Tuesday, June 24, 2003


We've got to get out while we're young. Thus, I'm off for a few days to Northern Italy to eat pasta, gelato and have a private and personal meeting with the Boss at San Siro Stadium on Saturday night. It is the last show of Springsteen's European tour and an offer for a ticket from young JP from Edgemont could not be passed up. I already discussed potential set lists for a Springsteen concert in Israel -- of course he would open with "The Promised Land". As for Italy, I would expect that Little Steven (who has the two coolest jobs in the world, playing Silvio on the Soprano's and guitarist in the E Street Band) will offer some sort of Italian touch. I'd like to hear Racing in the Streets and the Detroit Medley. Promise to give a detailed report next week.

Thus, for the next few days, the peacemakers and warmongers should and will somehow get along without my musings. Those of you who want or need to reach me can always use email. They have it there. In the meantime, your homework assignment for the rest of the week is 500 words on how YOU can help Abu Maazen take on his road map responsibilities. If you are a European leader, here is a potential hint.

Monday, June 23, 2003


What is in all of this for the Bush administration? Akiva Eldar's column in today's Haaretz whet my appitite on the subject. For the first two years of the term, they made every possible attempt to distance themselves from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the believe that the sides were not ready to find a way out of the circle of violence and that wanting a solution more then the sides was not a recipe for success. They had watched a hands-on President Clinton invest the full authority of the presidency in Camp David and a last minute Clinton Plan that went nowhere and was thought by some to make the situation worse.

That was then. Since the decision to invade Iraq, it has become clear that they could not only deal with Iraq without addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While it is clearly not appropriate to link the two there is still a strong connection for building credibility both in the Arab world and in Europe (especially with the British) in putting every effort forward to acting here. Thus, GWB agreed to put the White House behind the somewhat problematic Road Map and the meetings in Sharm and Aqaba two weeks ago.

This is now. They are invested. The Road Map and its steps have become "American". Condy Rice is on the way to the region later this week as Powell finishes up his current trip. The responsibility of getting the sides to act and fulfill its mandates is seen by many to be George's. Is it fair? Of course not. Are the UN and EU doing their part to help? Probably not. That doesn't matter now. Hamas and Arafat have every interest in the world to make it fail. Israel's settlers and their supoprters believe that the road map is a disaster for their interests. It seems to me that almost every scenerio is a loser for the President. For example, if it all fails and Israel feels a need to act strongly in the West Bank and Gaza, what does the US do? How can it condemn Israel for fighting Hamas, who both the President and Powell have correctly called "the enemy of peace"? If it all works and Israel starts to close more outposts and even settlements, many in the American Jewish community (and Christians on the far right) who support the settlers will be vocal and critical. And if it is somewhere in the middle, who do you pressure as you continue to get further sunk into the quicksand of Middle East politics...

And the elections of November '04 get closer. They are less then 18 months away. The American economy is still not great, despite the NASDAQ movement over the past few weeks. The questions regarding Iraq regarding unfound WMD, questionable documents and the growing risks to US forces during occupation of Iraq will only get larger. Iraq is only starting to get hard and will get harder... for a long time. Look at the Jerusalem Post editorial attempt to put a smiley face on the situation. The domestic issues, the ones that most Americans really care about, will be brought into focus if only the Democrats can get their act together and find a somewhat worthwhile candidate. And what if, God forbid, there is another terrorist attack in the US?

In many ways, its too late to run. Bush has sold himself internationally as the guy who stays the course. He is the cowboy (in a positive sense) who doesn't back down from a challenge and fights for what (he believes) is right. But what if the sides don't want a solution. This writer does but sometimes watching the players here it seems that many don't. Yesterday, PM Sharon told the cabinet that settlers can keep building as long as they do it quietly. As I discussed yesterday, I am doubtful whether Abu Maazen can or will do what needs to be done.

On another matter, check out Martin Peretz op-ed in today's LA Times criticizing western supporters of the Palestinian "cause". Smart stuff.

