Reinventing wheels


Automobiles today are more computer than internal combustion, and General Motors sees Israeli developers as key to making its vehicles brainier

A GM EN-V 'Smart car' (Photo credit: Courtesy)

A GM EN-V ‘Smart car’ (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The flying cars promised by science fiction aren’t quite ready yet, but automakers like General Motors have a pretty acceptable consolation prize — a smart, self-driving, self-parking car that, equipped with a wealth of sensors and communications equipment, aims to make auto accidents a thing of the past.

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For GM, much of the technology needed for the vehicle of the future is being developed at its Israel research and development facility.

“The technologies that will power autonomous vehicles including smart sensing, vision imaging, human machine interface, wifi and 4G/LTE communications, and much of that is being done at our Herzliya facility, in conjunction with GM’s other R&D facility in Silicon Valley,” said Gil Golan, director of GM’s Advanced Technical Center in Israel. “The industry is being driven by customer preference and demand, and in order to keep up, we need to develop these technologies and ensure we are meeting customer demand. To stay on top of the market you have to be versatile, and the Israel ATC helps the company to do that.”

The GM that emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 to profitability in 2011, 2012, and (so far) 2013 — after its huge 2011 IPO, one of the five biggest in history — is a good lesson in how a company can be versatile. The company dropped some brands (Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, and others), brought back others (Corvette, Silverado and Impala) that had good sales histories, reduced its workforce, and aggressively diversified into growth markets like China. The result is a smaller, leaner company that has seen sales grow, especially in the past year.

One of the assets the new GM held onto was the Israel ATC, which has been in business since 1995.

“We started working in Israel nearly 20 years ago with some limited projects, but we ramped up activities here in 2007, and have been going strong ever since,” Golan told The Times of Israel. “Israel is a very important location for GM.”

Golan was speaking before a GM-sponsored event at the recent DLD (Digital Life Design) festival in Tel Aviv called “Drive the Future,” which highlighted the company’s vision of the smart cars of the future.

According to Golan, connectivity will be key for the cars of the future (by “future,” he means in the next five or so model years).

“Cars today are very sophisticated, much more than they used to be,” Golan said. “Modern cars have as many as 100 systems, all of them controlled by computers or processors.” That includes the engine, braking system, cooling system, steering and suspension, transmission, and many others.

Examples of how the systems will work could include having a self-driving car automatically stop at red lights, or stay within the speed limit. Sensors could alert drivers on when their tire is going to hit the curb when they are parallel parking. A video camera could detect when a vehicle gets too close to the one in front and automatically reduce speed to ensure a safe gap. In-dash apps could let drivers communicate with others on the road, getting information about traffic, accidents, services, and other useful information.

Much of the technology to do this already exists, said Golan, having been developed in the past for smartphones. In fact, he said, the smartphone is the model for the car of the future.

“People want smartphone-like experiences in their vehicles,” Golan said. “We have studied this in depth, and what customers are asking for are ‘super-smartphones on wheels.’”

The ATC is working not just on ways to make cars smarter, but ways to make drivers and passengers happier. One project it worked on with students from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design was the development of apps to help backseat passengers, particularly children, be less bored while on the road.

The result was several apps to help kids while away the time, including Otto, an animated character projected over passing scenery that responds to real-time car performance, weather and landscape, to help kids learn about the environment; and Foofu, an app that allows passengers to create, explore and discover through finger drawing on window steam.

The project, called Windows of Opportunity (WOO) is “invaluable,” said Omer Tsimhoni, lab group manager for the ATC’s human-machine interface, because “it is just one of many projects underway at GM that could reinvent the passenger experience in years to come.”


Read more: Reinventing wheels | The Times of Israel
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Stephen Darori’s Baked Zucchini Chips


Baked Zucchini ChipsINGREDIENTS:
1 large zucchini
2 tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line two large baking sheets (I used two 17″ baking sheets) with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.
Slice your zucchini on a mandolin. Mine had 1, 2, or 3 for thickness and I used 2.
After you slice your zucchini, place the slices on a sheet of paper towels and take another paper towel and sandwich the zucchini slices and press on them. This helps draw out the liquid so it’ll cook a bit faster.
Line up the zucchini slices on the prepared baking sheet tightly next to each other in a straight line, making sure not to overlap them.
In a small bowl, pour your olive oil in and take a pastry brush to brush the olive oil on each zucchini slice.
Sprinkle salt throughout the baking sheet. Do NOT over-season, in fact, it’s better to use less salt initially because the slices will shrink; so if you over-season, it’ll be way too salty! You can always add more later.
Bake for 2+ hours until they start to brown and aren’t soggy and are crisp.
Let cool before removing and serving.
Keep in an airtight container for no more than 3 days.

Inside Israel’s White House: How Netanyahu runs the country


Decisions and planning increasingly concentrate around PM, who has enlarged role of key advisers, placed more value on inner cabinet, marginalized certain ministries

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults with his advisers at Blair House in Washington, May 2011.  Gil Shefer is at far left. Dore Gold is at far right. Ron Dermer sits, second from the right, with back to camera in short-sleeved shirt. Yaakov Amidror (bearded), Yitzhak Molcho (partially obscured by Netanyahu) and former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser (black T-shirt, spectacles) are also at the table. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90)

Benjamin Netanyahu will complete his eighth (nonconsecutive) year as prime minister in March 2014, more than any Israeli premier except the state’s founder, David Ben-Gurion.

