Thursday, January 3, 2013


Dear Friends in America(from North to South)
Just a thought before I get into the main content of this letter:
Imagine the Tea Party taking complete control of the Republican Party, and winning the elections in the U.S., including both congressional houses………. And actually beginning to pursue policies they hold dear to their beliefs. Imagine ………
Well, two years later, if you don't like it……. You could probably change it.

Here in Israel, after these coming elections (Jan. 22) the outlook portends that  our own Tea Parties, regardless of the bickering among themselves, will hold an extreme right-wing mandate for at least the coming four years…… enough time to cause many irreversible  changes and damages to  the fragile formula of a liberal, democratic, Jewish and Zionist State.

I have been worried for a long time. Today I am past worrying. I am trying to build for myself a Plan-B as to how I and others could still stay actively afloat as an opposition with hope within the kind of Government and country which are becoming more and more of a reality.

O.K. ……………..and now for this letter.
A couple of weeks ago I got into an exchange of opinions with a friend who is certainly far from a Bibi or Likud fan. Nevertheless we evidently have a difference of opinion about the road onto which Bibi is consciously taking us. I thought the exchange (probably too long for most readers) may interest a few of you, so here it is:

Exchange of letters

From a friend to his mailing list (actually a second mailing on the subject to that mailing list):

I was pleased to see some discussion of my analysis about the war [8 days of Gaza the previous month. A.S.] and its consequences. I will partially disagree  with some of the comments and will express those disagreements but I want to emphasize that for the most part I am in agreement in general with those comments.

First, as an Israeli I am also quite pleased that Obama was re-elected. Romney's father, George, was a good governor of Michigan when I was in graduate school there, and according to what I have read, Mitt was a fairly good governor of Massachusetts. But as a national leader he would have had to placate the right wing of the Republican party and I doubt that it would have been good for the USA or Israel.

It seems to me  that Obama has come a long way in his understanding of the Middle East since his first year or two in office, as he watched his original Middle East policies crash and burn and I think that this will benefit both the USA and Israel.

As for Israel, the latest public opinion poll conducted here shows that most Israelis are in favor of a two-state solution.  Polls carried out among the Palestinian population are not nearly so clear on that issue, with a majority of the Palestinians being in favor of negotiations and being in favor of armed resistance. I think that these polls may or may not be accurate but I think that the leaders of each side see their publics more or less in the same way; that is, as reflected in the polls. One consequence is that Bibi has tried to move his Likud party to the center and along the way publicly proclaiming his favoring the two-state solution including a Palestinian Arab state. Unfortunately in the last set of primaries, the Likud Knesset list has taken a couple of steps back towards the right. Bibi now faces the same kind of political dilemma that Romney faced when confronted by a large tea-party faction. He couldn't win without them but not disassociating himself from them cost him votes among moderates. Bibi has Feiglin and his friends while losing some of the moderate Likudniks from the party list. I suspect that Bibi's combining of party lists with Lieberman's party was an attempt to jettison some of the more extremist elements in the Likud. It's not the first time in Likud history that this sort of thing has happened. Menahem Begin insisted the Liberal Party make up about one-third of his list, even though that party attracted very few voters. What was important to Begin was who that combination kept off the list as opposed to who was on it.

After the vote in the UN on Palestinian representation, Bibi announced more settlements in the West Bank. Actually he didn't but appearances rather than substance are what count around here.  I think that by and large this was a sop to his own right wing to keep them quiet about having their representation in the Likud list reduced by combining with Lieberman's list. The elections are one month away and as long as he can maintain shalom bayit within his party he has the election in the bag.  The Israeli left and center are fragmented and it remains to be seen as to whether or not they will keep their collective egos in check and concentrate their campaigns on criticizing Bibi and the right; or will spend their time in internecine political warfare among themselves.  Shelly Yacimovitz's Labor party caught a break in this regard when Amir Peretz left the party and joined Tzipi Livni's party thus helping greatly to bring some shalom bayit to the Labor party. (By the way, I will most likely be voting for the Labor party this time around.)

Shelly has been running the kind of campaign (based mainly on social issues) that the Labor party has failed to run in decades and has lost election after election because of it. I think that Bibi's announcement about settlements was also bait for the Labor party to make the election about peace with the Palestinians. Shelly, showing (IMHO) great political sense, did not rise to the bait.  Much to my surprise she has turned out to be one smart lady.

