Thursday, July 03, 2003
Happy Fourth

I just wanted to wish my Americanski friends a happy Independence Day.

I'll be celebrating the day Israeli-style by listening to a seemingly endless parade of sabras pontificating about the American character. (Israel considers itself to be the U.S.'s little sister in many ways and every Israeli who has every spent two weeks in New York or Florida considers himself an American Studies expert.)

Put a weenie on the grill and crack open a Budweiser for me, and have a happy and safe 227th.

Tel Aviv on the Map

Hey, some more good news. My town has just been designated as a site of world heritage by UNESCO.

Tel Aviv received the designation since it is home to the world's largest collection of buildings built in the bauhaus style, and is one of only seven cities to be awarded this status. (On the other hand, one of the other recipients is Brasilia, which is the textbook case of modernism running roughshod over liveability.)

At any rate, this is nice for a number of reasons. It may increase tourism to my benighted little city. It also means that the Tel Aviv municipality will probably plow more money into restoring the bauhaus buildings, many of which are in dire need of help. It might also help kick off a drive to prettify Tel Aviv in general, which would also be nice.

And, it shows that the UN occasionally forgets its bias against us.

The Crackup of Arab Tyrannies?

Amir Taheiri analyzes how the Arab world got to be in the sorry state that it is with a history of the development of Arab totalitarianism. He also offers a competing vision for a secular, multi-ethnic federalized Iraq.

The Palestine Issue and American Foreign Policy

Foreign Affairs has an interesting analysis of the role of the Palestinian question in America's involvement in the Middle East. The opponents of the war often argue that America should focus on resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict instead of dealing with Saddam. The same demand has cropped up in many post-9/11 debates about US foreign policy. The "root cause" crowd trots out the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at every opportunity, whether it's a discussion of Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Saddam, or globalism. American support for Israel is routinely cited by critics of a certain bent as a key cause -- if not the key cause -- of Why They Hate Us.

Which, of course, is a load of dog's bollocks. The real problem with the Palestinian issue is that the symbolism of it is much more important and powerful than the reality of it. What should be a straightforward, albeit charged, territorial conflict, then, becomes a handy ideological coat hanger for a large number of disparate causes. (Doran uses the example of the Nationalists and the Unionists in Northern Ireland flying Palestinian and Israeli flags to symbolize their own struggles; I'd add the omnipresent crunchies-in-kaffiyehs you find at any anti-globalization rally).

The conclusion: the road to Ramallah runs through Baghdad and not vice versa. There's little the U.S. can do to solve the Palestinian conflict in its symbolic manifestation. It can -- and should -- use its influence to solve the real-life problem. At the same time, it needs to continue to flex its military muscle in the region. In this region, you get a lot more done by knocking heads about than by trying to be civilzed, reasonable, and European.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003
So far, so good. What next?

Things are progressing. The meeting between Sharon and Abu Mazen yesterday went better than anyone could have expected. The IDF started pulling out of Bethlehem, and there was even a day of relative calm in the territories. (Relative calm, in this case, means only two or three shooting incidents.)

Dahlan is promising to take care of the terror organizations. According to reports, he told his Israeli counterparts "Trust me, there will be no more exploding buses." In addition, Sharon promised Abu Mazen that he would start banging out a prisoner release program.

So, what's not to like? Plenty, as it turns out. Despite the smiles, handshakes and pretty speeches there are still a lot of big, unresolved issues out there. Among them:
  • The release of Palestinan prisoners. Abu Mazen has made this one of his key issues. He is demanding that Israel release a large number of prisoners, and not just the ones in jail for stealing cars. So far, Sharon says he will acquiesce up to a point. Talks are underway to release those in administrative detention, but it's doubtful the Palestinians will make due with that. Releasing any more, however, means releasing those Palestinians who have been involved in the murder of Israelis, something that the Israeli public will oppose fiercely.

  • Disarming the Terrorists. Dahlan says "trust me." This is nice but words are cheap. It's clear from statements made by Colin Powell and General Security Services chief Avi Dichter that neither Israel nor the US will accept a situation where the hudna is the ends rather than the means for dealing with Hamas, Jihad, and the Fatah-affiliated terror groups. Dahlan has to act to disarm these people, and soon.

