The Israeli news today was dominated by three items. The first was the decision of the Israel’s attorney general to indict former Prime Minister Olmert on a whole series of corruption and tax evasions charges. The decision to go ahead with the indictments was expected and it relates to three cases, the first issue is the Rishon Tours case where Olmert is accused of double billing various overseas charities and then using the difference for personal travel. The second issue in the case of the money Olmert received from Talanksy and the third relates to actions he took relating to the Center for Investment. All of these cases have been under investigation for years and the reason it took so long to indict remains a mystery. Israel was forced to have a Prime Minister who everyone assumed was corrupt in office for two years while the investigation continued. Now Israel has to live with a Minister of Foreign Relations who everyone knows is corrupt. Hopefully it will not have to wait until after Lieberman leaves office to indict him.
The second news story was economic. Israel Africa Corporation headed by Lev Leviov, announced that it would not be able to meet its debt obligations. That should not come as a great surprise as it owes a mind popping 22 billion shekels and invested heavily in real estate in all the wrong places. Over the last year and a half the corporation announced losses of over a billion dollars. The announcement sent the Israeli stock market that has recently been soaring into a tailspin.
The third news item was the announcement by Prime Minister Netanyahu that a release of Gilad Shalit was not about the happen any time soon. The Hamas made a similar statement. The Arab world was full of articles over the last week that the release would happen any moment. Those stories were fueled by the fact that that the Germans had become the negotiators for the talks. Israel supposedly made a new proposal. Hamas ended the speculation that talks were proceeding by reiterating its starting terms for Shalit’s release. Hamas is not willing to compromise at all.
The most disturbing piece I heard however, was the release of a report on the future demographics the Israel education system. Th e Arab and the Haredi portion are heading to become over 50% within ten years. In the year 2000 they represented 39% of the kids entering first grade and they now represent 45%. The implications of this are ultimately staggering. Leaving aside the societal questions and what sort of country is Israel becoming, from an educational perspective alone, the future is dark indeed unless massive changes take place. At the moment the Israeli educational system ranks in the bottom rankings of the OECD countries in terms of educational achievement- the Arab schools average 14% below that, which is on par with many 3rd world countries. The Haredi sector does not take the test at all, since they are unprepared to do so.
Thus, if these demographic prediction end up being true, Israel will be turning out a majority of its students that will be totally unprepared for global competition. Today 75% of the Haredi population of working age is unemployed, while many by choice, but most are nearly unemployable due to their total lack of preparation.
Tie all this to the demonstrations in Jerusalem yesterday in which a significant number of demonstrators were arrested, only to be released today with the most minor of penalties (two weeks ago those arrested were forced to be away from Jerusalem for one Shabbat as punishment). If Israel does not take the actions necessary – on the judicial side punish the demonstrators who attack police the way deserve - maybe a year in jail, and unless the state forces the Haredi school to teach a core secular curriculum, due to a lack of political will and the shortsighted political craving for support from Haredi parties the country is committing long-term political suicide. =0 A
On another note, please read the review I have just posted on the book "Myths, Illusions and Peace" by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky. It is an important book and if you cannot read the, simply read the review.
Today the Scottish government released Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi who was the only one convicted in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Scotland in December 1988. The bombing killed all 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground. The convicted terrorist served eight years of a lifetime sentence. Ali Megrahi was not an independent agent. In fact, he was a member of the Libyan intelligence, working directly for Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi. This is the same Qaddafi who the US has been reaching out to, and to whom they may soon sell arms. This is the same Muammar Qaddafi who is planning to attend the UN General Assembly Meeting this fall, and is asking to pitch his heated tent in Central Park (No, I am not joking).
What does this have to do with Eitan Bard? Eitan was my best friend in elementary school. The smartest kid I ever knew, both then and now. In 1974 Eitan was about to start his junior year at Harvard. On September 1st, I ran into Eitan's mother and brother on my flight from Tel Aviv back to New York. He and his father were staying in Israel an extra week to go scuba diving. Well, one week later, on September 8th, Eitan and his father set off for New York on TWA flight 841. The flight stopped in Athens, Greece. It seems that at this stop-over, a bomb was placed aboard the plane. A few minutes after take off from Athens, the plane exploded and all 88 passengers aboard the plane were killed. Later that same day the Palestinina Youth Organization took credit for downing the plane. TWA downplayed the chances of a bombing and the story quickly faded from the news. A few months later, it became clear a bomb was responsible for the plane's fate. It turns out the "Arab Nationalist Youth Organization" was a Libyan front. The downing of TWA 841, just like the downing of the PanAm 103 was the work of Muammar Qaddafi.
As I see pictures of Ali al-Megrahi returning to Libya to a hero’s welcome and I think of the possibility of Muammar Qaddafi coming to New York, I think of Eitan, the life he might have had, the scientific accomplishments the world might have benefited from if he had lived. I think of the little boy I remember, in whose house I played endless games of battleship, the brilliant boy who never had a chance to be a man.
