Monday, December 31, 2007

Through the Eyes of a Soldier

This article can also be read at

By Alexander Landa

As an Israeli soldier disturbing the daily routines of Arabs, I began to question the validity of what I was doing. It didn't take long for me to find the answers.

The almost daily depiction in the media of the so-called "Israeli aggression" and the dramatic pictures of Palestinian suffering with children being carried away on stretchers and hordes of teenagers throwing rocks force us to ask: Why are these people suffering?

Serving in the Paratroopers unit (Tzanhaniim) of the Israeli Army for the past year and half in Nablus (Shechem) and Ramallah has given me a first hand glimpse into the underlying causes of the conflict, a perspective not commonly portrayed by the world media.

After completing eight months of intensive training, my unit's first assignment was in Nablus. As we moved into our new domain in armored vehicles with tank support, I was somewhat surprised to see the esthetic beauty of the city. Overlooking the city are two biblical mountains, Har Aval and Har Grizim. On the outskirts of the city lay remnants of impressive houses and cars. Before the first surge in violence in 2000, Nablus was the financial hub of the Palestinian Authority (PA). It has since been transformed into a terrorist hub that has reduced the city into ruins. According to intelligence reports, a majority of all terrorist attacks coming from the West Bank had some connection to Nablus.

We could see the full scope of decay engulfing the city -- roads completely destroyed by tank and armored carrier movement, buildings hollowed from weapons fire. We directed our operations from inside an Arab house on the northern border of the town close to the refugee camps Askra Yeshan and Askra Hadash, relocating the Arab occupants to the basement apartment. Our immediate mission was to enforce the curfew imposed on the area in order to prevent the smuggling and movement of bombs, bomb making equipment, and terrorists. The main methods used to carry out our objective were to establish check points in various parts of Nablus and to conduct raids and patrols at night.

"Afpteh al Jaket afptheh vkies" -- (lift up your shirt and open your bags)", I shouted in Arabic during one of my first times manning a checkpost. "Taal! Taal! (approach)," I yelled out to the Palestinian who is waiting with his family at the check post to cross into Nablus. The man told me he and his family were going to the doctors located in Nablus, a common response at the checkpost. He showed me a two-year-old prescription written in Arabic and English that stated he has foot problems, as he professed to me that he was suffering from serious heart problems.

"Afsterig (closed)," no crossing today, I explained to him, because there was a general warning in the region.

"When will it be open."

"No idea," I responded as he turned in dismay and walked home with his family. As the family walked away from me, I could not hold back from feelings of guilt in disturbing these people's lives. After conducting searches of every man, woman, and child and making them wait in long lines and disturbing their daily routines, I began to question the validity of disrupting the lives of civilians. It didn't take long for me to find the answers.

That night, as we were sitting down to eat dinner in the Arab house, the communications officer ran into the kitchen and yelled out "Hakpatzah emet! -- a real emergency!" I was on the emergency team that night, so five soldiers and I abruptly dropped our food, put on our equipment, and jumped into the armed carrier. We sped off in the direction of the Askra Yeshan refugee camp with an armed Hummer following us and a tank leading the way.

We had confirmed information that a group of four heavily armed terrorists were in the refugee camp, en route to commit a terrorist attack in one of the bordering Jewish towns.

We rode through the camp with the hatch of the carrier open. I was leaning out with my heavy caliber machine gun primed, waiting for the order to shoot. While pursing the terrorists through the refugee camp, we were pelted with rocks, and a Molotov cocktail narrowly avoided the Hummer.

Many thoughts and emotions flowed through my mind. If we miss these armed terrorists, many Jewish lives will be lost... How many people injured? Families ruined? I recited passages from Psalms while leaning out the vehicle and continuing to look and wait. In the end we didn't find the terrorists, but, thank God, the local patrol of the town tracked them down and killed them.

On one mission in Ramallah, after the first attempt on Shiek Ahmed Yassin's life failed, my unit had gone on full alert expecting a retaliatory attack from Hamas. A group of Hamas terrorists were planning a suicide attack inside the green line (Israel proper). We had specific information of who the lead terrorist was but his exact whereabouts where unknown.

We conducted house to house searches throughout the night with no success. A few days later, the news over the radio reported that there had been suicide bomber who had blown himself up in a cafe in Jerusalem. In the attack, seven people were killed including Dr. Appelbaum and his daughter, Nava, who was to be married the next day. The suicide bomber was a 'student' at Bir Ziet University, close to the area that we had conducted searches. He seemed to fit the profile of the terrorist that we had tried to apprehend.

We were never informed if he was, in fact, the terrorist that we were pursuing. But I cannot remove the contradictory pain of feeling both responsible and helpless. Perhaps if my unit would have been able to capture that bomber on that fateful night, Dr. Appelbaum would have walked his daughter to the chuppa. Instead we accompanied them to their graves.

Yes the Palestinians are suffering; no one denies that fact. But the question as to why they are suffering also has an unequivocal, simple answer. Their leadership and government have chosen terrorism and violence as form of conflict resolution. Their society has chosen to grant idol or martyr status to terrorists who have tried or succeeded in murdering innocent men, women, and children. The choice of terrorism -- or in Islamic fundamentalists terms, Jihad -- has distorted the murdering of innocents into holy acts.

The next time the world media parades pictures of Palestinian suffering, consider the reasons why. Their society has chosen violence and destruction, and we have every right and duty to defend ourselves from it.

Author Biography: Alexander Landa, born in Kiev, Ukraine and grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. A Rutgers University graduate and a former Wall Street analyst. He served as a Paratrooper (tzanchanim) from Aug 2002 to Jan 2004 in Ramallah, Shechem, and Gaza. Alex and his unit were recently deployed in Lebanon for active duty where they faced extensive combat. He is currently studying in Jerusalem where he lives with his wife and daughter.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Just What Does the Palestinian Authority Control?

This article, which appeared in the Jerusalem Post, brings up a number of obvious rhetorical questions.

•Does the Palestinian Authority control anything?

We know it doesn't control Gaza, aka Hamastan, so that already any agreement reached with it would be worthless.

In the Palestinian Arab civil war, Hamas booted Fatah out of Gaza, but supposedly Fatah, through the Palestinian Authority, still controls Judea and Samaria. The chair of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the leader of the PLO and Fatah, appointed Salaam Fayad as the PA prime minister.

Perhaps the best attribute Fayad has going for him, at least as judged by sane outsiders, is that he's not tainted by membership in either Hamas or Fatah.

Now the Aksa Martyr's Brigade, which is part of Fatah, are calling for the assassination of Fayad. (Apparently, his resignation would not satisfy their blood lust.)

This is very confusing, since Fayad was appointed by, and is seemingly still supported by, the leader of Fatah, who is at least theoretically the overall leader of the Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

So, does the leader of Fatah lead Fatah? If he doesn't even lead Fatah, or Fatah doesn't control its own "armed wing," ie one of its terrorist arms, why does anyone bother negotiating with him?

•Do the Palestinian Arab terrorist groups compete against each other or cooperate with each other?

Here, the answer is pretty clear. When it helps them murder innocent Israelis, they cooperate; when one of them thinks it can gain popular support by murdering innocent Israelis without help from the others, it competes.

•Does it really matter?

Aksa Martyrs Brigades calls for Fayad's assassination

Khaled Abu Toameh
The Jerusalem Post
Dec. 31, 2007

Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, on Sunday called for the murder of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad for "collaboration" with Israel and the US.

This was the first time the group has openly called for Fayad's assassination. In the past, the group distributed leaflets strongly condemning Fayad and calling for his dismissal.

Fayad has been under heavy criticism from some Fatah leaders and activists, who accuse him of denying them public funds and plotting to undermine Fatah's grip on power. Other Fatah leaders have also accused Fayad of seeking to consolidate his power with the hope of replacing Mahmoud Abbas as PA president.

The threat was made in a leaflet distributed by the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip. Some Fatah officials in Ramallah sought to distance themselves from the threat, claiming that the leaflet had been forged. They even went as far as accusing Hamas of being behind it.

"The command of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip calls on all its elements and striking forces in the West Bank to immediately eliminate the so-called Salaam Fayad," the leaflet said. It claimed that Fayad's Ramallah-based government was working for Israel and the US.

Calling on Abbas to fire the Fayad government, the leaflet criticized Fayad for cutting off the salaries of many Fatah supporters in the Gaza Strip. It also attacked him for allowing the PA security forces in Bethlehem to hand over to Israel three Israelis who had entered the city on Saturday.

"We call on all our members and the policemen in the West Bank not to obey orders from the Fayad government, because it's serving an American agenda and helping Israel eliminate the Aksa Martyrs Brigades," the group continued. It also called to fire PA Interior Minister Abdel Razzak al-Yahya for announcing that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank had been dismantled.

