Thursday, May 22, 2008

Haredi anti-Zionism, where draw the line?

Anti-Zionism Israeli Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss and company greeting Ahmadinejad
at Iranian anti-Holocaust conference.

"You go ahead and enjoy your state for a few years longer!"

an anti-Zionist haredi on Yom Ha'atsmaut

31 May, 2008

Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, begins with an identification with, and concern for the survival of the Jewish people. Beyond this overriding concern the movement is ideologically inclusive, tolerant of political platforms serving the political right and left, religious and secular. Israel is the fruit of Zionism and agent of its mission. But over the years Israel’s status as a democratic and modern state, its identity as home and refuge to all Jews is increasingly threatened by a tiny and intolerant ultra-orthodox minority supported and encouraged by a political culture of expedience and self-interest. In recent months several incidents occurred which, if not redressed, threaten to change the character of Israel from Zionist to non-Zionist, or worse. Most recently a haredi anti-Zionist judge on the High Rabbinical Conversion Court, Rabbi Avraham Sherman, embarrassed, disrespected and all but excommunicated the court’s head, pro-Zionist Rabbi Haim Drukman. Sherman, backed by two other haredi judges, ruled that according to their understanding of Halacha all conversions conducted by Rabbi Drukman, or performed under his jurisdiction for the past ten or more years, are invalid.

Several days after that controversial ruling Rabbi Sherman and supporters returned with yet another challenge to the conversion process, this time ruling that persons hearing- or speech-impaired are unacceptable as candidates for conversion! Who will Sherman next determine unqualified by birth or infirmity to be acceptable to the Jewish nation? Might he conclude that "Halacha" demands that each and every Jew not of his narrow belief community prove our “purity of blood” by providing evidence that our mothers and theirs’ back three generations are truly Jewish according to his understanding of Jewish Law?

Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Court controversy is only the most recent of a long string of haredi anti-Israel incidents to appear in the press. Take, for example, that visit by a delegation of Natorei Karta to Iran in support of Ahmadinejad’s anti-Holocaust conference. They were not only greeted by Ahmadinejad himself upon arrival, but were photographed with their grey beards and black coats smiling and embracing the sworn enemy of the Jewish state. More recently a gang of haredim physically assaulted a young man for attempting to raise the flag of Israel on the eve of Independence Day. And one day later, on Yom Ha'atsmaut, a reporter asked a haredi apparently enjoying the celebratory fireworks in Jerusalem how he felt and was told, "What can I tell you? You go ahead and enjoy your state for a few years longer!"

Individually such provocations as Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Court controversy, the treasonous actions by Natorei Karta in Teheran are disturbing; together they represent a pattern and point to a serious disjuncture between the Zionist state and extremist detractors among its ultra-orthodox minority. Where is the boundary between the State of Israel and this anti-Zionist minority today; where should it be?

A headline from the 22 May on-line edition of Jerusalem Post reads PMO dismisses Rabbi Haim Drukman. The reason given was that the pro-Zionist rabbi, appointed by PM Sharon and reappointed by his successor to head and reform the Conversion Authority had passed the age of retirement. In fact Rabbi Drukman had passed that age before being asked by Olmert to reaccept the thankless position! So what really motivated Olmert to act now, to “retire” the rabbi within weeks of the mutiny by Sherman and his two supporters in the conversion controversy? Certainly it would have a thing to do with Olmert’s precarious political situation, his need to reinforce his position as head of the governing coalition by appeasing the haredim for support?

Two other examples of boundary confusion between state and religion are the perennial reappearance of “Who is a Jew” in the Knesset, and the move by the chairman of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee to amend the Law of Return.

