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

 

22 Elul 5760
September 22, 2000
Issue number 291

Events

Friday September 22 9:45pm

Katzele of Bet El will speak at an Oneg Shabbat at BAYT.

Saturday, September 23 11:00pm

Rabbi Yehuda Bohrer of Bet El will speak on "The Unfinished Struggle of the Temple Mount" at Shaarei Shomayim, followed by Selichot led by Cantor Yaakov Motzen.

News

Refugees Becoming The Main Issue

Although the Israeli-Palestinian talks appear to have stalled chiefly over the issue of Temple Mount sovereignty, other points of contention are beginning to come into sharp focus. Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Palestinian Radio on Sunday that Israel's demand for settlement blocks - in which Barak has promised that most of Yesha's residents would remain under Israeli sovereignty - was unacceptable. He also rejected Israel's insistence on retaining a Jordan Valley strip even for only 20 years. An even sharper conflict is beginning to emerge over the issue of Arab refugees from 1948. Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, currently Israel's leading negotiator with the Palestinians, told the United Nations Monday, "It is historically misleading to claim that the refugee problem is a result of a mass expulsion... Israel does not and will not assume ethical, legal, or political responsibility for the finding of a solution." PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, however, is equally - or more - intransigent. "I say to all the refugees that there will be neither peace nor security if you do not return to your homeland," he told a large audience on Sunday. "Return is a sacred right. People are fooling themselves if they think it can be traded for a handful of dollars," he said, rejecting a proposal to settle the issue by way of monetary compensation. At least one Israeli Knesset Member agrees - Arab MK Azmi Bishara (National Democratic Alliance). Bishara feels that the Palestinians erred when they began to weaken in their struggle for the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Speaking at a "No Right of Return = No Peace" rally in London this past Sunday, Bishara said that the Palestinians should not be concentrating on Jerusalem or territory, but rather on the issue of the refugees: "The Palestinian issue needs to be returned to its root: the refugees of 1948... [This issue] cannot be given up in negotiations. The PLO was established in 1964, in Jerusalem - which wasn't occupied by 'Zionists' then, but was rather under Arab control. The PLO was set up for the rights of refugees. The rights of refugees came before the right of statehood... We don't want a state without the right of return, but rather a state that guarantees the right of return." Ben-Ami, in his speech to the UN, related to this point: "It is ridiculous to think that it is possible to establish a state in order to return refugees to a neighboring state."

Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his Cabinet Sunday that Israel opposes not only the transfer of Temple Mount sovereignty to the Palestinians, but completely rules out the possibility of transferring such control to any Islamic body whatsoever. In tandem with the lack of movement in the talks, the PA is "heating up the territory." Almost every one of the hourly convoys to Netzarim in Gush Katif was stoned this morning by Arab rock-throwers. The army has partially closed the Erez Checkpoint in Gaza in response. (arutzsheva.org Sep 18,19)

Revolving P.A. Doors Open Wide

Prime Minister Barak confirmed Monday that the Palestinian Authority has ignored Israeli requests to arrest para-military policemen who fired on IDF soldiers during the Nakba Day disturbances of four months ago. Hot on the heels of Monday's report that the PA had granted "vacations" to dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports that after Nakba Day, Israel submitted to the PA a list of dozens who fired on Israelis; almost all of them were arrested, questioned, and released shortly afterwards. (arutzsheva.org Sep 19)

'Secular Revolution' under Fire, Takes Three Steps Backwards

Chief Rabbis Yisrael Meir Lau and Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron informed the religious Knesset lobby Tuesday that they now object to the closure of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. They released the following statement: "Given the situation that has come about, in which the dismantling of the Ministry has become an integral part of the program known as the secular revolution, we cannot support or agree to the dismantling of the Ministry at this time and in this connection." Barak's "secular revolution" was the subject of a HaTzofeh editorial today. The paper first noted the main aspects of the program:

* the nullification of the nationality clause on identity cards;

* the closure of the Ministry of Religious Affairs;

* Shabbat flights for El Al Israel Airlines within a few weeks

* public transportation on Shabbat;

* civil marriages for those who want.

