Saturday, January 28

The Green Revolution in Palestine

The worst scenario imaginable from Israel’s point of view (and perhaps from that of the U.S., European Union, and the UN) has occurred. Hamas had won the Palestinian Elections by an absolute majority. This means that they can form the next Palestinian Government without signing coalition agreements with other political parties. This is a great day for Palestinian democracy, which has given an opportunity for the Palestinian People to say the last word in a relatively peaceful manner. Maybe it is the positive aspect of the Palestinian elections. A form of democracy did play its part in the decision of the Palestinian People.

This is perhaps as far as it goes. Hamas has been taken by surprise no less than Fatah; this means that Israel will be changing her tactics towards the Palestinians. The EU and the US have already expressed their opposition to Hamas and have given indications that they will not negotiate with the terrorist organization. Perhaps the Hamas win has cleared the air from many points of view and this is positive. The situation between Israel and the Palestinians can now be viewed in black and white terms rather than in shades of gray. An implacable enemy is now facing Israel without any masking or two-pronged approach towards peace as under Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, the deceased Yasser Arafat. There were overtures towards peace while Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror against Israel was occurring at the same time. Hamas was responsible for the terrorist acts against Israel over the last decade if not more and had opposed all negotiations for peace with Israel. They never recognized the Oslo Accords of 1993 or Israel for that matter. Their covenant is clear about its attitude towards Israel. There does not seem much chance of them giving up the armed struggle against Israel in the near future.

From this point of view, it will be easier for Israel to act against Hamas if the latter decides to renew terrorist activity. In the past, the world adopted a conciliatory stance towards the Palestinians. The EU and the US had requested Israel to act with restraint against terror so that Mahmoud Abbas could do his job of disarming terror groups, which he never did. He knew that his position was untenable and weak. He was unable to stop the terror against Israel. Now the situation is clearer. Hamas is a terrorist organization! She still carries weapons for the “armed struggle” against Israel’s existence. She has made no conciliatory statements towards negotiations with Israel or disarming her terrorist militias.

Hamas has won the elections because of the dissatisfaction of the Palestinian People with the corrupt Palestinian Authority. The US, EU, and much of the world have poured money into Palestine. The Palestinian Authority does not seem accountable for the money. It had disappeared into the private coffers of Palestinian Authority members who became prosperous fat cats at the expense of their people. The Palestinians remained poor and economically deprived. This had given impetus to the strengthening of Hamas who had developed many social services that had helped the poverty stricken in many ways. The Palestinian Authority had created a poverty vacuum filled by Hamas. It is unlikely that the disengagement from Gaza had facilitated the catapulting of Hamas into power. Hamas gave the Palestinian People hope for a better life by personal example. Hamas, in the eyes of the Palestinian people, was not corrupt and appeared to care for their welfare. The Palestinian Authority was oblivious to their people’s woes and now they have paid the price! The Palestinian vote was an anti-Fatah vote rather than a pro-Hamas vote. The Palestinians want change and had enough of the cronyism and nepotism of the Palestinian Authority. The Hamas propaganda machine was a great success and their sweeping victory proved that. It remains to be seen whether they will become pragmatic, come to terms with Israel’s existence, and cease their terror. They have stated that they are prepared to sign a temporary cease-fire agreement or hudna with Israel on condition that Israel does not attack them. Maybe this is their form of beginning to climb down the tree of non-recognition. Who knows? Time will tell if this is the case. To date this is the only real indication of a form of non-belligerency on Hamas’s part. It is clearly not enough!

Another rather interesting observation is Hamas’s need for Mahmoud Abbas as a prop for their regime. Mahmoud Abbas does have legitimacy in the world that Hamas lacks. They need him as a go-between. He would give the human face that Hamas needs in the world while at the same time Hamas would have the option of carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel. Apart from that, Hamas has no experience in government. It was involved in terror and not in government. Many of us hope that the world will not fall for that tactic. As the situation stands now, Saeb Eraket, the Fatah representative, has stated that they will not be part of a Hamas led coalition. Inclusion of Fatah in this coalition would be bad for renewal of the peace process with Israel that is already in tatters. On the other hand, if Fatah makes recognition of Israel and disarmament of Hamas militias a precondition in negotiating a coalition agreement then it would be very positive for the future of peace in this area.

