We are now working very hard to figure out how to explain this complex message to the Israeli public in a clear manner."

Ha'aretz commentator Uzi Benziman related to this point Sunday: "For the past month, the state has been run according to rules the legitimacy of which is crumbling with every day of crisis. You can be patient with a government that doesn't have a parliamentary majority for a few interim weeks. But it can't go on for months. Barak justifies his readiness to absorb the blows of parliamentary defeats resulting from the coalition collapse by saying that over the coming three weeks he'll be able to determine which way Yasser Arafat wants to go; but there are growing signs that the governmental chaos could also last three months... Constitutional and governmental foul play cannot be purified by [the claim of ] advancing the peace process. No matter what the quality of the Knesset's membership, and no matter how determined the Prime Minister is to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians, peace must be achieved through the rules of democracy and not by parliamentary trickery... Barak says that the absolute majority still hasn't shown up in the no-confidence motions - which, if one of them were to pass, would automatically result in the collapse of the government and new elections. But that's grasping at straws. The Knesset has said clearly that it opposes the Prime Minister's peace politics. After all, that's the main reason the coalition fell apart and he lost his blocking majority. Indeed, it only raises the question whether Barak still is a legitimate negotiator on behalf of the State of Israel..." (arutzsheva.org Aug 6)

The P.A. and Jerusalem

Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports that the Palestinians don't view the Camp David summit in the same way the rest of the world does: "For them, it was not a failure, but rather another accomplishment in their negotiating strategy. PA senior figure Muhammad Dahlan, for example, said last week that the Palestinians succeeded at Camp David in breaking the long-held Israeli taboo of not discussing refugees and Jerusalem. The PA is anxious to reach an agreement soon, in order to take advantage of all of Barak's concessions." This does not necessarily mean that there will soon be another summit, Huberman said, because "there is a consensus that a summit will not be held until everything is closed, and it is hard to see how Arafat gives in on Jerusalem. By the way," Huberman said, "Feisal Husseini made sure to emphasize to a group of Arab reporters recently that the rights of Israeli Arabs in eastern Jerusalem would not be hurt, as their main fear is that they might lose their Israeli rights and accompanying national insurance payments... he also said that the Jewish 'settlers' of the Jewish Quarter would be allowed to stay if they wish." Huberman emphasized that Palestinian position papers say that they are willing to give "control" - not sovereignty - of the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall to Israel. (arutzsheva.org Aug 6)

Israeli Polls on Jerusalem, Prime Minister

A poll in last Friday's Yediot Acharonot shows a wide margin between those against a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem and those who would agree to it: 56% are against, while 41% would agree. If elections were held , Binyamin Netanyahu would receive 46% of the vote, according to the poll, while Ehud Barak would receive 42%. The same poll shows that Barak would defeat Ariel Sharon. Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein has still not announced his decision on whether or not to indict Netanyahu on charges relating to the gifts and Amedi affairs. (arutzsheva.org Aug 4)

CNN Restores Jerusalem to Israel

Supporters of Jewish Jerusalem scored a victory recently, following their e-mail campaign to CNN. An unknown number of users wrote to CNN to complain about the appearance of Jerusalem on its weather site's city-listing as a "city without a country." The list of Middle East cities began with Jerusalem, followed by an alphabetical listing of countries with their respective cities. Last week, readers who complained of the inaccuracy received a reply explaining that the listing for Jerusalem was changed to "Jerusalem, Israel," and that a note was added on the bottom to the effect that "Palestinian and Arab leaders consider part of Jerusalem the capital of the prospective Palestinian state." (arutzsheva.org Aug 4)

Over the Palestinian Fence

Another sign that the Arabs do not take Israel seriously in its refusal to allow a return of Arab refugees from 1948: Delegations of Arab refugee camp residents have been visiting Israeli towns and photographing what they claim are their old homes. Eitan Rabin writes in Ma'ariv that the security forces have been receiving reports that the phenomenon is intensifying, and that Arabs have visited Jaffa, Lod, Acre, and smaller outlying towns to "check out" the territory. The Palestinian Authority is apparently encouraging actions of this nature, with the cooperation of Islamic organizations and Arab Knesset Members. A group of 50 Arabs recently arrived in the northern Kibbutz of Beit HaEmek, as well as in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai near Ashkelon. In both cases, as in others, the Arabs left after an argument with the Jewish residents.

