This is what it's like to be the envoy of a lame duck. Time's Tim McGirk reports from Israel on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's latest trip:
On Sunday, Rice just passed through Jerusalem again. Ghosted through might be a better description since this time there was no fanfare, no motorcades snarling up the city’s traffic, and the lady couldn't even book a room in her usual hotel, the David Citadel. She had to settle for a less grand hotel, though admittedly it wasn't one of those pilgrim fleapits in the Old City. But for me, that's a sign of how far how far her superpower status has fallen in the dwindling days of Bushdom.
McGirk also notes that Condi's name is now being used as a verb on Israeli television, "meaning to go endlessly around in circles, accomplishing nothing."
The authors of the controversial book on the influence of the Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy have made their first trip to Israel since the book was published. A few hundred students and faculty at Hebrew University turned out to see Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer argue their case. The result? A lively and largely cordial debate. Their visit had its fair share of detractors, but a threatened boycott failed to materialize. In fact, this is about as heated as it got:
International relations student Liad Gilhar, 25, accused the professors of distorting facts and providing fodder for anti-Semites.
"You need to choose your words carefully," Gilhar said.
Walt shot back: "With all due respect, I don't think it is my words that harm Israel, but rather Israel's actions."
A professor criticized the authors for failing to condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. "I don't think he is inciting to genocide," Walt responded.
Footage obtained by the BBC shows four masked Jewish settlers assaulting an elderly Palestinian goat herder and his wife with baseball bats last week. Thamam al-Nawaja, a 58 year-old shepherd, had her arm and cheekbone broken and spent three days in a hospital. The attack was caught on a camera distributed to Palestinians as part of an Israeli human rights group's campaign to allow Palestinians -- many of whom are being pushed off their land by Jewish settlers -- to have video and photographic evidence of such assaults.
Just 10 days ago, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned expanding Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem as a violation of international law. Israel has defended its settlements, arguing that they are not violating any laws or preexisting agreements. But with this disturbing video, the pressure on Israel to change its settlement policies will only increase.
The incident comes as many are wondering if a two-state solution is even possible anymore. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, frustrated by a lack of progress in negotiating with the Israelis, seems to be hedging his bets and has begun discussions with Hamas, a big no-no for Israel and the United States.
On top of this, Bush's time is rapidly running out. We can only hope that the next president will follow the advice of Arab moderates and address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his first term.
Muammar el-Qaddafi has been staying out of the news lately, but the Libyan strongman has apparently become nostalgic for the days when his delusional comments constantly filled the airwaves and newspapers.
Speaking today in Tripoli, Qaddafi slammed U.S. presidential hopeful Obama on his recent remarks supporting Israel and his insistence that Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of the Jewish state. Qaddafi said that Obama's statements were motivated by a fear that he would befall a similar fate as a man to whom he has drawn numerous comparisons:
We suspect he may fear being killed by Israeli agents and meet the same fate as Kennedy when he promised to look into Israel's nuclear program," Gadhafi said.
In addition to claiming that the Mossad assassinated JFK, Qaddafi also said that as a black candidate, Obama suffers from an inferiority complex that could make him act "more white than white people."
His campaign says no:
Asked for comment, the Obama campaign put a reporter in immediate contact with Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla. -- an Orthodox Jew, a strong supporter of Israel and Obama's point man on many of these issues -- who told ABC News, "that is not backtracking."
"His position has been the same for the past 16 months," Wexler said. "He believes Jerusalem should be an undivided city and must be the capital of a Jewish state of Israel. He has also said -- and it's the same position as President Bush, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert -- that Jerusalem is of course a 'final status' issue," meaning it would be one of the key and final points of negotiation for a Palestinian state. "And Sen. Obama as president would not dictate final status issues. He will permit the Palestinians and Israel to negotiate, and he would respect any conclusion they reach."
ABC's Jake Tapper concludes, "The record seems to back Wexler's argument that Obama has said both that Jerusalem should be Israel's undivided capital, and that its status is ultimately up to Israel." (Which is different, I would note, than saying its status should be up to both parties.)
Still, it seems like this is an awfully fine needle to thread. It's like saying to your daughter, "You shouldn't marry that jerk, but it's up to you" -- the kind of thing that creates some real problems in the family down the road.
Drudge is linking to this story with the dramatic headline, "SUMMER SHOWDOWN: Israeli minister says alternatives to attack on Iran running out..."
The article quotes Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz as issuing an unusually blunt warning to Iran: "If Iran continues its nuclear weapons programme, we will attack it."
