Tuesday, February 28, 2006
He spoke in impeccable English with the clarity and balance that one has grown to expect of this renowned Holocaust historian. Not for a minute did he compromise on the unparalleled calamity that the Jewish people suffered during World War II. Nor did he ignore mass crimes perpetrated by the Nazis on other people, and by a variety of people against others in the decades since. In fact, Prof. Bauer also classifies as "genocide" the crimes committed against the Polish nation and the Gypsy (or Roma) people. (I don't know that I agree with him regarding the Poles, but never mind.)
And Bauer did not spare the current Iranian regime and similar contemporary Islamist extremist movements for their genocidal threats against the Jewish people today. But his refusal to stake primary Jewish ownership of the term, genocide, is typical of his measured, humane approach to the world.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles likewise attempts to exemplify this humanistic spirit. It is a Holocaust museum, but also an effort to universalize the centuries of Jewish suffering as a function of the same malady of bigotry and hatred that threatens all of us in some way.
[For example, I recall a multi-media presentation on the abuse of women. This hit one middle-aged male visitor so hard -- perhaps too close to home -- that he raged (frighteningly) about how the exhibit was really anti-male.]
But let's not be fooled. The Wiesenthal Center constantly sends out fund-raising appeals based on playing up every possible anti-Semitic threat, including ones that probably are nothing of the sort. (I believe it contributed to the fuss over Venzuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez's recent strange remarks about "Christ killers"; I recommend reading Arthur Waskow for the context of Chavez's statement.)
A few weeks ago, one of New York's PBS television affiliates broadcasted a documentary film on the late Simon Wiesenthal-- the actual man-- who died recently. Center planners practically had to twist his arm to lend his name to their institution. This fabled Nazi hunter was not the relentless seeker of Nazis under every bed that one might think.
The film indicates that Wiesenthal even defended the former UN Secretary-General and President of Austria, Kurt Waldheim, against the charges of the Wiesenthal Center and the World Jewish Congress that he had been a Nazi war criminal in Yugoslavia. (Waldheim did hide his war service as an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht, but Wiesenthal did not regard him as a true Nazi criminal.)
Read Meretz USA's statement on the Wiesenthal Center Museum and the Wiesenthal Center's statement on the issue.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Dear Rabbi Marvin Hier,
I am a 7th generation Jerusalemite Jerusalem lives within me. I write to tell you that I am surprised, if not shocked, to learn that the Wiesenthal Center intends to build a Museum for Tolerance at a site that was once an Arab Cemetery. It is ironic, that the Wiesenthal Center, which is committed to teaching tolerance, should choose to build on another people’s ancestral grounds. It flies in the face of all that tolerance implies. It will be seen by Muslims as an insult.
I remember the outrage Jews felt in 1967 to discover the vandalization of Hebrew tombstones on Har Hazeitim, and the consequent discovery that tombstones had been used for construction material of roads and living quarters. Are you thinking of an eye for an eye… ?
I encourage you to reconsider your decision to build at this time . In inflammable times, it would be prudent not to provoke the very people we are destined to co-exist with. We do not want a reason for riots now.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
In December, I caught most of a televised Harvard debate between Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky on C-Span. Both support a two-state solution and both have nice things to say about the Geneva Accord, but Dershowitz has a weaker grasp of the facts. Dershowitz disapprovingly referred to Geneva as accepting the Palestinian right of return. Chomsky said that Geneva doesn't accept the right of return. Neither seems aware of the complex formula that Geneva arrived at in accepting a right of return in principle, while mostly confining its implementation to the new Palestinian state.
Dershowitz was overly enthusiastic about Kadima at a time when Sharon was still at its head, calling it the "peace party" and reading a lot into the fact that Peres has joined it. Although endorsing a two-state solution, Chomsky was relentless in condemning Israeli actions and US support for Israel. Chomsky was cold and cutting, basically arguing the facts of the occupation — which are not pretty.
Chomsky unfairly blamed Israel for "rejecting" Taba, ignoring that Taba came after Barak had been undermined politically by the Intifada and elections were around the corner. The real blame here should go to the Palestinians for their violence. Chomsky also says that Israel "rejected" Geneva — not precisely true, because Geneva was never a formal proposal.
