Posting: May 12, 2008
Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, delivered a speech for Israel’s 60th. It is so extraordinary that I must lead off with this today:
“All of my life, Israel has been a symbol – a symbol of the triumph of hope and faith. After 1945, our battered world desperately needed to be lifted out of post-war darkness and despair. After so much pain and suffering, humanity needed comfort and optimism. After so much death and destruction, we needed renewal – the renewal of the dream of a better and more civilized world. In short, we needed to be inspired. It was the people who had suffered who most provided that inspiration. By their example, they led the world back to the light. From shattered Europe and other countries near and far, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made their way home. Their pilgrimage was the culmination of a two-thousand-year-old dream; it is a tribute to the unquenchable human aspiration for freedom, and a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people. “In the sixty years that followed, Israel blossomed into one of the most successful countries on earth; a land of ingenuity and enterprise, an oasis of agricultural genius, a wellspring of fine art and high culture, a model of democracy. Israel truly is the ‘miracle in the desert.’
“But the source of Israel’s strength and success, in my view, is its commitment to the universal values of all civilized peoples: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law…
“Unfortunately, Israel at 60 remains a country under threat – threatened by those groups and regimes who deny to this day its right to exist. And why? Make no mistake; look beyond the thinly-veiled rationalizations: because they hate Israel, just as they hate the Jewish people. Our government believes that those who threaten Israel also threaten Canada, because, as the last world war showed, hate-fuelled bigotry against some is ultimately a threat to us all, and must be resisted wherever it may lurk.
“In this ongoing battle, Canada stands side-by-side with the State of Israel, our friend and ally in the democratic family of nations. We have stood with Israel even when it has not been popular to do so, and we will continue to stand with Israel, just as I have always said we would…
“There will be many challenges along the way, but considering how far Israel has come in such a short time, in the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds, I can foresee no dark force, no matter how strong, that could succeed in dimming the light of freedom and democracy that shines from within Israel.”
How rare in this highly politicized and twisted world is such unqualified support. Imagine how different our position would be if other world leaders spoke similarly. PM Harper is to be saluted.
Ted Belman has posted the entire speech at Israpundit:
What I ask is that you take the time to thank Prime Minister Harper by writing to him at email@example.com.
As to the Olmert investigation, I begin today by saying that I have never in my life encountered so many innocent people. No one did anything. At least, that is what they are working vigorously to have us believe.
The former director of the New Jerusalem Foundation, Zvi Raviv, for example, expressed bewilderment as to why this non-profit organization, which does good work, should be involved in the investigation at all. Never mind that Olmert and Messer founded it and Talansky was made treasurer. Or that the Post reported eight years ago that there were suspicions about use for campaign purposes of money from this foundation (which had not yet registered in Israel as a non-profit and in 1999 failed to report millions in contributions).
“We support those with special needs, children, and teenagers,” said an NJF spokesman. “We fund dance centers, libraries in schools, provide help for the deaf, and holiday food packages.” Bringing up the name of the foundation was “unjustified.” “The police are not interested in the foundation.”
While Talansky gave an interview on Channel 10 TV, in which he said that Olmert asked for campaign donations, just as other Israelis were asking, and that he gave for the pure joy of giving and helping an Israeli candidate. If Olmert asked, he assumed it was legal.
Talansky is adamant that he never bribed Olmert. As to that quote about being afraid something will be done to him because of his testimony, he says they are making a big deal out of what was only an off-hand remark.
The investigation at this point is reportedly focusing on possible bribery, rather than illegal campaign contributions. What has been discovered is that he took large sums of money while he was minister of industry, trade and labor — and had no need for campaign funds — in a time frame around 2005.
The term “soft money” is being bandied about, but I will not attempt to grapple with whatever legal meaning it has here in Israel. In the US it refers, broadly, to political donations made in such a way as to avoid federal regulations or limits.
Here the implication is that rules for what can be accepted from foreign nationals for a campaign did not apply, as Olmert wasn’t running for office — that the money went to Likud and not Olmert, or to pay his previous campaign debts, or towards future campaigns. Remember, the law applies to donations to a candidate in the nine months before an election.
According to Haaretz, an official connected with the investigation explained that: “There’s no doubt that Olmert is trying to pull the investigation in a certain direction, of collecting funds for elections.”
“But,” says the official, “in contrast to the impression Olmert is trying to create, the investigation team is currently focusing precisely on the period when there were no elections, and there was no apparent justification for collecting funds for an election campaign.” This official, Haaretz reports, says that the police suspect Olmert of having received envelopes of cash that cannot be accounted for.
According to another source involved in the probe, who was also cited by Haaretz:
“The investigators are currently focusing on reinforcing suspicions that are relatively easy to verify…. They are dealing with the period during which it is possible to unearth findings that will strengthen the suspicions against Olmert…
“During the short period being probed so far, the investigators managed to arrange a cross-checking of sources. There are documents, there’s Talansky’s testimony, there’s Messer’s testimony – all these findings reinforce the credibility of the other.” All evidence is pointing in the same direction.
YNet reports that according to Major-General (ret.) Borovsky, who headed the anti-corruption department at the State Comptroller’s Office and is familiar with details of the current investigation, an indictment is likely to be served. “The police are acting with determination, professionalism and courage in this case.”
Apparently a deposition will be taken from Talansky.
But, truly, we probably shouldn’t worry about any of this, because we have it straight from President Bush in an interview that ran on Channel 10 here: Olmert, he says, is an “honest man.” Translation: I want the peace process to proceed and don’t want this stuff to get in the way.
A Dahaf poll done yesterday for Yediot Ahronot shows that 60% do not believe that Olmert didn’t take money (this double negative is how the poll was worded), and 59% think he should resign.