The thing to remember about Israeli politics is that it's a parliamentary system. So, the ministers don't serve "at the pleasure of the president"; they're independent politicians with their own bases of support, even if they hail from the same political party as the prime minister.
So, this is not the same thing as U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters (who, incidentally, has a blog called "Fast Lane") issuing a press release. We can safely presume that Peters speaks for the Bush administration.
But the hawkish Mofaz, a former defense minister and military chief of staff, doesn't necessarily speak for the Israeli government. He's probably ramping things up now that he sees a chance to take Ehud Olmert's job, and angling to outmaneuver Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, his chief rival within the Kadima Party. Mofaz is playing politics here, not explaining policy. Still, I would advise the folks in Tehran not to take Mofaz's threat lightly.
UPDATE: Olmert's spokesman distances the prime minister from Mofaz's comments.
When a senior Hamas advisor told radio listeners that he liked Barack Obama, the McCain camp had a field day and even used the news as fodder for a fundraising appeal. But after hearing Obama's Wednesday speech to AIPAC (pdf) -- the powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization -- the Palestinian Islamist group said that Obama is just like all the other U.S. politicians:
Obama's comments have confirmed that there will be no change in the U.S. administration's foreign policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters in Gaza.
"The Democratic and Republican parties support totally the Israeli occupation at the expense of the interests and rights of Arabs and Palestinians," he said.
"Hamas does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win," Zuhri said.
Sometimes in politics, having the right enemies is key to winning friends. Mission accomplished?
This morning, attendees at AIPAC's policy conference in Washington heard remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner and -- the main event -- Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
As one might imagine, the speakers' remarks focused heavily on the relationship between Israel and the United States and security threats from Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Reid, for instance, reaffirmed his party's commitment to Israel, calling such a commitment "an American value." The majority leader also said that "America will never allow Israel's existence to be threatened."
Following a raucous standing ovation, Senator Obama -- whose pro-Israel credentials have come under scrutiny throughout the campaign -- strove to leave few doubts in his remarks:
I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security. Not when there are still voices that deny the Holocaust. Not when there are terrorist groups and political leaders committed to Israel's destruction. Not when there are maps across the Middle East that don't even acknowledge Israel’s existence, and government-funded textbooks filled with hatred toward Jews."
In addition, Obama said that as president, he would do everything in his power to "eliminate" the Iranian threat, an apparent rebuttal to Senator John McCain's speech at the same podium Monday night that charged Obama as soft on Iran.
If you thought that Hillary Clinton might begin her exit from the race after Obama virtually clinched the Democratic nomination last night, think again. Clinton, while praising Obama as "a good friend to Israel," doesn't seem to be going anywhere just yet. Speaking as if she still might have a shot at being commander in chief, the New York senator reiterated how she "has always been very specific" about how her foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East would be constructed. She was adamant that a Democrat be elected in November, but she still seems to think, or hope, that it will be her.
Last night, seven Palestinians received word that their Fulbright scholarships would not be given away to other students. On Thursday, the students, who call the Gaza Strip home, had been notified that their scholarships were being "redirected." The reason? Since the June 2007 blockade began, Gazans have not been able to secure travel visas from the Israeli government for any reason other than pressing humanitarian concern. And although the Fulbright program is now optimistic because the Israeli government has finally acknowledged the visa applications and agreed to an interview process to take place in Jerusalem, the Israelis still reserve the right to deny the visas.
The very day before the students had their scholarships taken away, the Israeli Knesset's Education Committee had petitioned the Israeli Defense Ministry to reconsider restrictions on visas for students. Michael Melchior, chair of the Committee had this to say:
We are a nation that for years was prevented from studying - how can we do the same thing to another people?"
News of the reversal is good for Palestinians who wish to study in the United States, but there are reportedly around 670 students with similar scholarships for study in Europe and elsewhere whose fate is yet unknown. Today, the Israeli Supreme Court heard the petitions of two such students hoping to travel to Germany and Great Britain, and some of the justices have already made their positions clear:
Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein expressed discomfort with the ban on allowing students from Gaza to study abroad, telling the State Attorney that the ban seems 'no less harmful to the Israeli interest, because we have to live with the Palestinians in the future, too.'
