Haveil Havalim #193 is hosted this week by Benji at What War Zone? Check out This is Not Your Father’s Haveil Havalim.
חשון / כסלו תשסט - November, 2008:
It appears that Olmert is not quite coated with teflon, after all. After being investigated for numerous charges of corruption, at least one indictment might actually be handed down. This news comes after the Talansky bribery case fell apart a few months ago. Attorney General Mazuz intends to charge the outgoing prime minister with fraud, breach of trust and tax evasion. Olmert “allegedly” over-billed “abroad sponsored by Jewish institutions, and either pocketed the difference or financed trips for relatives.”
Olmert’s attorneys continue to defend this despicable person, denying the any wrongdoing, and calling the likely indictment “puzzling and unreasonable.” What is unreasonable is that Israel continues to be led by a corrupt individual, who is arguably Israel’s worst prime minister in history.
I only hope that some modicum of justice actually be served, and Olmert will see the inside of a prison cell very soon.
Condoleezza Rice has apparently understood what has been clear well before her latest whirlwind tour of the Middle East. Namely, that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of the year is not possible.
However, Rice does not focus on the real issues preventing peace. She has found yet another way to blame Israel, saying “it is really largely because of the political situation in Israel.”
Rice cannot possibly believe that a conflict that has lasted for decades could be solved within a few short months if the upcoming Israeli elections were not an issue. Maybe what she really means is that Israeli democracy is the real obstacle?
In Israel’s early years, its ties to France was one of the better relationships Israel had with the western world. Throughout the 1950s France was Israel’s primary arms supplier, and was party to the early stages of the Kadesh Campaign in 1956. All that changed in 1967 under Charles de Gaulle, whose administration reversed course and criticized Israel for its actions in the Six Day War, and its presence over the Green Line (as have subsequent French administrations). A few years after the war, France also began selling arms to Arab states, strengthening its relationship with Israel’s enemies.
After 1967 France has feigned “even-handedness,” claiming it would not support either side in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nevertheless, France continued to devlop close ties with the Arab world, most notably its strong relationship with Iraq, which ended with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in 1991.
Elected President in May 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy appears to have changed France’s attitude towards Israel somewhat. Calling Israel a “dear and steadfast friend”, he has often made statements reminiscent of American politicians running for national office, marking a clear departure from France’s official stance on Israel over the past 40 years. He has promised “never [to] jeopardize Israel’s safety,” and “always [to] be at Israel’s side when its security and its existence are threatened.”
Recent statements, both by Sarkzoy and by France’s Foreign Minister, regarding Obama’s foreign policy appear to signify a real change in French foreign policy on issues relating to the Middle East. Last month Sarkozy, in a closed forum, called Obama’s stance on Iran “utterly immature” and made up of “formulations empty of all content.” It is unclear how this view matches his intentions to persuade the incoming American administration “to continue the current policy on Iran,” considered the ambiguity, at best, of this policy. Nevertheless, the mere fact that a senior European leader is not in line with the international worship of Barack Obama, daring to criticize his foreign policy, from the right no less, leaves some room for hope.
Today, France’s Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, voiced additional criticism of Obama’s stated intentions, in dealing with Iran. Kouchner is a founder of Doctors Without Borders, supported Sarkozy’s rival, Ségolène Royal, in the 2007 elections, and is a former member of France’s socialist party (his membership was revoked for accepting his current post). Kouchner expressed his concern about Obama’s plan to hold direct talks with Iran, warning “against any form of dialogue that would jeopardise the unity not of the Western side but of the whole of the P5, that is the five (permanent U.N.) Security Council members plus Germany.” Kouchner added that France has “negotiated [with Iran] at great length. People came to France, we sent people to Iran, we met them and unfortunately this dialogue produced nothing.”
Perhaps France (or at least its government), is truly adapting to the realities of the world. One can only hope that Europe will cease acting as a doormat in the face of those who wish to end Western Civilization with their version of a murderous crusade.
