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Friday, March 31, 2006

'Increased Security Restrictions'

In the aftermath of last night's murder of four Israelis outside of Kedumim, the IDF has 'increased security restrictions on the 'Palestinians.' HaAretz reports that the restrictions include a prohibition against 'Palestinian' males between 15 and 32 from passing through the Hawara and Beit Iba checkpoints in the Nablus area, and that the IDF is keeping 'Palestinians' from reaching Nablus from the direction of Tul Karm and Jenin. The army is also conducting a full-body search of any Palestinian who passes through those checkpoints, Israel Radio reported.

This morning, the IDF arrested the brother of the suicide bomber southeast of Hebron, and another 'Palestinian' in the Nablus area who was allegedly involved in the attack.

Two of the four Israelis killed were an elderly couple - Rafi and Helena Halevy - who lived in Kedumim for 20 years. Their funeral was scheduled to be held in Kedumim on Sunday. They are survivied by their four children, one of whom is a Lieutenant Colonel in the IDF.

Another victim was Reut Feldman, a 20-year-old woman from Herzliya who volunteered for national service in Kedumim. Her funeral was planned to be conducted later on Friday following a definite identification of the body.

The fourth victim has not yet been identified, but according to HaAretz he was a 16-year old boy who lived in Kedumim.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the suicide bomber was identified as 24-year-old Ahmad Mashrake. He was released from a Palestinian prison less than one month ago.

The Aksa Martyrs' Brigades took responsibility for the attack. A spokesman for the terrorist group said that Israel should prepare a large amount of body bags for the terrorist attacks that his organization planned to execute if Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continued with his plans.

He warned that the Aksa Brigades could reach any point in Israel, and that they had a lot of potential suicide bombers on call, ready to attack.

Unilateralism an empty dream

Maybe I'm just being overly optimistic, but part of this analysis - the part about unilateralism not working - appears to be spot-on to me. Of course, I hope that no Israeli leader will be foolish enough to talk to Hamas....
But a sober analysis of the results shows that the possibility that a unilateral pullout will actually come to pass is no simple matter.

For starters, we are talking about a much more difficult, expensive and complicated process than the Gaza move. The technical and budgetary difficulties are not minor: The Gaza pullout was successful due to Israel's operational forces no less than the leadership of Ariel Sharon.

It also helped that the Gaza Strip is a small piece of land, easily cut off from the rest of the country, with a small number of residents.

Sharon's lessons

Politically, Sharon taught his potential successor a lesson: You need a coalition for disengagement, but not necessarily the one you share the government table with. But Sharon's starting position was excellent: He traded 13 Likud rebels for 15 Shinui MKs who were even more committed to the pullout that Sharon's party.

Together with outside support from Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties, he had little trouble putting together a parliamentary majority to support the move that anti-pullout forces couldn't break. [This was partly because many of them - notably the National Religious Party in the period during which the votes were being taken, the United Torah Judaism party during the period that the disengagement was being carried out, and many of the so-called Likud rebels during the entire period - were unwilling to go all the way and bring down the government. CiJ]

Ehud Olmert is starting from an entirely different position. True, his diplomatic plans are identical to those of Labor, but Amir Peretz is demanding a heavy economic and personal price to join the government. So are the Pensioners.

Joining the left

It would seem that Meretz and the Arabs bring Olmert to the magic number of 60 Knesset members, but he will not be able to rely on the Arab bloc in the Knesset. Olmert is no Rabin, and he is no Sharon.

The rest of the parties object to unilateral pullouts. Some may be able to be bought off temporarily, but there is no guarantee they will remain in government when push comes to shove.

What does all this mean? That Olmert's election promise to spend the next year to 18 months trying to negotiate has become a life rope for him and for his future government.

He will be forced to do everything possible to find a Palestinian negotiating partner; Mahmoud Abbas is ready and willing, and even, with or without calling it by name, with the Hamas government.

For all Olmert's grand statements about drying up the Palestinian Authority and bringing international pressure to bear on it, Ismail Haniya's position today is no less stable than that of Ehud Olmert.

Empty dream

This is a blow to his empty dream, according to which Israel has the ability to set its future borders alone and to act as if the Palestinians do not exist. It is also a blow to the notion that we can escape reality, a notion that caused many Israelis to ignore both the process and administration of the Gaza pullout and the results of it.

The Palestinians do exist, and there will be no quiet or security here if we ignore them. Unilateralism is nothing more than an election promise – one that failed to survive even to the end of Election Day.

And by the way, the results of a Palestinian-Israeli poll taken jointly by Israeli pollster Yaakov Shamir and Palestinian Dr. Khalil Shikaki on the eve of electiosn shows that most Israelis may continue to hold on to the dream of unilateralism, but don't really believe it can be accomplished: 62 percent of those Israelis asked said Israel should talk to Hamas if need be, in order to reach a compromise with the Palestinians. [And we all know that the polls in Israel are nothing if not accurate. /sarc CiJ]

Two percent? It should have been 10 percent!

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange dropped by about two percent today in response to the election results. I saw one article that attributed the drop to Kadima Achora's disappointing showing. But that's not the real issue.

Meirav Arlosoroff, one of Israel's top financial reporters, goes through the long list of real dark clouds on the economy that were created by Tuesday's election.

Make no mistake: Financially, the election results are somewhere between bad and very bad. Politically, the results are relatively simple; there is a clear majority supporting continued disengagement from the territories, and this is economically significant too. However, economic policy does not begin and end with disengagement, and anyone searching for such a policy will be hard pressed to find it in the coming years.

1. A fragmented coalition: The combination of Kadima, the Labor Party and the Pensioners Party (Gil) gives the coalition 55 seats. Thus, a fourth coalition member will be necessary to give the coalition a majority. Meretz, with four seats, will not be enough. [If Achora is 29 and Meretz is 5 - as I reported earlier this evening - that would make the total 61, which would be enough. Of course, Labor is more part of the problem than the solution and the Pensioners' party may be part of the problem as well. CiJ] Therefore, we can assume there will be no choice other than to add one or more of the religious parties. A coalition of four parties or more is necessarily a weaker one, which will have difficulty pursuing a decisive policy on anything. Such a coalition will certainly have trouble pursuing a determined economic policy, when the economic viewpoints within it range from Kadima's right-wing capitalism to the clear-cut social bent of Shas, Labor and especially the Pensioners.

2. Shas: Shas' financial situation is so bad there is a chance it will sacrifice almost anything to get into the coalition, to reconnect itself to government funding. This makes things simpler because Shas could agree to support continued disengagement as a condition for joining the coalition. However, it would also mean Shas would demand a large financial incentive for joining. A likely result would be turning back the clock on welfare payments, meaning the return of child benefits.

Pensioners: The enigma known as the Pensioners Party will become clear in the coming weeks. Until now, the party has not bothered to define its goals, apart from a general concern for pensioners' rights. They will now have to elaborate.

It is laudable that such a serious subject as pensions has come into the limelight thanks to the Pensioners Party. However, the importance of the issue does not lessen the danger inherent in handling it wrongly.

The party is composed of experienced former union leaders, and large Histadrut unions to boot. As we know, the Histadrut labor federation is vehemently opposed to pension reforms carried out by the previous government. We can assume the subject of turning the clock back on these reforms will come up in coalition negotiations.


Aside from this, the demand to raise old-age benefits, and possibly the imposition of a compulsory pension scheme, is likely to come up too. The price of these demands, whether or not they are justified, will be huge.

3. Labor: The Labor Party, the second-largest in the coalition, is expected to demand a senior portfolio. Finance is the most natural choice, assuming that the Foreign Ministry does not interest Amir Peretz. Peretz as finance minister again means a retreat from pension reform, and also a possibility of backtracking on capital market reform - the Bachar reforms.

It will certainly mean a rise in the minimum wage. And don't forget the remaining privatizations: Mekorot, the Israel Electric Corporation, the Israel Military Industries and the Israel Aircraft Industries. These will all fall by the wayside, as will any prospect of government reform, both local and national, and probably education reform as well. All of these reforms demand a greater level of job market flexibility.

Report: Last votes bring Kadima to 29, Likud to 12

Bibi Netanyahu may yet be the opposition leader after all, a position from which he had been written off earlier this week.

The final election results - which will not officially be released until next Wednesday - raise each of Likud and Kadima Achora one seat, at the expense of Shas and Yisrael Beteinu. The United Arab list also reportedly lost one seat and Meretz will gain that seat.