Chomsky detests Peres and once called him a mass murderer in the same league with Idi Amin. Obviously, Chomsky is prone to outlandishly harsh statements.
Dershowitz knows that Israel has committed wrongs in its history, but gets too emotionally caught up in defending Israel to address them. Chomsky attacked both Kadima and Amir Peretz, with typical overstatement, as accepting the cantonization of the West Bank and leaving Jerusalem entirely under Israeli rule.
Surprisingly, Chomsky's bottom-line position (as opposed to his vitriolic rhetoric) is not anti-Israel. As a member of Hashomer Hatzair, he was a left-wing Zionist in his youth and began to favor the two-state solution in the 1970s. Several times, he approvingly quoted Ron Pundak, an aide to Beilin from Oslo through Geneva. Maybe Chomsky's hostility is analogous to the clouded judgment of a jilted lover. Dershowitz is usually a pit bull; but in this debate, he came off as a love-sick puppy, with Israel his object of affection.
[This, and the previous entry on Peres, basically constitute two of four sections of “Column Left” in the forthcoming spring issue of Israel Horizons.]
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
And he keeps on losing: He lost elections for prime minister in 1977, 1981, 1988 and 1996. In 1992, he lost the Labor party primary to Yitzhak Rabin. In 2000, he lost the Knesset election for president to Likud MK Moshe Katzav (who has performed honorably as Israel's ceremonial head of state) and last November, he lost the Labor party leadership primary to Amir Peretz. He has never won an election outright; he first served as prime minister from 1984 to '86 after Labor tied Likud and agreed upon a rotation agreement with Yitzhak Shamir. He served as prime minister a second time when he succeeded the slain Yitzhak Rabin for half a year in 1995-6.
At that time, he blew a 20-point lead in the polls by precipitating a wave of savage revenge attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with the assassination of a Hamas terrorist leader, Yihya Ayyash, at a time of security and stability. Then he tried to make up for lost votes with a forceful response to Hezbollah rocket attacks with a massive bombardment of southern Lebanon, which ended abruptly when artillery inadvertently killed 100 civilians huddled at Kana, near the border. This tragedy lost him many Israeli-Arab votes, which would have been his winning edge over Benjamin Netanyahu.
After losing the Labor party leadership last November, he ignored the entreaties of Amir Peretz to remain in Labor and jumped to Sharon's new party. This move has reportedly lost Labor seven to eight Knesset mandates and stopped Peretz's initial momentum in its tracks. Sharon promised Peres nothing beyond a relatively minor diplomatic post, but with Sharon's exit, Peres has been placed as number two to Olmert on the Kadima electoral list. Sharon's health crisis means that Peres's battery is still running.
The man has almost invariably disappointed as a national leader. His true niche appears to be as a high-ranking aide to another leader, a role he played successfully for David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s and '60s, for Yitzhak Rabin in the early '90s, for Ariel Sharon last year, and now (perhaps) for Ehud Olmert. Hopefully, he will still make a useful contribution to Israel's future.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Sadly, all are "war" movies. Jews are objects rather than subjects in "Sophie Scholl" and "Paradise Now." "Sophie Scholl" and "Paradise Now" are about how Germans and Palestinians respectively confront(ed) their power or powerlessness in the face of injustice. By coincidence, "Sophie Scholl" is set in Munich. "Munich" is about how Jews confronted being victims and victimizers; the fact that it's very much about ourselves is why some -- unfairly and with excessive emotion -- regard filmmaker Steven Spielberg now as anti-Israel.
Israel Horizons has a review of "Munich" in the coming spring issue. Our writer, Mairav Zonszein, director of the UPZ, was disappointed with Spielberg's latest work-- seeing it as overly long and not credible in its portrayal of Mossad agents. But these quotes state her view of the charge that "Munich" is anti-Israel: "... the Palestinians kill innocents as an objective, while the Israelis kill innocents out of error.... anyone who claims ['Munich'] is anti-Israel is just crying wolf."
Spielberg is pro-Israel in his intent, but he has this tortured liberal way of showing it; I am reminded of those harsh lyrics by Phil Ochs, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" (or the Israeli equivalent, "Shooting and Crying"). Spielberg enigmatically obscured his Israel sympathies by hiring as one of his screenwriters, Tony Kushner -- a vocal critic of Israel (although not truly a hater of Israel).
