To return to the new Peace Now website click here.

April 24, 2006 - Vol. 7, Issue 38

White Smoke: Negotiations between Kadima and Labor have led to an agreement on cabinet portfolios that could allow a new government to be named in approximately one week.

White Smoke: Negotiations between Kadima and Labor have led to an agreement on cabinet portfolios that could allow a new government to be named in approximately one week. It will be one of the largest governments in Israeli history, which will evidently contain the biggest number of ministers without portfolio ever-26 to 27 cabinet members, including at least six ministers without portfolio (assuming that the government consists of Kadima, Labor, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, the Pensioners Party, and United Torah Judaism). Labor was the first party to conclude negotiations on which ministries it would receive: defense, education, infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, Jerusalem affairs, and a minister without portfolio. Kadima officials sharply criticized Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's steps. "It is clear that the man was resolute with regard to Israel's national interests," said one official cynically. "Look, Labor got seven ministers and also holds the defense and education portfolios. An exemplary negotiation without a doubt"

Ben Caspit, offering his analysis of the new cabinet in Ma'ariv, wrote, ".You'd better begin to get accustomed to it: now, of all times, just a moment after Hamas seized control over the territories, a moment before Iran goes nuclear, the two people who decide and determine and seal fates in the State of Israel are civilians without any security experience whatsoever. From Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz we are passing the keys on to Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz. Two glorified generals, one of whom crossed the Suez Canal and the other who was chief of staff, are now being replaced by a former mayor and a labor union leader. The success of this transition will be a strategic achievement that will have an impact on the State of Israel's entire security conception and the way it is run. A veritable civilian revolution. And if it fails? We'd best not even think about that. Who won? Who lost? It isn't clear for the time being. Olmert is paying a dear price, on the assumption that a satisfied partner will be a good partner. Peretz is making concessions on principles. The sure winner at this stage, by default, is Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz. Henceforth: the real defense minister. In the situation that has evolved, when Peretz tries to reinvent himself and wants to fill with content the phrase, "a social defense minister," Halutz is going to become the chief player, the principal, significant anchor. Olmert is likely to open a direct channel of action with him. Peretz will be outraged. This might be the next explosion. For the time being, the situation is idyllic." (Ma'ariv, 4/23/06)

Taking Care Of Number One: The Palestinian economic situation continues to worsen, 140,000 bureaucrats and security organization personnel have not been paid in two months, but the Hamas government decided to transfer money to its ministers, its Members of Parliament (MPs), and close associates, according to an internal Hamas document signed by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. The letter was sent from Haniya to his ministers, detailing instructions for paying officials of the new government that belong to Hamas, not Fatah. Among other things, Haniya approved the purchase of personal guns for the protection of Hamas ministers in the West Bank. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, Haniya wrote that the letter must be delivered by hand to the ministers, to prevent leaks. It didn't work. Haniya wrote, "We appreciate your enormous efforts to amend the flaws caused by [the] previous government. The government and the followers of Hamas are in a difficult period, as seen in the attempts to impair your ministerial work. I appreciate your steadfast positions. As per the instructions of Brother Khaled Mashal and the brothers in those countries that support us, we have made the follow decisions-to pay the salaries of the government ministers and MPs belonging to Hamas; to pay the salaries of the escorts (of the ministers and the MPs), including daily expenses; to pay for the purchase of weapons for ministers in the West Bank; to pay for the fuel expenses for the ministers and their escorts." A Hamas official disputed the story. (Ma'ariv, 4/20/06)

