So many of us here in Israel have been watching the Olmert government with something like horror. We are finding its policies to be cause for despair, and its lack of integrity to be cause for shame. We see that Olmert is the least popular of prime ministers (at one point with an incredible 3% approval rating) and we hear the rumors about Kadima imploding — with some members returning to the Likud from which they had bolted.
But time goes on, and nothing happens, and we say Nu? So? Enough already.
The relative stability of the Olmert gov’t is a function of the nature of coalition politics here in Israel. If everyone in the coalition sees him/herself as benefiting from continuation of the coalition, it goes on. Ironically, the very weakness of the position of the gov’t has given it a strength. That is, people in the Kadima party and even in other parties in the coalition, look at what’s happening and realize that once they’re out, public opinion of them may be so low that they’ll never acquire such power again in an election. And so they decide it’s best to stay put for as long as they can.
But now, just possibly, the end may be approaching:
I have alluded here to the testimony Olmert gave to the Winograd Committee regarding conduct of the Lebanon War, and the fact that this will further (possibly fatally) weaken him when it is released, so that he is forced to resign. While there are still disputes about this in terms of timing, that testimony will be released.
Perhaps in anticipation of this, Likud chair and head of the opposition, Binyamin Netanyahu is now reportedly taking an active role in bringing down the gov’t instead of waiting in the wings anticipating the fall. According to Arutz Sheva, he is launching a public campaign to encourage the toppling of Olmert. Reportedly he is planning nation-wide protest vigils with the message, "You’ve Failed- Go Home," in order to create an atmosphere conducive to bringing down the gov’t. I am certainly not opposed to this, and it is possible (likely?) that this public campaign is only one arm of Netanyahu’s strategy. But — as we’ve already seen — public opinion alone does not bring down the gov’t; it depends on political machinations from within the system. All public opinion can do is set a tone that encourages the relevant parties to take the steps that will bring the end of the gov’t. Apparently Netanyahu has been courting former Likud members now in Kadima to return; this would have a major effect on the situation. As well, there is the possibility of Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party leaving the coalition.
In addition to this, there is a step being taken by MK Aryeh Eldad (NU/NRP), who has now submitted a draft for a law that would empower the Knesset to declare a government a "government of disgrace," if more than 10% of its members were under police investigation. The government would then be forced into a position of having to resign.
In a general sense, this law might be a helpful adjunct to efforts to keep government clean in the future: there has been revulsion about the fact that we have so many public figures who are not clean, and a new understanding has been reached of the need to do something about this. Said Eldad, a corrupt government leads to “abhorrence, disgust…and a lack of public trust." This is addition to the "heavy public relations damage to Israel."
In a very immediate sense, this would almost certainly apply to the Olmert gov’t.
Of course, the law has to pass first.
Some political observations here:
— The greatest fear, should Olmert be forced to resign, is that Tzipni Livni, currently foreign minister, might be able to hold together the coalition. This is her intention, as she sees herself as prime minister-in-waiting. For many of us, it is the stuff of nightmares. Livni has no corruption charges against her, which makes her more popular with the public than Olmert, but she is lacking essential competency and political "smarts". Livni is the one, for example, who lobbied intensely against a strong ground action in Lebanon during the war, so that a "diplomatic solution" might be put in place instead; we all know what the result of that diplomatic solution has been.
— It is considered almost a given that Netanyahu will at some point assume the mantle of the prime minister. He is certainly preparing himself for this and the polls give Likud solid numbers now. Not a popular or trusted figure in some quarters, he claims that he has learned his lessons and is well prepared for the role now, as he was not previously. Netanyahu’s instincts are solid — which Olmert’s are not. The question is one of whether he will stand strong on principle for the sake of the nation (for example, refusing to make damaging concessions to the Palestinians), or, when push comes to shove, cave for the sake of personal gain or political expediency. While he would not be my first choice, Netanyahu for me is a far better alternative than Olmert. With the exception of Livni, who is dangerous, anyone is better than Olmert. Netanyahu’s performance at the head of the government would depend in large part of the members of the coalition he assembled.
— Aryeh Eldad has a great deal going for him — in terms of absolute integrity and a strong nationalist viewpoint. You would not see him making concessions to the Palestinians. He is secular, which makes him more popular with the largely secular populace than a nationalist politician who wears a kippah would be. By training, he is a plastic surgeon; as head of Hadassah Hospital’s Burns & Reconstructive Surgery Department, he treated victims of terror (and also on occasion treated terrorists who were wounded but didn’t die while initiating attacks). I mention Aryeh here because he is up and coming. There is nothing definitive to say as yet, but he should be watched.
