Thursday, October 16, 2003
Gone Fishin'

I'm on my way to the States for my brother's wedding. I'll be in New York and Florida until around the end of the month.

This means blogging will be light and/or intermittent in the next two weeks.

Mistakes Were Made...

Channel 2 broadcast an utterly dispiriting documentary this week called Hashalom Veshovro ("The Peace and its Fracture"). It was a look back at the Oslo peace process from the signing ceremony on the White House lawn in September 1993 until the eruption of violence seven years later. The filmmakers interviewed almost all the major players involved, Israeli, Palestinian, and American and provided a comprehensive, if rather complicated, look at what went wrong.

Like a lot of Israelis, I underwent a political transformation in late 2000. Throughout the '90s I had been a fairly mainstream liberal and supporter of Oslo. I got caught up in the hope and idealism of the early days when it looked like the conflict was coming to an end. I was dismayed when Netanyahu became Prime Minister and viewed with anger and loathing at what he was doing to the peace process. I was elated when Barak was re-elected and thought that we were back on track.

Then came the failure of Camp David and the Palestinian rejection of a comprehensive peace plan. This was followed by renewed and strident calls for millions of Palestinian refugees to be resettled in Israel. And then came the intifada and the violence, Park Lane and Maxim's.

One definition of a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. Many of us felt we'd been mugged by reality.

Having developed a much more hawkish, right-wing worldview over the last three years, I was interested at looking back at Oslo with new eyes. Interestingly, I find that although my perspective has changed, a lot of it still looks the same. Or, more to the point, despite the fact that I know realize Oslo was a bad agreement I still find that the history of the last 10 years is filled with more questions than definitive answers.

The brief history of Oslo reads like this: Rabin and Arafat signed the accords in late 1993. For the first year and a half things ran more or less OK. Israel began pulling out of the Territories and the Palestinian Authority was set up. Despite a rash of suicide attacks in late 1994 and 1995, the process continued.

Then, in November 1995 Rabin was assassinated. Peres succeeded him as Prime Minister, but the security situation started getting rough, especially after Israel assassinated Yihyeh Ayash a top Hamas terrorist who had been responsible for a series of bus bombings but whom the Palestinian Authority let run around free. Hamas launched another series of suicide attacks in early 1996 which shook up everyone here and directly helped contribute to Netanyahu's narrow victory over Peres in the 1996 elections.

The Netanyahu years saw a deterioration in relations between Israel and the PA. Bibi believed Oslo was a bad deal (which it was) and pushed to reinterpret the agreement. He was also responsible for a series of badly thought out political manouvers, the worst of which was opening a tunnel underneath the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in late 1996. In the riots that ensued, Palestinian policemen traded fire with the IDF for the first time. There was also a bit of progress with the Palestinians, culminating in the Wye River accords where Israel pulled out of Hebron.

Bibi's government fell after three years and Barak was elected PM. Relationships improved with the PA, but Barak put the Palestinian track on hold in a failed effort to sign an agreement with Syria. Barak also pulled the IDF out of southern Lebanon in early 2000, which was a tactical mistake which would have serious repercussions later. Meanwhile, his coalition was proving to be highly unstable, and he decided he needed a political victory. Barak set up a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians, whcih was offered up at Camp David in the Summer of 2000. Not only did the Palestinians reject it without making a counteroffer, but Arafat then started making statements that the Jews had no connection to the Temple Mount and refused to budge on the issue of Jerusalem.

Barak tried to continue with the talks in the months following Camp David. During this time, the Palestinians -- inspired by what they saw as the lesson from Lebanon -- began preparing for an armed intifada. They waited for an excuse, which they got when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in late September 2000. The riots started the next day and quickly escalated into open violence.

Israel tried one last time to get an agreement with the Palestinians, this time at Taba in December 2000. By that time, it was too late. Barak's government had fallen and he was voted out of office in February 2001. The rest is just a long and painful list of attacks and counterattacks, punctuated by some utter attrocities -- the Dolphinarium attack, the Passover night massacre, the "children's attack" in Jerusalem earlier this year.

In short, Oslo went off the rails early on. It was predicated on a lot of wishful thinking and lacked any kind of accountability mechanism. It was almost ripe for failure the moment the two sides stopped working together. And yet, as bad as it was, it's clear we made some mistakes which helped contribute to the mess.

