Wednesday, June 04, 2003


Busy day so just a few minutes to note that today seems to have great potential. The strong (and accidentally public, due to a screw up by Egyptian TV) words of President Bush yesterday in Sharm have surprised and pushed the various sides to make sure that they are on the preverbial peace train... or more importantly the America train. Moving and hopeful "letter" to the Palestinians by Yoel Marcus in today's Haaretz. He notes that whether Sharon wants these things to happen or not, if the Palestinians "do the right thing" he won't have a choice. The Israeli public is ready to accept things such as a Palestinian state, closing some settlements and more. It has to, more than anything, believe in the Palestinians. Obviously, after the past three (fifty?) years, many don't. Strong statements and actions can go a very long way to changing that perception. The NYTimes editorial puts the emphasis on building up Abu Maazen. He is important and the risk of his failure is real. At the same time, he (as GWB said) has to stand, speak and act clearly and strongly. He can't be afraid of Arafat or Hamas or the Arab "street".

Maybe today will be the start. Inshallah.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


Two big days of Middle East diplomacy and intregue today and tomorrow. GWB (not the bridge but the Prez) and a motley group of Arab leaders are scuba diving in Egypt today as we get ready for the bif meeting in Aqaba tomorrow. As for Aqaba I am confident that Arik will say the right things. Talk is cheap. Lots of worrying in Israel over whether the Americans or the Palestinians will recognize the "Jewish" character of Israel. I think that this is wasted energy in fear of some potential claim of the right of return. It would be better to show confidence on the matter and emphasize that it will not happen.

Terrific article in today's Washington Post about GWB and the nuts and bolts of Mideast peace. Here. Basically, he's not interested and thinks that the endless details are not important. According to the Post some aides are shocked at this naive attitude. My question: if they have been Bush aides for two and a half years how can this shock them? He is generally not a Clintoneque hands-on guy.

One other interesting point is that Bush sees the settlement building by Israel as a waste of money as he sees the settlements becoming Palestnians housing projects. We'll see but I'm dubious about such simplified "visions". The Post quotes one admin official as saying: "He does not have the knowledge or the patience to learn this issue enough to have an end destination in mind".

I am upbeat about the coming days but the key question will be the staying power of the Americans and the Palestinians when things go wrong. And they will.

Monday, June 02, 2003


Article 51 of the UN Charter states that States have a right to act in self defense against an armed attack. That has been a basic argument of Israel for its actions throughout its history and specifically over the past 32 months. While it is straight forward and should be obvious, it is not always accepted by the international community. The Palestinian legalists try to mention a right to opposed (incuding via violent action) occupation to defend its actions against soldiers and settlers. However, consensus legal opinion is that the right of opposition does not include a right to violent action - certainly against any civilians, including settlers. I've argued before that these legal polemics are not especially relavant to the real issue which is direct non-violent negotiations.

Speaking of self-defense look at this terrific item that was apparently distributed by the HIllel at the University of California at San Diego. A little laughing at the situation never hurt. Here is another funny link that may answer the question about where Saddam is lately. Could he really be in Bnei Brak?

It seems that the issues of illegal outposts will be part of the PM's speech on Wednesday. See article. That is certainly a good thing, I have been arguing for closing of illegal outposts for awhile. At the same time, there is some fiction involved. Were many of them created (or allowed to stay) as a red herring to allow the "legal" settlements to continue to build and grow? Note that I used the quote marks for "legal". That is a neat PR trick to differentiate between the real issue (the main settlements) and a bunch of hilltop outposts which are not the main story. It will also somehow try to legitimize the main settlements. My view of an ultimate solution is that the largest settlements would remain in a land swap keeping about 70-80% of the settlers in their homes. At the same time, a key aspect of the process is a perception of good faith. Playing three card monte between illegal outposts and regular settlements is bad news.

Interestingly, I spoke with (at a softball game last night) a settler aquaintance who said jokingly - "we need to get rid of him", meaning the PM. When I made a scared face (thinking he was making a terrible joke about past Israeli history), he quickly said - "not that way, through politics". The fact that he understood my scared look without explaination is even scarier. I don't think that this is a risk but the settlers are certainly in shock from the perceived huge change in Sharon's views. I don't thing he's changed but one can hope...

Also last night I met with a group here as part of the Birthright program. Its a cool program and fun to see American college kids here. Many of the kids were quite vocal about their lack of hope about the situation here. A number of kids spoke up about needs for drastic solutions if the road map doesn't work. Others were more realistic and hopeful but were generally shouted down by the "right". Just like home... Haaretz had an article a few days ago about a recent survey which found disturbingly low numbers about ties to Israel of young American Jews. Another reason (as if one was needed) to end the violence and work for peace and security.

Sunday, June 01, 2003


The buzz on the meetings in Sharm and Aqaba continue to be positive. Sharon asked his government members (at this morning's cabinet meeting) to avoid making provocative (read: hard line) comments in the coming days. There have been a series of articles in the media that are questioning if Arik may really have had a change of heart and/or the statements he made last week somehow fit into his personality and history. David K. Shipler in this morning's NYTimes Week in Review is fascinating, hinting a real optimism that Sharon might be ready and willing to make the hard choices necessary. Israeli author David Grossman writes in the LA Times about the "Flicker of Hope" that exists. Grossman, a Shalom Achshav activist notes that many of the central difficulties to come will come from the Palestinian side (lack of will or ability to REALLY fight terror). He wrote: "It is no exaggeration to say that almost everything now depends on the success Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and Mohammed Dahlan, his security chief, have in exerting control over radical Islamic organizations." Because of all the dangers, the current optimism is "premature and excessive". At the same time, he commends Sharon (so far) and wants to believe that possibility for success exists.

So do we have a new Sharon? Probably not. At the sme time, as I have been suggesting, Israel is making sure that it is not the side to cause failure of the road map. It will not take the fall for another plan not working out. It is the right tactic. Furthermore, the genie of "occupation" is out of the Likud bag, the sides have taken one more step towards burying a demon (Palestinian state) and the need for verification of Palestinian combatting terror and violence is the consensus view internationally. While I was wrong in saying that there is no road back from Oslo (there clearly was), I think that the statements and cabinet vote from last week created a new line in the sand vis a vis the Palestinians that will remain... even if the road map doesn't.