  • The terrorists themselves. Already, the Islamofascists are making threats that they will end the cease-fire if Israel does not meet the conditions they demand (In an agreement, I point out again, that Israel didn't sign). They really need to be stopped.

  • Arafat. We got a blast from the past this morning as Ehud Barak gave an interview on Army Radio. Our illustrious ex-Prime Minister expressed his opinion that Arafat will do everything in his power to ensure that the cease-fire falls through. Barak's reasoning (and it has some merit, despite my personal dislike of the man) is this: If Abu Mazen manages to make good and things finally improve, the Palestinians will turn to Arafat and ask "why the hell did you start this intifada in the first place?" Barak is now of the opinion that Arafat must be kept from any position of power -- even a symbolic one.

Here be challenges. But, at least for the moment, there does seem to be a willingness among the leadership of both sides to try and take care of them.

I've found out I'm a lot more to the left than I thought I was. Or at least a whole lot less ideological. Charles Johnson and other bloggers I respect will continue to scream about the Roadmap to Murderville and Abu Mazen being a holocaust denier. The neo-con cabal will continue to press for the removal of all the terrorist elements by force right now.

However, with all due respect, most of these guys live in the States where it's a lot easier and safer to view things in stark black-and-white. For those of us here, who worry daily about our loved ones riding the buses, we have to accept a more nuanced approach and hope that Ariel Sharon isn't the starry-eyed naif that Shimon Peres was.

As Justice Minister Tommy Lapid, who participated in the meetings yesterday, put it, the mood is more hopefulthan optimistic

Roadblocks Again

I keep getting reminders about what a joy it is to work so close to the Green Line.

Like last week, security forces got a hot tip about a Palestinian terrorist on his way to kill people in the Petah Tikva area. And, like last week, they set up massive roadblocks all over the Sharon region southeast of Tel Aviv. This includes the area of Rosh Ha'ayin and the industrial park I work in.

The result: mega huge traffic jams. Again. Sadly, they didn't catch the bugger this time around. I pray that this doesn't mean that the next bombing is in the mail.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003
Striking a Blow for Rule of Law

And while we're on the subject of crime, the Tel Aviv District Court handed down a hefty sentence against Etti Aloni. Aloni, a former official at the Trade Bank, managed to steal over NIS 250 million (around $55 million) from clients over the course of a number of years. She claimed she stole in order to help her brother, Ofer Maximov, pay off his gambling debts. As a result of Aloni's embezzlement, the Trade Bank collapsed, leaving hundreds of clients in the lurk.

The court sentenced her to 17 years in jail and a NIS 5 million fine. In addition Aloni's father, Avigdor Maximov, got a six-year jail sentence for his part in the affair. (Ofer Maximov, the brother, is still awaiting sentencing; his defense of "I didn't know where she was getting the money from" is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard.)

It's a harsh sentence, especially considering that Aloni has two small children who will essentially grow up without their mother. On the other hand, it sends a strong message that the country will not stand for corruption in its financial institutions.

A Different Type of Bombing

Like we didn't have enough to worry about over here. If it's not a Palestinian blowing himself up on a bus, then it's a gas tank explosion that levels a building. Yesterday afternoon, a bomb went off in the old exhibition grounds in north Tel Aviv. After a brief frenzy of activity from security forces, it quickly turned out that the culprits weren't Palestinian terrorists but home-grown mafiosi.

Apparently, the bomb was intended to kill Ze'ev Rosenstein, a casino owner one of the bigger sharks in Israeli organized crime. Rosenstein has been the target of a number of assassination attempts over the last decade as part of his feud with the Abergil and Alperon crime families. (The latter bunch counts as one of its members Nissim Alperon, who played a role in the scandal-plagued Likud primaries earlier this year).

My wife heard the boom from the attack, which happened not far from our apartment and rattled the windows. She turned on the TV, certain that she would hear about another terrorist attack, but there was nothing.