Meanwhile, the PA claimed that Friday's attack near Hebron, in which two Israelis were killed, was "criminally motivated." PA Information Minister Riad al-Malki told reporters in Ramallah that he was not ruling out the possibility that the attack was the result of a "dispute" between arms dealers, hinting that the victims had come to sell weapons to their assailants.

PA security officials in Hebron repeated the claim, arguing that there was no evidence that the attack had been carried out for other reasons. At least three groups have claimed responsibility for the attack - Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Over the weekend, the IDF arrested a number of Fatah members in Hebron on suspicion of involvement in the attack.

PRIMER Comment & Analysis: History is Being Destroyed

PRIMER Comment & Analysis: History is Being Destroyed

The Day of New London published the following op-ed written by Mark Braverman on December 30, 2007. It may be found on The Day's web site and also appears in many other places on the web.

The op-ed was entitled "Palestine Is Being Destroyed" and includes the following attribution: "Mark Braverman is a clinical psychologist living in Bethesda, Md. He recently spoke at the "Tree of Life Conference on Israel and Palestine" held in Old Lyme."

The op-ed contains numerous unsupportable assertions and absurd opinions.

The "comments" are directly from the op-ed; the "analyses" are from PRIMER. The entire op-ed is included if one strings the "comments" together.

I am the grandson of a fifth- generation Palestinian Jew. My grandfather, born in the Old City of Jerusalem, emigrated to the United States early in the last century. I am a proud Jew, loyal to my tradition and to my people. Zionism was as much a part of my religious upbringing as praying in the synagogue and observing the Jewish holidays. But I am strongly opposed to the policies of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people, policies supported by the U.S. and by many of my fellow Jews here in the United States.

The author's own words belie the assertion that he is loyal to the Jewish people as well as the implication that it is only policies of the Jewish state to which he is opposed; his role as moderator at the 2007 "Tree of Life" conference at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, a conference at which the underlying theme was the delegitimization of Israel, further belies that assertion.

In letters and columns published in The Day, some of my fellow Jews have criticized the efforts of The Rev. David Good and the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme to bring a measure of justice and sanity to the situation in Israel and Palestine. I understand the fear that motivates this opposition and know it well.

The the first "Tree of Life" conference in 2005, one of the invited speakers was Mark Rosenblum, one of the founders of Americans for Peace Now. During one of the discussions after some of the presentations, he remarked that if one just had Israelis and Palestinians come together and agree it's all Israel's fault, that's not "conflict resolution."

Professor Rosenblum was not invited back; nor have the organizers again invited anyone as middle-of-the-road as someone from the far-left Americans for Peace Now.

The efforts referred to were not efforts to "bring a measure of justice and sanity to the situation in Israel" and the disputed territories; they were efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

I have been honored and blessed to have played a small part in the work of the Rev. Good and his congregation over the past several years. I first met them in 2006 while traveling throughout New England with three women -- two Palestinians and an Israeli -- speaking to groups, including this congregation, about their work for peace between Israel and Palestinian people. I heard this fear and this anger often from Jews in our audiences. I heard it from a college student planning to emigrate to Israel, who, in tears, protested that we must have it wrong about Israel -- how could we smash her dream?

I heard it from the many Jews who demanded, indeed pleaded for a "balanced" picture, who wanted "equal time" for consideration of the violence from Palestinians that presumably creates the basis for Israeli retaliation in its various forms.

But the situation is not balanced.

Braverman is correct about the situation not being balanced, but his analysis of how it is not balanced is ... unbalanced.

Palestine is being destroyed. Israel has all the power. The Palestinian people -- a good, patient people -- are being ground into the dirt, their leaders killed, imprisoned or exiled, their young people impoverished and robbed of a future. Any possibility for nonviolent protest is made all but impossible by a brutal military occupation.

Since "Palestine," as a political entity, has never existed, it cannot possibly be destroyed, although the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs have repeatedly acted against their best interests.

One should generally not stereotype people as either good or bad, the way Braverman has, but certainly, as a group which has given tremendous support to the PLO, Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations who for many years have committed atrocity after atrocity, the Palestinian Arabs have not demonstrated either goodness or patience.

We are doing wrong. We have blood on our hands. Yes, there have been Palestinians who have perpetrated acts of violence. But we must look to the cause.

By appeasing Arab intransigence, we do have blood on our hands. We also do need to look at the cause, which is far different from what Braverman later asserts.

Before I visited the West Bank in 2006, I too looked for a balanced discourse. Where was the acknowledgment that the 1948 War was a war of self-defense, a war to prevent yet another extermination? Didn't they reject the 1947 United Nations partition plan? Is not the occupation, although lamentably abusive of human rights, necessary for creating defensible borders and national security?

Basically, yes, despite Braverman's later distortions and mischaracterization of the so-called "occupation."

In United Nations Resolution 242, the Security Council called for a peace agreement which included a definition of secure borders. Until Israel's Arab neighbors agree to such borders, none exist and the "occupied" territory is more accurately labelled disputed territory.

Even without the agreements called for by the Security Council, Israel long ago gave over to the Palestinian Authority the administration of the disputed areas inhabited by the overwhelming majority, approximately 95 percent, of the Palestinian Arabs.

Unfortunately, when the Palestinian Arabs launched their terrorist offensive after rejecting peace in 2000, they forced Israel to come back to areas it had gladly left. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Arabs benefit from the resulting situation, but the blame lies with the latter.

(There is a question about Braverman's claim that he was effectively a Zionist prior to 2006. He was already billed as a board member for the anti-Israel "Partners for Peace" when he appeared at the First Congregational Church that year and one wonders about joining the board of such an organization so soon after his alleged conversion. Also, in another article, available at , he describes his conversion as coming after a trip to the disputed territories coming forty years after attending Hebrew school in Philadelphia in the 1950s. That would place his conversion in the 1990s. The same article refers to the separation barrier existing at that time, so there's clearly an error in his timeline somewhere. If the discrepancy is resolved, this Comment & Analysis will be revised.)

Comment: I now see that responsibility for denial and the distortion lies equally, if not more, with us. The 1948 War, although it undoubtedly protected the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine from hostile Arab armies, was part of a larger plan to displace the Palestinians and claim the entire land for a Jewish State.

The Zionists had accepted the United Nations Partition Plan. If the Arabs had also accepted it, there would have been no war and sixty years of bloodshed and war would have been avoided. The war was in now way a plan by Israel, which had just declared its independence when six Arab armies invaded it.

Israel's policies post-1967 are a clear continuation of this plan. Israel is not a partner for peace. This reality is surfacing, slowly, inexorably.

Israel is the only nation which ever won a war and then sued for peace. The clock does not stand still, and obviously any settlement now would have to be different from that which would have been possible in 1967 if the Arabs had responded positively to Israel's offer of peace rather than with the infamous "Three No's" of the Arab League in Khartoum: no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel.

I urge my fellow Jews to go, as I have, and see the Separation Wall -- not the sanitized Israeli section, but the real story of the Wall, reaching deep into the West Bank to grab huge chunks of territory and separating Palestinians from Palestinians and farmers from their land. Ask yourselves, when you see it, if you think the wall is for security. Visit the checkpoints and feel the shame and disgust that are the only emotions one can feel for the baseless humiliation and oppression being perpetrated in our name.

The Israeli government long resisted putting up any barrier and only began building it when the Israeli people, enraged at having their children blown up by bombers at discotheques, shopping malls and pizza parlors, starting raising money and building sections themselves. The government continues to drag its feet and large parts of the barrier have yet to be built.

Far from "grab(bing) huge chunks of territory," in most places the barrier is quite close to the Green Line with only a small portion of the disputed territories lying on the Israeli side of the barrier. If the intent was to grab land, the barrier would certainly have been routed far differently.

The barrier, along with other Israeli security measures which people like Braverman also condemn, has succeeded in drastically reducing the frequency of suicide bombings against Israelis.

Go and see the villages being destroyed and the land taken to build a system of Bantustans and erect neighborhoods and towns for American Jews who believe that we have the right to do this. Meet Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and understand Israel's campaign to drive out the non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem who have lived there for generations. Meet the Israeli women of Machsom Watch and members of New Profile, who are all struggling to preserve a shred of moral conscience in Israel.

In 1967, there were approximately 197,000 Jews out of a total population of 268,000. In 2005, there were 583,000 Jews out of a total population of 839,000. During the time since Israel reunited Jerusalem, the non-Jewish population has grown from 26 percent to 31 percent of the total.

If Israel has been trying to drive the non-Jewish residents out of Jerusalem, it's done a lousy job.

These brave Israeli Jews are our present-day Shomrei Yisrael, the Guardians of Israel. Those Jews who seek to suppress criticism of Israel and to block dialogue with the Palestinians are not friends of Israel. Non-Jewish Americans who allow themselves to cooperate with this muzzling of free speech and denial of injustice are complicit in this madness.

