Saturday, April 28

Corruption in High Places

Israel is very much at the crossroads with its present government. After the March 2006 Israeli Elections, the government coalition promised the Israeli people clean government and a movement towards peace with the Palestinians and the neighbouring Arab countries. Both promises are far from fruition and the corruption scandals are surfacing like mushrooms. Every day there is a new corruption surprise. The previous Likud affiliated cartels that were running the country lost the elections. The rot set in from the president downwards. Even the Income Tax Authority was not immune from this. Jackie Matza, the directorof the Income Tax Authority had to resign because of investigations of bribery and corruption against him and his team. This included a very senior member of the Prime Minister’s Office staff, Shula Zaken, who was also part of the cartel receiving various kick backs. The list seems endless. Even the Finance Minister, Avraham Hirschson suspended himself because of strong suspicions of corruption as reported in the Jerusalem Post 23rd April 2007.

PM Ehud Olmert is also under suspicion of irregularities as asserted by the state comptroller, Micha Lindenstraus, The Attorney-General, Meni Mazuz, ruled that Olmert can hold the finance portfolio for a limited period of time because of these suspicions. However, he did not state the length of the “limited period of time”.

There seems to be a lapse of memory in the public who forget that many of the current Kadima MKs was members of the Likud. This was the period when most of these irregularities occurred. It is as if their change of party loyalties from Likud to Kadima would cleanse them of their shady activities and make them as pure as driven snow. A leopard never changes his spots even when he changes his political party.

How can these elected legislators promise clean government when they are stained by corrupt activities of the previous government of which they formed an integral part? Those who are to blame for this situation is the shortsightedness of the Israeli electorate who voted these dubious characters into power. These reputation stained pseudo-legislators are destroying the instruments of good, clean government. The damage that they do to Israel’s credibility is far greater than the anti-Israel forces beyond its borders. It cripples the government decision making process and this includes negotiations for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict which ought to take top priority.

The legislators call themselves Zionists and claim that they are interested in the welfare of Israel and its people. How laughable! How hypocritical! They are interested in feathering their own nests and the interests (mostly financial) of their affiliated cartels, even if it is by corruption and deviousness! This is the behaviour of a banana republic, but not a modern democratic state priding itself with ruling in accordance with the law. Important issues such as peace negotiations with the Arab world, including the Palestinians, have been placed on the backburner while the legislators fall foul of the law and seek expensive elitist lawyers to bail them out to save their blemished reputations. What about the Saudi Initiative for peace? This is the first time in the history of the State of Israel that an important Arab state has put forth a reasonable plan for negotiation and full recognition of Israel only to have it scuttled by a corruption tainted Israeli leadership who has rendered itself impotent by its own folly and dishonesty with the electorate whom it claims to represent.

Zionism is being replaced by the cancer of corruption. It is polluting Israeli society and fracturing it even further. If Israel’s citizens find it hard to believe their elected Knesset members, how can we expect the Palestinians to believe agreements that they sign with Israel’s dubious leaders?

Is there a country in the democratic world where the prime minister condemns the state comptroller for uncovering irregularities in his personal business affairs involving public money? These misdemeanors (or worse still, suspected criminal activities) have been brought to public notice by the press.

The prime minister or cabinet minister, because of his position, must be transparent in his dealings with public funds or tax payer’s money. This is the price to be paid for these senior positions. The president’s sexual harassment charges, including the rape suspicions, are a reflection of poor judgment of the party political hacks that nominated him for that honored position in the first place.

It looks as if we are entering the post-Zionistic period. This means the replacement of Zionism with a heartless materialism whereby the poor get poorer and the rich get richer as Israel’s wealthy members of society continues the race for gaining influence in the shady governmental echelons of power and corruption. This is the scramble for cartel membership at its worst (protektsia). It is a danger for the future of human rights and democracy. It lays the field open for oligarchs like Arkady Gaidemak to give massive humanitarian donations to various causes for the unfortunate replacing the government’s responsibility for the welfare of the poor. He buys their support to give him a Knesset seat in the next elections despite his denials to the contrary.