The editorial stated:

"These measures will lead not only to a split in the nation, but to the removal of the Jewish stamp from the character of the State of Israel... This stands in absolute contradiction to the Declaration of Independence, which states that Israel will preserve its unique character as the State of the Jewish People... The People of Israel hoped not for a state just like all the others, but rather a Jewish State for the Jewish Nation... This is not a religious dispute, but rather a national dispute: Will Israel remain the Jews' state, or it will be just another country?... We must call upon the Prime Minister to desist from his distorted plans, in the hope that he too will understand that the special nature of Israel must ever be maintained..." Three steps were taken to slow down the pace of the so-called "secular revolution" Monday:

* the Prime Minister expressed support for a proposal by Rabbi Michael Melchior (Meimad) to set Sunday as a national day of leisure - relieving pressure for Shabbat activities;

* after meeting with Rabbi Lau, Barak froze the plans to transfer the "yeshiva funding" department to the Education Ministry - causing religious education leaders to breathe a sigh of relief;

* and the closure of Orthodox conversion courses was called off, in the face of Rabbi Melchior's threat to vote against the national budget at yesterday's Cabinet meeting.

MK Natan Sharansky, leader of the Yisrael B'Aliyah party, blames Prime Minister Barak for "enlisting half the nation against the other" in the struggle over what has become known as the secular revolution, and "this could destroy the nation." (arutzsheva.org Sep 19,20)

Cabinet Approves Budget; Knesset Support Unlikely

The Cabinet approved the proposed 2001 budget Monday. Nine ministers supported it, Ministers Ramon and Vilnai voted against, and Ministers Ben-Eliezer, Ben-Ami, and Tamir abstained. The budget is not expected to pass the Knesset, under the present coalition make-up; the Likud has advised the Prime Minister not to "embarrass himself" by presenting the budget to the Knesset. Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg advised Barak to "consult with the political parties" before presenting the budget, for the same reason. (A7 Sep 19)

Disruptions on the Lebanese Border

Lebanese citizens attempted to disrupt fruit-harvesting activities in Israel this morning, when they threw stones at a group of foreign workers in the orchards of northern Metullah. The security coordinator of Metullah, Amir Shushani, was lightly injured. The workers responded with stones of their own and hit one of the attackers, who then aimed a gun at the workers. IDF forces arrived on the scene and dispersed the Lebanese by firing into the air. (A7 Sep 19)

Arafat Smuggles Terrorist Around

Abu Abbas, who headed the Palestinian Liberation Front terrorist organization, says that the Israeli security limitations placed upon his entry to Israel don't faze him. "If the Israelis prevent me from passing from Gaza to Hevron, Yasser Arafat simply takes me in his helicopter," he said. The Netanyahu government placed severe restrictions upon the entry of Abu Abbas - whose organization was responsible for the murder of wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer - into pre-1967 Israel. (arutzsheva.org Sep 20)

El Al Would Lose More than it Gains

A senior El Al employee told Globes newspaper that El Al's expected losses from the transfer to a seven-day week will be greater than its profits from such a move. Flights on the Sabbath could net the company an extra 50 million shekels - but at the same time it will lose 60 million shekels from the expected religious boycott of the airline. El Al is considering flying on Shabbat under another commercial name. (arutzsheva.org Sep 20)

MK Calls for Recall of American Ambassador

MK Uzi Landau (Likud) calls upon Prime Minister Barak to demand that the United States recall its ambassador to Israel - Martin Indyk - in light of comments he made in favor of the partitioning of Jerusalem. Indyk, receiving an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College in London late last week, said, "There is no other solution but to share the Holy City. It is not, and cannot be, the exclusive preserve of one religion." An American Embassy spokesman said that Indyk's remarks do not indicate a change in American policy on Jerusalem. MK Landau said, "It is inconceivable that an ambassador would call for the partition of the capital in which he is serving." Khalil Jahshan, a leading anti-Israel Arab lobbyist in the U.S., reacted to Indy's comments by saying, "We are delighted to see a representative of the U.S. government saying publicly what we have heard privately." (arutzsheva.org Sep 17)

Successful Arrow Launch

A successful test-launch of the Arrow anti-missile was conducted last week at the Palmachim Air Force base near Ashkelon. A Scud-like missile was fired towards the ocean, and the Arrow, which received the target's vital details by electronic means, was dispatched at the bomb and exploded it in mid-air. A U.S. Pentagon delegation was on hand to observe the experiment. The director of the Arrow project for Israel Aircraft Industries, Dr. Danny Peretz, said that the trial launch was conducted under total combat conditions, and that it showed that the Arrow is now ready for action. Prime Minister Barak praised IAI and the other elements involved in developing the Arrow missile, saying that the successful test "is a vital component in maintaining Israel's deterrent ability and will make a significant contribution to the State of Israel's military and strategic strength." (arutzsheva.org Sep 14)


