[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
May 7, 2006
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
We have a government
Ehud Olmert presented his government. Olmert’s speech was balanced and calm as opposed to his evening speech prior to the vote of confidence which was cocky, angry and arrogant. Olmert presented his vision for the coming years: “I, like many others, also dreamed and yearned that we would be able to keep the entire land of Israel, and that the day would never come when we would have to relinquish parts of our land. Only those who have the land of Israel burning in their souls know the pain of relinquishing and parting with the land of our forefathers. I personally continue to advocate the idea of the entire land of Israel as a heart's desire. I believe with all my heart in the people of Israel's eternal historic right to the entire land of Israel. However, dreams and recognition of this right do not constitute a political program. Even if the Jewish eye cries, and even if our hearts are broken, we must preserve the essence. We must preserve a stable and solid Jewish majority in our State.”
Olmert, once again, just as in his victory speech turned to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and declared his readiness to negotiate: “From this podium, I again address the elected President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. The Government of Israel under my leadership prefers negotiations with a Palestinian Authority committed to the principles of the Roadmap, which fights terror, dismantles terrorist organizations, abides by the rules of democracy and upholds, practically and thoroughly, all agreements which have thus far been signed with the State of Israel. Negotiation with such an Authority is the most stable and desired basis for the political process, which can lead to an agreement which will bring peace. This is what we desire.”
Abbas, apparently took Olmert more seriously than he was supposed to, because the following morning, he called Olmert to congratulate him and to inquire about a meeting. The short answer Abbas received was: don’t call us, we’ll call you (but we really won’t call you). This is the second time that Abbas has been snubbed by the new Israeli Prime Minister; the first time was on election night when Abbas was called by Olmert in his victory speech to meet with him. Then, too, Abbas was used as lip service by Olmert. Egyptian President Mubarak has invited Olmert to meet and at the same time try to arrange for a trilateral summit with Abbas. Olmert rejected the Egyptian offer. I personally was asked by a senior official in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to explain why Olmert refuses to meet Abbas. I cannot think of a single good reason.
The creators of the myth of “no partner” are no longer around. Olmert should have the integrity, intelligence and wisdom to agree to the meet Abbas to actually try to re-launch a bilateral political process. Olmert said it himself; Israel prefers a negotiated process above a unilateral one. The only conclusion I can come to at this point is that Olmert is lying. Israel, according to Olmert, does not prefer a negotiated process with the Palestinians. Olmert thinks that Israel can unilaterally set the final borders and that what happens on the other side is unimportant. Olmert is in for some big surprises.
Naturally there were those who were disappointed that they weren’t included in the new government. Within Kadima the loudest voices came from the so-called sectors: the Russians and the Druze. Marina Slolodkin thought that she would become the Minister of Immigrant Absorption and long-time Sharon ally Magallie Whabee thought that he would at least be given a seat without a portfolio. When the government was presented in Knesset, Slolodkin voiced her dismay by not showing up. Whabee threatened to vote against or abstain, but in the end vote in favor of the government.
Amir Peretz faced his own revolt last week but won a slim majority in the Labour Central Committee which accepted his selection of Ministers, keeping Ami Ayalon and Avishai Braverman outside of the Cabinet. He did promise Braverman that he would eventually be included – how he will accomplish that is yet to be seen.
Peretz’s first steps forward – big disappointment
The IDF placed a trap for Peretz before he could even catch his breath. Late in the evening after the swearing in and the photo-op at the President’s house, the army informed Peretz that they could attack a sight where the most notorious Qassam rocket planners were meeting in Gaza. They said that the highest ranking members of the Popular resistance committees were in sight (it is always the highest ranking officials). It’s now or never - they told Amir. Fearing that he would appear weak and inexperienced in his first opportunity to deal with a security issue, Peretz gave the green light, and in his first act as Defense Minister assassinated five Palestinians.
I have higher hopes for Peretz. A more balanced and secure Minister would have told the IDF generals, if it’s not a ticking time bomb on its way to Israel, we can deal with it when there is more information available. The entire policy of targeted killings, e.g. death penalties without a trial, should be reviewed. The entire policy of closure and siege needs to be reviewed. Since the Jewish holiday of Purim in mid-February, the occupied territories have been under strict closure, including internal closures, separating one part of the West Bank from another. There was supposed to be a high level meeting on Thursday night in the Ministry of Defense to review the policy and to decide, now that all of the holidays are finally over, to lift the closure. The meeting apparently didn’t take place, or if it did, the officers down the chain of command did not receive any new orders.
Is Amir Peretz aware that there has been decision that no members of the elected Palestinian Parliament are to be granted permits – regardless of which party they are from? Does Amir Peretz know that PA officials, non-Hamas members, who are responsible for dealing with the Israelis on day-to-day life issues, are now persona non-grata in Israel? Is Peretz aware of the policies that are making life a living hell for the average Palestinian citizen? Peretz needs to be educated quickly about the terrible realities that Mofaz’s term of office created in the occupied territories. Peretz needs time to clean up his new Ministry from all of the bad advisors who have lingered too long in positions which have enabled them to continually escalate the conflict. Most of all, as the leader of the Labour party and as one who had the courage to meet Abbas during the campaign, Peretz has to lead the government of Israel back into a bilateral political process with the Palestinians. This was his promise, and we concerned citizens will hold him to the task.
Lieberman - the leader of incitement
Avigdor Lieberman, nearly a member of the government, exploited his first Knesset speech this season to call for the execution of Arab Members of Knesset who meet with “the enemy”. Fortunately, Lieberman’s comments were condemned from almost all corners of the Knesset and the public. Lieberman’s call is equal to incitement to murder the Arab members of Knesset. Now we have to see if the Attorney General will take any action against him. Even political immunity granted to Members of Knesset should have its limits.
Hebron – city of extremists
This morning the government is taking action to remove three settler families who illegally took over a building owned by Palestinians. The High Court ordered the government to remove the illegal squatters. Seven hundred policemen were drafted for the task. The settlers were ordered to leave, but instead of complying with the law, the call for settlers from all over the West Bank to confront the police. In a normal state of affairs, the settlers would be removed, arrested and then charged for the costs that the tax payers must dish out to pay for the police. In this case, the settlers will probably get off free. Hopefully this is the first step of the new government in removing the more than 100 illegal outposts in the West Bank.