Saturday, October 28

The Compromising Labour Party under the Vascillating Amir Peretz

It was just a year ago that the Labour party membership elected Amir Peretz as their leader. He was given a tremendous ovation with the exception of Shimon Peres – a case of sour grapes, who resigned from the party soon afterwards to join the Kadima Party. He took with him Dalia Itzik (the present speaker of the Knesset) and Chaim Ramon (under investigation for sexual harassment and former Justice Minister in the Kadima coalition). The Labour Party, prior to the 29th March 2006 Elections, made its social agenda and peace its platform for election. They failed dismally and made no significant inroads in the electoral vote. All that remained was to form a coalition with Kadima in order to maintain some sort of a power base. Instead of going into opposition and rebuilding, they accepted the coalition guidelines of Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz became Minister of Defense – a post for which he is ill-suited. Olmert knew this and the gut feeling is that he did this in order to neutralize Amir Peretz. He knew that this would be his downfall. He succeeded in that.

It is over six months since the elections and much has happened. Amir Peretz had to handle decision making in the Lebanese War as an inexperienced Defense Minister. This was short of a disaster! Now to add insult to injury, he has swallowed a toad as well as his principles as one who cares for the weaker sectors of Israeli society by agreeing to serve in a government with Avigdor Lieberman, the extreme right-winger of the late Rehavim Ze’evi mould. The latter was the architect of the idea of “voluntary” transfer of the Arabs to the Arab Countries. Now that Lieberman is joining the coalition, Amir Peretz will be sitting with this demagogue of anti-Arab platitudes in the same coalition. By this action, many feel that he has betrayed his supporters who voted for him and his party because of its commitment to a social agenda that is friendly to the under-privileged and the revival of the Peace Process with the Palestinians.

Now, there is neither social agenda nor peace process! The latter perhaps is unattainable now because of the Hamas attitude towards Israel and its own problems with Fatah. Nevertheless, the excuse is that Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu Party is prepared to accept the coalition guidelines that are incumbent on all the coalition members. This assumption is open to debate. Lieberman has no guidelines except his own for his own personal political advancement and influence on his supporters.

Ze’ev Sternhel of Ha’aretz 27th October 2006 puts it concisely in his article “A Lethal Combination”:

“Because it betrayed all its promises, from the convergence plan to repairing society, and thus finds itself in serious distress, the governmental elite are now calling for help from the most dangerous politician we have ever had in Israel. Rehavim Ze'evi was also a racist whose "legacy" is a disgrace to Israeli society, but he did not have the benefit of a power base such as the one that Avigdor Lieberman has consolidated. This base does not consist only of the Russian-speaking community; Lieberman also has the ability, through the power of xenophobia and by slinging mud at the Knesset and the Supreme Court, to mobilize the frustrations of the lower middle class. In the past, this role was reserved for the Likud, but Benjamin Netanyahu's movement today represents the interests of the bourgeoisie, rather than those of the weaker sectors. Lieberman caught this wave even before the war, but now he is exploiting his success in order to fill the vacuum that has been created by the center's moral collapse.”

If Amir Peretz does decide to sit with Avigdor Lieberman in the Olmert Coalition, it will cause a split in Labour Party ranks. It is hard to imagine people like Prof. Yuli Tamir, Prof. Ishai Braverman and Ofer Pines sitting with right-wing Lieberman. There is no doubt that the Labour Party has let its supporters down. All for the sake of tidbits that are worthless! All tidbits that are gained by sacrificing one’s ideology and principles will boomerang on the Labour Party and its leadership in the next elections. It seems that the Labour Party is undergoing a total ideological collapse. It will not have the strength to offer the electorate a clean alternative to the political morass that exists in the Kadima-led coalition. Labour members, such as Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer, will support the coalition as they wish to retain their power base at all cost. Ben-Eliezer feels that he could sway the coalition into a more moderate stance. That is dreaming! It is never possible for a junior coalition partner to sway the majority coalition partner in matters of policy. It does not work that way in politics. The Labour Party is too weak for having that kind of influence as there are many potential coalition partners waiting in the shadows to take its place when the opportunity arises. The Torah Judaism Party and even the Likud are potential partners that could replace Labour.

