[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]


September 30, 2005


This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin



This has been a news packed week in Israel.


Sharon’s victory


After been forced into silence by an act of political terrorism at the Likud central council meeting, Prime Minister Sharon swept up another victory in his political career by winning the vote not to move forward primaries for the leadership of the Likud.  Some analysts who were hoping for a political storm in Israel that would lead to the inevitable split in the Likud were disappointed by the Sharon victory. The Israeli political scene has been granted a reprieve from immediate upheaval by the Sharon victory. Sharon now has more time to consider his political future. Most analysts believe that Sharon will eventually have to leave the Likud or else face a party that he is likely to lead that will be made up of people who will constantly work to undermine his efforts towards advancing peace.  Sharon’s United Nations speech is his declaration of intent and most of the right-wingers in the party led by the settlers perceive this agenda as belonging to the far left.


Some analysts now believe that the next six months or more will be wasted time in terms of efforts to move the peace process forward. I do not share that assessment. If there is an improvement of stability on the Palestinian side (albeit a very big IF) Sharon will face internal and international pressure to make good on his promises to President Bush to deal with the unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. This is no easy task that will face considerable legal battles; however Sharon has demonstrated his abilities in facing legal and political difficulties once his mind is made up.


There is considerable speculation regarding his future plans, these have been fostered further by speeches made by his close advisors Eyal Arad and Eyval Giladi.  Both of these men spoke this week about further withdrawals and disengagements.  Arad even spoke about unilateralism as the main design of future Israeli steps. Some analysts have suggested that these speeches were a kind of “test balloon” to measure public response. According to public opinion polls conducted this week, the overwhelming majority of the Israeli Jewish public is supporting Sharon and believes that he is by far the most capable person to serve as Israel’s Prime Minister.  Sharon has left Netanyahu far behind in the dust having lost even more credibility in the face of his loss in the Likud central committee.  Hanan Cristal, the political parties correspondent for Kol Yisrael suggested that Bibi add the letter “L” to his name for loser and that Sharon add the letter “w” to his – I’m sure that George “W” wouldn’t mind.


Only the Road Map


Queried by US officials and other diplomats over the possibility of new Israeli disengagement plans, Sharon reiterated his commitment to the Road Map as the only plan on the table. Sharon emphasized that the Government of Israel is commitment to the Road Map and once the Palestinians implement their Road Map commitments Israel would move ahead with what it has to do. Meanwhile, Sharon is beginning to ensure his continued ability to govern making preparations for his new political battle – the budget vote. Sharon is telling all of his allies and his potential allies that changes in the budget can be made. The Standing Finance Minister, Ehud Olmert, once of Sharon’s biggest allies needs to be officially sworn in as Finance Minister – needing a vote of confidence in the Knesset, stated that he had no doubt that he would be voted in with a large majority. Olmert announced that his budget would remain loyal to the principle of fiscal responsibility, e.g. there will be no increase in the deficit, on the other hand he also said that the budget would demonstrate a lot more social sensitivity than the budgets of Bibi.  Sharon has been meeting with Members of Knesset from his own party, from the Labour party and yesterday he began a series of meetings with Shas party leader Eli Yishai.  Yishai announced that Shas might be in a position to support the budget if the subsidies for children are returned to the budget of the National Insurance payments.  With a chance that the political peace process might advance in the coming months, Sharon and Olmert know that Israel’s financial position will improve.  International markets and analysts have already responded positively to the disengagement. Government stability is crucial to the economy and Sharon will probably be willing to pay generously for the votes of many MK’s on the budget.  Long time Labour leader Shimon Peres, summing up a discussion on a different subject pointed out to the audience: “There is more money in the world than justice”. Another brilliant observation by Shimon!


Deterrence in Gaza


Sharon gained additional and significant credibility in the eyes of the Israeli public this week by sending the Palestinians an extremely clear message that there will be zero tolerance for continued attacks from Gaza. The Israeli air force and artillery drove home to the Palestinians that Israel would not accept the continuation of qassam rockets and mortars being fired freely into Israeli towns and villages outside of Gaza. The Hamas and Jihad leadership went into hiding after Jihad leader in Gaza Mohammed Sheikh Halil was assassinated. Another al Quds brigade leader affiliated with the Fatah was assassinated later in the week in Jenin.


