[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
March 3, 2006
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
Tzipi Livni went on her first international junket as Foreign Minister – her mission: to convince the Europeans to adopt the Israeli policy of total non-contact with the Hamas. While most European leaders are trying to devise an understanding whereby the Palestinian Authority has two heads – Abu Mazen and the Hamas, Livni broke ranks and stated “Since the elections to the Palestinian Council, Hamas holds a majority in the parliament and will form the next Palestinian government. The ball is in the Palestinian court, and those who must put it in play are the members of the future Hamas government. Abu Mazen, in this context, is irrelevant. I have no doubt that Hamas, out of a desire for legitimacy and fear that money will not be forthcoming, will be talking right now in terms of peace and friendship. Our job is to see to it that the international community doesn't embrace Abu Mazen or Hamas' moderate statements. I am going to Europe in order to bolster this message."
Immediately contradicting his Foreign Minister and one of the Kadima party leaders, acting Prime Minister Olmert stated that "We always say and believe that it is necessary to maintain any arrangement that creates the possibility of future dialogue. Dialogue is for those who want to make peace and war is for those who use terrorism. Abu Mazen is the elected Chairman of the PA, he was elected by a decisive majority of the Palestinian public and as such, he is the Chairman of the PA and the State of Israel has no personal war against him and we have no intention of acting against Abu Mazen. However, in the parliamentary elections, Hamas movement representatives received a decisive majority. They do not want to recognize the State of Israel and have announced that they have no intention of making peace with us. Hamas leader Ismail Haniye was appointed by the PA Chairman as the candidate for Prime Minister. As soon as the PA government is a Hamas government, it becomes the body in accordance with the behavior and principles of which we must act. Since the PA government is expected to be a Hamas government, it becomes the relevant factor regarding the determination of our position and attitude towards future negotiations. But we are neither ruling out nor fighting Abu Mazen, the elected Chairman of the PA. While we have the respect due him, we are nevertheless disappointed by the fact that instead of fighting terrorism, he has appointed the leader of terrorism as the candidate for Prime Minister."
So which is the position of Israel and what is Livni telling the Foreign Ministers of Europe? Whatever she is telling them didn’t seem to have an impact because the EU decided this week to grant the PA $143 million. The money was transferred this week to the PA. But the Government of Israel should not be unhappy by the decision. Israel will receive $48 million in direct payment to cover the PA’s electricity bills. Health and education projects in the PA will receive $76 million, most of the funds going to UNRWA. PA employees will get $21 million. The $21 million is only a small part of the monthly budget of the PA which is about $165 million –much of which goes to pay the 137,000 employees of the PA including some 50,000 security and police personnel. Even with the EU assistance the PA is still very short of funds. The monthly transfers from Israel of customs revenues and VAT clearances will not be forth coming this month, certainly not when elections are three weeks away.
The EU is working on devising some kind of system that would allow continued transfer to the PA and there is no doubt that they will consult the Government of Israel, but they apparently believe, in the light of mixed Israeli messages that there is no point in really consulting with the government prior to elections and before there is a new government in Jerusalem. In the meantime the voters in Israel must determine who is telling the truth Tzipi Livni or Ehud Olmert?
Binyamin Netanyahu won a major victory of little immediate importance when the Likud Central Council voted to castrate itself. Bibi convinced the Central Council that the next Likud panel for the Knesset will be decided by open primaries, like in the Labour party, and not by the members of the Central Council. The decision has little impact on immediate Likud politics because the panel has already been selected. Bibi is hoping that this move will assist him in his present campaign in which he is presenting himself as the good sheriff of the party. Bibi is fight corruption and he is determined that clean politics will be the name of the game in the Likud. The immediate impact in the polls was negligible, however if he had lost the vote in the Central Council that would have signaled the end of his leadership and of his political career. His success in the Central Council may have bought him his position of Likud leader even if the Likud gets less than 20 seats in the elections.