If Livni heads the Kadima party, according to this poll, Kadima would get 27 mandates (seats) and Likud 23. This is bad news for Netanyahu, who’s been biding his time, assuming that Likud would win the next election, and for those who are anxious to see Kadima out of power.
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was here, and presented to Olmert and to Barak the proposal worked out with Hamas for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Both Barak and Olmert indicated that terms were not acceptable because the return of Gilad Shalit must be included. Additionally, Olmert specified that terms must include cessation of smuggling and arming of terrorist groups.
Suleiman was disgruntled by this Israeli response, after Egypt had worked so hard to establish terms. Suggesting that we are “inflexible,” he pushed the notion that the ceasefire had to be accepted first, and then there would be an opportunity to discuss Shalit. But Israeli leaders weren’t buying this, and he has no choice but to carry this message back to Hamas.
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) made an important point, with this: Release of Shalit, as eager as we all are for it, should not be the cause for our agreeing to a dangerous ceasefire that will result in additional deaths and kidnappings down the road because Hamas will continue to strengthen.
Although Suleiman spoke about a ceasefire leading the way to discussions on Shalit, it’s not that simple. There is a standstill on these negotiations because there are certain Hamas prisoners with blood on their hands that our security people refuse to release but that Hamas insists must be released.
There are those who see Suleiman’s visit as a final effort to stop the shooting of Kassams before Israel escalates militarily. Barak made the observation, perhaps relevant, as his meeting with Suleiman ended, that “Israel cannot continue exercising restraint over the ongoing terror from the Gaza Strip.” Additionally, Barak was clearly not receptive to the suggestion that after six months of quiet in Gaza there would be efforts to extend the ceasefire to Judea and Samaria.
Olmert, however, is scheduled to meet with Mubarak, precisely when is unclear. This had been agreed to weeks ago.
This evening an elderly woman who had come to visit at Moshav Yesha, near Gaza, was killed when a Kassam hit the house where her family lived. Islamic Jihad has claimed credit.
Earlier today two Grad Katyushas hit Ashkelon.
Posting: May 11, 2008
Now, perhaps Olmert is a totally innocent man, who never illegally took an agora (the Israeli equivalent of a penny), but this is not stopping him from having his lawyers fight a tough fight on his behalf with regard to the case being made against him.
Last week, the State petitioned the Jerusalem District Court for permission to take a deposition from Morris Talansky, and on Friday that permission was granted, although to be done in open court, not behind closed doors as State officials would have preferred.
They requested this permission because Talansky will be returning to the US and might not return to testify if there is an indictment against Olmert, and a trial. This deposition would serve in lieu of testimony within a trial.
(Additionally, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador told the court that Talansky “has expressed his concern to a police officer that Olmert might send someone to hurt him.” Whether this was hyperbole only, expressing Talansky’s discomfort with testifying against a former associate and friend, or a real anxiety, I cannot say.)
Olmert’s lawyers are now going to the High Court, seeking permission to appeal the Jerusalem Court decision. The argument, as I understand it, is that such a deposition would be prejudicial to Olmert because it would not permit his lawyers to do the cross-examination that would go on in court.
A lawyer with whom I consulted advises me that it would be very unusual (though not impossible) for the High Court to intervene in a procedural matter such as this. In any event, there is a way to handle Olmert’s protest without blocking the State’s ability to do the deposition: Olmert’s lawyers must be provided with the current case against Olmert in all particulars and must be permitted to cross-examine Talansky during the deposition. Thus would Olmert’s rights be protected.
Talansky is remaining here voluntarily for the time being. He has made a public statement regarding his having promised the police he would remain and cooperate. He himself has been charged with no wrong-doing, at least not yet. While there has been no indication officially that he is a state’s witness, the logic of the situation makes it exceedingly likely that there is some sort of (however unofficial) understanding between Talansky and the police; otherwise he would be greatly reluctant to provide testimony with which he might damage himself.
There are potentially two sorts of charges that might be leveled against Olmert. One is the illegal acceptance of foreign donations for his campaigns. There are stringent legal limits (I believe something less than $10,000) regarding what a foreign national can contribute to the campaign of an Israeli candidate. This is for the obvious reason of avoiding the “purchase” of a campaign by foreign elements. In Olmert’s case there was allegedly a “fortune” in money passed to his campaign over an extended period of time.
A potential legal loophole here involves the time-frame during which the money was provided. The law forbids large foreign donations to a campaign in the nine months prior to an election; if no donations were provided by Talansky during that period before elections in which Olmert was running, it might be more difficult to make a case..
A second potential charge, which has been mentioned by official sources, is that of bribery. The money, which may have gone into campaign funds, may have been intended for purposes other than campaign expenses. I wrote recently that there is no information on what was “bought,” if this was a bribe. But I’ve since learned from my legal contact that it is not necessary to document this.
In essence, it would have been Olmert himself who was “bought,’ and not a particular service. There is even a legal term for this when large sums of money exchange hands in such situations. Olmert would have been in a potential position down the road to do one or more good turns for Talansky, who, it happens, does business in Israel. It is possible, legally, for the exchange of considerably large sums of monety to represent the forging of an unspoken agreement: “I give you this now, and we understand that when I need help you’ll be there for me.”
And there is yet another issue. As I mentioned last week, Olmert and Uri Messer had co-founded the New Jerusalem Fund, which was ostensibly intended to do projects for Jerusalem (whether there were any such projects is not clear) and which was used to manage Olmert’s campaign. The Fund is a registered non-profit, and its use for a campaign may have been blatantly illegal.