If the Fulbright program weren't one of the crown jewels of American public diplomacy, Israel might never have come under real pressure to reexamine its restrictions on travel in and out of the Gaza Strip. But now that it has, the intellectual potentials of nearly 700 Palestinians hang in the balance.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at events marking the 19th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a new threat to Israel, saying the Jewish state would "disappear":
You should know that the criminal and terrorist Zionist regime which has 60 years of plundering, aggression and crimes in its file has reached the end of its work and will soon disappear off the geographical scene," he said.
Ahmadinejad also called the United States a "satanic power" whose "countdown of destruction has begun."
His timing for these comments is chilling. Israel has been celebrating its 60th birthday over the past few weeks, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is hosting its annual policy conference starting today in Washington.
Speakers at the three-day conference include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and presidential hopefuls John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg has a good interview with John McCain about Iran, Barack Obama, Israel, and the Holocaust. Here's an excerpt:
JG: What do you think motivates Iran?
JM: Hatred. I don't try to divine people's motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don't pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You'll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.
JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?
JM: I'm amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I've seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don't sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.
Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I've forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?
Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.
Israel's been in the news a lot lately (who knew?) and Shimon Peres, one of the country's long-standing political figureheads, shares some of his accumulated wisdom on a blog for the Israeli newspaper Haartez today.
Among his 28 Hallmark-worthy quotations is this gem:
Destinations are more important than parking lots."
Living in parking-starved Washington D.C., I would have to dispute this notion.
While troubles continue for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party, and FP's list of possible successors may turn out to be a crystal ball of sorts, it would appear that Peres is vying to be the successor to the Dalai Lama.
More than a year ago, FP predicted Ehud Olmert's ouster and drew up a list of possible successors. It turns out the Israeli prime minister was able to hang on by the skin of his teeth, but the list still holds up pretty well. Among the top contenders? Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister and the No.2 official in Olmert's Kadima Party.
Last year, Livni made a premature bid for Olmert's job when she excoriated his conduct of the Lebanon war. But today, Livni gave the embattled prime minister a shove that could finally break him by calling for internal elections for a new party leader. It so happens she's the odds-on favorite to win the job, which would make her the new prime minister as long as there are no new national elections.
That would suit Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak just fine, since he and many other center-left Israelis fear that Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party would win. That's why Barak is unlikely to simply withdraw from Olmert's governing coalition and collapse the government.
For now, though, Olmert seems determined to fight on. And judging by how he's been able to persevere thus far despite truly dismal public approval ratings, it would be foolish to count him out altogether.
Embroiled in an ongoing corruption scandal, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is facing calls for his resignation. Today, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (above), who hails from a rival party, said it was time for Olmert to step aside:
I do not think the prime minister can simultaneously run the government and deal with his own personal affair."
"Therefore, out of a sense of what is good for the country and in accordance with the proper norms, I think the prime minister must detach himself from the day-to-day running of the government," Barak told a news conference.
Olmert continues to deny any wrongdoing, but a poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz showed that 70 percent of Israelis think the prime minister is lying. It's hard to imagine he can survive.
As I see it, since Olmert's Kadima Party is already reaching outside of Israel for campaign funds, why not seek talent abroad as well? So, to help Kadima, here are some potential replacements -- all of whom would likely enjoy greater popularity in Israel than Olmert.
1) Jimmy Carter
Pro: Ability to feed entire population peanuts in the event that rising food prices begin to hit home in Jerusalem
Con: Meetings with Hamas officials do not exactly provide great stump-speech material in Israel.
2) Eliot Spitzer
Pro: He's probably not doing much else these days.
Con: If Olmert appears to have expensive habits, what would you call Client #9's personal expenditures?
3) George Bush
Pro: Has looked into Olmert's soul and knows he's a good guy, plus increased Bar and Restaurant revenue from Israelis flocking to have a beer with W.
Con: With Bush's domestic approval ratings comparable to those of Olmert, people might not notice the switch.
Poor Rachel Ray. The Food Network hostess unwittingly unleashed the fury of blogger Michelle Malkin last Friday when she wore a black-and-white, paisley scarf in an ad for Dunkin Donuts. Upon learning of the ad, Malkin called Ray "clueless" and upbraided her for wearing "jihadi chic":
Charles Johnson notes, and many readers have e-mailed about, Dunkin Donuts' spokeswoman Rachel Ray's clueless sporting of a jihadi chic keffiyeh in a recent DD ad campaign. I'm hoping her hate couture choice was spurred more by ignorance than ideology.
Feeling the blogospheric heat, Dunkin Donuts decided to pull the ad even though, as you can clearly see, the scarf is not a checked keffiyeh at all:
Malkin, however, remains unhumbled by her mistake and still demands to know where Ray got her paisley scarf.
