The convergence glue is loosening
According to the conspiracy theory that gives politicians undeserved credit for being clever, Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon planned the elimination of the Palestinian Authority in advance and waited patiently for the opportunity.
According to this theory, they took advantage of the abduction of Gilad Shalit in order to arrest the Hamas government and to remove once and for all the danger of a Palestinian partner appearing. From there it should be a short road to a unilateral withdrawal to the separation fence. But certain MKs - whose votes are expected to pass the convergence plan by a slim margin - have said things indicating that the only glue holding Labor and Kadima together (if you don't count the glue that binds the ministers to their ministerial chairs) is coming loose.
In an article in the latest issue of Ofakim Hadashim (New Horizons), the journal of Beit Berl College, the chairman of the Labor Party Knesset faction, Ephraim Sneh, pours out his wrath against cloning the Gaza disengagement strategy. "A unilateral Israeli withdrawal will enhance the prestige of Hamas, which will portray the Israeli step as an achievement," writes Sneh. "The fight over the new border will unite the Palestinian public around the Hamas government."
He believes that on the other side of the unilaterally-determined border, the terrorist movement will hold the reins of power and organizations such as Al-Qaida will establish themselves there and plan showcase attacks in Israel. Sneh is convinced that the new border will also encounter opposition from countries in the region and internationally. The article was written before the current crisis illustrated very dramatically the dangers against which Sneh warns.
MK Colette Avital (Labor), the deputy Knesset speaker, specifically called on her party to welcome the prisoners' document, which calls for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. "This is an opportune time," the retired diplomat argues. "If Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' effort is indeed successful, the 'Hamas bypass' road will be paved to renewing negotiations between them and us." These remarks were made before party chairman Amir Peretz approved the arrest raid against those people meant to sign the document. MK Ami Ayalon also did not need the current verification to announce his opposition to any unilateral process that was not preceded by a genuine effort to transform the prisoners' document, with all its shortcomings, into a basis for dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.
In Meretz they are saying that if they believed in God, they would thank him for keeping them in the opposition. Haim Oron is making do with thanking Olmert for not inviting the party to join the government. He says he is very doubtful today, after the collective punishment of Gaza Strip residents, whether the party leadership would approve a belated union. And nevertheless, Oron thinks the demands placed on Olmert that he refrain from an assault should also apply to the way his party colleagues express themselves. He was referring, incidentally, to the faction's chair, Zahava Gal-On, and her public criticism that the arrests of ministers and parliament members is fitting for a gang but not for a country.
Ran Cohen was the only one who supported Gal-On's stance from the first day, that negotiations should be conducted on kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's release. MK Avshalom Vilan issued a press release presenting the opposite position. Party chair Yossi Beilin demanded that the government work toward a cease-fire and criticized the arrest of Hamas leaders, "who become the heroes of the Palestinian masses, despite their perceived failures in the eyes of the people." In the press release his office issued, there was not a word about a prisoner exchange.
In Meretz, they attribute this to Beilin and Oron's deep commitment to Abbas and the prisoners' document, and to the fear that the release of prisoners in exchange for Shalit will strengthen Hamas at Abbas' expense. One way or another, the only unilateral step that Meretz is willing to support is the dismantling of settlements. Period. Olmert and Ramon want to call it "unilateral convergence?" Let them.
Evangelists not in the pocket
When leading evangelists, some of U.S. President George Bush's biggest supporters, arrive in the Holy Land, they are usually greeted at the airport by a right-wing Jewish delegation. Really important figures merit special treatment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' VIP department.
However, three senior religious figures arriving over the last month did not receive any special treatment. They waited for four hours at the Allenby Bridge until their bus was permitted to cross the border into Israel. They came from the United States and Britain in order to identify with the Palestinian public, and to call for conciliation and a two-state solution.
It is important that we know that the evangelists who are called "Zionist Christians" are not really "friends of Israel." According to them, Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer and their associates represent at most 25 million people, approximately one quarter of all evangelists. In their books and articles, Steven Sizer, Don Wagner and Ann Helmke cite evidence that fundamentalist Christian doctrine, which does not recognize the rights of the Palestinians, does not contain any form of concern for the welfare of the State of Israel. And the same is true of Jesus' doctrine. Sizer argues that behind the love of Israel, the Zionist Christians are concealing an intense anti-Semitism. His organization is behind the boycott of American companies, such as bulldozer manufacturer Caterpillar, whose equipment is being used to harm the population of the occupied territories.
Even in the U.S. Congress, several loyal evangelists have started raising their voices against Israel's policy toward the Palestinian civilians. Harm to the rights of Muslims is not keeping them awake at night. When the bulldozers disrupt the lives of faithful Christians, the chairman of the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, a Catholic, cannot restrain himself. Last Friday, he quoted in Congress from a State Department report that said the concrete wall around Jerusalem is hindering the path of the Palm Sunday procession, which commemorates Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem.
"I have been unable to understand how the currently routed barrier in Jerusalem - which rips asunder the existential poles of Christian belief, the Nativity and the Resurrection, and encloses 200,000 Palestinians on the Jerusalem side of the barrier ? will improve the security of Israel's citizens," the senior Republican representative said. Like the Israeli High Court, a member of the U.S. Congress discovered the connection between the route of the fence and the master plans of nearby settlements. He wondered how this corresponded with President Bush's repeated declarations that the fence is intended solely for security needs. He ended his remarks by expressing concern that important holy sites in Jerusalem and its environs would be transformed from prayer sites for billions of believers into commercial museums.