As far as Netanyahu goes, I thought he was a bad Prime Minister at the time and despite the shift in my political orientation in his direction, I still think he was a bad Prime Minister. I am a lot more forgiving than I used to be of his attempt to re-work the Oslo Accords on a more stable basis and to hold the Palestinian Authority accountable for weapons smuggling and incitement in direct breach of the Oslo.

On the other hand, Bibi's actions were rash and overly provocative, designed as a sop to his right wing. The opening of the Wailing Wall tunnel was done without consulting the army or the security services, who were surprised to hear about it and had to scramble into action once the rioting started.

But while Bibi was merely a bad Prime Minister, it's become very obvious that Barak was an utter disaster. His attempts at diplomacy were ham-fisted. He moved a long way towards an agreement with Syria, then pulled back just as it was becoming a done deal. He did this because he had set up a large and unwieldy government including a lot of hawkish elements who were sure to oppose any manouver on the diplomatic front. Barak's fatal error was the pullout from southern Lebanon. By leaving in a hurry, in the middle of the night, the IDF looked like it was retreating in the face of Hizbullah resistance. Many Palestinians looked north and began to think that an armed conflict would work much better than diplomacy.

So, yes, we aren't blameless for the mess. On the other hand, I don't think you can point the finger for the final downfall of the Oslo Accords at either Bibi or Barak. If you want to look at where things went irreversibly wrong, you have to look at Camp David. And responsibility for that failure ultimately rests with the resident of the muqata'ah.

People will continue to argue about what was offered at Camp David and what wasn't for years to come. Ultimately, the Palestinians were offered 90 plus percent of the West Bank and Gaza and joint sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Arafat turned it down out of hand. Not only that, he began ranting and raving at how no Jewish temple had ever existed there and that the Jews had no connection to the land.

(As Dennis Ross says, "Barak came to Camp David prepared to overcome the history and mythology of his people. Not only was Arafat unwilling to overcome the history and mythology, he created a new mythology.")

From there, it was a short jump to the renewed right of return demands and to the violence which ultimately engulfed this area.

Looking back at Oslo, you're tempted to play "what if". What if Rabin hadn't been assassinated? What if Peres hadn't ordered the hit on Yihyeh Ayash? What if Barak hadn't pulled out of South Lebanon or made peace with the Syrians? Things might have been different. We might have been able to finesse the problems and come up with a workable solution to the conflict despite all the failings of the Oslo Accord.

On the other hand, maybe we wouldn't have. Rabin might easily have lost the 1996 elections had he not been assassinated. Hamas carried out attacks before Ayash was killed and would probably have continued to do so. It's also unclear that the problems of Oslo would have been finesse-able, certainly without a clear Israeli consensus that it was time to pack up and leave most of the Territories. And it's obvious that Arafat harbors a serious martyr complex; it's utterly debatable whether he could ever transition from terrorist to statesman.

I think that a consensus exists today in Israel that an agreement with the Palestinians will ultimately resemble what was offered at Camp David. There's also a consensus that we need a physical barrier from the Palestinians. On the other hand, so much blood has been spilled and so much hatred has been fostered in the last decade that I'm not sure when anyone will be able to implement these consensuses.

The questions still remain what are the lessons from Oslo and have we learned the right ones.

More on the Geneva Accords

Ha'aretz has been stumping for the Geneva Accords all week.

In one of the lead articles today, Akiva Eldar argues that the accords do end up nullifying the Palestinian claim to the right of return. Having viewed the document, Eldar (a journalist I respect a lot) unearths the following extract regarding Article 7 of the Accords
"The parties recognize that [resolutions] 194 and 242, and the Arab peace initiative...concerning the rights of the Palestinian refugees represent the basis for resolving the refugee issue, and agree that these rights are fulfilled according to Article 7 of this agreement."
If this is true, then it does add some weight to the argument in favor of the Geneva Accords. (Disregarding for the moment the obvious problem that we're talking about an agreement between two groups of politicians who aren't authorized to draft or sign agreements.) If Israel could get the Palestinians to put 194 (which is the basis for the Palestinians' right of return demands) and 242 to bed then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could at least be settled from an international legal standpoint.

