Poll: Netanyahu’s approval goes up 13 points following US visit

Posted: May 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Support for a two-state solution based on 67′ borders is likely to decline in the near future

A new poll by Haaretz shows a bump of no less than 13 percents in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s numbers following his visit to the US, in which he expressed his opposition to a return to the 1967 borders and  for a compromise in Jerusalem. 47 percent of the public see the trip as a success, and 51 percent of Israelis are currently satisfied with their Prime Minister.

A Maariv poll published yesterday saw a rise in the Knesset seats of Netanyahu’s Likud party, from the current 27 to 30.

While many polls showed a somewhat steady support in the Jewish public for a two states solution based on 67′ borders, it seems that Israelis liked the way Netanyahu confronted president Obama, and especially the warm welcome he received at the US Congress.

I continue to predict that we will now see a decline in the support for the 67′-based two states solution, as the PM’s messages will sink with the public. The confrontational attitude Netanyahu adopts is likely—at least in the short run—to move more Israelis to the right, thus making a compromise even less likely than it is right now.


Second thoughts on the White House meeting: Netanyahu’s mistake

Posted: May 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

This morning, I posted an analysis of the latest diplomatic developments, titled “Obama finally confronts Netanyahu, but to what end?” The more I think and read about it, I get the feeling that I got at least some of the story wrong. Looking back on the events of the last couple of days, I don’t thing the president was really trying to confront Netanyahu. Yes, he accepted some of the State Department’s thoughts on the need to present a peace plan, but he didn’t go all the way with it, he didn’t say anything that should have embarrassed Jerusalem, and he was pretty hard on the Palestinians.

I actually believe now that Obama was trying to show Netanyahu a way to oppose the Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence. In outlining the path to the two-state solution, Obama was clearly aiming to the Israeli consensus. His plan was all too similar to the ideas former Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak put forward – one could even argue that Olmert went a little further on some issues.

The problem was that Netanyahu overreacted—and not for the first time. The Israeli PM responded to the president’s speech with an aggressive statement, and he kept the same tone after the meeting with Obama. Americans don’t like to see their president schooled this way, and even some of the PM’s supporters in the US were surprised, even angered, by his choice of words.

The fact that the Israeli and American positions are not that far from each other, and yet they brought such clash between the two leaders, show the degree of mistrust and the lack of coordination between Washington and Jerusalem right now. Netanyahu can only blame himself for that.

I wonder whether Netanyahu is beginning to realize the mistake he made. It would be interesting to see what effect this would have on his next two speeches in Washington.


Following the Obama-Netanyahu meeting

Posted: May 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Even as the two leaders reveal their differences, the White House continues to oppose both the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the Palestinian Authority’s moves at the UN – without getting anything from Jerusalem in return

Daily papers are not printed in Israel on Saturdays – weekend editions are distributed on Fridays, and the political commentary pieces go to press on Thursday afternoons. U.S. President Barack Obama gave his speech on the Middle East on Thursday evening, and throughout the week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s people insisted, both on and off the record, that the speech not be too hard on Jerusalem. The new national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror, actually denied a story on Yedioth Ahronoth reporting his knowledge that President Obama would mention the pre-1967 borders in his remarks, claiming that “the only correct thing in this piece was my and the former NSA’s name.”

Well, Obama did mention borders, and Netanyahu made some harsh comments on Thursday night, declaring that he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004.” So it happened that while the newspapers’ weekend political sections and op-ed pages reflected a somewhat smooth ride for Netanyahu in Washington, the front pages told the story of a new rift between the American president and the Israeli prime minister.

The confrontation couldn’t have been clearer after the White House meeting between the two leaders. Netanyahu even went so far as declaring his opposition to the president’s positions to his face – before lecturing him on Jewish history and Middle East politics. There wasn’t even an attempt made to disguise their differences and mutual mistrust.

Netanyahu’s problem is not so much with the White House, which already made it clear that it would not support a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence. In recent weeks, Israel launched a diplomatic counter attack, aimed at bringing as many European countries as possible to vote against the Palestinian initiative at the United Nations in September. But when the U.S. administration publicly confronts Netanyahu, more countries are likely to go a step further and take diplomatic initiatives that support the Palestinians. In the past, anonymous proxies to Netanyahu told the Israeli press that they suspect the White House is behind some such moves on the part of the Europeans. Similar theories are now likely to reemerge, and perhaps we will even see a return to the rhetoric of “Obama as Pharaoh,” which was sounded by government ministers in the months after the elections.