Those who may join the Knesset - if the figures are accurate - are Yoel Hasson, the 29th slot on the Kadima list, Avshalom Vilan, the fifth on the Meretz list, and Yisrael Katz, the 12th on the Likud list. Both Katz and Vilan were in the last Knesset (I'm not sure about Hasson).

And Again... 3 dead in terror attack at Kedumim gas station

Two nights ago, I dropped my family off in Adam and went to buy gasoline at a station which is located at the entrance road to the Jewish towns of Kochav Yaakov, Psagot and Tel Zion just east northeast (I think that's the direction) of Jerusalem. As I was sitting in the gas station, in which I was the only customer, I kept thinking about how suicide bombers in gas stations in Judea and Samaria have become a new modus operandi for Palestinian terrorists.

This evening, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up in a car in a gas station in Kedumim in Northern Samaria, murdering three Israelis. The exact circumstances are unclear and you will see two different versions below. As far as I am concerned, the suicide bombers are all the same; they just change their uniforms to suit themselves. Nevertheless the claim of responsibility credit by the Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - a group that is ultimately under the control of Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen, the Holocaust-denying 'Palestinian President' - is yet another reminder that there really is no such thing as a Palestinian leader who does not at least sympathize with the terrorists.

Here's the story:

A suicide bomber apparently detonated an explosives-laden car next to an Israeli vehicle at the gas station at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, leaving three unidentified burned bodies at the scene.

Israel Radio reported that the three victims were all Israelis.

Parts of the vehicle flew as far as 60 meters.

The Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades took responsibility for the attack, saying the bomber was Ahmad Mashrake, age 24. Other Palestinian sources indicated that the explosion was detonated by remote control, and that all of the victims were Israeli.

Conflicting media reports indicate that the dead may be either Israelis or accomplices of the terrorist who died in what may have been a work accident.

Arutz Sheva has a completely different version of the story:

An Arab terrorist from Fatah's Al-Aksa Brigade dressed as a Jewish hitchhiker and blew himself up inside the car of those who picked him up near Kedumim, in Samaria - murdering three Jews.

The attack took place at 10 PM near the gas station and hitchhiking station adjacent to the town of Kedumim.

The terror group released a statement saying the bomber was a 24-year-old from Hevron.

Shortly following the explosion, police believed the blast was a terrorist bomb that detonated prematurely, killing the bomber inside. The vehicle was engulfed in flames so preliminary reports took over an hour to begin to reflect the reality.

It now appears that the bomber dressed as a Jew, wearing a kippa (yarmulke) and hassidic garb and was given a ride by the unsuspecting occupants of the Israeli vehicle. He then blew himself up inside, killing three passengers. The number of dead remains unclear but it appears to be two at this time.

Security authorities are still emphasizing that details of the attack are not yet clear.
And to think that last night, after I drove my daughter and son-in-law to the airport, I was so tired that I violated my self-imposed policy of not taking hitchikers I don't know by picking up a lone hitchiker near Shilat at 2:00 AM....

Update 12:50 AM

Here's an updated version of that story from Arutz Sheva:

It appears that a Fatah al-Aqsa Brigade terrorist, 24-year-old Hevron resident Mahmoud Masharka was dressed as a hareidi-religious Jew, prompting the Israeli motorist to stop to give him a ride.

It remains unclear if the terrorist was hoping to make his way into Green Line Israel, perhaps to a more heavily populated area, but the bomb he was carrying did detonate, killing the occupants of the vehicle.

Murdered in the attack was an elderly Kedumim couple along with a female, reportedly a resident of the center of the country. Unconfirmed reports state she was a national service volunteer in the area [which means she was probably 18-19 years old. CiJ].

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Kadima Achora having difficulties forming government

The Kadima Achora party, which garnered the most votes in Tuesday's Knesset election, has already run into troubles forming a government. The Labor party, which finished in second place with twenty Knesset seats, is demanding the Finance Ministry as the price of its entry into the government. Achora rejects giving Labor the Finance Ministry, and instead wants to offer it the Defense Ministry (the three biggest prizes in the government are Finance, Defense and Foreign). This is from a JPost article:

Olmert convened members of his newly formed coalition negotiating team at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to discuss strategy for the coalition talks that will formally begin following President Moshe Katsav's consultations on Sunday with the leaders of the parties set to enter the Knesset.

It was decided at the meeting to try to form the widest coalition possible and to give potential coalition partners the message that Olmert had several alternatives available. Olmert's aides said the ideal coalition included 88 MKs from Kadima, Labor, Shas, Israel Beiteinu, United Torah Judaism and the Gil Pensioners' Party. [The wider the coalition, the more unruly it is and the more likely that it is paralyzed by one party or that individual parties decide to drop out or not to vote as the coalition requires. That's why it's so important that Achora ended up with 28 seats and not with the 42-43 that were projected at one time. CiJ]

"Just as I said before the election, no Zionist parties will be ruled out," Olmert said in the meeting. "Any Zionist party can be part of the coalition."

Kadima's first goal in the talks will be to lower Labor's asking price. Olmert's associates acknowledged that because Kadima won only 28 seats, the party might have to give Labor one or even two of the top four portfolios of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance and Education. [This is the first time I have seen Education compared with others. CiJ] But they said the Treasury was off limits in coalition talks, especially with regard to Labor chairman Amir Peretz.

"There is a limit to what the economy can tolerate," an Olmert associate said. "Peretz has a history of paralyzing the economy with strikes, so if he were appointed, the stock market would collapse. He can't be finance minister for the same reason that [Israel Beiteinu head] Avigdor Lieberman cannot be defense minister."

Such insults to Peretz offended Labor Party leaders who insisted they would have to be paid a reasonable price to join the coalition, unlike the national-unity government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, where Labor's top portfolio was the Interior Ministry.

"A party that has run on a socioeconomic platform could not possibly accept anything less than the Finance Ministry," a senior Labor official close to Peretz said. "The basis of any talks would be Peretz heading the Finance Ministry." [If Peretz gets the Finance Ministry, say goodbye to the economy. Olmert is right about that. On the other hand, there is little doubt that those who elected Peretz expected him to try to run the economy. CiJ]

Kadima officials also said they would refuse Peretz's main coalition policy demand of raising the minimum wage to $1,000 a month, a measure that they warned would harm the economy. They said it would be easier for Kadima to compromise on portfolios than matters of policy.

"Labor is not needed in the coalition if Israel Beiteinu and the haredi parties join," Education Minister Meir Sheetrit said. "It would not be a problem for Shas and Lieberman to join the coalition because the convergence plan will not be implemented tomorrow. [In other words, they are going to try to take parties into the government and tell them that when Achora does something they don't like, they can leave. Why Israeli parties continue to do this rather than prevent Olmert and some of his predecessors from forming governments and forcing them to give other parties a chance is beyond me. CiJ] We are still going to make a serious effort to negotiate with the Palestinians." [Yes, but he is already in trouble with Israel Beiteinu too - see below. CiJ]


Olmert will begin holding personal meetings with the heads of the parties on Sunday. Peretz is expected to tell Olmert that in addition to the Treasury, a "social bloc" of Labor, Shas and the Gil Pensioners' Party would demand the socioeconomic ministries: Education, Industry, Trade and Labor, Social Affairs and Interior.

Lieberman said he had not contacted Olmert, but that he was open to serious negotiations with Kadima. He said he opposed further unilateral withdrawals and the road map, and that he had seen no formal document outlining Kadima's diplomatic strategy so he could not comment on its compatibility with his own. He said that Olmert would need an additional coalition partner outside the obvious left-wing bloc and that Israel Beiteinu was more compatible with Kadima on economic issues than Shas.

Rafi Eitan, head of the Gil Pensioners' Party, indicated last night that he did not support Olmert's convergence plan for uprooting West Bank settlements and fixing a new border. Appearing on comedian Eli Yatzpan's TV variety show [Yatzpan has now become a serious political show? CiJ] , Eitan was asked his opinion of Olmert's plan.

"When you consolidate," Eitan replied, "you pull yourself in. All my life I've tried to expand, to stretch out, so maybe this doesn't work out."

As this next article indicates, Lieberman has a lot more problems with Olmert than just his opposition to unilateral withdrawals. Lieberman is starting to sound like a right-winger again....

Israel Beinteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday that, while he did not rule out joining a Kadima-led coalition, he would not be part of government that did not deal with security adequately. "I still have not seen an answer to Kassam or Katusha rocket attacks," he said.