Arafat's intractability on Jerusalem and other issues at Camp David could have been guessed by readers of the Palestinian press during the talks. So writes Itamar Marcus, Director of Palestinian Media Watch. "Had Arafat intended to move toward Barak and away from his traditional positions," writes Marcus, "he would have had to prepare his public opinion via the media under his control. Instead he permitted the Palestinian leadership to make pronouncements that cornered him into the same inflexible positions, which were published in the Palestinian Authority's (P.A.) official newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. Arafat even allowed his newspaper to print that it would be considered 'treason' were he to compromise in general, and on Jerusalem and the refugee issue in particular..." (arutzsheva.org Aug 4)

Netanyahu Plans Comeback

Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears to have returned to politics. He has met, over the past few days alone, with Shas leader MK Eli Yeshai and National Religious Party leader Rabbi Yitzchak Levy. Rabbi Levy proposed that Netanyahu not wait for the State Prosecutor to make a decision on his possible indictment, but to announce his candidacy immediately. Former Yesha Council Secretary-General Aharon Domb, who strongly opposed toppling Netanyahu two years ago, accompanied Netanyahu to the meeting with Rabbi Levy. He told Arutz-7 Wednesday, "I personally think that Netanyahu should return, but as long as the State Prosecution has not yet decided in his case, he will not make an official announcement either way. If the Prosecution decides to indict him, then he will have a problem..." Domb said that in principle, "I recommend to my friends that if they want to prevent Jerusalem from being divided, then the one with the best chances to unseat Barak is Netanyahu." Domb dismissed claims that Netanyahu himself had made some hefty concessions in Hevron and at Wye, saying, "This has long been my argument with some of my best friends. We want to keep all of Eretz Yisrael, but we simply have to distinguish between what we want and what can be attained. We have always been taught to want the absolute best - but it was this type of thinking that got us Barak and his government." MK Tzvi Hendel (National Union) responded: "It was not MKs of the National Union who toppled Binyamin Netanyahu. It was rather the Likud, and Netanyahu himself at the helm, who toppled him. We have nothing personal against him. When he made concessions, we fought him, and when he did not carry out the concessions because of his famous demand for reciprocity, we supported him. We have no problem with the man, but just with the way." Hendel said that at present, "after Camp David, it has to be obvious to every realistic person that the Oslo process is dead. Arafat does not want peace with us, and Peres and Beilin knew this in advance… I can't prove this, but if Rabin - who talked about progressing [with the Oslo process] in stages, so that we could check our progress - would have seen to what extent this process has deteriorated, he would certainly have stopped it. If Barak would take the same approach, the entire nation would be behind him, except for the fanatic left-wing led by Peres and Beilin." (arutzsheva.org Aug 9)

Claims Against Arab Countries Put on Hold

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin's decision to close the Department of Claims against Arab States was based on "political reasons" according to a senior official in the Ministry of Justice. The department consolidated the thousands of monetary claims by Jewish immigrants from Arab states that have been registered over the years. A top Justice Ministry official said, "For 32 years, the office has prepared itself for the moment when it will be able to file its claims against the Arab countries, and at the very moment when this opportunity is close to arriving, the office is closed down." Former government minister Mordechai Ben-Porat, director of the Heritage Center for Baylonian Jewry, told Arutz-7 Wednesday that his information is that "claims will continue to be dealt with, but the head of the department has been let go, for budgetary reasons." (arutzsheva.org Aug 9)

The Yesha Council Campaign

The Yesha Council - the representative body of the 144 Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza - began a week-long campaign Monday of actively showing what were, or are, to be "Barak's concessions" to the Palestinian Authority. The Yesha Council took up key positions along the "Green Line," the pre-1967 border of Israel that reduces Israel's width to nine miles in certain areas. The Council placed signs at the following junctions: Kesem near Petach Tikva, Latrun west of Jerusalem, Ayal near Kfar Saba, and Beit Lid near Netanya. The signs read, "Little Israel," "Palestine," "Stop, Border Ahead," and "Caution! You are driving on a road exposed to gunfire." Today, thousands of bottles of drinking water were distributed to residents of the Tel Aviv area with the label reading; "Judea and Samaria - the Kinneret of Tel Aviv." The label explains that while the Kinneret supplies 500 million cubic meters of fresh drinking water annually, the aquifers in Judea and Samaria supply 600 million of the same. Some 70% of Israel's citizens drink water from Yesha. "This is not a gimmick- this is real life!" stated Yehudit Tayar, head of the Yesha Council's foreign desk. "The unprecedented concessions that Barak is willing to grant to Arafat endangers all of the citizens of Israel." (arutzsheva.org Aug 8)