As to the world's reaction to Bibi's settlement announcement; it reminds me a little about something said about the UN back in the 70's and 80's. If the Arab states proposed a resolution to the General Assembly that the Earth was flat, it would probably be adopted by a vote of 92 to 4 with 38 abstentions. Malke mentioned something about the moral high ground. It seems to me that if such a thing exists, it plays no part in world politics. You may remember that back when Rabin was prime minister and the government was left of center the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution stating that Zionism is racism. That resolution was rescinded by the UN General Assembly when Yitzkah Shamir was prime minister in a right-wing likud led government. If you think that Israel had achieved a moral high ground under Shamir's administration and the UN acted accordingly … well, let's just say that I disagree.

By the way, Abbas faces the same sort of problem that Bibi faces only in a more severe form. Not only does he have to compete with the Hamas but the Fatah elements in the PA are pressuring him to go for Palestinian victory instead of a compromise peace agreement. Helen (and most of the Israeli citizenry) is correct that a one-state solution would be a disastrous end to the State of Israel. That is why Abbas has set conditions for resuming negotiations such that agreeing to the conditions would be equivalent to agreeing to a one-state solution.  Right now neither Bibi nor Abbas want negotiations. Bibi will be in a better position to engage in negotiations after the elections. Abbas is in a pre-election situation but with no new elections in sight. He may be in this situation forever or until time and biology run their course. At any rate there is nothing short of committing ourselves to national suicide that will bring Abbas to the negotiating table. Certainly there will be no pressure put on the Palestinians to negotiate. Indeed the idea of putting any pressure on the Palestinians is completely absent from discussions about the Middle East, I suspect even in sincerely pro-peace organizations like J-Street.   

Anyway, it's about 6:30 AM on Friday morning here and I have rambled on for long enough. Soon my better half will be up and we will start cleaning the house for Shabbat. Have a nice weekend and please feel free to respond, even if it's to tell me that I don't know what I am talking about.
Have a nice weekend,

From  Aaron Sharif to a few recepients of the ubove letter

Being Iris (my wife) gets all the list's messages and I end up reading some of them, I ran into the sender's latest assessment of what's happening  politically here in our country. I have a few serious disagreements about some of what he writes and I thought I should tell you about  them. ……………………….

First and foremost: The sender seems to paint Bibi as the prudent good guy whose every action is mostly done to keep the bad guys down…….
Accordingly, Bibi is ideologically/politically in the Center between Left and Right, he really wants a two-state compromise, is doing his very best to bring the Likud party into the Center, and it's only the other guys, the bad guys in his own party, and those utterly non-compromising Palestinians, who are thwarting his every desire for a two-state solution.

To me this is a perversion of what is actually happening. The great majority of the Likud party is against a two-state compromise. This was true before Feiglin and his crowd, and remains truer than ever today. Most of those who changed their positions and saw that there are no other viable alternatives, had to leave the Likud Party. Arik Sharon, Olmert, Tzipy Livneh, split off from the Likud for that very reason. The remaining few (very few), those who stayed on as relics of nostalgia, have now been kicked into the far back benches of the Likud, with zero influence over political events. Bibi stayed on, and on top, because he supports those who are against a two-state policy, and they know this.  His only real difference with Feiglin is the kind of one-state target they are shooting for. Feiglin's would be totally theocratic. Bibi's would be a bit more democratic and secular. Both would rule over apartheid enclaves of Palestinians. Feiglin declares things openly. Bibi is a more perspective and shrewd politician, has a smoother tongue, and knows that what counts is what is actually done on ground zero rather than what is said.

On Ground Zero, meaning the West Bank, Bibi has supported, done, and implemented policies which have made a two-state resolve slip further and further away from reality. During his few years as finance minister and his many years as Prime Minister, settlements in the West Bank, both pseudo-legal and illegal, received constantly growing portions of our national budget. Area C, comprising 60 percent of the West Bank has been nearly cleansed of Arabs in a strategic process of making it a de-facto part of Israel proper. In doing so, we have knowingly split the rest of the West bank into a potpourri of smaller uncombined enclaves. The resolve to build settlements in area E1 is simply part of this ongoing policy. E1 is meant to drive a long arm eastward from Jerusalem towards the Jordan River, making accessibility so much more difficult between the southern and northern West Bank. We will do all that we can to see to it that even an only semi-viable Palestinian State becomes impossible.

