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December 25, 2009: Turmoil Only

April 18, 2010

It’s a legal holiday in the US and I thought this a good time to take a break from posting.  But not possible, given the turn of events in less than 24 hours past.  Because Shabbat comes in early and my time is severely limited, the subjects I will touch upon here can be dealt with only briefly — with more to follow after Shabbat as appropriate.  But touching upon them now seemed to me in order.
 
I must, first, painfully, report on a drive by terrorist shooting in the Shomron.  Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai was driving towards his home in Shavei Shalom last afternoon yesterday, when he was overtaken by a Palestinian Arab car.  He took ten bullets to the head and died quickly.  A good and gentle man, according to all reports, he leaves a widow and seven children, the youngest only two months old. 
 
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What makes this doubly unbearable is that a nearby check point was recently taken down, prompting protests from local Jewish residents that it increased danger to them.  This has happened again and again.
 
Samaria Regional Council, Gershon Mesika demanded that Netanyahu and Barak come to the funeral on the Mount of Olives today and “look in the eyes of the widow and the seven orphans, because they cannot say ‘our hands did not spill this blood.'”
 
The grief is that for the government and the defense establishment improving the Arab “fabric of life” has been more important than protecting the lives of Jews.  It is felt, further, that what is going on with the freeze further invites Arab attack, as the message is given that the government is not with Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria. This incident will not increase the desire of the residents to cooperate with the freeze, you can be sure.
 
Last night local residents held a protest with regard to the policy of taking down checkpoints.  Said one protestor:
 
“I already have several friends who are widows, and I’m simply fed up [with] the fact that no one cares when roadblocks are removed and we pay with our lives. We have been abandoned and the government is busy fighting settlers instead of terrorists. I don’t know what the defense minister is doing, but he’s certainly not handling defense.”
 
It seems to be that Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades (or a group affiliated with the Brigades) was responsible.  The Brigades is part of Fatah (our “moderate” peace partner).
 
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Then we have this fairly startling news:  Yesterday — a day after the news broke about Netanyahu’s courting of seven members of Kadima, regarding their return to Likud, which would weaken Kadima considerably — Netanyahu invited Livni to bring her Kadima party into his coalition for a unity government.  There would be no ministries given to Kadima people, but they would have two seats on the Security Council.
 
What?  Huh?
 
Two theories are floating.  One, that something is imminent with Iran, and it is traditional for Israeli governments to show unity at times of war or major threat.  Or two, that right wing Likud members in the Security Cabinet were getting restive with regard to the freeze (more on why this may be so if I can confirm information), and placing two Kadima people in that Cabinet would offset the votes of the Likud right.  If this is the case, it would suggest that our prime minister is really, really committed to this freeze, not doing it simply as a gesture to Obama.  So committed as to bring in someone he intensely dislikes rather than lose that freeze (or disappoint Obama).  It gives pause.
 
Netanyahu did throw out some comments about security threats and precedent for unity at difficult times, but his full statement referred both to Iran and the refusal of the Palestinians to come to the table.
 
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With regard to the Iranian threat, my question is what could have happened in the course of 24 hours, to make Netanyahu so radically change course.  A savvy associate of mine suggests the possibility (this is theorizing right now, of course) that Netanyahu hadn’t changed course.  The thought is that this was his intention all along but that he first sought to weaken Kadima from within, making Livni’s negotiating stance weaker in terms of what she would receive if she joined the coalition.  There is something to be said for this.  For he is now saying that if Livni doesn’t join the government, he will proceed with actions to take apart Kadima.  Veiled — or not so veiled– threat.
 
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Livni is responding with enormous suspicion, claiming to see this as no more than a political ploy.  In either case — to stand strong against Iran or to provide the votes to keep the freeze strong — one might think that if the situation were explained to her she would be on board: to show unity against Iran or to make more concessions to the Arabs (something she’s inordinately fond of doing).  That she is not responding this way lends credence to her charges.
 
She has not said no, and she may surprise us yet and agree. But her first statements are dubious and fairly negative.  She is livid about the secret meetings (she was oblivious) that were taking place between members of her party and Netanyahu over a period of months. 
 
There are voices from within Kadima saying that if there is to be unity, there must be real shared power with an equal number of ministries. Netanyahu has offered nothing of the sort. Undoubtedly, the seven who were going to leave Kadima must be pleased at the prospect of the whole party coming into the government.
 
In any event, it is true that if she says no the stability of her party is at risk.  Not only is she about to lose one wing of her party, Shaul Mofaz is also challenging her leadership from within.
 
Weakening Kadima is a good thing.  It’s even a sort of poetic justice, as Kadima was founded via the weakening of Likud.  What is more, Livni is bad news.  What is clearly not a good thing is Kadima inside the government, pulling it to the left. You will note that Netanyahu has not brought Ihud Leumi (National Union — a right wing party) into the government.
 
There are many who are aghast that Netanyahu has been devoting time to politicking while there is some much to attend to for the nation.  He is, first and foremost, a political animal, one who is capable of “surprises” — because with him it’s not a case of “what you see is what you get.”
 
So…stay tuned.
 
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Other news.
 
Our government is very angry right now about an alleged attempt by a US consulate car to run over a guard who was holding up the car because the occupants refused to present documents. On top of everything else, it seems that the Americans were transporting a Palestinian without proper papers between Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. 
 
A word about the consulate, which is in eastern Jerusalem.  It is routine for consulates to function as “sub-embassies,” and to take orders from the embassy of a nation. This is not the case here.  The US embassy, which is located in Tel Aviv, is the point of interaction between the US and Israeli governments. The US consulate in Jerusalem, however, reports not to the embassy, but directly to the State Department. It functions as a de facto embassy to the PA, and is very much pro-Arab in its orientation (although I’ve been advised by knowledgeable sources that the current counsel there is a refreshing change in this regard).
 
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More US-Israeli tension:  Hannah Rosenthal, formerly associated with J Street, has been appointed by Obama as director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.  In a highly irregular and inappropriate statement, she has now criticized Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the US, for not attending the J Street conference in the fall. She has in turn now been roundly criticized by American Jews, including some who are solidly pro-Obama, for this statement.
 
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