Wednesday, February 23, 2011

From Israel: At the Vortex of a Whirlwind

Arlene Kushner
Arlene from Israel
22 February '11

We've had the blessing of heavy rain and now there is bright sunshine. I walk outside and the world seems lovely indeed. But a little voice inside of me asks, "What will be?" and I have no answer. This is part of my report from Israel today: There is anxiety, and there is anger. Oh, and add incredulity -- because things are happening that we would have thought impossible. And perhaps more than a little grief.

The world seems on fire all about us, and one horrific disappointment follows another.


So let us begin with a piece of good news:

Yesterday, the Knesset passed a bill -- co-sponsored by coalition chair Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) and Knesset law committee chair David Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu) -- that requires NGOs to declare funding they get from foreign governments in quarterly reports, and to make this information known on their websites.

This is an important piece of legislation because there are foreign governments funding left-wing, pro-Palestinian NGOs here that function in a manner that is destructive to Israel. When an NGO is not purely Israeli, but is taking funds from foreign governments that have agendas inimical to Israel, that is something that must be public knowledge. If, for example, Peace Now goes out to monitor "settlement" activity, and it turns out that this project was paid for by the government of Norway, this would be something we would need, and have a right, to know.

It is unfortunate that a stronger version of the bill that had been brought forward was shot down, but this is a start, and begins to shine light on an important issue. NGOs will be fined heavily if they do not adhere to the new rules.


What won't go through is a piece of legislation that is even more important: this is with regard to applying civil law to the communities in Judea and Samaria. I had said that the sponsors were not optimistic, but this is one of those matters that evokes deep disappointment, because it would have been so right.

Yesterday, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation met and most members voted against the bill. This guarantees a defeat when it is brought before the Knesset tomorrow.

What is so distressing is that Netanyahu himself, and several of the ministers who had voted against it, had been for it when the issue was raised previously. I'm convinced that they are running scared now. "The world" wouldn't like it, you see. It would cause anger. Condemnations.

But this is precisely the time when we must be strong for ourselves. For -- beyond faith in Heaven -- there is nothing else.


And I would like to explore this issue of our standing up for ourselves a bit more here.

The other day I alluded to Netanyahu's statement, following the US veto in the Security Council, that included the phrase, "the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for statehood," and I winced. In that same posting I also alluded to the dangers of making concessions as a "gift" in return for the veto. I mean, you could see the US expectation that we would pay for that vote coming. As I wrote, I was wondering what we were going to be asked to do, to "help" with the "peace process."

Well, a good deal is being said with regard to this, and the suggestion is that Netanyahu's statement was not a "gift" of appreciation that he proffered to Obama because of the veto. Rather, it is being seen in some quarters as the quid pro quo -- what was agreed upon in advance in return for the veto. I know of one American Jewish leader who is convinced there was a deal. Herb Keinon in today's JPost, noting that this is Netanyahu strongest statement ever with regard to Palestinian Arab statehood, simply says, "Netanyahu himself said Sunday he had been in contact with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both before and after the vote." Draw your own conclusions.


Either way, this is troubling, and, yes, frightening, because that strength of leadership is so important now.

We're at risk of sliding down that slippery slope. Although I still believe that when Netanyahu qualifies his statement with reference to Israel's security needs, he intends this as the break on that slide: Yes, I have acknowledged your legitimate aspirations, but unless Israel's security is assured, there will be no deal. (With "no deal" just about guaranteed.)


As usual with such matters, however, there is also another point of view. Because the other piece of what I'm hearing is that there is a concerted campaign -- beyond what has transpired previously -- within the international community (read the US and EU) to utilize pressure to unseat Netanyahu, who is seen as a stumbling block to peace. The hope is that Livni might come forward. If they can get rid of him, you see, a Palestinian state can follow. (This suggests that, our concerns aside, the world does see him as a hardliner.)

I am not prepared to venture a guess as to how serious a prospect this is. It would involve some fancy political footwork and some betrayals within the current coalition. But one might wonder if some of Netanyahu's conciliatory gestures represent an attempt to forestall a Livni premiership -- to show the world that he's on board too.