Lieberman said that unilateral withdrawal from settlements should not be the aim of the next government, but rather, it should focus on the security situation. [Olmert can try to hide behind the fig leaf of negotiations, but he is not likely to negotiate with Hamas, and at least from the sounds of this, Lieberman is unlikely to join a government that waits a year to see if the 'Palestinians' change their leadership - which they won't - and then carries out a unilateral withdrawal expulsion of Jews from their homes. CiJ]

"The Gaza disengagement did not bring an end to terror attacks," claimed Lieberman in an Israel Radio interview. He added that he would consider joining Olmert's coalition if a final border solution was linked to demographics and security, and not "just a senseless withdrawal to the '67 borders." [Oh well, Ehud. So much for that. CiJ]

While other parties talked about coalition strategy on Wednesday, Lieberman had a more wait-and-see attitude.

"I see no reason to hurry. I prefer to wait until next week," he said, still flushed from Israel Beiteinu winning 12 mandates.


Lieberman dismissed the notion of a complete left-wing bloc as being unrealistic, given that Kadima, Labor, the Gil Pensioners' Party and Meretz together only make up 59 of the 61 mandates that Olmert needs to form a government. He would have to chose another partner as well, he said.

Kadima's more conservative economic platform would make it hard to form such a bloc, particularly if Shas, which garnered 13 mandates, was added into the mix, he said.

Lieberman said he believed he could be the right partner, but he ducked questions about the incompatibility of his diplomatic platform and that of Kadima.

During the campaign, Lieberman alternatively touted himself as a right-wing and a center candidate. He often explained that his party was the only one to immediately allow itself to be fired for refusing to support disengagement. At the same time, he said, he was open to coalition talks with Olmert.


On Wednesday, he continued this complex balancing act. He spoke against the road map, which was adopted by the last government. He said that he refused to vote in favor of it when it was first passed, so he didn't know why he should support it now. "It's a road map to nowhere," he said.

Lieberman also spoke against further unilateral withdrawals, a policy that Olmert pledged to enact during the campaign. "What's the logic behind being a partner to another unilateral withdrawal?" he asked. "What would be gained by it?"

Still, he said he would support any moves by Olmert to improve the nation's security and its Jewish nature. He dismissed as irrelevant statements by Olmert during the campaign that any coalition partner would have to agree to his platform of reshaping the country's borders.

Divided they stand

Some of you may recall that yesterday I uncovered conflicting reports in the media as to the extent of voter turnout among the revenants, and I wondered why it would be that many revenants would stay at home and not vote. Today, the Jerusalem Post gives us a hint of what may be behind that story:

"The issue of the fence comes up every day in my family," Simkovitz said, referring to the security fence Israel is building in and around the West Bank. "It's strangling us."

While international criticism and local protestations have rained down on Israel for the negative impact the barrier is having on Palestinian livelihood, it is also upending the lives of thousands of Israeli settlers who see in the fence the beginning of the end of their time in Judea and Samaria.

"I'm not dreaming. Israel will succeed in building the fence," said Yair Wolf, the deputy mayor of Gush Etzion, the settlement bloc just a few miles west of Tekoa which will remain inside the fence's perimeter. Like most people in his jurisdiction, Wolf opposes the barrier because of what it will do to Tekoa and a few other satellite communities.

"From one side, you can say this is for security, but everyone knows this is going to be a border and those people will have to leave."

Within those borders, which include east Jerusalem and major settlement blocs such as Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, in addition to Gush Etzion, most of the 240,000 Israeli Jews living on land captured in the Six Day War will remain. But in the wake of the March 28 election, and the Ehud Olmert-led coalition it will likely yield, that leaves up to 80,000 settlers like Simkovitz in around 65 settlements facing the prospect of eviction from their homes, possibly in the not-too-distant future.

In interviews conducted by The Jerusalem Post across the West Bank over the last few months, settlers revealed a prism of reactions and strategies to the fence, and to Olmert's "convergence" plan, from those who vow never to leave this biblical ground to groups who are proactively seeking a way out.

Around Tekoa, six miles south of Jerusalem, the security fence has yet to be built. Nevertheless, it has cast a larger-than-life shadow, causing some residents, like Simkovitz, to plot political and tactical strategies to defend their homes from evacuation.

But most people, said 15-year resident Meir Ben-Hayoun "are in denial. It seems obvious that they will evacuate us, but no one here talks about what we will do when that day comes."

Instead, the father of two young daughters said, home construction in Tekoa continues and "the people go on acting like we will be here forever."

NINETY MINUTES north of here, near the city of Nablus, where olive groves cover the rolling hills, Beni Raz is taking the exact opposite approach. A 13-year resident of Karnei Shomron, a town of 7,000 close to the largest settlement, Ariel, Raz has started an organization which is trying to get the government to fund a voluntary Jewish evacuation of the West Bank.

Though Karnei Shomron lies within a broad swath of the West Bank the security fence will supposedly encompass when it is complete, Raz said he does not want to live with the uncertainty of one day perhaps being forced to leave.

"Reality is stronger than we are and we know the world is changing," said Raz, who sees no final peace until Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders. "We want to build our future and we want to build it in a permanent place."

According to him, the fence has made Jews living on the other side of it "secondary citizens" whose protection is no longer a priority of the army. That, and a desire to avoid the fate of the Gaza evacuees - many of whom are unemployed and some still without even temporary housing more than six months after disengagement - has convinced many non-religious people that it is time to leave.

"We're saying, 'We don't want to wait; let's go now,' We're just looking for help to do it," Raz said. "Most of us are not ideologues. We just came here for a good life, and we're very happy to have it somewhere else."

But as more secular settlers look for ways to return to 1967 Israel, harder-line elements are digging their heals in to entrench themselves in the land as deeply as they can.


THOUGH IT was "the spirit of the land" that led Tamar Asaraf to Hayovel eight years ago, violent resistance is not something she and her community advocate.

Her brand new home, and 11 others like it, constitute this outpost an hour north of Tekoa along the main West Bank highway perched atop a mostly baron hill studded with shrubs, where cold winds penetrate even winter clothing.

Due to its illegal status, Hayovel may be evacuated months or years before established settlements built with government support. When parts of a similar outpost, Amona, were dismantled in February, violent confrontations between protesters and the police and IDF forces that did the job left more than 200 people injured.

That incident, and its contrast to the relatively peaceful disengagement from Gaza last summer, convinced Asaraf that if the order came from the government to leave, she would do so before the soldiers and police came, in order to spare her children the trauma of eviction and the likely media circus surrounding it.

Nevertheless, in the evacuation of settlers and demolition of their homes, Asaraf sees a determination from politicians and unsympathetic citizens to destroy the "precious way of living" in these settlements.

"It is not common to find neighbors with honesty, simplicity and dignity" in this country anymore, said Asaraf, who was born in a suburb of Tel Aviv before becoming religious and moving to Hayovel in her mid-20s. "In Tel Aviv, you see a culture that is not an honest way of living. All of it is for show. Every time I come back here, I thank God for the kind people I live with."

Though Palestinian towns surround Hayovel and the perimeter of the settlement is patrolled night and day by residents with M-16s slung around their shoulders, Asaraf said that living there allows her four children to grow up in relative safety.

My guess - and I could be wrong about this - is that the 'ideological settlers' - those who came to Judea and Samaria to fulfill a biblical dream - voted in the normal large percentages that one would expect, while those who came to Judea and Samaria for the 'good life' and just want to leave were too disgusted to vote. It would be interesting if there were a way to verify this.

Read it all.

Why Likud Lost

David Bedein takes a shot at explaining why the Likud (and National Union - National Religious Party) lost the elections:

Likud and Israel’s National Union/National Religious Party lost because they gave the impression to the Israeli public that they cared only about themselves. The results of the Israeli elections conveyed a clear message to the people associated with Israel's conservative and religious parties that "You are arrogant and you have isolated yourselves from the people of Israel."

The outreach campaign of the “national union/national religious camp” articulately addressed the suffering of Israelis who were evicted from their homes in Katif in Gaza and the Shomron in the West Bank, yet offered no words about the suffering endured by economically depressed Israeli development towns that border Gaza in the Negev. People there now live under daily artillery bombardment as a direct result of Israel’s hasty retreat from Gaza six months ago.

The direction of this campaign was handed to Yehoshua Mor Yosef, who had steered the Yesha Council, the organization of West Bank Israeli settlers, to isolating itself as a parochial cause, and then went on to help the Israel Foreign Ministry market the destruction of Jewish communities as an integral part of any road to peace. Such was expressed in the pamphlet that the Israeli foreign ministry’s information department issued under Mor Yosef’s tutelage.

Pleas with the leadership of the Likud and the National Union/National Religious Party to hold public meetings with the victims of artillery attacks in the area of Sderot in the Negev fell on deaf ears.