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
The Nazis executed Sophie Scholl and her brother, but the Gestapo interrogator tried to get her off, the prison officials were considerate and even nice to her, most of the "White Rose" conspirators survived the war, and their families were investigated but neither prosecuted nor persecuted. If you were regarded as “non-Aryan,” especially a Jew, there was zero consideration toward a fellow human being; if you were one of their own — particularly an earnest school girl like Sophie Scholl — human compassion entered in.
As the regime became increasingly desperate and irrational toward the end of the war, particularly after the nearly successful plot to kill Hitler in July 1944, any manifestations of humanity — even toward their own — completely disappeared. (See film's Web site.)
Another nominee for best foreign language film, “Paradise Now,” is of more direct Jewish interest. The Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker is accused by feminist writer Phyllis Chesler (who has veered sharply right recently) as rendering Israelis invisible or demonizing them, basically seeing them only as oppressive soldiers. Yet that, of course (along with nasty settler types), is precisely the Palestinian experience of Israeli Jews.
And the scene at a bus stop humanizes Israelis. Even the second bus, which a character probably blows up as the screen fades, shows young attractive Israeli conscripts happily chatting with each other in a very human way — not hard soldiers in battle dress.
The female lead argues against suicide bombing basically on tactical or strategic rather than moral grounds, but she clearly argues for non-violent human-rights oriented resistance. Still, it disturbed me that the argument for terrorism, made by one of the would-be bombers, was at least as powerful in its presentation as the woman activist’s case against it.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Take a look, for instance, for his February 9th post on the jockeying between the different parties vying for the hearts, minds, and soon votes of Israelis.
And they're off.
The deadline for Israeli political parties to register their lists with the Central Election Committee expired at midnight local time, and a total of 30 factions beat the clock. Between 10 and 12 of them, not including the War on the Banks Party or the pro-marijuana Green Leaf, are likely to be represented in the next Knesset.
As usual, the last few days were marked with frantic maneuvering for unity deals, some of which were uncharacteristically successful. As usual, Degel Hatorah and Agudath Yisrael managed to put aside their differences and re-create United Torah Judaism for the duration of the campaign, but the Mafdal-National Union merger was less expected. The two parties' decision to run a united list makes political sense given that both draw from the national-religious pool of voters and Mafdal was unlikely to pass the electoral threshold on its own, but past attempts at unity had always fallen apart amid bickering over precedence. This way, at least two of the Mafdal MKs are likely to return to the Knesset, although the merger is not without its costs; Mafdal is mistrusted by some of the more hard-line voters, and some of them may desert the united list for parties even farther right.
There was also some consolidation among the Arab parties, albeit possibly not enough. The last-minute attempt to create a united Hadash-Balad list, which would have been a bad ideological fit in any event, fell apart due to disagreements over list places. At the same time, the smallest and most vulnerable of the Arab factions was augmented when Ahmed Tibi agreed to switch his Ta'al party from its electoral alliance with Hadash to the United Arab List. And Hadash made up for the loss of Tibi by picking up Hashem Mahameed, the former Umm al Fahm mayor whose solo run in 2003 resulted in 20,000 Arab votes being wasted. With three credible Arab lists competing instead of four, the chances that all of them will return to the Knesset are higher, although turnout and the level of support for Zionist parties among Arab voters will both be important.
In any event, the campaign has now officially begun, although it has in fact been in progress for several months. At the moment, it still looks like Olmert's election to lose. Today's Dahaf Institute poll has ...
READ THE REST HERE.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
After a while, he and I realized that we did not see the world, and Israel in particular, in the same way. We debated in the way that the wonderful world of e-mail makes possible, until I said something that totally stopped him. With his silence, I could virtually hear his condemnation of me as some sort of anti-Arab bigot or racist.
Insofar as I can recall, my conversation stopper was in two parts: that Israel has been callous with regard to the Palestinian Arabs’ realistic fear of losing more in rights and property to an expansive Israel (he clearly didn’t object to this), while Arabs have a problem with an all-too-quick and repeated pattern of resorting to violence. I see the latter in the Palestinian-Arab war to destroy the Yishuv in 1947-48, instead of accepting the UN Partition Plan, and in the Intifada that began in 2000, instead of moving toward compromise during the government of Ehud Barak.