Quote for the Week

"If they told us that peace is at the price of giving up on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, my reply would be "lets do without peace,"
- Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Tel Aviv schoolchildren Agence France Press, June 27, 1995

Commentary

A Breaking of Faith with Israel By Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Israel morphed from a man who presents his well-established pro-Israeli Labor Party and pro-Arab leanings as the stuff of an "honest broker" into a man who has patently broken faith with Israel. On Friday, Ambassador Martin Indyk declared that, when it came to the issue of Jerusalem that has confounded him and his fellow peace-processors, "There is no other solution but to share the holy city. . . . It is not, and cannot be the exclusive preserve of one religion.

Questions as to whether Mr. Indyk was simply free-lancing or acting upon instructions from Washington appeared to be settled when, according to the London Guardian, Khalil Jahshan of the American Committee on Jerusalem, a group that supports the Arab line on the holy city, said: "We are delighted to see a representative of the U.S. government saying publicly what we have heard privately - that there should be a settlement by which all national aspirations are accommodated."

As it happens, Mr. Indyk's declaration also breaches - as noted in a properly critical analysis circulated on Monday by the Zionist Organization of America - a pledge made by candidate "Bill Clinton in 1992 . . . to recognize all of Jerusalem as Israel's, and violates the near-unanimous congressional resolution of 1995 calling for U.S. recognition of united Jerusalem as Israel's capital." Unfortunately, the political landscape is littered with Mr. Clinton's broken campaign promises and actions at odds with the law.

What sets the Indyk declaration apart is what it says about the Clinton-Gore administration's determination to get a "peace" agreement between Israel and the Palestinians at any price, before the president leaves office - and, ideally, before the polls close on the vice president and Hillary Clinton's respective campaigns. Under Mr. Clinton and Al Gore, the United States has effectively abandoned its traditional support for Israel as the Jewish State and is now actively collaborating with so-called "post-Zionist" efforts there that may well leave it neither Jewish nor a state.

To be sure, it has in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak a willing collaborator in this assault on the very essence of the Zionist dream. Stung by the wholesale repudiation his government has experienced over the hash it has made of peace diplomacy at the hands of his country's religious and other opposition parties, Mr. Barak has declared what amounts to a jihad or holy war on Israel's Jewishness. His "secular revolution" calls for ending the official practice of honoring the Sabbath by suspending most commerce, El Al flights, bus service, etc. from sundown on Friday until the sun sets on Saturday.

Like most of Mr. Barak's actions - and virtually all those taken by his sponsor in Washington, Bill Clinton - the impetus for these steps and for taking them now is transparently political. By appealing to the large number of Israelis who are non-observant Jews, and to Israel's Arabs (who are generally hostile to the Jewish character of the state whose citizens they happen to be), Mr. Barak evidently hopes to build a new political base. He clearly is calculating that, if he can just secure a peace deal, irrespective of its terms, he can fashion out of this subset of the electorate a working majority in the Knesset, and avoid the repudiation that his opponents have in mind, and history surely has in store, for him.

Mr. Barak's secular revolution is, therefore, of a piece with and a necessary precondition for his abandonment of the position taken by every Israeli government since 1967, namely that a unified Jerusalem is Israel's eternal capital. If Israel ceases to be the Jewish State, then it follows ineluctably that such a state's historic attachment to the holy sites of Jerusalem need no longer preclude its government from, in Martin Indyk's words, "sharing" them with the Palestinians. Welcome to Post-Zion.

Urged on by intense U.S. pressure and inducements, the Israeli prime minister has gone well beyond agreeing in principle to recognize Arab sovereignty over parts of the Old City of Jerusalem, however. As Charles Krauthammer noted in a characteristically brilliant essay circulated on Sept. 18 by the Jewish World Review:

"[Mr. Barak also] surrendered the Jordan Valley, a strip of barrenness that buffers Israel from the Arab tank armies to the east, [even though his] own Labor Party insisted for 30 years that it could not be ceded without fatally compromising Israel's security. . . . [And] he conceded the principle that Israel should receive and resettle Palestinians who left their homes 52 years ago in a war started by the Arabs for the express purpose of destroying the newborn state of Israel."