New Cop On The Beat: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promised to cancel Hamas' appointment of Jamal Abu Samhadana to supervise the Interior Ministry. But that didn't stop Samhadana from offering a few insights into how he saw the Hamas government's relationship with terrorist organizations. "The (Interior) Ministry will be investing great efforts in guiding the resistance," he told the Palestinian news agency Ramtan. "The Ministry will be cooperating with resistance organizations in order to prepare for defending the entire Palestinian people and mitigate its suffering." He added the Palestinian government did not ask him or his group (the Popular Resistance Committees) to curb rocket attacks at Israeli targets. "The government made it clear to us that the decision regarding the firing or an end to the fire belongs to the resistance organizations," he said. "They are the ones that decide when to escalate and when to stop. The military actions are related to the resistance and its circumstances and have no connection to the government." (Ha'aretz & Ynet, 4/21/06)

Hamas Rejects Rafah Responsibility: Danny Rubinstein reported in Ha'aretz that, a few days before last week's terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he wanted to transfer responsibility for the Rafah border crossing in Gaza, where European observers are stationed, to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Embarrassed Hamas officials rushed to say that they don't want to accept this responsibility. The reason is that Hamas understands that if it supervised the Rafah crossing, the Israeli-Egyptian agreement and the presence of the European observers would come to an end, raising the possibility of it closing altogether. That's not what Hamas wants, since the closure of the Rafah crossing would tighten the siege on Gaza and generate anger toward the Hamas government. (Ha'aretz, 4/17/06)

Lessons Learned? Analyzing the lessons that Israel should have learned from last summer's disengagement from Gaza, Sever Plocker wrote, ".Israel, even though it removed its army and settlements, and even though it closed down the crossings to the movement of goods, is still stuck with Gaza as if it was a huge bone in its throat. We didn't disengage: What is happening, and particularly is not happening, in Gaza, continues to haunt us. The responsibility over it, in the eyes of the world and in some ways in our own view, has not been lifted from Israel. This is complemented by the ongoing military activity against targets in the Strip, both in response to Qassam fire and in the form of targeted killings. In the eyes of Gaza residents, Israel continues to control the sea, air, and land. Only the settlers disappeared. This is good, but not enough. Even the removal of the settlements is no longer perceived as such a huge victory by the Palestinian people. The thousands of good jobs at the settlements have disappeared, and instead unemployment and poverty grew. The ruins of Israeli communities were not cleared, even though the Israeli government pledged (or rather, was forced to) pay for the clearing. It's unclear who the guilty party is, the PA, or Egypt, or international groups.

"Did Israel gain from the disengagement? Less than what its planners hoped. The United States didn't grant us even one cent in economic aid, even though in various phases of preparations for the withdrawal and upon the pullout, much was said about a special $2 billion grant. As of today, there's no grant. For a short while, Israel enjoyed international sympathy, with the pullout perceived as the start of a large-scale unilateral withdrawal. Yet the sympathy is slowly evaporating, particularly following Ariel Sharon's illness. Ehud Olmert may discover that the attitude to a Sharon-made disengagement is very different than the world's approach to an Olmert-made one. The first one fascinated the world because it appeared to be a sea change by a hawkish leader tired of war. The second one, Olmert's pullout, would look like-and already looks like-as an act by a centrist politician whose party received about a quarter of the vote in the recent elections.

"The Qassams, of course, do not constitute a danger to Israel, but they're bothersome, annoying, and made the daily life of the Gaza-area residents very difficult. And dangerous. Eventually, even if only due to the laws of probability, a rocket would land in a crowd concentration and lead to disaster. The disengagement did not cause a rift within Israeli society and didn't lead to one kind of self-reflection or another. Eight months later, its memory is vague and its lessons unclear. We prefer not to talk about it and not to mention it. Was there a disengagement? Was there a Netzarim?