This is not about how “generous” Barak’s positions were at Camp David, or that Barak was a wonderful negotiator– he was not. Yet their recourse to violence at both times destroyed all possibility of the flowering of a negotiating process that would have given them a sovereign state and a far better reality than war has left them.
I do not believe that Arabs or Muslims in general have an inherent propensity toward violence. That would be a bigoted belief. But Arab and Islamic societies are in a bad place right now, where mob violence and hatred trumps negotiation and compromise. I don’t know if this is inherent in Islam, but doubt that it is.
Still, we are reminded of this problem but again by the world-wide conflagration having to do with the publication of some satirical cartoons in a few European newspapers. As of this moment, at least 11 lives have been lost, buildings have been burned and international relations have been incredibly riled. (For a rational Muslim perspective on this issue, see a recent article by Irshad Manji.)
It’s as clear to me as day, however, that certain governments benefit by playing the religion card, promoting external enemies and scapegoating others. (It is not an accident, for example, that embassies have been burned by a marauding mob in the tightly-controlled dictatorship of Syria.) And guess who falls conveniently into place as their favorite scapegoat? (See a fair- minded article in NY Jewish Week, "Cartoons and Carnage: Jews dragged into Muhammad controversy....")
So an Iranian newspaper thinks it’s fair play, since Christian Europe has dumped on Muslim sensibilities, to sponsor a contest that invites cartoons lampooning the Holocaust! To add insult to insult, the Danish newspaper that started this mess by publishing these cartoons months ago, wants to freshly assert the right to a free press by also publishing these cartoons insulting to Jews. What a world! (For a somewhat more acerbic discussion, see Ami Isseroff’s piece in the Middle East Web.)
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
I was disturbed to find that the Feb. 7 issue of the left-wing British daily, The Guardian, includes the first of a two-part investigative report called "Brothers in arms - Israel's secret pact with Pretoria." It's introduced online as follows: "During the second world war the future South African prime minister John Vorster was interned as a Nazi sympathiser. Three decades later he was being feted in Jerusalem. In the second part of his remarkable special report, Chris McGreal investigates the clandestine alliance between Israel and the apartheid regime, cemented with the ultimate gift of friendship - A-bomb technology."
It's a challenging article, just as this is a challenging issue. Clearly, there are parallels to be drawn in terms of separation, discrimination, military repression, security threats, "native" uprisings and resistance movements, plus an actual relationship (or alliance) between Israel and the apartheid regime, apparently beginning in 1976 -- after sub-Saharan African countries were bribed or otherwise influenced to turn against Israel following the Yom Kippur War -- reversing two decades of Israel's close friendship with and assistance of the emerging African states.
The reporter makes inadequate effort at contextualizing, with some diversity of opinion, but always coming back to a drumbeat of quotes and arguments that would tar Israel with the apartheid brush. And there are plenty of quotes (unfortunately) and evidences that would substantiate this view.
But if one sought them out, it would not be at all difficult to find Arab-Palestinian genocidal threats and gross anti-Semitic/racist views -- both historical and contemporary-- to substantiate reasonable fears on the Jewish-Israeli side. One critical difference between the African National Congress and the PLO, is that the former never practiced terrorist actions of major consequence against white civilians (ANC military actions tended to be sabotage against property); the difference is summed up by what Israeli doves used to say with regret about Arafat as a partner for peace: that he's no Mandela.
Also, you cannot regard as typical (as the article implies) the current level of repression and military action that Israel has engaged in since the Intifada began in 2000, as a reaction to attacks that have cost hundreds of civilian lives.
Here's a heads-up about the coming spring issue of Israel Horizons. We examine exactly this matter with "AN APARTHEID STATE? Israel is a democracy in which Arabs vote." Its author,
Benjamin Pogrund, is a native of South Africa, a journalist who opposed apartheid and has written books on Nelson Mandela and the press under apartheid. As an Israeli today, he is an activist for peace and reconciliation, including as a board member of the Palestine-Israel Journal.
Here are a few sample quotes from his article in IH:
1) In Israel, discrimination is extensive, but it is not remotely comparable with the South African panoply of discrimination enforced by parliamentary legislation.
2) Palestinians are not oppressed on racial grounds as Arabs, but as competitors in a national/religious conflict for land.
