Israel’s ex-PM Ariel Sharon dies

Standard

Ariel Sharon (November 2005)

Ariel Sharon’s life was intimately entwined with the life of the country he loved from the moment of its birth.

He fought in its war of independence in 1948 and from that point until he slipped into a coma in 2006 it seemed there was hardly a moment of national drama in which he did not play a role.

He was always a controversial figure in Israeli politics – certainly not universally loved – but in mourning his passing, Israelis are marking the loss of one of the few public figures left whose career stretched back to the earliest days of their state.

Ariel Sharon’s roots were in the world of Zionist pioneering zeal – he was born between the two world wars in Palestine when it was under British control – to a Jewish couple who had fled to the Holy Land from Belarus.

Ariel Sharon in Sinai (October 1967)Sharon was admired among Israelis for his military exploits

His reputation as an uncompromising and unapologetic defender of his country’s interests dates back to his military career.

He was still a teenager when he fought in the war of 1948 and in his autobiography, fittingly called Warrior, he described intense fighting against soldiers from the Jordanian Arab Legion for control of a crucial police fort on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

He and his men lay in fields ignited by gunfire in the burning heat with water and ammunition running low.

He remained a soldier for many years afterwards, fighting with distinction in Israel’s battles with its Arab enemies in the wars of 1967 and 1973.

He helped set up Unit 101 – a commando detachment whose job was to conduct reprisal operations across the border in Arab territories to retaliate for attacks against Israel.

Such was his reputation as a military commander that some accounts of his army career say he was nicknamed the Lion of God after a particularly daring tactical parachute operation against Egypt in 1967 in the Sinai desert.

Shadow of Lebanon

But already there was a dark undertone. Allegations emerged that Egyptian prisoners had been shot and there were questions at home about whether the operation had been a military necessity.

Fifteen years later, it was another dark episode that brought Ariel Sharon international attention.

Continue reading the main story

Political Career

  • 1973: Elected Knesset member for Likud
  • 1975-77: Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s special security adviser
  • 1977-81: Minister of Agriculture
  • 1981-83: Minister of Defence
  • 1984-90: Minister of Trade and Industry
  • 1990-92: Minister of Construction and Housing
  • 1996-98: Minister of National Infrastructure
  • 1998-99: Foreign Minister
  • 2001-2006: Prime Minister
  • 2005: Left Likud to found Kadima

He was minister of defence when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. The strategic goal was to bring stability to the country’s northern border by crushing Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which was then holed up in southern Lebanon and Beirut.

But the war was deeply controversial at home as well as in the wider world.

And there was worse too.

Fighters from a Christian militia group which was co-operating closely with the Israelis carried out extensive massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilla.

It is likely the names of those camps will be associated with Mr Sharon’s own name as long as the history of that conflict is remembered.

Eventually an Israeli inquiry held that Ariel Sharon was “indirectly responsible” for the killing.

The war cost many lives – Israeli as well as Palestinian and Lebanese – and it casts a long shadow over his historical legacy.

Second intifada

Within Israel Mr Sharon was not finished though.

Long a supporter of the settlers who moved on to the lands Israel captured in the war of 1967 in defiance of international opinion, he saw himself as a natural leader of the Israeli right.

In a volatile place, he could be a provocative figure.

Paul Adams looks back on the life and legacy of Ariel Sharon

In the year 2000, flanked by hundreds of Israeli riot police, he staged a visit to the area of the Old City in Jerusalem which contains sites sacred both to Jews and Muslims – the Temple Mount or Harem al-Sharif.

Even though the area is in the part of East Jerusalem captured by Israel in the war of 1967, Jewish rights to pray there are limited – and it is a microcosm of the tensions that fuel the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

Intense rioting followed his visit there and many people trace the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada to that moment.

Ariel Sharon was characteristically unrepentant.

Bold moves

He became prime minister in 2001, promising to bring peace and security to his country but it was a turbulent period in Israeli politics and he eventually left the governing Likud party to found his own Kadima movement while still in office.