Sunday, June 22, 2003


Looks like our team and the Bushies are back on the same page regarding what needs to be done next regarding both the PA and Hamas. On the one hand there seems to be a clear understanding of who the real bad guys are and that Israel can't sit and wait for Abu Maazen to get around to fighting Hamas. This morning's killing of an apparently senior Hamas baddie in Hebron may serve to be a case in point. When it is clear that the person is a terrorist and taking him out is done in a reasonable way. Israel claims that we tried to arrest him first - although the story was certainly not like of the NY police killing of Amadou Diallo (memorialized in the wonderful Springsteen protest song "American Skin (41 Shots)", hear song), although I'm not convinced how hard we tried to arrest him. The real point is that Israel has to carefully choose its time and place to get the bad guys.

The more serious issue is if, how and when the PA will be willing to take on the Hamas. It is so obvious that this is what must come next that even left leaning Haaretz's editors call strongly on the Palestinians to act. Here. I have been dubious about the ability of Abu Maazen to successfully achieve something that Israel couldn't do. Danny Rubinstein argues further (here) that it just won't happen. No matter how "easy" some Israelis (General Amos Gilad said so much on TV the other night) claim it would be, Abu Maazen likely won't be willing to start what could be a civil war in the Palestinian community. This may doom him to failure, in a relatively short time. At the same time, not acting virtually guarantees Israeli actions that will be deemed necessary. Dooming him to failure.

So what to do? Abu Maazen can't (and neednt) do everything right away. He does need to take Israel's offer for resposibility in a limited area (northern Gaza, Bethlehem) and do what needs to be done to bring quiet. Even if it is "only" a ceasefire there the Americans will support him given the demand for ACTION. But he's afraid. I can understand the fear but a leader, a true leader, can't be scared and has to take risks that will serve his people.

Is he that sort of leader? I fear not but hope to be proven wrong.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003


It sort of seems that we are in a holding pattern over the past couple of days. The main story has been internal Palestinian talks about a ceasefire. Its strange that these inside Palestinian talks are going on, with Egyptian help while everyone seems (although I am sure taht this is not the case) to be sitting around waiting for them to make up their minds. Danny Rubinstein was quite pessimistic the other day and seems to be more positive in today's Haaretz.

On another topic, here (from Haaertz) is a counter-intuitive arugment about last week's hits on Hamas leaders. The point of the article is davka these measures have convinced President Bush that the only strategy is all-out war against the Hamas. What seemed (certainly to Mr. Kesher!) to be a foolhardy risk of Israeli-American lockstep on the goals and directions of the road map was in fact the lesson that GWB needed to hear. It also emphaiszed the difference between Hamas (bad guys) and Abu Maazen (potential good guy). Its an interesting thought but sounds to me like a hail-Mary pass with our future when a strong running game would do the job. We should not be throwing for touchdowns with the Americans but working and cooperating all the time. Our narrative should be promoted with confidence of 55 years of independence and a relationship of trust and confidence with our closest friends.

Interesting other story today. Not a big deal. But it is. Apparently Arik met with the settler leadership and made it clear that the outposts will be closed and that he is committed to the Road Map and a peace process. Newsflash: the settlers were not happy. That can't be a bad thing.

Monday, June 16, 2003


Lots of talk about the possibility of passing security control to part of the Gaza Strip over to the Palestinians. The goal is to set the bar low -- proving successful activity in a limited area but at the same time causing the stopping of rocket launchings on Israeli towns near the green line. This has been something that has been offered to the PA since the first Abbas-Sharon meeting a few weeks ago. The US media generally leads this morning with upbeat hope that this deal was near. Israel would promise not to act in this area for as long as the PA does. If it works, more area would be passed over. The idea seems to make sense in allowing Abu Maazen not to try to bite off more then it can chew and showing Israel that it is serious. Much of this depends on the Palestinian factions ability to reach a ceasefire. Here is Danny Rubinstein's analysis on that subject. Many Israelis argue against such a ceasefire as impossible and only want to see the Hamas crushed (read: Palestinan civil war). There are other, sometimes, problematic motives in this wish.