“Who is a Jew” is the effort by ultra-orthodox members of the Knesset to make their particular understanding of Halacha shape civil law for the state in matters of Jewish identity. Lest we forget, Halacha is not writ in stone but is reinterpreted by succeeding generations according to the realities of the day. Nor is there a single understanding of Halacha universally accepted by all rabbinic scholars of a given generation. So unless the Government of Israel is willing to adopt one group’s interpretation of Jewish identity and conduct above all others, thereby creating a state religion (the Rabbinate and the High Rabbinical Conversion Court already go a long way in this direction), “Who is a Jew” can never be adopted by the state, should not even be accorded legitimacy by being raised within the halls of the Knesset. It is no accident that whenever this issue is raised the Diaspora despairs and cries “foul.” Merely raising the issue, to say nothing of enacting it, is a slap at Diaspora Jewry, the vast majority of who, as in Israel, are not orthodox.

And finally, the Law of Return. Several months ago the chairman of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee proposed eliminating the Grandparent Clause from the Law. The Law of Return is Israel’s commitment, its Zionist heart, as home to all Jews, as refuge to our Diaspora. The Clause was enacted by the founding fathers in response to Germany’s Nazi-era law defining as “Jew” a person with even a single Jewish grandparent. While history does not repeat itself it does serve as precedent, and the founding fathers understood that the German law would one day come to serve as precedent for a future Holocaust. To eliminate the Clause is to weaken the Law. A weakened Law combined with a narrow definition of “Who is a Jew” would disqualify all but those few orthodox who fit the narrowed Halachic definition. It would leave nearly all Diaspora Jewry to face a new Shoah as did our grandparents sixty years ago, alone and defenseless.

While the proposal by the committee chairman may merely have been an over-reaction to a short-lived domestic issue (young Russian expat hooligans desecrating synagogues), such cannot be said of Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Court scandal, or of those promoting “Who is a Jew.” Both clearly are exclusionary in intent and strike at the heart of Jewish identity. Both are intended to serve the limited and selfish needs of a minority community regardless of cost to state and Diaspora. Both would widen the rift between orthodoxy and all others within Israel, would further erode trust by the Diaspora which Israel was created to protect.

And so the unavoidable question: how do anti-Zionists, a community intent on undermining, even destroying modern Israel and its Zionist underpinnings come to be appointed to positions of authority regarding questions of personal and social identity? How is it that openly-professed opponents of the State of the Jews come to represent Israel in any official capacity? Are Israeli policy-makers so insensitive to their responsibilities to Israel and the Diaspora beyond immediate political need and expediency, of coalition politics, to appoint so divisive a minority to sit in judgment, so divisive an issue as “Who is a Jew” to even enter the legislative process?

All Jews concerned for the Jewish People and Zionism, living in Israel and the Diaspora, should be concerned about the corrupting influence of the anti-Zionists as a political force within the state. As Jews they deserve the same rights under the Law of Return, the same obligations under the laws of the state as exist for Jews of all persuasions. But as opponents of the State of the Jews and its Zionist commitment; as, for all practical purposes, a fifth column within the state, they have no place within the government or bureaucracy, cannot be allowed political influence beyond the right of any other Israeli to peaceful public protest, and the ballot.
Jews today are no less threatened than when Herzl sounded the alarm sixty years before the Holocaust.

Zionism’s mission is as relevant today as it was in 1898 (see my webpage, For Israel to forget our history, her mission, is to reduce the State of the Jews to the state of the Israelis, but one more tiny and isolated Jewish island within an ocean of real and potential enemies.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Is Israel’s trust in Bush warranted?

24 May, 2008
President Bush visited Israel as part of her 60th anniversary celebrations and found an enthusiastic and receptive audience, something absent almost everywhere else in the world. His follow-up trips to Saudi Arabia and Egypt only confirmed his lack of credibility in the region. And while some may find this comforting, a regional rather than local view should give pause even to those most optimistic among us.

When in memory have the Saudis defied a presidential request? During his visit to Riyadh Bush was told “no” for the second time this year for his simple request that the Saudis increase oil production to bring down the price of gas at American pumps in an election year. And he apparently fared no better at Sharm; in fact the only public statement to even make a headline, beyond the Saudi “no” was that Mahmud Abbas had for the umpteenth time threatened to resign if Bush failed to deliver Israel on Palestinian terms.

