[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
March 10, 2006
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
The courts allowed Yigael Amir, the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin, and his wife Larissa Trimbobler to have offspring. Amir is still denied the pleasure of consummating his marriage (isn’t it enough that he screwed the whoe country?) but the courts will allow him to have his wife artifically inseminated with his sperm. Two days after the courts made their decision, Amir was caught trying to smuggle some of the valuable sperm in a plastic bag to his wife. Caught with the preciouos goods, the planned visit was canceled and Trimbobler went home disappointed. The whole story is really quite bizaare. As an advocate of human rights, I would have to defend Amir’s right to have children. On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that this decision of the court has laid the foundation stone for Amir’s case for early parole in 12 or 13 years from now when his offspring will celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah. Amir who still has no regrets for killing the late Prime Minister is sure to educate his children in the same spirit that brought him to where he is today. Amir was given a life sentence which in many countries, including the US, usually means about 20 years (or less). Amir’s crime was not only against Yitzhak Rabin and his family, it was against the peace process and against all Israelis and Palestinians who truly hoped for peace. There should be no clemency for this man. It seems that the story of the smuggled sperm was meant to humiliate Amir, I have no real problem with that. I do have a problem with decision of the court to bring another little Yigael Amir into this world, despite his human rights.
Continued control over Gaza
The most important foreign policy objective of the Government of Israel today, after isolating the Hamas, is to gain international recognition for the end of the occupation of Gaza. This objective pretty much shattered this week with reports issues by the World Bank, the United Nations and even USAID documenting the impending economic crisis in Gaza as a result of the closure of the Karni crossing into Israel. More than 90% of the movement of goods in and out of Gaza takes place through Karni and when it is closed shortages of almost everything appear rapidly driving prices in the already depressed economy higher than normal. There is no doubt that Israel would be very happy to encourage the Gazans to import directly through Egypt rather than through Israel, but even if this was economically feasible (which it is not, at least not now) for the time being, at least until November 15, 2006 Israel is committed to keeping Karni open (by agreement with the US) or to offer an alternative point of access. Israel did offer an alternative crossing during the last two weeks, but the Palestinian Authority refused to accept the offer. Israel offered Kerem Shalom to be used at the triangle crossing point of Israel, Egypt and Gaza. The Palestinian Authority assumed that this was an Israeli conspiracy to force the Palestinians to import and export through the Israeli controlled passage. The Palestinians are hoping that in the coming months they will be able to transport goods via Rafah into Egypt while not giving up the Karni passage through Israel. It seems that throughout the negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel objected to the Rafah option for goods, fearing that the Palestinians would import weapons and other contraband. Now it seems that Israel is less concerned with those security risks (the Egyptians seem to be doing a better job on controlling this issue than in the past) and more concerned with ridding itself of any responsibility for the occupation. In this light, it is likely that Israel will allow the Palestinians to construct the Gaza sea port, even if Hamas is in control.
Israel will continue to control the skies of Gaza which is used almost every week to target and kill suspected terrorists – as happened this week with the killing of two suspects from the Islamic Jihad, but three children were also killing. It is quite amazing and even more disturbing that when three innocent children are killed by the Israeli air force in Gaza, almost no one in Israel blinks an eye. The army, of course, investigated itself and came to the conclusion that it was human error but unavoidable (it was probably the human error of the children to be found underneath an Israeli missile) and everyone simply accepts this as normal. I know that it is election season and the pollsters and strategists probably tell the candidates that they will lose votes if they express any positive human emotions towards Palestinians, but surely there must be some Jewish politicians out there who have children of their own and thought, if only for one second, that those Palestinian children were just like their own children – what a tragedy! It is a tragedy that as we dehumanize the enemy we become equally inhumane (it goes for both sides).
Going back to the Israeli foreign policy objective, Ehud, Tzipi and Shaul: Israel will never be freed from being an occupier in Gaza as long as it acts like an occupier. The occupation will be over when you end it and not before, and the international community will not recognize the occupation as having ended until it has really ended. No spins or gimmicks will change that.
Politics on TV
What is called in Israel “election propaganda” took to the television screens this week capturing a 20% viewer rating on the first night and then dropping by several points each following nights. For three weeks the Israeli public is subjected to the opportunity to view their leaders making fools of themselves in the name of convincing us to vote for them. I don’t recall the level of these campaign adverts ever being so low (they probably were and I have chosen to forget). If the commercials were not so repetitive and boring they might be classified as entertainment. The Americanization of the Israeli election campaign (all the major players have American advisors alongside of their Israeli team) has brought us to a level where there is absolutely no discussion of issues. Everything is spins and camouflage. Most experts agree that the commercials do not convince anyone to change their vote once they have decided how to vote. But they can influence the undecided voters and in this campaign there are more declared undecided voters than ever. Somewhere about 20% of the public has not yet decided how they will vote and with only 19 days to go, the parties should be making very great efforts to gain additional votes. This does not seem (to me) to be the case. As a “floating voter” myself, the commercials make my choice more difficult because each one of the parties that might get my vote have so far convinced me, with their own commercials, that they are not worthy of my support.