Interesting Israeli spin by Ehud Olmert in today's Washington Post. He was on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, too. Olmert, the deputy PM and quite close to Sharon, is quite right that Hamas is the challenge and so forth. At the same time, he rejects any critisism of the timing of Israel's actions last week. He states that The current spin is that the new wave of malicious attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups against Israeli civilians is the direct result of the Israeli government's attempt to assassinate a senior Hamas leader. That is not my criticism. What it did was take away Israel's claim to be acting in full good faith to make peace. I (as did President Bush) questioned whether that attack, then, was the right choice and made us safer. I agree that there is no possibility of compromise with Hamas, just as for the USA there is no discussion of compromise with Al Kaida. The key differences are:
1. We are not the USA; the rules of engagement are different when you are asking for $3 billion each year.
2. The Hamas is right here and not on the other side of the world.
3. The expectations from the Israeli side are significant.
4. There is an attempt to build an alternative leadership, Abu Maazen who needs to be strengthened.

Sadly, no Jersey sports sweep as the Nets went down at the Alamo. That Queens baseball team remains banned as it is still five games under .500 and 14 games out of first. Nothing like spending $110 million on last place. Almost as bad investment as the settlements...

Sunday, June 15, 2003


OK, OK, I've picked on us enough. It is time to get out of the funk of frustration (although, everything that I've been saying for the past week is summarized by the NYTimes' Tom Friedman today. He is correct that the only thing that will move the sides is being forced to make peace. I only disagree with his last two words: That is the outcome we are heading toward, though, unless the only reality principle left, the United States of America, really intervenes — with its influence, its wisdom and, if necessary, its troops.

There has been some significant talk in the past days about throwing international forces at the problem. Kofi Annan said so much in an interview over the weekend to Israeli Channel 2 and Haaretz. The thrust is that the sides can't do it themselves (I agree) and that if a foreign force were here they could keep the sides apart.

This is wrong. Don't believe me (although I decided to write this over the weekend before I read this after seeing the Kofi interview), Haaretz's editors say so. Firstly, it did not work in the 1960's when the UN sent a force to Sinai (following the 1956 War) to separate between Israel and Egypt. The idea was that UNEF ould be in the middle and discourage violence accross the border. In the early 60's, Palestinian "fedayeen" terrorists crossed the border at night. Finally, in May of 1967, just before the Six Day War, Nasser kicked the UN out so that he could go to war with Israel. Then SecGen Burmese U Thant called the boys back without a peep honoring the sovereign rights of Egypt. In the UN, after the war, Abba Eban described the scenerio as being like having an umbrella that got taken away just before it rained.

Additionally, there is a new book, Linda Polman's We Did Nothing: Why the Truth Doesn't Always Come Out When the UN Goes In which argues (at least in the book review I read in last week's Economist) that sending UN troops to "keep a peace" (note: there is no peace to keep here; a major flaw in the peace-keeping concept) that is not real is often doomed to failure.

Furthermore, what are they meant to stop? A Hamas suicide bomber dressed up like an ultra-orthodox Jew? How? What skills do they have that we don't? To stop the IDF from hunting down terrorists who hide out among civilians? Perhaps, cynically, to make them learn how tough it is to fight terror...

Interestingly, also in today's Haaretz, Gilead Sher, Barak's chief negotiator argues for an American lead "stabilizing international force" to run the PA. Friedman, months ago argued for NATO to act similarly, almost a British Mandate-like system. It is thoughtful and enticing that someone could come in and force order on chaos. I don't think it will work. I think that the sides must make hard choices and WANT them to work. Maybe they (we) are not ready but throwing forced solutions doesn't seem to me to be the answer. The world has to make us WANT peace. How? I'm not sure.

Ah, yes, another "expert" says what won't work. What good is that? Well, what do you want, reading commentary on the Double-you, Double-you, Double-you. Go do something productive. By the way, happy father's day, Ed.

Thursday, June 12, 2003


As angry as I get when we do things that I think are dumb. [See yesterday's blog for exhibit A], I find that outrages like yesterday's suicide bombing of the 14 bus leave me without much to say. I have a very difficult time watching the news which is always the same and listening to the radio the next day (like right now) as the names of the victims are relaeased one by one and the times of the funerals are announced. Other then that the usual talking heads are all over Israeli TV, CNN, BBC and FOX saying nothing because there is not much to say. If you aren't depressed enough, read Danny Ben Simon in today's Haaretz, about Jerusalem's pain.