Prime Minister Olmert fiddles while Jerusalem burns. Attack of the state comptroller for doing his job efficiently is the best form of defense. This should be red light warning to the public. Could this mean that there is a prime ministerial cover-up of dubious legal business activities or maybe even criminal activity? Surely the state comptroller should be praised for exposing that rather than being maligned by the prime minister.

The government’s credibility is on the line and should resign.

Saturday, April 21

Is Intermarriage a Possible Solution to the Conflict?

So much has been written about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict! So many peace plans have been put forward in order to find some common ground on which to negotiate an end to this conflict. The hate between the two sides has not subsided. An end to the conflict remains ever evasive. The problem between the two sides remains existential. The inability of Hamas to come to terms with Israel’s existence and Israel’s dubious attitude towards any form of Arab initiative remains couched in clich├ęs and statements which are meaningless. The result is the seemingly eternal deadlock between the two sides. Only one possible solution has not been mentioned. This is the encouragement of intermarriage between the two peoples. “What? Are you crazy?” Do I sense the raising of eyebrows in total surprise even at the thought?

The idea seems to be unrealistic and even ridiculous to most Israelis and Palestinians for various reasons. A few of these reasons are listed here. There are of course many others.

  1. The cultural and religious differences create divisions between the two nations.
  2. The generations of hate and distrust that exists between the two peoples.
  3. Both Judaism and Islam do not view the idea of marriage between the two peoples in a positive light.
  4. The hostile situation between the two peoples keeps them apart so that intermingling and social intercourse is almost impossible. This includes forced separation whether by the security fence, checkpoints and other obstacles.

There are incidents where Moslem men do marry Jewish women but the other way round is forbidden in Islamic law even though the former is not encouraged either.

The most commonly accepted interpretation is that Islam only allows a man to marry a non-Muslim only if she is Christian or Jewish. However the order is for believing man to marry believers of God only. The wife need not adopt any Muslim laws, and the husband is not allowed to keep her from going to church or synagogue. One of Muhammad's wives was Christian Copt (Maria al-Qibtiyya) and another was Jewish (Safiyya bint Huyayy). According to this interpretation, which is based on the verses that prohibit marriage between Muslims and dualists, Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-believers.

Islam clearly forbids Muslim women from marrying non-believing men. Some Muslim scholars (ahli kitab) go so far as to state that such a marriage is an act of apostasy. If a non-Muslim woman is married to a non-believing man, and she converts to Islam, the marriage is suspended until her husband converts to Islam. When he converts a new marriage is not needed.” (From Wikipedia)

In Judaism, intermarriage is discouraged and is even forbidden. However, this issue is being debated more and attitudes are showing signs of change amongst Reconstructionist and Reform Jews.

Bearing all these factors mentioned in mind, the idea of intermarriage between Jews and Moslems in the Middle East seems totally absurd and unrealistic. However, does this mean that it should not even be discussed or considered? Logically speaking when one considers the situation here perhaps this is true. Nevertheless, it might be interesting to give some thought to this rather far-fetched, imaginative solution to this conflict.

The bloodshed and hate in this part of the world is tragic. Attempts to stem that by conventional means of negotiated treaties have not succeeded in the past. It is left to the people on both sides to establish a dialogue between each other. Today, with the advent of internet, outreach programmes on the net whereby people all over the world, even countries hostile to one another, can form friendships by utilizing the various chat programmes freely available on the net. Bonds can be formed between peoples engaged in dialogue. This form of dialogue breaks down barriers between peoples of opposing sides and in certain circumstances, people can even find potential marriage partners of differing faiths in this way. The world is becoming a smaller place and many view the world as a global village where religious differences are becoming less important. People will eventually come to terms with a common humanity that transcends all. In the Middle East, with its highly charged atmosphere of emotionalism, the people do not encourage this scenario. Despite that, there are signs that modern communication technology will effect human relations across the great divide as both sides will discover their common humanity. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but it will happen in the future which may be closer than we think.