The interests of Palestine are intertwined with achieving peace with Israel. Israel supplies Palestine with electricity, wages of government workers and water. If Hamas does not renounce their aggressive covenant against Israel, the latter will take unilateral measures that would not serve Palestinian interests. They could cut their funds to the Palestinian Authority. It would be interesting to see how Hamas would still maintain their support of their people under these conditions! This scenario could result in Iran filling the financial vacuum and begin pouring funds into the Palestinian Government coffers. This could create a very hostile Iranian-Syrian-Al Qaeda axis, which would not be conducive to peace in the Middle East. The ramifications for increased terror activity against Israel and the world are clear.

An interesting development resulting from the Palestinian Elections is world determination not to negotiate or recognize Hamas until it abandons terror, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and disarms its armed terrorist militias. This gives Israel more leeway in dealing with Palestinian terror without the veiled condemnation of the world and the UN. Israel has already shown its attitude towards the latest developments which coincides with world opinion. She is prepared to negotiate with Hamas if the latter relinquishes terror, disarms and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

Friday, January 27

Hamas has won the Palestinian Elections. In order to recover form the shock, I thought that it would be a good idea to have some time out and share some photographs that I had taken on my last visit to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa in August 2004.The flowers in the foreground are Pin Cushions which are part of the Protea family.  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 25

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Proteas in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa Posted by Picasa

Protea in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Cape Town South Africa Posted by Picasa

Cycad in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Cape Town South Africa

Posted by Picasa
The situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so volatile with its ups and downs. Now the results of a rather close electoral contest betweeen Hamas and the ruling Fatah are arriving with a large edge on Hamas. During this period of waiting for the final results, I have decided to add this photograph of a Cycad that have nothing to do with the conflict in order to refresh our fatigued minds and spirit. I hope that readers will enjoy these photographs as much as I have enjoyed taking them. These pictures were taken on my last trip to Cape Town, South Africa on a family visit to my land of birth.

Saturday, January 21

The Upcoming Palestinian Elections

There is an increasing amount of activity in Palestinian Street as the elections draw closer. According to the latest polls, Fatah is just easing ahead of Hamas by a very narrow margin. The chances that the gap between the two main contenders for the Palestinian Legislature will close and Hamas could become the winners.

The method of campaigning is very odd indeed. The Palestinian leadership pays lip service to democratic elections but in practice there is much rifle toting and shots fired in the air and occasionally at one another. Those who bear arms are masked gunmen of all persuasions. There is an air of total anarchy and violence. Which international observer (or group of international observers) would brave the bullets and come to oversee these elections? The naivety of many countries who wish to see a democratic electoral process unfold in the Palestinian camp without intrigue or violence will be greatly disappointed. As 25 January 2006 looms closer, so will the violence. Many of the splinter extremist Palestinian groups will do everything in their power to upset the almost moribund democratic electoral process. Islamic Jihad is an example of a terrorist group that is uncompromising even towards the Palestinian people and will step up terror against Israel in order to throw a spanner into the rather shaky democratic electoral works.

Perhaps, if by chance, these elections run smoothly and Hamas does win, it could clear the air and make a peace process with Israel more feasible. Oh! Eyebrows are being raised at this possibility! Yes! The fact that Hamas has decided to take part in the elections that have shaky foundations is a positive sign. They are trying to gain legitimacy in the eyes of their people. At the same time, they have decided to take on professional help in order to improve their image. They want to prove that they are an alternative to the present weak, corrupt and spineless Palestinian Authority. They have a clean record so far and are not tainted with corruption as the present Palestinian Authority.