It is absurd to suppose, as the writer seems to do, that Bibi joined with Lieberman in order to make the Party list less extremist in its jingoism. Aside from hearing Lieberman himself, please listen to the others who stand beside and behind Lieberman.  Some of the most racist and prejudicial statements against both Israeli Arabs and against the possibility of a Palestinian State have come from this quarter of Bibi's alliance. (Though Lieberman once wrote a scenario for a separate Palestinian Entity, he openly based it on getting rid of most Israeli Arabs and having overwhelming control over that separate entity.)  At most, Bibi thought to minimize religious fanaticism (Feiglinism) through this move. But mainly the alliance was done to make sure he has first crack at forming a government after the elections, rather than Shelly and her rejuvenated Labor Party if it succeeded in making an alliance with a reborn Olmert (but he remained stranded) or a rekindled Tzipy Livne (which Tzipy turned down). The next government will be a small but firm majority coalition of Bibi's Likud+Lieberman parties together with Bennet's Bayit Yehudi and the Shas Religious Parties. They will have the support of other smaller extreme right-wing parties. If Labor or Atid join the coalition it will be because Bibi is willing to show the world how moderate he is. They will have as little effect on Israeli-Palestinian policies as they had in our present government.

I agree with the writer's assessment of Abbas's situation, but fully disagree with his blanket assertion that  "there is nothing short of committing ourselves to national suicide that will bring Abbas to the negotiating table". That may be true as an end result to negotiation demands, but not for the start of negotiations. Abbas has consistently said he will sit for negotiations  as long as construction by us Israelis in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) will be stopped during the negotiations. We Israelis don't go for this and say that we already did so for a while, and Abbas still refused to negotiate. We overlook the fact that during that time we refused to include the construction in East Jerusalem, and continued in the West Bank with many places which already waved a permit (I was there to see the construction).  Our Bibi refused then and refuses today to halt all construction behind the green line (including East Jerusalem) during negotiations. I fail to see how such a demand is "nothing short of committing ourselves to national suicide" in order to bring Abbas to the negotiating table.  True, Abbas ( and also us) has other demands as well (such as to receive an initial map of what we think will be left of the West Bank to the Palestinians), but they don't impede the start of negotiations. We aren't even willing to try him out and say "O.K., we'll stop construction on the day negotiations begin, and continue construction the very day negations fall apart". We don't want negotiations.  So when our writer thinks "Bibi will be in a better position to engage in negotiations after the elections", I need to add that Bibi will go to negotiations only if terribly pressured against his will, and will do his sincerest to see to it that the negotiations lead nowhere. Of course this may also be the end-game situation on the Palestinian side, but we will never really know while we have a government that the great majority of its members (including the Prime Minister) are against a two-state compromise.

Netanyahu has been the most influential force in the Likud Party for the past two whole decades, the majority of these years with the Likud Party heading our Government. Of the last 15 years Netanyahu was an important minister in 4 of them, and a prime minister in 7 of them. He has definitely mobilized the Likud Party to create indelible chapters in our history. Soon those chapters may bring us to a point of no return. 

So……I simply can't be as lenient with Bibi as Frankie's letter seems to permit.
(As always…there is so much more to say about the above. I also have a few more points of disagreement with the writer's assessments: e.g., reading of opinion poll results, Obama and the Middle East. But I've chattered enough in this letter. )
My very best to you,

From the "sender" directly to Aaron
Hi Aaron,

First, thank you for your response. It helps my ego to know that someone takes my ramblings seriously enough to disagree. ………. I will reply below where I think that you are wrong or where I think you got me wrong. ………..