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And as the years go by, unsurprisingly, Netanyahu is leaving a deepening imprint on the way in which the country is governed.

Turnover is relatively high among his innermost circle of advisers and aides, who frequently last as little as two years at his side and all too often, especially in recent years, leave amid a cloud of scandal and negative press. At the same time, the role of some of those advisers has become increasingly central, as the Prime Minister’s Office seems to be filling an ever-more influential role in national policy.

“There is an international phenomenon of concentration of foreign policy power in the hands of presidents and prime ministers,” noted Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser who has writtena book about Israel’s decision-making process. And this consolidation has happened quickly in Israel, where the PMO now handles all major issues of diplomatic and security policy, including the peace talks with the Palestinians, the Iranian nuclear crisis and the most important of Israel’s diplomatic relationships, such as those with the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an October 9, 2012 press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, announces he's calling elections. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In the PMO under Netanyahu, that sees a great deal of close consultation with key advisers, a notably expanded role for the National Security Council, and a changing structure of the inner “security cabinet” of top ministers.

It also means less influence for the individual ministries and ministers in some areas that used to be their exclusive purview.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and outgoing Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer at a press conference in the Knesset, June 24, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster / Flash90)

When Netanyahu was finance minister under prime minister Ariel Sharon, for instance, it was he who recruited Stanley Fischer as governor of the Bank of Israel. When Karnit Flug was appointed Fischer’s successor in October, in a chaotic and protracted process, by contrast, Finance Minister Yair Lapid most emphatically did not exclusively oversee the selection.

Likewise, the question of Bedouin resettlement would in previous years have been a matter overwhelmingly for the Interior Ministry. Under Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s Office has been centrally involved.

‘A dialogical personality’

Amid the process of consolidation, Netanyahu is said to be more open than some of his predecessors were to the views of trusted staff around him.

“Bibi has a dialogical personality,” said one confidant who asked not to be named. “He makes decisions in the course of discussion. He needs a conversation partner to make those decisions.”

Netanyahu takes a close interest in the views of those around him, confirmed another source familiar with the prime minister’s deliberative process. “He’s always asking questions, interrogating you for your opinion, and writing down what you’re saying.”

That aspect of Netanyahu’s personality is both an advantage and a crutch, the confidant added.

The advantage: Netanyahu is “flexible and thorough” when making decisions. “Every decision requires 10 discussions. He’s not hasty like some previous prime ministers.”

The disadvantage: “He can seem indecisive, fickle. No decision is final until it’s actually being implemented. Decisions often change in the course of discussion, both because his reasoning continues to develop and because those who know him well know how to focus their arguments to reach certain conclusions.”

Whether or not this personality trait is beneficial to forming national policy, there is no doubt it gives an outsize role to those who surround and engage the prime minister in those policy discussions.

As power concentrates around a premier who gives added weight to his advisers’ views, those advisers are becoming increasingly important for any understanding of how the machinery of power is managed and critical decisions are made in the State of Israel.

Enlarged role for the NSC

The shift of diplomatic and security policymaking into the hands of the prime minister is a global phenomenon. In part, this is due to inevitable changes in technology, Freilich explained.

“Foreign ministries face a real question. Why are they needed? Today, if a prime minister wants to know what the Americans are thinking, he calls up [Secretary] Kerry or [President] Obama. Foreign ministries don’t have the roles they used to have, where ambassadors on the ground were absolutely essential, especially [in light of modern] media and communications.”

The issues now handled in the PMO “don’t leave the Foreign Ministry with much of anything of consequence,” noted Freilich. “I think that’s understood by most people today. The Foreign Ministry deals with day-to-day caretaking and maintenance of relations.”

In order to effectively manage this workload in the PMO, Netanyahu has slowly constructed over several years Israel’s first policy planning staff directly answerable to the prime minister.

Founded in March 1999 by the first Netanyahu government, just three months before that coalition’s demise, the National Security Council struggled for a long time to find its place in the decision-making structures under other premiers. It received a significant boost when its responsibilities were anchored in law in July 2008, just in time for Netanyahu’s return to the Prime Minister’s Office in March 2009.

All former officials and confidants who spoke with The Times of Israel for this story emphasized the enlarged role Netanyahu has carved out for the National Security Council. Its head, the national security adviser, has his office just meters away from the prime minister in the Aquarium, the glass-fronted inner sanctum in the PMO reserved for the premier himself and his closest aides.

The NSC is now responsible for the highest-level contacts between Israel, the US, major European powers and even, more recently, Russia. It regularly communicates, officially and unofficially, publicly and secretly, with the highest levels of these governments. It even handles the high-level policy workload on broader issues of geopolitical import, such as Israel’s gas exports.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to Barack Obama at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem in March. (photo credit: Pete Souza/Official White House)

One recent example is telling. After the public spat between Netanyahu and Obama over the interim nuclear deal with Iran in November, the two leaders agreed in a December phone call that Israel would send a senior official to Washington to handle US-Israeli talks on the permanent agreement with Tehran. For perhaps the most critical and sensitive discussions on the issue Netanyahu himself has called his government’s number one priority, the prime minister chose to send his newly installed national security adviser, Yossi Cohen.

