I Swear It’s Not Too Late (But It Could Be Soon)

When Pete Seeger rewrote chapter 3 of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as a song, he changed just a few words at the end, making it, “A time for peace – I swear it’s not too late.”

I don’t think it’s too late for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace. But waiting will make it more difficult. On the other hand, strong American involvement – the kind that has been lacking for the last eight years – could move the process forward. So, since everyone else is offering advice to soon-to-be-President Obama, I’ve offered some as well in my new article in The American Prospect:

The main reason for moving quickly… is that every wasted day makes a two-state solution more difficult to reach. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has promised his people that diplomacy can bring independence. Delay eats away at his credibility. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements keep growing. Since the Annapolis conference, the number of settlers has risen from 275,000 to 290,000. (That doesn’t include Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, for which up-to-date figures aren’t available.) The more settlers, the greater the internal crisis that Israel would face in withdrawing.

Read moreI Swear It’s Not Too Late (But It Could Be Soon)

Oy, Jerusalem

Reading pre-election polls, I used to wonder how a person could intend firmly to vote yet be undecided. If you cared enough to vote, you had to have an opinion. If you didn’t like the candidates, you could still choose the lesser evil – and you were morally obligated to vote for the lesser evil, lest the greater evil win.

I have shed my patronizing attitude. Tomorrow I am supposed to vote for mayor of Jerusalem. I care deeply, and I’m undecided. Indeed, I’m more undecided than I was several weeks ago. I still believe in the obligation to vote for the lesser evil. But which of the major candidates – Nir Barkat or Meir Porush – qualifies for that dubious title?

Let me phrase the dilemma – as my wife did – in terms of risk: There’s an large chance that Porush will fulfill at least some of the the dark predictions of his critics. There’s a slighter lesser risk that Barkat will do what critics fear – but the damage he could cause is much greater. Electing Barkat mayor is akin to hoping that a pyromaniac keeps his matches buried in his pocket.

Read moreOy, Jerusalem

Olmert Promised a Pullout, and Built Settlements

Gershom Gorenberg I have a new article up at the LA Times explaining Olmert’s legacy: broken promises, more settlements.: …At last Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Olmert chose to end his term with the same message with which he began it two years ago. “The Whole Land of Israel is done with,” he said, referring to the … Read moreOlmert Promised a Pullout, and Built Settlements

Primary Scream, or Unrepresentative Democracy

Gershom Gorenberg

Tomorrow Kadima will pick someone to replace Ehud Olmert as party leader. Olmert will then quit, to the sound of 7 million people sighing in relief, and his replacement will get the chance to form a new government and become Israel’s prime minister. The method that Kadima will use to make this momentous decision is quaintly called a “primary” in our parts, and purports to be an election. If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you in Alaska.

A total of 73,000 people are eligible to vote. That’s 2.3 of the total turnout in the 2006 national election, and about 10 percent of the number of people who voted for Kadima. But there’s no reason to think that people voting in the primary voted for Kadima in ’06, or have any thought of voting for the party in the next national election. A few might, who knows. If so, it’s by accident.

Read morePrimary Scream, or Unrepresentative Democracy

Also Bankrupt: The Israeli Political System

OK, Lehman Bros went belly up. Far as I am from wealth, I still find this upsetting. I find it even more upsetting that the Israeli political system currently has about as much credibility with the public as Lehman’s assets had with its creditors. The ruling party’s vote tomorrow for a new leader comes down … Read moreAlso Bankrupt: The Israeli Political System

Fire the Founders! Fire the Founding Opposition!

On the flight back from South Africa I began reading Andrew Feinstein’s After the Party. Feinstein was a young member of parliament representing the African National Congress in South Africa’s new democracy after 1994. While his own involvement with the ANC only began in earnest with the transition to democracy, he revered the people who had succeeded in overthrowing apartheid.

By August 2001, Feinstein had quit parliament, forced out because he had pushed for a full investigation of the arms-purchasing scandal that has led to the top ranks of the party. Even beforehand, he was furious with President Mbeki Thabo’s surreal refusal to deal with the AIDS pandemic sweeping through South Africa. Mbeki insisted that poverty, not a virus, caused the disease, and that Western pharmaceutical companies were trying to bankrupt Africa by selling dangerous and useless drugs. It was a conspiracy theory turned into a national policy of ignoring a plague.

The tie between the arms scandal and AIDS denial was the transformation of the ANC from a liberation movement embracing a wide variety of opinions to a top-down party where dissent was crushed. No questions about AIDS, no questions about government officials and their relatives getting rich in the process of buying unnecessary, inferior and overpriced arms.

As an aside, yes, Feinstein is Jewish, marginally.

Read moreFire the Founders! Fire the Founding Opposition!

Olmert’s No Sucker

Haim Watzman |

When I received my first bimonthly payment booklet from Israel’s income tax authority back in the mid-1980s, each payment demanded was more than what I earned in two months. Puzzled, I went down to the tax office and waited patiently in line for an hour or so before being called over to one of the clerks.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I filled out the form you gave me and specified my average income. So where did these numbers come from?”

The clerk leaned back in his chair. “We simply assume that you are only declaring a third of your income,” he said.

“But I declared all my income,” I insisted. Admittedly, my income as a freelance writer was a pittance, but I’d told the truth.

“Next time,” the clerk said, “don’t be a sucker. Declare only a third.”

Read moreOlmert’s No Sucker

Olmert Agonistes

Clueless in Gaza, at the till, with the knaves. It’s over. Olmert has to go.

I never voted for Ehud Olmert or for any party he’s been a member of. But I admit to having a soft spot for him. Years ago, when I went out to run each morning at 5 a.m., I’d sometimes cross paths with him as he jogged through Baka and the German Colony. He was polite and intelligent, and there was an air of detachment, self-irony, that appealed to me. When he was mayor, he helped my community, Kehilat Yedidya, get a piece of land and a major donor for our synagogue building. I was impressed by his willingness a few years back to cast off his previous commitment to Greater Israel and to advocate for accommodation and compromise with the Palestinians.

Read moreOlmert Agonistes

The Roadblock to Damascus Lies on Pennsylvania Avenue

Eyal Zisser, a top Israeli expert on Syria, says that Ehud Olmert and Bashar al-Assad appear serious about talking peace. The latest sign is Asad’s comment to the Qatari daily al-Watan Olmert has given him a commitment to return the entire Golan Heights.

In an analysis published through the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv U, Zisser describes that the most likely reason for Assad to reveal Olmert’s commitment, which was delivered via Turkey:

…the Syrians may have wanted to test Olmert’s seriousness, to check whether the message delivered to them was reliable, and whether Olmert would be capable of weathering the inevitable criticism from portions of the Israeli public. The fact that the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declined to deny the news of the commitment has been understood as a tacit confirmation of its veracity.

The peacemaker here is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan,

Read moreThe Roadblock to Damascus Lies on Pennsylvania Avenue

Olmert, Barghouti, and Zeno’s Paradox

The following statement was not shouted by a long-time Peace Now activist into a megaphone outside the prime minister’s house:

You have to understand that a very large population of Palestinians lives here…

Take a 50-year-old man who lives here. A man who has spent most of his life – 40 years, since he was a 10-year-old child – under the watch of the Israeli soldier. The same soldier who carries a rifle, for all the most justified reasons in the world. But this is that man’s narrative. Take those who were stripped at the checkpoints only because there might be terrorists among them. Take those who stand for hours at the checkpoints for fear that a booby-trapped car could pass through…

No, those words were Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s, speaking to brigade commanders in the West Bank,

Read moreOlmert, Barghouti, and Zeno’s Paradox