Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Closer Look"

Arlene Kushner

I wrote last night not long after the announcement had been made by Netanyahu that there would be a 10 month freeze on building in communities in Judea and Samaria. Now it is time to take a closer look at some of the details of what is happening, and possible implications. The original announcement made it sound as if there would simply be a freeze on issuing new tenders for building, and that no new permits for starting building projects would be signed. The number that is being used is 3,000 -- 3,000 housing units already in process or about to start that presumably would continue, not affected by the freeze.

But, in point of fact, the situation is more complicated than this. If construction has already started on a site -- if there are bulldozers digging the foundation, or masons pouring concrete, or whatever -- the work will be allowed to continue. But if work has been contracted and permits signed, but no actual physical work has begun, then it seems the process will be put on hold.

I am a bit vague as to where in the process of getting started the freeze would occur. That is, for example, if workmen have been hired and have gone out to the site, but the foundation hasn't been started and all they've done is unload materials -- will they be allowed to continue? (I've heard nothing in this regard, but it seems to me that this creates the potential for leaving in limbo families who were depending on a new home being constructed and believed everything was in place.)


What is more -- and this is certainly something that was obvious to anyone considering repercussions, and a source of much concern -- there have been statements regarding the fact that if "productive" negotiations were going on, the freeze would not stop at the end of 10 months, but would continue for the duration of those negotiations.

So, what would constitute "productive" negotiations and who would determine this?


The only member of the Security Cabinet who actually voted against the motion was Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beitenu). Landau left Sharon's cabinet rather than support the expulsion from Gush Katif. The man has retained his integrity, and we should remember this.

The two Shas ministers -- Interior Minister Eli Yeshai and Housing Minister Ariel Atias -- absented themselves. The other 11 ministers voted for this proposal.

That means that the two nationalists, supporters of building in Judea and Samaria, whom I alluded to last night -- Benny Begin and Moshe Ya'alon -- voted for it. Which leaves the door open to many questions.

Begin made light of what had just been approved, saying all that will stop is the issuing of new permits. "During these 10 months thousands of housing units and public buildings will be built in the West Bank to allow [people] to lead normal lives, and once the 10 months are over the government of Israel, just as it has declared, will resume construction in the West Bank in accordance with the policy of past Israeli regimes."

And indeed, that is what Netanyahu did declare last night: "As soon as the suspension period concludes, my government will resume the West Bank construction policy of previous governments."

But that's only what will happen if the PA doesn't come to the table. There's a good chance it won't, and the prime minister may be counting on this. But it's not quite as simple they say, and this way is fraught with dangers. Netanyahu claims he is doing this to bring the PA into negotiations. Does he imagine, by any stretch of the imagination, that if they did come to the table, they'd remain there if we started issuing new building permits after a 10-month halt?

It was Uzi Landau who was realistic about this, saying that it's obvious that at the end of 10 months Obama will seek an extension. He's right, and this might be the case even if the PA hasn't come to the table. (In typical Obama mode, he might want to give them another chance.)

Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon said this action was taken to "avoid a confrontation with our allies," but "the goal is to preserve our interests." He maintained that it was the right thing to do.


So now we ask: What the hell is going on? What is it that we don't know?

Binyamin Netanyahu, whatever his faults, is not Ehud Olmert. Or Tzipi Livni. He does not have a genuine longing in his heart to give away our country. No one should think this of him. And I will defend him against anyone who does.

What Netanyahu has, is a reputation for caving under American pressure. And he developed this reputation, it must be noted, in a situation that was less pressured than the present. Right now he is confronting an enormous amount, with regard to the demands of Obama and company, coupled with the horrendous campaign of Israeli delegitimization that is taking place, and which has led to Goldstone and more.

So, is this what we're looking at? A caving to the Americans and an effort to avoid international criticism? If so, this is a serious error.

Ya'alon's comment about avoiding confrontation with our allies makes it seem so. So does Lieberman's statement:

"We've been more than fair with the Palestinian Authority, both in our intentions to resume negotiations and in actions on the ground, including the removal of roadblocks....

"We've allowed this irresponsible group to hold the Fatah convention, where decisions that do not differ from those upheld by Hamas were reached. [The Fatah Congress this summer voted to retain the option of armed resistance.]

"We have a commitment to Israel's allies, who supported us on the Goldstone Report issue, not to the PA. We also have a commitment to the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, so we must reiterate that construction will be resumed at the conclusion of the 10-month period."

Because we received support from the US on Goldstone, and Obama's government is committed to vetoing it in the Security Council, we have an obligation to compromise an essential right of ours? Don't like the sound of this, at all.

