There is so much news that is unbearable , that it’s important to look also occasionally at positive occurrences, to give us balance and help sustain us. Dealing only with bad news is corrosive to the soul.
So today I’m going to write first about the good stuff (although it goes really downhill from there).
We can start with the fact that the almond trees are in blossom. Even growing wild along roadsides.
An ancient seal has been discovered in an archeological excavation near the Gihon Spring in the City of David (Ir David) outside the Old City walls. Dated to the 8th century BCE (First Temple times — some 2,700 years ago), it carries a Hebrew inscription with the name of Rephaihu (ben) Shalem — a public official of that time. Pottery shards and other items dating to the same time were found with it.
Ancient evidence of our presence in Jerusalem is always exciting. This excavation is being carried out by Haifa University Professor Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The Bush administration has decided not to offer an opinion to the court (that is, to interfere) regarding the major financial judgments against the PA for involvement in terrorism. This was with regard to suits that US victims of terror or their families had won, but that were at risk because the PA was claiming this would make them financially unstable and thus work against US policy in the Middle East.
The administration said it remains concerned that these suits could damage the "financial and political viability" of the PA and thus it asserted its interest in continuing to monitor such cases. That is, theoretically, it could become involved later. But right now, the hands-off decision is good new.
Last week, a member of Shas advanced the idea that there should be an emergency national unity government now because of all the difficulties we face.
Said a Likud spokesman: "The Likud Party has no faith in this government or in this prime minister. We are not interested in seats in the cabinet, or in any other gain. We are only interesting in bringing an end to the current sham of Olmert’s government."
Bravo for Likud! Had they joined they would have strengthened Olmert immeasurably.
Also last week, Jerusalem police stopped the Wakf, the Islamic trust that has day-to-day responsibility on the Temple Mount, from doing unauthorized construction work.
Said Jerusalem police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco. "It is our duty to ensure that the status quo is maintained on the Temple Mount."
Well, mazel tov! This sort of thing should be routine, as the Arabs up on the Mount are forever doing unauthorized work, often destroying ancient Jewish artifacts in the process,. More often than not, Israeli authorities look the other way so as to avoid stirring things up. Good to see that on this occasion the work was stopped.
Last month, heads of the largest Palestinian clans in Hevron met with Jewish leaders from the area, including the Kiryat Arba local council chief, for a "reconciliation" that would restore peace and security to the area.
"We don’t see you as settlers but as residents," Sheikh Ja’abri, the head of a prominent clan, told his Jewish interlocutors. "Hebron is ours just as it is yours."
The meeting, which was conducted in a "positive atmosphere," was attended by the IDF’s southern West Bank commander. Unfortunately (this is not part of the good news), after the meeting, Al Aksa Brigades called for Ja’abri’s assassination.
This is "old" news, from last December, but it’s good news and it’s a good time to share it: In a joint initiative of the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, ten Jewish families — 40 people — were secreted out of Iran and brought to Israel. Not surprisingly, information on who they are and how they were brought is classified. It seems that this initiative may bring more, as well.
Hopefully, with the above we’ve been sufficiently girded to cope with what follows here…
In a cynical manner of speaking, this too could almost be categorized as good news: Abbas announced in Ramallah yesterday that there will be no peace agreement signed as long as any Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli jails.
The problem is that this is more sound bite to show his people how tough he is than it is real bargaining position. That is, he doesn’t mean it, and talks are not about to be called off because we’re not going to release all the prisoners.
I wonder what’s going to happen to those talks , however, with the advent of this news:
Hamas and Fatah officials have confirmed that they’ve reached an agreement to meet in Yemen in the near future to find ways to end friction and arrange for early elections.
If this transpires, it flies absolutely in the face of commitments made by Abbas regarding having no contact with Hamas. It totally undercuts the policy of Bush and Rice, and the entire thesis on which Annapolis was based.
Abbas is supposed to be the "moderate" faction of the Palestinians, worthy of support because he stands as a bulwark (sort of, kind of) against the radical Hamas.
And if he is again in league with Hamas openly , and forms a government with them again? We can be certain that Hamas will not moderate in order to re-join with Fatah, rather Fatah will move to a more radical public stance to accommodate Hamas. There will be no agreement by Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist (I was going to say "as a Jewish state," but Abbas doesn’t recognize that either), and no endorsement by Hamas of a two state solution.