Two things still concern me here. One is the definition of the phrase "these rights are fulfilled" and whether this does indeed constitute the fulfillment of 242 and (especially) 194. The second is the fact that the Palestinians won't abrogate the right of return openly. Without an open concession on ROR, I fear that the Palis will never come to accept the fact that Israel isn't going anywhere. The old men who carry around keys to long-destroyed houses in long-vanished villages in Israel will still hand the keys over to their children and grandchildren to continue the conflict.

Still, I have to admit that the Accords are beginning to look a bit more attractive, especially if we accept their limitations in advance.

On the security front, I don't trust the Palestinians to carry out any of their commitments. Scratch that, I trust them not to carry out any of their commitments. Which means that even (especially?) in the case of this kind of an agreement, the West Bank security fence will become even more crucial than it is today.

On the other hand, I don't see the leadership of either side jumping on this agreement, which makes this whole argument rather academic.

New Levels of Palestinian Stupidity

The attack in Gaza yesterday was about the dumbest move the Palis have made since they started the intifada. By killing 3 American security personnel, they have truly and utterly pissed off the Bush administration. No one has taken credit for the attack and the major terrorist groups -- who usually scramble all over each other to take credit for murdering people -- have backed away quickly from this attack. The suspicion falls on something called the "Popular
Resistance Committees," a Fatah splinter group made up of two clans who are prominent in the area of southern Gaza. (Of course, the Palestinians and their more moronic supporters are sure the Jews are behind it.)

Regardless of whoever carried out the actual attack, Bush has placed the blame squarely (and rightly) with the arch-terrorist who heads the Palestinian Authority. It's bad enough when the ghoul doesn't do anything to stop his psychos murdering Jews and Israeli Arabs in Haifa. But now Americans are dead as a direct result of the ra'is' long-standing refusal to honor his written commitments. And he's made a real enemy out of the one guy in the world you don't want to be your enemy.

I'm still trying to figure out what drove the Popular Resistance Committees to carry out this stupid attack. An attempt to hasten Arafat's downfall? The head of one of the clans who make up the Resistance Committees is an Arafat buddy, which might rule out this option.

Which leaves us with two theories: either the terrorists thought they were nailing an Israeli convoy (the IDF has been known to use the road where the attack occurred) or else they were inspired by a blind hatred of Americans. Both options seem to bespeak an almost willfull stupidity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Haifa Death Toll Rises

The death toll from the suicide attack in Haifa rose to 21 today when George Matar died of his wounds in the hospital. Matar was a Christian Arab, one of 5 Israeli Arabs who were killed in the attack.

The death toll brings this attack into the major league of suicide bombings, on the level of the Dolphinarium bombing.

Polling on the Geneva Accords

According to a poll commissioned by Yediot Aharonot (Hebrew link above), 59 percent of those polled said they were against the Geneva Accord while 39 percent are in favor. A poll done for IDF Radio found similar results, but also found that only 60 percent of the population had any idea what was in the Geneva agreements.

I'm a little bit surprised that the numbers in favor of the agreement are as high as they are. Actually, not that surprised. The basic idea of the deal makes sense, even though the implementation of it is bad.

It would be interetsing to see what the numbers would be like over on the Palestinian side. The Palestinian Authority has been straddling the fence, neither supporting nor not supporting the agreement. (Of course, they can. The Agreement doesn't cost them anything except more bogus promises to combat terrorism). We also hear that the Tanzim is pushing for it, which makes me nervous right away.

Personally, I'm still against the agreement as it stands. Mainly because it doesn't call on the Palestinians to make any major concessions. A serious peace agreement absolutely must have the Palestinians concede -- openly, explicitly, and in Arabic -- the right of return. Nothing else will come close to ending the conflict. The Geneva Accords completely disregard this issue.

Gaza Bombing - American Victims

News just broke that a convoy of American vehicles was blown up in Gaza. Three Americans are reported dead.

What could this be about? What could the terrorists possibly hope to gain here?

UPDATE: No group has taken responsibility for the attack yet. I suspect that no one will, especially since everybody -- even the PA -- will be gunning for them once they do.