Instead, the stated policy of the National Union/National Religious Party was to reach out only to the “right wing” of Israeli politics, and not to reach out to all the people of Israel, nor to reach out to people with integrity on the Israeli left who became frustrated with the fallacies of Israel’s so-called “peace process.”

As far as the Likud is concerned, its fate was sealed in the spring of 2003 when Benyamin Netanyahu, as the Minister of Finance, slashed special public fund allocations for pensioners, handicapped people and children.

When Netanyahu’s director general was confronted with how the cut in child allowances would cause working families to lose vital income they need for basic sustenance, his answer was that “they should go out to work.” When confronted with the fact that the cutback of the child allowances affects people who are working class, his answer, once again, was that “they should go out to work” even more.

Apathy & Inconclusiveness

Emanuele Ottolenghi has a cautionary message for Ehud Olmert:

But Olmert would do well to pause and think. Only 63.2 percent of Israel's voters bothered to show up on a day when fateful decisions should have drawn the entire country to the ballot booth. Many who did bother to turn up, preferred the Pensioners' list — winners of an astonishing 7 seats according to preliminary results — to Olmert and his talented team. At 28 seats, his party can hardly claim a blank check for its vision. And Israel's coalitions have never been both broad and stable, unless their policy is no policy at all. In the last 20 years, only two leaders were gifted with the political power to change the map: One was Rabin, who in 1992 controlled 44 seats in the Knesset and could form a narrow leftist coalition and sign the Oslo accords. But with a narrow majority in parliament and a nation divided, he paid the ultimate price for pushing a vision that lacked Israel's consensus and left the nation traumatized and ultimately exposed to its enemies' vicious rage. The other one was Sharon, who in 2003, strong of his 40 Likud seats, could clubber the Palestinians on the headfirst and his former political allies on the right later. In between, there were two youthful prime ministers who controlled a number of seats similar to what Olmert has today, who formed broad coalitions, and whose ability to govern and deliver was quickly shipwrecked by the strict arithmetical logic of Israel's fragmented political landscape.

Olmert wants to redraw Israel's boundaries today. He will have to avoid the nightmarish scenario of a civil war that a narrow center-left coalition would no doubt usher in and will have to negotiate the consensus with the right. That, even in ideal conditions, would take longer than the time it took Rabin's far more stable coalition to sign Oslo and it would cost infinitely more than the Disengagement did: this time, it would evict tens of thousands of settlers from their homes, and it is the heartland of Biblical Israel that they would be asked to abandon for an uncertain future.

But conditions are not ideal. While Israelis were busy voting (or not voting), a Katyusha rocket landed in southern Israel, killing two Beduin shepherds. No doubt, now commentators will bend over backward to say that it was not Hamas, but some "militant" group that "rejects" the "peace process." Whoever pulled the trigger, Gaza today is closer to Tel Aviv than ever before. And the presence of much more efficient, elusive, and sophisticated weaponry in Gaza seven months only after the disengagement shows how frail and fragile the Kadima vision was, how unreliable the international community who should be monitoring the borders is, and how ineffectual (not to say worse) are the Egyptians in Sinai when it comes to weapons' smuggling into Gaza. And that withdrawal does not a peace make.

With Israel now encircled by Iran's proxies and Islamist fanatics, the last thing the country needed was an inconclusive result. It got just that. It will reap the whirlwinds of its apathy.

Israel Concedes

The editors of National Review Online set out one of the issues that Ehud Olmert's new government - regardless of who is in it - will have to face:

... Sharon dropped hints that the next step was to incorporate the main blocs of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and dismantle the remainder, in effect creating national borders for Israelis and Palestinians. Olmert says explicitly that this is his program. Likud, the conservative party, argued against it on the grounds that it is unwise to pull out of the West Bank without receiving reciprocal concessions from the Palestinians. The collapse of the Likud vote shows that Israelis were not convinced that any such deal is possible, and in the absence of an alternative they are willing unilaterally to break the murderous stalemate between themselves and the Palestinians.

That means re-housing an estimated 70,000 West Bank settlers. Does Kadima, do the putative coalition parties, really have the stomach for what would be a sort of ethnic cleansing of one's own kind? Ehud Olmert does not command trust as Sharon did. Ari Shavit, one of Israel's most respected commentators, and a left-winger, is not alone in warning that Kadima's program, if fulfilled, may not be the end of Zionism but it would be the beginning of the end. On the far side of the security fence Hamas is promising to return the whole of former Palestine — that means Israel — to Muslim hands, and over the horizon Iran is busy with its nuclear weaponry. Fortress Israel is taking shape, but life within it looks set to be as fraught as ever.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Of ideology and incompetence

Caroline Glick picks through the emptiness of Kadima Achora:

THE PROBLEM is that however wonkish Kadima's leaders may be, they are not, in fact competent. Diplomatically the promised "iron wall" of international support for their declared policy of isolating Hamas held up for less than a day. Far from enhancing Israel's security, their unilateral retreat from Gaza brought Hamas to power and enabled Gaza's transformation into a global terror base and launching ground for rocket and mortar attacks against southern Israel. And Kadima's wonks can do nothing to remedy this situation.

Since they are dedicated to continuing the implementation of Sharon's expulsion and retreat policy, they cannot admit that its implementation in Gaza was responsible for bringing Hamas to power. Similarly, they cannot admit that Hamas is a threat to Israel, since they plan to further empower it by giving it Judea and Samaria.

And if Hamas is not a threat, then there is no reason for the international community to boycott it. As well, since their only policy is the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Judea and Samaria, Kadima's wonks cannot recognize or address the dangers that are all but certain to greet Israel if the Hamas jihad state is extended to the doorways of every major city in Israel. They can make no note of the dangers that such a Hamas state will constitute for the Hashemite regime in Jordan and the American-supported government in Iraq.

Policies built around cost-benefit analyses based on polling data and daily State Department press briefings - while perhaps necessary for a party based on nothing - are incapable of contending with the threats Israel faces and the responsibilities the government holds toward its citizenry and its allies.

Tragically, the public is not able to see this because, with the help of the elections law and the media, Kadima has been able to obfuscate the shortcomings of its central policy and the incompetence of its leaders. Indeed Kadima has been able to make hating Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu the central issue of the elections.


THE ELECTIONS law has facilitated Kadima's campaign by placing censorious limitations on political speech. In the current non-ideological atmosphere many of Israeli society's previously shared assumptions have been undermined. As a result soundbites like "Gaza has turned into Hamastan" are no longer automatically understood.

Now they have to be explained.

The elections law bars political parties from buying airtime and so limits their broadcasting rights to short, state-financed commercials where they are incapable of transmitting anything but telegraphed messages. That is, the elections law blocks public debate.

Unable to communicate its ideologically-grounded policy message in its ads, the Likud was at the mercy of Kadima and the centralized media to get its messages out. It needed Kadima, because without Olmert's consent there could be no candidates' debate. It needed the media, because in the absence of paid advertising or a televised debate, only the media could provide a forum for the Likud (and every other party) to engage the public in a discussion of its policies.

Olmert, whose message can only be effectively represented by soundbites, understandably refused to debate Netanyahu and Labor's Amir Peretz. Far from providing a forum for political discussion, the media effectively blocked all debate.

As Israel state radio and television correspondent Yaron Dekel noted on Sunday, the media injected itself as an actor in this campaign in a manner unprecedented in Israeli electoral history.

Indeed, many observers have charged that Channel 2 and Yediot Aharonot (which both enjoy monopoly shares of their respective markets) destroyed the Likud and created Kadima by demonizing the Likud Central Committee and Likud opponents of Sharon's expulsion and retreat policy for two and a half years; and by manufacturing public pressure and backing for the establishment of Kadima for the past year and a half.

Read it all.

Try victory

Daniel Pipes calls a spade a spade.

As Israelis went to the polls, not one of the leading parties offered the option of winning the war against the Palestinians. It's a striking and dangerous lacuna.


While the Arab effort has been patient, intense, and purposeful, it has also failed. Israelis have built a modern, affluent, and strong country, but one still largely rejected by Arabs. This mixed record has spawned two political developments: a sense of confidence among politically moderate Israelis; and a sense of guilt and self-criticism among its leftists. Very few Israelis still worry about the unfinished business of getting the Arabs to accept the permanence of the Jewish state. Call it Israel's invisible war goal.

Rather than seek victory, Israelis have developed a lengthy menu of approaches to manage the conflict. These include:

•Unilateralism (building a barrier, partial withdrawals): The current policy, as espoused by Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and the Kadima Party.