(For what it's worth, the keffiyeh is a secular symbol of Palestinian nationalism, though the Palestinian movement has obviously become more Islamist in recent decades. Just because you wear it doesn't mean you espouse violence, only that you take the Palestinian side in the conflict.)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been tackling a whole set of challenges of late, from opening talks with Syria to pursuing a peace settlement with the Palestinians. His biggest challenge, however, may be in the Israeli courts. Long Island millionaire Morris Talansky (left) alleged today that he gave Olmert at least $150,000, mostly in cash, over the past 13 years.
Talanksy -- who denied receiving anything in return for these contributions -- had some interesting thoughts on where his money may have gone:
I only know that he loved expensive cigars," Mr. Talansky told the court. "I know he loved pens, watches. I found it strange."
The testimony is part of a larger political corruption investigation, with some claiming that Olmert has taken $500,000 in illegal campaign contributions or outright bribes. Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind, once a friend of the prime minister, said he saw Olmert receive an envelope full of cash at a fundraiser while the latter was mayor of Jerusalem.
On the bright side, should these charges prove to be false, Olmert will have a collection of fine cigars to celebrate his acquittal.
Apparently, Tony Blair was very nearly killed by Israeli fighter jets on Monday . Blair's pilots initially failed to respond to radio requests for identification when they entered Israeli airspace and the air force believed the private plane might have been part of a terrorist attack. Luckily the pilots did eventually respond and Blair was unaware that the event took place until later. A malfunction in the air force's early alert system is being blamed for the mix-up.
Israel should probably get the kinks worked out before the next time a former head of state flies through. Blowing up the international community's envoy to the Middle East might make negotiations a little awkward.
That's how one Bush administration official characterized the talks to the New York Times's Helene Cooper. Both Cooper and Robin Wright of the Washington Post have written remarkably similar news analyses today, portraying yesterday's big day for diplomacy in the Middle East as evidence of the U.S.'s diminishing diplomatic influence in the region.
It seems worth pointing out that three major negotiation stories broke in the Middle East and South Asia today. Israel and Syria, technically at war since 1967, are holding historic peace talks in Turkey that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described as a "national obligation." The Lebanese government negotiated a compromise with Hezbollah, ending 18 months of violence and political deadlock. And Pakistan's government defied the U.S. by agreeing to withdraw from Taliban-controlled territory in exchange for security guarantees.
Of course, whether these agreements will hold up is another question. They also raise troubling questions about the increasing ability of terrorist groups to win concessions from governments. However, it's interesting to note that while American politicians debate the idea of negotiating with hostile regimes and religious extremists as if it were some abstract concept in an international relations seminar, the U.S.'s allies in the region are already doing it on their own.
President Bush's Knesset speech is getting a lot of attention today for what appeared to be a veiled swipe at Barack Obama, implying that those who suggest negotiations with Iran are repeating the mistakes made during the lead-up to World War II: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.'' Leaving aside whether the remark was aimed at Obama, (and Obama certainly thinks it was) is it really necessary for politicians to constantly invoke the Holocaust when speaking about international affairs with Jewish audiences, as if that's the only analogy through which they can understand security threats? For the record, some Israeli politicians are just as guilty of this.
"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.''
Leaving aside whether the remark was aimed at Obama, (and Obama certainly thinks it was) is it really necessary for politicians to constantly invoke the Holocaust when speaking about international affairs with Jewish audiences, as if that's the only analogy through which they can understand security threats? For the record, some Israeli politicians are just as guilty of this.
Anyway, Bush may claim to be horrified at the idea of negotiating with terrorist-supporting regimes, but his administration actually appears to have dropped its opposition to once-taboo negotiations between Israel and Syria in recent weeks. This would seem to support the view that Bush's remarks had more to do with U.S. politics than the reality of Israel's security.
Laura Rozen has much more on Bush's last chance to advance the peace process in her FP web-exclusive this week and today's photo essay explores Israel and Syria's continuing conflict over the Golan Heights.
Speaking in Jerusalem today, George Bush was uncharacteristically modest about his expectations for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during the rest of his term:
"I'm not running for the Nobel Peace Prize. I'm just trying to be a guy to use the influence of the United States to move the process along," Bush said.