3) The barrier/wall/fence, as it is now, is a repugnant aspect of Israeli policy.... But calling it the “Apartheid Wall” is a debasement of the word for the sake of propaganda. “Apartheid” is a lazy label for the complexities of the Middle East conflict.
P.S. To the Guardian's credit, it has allowed Mr. Pogrund to respond to this charge with an opinion piece. It begins: "Nearly three years ago I underwent an operation in a Jerusalem hospital. The surgeon was Jewish, the anaesthetist was Arab. The doctors and nurses who looked after me were Jews and Arabs. I lay in bed for a month and watched as they gave the same skilled care to other patients - half of whom were Arabs and half of whom were Jewish - all sharing the same wards, operating theatres and bathrooms." Click here to read on....
by Hillel Schenker
Tel Aviv, February 4th
"I've learned from my long experience with you that you Israelis always prefer to panic. You always find a reason to be worried," said Egyptian President Mubarak to Yediot Ahronot's Smadar Peri. How true. The wonderful IHT caricature about the Palestinian elections sums it up. Three figures are reading a newspaper the day after the elections. An Israeli reads "Hamas wins," and the balloon over his head says "Oh No!" The next figure with a kaffieyeh representing Fatah reads "Will form a majority," and the balloon reads "Oh No!" The final bearded figure representing Hamas reads "Will govern," and the balloon reads "Oh No!" When I showed the caricature to Najat Hirbawi, the circulation manager at the Palestine-Israel Journal, she got very excited, and said "we've got to put it up on the wall."
So here we are, a week into the new age.
When I went to East Jerusalem on Sunday, I wondered if I would see/feel any difference. Somehow, it all looked the same as it did during election week. No Hamas flags, no green, still many posters of the 29 candidates for the Jerusalem area, most of whom were not elected. Even some Palestinian 20 something women in very Western form-fitting sweaters. But apparently in Ramallah, says Amman-based Fulbright scholar Prof. Marcy Newman who dropped by for a visit, the green Hamas flags and banners are very prominent, and dress is much more modest. Comopolitan Ramallah, "the Tel Aviv of the West Bank," in the words of one Palestinian.
Dr. Nadia Nasser Najjab, like many other relatively secular, worldy Moslem Palestinians, is not happy, to put it mildly. The day after the election results came in, her daughter asked her - "Mommy, will the Hamas allow me to invite my Christian girl-friend for dinner?" Don't worry,she was reassured, the Hamas will not determine who we invite to dinner. Invite her tomorrow. Over the weekend, literally hundreds of jokes emerged in Ramallah, and Nadia already wrote an article about them in the daily Al-Yam. Like how one of the most popular restaurants changed its name to Kandahar (Afghanistan). Humor as a safety valve for coping with anxiety.
Dr. Walid Salem of the Panorama Center for Peace and Democracy, Jerusalem, saw it coming, and before the elections he actually expressed the hope that it would snow on January 25th so that no on! e would go to vote. After the shock, he's entered into a frenzy of analysis and writing, sending missives out into cyberspace, and dreaming of building a serious third way democratic party.
On January 24th, Ron Pundak and the Peres Center for Peace, with the help of a grant from the EU, convened a forum of PeaceNGOs at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, an historic location for many Israeli political intrigues. He noted that people had suggested that he wait until after the Palestinian elections, but what difference would that make to our basic approach to things he asked rhetorically. Little did he/we know.
And now, all the Israeli cross border organizations are waiting to see how things will evolve, to formulate a clear strategy for the future.
On the Palestinian side, Riad Al-Malki and Nancy Sadiq at the Panorama Center for Peace and Democracy, Ramallah, received a parallel EU grant for joint activities from the Palestinian side. They have already identified at least 15 Palestinian NGOs committed to joint Palestinian-Israeli people to people activity, and today, Saturday, they are convening their first post-election brainstorming session in Ramallah.
When I called Nancy this week, she looked forward to cooperating with the Palestine-Israel Journal, and noted that my first name was also familiar in its Palestinian-Arab variation. Yes, I said, there are a lot of words which have common roots in Hebrew and Arabic. "That's another reason why we have to work together," she said.