Accepting responsibility for the injustice done to the Palestinian people will not destroy Israel. On the contrary -- it will save Israel. My roots go deep in the Holy Land. So do those of my Palestinian brothers and sisters. If we Jews cannot learn to share this land with the Palestinians, we will never have the secure homeland we desire.

It is the Palestinian Arabs who have to learn to share the land.

The Jews have, time and again, offered to share the land and have agreed to every serious proposal. They accepted Britain's severing of Transjordan from the rest of Palestine and then accepted the United Nations Partition Plan, which would have given them little more than half of the 22 percent of Palestine that remained after the severing of Transjordan. Immediately after the 1967 War, they offered to return the captured territories to Egypt, Jordan and Syria in return for peace, but were rebuffed. In 2000, they offered the Palestinian Arabs virtually all of the disputed territories, including portions of their own capital, but were again rebuffed. Not only did the Palestinian Arabs reject that offer, but followed up that rejection by launching a terrorist war that has resulted in thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of injuries and every one of the actions Braverman complains about.

It takes two to tango. Israel still needs a partner if there is to be peace.

On the Murder of Two Soldiers by Moderate Terrorists

We post and then comment on excerpts from three items concerning the recent murder of two Israelis near Hebron.

From an IDF Announcement December 28:

Two Off Duty Soldiers Killed in a Palestinian Shooting Attack in Southern Hebron

Two IDF soldiers, private Ahikam Amihai and Sergeant David Rubin, residents of Qiryat Arba, were killed this afternoon. The two, who were off duty, were killed by Palestinian fire while they were hiking near wadi Telem, northwest of Hebron.

An initial investigation of the incident shows that the two soldiers were hiking in the area along with an Israeli woman when a group of Palestinian gunmen opened fire at them. An exchange of fire ensued between the Palestinian gunmen and the soldiers, who were carrying their personal rifles. One gunman was killed and another was severely injured in the exchanges of fire.

From YNet December 29:

Fayyad: We mourn deaths of Israeli soldiers

"We mourn the deaths of the two soldiers. Every death is a senseless one," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Saturday evening in a meeting with President Shimon Peres in Herzliya.

"We are working to end the bloodshed, to create a better future," said Fayyad and extended his condolences to the families of Cpl. Ahikam Amihai and Sgt. David Ruben, two off-duty soldiers on a hiking trip who were killed in a shooting attack south of Hebron.

During a survey of the PA's deployment in Nablus earlier in the day, Fayyad acknowledged that the attack had occurred on Palestinian territory. He vowed that the government would fulfill its commitment to rein in armed groups attacking Israel.

From the Ma'an News Agency, December 29:

Israeli troops sieze Al-Aqsa Brigades commander, four others in connection with Hebron shooting

Hebron - Ma'an - Israeli forces seized the field commander of the military wing of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Brigades in the West Bank city of Hebron and four other Al-Aqsa Brigades members on Friday.

The raid comes a day after Palestinian fighters killed two Israeli settlers in a drive-by shooting near Hebron.

The Al-Aqsa Brigades Media Center said commander Ahmed Muhammad Abu Sitteh, also known as Abu Suleiman, was detained late on Friday night and taken to an unknown location.

Israeli officials confirmed the raid and the detention of the five Palestinians, accusing them of involvement in Friday's drive-by shooting that killed two off-duty Israeli soldiers, both residents of the Kiryat Arba settlement, near Hebron.

The Al-Aqsa Brigades denied any involvement in the attack. Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, claimed responsibility for the shooting on Friday. The Al-Quds Brigades were likely retaliating for the assassination of one of it's high-ranking leaders in the Gaza Strip earlier this week.

Witnesses identified the detained men as brothers Na'im Nabil Natsheh, Firas Natsheh, Hazem Natsheh, Omar Noman Natsheh, Abdullah Natsheh and Shadi Natsheh.

Palestinian security sources said the Palestinian car used in the shooting has been found, and that the vehicle contained blood, as well as bullets and objects belonging to Twenty-two-year-old Nabil Basil Natsheh, who disappeared following the attack.

Comments: The Al-Aqsa Brigades are part of Palestinian Authority chair Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah terrorist group. Abbas is usually referred to as a moderate, but he leads a group which continues in its traditional terrorist ways.

The words of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad would be taken more seriously if the Palestinian Authority began implementing its commitment under the road map to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure it built up in the disputed territories, a step which necessitates the elimination of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and the countless other terrorist groups the PA continues to harbor and often nurture.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blaming Israel for the Consequences of Arab Aggression and Terrorism

This was distributed by the Palestinian (Mis)information Center and was taken from The People's Voice.

It's an excellent example of a general strategy used by haters of Israel — falesly accusing Israel of the sins of which the Palestinian Arabs and their supporters are guilty.

Comments have been interspersed within brackets.

Christians, too, suffer the evilness of the occupation

From Khalid Amayreh in Bethlehem

Christmas is a season of good will. However, for Israel and its notoriously mendacious propaganda machine, Christmas is also a hasbara opportunity for spreading lies and disseminating disinformation and half truths about Christians in the Holy Land.

[He starts right out by accusing Israel of doing precisely what he is doing with this very article.]

The usual seasonal dosage of lies includes such claims that Christians in the Holy Land suffer more from Muslim persecution than from the Israeli and apartheid, and that Christian emigration is not really attributed to Israel’s Nazi-like repression of the Palestinian people but rather to Palestinian “Muslim” intolerance and violence.

[What a mouthful! He manages, in a single paragraph, to lump Israel with both South Africa and Nazi Germany. Goebbels would be proud of him.

Of course, it is the Palestinian Authority which has something worse than apartheid as one of its demands: the complete ethnic cleansing of the Jews from all of the disputed territories.]

Well, such lies are not new. Israel itself is a state based on lies and lying has always been and continues to be Israel’s policy and modus operandi. In fact, it is very hard for one to be Zionist and not to be a liar. In truth, Zionism and mendacity are two sides of the same coin.

[One of the benefits advocates for Israel have over the Israel-haters is that we do not have to lie and distort to make our case.]

Didn’t Zionism claim that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land?

[No. Although Eretz Yisrael was sparsely populated, nobody claimed it was empty.]

Didn’t Zionism claim that Palestinian refugees fled their homes and towns willingly and that Israel was in no way responsible for their flight?

[Most of the refugees, who at that time insisted they were not Palestinians, left either because they were encouraged to leave by the invading Arab armies or because of the natural violent chaos of the war. Most of those who are now called refugees aren't really refugees; rather, they are the descendants of refugees who should have been resettled more than a half-century ago.]

Didn’t Israel tell the world that the Israeli occupation army was the most moral army in the world, and that Israeli soldiers didn’t knowingly and deliberately kill Palestinian children and civilians, &hellips;

[Of course.]

&hellips; and that the numerous acts of murder and maiming by the Israeli army were merely regrettable accidents?

[As with all armies, not everyone who has served in the Israeli army has been an angel, but the adjective "numerous" is a gross exaggeration.]

And even now, and despite Israel’s nakedness before the peoples of the world, this shameless state and its professional liars and spin doctors continue to claim ad nauseam that Israel is a democratic state where the rule of law is supreme.

[It's hard for Amayreh to accept the truth.]

Well, do democratic states act and behave the way Israel is acting and behaving? Do democratic states classify citizens and subjects into Ubermensch and untermensch?

[Yes and no. When did Amayreh stop beating his wife?]

I know for sure that our Christian-Palestinian brothers and sisters shall never allow Israel to use them as hasbara pawns in the service of oppression, racism and ethnic cleansing.

The Christians of Palestine, who have received their share of suffering and oppression at the hands of Zionism know more than anybody else that the wickedness of the occupation doesn’t distinguish between them and their Muslim compatriots.

[The so-called occupation ended more than a decade ago, when the Palestinian Authority took over the administration of the areas in which almost all the Palestinian Arabs resided. Unfortunately, when Yassir Arafat rejected peace and launched a terrorist war, he forced Israel to defend itself. The consequences for the Palestinian Arabs haven't been pleasant, but their the result of their own terrorist war, not occupation.]

In November, 1948, the Hagana terrorists overran the two Christian villages of Ikrit and Birim in the upper Galilee, expelling inhabitants at gunpoint. The pogrom-like expulsion was carried out without the Israeli government approval. However, the democratic Israeli state never allowed the Christian inhabitants to return, despite several rulings to the contrary by the Israeli High Court.

Since 1967, Israel, has been trying to play all kinds of dirty tactics to tamper with Palestinian national unity, especially by playing Muslim against Christian and vice versa.

[In Gaza, where Israel has no presence and no control, the Muslim rulers seem to have no trouble harassing and even murdering Christians without any help from Israel.]