Being that guy may force a president desperate for a foreign policy victory to back away from one of his administration's central stated principles: the refusal to negotiate with regimes hostile to the U.S. and Israel. In a new web-exclusive argument for FP, journalist Laura Rozen explores the possibility of Bush overhauling his diplomatic posture in the Middle East this late in the game:
Though the Bush administration seems unlikely to do a “Nixon goes to China” with Iran at this late date, in some isolated cases it does appear to be at least flirting with a different approach. Recent weeks have seen numerous reports of indirect proximity talks and back-channel diplomacy between Israel and Syria, on the one hand, and between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, on the other. In both cases, Washington’s role is curious, officially condemning calls for any sort of dialogue with Hamas while at the same time, seemingly tacitly endorsing Egypt’s role as a cease-fire broker between Israel and Hamas.
Read the full piece here.
Today, Israeli police raided the offices of the Jerusalem municipality looking for evidence of bribes given to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by New York businessman Morris Talansky.
With Israel's media gag order lifted, more details are starting to come out about the investigation. It now appears that the investigators are looking into money Olmert received while he was a minister in Ariel Sharon's government, not when he was running for mayor of Jerusalem as previously reported:
"At present, the investigation is clearly focusing on the period when Olmert served as the minister of industry, trade and labor," the official said, adding that investigators may yet expand their probe to cover the period during which Talansky raised funds for Olmert's various election campaigns. "The investigators have solid information regarding envelopes of cash that were handed over to Olmert, and there is no information regarding the fate of that money."
In an interview on Israeli television, Talansky denied bribing Olmert and said that he had donated to Olmert's campaigns but had no idea how the money was spent. However, according to the New York Times, a minibar company started by Talansky picked up a $4,717 one-night Washington hotel tab for Olmert in 2005. Even at the Ritz-Carton, that's a lot of cashews.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush will arrive in Israel tomorrow and plans to meet with Olmert. Asked about the investigation today, he described the Israeli prime minister as "an honest man, an open man, a guy easy to talk to and somebody who understands the vision necessary for Israelis' security."
Fifty-nine percent of Israelis, on the other hand, don't really see it that way.
After last night's party, Israeli political leaders are back to the grim reality of the ongoing corruption investigation that threatens to bring down Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A police gag order on the investigation will be lifted this evening, allowing the the Israeli media to finally report on the full details of the case.
The New York Post revealed last week that Olmert is being investigated for money he may have received as mayor of Jerusalem during the 1990s from a Long Island businessman named Morris Talansky. Israeli media outlets are still barred from publishing Talansky's name or any other details of the case, though the easy availability of foreign news sources in Israel has made the blackout somewhat ridiculous. The ongoing confusion over Olmert's legal status has also made further peace negotiations next to impossible.
Watch this space as more details are revealed.
At sundown tonight, Israel began celebrating its 60th anniversary. Though continuing violence in the Palestinian territories and political corruption scandals in the Knesset have left many Israelis feeling a bit cynical about the event, Israel's 60th brithday is nonetheless a remarkable milestone for a country whose very existence has been in peril more times than its citizens would like to recall.
Today, Israel doesn't face the same existential threats it once did, but that doesn't diminish the challenges and dangers it must still confront. As Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg writes:
At 60, Israel is neither a perfect democracy, nor a Jewish ghetto imperiled by Iranian Nazis, nor a puppet master indirectly controlling Washington. It is more democratic than its neighbors, more reliably pro-Western, and more successful economically and militarily. Nonetheless, it faces the classic dilemmas of a nation-state dealing with minorities, borders, and neighbors. In other words, it is best understood as a real place, not a country of myth.
For more on Israel's history and uncertain future, check out Gorenberg's cover story "Think Again: Israel" from the most recent issue of FP. You can also explore more of the country's turbulent history in the photo essay, "Israel at 60."
KIBBUTZ BE'ERI, ISRAEL - APRIL 30: Seen from the cab of a combine harvester, an Israeli army armored personnel carrier (APC) secures the border with the Gaza Strip as Israeli farmers bring in the wheat crop near Kibbutz Be'eri in southern Israel. As grain prices reach record levels, Israeli farmers are expanding the area under wheat cultivation, right up to the border fence with the Hamas-controlled territory.
Professor Bernard Sabella of Bethlehem University came to Georgetown Wednesday to speak about the decline of the Palestinian Christian population in the Holy Land. It's a group whose unique role as bridge-builders, particularly between the West and the Palestinian Muslims, is increasingly at risk.
Palestinian Christians number somewhere near 50,000, making up less than 2 percent of the population. In Jerusalem alone, the population has gone from 30,000 in 1945 to at most 8,000 today.