Ariel Sharon in Nitzanim, north of Gaza (May 2005)Sharon pulled Israeli troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, a move which divided his supporters

Peace remained elusive then as it is elusive now.

It was on his watch as prime minister that construction of a barrier began with the intention of preventing suicide attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territories.

His supporters would argue that it worked. Its detractors would say it entrenched an already deep sense of separateness.

He did not shy away from bold political moves though. The man who had supported Israeli settlers ordered their removal from Gaza when he decided to withdraw from the Palestinian enclave beside the Mediterranean in 2005.

It was precisely his reputation as a hardliner that allowed him to sell to his supporters a decision with which many felt instinctively uncomfortable.

Not long afterwards, he slipped into the coma from which he was never to emerge and we will never know how he would have followed up that decision or where it might have led.

Ariel Sharon died hated by Israel’s enemies but there are plenty of Israelis who would argue that the depth of that hatred was a measure of the success with which he always defended the country he served.

About these ads

Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here.

Tell me more | Dismiss this message

LIKE THIS:

Israel and the death of pan-Arabism

Standard

Nadaf and Bibi

The so-called Arab Spring unleashed forces that have been dormant for a century. Like their counterparts throughout the region, Israel’s Arabic-speaking minorities are changing in profound ways. But our leaders fail to grasp the implications of what is happening.

Consider the Christian community.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth, has become the symbol of this new period. Nadaf is the spiritual leader of an Israeli Christian movement calling for Israeli Christian youth to serve in the IDF. He is responsible for the 300 percent rise in Christian Arab enlistment in the IDF in the past year.

Nadaf does not hide his goal or his motivation. His seeks the full integration of Israel’s 130,000 Christians into Israeli society. He views military service as the key to that integration.

Nadaf is motivated to act by the massive persecution of Christians throughout the Arab world since the onset of the Arab revolutionary wave in December 2010.

As he explained in a recent interview with Channel 1, it is “in light of what we see happening to Christians in Arab countries, how they are slaughtered and persecuted on a daily basis, killed and raped just because they are Christians. Does this happen in the State of Israel? No, it doesn’t.”

Shahdi Halul, a reserve captain in the Paratroopers who works with Nadaf, declared, “Every Christian in the State of Israel should join the army and defend this country so it will exist forever. Because if, God forbid, the government is overthrown here, as it was in other places, we will be the first to suffer.”

These men, and their supporters, are the natural result of the most significant revolutionary development of the so-called Arab Spring: the demise of Arab nationalism.

As Ofir Haivry, vice president of the Herzl Institute, explained in an important article in the Mosaic online magazine, Arab nationalism was born in pan-Arabism – an invention of European powers during World War I that sought to endow the post-Ottoman Middle East with a new identity.
The core of the new identity was the Arabic language. The religious, tribal, ethnic and nationalist aspirations of the peoples of the Arabic- speaking region were to be smothered and replaced by a new pan-Arab identity.

For the Christians of the former Ottoman Empire, pan-Arabism was a welcome means of getting out from under the jackboot of the Islamic Laws of Omar, which reduce non-Muslims living under Muslim rule to the status of powerless dhimmis, who survive at the pleasure of their Islamic rulers.

But now pan-Arabism lies in ruins from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. The people of the region have gone back to identifying themselves by tribe, religion, ethnicity, and in the case of the Kurds and the Berbers, non-Arab national identity. In this new era, Christians find themselves imperiled, with few if any protectors or allies to be found.

As Haivry notes, Israel’s central strategic challenge has always been contending with pan-Arabism, which was invented at the same time that the nations of the world embraced modern Zionism.
Since its inception, pan-Arab leaders always saw Israel as the scapegoat on which to pin their failure to deliver on pan-Arabism’s promise of global Arab power and influence.

Israel changed its position on pan-Arabism drastically over the years. Once, Israel could see the dangers in pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism.

But since 1993, says Haivri, Israel’s national strategy has been based on appeasing the secular authoritarian pan-Arab leaders by offering land for peace to Syria and the PLO.