A few years ago, the Israeli Intelligence instructed its agents to throw stones and Molotov cocktails on several churches in the northern and central parts of the West Bank, apparently in order to use the incidents as hasbara ammunition in North America where public opinion was already overcharged against anything Arab or Islamic.

[Anti-Israel propagandists constantly fabricate nonsensical charges, which by their very nature are difficult to un-categorically deny. This sounds like one of them.]

Meanwhile, the Israeli media, especially right-wing newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post, was concocting and inventing stories about Christian girls being raped and murdered by Palestinians in Bethlehem.

Such fabrications would be readily inflated, spun out of proportions and then widely disseminated especially among evangelical fundamentalists. Eventually, this would be translated into political support for Israeli colonialism and ethnic cleansing against both Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land.

Of course, many innocent and often naïve Americans and Canadians have no idea what kind of treatment is being meted out to Christians in the West Bank at the hands of Israeli occupiers.

[Actually, the sad fact is that many have no idea of the kind of harassment Christians in the disputed territories are suffering from at the hands of Muslim fanatics.]

They don’t know that Israel is systematically stealing, at gunpoint, Church property and real estate in Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahur and Jerusalem.

[Of course they don't know this, since it's a fabrication.]

They don’t know that Israel routinely bars Christians, laymen and clergy, from accessing their holy places in Jerusalem, e.g. the Church of the Sepulcher.

[During nineteen years of Jordanian occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem, Jews were totally barred from their holy places, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount. When Israel came into possession of Jerusalem, people of all faiths finally had free and easy access.

Arab terrorism has forced Israel to undertake security measures, but any difficulties anyone is having is a consequence of Arab terrorism, not any Israeli effort to deny access.]

They don’t know that Israeli Jewish youths routinely harass, even spit on clergymen in the streets of Jerusalem, often in full view of policemen who in most cases remain passive.

[There are some fanatical, generally anti-Zionist Jews who act in vulgar ways. They also spit on Jews who desecrate the Sabbath. It's obnoxious, but I don't find it as bad as Palestinian Arabs who get their thrills from murdering Israelis.]

They don’t know that Christian commuters are routinely humiliated at roadblocks manned by trigger-happy soldiers, which make their daily lives an unending nightmare?

[End the terror and the roadblocks will be removed. Most soldiers try to minimize the inconvenience caused. As with all armies, there are some soldiers who don't act appropriately.]

They don’t know that Israel has already morphed Bethlehem into a ghetto thanks to this Wall of Shame which Israel calls “separation wall” when in reality it is designed to grab and steal as much Palestinian land as possible.

[If Israel was trying to use the anti-terror barrier to grab land, it would have built it to bring far more land on the Israeli side.]

Well, just come to Bethlehem and see for yourself. It is a nightmare, it is hell on earth, and it is done by a people who claim to be a light upon the nations.

[It's done by the Arab terrorists, not Israel.]

If Christians in North America knew how Israel is acting and behaving toward their fellow Christian coreligionists and, of course, toward other Palestinians, they probably would start to change their views.

[They certainly won't find out how Israel is acting from the lies and distortions in Amayreh's writing.]

That is why it is imperative that Christians, especially in North America, make some serious efforts to know the truth about Israel and its crimes.

[See above.]

This can be done through third-party sources such as human rights organizations and western groups operating in the West Bank such as the Christian Peace Making Team and the International Solidarity Movement.

In short, Israeli and pro-Israeli media wouldn’t tell the truth about Israeli crimes against Palestinians, Muslim and Christian alike. So try to find alternative sources of news to know the truth about what is really happening in the Holy Land.

Don’t allow yourself to be duped and enslaved by Zionist lies.

[As I said at the beginning, one of the general strategies of the anti-Israel activists is to accuse Israel and its supporters of the sins for which they themselves are guilty.

Certainly, it is to be hoped intelligent people won't be swayed by the lies spread by the Palestinian (Mis)information Center and Amayreh.]

Abbas' Interesting Omission

This article appeared in the Deccan Herald, published in Bangladore, India. One of the interesting aspects I found was in the last paragraph, in which Abu Mazen expressed hope for security, stability and economic prosperity. He didn't mention anything about peace.

Of course, Neither he nor the Palestinian Authority has shown any interest in peace, although it's unlikely the Palestinian Arabs will see much security, stability or prosperity until they start pursuing peace rather than the destruction of Israel.

Hope, cheer replace gloom in the Holy Land

Bethlehem/Jerusalem, PTI:
Cheerful celebrations broke the years-long gloom as thousands of Christian pilgrims thronged the Holy city of Bethlehem, Jesus' birthplace, to participate in the midnight mass.

The manger square in front of Church of Nativity was abuzz with activity as tourists jostled for space and vendors tried to sell inflatable Santas, peanuts, items of traditional craftsmanship and 'strong Arabic coffee'.

The streets, which remained forlorn for the past seven years because of the deadlock over Jerusalem, showed signs of revival with Palestinian scouts adorning colourful outfits marching through them, and vendors scattered all around.

Children in Santa Claus outfit could be seen strolling all over the place shaking hands with tourists and wishing them 'Merry Christmas'.

"In the past two days I have managed to earn what I sometimes earn in a month. The hotels look very lively with tourists deciding to stay in Bethlehem this time instead of coming from Jerusalem only for the mass", Hisham Abdelrahim, a taxi driver, said.

"I have been extremely busy, but am worried that it will not last long", he added.

Jae Young, a youngster from South Korea said "I feel very happy participating in the celebrations this year. My earlier visits to Bethlehem for the midnight mass were depressing as I didn't see any cheerfulness on the faces of the locals. It is certainly different this time".

On the auspicious occasion, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud said that he expected his talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will help in establishing an independent Palestinian state next year.

[He'd better start getting ready to compromise, instead of just waiting for more concessions from Israel, if he expects the de facto Palestinian Arab states in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to turn into legitimate states anytime soon.]

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the Roman Catholic Church's highest official in the Holy Land, also made a strong plea for peace in the conflict-ridden region.

"The Holy Land is (today) a land of war and conflict, a land of humiliation of one people at the hand of another", Sabbah, the first Palestinian to hold the position, said.

"God wanted this land to be a land for all - Jews, Christians and Muslims. Every state that is established in this land, be it Israeli or Palestinian, must understand the sweeping nature of this Holy Land, in order to be able to host whoever lives here," he added.

[Perhaps the Palestinian Authority might begin moving towards that vision by repealing the law making it a capital crime to sell land to Jews and by welcoming the Jewish residents of the disputed territories rather than demanding ethnic cleansing.]

Meanwhile, the tourists also lauded Israel's efforts to facilitate the movement of the tourists.

"No questions were asked. We just showed our passports and were let in without any hassle", Nancy, a tourist from Philippines said.

A city hall official in Bethlehem said that about 65,000 people flocked to the Holy site for midnight mass this year, four times more than last year.

"We made a fervent plea to the locals to let the tourists go inside the church before them. Even then it was almost impossible to accommodate everybody there", he said.

However, some of the people did not look very enthusiastic about the changed mood calling it a 'two-day affair'.

"The tourists will enjoy all the festivities and go back without understanding the pain locals have to go through every day", a Bethlehem resident Raja Zachariah said

"We hope this year (2008) will be the year of independence for the Palestinian people. God willing, this will be the year of security and stability and economic prosperity for the Palestinians," Abbas said.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Some Evenhandedness Would Be Nice

This article was published in Haaretz. It's distressing that the United States has a Secretary of State whose rushing to make a even more of a mess of the Arab-Israeli conflict and completely undo about one of the few things the current president did right in the "roadmap:" call for a plan where the Palestinian Arabs wouldn't keep getting concession after concession while they reneged on all their commitments.

Rice is calling on Israel for so-called "confidence-building measures" at a time when the Palestinian Arabs have yet even pretend to fulfill any of their commitments under the roadmap and also have now effectively split into two states, so even an agreement with PA-East (under Abbas) would have no effect on PA-West (Hamastan).

What's the hurry?

By Aluf Benn (Jerusalem) & Shmuel Rosner (Washington)

The Annapolis summit and the efforts to revive the peace process have exacerbated the tension that already existed between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Olmert's personal charm doesn't work on Rice, and the Prime Minister's Office is anxious about her tendency to push ahead too quickly with political contacts.

The latest point of friction had to do with the conference of donor countries to the Palestinians that took place in Paris last week. Rice wanted to proceed from the conference to Jerusalem, to make sure that the political process hadn't withered and died after the fanfare in Annapolis. There was a decision already. What made her change her mind and not come? One version has it that she received a message from the White House not to rush things, to give the Israelis and Palestinians some time to work things out without her.

Olmert's bureau denies that Israel intervened to block Rice's visit. David Welch, her aide on Middle East affairs, who had visited Israel a few days before that, felt that in any event, she wouldn't be able to achieve much with a lightning visit so soon after Annapolis. The Americans say they don't want Rice's visits to become just a worthless routine. It was clear that this time, nothing much could come of it.