When he appointed Cohen’s predecessor, former IDF major-general Yaakov Amidror, to the top NSC post in 2011, Netanyahu’s public statement left little doubt as to how he viewed the position. Amidror, he said, “will lead the National Security Council as a body central to determining Israel’s national and security policies.”

Yossi Cohen, who's been appointed to chair Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's National Security Council (photo credit: courtesy)

The two national security advisers who preceded Cohen were former Mossad head of intelligence Uzi Arad, a noted expert on the Iranian nuclear question, and Amidror, who has written extensively on the security challenges posed by neighboring Arab states and Palestinian terror groups. Both are known as wide-ranging strategic thinkers.

But the choice of his newest adviser, a former Mossad number two, has raised eyebrows. Cohen is generally thought of as a keen operations man, say insiders, not a strategic and policy planning expert.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert at his last cabinet meeting, March 29, 2009. (Photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski / Pool / Flash 90)

“Cohen’s predecessors all had extensive strategic and diplomatic experience,” said Freilich. “Ilan Mizrahi [who served for a year and a half under Ehud Olmert from 2006 to 2007] was, like Cohen, a Mossad operations man. But even he had some diplomatic experience by the time he became the national security adviser. Cohen doesn’t seem to have that background.” Even so, Freilich concluded, Cohen “is a very smart man and can learn.”

“Yossi Cohen is an operational guy,” agreed a source close to the PMO. “He’s very much about implementation. But that’s also part of the NSC’s work. It prepares briefing papers for meeting foreign officials, writes briefings, handles a lot of day-to-day diplomacy. A lot of foreign governments speak to the NSC.”

Cohen is one of a triumvirate of key national security advisers on whom Netanyahu relies on a daily basis, according to several sources familiar with the inner workings of the PMO. The other two are the prime minister’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, and the cabinet secretary, former chief military advocate general Maj. Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his former National Security Adviser Ya'akov Amidror and (background) cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the PMO in Jerusalem on November 3, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Not all cabinet secretaries have been influential figures in recent years, with some chosen by the prime minister for their past loyalty or effective management skills.

But Mandelblit is in the room a lot with the prime minister, several sources said. “He has a quiet and low-key personality, but quiet waters run deep,” said one. “He is an expert in international law, so he’s in a lot of diplomatic meetings where you didn’t necessarily see his predecessor.”

With Mandelblit’s appointment in April, “the status of the post has possibly been enhanced.”

But the rise of the NSC has not occurred without causing friction with the other major national security advisory post, that of the military secretary.

Unlike the national security adviser, “the military secretary doesn’t have a support staff. He has one or two people working for him,” notes Freilich.

Freilich believes “there has to be a serious change in the role of the military secretary. He shouldn’t be in charge of preparing meetings. He has to be a serious strategic planner. Maybe the military secretary should become deputy head of the NSC.”

Israeli Ambassador to the US presents his credentials to President Barack Obama at the White House, December 4, 2013 (photo credit: Twitter/ Amb. Ron Dermer)

The NSC’s centrality is also highlighted by the fact that it took on most of the duties held by Netanyahu’s former adviser and new ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer.

The US-born Dermer, who cut his teeth in political consulting as a Republican pollster in the United States in the 1990s, held a unique position at Netanyahu’s side as a political adviser, foreign policy analyst, and a key source of insight into Netanyahu’s main foreign policy target: the United States. He left the PMO in March and was appointed ambassador to Washington in July.

Tellingly, Dermer is not being replaced.

“Dermer was personally close to the prime minister. His job was to be the close adviser,” said one former official. “Now the head of the NSC is filling that role.”

“There’s no doubt Dermer had a unique role with the prime minister,” said another source familiar with the pair. “They had a relationship that predates him taking office. [Dermer advised Netanyahu from 2008, a year before he became prime minister.] Now that Dermer has moved on to Washington, different parts of his responsibilities were divided up. A lot of it went to the NSC.”

The growing centralization of policymaking around the prime minister is also highlighted by Netanyahu’s preference, like other recent premiers, for “external” advisers, individuals who are given senior policy roles but are not government employees. The two key external advisers are attorney Yitzhak Molcho and former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold.

While Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is the top political face of the peace talks with the Palestinians, Molcho is the personal representative of the prime minister. It is significant that as per Netanyahu’s instructions, the negotiators cannot meet without Molcho being present. A close personal confidante of the prime minister, who also serves as Netanyahu’s family attorney, Molcho has served as Netanyahu’s chief peace negotiator for many years, managing his contacts with Yasser Arafat during his first government in the 1990s, and again with Abbas since 2010.

