October 10, 2017
“Season of Our Rejoicing”
Last Wednesday night began the week-long holiday of Sukkot, which is referred to as Z’man Simchatenu – the season of our rejoicing. It is a holiday of many delights, rich in mystic symbolism.
A couple of days earlier, I had begun work on a pre-Sukkot posting focused on the joys of the holiday. But I reconsidered the post when the news of the horrendous massacre in Las Vegas broke. With over 50 dead and more than 500 wounded, with America reeling, I began to think better of the timing of my light-hearted message.
There was something else that gave me pause, as well: a breathtakingly ugly tone inherent in the responses of some. A CBS executive (since fired) who said she had no sympathy for those who were killed because of their presumed political stances. Subsequent tweets that actually said it would be better if all those who had voted for Trump were dead.
Where did this dangerous and malignant thinking come from?
All of this said, I did go into Sukkot with a full heart. The holiday is almost over now. Wednesday night we segue into Simchat Torah. I wish all who are celebrating continued holiday joy.
What I want to do here is touch a couple of bases, with follow-up next week when we return to normal (whatever that means).
Almost two weeks ago, a major event was held in the community of Kfar Etzion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.
Gush Etzion, immediately south of Jerusalem, today encompasses a bloc of close to 20 Jewish communities.
Four of these communities have a history that predates the founding of the State, and, of those, the story of Kfar Etzion is most notable and painful: Defenders of this kibbutz were massacred in 1949, during the War of Independence. After 1967, when the area was liberated, some of their children were among those re-establishing the community.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke emotionally at this event (emphasis added).
Fifty years ago, he declared, we returned to Judea and Samaria, and the Jordan Valley, and eastern Jerusalem, which meant “we had returned home to our ancestral inheritance, and that we had renewed the historical continuity of our people. Here lies the story of our nation and our history, as well as the promise that that history will never be cut off.”
What made headlines was his statement that: “There will be no more uprooting of homes in the Land of Israel.”
This was most welcome, and my immediate thought was “Let it be.”
However, this rhetoric is not sufficient by itself to reassure. There have been too many such rhetorical statements, with too little to show for them. This applies equally to statements about how much building we are going to be doing in Judea and Samaria.
We are at the point at which we must say: Show us, don’t tell us.
Last week it was announced that construction of the new community of Amichai, for those residents evicted from Amona, had been halted because funds had run out. Show us!!
What I found missing from our prime minister’s statement, which was excellent with regard to reference to our history in the land, was a definitive declaration about our legal rights to the land.
There have been many discussions about whether he is game-playing and inherently disinclined to advance building in Judea and Samaria, or whether he truly wishes to advance the agenda of building but feels constrained by the international community and specifically the Americans.
During the Obama years, Netanyahu expressed legitimate concern about what a hostile US president would do if we advanced building. Now with Trump, he has been saying that he believes it is important to take into consideration the requests of an American administration that is so friendly to Israel.
Indeed, Trump is light years away from Obama – has supported us vigorously at the UN, and more.
Yet many have been disturbed that Trump has continued to make requests of Israel regarding what amount to “concessions for peace.” Same old, same old: the expectation that Israel will be cooperative while Abbas figuratively spits in Trump’s eye, with regard to refusing to halt payments to terrorists in Israeli prisons, putting out inciteful material, etc.
But now we may be at a turning point. This is what we’re being told, at any rate, and we shall see soon enough. If this is real, it is exceedingly good news. As Arutz 7 has put it (all emphasis added):
“New wave of construction in Judea, Samaria signals understanding between Israel, US. ‘Trump admin. doesn’t see this as obstacle to peace.’”
“The Civil Administration Higher Planning Committee is slated to meet next week and give final approval to nearly 4,000 new housing units across Judea and Samaria, including the first new construction in the Jewish community in Hevron in some four decades.
“…the Netanyahu government has okayed the move…
“The new wave of construction, totaling 3,829 homes, includes building in communities outside of the so-called ‘major settlement blocs’, a significant shift from the limits imposed on projects approved during the Obama administration. Along with larger ‘consensus’ towns such as Ariel and Givat Zeev, the new construction wave includes units in Beit El, Tzofim, Rehalim, Nogohot, Hevron, Tekoa, Kfar Etzion, Avnei Hefetz, Nofim, Kochav Yaakov, Har Bracha, and Maaleh Michmas.
“According to a government official…next week’s planned approval for the projects signals the end of the Obama-era condemnations of Israeli housing projects.