Haivry notes that Shimon Peres is the political godfather of Israel’s accommodationist strategy, which is rooted in a mix of perceived powerlessness on the one hand, and utopianism on the other.

The sense of powerlessness owes to the conviction that Israel cannot influence its environment. That the Arabs will never change. Israel’s neighbors will always see themselves primarily as Arabs, and they will always want, more than anything else, Arab states.

At the same time, the accommodationists hold the utopian belief that Israeli appeasement of Palestinian Arab nationalism will break through the wall of pan-Arab rejection, end hatred for the Jewish state, and even lead the Arabs to invite Israel to join the Arab League.

The so-called Arab Spring has put paid to every one of the accommodationists’ beliefs. From Egypt to Tunisia to Iraq to Syria, Israel’s neighbors are fighting each other as Sunnis, Shi’ites and Salafists, or as members of clans and tribes, without a thought for the alleged primacy of their Arab identity. What Israel’s Palestinian-state-obsessed Left has failed to realize is that many of Israel’s neighbors do not share the pan-Arab scapegoating of the Jewish state. So bribing the now largely irrelevant Arabs nationalists with another Arab state may do little more than create the newest victim of the Arab revolutions.
It is because they see what is happening to their co-religionists in the post-pan-Arab Middle East that more and more Israeli Christians realize they will lead safer, more prosperous and more fulfilling lives as Christian citizens in the Middle East’s only democracy than as pan-Arabs battling the Zionist menace.

But old habits die hard. Most of Israel’s elected Arab leaders owe their positions to their embrace of pan-Arabism. This embrace has brought them the support of the PLO and Europe, and since 1993, of the Israeli Left.

And so, since he first appeared on the scene, Father Nadaf’s life has been constantly threatened. Everyone from Arab members of Knesset to the Communist head of the Greek Orthodox Council has incited against him, calling him and his followers traitors to the Palestinian Arab nation.

He also threatens the Israeli Left. For its view of Israel’s strategic powerlessness and consequent need to appease its neighbors to remain relevant, the pan-Arab forces in the Arab world must be perceived as still dominant, even invincible. And so, the Israeli Left refuses to consider the larger strategic implications of the regional upheaval from which Nadaf’s initiative emerged.

Even worse, the official policy of the Netanyahu government appears based on this irrelevant Leftist view of the region. This is the implication of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s defeatist speech at the Foreign Ministry’s annual conference of ambassadors on Sunday.

Liberman’s speech has been rightly viewed as the supposedly right-wing politician’s formal break with his ideological camp and his embrace of the Left. In his remarks Liberman let it be known, that like the Left, he now bases his positions on a complete denial or avoidance of reality. For this, he was congratulated for his “maturity” by Peres who was sitting on the stage with him.

In his speech, Liberman acknowledged that the Obama administration’s peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians is horrible for Israel. But, he said, it is better than the European Union’s peace plan.

Never considering the possibility of saying no to both, Liberman said he thinks we should accept the bad American deal. His only condition is that he insists that the PLO accept towns in the Galilee and their 300,000 Israeli Arab residents.
Liberman’s surrender of the Galilee is a key component to his population swap plan. Under his plan, Israel would retain control over the fraction of Judea and Samaria in which large numbers of Israeli Jews live, in exchange for the area of the Galilee that is home to 300,000 Israeli Arabs. This plan has reportedly been presented to US Secretary of State John Kerry as an official Israeli position.
In other words, the Netanyahu government has failed to recognize the implications of the death of pan-Arabism. In maintaining their slavish devotion to the two-state formula, and viewing the Arabs in the Galilee, Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and surrounding states as an impenetrable bloc, they are placing Israel’s future in the hands of actors who have already disappeared or will soon disappear. Instead of building alliances with non-Jewish citizens of Israel, such as Druse and Christians, who are more than happy to defend Israel against Islamists and other regional fanatics, the Netanyahu government insists on placing the state’s future in the hands of pan-Arabs whose grip on power is slipping and who would never willingly coexist with Israel anyway.

