[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
May 29, 2006
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
This week’s column will begin with a vocabulary lesson. New terms keep appearing to describe the plans of the Prime Minister – initially they spoke about convergence, then containment, and in Washington we heard, for the first time “re-alignment”. We’ll make use of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary to help us understand the differences (if there are any) and then we can try and guess why the Prime Minister wants us to learn new words. In Hebrew, the name of the plans has not changed – it remains hit-can-suit.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
1 : the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity; especially : coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas
2 : the state or property of being convergent
3 : independent development of similar characters (as of bodily structure or cultural traits) often associated with similarity of habits or environment
1 : the act, process, or means of containing
2 : the policy, process, or result of preventing the expansion of a hostile power or ideology
1 : the act of aligning or state of being aligned; especially : the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts (as of a mechanical or electronic device) in relation to each other
2 a : a forming in line b : the line thus formed
3 : the ground plan (as of a railroad or highway) in distinction from the profile
4 : an arrangement of groups or forces in relation to one another <new alignments within the political party>
The most interesting definition is the last one: an arrangement of groups or forces in arrangement to one another – clearly a reference to the settlers vis-à-vis the government. Settlers and settlements have never had a warm reception in Washington and Olmert’s team knows that in order to move tens of thousands of settlers and tens of settlements he will need the strong backing of the US administration and probably a lot of money. As we move forward towards the realignment it will be interesting to see how Olmert will deal with the fact that, unlike the Gaza withdrawal, most of the West Bank settlers who will be moved will relocate from one settlement to another. It seems that those who oppose the realignment plan should be very cognizant of this point. The realignment plan will bring about an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, but with the same stroke, it will strengthen Israeli settlements in other parts of the West Bank.
Olmert in Washington
Olmert did receive a very warm welcoming in the halls of the US Government. He was cheered and applauded in Congress and treated better than any US leader would ever expect to receive there. The bipartisan support that Olmert received was further documented in Congress by the passing of House Resolution 4681 – the Palestinian anti Hamas anti-terrorism law that limits the support that the US Government can give to the Palestinian Authority and to non-government organizations working in Palestine. AIPAC, working on behalf the Israeli Government, took the lead in pushing this legislation through Congress. Even the Administration failed in its attempts to soften the legislation by trying to include a clause which would grant the President some wide discretionary powers in the allocation of US aid. The legislation puts clear demands on the Palestinian Authority, which must act accordingly in order to gain US financial and political support. The legislation states that only after the PA implements the required steps will the US Government lend its support:
the Palestinian Authority has--
`(A) publicly acknowledged Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state; and
`(B) recommitted itself and is adhering to all previous agreements and understandings by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority with the Government of the United States, the Government of Israel, and the international community, including agreements and understandings pursuant to the Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (commonly referred to as the `Roadmap'); and
`(3) the Palestinian Authority has taken effective steps and made demonstrable progress toward--
`(A) completing the process of purging from its security services individuals with ties to terrorism;
`(B) dismantling all terrorist infrastructure, confiscating unauthorized weapons, arresting and bringing terrorists to justice, destroying unauthorized arms factories, thwarting and preempting terrorist attacks, and fully cooperating with Israel's security services;
`(C) halting all anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian Authority-controlled electronic and print media and in schools, mosques, and other institutions it controls, and replacing these materials, including textbooks, with materials that promote tolerance, peace, and coexistence with Israel;
`(D) ensuring democracy, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary, and adopting other reforms such as ensuring transparent and accountable governance; and
`(E) ensuring the financial transparency and accountability of all government ministries and operations.
Most of these provisions are included within Phase I of the Road Map and Mahmoud Abbas has already committed the PA to undertake these steps. Now, not only is the moving from Phase I to Phase II of the Road Map to be judged on Palestinian performance, the regaining of US support is also contingent on it. It seems quite clear that Abbas will not be able to implement the demands of the US Legislation.
Olmert has already stipulated that in order for Abbas to be considered a partner, he must get the Hamas-led government to accept the international conditions for recognition. Olmert understands that there is a very small chance that the Hamas led government will agree to the international demands and the additional explicit US Congressional demands. It will now be very easy for Olmert to return to the US and to the Congress and insist that there is no choice for Israel but the advancement of the unilateral realignment plan. Even though at this time, the realignment initiative was toned down during Olmert’s US visit, it is clear that the road has been paved to gain full US backing for the no-partner assessment several months from now.
The north has erupted
The assassination of an Islamic Jihad military commander late last week by unknown assailants (no one, including Israel has claimed responsibility) was the spark that fired katyusha missile attacks by Palestinian and Hizballah troops against the north of Israel. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that by speaking a few words he could send the entire population of the north of Israel (what he called the settlers in the north of occupied Palestine) running to Tel Aviv. Nasrallah and Hizballah are fighting a losing battle in Lebanon regarding the continued militarization of Lebanon’s southern borders. Lebanese democracy activists have been calling for Hizballah’s disarmament and a return of the regular Lebanese army to the border.
Israel used the opportunity to pound the heavily reinforced Hizballah outposts all along the border. Hizballah paid a very heavy price as a great deal of the military infrastructure was destroyed in the Israeli retaliation. In the end, the Government of Lebanon requested that the United Nations reach a ceasefire agreement with Israel and after one day of heavy artillery and air-strikes the south of Lebanon is now quiet. This was the first time that Israel launched a major offensive against the Hizballah infrastructure since the organization began developing it six years ago. This is not the last time that the northern border will erupt. The open issue of the Shaba’ farms must be resolved in some way in order to completely remove any claims that Israel has not withdrawn to the international border, despite a UN Resolution that states that it did. Israel claims that the Shaba’ farms are in Syrian territory, a claim that Hizballah rejects. In any event, even if Hizballah suddently recognized that the area is in Syrian territory, it is unlikely that Hizballah would cease its deployment and heavy armaments in the south. What is required is a discrete negotiation with the government of Lebanon, with US, French and UN involvement that would enable Israel to withdraw from the Shaba’ farms and to enable the Lebanese government to disarm the Hizballah.
Next year’s budget
While the 2006 budget has yet to be passed in Knesset, the government has begun the debates on the 2007 budget. Lo and behold, Labour leader Amir Peretz has suddenly come out against any cuts in the Military budget. For years Peretz has claimed that all of the funds required to support social welfare programs could come from the military budget. Now as Minister of Defense, Peretz is walking to the beat of different drummer – a military one. As a labor leader, Peretz was correct in demanding cuts in the military budget. As Minister of Defense he perhaps has no real choice but to support the military, no doubt he will tell Olmert to cut the military budget himself, if he wants to, but Peretz will defend the generals.
Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org