Monday, May 05, 2008

Israel Almost 60

“There is no solution,” said Chaim (not his real name), the manager of a huge charitable foundation representing substantial American’s interests in Israel. “The Arabs don’t want peace, only time to catch their breath and get ready for the next attack. They won’t be happy until Israel is destroyed.”

Sixteen Israeli citizens have been killed this year in terror attacks. That makes 1,634 since Israel was established in May 1948. Over 130 were wounded in 2007, mostly by Qassam rocket attacks, but eight were killed. This sort of underlines what Chaim the foundation director said. “There’s no solution.”

Not a happy thought on the eve of Israel’s sixtieth anniversary. Some years back David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, predicted that the Arab-Israeli conflict would last one hundred and fifty years. According to Ben-Gurion, Israel has only ninety years to go.

But ninety years may never come. Iran is a serious threat, unless President Ahmadinejad is simply making noise to get attention; or the Israeli military and defense establishment isn’t raising the specter of annihilation just to keep money flowing into the defense budget; or if the Prime Minister isn’t using the existential threat from Iran, rumored impending strikes from Lebanon by Hezbollah, and 200,000 “human bombs” sent to Israel from Gaza by the friendly people in Hamas, to deflect public criticism from his dubious actions. More about that below.

When Israel’s President Shimon Peres says he’s not in favor of a military strike against Iran, he is in essence saying Iran is a serious threat to Israel but he doesn’t agree with the tactic of launching a pre-emptive strike. He’s keeping the tension level high, without offering any solution or relief. It doesn’t help when President Peres calls Ahmadinejad “deranged.” Or when he says that nuclear weapons in the crazed Iranian leader’s hands “would be a nightmare for the world.”

Iran, for her part, keeps saying they’re as serious as cancer about developing nuclear weapons. The Iranian foreign minister said yesterday that Iran intends to keep on enriching uranium, and resents foreigners, like the USA and the EU, from offering deals denying them their rights.

But what about the rights of the two people seriously injured by razor-sharp Qassam rocket shrapnel scurrying above the ground at the speed of sound? No one asked Iran to ask Hamas to launch seven rockets at Israel’s western Negev. People were wounded running from the site of the strike. Another resident of the Negev was lightly injured.

Then of course there’s the internal threats. The democracy in action pounding away at sense and sensibility, like the new allegations against Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. This time the newspapers call the charges “very serious.” As expected the opposition is calling for Olmert to resign. So far the police have not released the details of the ‘very serious; crime. The courts have put a gag order on the investigation. The public was informed though that Olmert had been called into the police station (actually they probably came to him) and questioned for an hour. One analyst speculates that Olmert was merely warned about the impending indictment. Olmert isn’t about to get the Guantanamo Bay prisoner’s treatment. He will be indicted in a refined respected manner, and then vilified by one and all, skinned alive, forced to drink poison potions to prove his innocence. Or guilt. According to the media this is the third serious charge against the Prime Minister. The others are still under investigation.

One charge leaked out was that Olmert had used his good offices in 2005, when he was Minister of Trade and Commerce, to promote his wife’s art career. Reportedly, he accepted a huge discount on his hotel room at the Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan, owned by Michael Kadoorie, an Olmert supporter. According the Haaretz Newspaper, Olmert paid only $500 a night for a $2,500 a night room at the luxury hotel. Olmert is also accused of using government stationary to invite people to a showing of his wife’s work. Previously Olmert had been accused of finagling the sale of some land so that he received several hundred thousand dollars above the market value of the home.

None of these are charges that would drive the average politician to seek comfort in a dark corner. It’s all white-collar crime stuff. It’s not like the bureaucrat in China who approved a tainted Heparin Solution for export, resulting in the death of several people, and the loss of ‘face” for the Chinese Government. (The bureaucrat was executed by the Chinese `government.) But the charges against Olmert keep coming. True he’s managing the economy, going ahead with peace talks, and preparing to defend Israel against its enemies, but common consensus is that he’s a crook. The charges against him are seen as only the things he was caught doing, the big toe sticking up in a soapy bathtub.