Coupled with this is the whole issue of whether Messer (who, it is now being said, may go “state’s witness”) was Olmert’s partner or his lawyer, or both. Olmert made a public statement last week about the fact that donations were turned over to Messer, as the Fund’s lawyer; Olmert expressed confidence that Messer would have handled them legally. This, of course, was intended to put the onus on Messer, who is not having it. (Messer would have no protection under notions of attorney-client confidentiality if he assisted in the breaking of the law.)
Lastly (for now), the NY Times has broken a story alleging that Talansky in 2005 (when Olmert was a minister in the government) paid for Olmert to stay in a $4,700 a night suite in the Ritz-Carlton in NYC.
According to Ali Waked, writing in YNet, the Palestinians are increasingly concerned about the effect of Olmert’s legal troubles on the peace negotiations. According to one unnamed Palestinian official, they believe that if Livni should come in, hers would be a “weak, fragile government, unable to push any significant political move.” The PA is worried that “any headway made in the negotiations at this time may just amount to a waste of time.”
Warned this PA source, if there is cessation of talks with Israel, the PA will begin talks with Hamas with an eye towards reconciliation.
The attacks continue:
On Friday, Jimmy Kedoshim was killed by a mortar shell shot from Gaza, while he was gardening in his yard in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near northern Gaza; three others were wounded in the barrage. Hamas claimed responsibility.
Yesterday, over 20 rockets were fired on Israel from Gaza, lightly wounding five. One Kassam damaged a building at Sapir College, another landed next to a synagogue, and a third hit a home.
Today one Kassam landed near a school bus in Sderot, one landed on the property of Sapir College and a third landed in an industrial area of Sderot. This time Islamic Jihad took responsibility. But Israel holds Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible.
Over 700 rockets and 500 mortars have been fired at Israel this year.
At the weekly Cabinet meeting today, Olmert declared, with regard to these attacks: “We are not planning to accept the [current situation].
“It won’t end in one day or one week, we haven’t promised this and don’t intend to promise this. But I will promise one thing: Either there will be quiet or we will act with such force that will impose quiet.”
Threats are one thing, action is something else.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who has been increasingly critical of the government’s response to the rocket attacks, stated:
“The time has come to make a decision. If they don’t stop terror activities of their own accord, and I am referring to Hamas, we need to return to the policy of 2004, when Hamas and terror – meaning all the terror infrastructure, all the fuel and money used for terror and everything linked to Gaza gunmen – were targeted. We need to act against these components continually with all our might in order to bring quiet… “
Omar Suleiman, Egyptian intelligence chief, is due here shortly to discuss a proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza, in accordance with what has been worked out with Hamas and other groups. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has expressed great reservations about this so-called ceasefire, because arms are continuing to be smuggled into Gaza from Egypt.
What is more, Dichter is concerned about Hamas influence in Judea and Samaria: “Hamas is interested in getting to the same point in the West Bank that Hezbollah has gotten to in Lebanon – to be in control without bearing the responsibility of the population. Under no circumstances can we allow that.”
As to Hezbollah being in control in Lebanon…
While Hezbollah has pulled back from Beirut, clashes between pro- and anti-government forces continue in other parts of the country, including in the mountains overlooking the capital, and north towards Tripoli.
Amos Yadlin, head of military intelligence, providing a briefing in the Cabinet today, warned that “Hezbollah’s use of arms inside of Lebanon is a different sort of message.”
And, indeed, Dichter’s statement at that Cabinet meeting was that “Hezbollah continues to be in control of Lebanon, without carrying the responsibility of managing the country.”
Haim Ramon’s statement echoed this:
“Lebanon must be treated as a Hezbollah state. Everything that happens there is the responsibility of Hezbollah. The country is controlled by this terror organization and its government has become irrelevant. The notion that there is another government apart from Hezbollah is entirely fictitious.”
While there is no panic, and no intention at this point to get involved, clearly Israeli intelligence is watching the situation in Lebanon very carefully.
While Israel celebrated Independence Day on Thursday, in terms of calendar the actual date was yesterday, Saturday. The move in national celebration was made by the Knesset so that there would be no desecration of the Shabbat. Israeli Arabs are clearly not concerned with desecration of the Jewish Sabbath, and so recognized Israeli Independence Day according to the calendar yesterday, and are continuing today.
And how do they recognize it? With the concept of “Nakba” (catastrophe). This means essentially protests against the existence of the State of Israel, organized by groups such as the Islamic Movement of Israel.
At one such commemoration in an Arab village in the north, Sheikh Kamel Khatib declared, in a statement that should not be taken lightly:
“Sixty years they have asked us to be Israeli Arabs and tried cutting us off of the Islamic nation. But their plan has failed.”
There is enormous irony in the fact that Israeli Arabs have it better then Arabs in surrounding areas, with regard to a number of freedoms and benefits. And yet they would destroy us.
It is also ironic that Jordan banned such commemorations, but Israeli courts permit them.
Shmuel Katz has died at 93. Associated with Ze’ev Jabotinksy before the founding of the State, and then a member of the first Knesset on the Herut list, he has long provided a strong and principled voice for the Israeli nationalist camp. He mentored many, and towered as a writer and historian who was able in recent years to speak incisively for the concept of “peace for peace” as opposed to the failed notion of “land for peace.”
With his passing, an historical era is gone.
I salute his memory.
According to Reuters, President Bush is thinking of offering Israel a powerful US radar system when he comes this week — one of several parting gifts under consideration. Built by the Raytheon Company, this system can track an object the size of a baseball from 4,700 kilometers away. This would allow Israel’s Arrow missile to engage a Shahab-3 ballistic missile shot from Iran about halfway through its flight, considerably sooner than would be the case with current Israeli radar.
This strikes me as a very, very good idea.