Fatma Gate "Closed Military Zone"

The army declared the Fatma Gate border point between Lebanon and Israel a "closed military zone" Monday. Lebanese civilians escalated their attacks upon Israeli soldiers, and, for the first time, hurled a firebomb at the IDF forces stationed there. Others attempted to break through the fence, and threw various objects at the soldiers. No one was hurt. The hoped-for normalization between Israel and Lebanon that was to have been ushered in by the deployment of the Lebanese army along the border is still far off. Israeli sources report that the Lebanese forces deployed there this week will not approach the Israeli border, and will deal only with internal security issues. UN peacekeeping forces were stationed at over a dozen points along the border last Saturday. (A7 Aug 7)

Chief Rabbinate Puts off Discussion of Temple Mount Synagogue

The Chief Rabbinate Council decided Monday to establish a rabbinical committee to investigate the matter of constructing a synagogue on the Temple Mount. Requests from government and other sources had been received by the Council this week to postpone the discussion of such a "politically loaded" question. Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen, Haifa's Chief Rabbi and the driving force behind the proposal to build the synagogue, told Arutz-7 Monday that the proposal is not a new one. "Former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, for instance, proposed this before and wrote about it at length. It was never carried out for political and other reasons. Now, with the change in the Mount's status quo by the Moslem Waqf's illegal construction there, and with the Camp David proposals to give over the entire Mount to the Palestinians... we feel that it is time to strengthen our hold there." The Council has postponed its discussion of the matter until the new committee looks into and prepares position papers on the matter. Rabbi Cohen said later that the issue of a synagogue should be raised in future negotiations with the Palestinians, "as it would be preferable to do this in coordination with them." (arutzsheva.org Aug 7)

Egypt Returned the Wrong Sefer Torah

It now turns out that Egypt's recent "gesture" to former President Ezer Weizman was nothing more than a scam. Journalist Aharon Granot reports that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in a grand ceremony recently, officially returned the Torah scroll that was taken by Israeli soldiers into Egyptian captivity in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The scroll had been kept in a museum in Cairo. The Chief Rabbinate has now confirmed, however, that the scroll that was received in Israel was not only incomplete, but was not the right one. "The Rabbinate people were able to tell by the Atzei Chaim - the scroll's wooden handles - that it was the wrong one," Granot said. "In addition, only two of the five Chumashim (Pentateuch books) - Leviticus and Numbers - were returned. The Egyptians apparently found some abandoned old Torah remnant and gave it to us instead of the original one. Possibly worst of all, the Director-General of the President's Home knew about the trick, and instead of protesting it, exerted heavy pressure that this report should not be publicized." (A7 Aug 7)

Kinneret Drops Dangerously

The level of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) has dropped below the official "red line," 213 meters below sea level. Water will be continued to be pumped from the Kinneret, however. (arutzsheva.org Aug 7)

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research Poll Results

These are the results of opinion poll # 1, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research , between 27-29 July 2000. The poll deals with The poll deals with Camp David summit, chances for reconciliation and lasting peace, violence and confrontations, hierarchies of priorities, and Palestinian domestic politics. The total sample size of this poll is 1259 from Palestinians 18 years and older, of which 786 in the West Bank and 473 in the Gaza Strip. The margin of error is + 3% and the non-response rate is 3%.

Views on Positions Expressed and Concessions Made at Camp David:

1. Arafat's overall position at Camp David:

68% just right; 6% not enough of a compromise, 15% too much of a compromise

2. Palestinian position on Jerusalem: (the suggestion that Arafat may have been willing to accept a Jerusalem deal that would have allowed Israel to annex the settlements of Ma'aleh Adumim, Giv'at Zeev, and Gush Etzion as well as the Wailing Wall and the Jewish Quarter in return for full Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods and holy places in East Jerusalem)

27% just right; 9% not enough of a compromise, 57% too much of a compromise

3. Palestinian position on refugees:

68% just right; 8% not enough of a compromise, 20% too much of a compromise

4. Palestinian position on statehood and borders:

(A state, recognized by Israel, in 96% of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a territorial exchange involving the remaining 4%, where most settlers live, with unspecified Israeli territory)

32% just right; 11% not enough of a compromise, 51% too much of a compromise

5. Palestinian position on settlements: (reported acceptance by the Palestinian side of a territorial exchange in which Israel would annex settlement blocs and the Palestinians would receive territory form Israel and a corridor linking the West Bank with Gaza.)

