[[ Jerusalem Times : News ]]

August 27, 2005


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


The Electronic Drama


The written and electronic media in Israel this week focused on a review of the evacuation of the settlers from Gaza and the four settlements in the West Bank.  There was extensive coverage – film clips and full stories from the perspective of soldiers and policemen and from the other side as well. The newspapers were also filled with testimonies, criticism and praise – depending on which side you stand on. I am also tempted here to repeat some of the more heart tearing or heart touching stories from the week (in fact I started to write one of them) but I don’t want take part in what has already been done ad-nausea. It is very clear that Israeli society is completely consumed by those pictures; it is quite difficult to remain apathetic to some of the stories. But there is no need to over dramatize the event, as was done all week.  After all, we are not talking about life and death; we are talking about property and belongings. The real story here is about the end of a life of domination and supremacy, of comfort at the expense of others and the need to face life in Israel as most Israelis do, without all kinds of subsidies and without personal body guards.


The biggest drama concerning the disengagement took place before the disengagement. The right and religious wing tries to put the fear of god into our hearts by threatening a civil war. They said that the disengagement would split the country. They threatened to shut down the economy and make life here impossible. In truth, the disengagement took 8 days. In eight days, 37 years of settlement rule (at least in Gaza) was swiftly brought to an end and no one was killed. The myth has been broken and the truth is now a fact.  It is possible to dismantle settlements and the occupation. It is possible to remove the Yesha Council (the leadership of the settlers) from its place of supremacy. By the way, the Yesha Council will now have to change its name – YESHA – comes from the abbreviation of Yehuda, Shomron and Aza (the West Bank and Gaza).  Now without Gaza, they become YESH, which is Hebrew means “there is” and stands for the abbreviation of Yehuda and Shomrom.  But they probably will not change their name – trying to keep alive the myth and the dream that they will return, but they will not.  Israel’s settlements in Gaza are now finally history and not the future.



Bibi Again


Binyamin Netanyahu took to the stages this week stirring up the beginning of his campaign to take over the Likud.  In the beginning of the week, famous Israeli pollster, Dr. Mina Zemach published the most surprising results of a poll of registered Likud voters that showed a turn around of support for Sharon after the week before Netanyahu had a huge majority over Sharon. Zemach’s polls are usually considered with a high degree of accuracy which is why this one caused so much controversy.  This week something went wrong in her polling and after a few days, other polls came out showing that Sharon had better start looking for a new political party, because the Likud didn’t want him anymore. Bibi Netanyahu has a strong majority amongst registered Likud members.


Despite the fact that Bibi did not lead the campaign against the disengagement, the hard line Likud supporters are backing Bibi. Bibi has gone on record in his traditional mode of not telling the truth. He now claims that he never voted for or supported the disengagement. In order to counter those claims, Israeli TV news programs brought back live interviews from October 2004 with Bibi saying that even if there is a referendum for the disengagement he will vote in favor.  But Bibi will be Bibi – he is resorting to his well know tactic of breathing fear into the minds and hearts of every Israeli.  He is using the one tactic that has managed to cover up his lies and his failures in the past – make the public so afraid that they will have to support the one person who presents the image of being able to deal with situation.  He is spreading fear by saying that Gaza will become the world’s largest terror base.  He is screaming not to give them a port, an airport, control of their borders, freedom, air to breathe and more. In other words, if Bibi were in power, he says that he would strangle the Palestinians and their struggle for freedom and the people of Israel would live in peace.  Come on Bibi, we’ve been there and we’ve done that!


More Violence, more unilateralism?


Even though the disengagement of settlers from their homes was completed in Gaza this week, violence has not been disengaged from. It began with an Israeli raid in Tulkarem, a city which is already supposed to be under full Palestinian control.  The raid left 5 Palestinians dead including a leader of Islamic Jihad. President Abbas and Prime Minister Qurie immediately went on record stating that this was an Israeli provocation, probably aimed at appeasing the right wing in the face of the pictures on TV of bulldozers knocking down the homes of the settlers that began at the end of last week. Abbas also called on the Palestinians to keep the calm and not to respond. Israel denied those charges and said that if the Palestinians don’t fight the war against terror then Israel will continue to do it, even in the Palestinians front yard. Israel claimed that this Islamic Jihad cell was in the midst of planning an attack against Israel and that Israel had to take pre-emptive steps.  