Posting: May 9, 2008
“The Story Is Out”
As judicial officials loosened the gag on the media that had been in place here in Israel regarding an investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the story broke. Most of you are likely already familiar with at least some of the details, as they were released first by the NY Post and then the NY Times.
Olmert is being alleged to have illegally received hundreds of thousands of dollars from persons in the US (“foreign nationals”) when he was running for the office of mayor of Jerusalem (he first ran in 1993 and again in 1998) and then when he was minister of labor, trade and industry. The money came, all or for the most part, as campaign contributions — either to the mayoral campaign or to Likud (which was Olmert’s party before he joined Kadima).
The receipt by Olmert of this illegal money is alleged to have taken place over an extended period of time, and is being called “bribery” by law enforcement officials. There is still no public indication of what was allegedly being “bought” with this money.
The key state’s witness against Olmert is American millionaire businessman Moshe Talansky, 75, who either provided the money or served as the middleman for it. Talansky lives in Long Island but also has an apartment here in Jerusalem. He served for years as the executive director of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center and is CEO of the Globes Resources Group investment firm.
According to Haaretz, Olmert has known Talansky for many years, and used to refer to him as “my dear old friend,” while Olmert’s close aides referred to him as “the banker” or “the launderer.”
Reportedly, Talansky was being questioned in connection with some other issue here when the matter of foreign donations to Olmert came up and Talansky offered to cooperate in supplying information.
As alleged by one of my sources, what Talansky did was to offer to turn state’s witness on a new issue in an effort to protect himself from further investigation on the original issue. It seems from this allegation that investigators were not even looking for information on the matter of Olmert having accepted money from foreign nationals, but that it literally fell in their laps by virtue of what Talansky offered.
Testimony has been taken from Talansky, in anticipation that he will be returning to the States.
The situation has further been complicated by the fact that long-time Olmert confidant, attorney Uri Messer, is also cooperating with police in this matter, although he has not turned state’s witness. Messer’s testimony allegedly implicates Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken, who has not been cooperating with police. In 1998, Messer headed an organization called “United Jerusalem,” co-founded by Olmert and Talansky, which was supposed to promote projects for Jerusalem and also ran Olmert’s campaign for mayor. It was Messer, according to Olmert, who handled all the money donated or collected by Talansky.
Last year Messer’s name made news when State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a report to Mazuz that included suspicions that when Olmert was secretary of labor, trade and industry, he had granted favors to a factory represented by Messer. This report generated one of four earlier investigations against Olmert currently pending.
One of the things that makes this investigation more serious than the previous four is that this is the first time there are willing, cooperative witnesses. With the other investigations there are suspicions that must be corroborated by tedious efforts such as checking a trail of bank records.
Late last night, after the gag had been lifted, Olmert called in impromptu press conference at which he declared:
“Citizens of Israel, I look you in the eye and I say to you, in no uncertain terms, I have never taken a bribe, nor have I unlawfully pocketed money.”
Anyone who wishes to believe this is certainly free to do so.
Olmert also pledged that if Mazuz indicts him, he will step down from his position as prime minister.
Needless to say, all of this is going to impinge on the “peace negotiations.”
Kaled Abu Toameh in the Post is citing PA officials who say that Olmert is misleading the public when he speaks of progress in the talks. Said one PA official, “If Olmert has problems with the police because of financial corruption, that’s his problem. But he should not use the peace talks as an excuse to divert attention from the police inquiry.”
Other briefs now:
— The PA, which just brought 600 police into Jenin to restore law and order, is now saying 1,500 police are required.
— Jordan has banned all commemorations of “Nakba” — which means “catastrophe’ and is how the Palestinians refer to Israeli Independence Day. Islamicists, who had planned events, were furious. It seems to me that this is a development of import, one I’d like to explore further soon.
— Assad says he will not cut ties with Iran or Hezbollah and that this is “irrelevant” to holding peace talks with Israel. It’s not irrelevant to Israel.
— Lebanon appears on the verge of civil war as Iranian backed Shiite forces loyal to Hezbollah have taken control of parts of Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut and are surrounding government offices. This is in response to a declaration by the government that Hezbollah’s communication system was illegal.
More after Shabbat.
Posting: May 8, 2008
Last night, many here in Israel — before going out on the street to see fireworks or to dance or to just stroll — began the celebrations by gathering in synagogues to pray, and to chant Hallel, a series of psalms of thanksgiving to the Almighty: This is the day that G-d has made, we will rejoice and be glad for it.”
Today had a largely secular feel, as the national pastime is barbecue. There were also jet formation fly-bys, at least over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Heartening to see.
In many ways the world stopped for us during the course of celebrations, but still there is news to be shared…
But first, an expression of gratitude that we’ve passed the day without a major terrorist attack as was intended by our enemies — there were some 17 serious and specific warnings. This, of course, is the result of the sterling work of our security and defense personal.
I want to call your attention to a JINSA Report (#769).
Says JINSA: Rice has been pushing Israel to surrender 95% of Judea and Samaria. In return for this we would allegedly receive US “security commitments” and a pledge from Abbas that this would represent “end of hostilities” and withdrawal of claims for “right of return.”
Abbas, however, according to information from MiddleEast Newsline, (MNL) refused, saying he would resign before agreeing to this. This provides a new perspective on reports that he would quit, which had come from Abu Toameh. While I tend not to take Abbas’s all-too-frequent threats to quit seriously, in light of this information it would seem that this time he means it.
The reason is simple. As MNL also reported, Jordan’s King Abdullah, when meeting with Rice, rebuffed this plan, explaining that Abbas would be killed within days of agreeing to such a plan, and Judea and Samaria would be taken over by Hamas (not incidentally, creating danger for Jordan).
