Leading Ha’aretz writer: “Netanyahu is positioning himself left of Rabin”

December 10, 2009

* Egypt has begun construction of a massive iron wall, up to 10 kilometers in length, along its border with Gaza. Made of enormous slates of steel, reaching as much as 30 meters deep into the ground, it will be impossible to cut or melt. How many media will report this? Will American and Canadian students launch an Egyptian Apartheid Week?

* Ha’aretz: “Benjamin Netanyahu made history twice. The first time was when he adopted the two-state solution in his Bar-Ilan speech, and the second was when he decided last week to freeze settlement construction. The Palestinians dismiss his steps and the Europeans say they’re not enough. The skeptics are skeptical and the cynics are cynical. But the truth is that Netanyahu circa 2009 is situating himself to the left of Yitzhak Rabin circa 1995.”

* Israel shunned at Copenhagen Climate Conference
* First Miss Palestine beauty pageant to take place this month
* Triplets serving in Israeli Air Force

 

CONTENTS

1. Israel shunned at Copenhagen Climate Conference
2. A Nobel woman
3. First Miss Palestine beauty pageant to take place this month
4. Dad would be proud: The threeness of it all
5. Shimon Peres launches his own YouTube channel
6. Israel army thwarts potential terror attack yesterday
7. Extra note
8. “Netanyahu is positioning himself left of Rabin” (By Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz, Dec. 3, 2009)
9. “Only a set of demands to reverse history”
10. “Distracted by the crucial debate over Afghanistan…”
11. “Israel’s Settlement Freeze’ (By Michael Oren, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 7, 2009)
12. “Egypt building iron wall on Gaza border to stop smuggling” (Ha’aretz, Dec. 9, 2009)


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

This is the third of a three-part dispatch. It includes various articles, as well as some other short items.

The other two dispatches can be read here:
Ehud Olmert in his own words: What I offered President Abbas
“Let’s substitute Israel Apartheid Week with Palestine Democracy Week”

 

ISRAEL SHUNNED AT COPENHAGEN CLIMATE CONFERENCE

Israel’s official representatives have found themselves shunned at this week’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, according to reports in the Danish media. While many Israeli experts and scientists have been at the forefront of ways to improve the environment and foster clean tech energy, Israeli officials have been rejected in their attempts to join discussion groups at the various sessions in Copenhagen.

European Union countries clustered together, as did non-aligned countries, so Israel pulled all its diplomatic strings to join a group in which Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland were members, but it was rejected, the supposed reason given being “the war in Gaza” (one of the least deadly of the many wars from Yemen to Congo to Pakistan to Sri Lanka, that have occurred this year).

About 40 Israeli representatives attending the conference are finding it difficult to participate, according to reports. Among those participating is the Iranian regime, which this week continued brutally to crack down on pro-democracy demonstrators in several Iranian cities.

 

A NOBEL WOMAN

Today, Professor Ada Yonath of Israel’s Weizmann Institute will receive the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in Stockholm, the first woman to win a chemistry Nobel since 1964. As I pointed out two months ago when the prizes were announced, it ought to have been a big story, not least because the question of how much women achieve at the highest levels in science is still a controversial one. (One recalls the Larry Summers row at Harvard.) But, perhaps because it tells one something important and positive about Israel, the media have virtually ignored this story.

Yonath won the award for her research on ribosome, a key component of the cellular machinery that translates DNA sequences into protein chains. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said her work had been fundamental to the scientific understanding of life and has helped researchers develop antibiotic cures for various diseases.

 

FIRST MISS PALESTINE BEAUTY PAGEANT TO TAKE PLACE THIS MONTH

A swimsuit competition will not be included, but the first ever Miss Palestine beauty contest has been scheduled for December 26, 2009, in the West Bank. Organizers say that at least 58 young Arab women will participate, including 32 from the West Bank and 26 from Israel. There are no contestants expected from the Hamas-controlled and increasingly Islamic Gaza Strip.

The goal of the contest, organizers say, is to show a different, non-political face of Palestinian society. The winner will receive a new car, a 10-day trip to Turkey and $2,700 in cash.

 

DAD WOULD BE PROUD: THE THREENESS OF IT ALL

For the first time, three female triplets are serving in the Israeli Air Force. Aged 19, they are the daughters of the late Jerusalem Post columnist Sam Orbaum, whom I knew and was one of the first subscribers to this email list.

Orbaum passed away of cancer in 2002 at the age of 46. The title of his final column for The Jerusalem Post was “The threeness of it all,” to describe life as a father of identical triplets.

While all three are in khaki-colored air force uniforms, they don’t serve together. Odelia, the oldest (born a minute before her two sisters), serves as a control officer in the IAF’s underground command-and-control center in the Kirya in Tel Aviv; Nomi is an air traffic control officer at the IAF’s Palmahim Base; and Donna is currently in training for a different IAF position near Herzliya.

