MK Yuri Shtern succumbed to his battle with cancer yesterday at the age of 58. His passing represents a loss to the nation that is immeasurable. In a political climate marked by self-serving and frequently corrupt actions, Shtern stood out. Here was a man who put the State of Israel and the Jewish people ahead of personal interests. A refusnik, he came to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1981 and worked tirelessly for the causes that mattered to him ever since — starting with the promotion of aliyah for fellow Russian Jews. He fought the "disengagement" — which he deeply mourned — and worked in its wake to help those evicted from Gush Katif. And he founded the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, which promoted a bridge of friendship between the Christian world and the State of Israel.
Aside from his brilliance (he had a Ph.D. in economics), and the startling breadth of the programs he was involved with or instituted, he was known for his dry sense of humor. I myself have one memory in this regard. Before the last election, a forum was held with representatives of all the parties gathered to present their respective positions; Yuri was there for Yisrael Beitenu. During question time, a member of the audience asked about corruption, and the representative of Kadima said he would answer. Yuri, straight-arrow and straight-faced, said into the microphone, "Oh look! The representative of the most corrupt party is going to answer the question on corruption."
May others be inspired by the sterling values Yuri Shtern represented.
Could it be that there is, finally, hope for this government to fall?
Lt. General Dan Halutz, who was the first head of the air force to become IDF chief of staff, has been severely criticized for his management of the war in Lebanon (which, among other things, he ran too much from the air without sufficient ground action). Originally Halutz had resisted calls that he resign. But he has now changed his mind: Chief of Staff Halutz has submitted his resignation, saying he will await the appointment of his successor before actually departing. (Those in the running are Maj.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky and Ground Forces Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz.)
Defense Minister Peretz has been quoted as saying he’s worried about a "domino effect." And, indeed, there are now cries from several quarters, left and right, for Peretz and Olmert — whose management of the war from their respective positions was horrendous — to follow Halutz’s example. MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union — right wing) said: "Now, Amir Peretz and Ehud Olmert have to go, because the entire country, and not just the IDF, needs to be purified." While MK Zeheva Gal-On (Meretz — left wing) declared: "the responsibility for the failures of the Second Lebanon War can not be attributed solely to the military’s upper echelons, but must also to the politicians that made irresponsible decisions during the fighting."
MK Yisrael Katz (Likud) is calling for a temporary emergency gov’t to be formed with representatives of all the Zionist parties to govern for a period of six months until an election can be held.
So much is sentiment running against Peretz and Olmert that there are even demands that they not have any part in appointing Halutz’s successor. As MK Gilad Arden (Likud) put it: "Olmert’s and Peretz’s understanding of national security is close to nil, and their input on the selection of the next chief of staff, at this point, would likely be based on political calculations."
This is movement in the right direction, let it only continue rather than dissipating. The Winograd Committee, which is investigating the war, says Halutz’s resignation will not affect its work and that a preliminary report should be out shortly. That report is not going to bolster the standing of Peretz and Olmert.
At the very same time, the State Attorney, Eran Shendar, has now ordered the police to begin a criminal investigation against Olmert with regard to allegations that he intervened on behalf of friends when a tender was put out for sale of the controlling interest of Bank Leumi. Preliminary investigation — originally begun by State Comptroller Lindenstrauss a year ago — indicates that there is enough evidence to warrant this further investigation. Were Olmert to be indicted, he would have to resign. But there is now talk within his Kadima party of replacing him as head of the party even sooner.
This morning, Chanan Crystal, who is a political analyst for Israel Radio, opined that the combination of Halutz’s resignation plus the criminal investigation of Olmert have now created a situation in which there is a considerable likelihood that one-third of the Kadima party will defect, either returning to Likud or starting yet another party (not clear why this would be needed). If at least one-third of a party defects, they take with them their share of budget funding and other party assets. This would be orchestrated by opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) with the obvious intent of bringing the gov’t down. According to Crystal, Meretz would cooperate in bringing the gov’t down.
Several weeks ago I had heard reports regarding defection of former Likud members from Kadima and their return to Likud, but then nothing happened. Perhaps the proper precipitating events are now in place.
As we consider the possibility of the government falling, however, the flies in the ointment are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu), who are both painting themselves as Olmert’s heirs. If either of them can hold Kadima together, then the gov’t will not fall.
Well, Condeleezza Rice is promoting "peace negotiations" with vigor. She is buying into the idea (heaven help us) of Foreign Minster Livni that there has to a diplomatic horizon, with the Palestinians given some notion of what they would get in peace negotiations in order to motivate them to get their act together.
Rice has now announced a summit between Israeli and Palestinian officials to take place in the weeks ahead. Reportedly, this would be a three-way meeting with Rice, Olmert and Abbas, and would not be considered "negotiations" but "discussion" to clear the air as a step towards negotiations.
At a press conference in Egypt, Rice said that there are a number of issues that will have to be resolved if there is to be a Palestinian state. Is this, or is this not, an award-winning understatement?
As often happens, the Palestinians may serve as a stumbling block here that ultimately is in our best interest: PA Prime Minister Haniyeh says Rice is bringing a "perilous vision" to the Middle East with her plans.
An outrage is what it is, unmitigated gall. Arab officials from the "moderate" Arab states are reportedly talking about "Iraq for Land." Presumably their willingness to help the US in Iraq is tied to Israel’s readiness to make territorial concessions to Syria, the Palestinians and Lebanon.
You might want to take a look at the latest Post column of Michael Freund regarding the issue of who is a "moderate" Arab leader. He refers to the Abbas speech of last week, followed by the Rice press conference days later, about which I just wrote. Noting that Rice praised Abbas right after he had spoken about turning guns onto Israel, Freund says Rice is "misguided": "By embracing him rather than rebuking him, she encouraged the Palestinian leader to believe
that he can openly call for violence against Jews without paying any political price for doing so…
"Her actions also sent a dangerous message to Palestinians, who might start to think that America’s top diplomat sees nothing wrong with their leader’s plea to start using their rifles against the Jewish state.
"…Rice and others do real harm to the very cause they seek to advance.
"Rather than encouraging moderation, they are in fact unwittingly promoting extremism by failing to call to account leaders such as Abbas, Mubarak and others.
"And by blurring the definition of true moderation, they have allowed these men to continue to pursue policies that are antithetical to Israel and the West, all while continuing to bask in the undeserved political support they receive from abroad."
If you haven’t yet written to Congressmen Lantos and Ackerman, I implore you to consider doing so without delay. See posting of January 15, below, for details.
Akiva Eldar, writing in Haaretz, yesterday reported that in a series of secret meetings in Europe held between September 2004 and July 2006, Israelis and Syrians formulated understandings for a peace agreement. He provided the details of what he says was in the agreement, including Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and withdrawal of Syrian support from Hezbollah.
This agreement, as Eldar describes it, was a "document of understanding," and lacks legal status. As it is, parties on all sides have denied that such agreements took place: the Syrian gov’t, the present Israeli gov’t, and those associated with the Sharon gov’t that was in power when many of the talks presumably occurred. The likelihood is that there were some informal contacts, but that they are going nowhere and at this point signify nothing. What I note is that we have just fought a war with Hezbollah that was supported by Syria.
For the record, I am adamantly opposed to our withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This area is historically and legally part of Israel.
This posting can be found at: https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/current-postings/2007/1/17/posted-january-17-2007.html