Netanyahu’s harsh response to the president – both in his Thursday statement and in his comments after the White House meeting – suggests that he intends to maximize the political capital such a confrontation might bring him with his base. So far, the diplomatic deadlock and the growing isolation of Israel have not hurt Netanyahu with the public, and according to recent polls, if elections were held today, their results would be pretty similar to the previous ones. If, on the other hand, the prime minister were to embark on a serious peace initiative, his coalition is likely to collapse. Netanyahu knows that, and he is unlikely to agree to any concessions before November 2013, when new elections are scheduled. The problem is that even those elections could result in the same coalition and political pattern.

I must admit that the logic behind the U.S. administration’s move is not entirely clear to me. There is no hope of launching meaningful negotiations anytime soon. Even if the president can somehow get Netanyahu and Abbas into the same room – a very unlikely scenario, given the political circumstances on both sides and the proximity of elections – one can say with some certainty that nothing would come of it.

At the same time, the White House opposes both the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the Palestinian Authority’s moves at the UN, and might even to do some work behind the scenes in support of Israel’s positions on these issues – without getting anything from Jerusalem in return. In fact, a substantial opposition to the Palestinian UN effort is likely to strengthen Netanyahu at home, and could even secure his re-election. Does the administration hope that by confronting both sides we might achieve a breakthrough before September? I find it hard to believe. PM Netanyahu made it clear he will never allow a real Palestinian state, so it’s time to look for new paths to end the occupation.

The solution, I believe, lies the in recognition of the Palestinians’ right to oppose the occupation through diplomacy, as well as in support of growing non-violent protests and in respect for their political choices. This road might take longer to achieve results, but the alternative could be a recipe for the renewal of violence, once the current path leads to its inevitable dead end.


Netanyahu gets back at Lieberman, NGO probe dies in Knesset

Posted: February 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

The Knesset delivered some good news yesterday: The decision to form an investigative committee that would look into the work of leftwing NGOs has lost momentum and is likely not to be implemented. It seems that the second vote, necessary to confirm the probe, won’t even take place.

The NGO’s investigative committee won a clear majority a few weeks ago, when it was brought for the first of two votes. So what made Knesset members change their mind?

First, there was a backlash against the Knesset members from the left who failed to oppose the original bill (most of them simply didn’t show up for the vote). Then came  the biggest leftwing protest in years, which took place in Tel Aviv. The unusual turnout, organizers claimed, was largely due to the coming probe.

Around the same time, Kadima, still the biggest party in the Knesset, recognized an opportunity to embarrass Netanyahu. Tzipi Livni noticed the mounting opposition to the probe, and decided that all Kadima members would oppose it, thus making sure the second vote in the Knesset would be a close one.

The final vote was intended to take place next Monday. In order to win it, the entire coalition had to be mobilized. That included PM Netanyahu himself, who would have preferred not to be seen raising his hand in support of such a controversial measure. On top of this, four senior Likud members – Miki Eithan, Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin – made it clear that they would oppose the bill.

Now the vote was expected to be extremely close, probably falling one way or the other on a single vote. Suddenly, the pressure was on the coalition. Few more Likud members feared they were going to fail on both fronts: they would have their name on the list of supporters for the probe (something they weren’t too thrilled about), and still lose the vote.

Yesterday, Netanyahu surrendered, and freed all Likud members to vote as they wish. The move all but eliminated the chances to secure a Knesset majority, and Avigdor Lieberman – whose party came up with the idea of the probe – decided to postpone the vote in order to avoid an embarrassing loss at the Knesset.

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The background to these events is the growing rivalry between PM Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister. A few days ago, Lieberman humiliated Netanyahu (and not for the first time) by vetoing the appointment of his security adviser Uzi Arad as the ambassador in London. Some people think that letting the NGO prove die was Netanyahu’s way of getting back at Lieberman, by depriving him of a major political achievement. This move, however, might cause more voters from the right flank of the Likud to turn to Israeli Beiteinu.

The real winner of the day was Tzipi Livni. Kadima bet on opposition to the probe – and won the battle. After all the challenges to her leadership, it seems that Livni took control over her party, at least for the time being.

As for Netanyahu, just a month ago, after the split at Labor, it looked as if his seat was secured for the rest of his term. Not anymore. Netanyahu is at the mercy of Lieberman, and it seems that the Foreign Minister is getting impatient with him by the day. The only thing holding Lieberman from calling new elections is the Attorney General’s coming decision whether to press charges against him, due to be given in the next few weeks. My guess is that Lieberman will wait to see to see whether he is forced to resign from the government and go to court, and only then decide on the fate of this coalition.