According to Haaretz, in an editorial of 28th October 2006, Amir Peretz promised his voters that he would not sit in the same government with Lieberman. This promise was made shortly before the elections, when many voters were debating over whether to support the Labor Party. Unlike other promises, which are hard to insist upon when one is part of a coalition, this is a promise that should be easy to carry out. Had the Labor Party threatened to pull out from the coalition, Lieberman would not have been able to join. Peretz proved unable even to carry out this minor task, and bought his continued role as partial defense minister at an exorbitant cost. But perhaps the Labor Central Committee will yet prove that party institutions are valuable as critics of the leadership and guardians of the flame, and will prevent this damaging move, whose sole purpose is to preserve the cabinet members' jobs.

Now that the die is cast and the possibility of a reversal of that decision by Olmert is almost zero, Amir Peretz could still salvage himself and the Labour Party by leaving the coalition and going into opposition. It is unfortunate that the opposition is divided between extreme right and left wing factions that have nothing in common to form an alternate government to the Olmert-Lieberman coalition. This is where Labour could play an important role by uniting with the moderate left-of-centre elements such as Meretz. They could strengthen their commitments to a proper social friendly programme for the weaker segments of society and the direction of the future peace process which today is moribund. They would then gain back the credibility of their voters that will leave Labour in droves because of this narrow-sighted decision of remaining in the Olmert-Lieberman Coalition.

Wednesday, October 25

A "National Prize" for Assassinating P.M. Yitzchak Rabin

On that fateful night 5th November 1995, P.M. Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated by an extremist right-winger, Yigal Amir. This horrendous and tragic crime was carried out in the Kikar Malchei Yisrael (Kikar Rabin). I was present at that peace demonstration and just after we dispersed to return to our destinations, tragedy struck. In about two weeks, Israel will be commemorating the 11th Anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. By a cruel coincidence of fate, the assassin will be granted conjugal rights so that his wife, Larissa Trimbobler, can bear his child! All this at the time of commemorating Rabin’s murder!

It is horrifying that Israel’s penal system allows such a meeting to take place. There is no lack of admirers of Yigal Amir and it certainly raises many questions as to whether they were involved in this macabre decision. The idea of Yigal Amir receiving conjugal rights in order to bring a child into the world should raise eyebrows. Unfortunately, there was no great outcry in Israel. This outcry should have come from governmental level but the government is too busy forming coalition partners with Avigdor Lieberman’s extreme right wing Yisrael Beitenu Party to be even bothered by this horrifying decision. Even Amir Peretz, the Labour Party Leader and “National Disappointment”, has not even said a word about it. Why should he? He has been sucked into the right wing camp by Ehud Olmert and has been neutralized as Lieberman “accepts” the principles of the coalition agreement to receive the coveted prize of becoming a Minister in the Cabinet. (It is not likely that Lieberman and Company cares about coalition agreements anyway). After all, Peretz will be given all kinds of Olmert tidbits to keep him in the coalition.

Somehow the message that this conjugal rights decision conveys is that, with the passage of time, the punishment fits the crime less and less, thus eroding the effectiveness of the punishment of political murderers. This gives legitimacy to the extreme right wing of Yigal Amir`s despicable ilk to carry out another political murder which will add another nail to the faltering democracy in Israel. A question that may be asked is: Would a Hamas terrorist be granted privileges of conjugal rights as Yigal Amir after a paltry eleven years of imprisonment? This despicable human being will be celebrating his honeymoon on Rabin’s Memorial Day! His behaviour had not been exemplary by any standards. He never uttered any regret for his dastardly deed. The press, which is usually critical of the government, has been strangely silent about this. The only journalist, who criticized this decision, is Nehemia Shtrassler of Ha’aretz. The assassination of Rabin is slipping into the mists of memory. This diabolical decision of conjugal right for Rabin’s assassin is proving the point. Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said, in response to a petition Amir filed with the Tel Aviv District Court, that the conjugal visits do not pose a security risk. He can receive conjugal privileges. The fact that he committed such a horrendous crime does not seem to be an issue anymore. The cynical use of the term “security risk” as applied to Yigal Amir is ridiculous. Yigal Amir is the perfect example of a Jewish Fundamentalism mutant an offshoot of the illegal settler movement. The conjugal rights granted to Yigal Amir could give legitimacy to this extremist, dangerous ideology. This is a “security risk” for left of centre Jewish Israelis as much as it is for Arabs in Israel. In fact, it is a danger to democracy in Israel which has taken a bash from this gross conjugal rights decision for Yigal Amir. The damage that this assassin did for Israel goes beyond a mere “security risk”.

