[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
October 28, 2005
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
It is always difficult to determine how it all started and who is to blame. The latest cycle of violence is only a few days old and has already claimed more than 15 Israeli and Palestinian lives. It is quite difficult to assess if this will be a long cycle or if we will shortly return to the relative calm that we have all been enjoying over the past months. So from where do we begin to count? During the past three months – since August 1 until October 15 (before the latest flare up of violence) there were 26 Palestinians killed by Israel, of those 8 were minors. During that same period some between 700 - 1000 Palestinians were arrested by Israel. On October 16 still unidentified terrorists in a drive-by killing murdered three Israelis settlers from the south of West Bank. On October 24 Israel assassinated Islamic Jihad activist Luay al-Sa'adi in the north of the West Bank. Sa'adi was a young man of 26, who was imprisoned in Israel for nearly five years, from 1999-2004, after completing his studies. He, along with other prisoners, was released at the beginning of last year in a deal with Hezbollah for Elhanan Tenenbaum. Since that time Sa’adi has been on the run with Israel in hot pursuit. Haaretz Palestinian affairs correspondent has reported that since his release from prison Sa’adi has worked on turning over most of his activities to other Jihad activists feeling that he was a “marked” man and eventually Israel would get him – either back in prison or kill him.
In response to the Sa’adi killing, Islamic Jihad launched a barrage of Qaasam missiles into Israel from Gaza. Israel said that some 25 missile were launched. Palestinian sources said that 21 of them landed inside of Gaza, the four that made it into Israel fell on open spaces, no one was hurt and no physical damage was caused. Throughout the Jewish holiday period since October 2 the West Bank and Gaza have been under total closure. The Erez and Karni crossings from Gaza into Israel have been closed. The Rafah crossing into Egypt from Gaza has also been closed. The negotiations on these issues led by the special envoy James Wolfensohn have been frozen and no progress has been reported. The Israelis told Wolfensohn that the negotiations would continue after the Jewish holiday (which ended late this week). The on October 26 came the terror attack killing five Israelis in the market in the center of Hadera. Following that attack Israel announced a full scale military operation in the West Bank and Gaza including a full closure, only 1 day after some of the closure had been lifted. Last night the Israel Air Force killed seven Palestinians, including two Islamic Jihad militants and at least three civilians, including a 15-year-old boy. Now Hamas has said that they will revenge the killings of last night. The White House and the State Department have not indicated any intentions to directly intervene, beyond last night’s telephone from Rice to Abbas in which she reprimanded Abbas for not doing enough to fight terrorism. She also said that Israel should not lose sight of the consequences of its actions as well.
Now Sharon says that he won’t meet with Abbas until the PA fights against terrorism. Abbas says that he is willing to meet Sharon at anytime. The State department’s spokesperson encouraged the leaders to meet stating that this is the best way of resolving problems. What happens in the coming days will determine if this round of violence will be short or if we are witnessing the refueling of the intifada.
The settler youth have taken up the outpost campaign once again this week capturing 5 new hilltops. The army immediate charged in and vacated all five outposts but within hours the settler youth took back 2 of them. The army was reportedly shocked by the violent behavior of the settlers expecting the kind of passive resistance that took place during the evacuation of Gush Katif. Several soldiers and high ranking officers were wounded in the scruffs with the hilltop youth. The settler leadership condemned the behavior of their youth but did not condemn their attempts to create new outposts. This is the tactic that was used by the settler movement since its creation and the older generations of settlers admire their children’s burning desire to continue the settlement movement. Radicalization of the settler youth should be expected in light of the failure of the organized leadership of the settlers to prevent the disengagement. Many of the already radical hilltop youth express deep disappointment with the organized leadership of the settlers and will not be impressed by their condemnations. There will be a continued cat and mouse game played out in full between the army and the hilltop youth. It will be a kind of “war of attrition” and the settlers believe that their motivation and energies will outlast the determination of the army to prevent them.