"The fact that the post-disengagement reality does not resemble the earlier scenarios and predictions should make Ehud Olmert rethink his diplomatic plans. Would Israel really be able to unilaterally set its borders vis-à-vis the Palestinians, a border they or the world would not accept? Would Israel be able to `converge' into `settlement blocs' in the West Bank and annex them? Who would finance such a move, which would cost tens of billions of shekels and not be perceived as a solution to anything? Who would prevent a tragic rift among the people? And what would be left behind in Palestine following a pretend-Israeli-withdrawal coupled with pretend-annexation? Eight months after disengagement, the pregnancy only gave rise to question marks." (Ynet, 4/16/06)

Aid-O-Holics Anonymous: Ha'aretz commentator Aluf Benn offered an overview of what the nature of the Israeli-U.S. relationship should look like in the years to come, writing, "America's friendship is Israel's most important political asset. The Jewish state's security and prosperity, and maybe even its survival, depend on American support. The problem is that the relationship between the two countries is based on a narrow foundation. Nobody has any doubt that George Bush is sympathetic to Israel, but he won't serve forever, his popularity is in free fall, and America is not only run from the White House. That's the view prevalent among those in the Israeli establishment who deal with ties to the U.S. They are worried about demography, as America turns more Hispanic. They are worried about the dwindling Jewish community and the way its youth are distanced from Israel. They're worried about the hostility that has grown in the Pentagon, from the general fatigue in American public opinion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the polite refusal to finance the unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon and Gaza. And lately, from the open criticism of the `Israel lobby,' which seemed to have pushed America into the Iraqi morass and is now trying to entangle it in an assault on Iran.

"In recent years, Israeli policy toward Washington has had one goal: getting back for Israeli moves in the conflict with the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon attributed great importance to every American expression of support and avoiding any visible disagreement. That was the mission for his special envoy to America, Dov Weisglass, and Ambassador Danny Ayalon. The climax of Weisglass' achievements was the famous `Bush letter' from two years ago, which strengthened Israel's position in the permanent agreement. AIPAC promised that Congress would lend support. Now Ehud Olmert wants to outdo his master and go to Washington with a ravenous `shipping basket:' recognition of the separation fence as a permanent border, economic support, improved strategic relations with the U.S., defense against Iran. Common to all those ideas are that they continue the tradition of `gimme, gimme' toward America. More aid, more weapons, another letter from the president. The Israeli establishment is completely petrified into that `gimme' tradition and doesn't stop to ask what the Americans get out of it. Once, they said that Israel gives them their wonderful intelligence. Presumably, there's a lot of exaggeration and now the stories are aimed against Israel, with its rivals accusing it of tendentious intelligence meant to promote its regional goals.

"The time has come to change the diskette and broaden the basis of the ties, so they stand firm in the course of changing demographics, governments, and public opinion. Slogans like `special relations' and `shared values' are not enough. Interests must be strengthened. The AIPAC model, which was a great success, should be copied in the American political system, to economics, academics, science, and culture. Here's an assignment for Tzipi Livni's Foreign Ministry: to make sure that in the next five years, the CEOs of all the Fortune 500 companies, the 100 presidents of the most prestigious universities, the heads of the most important research institutions, and key artists and writers visit Israel; and to ensure that they leave here with joint projects, research plans, and plots for new novels. It is possible that they'll need an encouraging word from their congressman to get them on their planes. But Israel has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to what it has to offer America, especially when compared to its Arab neighbors. And it will benefit from the closer ties to the most developed economy and educational system in the world. Olmert should think about this, and not only about the list of handouts he'll ask from Bush, when he goes to America next month." (Ha'aretz, 4/14/06)

Chain-Link Litigation: The Israeli High Court of Justice will allow Israel to complete construction of the separation barrier surrounding Jerusalem, rejecting petitions from Palestinians for injunctions to delay finishing the fence near several villages. Israeli justices ruled that since Palestinians would no longer be restricted in their travel in the area, the State could now complete the fence. Roads for the travel of Palestinians have been built in the area, and a new checkpoint for passage between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank has also been made available for Palestinians. These arrangements include a new road connecting Bir-Naballah and Qalandiyah without entering the municipal area of Jerusalem and the new Qalandiyah terminal for both pedestrians and vehicles. (Ha'aretz, 4/19/06)