Please, no more peace plans

Posted: February 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

The Israeli leadership wants to hold on to the status-quo, the Palestinian leadership is split, and the US discovers the limits of its power. Under these circumstances, the problem is not the lack of solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the absence of political forces that could implement them. A response to Bernard Avishai

Olmert, Abbas and Bush at the opening of the Annapolis talks (U.S. Navy photo by Gin Kai)

Olmert, Abbas and Bush at the opening of the Annapolis talks (U.S. Navy photo by Gin Kai)

Some 20 years ago, just before I started my mandatory service in the IDF, I remember reading “No Trumpets, No Drums” by Sari Nusseibeh & Mark Heller. The Israeli and Palestinian authors of the book conducted negotiations for several months, leading to the outline of the two-state solution described in the book. At the time, the idea of a Palestinian state was still a taboo for most of the Israeli public, even in the Left, and I still remember going through the book and realizing that there might, after all, be a solution to what used to be called “the Palestinian problem.”

Reading Bernard Avishai’s excellent piece on the negotiations between Olmert and Abbas in this week’s edition of the New York Times Magazine, I couldn’t help remembering “No Trumpets, No Drums.” The similarities between the agreement Nusseibeh and Heller reached and the ideas discussed by the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian president were striking, only this time they didn’t bring any sense of hope with them.

Another memory: Recently, I attended a public peace conference hosted by an Israeli-Palestinian NGO. Between the formal debates, I had a few conversations with representatives of different peace groups. Over dinner, one of them told me of a peace plan he came up with. “It’s not that different from the Geneva Initiative,” he admitted, “only with a few modifications.” A businessman I met was working on establishing an Israeli-Palestinian civilian think tank. His goal: To come up with a plan for a two-state solution…

In recent years, I have also met plenty out-of-the-box thinkers: People proposing a formula for a Palestinian-Israeli confederation; those who dream of abolishing national borders in the Middle East; and even a guy who claims that the Palestinians are the lost Jewish tribes, and therefore, see no reason for the conflict. All we need, he told me, is to explain this to people.

In short, there is no shortage of solutions (and it’s not surprising the serious ones look quite similar). The more the situation on the ground deteriorates, the more plans people come up with. I guess it’s only natural, and I don’t want to dismiss this tendency altogether. Ideas are important. They show people that the current trends can change, and they can lead to political action. The problem, I think, is that in recent years, all these plans and ideas replaced politics, and therefore, became counter-productive.

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Many people looked at the failed Annapolis process as a missed opportunity, a version of the “generous offer” narrative used to describe the Camp David summit in 2000. Look how close the two sides are, these people say. If only the administration was more engaged we could have had an agreement. If only the war in Gaza didn’t break out. If only Ehud Olmert stayed in power.

But wasn’t the war evidence to the fact that it’s impossible to sign an agreement with only half the Palestinian Authority, and leave Gaza out of the process? And didn’t the result of the Israeli elections prove that the public prefers Netanyahu’s rejectionism to Kadima’s two-state platform? Couldn’t the failure to reach an agreement serve as proof that at least one of the parties – if not both – find the negotiation’s outcome impossible to live with, or simply impractical?

I believe that the problem is not the absence of a plan, but that of a leadership which is able to carry it out. Olmert went further than any Israeli leader, but he still didn’t come close to the minimum the Palestinians could have lived with (the reaction to the Palestine Papers reveals how far behind from its leadership was the Palestinian public). And while the Israeli PM was negotiating, Netanyahu and Lieberman warned of these “dangerous concessions” and made it clear that the next Israeli government would not see itself committed to the understandings between the lame-duck Prime Minister and the Palestinian President (when the crucial meetings between the two leaders took place, Olmert has already announced he would retire form his post due to corruption allegations, and that he wouldn’t run for re-election). It seems that the talks between Olmert and Abbas were closer in spirit to the Nusseibeh-Heller negotiations or to the talks that led to the Geneva Accord than to the Oslo process: full of good-will, but short on political authority that could back it up.