In the weeks before the Bush visit three issues hit the press: Talansky, Kadish and Congress. What all three share is that they all originated in the United States, and all pose potential harm to Israel and her interests. I suggest that all three are connected, part of an administration-orchestrated pay-back to Olmert for turning his back on the impossible Palestinian peace track in favor of the more mature and promising Syrians.

Were it not for the fact that all three incidents involved Israel rather than a contender for office in the United States, the last few weeks might have been mistaken for “dirty tricks” in the heat of an American political campaign. Morris Talansky, an orthodox rabbi from New York and past fund-raiser for both Bush and Olmert, mysteriously appears with “strong evidence of new and grave corruption charges” against the prime minister. Then there was that highly publicized arrest of octogenarian Ben-Ami Kadish on charges of spying for Israel, twenty-five and more years ago. And finally, Bush decides it is a good time to make public to Congress secret and sensitive Israeli intelligence related to the September, 2007 destruction of the Syrian reactor. Three incidents in as many weeks, all with one thing in common: each could potentially harm Israel diplomatically and even, in the case of the Syrian reactor, militarily. Coincidental, unrelated?

How harm Israel? In the case of the reactor the public disclosure risked provoking a retaliatory strike by Syria which might easily have spiraled out of control (see below). Public disclosure by Bush compromised Israeli intelligence methods and agents in Syria, reducing the quality of the former while risking the lives of the latter. In fact Olmert was taken to task by his intelligence community for passing raw intelligence to Bush for precisely this reason. Why did Bush decide to go public with the details now? Was the risk to the lives of those Israeli sources in Syria, the possibility of war between the enemies no longer important?

Then, within days of the Congressional disclosures, the FBI raided that New Jersey nursing home to arrest Kadish from his bed. If his arrest twenty-five years after the events charged was intended to embarrass American Jewry and Israel, as occurred in the 1985 arrest of Jonathan Jay Pollard, then the result was a failure. Images of FBI agents hauling a confused old man, a zayde, from his nursing home bed more than neutralized any damage to, or distancing between Israel and the American Jewish community.

Three major incidents, each originating in the US, each targeting Israel; some might say the entire chain of events mere coincident, conjecture, the stringing together of otherwise unrelated incidents. I suggest not, that when seen against the backdrop of Bush political campaigning and administration decision-making these “unrelated” incidents fit an all-too-familiar pattern.

In his recent memoir, retired CIA Director George Tennant describes President Bush as someone he respects and likes, but also as a person of little toleration for opposition, loyal or not. In this regard recall that before the invasion of Iraq the CIA sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger to confirm that Sadam was purchasing yellow cake as part of his nuclear weapons program. Since the yellow cake purchase was a key justification used by the administration to invade, confirming the purchase was essential. When Wilson found no evidence for the asserted purchase the White House rejected his findings. With war and peace in the balance Wilson decided to go public with the information. The White House retaliated by going public with the identity of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA agent working under-cover on an assignment of risk. Disclosing the identity of a CIA agent is not only dangerous to the agent but is also a serious federal crime.

This incident throws a cold light on the character of Bush the man and his administration. And this is the key to understanding those “three incidents:” Prime Minister Olmert deviated from the role Bush scripted for Israel. And the administration responded.

Several weeks before the Bush visit Olmert informed the Palestinians that Israel was prepared to return 64% of the West Bank and would allow free Palestinian access to their holy places in Jerusalem, united under Israeli sovereignty in exchange for peace. But at Camp David eight years earlier Israel had agreed to return 96% of the West Bank plus parts of the Old City and East Jerusalem suburbs for the Palestinian capital, al Quds. Olmert’s proposal was obviously a non-starter for end-game negotiations, an end to Bush’s impossible dream of success for his Road Map in the waning hours of his presidency. And salt on the wound, soon after Olmert’s deal breaker to Abbas Syrian president Assad disclosed that he and Olmert have been secretly talking for years through Turkish mediation, that Olmert had, like former prime ministers Rabin, Netanyahu, Peres and Barak agreed to return the Golan in exchange for peace! In other words Olmert was turning away from the impossibility of progress towards agreement with a socially and politically fracture Palestine in favor of Syria as peace partner. But according to the Bush world-view Syria is a member of his “Axis of Evil.” And in Bush’s world the rule is you don’t negotiate with the “enemy,” unless you are President Bush and want to talk with arch-villain Iran about Iraq.