Gold has a similarly long relationship with the prime minister, having served as a peace negotiator alongside Molcho in 1996-7, and then spending much of Netanyahu’s first term, from 1997 to 1999, as Israel’s ambassador to the UN. An outspoken activist — Gold has published three books in recent years about the radical ideology of the Saudi state, Iran’s nuclear drive and the future of Jerusalem — Gold has served as president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative policy think tank in Jerusalem, since his retirement from public service.

Last month, it was announced that Gold would return to Netanyahu’s side as an external adviser. While Netanyahu has emphatically placed the peace talks in the hands of Molcho, US-born Gold’s experience at the UN and other international forums, his expertise in Middle East politics (he holds a PhD on the subject from Columbia University) and his knowledge of the United States suggest he will likely fill part of the role left vacant by the departed Dermer.

Sara Netanyahu

No survey of Netanyahu’s inner circle is complete without noting the looming presence, or at least the allegations of the looming presence, of Netanyahu’s wife.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah on September 27 at the UN in New York after Netanyahu's speech to the General Assembly (photo credit: Avi Ohayun, GPO)

Sara Netanyahu, a child psychologist, has been the target of scorn and criticism from many Israeli journalists and news outlets, and indeed won a major libel suit against an Israeli paper for its critical portrayal of her, a remarkable feat given Israel’s comparatively strict legal definitions of libel.

It is not always easy to sift through the over-the-top criticism, much of it generated by her husband’s opponents, to understand her precise role at the prime minister’s side.

There is no doubt she plays a central role in the prime minister’s inner circle. Netanyahu “listens to her on almost everything,” said a former official. “Not on Iran, of course, but on almost everything.”

Nor does he consult with her on peace talks with the Palestinians, said another source.

In fact, she does not advise the prime minister on policy, most former officials and observers agree, but rather on political questions. She is his self-appointed but much-trusted political handler and occasional media adviser.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen with his wife Sara and their son Yair, celebrates his 64th birthday, at the PMO in Jerusalem, October 20, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon GPO/FLASH90)

“She’s very concerned with what happens to him,” said one source close to the prime minister. “She admires [Netanyahu], thinks he is practically a gift from God to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and is very sensitive to attacks on him. She also follows the media carefully.”

Netanyahu’s outgoing chief of staff, Gil Shefer, made a point of involving Sara in all goings-on in the Prime Minister’s Office and in his political activities, sources said. Shefer’s replacement, the US-born Ari Harow, who is returning to Netanyahu’s side after having served as an adviser and chief of staff from 2007 to 2010, is also expected to make coordination with Sara Netanyahu a key function of his job.

The chief of staff role is larger than mere coordination with Israel’s First Lady, of course. But with Sara taking a keen interest in the prime minister’s domestic political position, and with the effective merger of a PM’s personal and professional lives once he or she moves into the Prime Minister’s Residence, it is not a minor part of the role, either.

What about the cabinet

Finally, Netanyahu’s decision-making process cannot be understood without examining the changing structure of his cabinet. In the last government, Netanyahu appointed a security cabinet — the committee of ministers charged by law with national security decisions — that hovered around 15 members. But he was frustrated repeatedly by leaks and indecisive debate in the large group, and decided to form an ad hoc “Group of Seven” cabinet that eventually expanded to become a Group of Nine. It was in this smaller, unofficial committee where real decisions and high-level policy discussions actually took place.

Netanyahu has applied that lesson to his current government. He restructured the security cabinet down almost to the minimum size required by law. It now comprises just eight members: Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Justice Minister Livni, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Home Front Security Minister Gilad Erdan. It is advised on an ongoing, permanent basis by two senior officials, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and — who else? — the prime minister’s national security adviser Yossi Cohen.

According to those familiar with its workings, the cabinet meets “very regularly” and is now the main forum where “the serious discussions are held.”

The Israeli White House

Many of these changes in the structure of national security decision-making at the highest levels of the Israeli government will likely outlive Netanyahu’s premiership. Indeed, the impulse to concentrate policy around the prime minister extends beyond security questions.

The Prime Minister's Office (photo credit: Flash90)

Netanyahu more or less openly acts as the nation’s top economic planner, taking a decisive role in appointing the new Bank of Israel governor and setting macroeconomic targets. Under him, key questions of domestic policy, including extending free public schooling down to the age of three, Bedouin resettlement plans and Arab sector economic development, have been brought under the umbrella of the PMO’s Planning Directorate headed by Udi Prawer.

Netanyahu, who speaks native English and was an early adopter of American political campaign methods into Israeli elections, has often been called Israel’s most “American” prime minister.

Whatever truth there may be in these claims of cultural affinity, there is little doubt the PMO under Netanyahu, with its advisers and policy planners and growing control over ever-expanding policy arenas, is looking more and more like Israel’s White House.