As JINSA elaborated: “[Abba’s] hold on power and his life are not tied to the further removal of Israeli checkpoints or quality-of-life issues for the Palestinian people. His future is directly tied to maintaining the Palestinian hard line. He is not empowered to give up the ‘right or return’ on behalf of other Palestinians or decide to ‘end the conflict.'” (Emphasis added)
What we see here, then, is yet another attempt by Rice to meddle in Middle East politics without having a clue as to what she is doing, or what potential exists for her to cause serious damage.
Aside from the possible demise of Abbas, a Hamas takeover, and risks to Jordan, there is serious risk to Israel (this is addition to our legal and moral right to hold on to Judea and Samaria): Rice plays fast and loose with our security, and has on several occasions before this asked us to relinquish situations that were important for that security. Most immediately, this is the case with her demands that we remove roadblocks.
But what her plan here does is ask us to trust that the US will protect us if the Palestinians should attack after we pulled out. This is, at bottom, a recognition that it’s not safe to turn over to the PA major parts of Judea and Samaria — which means she shouldn’t be asking us to do it. For us to trust that the US would protect us would be the height of folly.
Bottom line is that Rice is so invested in forging an agreement between Israel and the PA that she is oblivious to the fallout that such an agreement would generate.
She ultimately works not just against us, but also against her own country’s genuine best interests.
And who do we see adding his voice to Rice’s right now: EU envoy Tony Blair, who declares in an interview with Sky News that Israel must remove more roadblocks. “… what is necessary is for Palestinians to be able to move relatively freely around their own territory. That is what they cannot do now.”
Does he have a word, even one word, about why we are not eager to let them move freely? Not as far as I can tell. It has become truly wearisome.
Hopefully this will hold: The White House has announced that this is not the time for MidEast talks. When Bush comes next week he will not participate in a three-way meeting with Olmert and Abbas. He will participate in ceremonial events only.
Posting: May 7, 2008
“Rejoice at 60”
This evening begins Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day — our 60th. And a time for rejoicing it is.
Repeatedly I’m seeing essays that celebrate the fact that after sixty years we’re still here. What other nation would celebrate its independence day by saying, “We made it this far!”?
But here we are, beleaguered still, and we’ve not only made it this far — we’ve excelled in a thousand ways. From the early days of struggle we’ve become a first rate, first world nation: Top flight in medical and scientific research, cutting edge in hi-tech. Boasting impressive rates of higher education, and book publication.
We are a nation that continues to absorb Jewish immigrants from around the world, while lending assistance to other countries in trouble because of natural and other disasters and taking in non-Jewish refugees from places like Dafur.
We are a land both of unexcelled natural beauty and modern urban development.
Most importantly, we are a Jewish nation. This is our land, imbued everywhere with our ancient history and heritage. A land — the only in the world! — where Judaism is normative. We run on Jewish time and are mindful of Jewish values. May this never change!
All power to you, Israel. May Heaven keep you safe and strong. May you grow in all the ways that matter, becoming finally a Light Unto the Nations. And may you exist as long humankind peoples this earth.
To all of you who celebrate Israel, I say Hag Sameach!
Posting: May 6, 2008
Late last night I consulted with my experts regarding the situation.
Key among them is an Arabic-speaking Israeli journalist who is in contact with the Palestinians. “You will notice,” he observed, “that all of the news about the progress being made is coming from Olmert’s office. You can relax. They can’t agree on anything.”
And indeed, my contact was totally on the mark. For today it is being reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post that the Palestinians are complaining that all they’re being offered in Judea and Samaria is a “mini-state of cantons,” which was “completely unacceptable” and “provocative.” What is more, they say the US Administration is supporting the Israeli position.
Abu Toameh cites an unidentified PA official: “Today, it’s clear to us that Israel has no intention of withdrawing from all the territories that were occupied in 1967.
“If the Israelis and Americans think that they will ever find a Palestinian leader who would accept less than the 1967 borders (sic), they are living under an illusion.”
What is most significant is this: The PA officials alluded to maps presented in negotiations by Israel in the past few weeks. “We have made it clear to both the Israelis and Americans that they should throw away these maps. No Palestinian will ever agree to the presence of settlements or Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.”
But wait! Didn’t Olmert say great progress had been made yesterday?
Not according to the PA officials, who said they were unaware of significant changes in Israel’s negotiating position and indicated that it was “premature” to speak of progress in the negotiations.
And so Olmert’s spin has been exposed. It seems he made no significant further concessions yesterday.
And what of the American position, which seems frequently contradictory?
According to my journalist source, Bush had told Abbas that he supported the promises implicit in his letter to Sharon in 2004 regarding retention of some major settlement blocs, and that he intended to express this publicly when he came here to celebrate our 60th.
This was indeed enough to send Abbas into deep depression. I cannot explain why he smiled in yesterday’s photo, after meeting with Olmert. Could be, as has been suggested, that he knows he’s finished if Olmert’s government goes, and so he wanted to help Olmert a bit with his spin.
Could be a lot of things, including (as has also been suggested) a promise that Bush wouldn’t go public with his position, or because he voiced a host of demands to Olmert who made vague promises to consider them.
More importantly, the question is asked how this computes with regard to Rice’s statements, which are totally hard line. (As are the statements of others such as National Security Advisor Steven Hadley.) My response to this is that there is not one coherent US policy and that Rice and her cohorts are pushing their own agenda. Bush, who seemed at first to truly “get it,” has allowed himself to be led by Rice, as he has weakened politically. But on this issue, just possibly, he will come through.
Rice, it should be noted, is sending her people out into Palestinian areas to see how the locals are doing with regard to freedom of movement on the roads and the ability to transport their goods. (She failed to mention also weapons.) She isn’t sure that Israel has done enough yet, and wants first hand evidence of improvement in the Palestinians’ quality of life.