•Lease for 99 years the land under Israeli towns on the West Bank: The Labor Party of Amir Peretz.

• Palestinian economic development: Shimon Peres.

•Territorial compromise: The premise of Oslo diplomacy, as initiated by Yitzhak Rabin.

•Outside funding for the Palestinians (on the Marshall Plan model): U.S. Representative Henry Hyde.

•Retreat to the 1967 borders: Israel's far Left.

•Push the Palestinians to develop good government: Natan Sharansky (and President George W. Bush).

•Insist that Jordan is Palestine: Israel's Right.

•Transfer the Palestinians out of the West Bank: Israel's far Right.

These many approaches are very different in spirit and mutually exclusive. But they have a key element in common. All manage the conflict without resolving it. All ignore the need to defeat Palestinian rejectionism. All seek to finesse war rather than win it.

Read the whole thing.

'We have many more Katyushas'

As I noted last night, yesterday Palestinian terrorists fired a Katyusha rocket from Gaza into Israel for the first time. Today, Islamic Jihad ensures us that 'We have many more Katyushas.' But not having learned from last summer's folly, Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Achora party want to carry out more unilateral withdrawals expulsions of Jews.

Islamic Jihad group said Wednesday it has "many" Russian-made Katyusha rockets with a range of up to 30 kilometers (19 miles) that it can launch at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The group issued a statement after it fired, for the first time, such a rocket from Gaza toward Israel on Tuesday. In the recent years, Palestinians have fired hundreds of homemade Kassam rockets with a range of about 10 kilometers (six miles) and small explosive warheads.

The Kassams have fallen short of the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, the largest near Gaza. However, the Katyushas could easily reach Ashkelon, and Israeli security officials said they were worried about the escalation.

Islamic Jihad said the Grad version of the Katyusha is 2.8 meters (yards) long, weighs 66 kilograms (145 pounds) and has a caliber of 122 mm, according to Islamic Jihad. It carries a 17-kilogram (37 pounds) warhead and has a range of between 18 (11 miles) and 30 kilometers (19 miles).

Abu Abdullah, a spokesman for the terrorist group, said the rockets were made in Russia and smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. Taking its inspiration from the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbullah, which attacked northern Israel with Katyusha rockets to force Israel to evacuate southern Lebanon, Islamic Jihad planned to use the rockets to try to force Israel to evacuate land adjacent to Gaza, he said.

"These rockets, God willing, will be the reason for liberating the villages adjacent to the Gaza Strip," he said.

He said any Israeli attacks on Islamic Jihad would be met with a "quick response." Israel has repeatedly conducted raids in recent months against Islamic Jihad, which has been responsible for all seven suicide bombings against Israel since an informal cease-fire took hold last year.

Abdullah said Islamic Jihad was studying the rockets in their possession to try to develop similar ones of their own.

Shas 13 - UTJ 6

Haredi parties have garnered nineteen seats in the new Knesset - nearly one sixth of the total. But the imbalance between them is surprising. Shas - whose constituency is principally Sphardic Haredi Jews - got thirteen seats, while United Torah Judaism - which is a combination of Degel HaTorah (Lithuanian Haredi Jews) and Agudath Yisrael (Ashkenazi Hassidic Jews) got only six seats. The latter figure surprised me until I found this article from Monday (the day after my daughter's wedding) that I had missed. While I knew that the Slonoimer Rebbe had called for boycotting the elections, I wasn't aware why. This explains a lot:

A Geocartographic Institute study, quoted in the hareidi publication Mishpacha (Family), states, "Tens of thousands of hareidi Jews will not vote for UTJ this time. Most of them will vote for Shas, and some for NU/NRP or Marzel, and a minority will not vote at all. The main reasons: the fact that the child allowances were cut so drastically [ironically, that happened while UTJ was not in the government - perhaps they expected them to 'rectify' the cuts when UTJ went into the government, but they only took care of getting money for their institutions. CiJ], the abuse of the Torah Sage Rabbi Elyashiv [I'm not quite sure what this refers to. I think there were disputes between Rav Elyashiv and some of the Hassidic Rebbes, but this article seems to attack both halves of the UTJ combination. CiJ] and ignoring of the Council of Torah Sages, and the behavior of the party faction during the Disengagement."

One of the leading rabbis in hareidi-religious circles, the Admor [Rebbe] of Slonim, who is quoted as saying, "One must not vote for United Torah Judaism, which is the same as voting for Kadima."

Much of the wrath appears to be directed at MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, who is perceived as having disobeyed the rabbis' orders in votes concerning the Disengagement. Specifically, he was ordered to vote "no" in a critical Disengagement vote in the Finance Committee in November 2004. However, he was curiously absent from the session, explaining that he had an important Postal Authority event to attend at a Dead Sea hotel. Litzman later explained to Radio Kol Chai, "In political matters, one need not consult with the Torah sages" - a position that had not heretofore been heard in his party.

This past Thursday, UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz did not rule out joining a government led by Ehud Olmert and Kadima - despite Olmert's declaration the night before that only parties that accept his plan for further disengagements will be invited to join his government.

Posters have been placed on walls in hareidi neighborhoods stating, "Don't give your vote and be a partner to those who hurt Torah giants, Jewish children, and the Land of Israel. This time, let's vote Shas, or Tet-Bet [NU/NRP], or even Kaf [Marzel], but just not Gimmel [UTJ], until Litzman is removed and the party returns to the control of the Torah Sages." [I don't recall seeing any such signs in my Haredi neighborhood. There were lots of signs calling for unity among UTJ, Shas and NU/NRP. CiJ]

After seeing this article, I am almost surprised that my two eldest children both got phone calls yesterday from UTJ urging them to go and vote (my wife and I had already voted by then). I actually toyed with voting for Marzel, but was not convinced he would make the minimum necessary to get into the Knesset (which he did not).

Kadima may have to forfeit more portfolios than planned

Things aren't so rosy in the Kadima Achora camp either:


The leader of the largest party is traditionally asked first to try to form a ruling coalition. Olmert had already set up a team to handle coalition negotiations with the different parties. The party believes the coalition-building process may last a long time.

Transportation and Education Minister Meir Sheetrit expressed his opinion that it would be easy to reach a coalition agreement with the Labor Party or with the Gil pensioners' party, but predicted more difficulty in convincing the haredi parties to join the coalition.

Senior Kadima member Haim Ramon stated his expectation that the new government would be presented right after Passover, which starts this year on April 12. He announced that his party would gather a coalition of 70-80 MKs that would be able to execute the convergence plan, if negotiations with the Palestinians fail.

MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) told Israel Radio on Wednesday that it would not be possible to form a coalition without his party. Both he and Party Chairman Amir Peretz said Labor's main demands would center around socio-economic issues.

Ramon noted the possibility of making the Labor party a central party in the new coalition. According to Israel Radio, he insisted that socio-economic issues would not hamper negotiations.

Following the much smaller gap than expected between Kadima and Labor, the ruling party reportedly started considering the possibility of appointing at least two Labor MKs to senior ministries. The Labor Party should expect to have three fewer ministers than Kadima. Labor Chairman Amir Peretz, former chief of the Histadrut labor federation, said that his party would demand many of the domestic ministries affecting social welfare.

Sources close to Olmert expressed concern on Wednesday regarding the financial implications of including Labor, Shas, or Gil in the coalition. While the latter party's platform was not as known as the former two, Labor and Shas were both expected to demand increasing subsidies for Israel's weaker sectors. [In other words, both Labor and Shas would demand a rollback of Netanyahu's financial reforms. This would be an unmitigated disaster for the country. CiJ]

The unexpected elections outcome would probably leave many Kadima MKs disappointed, as they were promised many more ministerial positions than what they will probably receive under the new constellation. [Of course, they can always just create thirty ministries at the taxpayers' expense. We've seen that show before. CiJ] Olmert promised MK Shimon Peres a ministerial position overseeing development of the Negev and the Galilee, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was tentatively granted the position of deputy prime minister, as well as any ministry she choses. Also, former Interdisciplinary Center head Uriel Reichman was expected to be appointed to the Education Ministry.

Other Kadima MKs who expected to be ministers in the new government are former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, Education and Transportation Minister Meir Shitreet, MK Haim Ramon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, National Infrastructures Minister Roni Bar-On, and Construction and Housing and Agriculture Minister Ze'ev Boim.