It turns out that our local thugs can be just as destructive sometimes as the ones from Jenin.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Palestinians

The army has redeployed out of most of the Gaza Strip and handed over security to the Palestinian Authority. It appears that Bethlehem will be the next town the PA takes control of. Which once more leaves me looking at the neighbors and wondering if the cease-fire is worth anything and whether the quiet can last.

If you go by the analysis piece in the NY Times this morning, Abu Mazen is actually being very cagey, essentially playing off the terrorist groups against Israel in the hopes that he will be able to increase his public support and eventually co-opt them. In the meantime, the U.S. is sending a group of generals over here to monitor the PA's compliance with the road map demands, especially its dismantling of Hamas. This is a hopeful development because it means that a) Bush is aware of the potential security perils if Abu Mazen just makes do with a cease-fire and b) the Europeans don't get to stick their beak in and give the Palestinians a passing grade for doing nothing.

And yet, the deep, deep pessimism is still there.

It doesn't help that I just finished reading Bruce Hoffman's excellent analysis of the logic behind suicide terrorism. But every time I hear about supposed progress and change in the Palestinian Authority I keep thinking about clips of Palestinian television broadcasts that Channel One here aired the other night.

The clips aired Friday night and came from the official Palestinian broadcasts that day and showed images of the Palestinian uprising with songs playing in the background. You saw images of young Palestinians hurling rocks at IDF jeeps and burning the Israeli flag. You saw pictures of a tank which looked like it was about to run someone over. And, as the singer got to the line about "Palestine will be redeemed" the screen showed a map of Israel, without any differentiation of the West Bank and Gaza and with Tel Aviv clearly wiped out.

I've seen plenty of broadcasts like this before. They're the bread-and-butter of Palestinian TV and have helped fuel the violence over the last two and a half years. But these broadcasts came on the same day that the PA was negotiating with the Palestinian terrorist groups about a cease-fire. You see things like this and it's hard not to come to the conclusion that there's something deeply and fundamentally messed up with the Palestinians.

An opinion poll conducted recently by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion finds that 57% of the Palestinian population is opposed to ending the fighting. Which raises the distinct possibility that if push comes to shove and the Palestinians are given the choice of getting a viable state or continuing to kill Jews, a majority or a very significant minority will go with the latter. Cynthia Ozick had an essay today basically about this subject. She doesn't break any new ground on the Palestinian issue, but she does present it in a well-written and concise way.

Simply put, the Palestinian identity is based almost entirely on hatred for Israel. Other than a bunch of bad poetry about olive trees, the main contribution of Palestinian culture to the world has been the innovation and perfection of modern terrorism. Can a people so steeped in violence and hatred manage to overcome their own worst instincts?

Monday, June 30, 2003
Hoping to be Proven Wrong

The hudna was finally declared yesterday. The terrorist groups have declared that they will lay off the violence for a little while -- Fatah for 6 months, Hamas and Islamic Jihad for 3 months -- all in the name of the Palestinian national interest.

In a related note, the IDF has begun re-deploying from Gaza following security agreements with the Palestinian Authority. The IDF moves out and the PA is supposed to move in and take control. This means, among other things, going after terrorists on their way to fire rockets at Israeli towns.

Every news outlet has jumped on the trope of the one thousand day war. We reached this mark for the current intifada sometime last week. And after a thousand days, as the new cliche goes, perhaps we will finally get some calm. I really, really hope so. The best thing that could possibly happen is for a month or two of quietude during which the cease-fire begins to take on its own dynamic.

Unfortunately, like most people around here, I don't expect it to last.

There are so many problems with the thing, it's hard to know where to begin. The cease-fire has come about less because either of the sides want it but rather because both of the sides are trying to keep from getting blamed by Uncle George if things go sour. As one commentator put it this morning, the two sides haven't been preparing themselves for going into the cease-fire as much as they've been preparing themselves for getting out of it. In other words, the security establishment has begun to gear up for the fierce fighting that will most likely happen after the terrorist groups re-arm and the political establishment is already preparing its excuses for the day after that happens.