Yigal Amir had done irreparable harm to the direction of peace in Israel. Because of the assassination he also killed the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and gave grist to the Hamas mill. It will only be a matter of time before Yigal Amir is pardoned. He is already half way there. Who knows? Maybe if President Moshe Katzav never had his problems with his lady accusers of sexual harassment and rape, perhaps he would have pardoned Yigal Amir. Now his powers of pardoning criminals have been suspended. It is bound to happen sooner rather than later by one of the next presidents who hopefully will not be tainted by some pending lawsuit. There is no doubt that this granting of conjugal rights will somehow soften the establishment’s attitude towards granting Yigal Amir a pardon.

Saturday, October 21

Hamas is a Cancer in Palestinian Society

Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas said on Friday 20th Oct 2006, that Israel is an abomination in the Middle East that will some day disappear. Does this not resemble Iran’s President Mohammed Ahmadinajad’s rhetoric against Israel? The Palestinian factions – Hamas and Fatah, are on the eve of a civil war between them. Perhaps the renewed violence between the various Palestinian factions can be postponed by the one faction outdoing the other on anti-Israel rhetoric. After a period of relative calm, the firing of Qassam rockets into southern Israel has commenced again.

Egypt has once again shown its inability to prevent weapon smuggling from its borders into the Gaza strip via thirteen tunnels that were discovered by the Israeli Security Forces. Are the Egyptians ignoring this or are they incapable of preventing the smuggling of weapons through its borders? To date, the Egyptians have done nothing to prevent that despite their lip service to the contrary.

If one were to examine Hamas’s contribution to the improvement of the Palestinian People’s condition it does not take much imagination to conclude that they have done nothing for their people. Their strength lies in their anti-recognition-of-Israel stance and they believe that they can continue receiving grass roots support from the Palestinians while they remain intransigent towards negotiations with Israel. At the same time, Palestinian suffering will increase further because of lack of much needed foreign funds.

Since Hamas won the elections, they have achieved nothing for the Palestinian People. There is no programme of rehabilitation, building up infrastructures destroyed because of Palestinian violence and Israeli Army retaliations. Programmes for improvement of the various structures of running a state are absent. Civil servants have not received salaries for months and this has exacerbated the situation. They have replaced the corrupt Fatah regime with a regime that is autocratic, evil and a threat to stability in the Middle East. They have been consistent in three things:

  1. They have refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

  2. They have encouraged violence and destruction against Israel.

  3. They have ensured that the Palestinians remain ungovernable due to factional fighting which will result in a civil war.

Surely any regime that is so totally obsessed by hate of Israel and its people will never be able to achieve an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel.

Hamas has adopted an uncompromising attitude towards Israel (View clip 1293) and still dreams of one day destroying Israel and establishing an extreme Islamic state in its place whereby non-Muslims will be second class citizens, subjected to Sharia (Muslim Law). Surely this racism is even worse than the despicable apartheid regime of White South Africa of the past! Assuming that Hamas does achieve this nightmarish scenario, people will be punished severely if they show any disagreement to the Hamas regime. In other words, what has happened in Gaza is that Hamas has utilized the so-called democratic institutions to win the elections in January 2006 in order to establish an extremist Islam regime that will be intolerant of non-Muslims. The Nazis gained power in Germany by democratic means in 1933.

Hamas has built an unstable regime. They have proved that after 10 months in power they are capable of hate rhetoric but not governing! The Palestinians are in a crisis and are in great need of foreign capital. This capital will not arrive unless Hamas shows willingness to change its uncompromising attitude towards Israel. Time is not on their side. Iran will find a reliable ally in Hamas. They both share a common hate of Israel. Maybe for a while, Iran will send money into Gaza in order to strengthen its influence in the same way that it invested in Hezbollah in Lebanon.

President Mahmoud Abbas has very few options. He is unable to negotiate any peace deal with Israel while his shaky Hamas-Fatah coalition is paralyzed. Both factions in his coalition are pulling his government apart weakening him even further. Trying to negotiate with President Mahmoud Abbas is a futile exercise in polemics that will achieve nothing. There is only one option left for Abbas and that is to dismantle the coalition and appoint a government of technocrats. It is unlikely that he will take this step. He will remain sitting on the fence watching impotently as the factions continue their violence against each other. According to the latest reports from Al Bawaba 20th October 2006, Fatah and Hamas officials agreed on Friday to take steps to end violence between the two movements. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said an Egyptian security delegation had brokered the talks, Reuters reported. However, it is unlikely that this agreement to end the violence between the two sides will last.