Nadaf and his followers respond to the allegation – uttered by MKs like Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, among others – that they are traitors to the Palestinian Arab nation, with contempt.

“When someone tells me, ‘We’re all Arabs,’ I tell him, ‘No, we’re not all Arabs. You’re an Arab. I’m not,’” Halul told Channel 1.
Samer Jozin, whose daughter Jennifer opted for IDF service instead of medical school, agrees.
“Telling me I’m a Palestinian is a curse. I’m, thank God, an Israeli Christian and proud of it. And I thank God I was born in the Land of Israel,” he said.
The message couldn’t be clearer. We are basing our national strategy on a world that no longer exists.
Today our longtime allies the Kurds have carved out virtually independent states for themselves in Iraq and Syria.
Christians throughout the region are on the run. The Druse of Syria and Lebanon are exposed, without protection, and looking for help.
As for the Muslims, as Haivry notes, they are fragmented along sectarian and political lines, and at war with one another in battlefields throughout the region. While so engaged, they have little time to devote to blaming Israel for their failures.

This state of affairs has implications for Israel’s Arab Muslim minority. None of the regional warring Muslim camps are natural homes for Israel’s Muslim community. A community that has lived in an open, free society for 65 years does not naturally turn to Salafism. Israel is a much easier fit for most Israeli Muslims.
At a minimum, no one is better off if Israel forces them to cast their lot with any of the warring factions in Syria or Lebanon, or the increasingly irrelevant forces in the Palestinian Authority. There may very well be hundreds of Muslim versions of Father Nadaf just waiting for a signal from our government that we want them to lead their community into our society.

The post-pan-Arab Middle East exposes the truth that has been obscured for a century. The Jews and their Jewish state are a natural component of our diverse neighborhood, just like the Kurds, the Christians, the Druse, the various Muslim sects, and the Arabs. The demise of pan-Arabism is our great opportunity, at home and regionally, to build the alliances we need to survive and prosper. But so long as our leaders insist on clinging to the now irrelevant dream of appeasing the defunct pan-Arabists, we will lose these opportunities and convince our allies that we are treacherous, disloyal and temporary.

The Islamization of France in 2013

Standard

PA leader: Stages plan to eliminate Israel is basis of PA policy

Standard
Abbas Zaki, close associate of Mahmoud Abbas,
says a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders
is only first stage in the PA’s program
because “the inspiring idea cannot be achieved
all at once. [Rather] in stages”

In an interview on Syrian TV, senior Palestinian official Abbas Zaki said the PA will only agree to a treaty with Israel if the Palestinian state is established on the 1967 lines. However, he stressed that ’67 lines would only be the beginning. After that, the Palestinians will continue with the stages plan:

“Even the most extreme among us, Hamas, or the fighting forces, want a state within the ’67 borders. Afterward, we [will] have something to say, because the inspiring idea cannot be achieved all at once. [Rather] in stages.”
[Official Syrian Satellite TV Channel, Dec. 23, 2013]

Click to view

In an interview on Al-Jazeera TV in 2011, Zaki also mentioned this PA stages plan and referred to “the inspiring idea,” explaining that it means the end of Israel. He said that Mahmoud Abbas shares the goal of eliminating Israel in stages, but that the PA says it only wants a state along the 1967 borders because it is unacceptable politically to say you want to destroy Israel:

“You can’t say it to the world. You can say it to yourself.”

Zaki stressed that the goal is clear-cut because if Israel were to return to the 1967 lines, it certainly could not survive: “Israel will come to an end.”