I would bet my life that she’s not sending her people into neighboring Jewish communities to see how their quality of life is affected by the fact that they may now get their heads blown off.
She’s pushing hard for a “memo of understanding” when Bush comes next week. According to Ha’aretz, Israeli officials who have met with her “said their impression is that she is determined to produce an achievement at almost any price… “
May she fall flat on her face.
This still leaves the question of how much damage Olmert can do until the situation arises in which he is no longer in power. And this is a question that is fraught with complexities and technicalities.
In a worst case scenario — which seems exceedingly unlikely — if Olmert were to make concessions to Abbas that allowed them to reach an agreement before Bush arrived, it would likely be a verbal agreement as time to draft a proper written one does not exist. Verbal agreements carry no legal weight. However, this does not mean there would be no damage to us. For each time a negotiation with the Palestinians is broken off, they resume by demanding to pick up where it left off, and our negotiators are mostly without the courage to refuse to do that.
As far as a written agreement goes, the Israeli prime minister has considerable (indeed regrettable) latitude. He would be expected to bring an agreement to his government (i.e., the Cabinet). But while it is traditional to bring it to the Knesset, he is not bound to do so and what he signs becomes law without Knesset approval. There are currently efforts being made to change the law in this regard, so that it would more closely resemble US law, which calls for Senate ratification of treaties.
At present it is my understanding that Netanyahu’s recent threat to refuse to abide by any deal with the PA made by Olmert is meaningless if Olmert has signed a paper, but would be possible, were Netanyahu truly to find the stamina, if promises were verbal only.
Whatever the law, however, there is enormous unrest within the government about the fact that Olmert is playing the negotiation cards so close to the chest. Members of his own Kadima party are incensed that he has not shared with them what is transpiring in the negotiations. It seems a bit unlikely that they would give him carte blanche on an agreement on which they had not been consulted.
Members of the opposition, meanwhile, are protesting that Olmert has no right to negotiate at all when his authority and his future as the head of state are under a cloud.
That investigation seems to be progressing apace, and the police have indicated that it is not yet time to remove the gag on the media other than to say a foreign (American) citizen is to be questioned. They say they will fight a lifting of the blackout as this might damage the case. And still there is talk of a “significant development.”
One other legal point to be made: After the police have done their job in garnering whatever evidence exists (which is related to a period before Olmert became prime minister), it falls to Attorney General Mazuz to make the final decision regarding indictment.
In theory, if he were eager to allow Olmert to continue with negotiations, he could, legally, decide not to indict. (This would be a true worst case scenario.) But this is considered to be an unlikely outcome if the evidence is as ponderous as rumors suggest — the pressure on him to indict would be enormous.
But it’s time to move past all of this, as Yom HaZikaron — Israeli Memorial Day — starts this evening. Here the day is immediate and painful, as people remember families and friends who have fallen in defense of the nation. Since 1860, 22,437 have fallen in defense of the Land.
I say without fear of contradiction that we have the finest defense force in the world. The stories of their selflessness and bravery are stunning. Time and time again they’ve won against odds that would have been thought impossible. I would say that Heaven was (and is) with them.
Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., a siren will sound and we will stand silently in memory of those who have fallen.
Then again at 8:00 p.m. another siren will sound and we will move into Yom Ha’atzmaut — Independence Day, our 60th! Already preparations for this are beginning, and flags are hung all over. How splendid to see them waving proudly in the breeze today.
More on this tomorrow.
Posting: May 5, 2008
Who knows how this latest potential scandal with Olmert will play out…
In spite of the fact that police are arguing that the investigation and its legal implications takes precedence over the public’s right to know, word is that by tomorrow the gag will be at least partially lifted. Leaks have taken place that suggest unofficially that this is a new case of bribery — with huge sums of money and an American businessman involved. We’ll see…
Officials involved say the evidence garnered so far is “reliable” and that the nature of the findings, when released, will “shock the nation.”
Olmert is going to be questioned several more times. Apparently because of his responsibilities as prime minister, any one session of questioning can last just so long. At least according to one knowledgeable source, there is a specific progression to the questioning, designed to avoid exposing the direction in which the investigators hope to go.
Questions have been raised as to why this investigation happened so precipitously, and there have been too many different answers I’ve encountered to explain them all. One that makes potential sense is the need to act because there had been public exposure: There seems to be some sense of rush to avoid a chance for different persons involved to collaborate on getting their stories straight or to otherwise obscure evidence.
It falls to Attorney General Mazuz to make the decision regarding indictment. If he proceeds with that, then Olmert must step down — this is according to the precedent of court decisions and not law. And, according to what I’ve just read, the ministers of Olmert’s gov’t would have to resign with him.
The most important question in my mind is what happens next if Olmert is gone, and the answers to that are not yet clear.
While there is talk of Livni taking over for an interim, this is not necessarily the scenario that will take place (other than for some brief transitional period). It would most definitely not be a positive.
Briefly now (with more to follow in short order, hopefully): There is the possibility of a vote of no-confidence, with the Knesset disbanding. Or of the current coalition imploding because others within the coalition decide it’s time to leave. (This may refer to Labor or to members of Kadima.) There may be a reshuffling of power without an election — which would require the president to call upon the head of a faction to try to form a new coalition — or an election might be called. Were Kadima to retain control, there would, as I understand it, be a primary to determine who heads the party.
While we all need a dollop of hope now and then, and this is what I offered yesterday, I realize that it can also be a dangerous thing, because of the potential for great disappointment.
Earlier today the news was that negotiations with the Palestinians would likely be tabled until after the legal issues surrounding Olmert were resolved, because neither Olmert nor Livni was able to concentrate on this now.