There was a time when I would have concluded , unequivocally, that this would spell the end of US support for Abbas. Logically, it should. But I’ve seen too much now to assume anything. If there is wiggle room — a way for Rice and Bush to rationalize what’s happening — they’ll find it. So all I can do is report this and say, as I so often do, that we must watch it closely.
The Israeli government and Hamas are both standing on their heads insisting that there has been no deal on a ceasefire. The relative cessation in rocket launchings from the Hamas side and in operations from the Israeli side just happened spontaneously, right? Right.
Meanwhile Haaretz cites an unnamed (and disgruntled) government official as saying that after the big operation last week the IDF was ordered to exercise restraint. In fact, he provides the outline of the new rules of the game, formulated — unofficially only — when Rice was here last week. It was this informal agreement that prompted Olmert to first state "If they don’t fire Kassams at us, we won’t attack in Gaza," in absolute defiance of what the Security Cabinet had decided.
The fact that Olmert does precisely as he chooses is part of the very bad news. Even more so, the fact that the prime minister does the bidding of the US secretary of state rather than tending first to the defense of the country is close to unbearable.
At any rate, reportedly, the deal is this:
* If the rocket fire stops completely , so will IDF operations in Gaza.
* If Palestinians fire only at Sderot and other communities near Gaza,
Israel will respond
primarily with aerial assaults.
* If rockets hit Ashkelon, Israel will respond with ground operations such as the one last week.
And, sure enough, the IDF itself is now saying that the political echelon has instructed it to scale down operations against terrorists in Gaza. The army — is this not totally incredible? — has to seek political approval before taking any action against a target.
Aside from everything else, this has to be horribly destructive to the morale of our fighting forces, who know quite clearly what needs to be done.
Ostensibly, this is to allow Egypt the breathing room to put together a ceasefire deal. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said on radio this morning: "… I must sadly say congratulations to Hamas. The real meaning of this ceasefire is a Hamas victory."
While Likud faction head MK Gideon Sa’ar has it absolutely right when he says, with regard to Olmert’s approach to dealing with terror, "The ongoing existence of the current government is a national humiliation. Everyone knows you do nothing and don’t plan to do anything, besides maintain your seats…"
But Olmert insists — does he do it with a straight face? — that, not only is there no deal with Hamas, talk about a truce is not taking place and Egypt has no mandate to pursue this. He says that the IDF has a "free hand" in Gaza.– "the IDF enjoys complete freedom of action."
How come that’s not what the IDF is saying?
Barak, for his part, is explaining that the lull in operations has to do with weather conditions (I concede that it’s cloudy) and targets not yet being in place. "The fighting is ongoing and will continue and will at times increase and decrease."
Time will tell. Ultimately Hamas will start launching rockets again (or sanctioning such launchings by other groups).
As I’ve reported previously, for a formal deal, Hamas is holding out for the opening of crossings into Gaza, plus cessation of IDF operations against their people in Judea and Samaria. Egypt is said to be working on this.
Yesterday, Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official, was in Cairo, meeting with Egyptian head of intelligence, Lt. Gen. Omar Suleiman. According to an Egyptian presidential spokesman: "Gilad came to be briefed by Suleiman [regarding] Egypt’s assessment [of] the situation and the ways to restore calm, according to what we have been informed by our security officials’ meetings with Hamas representatives."
If our government agrees to stop going after Hamas in Judea and Samaria (something the defense establishment is fiercely opposed to), it will show itself to be even more reckless and stupid than I had thought.
Meanwhile, speaking yesterday with top officials of the American Jewish Committee who are here, Livni said: Israel “cannot allow the exploitation of this period of time [of calm] for renewed rearming.” Israel "cannot"? But precisely what is Israel doing about it? While we are not, at the moment, taking out any caches of weapons, the smuggling continues apace. In fact, it is said that if there is a lull in the launching of rockets, there will actually be reduced pressure on Egypt to do something about that smuggling.
Please note what’s going on: Egypt ostensibly has a hand in bringing peaceful conditions to the area by attempting to negotiate a ceasefire, but has no interest in reducing long term potential for violence by preventing more weapons from being brought into Gaza.
The general closure on Judea and Samaria that was put in place after the yeshiva massacre has been lifted.
Yesterday the IDF captured 70 liters of acidic material used in making bombs at a checkpoint near Kalkilya (Samaria).