It is also quite amazing that there are no debates this year between the three leading candidates for Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Binyamin Netanyahu, and no one is out there making demands on them to debate in front of the public. It would be nice to actually hear some of our leaders addressing the issues, but I guess that is too much to expect in a country where the head of state makes his most important public policy statements in a private conference rather than to the Knesset.
Omri Sharon and the system
The Omri Sharon scandal seems to have passed with equal speed that it appeared. At the beginning of the week, Channel 10 political journalist Raviv Drucker exposed the system for political appointments of Likud cronies that Omri Sharon (the son of Sharon) had perfected into an organized and well oiled political machine. Lists after lists of appointees fostered by Sharon, the son, all turned out to be members of the Likud Central Committee. A story of corruption that implicates the ruling party and leads all the way up to the top could be expected to create major shock waves in the political system and lots of after shocks because we are in the midst of election season. The Omri Sharon scandal had the potential of registering in the high 7’s on the Richter scale and creating major damage, however its impact was hardly felt and there were no after shocks at all. The creation of Kadima is partly responsible – the Kadima people say “we left the Likud because we could no longer accept the corruption of the Likud system”. And in Likud they are saying “all of those corrupt people left the Likud to create Kadima”. The truth is really in both statements. Israel has experienced a growing infection of higher and higher rates and severity of political corruption over the past years. What was once unthought-of in political behavior became common place in the past years. What is amazing is that the issue of corruption is not even really on the agenda of the campaign. Perhaps it is because no issues are really being addressed, but more likely because it seems that the elections have already been won by Kadima and as a result, the public is completely apathetic to this election campaign. People knew that Sharon was corrupt, but they swallowed that knowing that the strong leader would steer Israel through a very dangerous sea. Now with Sharon out of the picture, they seem to be relying on the maps that he left behind to continue steering us through the minefields ahead and hope that Olmert and his colleagues not only know the way but that they have the guts to continue moving forward.
State comptrollers report
The State comptroller released a report on the handling of the Gaza withdrawal by the government. The government got very low grades and received a lot of blame for not planning in advance for the settlers’ resettlement and for all of the unnecessary suffering that the settlers have gone through since leaving Gaza. I must throw my two cents into the ring. Much of the “suffering” of the settlers since leaving Gaza is their own responsibility. Let us not forget that they did not register with the disengagement authority. They did not tell the government where they wanted to go after leaving Gaza. Many of them did not even bother to pack up their own homes. Instead they spent all of their time trying to prevent the disengagement and many of them believed until the very last moment that God would intervene and not let the disengagement take place. Many of them are suffering today because they can no longer afford to live in huge villas built on someone else’s land. Many of them are unemployed because in Gaza 80% of them received salaries on the public’s expense. I had almost no sympathy for the settlers’ woes before the disengagement and I have almost no sympathy for them today. The Comptroller’s report correctly pointed out some of the weaknesses of the system set up to help and assist the settlers once they left, but it failed to make the settlers take a large part of the responsibility for their problems on themselves and this is the failure of the Comptroller’s report.
Abu Mazen, Olmert and Poor Amir Peretz
No one was more shocked than Amir Peretz when he heard Israel radio report that Abu Mazen came out in support of Olmert in an interview in an Italian newspaper. Abu Mazen’s office denied the report but by then it was too late. Ask any Israeli today who Abu Mazen would vote for (if he could) and they will say “Olmert of course”. Just last week Amir and Mahmoud shared an Arab coffee in Jericho. They both spoke about partnership and the need for negotiations. Abu Mazen even stated that unilateralism would never bring about peace. But apparently seeing the polls with Kadima bouncing back from the downwards trend of last week, Abu Mazen recognized that he will have to try to do business with Olmert and why not let Olmert know that as soon as possible. Of course, Olmert’s strategists probably had a heart attack when they heard the news. The last thing that an Israeli politician wants before Election Day is the support of a Palestinian leader that is of course unless you are from the Labour party. Amir Peretz sounded truly hurt by the news report – to me he sounded like an unrequited lover. Poor Amir.