Hamas is now a group in transition from being a fundamental terrorist organization to a political party that sees itself as an alternative government elected by the majority of the Palestinian electorate. There have been hints of this fundamental change in their attitude. If they win, they may show signs of pragmatism and come to terms with Israel’s existence. Much work remains in rebuilding the future Palestinian state. The present Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, have neglected this. Corruption and anarchy is rife in Palestine and this cannot continue, as no country in the world will give much needed financial aid to the Palestinians if there is such instability coupled with corruption and bribery as at present.

Shimon Peres, who has changed his loyalties from the Labour Party and joined the Kadima Party, has even stated that Kadima will be prepared to negotiate with Hamas if they lay down their arms. As it is, Hamas has signed a truce and has not been involved in terror against Israel for quite a while now. In a way, there is a feeling of déjà vu. Prior to the Madrid Peace Conference of 30th October 1991, it was illegal for anybody to meet with the Palestinian Liberation Organization of Yasser Arafat. It was considered a terror organization. The Oslo Accords of 13 September 1993, despite its well-known failings, was a start towards the peace process. The PLO became legitimate in Israel’s eyes. We are reaching a similar stage with Hamas assuming they win the Palestinian Elections.

On the other hand, the danger that Hamas may be using its future gained legitimacy to erode Israel’s security and accelerate Israel’s destruction is also a strong possibility especially in view of what is going on in Iran under their leader Mahmoud Ahmadinajad who has been calling for Israel’s destruction. A possible alliance between Hamas, Syria and Iran is a danger to Israel. This scenario is a possibility if Hamas does not show pragmatism in recognizing Israel’s right to exist assuming that they win the elections.

Saturday, January 14

The Political Tempest in Israel and Palestine

So much has occurred in this part of the world over the last month. Ariel Sharon’s serious health condition and the new political realignments in Israel have contributed to an increasing amount of liquidity in Israeli politics. Prior to Ariel Sharon’s severe stroke, the doctors who had treated him for a mild stroke two weeks earlier declared him fit to continue his political activities. So much was at stake for Ariel Sharon at that time. Perhaps the medical staff discharged Ariel Sharon too early from hospital. Naturally, one is wiser after Ariel Sharon’s severe stroke and this conclusion is axiomatic.

After PM Sharon’s severe cerebral haemorrhage, the bulletins on Sharon’s health were frequent. Now there seems to be some coming to terms with Sharon’s tragic condition and after a political respite from infighting, the political situation is heating up and old alliances are breaking up across the political spectrum as the Israeli elections draw closer.

The latest party to fall is the Shinui Party, which has been rocked by political infighting. Their primary result was a disaster for its leader, Tommy Lapid and his deputy Avraham Poraz. The polls have indicated that this party is going to lose heavily and may not even have any representation in the Knesset. It is a party built on anti ultra-Orthodox sentiments and has nothing to offer to the Israeli electorate. Its disappearance from the Israeli political scene will not be a great tragedy.

The Likud Party will also suffer severe losses and the unpredictable results of its primaries have left a bad taste in the mouth of its leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud power is no loss either. It has become more right wing since Ariel Sharon’s resignation, taking with him the cream of the Likud hierarchy prior to his illness.

The Labour Party under Amir Peretz is also showing signs of decreasing support. According to the latest polls, both Likud and Labour will have equal support with Labour perhaps edging slightly ahead of the Likud. Amir Peretz is prone to demagoguery on economic issues that adversely affect the weaker sectors of Israeli society. This may snowball on his ability to win the elections. The smaller parties will all lose as the electorate move towards supporting Kadima under Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister. Amir Peretz is also a dove which does not fit in with the idea of negotiating with the Palestinians especially now with indications that Hamas may win the Palestinian elections.

Traditional loyalties to the main parties are conspicuous by its absence. Never has there been such fluidity in traditional voting patterns. Many of us are in total confusion as for whom to vote. The Meretz-Yahad Party will also lose a seat or two in the upcoming elections. One thing is certain and that is whoever wins will not gain an absolute majority and the dirty game of political wheeling and dealing in the aftermath of the elections will take place. There will be major compromises on all political fronts in the mad scramble for seats and crumbs from the party that gains the most seats with its upper hand in conducting coalition talks.

