Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Back to Reality

The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party has joined the government of Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. When Avigdor (Yvette) Leiberman lead his party into the coalition of Olmert’s government, he gave Olmert 78 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, out of 120, providing Olmert with a comfortable majority. Leiberman was also given a cabinet seat and appointed Deputy Prime Minister.

Leiberman is considered a fascist by left wing and Arab politicians for his outspoken racist views. The left-wing Labor party, a critical part of the coalition, is roiling over Leiberman’s entry into the coalition government. But Labor Party strongman Fuad Ben Eliezer told Army Radio he has no objection. “We sat with Arafat, why won’t we sit with Leiberman?”

Talk of Leiberman taking his party into the government has been in the press for weeks. According to the Israeli newspapers, this move obviates any chances Likud leader Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu had of joining the Olmert lead government.

Ironically, Leiberman and Netanyahu, who are now political enemies, were once extremely close. Leiberman was a staunch supporter of Netanyahu and served under him when Netanyahu was Prime Minister. Leiberman broke away from Netanyahu and formed his own party. Media reports over the years have linked Russian-born Leiberman to the Russian Mafia. According to one source, rumors are circulating that Leiberman is under investigation for forty different crimes.

Prior to his joining the government Leiberman was making public statements that he had the solution to the crises brewing between Israel and Iran. Leiberman also recently introduced a bill before the government to elect Israel’s President according to the U.S. system, essentially eliminating the office of Prime Minister.

Israel's Haaretz pointed out that Only a few democracies in the world have a US style presidency, and some are bad examples, like Venezuela and Colombia. Neither of those countries are considered models of democracy.

Many Israelis expressed concern that Leiberman’s approach to government and democracy are a smokescreen for his plan to run Israel the same way Putin runs Russia, with an iron hand used to quash any opposition. Leiberman began his career in the student government at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was also reportedly a bouncer in the student union.

The Israel Govermnent's State Prosecutor said today that new material has come to light linking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to illegally assisting millionaire pals from abroad, Australian Billionaire Frank Lowey among them,in their bid for purchase of Israel's Bank Leumi. There is also evidence of handing out jobs to political supporters unqualified for the position and without using legal selection procedures. The Prosecutor has passed the material on to the Attorney General’s office, which is reportedly considering bringing criminal charges against the Prime Minister. Olmert has been haunted by hints of illegal dealings for years but no charges have ever been brought against him.

Tzachi Hanegbi, former Justice Minister appointed by Olmert, was forced to resign when charges or illegally appointing cronies to government positions were brought against him by the Attorney General. Israel Radio reported today that should charges be brought against Olmert it was expected he too would be forced to step down. But analysts think that this scenario is a remote possibility.

Hearings into the accusations that Israeli police were involved in criminal activies is also ongoing. Yesterday Israel’s top police officer Moshe Karadi accused an underling of demanding a promotion or he’d let out news that would harm Karadi. It took several months, but Karadi eventually informed the Attorney General of the demands, and produced print outs of SMS messages with the demands. Karadi has been linked to organized crime by the Israeli media.

The scandal over Israel’s President Moshe Katzav’s sexual misconduct may soon cost Katzav his presidency. Pundits predict that Katzav will resign as soon as the indictment against him is brought against him. Katzav has stopped making many public appearances, and essentially given up his official functions.

The race is on, however, for who will succeed Katzav. Ruby Rivlin, former Speaker of the Knesset and long-time Likud supporter, is a front-runner. Those also interested in the position are former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau and former Israel Ambassador Collette Avital. The media reported today that Lau has been accused of accepting payment for officiating at weddings when that function is part of his public duty and should be done for free.

Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres is also considered a strong candidate. Analysts in the Haaretz newspaper, however, said that Peres wasn’t going to declare his run for the presidency until Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a statement of support. So far Olmert has not committed himself to who he prefers as president.

Peres was a candidate for the presidency once before, competing with Moshe Katzav, who won the appointment. Given Katzav’s present troubles it is clear Peres would have been the better choice. Peres has standing in the international community as a statesman. Critics believe he would bring prestige to the office of president. However, analysts say that Olmert may be wary of Peres, who has a record of running his own policies, sometimes secretly.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said today that Israel would not allow Gaza to become another Lebanon. The Israeli press is filled with speculation of an impending Israeli invasion of Gaza. According to Haaretz, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said hundreds of tunnels exist, and that recently fifteen tunnels have been uncovered. The media thousands of tons of explosives and weapons have already been smuggled through tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.

Israel is very worried that katyushas missiles as well as anti-tank and ant-aircraft rockets are also being smuggled in. According to the press, Israel is planning a drastic move to close off the tunnels and seize the weapons. Some pundits think that the entry of Leiberman into Olmert’s government can bee seen as seeking right-wing support for a move back into Gaza. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said that the IDF will not reoccupy Gaza.

Meanwhile Mohammed Abbas, head of the Fatah movement, said he will send 20,000 para-military forces into Gaza, ostensibly to disarm the Hamas fighters who have been waging a near civil-war. Hamas and Fatah supporters have been engaged in fierce battles over the last few weeks, with dozens killed and injured.

And a warning to travelers to Israel, even those who start their trips in Israel, and return a few weeks later. Beware of the deals on whiskey at the duty-free stores. Large signs attract one’s attention in the duty free, with deals on good whiskey; three bottles of 12 year old Glenlivet for $99; two bottles of 12-year old Jameson’s Irish Whiskey for $70, and on and on. Hard to find are the signs that every extra bottle costs another 500 percent if caught at the border by the customs guys

So, when you hit the border, be ready for the reality of Israel. A recent research reported on Israel Radio today said most foreigners interviewed at Ben Gurion Airport told researchers they likened Israelis to “foxes” or “tigers.” So, if you’re coming to Israel, beware of the wildlife, even at duty-free.