This is not the way to secure legitimization for our nation, but would achieve the opposite -- as we diminish ourselves. Now, more than ever, is the time for us to present a strong and secure face to the world. Now we must be firm in our rights.


And yet, there's a "but" here.

I alluded to it last night and several times before. When Netanyahu walked away from his secret meeting with Obama, he said that in time we would understand why it had to be secret. I do not believe that the secrecy was simply with regard to getting a promise on Goldstone in return for a settlement freeze. They didn't need an hour alone without aides to discuss that. There's more... whatever the "more" is.

At the time, there were hints and rumors regarding some discussion that took place about Iran. I still don't know if those rumors and hints were true. Ra'anan Gissin, journalist and former Sharon associate, for example, wrote a commentary in which he said that discussions about Iran should be kept away from public attention. And his was only one of several comments.

The fact remains that while I do not know with any certainty what the situation is, I feel a responsibility to mention this. I suggest that, even as we protest and feel angry (and appropriately so), we must keep in mind that there may be more than meets the eye. At the end of the day, we might learn something that helps us to understand that Netanyahu had reasons for acting as he did that were genuine expressions of his concern for the nation. We might see a quid pro quo that made some sense. Might.

Post editor David Horovitz suggests that Iran is involved in this because Obama believes he cannot rally the Arabs against Iran without progress on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. For me, this is shtuyote -- nonsense, although indeed Obama did make such a linkage many months ago. Surely Netanyahu is aware that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are terrified of Iran in their own right and frankly eager to see action against it. This would not be a good reason to freeze building in our communities. Not in my book. I don't believe the Arab states even care about their fellow Arabs here. (See Michael Freund on this very subject: .)

But an American readiness to assist indirectly if we decide to attack would be a good reason. As might a serious effort to promote and levy tough, meaningful sanctions against Iran. Remember that as Netanyahu went to Washington, Obama, for all his public bravado, was feeling extraordinarily frustrated by Iran, which had just spit in his outstretched hand.


And, before we leave the subject of Iran and Israel, let me share this:

Very recently, for the first time in years, both Russia and China, which have been stumbling blocks to action against Iran, said they would support a toughly-worded statement critical of Iran. A statement won't make anything happen, but it was good news because it signaled a shift on the part of these two nations.

Now we learn that the US promoted the shift, at least on the part of China. At the beginning of the month, before Obama visited China, two White House officials, Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader, went to Beijing and told leaders that, for Israel, Iran is an "existential issue and that countries that have an existential issue don't listen to other countries." That is: Israel may bomb Iran, and no one would be able to prevent it. But this could cause problems in this part of the world that would adversely affect you. So, the more you're on board with stopping Iran, the less likely this is to happen.

I thought this fascinating. And if the US can do this with China, could they not with the Gulf states? Makes more sense than trying to "lure" them by promising peace negotiations for the PA, no?


On another front, the negotiations on Shalit have for the moment been stopped by Hamas. They are accusing us of blocking the trade by refusing to release certain terrorists. (Terrorists, of course, is my word and not theirs.)

There's a lot of talk about how this trade would strengthen Hamas in the street, and thus further weaken Abbas and Fatah. Hamas has, astutely, asked that some of those released be Fatah people, so it can make the claim that it acts on behalf of all Palestinian Arabs and that it brought Fatah people out of prison when Fatah couldn't.


Please, see this piece by Daniel Pipes that discusses the threat to Western society poses by Islamists who infiltrate. It's a more serious problem than terrorists and it merits serious attention.


"The Good News Corner"

Israel is the world's leader in developing responses to and promoting research on Alzheimer's. For example:

[] Research at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva may lead to the development of a vaccine that reduces neural damage and brain inflammation.

[] NexSig Neurological Examination Technologies -- an Israeli company -- has developed software that can help assess patients at risk of Alzheimer's before the illness sets in. This is exceedingly important, as there are now drugs available that help delay the on-set of the disease. If the disease is already in progress, it's too late for some of these medications.

[] The blood-brain barrier is a thin membrane that protects the brain from chemicals and potentially harmful substances in the blood. But this barrier also serves to block medication to the brain. Now scientists at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and Rabin Medical Center, working together, have developed a molecule small enough to pass through the brain's defenses. An anti-oxidant, known for short as AD4, it is expected to prove useful in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's.

[] Dr. Ramit Ravona - Springer MD, head of the Memory Clinic, Sheba Medical Center has done research that reveals a correlation between personality and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's. People who tend to "ruminate" over problems in their life in middle age are -- surprise! -- less likely to develop Alzheimer's. This was surprising to us," the doctor said, "as rumination [chewing over something and not letting it go] is a cognitive style characteristic of neurotic individuals."


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