If implemented, these concessions will create new "facts on the ground" that will not only further diminish the Jewish character of the State of Israel - notably by effectively accepting the principle of a "right of return" for millions of Palestinian "refugees." They may also make it impossible to defend that state against enemies, foreign and domestic.

For Bill Clinton and his political allies - notably, his hand-picked successor and first lady - expediency demands an Israeli-Palestinian deal, no matter what the price. He is prepared to promise any amount of financial and military assistance Mr. Barak will require in order to sell such a deal at home, especially since all those bills will come due on somebody else's watch.

For Israel, however, the stakes are infinitely higher. What Mr. Clinton and his minions like Martin Indyk are pressing the Israelis to surrender is not only the future viability of their state but its Zionist soul. Israel cannot and must not go there, and the American people must not permit their government to compel the Jewish State to do so.

The writer is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times. (Washington Times Sept 20)


Barak's Last Chip By Charles Krauthammer

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is down to his last chip. All his other bargaining chips were given away last month at Camp David in a fit of shocking preemptive concessions.

Even his allies on the left were shocked. Leah Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin's widow, charged that "Yitzhak is certainly turning in his grave. . . . Yitzhak would never have agreed to compromise on the Old City and the Temple Mount."

Novelist Amos Oz, another leading dove, expressed surprise that Yasser Arafat would leave Camp David disdaining everything Barak had offered him.

Surprised? Surprised that Arafat sat and pocketed every one of Barak's concessions without making any in return? Sat and allowed Barak to destroy one of the greatest assets any country has: the notion that there are red lines it will not cross and that therefore the other party must make some movement toward accommodation?

Arafat could not believe his good fortune. Here was the prime minister of Israel refuting for all time the Jews' reputation for shrewd bargaining. Barak moved the goalposts 90 yards down the field toward him on every single issue--without waiting to receive an inch of movement from his adversary. Oh, Arafat did offer this: After he had been given the Old City of Jerusalem, for Jews the most sacred place on earth, he would permit them to worship at their holy sites.

The arrogance of this suggestion is breathtaking but, given Barak's abjectness, hardly surprising. Having fought and won five wars, having buried and mourned three generations of young soldiers, the Jews had regained, after 2,000 years, their holiest places. Now Arafat would magnanimously allow the Jews to revisit them, as they did in their 2,000 years of exile, at his sufferance.

Arafat refuses even to acknowledge that there ever was a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount. In which case, where exactly did Jesus overturn the tables of the moneychangers? In front of the al-Aqsa mosque? Moreover, during the only years in the past five centuries when Arabs controlled Jerusalem--1949 to 1967--they not only prevented Jews from worshiping at their holy sites, they desecrated them.

What did Barak give away at Camp David?

* He surrendered the Jordan Valley, a strip of barrenness that buffers Israel from the Arab tank armies to the east. Barak's own Labor Party insisted for 30 years that it could not be ceded without fatally compromising Israel's security.

* He gave Arafat control over much of the Old City, flagrantly violating his campaign promise never to redivide Jerusalem.

* He conceded the principle that Israel should receive and resettle Palestinians who left their homes 52 years ago in a war started by the Arabs for the express purpose of destroying the newborn state of Israel.

Having given away the Jordan Valley, the West Bank and a united Jerusalem, and having conceded the so-called "right of return," Barak left Camp David with nothing. Why, even Arafat's alleged concession made seven years ago on the White House lawn--recognizing Israel--is a sham. The maps in the textbooks he has just issued to his schoolchildren show no Israel.

What chip is left? Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state.

Arafat wants a Palestinian state. But the Oslo agreement says he must negotiate its terms with Israel. After Camp David, Arafat traveled the world to get support for a unilateral declaration of independence.

Don't do it without Israel's consent, said the Russians, the Europeans, some of the Arabs and, most important, the United States. That is why Arafat postponed his declaration of independence scheduled for Sept. 13. He needs Israel's agreement before the world will give him recognition and aid.

This, then, is Barak's last card. What to do with it? Withhold it until he gets two things from Arafat: recognition of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem, and a final end to all subsequent Palestinian claims against Israel.

Sounds obvious. But Barak and some of his advisers are actually contemplating the opposite: concluding a partial deal. In other words, giving Arafat everything Barak has already offered him, plus recognizing his state--and leaving Jerusalem (and perhaps other issues) to be resolved sometime in the future.