I note, finally, that collapse of the government does not necessarily lead to new elections; if it is possible to paste together a new coalition — and Netanyahu would most likely be called upon to do so — no elections are required.
Now…we must wait (still) and see how it goes.
Speaker of the Knesset Dalia Itzik and eight other MKs (primarily members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee) went to Jordan today to speak with King Abdullah about the "peace process." A Jerusalem Post internet headline earlier today spoke about the "stalled peace process." All of this is irritating in the extreme. More than irritating, for it is so dishonest and unrealistic. Stalled? It’s moribund? Peace process? With a PA entity that doesn’t recognize us and endorses terrorism? It does not end and my fear, always, is that we will end up making dangerous concessions.
Said Abdullah: The first step Israel has to take to end the Arab-Israel conflict is to establish a Palestinian state on Palestinian national territory. An outrageous statement in its assumptions and in what it ignores. This depends on us? We’re supposed to permit the establishment of a state dedicated to our destruction?
Apparently the MKs asked Abdullah to help secure Shalit’s release. Do they imagine he has leverage with the radicals who are holding Shalit when Egypt hasn’t been able to accomplish his release?
Abdullah is simply echoing the Arab League line now. They have indicated that there will be no contact with Israel beyond that of Jordan and Egypt, who have been delegated to push Israel to accept their plan, until Israel meets certain stipulations. What pains me is that O
lmert let it be known that he was eager to meet with an Arab delegation, so that he’s now in the position of being snubbed. Once again I return to Moshe Sharon’s model of Middle East negotiations as a bazaar: you do not appear eager in the bazaar. Olmert is acting too hungry, which makes the Arab League assume they can squeeze him.
Some Arab newspapers have run reports that Abbas had secured a commitment from Islamic Jihad to halt Kassam rocket attacks on Israel. IJ, however, denies these reports. This hardly comes as a surprise.
What I see as significant is that an IJ official met with former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei in Damascus recently, and, according to Khaled Abu Toameh, discussed inclusion of Islamic Jihad in the PLO. The entire nature of the group that ostensibly represents all Palestinians and is empowered to negotiate on their behalf is changing as the Islamists — IJ and Hamas — are being included. This is a sign of increased radicalization and makes a mockery of notions that a "moderate" Abbas can negotiate as head of the PLO.
Meanwhile, Hamas has issued more threats against Israel, saying that "resistance [terrorism] is the only way to liberate Palestine from the river to the sea." Please, note this policy carefully.
The UN Security Council, for the first time since it passed resolution 1701, which ended the Lebanon war, is registering concern about the smuggling of arms for Hezbollah across the border from Syria. Where have they been until now? My take is that the new secretary-general has something to do with this.
At any rate, this is good news — though considerable damage has already been done with regard to Hezbollah’s rearming. The Security Council — responding to reports from Israel and other sources — has decided to send a team to Lebanon to investigate. Many weeks ago I shared reports that arms were coming across the border by truck at night, with ease, on a regular basis. UNIFIL was not (I assume still is not) operating at night.
Now again, we are in wait-and-see mode in terms of whether this "team" actually comes back with solid information and whether the Council then decides to act in some effective manner. On this I would not hold my breath. The Council has called upon Syria to take further measures to block arms crossing the border. This truly is like asking the fox to not take so many chickens from the henhouse. Syrian sanctions the movement of arms.
It is good news that the EU today is going to outlaw the denial of genocide. Sweeping legislation that would set a common standard for all 27 EU nations would criminalize the denial of genocide. In the draft legislation, the Holocaust was referred to as an example of genocide that should not be denied.
The US recently announced intentions to sell sophisticated weaponry to "moderate" Arab states that are US allies, alarming Israel because of the possibility that this would diminish or destroy the Israeli military edge. Reportedly, the sale was held up because of Israeli concerns. US Sec. of Defense Gates, who today met with PM Olmert, addressed these concerns without making a definitive statement about whether the sale would be finalized. It would certainly seem that it will be, for Gates spoke about how other countries such as Russia would be happy to sell weapons to the Arabs (that is: if we don’t do it, someone else will, so we might as well profit). He offered verbal assurances, for whatever they are worth, that the US remains committed to preserving Israel’s military edge.
Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, Head of the IDF Southern Command, in an analysis for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, speaks about Iranian involvement with the Palestinians and provides some significant insights and information:
"Israel left Gaza almost two years ago, and the Palestinians were left with natural gas, greenhouses, and fields. In other words, they had the option to take another route. However, they chose the terror route and elected Hamas, which does not recognize Israel or any agreements signed with the Palestinians at Oslo and afterwards.
"Hamas’s leaders may give up using terror temporarily, and will compromise about the Palestinian government, but they will never give up their ideology. Knowing this helps Israel understand that even though a ceasefire cuts down on terror, it does not create a solution to the problem, since it is only temporary.
"The Palestinians in Gaza are well organized in four brigades: the northern brigade, the Gaza City brigade, the central brigade, and the southern brigade, each with its own commander. They have battalions, companies, and platoons, as well as special forces dealing with sniping, infantry, explosives, and anti-tank weapons. All the know-how is brought in from abroad – from Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah, and everything is following a plan. This is an organization with leadership, a doctrine, structure, training, weaponry, manpower, and a goal – to establish a serious military force in Gaza…
"The source of most of the knowledge of using mines, explosives, and anti-tank missiles is Iran…It is now possible for terrorists to move freely between Gaza and Egypt, and from there to Syria, Lebanon, and Iran for training. Iranians also come to Gaza to inspect the situation and hold training exercises.
"Cooperation among Hamas, Iran, Hizballah, and other global terror organizations creates a knowledge base and enhances motivation, which is helping Hamas. In Gaza, there is high motivation to hit Israel…
"Fatah’s Al Aqsa Brigade is already an Iranian organization similar to Islamic Jihad. This has occurred because the Iranians understood that it was easy to connect with its members, even though they are Sunni and not radical Muslims. This is where money makes the difference. A few years ago, the Al Aqsa Brigade in Judea and Samaria was bought out by Iran and activated against Israel according to Iranian instructions.
"All the terrorists groups are not the same and have major problems among themselves, but right now they have a common goal – to push Israel, as well as the Americans, from the area.
The al-Qaida-affiliated group that allegedly abducted and then murdered BBC journalist Alan Johnston has not delivered the video it promised proving that he was murdered. Now there are demands of a $5 million ransom. The PA says it can neither confirm nor deny any of this.
Today Marwan Barghouti made news from his prison cell as he called for Johnston’s release because he is a friend to the Palestinian people.
Well… if it turns out that Johnston is alive that will put a big hole in the theory of British journalist Alan Hart who has suggested (I am not making this up) that, as Johnston was pro-Palestinian, Israel had the most to gain from his elimination: "It would not be the first time that Israeli agents had dressed as Arabs to make a hit." Sigh…
Allow me, please, to return to Britain for two items.
— It has been announced that the British Treasury and the Pears Foundation will each contribute 250,000 pounds per year, for three years, to the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) to train instructors to
teach the Holocaust.
It was never an issue that the Holocaust was going to be dropped from the UK curriculum, but one cannot help but wonder if the results of the recent study, and the subsequent furor that ensued, didn’t have an effect on this decision to enhance that education.
— You might want to see an opinion piece, "Not in my name," by British journalist Chas Newkey Burden in today’s YNet. Burden provides a rather hair-raising description of the anti-Israel bias of that prevails within British media:
"…the British media has long been absorbed by a blind hatred of Israel. Newspapers like The Independent and The Guardian print editorials that are so biased and distorted that Osama Bin Laden would probably blush at them. The BBC refuses to describe suicide bombers who blow up buses full of schoolchildren as "terrorists" and one of its correspondents told a Hamas rally that he and his colleagues were ‘waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people.’
"I visited Israel for the first time last year to research some articles about tourism there. Within hours of my return I received a call from a journalist acquaintance who asked me with genuine shock: ‘What’s all this about you going to Israel?’ He said that a mutual journalist acquaintance of ours was ‘absolutely disgusted’ with me for going there and that he hoped I was ‘going to put the boot in’ when I wrote my articles.
"…The evening after my return from Israel, I met up with some journalists for some drinks…I was again abused for my trip. Their hatred of Israel was matched only by their adoration of the Palestinians. One of them gushed: ‘Boy, those suicide bombers have got guts. I wish more people in the world had their courage.’
"…The editor of another magazine once told me I was not allowed to write that Yasser Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000. I asked why and he replied ‘because of a need for balance.’ I pointed out that nobody, including Arafat, has ever disputed that he rejected Barak’s offer and the editor replied: ‘Well, I don’t know about that but you still can’t write it.’"
This posting can be found at: https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/current-postings/2007/4/19/posted-april-19-2007.html