After the initial airing of differences between the “warring sides”, people initiate relationships amongst each other, discovering that they have more in common than what divides them. The saying that “opposites attract one another” does ring true in many cases. The barriers of hate and distrust could fall including the stereotypes that hostile enemies have created against each other. What is left is the basic human relationship between the opposite sexes which could lead to a meeting and eventually even marriage in some cases. This scenario could occur. If more people of opposing sides in the conflict were to indulge in chat dialogue, it is conceivable that relationships between two peoples of opposite sex could become attracted to one another once they reach the “lowest common denominator” that binds them together.

This is a very positive aspect and problems between the two sides would simply melt without the meddling of political leaders of both sides of the conflict. The occupation would simply cease in a natural way as a new order could be established. There would be a common humanity and the conflict would cease even without a peace treaty. There would be a new nation consisting of both peoples in total harmony and creating a mixed generation of Palestinian – Israelis. This may sound like heresy and maybe even absurd.

Perhaps this is far-fetched within today’s context, but possible and even desirable in the future. The alternative is further bloodshed, wars and hate in a seemingly never ending conflict. Surely intermarriage between the two peoples should be encouraged and considered as one of many solutions for ending the conflict. Today the situation demands it as everything else has failed despite the fact that people are not ready for such a revolutionary change in traditional religious attitudes towards intermarriage today.

Saturday, April 14

The Dilemmas of Prisoner Exchanges and Kidnappings

On July 25th 2006, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier doing his compulsory service was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The intention of his kidnappers was and still is to use him as a bargaining chip for releasing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. This method of bargaining by the Hamas and its allies is very effective. The use of threats of not being responsible for whatever happens to Shalit if their demands are not met is a form of ransom to exact a high price from Israel.

The decision for Israel is a hard one. To date there is talk of releasing 1400 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit. Many of these prisoners were responsible for the most horrendous murders of innocent Israelis about their daily business. The decision making on this issue from every point of view is tough. Whatever decision or agreement coming from this decision will not satisfy all the parties involved, least of all Israeli families who have lost members through terrorist acts.

What Hamas and their allies lack in sophisticated military equipment, they make up in stealth and tactics which has hit the underbelly of Israel very effectively. Israel has proved to be unable to deal effectively with these Palestinian groups. They have not been able to prevent kidnappings of their soldiers by Palestinian vigilantes in the south and Hezbollah in the north. Israel’s bargaining power is weak and within time it will get weaker. The possibility of freeing Gilad Shalit by army intervention is risky and doomed to failure. It is a “Catch 22” situation with no winners. Attempts were made in the past to free kidnapped soldiers and this ended up in tragedy as in the rescue Nachshon Wachsman in 1994, when a critical gap in information (the fact that the soldier was being held behind an iron door that was difficult to burst through) delayed the entry into the room and caused the failure of the entire operation. This scenario could easily repeat itself in the future if the army attempts to free Gilad Shalit.

Apart from that, Israel’s government is weak and much is due to the notorious corruption scandals that is tainting many cabinet ministers, the latest being the Minister of Finance Hirschson and who knows who will be next in line for interrogation by the police. Even PM Olmert has baggage waiting to be opened by the police at the appropriate time. These factors cannot be overlooked when assessing the power of the Israeli Authorities to negotiate or deal with the Palestinian kidnappers.

The moral dilemma is great when it comes to bargaining the release of Gilad Shalit. There is no doubt that prisoners with blood on their hands will be included in the bargain and the ramifications of this will increase the use of the effective kidnapping weapon by the Palestinians in the future. What is obvious is that the Israeli Army has failed to prevent kidnappings of their soldiers. Every kidnapping will exact an increasingly higher price. One needs to examine past kidnappings and the price exacted. The trend is that the price increases and so does the hate against Israel.

Prevention of kidnappings must take top priority to prevent Palestinian terrorists from using this tactic. The fact that kidnappings of Israeli soldiers in their line of duty does occur shows that the Israeli Security Forces have not found an effective way to prevent this from happening.