This is Zaki’s full statement from 2011:

“The agreement is based on the borders of June 4 [1967]. While the agreement is on the borders of June 4, the President [Mahmoud Abbas] understands, we understand, and everyone knows that it is impossible to realize the inspiring idea, or the great goal in one stroke. If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, if Israel uproots the settlements, 650,000 settlers, if Israel removes the (security) fence – what will be with Israel? Israel will come to an end. If I say that I want to remove it from existence, this will be great, great, [but] it is hard. This is not a [stated] policy. You can’t say it to the world. You can say it to yourself.”
[Al-Jazeera TV, Sept. 23, 2011]

Expressing his refusal to recognize Israel earlier this year during a public lecture, Abbas Zaki started to refer to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport as “Israel’s Airport,” but then stopped himself and corrected himself:

“When Mr. Obama came to the region during his visit, as soon as he arrived at the airport of Isra… [corrects himself], I mean, the airport where the Israelis are. I don’t want… [corrects himself] this whole country is ours, and Allah willing, the airport will also return to us.”
[Official PA TV, April 8, 2013]

Click to view

Zaki sitting in place of honor one seat from M. Abbas at Fatah event in 2011.

These statements coming from Abbas Zaki are significant because he is a senior Palestinian official and a very close associate of Mahmoud Abbas. He was sent to Syria as Mahmoud Abbas’ personal representative a few months ago and has spoken at public events representing Fatah.

Another important statement reiterating that the PA is employing a stages plan to defeat Israel was expressed recently by PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash in
a Friday sermon in the

presence of Mahmoud Abbas. Al-Habbash, speaking after the current round of peace talks was announced, said that the PA’s negotiations with Israel are modeled after the Hudaybiyyah agreement between Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the tribes of Mecca. Recounting that Muhammad signed a 10-year truce, and yet two years later conquered Mecca, the minister stated: “This is the example and this is the model.”

Official PA children’s TV also teaches children to aspire to Israel’s destruction. Earlier this year the PA TV host told children:

PA TV host: “And of course we will never forget that we have land that was occupied in 1948, which will return to us one day. Remember well, children. Also [remember] to safeguard our folklore, our national games, the folklore in all its forms, our dress and our food and our games and anything that forms the Palestinian folklore – we have to safeguard it. If we don’t safeguard it, then the occupation might steal it as well, as it stole our land. Right? Do you agree with me? Bravo!”
[Official PA TV, Feb. 23, 2013]

Bringing up children to see all of Israel as “occupied” territory and as “stolen Palestinian land” that will “return” at some future time are significant components of Palestinian Authority ideology that are never expressed to Western leaders or Israelis, and are denied during peace discussions. Zaki’s description of the peace process as intended to lead to Israel’s destruction is consistent with these messages to PA children and many other internal messages the PA leadership sends to its population.

See more documentation here.
To read a detailed analysis of the PA’s continuing and ongoing deception and violations of its international commitments see PMW’s book, Deception which documents that the PA policy of saying it wants peace in English is contradicted by its internal political, social and cultural activities, its leaders’ statements and its education of youth in Arabic. Click to see reviews or to purchase Deception.

The following is an excerpt from Abbas Zaki’s recent interview:

Syrian TV host: “When they talk about [the US] imposing a solution, we know that it will be deficient.”
Member of Fatah Central Committee Abbas Zaki: “You can relax. We find ourselves united for the first time. Even the most extreme among us, Hamas, or the fighting forces, want a state within the ’67 borders. Afterward, we [will] have something to say, because the inspiring idea cannot be achieved all at once. [Rather] in stages.”
[Official Syrian Satellite TV Channel, Dec. 23, 2013]
The following is a longer excerpt of the sermon delivered by PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash comparing negotiations with Israel to Muhammad’s Treaty of Hudaybiyyah:

“We hate war. We don’t want war. We don’t want bloodshed, not for ourselves, nor for others. We want peace. We say this because our culture is founded on this, and because our religion is based on this. Yes, we want peace, but not any peace. We want a peace based on justice, therefore the Palestinian leadership and the PLO have not missed any opportunity for peace…
The Palestinian leadership’s sense of responsibility towards its nation made it take political steps about 20 years ago (i.e., signing the Oslo Accords). Despite the controversy, despite much criticism and much opposition by some, it brought us to where we are today: We have a [Palestinian] Authority and the world recognizes the [Palestinian] state.
All this never would have happened through Hamas’ impulsive adventure, but only through the wisdom of the leadership, conscious action, consideration, and walking the right path, which leads to achievement, exactly like the Prophet [Muhammad] did in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, even though some opposed it…
The hearts of the Prophet’s companions burned with anger and fury. The Prophet said: ‘I’m the Messenger of Allah and I will not disobey Him.’ This is not disobedience, it is politics. This is crisis management, situation management, conflict management…
Allah called this treaty a clear victory…
Omar ibn Al-Khattab said: ‘Messenger of Allah, is this a victory? Is this logical? Is this victory? We are giving up and going back, and not entering Mecca. Is that a victory?’ The Prophet said: ‘Yes, it is a victory.’
In less than two years, the Prophet returned and based on this treaty, he conquered Mecca. This is the example, this is the model.”
[Official Palestinian Authority TV, July 19, 2013]
Previous Bulletin Next Bulletin

 PMW Bulletins Archive

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

Standard

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.

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition by email
and never miss our top stories
   FREE SIGN UP!

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 http://www.timesofisrael.com/inside-israels-white-house-how-netanyahu-runs-the-country/#ixzz2phh6IjLc
Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

1st chief rabbi inaugurated in Albania

Standard

The first chief rabbi of Albania was inaugurated in Tirana last week in the presence of a representative of Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar.

Prime Minister Berisha had expected to attend but because of the floods in Albania, he sent his representative with a blessing and greeting to the new chief rabbi and the Jewish community.

New Emissary
Russia’s Subbotnik Jews get rabbi / Ynetnews
Rabbi Shlomo Zelig Avrasin ‘s mission to focus primarily on community of Vysoky in southern Russia, to include teaching Hebrew and Judaism, organizing prayer services and conducting range of diverse educational activities for Jewish youth
Full story

The inauguration is the result of a meeting a number of months ago between Prime Minister Berisha and the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) in the RCE’s offices in Brussels. The RCE is an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of Jewish communities in Europe.

During the meeting, the representatives of the RCE thanked Berisha for his efforts and expressed their gratitude for the great support and assistance that the Albanians have made for the Jewish community through sheltering and saving many Jews during the Holocaust.

Rabbis with PM Berisha’s representative (Photo: Meir Alfasi)

The RCE broached the subject of appointing Rabbi Joel Kaplan, who is affiliated with the RCE, as the first Chief Rabbi of Albania. Berisha consented to the idea. The ceremony, including the traditional agreement between a community and its new chief rabbi, was presided over by Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, Deputy Director of the RCE and Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, Head of the Rabbinical Court in Milano and founder of the RCE.

“The Rabbinical Centre of Europe’s mission is to assist any European Jewish communities, whether they are large of small, affiliated or non-affiliated,” Rabbi Arye Goldberg, Deputy Director of the RCE said. “Albanian Jewry has a long and illustrious history and the current community needs a spiritual leader to ensure its vitality and continuity.”

“The RCE thanks Prime Minister Berisha for his support and the fact that only the devastating floods kept him away from the inauguration is a testament to his commitment to the Albanian Jewish community.”

Reinvigorated Jewish community

The event was also attended by representatives from the Albanian Christian and Muslim communities.

During the RCE’s visit to Tirana, a Jewish center called “Moshe Rabenu” and a synagogue named after the visiting Chief Rabbi of Israel was inaugurated as “Hechal Shlomo”.

Rabbi Kaplan will now preside over a reinvigorated Jewish community. “This will be the first time in 70 years that there will be a minyan (Jewish prayer quorum) in Albania,” Rabbi Kaplan said.

The rabbi’s first task will be to import kosher food into Albania and he will enjoy diplomatic status.

Rabbi Kaplan, formerly the Chabad emissary to Thessaloniki in Greece, had approached the RCE with the idea of reinvigorating the small Albanian Jewish community. The number of Jews in Albania is thought to be around 150, although these numbers are buttressed by large numbers of Jewish tourists and businessmen who visit the small nation.