Peretz, Abu Mazen, Ami Ayalon
Amir Peretz’s international excursions to meet with leaders of the Arab world led him to Jericho this week. After successful meetings with King Mohammed VI of Morocco and President Mubarak of Egypt, Peretz called on Abu Mazen in Jericho. At the meeting Peretz said “We have no war with the Muslim world, we have no war with the Arab world. We have no war with the Palestinian people. We do have a battle against the terrorist organizations." Abbas agreed with Peretz: "We are against all forms of violence. Violence harms the two peoples. We want calm and truce, and final-status negotiations, because we and the Israelis are tired of wars. We want stability. We want to rest, and to live as real neighbors." This was the first meeting between an Israeli leader and Abu Mazen in months. Shimon Peres was asked on television this week why he didn’t meet with Abu Mazen and if Olmert prevented him from holding such a meeting. Peres stated that it was a problem of security and that Olmert has not limited his contacts with the Palestinian leader. He said that he speaks with Abu Mazen and other Palestinian leaders by phone all the time. Unfortunately the interviewers didn’t push and ask him why was it safe for Peretz to meet Abu Mazen but not for Peres. Instead Olmert commented that no leader of Kadima would meet with Abu Mazen because he wasn’t doing anything to fight Hamas.
The ups and downs of terror
Olmert’s comments about Abu Mazen not fighting Hamas were most interesting in light of the fact that despite the three terror acts of this week, there has been a general decrease in terrorism and all of the security experts in Israel agree that Hamas is not taking part in the terrorism. Channel 10 this week presented the following chart:
Type of terror
This week there were three terrorist attacks with one casualty from a roadside shooting. Another road side shooting took place with no deaths and one stabbing put an Israeli truck driver in the hospital. The two shooting events took place in the West Bank. The stabbing took place in the Israeli controlled Atarot industrial zone in north east Jerusalem. Some Israeli politicians and military people have been speaking about a sudden increase in terrorism and some are even speaking about a renewed intifada. Israeli military experts predicted that following the Gaza disengagement the West Bank would flare up in a new wave of terror. Palestinian polls do not indicate any increase in support of terrorism; in fact they show the opposite. Most of the recent terror events have been done by forces linked to or claiming linkage to Fateh. Hamas has not launched any attacks since the elections (in fact since the Tahdiya agreement more than a year ago Hamas has almost entirely refrained from launching terror attacks). The Islamic Jihad has even been quieter since the Palestinian elections. The IDF has been continuing its aggressive policy of arresting suspected terrorists. Israel radio has been reported everyday that tens of Palestinians are being arrested. Reports from the West Bank indicate that very few Hamas members are amongst those rounded up by the army.
The Israeli policy of pressuring the Palestinian population since the elections has continued this week. Humanitarian organizations have reported that tens of new check points and road blocks have been set up all over the West Bank and the entire area has officially been under closure since several weeks before the elections.
The Karni crossing in Gaza has also been closed for the past two weeks. Israel claims that an explosion underground from an unidentified source convinced the Israelis that tunneling activities under Karni have not ceased. Palestinian flower growers hoped to get their carnations into Israel this week for Mothers’ Day officially called Family Day. They were not able to get their flowers into Israel because of the Karni closure. Israel offered the Palestinian two alternative crossings on a temporary basis – Kerem Shalom and Sufa. The PA declined the offer demanding that Karni be reopened. Israel has refused to yield on this point. International pressure led Israel to announce that Karni would be reopened for one day this week, but Defense Minister Mofaz canceled that decision. There is some talk that Karni will be opened for one day on Sunday for the humanitarian organizations to ship basic food stuffs into Gaza, including tons of fruits and vegetables that Israeli growers are pressuring the government to market in Gaza. Without the Gaza market the Israeli market will be flooded with cheap produce and the farmers would lose lots of money. It is not clear if the one day opening of Karni will be for two way traffic or only for sending goods into Gaza.
Kadima is dropping in the polls, this week falling to 38-39 seats making party leaders nervous. Likud has gained a couple of seats looking now at 17-19. Labour seems stable with about 19-21 but a poll conducted in Israel asked voters if Ami Ayalon led instead of Amir Peretz how would they vote. With Ayalon in the driving seat the poll gave Labour 25 seats. Shas went down one seat to 9 this week despite the fact that they launched their campaign with the usual Rabbi Ovadia Yosef speech and promises of blessings for people who vote for Shas. Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitaynu remains firm with 7 seats. The National Union-NRP went down one seat to 9 this week. There seems to be an increase in the “floating votes” which have not been given much attention in these elections. They will probably get most of the attention in the coming 25 days.