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The dedicated observer of Israel may well wonder if this is a smart country which at times conceives and implements policies of particular stupidity, or if this is a dumb country which at times brings off acts of brilliance. Recent examples:

  • Seven Gazans, recipients of Fulbright grants for advanced study in the United States, are barred from leaving the Strip. An unnamed official has included them in the terms of the Israeli blockade on the Strip, meant to be a response to Hamas rule and daily rocket and mortar attacks.

    The case attracts immediate interest and condemnation worldwide, not least because Israel has pledged that the embargo will not apply to humanitarian cases.

    "I am against Hamas. Their acts and policies are wrong," one of the students, Abdulrahman Abdullah, declares openly.

    "Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?" he tells The New York Times. "If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society."

    The ban attracts the attention of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who voices surprise and disapproval. In a matter of days, with little fanfare and no explanation, an Israeli military spokesman announces that the Gazans will receive exit permits after individual security checks are complete.

    And, just to render the policy entirely opaque, between 600 and 1,000 other Gazans will remain stranded, keen to study in foreign institutions but unable to leave the Strip.

  • Israel's leaders threaten that they are on the verge of ordering a major ground offensive in Gaza. Then they threaten again. And again.

    A member of a southern kibbutz is killed while at work, the victim of a mortar barrage from neighboring Gaza, and the fourth Israeli to die in the shelling this year.

    "The military blow against Gaza is closer than ever," Defense Minister Ehud Barak says, touring the site hours after the shelling. Echoes Ehud Olmert, an offensive appears to be "very close."

  • Unnamed Israeli official tells reporters that Israel is furious with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, strongly implying that Israel's failure to hand over $75 million in tax revenues owed the PA was "punishment" for Fayyad's having appealed to the European Union against upgrading its relations with Israel.

    The tax revenues, which Israel collects on the PA's behalf, are a central pillar of the often shaky PA government, which Israel has nominally promised to support as a bulwark against the Fatah-led PA's rival Hamas.

    The tax funds pay the salaries of more than 165,000 government employees in the West Bank, and thus are a main means of support for a large percentage of Palestinian extended families.

    Fayyad had protested to the EU over continued settlement construction and West Bank IDF roadblocks, asking the European body and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to refrain from closer ties until "abides by international and human rights laws."

    What does Israel do next? Without explanation and without a great deal of logic, the Finance Ministry forks over most of the money a week late, keeping a bit to cover debts it says the PA owes Israel for utility bills.

    It is difficult not to discern a pattern here. Unable to decide between two mutually exclusive policies, Israel goes ahead and does both.

    In so doing, it maintains the delicate fraying-tightrope act which allows both Ehud Barak, who is not even a member of Knesset and whose own sad party has had quite enough of him, and Ehud Olmert, whose chances of re-election are about the same as his chances of becoming the next Pope, to stay in office.

    They will clearly sacrifice anything to this effort - peace prospects, Sderot and the western Negev, Gilad Shalit, the people of Gaza, the Israeli economy, what's left of their own integrity.

    It may well be their only hope.

    Too bad it robs us of what's left of ours.

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    Previous blogs:

    When smart countries - like Israel - go dumbThe talkbacker as terrorist The Palestinians' time is running out.We owe the Palestinians a state60 years of Nakba, 60 years of nothingOur Defense Forces, our war crimes, our terrorism