In private conversations - and as she said in Annapolis - Rice tends to compare the Israeli occupation in the territories to the racial segregation that used to be the norm in the American South. The Israel Defense Forces checkpoints where Palestinians are detained remind her of the buses she rode as a child in Alabama, which had separate seats for blacks and whites. This is an uncomfortable comparison, of course, for the Israelis, who view it as "over-identification" on her part with Palestinian suffering. For some leaders of American Jewish organizations, who weren't all that fond of Rice to begin with, her use of this image was the last straw. Rice is now marked as an enemy. It's also easier for them to blame her, rather than the president, for an approach that's not to their liking.

But Rice's anger at Israel really derives from more current events: She was deeply offended at the height of the Second Lebanon War, while preparing to leave for Beirut to pull together a cease-fire, when the IDF killed Lebanese civilians during the bombing of Kafr Kana. Her trip was canceled at the last minute, the war went on for more than another two weeks, and some who know her say that Rice never forgave Israel for this slap in the face.

In recent months, she's been heard grumbling about Israel's foot-dragging in carrying out good-will gestures toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The tension became more open in connection with the Annapolis summit, say Israeli sources. Rice changed the title of the event from "an international meeting" to a "summit," despite Israel's express objections. She supported the Palestinian position, which called for the establishment of a Palestinian state in tandem with the implementation of the road map. Israel balked, and managed to win consent for "sequential" implementation - that is, first a war on terror and then a Palestinian state.

When the leaders met with President George W. Bush prior to the official start of the summit, Olmert said that if he had any disagreements with Rice, he would turn to the president. "You'll get the same answer from him," Rice said. Olmert insisted on his right to appeal to the White House. Bush listened and didn't say anything, but officials in Washington advise that one shouldn't attach too much importance to this silence. Bush likes Olmert, but he likes Rice a lot more. Something very serious would have to happen for the president to override her authority. And she's smart enough not to clash with Israel without first checking with the president just how far she can go.

Israel needs an unofficial channel of communication, a "Rice bypass road," to the White House. Steve Hadley, the national security advisor, who was Rice's deputy during Bush's first term, is very close to her and wouldn't operate behind her back. And there is no Jewish leader in the Republican Party who, like Max Fisher in the past, has sufficient enough influence to just phone up the president and quietly take care of things. Most Jewish Republicans who have a degree of access to the White House are not fans of the political process, and some are busy promoting the campaign against a division of Jerusalem, an effort that Olmert perceives as a personal campaign against him and in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu. Which basically leaves Olmert as the guy who can communicate with Bush.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is maintaining her own channel of communication with her American counterpart, even if it appears that their initial mutual infatuation has faded. At the Prime Minister's Office, the focus is now on Bush's January 9th visit. Expected to top the agenda is the Iranian threat and the ramifications of the American intelligence report that said Iran is not planning to develop a military nuclear capability. On the Palestinian issue, those in Olmert's circle believe that Bush will make do with some nice words and not bug his hosts with demands to evacuate outposts and remove checkpoints. Rice will have to deal with these troubles after Bush goes back home. And she apparently has every intention of doing so.

Thanks for dinner

On Wednesday afternoon, Olmert bid farewell to his spokesperson to the foreign press, Miri Eisen, and as usual, peppered his talk with plenty of jokes and soccer anecdotes. He patted the head of Yiftah, Eisen's oldest child, and described how he showed him the autographed shirt he received from Ronaldinho, the Brazilian soccer star. Afterward, he met with the five members of the Meretz Knesset faction. It's hard to believe that on the same day, the 2008 state budget was passed in the Knesset, five days before the deadline, without creating any political noise or revolts within the coalition.

"The days of the budget" used to be a synonym for crisis. Not with Olmert: This is the second year in a row that the budget has quietly slipped through the political system. Before the good-bye party for Eisen, the prime minister sat down with Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and budget director Kobi Haber. No tension or stress was evident on their faces when they emerged from their meeting. The vote in the Knesset plenum at the end of the evening was postponed by an hour, so Olmert would have time to attend the conference of the Or Yarok (Green Light) road safety organization. Obviously, he didn't feel any pressure to be present beforehand to iron out any last-minute problems.

"You see, there is a functioning government," Olmert boasts. It's certainly easier to get a budget passed when the economy is booming and the state is collecting a lot of taxes. And there's a personal aspect, too: Olmert, the "professor of politics," as Meretz members called him at the start of their meeting, is more skilled than his predecessors at managing his relations with the coalition and the opposition. He doesn't portray his ministers as a bunch of honor-obsessed idiots, as previous prime ministers have done, and the ministers don't complain about his insensitivity and arrogance. Nor do they have any reason to. Cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel, the coalition's maintenance man, is always at their disposal. Any time a minister wishes to speak to or meet with the prime minister, he can expect an immediate response.

One minister from Labor, who was invited with his wife to have dinner with Ehud and Aliza Olmert, received the following treatment: The prime minister showed up right on time, even though he was busy with security matters (of which the minister was aware). Earlier that evening, there'd been an unflattering report about Olmert on television, but the prime minister ignored it and chatted with his guests as if nothing had happened. He even declined to take a call from his media advisor. The next day, Olmert phoned the minister and told him that he'd had a wonderful evening. Another day passed, and Aliza Olmert called the minister's wife to thank her for the lovely evening. And as if that weren't enough, on Sunday Yehezkel caught up with the minister as he was on his way to the cabinet meeting and said something like: I don't know what you two did, but he (Olmert) hasn't stopped talking about you for the past three days.

Instead of speaking to the public and granting interviews to the press - an approach that proved detrimental to Barak and Netanyahu as prime ministers - Olmert invests his time in the "100 most influential people" who will affect his political survival. He knows how to talk to win their sympathy. True, Olmert isn't yet popular in the polls, but his government is showing some impressive political stability - so much so that the looming Winograd report doesn't even seem that threatening. The threat of early elections is also fading, as Minister Haim Ramon proudly noted this week.

Who is weak?

Rice's exasperation with Israel's behavior stems primarily from the gap between expectations and results, and from the fast-dwindling time she has left on the seventh floor of the U.S. State Department. Rice thinks that Israel received a lot and didn't give anything in return. As she sees it, the Bush administration gave Israel two important gifts in the president's April, 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon: implied recognition of the settlement blocs, and a demand that the refugees return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel. But Israel isn't responding with the proper counter-gestures. Here, however, they say that Rice received plenty and that she ought to be more patient. After all, within a month, Israel went to the major political event in Annapolis, and then the donor countries agreed to give the PA even more than she asked for. That's not bad for such a short time. What's her big rush?

The problem is that Rice embarked on this campaign in the belief that she would succeed in cutting the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She hoped that in Annapolis principles would be set down for a final-status accord, but Israel told her that wasn't going to happen. She thinks that the PA is making satisfactory progress with the reform of its security forces, while officials in Israel say she's exaggerating and that the reform is still very far from accomplishing anything. She wanted to Israel to make more good-will gestures, but the Israelis remind here that this will be hard to do as long as Qassam rockets continue to fall on Sderot. She wanted to see outposts evacuated, and in Israel they blew her off, citing the danger it would pose to the coalition.

Whether Israel likes it or not, it has been cast in the role of the obstacle, as the one putting the brakes on - while Abbas and his prime minister Salam Fayyad are seen as the ones who want to make progress. Rice, too, wants things to move. The brakes bother her. Though there are times when she's convinced that it's appropriate, lately it's been ticking her off more.

Israel shouldn't be surprised by Rice's irritation. Rice can see just as well as the next person how easily the budget was passed in Israel, and has to be asking herself whether the cliche about "a weak Olmert" isn't just an excuse for more foot-dragging. This is where the difference between her and Bush is most noticeable. She's not a politician; he is. Even those of her disciples who believe she has a good grasp of strategy in the Middle East - and there are many - will also admit that the political arena is foreign to her. Certainly the complex Israeli political arena with its myriad players, big and small. And still, Rice's people ask: Not even one outpost? One little pre-fab?

Rice is right in saying that Israel is not making good on its commitment on this matter, but in Israel they say that fulfilling the obligation would sabotage more important moves. Will the coalition's stability endure when the government tries to evacuate outposts, or to make serious progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians? Rice wants to believe that the answer is yes, but no one in Israel is willing to bet on it. The word in Olmert's bureau is that the coalition relies on the distinction between "theory and deed." As long as we're only talking with the Palestinians, everyone can sit comfortably in their cabinet seats. But a forceful evacuation of settlers, or far-reaching understandings with Abbas, could upset the partnership with Lieberman and Shas. Olmert is well aware of this, and prefers to maintain the coalition and the government over making any serious moves in the territories. For Rice to understand this too, however, she'll have to be convinced each time anew.