Hone On The Range: Six human rights groups petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against the reduction of the safety margin adopted by Israeli artillery when it fires into Gaza. The petitioners charge that this is a patently illegal order which puts IDF officers and soldiers in danger of committing war crimes. The Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups asked the court to order Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz to cancel the order to the gunners to reduce the safety margin between their targets and civilian homes from 300 meters to 100 meters. "This is a patently illegal order, over which there is a black flag, and by carrying it out, soldiers and officers of the IDF run the risk of committing war crimes," the petition states. The petitioners are the Association for Human Rights in Israel, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, B'Tselem, Doctors for Human Rights, the Gaza Center for Mental Health, and the Al-Mizan Center in Gaza. They maintained that the order given to the artillery units to reduce the safety margin of shells being fired into Gaza endangers human life because of the large area affected by the shells and the possible margin of error. The petitioners note that reduction of the safety margin caused the death of a nine-year-old girl in Beit Lahiya, when a shell landed in her home, also wounding her family.

The petition argues that reduction of the safety margin violates three basic principles of international humanitarian law: the rule that a distinction must be drawn between combatants and civilians, the rule that the use of force must be proportional, and the obligation on the fighting forces to take safety precautions when attacking. "The IDF is playing Russian roulette with the lives of civilians in Gaza," the petitioners charged. "By reducing the safety margin, the IDF consciously brought the homes of the civilians into the range in which they were likely to be hit, and the question of whether entire families will be hit or will not be hit depends on variables over which the army has no control." The IDF responded to the petition by pointing out that the reduced safety range is intended to prevent Qassam rocket fire or at least obstruct it, thereby saving Israeli lives. (Ma'ariv, 4/17/06)

Plugging Leaks: The Bush Administration launched a campaign last week to reverse creeping assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian government while endorsing help to the Palestinian people themselves. The campaign is directed initially at countries already primed to contribute to the Palestinian government. Last week, Qatar said it would kick in $50 million, as did Iran. Russia was down for $10 million, and the Saudis announced the transfer of $92 million. Syria also announced that its citizens would be able to donate money to the Palestinian people and government in the framework of a fundraising drive, while the Syrian government will raise the level of its diplomatic relations with the PA, accept travelers carrying PA passports, and establish direct phone links with the Palestinian territories.

However, Western diplomats and Palestinian officials said yesterday that U.S. pressure is causing regional and international banks to balk at transferring funds from donors to the Hamas government. U.S. officials said the Bush Administration could take punitive action against banks that help provide money or services directly to the new government. Nabil Amr, a top adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the problem was bringing fresh funds into the Palestinian territories from Egypt. One of the Egyptian accounts was set up by the Arab League at the Misr International Bank, which French bank Societe Generale gained control of last year. Some $50 million from Qatar has already been transferred to an Arab League account, but the cash is stuck there, said Amr. Hamas officials said the Amman-based Arab Bank has frozen the PA's main treasury account and that the Arab Bank turned away the Qatari donation. On the other hand, Abbas told reporters in Amman that his office has received $50 million in aid over the last few weeks from Russia, Algeria, and other countries.

The U.S. has already barred Americans from doing most business with the new Hamas government. The U.S. Treasury Department said, "Transactions with the Palestinian Authority by U.S. persons are prohibited, unless licensed." The U.S. also warned that violators of the ban, both American and foreign, could face penalties. Exceptions are being made for the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN, authorizing "activities and transactions with the PA that are for the conduct of.official business." The Treasury Department also authorized some donations of medicine to the Palestinian Health Ministry by U.S. NGOs. The U.S. decision affects most dealings with the Palestinian government, but does not apply to private business interests. Business can also continue with government departments controlled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the Treasury Department drew a distinction between Hamas and the PA, saying that, "The Palestinian Authority is not a designated terrorist organization." (AP, 4/18 & 23/06; Reuters, 4/23/06; Ynet, 4/16/06; Jerusalem Post, 4/19/06; & Ha'aertz, 4/15& 21/06)