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How do we get out of this dead-end? Avishai thinks that the US should present its own peace plan, based on the points of agreement between Olmert and Abbas. He writes on his TPM blog:

The point is, an Obama plan should be presented first to (and coordinated in advance with) the EU, the Quartet, the leaders of the OECD, and congressional leaders for that matter. It should be declared consistent with Olmert’s offer and designed (as Olmert’s offer was) to be “in the spirit” of the Arab League Initiative of 2002. Its great victory would not be in (immediately) getting Israelis and Palestinians to yes, but in creating an international consensus which all sides, especially Netanyahu and Israeli leaders and journalists more generally, would have to contend with for the foreseeable future. Obama could make the plan concrete by, for example, offering to provide funding for the RAND Corporation’s ARC project, tying a Palestinian state together with a transportation corridor, and offering Israeli infrastructure companies the chance to participate.

In the NYT piece, Avishai explains:

It is hard to imagine Netanyahu resisting an Obama initiative should the president fully commit to an American package based on these talks and rally the E.U., Russia and the United Nations.

Is it so hard to imagine? Some described the moratorium deal offered by the Administration last autumn as the best ever for Israel, and yet, Netanyahu rejected it. And it wasn’t even about a full peace treaty, just 90 days of settlement freeze, a good-will move that would enable negotiations to move forward.

Right now, there is no political force in Israel which is able to carry out the evacuation of settlements necessary for a peace deal, or to sell the Jewish public the return of dozens to hundred of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Without those, there would be no peace. There could be some intermediate treaty or a unilateral withdrawal, but it won’t bring peace.

The current Israeli leadership can’t even agree on a peace plan that would hand the Palestinians 60 percent of the West Bank, as some ministers proposed. The Knesset has a block of 60-65 members that would never agree to the concessions offered by Ehud Barak in Camp David, let alone those negotiated by Olmert. That’s the reason for the absence of peace talks – there is nothing to discuss.

If we had learned something during President Obama’s first couple of years, it’s his administration’s limits in applying effective pressure on a determined rightwing Israeli government. The administration tried to play it tough, but Netanyahu called their bluff – and won. Many people in Israel and Palestine, including myself, were hoping for a better outcome, but I don’t think the administration is to blame, in spite of mistakes it made. The political circumstances are such that applying pressure on Jerusalem is simply too expensive, in terms of political currency. A president might lose a lot by confronting an Israeli PM, and gain very little. Perhaps that’s the reason that the last two presidents pushed their peace plan just as they were getting ready to leave the White House.

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So, what should the US do? In my opinion, the answer is not much, at least for the time being. As recent events taught us, there are limits to the ability to shape the Middle East’s politics from the Oval Office. The US should take a step back, and most importantly, let Jerusalem face the consequences of the occupation by gradually lifting the diplomatic shield it provides Israel with. It should be done in a smart enough way not to hurt the administration politically, but the message needs to be clear: If Israel continues to hold on to the West Bank, it will become more and more isolated. With time, this message would resonate with policy makers and with the Jewish public.

We could also hope that the Palestinians will be able to unite their government, so that when the opportunity presents itself, the leadership that negotiates the end of the occupation would enjoy a greater legitimacy than Abbas and Saeb Erekat did in 2008. Hamas has a veto power over agreements, just as the Israeli Right has. If these forces are not engaged with, there isn’t a plan in the world that would bring peace.


US administration covering up for Netanyahu?

Posted: January 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , | Comments Off

According to Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, Obama’s administration is refusing to reveal what happened in the negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians, probably in order not to embarrass Jerusalem:

The U.S. president is sticking to his refusal to declare that the negotiations be based on the 1967 borders. Moreover, the Americans are refraining from issuing any report on the positions held by each side, or from revealing who has shown a map of a permanent status agreement and offered an outline of security arrangements, and who is plucking excuses out of thin air to maintain diplomatic ambiguity.

Read the rest here.


The myth of “Good Israel” vs. “Bad Israel”

Posted: January 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Some thoughts following Jeffrey Goldberg’s public doubts regarding the Israeli commitment to democratic values

“What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?” asked the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg a couple of weeks ago. “Am I being apocalyptic? Yes. Am I exaggerating the depth of the problem? I certainly hope so,” he added.

Well, This week Goldberg got his answer from the Knesset: no, you are not exaggerating. As Roi Maor and Yossi Gurvits write, the decision to form a special committee which will look into the activities of human rights organizations is one big step away from the limited democracy Israel used to be. Where does it all lead? I honestly don’t know.

But I wanted to discuss something else. Reading his post, what struck me most was the way Goldberg analyzed the causes for the current political trends in Israel:

I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven’t, it seems), will choose democracy, and somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees: The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.