Haveil Havalim #192 is hosted this week by Ima on (and off) the Bima. Check out The Thanks and Giving Edition.
It’s been over 60 years, and Europe is back to legislating against Jews. A recent bill proposed in Denmark would ban circumcision for boys under the age of 15. Criminalizing what is possibly the most of basic Jewish rites would, in effect, be an eviction of Jews from Denmark.
The most ridiculous justification for the bill, however, is the Denmark’s National Council for Children claim that “[j]ust like female circumcision was banned five years ago, male circumcision should be banned.” ‘Female circumcision’ is not circumcision at all, it is mutilation of the female body, for misogynistic reasons.
“There are states that have an army and there are armies, like the IDF, that have a state.” Ordinarily, when I read an article that starts like that, I assume it is yet another tirade against the overt militarism of Israel and Israeli society and I don’t think much of it. This piece (in Hebrew) from this week’s The Marker, however, is not part of that trend. It is about the IDF’s near-monopoly on land in Israel and is actually filed under the real estate section of a financial publication.
Despite the fact that over the past two decades, Israel has been implementing a series of national and district plans, the IDF is somewhat of “a separate kingdom” within Israel, exempt from such progress. A recent study shows that the IDF controls nearly half of the land in Israel, adding up to a lot more than half of uninhabited land. The study, titled “A Land in Khaki: Land and Security in Israel,” by geographers Amiram Oren and Rafi Regev, sheds some light on the relationship between the security establishment and land use in Israel.
According to the study, during the early years of the state the IDF used primarily old British bases. With time, more and more areas were turned over to the IDF for training purposes, and at the same time more army bases were established. The IDF is able to do so through a special planning process, in the small Knesset Military Facilities Planning Committee, whose minutes are all classified.
Nearly all of the land in use by the IDF is for training, not for bases and regular operations. The total area of these lands is over 2 million acres, taking up approximately a third of Israel’s total area, and covering nearly two-thirds of the Negev.
According to the study, due to the nature of approval process and the stature of the IDF within Israel, there is no civilian oversight with regards to the area and location of lands allocated to the security establishment. Approval tends to be granted without any real inquiry regarding actual necessity of additional land.
However unfortunate, all of this is standard operating procedure in many parts of the public sector. But that is not all. The study implies that not all of the areas allocated to the IDF are intended for present-day use, and that the IDF holds onto land for the future, specifically in places where future demand for residential development is expected. One example of this is large base in Tzrifin, where the IDF lobbied for a change in the status of the land from agricultural to urban, thereby increasing its financial leverage in preparation for the move of the base to the Negev. The security establishment is very easily able to obtain control of land in Israel, even when non-security interests are the motive, while throughout the rest of Israel there is a shortage of land.
The situation in the Negev is no better. With all the talk about developing the Negev (and the Galil) and not abandoning the periphery, anyone who’s driven through the south knows that, regardless of the political obstacles to such moves, things are not as simple than that. As the map below shows (darker areas are training, or firing, zones), the Negev is not really civilian region. The sides of many of the highways have signs warning you not venture off the road into Firing Zones.
The Ministry of Defense, in typical fashion, has responded that it abides by the law and it acting to replace IDF bases outside of the cities. That is all well and nice, but when the IDF lobbies on issues that are irrelevant to IDF interests, only in order to get more money, it makes things much more difficult, financially. Not to mention that any oversight is all classified and apparently either non-existent or wholly ineffective. Clearly something needs to change.
I am not a military expert and I’m not saying that IDF operational priorities need to change. However, as anyone who has served in the IDF will tell you, the army is incredibly wasteful. The amount of money budgeted for security that is simply thrown out of the window is simply mind-boggling. The security establishment in Israel, at the very least, needs to learn how to not waste water and electricity, to use less paper, and not to make 10 times the amount of food it actually needs. From a financial perspective, those should be the priorities, not how to maximize profit based on current possession of lands.