While President Mubarak of Egypt is in Washington, President Assad of Syria made a state visit to Iran to congratulate Iranian President Ahmedinejad on his election victory and his swearing for a new term as President. Assad is the first foreign leader to visit Iran since the recent election. Assad attacked the westerners who were behind the recent demonstrations. The two Presidents stated in Teheran that Syria and Iran stood lockstep with each other strategically. The visit underscores the gulf that exists in the Middle East. From Egypt’s stand point there can be no worse country than Iran. It is said that if you want to learn new Arabic curse words, just speak to an Egyptian about the Iranians. It is not clear the effect of Assad’s re-embrace of Ahmedinejad today can be undone as far as the Egyptians are concerned. The Iranian-Arab divide is large; there are many who believe the present bouts of bombings in Iraq are really the work of the Iranians. In the meantime, without anyone noticing, a small civil war has developed in Yemen between the Shiite minority and the Sunni government. 500 have died in the last week of fighting. The Shia are being armed by Iran.
The recent murder on the Tel Aviv beach by a group of drunken teens has brought attention to the rise of drinking in Israel. Many of the cases of random violence in the last year can be attributed to drunken assailants. There has been a dramatic rise in the last 10 years. Israel still ranks low in the overall indexes. however, in the most recent worldwide study Israel ranked second to only Ukraine in the number of 11 year olds that are drinking. That does not portend well for the future.
I was surprised when the Likud celebrated the fact former Chief of Staff Bougi Ya'alon joined. To me, Ya'alon was the Chief of Staff who failed to prepare the IDF for the Lebanon war. He was so obsessed with fighting terror he paid no attention to the need to prepare the conventional forces for war. Worse, in a book he came out with, and interviews he did last year, he took no responsibility for any part of what happened. Today Ya'alon's membership in the Likud and in the inner security cabinet blew up in Netanyahu face. Videotape came out of the closed meeting of the most right wing faction of Likud "Manhegt Yehudit" led by Moshe Feiglin. At that meeting Ya'alon called "Shalom Achad" and the “elites” of Israel a virus. He said there was nothing to fear from the Americans and pledged to work together with Feiglin.
The largest Swedish newspaper printed an article yesterday claiming that the IDF was killing Palestinians to take their organs and sell them on the world organ market. The newspaper stood behind the story today, despite an outpouring of criticisms, calling this a straightforward blood libel. The Swedish embassy in Israel apologized. Sweden has consistently been the most anti-Israel country in Europe. There are some who point to a history of passive anti-Semitism. In a recent poll 57% of the respondents exhibited anti-Semitic attitudes.
President Obama met with President Mubarak of Egypt today. This was the first time Mubarak traveled to Washington in eight years. Last night, Mubarak made clear to Charlie Rose he did not visit Washington all these years because of the differences he had with the Bush Administration.
Both Presidents made positive comments on progress being made and steps that Israel has agreed to. Obama stated:
"There has been movement in the right direction and I came in from the start saying that all parties concerned had to take some concrete steps to restart serious negotiations to resolve what has been a longstanding conflict that is not good for the Israeli people and is not good for its neighbors. And I think that the Israeli government has taken discussions with us very seriously. George Mitchell has been back and forth repeatedly; he will be heading back out there next week. And my hope is that we are going to see not just movement from the Israelis, but also from the Palestinians around issues of incitement and security, from Arab states that show their willingness to engage Israel. “
Mubarak then went on to state "I would like to add on what President Obama has just said, and I say that we are trying and working on this goal to bring the two parties to sit together and to get something from the Israeli party and to get something from the Palestinian party. If we perhaps can get them to sit together, we will help.
And also, I have contacts with the Israeli party. I have received calls and contacts with the Prime Minister of Israel, with the Head of the State, and also with the Minister of Defense. We are speaking in a good manner and we are moving into the right direction. But the two parties need to sit together, and this then will give hope that there is a possibility of finding a solution to the Palestinian issue, because it has been ongoing since 60 years."
I have almost completed reading "Myths, Illustions and Peace" by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky. I will do a full review of the book later this week, as well as outline their major points (which I think are very important). In short, suffice to say, it looks to me like the Obama administration is following the recommendations made in the book by Ross and Makovsky about the Palestinian Arab conflict in the book to the letter.
Today's news in Israel was dominated by a series of murders. The most disturbing story was of a middle aged man walking along the beach with his family. It seems the attackers were drunk and randomly attacked the man, as he sat with his family on a bench. When he ran, they followed and killed him. The other tragic story is of a possible serial killer, who has killed at least two women in the coastal area in the last few days. The killings are bringing about the usual soul searching. Needless to say, these are each terrible tragedies, but the confluence of these tragedies, and a few other murders, (including the killing of a 3 year old by her father two weeks ago) seem merely coincidental. They do, however, reflect a slow but steady, rise in violence in Israeli society that does get worse in the summer.