More on Language is Important

The following letter to the editor, published in the Waterbury Republican-American December 28, is a follow-up to an earlier letter discussed on this blog in the post Language is Important.

It's a nice example of following one good letter with another.

There's a tendency for supporters of Israel to just react, since basically we just want Israel to be left alone to live a normal, peaceful existence. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of just reacting; we need to take the initiative and look for opportunities to not only control damage, but to promote a positive image for Israel.

As we approach the secular new year, one valuable resolution is to write letters (and, if you can, op-eds) to newspapers on a regular basis, without waiting for the haters to attack.

Palestinians Never Controlled Any of West Bank

In his Dec. 20 letter, Israel should think twice before ceding more land to Arabs, Mark Shea described the way Israeli concessions, including withdrawals, have led to even more Arab terrorism rather than peace.

This season of peace finds Gilad Shalit still held by Hamas, the terrorist group that kidnapped him after Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Since Israel turned Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority, thousands of Kassam missiles have been launched at Israeli towns.

Israel also left Lebanon more than seven years ago, withdrawing behind the border as delineated by the United Nations. Yet Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are spending another holiday season in captivity, if they are even still alive. Hezbollah, which crossed into Israel to kidnap them, has not even had the humanity to let the Red Cross visit.

Yet, even Shea fell into the trap of using misleading terminology repeated by Arab propagandists, in referring to pressure on Israel to return to the Palestinians the West Bank.

The term return falsely implies Judea and Samaria were in the possession of Palestinian Arabs.

During the 1948 war, that territory was captured by Jordan, which before that was already in possession of approximately 78 percent of the territory of the Palestine Mandate. Israel found itself administering that territory after being attacked by Jordan in 1948. Thus, if Israel was to return the West Bank to any entity, it would be to Jordan, not the Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, the Palestinian Arabs were never in possession of any part of Judea, Samaria or Gaza before Israel gave territory to them as part of the Oslo Agreements.

It's unfortunate the Palestinian Arabs destroyed Oslo, as the Arabs have destroyed every attempt at peace. As much as Israel has tried to make peace with the Arabs, peace will remain only a dream until its Arab enemies reconcile themselves to the existence within their midst of the non-Arab, non-Muslim, Western-oriented democracy called Israel.

Yoel Benzev

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Between the Lines: Why Was Qurei's Bodyguard Fleeing?

This article from the Jerusalem Post leaves some fairly obvious open questions.

On the one hand, we get the standard complaints from Palestinian Arabs about anything Israel gets, with one of their officials railing that Israel has proven it doesn't want stability in the disputed territories.

On the other hand, the stability the Palestinian Authority seems to want is the law of the terrorists.

It is difficult to believe the IDF would try to arrest a bodyguard of a former Palestinian Authority prime minister without good reason; thus it's reasonable to infer Moutasom al-Mahadi was involved in nefarious (read: terrorist) activities.

Even if Qurei was previously unaware of those activities, the attempt to arrest al-Mahadi as well as his escape attempt should have clued him in.

The logical inference is that yet another so-called moderate, in this instance Ahmed Qurei, continues to quietly (and, in this case, not-so-quietly) support terrorism.

IDF kills Fatah bodyguard in Ramallah

IDF troops killed one of former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei's bodyguards, Palestinian sources said early Friday.

On Thursday, Qurei, head of the Palestinian negotiation team, participated in talks held in Jerusalem in which Olmert and Abbas met for their first meeting since last month's Annapolis conference.

Palestinian sources reported that IDF troops operating south of Ramallah in the town of Bituniya shot and killed Moutasam al-Mahadi, a Fatah operative and a Presidential Guard member. Eye witnesses said al-Mahadi was shot while trying to escape IDF troops who came to his house in order to arrest him.

A Palestinian official strongly condemned the killing, saying Israel "proved once again that it does not want stability in the West Bank."

The incident is the first case in several months of a Fatah operative being killed by IDF troops.

Deja Vu: Repeating the Mistakes that Doomed Oslo

The following article appeared in Haaretz.

There's nothing special about the article. Unfortunately, there's nothing special about the specious demands of Abbas and the obsequious response by Israel.

Once again, Abbas whined about Israelis living in their own capital city. While, thankfully, the Israeli prime minister didn't abandon housing plans in Jerusalem, he certainly seems as if he's going to avoid building needed housing in other areas at the same time building by Palestinian Arabs in the disputed territories proceeds without restriction.

Olmert also seems to be edging towards releasing even more terrorists, even while Kassams continue to rain down on Sderot and while Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are being held hostage. That is not to imply it would be okay if they weren't being held hostage; only that it makes even less sense because of their situation.

We heard several statements from the Israeli prime minister promising to negotiate with good will and to not take any actions to impeded negotiations, but it is the Palestinian Arabs which need to demonstrate those intentions.

They could begin by freeing Israeli hostages, by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure they built up over the last fourteen years, by ending the demonization of Israel in their media and by teaching their children that peace is good and murdering Jews isn't.

They could begin by giving some evidence they would adhere to future agreements, something they have never done with past agreements. They could begin by demonstrating they had were able to govern the disputed territories, both within Judea and Samaria, where they nominally govern but have little control beyond Ramallah, and in the Gaza Strip, where they were kicked out in the Hamas coup.

If they took those steps, there might even be some hope negotiations might succeed.

PM to Abbas: Israel won't undermine final status talks

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Israel will not undermine negotiations toward a final-status agreement, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday.

"Israel will take no steps that would undermine the ability to reach a final-status agreement or that would delay the negotiations," Olmert told Abbas during their first meeting since the Annapolis conference a month ago.

The prime minister made the statement in response to Palestinian complaints about the announced tender for the construction of 307 new homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. However, he did not promise that the tender would be halted.

According to one government source, "the sides resolved the differences that had been weighing on the talks and agreed to proceed with negotiations on the core issues." That is the term used to describe the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, namely Jerusalem, refugees and borders.

"Both sides wanted to resolve the crisis and recognized that there is no point in stalling the entire process over such an issue," explained another senior government source.

According to that source, Olmert and Abbas agreed that the matter of construction in the territories, as well as in Jerusalem, will be discussed during the negotiations on the core issues.

The two also agreed to resume their biweekly meetings, and to have their negotiating teams meet again next week. At that meeting, the teams will seek to reach an agreement on a framework for talks on the core issues.

The Palestinians also raised the issue of a prisoner release, and Olmert told Abbas that Israel intended to "loosen" its definition of "blood on their hands," the euphemism used in Israel to describe Palestinians who were involved in murdering Israelis.

"We are considering the release of veteran prisoners who we are sure will not go back to terrorism, but there is still no decision on this matter," the senior government source said.

At the start of the meeting, Abbas expressed the Palestinians' opposition to further construction at Har Homa and protested the issuance of the tender. In response, Olmert said that "Israel will not construct new settlements, will not confiscate land and will evacuate the illegal outposts."

"Israel wishes to conduct the negotiations with goodwill," the prime minister added.

Two earlier meetings of the negotiating teams, headed respectively by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia, had gone nowhere, as the talks stalled over the issue of settlement construction.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned both Olmert and Abbas and asked them to use their meeting to resolve the impasse. "It is important to me that you progress," Rice told the two leaders, adding that they must not allow the differences between them to widen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Egypt Tacitly Admits Allowing Weapon Smuggling Into Gaza

The following article may be read in full in the Jerusalem Post.

One has to read between the lines, but the fact that Egypt claims it is working to end the smuggling soon and the smuggling will cease to be an issue is effectively an admission that they've been allowing it until now.

Apparently, it's getting too embarrassing; perhaps they feel the threat of losing a few hundred million of the roughly two billion dollars a year in American aid is not worth the benefit they get from promoting terrorism against Israel.

Egypt vows to end weapons smuggling

Yaakov Katz
Jerusalem Post correspondent

Egypt will begin to crack down on weapons smugglers along the Philadelphi corridor into the Gaza Strip until Israel no longer has anything to complain about, Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

"This is a common issue for Israel and Egypt, and we are working to end it soon," Suleiman told the Post shortly after meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a golf resort in Sharm e-Sheikh. "We are doing our best there, and you will not hear about it again."

Suleiman and Defense Minister Muhammad Tantawi told Barak about Egypt's recent million-dollar purchase of tunnel-detection systems, first reported by the Post on Tuesday, which they plan to begin using along the corridor in the next few months.

Barak flew to the resort town on Wednesday for a series of meetings with the Egyptian leadership, including President Hosni Mubarak. As he arrived, Egyptian security forces announced that they had confiscated 1.2 tons of explosives in Rafah and had captured a senior weapons smuggler.

During the meetings - which focused on weapons smuggling, the fate of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, continued violence in the Gaza Strip, and the Iranian nuclear threat - Barak stressed that Israel would not concede to Egyptian demands to increase the number of forces along the corridor from 750 to 1,500.