In any case, the hudna is ridiculously flimsy. It's worth keeping in mind that the cease fire agreement was signed not between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but rather between different armed groups among the Palestinians. Why is this important? Because Hamas and Jihad have conditioned their participation in the agreement on a number of demands from Israel -- which isn't a signatory to the agreement. At least one of these demands -- the release of Palestinian prisoners -- is not likely to be honored anytime soon. This gives the terrorists a ready-made excuse to break the cease fire whenever they see fit to do so.

Even if the mainline groups do agree to maintain calm, it's entirely unclear whether the smaller groups -- notably the Al Aqsa Martyr's brigade -- will heed anyone's call, and whether the PA will go after them if they carry out attacks. (As I write, these same bastards have already carried out the first attack of the cease-fire, opening fire on an Israeli truck and killing a Romanian construction worker.)

So there we are. Whether the calm will last beyond a few weeks or months, I'm not particularly hopeful but I'll be more than happy to eat my words if I'm wrong.

Sunday, June 29, 2003
Hudna Shmudna
So, here's where we are:

The IDF is preparing to start pulling out of major parts of the Gaza Strip and redeploy around the settlements in the region. The army will dismantle a lot of its checkpoints. In addition, it will stop the "track and kill" operations so long as Mohammed Dahlan's bully boys act on Israeli intelligence tips and stop Palestinian "ticking bombs" themselves.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited hudna to be declared by the Islamic terror groups remains exactly where it's been for the last month and a half, i.e. long-awaited. Now they say that the groups will formally sign the hudna -- a temporary, 3-month time out from killng Jews -- tomorrow or maybe the next day.

As Dubya put it last week, I'll believe it when I see it.

Already, there are all sorts of problems and conditions in the way. The Islamofascists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have agreed in principle to the hudna document as long as the phrase "Israel" is replaced by "Zionist enemies" and that Israel stop assassinations and releases all Palestinian prisoners.

The non-Islamic terrorist groups -- the Al Aqsa Brigades (Arafat's own little murderers), as well as the marxist PFLP and DFLP -- oppose the agreement.

I'm finding it almost impossible to dredge much optimism from the whole thing. This hudna agreement is almost worthless and is likely to fall apart at any given time. I can easily foresee a scenario where Israel rejects the demand to release the Palestinian murderers in its jails, or else takes down some "rogue" Al Aqsa Brigade member on his way to blow himself up and Hamas uses it as an excuse to break the truce.

But even if it holds, there are increasing signs that the hudna is an end in itself as far as the PA is concerned. Instead of using the cease-fire and the improved conditions of the Palestinians to start dismantling the terror organizations, Abu Mazen looks like he'll make do with the cessation of violence to try and bring the Hamas, weapons and all, into the framework of the PA.

If this is the case, the terror groups will happily start re-grouping and re-arming themselves confident that the PA is too scared to lift a finger against them. In addition, you'll probably see a wave of revenge killings against collaborators and suspected collaborators. This will send a clear message to people who might think of ratting on Hamas in the future: the Israelis can't protect you and we will find you.

There are, of course, other scenarios. Zvi Bar'el wrote this morning that the cease-fire is a necessary step which will enable the PA to co-opt Hamas. By bringing the terrorists into the government, the theory goes, the PA will make them partners to any deal with Israel and will thus make them share the responsibility.

This seems to me more like a recipe for disaster as far as any future negotiations between the PA and Israel. Bringing Hamas into the mix will ensure that the official position of the Palestinian Authority will be dragged in the direction of extremism, expecially when the talks turn to such volatile issues as the right of return.

More broadly, if the PA backs down from confronting the terrorists it will ensure that the Palestinians never have to face reality. Hamas will continue to agitate for the expulsion of all Jews from the region and the demand that every Palestinian whose grandfather or great-grandfather once had a house in the area that is today Tel Aviv be allowed to return there. Israel will, naturally, oppose these demands and Hamas can continue stirring the pot of Palestinian self pity and hatred. And the conflict will continue on its merry, destructive way for generations to come.

And all this is the best-case scenario.

In the worst-case scenario, a re-armed Hamas will come up with some b.s. justification for breaking the truce and renew the terror attacks again. Israel will be forced to retaliate again and the world -- doubtlessly siding with the sainted Abu Mazen who has in the meantime done nothing constructive -- will scream bloody murder.