I called IPCRI's Gershon Baskin at his Tantur office for a brief consultation/exchange of views. After-all, how many joint Israeli-Palestianian projects are out there that function together on a daily basis? IPCRI, Palestine-Israel Journal, maybe a few others. So what do we do now? Act immediately, wait and see? Gershon says that it was a secular Moslem who expressed the strongest opposition to possible cooperation with Hamas. While the Christians are both more vulnerable and cautious. At the Palestine-Israel Journal we're continuing as usual, with a round! table discussion at the "extraterritorial" American Colony Hotel (ranked the most beautiful hotel in the Middle East) on Monday devoted to "The Future of People to People. " The usual format: two Israelis, two Palestinians, and an Israeli and Palestinian moderator. And soon we'll have a broad editorial board meeting to discuss general policy.
On Wednesday, as Gershon Baskin, Hanna Siniora and pollster Khalil Shikaki explained to the diplomatic corps and foreign media what happened, I did what journalists do, took a taxi. My Palestinian taxi driver, who picked me up on Salah a-Din Street in East Jerusalem, railed against the Tunis outsiders, saying that the PA leaders got what they deserved. "A bunch of crooks." He said that he once took a Palestinian-Brazilian businessman to see Arafat.
A wealthy entrepreneur, he offered to establish a rug business in the West Bank. Arafat welcomed him enthusiastically, but said the condition was that he give him 45% of the income. The businessman refused, and was thrown out of the office. The driver also described how as a kid he remembers seeing a PA official waiting for the cheaper transit/taxi into Jerusalem - 70 agorot rather 1.50 shekels - to save money. And now he sees him driving around in a Mercedes. They got what they deserved he says. The Hamas are cleaner, less corrupt he says. And just as I was starting to ask him if he wasn't afraid of the imposition of a religious life-style, he suddenly got a phone-call that his daughter who was left home alone had set the house on fire. "Sorry, I've got to let you off here and rush back home," he said, and refused to take any payment. So he left me off at Davidka Square on Jaffa Street in West Jerusalem, the square named after the Israeli-made weapon that helped to win the 1948 War for Independence.
From there I got into a Jewish taxi to the central bus station. "Those shits," he exclaimed, "they should be thrown out of the country." He was of course referring to the settler youth who were battling with the police and the army at illegal Amuna outpost. The news had just reported that one of the soldiers was seriously injured. "How dare they attack the IDF soldier, our sons. They're a bunch of shits." This from a Jerusalem taxi driver, most of whom used to vote Likud, some of whom are even members of the Likud central committee.
Amos Harel of Haaretz was on the scene at Amuna, and he provided a brief sociological background analysis. The soldiers, most of whom are Bedouins, Druze, new secular Russian immigrants and Mizrahi Morrocans, literally hate the wild settler youth, all of whom are Ashkenazi and religious. Unlike Gush Katif and Gaza, there are no "quality of life" socio-economic settlers there, just religious fanatics, with lots of hormones.
Back in Tel Aviv on Thursday, another taxi takes me to Tel Aviv University. Passing a sign that says "Kadima (onward) to the 67 borders." Looks like a promotional ad for Uri Avnery's Gush Shalom, but actually it's a Likud anti-Kadima Party ad. Not the most effective PR in the world. And "Meretz loves Arabs, gays, women, the physically challenged, etc," and "Beilin will Divide Jerusalem" are actually pro, not anti-Meretz ads. It's a strange world.
At the Tel Aviv U event on the elections, Dayan Center head Professor Asher Susser cites Shikaki's findings, that a majority of the Palestinians actually voted for Fatah, the smaller independents and the left, and only a minority for Hamas. He also notes that a majority continue to support a peace process with Israel and an end to the suicide bombing. Things that Hamas will have to take into account. Two recent authors for the Palestine-Israel Journal were featured speakers - Palestinian society expert doctoral candidate Efraim Lavi and Hamas expert Dr. Meir Litvak.
Lavi focussed on the clash between Fatah's younger generation, led by Marwan Barghouti, and the veterans, led by Arafat/Abu Mazen from Tunis, clearly one of the factors which cost Fatah the elections. And I wonder what might have been if Arafat were still alive, if Israel hadn't assassinated Abu-Jihad and the internal opposition hadn't assassinated Abu-Ayyad, if Marwan Barghouti had been out of prison and if Faisal Husseini were still alive. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) would be an ideal president or prime minister in a post-occupation independent Palestinian state, but he doesn't seem to have the charisma and leadership capacity necessary to lead a secular national liberation movement to victory.