I don't believe that the bombing was a "result" of the Israeli idiocy of Sunday. It all happened too fast. But, at the risk of sounding cynical and continuing to beat the horse from yesterday, had we not "done" Rantisi we could have said "we're trying and the Palestinians can't/won't control the Hamas. We lose that chance when we act in a wild manner. The key, even if you don't believe that the plan can work is to give it every chance and avoid being the side that could be blamed if/when it fails.

The hardest part though, and one I perhaps take too lightly because it isn't my responsibility is caring for security. When someone has that burden on their shoulders, maybe the scales are weighed differently. But maybe not. How does killing Rantisi make us safer in the current circumstances? In the interest of balance: here is the Jerusalem Post's argument. I don't get it though. First, there is a double standard, we cannot do everything that the US does. Its not fair but that's the way it is. Second, how do Rantisi's words (and perhaps actions) reach such an extreme level for us to risk relations with the US and giving the Hamas an excuse (I know, they don't need an excuse) to kill more civilians. See Zev Schiff's take on the American response. The NY Times notes attempts to influence Wahington via Congress. Are we so afraid of the implications of the road map that we want to kill it now and live with the situation that has existed for the past 32 months? Is that better? For who? I'm not sure I want to know the real answer to those questions.

On that last point, Boaz Ganor, a generally thoughtful anti-terrorism expert frets about the end game interests of the Palestinians. See here. I don't agree that the goal is to get the Palestinians to "sing" about Israel being here. They just need to get a fair deal (and do their side). The thought that nothing is possible and we are doomed to this neverending loop of violence is unbearable and CANNOT be true.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003


I have to admit that I don't get it. Of course, I'm in good company. The Americans, much of the Israeli media and anyone else with an ounce of common sense can't figure it out either. The story out of the Middle East yesterday was the subject of my blog, the knocking down of the first outposts. Pictures around the world were meant to show Israel taking the first step to comply. The cell phones of Abu Maazen and Muhamed Dahlan were supposed to start ringing from all sorts of world leaders reminding them that they were expected to take action. Needless to say, that didn't happen. The news lead everywhere was only the botched attempt on Rantisi.

So what happened? Before I start, lets be clear. I don't want to have lunch with Rantisi. He has always been the baddest of bad news. His skewed world and neighborhood view would certainly not be missed if he was somehow... you know. Way back to the time of Rabin (who included him in the 405 Hamasniks expulled to Lebanon in 1993) he's been trouble. Even if he was the one calling the shots (which is what we are claiming) for terrorist acts, why him? why now? And if we wanted to send a message to Hamas that we are still going to get them no matter what, why make demands on Abu Maazen? Doesn't his make Abbas even weaker?

Here are some (all generally depressing) options:
1. Sharon was scared by the attacks on the soldiers on Sunday combined with the reception at the Likud meeting and wanted to show himself to be the hardest on terror.
2. The army saw a chance and acted on its own without consulting the PM. Thus military state scenerio is too scary to fathom.
3. Our guys are continuing to underestimate the investment the Americans have made in the road map. The argument is: Hamas=AL Kaidea. They'll understand.

I'm not sure what now except that the Hamas incentive for retribution is certainly higher then it was at this time yesterday. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003


Congratulations to the New Jersey Devils on winning Lord Stanley's Cup this morning. Nets now need to win 3 of 4 to turn it into a Turnpike Twin Killing. My boy Sim-the-Lawyer spent last night watching the game live at his law firm. Any of the partners walking around at 5AM might have been impressed with the hard working associate until they heard him scream "THE CUP IS MINE". I am told that he may need to look for work... As for my bud Chuck from SoCal, the Ducks had a great run and should have the parade that you planned. Jean-Sebastien Giguere , the deserving Conn Smythe Trophy winner should still do a commercial saying "I'm taking a walk up the street to Disneyland".