Tactically from the Palestinian standpoint, you couldn't make a more stupid mistake. This attack will tie Israel and the US closer together, since it drives home a point we've been making since 9/11, i.e. that we're in the same boat facing Islamic terrorism. It hurts the case for bringing in an international force to oversee the region (which is a good thing).

Also, it should be pointed out that there was a mini-riot later on when American security personnel went back to investigate the wreck. A group of Palestinian youths started throwing rocks at them and had to be beaten back by the Palestinian police.

Fence Veto at the Security Council

The little theatrics at the UN Security Council are beginning to get pathetically routine. The Palestinians push a resolution condemning Israel. Three dozen or so Third World dictatorships join in to denounce us. And the US finally vetoes on the grounds that the resolution is unbalanced. The Palis then send the thing over to the General Assembly, where the rest of the Third World dictatorships make sure it passes.

Ho hum.

Yesterday's denunciation du jour was based around the security fence going up in the West Bank. All went according to script. Syria, which currently chairs the UNSEC, refused to hear an alternate draft of the resolution which condemned Palestinian terrorism and the US representative vetoed the measure.

The only real amusement to be garnered from all this is seeing how the Palestinian representatives manage to debase the English language. According to the Palis, and their UN rep Nasser al-Kidwa, it's never a security fence. It's always a "racist, colonial wall". Better yet was his declaration that the fence is "the biggest war crime of its kind in our contemporary history". All of which makes one wonder what kind of war crime he's using as a criterion. Is it bigger than the "massacre" at Jenin? Worse than the poisoned candy and uranium bullets that Arafat's cronies have accused us of using?

Let's face it, the United Nations is not the place for any intelligent discussion of the security fence. One place that is, however, is over at Jonathan Edelstein's blog where he presents a two-part analysis of the fence (part one, part two). Jonathan's point, and it's a good one, is that in the absence of any kind of trust between the two sides the fence will have to fill this role. Initially, he can foresee a situation where the fence goes up and Palestinian-Israeli negotiations focus on the route it will take.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003
King of the Palestinians

The hostage deal in the works with Hizbullah keeps looking worse and worse. Channel 2 news reported this evening that the Palestinian Authority has passed along a list of all the Palestinians being held in Israel to Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's leader. In addition, representatives of the prisoners have passed their own list to Nasrallah. For his part, Nasrallah is apparently holding out for the release of 400 Palestinians along with the Lebanese being held here.

The Israeli General Security Service thinks this is a bad deal. The IDF thinks it's a bad deal. Common sense would dictate that it's a bad deal. Sharon, however, seems hell-bent on going through with it. Lord only knows why.

As I've said before, mixing the Palestinian issue with the Hizbullah issue is a strategic mistake of the first order. Now, on top of everything, it appears that we are helping crown Nasrallah as the leader of the pan-Arab struggle. The Hizbullah chieftain is already the number two most popular guy in Gaza and Jenin, second only to the sickly old ghoul in the muqata'a. If this deal goes through, Nasrallah could soon be numero uno.

You see, unlike the ra'is, Nasrallah gets results. He's the one who can face down the IDF. And now he's the one who will release the prisoners while the Palestinian prime minister (whoever it will be next week) looks on helplessly. In Palestinian terms, Nasrallah de man.

And the saddest thing about it is we made him de man. We helped build up his organization. We withdrew from southern Lebanon seemingly with our tail between our legs and made him the inspiration for the intifada. Now we want to hand over Palestinian prisoners and make him king of Gaza.

One day -- soon, God willing -- Arafat will no longer be with us. Unfortunately, we're helping set up the next heroic figure in the eyes of the Palestinians. And Nasrallah is fairly young. He'll make our lives miserable for years and years to come.

This is a bad deal. It needs to be killed.

Monday, October 13, 2003
Hostage Negotiation Update

We still don't know where and under what circumstances exactly Elhanan Tennenbaum was kidnapped by Hizbullah three years ago. The courts put a gag order over the whole affair, citing security reasons.

In recent weeks, two television stations petitioned to have the gag order lifted. This Rumors have been flying around about Tennenbaum. Stories of gambling debts, drug dealing, and other sleazy details.

The courts, however, have seen fit to ensure that the rumors will continue to fly. They upheld the gag order today.