This is not by way of excuse. Because too much conciliation by Netanyahu might bring him no more than a pyrrhic victory. The consequences are so significant. And ultimately there is no way to "appease" Obama.


Caroline Glick delivers the same message regarding our need to be strong, in her article, "Obama's devastatingly mixed signals":

"We can only rely on ourselves and so we'd better strengthen ourselves as much as possible as quickly as possible in every possible way."

The US sent seriously mixed messages last week, says Glick. On the one hand, under duress of Congressional pressure, he did finally veto the Security Council resolution on "settlements." But Susan Rice then put out a statement that in essence criticized the veto -- saying that "settlements" indeed were "illegitimate" and a roadblock to peace.

"...the [Obama] administration...sent four deeply problematic messages to the region.

"First, it signaled that it is deeply unserious.

"Second, it signaled to the Palestinians that, while blocked by popular US support for Israel from joining them, the administration supports the PA's political war against Israel. That is, Obama told the Palestinians to continue this war against Israel.

"Third, the administration told Israel - and all its other allies - that in the era of Obama, the US is not a credible ally. Not only does this message weaken America's allies, it emboldens the likes of Iran and Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood who are increasingly convinced that the US will not stand by its allies in a pinch.

"Finally, by standing by as Abbas pushed forward with the resolution despite Obama's repeatedly stated opposition, the president showed all actors in the region that there is no price to be paid for defying the US."


One analyst after another has pointed out that if Obama had been serious about stopping the resolution in the Security Council, he could have advised the Palestinian Arabs of his intentions, clearly and unequivocally, many weeks ago. They might have backed off. As it is, he waffled until the last moment.

This, undoubtedly, was a reason for the Arab fury regarding the veto.


From this cheerful subject, let's move to another: Egypt.

Dr. Moti Kedar, a veteran of Israeli military intelligence, writing for the BESA Center, has this to say:

"In Egypt, there is almost no social contract to govern the conduct of its citizens – as there is in democratic societies. The norm, then, is to behave without inhibition, and violent confrontation is usually the standard response to conflict. With Mubarak out of the picture, and with the behavior of democratic society not yet learned, it seems likely that in the near term Egypt will be a society plagued by political intrigue and instability – providing alarming headlines almost daily. The governments of the world must be alert and vigilant for developments that could threaten the Suez Canal, the peace with Israel and regional stability."

Kedar believes, "This situation of unrest could awaken within many Egyptians the wish to bring to Egypt a strong and dependable figure, with a clear, unwavering agenda. The choice will probably be one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi...Already this past weekend, he was back preaching in Cairo, and could yet be called upon to rescue Egypt from chaos, leading the country in the Islamist direction."

I confess, the willingness of the Egyptian military to allow al-Qaradawi back into the country, after Mubarak had banned him for years, has increased my unease a great deal. One begins to wonder precisely where these military rulers, who, we've been told, prefer the status quo, are really headed. Let's stop pretending about democracy. The best to be hoped for would be, as Kedar writes, that:
"While the army has thus far not expressed any desire to take power into its hands permanently, it is certainly possible that after whetting its appetite the army will 'discover' a taste for ruling, and Egypt will revert to the rule of generals."


Barry Rubin, in his article, "Egypt gets its Khomeini," paints al-Qaradawi in terms that are far more dire:

"Until now, the Egyptian revolution has lacked a charismatic thinker, someone who could really mobilize the masses. Qaradawi is that man. Banned from the country under the old regime, he is returning to his homeland in triumph.

"Through Internet, radio, his 100 books and his weekly satellite television program, he has been an articulate voice for revolutionary Islamism. He is literally a living legend. It was Qaradawi who argued that Islamists should always participate in elections because they would invariably win them."


I had hoped to deal today with that anti-Israel organization J Street -- but have decided to table it until tomorrow. How much unpleasantness can my readers deal with at one time?


Let me note, however, that the Iranian ships have now passed through the Suez Canal and are in the Mediterranean. The consensus here seems to be that this is a deliberate provocation but presents no real military threat, even though one of the ships is armed with Chinese-made missiles: the ships could be sunk quickly. Said one Israeli official, "From the military and marine perspective, the moment the ships enter the Mediterranean, they're entering a trap."


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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