 

SHIMON PERES LAUNCHES HIS OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL

On Tuesday, Israel’s youthful president, Shimon Peres (who is aged 86), launched his own YouTube channel at a joint press conference he held with YouTube Founder and CEO Chad Harley.

Harley, who was visiting from America, said that Israeli engineers and designers had played a key role in establishing and developing YouTube.

Peres’s channel can be viewed here: www.youtube.com/peres

 

ISRAEL ARMY THWARTS POTENTIAL TERROR ATTACK YESTERDAY

The IDF and Israeli police thwarted a potential terror attack in Jerusalem yesterday afternoon, when they discovered six pipe bombs in a bag belonging to a 20-year-old Palestinian man. The man, who resides in the West Bank, was arrested. During a preliminary interrogation at the scene, he admitted planning to carry out an attack inside Jerusalem. Police sappers neutralized the bombs in a controlled explosion.

***

ISRAEL PRAISES TURKISH AUTHORITIES FOR PREVENTING HIZBULLAH ATTACK

Turkish forces prevented a Hizbullah attack on an undisclosed Israeli target in Turkey last month, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said yesterday, thanking Ankara for the successful operation and for its cooperation. Turkish media reports said Hizbullah had set up a network of Iranian agents posing as tourists in Istanbul. This action comes in the context of a highly critical approach to Israel by the Turkish government over recent months.

 

EXTRA NOTE

Because of spam and delivery problems some people did not receive my Wall Street Journal article last week: Building peace without Obama’s interference: A promising, independent Palestine is quietly being developed, with Israeli assistance. It can be read here.

Several other papers sought permission to republish the article. For example, it was published in The Australian (under the title “The West Bank is not Darfur”) on Tuesday.

One of the papers that asked to republish the piece was the British paper The Guardian, which occasionally publishes articles which are not against Israel, in an effort not to appear one-sided. The Guardian version is here (together with some unpleasant readers’ comments).

When I asked The Guardian editor to post one of the photos from Gaza (scroll down to the bottom part of the page here to see the ones I mean, or a similar photo from others I suggested) he said he couldn’t.

Yet the very next day, The Guardian published another article on Gaza accompanied by a large, distressing, and possibly – given past evidence of Palestinian fixers working with Reuters photographers – staged photo.

The title of that article was: “Who will save Gaza’s children? Never mind Copenhagen, an environmental catastrophe is going on right now – contaminated water is poisoning babies in Gaza”.

The author, Victoria Brittain, is a former associate foreign editor of The Guardian, and this goes a long way to explain The Guardian’s foreign news coverage.

In past years, as attempts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist gain momentum, there have been many other “poisoning the wells” type stories in Western and Arab news media – Israel poisons candies, spreads AIDS among Palestinians, and so on.

 

NETANYAHU IS POSITIONING HIMSELF LEFT OF RABIN

I haven’t summarized this article because it is relatively short and I thought it best to let people read Ari Shavit’s analysis as a whole, including his prediction of a possible unilateral Israeli disengagement by Netanyahu from parts of the West Bank next year.

Shavit is one of Ha’aretz’s leading commentators. Significantly this article is in the same Ha’aretz that is usually so quick to criticize Netanyahu – and Israel. Two weeks ago it even published an article (via DPA) stating that the south-west mainly Jewish neighborhood of Gilo is “an East Jerusalem settlement.”

***

Netanyahu is positioning himself left of Rabin
By Ari Shavit
Ha’aretz
December 3, 2009

www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1132436.html

Benjamin Netanyahu made history twice. The first time was when he adopted the two-state solution in his Bar-Ilan speech, and the second was when he decided last week to freeze settlement construction. The Palestinians dismiss his steps and the Europeans say they’re not enough. The skeptics are skeptical and the cynics are cynical. But the truth is that Netanyahu circa 2009 is situating himself to the left of Yitzhak Rabin circa 1995.

Unlike Rabin, Netanyahu now accepts the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Unlike Rabin, he is issuing orders prohibiting construction throughout the Jewish West Bank. Netanyahu has crossed the Rubicon, on both ideological and practical levels, and reinvented himself as a centrist.

At the beginning of this decade, Ariel Sharon underwent a similar process, with the road map his equivalent of Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech. The road map expressed his support for the two-state concept, while insisting that essential basic conditions be fulfilled before the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But a short time after accepting the road map, Sharon revealed that its trails led to a dead end. No Palestinians met the basic conditions, no Palestinians were capable of signing a final-status agreement, no Palestinians had the power to implement peace. When the father of the settlements finally came out in favor of dividing the land, it turned out that there were no Palestinian leaders likewise committed to dividing the land.