25% just right; 12% not enough of a compromise, 55% too much of a compromise

6. Palestinian position on security arrangements: (reported acceptance of security arrangements that would leave the Palestinian state with no air force or heavy weapon systems and would give Israel an early warning station and a military presence in the Jordan Valley during war.)

14% just right; 11% not enough of a compromise, 68% too much of a compromise

Violence, Confrontation, and Unilateral Declaration of Statehood in a Scenario of Failed Negotiations

Position on armed attacks against Israelis today?

52% support 43% oppose

63% believe that Hizbullah methods in South Lebanon should be emulated by Palestinians

60% would support or strongly support violent confrontations if no agreement is reached by 13 September

Position on unilateral declaration of state in September:

56% support, 37% wait for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement

(Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research/IMRA Aug 9)


Quotes of the Week

"I don't think it makes any sense to go into the details [of the conditions for a possible Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon]. This is a different culture of negotiation. Whenever you declare what you are willing to give up, the negotiations will begin from this point on." - Ehud Barak, quoted by Ilene R. Prusher, in The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 25, 1997


Commentary

The Specter of Saladin By Amos Oz

I am sitting in front of the television in the living room, seeing Yasir Arafat receive a triumphant hero's welcome in Gaza, and all this for having said no to peace with Israel. The whole Gaza Strip is covered in flags and slogans proclaiming the "Palestinian Saladin." "Welcome home, Saladin of our era" is written on the walls. In silence, astounded, I watch, and I can't help reminding myself that the original Saladin promised the Arab people that he would not make pacts with the infidels; he would massacre them and throw them in the ocean. I see Mr. Arafat dressed in his gray-green combat uniform. It's an Arafat clothed like Che Guevara and treated like Saladin: my heart breaks.

Already in 1967 I was one of the very few Israelis invoking the solution of two neighboring states, with Jerusalem as the capital city of both, reciprocal recognition and mutual acceptance. Since then, for many years, I was treated like a traitor by my own people. My children at school suffered all manner of insults, accused of being the children of one ready to sell off his homeland. And after all these difficult years, Prime Minister Ehud Barak went to Camp David to offer the solution I foretold over 30 years ago.

I pause to reflect. I remember how in the old days a single phone booth would have sufficed to contain the entire national assembly of Israeli peace activists. We could literally count ourselves on the tips of our fingers, a tiny minority among minorities. Today everything is different. More than half the nation is with us. And yet the Palestinians said no. They insist on their "right of return," when we all very well know that around here "right of return" is an Arab euphemism for the liquidation of Israel. Mr. Arafat doesn't insist on merely the right to a Palestinian state, a right I fully support. Now he demands that the Palestinian exiles should return not only to Palestine, but also to Israel, thus upsetting the demographic balance and eventually turning Israel into the 26th Arab country. After all, there are millions of Germans who will never return to their former homes in Poland, East Prussia or the Sudetenland.

The Palestinians have a right to their own free and independent Palestine. But if they also want to have Israel, they should know that they will find me ready to defend my country: an old peace activist ready to fight for the survival of Israel. I believe this to be the last opportunity: the Palestinians must choose if they want a new Saladin, or to really work for peace. (New York Times July 28)

The writer, a leading voice of the Israeli left, is the author of "Israel, Palestine and Peace."


The Last Hurrah By Jonathan Rosenblum

Shimon Peres's defeat this week in the presidential election was symbolic of a much more significant defeat the previous week. Camp David revealed that the Oslo Accords, of which Peres was the principal architect, were flawed from inception by the lack of a partner equally committed to peace.

At Camp David, Barak offered Arafat far more than anyone, Arab or Jew, could have ever dreamed possible at Oslo. Yet Arafat wouldn't or couldn't accept, proving that he never envisioned an end to the Arabs' hundred-year war with Zionism. The Arabs are willing to wait, confident that yet more will be offered, and that what is not wrested at the bargaining table will be gained by other means. They have never made any bones about this.

Shortly after the Oslo signing, Arafat spoke to Arab audiences of jihad (which Peres interpreted as a "jihad for peace'') and reminded them that Mohammed, too, had entered into peace treaties with infidels as a prelude to subsequent military victory. He conveyed the same message by eulogizing as a holy martyr Yihye Ayyash, "the Engineer,'' the man responsible for the murder of over 50 Israelis.