Read more: Inside Israel’s White House: How Netanyahu runs the country | The Times of Israel
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The Peace Index – December 2013



1. What is your position on holding peace negotiations between Israel and
Palestinian Authority?

General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.   Strongly in favor    38.7/29.4/84.7
2.   Somewhat in favor    24.3/27.6/8.1
3.   Somewhat opposed    12.5/14.5/2.7
4.   Strongly opposed    19.4/22.8/2.7
5.   Don’t know/Refuse    5.1/5.7/1.8

2. Do you believe or not believe that negotiations between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority will lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians
in the coming years?
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.   Strongly believe    7.4/4.5/21.4
2.   Somewhat believe    21.9/18.8/37.2
3.   Somewhat don’t believe    22.1/21.6/24.5
4.   Don’t believe at all    46.7/53.3/14.3
5.   Don’t know/Refuse    1.9/1.7/2.7

3. Recently there have been a considerable number of terror attacks in which
Israelis were harmed. The official position of the Israeli defense
establishment is that this does not constitute a third intifada but, rather,
an assortment of attacks by lone individuals. Do you agree or disagree with
that assessment ?
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1. Strongly agree    18.0/19.9/8.8
2. Moderately agree    27.4/29.0/19.5
3. Don’t agree so much    19.1/19.0/20.1
4. Don’t agree at all    29.3/25.8/46.4
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    6.2/6.4/5.3

4. To what extent is Israel’s official policy toward the Palestinian
residents of the territories affecting or not affecting, in your opinion,
the recent upsurge of
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1. It is not affecting it at all    15.9/17.6/7.0
2. It is not affecting it so much    18.4/21.8/1.6
3. It is moderately affecting it    28.7/29.0/27.3
4. It is strongly affecting it    30.5/24.9/58.1
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    6.6/6.7/6.0

5. To what extent is the presence of the Israeli settlements in the
territories affecting or not affecting, in your opinion, the recent upsurge
of attacks?
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  It is not affecting it at all    19.6/23.0/3.1
2.  It is not affecting it so much    20.1/22.8/6.7
3.  It is moderately affecting it    28.3/29.4/22.6
4.  It is strongly affecting it    29.2/21.8/65.8
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    2.8/3.0/1.8

6. Some claim that the only way to get the two sides, Israel and the
Palestinians, to sign an agreement is through strong external pressure
mainly from the United States, since otherwise they will never reach
agreements by themselves. Do you agree or disagree with this view?
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  Strongly agree    31.4/27.0/53.2
2.  Moderately agree    22.7/22.5/23.7
3.  Don’t agree so much    14.5/15.6/9.5
4.  Don’t agree at all    29.1/33.0/9.9
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    2.3/2.0/3.7

7. Do you support or oppose the United States exerting pressure on both
sides, Israeli and Palestinian, to push them toward an agreement?
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.    Strongly oppose    29.0/32.8/10.4
2.    Moderately oppose    18.3/20.5/7.4
3.    Moderately support    27.2/27.0/28.3
4.    Strongly support    22.0/16.2/50.5
5.    Don’t know/Refuse    3.4/3.4/3.4

8. And if the United States were indeed to start exerting strong pressure on
the sides, and if the Israeli government saw the peace plan laid on the
table as not being good for Israel, would, in your opinion, the
Netanyahu-led Israeli government be able or unable to withstand such
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  I’m sure it would be able    16.5/14.3/27.3
2.  I think it would be able    34.4/33.8/37.8
3.  I think it would not be able    24.6/28.1/7.7
4.  I’m sure it would not be able    17.9/18.7/13.7
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    6.5/5.1/13.5

9. According to your impression, to what extent is the United States, and
particularly its secretary of state John Kerry, committed at present to
bringing about the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and the
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  Very committed    24.5/22.0/36.7
2.  Moderately committed    37.0/37.2/35.6
3.  Not so committed    21.1/22.9/12.0
4.  Not committed at all    12.4/12.3/13.1
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    5.1/5.6/2.5

10. And to what extent is the United States, and particularly its secretary
of state John Kerry, committed to ensuring Israel’s security in the context
of the negotiations with the Palestinians?
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  Not committed at all    11.1/11.7/8.0
2.  Not so committed    18.7/20.4/10.2
3.  Moderately committed    34.2/36.0/25.4
4.  Very committed    31.7/27.5/52.3
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    4.3/4.4/4.1

11. Some claim there is no chance of reaching a peace agreement with the
Palestinians, and therefore the negotiations should be regional, with an
active role for Arab states including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and
others. Do you agree or disagree with the claim that the negotiations should
be regional and not
just bilateral?

General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  Strongly agree    18.2/14.2/38.0
2.  Moderately agree    21.6/22.0/19.4
3.  Don’t agree so much    16.6/17.5/11.8
4.  Don’t agree at all    37.8/40.5/24.6
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    5.8/5.7/6.1

12. How do you rate the degree of trust on the Israeli side as a whole
toward the Palestinians at present? Please give a grade for trust on a scale
of 0 (no trust at all) to 10 (full trust).
General Public/Jews/Arabs
0    32.7/35.7/17.8
1    6.3/6.5/5.4
2    11.1/12.0/6.7
3    11.0/12.2/5.4
4    10.9/10.0/15.7
5    16.7/14.2/29.1
6    4.1/3.2/8.4
7    3.6/3.2/5.3
8    0.3/0.1/1.0
9    0.0/0.0/0.0
10    0.3/0.2/1.2
Don’t know/Refuse    2.9/2.7/3.9