Oslo III?

It's deja vu all over again.

A group of Israeli leftists meets in secret with a group of Palestinians and comes up with an ostensibly rational-sounding agreement to end the conflict. Ten years ago, the two sides met in Oslo. This time it's Geneva.

Over the last couple of weeks, members of the Israeli opposition -- including former Labor MK and super-dove Yossi Beilin and former Labor chairman and super-loser Amram Mitzna -- have been meeting with a number of second-tier Palestinian politicans like Yasser Abed Rabo and Hisham Abd al-Raziq to formulate a plan which they hope will serve as the framework for a future agreement.

The details of the plan have yet to be publicized, but a number of main points have already been announced.

On the Israeli side, Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders more or less, with some territorial exchanges around Jerusalem and the Gaza strip. Large settlements such as Ariel and Efrat will be evacuated. The Palestinians gain control of the Temple Mount, while Israel retains control of the Wailing Wall. An international force will govern the rest of the "Holy Basin" in Jerusalem's old city.

On the Palestinian side, the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and concede the right of return. A limited number of refugees are allowed to settle in Israel, but only with Israeli approval. The PA vows to disarm militias, fight terrorism, and stop incitement.

Superficially, it looks like a logical compromise: Temple Mount in return for renouncing the right of return.

Except that the whole thing is problem city. To wit:
  1. It's a bad agreement from Israel's point of view. Israel is being asked to make serious territorial compromises, including the evacuation of large settlements near the Green Line. Israel also has to agree to an international presence in Jerusalem, which legitimizes the same internationalization of the conflict that has long been one of Arafat's goals.

    And what do we get in return? The Palestinian commitment to disarm the militias and fight terrorism is a joke. Over the last decade, we've found out exactly what these promises are worth. They won't do it. They don't want to do it.

    Even the main Israeli gain -- the right of return -- is hollow. The Palis have been quick to backtrack on it. Hisham Abd al-Raziq, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said in a newspaper interview that the Palestinians did not explicitly concede the right of return and any refugees who will resettle in Israel will not be doing so under ROR. In other words, they plan to leave the ROR issue hanging in the air.

    Without an explicit and public concession on the right of return, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will drag on for generations. This is doubly true if the Palestinians don't rein in their terrorism.

    To sum up, Israel makes hefty territorial compromises in return for a pig in a poke.

  2. The people who negotiated the agreement aren't authorized to negotiate agreements.

    Beilin is no longer a Knesset member. Mitzna is a Knesset member but has zero influence in his own party. The rest of the Israeli team belong to Meretz and the left-hand fringe of Labor, and are thus not even representative of the opposition in the Knesset, much less the Israeli public.

    The Palestinian team is supposedly operating with Arafat's knowledge, but not necessarily his approval. In any case, the ra'is has shown an ability to worm out or ignore agreements he himself has signed.

    Today's Jerusalem Post unsurprisingly takes a sour view of the "Deal" (going far as to use Reuters-style scare quotes in its lead article). The lead JPost editorial brands the members of the Israeli team as foreign policy freelancers. The piece is a bit intemperate (this is, after all, the same newspaper that editorialized recently in favor of assassinating Arafat), but it has a good point. Israel has a government which was elected democratically in part to sign agreements. There's also already an agreement in place in the form of the road map.

    It's irresponsible for a group of politicians who couldn't get elected by the public to try and undermine the government with a new agreement, however rational it might be.

  3. We've been through all this before. A decade ago, Yossi Beilin pulled a similar trick with the Oslo Accords. He took the agreements, which had been hammered out in secret, and managed to foist them on then-Prime Minister Rabin with the active help of then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

    And we all know what became of that.

    Granted, the new agreement tries to rectify the mistakes of Oslo. It tackles the big issues head-on instead of postponing discussion on them until the end of the process. But it still fails to properly address the factors -- primarilly Palestinian terrorism -- which caused the Oslo process to collapse.

As they say back in Texas, this dog won't hunt. Even other members of Labor won't buy the Beilin-Abed Rabo accords. Ehud Barak (currently working on his political comeback) has slammed the agreement and Peres, Beilin's old patrone, has distanced himself from the plan so far.