Friday night Hamas crushed an Islamic fundamentalist group that was even more fundamentalist than it is. The group, which was loosely tied to Al-Qaeda. When their leader declared at Friday prayers he was starting an Islamic Caliphates in the Gaza Strip, Hamas attacked. It destroyed the mosque that was the center of the group's operations and killed 20 of its members and 6 civilians. I doubt the UN will be coming to investigate the destruction of the mosque, or whether the Hamas used "proportional" force.
The Iranian opposition has not quieted down, with its leader calling for the establishment of a new movement, not a political party, to bring about freedom to Iran. It is interesting to watch the Twitter posts, mostly from Iran, that represent the opposition to the regime. In a twenty-minute period this morning I watched as over 2,000 posts were made on twitter on the subject.
The result of the Fatah Assembly that closed today was a clear victory for Palestinian President Abbas, and the moderates within Fatah. Although it seemed, along the way, that Abbas’s plans might be undone, however, the candidates that won the election last night were almost all supported by Abbas. Of the 18 members of the Fatah Central Committee, 14 were replaced. Almost all of those elected to the Central Committee were from the West Bank; most served time in Israeli prisons at one time and almost all speak Hebrew. They are almost all considered pragmatists. During the course of the convention, a number of resolutions were passed that were widely attacked by Israel. While these resolutions were certainly militant, they need to be looked at like the platforms at American political conventions. The platforms at American political conventions, while often contentious are mostly irrelevant; it's the people who are nominated that count. While it's not clear what the long term effect of the Assembly will be, and it is certainly not clear whether this will allow a reinvigorating of Fatah, it is clearly a step in the right direction. If there is a peace deal to be made (read the review of "One State, Two States" and you will not likely think there is), the new Fatah leadership will be better prepared to negotiate it.
Two very interesting articles appeared in the New York Times in the last few days. The first article appeared on Sunday by Thomas Friedman, entitled: "Green Shoots II", about the transformation of the West Bank in the last year. The second piece is a peculiar article called "The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything". When I saw the title of the article, and the names of the authors (HUSSEIN AGHA and ROBERT MALLEY) I was sure this was going to be another article suggesting a One State Solution. Instead it was a long essay explaining how the heart of the matter is the fate of the refugees, the 1948 war, and what sort of state Israel needs to be in order to resolve the problem. The authors of this op-ed piece, however, completely ignored the true core of the problem, which is the inability of the Palestinians to ever accept a Jewish State. To that end, read my new review of the book "One State, Two States" by Benny Morris.
Fatah opened its assembly today in Bethlehem. It was the first assembly to be held in 20 years. It was Abbas' goal to use the meeting to bring new leadership in to Fatah. For many of the Fatah members it was the first time they had ever been on the West Bank. For most of the older generation, it was clearly the first time they had seen each other in a generation. Fatah members from Gaza were not allowed by Hamas to attend.
What the historic meaning of this assembly will be is not yet clear. It will be a major accomplishment if Abu Mazen can succeed in installing a new leadership to Fatah, one based mostly in the West Bank and that is more pragmatic. Interestingly, one of the Israeli TV correspondents managed to get one of the leaders of the Lebanese Fatah to say when he did not think he was being taped that they would agree to the return to the New Palestinian State and not to Israel. Of course, when he thought he was on camera he demanded the full right of return..
A few other updates: Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu passed his two key bills in the Knesset: The land reform bill and the bill making it easier for parties to split up. The Ministers from Netanyahu’s coalition all voted in favor, fearing they would be fired.
The women who was at the center of part of the Haredi unrest two weeks ago (who was accused of starving her 3 year old), was charged today with a long list of crimes relating to her actions against her children
The police have finally recommended that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman be indicted for a long list of corruption charges. The investigations have continued on and off for nine years, with a new intensive round of investigations taking place over the last year. In the ever “speedy” Israeli justice system, the recommendations to prosecute have now been turned over to the State Attorney General, who has to decide whether to go ahead. The next stage of investigations is expected to take three months. Then it is expected to take up to another two months for Lieberman to appeal that decision. That leaves Israel with a Foreign Minister who the police have now recommended indicting by December. I guess in Israel they have not yet heard of the adage "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied". Of course, in this case, the defendant would like to delay the judgement as long as possible. This past week when all of the many figures of the American government were visiting Israel, Lieberman was in South America, working to improve Israel’s ties there. This month Lieberman is off to Africa.
Last night, violence struck in Tel Aviv, when a gunmen opened fire in a gay teen support group, killing two people. The attack was widely condemned and met with serious disbelief that such a thing could happen in Tel Aviv. At the moment there no suspects.
The Palestinian Fatah organization is holding its first conference in 20 years. Yassir Arafat did not want to hold a conference, preferring to keep his old functionaries in power. This first meeting in which representatives from all parts of the world have arrived in Bethlehem, with Israel’s blessing, is considered historic by many observers. What will be accomplished at the conference is not clear. However, the conference will bestow an additional level of legitimacy to Abu Mazen.