Albanian Jewry dates back over 1,300 years, but was at its peak after many Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula made it their home. During the Communist era, the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania banned all religions, including Judaism. After the fall of Communism in 1991, all but a small number of Albanian Jews moved to Israel.

Making peace with a population: Lexicon Analysis of Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan Speech

Standard
A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestini...

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boycott Israel-poster

Boycott Israel-poster (Photo credit: Creap)

2004 version Русский: Карта Израиля

2004 version Русский: Карта Израиля (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Benjamin Netanyahu's signature.

English: Benjamin Netanyahu’s signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politician

English: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politician (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Palestinian territories (West Bank an...

English: Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip) showing Israel’s 1948 and 1967 borders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Historical region of Palestine (as de...

English: Historical region of Palestine (as defined by Palestinian Nationalism) showing Israel’s 1948 and 1967 borders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making peace with a population

Op-ed: Meticulous analysis of lexicon chosen by Netanyahu during Bar-Ilan speech is indicative of gap between his recognition of Palestinian state, his recognition of Palestinian people

Since 2009, the most prevalent political message advanced by Prime Minister Netanyahu with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be summarized as follows: Israel accepts a de-militarized Palestinian state; however, the Palestinians do not accept Israel as a Jewish state, and thus, reject the legitimacy of the existence of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East.

Netanyahu, thus, posits Israel as open to compromise, while the Palestinians are positioned as the rejectionists. While Netanyahu, since the 2009 Bar-Ilan Speech, has repeatedly acknowledged acceptance of a Palestinians state, it worthwhile to examine the extent to which he views the Palestinians as a legitimate people with historic links to the land.

 

A meticulous analysis of the lexicon chosen by Netanyahu during the same Bar-Ilan speech is indicative of a gap between the prime minister’s recognition of a Palestinian state and his recognition of a Palestinian people, as follows:

“But our right to build our sovereign state here, in the land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged… But we must also tell the truth in its entirety: Within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community… These two realities – our connection to the Land of Israel and the Palestinian population living within it – have created deep divisions in Israeli society.”

Netanyahu’s discursive strategy presents “we” as a people whose identity was forged in this homeland. Conversely, the Palestinians are not a people nor a nation, but a “community” or “population” “living within it” (our homeland) – an unfortunate turn of events which has caused serious internal divisions within Israel between the left and the right.

Another reality exists

The prime minister explicitly contrasts Jewish national rights and “connection to the land” with a population, at best, a community, that lives within our land. Thus, although this speech marked the first time that Netanyahu showed a readiness to accept a Palestinian state, he concurrently adopted a strategy which rejects Palestinian peoplehood.

Indeed, Netanyahu’s acceptance of a Palestinian state is comparable to his assessment of the problematic nature of Palestinian recognition of Israel – the acceptance of an unfortunate set of circumstances due to a balance of power which cannot be denied, rather than Palestinian recognition of authentic Jewish national sovereignty.

Netanyahu is able to accept a Palestinian state as a solution to the unfortunate fact that another population lives in “our” land. However, if we analyze the same quotation, it becomes clear why he cannot take the additional step of recognizing the authenticity of Palestinian nationalism – his unequivocal belief that “this is the homeland of the Jewish people”, without any room for another narrative that makes legitimate “homeland” claims.

Thus, while according to this exclusivist perception of the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, a Palestinian state can be acknowledged as an unavoidable circumstance, accepting the authenticity of a Palestinian people would require a far more difficult revision of the Zionist narrative and the recognition of the legitimacy of a competing narrative.

Netanyahu’s repeated and unanswered call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is, in essence, a desire to hear the Palestinian other accept his notion that “this is the homeland of the Jewish people,” rather than merely an acquiescence to an unfavorable balance of power. However, the only possibility for hearing such words from President Abbas would be for Netanyahu to himself state that he is not merely ready to make peace with a “population” that lives in our land, but that another narrative, another reality exists – that this is also the homeland of the Palestinian people.