13. How do you rate the degree of trust on the Palestinian side as a whole
toward the Israelis at present? Please give a grade for trust on a scale of
0 (no trust at
all) to 10 (full trust).
General Public/Jews/Arabs
0    34.4/35.5/28.9
1    7.6/8.1/5.4
2    9.7/10.8/4.5
3    8.8/9.7/4.1
4    8.9/8.8/9.4
5    12.6/10.7/21.9
6    4.7/3.0/12.9
7    3.0/2.3/6.7
8    2.0/2.1/1.7
9    0.4/0.0/2.2
10    0.9/0.9/1.3
Don’t know/Refuse    7.1/8.3/1.0

14. What is the degree of trust you personally have toward the Palestinians?
Please give a grade for your trust toward the Palestinians on a scale of 0
(no trust at all) to 10 (full trust).
General Public/Jews/Arabs
0    43.2/49.9/10.4
1    5.7/6.4/2.5
2    6.0/6.7/2.7
3    5.6/6.4/2.1
4    4.7/5.5/0.7
5    9.5/8.5/14.7
6    5.7/4.6/10.7
7    6.3/5.4/11.0
8    5.0/2.3/18.0
9    1.7/0.8/6.2
10    3.4/0.9/15.7
Don’t know/Refuse    3.2/2.7/5.4

15. In your opinion, given the history of the relations between the two
peoples, is it possible or impossible at present to build trust between the
Israelis and the
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  I’m sure it is possible    11.7/8.0/30.2
2.  I think it is possible    36.5/35.1/43.6
3.  I think it is impossible    21.5/23.3/13.0
4.  I’m sure it is impossible    28.0/31.2/11.9
5.  Don’t know/Refuse    2.2/2.4/1.2

16. To build trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which side has
the responsibility to take the more significant steps?
General Public/Jews/Arabs
1.  Mainly the Israeli side    14.5/11.1/31.5
2.  Mainly the Palestinian side    23.4/27.0/5.4
3.  Both sides to the same extent    58.7/58.4/60.3
4.  Don’t know/ Refuse    3.4/3.5/2.8

The Peace Index: December  2013
Date Published: 07/01/2014
Survey dates: 30/12/2013 – 31/12/2013

This month the Peace Index focused mainly on two interrelated issues: the
American peace initiative and Israeli-Palestinian relations.

U.S. commitment to reaching an agreement: A considerable majority (59%) of
the Jewish public believes that the United States is committed to bringing
about the signing of a peace agreement. The rate of those who think so in
the Arab public is even higher—72%. A segmentation of the Jewish sample’s
responses by the interviewees’ self-definition on a political right-left
spectrum reveals that a majority of all the camps believes the United States
is committed to achieving an agreement, but this majority is smaller on the
right (52%) than among the moderate right and the center (60%), the moderate
left (71%), and the left (75%).

U.S. commitment to Israel’s security: An even larger majority of the Jewish
public (63.5%) believes that the United States, and first and foremost
Secretary of State John Kerry, is committed to ensuring Israel’s security in
the context of the negotiations with the Palestinians. The majority of the
Arab public that thinks the United States is committed to Israel’s security
in the context of those negotiations is even larger than for the Jewish
public—78%. A segmentation of the Jewish interviewees’ responses according
to the same right-left spectrum shows that on the right as a whole, the rate
that sees such a commitment comes to 60%, in the center about two-thirds,
and on the left as a whole, 85%.

The significance of external pressure toward signing an agreement: We asked:
“Some claim that the only way to get the two sides, Israel and the
Palestinians, to sign an agreement is by exerting strong external pressure
on them, mainly from the United States, since otherwise they will never
reach agreements by themselves. Do you agree or disagree with this claim?”
It turns out that the Jewish public is divided into two almost equal camps,
with 49.5% agreeing with the claim that only external pressure will lead to
an agreement and 49% disagreeing. A segmentation of the responses here by
the respondents’ self-placement on the right-left spectrum uncovers profound
disparities: on the right, the majority (60%) disagrees with the claim, the
center is evenly split between the two positions, while on the left as a
whole a large majority—75%—agrees that without external pressure the sides
will not reach an agreement. The rate of those in the Arab public who agree
with the claim is very high—77%.

Support for U.S. pressure: As for positions on the U.S. exerting pressure on
the two sides, in the Jewish public 53% opposes such pressure and 43%
support such pressure. A segmentation of the responses by self-placement on
the right-left spectrum shows, as expected, that a majority on the right
(69%) and on the moderate right (64.5%) is against pressure, the center is
split, while on the moderate left and the left the support for such pressure
is high at 73%. Among the Arabs, not surprisingly, a majority (79%) supports
U.S. pressure aimed at reaching peace.

The Israeli government’s ability to withstand pressure: Here too the Israeli
Jewish public is divided: 48% say the government will be able to withstand
pressure and 47% that it will not be able. A segmentation by self-placement
on the right-left spectrum turns up small, unsystematic gaps between the
political camps. The Arab public credits the Netanyahu government with
greater ability to withstand pressure; 65% think it can hold up under U.S.
pressure if it is exerted.