Leaving it unresolved means that the new and now-armed Palestinian state will have a permanent grievance against Israel. It means that the conflict festers. It means yet another generation of Palestinian children will be raised on the call for "jihad to liberate Jerusalem" from the Jews.

A partial deal means Barak would have given away absolutely everything in return for--nothing. No closure, no real peace, nothing but more conflict. And no recognized claim to Jerusalem, the very soul of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. It would be the most egregious act of negotiated surrender since Munich. And it may yet happen. (Washington Post Sept 15)


The War to Defend a Textbook By Yoram Hazony

The Education Ministry has produced an outrageous book, which is radically divorced from the way most Israelis understand their history. How did this happen?

In the August 25, 2000 issue of Ha'aretz, Akiva Eldar reported on the flurry of activity initiated by Prof. Israel Bartal in the Education and Foreign Affairs ministries, which he termed "a war against a book [called] 'The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul' by Dr. Yoram Hazony." But this description is not accurate. In fact, the materials being sent out in all directions hardly mention my book, and are actually part of a war to defend one book: The Education Ministry's new ninth-grade history textbook "A World of Changes" (1999), written by a staff headed by Danny Ya'akobi, and advised by a group of academics, including Israel Bartal.The problem faced by Bartal and his partners in this struggle is this: How do you defend a textbook that is simply indefensible? "A World of Changes" is a survey of both world and Jewish history during the 20th century, which departs dramatically from what have been the accepted parameters of Zionist historiography in Israeli textbooks until now: The book makes no mention whatsoever of Chaim Weizmann during the period that he served as the president of the Zionist Organization (1921-1946); it devotes only a single sentence to the diplomatic activities of David Ben-Gurion prior to the establishment of the State of Israel (regarding a meeting with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945); it does not mention the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or any other act of European Jewish resistance against the Nazis; the underground operations of the Haganah, Etzel and Lehi against the British are dismissed in under one sentence ("and acts of violence on the other hand"); and the description of the Six-Day War makes no mention of the Egyptian decision to blockade the Straits of Tiran.

The book does contain a large amount of material, as it should, about Jewish life in the Diaspora, the Holocaust, the peace process and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. What is missing is the material drawn from classic Zionist historiography: The book downplays anti-Jewish persecution in the Diaspora, except where it is associated with fascism (for example, in the Soviet Union and in the Arab states). And it is broadly disinterested in acts of Jewish heroism (the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine, the struggle against the British).

Similarly, personalities who made decisive contributions to the struggle for Jewish independence and security over 50 years - Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman, Shimon Peres, Menachem Begin - virtually do not appear in the book until the '70s and '80s, when they are discussed in the context of the peace process. Entire crucial chapters of their lives have simply been erased from memory.

In short, the Education Ministry has produced an outrageous book, which is radically divorced from the way most Israelis understand their history. Which raises the obvious question: How did this happen? What is going on in the Education Ministry's labyrinth of academic committees and bureaucratic departments, which bear responsibility for writing this book, providing academic supervision for it, approving it, and publishing it with the logo of the Education Ministry's Curriculum Development Division? In the case of "A World of Changes," this system has failed resoundingly.

The fact that the Education Ministry could write and publish a book like this can be understood as the result of some combination of post-nationalist ideology with professional negligence. But how to explain what we've been seeing in recent weeks: Instead of getting out of this with a promise to publish a "corrected edition" and quietly taking the book off the shelves, government officials are lining up to join the struggle to defend this dreadful textbook. The Education Ministry's Web site now features a 6,000-word essay by Bartal - a senior scholar who is one of the leading figures on the Education Ministry's curriculum committee - dedicated almost entirely to trying to persuade us that there is nothing wrong with this book, and that every word against it is "a lie."

But this cannot be done, and the effort leads Bartal to offer us "explanations" that are not worthy of an academic of his standing. For example, in order to deflect my claim that the book makes no mention whatsoever of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Bartal answers that Hazony "'forgot' ... that on page 132 the student learns at length about recruitment of tens of thousands of Jewish volunteers for the war against the Nazis." True, there is such a description on page 132 - but what it is describing is the recruitment of Palestinian Jews into the British army during the war. What kind of an answer is this to the argument that the book makes no mention of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?