Olmert's associates, however, have already said that as far as future coalitions were concerned, the Arab parties would not be invited. On the same note, it was not out of the question that Shas and/or United Torah Judaism could join a coalition with Kadima. Furthermore, Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said following his party's strong showing that, "We would consider all offers, but we will not abandon our principles." [And of course, since Kadima Achora has no principles, they don't want anyone else in the coalition who has any either. CiJ]

National Union MKs Speak About Electoral Loss

The National Union and National Religious Party merged into a joint list in the hope of increasing their representation in the 17th Knesset. Most observers would say that they did not succeed. But MK Zvi Hendel - one of those expelled from Gush Katif last summer - takes an optimistic view:

Hendel, who now lives in Yad Binyamin after being forcibly evicted from his home in Gush Katif last summer, took an optimistic view of the results. "In the last elections," he said today, "the National Union ran together with Lieberman, and we received seven seats, while the NRP won six, for a total of 13 - while today, the three of us are up to 21."

Army Radio interviewer Razi Barkai said that using this logic, the Likud's drop from 38 to 11 should also be taken into account. [I think what he meant by this is that by Hendel's logic, the Likud could consider its dismal results a success because they together with Kadima Achora are 39 seats as compared with 38. It seems obvious to me that Barkai is correct here. CiJ] He did not mention that without taking Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu into account, the National Union and the National Religious Party dropped from 10 seats to 9.

Continuing his analysis, Hendel said, "The 11 MKs of the Likud are strongly right-wing, and objected to the disengagement in one form or another, so that this makes a total of 32 right-wing MKs - a strong showing. In addition, the seven MKs of the Pensioners Party are not necessarily left-wing, and in fact the party leader Rafi Eitan is definitely right-wing. Finally, the votes of the traditionally right-wing soldiers have not yet been counted, and this could give us another Knesset mandate [at the expense of the Arab Balad party, which is hovering close to the minimum threshold - ed.]"

"In short," Hendel concluded, "it is far from the truth to say that Olmert has a broad national mandate for his 'turning-inward' plan. In fact, he has only his 28 MKs; even Labor is not so enthusiastically in favor of a withdrawal without an agreement."

Olmert's advisor Dov Weisglass said the opposite: "The results show that there is a potential for 80 MKs who support or who could support such a plan." He is apparently counting the Arabs, the Pensioners, Shas, and more. Lieberman said again today that he would oppose any withdrawal from Jewish communities. [This is certainly good news. Lieberman lives in Nokdim - or at least he did the last time that I checked - which is on the hit list. CiJ].

The nine MKs of the NU/NRP are as follows:
1. Benny Elon (National Union - Moledet)
2. Zevulun Orlev (NRP)
3. Tzvi Hendel (NU - Tekumah)
4. Effie Eitam (NU - Religious Zionism Renewal)
5. Nissan Slomiansky (NRP)
6. Yitzchak Levy (NU - Religious Zionism Renewal)
7. Eli Gabbai (NRP)
8. Aryeh Eldad (NU - Moledet)
9. Uri Ariel (NU - Tekumah)

In the 10th and 11th places are Gila Finkelstein and Sha'ul Yahalom, both from the NRP. [The irony here is that two of the NU MK's - Eitam and Levy - both left the NRP during the last Knesset over the NRP's support for the unilateral withdrawal expulsion plan. CiJ]

Hendel's party colleague MK Effie Eitam sees the election results as a chance to turn the NU-NRP into the new leadership of the nationalist camp. "The Likud crushed itself," he said, "but out of this crisis, a new opportunity arises to build a new leadership for the Jewish nationalist camp in Israel. This leadership is starting with only 10 Knesset mandates, but we have patience and we have a path."

MK Hendel said that the turnout of voters in Yesha appears to have been higher than around the country, "but there were definitely some protest votes. I know young voters who voted for the Pensioners and of course for Marzel." [See this post. It would be interesting to get the actual figures. I assume that Aaron Lerner will eventually have them. CiJ]

Revenants didn't turn out to vote?

If this article is correct, it is perhaps the most astounding thing in the entire election. On the other hand, the article may just be assuming that the entire decline in the combined National Religious Party - National Union vote is equivalent to a low turnout among the revenants. And since when is Beit El considered 'Haredi'?

While turnout was low nationwide, including in the development towns, exceptionally low turnout rates were recorded among settlers, who usually have a high rate of electoral mobilization. The NU-NRP bloc, recognized as representing the settlers, sank from 13 mandates to 9.

The lowest rates were found among the Beduin community in the south, where voter turnout hovered around 30%.

In contrast, the haredi communities of Modi'in Ilit and Beit El recorded over 90% turnout, far above the national average.

I'm not sure I would count the NRP as representing the revenants. The NRP was part of the government that approved the disengagement expulsion of the Jews from their homes in Gaza. I can see the revenants wanting to punish them for that. But staying home? If that's what really happened, that was a huge mistake.

Backbiting Starts in Likud

The (inevitable) backbiting has started in the Likud. Uzi Landau, who was the leader of the anti-expulsion forces, and who will not be in the next Knesset, has blamed unnamed former ministers for the Likud's failure in yesterday's elections.

Asked to pinpoint the reasons for his party's failure in the election, Landau blamed his fellow former ministers, the media, the economy, and more.

Considered the leader of the "orange"/hawkish/anti-Disengagement camp within the Likud, Landau told Army Radio, "We partially deserved the punishment the public gave us, but not totally." Listing the party's sins, he said, "We zig-zagged, promising things to the voters which we didn't deliver. Our internal infighting was also to blame. In addition, our ministers were perceived as being too stuck to their ministerial seats; we claimed one thing, but did something else."

This last point is possibly Landau's most emphatic point. He himself voted against the Disengagement plan as early as October 2004, even though he knew Sharon would promptly fire him, which he did. When the interviewer asked if he is therefore blaming former Ministers Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat, Danny Naveh and others for his party's failure, Landau said he does not want to mention names. [He could have added Netanyahu to that list - he also waited too long to oppose Sharon's plan. CiJ].

Landau rejected the notion that his party was punished for being too right-wing: "We lost some voters who went even further to the right than us - but our hard-core supporters remained with us, or simply stayed home and didn't vote... I am proud that I and others showed that not all politicians can be bought, and that some of them stand on their principles."

Another reason for the Likud's failure, Landau feels, involved the economic reforms led by party leader Binyamin Netanyahu when he served as Finance Minister. "What we were unfairly punished for was the economic policy," Landau said. "People told us that because their pensions decreased, they wouldn't vote for us." The Pensioners' Party in fact scored a totally unexpected success, jumping from oblivion to 7 Knesset seats. [He's right about that too. Olmert said during the campaign that he wanted to continue Netanyahu's economic policies. Hopefully that will happen, because otherwise it will be a disaster for the economy. CiJ].

Landau also blamed the media to a certain extent. "Look," he said, "I ran against Bibi [Netanyahu] for party leader, and I have some criticism of him - but what was done to him by some of the media, especially Channel Two and Yediot Acharonot, was simply a targeted killing. I believe the media should perform a self-reckoning of its role in the campaign; it did not act like the watchdog of democracy it is supposed to be."

Landau said he believes it is in the nationalist camp's interest to form a united right-wing bloc in the Knesset. "At present, there does not exist a Jewish majority in the Knesset for the unilateral withdrawal plan, and certainly not the overwhelming majority that would be necessary for such a plan." [I don't quite see the argument that there is not a Jewish majority. If you put together Kadima Achora, Labor and Meretz, that comes to 52 seats. If the pensioners go in with Achora (which they presumably will), that's 59, and if you discount the Arabs that leaves everyone else at 51 seats. CiJ]

Likud MK Michael Eitan, #6 on the party's list, said, "We paid the price for everything - for carrying out the Disengagement, for objecting to the Disengagement, and for the economic plan."

Netanyahu said last night that he plans to remain in his position and lead the party "back to better times." Silvan Shalom, who lost to Netanyahu in a recent race for party leadership, reportedly plans to ask for another vote so that he can try again.

If in fact the Likud ends up with 11 MKs - it won 38 in the previous election - its abbreviated party faction will look like this:

Netanyahu, Shalom, Moshe Kachlon, Gilad Erdan, Gideon Sa'ar, Eitan, Ruby Rivlin, Naveh, Shteinitz, Livnat, and Natan Sharansky. A slight majority exists for those who opposed the Disengagement. [A slight majority of what? CiJ]

American MSM gives Olmert less of a 'mandate'

While the Israeli media has taken it as a foregone conclusion that Ehud Olmert's Kadima Achora party has a mandate to go achora and expel Jews from their homes, the American media is less certain and describes Olmert's support with terms like 'tepid.' Here are a couple of samples:

Israelis voted Tuesday to bring to power a new centrist party, Kadima, which is committed to a further pullout from the occupied West Bank.