The Israeli electorate will move towards a central position. There will be a strong desire to carry on Sharon’s policies of disengagement from various parts of the occupied West Bank even if this does not bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. However, the Israeli electorate does not want any compromises on security. This will result in “ghettoizing” the Palestinians even further. Apart from uprooting various small, illegal settlements beyond the green line, it is doubtful if there will be much change from the present situation under a Kadima led coalition.

The Palestinian elections are also a strong factor that will influence the Israeli electorate. Hamas are showing signs of increasing their support amongst the Palestinians. This could have an effect on pushing the Israeli electorate towards a more right wing stance, helping the Likud gain more seats. On the other hand, Hamas may show signs of becoming more pragmatic as they take over the reins of power. This could surprise us all although the chance of that occurring is very remote! While they may not recognize Israel’s right to exist officially, they may become more amenable to negotiating a settlement with Israel in the form of some long-term (or indefinite) “hudna”. This would weaken the ability of Islamic Jihad and various other splinter terrorist groups from carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel. Meanwhile Palestinian street is in total anarchy. There are armed brigades shooting and killing at will and threatening any semblance of law and order. The odd Qassam or two is still landing on the outskirts of Ashkelon. The Palestinian Authority is losing control over the situation. They still show no desire to disarm terrorist gangs in the streets of Gaza. Turmoil will be the order of the day in Palestinian street. There will be no winners in Palestine. The losers will be the Palestinian people and this will affect the Israelis as well. As the situation stands, there is no viable partner for negotiating a peace settlement with Israel. A Palestinian state under these circumstances will recede further from reality unless Hamas changes its uncompromising attitude towards Israel’s existence and becomes a responsible instrument of government amenable to negotiations.

Tuesday, January 10

The Ariel Sharon Enigma

“Legacy” is a rather lofty word when referring to Ariel Sharon’s policies. Perhaps it would be better to use the term “direction”. Ariel Sharon’s policies or direction is rather contradictory. A feeling of indifference to Ariel Sharon is impossible. One either supports him or opposes him. One can oppose him in the past and support him in the present or vice versa.

He does invoke strong feelings one way or the other.

Sharon’s enemies see him as a warmonger or murderer. His supporters see him as a hero and true patriot. He had made many mistakes in the past as in the Lebanon War of 1982, including the indirect responsibility for the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in the refugee camps around Beirut. However, he has redeemed himself in the eyes of many world leaders with his bold decisions on unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

History will judge him in a mixed way – a hero to some and an implacable enemy to others. He is a man of determination and guts carrying out his decisions despite opposition even if it means uprooting Jewish settlements beyond the green line. He had made an about turn in his ideology of settlements beyond the green line when he felt that it was an obstacle to unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians. Peace with the Palestinians in his view was not an option, but unilateral disengagement is. The future will tell whether his successor will move in Sharon's direction, assuming the Kadima Party wins in the upcoming general election.

Saturday, January 7

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Aftermath

Ariel Sharon has proved to be a very controversial figure in Israeli politics as well as in the military sphere. His enemies viewed him as a warmonger and ruthless murderer. He is also the father of the settler movement beyond the green line - a grandfather figure - whose interests were the wellbeing of the Israeli people and a war hero. He reached the climax of his military career in the October War of 1973, when his forces encircled the Egyptian 3rd Army after they had crossed the Suez Canal and regained the honour that they lost in the Six Day War of June 1967. When Ariel Sharon made a decision, he kept it and carried it out, “bulldozing” all those who opposed him.

Ariel Sharon is a man of many facets who had made many mistakes. One of these mistakes was the conduct of the Lebanese War of 1982 that he had initiated under the Begin Likud Government at the time. Sharon’s enemies held Ariel Sharon responsible for the
Sabra and Shatila Massacres of refugees in the Beirut refugee camps. A commission of enquiry into this tragedy – the Kahan Commission - was established and found Sharon indirectly responsible for what had occurred.