As a sociologist, Sabella conducts surveys to discover why Palestinian Christians are emigrating. His results suggest economic and political rather than religious reasons, though 8 percent of respondents say religious fanaticism could be a contributing factor to seeking a life elsewhere. Jews and Muslims are leaving for the same reasons.
Sabella, who has served in the Palestinian legislature, also weighed in on the political situation. The way he sees it, the peace process has reached a critical juncture. If it doesn't succeed by the end of the year, he expects escalating confrontation on Palestinian streets and the election of hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.
The implications of failure, he says, are serious:
If the political and economic situation doesn't improve, then we are going to lose our youngest and brightest brains."
Dog bites man. A Commentary magazine blogger slams Jimmy Carter for meeting with Hamas leaders.
But there's more. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) says it turned down a meeting request from Carter, whom the terrorist group accused of "carrying an American-Israeli agenda." (Funny, most of Carter's critics would say he's carrying water for the Palestinians.) Commentary's Eric Trager says the incident "should finally shatter Carter's credibility as a peacemaker." He explains:
While PIJ shares many of Hamas' militant features–including its coordination of terrorist activities, calls for Israel's destruction, and theocratic aims–PIJ lacks Hamas' social and political significance. It does not have the social welfare network on which Hamas has built its popularity, while PIJ's refusal to participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections points to its minimal public authority among Palestinians.
There are many valid reasons to meet with Hamas, most notably because no peace process can possibly succeed if the Islamist movement is outside the tent trying to blow it up. Carter is right about that, and many Israelis know it. But if it's true that the former U.S. president wanted to meet with the odious PIJ as well, then it shows he hasn't learned a whole lot about politics in his 83 years. To say the least.
This is sure to provide fodder for conspiracy theorists in the Middle East:
The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv on Wednesday reported that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan university that the September 11, 2001 terror attacks had been beneficial for Israel.
"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."
It amazes me that despite the fact that Osama bin Laden has admitted multiple times that he ordered the September 11th attacks, there are still plenty of people -- especially in Arab countries -- who believe otherwise. Netanyahu just gave those folks a huge gift.
For the first time ever, a female Muslim Arab soldier has joined an elite Israeli Air Force unit. Upon completing a medic training course with top honors, she became part of the Airborne Combat Search and Rescue Unit 669, a premier unit that extricates wounded soldiers from combat zones in sensitive and highly classified operations.
Unlike Jewish young adults, most Arab Israelis are not required to serve in the military, but this soldier, from an Arab village in northern Israel, volunteered to serve. But Muslims and Arabs are prevented from serving in the elite Unit 669, which requires an extremely high security clearance, due to fears about conflicting loyalties should they have to serve in Palestinian areas or fight Muslim countries. So how did she get in? An investigation revealed that an error was made, although news reports have not described the nature of the error or who made it. (My hunch is that those details are confidential.)
Nonetheless, the unit's commander has been so impressed with the woman's exceptional ability that he is allowing her to stay. Although some on the Internet say she may end up betraying her unit, it may be that in this case an error ended up yielding the correct outcome -- letting in a talented, loyal soldier.
Israel will celebrate its 60th anniversary on May 8, but a few gray clouds are already gathering over an otherwise euphoric national holiday. The New York Times yesterday highlighted a noticeable strain of cynicism among Israeli citizens as the date approaches.
For example, a recent poll asking people who they want as next prime minister produced a majority response of "none of the above," and a petition against wasting money on anniversary "festivities whose primary purpose is to give a stage to the politicians" gained surprising popularity. The theme of the festivities is "Strengthening Israel's Children" but a recent study shows that one in three children lives in poverty. Coupled with school strikes and ongoing frustration over the security situation, Israelis are having a hard time mustering up much enthusiasm.
Recent polls show a majority of Israelis favor a modest celebration so that money can be used in other areas like health and education. The anniversary plans reflect this in part by focusing on more lasting investments: a cross-country bike trail, completion of a Sea of Galilee footpath, and maintenance of memorials that will involve the country's youth. There will still be typical national celebration staples like light shows, beach parties, and military displays.
Sever Plocker with Yediot Aharonot said:
Have we gone mad?...Has something gone wrong with our collective mind? The State of Israel is about to mark 60 years of independence in an atmosphere of bitterness, depression and public reluctance 'to waste the money on celebrations.'"
While I agree that politicians shouldn't hijack the occasion for their gain, it doesn't seem right for people to take the wind out of the national sails just because they want to gripe. It's a national day -- why not act like it and show some pride?
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