"The core of the issue is not about the level of forces," he said. "We think the level of forces should remain the same."

During his meetings, Barak heard complaints from the Egyptian officials about Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's comments at the Knesset Monday concerning Egyptian troops' security performance along the border.

The officials told Barak Egypt had been deeply insulted by Livni's remarks, but that they did not plan to allow her words to spark a crisis between Israel and Egypt. Barak defended Livni and said that despite her remarks, she remained committed to strengthening Israeli relations with Egypt. Barak said that during his meeting with Mubarak, the two leaders had decided that future disputes would be resolved in face-to-face meetings.

Israeli defense officials said they were satisfied with the outcome of the talks, but planned to wait and see whether Egypt would really increase its efforts to stop smuggling, as Mubarak promised.

"We will have to wait and see what the results will be," a top member of Barak's delegation to Sharm told reporters on the flight back to Israel.

During his meetings, Barak was asked about a report last week in the Post according to which Israel had sent videotapes to Congress in an effort to pressure the US legislative body into withholding a portion of its foreign military aid to Egypt. Barak explained that in the end, the tapes had not been shown to Congress and that Israel had sent them only after the US administration had asked it to provide evidence of its claim that Egypt was assisting Palestinian weapons smugglers.

Barak said he had raised the issue of Schalit in all his talks, but refrained from providing details, saying "the less we talk, the more effective we will be in bringing him home."

The rest of this article can be read on the Jerusalem Post web site.

Missing the Point

The Associated Press distributed the story below about the results of a poll about the prospects for peace. The reporting was relatively straightforward, but the poll itself was biased. The bias itself made the results more interesting if one pays careful attention.

The question of interest is the last one mentioned, regarding support for a peace agreement among Arabs and Israelis.

Superficially, the results make it appear Israelis are only slightly more supportive of a peace agreement than the Palestinian Arabs, with 53 percent of Israelis supporting a peace agreement as compared to nearly as high a proportion, 47 percent, of Palestinian Arabs supporting an agreement.

As is often the case, the devil is in the details. In this case, the hypothetical agreement being asked about was one heavily biased towards the Palestinian Arabs; indeed, one which would give far more to the Palestinian Arabs than they could ever reasonably expect.

The hypothetical agreement called for Israel to capitulate to all Arab demands, giving up territory equivalent to the entirety of the disputed areas along with significant portions of its capital, including most of the Old City.

Yet, when presented with a hypothetical agreement meeting all of their outrageous demands, a majority of Palestinian Arabs rejected it!

Meanwhile, a majority of Israelis, when presented with the worst possible proposal short of the immediate destruction of Israel, accepted it!

The clear inference: Israelis are desperate for peace, while the Palestinian Arabs reject peace under any circumstances.

That is the clear message from the poll and it's totally absent from the analysis in the Associated Press article!

No Optimism For Peace In Mideast

JERUSALEM - Israelis and Palestinians responding to a survey believe a recent U.S.-sponsored peace conference was a failure and think their leaders won't manage to sign a peace deal in the next year, according to results released Tuesday.

Israelis were more pessimistic, with 74 percent saying the peace summit last month in Annapolis, Md., was a failure compared with 59 percent of Palestinians, according to the poll. The Annapolis conference officially relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after a violent seven-year freeze. At the summit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of 2008.

But only 23 percent of Palestinians and 8 percent of Israelis think that's possible, the poll showed.

More than half of Israelis - 55 percent - believe that violence will not stop, along with 32 per cent of Palestinians, it found.

The poll of 1,270 Palestinians and 564 Israelis was carried out jointly by the Truman Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Palestinians and Israelis are also split down the middle on a final peace deal.

Pollsters asked respondents if they supported an agreement that would see a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, territorial exchanges between the sides, a compromise on Jerusalem that would see Israel rule Jewish areas and Palestinians rule Arab areas, and a resettlement of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state and abroad but not in Israel.

A slim majority of Israelis - 53 percent - said they would support such a deal, roughly the same as last year but down from 64 percent two years ago. Forty seven percent of Palestinians said they would support it, compared to 48 percent last year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A German's Point of View on Islam

Many have already seen the following letter, but when it was forwarded to me by my Uncle Morty with the comment "Wasn't it Edmund Burke who said "all that is required for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing" - here is another in that series!," I decided to post it here. It's well worth reading and pondering in these days of World War IV, the clash between Western civilization and radical Islamism.

By Dr. Emanual Tanay, Psychiatrist

A man whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War ll owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism.

'Very few people were true Nazis 'he said,' but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.'

We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectra of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history.

It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. The hard quantifiable fact is that the 'peaceful majority', the 'silent majority', is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War ll was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.

And, who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were 'peace loving'?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late.

As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts: the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Lastly, at the risk of offending, anyone who doubts that the issue is serious and just deletes this email without sending it on, is contributing to the passiveness that allows the problems of expand. So, extend yourself a bit and send this on and on and on! Let us hope that thousands, world wide, read this - think about it - and send it on.

Emanuel Tanay, M.D.
Ann Arbor, MI

Why Keep Releasing Terrorists When They Turn Around and Kill Again?

The article following these comments appeared online at YNet News.

If there had been a one-time release of prisoners as part of a general agreement, it could be understood. Unfortunately, it's been done time-and-time again, with the same negative results each time: a significant portion of the released prisoners return to terrorism and people die.

Is sounds and it feels cold-blooded, but getting freedom for a hostage this way is just too high a price. Not only do the released terrorists kill again, but it encourages further hostage-takings.

The Israeli government must insist Gilad, Ehud and Eldad be released unconditionally. Their release should be the subject of all discussions with the Palestinian Authority and no concessions of any type should be made until they are free.

Bereaved parents oppose release of prisoners with 'blood on their hands'

Several families send letter to Prime Minister Olmert in which they express their opposition to relaxing constraints on prisoner release policies
Roni Lifshitz

Representatives of parents who have lost loved ones in terror attacks sent Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a letter on Monday expressing their opposition to any change in prisoner release policies which would enable murderers to be set free.

The bereaved were assisted by Almagor, an organization that represents victims of terrorism.

The ministerial committee which took up the issue of relaxing constraints on prisoner release procedures to allow terrorists with "blood on their hands" to be freed, will meet to discuss this issue again on

Shmuel Landau, whose son Ronen was murdered in a shooting in a northern Jerusalem neighborhood in 2001, told Ynet on Monday: "The public is very opposed to the release of terrorists.

"I think that there should not be any freeing of terrorists at all, but we would be satisfied if only terrorists with blood on their hands were not released – especially (jailed Fatah leader Marwan) Barghouti."He was tried and imprisoned and he should sit in prison all of his life. He's not just a terrorist but a terrorist leader.

"The public also needs to know that there is opposition to setting terrorists free, they need to know those that are released return to their evil ways."

Moshe Har-Melech, whose son Shuli was also killed in a shooting four-and-a-half year ago, added: "I am making a fuss for the people that will, heaven forbid, be killed by the same terrorists that are about to be released. "Why am I making a fuss in the place of others? Because others don't feel what I feel.

"My son was killed four years ago during the hudna. He was killed by weapons that (former Prime Minister Shimon) Peres and (former Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin gave out during those criminals' time (in office) and then they said that it was so (the Palestinians) could take care of their criminals themselves.

It turns out that they turned the weapons towards us and killed us."

Why Must Gaza's Christians Keep a Low Profile During Christmas?

Why Must Gaza's Christians Keep a Low Profile During Christmas?

The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind; it's implied in this Associated Press story.

Some day the Palestinian Arab Christians may realize Israel is the only friend they have in the Middle East. This article details just a tiny bit of the disaster that has befallen them since Hamas took over Gaza. It echoes what's been happening to the Christians in Lebanon and a portent of what awaits them if the Palestinian Authority ever agrees to the establishment of a state in parts of the disputed territories.

Without the protection Israel afforded them between 1967 and the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the Christian population in the West Bank has declined dramatically. The cradle of Christianity, Bethlehem, has turned into an Islamic city with Christians a persecuted and vanishing minority.

It's long been a mystery to me that some intelligent people, such as Hanan Ashrawi, can be so blind about where there interests lay.

Gaza's Christians keep low profile during Christmas after slaying of activist

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Gaza's tiny Christian community is keeping a low profile during Christmas this year, traumatized by the killing of a prominent activist after the Islamic Hamas group's takeover of the coastal territory.

Few Christmas trees are on display, churches are holding austere services and hundreds of Christians hope to travel to the West Bank to celebrate the holiday in Bethlehem. Many say they don't plan on returning to Gaza.

"We have a very sad Christmas," said Essam Farah, acting pastor of Gaza's Baptist Church, which has canceled its annual children's party because of the grim atmosphere.