When it comes to the IDF, in many respects there really is a kingdom inside a state. As in many other parts of the public sector, oversight is sorely lacking. Lands need to be used to develop the Jewish State, and a solution, integrating this goal with the IDF’s real need for training areas, is long overdue.
The latest pre-election polls came out today, and Labor is the big loser. According to the poll, if elections were held today, Likud would win 32 seats in the Knesset, whereas Labor would have only 8(!) seats. According to the poll, Netanyahu would be able to form 65-seat coalition, made up of Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, UTJ, and HaBayit HaYehudi (the new right wing party).
What baffles me most is Kadima, with 26 seats. This party has no ideology, is corrupt beyond belief, and still seems to be the default vote for the center-left public. How 20% of the public would still vote for them is beyond me?
It is not true that Israel does not make enough of an effort when it comes to promoting its international image (aka “Hasbara“). In fact, it almost seems as if Israel is making an effort to tarnish its image. This is not solely with respect to the way the West sees us, it also important when it comes to our neighbors’ opinions, as well.
Ever since Israel retreated from Gaza, the number of rocket attacks from the “disengaged” region has increased exponentially. Many of these rockets landed in an IDF basic training base, near Kibbutz Zikim, just north of Gaza. After an attack injured numerous soldiers in 2007, many parents of the new recruits demanded that IDF either fortify the base, to protect them from future attacks, or move the new recruits elsewhere.
In June of this year, the IDF decided to move the trainees to a different base, claiming “the decision is unrelated to the threat of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip.” (Want to buy a bridge?) When the decision was announced, many feared it would send the wrong message to Israel’s enemies, and would portray Israel as more vulnerable, an image that, in the Middle East, basically begs for more attacks. Labor MK, Danny Yatom, even agreed with Aryeh Eldad (National Union-NRP), saying, “the evacuation of the entire base due to the attacks on it is a severe move and sets a bad example for the citizens of the Gaza-vicinity communities.”
Today, the decision was carried out. The base will not be completely evacuated, and will be manned by a yet-to-be-named division. So it’s not a complete retreat. OK. However, to add insult to injury, pictures of flags being taken down were released to ynet, and published online. Predictably, the Palestinians rejoiced (Hebrew). A statement was released by Abu-Abir, spokesperson for the Popular Resistance Committees (who are still in possession of Gilad Shalit):
The evacuation is yet more proof that the Israeli military is moving from one defeat to another. It began with the withdrawal from Lebanon, continued with the withdrawal from the [Gaza] Strip and the defeat in the [Second] Lebanon War, and of course, also in the daily defeat in the struggle against the Palestinian resistance. Zikim will not be the last place the Israelis evacuate.
Abu-Abir added that in order to win, military superiority is not enough and that determination and faith, two things Israel lacks, but the Palestinians do not.
I am sorry to say I agree with him. He is right on the money. Currently, Israel does lack faith and determination. In recent years Israel has been evacuating, retreating, and losing. However, it is not the military’s fault. The governments and politicians (which include IDF top brass), over the years, have led Israel nowhere good. It’s time that changed. Where is our faith? Where is our determination? At the very least we should not be aiding the enemy by showcasing our weaknesses.
Being a Prime Minister is not an easy job. The first assignment of any Prime Minister, even before taking the oath of office, is putting together a coalition. In order to rule, one must ensure a majority of 61 votes in the Knesset, piecing together agreements with the many political parties, who represent the many different, extremely vocal, sectors of Israeli society.
The 17th Knesset, due to make way for the 18th this coming February, for example is made up of 12 different lists (some of which included more than one party). Forming a coalition in Israel is not an easy task, which necessitates meeting the demands on various interest groups in return for their support.