Following the folly of the Hamas to blame Israel for the explosion last week in Jabalya camp killing some 19 Palestinians, it seems that together with the Israeli military force, Palestinian public opinion has swayed from the Hamas and has empowered the Palestinian Authority to take more action against further Hamas attacks against Israel from Gaza. That, at least is the way it is understood in Israel.  The announcement of Hamas and Jihad that they were returning to the ceasefire was a clear sign of success of the policy of Israel.


At the same time, Israel radio reported that Bashar al Assad has been meeting with the Palestinian opposition forces in Damascus and encouraging them to continue to attack Israel. This will surely not pave the road for Assad to gain more support in Washington. From Israel’s point of view, keeping Assad in the White House’s doghouse is quite alright. Israel enjoys security along its border with Syria with absolutely no international pressure to enter into any negotiated process with the Syrians that would lead to the eventual withdrawal of Israel from the Golan heights.  As long as Assad wishes to keep the Golan heights off the political agenda, Israel will have no objections at all.




The Palestinian Authority and Egypt seem to have taken control of the Rafah border closing all of the openings that were created following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.  The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians through the good offices of the Special Envoy James Wolfensohn remain stalemated as the sides could make no real progress while the fighting has raged on.  Israel has imposed a full closure on the West Bank and Gaza, even diplomats and journalists were prevented from crossing into Gaza.  It seems that the closure is likely to continue well into the Jewish holiday season as there are heightened alerts of continued terror attacks.


The sides know that there must be speedy resolution of the questions concerning passages and border crossings.  Israel did announce that the crossings between Gaza and Israel would now be considered official international borders.  The management of those borders has officially been transferred to the Ministry of Interior.  The Ministry of Interior stated that Palestinians would not be required to get visas to enter Israel or to have their passports stamped, rather the procedures for issuing permits that has existed until now, under the control of the IDF would remains for some time to come.  In the meantime, in light of the closure it is a non-issue.



PID Turn around


In a surprise move, the Police Investigation department of the Ministry of Justice reversed its decision that there was not sufficient evidence to convict any of those people responsible for the killing of 13 Israeli citizens in October 2000. Public pressure and public shame has apparently worked in convincing the PID to re-open the investigation. Now we must hope that the evidence needed to lead to convictions will appear.  We should also hope that those political leaders who gave the orders to use lethal force against demonstrators will also be brought to justice. Governments are supposed to protect their citizens, even those who are protesting against them.  Even if the protestors break the law and use violence, lethal force should be used only in cases when there is absolutely no other alternative and when human lives are at risk. The blood of Israel’s citizens, Jewish or Arab must not be treated lightly. Justice must be done. Last week I said “shame on Israel”, now I retract that statement and patiently wait for justice to be done.



Sasson Nuriel, Rest in Peace


Last Wednesday Sasson Nuriel was kidnapped. Sasson Nuriel was my wife’s first cousin. Last Wednesday I was in Brussels where I received a phone call from the family requesting my assistance with the Palestinian Authority security forces in locating him. Hanna Siniora went on my behalf to Ramallah and met with the commander of the Palestinian police in Ramallah.  The Palestinian police had no knowledge of any kidnapping of an Israeli. Following the security events in Gaza, Israel began arresting Hamas activists throughout the West Bank.  One of those arrested led the Israeli police to the body of Sasson. He had apparently been killed already before Hanna Siniora spoke with the Palestinian police. I attended Sasson’s funeral this past week.  He was a very simple man who worked very hard to support his family. He was not a political person.  He was a God fearing person who was most well known by his quiet nature and his modesty.  The funeral was attended by hundreds of people, most of them family members. Sasson’s wife spoke about his love of people.  She said that he had many Palestinian friends who he worked with and visited their homes, and they visited his home. One Rabbi who spoke tried to incite those gathered with political commentary against Palestinians.  Sasson’s middle child yelled “no politics” and the Rabbi was silenced.


Some Israeli commentators suggested that Hamas will now renew its policy of kidnapping. They see this model being used almost daily in Iraq. I saw the suffering of the family all week while waiting for any word from Sasson.  I saw the pain of the family.  There is no explanation in the world that can justify such a senseless murder of an innocent person.