Sharon's government will never accept it. Neither, I suspect, will the Israeli public.

The Israeli team goes out of its way to refer to the agreement as the "Geneva plan" instead of the "Beilin-Abed Rabo Accords". There's a reason for this. After the grand failure of Oslo, the majority of the population is wary of buying anything connected to Yossi Beilin.

On the face of it, I have no problem with the two sides coming up with guidelines to inspire a future agreement. I do have a problem with trying to market it in a semi-official style (signing ceremonies, etc), as Beilin and Mitzna are doing. Israel has a hard enough time explaining its foreign policy to the world without speaking in two voices.

All of which is a shame because, at least in its broad outlines, the Beilin-Abed Rabo accord makes some sense. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. And this isn't the way to go about things.

Sunday, October 12, 2003
Palestinian Government

This just in, from Scrappleface:
Arafat Blocks 'Recall Arafat' Referendum

(2003-10-09) -- Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA), today blocked an effort to put a 'Recall Arafat' referendum on the ballot. Supporters of the recall say they will appeal the decision to Mr. Arafat, and if necessary will pursue their appeal all the way up to Yasser Arafat himself.

The decision comes during a day when another hand-picked Palestinian Prime Minister has said he wants to quit because of disagreements with Mr. Arafat about dismantling terrorist groups operating under the protection of the PA.

"This recall effort was unconstitutional," said Mr. Arafat. "Today I have restored stability to our government. I have consulted with every important Palestinian leader, and I can confidently report that I approve of my decision completely."

Temporary Halt to the Ports Strike

The Histadrut and the government have called a 100-day moratorium to the strike at Israel's ports so that the two sides can negotiate.

I feel sorry for the overpaid gorillas who work the docks. They'll now have to put in six-, possibly even seven-hour days in order to deal with the backlog.

Hostage Issues

For some time now, Israel has been involved in hostage negotiations with Hizbullah. We've been hearing reports for more than a month that the negotiations -- conducted via a German mediator -- which involve an Israeli hostage and the remains of three soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah are coming close to fruition. However, the whole issue has turned into a big controversy involving the government and the families of the missing Israelis.

Some background: Israel has a tradition of not abandoning its soldiers in the field. The country has proven in the past that it will go to great lengths and pay great costs to get back its hostages and POWs (or their bodies). In 1985, for example, the government traded some 1,100 terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command that it was holding in exchange for 3 Israeli soldiers held by PFLP-GC. (Many of those traded in the agreement became commanders in the first intifada and some of them are responsible for the terrorism that still plagues us today).

At the moment, there are four cases of Israeli hostages and POWs/MIAs, alive and dead, who were captured or kidnapped in Lebanon:
  • Three soldiers -- Tzvi Feldman, Zechariah Baumel, and Yehuda Katz -- who were captured in the Lebanon war during the battle of Sultan Ya'akub in 1982
  • Ron Arad, an IAF navigator whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in October, 1986
  • Three IDF soliders -- Beni Avraham, Omar Suweid, and Adi Avitan -- who were kidnapped by Hizbullah in October 2000
  • Elhanan Tennenbaum, an Israeli businessman who was kidnapped in Beirut in October 2000 under mysterious circumstances

The whereabouts of the Sultan Ya'akub MIAs is unknown and they have long been declared dead, a closed book to everyone except Baumel's father who continues to dig for information about his son.

Ron Arad's fate also remains a mystery. After he bailed out of his plane, Arad was captured by the Shi'ite Amal militia. Concrete information about his whereabouts petered out in the early '90s, when he was believed to be held by Hizbullah. Since then, we occasionally hear rumors that he is alive and being held in Iran, after having been transported from Lebanon via Syria.

As for the others, Hizbullah has them. Avraham, Suweid, and Avitan were declared dead two years ago, but Tennenbaum is alive.

On the other side of the equation, Israel holds a number of Hizbullah officials which it captured in the early '90s. The most prominent of these are Hizbullah's former leader, Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, and Mustafa Dirani, who was one of Ron Arad's captors.

Israel has been holding on to both men for the last decade and some in order to serve as bargaining chips for the return of Arad. Since Arad was taken captive, his release has turned into an emotional national cause. Unfortunately, no one knows where Arad is, or who has him, and whether or not he is even alive.