“The official added that Israel has established an unofficial understanding with the Trump administration regarding construction in Judea and Samaria, whereby Israel will build outside of the larger ‘settlement blocs’, but will limit announcements of large housing projects to once every few months. For its part, the Trump administration has pledged not to issue condemnations of Israeli housing projects in Judea and Samaria.”
At the very same time, however, it must be pointed out that Trump has ruled out moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, at least for the present.
Speaking on the Mike Huckabee show on Saturday, the president said he wanted to give the peace process “a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem.”
He said he would announce his decision soon as to when to move the embassy. That is, he presumably has not ruled it out for the future.
The “peace plan” that he wants to have “a shot” has not been announced yet.
What is disturbing about this is the care being taken not to ruffle the feathers of PA officials, even though the PA position is not legitimate.
The PA claims that it wants Jerusalem divided, with eastern Jerusalem to serve as their capital and western Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. The embassy, were it to be moved to Jerusalem, would be in western Jerusalem. And so they must be asked precisely what their problem is.
No, let me put it more strongly: It’s time to challenge the honesty of the PA position by confronting them with a dose of reality.
This is the thought that many decision makers here in Israel have voiced in response to this announcement.
Former minister Gideon Sa’ar made a related point when addressing parliamentarians from 15 countries at the Israel Allies Foundation conference yesterday:
“Peace in the Middle East will be achieved when they are convinced they cannot move the Jewish people from their land and from their capital. If they still have a tiny hope [that] they can push us from our land, it will be harder to achieve peace…”
Before turning from this issue, however, I share comments made by Marc Zell, Chair of Republicans Overseas Israel, which provide a different perspective.
President Trump, he says, is struggling with a clash between two promises: to move the embassy and to deal with the Iranian threat.
“’In order to deal with Iran, we have to build a coalition that will include the Sunni states, and in order to bring them into the coalition, it was important to convey a message to their populations that serious progress was being made by Israel on the Palestinian track.’
“Zell said that no one seriously believes that peace with the Palestinian Authority is possible under the current circumstances, and that all that the administration was attempting to do was to minimize friction between the two sides…”
This scenario has a strangely familiar ring.
But let us take a look at what the PA is doing:
Last I wrote, I brushed off the Fatah-Hamas purported “reconciliation” as something that simply was not going to happen. Now I can provide a bit more clarity.
Abbas is eager to take back control of Gaza, which had been violently wrested from Fatah by Hamas in 2007. This would provide him with a great deal more international status and leverage, as he would present himself as the leader of all of the Palestinian Arab people.
In spite of that Hamas coup, the PA continued to assume certain financial obligations in Gaza – paying some salaries, paying for electricity provided by Israel, providing funds for care in Israel when needed, etc. That is, until recent months: Abbas has been cutting off funding for Gaza, in an attempt to squeeze Hamas into submission.
At one level it appears to have worked. Hamas officials have become weary of trying to administer Gaza in an untenable situation, tired of thinking, even very minimally, of the needs of the civilian populace. And so they began to demonstrate receptivity to “reconciliation.” Hamas leaders announced that would disband their government and allow a Fatah-controlled unity government to assume responsibility.
Last week PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah went to Gaza to cement this unity deal; he oversaw transfer of Gaza ministries to Fatah control.
There is a huge catch here, however. Hamas is delighted to allow the Fatah-controlled unity government to administer the civil affairs of Gazans. But they have no intention of relinquishing their stockpile of “resistance weapons” to Fatah. Nor would they turn over command of their military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, with a reported 27,000 armed men.
This begins to resemble the situation in Lebanon, where there is a fairly powerless civil government and the terrorist Hezbollah, with weapons and troops, is truly in charge.
Abbas says the unity government must control borders and “security.”
Hamas says nothing doing, although maybe the unity government can help decide when the weapons they control are used. (I have not encountered any serious analyst who believes that Hamas would relinquish all military control.)
Netanyahu – who has made reference to the “faux Palestinian conciliation” – is certainly too smart to buy any of this. This unity government, he has declared, is a threat to Israel: it must disband the Hamas armed wing and sever ties with Iran.
Israel’s stance must be made clear up front, before the world expresses pleasure with the “unity government” and begins voicing expectations that Israel should negotiate with it.
Thankfully, the US government is not buying it either. US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt has declared (emphasis added):
“The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations.”
Right… Hamas will buy into this any time now.
The Egyptians are involved in promoting this “unity government” and reconciliation talks are being held in Cairo today. Stay tuned.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.