Is there a plausible connection between Bush going public with the reactor raid and Israel switching from Palestine to Syria? The Wilson-Plame affair describes and reinforces the image of Bush as vindictive when crossed. Is the resulting instability of the Israel government in the US interest? What was served by leaking Valerie Plame to the press? Obviously neither action serves a US interest. But we are not talking about a US national interest, but of a visceral reaction by an insecure if powerful person/administration intent on taking revenge.

Consider the possibilities: publicly embarrassing Assad again might stop those peace talks so onerous to Bush, but it might also increase pressure on Assad by his military to retaliate. A Syrian defeat could topple Assad in a coup, most likely at the hands of mid-level, pro-Iranian officers. That would draw Syria even tighter into the Iranian orbit. Alternatively, by weakening the central authority a sectarian civil war would likely bring a radical Islamic state to power, again bringing Iran more firmly into the Levant. Leaving implications for Israel, Lebanon and Jordan aside, were Syria to fall deeper into the Iranian orbit the US would find itself facing a much bolder Iranian threat resulting in a more unstable Middle East. Oil production would be under greater threat which would increase speculation in oil futures which, in turn, will result in ever higher oil prices, greater world-wide inflation, and much worse.

In the end the real question is not whether Bush likes Israel or is intent on harming the Jewish state, but whether or not the Bush presidency benefited or harmed Israel during his term in office. Whether a friend duped by Arabists in his administration or from further down in the US bureaucracy; or whether he is the petty and vengeful weakling described above needing to “get even,” the “three incidents,” and particularly the public disclosure of the September, 2007 raid, could have had but one outcome, to harm Israel. And Bush could not have failed to recognize this.

So, how explain the strong popularity of George W. Bush among Israelis, leaders and public? During his visit his words were supportive, expressed solidarity and comfort: Bush was reassuring. But leaders, like the rest of us, are judged not by word but by deed. And this president has obviously by his lack of strategic vision destabilized the Middle East and, since Israel resides in the neighborhood, undermined also the security of Israel. How destabilize the region? Bush made possible and promoted Iranian ambitions and regional threat by neutralizing that county’s only credible enemy, Iraq. Bush insisted on the Palestinian elections, overriding Abbas and Israeli concerns, which brought Hamas to power. Then, realizing his error, forgot his “democratizing ideals” and plotted the failed coup by Fateh which resulted in the Gaza secession under an even stronger Hamas. Bush encouraged the invasion of Lebanon, then forced Israel to withdraw when the war went to slowly (much the result of limitations placed on Israel by Bush).

So how explain the president’s popularity among Israelis? Perhaps Israel is just star-struck, beguiled by his friendly smile. Bush rhetoric makes Israelis feel, even in face of the above contradictory evidence, that he is a friend, that he has Israel’s back. We are a people emerging from two thousand years of persecution at the hands of our neighbors in the western Diaspora, a people alone and accustomed to rejection and threat. Perhaps even a false smile is reassuring, encourages hope.

Why Bush went public on the raid

26 April, 2008

The Bush Administration went to Congress yesterday to disclose previously secret intelligence regarding Israel's September, 2007 attack on the Syrian nuclear facility. In Congress and in the United Nations the administration was strongly criticized for withholding the information, the assumption being that Bush's intended reason was to deliver a message to North Korea.

