Wednesday, November 23, 2005


From Israel: Arlene Kushner, November 22, 2005

From Israel

Arlene Kushner

November 22, 2005

[] The nation is riveted on election issues. The situation is changing so swiftly and the details of some of the issues (e.g. involving election laws) so complex, that it seems best to provide here a summary only:

-- Sharon gave a televised press conference last night in which he spoke about his intent, within his new party, to move forward with the Roadmap, which will ultimately require "further sacrifices" by Israel. He declared himself to be against additional unilateral withdrawals, but I would say that anyone who accepts his word on this -- in the face of his failure to honor commitments to this point -- is innocent and trusting indeed. There are Sharon aides who have already gone on record as saying that if he finds negotiations with the Palestinians not moving well, Sharon would withdraw unilaterally from parts of Judea and Samaria. It is, in fact, his intention to move in this direction that motivated his bolting of the Likud: there are too many Likud so-called "rebels" who would have bucked him.

-- The new party, a "liberal centrist" party, first named "National Responsibility" and then instead (as my best information has it) "Kadimah" (Foward), has drawn 14 members of Likud (see the full list at the end of this posting). This is apparently a large enough percentage of Likud as to constitute a legal "break-away" party that is entitled to certain Likud funds. Others from Labor and elsewhere will undoubtedly join, as has Haim Ramon (L) already. What is notable is that Shimon Peres, who many had predicated would so so, has not rushed to join Sharon.

-- The Knesset has dissolved itself. In a negotiated compromise agreement, it has been decided that elections will be held on March 28, which is much later than Sharon wanted (as he was hoping to profit from a high he is riding at the moment). As the trade-off, there is the possibility for Sharon to appoint members of the cabinet, where seats have been vacated, without Knesset approval, until the election. Cabinet seats (Interior, Housing, Communication and Environment) are being vacated by members of Labor, who have now resigned from the gov't.

-- It appears that the Likud primary that will determine the new leader of the party will be held on Dec. 19, with a run-off, if necessary, on Dec. 22. There are now seven candidates for the position: Binyamin Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, party activist Moshe Feiglin, Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, and Education Minister Limor Livnat. The decision by Mofaz was of particular interest because he was a "Sharon" minister who might have been expected to follow him to the new party.

The vote for the new list for Likud will take place January 3.

-- The media were quick to report on a poll that gives Sharon the victory in the March election. I find this fairly meaningless as the campaign hasn't even started yet; there are far too many imponderables to predict what the outcome will be. The very fact that Sharon was eager to have the election held earlier than March 28 because he wanted to ride on the crest of his current popularity is evidence of the likelihood that his popularity will wane.

My very strongly held opinion is that what this nation needs most of all is to have someone other than Sharon as prime minister come March. He has already done Israel incalculable damage. G-d forbid that he should have the opportunity to do more.

My own choice for how the election should shape up: Landau -- a man of integrity -- at the head of Likud, winning and forming a coalition with the combined right wing parties.

This nation has lost its way: Decisions have been made that put us at existential risk; the inner conviction that this is our land has evaporated in some quarters; we have lost our ability to defend ourselves properly; we dispense with the values that would keep us strong. An enormous change is called for.

[] Yesterday four members of Hezbolla infiltrated into the north of Israel in a failed attempt to kidnap soldiers; this was part of a multi-pronged attack that included shelling of civilian centers. The infiltrators were killed by the IDF, which also launched a major attack on Hezbollah sites, including a command center, in Lebanon. Residents of northern communities remained in shelters until this afternoon.

[] Return to the Rafah deal: I had written previously that the deal was not yet signed. As I attempted to secure information on when it would be signed, I began to realize that it was likely that it would not be signed at all. Calls today to the press sections of the Prime Minister's Office, the Defense Minister's office and the Office of the Defense Ministry, yielded no information. In two instances my contact information was taken with assurances that someone would get back to me; no one has. No one knew anything about this. Apparently this arrangement simply "is," having been agreed to by Minister Mofaz, on behalf of the gov't, and is scheduled to go into effect this Friday, November 25.

What appears to be the case is that the arrangements agreed to, in many respects, provide no more than a framework, and that it is the fleshing out of that framework that will determine exactly how detrimental the situation is for Israel. (In all instances it will indeed be detrimental.)

The issue of Israeli presence in that liaison office to be headed by the EU, where video footage of crossing at Rafah is to run, serves as a prime example. It seems, as I pointed out yesterday, that on close inspection the written agreement does not specifically mention Israel's right to be present, although it might be interpreted as including Israel because of the term "liaison." After Steve Rodan (Middle East News Line) indicated yesterday that the Palestinians were saying the Israelis would not be present, Aaron Lerner (IMRA) called Minister Mofoz, who said indeed Israel would be present. Is a battle going on? If so, how will it be resolved? How much will Israel concede?

Similarly yesterday Steve Rodan reported that the Palestinians want their security people to accompany the convoy of buses that will provide safe passage to Palestinians going from Gaza to Judea/Samaria and back. Will Israel concede this? Will there be any demand by Israel to know who boards the bus?

(The principle of "safe passage" was actually established back in 1995, with the Oslo Interim Agreement. In this instance, terms were quite specific: Those who did not have a safe passage card, issued by Israel and stamped at point of entry, would be required to travel the route by bus, accompanied by Israeli Police.)

The total lack of attention being paid to this in the media works against the possibililty of the Israeli gov't standing strong on these details. The Israeli gov't must know that many are deeply disturbed by these arrangement; the US gov't must know that many are opposed to pressure being applied to Israel with regard to how details are worked out.

One specific set of circumstances does seem to be spelled out with considerable specificity in the agreement, and what is written there is disturbing: "On an urgent basis, Israel will permit the export of all agricultural products from Gaza during this 2005 harvest season..." This seems to remove from Israeli control the rate at which truck convoys can move into Israel -- even if security might dictate a stoppage or slowdown. Aaron Lerner suggests ( that Israel has committed to truck passages that excede the capacity of the security scanning equipment.
The Likud members who bolted the party to join Sharon: Ministers Ehud Olmert (who has been serving as Sharon's advance man); Tzipi Livni; Meir Sheetrit; Gideon Ezra; and Avraham Hirchson, plus deputy ministers Ruhama Avraham; Majallie Whbee; Eli Aflalo; Marina Solodkin; Ze'ev Boim; and Ya'acov Edri; plus members of Knesset Roni Bar-On and Omni Sharon (Ariel's son). Omni's presence here may be challenged as he has just been convicted on corruption charges.

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