A regional peace agreement: In light of the diagnosis of some Israeli peace
groups that the chances of reaching a bilateral peace with the Palestinians
alone are low and hence a regional approach should be adopted, we asked:
“Some claim that there is no chance of reaching a peace agreement with the
Palestinians, and therefore the negotiations should be regional, that is,
they should also include an active role for Arab states, such as Saudi
Arabia, the Gulf states, and others. Do you agree or disagree with the claim
that the negotiations should be regional and not only bilateral?” It turns
out that the Jewish public also has little yen for the regional possibility:
only 36% support including the regional states in the negotiations while a
majority (58%) opposes doing so. A segmentation by self-placement on the
right-left spectrum shows that only on the moderate left is there a small
majority (52%) that supports the regional approach, while in all the other
camps, including the “deep” left, the majority is against it. In the Arab
public a certain majority (57%) supports broadening the negotiations to
incorporate more of the region’s states.

(Mis)trust toward the Palestinians: Despite the trust that a majority of the
Israeli Jewish public feels toward the United States regarding its
commitment both to Israel’s security and to achieving a peace agreement,
this population’s trust toward the Palestinians is very weak both as a
personal position and as a group assessment. On a scale of 0 (no trust at
all) to 10 (full trust), the average grades for trust are 3.09 (personal
trust) and 3.29 (interviewees’ assessment of the general Jewish population’s
trust toward the Palestinians). It is notable, though, that the Jewish
public does not delude itself about the degree of trust felt by the
Palestinian population. Actually, this is a “mirror” assessment: the average
grade of the Jewish public for the Palestinian population’s degree of trust
toward Israel is 3.25. Nevertheless, as a segmentation of the responses to
the following questions shows, the Jewish public does not completely absolve
itself of responsibility for the Palestinian mistrust.

Is there a chance that trust will be built?: Despite the gloomy picture
regarding Israelis’ trust toward Palestinians, a considerable minority (43%)
of the Jewish public believes that, even in light of the history of the two
sides’ relations, it is possible to build trust between them, while 54.5% do
not see it as possible. The Arab public shows greater optimism, with 74%
seeing a chance to build trust in the future.

Who has the responsibility for building trust?: To the question of which of
the two sides has the responsibility to take the significant steps toward
building trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the majority (59%)
thinks the responsibility is held equally by the two sides (though the rate
of Jews who put the responsibility on the Palestinians is higher than the
rate assigning it to the Israelis—27% and 11%, respectively). In the Arab
public, 60% think the effort should be divided evenly between the two sides,
31.5% say Israel should invest more effort, and only 5% believe the
Palestinians need to make more of an effort for trust to be built between
the sides.

The influence of Israeli policy on the increase in terror attacks: A
majority, not large, of the Jewish public (54%) think Israel’s official
policy toward the Palestinian residents of the territories has an effect on
the recent increase in terror attacks. Surprisingly, dramatic disparities
between the political camps were not found on this question, perhaps because
they interpreted the term “official policy” in different ways. The majority
of the Arab public that thinks Israeli policy has an effect on the terror
attacks is much larger than for the Jewish public—85%.

The effect of the presence of the Israeli settlements in the territories on
the increase in attacks: In the Jewish public a small majority thinks the
presence of the Jewish settlements has an effect (51%) compared to 46% who
hold the opposite view. The gaps between the right and the left on this
question are huge (right—39% think the presence of the settlements has an
effect on the increase in terror attacks, moderate right—46%, center—53%,
moderate left—83%, left—91%). In the Arab public 88% see the presence of the
settlements in the territories has having an effect on the recent increase
in terror attacks.

Is a third intifada occurring?: We asked the interviewees for their opinion
on the defense establishment’s view that the recent terror attacks are an
assortment of incidents and do not indicate the beginning of a third
intifada. It turns out that the Jewish public is divided on the question of
the accuracy of this assessment: 49% agree with the stance of the defense
establishment while 45% do not agree with it.

Negotiation index: General sample—46.1 (Jewish sample: 40.3)
The Peace Index is a project of the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict
Resolution at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute. This
month’s survey was conducted by telephone on December 30-31, 2013, by the
Midgam Research Institute. The survey included 606 respondents, who
constitute a representative national sample of the adult population aged 18
and over. The survey was conducted in Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian. The
maximum measurement error is ±4.5% at a confidence level of 95%. Statistical
processing was done by Ms. Yasmin Alkalay.

8 Female Israeli Soldiers Who Shattered Barriers in 2013


Women have proudly served in the IDF since the very beginning. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, wrote an impassioned letter to religious communities outlining the necessity of women serving and protecting Israel. Since then, women have taken increasingly high-level positions in the IDF. These female Israeli soldiers challenge stereotypes through the work they do every day. 

1. Lt. Shelly Markheva, IDF Intelligence Commander

Shelly Marhevka is an IDF intelligence commander who keeps watch over Israel’s southern border. In the event of a terrorist infiltration, Shelly and her soldiers are those responsible for detecting and thwarting an attack.