Thus was the disengagement born. Although Sharon was aware of its flaws, he realized that disengagement was the only plan of action a centrist Israeli leader could advance without a real partner for real peace.

Six years later, Netanyahu has reached the exact same point. He accepts the principle of two states, and receives no response. He suspends construction in the settlements, and is rejected. He courts Mahmoud Abbas, and is disparaged. The son of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s personal secretary wants a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are slamming the door. He is offering the Palestinian national movement negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state, and has found that there’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about. Zilch. A brick wall.

Few people are close to the prime minister, but among the few who are, some say he has indeed undergone a turnabout. Israel’s might, not the settlements or the settlers, is his top priority. Therefore, had there been a proposal on the table assuring Israel’s security in exchange for a painful withdrawal, Netanyahu would not hesitate. The tragedy is that there is no such offer - and no such table. Negotiations haven’t even begun. Abbas isn’t giving Netanyahu anything he can use to put the centrist worldview he has adopted into action.

Under such circumstances, Netanyahu has two options. One is Shaul Mofaz’s plan: the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders. The second is Disengagement II: the evacuation of about 20 West Bank settlements and their transfer to the Fayyad government. The Mofaz plan has major advantages, but it makes Netanyahu fear unlimited and unrestrained Palestinian sovereignty. This means he might be forced to seriously consider the other option. We can’t rule out that in 2010 Netanyahu will find himself pushing a limited withdrawal, just as Sharon did in 2004 and 2005.

Disengagement II will have to be completely different from its predecessor. It will have to be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and granted European support, and it will have to turn the evacuated area into an economic prosperity zone. It will need to prevent Palestinians from smuggling in weapons and increasing their military might, and must assure Israel’s right to self-defense. Such a plan would have to be part of an overall strategic outlook that pushes both peoples toward peace through measured, circumspect and coordinated unilateral steps. A second disengagement would have to be an improved version of the first, a plan with a political dimension and an economic depth that would strengthen the moderates - Palestinians as well as Israelis.

If the prime minister dares to go forward with Disengagement II, things would be easier for Israel on all fronts. It would help Netanyahu in domestic politics, just as the first disengagement helped Sharon, and it would turn the prime minister into the new leader of the Israeli center.

 

“ONLY A SET OF DEMANDS TO REVERSE HISTORY”

Commenting on the above article, Rick Richman writes on the website of Commentary magazine:

Sometimes you get the impression that the Palestinian Arabs do not really want a Palestinian state. They could have had one in 1919 (the Weizmann-Feisel Agreement), 1937 (the Peel Commission), 1947 (UN Resolution 181), 2000 (the Camp David proposal), 2001 (the Clinton Parameters), or 2008 (the Annapolis Process offer). Six formal offers – each accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs.

The peace-partner Palestinians do not really have a negotiating position – only a set of demands to reverse history. They demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines to reverse the Six-Day War (a war the Arabs caused). They demand a “right of return” to reverse the 1948 war (a war the Arabs started). They demand all of East Jerusalem – not simply the Arab neighborhoods and Muslim religious sites – to control the historic portion of the city; they concede no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.

 

“DISTRACTED BY THE CRUCIAL DEBATE OVER AFGHANISTAN…”

Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, who is a subscriber to this email list, writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Distracted by the crucial debate over Afghanistan, many Americans may have missed a pivotal event in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On Nov. 25, Israel’s government announced a 10-month construction freeze in Judea and Samaria – the areas generally known as the West Bank. Though some projects already begun will be completed and essential public buildings like medical clinics and schools will be approved, no new housing permits will be issued. “We hope that this decision will help launch meaningful peace negotiations,” declared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “and finally end the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.”

(Oren’s full article is below, followed by an article about Egypt’s new wall on its border with Gaza.)


FULL ARTICLES

NETANYAHU HAS BROKEN WITH HIS PARTY TO RESTART THE PEACE PROCESS

Israel’s Settlement Freeze
Prime Minister Netanyahu has broken with his party to restart the peace process.
By Michael Oren
The Wall Street Journal
December 7, 2009

Distracted by the crucial debate over Afghanistan, many Americans may have missed a pivotal event in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On Nov. 25, Israel’s government announced a 10-month construction freeze in Judea and Samaria – the areas generally known as the West Bank. Though some projects already begun will be completed and essential public buildings like medical clinics and schools will be approved, no new housing permits will be issued.

“We hope that this decision will help launch meaningful peace negotiations,” declared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “and finally end the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.” The Obama administration praised the decision and recognized its significance. Special Envoy George Mitchell hailed the decision as “substantial,” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “unprecedented.”