(Over the weekend, Yediot Aharonot reported that a group of Iranian exiles said that Arad was being held in Teheran; this story is uncorroborated , as even Yediot itself admitted, and the paper showed poor editorial judgement in splashing it all over the front page if you ask me).

Tennenbaum, on the other hand, is alive and Israel has been working on a deal with Hizbullah to get him back.

Few people know the details of the deal but the contours are pretty clear: Israel gets back Tennenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers kidnapped in 2000; in return it hands over Dirani and Obeid as well as other Lebanese prisoners it holds, as well as a number of Palestinian prisoners -- members of Hamas and Jihad.

Hostage negotiations are touchy affairs, and this one has become downright problematic due to a clash between Ron Arad's family and those of the three kidnapped soldiers and Elhanan Tennenbaum. The Tennenbaums, Avrahams, Suweids, and Avitans have been pushing to get their loved ones back for the last three years and are now urging the government to do everything it can to finalize the exchange.

However, Ron Arad's brother and wife object to the deal because it does not include information about Ron. They claim that Dirani and Obeid are earmarked to be traded for Ron and that the government should not hand them over to Hizbullah without it. And, as a result, the Arads are doing everything they can to scotch the deal.

They filed an injunction against the government to keep them from authorizing the prisoner swap. And in the addition they have been doing everything in their power to try and turn public opinion in their favor. This includes appealing to the public not to abandon the missing navigator. More nastilly, they also lobbied for a gag order about the Tennenbaum case to be lifted in the hopes that the shady circumstances of his kidnapping would play into their hands.

The government, for its part, seems to be ignoring the protests and is pushing ahead with the deal. However, Sharon my find that he will face widespread public protest. Not just because of the Arads but also because the deal involves releasing prisoners with blood on their hands or those who have been involved in the planning and implementation of terrorist attacks.

Personally, I think the deal is a bad idea but not for the reasons above. The big mistake is letting Hizbullah demand Palestinian prisoners alongside Lebanese ones. Mixing the Palestinian issue into the Lebanese one is a huge tactical mistake which will cost us dearly down the line. Hizbullah made its bones attacking the IDF when Israel was in Southern Lebanon. When Israel retreated to the international border, that should have been the end of the conflict with Hizbullah. However, Hizbullah justifies its continued aggression by using the Palestinian issue. Trading Palestinian prisoners to Hizbullah legitimizes to some degree this justification and turns Hizbullah into the protector of the Palestinians.

In addition, it sends the worst kind of message to the Palestinians. A few months ago, Abu Mazen begged and pleaded that Israel release Palestinian prisoners as a show of goodwill to help him increase his popularity. Israel refused, saying that it would not release prisoners involved in terrorist attacks. Now, this was with a reformer whom Sharon considered a negotiating partner. To turn around now and release some of these same prisoners to Hizbullah shows the Palestinians that the only way to get anything out of Israel is by force and will cause the Palestinians to redouble their attempts to kidnap Israelis.

Of course all this is easy for me to say. It's not one of my relatives being kept prisoner by Hassan Nasrallah's thugs. Still, the government and especially the Prime Minister need to be able to make tough decisions and need to kill this agreement as it stands.

The Ghoul Rises from his Sickbed

Sadly, rumors of Arafat's incapacitation due to ill health were premature.

Just yesterday, Sky News was reporting "fears about Arafat's health." (Personally, my only fear was that his illness wouldn't be fatal.)

But now, the ghoul's cronies report that he is as good as new. Yep, a figure of health ready to greenlight brand-new waves of terrorism and bully anyone who might want to challenge his authority. Like Abu Sock Puppet, for instance, who made a little show of trying to be independent.

On Thursday Abu Ala announced that he was refusing to become Prime Minister because of to refuse the Prime Ministership because Arafat wanted to keep the Palestinian cabinet small (and thus easier to control). Arafat also didn't want Abu Ala's guy to be in charge of security affairs. As always, it looks like Arafat will prevail.

The ra'is once again demonstrated who calls the shots (literally) in the Palestinian Authority. It seems near impossible to get rid of him through outside pressure. The only thing to do at this point is to wait for another (and hopefully this time terminal) round of illness.