This all fits into the mind set that created the unilateralism of the disengagement. The disengagement was designed at a time when Israel did not believe that there was a Palestinian partner. But this week, Israeli political and military leaders were busy praising the Palestinian Authority for the professional job they were doing in taking control of the area. Israeli officers could spare no words of admiration for their Palestinian counterparts. Daily coordinating meetings are taking place at field and command levels. Both sides seem to be satisfied by these developments. If this is the case, then perhaps it is also time to move towards a new mode of operations in fighting potential terror attacks.  Perhaps it is time for the Israeli officers to share intelligence information with their Palestinian counterparts and to enable the Palestinians a chance to verify the information and take action, before people are killed.




As the Israeli political scene becomes more engulfed with elections fever there will also be calls for Sharon to hold onto power for as long as possible and to implement more unilateral moves. Elections are legally supposed to be held in November 2006, if the government does not fall before then. There is now a contest in the Labour party between those calling for Labour to immediately leave the government and those who are calling on the Government to hold on.  Sharon has upgraded the position of Minister Matan Vilnai (Labour) from Minister without Portfolio to Minister of Science. This is a position that he held in the past and enjoyed.  Of course Vilnai is really interested in the post of Head of the Labour party and right now his rival is Shimon Peres and not Ariel Sharon.  Peres is trying to hold on to his chair for as long as possible.  Peres has stated over and over again for the past ten years that he has no interest in a chair, but no one has yet figured out how to remove his body from the chair.


Calls for primaries in the Likud are on the rise. Likud executive committee chairman Tzahi Hangebi has foiled attempts to convene a party convention to set the date for the primaries. Hanegbi is claiming loyalty to party unity and not to one of the main rivals as his reason postponing the primaries.  The internal Likud elections will determine the future of the unity of the party.  If the polls continue to show that Bibi has a strong lead ahead of Sharon, it would be difficult to imagine Sharon entering those elections and ending up the loser.  A ruling Prime Ministers has never lost the support of his party in Israel. Sharon usually has some rabbit up his sleeves, but it is difficult to know what that rabbit will be.  There are talks in Israel about the “big bang” and the “little bang”.  The “big bang” is a complete reshaping of the political map in Israel with a new centralist coalition formed of Sharon, Peres and Lapid from Shinui.  Polls suggest that they would receive about 40 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. But the “little bang” scenario of Sharon leaving the Likud and running without Peres and Lapid also gives Sharon about 36 seats as opposed to the Likud under Bibi with about 17 seats.  Time will tell which option Sharon will choose. What seems most likely is that Ariel Sharon will remain in the Prime Minister’s office for some time to come.


The Palestinians in Israeli eyes


Palestinian attacks took to the streets of Jerusalem and Hebron – a yeshiva student was killed and another wounded in a knifing attack in the Old City and a similar attack in the Old City of Hebron took place against a border policeman, he was seriously wounded.


Nehemyiah Strassler, the economic editor of Haaretz wrote a piece in the weekend’s newspaper in which he painted a vision of Israeli tourism in Gaza. Strassler wrote: If the Palestinian Authority and Hamas understand the heart of the Israeli public, they have to turn Gaza into the most peaceful place in the world. The most hospitable to guests. No more threats, no snipers, no attacks, no suicide bombers and, of course, no missiles launched on Israeli cities. Instead, they have to quickly fill the Gaza coast with a series of hummus and fish restaurants, and at the same time enable easy and convenient entry of Israelis to the Gaza Strip. If they do so, they will quickly discover the wanderlust and the purchasing power of the average Israeli, including Likud voters. The moment it is possible to sit quietly in a restaurant on the beach, to enjoy the waves and the breeze, to eat hummus for NIS 10 and enjoy a fish meal for NIS 30 - the Gaza coast will become the biggest hit in Israel. If the residents of Gaza go so far as to operate a few food, furniture and fabric markets on the way to the coast their success is guaranteed. No self-respecting Jew (including a Jew who doesn't expel a Jew) will remain at home on the weekend. They will all stand in line on the way to Gaza.

Israeli tourist traffic is what will help set Gaza's economy in motion. Later the Palestinians will be able to operate the hothouses that remain in Gush Katif, build a seaport and return to cooperating with Israeli factories, as well as beginning to rehabilitate and develop infrastructure, with funding from the "donor countries." Then the investors from the Arab world and from the West will arrive, when they understand that there is a golden opportunity here.

The moment Gaza becomes an economic success story, and the severe unemployment there declines, PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will also become a success story. Because an Arab, like anyone else, first examines his personal situation to see whether he can make a decent living.”


Having been in Gaza two weeks ago experiencing the wonderful hospitality of my hosts, and after a great meal in a fish restaurant I can only agree with Strassler.