But since that news, there has been a meeting between Olmert and Abbas. A picture of a smiling Olmert and Abbas accompanied by a report that this was the most serious meeting they’ve had yet. The subject was borders and allegedly great progress was made.
After my talk yesterday about the possibility of settlement blocs being retained and Abbas’s depression…
What would it take to make Abbas smile with regard to this? What has Olmert agreed to?
Of course Rice’s presence is likely a factor in this. But there is something else that also occurs to me. Until now, it was clear that Olmert was always looking over his shoulder at his coalition with regard to what he agreed to (at least publicly) with Abbas. If he lost his coalition (notably via Shas) then he would shorten his term of office and cut himself off from power and perks.
But now, if he knows in his heart of hearts that he is likely to be indicted, then he may have a “damn it all” attitude — a very dangerous feeling that he might as well agree to the maximum without regard for coalition partners’ concerns.
In line with this, and extremely worrisome, is a report on TV tonight that Rice is pushing for an announcement on borders before Bush comes next week. What is more, she is interested in having Olmert proceed as quickly as possible before the criminal investigation takes him out of play.
Also extremely worrisome is a report from Arutz Sheva regarding an agreement by Barak to remove three checkpoints at the behest of Rice:
Notable here is the checkpoint between the PA city of Ramallah and Beit El, home to 7,000 Jews. The IDF objected strenuously to this, as it will permit unhindered Palestinian traffic adjacent to Jewish homes in Beit El.
“The IDF officials reminded Barak, to no avail, that shots were fired at Beit El in the past from this highway. They also told him that the nearby intersection between Ramallah and Beit El was the site of violent Arab riots when the Oslo War broke out in late 2000, and at least two separate lynchings were attempted against Jews there.”
Also removed was a checkpoint at the entrance to Nablus (Shechem), even though Nablus is a key center of terrorism. The IDF encirclement of the area — which has been a major factor in decreasing terrorism in the area — is now ended.
A third, considered less critical, is outside of Hebron.
“‘The checkpoints are a most significant factor in the war against Palestinian terrorism,’ a top IDF officer told [defense correspondent Haggai] Huberman, ‘in thwarting attacks, in catching wanted terrorists, and in intercepting weapons… The number of checkpoints in Judea and Samaria at present is the absolute minimum necessary for Israeli security. Taking off even one more will lower the security level to “below the red line’ of risk.”‘
“… The Defense Minister gave the order to remove the checkpoints in accordance with Secretary Rice’s wishes – but in defiance of clear IDF warnings that shooting attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers are likely to be renewed as a result. Senior Central Region officers told Barak directly that checkpoint removals in the past have led to significant increases in attacks.”
A pox on the houses of all those involved with political and defense issues here who put the lives of innocent Jews at risk.
Posting: May 4, 2008
“Could It Be?”
Might the authorities really have something on Ehud Olmert serious enough to topple the government?
It hasn’t happened until now, in spite of the four investigations into his alleged wrong doing that have already been started. They all seem to hang in the air, going no where.
But this one — which I alluded to in my last posting — has a different feel. The investigation was expedited, and he was questioned in his official residence for 90 minutes on Friday by the National Fraud Investigation Unit, under caution. Police would say no more that than this was a new issue and not connected to one of the other investigations. Precisely what is being investigated, however, is a mystery, because of a court gag order.
Today it made the news that “senior law enforcement officials” are saying that this criminal investigation is so severe that he will have to resign.
In the opposition, forces are mounting to bring the government down. MK Silvan Shalom (Likud), claiming that “the government of Ehud Olmert has reached the end of its road,” said he was working to dissolve the Knesset when it opens its summer session in two weeks.
And from Olmert’s own coalition, MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) called on Olmert to suspend himself immediately because the scope of charges against him was “unprecedented.”
“It has been proven beyond any doubt that the prime minister can’t be under serial investigations and also lead the country,” she told Israel Radio. “Olmert is stuck up to his neck in investigations. We cannot have a prime minister who is serially investigated by police… “
Of course, Olmert’s office is issuing statements declaring that nothing is seriously amiss and that everything will work out.
And there was someone else — he should hang his head in shame — who came out in defense of Olmert: Head of the Shas faction, Eli Yishai, who declared, “I am certain that the prime minister knows what to do, and when the investigations become clear, I’m sure everything will be fine.”
I was explaining to a native Israeli today about the American concept of politicians who are “Teflon,” to whom no charges or accusations stick. “Ah,” he responded, “Teflon does wear out.”
We can hope…
Speaking of my mention of this last time, I thank all of those who caught my error: that I spoke of Attorney General Mofaz, when I clearly meant Mazuz. Two names, both starting with M and ending in Z. And I appreciate those who observed that I had just written about Mofaz, thereby compounding the possibility of this error. At any rate, please be alerted to my “goof” and the correction.
This seems to be a time of hope dangled before us, without certainties:
I wrote the other day about a report that our chief negotiator Tzipni Livni had enraged PA chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei by bringing to him a map that showed Israel retaining major settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley.
On Friday, Khaled Abu Toameh, of the Jerusalem Post, who usually gets it right, reported on Abbas’s deep depression after returning from his recent meeting with Bush. Seems Bush told him not to expect to have a Palestinian state in everything beyond the Green Line. Abbas was upset that Bush indicated he was not going to push Israel on the issue of settlements.
This certainly provides a modicum of hope. First, in terms of what the US is seeking. “The Americans have adopted the Israeli policy,” one Palestinian official said. “When you hear Bush, you think you are listening to Ehud Olmert.”
Well — if you will allow a touch of black humor — a Bush that sounds like Olmert is not necessarily terribly “pro-Israel.”