Meanwhile, assistant Prime Minster Shimon Peres stated that there is no policy of the government to create new settlements or to allow settlements to be built. Apparently Peres is not fully aware of the continued plans of the Government to allow for additional Jewish settlements in and around east Jerusalem. Perhaps Peres should check with Sharon before making statements to the media?
Speaking about Jerusalem
It has been reported that only 60 Palestinians students from East Jerusalem have been granted permission by Israel to study at West Bank universities. The main Palestinian universities are located in Birzeit (Ramallah), An-Najah (Nablus), Bethlehem, Jenin and a technical college in Hebron. Palestinian students from East Jerusalem cannot easily study at Israeli universities where the language of instruction is Hebrew. They do not qualify also because they have matriculation certificates issued by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education and not the Israeli Ministry. This means that Palestinian students who do not study at Al Quds University and would prefer to study at one of the other Palestinian universities are trapped – in order for them to fulfill their right to education they must risk entering the Palestinian Authority areas without permits. This is one of the continued policies being advanced by the Government of Israel to completely detach Jerusalem from the West Bank.
Labour heating up
November 9 is the date set for the Labour party primaries. The race is heating up and getting nasty. Rumors are being spread by everyone against everyone. The leading candidate is naturally Shimon Peres, but someone reminded Shimon this past week that he always leads in the polls but always loses the elections. Peres fears mostly that Amir Peretz the Histadrut head will use the power and the mechanics of the Histadrut (cars, offices, buses, workers committees, money) to get his voters to the polls and that the everyday normal average Labour party member who probably supports Shimon Peres won’t bother to vote. The other two candidate Matan Vilnai and Fouad Binyamin Ben Eliezer seem to have little chance of winning and they have probably remained in the race to increase their own value when the Party puts together its list for the elections.
Likud – splitting up or coming together?
Sharon and he friends have spent a lot of time and energy into preparing the Likud faction to work together when the new Knesset season begins next week. Sharon’s first test will be when he brings to the Knesset the resolution to appoint Ehud Olmert as the full-time Minister of Finance and the appointments of MK Ronny Baron and Zeev Boim to Ministerial positions. The Ministry of Trade, Labor and Industry is available after Olmert went to the finance ministry and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is open after Tzipi Livni went to the Ministry of Justice. Both Baron and Boim want the Trade, Labor and Industry portfolio and Sharon will decide by Monday who will get it – if the Knesset gives its support. Likud rebel leader Uzi Landau and the Druze Likud MK maverick Eyub Kara have both said that they will continue to vote against Sharon. Sharon, therefore can only depend on the support of part of the Likud and all of the Labour party will continue to back him, at least for the time being. Shinui, the religious and right wing parties, and the Arab parties will all vote against. It is impossible to predict right now the outcome, but the appointment of Olmert is more likely to succeed than the other two appointments.
Outrageous – even for Iran
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel's destruction at a conference this week in Tehran entitled, "The World without Zionism." "Israel must be wiped off the map," he said, adding that "the establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world." These kind of remarks coming from a country with an active nuclear weapons program bodes badly for the peace of the world. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, visiting Jerusalem this week swore to his Israeli hosts that the Iranian nuclear program that Russia is supplying is for civilian purposes only. No one in the world really believes that. Prime Minister Sharon instructed the Foreign Minister to call for the ousting of Iran from the United Nations. This is the first time that a member state of the United Nations has called for the total destruction and elimination of another member state. Today Ahmadinejad clarified his position making things worse by stating: “I was speaking on behalf of the Iranian people”.
Last week I wrote that according to Maariv, Bibi was considering leaving politics. Bibi has gone out of his way this week to send messages through every possible channel that this was not true. He even said that he would sue Ben Caspit and Maariv for libel. When a politician threatens libel, it is usually a sign that the journalist got it right. Bibi’s efforts to send people to speak for him denying the claims, but not actually coming out and saying the words himself strengthens the possibilities that he is serious considering leaving the arena. But I would caution against such optimism in this case. Bibi is a slow learner and not enough time has gone by since his loss in the Likud central council after he was so sure of his victory. Bibi is not gone yet and it is too early to celebrate.