Litvak emphasized that Hamas is divided between potential pragmatists and extreme religious ideologues. They were as surprised and ill-prepared as everyone else by the election results. However, unlike the situation in Fatah, they are all home-grown heroes. He sees a potential for a split in the movement, and also notes that they ar! e part of a general trend in the Arab-Moslem world, and not just a local Palestinian phenomenon. In his article in the latest issue of the PIJ (devoted to Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia) on The Anti-Semitism of Hamas, he wrote a damning analysis of the movement's anti-Semitic views, based upon their charter. I told him that it reminded me of Prof. Yehoshafat Harkaby's critical analysis of the PLO Charter, which "proved" that it was impossible to talk with PLO. Harkaby later became one of the leading proponents for dialogue with the PLO leadership, so isn't it possible that Hamas will change as well, after all there is already a difference between their oral and their written statements? Litvak responded that he doesn't rule out the possibility of changes in the Hamas position, but that political changes will necessarily have to come before amendments to their written charter.
We shall see.
The third presentation at the event was by Avi Issacharov, a Kol Yisrael radio commentator on Palestinian affairs. He spoke about Elections in the Shadow of the Faowda,the situation of chaos. He said that Arafat ruled by creating a situation of chaos that he could dominate, developing a constant series of competing power centers, some of them armed. Without Arafat, the situation had descended into general chaos, and in his view, the reaction to the Faowda was even stronger than the reaction against corruption.
To my surprise, on Thursday night, January 29th, the day that the election results became clear, Ziad Abu-Zayyad, who lost his seat in Palestinian Legislative Council, came to Jaffa to participate in the special 80th birthday celebrations for veteran journalist Victor Cygielman, the co-founder together with Ziad of the Palestine-Israel Journal. Clearly affected by the unexpected results, he appeared to be very pensive and withdrawn within himself, though he did say some very positive words in praise of Victor and joint Israeli-Palestinian activity. By Sunday, when we met in East Jerusalem, he seemed to have rebounded. "We will continue doing what we've been doing," he said. And what about Hamas? "If they want to participate in our joint activities, they are welcome." And Hamas' impact on the situation? "Remember what people felt when Menachem Begin and the Likud gained power in Israel in 1977? And then they made peace with Egypt."
Yes, I remember. But the Likud didn't have a religious component in its ideology. Will Hamas be capable of becoming as pragmatic as Sharon and Olmert?
Meanwhile, one of the new Kadima Knesset candidates, Dr. Rachel Adato, Deputy Director of the Bikur Cholim hospital and a former Likud Central Committee member says that as someone who grew up in "Red Haifa" in a Revisionist home, "August (the disengagment) changed my way of seeing things...As a Jerusalemite, I realize that I no longer know the (East Jerusalem) neighborhoods of Sheich Jarah and Wadi Joz that I used to know, and I no longer visit the Old City. From my local, daily point of view, those places are no longer part of Jerusalem. I don't go there. In practical terms, Jerusalem is divided."
Tomorrow is another week. And on Monday I head out for Wadi Joz/Sheikh Jarah and we hold our roundtable discussion on The Future of People to People.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Part of the legacy of Sharon's unilateralism is that Hamas was elected in the first place. The stage was set for this election by Sharon's failure to support Abbas as a partner for peace by releasing more prisoners and easing the lives of Palestinians suffering from severe restrictions on travel, losses of property, and settler violence and intimidation.
His successors at the helm of his Kadima (Forward) party are almost all more dovish. It was Ehud Olmert whose public statements first hinted at Sharon's new policy direction. This formerly right-wing Likudnik may have been decisively influenced by his wife, a member of Meretz. He in turn may very well have influenced Sharon to the limited but important extent that he changed. His major co-leader in Kadima is Tzipi Livni, now both foreign and justice minister. We were informed by Gershon Baskin in November that Ms. Livni is similarly dovish. And there's Shimon Peres, now also among Kadima's leaders.
It is my hope that Kadima will form a majority coalition with Labor and Meretz after the March 28 elections to lead Israel to a decidedly more peaceful and better future. Hamas may be a formidable obstacle to such hopes, but not necessarily. As in all Israeli elections, however, the possibility of terrorist attack remains a wild card.