[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]  

October 14, 2005 

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

No summit

The biggest news of the week was the no-news item coming from the decision to postpone the Abbas-Sharon summit meeting. Wide gaps remain between the Israeli and Palestinian positions on almost every issue that should have been discussed at the summit. These include issues concerning ending the Israeli occupation over Gaza – the passages and access points of Gaza to Israel and to the rest of the world.  The truth behind the story is that the main gaps exist between the Israelis and themselves.  Prime Minister Sharon has not taken a decision of who is in charge on these issues and who has the right to decide what should be agreed upon with the Palestinians.  The rival forces in Israel include the IDF, the Shabak (shin bet – General Security Service), the Ministry of Finance led by the head of the taxation authority Eitan Rob, Shimon Peres, Shaul Mofaz and more. In general Sharon had decided that the IDF and the Ministry of Defense would deal with security related issues and that Shimon Peres and Haim Ramon would deal with civil related issues.  This all sounds logical but the question arose concerning a tomato that would cross from Egypt to Gaza – is this a civil related issue or a security related issue? Naturally each Ministry and personality is fighting over their own turf and no decisions have yet been taken.  In addition to all of this, in the background of some of the fighting is the Israeli customs officials’ fear of privatization of the customs services at the Gaza-Egyptian crossing.  If it can be done there, why not inside of Israel as well?  There are a lot of interests involved and the representatives of these interests groups are waging an all out battle – all on the Israeli side. At the end of the day, Sharon is going to have to decide who is in charge and what decisions should be made.  But those decisions will most likely be taken only after the Abbas-Bush summit when Israel will evaluate the extent of pressure that is likely to come to Jerusalem from Washington.

Prisoners

One surprise did appear this week in the press in the form of a recommendation from the IDF to Sharon to make a significant release of Palestinian prisoners in light of the understanding that this would provide Abbas with considerable gains in public support.  The IDF recommendation included looking at veteran prisoners serving their sentence since before 1993 including those with blood on their hands.  This is a big change from previous IDF recommendations which usually rejected the release of any Palestinians with blood on their hands.  Akiva Eldar from Haaretz wrote a very powerful piece this week in which he tried to provide some insight into how the Palestinian public views this issue by comparing it to how Israel would react if an Israeli pilot or soldier fell into the hands of the Palestinian Authority that would hold that soldier as a prisoner of war.  Eldar said that Israel would not rest one minute in securing the release of the soldier even if the Palestinians were to prove that the soldier had Palestinian blood on his hands.  Like in the same way that Israel would view this situation, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian public view Palestinian prisoners in Israel as prisoners of war and not as terrorists.

This issue for Israel has a lot more to do with appealing to public opinion than it does to security. In particular, it will be most difficult for the families of victims to accept the release of the person who killed their loved ones.  It has been pointed out that this is happening in Northern Ireland, but it has also been pointed out that that the IRA has been completed decommissioned of its weapons and that a state of peace exists there.  Israel and Palestine have a long way to go on this issue, but the issue will not go away and some serious public outreach will have to be done if any peace process will have any chance of moving forward.

Human shields

The IDF, the shabak and several army news correspondents responded almost violently to the decision of the High Court to outlaw the use of human shields.  The Israeli media was full of experts this past week stating how this would endanger the lives of soldiers and that the Knesset should pass a law that would bypass the decision of the high court.  One interesting statistic that was presented stated that some 1,300 arrests had been made in the occupied territories using Palestinian human shields for the soldiers and that only 1 Palestinian human shield had been killed – back in 2002.  Minister of Defense has asked the High Court to reconsider the decision.  He has asked the High Court to allow him to personally appear before the court to make his case. The High Court is not obliged to reopen the issue but in light of the request of the Minister of Defense there is likely to be some means for whatever he has to say to be presented to the Justices.

Sharon in the lead (in the Labour Party)

Weekend polls in the Labour party showed that 76.4% of Labour party members want the party to stay in government until the end of the term of office in November 2006. An amazing 38.8% of Labour members think that Ariel Sharon is the best candidate to be the next Prime Minister of Israel.  With less than a month before the Labour party is supposed to hold primaries for the leadership, there is still a question of whether or not the primaries will take place as scheduled. There is still a legal battle going on regarding who are the registered members who have the right to vote.  The legal questions may very well lead to another postponement of the vote.

Nobel Prize for Israeli economist

Israeli economist Prof. Israel Robert Aumann known as the father of game theory is this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for economics.  Aumann is also well known in Israel for being a member of the right-wing Professors for a Strong Israel.  Aumann says that by using his game theory he has proved that the Oslo process was a huge mistake for Israel.  He has also been engaged in the anti-disengagement from Gaza campaign. It is more than interesting to know whether or not the Swedish Nobel committee was aware of Aumann’s political opinions before granting him the Nobel Prize.

State to pay penalties to Kach leader Noam Federman

The Jerusalem district court has decided that the State of Israel must pay 100,000 NIS to Kach leader Noam Federman who has been held under administrative and home detention for the past year.  The Court decided that the Shabak did not present sufficient evidence to prove that Federman was a danger to the public security.  Federman had been accused that he was organizing attacks against Palestinians and Israeli politicians, including the Prime Minister and therefore had to be held in detention.  The Government did not indict Federman because in doing so would have to disclose sources that are still secretly planted in the right wings organizations.  Perhaps the court should have been reminded that the Kach movement is outlawed in Israel as a terrorist and anti-democratic movement.  Noam Federman is a danger to public security.  He is a man who breeds hatred and violence and belongs in prison.  Let’s hope that the Government will find enough evidence that can be used in court to remove this menace of society from the freedom granted to people who respect democracy and abide by the law.