This is a return to the old “good Israel” vs. “Bad Israel” theory. According to this idea, there are the peace-loving, democratic and liberal Israeli Jews, who represent the “real” values on which the country was born, and there are the “bad”, Sephardic Jews, Ultra-orthodox and Russian immigrants, who are to blame for all the current hiccups what was a model democracy until not that long ago. Goldberg is actually angry with them for taking away “his” Israel. I think he represents many in saying that

the Israel that I see today is not the Israel I was introduced to more than twenty years ago. The rise to power of the four groups I mentioned above has changed, in some very serious ways (which I will write about later) the nature and character of the Jewish state.

Let’s not deal with what some see as latent racism in these assumptions (I don’t think this is the case with Goldberg), and talk politics instead. First, Shas, is actually weaker than at any point since the mid nineties. The party is going through an internal crisis (some say it will split once its spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef, passes away). The other Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, has five seats – roughly the same number it always had. As for Avigdor Lieberman, the conventional wisdom is that only 60-something percent of his votes were from Russian immigrants and the rest came from ordinary middle class Jews. Pollsters claim that those middle class voters are the reason for Lieberman’s rise in the last elections (and probably, in the next ones).

We are left with Goldberg’s favorite target, the settlers. Contrary to the common belief, the settlers are also weaker than ever: the National Religious Party, which used to represent their interests, split into two, and the only real hard-core, rightwing party (The National Unity) has only four Knesset seats and was left out of the government by Netanyahu.

So, If the settlers and the orthodox might be so weak– or at least, not stronger than ever – how come we end up with the most racist, rightwing Knesset in the country’s history?

The answer is as simple as it is unpleasant: it’s Israel’s “good guys” that turned bad – and maybe they weren’t that good in the first place. The Israeli middle class, the good ole’ boys, are the ones supporting the racist bills in the Knesset and the anti-democratic initiatives. In other words, we always had Rabbis like Shmuel Eliyahu and members of Knesset like Kahane’s student Michael Ben-Ari. The difference is that now, we have Kadima and Likud backing them.

Just like the settlements couldn’t have been built without the active support and participation of the Israeli center-left (including Labor party, which started the whole thing back in the 70′s), the current torrent of racist bills couldn’t have come without the help of Kadima, Labor and Likud members. And with all the ridiculous, xenophobic and undemocratic ideas they came up with, their public can’t get enough. When it comes to questions of human rights and democracy, there is no coalition and opposition in the Knesset: Almost everyone is on the same side.

Israel has always been a place that favored Jews over non-Jews. It was always a country that confiscated and colonized Arab land, on both sides of the 67′ borders. In the past, it was easier to avoid those issues, but today, faced with a choice between democracy and the “Jewishness” of the state, it’s clear what almost all Israelis – and not just the Russians and the Hassidic – prefer.

By now, any reasonable person can understand that the “good guys” won’t save the day. It’s more likely that they will vote again for Lieberman or Kadima – two parties that actually get along quite well ( some Kadima Knesset Members even joined the coalition on the shameful vote this week). Dennis Ross and others can spend another decade in efforts to create the political environment that would allow the peace camp in Israel to take the lead again – without real outside pressure, it simply won’t happen. With the exception of Rabin’s government, this country was led by conservative politicians, all of them but one from the Likud, since 1986. And people still don’t get it: Israel wasn’t hijacked by the right. It was there all along.


Israel’s deadliest fire: Eli Yishai must go

Posted: December 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

If Israel’s PM doesn’t show his racist and incompetent interior minister the way out immediately – he should face consequences too

The flames of the Carmel fire seen on the background of the town of Nesher (photo: grebulon/flickr)

Israelis and international forces are still fighting the fire that started yesterday morning on the Carmel Mountain near Haifa. 41 people, most of them from Israel’s prison service, died when their bus was trapped on a forest road. Haifa’s chief of police is in hospital, fighting for her life. This is the biggest and most lethal fire in the country’s history.

The direct responsibility lies with the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of Israel’s fire services. The fire department has suffered from lack of funding and budget cuts for years. The results were evident yesterday, when the firefighters failed to stop the flames in the first critical hours.

In recent years, there were numerous reports in the press on Israel’s deteriorating fire services. Just a week ago notable environmental journalist Aviv Lavie (Maariv) told the story of fire department officials that are trying to sound the alarm, claiming that they lack the means to battle major bush or city fires. “One day our luck will end, and they [fire department officials] will end up testifying before a national inquiry committee,” Lavie concluded.