About 3,000 Christians live in Gaza, an overwhelmingly conservative Muslim society of 1.5 million people. The two religions have generally had cordial relations over the years.

That relationship has been shaken since Hamas seized control of Gaza last June, and especially following the recent death of 32-year-old Rami Ayyad.

Ayyad, a member of the Baptist Church, managed Gaza's only Christian bookstore and was involved in many charitable activities. He was found shot in the head, his body thrown on a Gaza street in early October, 10 hours after he was kidnapped from the store.

He regularly received death threats from people angry about his perceived missionary work — a rarity among Gaza's Christians — and the store was firebombed six months before the kidnapping.

No group claimed responsibility for the killing, and no one has openly accused Hamas of persecution. But Christians fear that the Hamas takeover, along with the lack of progress in finding Ayyad's killers, has emboldened Islamic extremists.

Hamas has tried to calm jittery Christians with reassuring handshakes and official visits promising justice.

Hamas "will not spare any effort to find the culprits of this crime and bring them to justice," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. He insisted the killing was simply a "crime" and not religiously motivated.

At the Baptist Church on Sunday, just 10 people attended the regular weekly prayer service, down from an average of 70. There was no Christmas tree in sight.

Farah said the church's full-time pastor, along with his family and 12 employees of Ayyad's store, have relocated to the West Bank to wait out the tense atmosphere. Farah said he prayed for forgiveness and love among Muslims and Christians.

Community leaders say an unprecedented number of Christian families are already migrating from Gaza — rattled by the religious tensions and tough economic sanctions Israel imposed on the area after the Hamas takeover.

While no official statistics were available, the signs of the flight are evident. Rev. Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza's Roman Catholic church, said he alone knows of seven families that sold their properties and left the area, and 15 more are preparing to do the same.

Musallem blamed Israeli sanctions and excessive violence in Gaza for the flight.

"In previous years we didn't see this rate of migration," Musallem said. "Now, exit is not on individual basis. Whole families are leaving, selling their cars, homes and all their properties."

The signs of despair are evident at Ayyad's home. Posters declaring him a "martyr of Jesus" hang on the walls. There is no Christmas tree this year.

Ayyad's older brother, 35-year old Ibrahim, said his 6-year old son, Khedr, was nagged in school about his uncle's murder. Muslim schoolmates call him "infidel."

Ayyad's wife, Pauline, 29, left for Bethlehem a month ago with her two children. She said their 3-year-old son, George, has been shattered by his father's death.

"I tell him Papa Noel (Santa Claus) is coming to see you, and he tells me he wants Papa Rami," she said tearfully during a telephone interview.

Pauline, who is seven months pregnant, said she plans to come back to Gaza for the birth.

But many Christians privately said they would use their travel permits to leave Gaza for good, even if that means remaining in the West Bank as illegal residents. Israeli security officials said they were permitting 400 Gaza Christians to travel through Israel to Bethlehem for Christmas.

A family of four, refusing to be identified for fear their permits would be revoked, have sold their house and car and packed their bags. The wife has transferred her job to the West Bank and enrolled her son and daughter in school there. "We fear what is to come," said the husband.

A distant relative of Ayyad, Fouad, said he also is packing up. He said his father, a guard at a local church, was stopped recently by unknown bearded men who put a gun to his head before he was rescued by passers-by.

"We don't know why it happened," the 20-year-old police officer said. "We can't be sure how they (Muslims) think anymore."

Those who are staying are trying to limit the risks. Nazek Surri, a Roman Catholic, walked out from Sunday's service with a Muslim-style scarf covering her head.

"We have to respect the atmosphere we are living in. We have to go with the trend," she said.

Not Much of a Surprise: Yasser Arafat was the leader of "Black September"

As if anyone doubted Yassir Arafat was behind the attempt to destabilize the Palestinian Arab state on the east bank of the Jordan River.

There's no doubt that, regardless of how repulsive he was, Yassir Arafat had the charisma to lead the Palestinian Arabs by the nose. He could have led them to choose peace and independence instead of hatred and squalor, and besides making their lives far better he could have chosen not to destabilize Jordan and Lebanon.

Marwan Kanafani: Yasser Arafat was the leader of "Black September"

Bethlehem - Ma'an - The Cairo-based Egyptian magazine Al-Ahram Al-Arabi revealed in its last issue on 15 December 2007 a 36-year- old secret; they quoted the Palestinian leader Marwan Kanafani as saying that late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was the founder and cammander of the "Black September" organization which claimed responsibility in 1971 for assassinating the Jordanian Prime Minister then Wasfi At-Tal.

The magazine quoted parts of Kanafani's diaries entitled "years of hope" which will be published later, as referring to late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat as the real commander of "Black September."

These diaries and an interview with Kanafani will be published in episodes on the Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, and are expected to arouse controversy.

Putting the Pressure on the Wrong Side Again

The following is from Haaretz. Once again, pressure is being put on Israel rather than on the party that needs to be pressured.

As usual, this is counterproductive. In fourteen years, the Palestinian Arabs have not budged from the maximalist demands, yet Israel keeps getting pressured to make even more concessions while the Arabs are let off the hook.

Since the main stumbling bloc remains, as it always has, the Arab refusal to accept the existence of Israel and the refusal to make any compromises, this pressure on Israel only encourages that rejectionism and puts off any real progress towards peace.

There are also some comments interspersed with the text of the article.

Israel fears clash with U.S. over peace talks' impasse

By Barak Ravid

A senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel may come into conflict with the United States over increased pressure by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to advance talks with the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the Israeli and PA negotiating teams, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, respectively, are to meet Sunday ahead of Tuesday's meeting between Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

The U.S. might want to up the pressure on Israel to fulfill its obligations in the first stage of the road map, the adviser said in private conversations, particularly removing illegal outposts and freezing construction in the territories.

[How about some pressure on the Palestinian Arabs to fulfill their obligations, especially since the obligations of the Palestinian Arabs essentially amount only to stopping some of their violations of previous agreements, while the obligations put on Israel in terms of restricting the rights of its citizens are unfair.]

"Their demands from Israel will only increase and it is not certain that we can meet them under the circumstances," he added.

The adviser said that in Vice Premier Haim Ramon's talks with American officials, he had gone "too far in promising them things to please them."

Another senior government official involved in the talks also warned of expected crises with the Palestinians and the Americans.

"Israel has created a series of far-reaching expectations in the international arena," this official said, referring to the implementation of the first part of the road map, "but this is not going to happen."

"There is no political capability either to evacuate settlements or freeze construction in the settlements," the second official added.

According to this official, the problem will be even greater when negotiations begin on the core issues. "There are detailed files that include Israel's position on the day negotiations came to a halt in 2001," he said. "What will happen when they open the Jerusalem file, for example? They'll find that Israel's final position at Taba is light-years away from Israel's opening position today."

[The proposals made in 2000 were made with the understanding they would have no future standing if there was no agreement. "Either everything is agreed upon or nothing is agreed upon."

When the Palestinian Arabs rejected Israel's overly generous offer, that offer came off the table. For the American government to put it back on the table is a breach of faith.]

Israel's main problem is the Palestinians' lack of faith in Olmert's and Livni's intentions. Construction in Har Homa and reports of talks toward a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza have created great suspicion on the Palestinian side.

[Israel's main problem is the refusal of the Palestinian Arabs to adhere to their earlier commitments. There is no basis for having an faith in the intentions of the Palestinian Arabs or their leadership.]

The U.S. administration is not satisfied with Israel's conduct, especially with regard to the tender for new construction in Har Homa and reports of planning for a new neighborhood in Atarot in north Jerusalem. U.S. State Department officials have conceded there is a feeling in Washington that, "It isn't clear who's in charge in Israel - the government or the officials that approve the construction."

[It would be far more constructive to pay attention to the Arab violations of their commitments on the roadmap, rather than Israel not adhering to portions which shouldn't have been in the roadmap in the first place and to which they never committed.]

Assistant Secretary of State David Welch has even reportedly told Livni that the U.S. does not know what surprise might bog down the talks again. In comments behind closed doors, U.S. officials say that they want assurances from Israel that a Har Homa-style incident will not recur.

[Again, U.S. officials should work on getting assurances that Abbas adheres to the important commitment to end terrorism, rather than pressuring Israel about housing in its capital.]

Livni, the main impetus behind the talks, reportedly wants to keep them low profile to avoid widely-publicized crises like those in the last round of talks between the teams. Olmert also wants to move the talks ahead, but to do so without breaking up the coalition. Meanwhile, sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said that negotiations will not move ahead, at least not before President George W. Bush's visit on January 9.

One of the problems in the talks is that Israel has still not decided how the political-security establishment will prepare for them.

Olmert met with Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak Thursday to discuss the matter.

The main point of agreement among the three is to appoint Brigadier General Udi Dekel as head of the negotiation administration, although it is not clear whether he has accepted the post.