By contrast, Palestinian leaders rejected Israel’s gesture as grossly inefficient. Without an indefinite cessation of all Jewish building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, they say, peace talks cannot resume.

What Mr. Mitchell and Mrs. Clinton understand, but what the Palestinians miss, is that Mr. Netanyahu has shown more flexibility on this issue than any previous head of his Likud Party, which is staunchly pro-settlement. Indeed, he has gone further than any prime minister in limiting a right that many Israelis consider incontestable and a vital component of their national security.

Twice – in 1948 and 1967 – the West Bank served as the staging ground for large-scale attacks against Israel. While defending itself, Israel captured the territory and reunited with its ancestral homeland: Haifa is not in the Bible, but Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jericho decidedly are. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushed to resettle their tribal land.

These communities widened Israel’s borders, which at points are a mere eight miles wide. American policy makers recognized Israel’s need for defensible borders and, in November 1967, they supported U.N. Resolution 242, which called for withdrawals from “territories” captured in the war, but not from “all the territories” or even “the territories.”

All successive Israeli governments supported the settlements. Only with the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords did then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agree to restrain construction in outlying communities that he considered unnecessary for Israel’s defense. But the settlements continued to expand. Meanwhile the peace process progressed. The Palestinians never made a construction freeze in Jerusalem and the settlements a precondition for talks – until earlier this year.

Mr. Netanyahu initially responded that Jews, like all people, can build legally in Jerusalem, and that it’s unreasonable to disallow settlers from building even an extra room for a newborn. Still, he promised not to establish new settlements, not to appropriate additional land for existing ones, nor even to induce Israelis to move to them. Yet the Palestinians balked. The peace process was moribund, awaiting an intrepid stroke.

Mr. Netanyahu has now taken that initiative. By suspending new Israeli construction in all of the West Bank, the prime minister has done what none of his predecessors, including Rabin, ever suggested.

At home, Mr. Netanyahu’s decision has been fiercely criticized, even by some members of his own party. The Knesset has considered a vote of no-confidence in his leadership. And the most recent poll shows that more Israelis oppose the freeze than support it.

The prime minister has nevertheless persisted – his coalition is among the strongest and most representative in Israel’s history – but the opportunity generated by his action will not endure indefinitely. Together with the Obama administration, which has repeatedly asserted its commitment to restarting talks without preconditions and to achieving a permanent two-state solution, Israelis hope that Palestinians will once again join them in talks.

By taking risks and accomplishing the unprecedented, Mr. Netanyahu has demonstrated his commitment to peace. Now the Palestinians must match that dedication and seize this propitious moment.

 

MUCH BIGGER THAN ANYTHING ISRAEL HAS EVER BUILT

(Tom Gross adds: many countries all over the world have border fences and walls but the media and human rights groups don’t single them out with the “Apartheid” label, as they do Israel.)

Egypt building iron wall on Gaza border to stop smuggling
By Avi Issacharoff
Ha’aretz
December 9, 2009

Egypt has begun the construction of a massive iron wall along its border with the Gaza Strip, in a bid to shut down smuggling tunnels into the territory. The wall will be nine to 10 kilometers long, and will go 20 to 30 meters into the ground, Egyptian sources said. It will be impossible to cut or melt.

The new plan is the latest move by Egypt to step up its counter-smuggling efforts. Although some progress had been made, the smuggling market in Gaza still flourishes.

Egyptian forces demolish tunnels or fill them with gas almost every week, often with people still inside them, and Palestinian casualties in the tunnels have been steadily rising.

Recently, Egypt examined several possibilities of blocking the tunnels, and joint American-Egyptian patrols have been seen in Rafah attempting to detect tunnels using underground sensors.

Construction of the wall has already begun. It will be made of enormous slates of steel, reaching deep into the ground. However, it is not expected to stem smuggling completely.

Several defense sources told Ha’aretz they believe that once captive soldier Gilad Shalit is released, Israel will have to re-examine the benefits of closing Gaza off. The closure has been undermined by the tunnel system, which provides not only munitions but food, cars, motorcycles, drugs, medicine and fuel, much more than what Israel allows into the Strip through the official border crossing.

The tunnels also allow people to cross in and out of the Strip, including terrorists who linked up with pro-Al-Qaida groups in Gaza and tried to carry out attacks in Egypt, defense sources said.

The smuggling industry is so institutionalized that tunnel operators purchase licenses from the Rafah municipality, allowing them to connect to electricity and water. Hamas has also been ensuring no children are employed in the tunnels, and is taxing all smuggled goods.

The Egyptians often intercept munitions before they can enter the Strip and have stepped up checks at internal roadblocks and checkpoints in the Sinai. Observers say mounting American pressure is in part responsible for increasing Egyptian efforts to combat the smugglers.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.