For seven months, and with American agreement, an unusual official silence has been maintained by Syria and Israel regarding the nature of the raid. The target itself was public knowledge since press reports early on accurately described it as a nuclear reactor, descriptions never officially denied. Even the press conference by Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu describing it as a reactor was in his capacity as a government outsider, and so not official. One reason for official silence by both sides might have been that public disclosure would embarrass Syrian national pride and possibly result in pressure to retaliate. Another might have been that the two sides were well advanced in backchannel negotiations via Turkey.

If Bush's intention was, as the many in Congress seem to take for granted, to embarrass North Korea, why now? I suggest that the timing of the disclosures was more intended for Tel Aviv than Pyongyang.


Suggestions of negotiations between Israel and Syria have been appearing more frequently in the news recently. According to reports, not denied, Olmert told the Turkish prime minister supposedly mediating backchannel discussions that he now agrees with his predecessors Rabin, Netanyahu and Barak that Israel should return the Golan in exchange for peace. Again last week Olmert is quoted ass tellling the Palestinians that in exchange for peace they could expect Israel to cede 64% of the West Bank, with the Wall as international boundary. He also proposed free access for the Palestinians to Old City holy places, in a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Both suggestions represent a significant retreat from Camp David, 2000 where Israel had agreed to return 96% of the West Bank and a divided Jerusalem/Al Quds. At best Olmert's reported offers might be called inadequate, at worst insulting. In either case they represent a slammed door on Palestine, the Roadmap and Annapolis, a rejection of Bush.

Bush has never been known to take opposition gently, and several administration actions this week seem addressed at punishing Israel. In addition to the reactor hearings in the Congress, in a surprising move more than twenty years after the fact, in a highly publicized arrest reminiscent of the Pollard Affair the FBI raided a New Jersey nursing home to arrest 85 year old Ben-Ami Kadish on charges of espionage for Israel in the 1980’s. The arrest raises questions of Israeli reliability, and the dual loyalty issue certain to leave American Jewry squirming.

To my mind it is not an enormous leap, given the history of this administration, to act first and think later, to surrender to emotion over logic; that this is yet one more instance, like Iraq, of Bush shooting first and facing the consequences later. Clearly he has no compunction to sacrifice US allies, even his own country's national interests for the satisfaction of giving vent to injured pride.


Reduced to an issue of land-for-peace, surrendering the Golan offers Israel enormous strategic diplomatic and economic advantages at the cost of surrendering a geological formation that has long since lost significant military purpose. Before 1967 the Heights provided the Syrians a vantage point from which to fire on the valley below, an advance observation from which to direct artillery and mortar. Today Syria has missiles capable of striking anywhere within Israel, has no need for advance spotters to direct fire. Is there a military cost in surrendering the Heights, yes: positioning heavy weapons with clear fields of fire aimed at Damascus and with little geography between to slow an attack. But again, in the age of missiles and hi-tech drone and manned aircraft, while there is some tactical advantage there is no strategic advantage to maintaining direct control of the Heights. And the nearly completed 2000 agreement between the two countries already provided Israel early warning observation posts in the Hermon range, as well as demilitarization of Golan and surrounding terrain.

Emotional there is a cost to surrendering sovereignty over Golan, a part of Israel for more than thirty years. And that impact will be especially hard on those who live there, on their children and grandchildren who have known no other home. But while the 2000 agreement promised the return of Golan to Syria, it also protected those settlements, provided for the rights of their residents. And there is no reason to believe that a 2009 agreement would be less protective of their rights than that of 2000.

In a previous article I suggested several strategic benefits to Israel resulting from peace with Syria, including the obvious reduction in tension in the north resulting in fewer life and economy-disruptive reserve mobilizations; possible open borders between the two states allowing free tourism and trade; and a way around the impossible Saudi roadblock to a global agreement with Israel, peace with the Palestinians. Peace under the Saudi proposal opens diplomatic relations between Israel and nearly the entire Arab-Moslem world. This promises to lead to an explosion in growth for Israeli commerce and economic development, which in turn would result in a reversal of the technological brain drain. Instead of yerida, expat Israelis would be clamoring to return!