Israel will continue to raid Gaza in order to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets into southern Israel. This will result in further hardships for the Palestinians. Israel will soon launch a heavy strike against Gaza due to Hamas’s terrorist activities. Hamas has also threatened to kidnap more Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips to achieve their ends of releasing Hamas prisoners who were involved in planning terrorist attacks against Israel. The stakes for the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit is rising and there is still no light at the end of the dark tunnel as to his fate.

The blame for the Israeli Army retaliations against Palestinians must be laid at the door of Hamas. The latter has done nothing to improve the economic situation of the Palestinian People. Hamas has taken the road of destruction of Palestinian society in the same way that cancer destroys its victims. In reality, Hamas is an abomination to the Middle East and to the Palestinian People that it claims to represent.

Saturday, October 14

Breaking Walls of Hate and Building Walls of Understanding

It is always heartening to receive feedback on one’s blog. There is nothing more frustrating for a journalist when he finds that nobody reads his articles. It does not matter if the reader does not agree with what is written. At least, the writer knows that his opposition has read his articles. One can write away to the world with quixotic zeal but very often to no avail. I had a response this evening on my cell phone from a source least expected.

We are ordinary people yearning for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Since Israel was established, this country never knew a day of peace.  The hate between Israel and her neighbours runs so deep that any form of compromise or discussions on achieving a peace settlement is ever evasive.

Today I received an email from a 29 year old lady student who studies computer engineering at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. She lives in Tulkarem which is near Bat Chefer. She had picked up my blog site from a Yahoo search. She told me how she has become interested in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. She was very moved by my Ramadan greeting card to the Muslim Community which I had published on my blog at the start of Ramadan.

While she appreciated my greeting card, she also told me about her frustrations as a Palestinian being denied basic human rights because of the Israeli occupation. She mentioned the road blocks, check posts and the degrading body searches that many Palestinians undergo before crossing into Israel.  She asked me about my attitude towards Israel being a racist state, the apartheid wall, the refugee problem, the occupation and the illegal settlements. Her family came from an Arab village called Jatt which is a few kilometers from Bat Chefer where I live. She told me that she couldn’t get a permit to visit Jatt where members of her family still live. She cannot understand why people like me are free to immigrate to Israel from our former countries of origin while she and her family are denied the right to visit their families who remained behind in Israel since 1948. Her email was bitter.  

Of course, I explained the various reasons why the Palestinians cannot visit Israel without security clearance. I sent her links on the internet on the history of the conflict hoping that she would gain an understanding of the Israeli point of view. I also went to great lengths explaining why Israel is not a racist state giving an example where I could to refute that claim.

This evening she phoned me on my cell phone to thank me for the correspondence and we had a long sincere chat on the hopeless situation between our two peoples. It was different chatting one to one rather than getting emails. We found that we had much in common in that both of us believe in the fight for human rights for both our peoples and for an end to the conflict and our common desire for peace and dignity.

I was very surprised to receive a phone call from a Palestinian lady. I appreciated her boldness in phoning me. I told her that she must feel free to express her opinions to me even if they may sound jarring and hard for me to hear. This is the only way we can understand each other. We must have chatted for close to half an hour. I was amazed at her excellent Arabic tainted English. We ended our conversation with “Inshallah!” and that impressed her. We promised to remain in touch and try to find ways whereby we can encourage dialogue amongst ourselves.

I do believe that we must try to find moderate Palestinians with whom we can communicate. Despite all the anti-Israel rhetoric that I heard, I somehow managed to portray to her my understanding of her feelings about the hopeless situation of her people and empathize with her. She thanked me for the time spent in our conversation. She felt that she had made a new friend in me. I promised to send her more internet sites that would give her a wider perspective on our problem.

Saturday, October 7

The Palestinian Dilemma

Dr. Condoleezza Rice has come and gone once again. Solutions to the festering Palestinian-Israeli dispute are not in her lexicon. What is clear from her visit is the US desire to bolster the moderates such as President Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian camp. This is a self-defeating policy! What does it mean to “bolster” the moderates? Will this give the moderates in the Palestinian camp any more credibility and strength amongst the Palestinian people? Surely, it is a form of naivety or blindness in understanding the Palestinian psyche if the US expects success in that direction. Any Palestinian leader that the US and Israel supports will be rejected automatically by the Palestinians and be accused of being an Israeli and US agent.