Kadima's leader, Ehud Olmert, will become prime minister, but his support proved tepid and he will find it harder than expected to impose his agenda on a larger coalition.

Kadima, founded in November by Ariel Sharon when he broke with the Likud Party, won the most seats in the 120-member Knesset, or Parliament. But with 99.7 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning, Kadima is expected to win only 28 seats, fewer than voter polls had suggested.

At the same time, Israelis turned away from the right, and Mr. Olmert should be able to carry out his plan for another withdrawal, unilaterally if necessary, from the West Bank to reduce the costs of the continuing occupation.

The Labor Party, which supports a West Bank withdrawal, was second, with 20 seats, giving it a strong position to bargain with Kadima for a powerful role in a coalition government. The Labor leader, the Moroccan-born Amir Peretz, is expected to insist on key ministries like finance, social welfare and possibly defense.

A big surprise of the election was the far-right Russian-oriented Israel Beiteinu Party led by Avigdor Lieberman, which benefited from Likud's implosion and which took Russian votes that would have gone to Mr. Sharon. The party won 12 seats, one less than the religious Shas Party.

The voters repudiated Likud and its leader, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned against any new withdrawal as a victory for Palestinian terrorism. The party won only 11 seats and found itself once again on the fringes of Israeli politics after decades of being at the heart of things.

Before speaking to his supporters early Wednesday morning, Mr. Olmert, 60, went to the Western Wall to pray. He praised Mr. Sharon, who has been comatose since an extensive stroke in January, as "the man who had the courage, the strength, the will and the determination to see things differently and to create change." [Now that Sharon is of no further use, he will be pronounced dead within a week. You heard it here first. CiJ].


Then, addressing the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Ramallah, Mr. Olmert said: "We are prepared to compromise, give up parts of our beloved land of Israel, remove, painfully, Jews who live there, to allow you the conditions to achieve your hopes and to live in a state in peace and quiet."

Mr. Olmert urged Palestinians, too, to recognize Israel, "to accept only part of their dream, to stop terror, to accept democracy and accept compromise and peace with us. We are prepared for this. We want this." If not, he said, Israel would act in its own interests, whether the world agreed or not. "The time has come to act," he said. [Delusional. Simply delusional. God has a plan here, but I certainly cannot tell what it is. CiJ].

But a Palestinian Authority run by the radical Islamic group Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, is not expected to become a peace partner any time soon.


Mr. Olmert says his aim in the next four years will be to set Israel's borders with the Palestinians, unilaterally if necessary, and called the election a referendum on his intentions. But with Kadima's smaller total, he may find it necessary to have a national referendum on the issue — something Mr. Sharon always rejected — in order to carry it out with less protest, or even violence.

Here's another one:

The Kadima party led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won the most seats in Israel's parliamentary elections Tuesday, in a vote that hinged on his plan to draw the country's final borders through unilateral withdrawals from the Palestinian territories.

But the election, which drew one of the lowest voter turnouts in Israeli history, left Kadima with an uncertain mandate to move ahead with a program that once appeared to have clear support from Israelis.

With virtually all of the votes counted, Kadima, the centrist party that Ariel Sharon founded four months ago after evacuating Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, had won 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament. Sharon remains in a coma after suffering a massive stroke in January, and Kadima's projected strength had slipped a dozen seats in pre-election opinion polls since then. [More than that. The polls were giving them 43 at one point. That's why Sharon wanted the elections as quickly as possible. He knew that they would lose support as people realized that Kadima Achora was all fluff and no substance. CiJ]


The party Israel Is Our Home finished with 12 seats, making it the largest nationalist faction. The party is led by Avigdor Lieberman, an immigrant from Moldova who proposes redrawing Israel's border to exclude roughly 150,000 of the Jewish state's Arab citizens. [This sounds very attractive, but it's guaranteed to run up against the 'Supreme Court' which never saw a political question which was not justiciable. CiJ] His message attracted Israel's large bloc of Russian-speaking voters, who have traditionally supported Sharon.


Under Sharon, Kadima was initially projected to win roughly 40 Knesset seats, a figure that spiked slightly after his stroke. Kadima activists were uncertain how to respond to Tuesday's results, and some focused on Likud's dismal showing rather than their party's less-than-overwhelming finish.


"Olmert will continue the way of Sharon," said Mordechai Edri, 38, a gardener in Bet Shemesh who voted for Likud in the last election and Kadima in this one. "I didn't like the games Netanyahu played during the disengagement from Gaza -- supporting Sharon, opposing Sharon. And economically he went too far to the right." [There's a valid criticism of Netanyahu here. He waited far too long to leave Sharon over the disengagement expulsion. Just like the National Religious Party (which despite their merger with National Union garnered only nine seats. CiJ]

After counting 99% of the votes, Kadima gets 28 seats

The election results are nearly all in. Look for a leftist coalition of Kadima Achora, Labor, Meretz and one or two other parties other than the Likud. The Likud was decimated, and it would not surprise me down the road if evidence arises that happened from within.

With 99 percent of the ballots counted, the election results for the 17th Knesset appeared as follows:

Kadima: 28 Knesset seats

Labor: 20

Shas: 13

Likud: 11

Israel Beitenu: 12

NRP / NU: 9

Pensioners: 7

United Torah Judaism: 6

Meretz: 4

Balad: 3

Hadash: 3

United Arab List: 4

According to the three major television exit polls, Midgam company for Israel Television's Channel 1, Dahaf Institute for Channel 2 and Professor Camille Fuchs for Channel 10, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party emerged as the winner in the 2006 election, taking 29-32 seats in the 17th Knesset. [Note how all the exit polls were once again tilted left. Unfortunately, this time, the gap between left and right was too big to make up. CiJ]

The outcome of the exit polls set up a possible center-left bloc of 60-67 seats, consisting of pro-disengagement parties Kadima 29-32, Labor 20-22, Meretz 5, and the Arab parties 6-8.

The right-wing bloc of Likud, National Union-NRP, Israel Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism won 46-52 seats (Likud 11-12; National Union-NRP 8-9; Israel Beiteinu 12-14; Shas 10-11; United Torah Judaism 5-6), not enough to keep Olmert from forming a government.

Olmert associates, however, have already said that as far as future coalitions were concerned, the Arab parties would not be invited. On the same note, it is not out of the question that Shas and, or United Torah Judaism could join a coalition with Kadima. Furthermore, Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said following his party's strong showing that, "We would consider all offers, but we will not abandon our principles." [It's not clear to me what principles Lieberman has, if any. He used to be a right wing party - Lieberman was once Director General of Netanyahu's office when the latter was Prime Minister. But Lieberman has already said that he would join any coalition. I find the fact that he won twelve seats astounding. CiJ]

The surprise of the election was the Gil pensioners' party, led by 79-year-old former senior Mossad agent Rafi Eitan, which won 6-8 seats. Kadima officials expressed an interest in including in the coalition the party whose main demand is benefits for Israel's senior citizens. The party's MKs will have freedom to vote their conscience on diplomatic issues, according to the party platform. [This is also amazing. I don't know how this party - or Labor for that matter - will go into the coalition unless Olmert rolls back all of Netanyahu's economic achievements as Finanace Minister. Even Olmert realizes that doing that would be financially disasterous for the country. CiJ]

The accuracy of the TV exit poll has been marred in the past, most memorably in 1996 when it incorrectly showed Shimon Peres to have narrowly defeated Binyamin Netanyahu for the prime ministership. Final results are expected to flow in the course of the night.

Likud head Netanyahu is expected to visit the party's gathering at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds after midnight to announce his political future after the party won its lowest number of seats since its predecessor, Herut, won only 15 seats in 1955. [Netanyahu has made the mistake of resigning once already when Likud did not do well in 1999. That's what brought Sharon to power. Hopefully he won't make that mistake again. CiJ]

Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party won 12-14 seats, making it the third largest party in the next Knesset. Lieberman has expressed an interest in joining any coalition formed despite his opposition to Olmert's convergence plan. [Actually, this was wrong. Shas is the third largest party. You won't see the mainstream media harping on that too much. Shas' electorate is very right wing. While its posek - Rav Ovadiah Yosef - has said in the past that withdrawing from land is permitted, he has only supported doing so in the context of a real peace agreement. I don't expect for him to jump into Olmert's coalition without being convinced that there are some security benefits to the convergence expulsion plan. For that matter, I would not take the convergence expulsion plan to be a foregone conclusion either. Olmert still has not managed to house the 9000 Jews he expelled from their homes in Gaza last summer. Where does he think he will house 100,000 more? CiJ]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Assad: Shoah numbers exaggerated

The dentist from Damascus has joined Iranian madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in claiming that the Holocaust was 'exaggerated.' And on American television no less....