By yesterday evening the supply of chemicals used in fighting flames ran out, and the firefighters had to settle for water. Israel issued an urgent request for help to other European countries, but for the casualties and their families it was too late. It seems the inquiry committee will come much sooner than even Lavie expected.

Eli Yishai is the Interior Minister. Yesterday, when PM Netanyahu did the right thing and showed up at the emergency command center in Haifa, Yishai was nowhere to be found. Earlier, he tried to spin the story, blaming the finance ministry for the budget cuts.

I don’t remember Yishai mentioning this issue before. The Ministry of Interior’s main political project last year was a failed effort to have 1,200 foreign workers’ children deported out of Israel, as part of a larger demographic battle against all non-Jews in Israel. He was also very vocal in his insistence on continuing construction in East Jerusalem. Apart from his attempts to sabotage the peace process and his xenophobic initiatives, Yishay didn’t do much.

But Yishay is the easy case. This huge government – the biggest in Israel’s history – has failed miserably on every front. Aside from picking up fights with the international community, introducing embarrassing pieces of legislation and deepening Israel’s hold in the West Bank, this coalition of hawks and racists doesn’t have anything to show for. All they offered the Israeli public was empty Zionist rhetoric – the oldest trick in the incompetent politician’s handbook.

Yesterday they met their Katrina. Yet it’s hard to believe even this disaster will make this government – let alone the man leading it – change its ways.


Ynet: “US showing signs of despair from Netanyahu”

Posted: November 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

More than a week passed since PM Benjamin Netanyahu got back from Washington, and still there is no deal on the settlements moratorium. Attila Somfalvi, Ynet’s political correspondent, quotes an Israeli source:

“The Americans are showing signs of despair from Netanyahu. They don’t understand what he wants.”

An Israeli minister who is a member of the security cabinet (a decision-making forum within the government) says:

“The negotiations continue, but there are disagreements about some clauses in the document. There are talks with the United States, but things are moving slowly.”

Another cabinet minister adds that “Netanyahu apparently got himself in a mess with these talks. There is no document on the understandings [between Washington and Jerusalem], and it’s not clear when would the cabinet vote. The United States goes on a holiday, which would slow things even further… [However] delays do not mean that Netanyahu will not be able to pass the [settlements] freeze in the Cabinet.”

An American source told Ynet that “the administration is confused. They don’t understand what is it that Netanyahu want.”

It should be remembered that Netanyahu has the authority to fire any minister who opposes his policies, so the PM shouldn’t have any problems getting a decision he wants passed in the cabinet. It won’t be a first time: in 2004 Ariel Sharon fired Uzi Landau, a minister in his government that opposed the pullout from Gaza.

Netanyahu doesn’t prolong the settlements moratorium because that’s his choice, not because he can’t.


PM office prevented the recognition of two Bedouin villages

Posted: November 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

A state committee was about to include two Palestinian-Bedouin villages in a new municipal plan, thus giving their residents official rights over their lands and homes after decades of dispute. A letter from an adviser to Netanyahu changed this decision

The problem of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Israeli south received some media attention recently following the repeated destruction by the state of a village named Al-Arakiv.

There are more than 40 unrecognized Palestinian-Bedouin villages in Israel, many of them predating the state itself. Their residents are Israeli citizens, but they don’t receive basic services such as water and electricity, and occasionally, they are evicted from their homes and lands.

A government inquiry committee headed by Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg concluded a few years ago that the state should grant most of the villages official status, but its report, though officially adopted by the government, was never implemented.

Today, Haaretz is reporting (Hebrew) that the Prime Minister’s office took side in the procedures of a national planning committee, demanding that it wouldn’t recognize two such villages as part of a new municipal plan for the city of Beer-Sheva.

The sub-committee for principal planning issues in the National Council for Planning and Construction was about to include two villages – Tel Arad and Um Elhiran – in its new plan for the Beer-Sheva greater area. The new plan would have finally given the residents of the villages the opportunity to have an official claim for their lands, to receive basic services and most importantly, not to live under a constant threat of evacuation, as many Bedouin do.

However, two days ago the committee received a letter from the PM advisor for planning, Gabi Golan, demanding not to include the two Bedouin villages in the new plan. The letter repeated the old Israeli demand that the Bedouin leave their lands and their old way of life and move to the small towns Israel has constructed for them.

According to sources in the committee, cited by Haaretz, the Prime Minister’s demand was met, and the new plan, which was submitted yesterday, does not include the two villages.

More background on the problem of the unrecognized Bedouin villages can be found here.