All advantages, of course, are not exclusive to Israel. For Syria an Israel peace means liberation from the yoke of Iranian dependence. This in turn would result in improved relations with surrounding Arab states. Under a different American administration (serious negotiations cannot even begin until Bush is replaced in the White House) when realpolitik replaces Bush ideology, Syria will be seen as the important bulwark she is to Iranian hegemony, will realize Assad's dream of alliance rather than enmity with the United States. And of course reduced tension on her border with Israel will result in the possibility to reduce her military and grow her civilian economy.

The only barrier to Israel and Syria sitting down at the negotiating table is, as it has been since he invaded Iraq, Bush and his administration. So the next few months will be bumpy for Israel-US relations. Bush will attempt to derail improving relations across the Golan in the months leading up to a new American administration. But all three potential future presidents are on record as supporting peace between the adversaries, all agree that such a peace would dramatically shake up the landscape of the entire region resulting in increased regional stability and American credibility. And an Israel-Syria peace would go a long way towards repairing the US Middle East defense shield destroyed in the aftermath of Iraq, would check the increasing regional threat represented by Iranian power loosed when the Bush invasion of Iraq removed Iran’s main enemy across the Persian Gulf.

We have only to outwait Bush. And Pray.

Olmert, Bush and the end to “Peace in our Time”

18 April, 2008

According to a recent Jerusalem Post report, Prime Minister Olmert is quoted in the London-based Arabic language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat as offering the Palestinians 64 percent of the West Bank, and “…forget about territory west of the security fence." He is further reported to have offered them access to the holy sites of east Jerusalem, but that the city would remain under Israeli sovereignty. With the imminent arrival of President Bush signaling his intention to hold a summit to promote the Annapolis deadline of peace-in-his-term, what is the meaning of the prime minister laying down red lines certain to spell the end to Annapolis?

Palestine is, and has been since early mandatory days, socially and politically chaotic. And if there was little likelihood of political unity before, then the failed Bush-inspired Fateh coup against Hamas in Gaza was the death knell for any possibility of a unified Palestinian regime strong enough to impose internal order. Peace with Israel cannot precede peace within Palestine. And internal peace for Palestine appears as distant today as it was in the 1920’s. So the lofty speeches of Annapolis aside, for the Palestinians there will be no peace in our time.

Syria, on the other hand, has been signaling interest in peace with Israel for years, and the two countries reportedly came within a few meters of Kineret lakefront of a comprehensive treaty in 2000. Why Barak backed out of the nearly concluded agreement in favor of yet another round of fruitless talks with Arafat and the Palestinians remains a mystery.

One of the main advantages to dealing with Syria over the Palestinians is that it is a country with a relatively stable regime. Unlike the Palestinians, and particularly the Hamas in Gaza, Syria accepts responsibility towards protecting its land and people. This is clearly proven by the seriousness with which the regime has adhered to her bi-national agreements with Israel for more than four decades. Actions against Israel in defense of what Syria sees as her national interests were perpetrated by such third parties as Hamas and Hezbollah and never by the direct use of the Syrian military.

Of course Israel does not trust Assad and the Baathist regime, and the Syrians likely feel the same about Israel. But that is precisely the point of negotiations, to test and shape intentions, limits and commitment over time. If the parties already trusted one another an agreement could be achieved almost immediately and there would be no need for a drawn out period of confidence-building and negotiation!

Regarding Iran, Syria has a relationship with the Islamic Republic similar to that between Israel and the United States. Regarding the Palestinian rejectionists, Syria let it be known decades ago that she would not sit by and allow Israel and the Palestinians to come to agreement leaving Syria alone to face her far stronger adversary, Israel across the negotiating table. Which partly explains why Syria has hosted and protected the Palestinian extremists and rejectionists, allowed them to disrupt by terror any appearance of movement towards mutual accommodation on the Palestine front. On the other hand over the past year Bashar Assad has signaled through Israeli media that the alignment with Iran and the presence of the rejectionists are open to negotiation. And should an Israel and Syria come to terms then both Iran and Hamas/Jihad would become not only unnecessary as a tool of persuasion over Israel, but very likely a threat to the Syrian regime.
I referred to peace with Syria as of strategic importance to Israel. In what way strategic, and what benefits would peace with Syria provide the Jewish state? Not necessarily in order of priority they are:

1. Peace with Syria would mean the end to the state of war between the countries and that would likely include Lebanon. This would result in a dramatic reduction in the need and frequency of military alerts and mobilizations so disruptive to the lives of Israel’s citizen-soldiers and to Israel’s economy.
2. Peace with Syria would result in Iran withdrawing from Syria/Lebanon (an obvious Israeli demand) lessening the Islamic Republic’s influence and threat to the Levant, and closing the land route for invasion and re-supply in the event of war with Israel.
3. Peace with Syria would remove the Palestinian rejectionists from Damascus (another obvious Israeli demand) making them easier targets should they enter the Territories, or less influential and dangerous if relocated to refuges more distant from Israel.
4. Peace with Syria would open the door to dialogue with the Saudi’s, circumventing their unrealistic-because-unachievable precondition of an Israel–Palestine peace.
5. Peace with Syria, would, as signaled by Assad, provide open borders between the two countries allowing a free-flow of trade and tourism. This would provide Israelis more breathing room and expanded local vacation destinations.
6. Peace with Syria would expand and open new markets for Israeli commerce to the extended Arab world.
7. Peace with Syria would open the door to military cooperation with the Saudis and the other Peninsula Arab states against the common Persian threat, further normalizing relations with those states and reducing the likelihood of an open confrontation with hegemonic Iran.


Is peace with Syria a dream, yes. But according to both official and unofficial Israeli diplomatic and intelligence sources it is within reach. Possibly caving to pressure from Bush, in the past the Olmert government demanded that Syria eject Iran and the rejectionists as precondition to negotiations. Syria predictably countered with the demand that Israel commit to return the Golan in advance of negotiations. Both demands are core issues in any negotiation, not pre-conditions. As “pre-conditions” they are obstacles, non-starters for serious discussion. Quid pro quo, demand and compensation, is the currency of the negotiating process. And a successful negotiation means, for Israel, that she finally emerges from behind her defensive and claustrophobic Garrison State walls, turns her economy away from war, grows her world-renowned technology in service of civilian rather than military production and commerce, expands her industrial base providing the capital for an economy of increasing wealth and security for her citizens.

What was Olmert’s reason for signaling an end to the fallacy of Annapolis on the eve of the arrival of President Bush? Perhaps it was a public acknowledgement of the prime minister’s awareness that regardless how long or intensive the discussions with the Palestinians, however much an agreement between the parties is desired by Israel or demanded by Bush, that the Annapolis roadmap is a train with a destination but without wheels. Perhaps Olmert is signaling the soon-to-arrive president that administration policies over the years are the major factor in creating today’s tattered Middle East, that current Bush policies are the cause and not the solution to the problems facing the Middle East today. Perhaps Olmert is declaring that Israeli-Arab interests are best served by saying a polite but firm goodbye to the American president, waiting out his obstructive term in office, hoping that the next US administration will be strategically more intelligent, diplomatically more adept, and more circumspect in deciding issues of war and peace.

An Afterthought: I had to check my calendar to confirm that today is mid-April and not April Fools Day, that the Olmert interview was not intended as a joke for the arriving US president. I then considered the possibility that the Asharq Al-Awsat interview might just be disinformation, or that the newspaper was engaged in character assassination of the prime minister. But why then would the excerpts appearing in my first paragraph have appeared in Jerusalem Post? Certainly the editors would have confirmed the quotes before printing them. Which leaves me with my original suggestion, that Prime Minister Olmert seems to have concluded that enough years have been wasted chasing the mirage of an impossible Palestinian peace and he is now sitting on his hands until the main obstacle to Israel engaging Syria, George W. Bush, has left the scene.