Assad joins the Holocaust-denial party: It turns out that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not the only world leader apparently not wholly familiar with the historical facts of the Holocaust.

In an interview with American public television, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that while a massacre of Jews took place during World War II, the perception in the Middle East is that the number of Holocaust victims was exaggerated.

The Syrian leader added that he did not know whether the killing of Jews was carried out through shootings or the use of gas chambers, noting he is not an expert on the matter.

The killing method or number of victims are not important, Assad argued, adding that what happened in the Holocaust is the "same thing" now happening in Palestine.

The shocking comments were made during a nighttime interview on a low-rating channel and were not covered by the U.S. media.


The interviewer asked whether Assad believed that there was an exaggeration in the number of those murdered in the Holocaust, but Assad dismissed the question and argued "the numbers are not important" and that it did not matter whether six million or a million Jews perished in the Shoah.

The question was not how many people were killed, Assad said, but rather, why do the Palestinians have to "pay the price" for the Holocaust.

Addressing a question about whether a Nazi policy of exterminating Jews existed, Assad shot back: What's happening in Palestine is the same thing, adding that he was not living in Europe at the time.

Caspar Weinberger dies at age 88

I wonder if this means that Jonathan Pollard will have a chance of being released in this lifetime....

Caspar W. Weinberger, a conservative Republican and consummate Cold Warrior who served in the Cabinets of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and got ensnared in the Iran-Contra scandal, died Tuesday at 88.

Weinberger had been hospitalized in Maine for about a week with a high fever and pneumonia brought on by old age, according to his son, Caspar Weinberger Jr. Weinberger's wife of 63 years, Jane, was by his side when he died, the son said.

"He gave everything to his country, to public office and to his family," Caspar Weinberger Jr. said.

As Richard Nixon's budget director, Weinberger was such a zealous economizer he earned the nickname "Cap the Knife" for his efforts to slash government spending, largely by cutting or curtailing many of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society social programs.

Later, he became Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense and presided over $2 trillion in military spending -- the biggest peacetime increase in U.S. history.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement: "He devoted his life to this country and served with dedication in many capacities over the years. ... His legacy is a strong and free America, and for this and for a lifetime of selfless service, a grateful nation thanks him."

"It's a very sad day," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Said former Secretary of State Colin Powell: "Cap Weinberger was an indefatigable fighter for peace through strength." Patrick Buchanan, an aide and speechwriter in the Nixon White House, called him "a good friend."


It was his post as defense secretary that lead to Weinberger's greatest challenge: federal felony charges stemming from his alleged role in the sale of weapons to Iran to finance secret, illegal aid to the Nicaragua Contras. The "arms-for-hostages" affair poisoned the closing years of Reagan's administration, permanently stained the reputations of the insiders involved and cast a cloud over President George H.W. Bush throughout his four-year administration.

In one of the first President Bush's final official acts after his 1992 loss to Bill Clinton, he granted Christmas Eve pardons to Weinberger and five others accused in the scandal.

More Exit Polls

Channel 2 Exit Poll: Kadima 32, Labor 22, Likud 11

Channel 10 Exit Poll: Kadima 31, Labor 20, Likud 12


Just remember to take this with a grain of salt because the polls lie here....

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party was the big winner in the 2006 election on Tuesday, taking 29 seats in the 17th Knesset, [Big winner? They were supposed to take 43 seats a few weeks ago. CiJ] according to an exit poll conducted by the Midgam company of 60 polling stations for Israel Television's Channel 1.

Olmert's likely coalition partners in Labor and Meretz won 22 and 5 seats, respectively, guaranteeing a majority for his plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank unilaterally within four years, as he promised during the election campaign. [Maybe my math is a bit off, but 29 + 22 + 5 = 56 in my book and 56 is less than 61. The real question is whether any of Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas or UTJ will go in with them. CiJ]

The right-wing bloc of Likud, National Union-NRP, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism won 50 seats (Likud 11; National Union-NRP 8; Yisrael Beiteinu 14; Shas 11; United Torah Judaism 6), not enough to keep Olmert from forming a government. [And the rest? CiJ]

The accuracy of the TV exit poll has been marred in the past, most memorably in 1996 when it incorrectly showed Shimon Peres to have narrowly defeated Binyamin Netanyahu for the prime ministership. Final results are expected to flow in the course of the night.

Likud head Netanyahu is expected to visit the party's gathering at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds after midnight to announce his political future after the party won its lowest number of seats since its predecessor, Herut, won only 15 seats in 1955.

Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party won 14 seats, making it the third largest party in the next Knesset. Lieberman has expressed an interest in joining any coalition formed despite his opposition to Olmert's convergence plan.

The surprise of the election was the Gil pensioners' party, led by 79-year-old former senior Mossad agent Rafi Eitan, which won 8 seats. Kadima officials expressed an interest in including in the coalition the party whose main demand is benefits for Israel's senior citizens. The party's MKs will have freedom to vote their conscience on diplomatic issues, according to the party platform.

None of the other small parties running, including the Green Leaf Party, Uzi Dayan's Tafnit, the far-right Herut and Baruch Marzel's Jewish National Front, apparently passed the voter threshold.

Final results are expected by 6:00 a.m. The official results will be published on April 5th. President Moshe Katsav already said he would invite the parties to begin consultations on forming a new government as early as Sunday. Whoever Katsav asks to form a coalition will have 28 days to present a coalition of at least 61 MKs, with another 14 days' extension possible at the president's discretion.

Election Results 1

According to a picture on the JPost web page, Channel 1 is now showing Kadima Achora 29 seats, Labor 22 and Yisrael Beiteinu 14. Likud not shown and presumably less than Yisrael Beiteinu.

Katyusha fired for first time from Gaza

Maybe after the election is over, Olmert will bomb a few more empty fields....

A long-range Katyusha rocket was for the first time fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Tuesday, raising fears that Palestinian terror groups had obtained additional weaponry that the IDF has yet to face in its war against Gaza-based terror. [That would not be a real surprise. Recall that the border between Gaza and Egypt was 'opened' during the late summer and early fall. Everyone knows that terrorists and weapons were smuggled in at that time. CiJ]

The Katyusha rocket, the army said, was a "clear escalation" on the Gaza battlefield and demanded a quick and harsh response. Unlike the homemade short-range Kassam rockets frequently launched at Israel, Katyushas have a range of over 20 kilometers and can carry over 20 kilograms of explosives. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for firing the Katyusha, which landed south of Ashkelon.

Since the disengagement expulsion of the Jews from the Gaza Strip this past summer, the defense establishment has raised concerns that Palestinians would succeed in smuggling Katyusha rockets into Gaza from Egypt. [That concern was also raised before the disengagement expulsion, but anything goes to keep the Sharon family out of jail. CiJ] The Rafah terminal, officials have said, was left "wide open" by European observers and the Palestinians, allowing for the entry of senior Iranian and Syrian terror suspects. The Katyusha fired Tuesday, military officials estimated, was smuggled into Gaza over the Egyptian border. [Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! CiJ]

Egyptian soldiers have taken up positions along the border since Israel pulled out of the Philadelphia Corridor, but to Israel's dismay they have not clamped down on weapons smuggling into Gaza. [Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! CiJ]

"With Global Jihad camps based around the corner in Egypt," one senior officer said, "it was only a matter of time before the Palestinians got their hands on Katyusha rockets and other new weaponry."

The Katyusha fired on Tuesday, the army said, had a 122mm diameter and was larger than the rockets fired by the Hizbullah at communities along the northern border in December. The army first believed the projectile fired Tuesday morning was a Kassam rocket but shortly after inspecting the rocket police sappers determined that it was a Katyusha.

Palestinian terror groups have for years tried smuggling Katyusha rockets into the Gaza Strip. In 2002, several dozen rockets were seized aboard the Karine A weapons ship intercepted by IDF troops as it made its way to Gaza.

Election Update

As of 9:00 tonight - an hour before the polls are to close, the turnout for this election is the lowest in the history of the State of Israel: only 63% of the populace had voted. I guess the public is having a difficult time getting excited about an election in which the party that leads in all of the polls says that it has no ideology.

I will try to stay awake for at least a little while to update you all. With Sheva Brachot this week, it has been quite a week....

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Pictures

For those who are interested, pictures of my daughter Avigayil's wedding are online here. As of now, it's the first wedding in the new events list, but that may change over the course of the day. More pictures will be coming (at that site and elsewhere).

-- Carl