First, I don't hate Bibi or any other Israeli politician. I get the feeling that some think that I am supposed to hate him just as I was supposed to hate the Fascist expansionist Menahem Begin, who negotiated Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab state and withdrew from three-fourths of the land that Israel captured in 1967, or hate the militarist war monger Ariel Sharon, of whom it was predicted that within six months of his becoming prime minister Israel would be at war with all of our Middle Eastern neighbors and who pulled us out of Gaza and split the Likud party forming Israel's first major centrist party. So, no, I won't hate Bibi but I won't describe him as a prudent good guy either. In his second term he has proven to be a canny politician who is mainly concerned about winning and keeping high political office.  I don't know what goes on in his head intellectually or ideologically but his behavior can be observed and it has been to pull the Likud party to the political center because that's where the votes are. He publicly announced his agreement with the two-state solution in a speech at Bar Ilan University, in other words to people who make up his core constituency. It was not only a statement of his position but the beginning of his attempt to persuade his supporters that the two-state solution should be supported by them. It was an example of political leadership that was part of the process of bringing the Likud to the center.  

Bibi stayed on top because he still has the majority of his party supporting him. Feiglin and his buddies would like to see Bibi removed from leadership and replaced with a more likeminded leader. Bibi wil use every political maneuver that he can to get the Feiglin crowd downgraded within the Likud because, whether or not he agrees with them, they are a threat to his position and they are an electoral handicap with the voting public.

If I agree with you on one point, it is that way too much money has been spent on the settlements in the West Bank and in Gaza before they were withdrawn. The E1 issue is a bit of a fraud as far as Palestinian contiguity is concerned. The "long arm" reaches out about two miles from Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim.  Beyond the group of Israeli settlements at Maaleh Adumim there is about another 11 miles of Palestinian territory until the banks of the Dead sea. I might point out that from the Security barrier adjacent to Kalkilya to the Mediterranean, the width of Israel is only about nine miles.  Certainly if Israel is not considered two enclaves then a solution to north south travel problems with the Palestinians is available for implementation.

Now here is where I disagree with you and most others, including the right wing nut cases who also see the settlements as barriers to peace. The settlements are not what is preventing negotiations. In fact, if one were to look at the Palestinian situation logically, rather than emotionally or by adopting propaganda narratives, one would see that the settlements are motivations to negotiate. Before you go ballistic I would suggest you consider that if Arafat had accepted the Clinton parameters at Camp David there would be at least 200,000 less settlers in the West Bank today. The same goes for Abbas in the past four years (and even more so in the next four). The logical way for the Palestinians to stop settlement expansion is to demand unconditional negotiations and reach a compromise peace  agreement with Israel as quickly as possible. There are several reasons why the Palestinians have not followed this policy and settlement expansion is not one of them. And by the way, just as a reminder, I think that settlement expansion is a very bad idea for all of us Jews.   

No one listens to Lieberman but just assume that he is Stalin reincarnated (unless they are Stalinists). An example of that is in the above paragraph where it talks about Lieberman's plans to get rid of most Israeli Arabs. I suppose this brings to mind visions of Israeli Arabs being driven out of their homes and into the desert or some such. This wasn't what Lieberman advocated though many people, perhaps including Aaron,  are left with the impression that he did. By the way that Lieberman advocates any sort of two-state solution puts him to the left of the Labor party of the 1970's and 80's. Mention of the Shas party is also interesting. I know that we are supposed to hate Shas and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. However, when Begin negotiated the withdrawal from Sinai, Rabbi Shlomo Goren (you remember him, the liberal rabbi who jumped out of airplanes with the Tzanchanim) issued a Halachic ruling that forbid giving back conquered territory. It was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who issued the Halachic ruling that basically left that question up to the political rulers of the state, thus giving religious legitimacy to Begin's peace policies. So, no, I won't hate Shas or Rabbi Yosef. I won't agree with them on a lot of things either. However,  they have a constituency which demands social justice and the potential for a partnership with the Labor party is therefore not out of the question.   

Abbas has set three  preconditions to  start  negotiations. Israel must agree to pull back to the 1967 lines. Israel must freeze all construction. Israel must agree to accept all of the Palestinian refugees back within the green lines. The only alteration of these demands is the settlement construction freeze which was added to the other two when Bibi was elected. Abbas has been fairly consistent about these demands because his constituency has been educated to expect their fulfillment. Not long ago Abbas went on Israeli TV and indicated that the Palestinians no longer demanded right of return for the "refugees".  He immediately back-tracked on that statement when he had to face his own constituents. Here is a newspaper account from Ha'aretz:

I will reiterate that two of these three conditions are invitations to national suicide. The settlement freeze is thrown in because of the political difficulties it would cause Bibi.