The US has lost its credibility in the Middle East. In Iraq, the US and its allies overthrew Saddam Hussein, tried to establish a “western-style democracy” in Iraq that resulted in the election of ineffective leaders sympathetic to the US. The result is that Iraq has now become the “killing fields” where violence and terror has reached uncontrollable limits. US soldiers are killed – not to mention the numerous innocent Iraqi civilians caught up in the crossfire. Terrorists have filled the vacuum of anarchy and it is becoming impossible to establish the rule of law. The situation in Afghanistan is not much better. The Taliban are showing signs of rebirth. Both countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, are examples of US failure in creating viable democracies. Will the US be able to fit the role of honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians with this kind of record? It is doubtful. Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming the “second Vietnam” with the US becoming increasingly embroiled in violent situations that they cannot control. The US tried to bolster various puppets in these countries and failed. They will fail in Gaza as well. Anti-American feeling prevails in Gaza.

Talks between Fatah and Hamas have failed. The failure was due to Hamas’s unwillingness to agree to recognize Israel’s right to exist, ceasing violence, keeping previous signed agreements between Israel and Fatah and the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

On 6th October 2006, Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh addressed a rally in Gaza, where he reiterated that Hamas will not be pushed out of power, accept compromise or recognize Israel. He continued, "There are new scenarios, such as an emergency government, a technocrat government, or early elections," Haniyeh told tens of thousands of supporters. "They all aim for one thing, getting Hamas out of the government.""I urge the leadership of Fatah and Hamas to hold an urgent meeting, tonight, in my presence, to put an end to the internal strife. [But] we will not recognize Israel," Haniyeh said.

This rally was held in the background of civilian strife between Hamas and Fatah. Many civil servants have not received their salaries for many months and this adds grist to the mill of unrest as well. It is obvious that the only way that there will be change in hard-line attitudes towards Israel and the promotion of armed terror is to hit Gaza economically by severe boycotts – and creating a situation that is untenable for the continuation of violence that would bring Hamas to its knees. The moment there is moderation on the part of the Quartet, Hamas and their Jihadist allies will view this as a weakness and a perfect excuse to continue their terror operations against Israel proving that terror is effective.

Perhaps it would be appropriate at this stage to compare the fall of apartheid South Africa in the 1990s. The world boycotted South Africa’s white government economically. Sanctions were effective and this forced the white government to release Nelson Mandela from prison after serving a 27-year sentence for treason. The first multi-racial democratic elections in South Africa were held in April 1994. The overwhelming majority of South Africans elected the ANC into power with Nelson Mandela as its leader. The black suffering increased because of boycotts and sanctions against apartheid South Africa. This did increase unemployment for the blacks because of the economic recession that sanctions caused. The world ignored that! The accomplishment of the downfall of the evil apartheid regime took priority over everything else. While both the Palestinian and apartheid South Africa situations are different, the principle of achieving a goal of the downfall of the racist, Islamist Hamas government remains the same. Humanitarian and economic aid to the Palestinians and its Hamas sympathizers will only bolster the Hamas regime and weaken the moderates even further. A change of heart by the Palestinians could result in a more positive attitude to the moderates, because of economic sanctions, and the situation of the Palestinians would improve in the end.
It is inappropriate to interfere with the Palestinian choice of Hamas as their rulers. This could be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. However, sanctions against the Hamas ruled Palestinian Authority resulting in total economic breakdown is legitimate in the fight against Islamist terror. The situation in Achmadinajad’s Iran is another parallel for justification of total sanctions no less.
According to the Jordan Times of Thursday, October 6th, the choice facing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is stark: Sack the Hamas-led government and risk civil war or do nothing and watch poverty and unrest deepen in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Against a backdrop of the bloodiest internal violence in more than a decade, that is the dilemma confronting the moderate Abbas. Mahmoud Abbas’s attitude towards Hamas is compromising and indecisive. This was the case before the Palestinians elected Hamas and now it is even more in evidence. While Hamas is uncompromising in its attitude towards Israel, the establishment of a Palestinian state and the improvement of the Palestinian economic situation will remain a remote goal.

According to the Lebanese newspaper 6th October 2006Dar Al Hayat - The Open Showdown: Extremism v/s Moderation by Raghida Dergham: The solution is not to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, but to dissolve the government and call for new elections. The Palestinian voter would decide whether he is opting for negotiation or fighting for the creation of a Palestinian State. Since the experience of the Islamic Movement of Hamas heading the government, the Palestinian people might feel the need to get another chance to decide if they are in favor of negotiations as a means of ending the occupation and the creation of a State, or if the armed resistance is the best available option. This is the question that should be addressed honestly by the Arabs and the Palestinians. If they decide on the latter, it will create the ideal prescription for Palestinian national suicide. The choice is in the hands of the Palestinian People.