Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Sharpest Survive

U.S. President George W. Bush is scheduled to make a swing through the Middle East next week. According to Israel’s newspapers, he is to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mohammed Abbas. The Israeli press is describing this as a “Summit.”

During their last meeting at Annapolis no common statement was issued by the parties, reportedly because the Palestinians objected to Israel’s continued settlement activity. But on the eve of the US President’s visit, Israel’s Prime Minister said that Maale Adumim, a town of about 20,000 Israelis fifteen kilometers from Jerusalem on the road down to the Dead Sea, is an integral part of Jerusalem.

Of course this statement set the keyboards clicking. Israel has long decided that the corridor leading down to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem be kept in Israeli hands. This road, analysts say, is part of Israel’s strategic defense in moving troops and equipment to the Eastern border with Jordan, up the Bekah Valley to the North, or down through the Arava Desert to the South and the port of Eilat.

Maale Adumim is called in Hebrew the “Hills of Red Ascent.” During the New Testament period legend has it that Jesus was administered to by a Good Samaritan in that area. Political historians say that since this was pre-Christian, it means that Jews populated the area even then. These analysts point out that however inconvenient this truth to the Palestinians, it has nothing to do with the fact that today, besides the Jewish towns and settlements, the area is sparsely populated, with no Arab villages within kilometers of Maale Adumim.

The climate is also much more arid in Maale Adumim, even though it is quite near Jerusalem, which gets at least three times the rainfall during winter. The area has less trees, more sand and hilly desert. So why, the pundits ask, would Ehud Olmert make an issue of Maale Adumim on the eve of the President’s visit?

Some pundits speculate this is an opening move in the negotiations over Jerusalem. By Olmert stating he wants Maale Adumim within Jerusalem, that means the other side, in this case the PA, will have to demand something else, perhaps the Arab sections of East Jerusalem. Eventually a compromise will be reached. But now there is something to talk about when President Bush comes to town.

In another development Tamir Nevoani, the first Druze General Staff Reconnaissance Unit commando, also known in Hebrew as “Sayerit HaMatkal,” fell from a cliff during a navigation exercise. Israel radio reported that this was the second accident of its type, the first one happened years ago. The IDF was told not to run exercises in stormy conditions on slippery craggy slopes, but according to the report, did anyway. Israel’s Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, expressed his deep regret for the tragic accident, but said that in the army training accidents will happen no matter what you try to do to prevent them.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post criticized Haaretz editor David Landau for crass behavior at a dinner party for U.S. Sec of State Condoleeza Rice when she was last in Israel. According to the Post, where Landau once worked as a reporter and editor, Landau told Rice that Israel needed “to be raped.” By this he meant Israel needed to be forced to accept terms in order to make peace, and that the US had to be the one making the terms. Landau also reportedly told Rice that it was his “wet-dream” to meet her and voice his opinions. The Jerusalem Post opined that the normally prim and proper Rice had to be made uncomfortable by such language.

However, some political analysts now believe it is just possible that Landau’s advice may have been ingested by Rice, and is now about to come back to haunt Prime Minister Olmert. It might be that President Bush, facing the last year of his term, may put undue pressure on Israel to make concessions, or arms and American aid would be withheld. Bush, some analysts believe, is anxious to make a mark in the Middle East akin to that made by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

But the Arab side is in no position to make concessions or reach agreements, since the PA, as everyone realizes, has a very small power base, and couldn’t enforce any agreements without the consent of Hamas, who have sworn to destroy Israel.

Hamas is reportedly on the ropes in Gaza, with food and supplies scarce, and growing discontent among the population over Hamas’ dictatorial regime. There is also talk in the Israeli media of an impending resolution to the Gilad Shalit imprisonment by Hamas. Israel’s Minister of Defense Ehud Barak told Yoram Dekel on the morning ‘All Talk’ show on Israel Radio’s channel 2 that he recently had a meeting with Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, and Barak imparted to the elder Shalit relevant information which will not be released to the press.