Well, let's see. Natanyu in his first term decimated the Likud which more or less dumped him, leaving Sharon to clean up the mess. Bibi came back after Sharon split the party and proceeded to move the Likud to the Israeli center picking up bits and pieces of the party that had followed Sharon to the center and putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. In the meantime the center and the left fragmented over mostly personality issues. Where all this will lead to, I don't know. We have a month before Bibi will probably be re-elected but in Israeli politics a month is a long time. Moreover, Israeli politics are often effected by events and decisions which take place elsewhere, beyond the control of our politicians, but that effect us profoundly.   

Nu?  Now it's your turn.

From Aaron to the "sender"

NO, we've done this before. I don't intend getting into a long back and forth debate with you regarding the direction taken by our government and the reasons and ramifications of such. I trust that your own heart and desires for our future belong in the right place, and I'd rather argue at length with those who think quite the opposite but are still willing to listen.

Nevertheless, I can't but include a few comments on your response to my response:

No, it’s not about "hating" Bibi. It’s about knowing where he's taking us. Learning from past History needs to be done judiciously. Please don't place Bibi neither as a Begin nor as a Ben-Guryon. Nor is he an Arik Sharon or Olmert who came to the realization that in order to change course they needed to leave the Likud. Bibi isn't leaving. He isn't going to change course. He is deepening his reliance on a Party and its leadership who state openly their objection to a 2-state compromise. Our next President will most likely be from the Likud and states openly that he is for a Greater Israel scenario….. and he's one of the few "good guys" left in the Likud leadership. Bibi got forced into his announcement at Bar-Ilan, but is doing a wonderful job at scuttling the 2-state direction, at giving Abbas lots of inducements to refuse negotiations, and at bringing us closer to the One State status which will mortally endanger our Zionism, or our Democracy, or probably both. 

As for Bibi's reaction to the Feiglin crowd, don't mistake internal political tactics for long range strategic motives, directions and ideologies. Just as there are internal tensions for getting out the votes between the Likud and the Bayit Hayehudi Parties, so are there internal tactics within the Likud itself regarding leadership and its color. But all this is happening within a consensus of objection to any kind of Palestinian State. Bibi has always been, and remains, in that consensus.

As for E1, strategically it has lots to do with breaking up the West bank into North and South. The settlement (and de-facto annexation) enterprise has learned and operated much on the premise of Dunam after Dunam, upgrading it to square mile after mile. E1 is the second leap forward on that principal, between Jerusalem and the Jordan. (The first leap was enlarging and building up our Jewish population in East Jerusalem way beyond the original 1967 borders of East Jerusalem). Don't worry, there is a third leap already sitting on the desk, probably heading west from the Jordan valley which we fully control within Area-C. Likewise, your argument of "fraud", using our 9-mile waistline as an example is a bit weak. Aside from what I wrote above about "leap" stages, check out the difference in geographical terrain.

You are mostly mistaken about Abbas's prior conditions for opening negotiations. Two of your three conditions are statements of unequivocal demands during negotiations; just as we have our own unequivocal demands which we say are non-negotiable (e.g. recognizing us specifically as a "Jewish" state). Perhaps all of these mutual “unequivocals” will destroy the negotiations. Perhaps not. But for initially opening talks only one thing is needed from us: a total freeze of construction during the talks, including East Jerusalem. We refuse to do that even as a ploy to "call his bluff" and gain points in the international political game.

You are certainly right about politics being able to take a variety of turns (such as Shas going with Labor, as you wrote). This is our reason for saying that there is hope for change regardless of how dismal things may look like today. This is a good reason for continuing to put up a struggle for change. But as a rule, the struggle is not with you or about your political positions, which are probably somewhere in the same neighborhood as mine. My problem was mainly with your assessments. Therefore, it is moot to continue arguing with you when we should both be out there arguing and convincing the general Israeli public.

I know…. I know….. I know….. you feel the urge to respond (I know the feeling), and perhaps you will. Nevertheless, you are not my target, and though there is so much more to say,  I'll do and discontinue with the above…… and that's it.

Be well…. and keep writing and talking

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