Thursday, May 15, 2008

Best Of Friends

Grad rockets raced the ten miles from Gaza to Ashkelon and ploughed into a shopping center Wednesday night. Fifteen people were wounded, ten remain hospitalized. This just as U.S. President George W. Bush began a four-day visit to Israel.

According to Israel Defense officials Hamas now has the ability to hit almost anywhere in a radius from Gaza out about 20 or thirty miles. The official said that within two years they expect Hamas to be able to send rockets anywhere they wanted in Israel.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, the big machers were meeting to discuss the state of the world and Israel. The first President’s Conference, an idea of Israel’s president Shimon Peres, brought all the big-shots to the Jerusalem Conference Center. Mogul Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas rubs elbows with Daniel Abrams, Yaacov Frankel, formally Bank of Israel governor, now vice-chairman of A.I.G. insurance, rubs shoulders with former U.S. Sec of State Henry Kissinger. Media mogul Rupert Murrdoch gets to chat with former German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder.

Today U.S. President Bush spoke to a special session of the Israeli Knesset, saying that the U.S. stands by Israel in the war on terror. Bush criticized the deadly attacks by extremist groups, and anti-Semitic statements, “especially by those who want to wipe Israel off the map.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert watched from his place in the plenum, listening as Bush described how Israel worked tirelessly for peace and freedom. Saying that when Americans looked at Israel they saw a pioneering spirit, the “talent and determination of a free people refusing to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.”

But as one observer said, “It’s too bad that what might be the worst President in U.S. history is Israel’s best friend. What does that say about Israel?”

What indeed. Back in the good old days the U.S. was famous for making friends with the worst dictators, backing the wrong horses in the race for democracy and freedom, and in general showing ineptitude in international relations. Eisenhower backed Batista in Cuba, and the U.S. wound up with Fidel Castro and the Russian bear 90 miles from U.S. soil.

Ike was also at the helm when Iraq fell, despite repeated warnings. The mistakes in South America are also numerous. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua are an example. In the extreme, the U.S. chose to allow special interests, like Anaconda Copper and United Fruit, to make policy in South America. Are such interests at stake now in the Middle East? No, of course not. Oil, even at $126 a barrel has no effect on foreign policy.

African countries came and went, so did their despotic leaders. Both Israel and the US were responsible for some of the mess. Israel sold arms and trained African despots like Idi Amin of Uganda. Some of the countries changed their name to obfuscate the past. What happened to Rhodesia? Burma? Sri Lanka? It’s like the American Football teams that changed their names and cities so often no one can recall who they really were, who the stars were, or the record-breakers; or in the case of countries, the mass murderers or biggest thieves.

U.S. President Bush believes that “religious liberty is fundamental to civilized society, so we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms, whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.”

This noble-minded rhetoric is then applied to the Palestinians. In a recent book review of Israeli Benny Morris’ new book on Israel’s history, “Blood And Sand, a revisionist Israeli historian revisits his country’s origins,” a New Yorker reviewer named David Remnick informs the readers that Palestine was a name originally plastered on the spit of land by the Romans two thousand years ago when they occupied the land, destroyed the Second Temple, and essentially drove the Jews out. Then Remnick fast-forwards to the war in 1948 and talks about the Palestinian Arabs as if they were still some residue left over from the Roman occupation.

He goes into detail about the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land after Israel’s war of Independence, and then goes into some detail about Palestinian transit camps and other problems, adding legitimacy to the Palestinian claim to the land as if there was once a State of Palestine owned and operated by Arabs, when in fact there never was. By design or accident Mr. Remnick of the New Yorker adds credibility to the spurious claims of Arab leaders that the Palestinians are the root of the Israeli-Arab crises. But then, Mr. Remnick does after all works for a liberal magazine that may just fret that its readership would cancel their subscriptions if the magazine were to do anything other than apologize for the Palestinians.

Now comes Mr. Bush with his peace plan, saying, “in 60 years Israel will be celebrating its 120th Independence Day, the Palestinians will have their own state…Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, Hamas al-Qaeda and Hezbollah will be defeated, the Middle East will be a peaceful region and Israel and its neighbors ill be best friends.”

After listening to these Quixotic quotations one wonders if Mr. Bush’s critics weren’t in fact completely accurate, because if he believes these predictions can come true the man’s an idiot. Or drunk. Or both.

So while rockets splatter Ashkelon and Sderot and kill farmers and innocent grandmothers visiting their families in the Negev, Mr. Bush looks forward to a rosy future.

Even now there is American pressure on Israel to give the Palestinians better weapons and intelligence equipment. Israel refuses saying these arms will only fall into the hands of her enemies. But as if the emperor does indeed have clothes on, the U.S. continues to tout Abu Mazen as the real leader of the Palestinian people, much as the Eisenhower administration told the world that Batista was in charge of Cuba.

Across town a writer’s conference took place at Mishkanot Shananiem, in the shadow of Montefiore’s windmill, only a few hundred meters away from the King David hotel where U.S. President Bush and many of the invited dignitaries are staying.

At that conference writers like prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer, an avowed atheist and left-wing activist, called on Israel to allow the Palestinians to have their own state. Nothing new in that. But no one at the conference really takes U.S. President Bush’s utopian dreams seriously, even if they paradoxically agree with him in principle. Everyone knows Mr. Bush is on his way out of the White House, and is now leisurely coasting along on his yacht until he makes the final port called Former President.

President Bush referred to Israel’s PM Ehud Olmert an “honest man,” and a “man of vision.” This at a time when the Prime Minister is under three separate investigations for taking bribes, and other transgressions. Even some of his esteemed guests, like Daniel Abrams, and Sheldon Adelson, were called in by the police for questioning over alleged bribes offered to the Prime Minister. Both men denied any involvement in bribes.

One bright-eyed pundit asked, “What ever happened to that anti-missile shield, the defense bubble over Israel that would neutralize Hamas’ rocket threat? How far away is that from implementation, or is it caught up in committee?”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, touring the damaged Ashkelon mall on Thursday said, “We will not allow this situation to continue; we will do everything needed to make sure it doesn’t.” No reference to the missile shield. He did say, “The rocket attacks won’t last much longer.”

There is talk of a concentrated strike in Gaza to stop the attacks, but so far analysts say that only pin-point attacks will be launched. A full-scale invasion is still not in the cards. Other defense officials say that such an invasion is inevitable.

In the North, Hezbollah has toned down its attacks on the Sinora government, backing away from a continued civil war. Hezbollah showed Sinora and the world who is really in charge of Lebanon. Israel, for her part, reportedly wishes Hezbollah could take charge officially, so Israel could invade a legitimate country making war on Israeli civilians, not a appear to be attacking a terrorist group hiding in plain sight.

Years ago President Bush was a hell-raiser, a drinker and pot-smoker. Now he and PM Olmert are spending time together touring Israel between sessions at the President’s Conference. Maybe both are imbibing a bit on the side, Olmert to forget his troubles, and Bush to try and forget what history will say about him. Israel’s best friend. Makes one wonder.

A prestigious President’s Conference, a less prestigious “Writer’s Conference,’ police investigations, rockets falling on civilian centers, and talk of peace. Not a bad start for Israel’s 60th year.