Shelly Markheva

2. Cpl. Dylan Ostrin, Combat Engineering Corps Explosives Expert

Corporal Dylan Ostrin made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from the US at the age of seven with her family. Today, Cpl. Ostrin is an explosives instructor in the Combat Engineering Corps. She teaches all things explosive: from how to handle the explosives themselves to utilizing them in operations, such as gaining access to buildings. She has already begun receiving job offers to work on bomb squads and similar security-related teams both in Israel and abroad.

3. Lt. Amit Danon, Gymnastics Champion & Combat Platoon Commander

Lt. Amit Danon was the Israeli national champion in rhythmic gymnastics when she enlisted in the IDF. After embarking on her path as a soldier, she decided to leave her previous life behind and became a combat officer in the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion. Lt. Danon now leads other soldiers as platoon commander.


4. Sgt. Sarit Petersen, Nahal Infantry Brigade Shooting Instructor

Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Sgt. Petersen currently serves as a shooting instructor in the Nahal Infantry Brigade. The soldiers she commands range from brand new to advanced; the advanced soldiers are part of the reconnaissance brigade. As a shooting instructor, Sgt. Petersen is responsible for teaching a soldier about weapons and how to use them.

IDF Shooting Instructor Sarit Peterson getting ready to fire

5. First Sgt. Monaliza Abdo, Arab-Israeli Combat Soldier

First Sgt. Monaliza Abdo is an Arab-Israeli woman who proudly served her country as a combat soldier. She wasn’t required to enlist, but her determination to protect Israel motivated her to volunteer. As a fighter on Israel’s southern border, she rose through the ranks to become a commander, teaching soldiers how to combat terrorism and other threats. Just a few weeks ago, she honorably completed three years of service  one more than the required number for Israeli women.


6. Pvt. Or Meidan, Iron Dome Missile Defense System Operator

Or Meidan moved from Uganda to Israel as a teenager. During Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, the area around her kibbutz was pounded by missiles from Gaza. Today, she serves as an operator in the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Kibbutz Hatzerim garin poses for a photo at nahal tekes

7. Sgt. Noa Goren, Commander Working With New Immigrants

Sgt. Noa Goren serves as a commander in the IDF unit responsible for absorbing new immigrant soldiers. “What can unify a squad that is mixed with French, Brazilians, Italians and Australians, if not learning the Hebrew language and sharing one goal?” Noa asks . “I need to consider that these new immigrants are arriving frightened, and it is my responsibility to know where to start and how to begin working with them.”

noa goren8. Lt. Col. Dr. Hadar Marom, Director of Family Medicine, IDF Medical Corps, and Doctor, IDF Delegation to the Philippines

Lt. Col. Dr. Hadar Marom wanted to be a doctor ever since she was a child. This year, she served on the IDF team that saved lives in the Philippines after a devastating typhoon hit the country. “I’m proud to be part of the delegation, and proud of the work that we’re doing,” she says. “I feel satisfied that we managed to help people in their hour of need.”

Hadar Marom

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Abbas Claims Jesus was Palestinian


All the day they trouble mine affairs; all their thoughts are against me for evil.” (Psalms 56:6)

Abbas Claims Jesus is Palestinian

PA President Mahmoud Abbas claims Jesus is Palestinian (Photo: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a Christmas message Monday in which he suggested Israel persecutes Christians and claimed Jesus was a “Palestinian messenger.”  Despite the confrontational tone of his message, he maintains he is committed to negotiations with Israel.

“As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later,” he wrote in a statement, “we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice, in order to achieve a lasting peace.”

Abbas elaborated on the PA’s commitment towards a peaceful settlement with Israel, “including ending the occupation of the Holy Land with the establishment of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian State on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

He was critical of Israel, saying, this Christmas Eve, our hearts and prayers will be with the millions who are being denied their right to worship in their homeland.

“We are thinking of our people in Gaza, trapped under siege, and of those who are prevented from worshiping in Bethlehem,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Al Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Beirut, along with all of our Palestinian refugees — Christians and Muslims uprooted from their hometowns in 1948 and who, since that time, have suffered the vicissitudes of a forced exile.”

Abbas went on to express solidarity with his Christian constituents, claiming, “Christians are not a minority here, they are an integral part of the Palestinian people. Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians, Assyrians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Copts, Melkites, Protestants and others are all part of the rich mosaic of this free, sovereign, democratic and pluralistic Palestine we aspire to have and as established in our declaration of independence and draft constitution.”

As heart-warming as such a description may be, it flies in the face of reality, as Christian populations throughout Muslim-controlled areas across the Middle East dwindle.  Israel is the only country in the region whose Christian population is growing.  In Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, where Christians used to make up the majority, they are now in the minority.

Israeli officials scoffed at Abbas’ comments.  Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel, “He should have read the Gospel before uttering such offensive nonsense, but we will forgive him because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”  He referred to Abbas’ statement as an “outrageous rewriting of Christian history.”  He called Abbas’ harsh words, “not exactly in the spirit of Christmas,” and joked, “Maybe he needs a hug from Santa?”

Another Israeli official took offense to Abbas’ implication that Israeli policy is responsible for the mass Christian departure from the Holy Land.  “The exodus of Christians from Bethlehem turned into a flood the moment the PA took control,” the official said.