But there’s an important issue being played out here. When Ariel Sharon was about to force through his “disengagement” plan for pulling Jews out of Gush Katif in Gaza, he touted a letter from April 14, 2004, that he had received from Bush, which said, in part:
“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949… [essentially the Green Line].
Sharon said this was the trade-off for our pulling out of Gaza — the US would support our right to retain major settlement blocs in any negotiations with the Palestinians. It has been a cornerstone of Israeli policy when existing major settlements have been enlarged to accommodate natural growth.
Except that it hasn’t exactly played out as Sharon said it would. Rice, certainly, has worked diligently to distance US policy from this letter, even criticizing Israeli building in eastern Jerusalem, which Israel considers fully part of the Israeli capital. And not so long ago, National Security Advisor Steven Hadley suggested that the letter had been aimed at securing domestic support for Sharon’s plan, and must be considered in that context.
Thus does Bush’s current position potentially have real import.
Then, too, there is hope because more and more it seems that there is not likely to be a meeting of the minds regarding a Palestinian state — and thus no agreement of any sort between Israel and the PA before Bush leaves office.
Abu Toameh cites that same PA official mentioned above as saying that the PA was no longer pinning any hope on the administration helping achieve an agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
“The Bush administration has lost it credibility as an honest broker,” he said. “We will now have to wait for the next US administration.”
And what will happen with a new US administration? From the US side that remains to be seen (and I shudder at some of the possibilities). But from the PA side, there are real concerns, which is one of the reasons Abu Toameh says Abbas is quite depressed: Abbas is afraid that if he doesn’t forge a deal for a Palestinian state in the next few months Hamas is likely to take over Judea and Samaria.
That, of course, leads to another question: Why would the US back an entity so weak that its own leader believes it may cave in a matter of months?
Obviously, the answer lies with some notion that if only Abbas could present the people with a fait accompli regarding a deal for a state, then he would suddenly become strong enough to take on Hamas. But I’m not buying it. Because Hamas would work as the spoiler in such a situation.
Before leaving this subject, I must point out that there are also rumors that are unsettling. Some, unconfirmed, refer to planned actions by the government that constitute a sort of pull out, leaving settlers high and dry with regard to security and support of various sorts — this in order to “encourage” them to leave voluntarily.
Additionally, Haaretz ran a piece about the mayor of Ma’aleh Adumim, who reported that after a visit from Tzipi Livni he had an uneasy sense that she was hoping to give away parts of Jerusalem and placate the people by joining Ma’aleh Adumim to what remained of Jerusalem.
Abbas, by the way, has not been well since he returned from the US and underwent a heart catheterization procedure in Jordan last week. He’s speaking about resigning, but I’m not yet ready to take that seriously, as he speaks about resigning frequently without quite doing so.
Rice blew — I mean flew — into town last night. She has met with Olmert, and Abbas, and is scheduled to also meet with Barak and Livni, and Fayyad, in the course of her 36 hour visit.
In a Ramallah press conference after meeting with Abbas, she said, a peace deal is still “achievable” by the end of year. This might lead one to wonder what she’s been inhaling.
She alluded to Israel’s settlement policy as prejudicing the final outcome of an agreement. And she suggested we might be doing more to improve the quality of life for Palestinians. By this, she is –ever oblivious to Israel’s security needs — making reference to the possibility of our taking down more roadblocks.
We can always count on Condoleezza Rice.
During that Ramallah press conference, Abbas, according to YNet, said that, “Ninety percent of the talks have been completed.”
Come on! Would he be depressed if this were so? Would he be upset at not having the ’67 line as the border of a Palestinian state? The borders are theoretically the easiest of the core issues — refugees and the status of Jerusalem being more thorny. If the border issue isn’t resolved, where is the rest of it?
It becomes farcical, really.
Six hundred PA police have now entered Jenin, in a bid to establish law and order in a city that has been run by armed thugs.
The PA police commander, Col. Wassim al-Jayoussi, said that “The police force came to Jenin to help in imposing law and order. There will be only one authority and one security force here.”
He called on all residents to hand over illegal weapons, and on all wanted criminals to surrender to the police, warning that anyone who did not comply would be arrested.
Kassams fired at Sderot today hit a mini-market, a home and a cemetery.
The Palestinians in Gaza today also fired mortar shells at trucks attempting to transfer food and fuel to the Gazans. As a result the IDF was forced to close the Karni border crossing and the Nahal Oz fuel terminal.
Once again, the bewildering spectacle of terrorists undermining the possibility of help for their own people. Police said that approximately 50 trucks of supplies were forced to turn back.
Posting: May 1, 2008
“Words of Power”
A portion of the incredibly moving words of the IDF Chief of the General Staff, speaking at Auschwitz today to “The March of the Living”:
“Here, on this cursed land, saturated with the blood of our brothers and sisters, descendants of the Jewish nation;
“Here, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp, the most evil place on the face of the planet, where our people, whose only crime was being Jewish, were tortured and murdered in gas chambers and crematoria;
“Here, in the place where the Nazi oppressor reduced our humanity to serial numbers – no more names, no more faces, no identity – all that remained was a number branded on the forearm; Here in this most dreadful place, I stand on Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, as the commander of the Israel Defense Forces.
“With hundreds of Witnesses in Uniform by my side – joining the thousands of representatives of the IDF who come here every year, commanders of the ground forces, the Air Force and the Navy – the defending force of the Jewish people, reborn in its land – with tight lips, a coarse voice and tears in my eyes, yet still standing tall – I salute to the ashes of our people and vow: ‘Never Again.’
“We, soldiers of the IDF, emissaries of a country and of a nation, stand here today wearing the IDF uniform and carrying the flag of the State of Israel with pride in the name of the tens of thousands of the IDF warriors and commanders. We consider ourselves the executor