Palestinian TV continues to educate Palestinian children that Palestine encompasses all of Israel - Acre, Jaffa, Tiberias, Jerusalem. No Palestinian Authority map shows Israel; its textbooks continue to call for the eradication of the Zionist entity; and in its summer camps, eight-year-olds receive paramilitary training.

Yet our prime minister tells us, "I'm not interested in what the Palestinians say, but only in agreements.'' That's like putting down one's life savings on a retirement home in Florida even though you know the seller has five previous convictions for mail fraud.

Peres has long been the most eloquent spokesman for this particular form of looniness. In The New Middle East, he pronounced traditional military strategy - troop mobilizations, location of battlefields - to be irrelevant, and hotels more vital to national security than armies. He famously looked forward to the day on which Israel would join the Arab League.

Charles Krauthammer correctly pronounced that vision, "A lovely dream. And quite mad," not to mention that the Jews are the only people in the region who believe in it.

Peres actually acted upon that vision. Oslo was signed without any consultation with the military (then chief of General Staff Ehud Barak was horrified when he first saw the Oslo Accords.) The Peres Foreign Ministry made a top priority of securing US aid for the PLO, Egypt, and Syria. No one doubts that as president Peres would have continued to actively espouse his vision of the New Middle East around the world.

Presumably, then, those who do not share Peres's view that the wolf and the sheep are ready to lie down together were entitled to vote for his opponent. The presidency, after all, is not a prize for life achievement, and MKs were not obligated to ratify the judgment of the Stockholm committee that anointed Peres with the Nobel Peace Prize. Ezer Weizman's tenure amply demonstrates the large potential for presidential mischief-making.

IN 1983, when Likud was in power and the distinguished jurist Menachem Elon was defeated for the presidency by the late Chaim Herzog, the papers were not filled with cries of treachery or demands for an open presidential ballot. Then it was assumed to be part of the natural order of things that the presidency belongs to the old elites.

Today, however, those who confidently predicted Peres's victory have reacted to his defeat with hysterical hyperbole: Nahum Barnea likened Katsav's victory to the Rabin assassination, and a front-page "analysis'' in this paper proclaimed the end of Zionism, forgetting that Peres's "The New Middle East" is itself a profoundly post-Zionist work.

The religious parties are accused of gross betrayal, as if Peres only decided to run for president after first securing Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's solemn promise of support, or was the first person ever to lose an election he expected to win.

Yet it is hardly surprising that most MKs of Shas, a party founded on the theme of restoring Sephardi pride and Torah learning, voted for a candidate whose own life can serve as an emblem of Sephardi pride and who is mitzva-observant. Had they done otherwise they would have had a lot to explain to their voters. Nor is it surprising that religious MKs did not ignore the fact those most ardently supporting Peres have shown even greater ardor in attacking the religious.

Still, I could have understood a decision by the haredi parties to support Peres. There is a great deal of truth in the remark attributed to Rabbi Yosef: "Katsav is mitzva-observant, but Peres will protect the mitzva-observant.'' I confess to harboring warm feelings for Peres and to empathizing with his pain.

That warmth begins with physiognomy. Will such a face of the classic Eastern European Jewish intellectual, combining intelligence, sensitivity and nobility ever grace our political scene again? Peres is the last of our politicians still connected to the European milieu and with a warm spot in his heart for Yiddishkeit.

Rabbi Alexander Linchner, builder of the magnificent Boys Town campus in Jerusalem, once told me how tears would well up in the eyes of Pinhas Sapir, Israel's first economic czar, when he came to visit the campus. "Today,'' he added, "there is no one to talk to.''

Peres was a younger throwback to Sapir's generation. He always attributed his many achievements to a childhood blessing from the venerable Torah sage the Hafetz Haim. Over the years, he has enthusiastically supported Aish Hatorah's Jerusalem Fellowships program and other Torah institutions, even when he had nothing to gain politically. And he has often proven a acute observer of Israel's social fissures, whose insights on such subjects as the danger of marrying Judaism to nationalism bear careful consideration.

Peres is perhaps the last secular politician able to relate to religious Jews with respect born of knowledge, not just as a horse trader. For that alone his ongoing influence will be deeply missed. (Jerusalem Post Aug 4)


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