Bartal offers an answer of similar quality to my claim that in "A World of Changes" crucial elements of the story of the Six-Day War have completely disappeared - including the Egyptian blockade of Eilat, the Israeli appeal to the Jordanians not to enter the war and the heroic battles over Jerusalem ending at the Western Wall. The dramatic photograph of Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan and Uzi Narkis entering the Old City through the Lions' Gate is gone as well, and in its place there is a photograph of an Israeli half-track in East Jerusalem under a sign in Arabic.

To all this, Bartal responds that "Dr. Hazony would certainly seek to have the (Jordanian) sign be replaced by a bold-lettered Hebrew sign" - before going on to condemn me for my (entirely fictitious) demand that someone "doctor the photos" in the textbooks. What kind of answer is this to the argument that the book makes no mention of the closing of the Straits of Tiran?

All of the answers to my arguments are of this nature. And to what end, Prof. Bartal? Wouldn't it be easier simply to admit that you and your colleagues made a mistake? (Ha'aretz Sep 15)

The writer is President of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.


Natan Sharansky Says...On Israel, Barak, and the Peace Process.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez

Natan Sharansky recently resigned as interior minister of Israel. He is currently in the United States working with the organization

Lopez: What is your assessment the current state of the peace process?

Sharansky: Well, on the one hand, it came to a deadlock, but it is a very unpleasant deadlock, because Barak has decided that he has to do it before the election in the United States of America. He was making one concession after another, while Arafat was not moving at all. And the worst of these concessions include the division of Jerusalem, and that's one thing that is extremely dangerous. We are not talking about the border of Israel, we are not talking about the security of Israel. We are talking here about the identity of Israel and the Jewish nation. Jerusalem is one of very few things @ maybe the only thing @ that united Jews for all these thousands of years. And if the Jewish leader, the Israeli prime minister, is ready to divide Jerusalem, that's something that can divide all of our nations.

That's why these negotiations can be very dangerous. The prime minister did it without having a mandate from his people, because during the electoral campaign, he convinced the world to support him by stressing that he would never divide Jerusalem. I resigned from the government when it became clear that he was going to put Jerusalem on the table during the negotiations; there was a series of resignations, and now the prime minister does not have the government behind him. Nevertheless, he goes ahead.

The irony is that Arafat is speaking in the name of Arab nations and says that he has to make the decision about Jews, and he will put Arab issues to the side, while our prime minister @ this is exactly what I told him when he was at Camp David @ doesn't feel that he has to bring these issues first to the attention of his people, of his parliament. And that's why, in fact, he is very lonely in his negotiations. He does not have his people behind him. It is a very dangerous situation from all points of view @ Jewish, historical, and democratic. What I'm trying to do is to rebuild this democratic process by using the modern tools @ the Internet. We started this week in New York a website, OneJerusalem,org, and the idea is to try to appeal to millions of Jews and Christians in America and all over the world to express our solidarity and support and give the opportunity to people to raise their voices, and to prevent it.

Lopez: What do you think the immediate future holds for Mr. Barak?

Sharansky: Well, I think whether there will be a signed agreement or not, there will be elections in Israel because it is clear he did many things for which he didn't have a mandate. In order to get a mandate, he will have to go back to the people for elections. I think that between November and April, we will have elections.

Lopez: Has the United States been a problem in terms of Israel's best interests in this whole process?

Sharansky: I can't say that the United States is a problem. Even if I disagree with a number of steps, I cannot expect the man from the U.S. to be more pro-Zionist than our prime minister. If our prime minister wants so much to sign an agreement, you can't expect the American administration to be against it. Having said this, I have no doubt that the American administration and the president are very interested in having this deal as soon as possible, before the president is out of office. And Barak believes that he has to try to reach a deal while the president is in office. And I think that this connection between the elections in America and the political calendar in America, and the fate of the agreement, the fate of the peace process, is very, very unhealthy.

Lopez: As you know, Mr. Arafat was planning on declaring a Palestinian state this week. Did you ever think he really was, and how significant is it that the day passed without that?

Sharansky: You know, I was never excited about this. I was convinced that we should be cool, we should simply say that if he does it one-sidedly, that would be the end of the process and then we would take our steps, and we would establish our control over the territories that are still in dispute. And I think it would have to be expected; after all, Yassir Arafat understands very well that everything that he got and everything that he wants to get, he can get only at the negotiation table, he can get only if he abstains from one-sided actions which can bring an end to the process. So, I don't think it was in his interest, I think it is in his interest to continue playing, and threatening and blackmailing and trying to get more and more concessions each time, postponing again the formation of a Palestinian state. So, we should, of course, be glad that he didn't do it, but we should not be trying to reward him for this.