In the past leaks of an imminent deal to free Shalit have turned out to be media speculation. Some even commented that the leaks scotched a deal which would have embarrassed Hamas. According to the Israeli press, the issue at hand is how many prisoners Israel will release in exchange for Shalit, and if they will or won’t have ‘blood on their hands,’ meaning prisoners convicted of carrying out terrorist attacks and/or murder.

It is possible that this issue will also be resolved at a summit meeting between the three leaders, with a dramatic prisoner exchange completed following Bush’s visit to the region
It is not clear what pressure the US can put on Hamas to evince this exchange, other than to open the faucets and allow some money into Gaza. Even this compromise must be effected with the PA leader, since the US has refused to openly speak with Hamas.

On another topic, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is also the head of the Labor Party, sidestepped a question by Dekel on the radio show. Dekel first played a recording of an interview with Barak when he was campaigning for leadership of the Labor party in which Barak said unequivocally that he would pull the Labor Party out of the coalition with Olmert’s Kadima Party, causing the government to fall, if the Winnograd Committee, investigating the War in Lebanon II, placed the blame for the war’s dismal outcome on Olmert. In today’s interview Barak said first he’d have to see the report, study it quietly, and only then reach a conclusion.

Casting sever criticism on Barak was his Labor Party rival, former Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, who said that Barak would only withdraw from the government if the polls showed that by doing so he would win a general election and become prime minister. Peretz was scathing in his criticism of Barak, who replaced him as head of the Labor Party, saying that Barak’s word was not to be trusted. However, Peretz did admit Barak was a good Defense Minister.

Then comes Mao Zedong, the former chairman of China. In a new book “Mao: The Unknown story” by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, the authors paint a picture not only of a monster, but of an egocentric politician who would do anything, including sacrificing half of his own army, in order to outmaneuver a political rival. The authors make no bones about Mao’s lack of idealism or loyalty to anyone except himself and his own burning ambition to rule. One reads this thick book in wonder how politicians and political leaders can be so cold and calculating just to keep their power. The good of the people takes a distant back seat to the goals of the leader. Mao, according to this work, would starve an entire population if it suited him, denounce his loyal supporters, abandon his own children, then lie about everything, turning every narrative to his own glorification with no consideration for the truth.

The fact that Red China was sponsored by Stalin, and Mao kept in power by Stalin, who saw the bloodthirsty ambitious intellectual as an effective tool in Stalin’s own goal at world domination, only proves that some men can trample humanity if they get in the way of the Boss.

How does this fit the present situation in the Middle East?
The region is replete with despots and ego-freaks. From Iran to Syria, Egypt to Afghanistan, men are out there who want to rule just because they want to rule. The good of their people or the world takes a back seat to their ambition, and sometimes greed.

And they get away with it. Politicians like Mao who know how to manipulate the system, the media (Mao according to this book fed well-placed lies to Western journalists and biographers, from Salisbury to Snow) terrorize their opponents, to the extent that the normal rules of governance and behavior don’t apply to them. By having a majority in a crucial vote of a committee, Mao could determine which way his army would march, even if it were in the wrong direction. Blackmail, and murder were two of his favorite tactics, according to the book.

We in Israel don’t have men as mercenary and ruthless, however, when one takes a good look at the political spectrum and how those ruling have manipulated the system only to stay in power, one wonders how far the country will go before even Mao would be accepted.

Then there’s the new film “Valley of Elah” with Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Paul Haggis. According to a review in the Jerusalem Post, Tommy Lee Jones tells a youngster that the Valley of Elah was in “Palestine.” When Haggis was confronted with this obvious error, since Palestine was never a country at any time in history, Haggis apologized for his error. Haggis, the article pointed out, is a far left-wing activist. It is possible he didn’t know that the Valley of Elah was in ancient Israel, controlled by the Jews, but some observers speculate that the facts didn’t fit his political narrative. It is also more than possible that he truly didn’t know. Like many other people around the world, the fact that it was the Jews who were tossed out of Israel by the Babylonians and the Romans, and there never was a Palestinian state, is unknown. Just another example of how public relations and spin, mixed with terror similar to that employed by Mao, can rewrite history.