Olmert’s ex-Finance Minister and Kadima Party stalwart Avraham Hirschson has already been indicted. Among other things Hirschson is accused of stealing over 2.5 million shekels, (about $750,000) from state coffers. But where did the money go? A big chunk for election expenses, to put PM Olmert in power. The old crony network works, but then when it unravels, all sorts of things happen to people, like Olmert and Hirschson. One pundit speculated that perhaps Hirschson cut his own deal with the cops to lighten his own sentence.

Now, on the eve of Israel’s celebrations, the PM has announced he isn’t going on the air to hold a interview. Usually this is the norm. The PM hits the airwaves and holds forth on Israel’s rosy future. The press is always allowed to ask a few questions. But not this time. No interview means no questions. Olmert is heading into that dark corner, hiding out until he can see what forces are aligned against him.

Will Olmert’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni heed the clarion call and step up, say it’s time for Olmert to take a hike, let her take over? The media hints that would be a good solution. Mrs. Livni is referred to as honest. Politics and honesty, however, go together only as long as the powers that be, including the press, want to look the other way. Analysts believe that an investigation into Mrs. Livni would uncover a few unpleasant truths, just as they would for any adult her age.

Some say the Israelis are holding their leaders to too high a standard. This is the Middle East, after all, and wheeling and dealing, payoffs and sweetheart arrangements are the way things are done in this part of the world. In most of the world, when you come to think of it. Since Israel is in real trouble, (so what’s new) threatened on a variety of fronts, isn’t it better, they ask, to just look the other way, keep the government intact, let the peace process continue dragging along as if something may happen? Keep Olmert in place just to allow the wheels of government to continue grinding?

Something like this happened with former PM Ariel Sharon (who is still in a coma, if anyone is interested. His son Omri was out on home leave from his nine-month prison sentence, for illegal campaign contributions to keep his Dad in power.) No one wanted to bring Sharon to trial. He was doing too good battering at Hamas and Hezbollah, giving up the Gaza strip and making believe that peace was on the near horizon. Somehow e charges were never filed against PM Sharon.

Olmert is a different story. He’s dirty, or so Joe Public believes, and Joe think Ehud’s gonna get his due. Joe thinks Hughie Long is a pussy cat compared to Olmert. That corrupt Louisiana politician may have been responsible for death and injury through sweetheart building contracts for public institutions that collapsed due to below standard cement, but Olmert is responsible for losing the war in Lebanon, a war fought against a dinky Iranian proxy like Hezbollah.

Soldiers died. Soldiers were injured. Olmert rushed to war, and lost. Israel can’t afford to lose a war. The pundits say it was Lucky for Olmert the war was only against Hezbollah. Lucky for Israel it was only against Hezbollah. Had Olmert made the same mistake facing Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and even Libya (as in the ’48 and ’67 wars, Israel wouldn’t be celebrating a 60th birthday. So while some people want to keep the status quo, others want to see Olmert’s taillights leaving the PM’s parking lot for good. They’re scared he’ll screw up again, big time.

Is this all political hype? Is it all maneuvering by Olmert’s enemies to get him out of power, and put them in? Is it some machination by the Defense establishment to dump Olmert in favor of a guy who will leave them alone to make their plans, buy their weapons, give themselves promotions? Maybe.

What is clear is that on the eve of Israel’s sixtieth anniversary nothing is clear. Nothing is certain. Israel has enemies. The Jewish people have enemies. Just look at those three Brazilian Jewish teens captured in Warsaw while on a visit to Auschwitz as part of the March of the Living. Luckily they were rescued, unharmed, by German police. Their captors were, of course, Arab men. The new Nazis, Israelis believe.

So fireworks and ceremonies, parades and air shows, barbeques and wine bottles, all will be on display as the celebrations take place.And most people hope that the threats will evaporate, honest government will take the helm in Israel, and everyone will live happily ever after. Let’s hope so.