Lopez: If you were in the room during these negotiating processes with Arafat and Barak, what would be your strategy in dealing with the Jerusalem question?

Sharansky: Well, first of all, I did not go to the negotiations. Barak wanted me to go to Camp David, and I not only didn't go, but I resigned. One of the main reasons was because Barak agreed to put Jerusalem on the table in the negotiations and even to start dividing it, first with small piece and then bigger and bigger and bigger. I believe it was such a big retreat from the position of all of Israel's leaders that it was a big mistake. I think that we had to continue sticking to the principle of reciprocity that was in the heart of the Oslo Agreement, which we established during the Wye Plantation negotiations, that we are taking a number of steps and expect that at the same time Arafat will take a number of steps in parallel, including confiscation of the weapons, and most important, stopping anti-Israel propaganda, changing their school programs, so on and so on.

Well, Yassir Arafat was not doing any of these things, when our prime minister decided to skip the principle of reciprocity and to try to go ahead and find some final compromise as soon as possible. And with this desire to move quickly, this believing that we don't have enough time, he was ready to agree to unprecedented compromises and concessions. I believe it was a big mistake. We don't have to be in a hurry. We have to negotiate from a position of strength, and there is no way to negotiate from the position of strength if your people are not behind you, if you don't have a majority in the Knesset and in public opinion.

That's why I was proposing to Barak to, first of all, build a national-unity government, to build world consensus, to agree what are our red lines and then to go and negotiate from these red lines, understanding we have a lot to propose to Arafat, not only more territories but economical cooperation, improving of educational system, telecommunications, high-tech, water, and many other things to help him to build a prosperous, democratic society. But he has to understand that we can give him a lot, but we are not going to give him our soul, and Jerusalem is not simply a city, that is our soul. We can give him a lot of religious freedom there, we can give him opportunities in improving the quality of life, but we cannot give him our soul, and I think that was a very big mistake.

Lopez: I have a U.S.-related question. Are you familiar with the controversy with Bill Clinton having shaken hands with Fidel Castro last week? And on its heels, this picture of Rick Lazio, the New York Senate candidate, shaking Yassir Arafat's hands?

Sharansky: I understand that in political life, when people have official positions representing their states, they are often stationed where they have to shake hands with people whom they don't like and whose policy they condemn, and so I would not make a big fuss over the very fact of shaking hands because frankly speaking, I know people who are shaking hands with Arafat, but who are very firm in defending our national interests, and people who were not shaking hands with Arafat and were much weaker in defending our interests. So, the shaking hands by itself is not important.

Lopez: One last U.S. question @ what do you think of what you're hearing from the presidential candidates, and specifically, what do you make of Joe Lieberman?

Sharansky: Well, first of all, I am not going to be involved in your campaign, we have enough headaches with our campaign. But as for Joe Lieberman, it is a very important fact for relations between Jews and the American society. The fact that Joe Lieberman is not simply a Jew, but an observant Jew, a Jew who insists on his right in having the Jewish way of life. I think it is a major, major development in these relations. In fact, only recently we had our elections of the president and, surprisingly, people were raising the question whether it was good or not, that the one who became the president, Moshe Katsav, is too close to Jewish religion.

Some people are criticizing me and my party, we are a secular one, for supporting Katsav - it was ridiculous. I think there is a big irony in the fact that there some people in Israel are doubtful whether it is good that a person who is close to the Jewish religion is the president of Israel, while America is already ready without any doubt to have a vice president who is an observant, religious Jew. For me, it says a lot about American society, and also about the fact that people want real values, family values, religious values, and so on.

On a personal note, I can say that I met Joe Lieberman two or three months ago when he was in Israel; he asked for the meeting. It was the time when I was still interior minister, but I already expressed openly my disagreement with the cause of Ehud Barak, and I told him that I think it is a very big problem that there is such a clear connection between the political calendar in America, and the desire to reach agreement so quickly. And I have to say, with all the restrictions he had as an American over there, my impression was that he definitely agreed with this.

Well, having said all this, I have to say is that I am definitely not taking sides, and I see many important and good people in both teams, and I want to be sure, I am sure, in fact, that whoever will be president, he will continue the cause of developing a strategic friendship between the United States and Israel, and there is absolutely no need to try to finish such important, fateful negotiations before the next round of American elections.   (National Review Sept 14)


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