For many of us, the highlight of Sharon’s political career was his bold decision to disengage from Gaza and uprooting the Jewish settlements there. Many in his Likud Party had opposed him in this. He proved himself a pragmatic politician, acknowledging the mistakes of his past ideology concerning Greater Israel and the settler movements of colonization of territory occupied in the Six Day War of 1967. His direction had undergone a total change towards compromise and an end to the occupation even if it meant making unilateral decisions on disengagement from the Palestinians. His goal was disengagement from the Palestinian territories whether there was a partner for peace on the Palestinian side or not. Even if the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas was not prepared to disarm the terrorist groups in their midst, this did not influence Ariel Sharon’s decisions of unilateral disengagement. Perhaps one could speculate that had Ariel Sharon not suffered such a severe blow to his health, he would have continued on the path of more unilateral disengagement after re-election. Ariel Sharon had moved ahead with the times realizing that the dream of Greater Israel as envisaged by the Likud had reached a dead end.

The serious cerebral hemorrhage that struck him done in the midst of such a vital point in his career is a terrible tragedy of national proportion. It is possible that the medical staff over treated Ariel Sharon with various anti-coagulant drugs, contributed to his critical condition. We all hope that he will survive this and return to many years of good health. Ariel Sharon’s political career has come to an abrupt end. Personally, I never supported his policies in the past, but times have changed and he had made great strides towards peace within the last year with the Gaza disengagement despite much opposition within his own party. This had forced him out of his party. He established the centre Kadima Party with supporters from his old Likud Party, and even some Labour Party members joined him. His ex right wing supporters in the Likud had hounded and almost demonized him prior to the disengagement. At a Likud Convention, those who opposed his policies disconnected his microphone while he gave a speech. The orange ribbon settlers and supporters - opposed Ariel Sharon’s disengagement decisions. His political life within the Likud became intolerable for him. There were
pulsa de nura ceremonies by the right wing “religious” lunatic fringe praying for Sharon’s demise. However, this did not deter him from carrying out his decision. He had assessed (correctly) that most of the Israeli electorate supported him as illustrated in the political polls taken at regular intervals.

Many people view the Kadima Party established by Ariel Sharon as a one-man party. Now that Ariel Sharon has left the scene, the future of Kadima is uncertain. Many politicians joined the party because of Ariel Sharon. Shimon Peres is an example. He has kept very quiet about his political future within that party. He has not said that he will support the party, apart from paying lip service to supporting Ariel Sharon. Does this mean that he could return to the Labour Party? Now, he is keeping quiet on that matter and has offered his support to Ehud Olmert, the acting Prime Minister, who has joined Kadima and is one of the initial strong supporters of Ariel Sharon. There are unofficial behind the scenes discussions within Labour to bring Shimon Peres back into the fold. It is possible that this option is still open for him.

Kadima is showing a semblance of unity while Ariel Sharon is fighting for his life. A question mark remains whether the various members of Kadima will return to their previous political home. Much depends on the ability of Ehud Olmert to maintain unity with his unproven leadership qualities. According to the latest polls, there is still strong public support for Kadima – more than for any other political party. Will Ehud Olmert be able to maintain this momentum? Time will tell.

Sharon’s legacy could keep many people within Kadima. There is no doubt that Sharon is a remarkable personality who had contributed much to Israel and its people. History will judge whether his contribution will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. His stature in the world had risen to great heights as a peacemaker from that of a much-maligned general responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians because of carrying out military options against Palestinian terror. He had gone against the mainstream of the Likud that he had established by acknowledging the importance of ending the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. He is aware that the way the situation stands today, and with the possibility of the Palestinian electorate increasing their support for Hamas, there is no partner on the Palestinian side with whom to come to a peace agreement. His legacy involves many unilateral decisions of disengagement from the occupied territories. The implementation of these decisions under the new Kadima leadership with the strong “Ariel Sharon resolve” to carry them out is a big looming question mark for the future.