Thursday, September 25, 2008

Israel’s Ongoing Oslo Nightmare

P. David Hornik | 9/25/2008

On Monday a Palestinian woman at an Israeli checkpoint outside Nablus on the West Bank threw acid in the face of an Israeli soldier there, who may lose his sight in one eye. The woman, a 19-year-old resident of Nablus, had perpetrated a similar attack earlier this month and then fled back into the city. This time she used the “humanitarian lane,” which is for Palestinians who need urgent medical attention and so can bypass inspections in the regular lane. The Israeli army had also eased travel restrictions generally in the West Bank in honor of the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

Don’t bother searching the media for praise of these Israeli humanitarian measures, criticism of the woman for exploiting them, or homage to the bravery of the soldiers, like the one injured yesterday, who carry out the difficult, dangerous checkpoint duty 24/7 to prevent Palestinians like this woman from getting into Israel and attacking civilians. Instead the checkpoints are, along with Israel’s security fence, the latest cause célèbre of the Israel-bashers, and the Bush administration has exerted major pressure on Israel to curtail their use.

The acid-throwing proved, though, to be only the first terror attack of the day. Monday evening in Jerusalem—roughly concurrent with honored UN guest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York City, telling the Los Angeles Times that Israel is “an airplane that has lost its engine”—a Palestinian rammed a car into a crowd of off-duty soldiers and others at an intersection, injuring seventeen before being shot dead by one of the soldiers. It was the third such incident in Jerusalem this year, the former two involving tractors, and as in those cases the Palestinian was a young man, apparently acted independently, and was an East Jerusalem resident.

Which means he, too, exploited a good many humanitarian advantages. Although the vast majority of East Jerusalem Arabs rejected the full citizenship Israel offered them upon reunifying the city in 1967, they were granted residency status that entitles them to a range of social benefits as well as full freedom of movement within Israel.

Monday evening’s perpetrator, also 19, also benefited (in his plans) from Israel’s failure to act in the wake of the two previous Jerusalem vehicle attacks. In those cases legal red tape prevented the army from destroying the homes of the terrorists’ families in what is known to be one of the only effective ways to deter those bent on death in any case.

The macro picture of Israel’s security environment isn’t looking much better. On Sunday Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of research for Military Intelligence, told the Israeli cabinet that “the time when [Iran] will have crossed the nuclear point-of-no-return is fast approaching,” that Western determination (never robust, he could have added) to halt the process is flagging, and that Iran is “concentrating on uranium enrichment” and upgrading the performance of its 4,000 centrifuges.

He also said Iran was strengthening its influence in the region via its ties with Syria, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian terror organizations, as well as being “a source of constant attacks on American troops in Iraq.” As for the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, Baidatz said Hamas—as all reasonably cognizant observers predicted—was using it to “rearm and prepare for the next round of fighting, increasing training and continuing to smuggle in raw materials that allow it to increase its rocket arsenal.”

Although Egypt, he said, was doing somewhat better in detecting the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza, it was “still not dealing with the root of the problem, which was the need to go after Bedouin smugglers in Sinai.”

It was in this situation that last week, in its infinite wisdom, Israel’s left-wing media establishment managed to throw a possible prime-ministerial election in favor of an inexperienced dove and against a richly experienced relative hawk.

The media’s efforts actually began weeks before last Wednesday’s Kadima Party primaries as it kept trumpeting poll results finding that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was leading Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz by huge margins in their contest to replace outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Livni, a former Likud politician with a right-wing background, had shifted to the left, and Kadima, as justice minister in Ariel Sharon’s disengagement-from-Gaza government. As foreign minister under Olmert she had distinguished herself mainly by championing UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which effectively handed Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran a victory in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and being one of the staunchest advocates of turning the West Bank—not only Gaza—over to Palestinian control and so putting not only southwestern Israel but the center of the country within range of Kassams and Katyushas.

Mofaz didn’t have a sterling record either, having overseen a weakening of the Israel Defense Forces and the country as Sharon’s defense minister and eventually also hopping onto the Kadima train after swearing he would stay in Likud. But Mofaz had served as chief of staff and other high positions in the IDF before becoming defense minister, had been heading Israel’s strategic dialogue on Iran with the United States, and is generally sophisticated and realistic about Israel’s security threats.

He was, in other words, dramatically better qualified than Livni to lead the country at such a time. Yet, by the night of the Kadima primaries on September 17, the media had the country convinced that Livni was a shoo-in and the elections were little more than an exercise.

As it happened, Livni ended up beating Mofaz by all of 431 votes. She wouldn't have done even that well without various irregularities—of which the most significant were exit polls by all three of Israel’s main TV channels claiming Livni had such a whopping lead that many Mofaz voters simply turned back and went home. By the time the real results came in, it was too late for them to realize they’d been duped.

So it’s Livni who has assumed the task of trying to form a new governing coalition, and the open questions are: whether she’ll succeed, and if so, whether the new coalition will include enough security expertise and realism to function effectively in the security sphere; or, if she doesn’t succeed and the country goes to general elections, whether the replacement government will be a significant improvement and whether, in any case, it will be formed in time to deal with threats that are dire and imminent.

The larger question is whether Israel has yet emerged from the destructive Olso-era collusion between extrapolitical left-wing establishments and delusionally dovish politicians, and the worrisome answer is no.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

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