The bargaining for Shalit’s release will continue and it is not certain when he will be released. The price remains high and the disagreement over the Palestinian prisoner list remains an obstacle in reaching an agreement.

It is possible that Israel will release many Palestinian prisoners who have murdered innocent Israelis as part of the deal. The question that remains is when the murder was perpetrated and under what circumstances. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, prisoners with blood on their hands are considered “freedom fighters against the Israeli occupation”. This gives a reminder to Israel once again how problematic its existence is to the Palestinian extremists. There is no limit as to the number of prisoners that will be released in a deal for Shalit’s release. Their heinous crimes against innocent people are not even a consideration that will prevent their release from the Palestinian viewpoint.

If Israel is genuine in its desire to release bring Gilad Shalit home, it will have to bow down to the demands of the Palestinian negotiators. If they do not, Gilad Shalit’s future in the hands of his captors will remain a big question mark. The possibility of danger to his life cannot be ruled out. The release of Palestinian prisoners could be done in stages to prevent too much of a psychological trauma to victims of terror. Either way, the decision as to which prisoners should be released and when will be a very difficult one for Israel. It will also create a precedent for Hamas to continue to use the “kidnapping weapon” in order to get Israel to pay a heavy price for its demands.

The only way to prevent kidnappings and violence in the end is for both sides to sit down and negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. This should place the ending of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as top priority. This will also lead to negotiations to solve the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine. Logistics for this has to be worked out by the two negotiating partners. The solution to the conflict should be one that is fair to both sides. Both sides will have to make painful decisions. Is any compromise painful for the achievement of true peace between Israel and Palestine? Surely an end to the conflict is advantageous to both peoples.

Saturday, April 7

The Importance of the Arab (Saudi) Peace Initiative

The Arab Peace Initiative is an interesting development towards granting Israel an opportunity to develop normal diplomatic relations with its Arab neighbours. This development is positive, and Israel should take it seriously. It is a reasonable starting point to begin negotiations. Of course, as mentioned in a previous article, this is dependent on Israel’s willingness to return to the pre-1967 borders, the right of return of 1948 Palestinian refugees and the declaration of a Palestinian state alongside Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.

While the latter three points are problematic from Israel’s point of view, it does not negate the positive elements in this plan. It is a reasonable starting point for a permanent peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians.

Israel had a turbulent history from its establishment and the fact that the core of the problem was the Arab States’ total opposition to Israel’s establishment in 1948. They declared war on Israel – the War of Independence. They never recognized Israel’s right to exist. This was the first of Israel’s many wars for survival which resulted in a tragic Palestinian refugee problem, which exists to this day.

Since then, there were more wars between Israel and her Arab neighbours:

1. 1956 Suez War

2. 1967 Six Day War of June 1967

3. 1973 Yom Kippur War

4. 1982 Lebanese War

5. 2006 2nd Lebanese War

There were also the two intifadas (Palestinian Uprisings) of 1987 and 2000.

Now there is the possibility of reaching an agreement with the neighbouring Arab states and normalization. Israel should not dismiss this peace initiative out of hand despite its disagreement with points in the initiative.

According to Ze’ev Schiff of Ha’aretz, it took the Arab states 40 years to arrive at the decisions that they did in Riyadh - recognizing Israel, calling for peace and normalization and willingness to negotiate. They have laid down some very tough conditions, of course, but the Arab countries leading the initiative know very well that Israel will not accept the return of Palestinian refugees.

The attitude in 1967 was well illustrated at the Khartoum Arab Summit of 1st September 1967 “no peace, no talks, no recognition of Israel." The leader was the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

An interesting observation is that Saudi Arabia is now replacing Egypt as a leader of the Arab World and Egypt is now playing a secondary role in trying to mediate between the Israelis and Palestinians, despite the fact that Egypt and not Saudi Arabia has diplomatic relations with Israel.

