Border Control / Washington vs. Bibi II
If Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu - assuming that the public opinion polls are proven right and he becomes the next prime minister of Israel - intends to keep even a few of the promises he has made to voters concerning the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, not even his American English is going to help him find a common language with United States President Barack Obama.
In a Chicago speech before activists of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - the pro-Israel lobby - the Jewish lions' den, Obama made it clear that he has no intention of becoming a Likudnik in order to prove his support for Israel. Even in the midst of the election campaign, when he needed every Jewish vote, Obama left to his rival Senator John McCain of Arizona the standard commitment to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's unrecognized capital.
Netanyahu will find it hard to woo the new administration with empty promises to unfreeze negotiations and freeze the settlements. Presumably, former president Bill Clinton did not conceal his opinion of Bibi from his wife. If Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has forgotten Bibi's tricks then Dennis Ross, who was the coordinator of the peace process in the Clinton administration and is an advisor to Obama, can refer her to his book "The Missing Peace."
There he quotes president Clinton's reaction to Bibi's retreat from a commitment.
"At times he was tough," writes Ross, "yelling at Bibi when he retracted an earlier pledge on Palestinian prisoners. 'This is just chicken shit. I'm not going to put up with this kind of bullshit.'"
Aaron David Miller, who was Ross' deputy, also documented the days of Bibi and Bill. In his book "The Much Too Promised Land," Miller relates that during their first meeting in the summer of 1996, Bibi lectured the president about the Arab-Israeli issue, prompting Clinton to expostulate when it was over, "Who the fuck does he think he is? Who's the fucking superpower here?"
Most definite of all is Joe Lockhart, who was the White House spokesman at the time. In a recorded interview to Clayton Swisher, author of the book "The Truth About Camp David," he described Netanyahu as "one of the most obnoxious individuals you're going to come into - just a liar and a cheat. He could open his mouth and you could have no confidence that anything that came out of it was the truth."
The next prime minister will discover in Washington that the two traditional power bases of the Israeli right - Congress and the Jewish community - also look different now. Last week, 64 members of the House of Representatives urged Obama to deal immediately with the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Thirty-two members signed a proposal for a resolution in which Congress undertakes to support the administration's diplomatic effort to advance a two-state solution.
Behind these initiatives are not only Jewish peace organizations but also more mainstream Jewish activists, including AIPAC people, who have learned form the darling of New York, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that it is possible to be an Israeli patriot and the support the partitioning of Jerusalem.
If Gilad were home
It's hard to know how Gilad Shalit would be voting today, had he come home in time. It is doubtful that he would be casting has ballot for any of the politicians who have been in on the secret of the contacts with the enemy concerning the Shalit deal. Upon hearing the true story, it is quite possible that Shalit would in fact be voting for the Green Movement-Meimad, of which one of the founders is Gershon Baskin.
For the past two years and more, the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information has put his energy and his connections with some of the heads of Hamas at the disposal of the Shalit family.
"Two weeks before the war," relates Baskin, "I passed along to the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister a proposal that I had received from it to open a direct and secret channel with Hamas. The proposal was aimed at advancing agreement with regard to renewing the cease-fire for a long period, opening the crossing points, including Rafah, and Shalit's release in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners. None of them responded. Two days before the ground operation began I transmitted the proposal to them again, and again I was not granted a response."
Since then, Baskin has been living with the feeling that the Gaza war was not really a war of no choice aimed at protecting the inhabitants of the south. He is not the only one. Very senior people in the professional echelons who were in on the secrets of the process of the decision to attack Gaza are prepared to tell a commission of inquiry that the government did not make any real effort to renew the cease-fire. And that is putting it mildly.
Making the trespassers pay
Last week the Defense Ministry made public an agreement with the Yesha Council, the body that represents the Jewish settlers in the territories, to the effect that the settlers in the Migron outpost in the West Bank will be moving to 50 houses that will be built for them in a new community to go up within the municipal boundaries of the settlement of Adam. At Defense Minister Ehud Barak's bureau, they are promising that this time the trespassers, who have become accustomed to free housing, will have to pay both for the land and for the construction. Anyone who refuses to participate in this arrangement within a few months will be evacuated by force along with his mobile home.
Insiders confirm that by law they can authorize only the complete plan that consists of 1,400 housing units, but this is just a formality. They promise that the Defense Ministry will not approve more than 50 units.
It's possible that this very night, once all the votes have been counted, these lines will no longer be relevant. The West Bank is sown with settlements on the basis of plans that one government authorized "just as a formality." Sooner or later the government of Israel will explain that it is just implementing a plan that had been approved by a person who was once the leader of the Labor Party.