Recently, upon the tendering of Olmert’s resignation, Kadima held their primary elections. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won, and was tasked with the formation of a coalition, based on the makeup of the current Knesset. Shas demanded that Livni rule out any compromise on Jerusalem in any future negotiations. Livni refused, and decided not to form a narrow, left-wing coalition.
Within the past decade, however, Israel has been moving away from the current system of an extreme multitude of parties, pulling the government every which way. Coalitionary politics in Israel today, along with no-confidence votes forcing new elections, do not allow for a stable government. In fact, in the State of Israel’s short history, only one government has ever completed a full four-year term (the 7th Knesset, with Golda Meir as PM).
A somewhat limiting factor in the number of parties represented in the Knesset is the election threshold, which does not allow for a party to be elected to the Knesset with only one seat. This historic instability of Israeli government is, in many ways, a testament to the vibrancy of the Israeli democratic process. It does not, however, allow for governing to take place. Policies are changed more quickly than socks, and the governing party must constantly take into account the sectoral interests of various parties.
Increasing the election threshold is not, however, a viable long term solution. Over the past 16 years the threshold has been raised, albeit at very gradually, from 1% in 1992 to 2% today. A change to, say 10%, as it is in Turkey, would probably not last very long. The public would cry out that the larger parties are stifling unpopular opinion and claim that such a change amounts to limiting free speech. Israel already has a history of making changes to the political system and reverting back to the original in the face of public opinion (the shortlived period direct elections for PM comes to mind), and the threshold would probably be lowered back to the current level fairly quickly.
Within the state’s history, there have been as many as 15 different lists (and even more parties) represented at once in the Knesset. Every time this number seems to shrink a bit (no lower than 10, though), another party, serving a narrow sector of society, becomes the temporary favorite. In the last election it was Gil, just like Yisrael BaAliyah in 1996 and Shinui in 2003.
This year there seems to be a movement on the politicians’ side to consolidate electoral support within a smaller number of parties. The attempt at forming a right-wing political party, made up of the many factions in the far right, is nothing new, however there are interesting developments within the large parties.
Historically, the Knesset has been dominated by two political parties that have developed into today’s Labor and Likud. In 2006, Kadima changed that, winning the largest number of seats, and premiership. Nevertheless, Kadima was always an artificial party, yet another breakaway party formed by Ariel Sharon (this time from the Likud). He succeeded in taking many Likud members with him, as well recruiting a few politicians from Labor. There was never any ideology, a common theme for most attempt at a “center” party in Israel’s history. Olmert rode (comatose) Sharon’s coattails to victory in 2006, and even with the fairly popular Livni at the helm, it appears that Kadima’s success will not be repeated and that it is a bubble waiting to burst (like Shinui). Nonetheless, this is not likely to happen in 2009, and Kadima will probably remain a formidable force in the Knesset for the next few years.
Currently, the two legitimately “large parties” are in the midst of a massive recruitment drive. This is not surprising; parties have always tried to recruit “celebrity” public figures, in the hopes of this converting such figures’ support into electoral gains. What is somewhat surprising is who has been joining this year.
Ha’aretz journalists, Daniel Ben-Simon and Avi Shaked have recently announced their intention to run for Labor seats in next month’s primaries. Yariv Oppenheimer, Secretary-General of Peace Now, has also announced that he will run for a seat in the Labor primaries. This is notable, since Oppenheimer’s views are more aligned with the far left parties, such as Meretz. Nevertheless, the left does not appear to have truly adopted this trend, with politicians such as Ami Ayalon leaving Labor, possibly for Meretz for another far-left party.
The Likud has seen much more activity lately. The return of the popular Benny Begin and Dan Meridor, as well as former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon represent a significant reinforcement for the party that only tied as the third largest party in the 2006 elections. It is not only popular politicians that are joining Likud, however, as Efi Eitam has also announced his desire to join Likud.
In any case, if recent developments are any sign, Israel will experience a significant reduction in the number of political parties in the Knesset, and possibly a slightly more stable government.