The United States is embroiled in Iraq and its record of credibility is decreasing rapidly in the Middle East. How can the US act as “honest broker” in the Arab-Israeli Conflict when it has failed hopelessly in Iraq to a certain extent in Afghanistan? In the latter country, the Taliban is showing signs of becoming influential and powerful again. The US cannot be taken seriously anymore. Their power and influence is diminishing. It appears that the only movement towards peace in the Middle East must come from the Arab states in the Middle East, including Israel and the Palestinians. This becomes even more obvious as all the countries of the Middle East, including Israel and the Palestinians, have a more serious problem with which to contend. The problem is Iran which is a potential nuclear threat to all. Iran wishes to control the Middle East and they are a threat to the moderate Arab states no less than Israel which President Ahmadinajad wishes to destroy.

It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will accept the Arab Peace initiative as a starting point to begin negotiations on normalization of relations with Israel’s Arab neighbours. Olmert seems to be very dubious in his attitude towards the Arab Peace initiative. He is talking with two voices. He makes statements supporting peace and at the same time not showing any desire to end the conflict by deeds. It would serve the interests of all the peoples in the Middle East if Israel were more forthcoming in accepting the peace initiative as a positive starting point to end the conflict permanently. Sticking points in the peace initiative, such as right of return of 1948 refugees, should remain open for negotiation so that a just solution satisfactory to all parties to the conflict can be reached. If this problem remains a hot potato then it would hinder progress in achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the neighbouring Arab states. All issues, including the status of East Jerusalem should be discussed and a just solution found with which both sides could agree.

On the Palestinian track, emphasis should be placed on prisoner exchanges and a return home of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Israel should consider talking to all members of the Palestinian National Unity Government despite the problem of the semantics of recognition of Israel by Hamas. President Mahmoud Abbas represents the National Unity Government and not parts of it. He should be viewed as the man with the powers of decision making despite his well known weaknesses and the person with whom Israel must negotiate as the representative of the Palestinian Authority. Only by conducting peaceful and meaningful negotiations can there be movement towards the establishment of a Palestinian state which is more than overdue. Both Palestinians and Israelis must cease hostilities towards each other, Qassam rocket fire in the south and Israeli Army incursions must end.

According to Al Ahram Weekly 5th – 11th April, Israel's prime minister is engaged in a public relations exercise. Meanwhile, it is business as usual, as his army plans a wide ranging assault against Gaza, reports Khaled Amayreh from East Jerusalem. This would be detrimental towards creating the atmosphere for negotiations on peace.

On the Lebanese track, serious negotiations should begin with Hezbollah to return the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Both sides should climb down from the high branches of the tree to achieve this. While the soldiers remain in captivity, Israel should not remain adamant in its refusal to negotiate their release with Hezbollah.

A serious opportunity for a final peace settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbours has arrived. It would be a great pity if Israel refuses to accept this challenge for peace with her neighbours.

Wednesday, April 4

The National Unity Government and Peace

One would expect that there would be some movement towards a cease-fire as a good will gesture towards the world of nations. Instead, only a few days after the national unity government was formed, an Israeli employee of the Electricity Supply Co. was wounded by Hamas sniper fire. The Egyptians also captured a Hamas activist from Gaza who was planning a suicide attack in Israel.

What does this mean for the future of peace between Israelis and Palestinians under the national unity government? Does this mean that the national unity government is ignoring terror attacks against Israel? It is still early days to come to any conclusion about that. Dr. Mustapha Barghouti has been appointed Minister of Information. His task is to market the national unity government to global and Israeli public opinion. According to Y-Net, 16th March 2007, Barghouti stated: "Israel's stance is wrong. The new Palestinian government is not only a Hamas government, but also the government of all the Palestinian people. The unity government represents the choice of 90 percent of Palestinian voters," he explained.

Barghouti said it was strange that Israel decided to reject the new government before seeing its plans and platform.

Addressing the platform, he said that "what was published is speculation, as the platform has not been finalized yet and is now being formed. Apart from that, why shouldn’t it include the right of return?"