The first illegal outposts were taken down last night by the IDF. That is an excellent start, especially in that it was done unilaterally without any connection to Palestinian action or inaction regarding terrorism. The point here is that the outposts are bad news in their own right and should not be seen in the context of the fight on terror. Progress on this subject should not be related to a "prize" for fighting terrorism or should it be stopped as a punishment or threat for Palestinian non-compliance. Israel is a state that claims (and pretty much is) guided by the rule of law. These outposts were outside the law, are damaging to the security of Israel, its national interest and the express position of the Government and thus needed to be removed. According to a map in this morning's Haaretz, there are about 100 such outposts. The fights with the settlers is a time bomb waiting to happen. It will be fascinating to see how the government chooses to move forward. See Nadav Shragai's analysis.

Lots of other interesting things in today's Haaretz. Yoel Marcus discusses Sharon's credibility with various constituencies following Aqaba and the Likud meeting on Sunday night. He calls Sharon's stand at the Likud meeting a chance for him to helped him escape the narrow right-wing party vise and ascend to Ben-Gurionesque heights.

Akiva Eldar reports some of the words and impressions inside the meeting in Aqaba last week. The upshot, which should be of concern here is that GWB is moving closer to the Palestinian positions and the much promoted chemistry between Sharon and Bush may be significantly less then is spun. Then again, it may just be a gossipy sort of leak that means nothing.

Back to the larger question of "can all this work", Barry Rubin, writes a terrific analysis of the chances for success of the road map in today's Jerusalem Post. While Rubin points out many of the arguments why it will be difficult for this effort to succeed, and is right to note that the lack of the Palestinian public (and that of much of the Arab world) to reconcile with the mere existence of the State of Israel is a scary reality, he correctly asks the key question for June 2003: Does mean that the roadmap effort is a mistake or a bad thing? No. An academic or journalist can easily say that something will fail, but a politician or a diplomat must try nonetheless precisely because it is the best option available.

Monday, June 09, 2003


Amazing scene last night at a Likud Party meeting. Sharon was greeted with a chorus of boos and whistles that would only be matched if GWB spoke at a NAACP meeting. Actually, the NAACP would have been more respectful. I commented to Mrs. Kesher during the speech that it almost makes one like Sharon.

In fact, the scene was not bad for Sharon, tactically. He comes across as strong and unmovable pushing for peace against the will of many of the people in his own political camp. Could you imagine an American pol acting totally against the views of his party? I'm sure that if it was ten years ago and Arik was 65 and could see himself running for reelection, he wouldn't do this. Furthermore, he knows from public opinion surveys that the general public is behing the basic ideas of closing illegal outposts, a settlement freeze and a Palestinian state.

Lots of talk over the weekend about what really went on inside Aqaba. How the speeches were so strongly vetted by the Americans and most of the tough questions (Jerusalem, refugees) were totally ignored. It was a positive scene and left lots of people hopeful but it was only words and carefully sanitized words, at that. The Jews and Arabs are so used to a zero sum game view of things that it will be nearly impossible to keep this momentum for the long haul. I don't think the Americans understand the enormity of what is necessary to move the sides forward.

For example, look at the terror attacks which took place yesterday at the Erez Junction and Hebron. Everyone in the media, correctly I think, sees the attacks as an attempt to further weaken Abu Maazen. See Safire in today's NY Times. Inciting an Israeli response would cause Abu Maazen to lose any credibility as a Palestinian leader instead of an Israeli-American puppet. But if Israel doesn't respond, the terror and the terror attacks continue, the process loses credibility with Israelis. If Abu Maazen does what Israelis and Americans want (i.e. attack the extremists), a Palestinian civil war only makes things worse. Further, why should Abu Maazen be able to achieve something (Stopping the violence) that Sharon could not?

In a week or a month, will the Bushies still be in the mood to keep the pressure on? Yesterday, Powell and Rice went on the Sunday talk shows (see Fox News, for example) and emphasized what the Palestinians must do and how the Israelis must stay committed. But for how long will the Americans do this until GWB throws up his hands and says: "I tried" and turns to work on the economy and getting reelected?

This continuing frustration reminds me of a Springsteen song from his "Tunnel of Love" album called "One Step Up". The relavent verse goes:
We've given each other some hard lessons lately
But we ain't learnin'
We're the same sad story that's a fact
One step up and two steps back