[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


October 21, 2005


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


Terror hits again


It was, unfortunately, only a matter of time before the three month long “calm” period would be disrupted by terror. Two drive-by shootings left three young Israeli settlers dead and another seven wounded during this holiday week in Israel.  During the period of “clam” there had been a gradual opening up of movement within the West Bank.  Palestinian roads from villages and towns that link to main traffic arteries have been closed to Palestinians for years. In the past couple of months, these have been gradually opening. The army even removed check points throughout the West Bank. Now, the roads are blocked again and the check points are back.


As expected each year, during the Jewish holiday season, the territories have been under full closure and there has been a significantly heightened military and police presence surrounding the West Bank and Gaza and within the Israeli towns and cities. The general public mood in Palestine had been improving and there was the beginning of a sense of optimism developing. Now, after the drive-by shootings, with the roads closed again and check points up again, Palestinians are angry and disappointed.  It is important for Israelis to understand the reality of life on the other side.  


The Israeli news was full of “analysts” talking about the “so-called calm” and once again saying that there is no partner on the other side.  Like the argument about the chicken and the egg, I was asked by several journalists this week “why now?” after three months of calm? The truth is that the “calm” has been mostly one-sided.  During the past three months, a day doesn’t go by when Israel is not entering Palestinian towns and cities and arresting suspects.  More than 700 suspects have been arrested only in the past weeks. More than 25 Palestinians have been killed by Israel during the past three months. There is no economic improvement since the Israeli disengagement.  The Gaza strip remains a huge prison because the sides have not yet completed the negotiations on how the borders will work. From the Palestinian side of the street, the situation looks pretty bleak.


Is another round of acute violence ahead of us? If there is no political progress and economic growth, the answer is definitely yes.


Abu Mazen, Bush, and Israel


Early indications in Israel seem to point to Israeli satisfaction with the Bush-Abbas summit. Bush intimated that there is no real pressure to be expected from Washington regarding the rapid creation of the Palestinian state.  It doesn’t have to happen during my presidency – was the comment that Bush made. Israel will note disappointment that Bush did not mention the Hamas explicitly and did not call it a terrorist organization.  Instead Bush spoke about “armed gangs” and the need to disarm them immediately. Bush did not say that the Hamas should not be allowed to participate in the upcoming elections for the Palestinian parliament in January 2006.


Abbas, on the other hand, spoke clearly about the Palestinian plan to integrate the opposition into the political establishment and then to disarm them through the legitimate use of the Palestinian law. This is far short of what Israel would like to hear from Washington.  Sharon and Foreign Minister Shalom have been waiting for the US President to speak in as clear terms as they have been speaking, but that did not come from the White House.


Bush, further supporting the Palestinian position, said that Israel must cease all settlement building and must remove outposts. The day before the White House summit, Secretary of State Rice, appearing before the Senate Foreign relations Committee said “We have told the Israelis in no uncertain terms that settlement in the E1 area would contravene American policy”.  Israeli reactions to these statements have been – this is nothing new, we have heard it all before and its part of the Road Map.  The Israeli know that there won’t be any real pressure on Israel until there is real action on the Palestinian side of the Road Map obligations.  Abbas told Bush in no uncertain terms that beyond what the PA has already done in beginning to enforce the law that no weapons should be demonstrated in public, there should be no expectations of the PA disarming the Hamas or other armed gangs before the elections.


What’s ahead of us now is the completion of the mission of the special envoy James Wolfensohn to conclude the negotiations on the Gaza passages and the appointment of a new US security coordinator who (in the words of Bush) “will take on an enhanced mission to help President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority carry out their responsibility to end terror attacks, dismantle terrorist infrastructure, maintain law and order and one day, provide security for their own state.


Lebanon-Syria-the US- and Israel


The UN report on the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri is hours away from being released to the public.  News leaks report a direct link to the regime of Bashar al Assad.  No one is surprised by this.  Most analysts have begun to speak about the end of the Assad regime and perhaps and end to Awali control over Syria. Chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee Dr. Yuval Shteinitz already commented this morning that Israel is not interested in a weakened Assad regime, but in the complete replacement of the Assad regime.  One would think that with the lessons learned from the past, senior Israeli spokespeople would be a bit more careful when speaking about regime change in this part of the world.  Part of the mess of Lebanon over the past quarter century is due to Israeli attempts to bring about regime change there.


Shteinitz should be reminded that during the past years of the Bashar el Assad regime, there has been no pressure on Israel at all to withdraw from the Golan Heights or even to enter into negotiations with Syria.  Bashar al Assad’s Syria has been under the watching eyes and threats of Washington. A regime change in Syria orchestrated by the US with the backing of the UN Security Council could create a strategic change in the geopolitical circumstances that could lead to new Israeli-Syrian negotiations.  A situation where the Syrian regime was under the patronage of the US would lead to a need for Washington to produce positive developments for the people of Syria.  The Golan Heights will surely become the prize that Washington will wish to deliver.


Bibi – Out or In?


Ben Caspit from Maariv reports this morning that Binyamin Netanyahu is once again considering “packing it in” and leaving politics once and for all.  Good riddance Bibi! It’s about time.  Bibi’s political errors over the past year will surely be documented and taught in schools of political science.  The prince of slick speeches and public manipulation has lost his magic touch. More and more people are simply disgusted by his mannerisms and his plastic character. Bibi did great in business.  Surely he could benefit the State of Israel much more as a tax paying businessman.  Maybe he could help to undo some of the damage that he did to so many poor people in Israel.  Perhaps he could even establish a public benefit foundation that could contribute funds to support single mothers!