According to a report in Haaretz March 20th, 2007, Palestinian sources claim that two commanders of the Hamas military wing, Jamal al-Jara and Yusuf al-Zahar, brother of former foreign minister, Mahmoud al-Zahar were responsible for the attacks. These two individuals are engaging in terrorist activity in order to goad Israel into a sharp reaction that will cripple the national unity government. Tactically, this would serve the purposes of these two ambitious rogue Hamas commanders who oppose the national unity government. It is a matter of sour grapes! They never received a post in the national unity government and this is their method of revenge against it.

Whenever there is an attempt to move towards a new order of unity in the Palestinian camp, there is always a backlash of hard-line terrorists, who can only survive on destruction of the new order, in order to draw Israel into violent retaliation. The main reason for that is (according to them) “while Israel occupies Palestinian territory, the right of armed struggle must be observed”. No thought is given for the welfare of the Palestinians at all! It is a power struggle between opposing Palestinian camps. Their use of violence towards Palestinians and Israelis is cynical. It will result in further bloodshed, hate and lack of progress towards an independent Palestinian state. As far as the Hamas affiliated hardliners are concerned, the occupation is not just the areas occupied in the 1967 Six Day June War but the State of Israel since its establishment in 1948.

Many Palestinian hardliners say that Israel is the occupation – “al Naqba – the catastrophe” of 1948, and has no right to exist! Their desire is the destruction of Israel and driving the Jews into the sea. While there are some Hamas members in the national unity government who believe in this, the chances of peace negotiations and movement towards the end of the occupation is very remote indeed. It makes no difference, whether it is the constant travels of Dr. Condeleeza Rice, the new UN secretary general, Banki-moon or any other peace broker, the chances of peace between the Palestinians will remain evasive for many years in the future. The problem between the two peoples remains existential.

There is a chance despite this that the national unity government, because of its great need for financial assistance from the world of nations, might modify its anti-Israel stance and show pragmatism by coming to terms with Israel’s existence, albeit grudgingly.

The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 has been relaunched during the recent Riyadh Summit. It seems that the original Road Map plan as approved by the quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) has been tossed aside in favor of this peace initiative.

There is room for some optimism towards peace in the Middle East. For the first time there is now a plan that has received widespread support by the Arab nations attending the Riyadh Summit that also includes an end to the state of war between Israel and her Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians. It also includes normalization of relations between Israel and her Arab neighbours. On the face of it, Israel rejects this peace plan. Israel should not reject this peace initiative out of hand. From Israel’s point of view, there will be disagreements over the right of return of 1948 refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Despite this, the plan has many positive elements. The two sticking points should remain open for negotiation to find a just and permanent solution. It should not be an obstacle justifying a rejection by Israel. If Israel rejects this plan outright, she will be viewed as not interested in achieving peace with her Arab neighbours. The plan is a positive start and if accepted in the right spirit as a starting point for negotiations with agreed changes to its format, even with reservations, it could mark the end of hostilities between Israel and her Arab neighbours.

At the same time, it remains to be seen whether President Mahmoud Abbas will be able to bring the hardliners in the national unity government to agree to negotiate a permanent peace treaty with Israel.

According to a report in Haaretz, 29th March 2007, P.M. Ehud Olmert seeks talks with Saudis and moderate Arab states. It is not true that Israel rejects peace negotiations outright. It is an unfortunate fact that Israel had been plagued with so many acts of terror against its civilian population by infiltrating Palestinian suicide bombers that it is unable to accept this Arab Peace initiative without a sense of skepticism. According to Al Jazeera, March 31st 2007, the EU is prepared to deal with non-Hamas ministers of the national unity government. How this will achieve peace remains a large question. Mustapha Barghouti has stated that negotiations are with the national unity government and not with desired parts of it.

The main problem that Israel has is a security problem and until Hamas (the dominant members of the national unity government) comes to terms with Israel’s existence and is prepared to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel as well as cease to support terror operations against Israel, there is very little chance of achieving peace in the Middle East.