Netanyahu, Abbas - AP - Sept 2 2010
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo by AP
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It can be safely assumed that Uzi Arad, Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish adviser, will not hurry to put on the prime minister's desk an important study recently published by the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, where Arad served as a professor. The study, led by the school's dean, Prof. Alex Mintz, asserts that Israel's best diplomatic option is a declaration of a willingness to accept the Arab peace initiative (also known as the Saudi plan ).

Prof. Mintz, a world-renowned scholar in government decision-making, political psychology and the analysis of foreign policy, is also the editor-in-chief of the important journal Political Psychology. With his research assistant, Yosi Ganel, he found that if the Netanyahu government declares that it accepts the Arab initiative (with reservations ), it will very much improve not only Israel's image, but also its security and economic situation.

Various options were considered with the help of a system developed by Mintz during a stint at Yale University. Many researchers and analysts use this system around the world. The study examined the options according to six parameters that influence decision-making in the short and long term: the security, demographic, economic and political-regional dimensions, Israeli-U.S. relations and the diplomatic-image dimension. The final option was halting the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Mintz and Ganel note that a few months ago, entering negotiations with Syria was preferable to advancing on the Palestinian track, but now that Israel has begun direct negotiations with the Palestinians, both tracks should be continued together. The study found that declaring acceptance of the Arab initiative is preferable to declaring a unilateral evacuation of settlements and moving the residents to the large settlement blocs (the "consolidation plan" ).

The researchers propose that we accept the initiative, which has been gathering dust for eight years, with the reservations that the Palestinian state be demilitarized, the Palestinian refugees be allowed to return only to the Palestinian state (or that only a small number be allowed to live in Israel ). Also, terror against Israel would be immediately halted, terrorist infrastructure would be dismantled, security arrangements would be made and the large settlement blocs would be preserved as part of a land swap.

The comptroller's shaky record in Jerusalem

What do people want from Nir Barkat? How can the mayor of Jerusalem, the nation's capital, ignore a harsh report by the state comptroller pointing out the failure to enforce demolition orders against residents of the village of Silwan? Barkat should be decorated for his stance.

Less than two weeks ago, the comptroller published a scathing report on illegal building in the Al-Bustan neighborhood (also known as The King's Garden ) on the outskirts of Silwan. The other day, city inspectors were already serving demolition orders against residents of four homes in Silwan.

It's no secret that amply-funded nonprofit organizations with government support, mainly Elad, are eyeing the Palestinian neighborhood bordering the City of David archaeological site. They receive generous support from right-wing Knesset members, who turn the Palestinian residents of Silwan into criminals.

The comptroller's report reveals (on page 684 ) that it all began at a meeting of the State Audit Affairs Committee in June 2008, "in light of complaints received from a private nonprofit organization," according to which the Jerusalem municipality is allegedly not carrying out its duty according to the Planning and Construction Law.

A look at the committee meeting's minutes shows that the NGO in question is not a neutral group fighting for law enforcement. The complaint was by the NGO B'tzedek, one of whose most prominent activists is Matti Dan, a head of the rightist group Ateret Cohanim, which is dedicated to Judaizing the Old City and the areas around it.

On the same week the comptroller's report came out, people from B'tzedek took part in a provocative visit by the State Audit Affairs Committee to Beit Yonatan, a settler enclave near Al-Bustan. This is a seven-story illegal building that the Jerusalem municipality is not evacuating despite court orders and reprimands by the attorney general and state prosecutor.

In an unusually harsh letter, Yehudit Oppenheimer, executive director of the human rights group Ir Amim, wrote to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss: "Would it not have been appropriate for the comptroller to try to stop the visit, or at least express unease about it?" She also asked: "If the comptroller is concerned about the rule of law and the consequences of building violations, why is the law applied differently to the Al-Bustan neighborhood and Beit Yonatan, which are so near each other?" The main flaw Ir Amim found in the comptroller's report was the lack of a systematic discussion on the reasons for the many cases of illegal construction in East Jerusalem, especially in Al-Bustan. There is no mention of the fact that for 43 years, the authorities have not made it possible for residents to build legally.

According to Ir Amim, the comptroller's report is phrased in a way that creates the impression that the issue is a local conflict between residents and the authorities. The comptroller surely understands the potentially destructive consequences of razing homes in this explosive area and will no doubt revisit the subject.

Shlomo Raz, spokesman for the state comptroller, said his office does not check the political credentials of any groups. The issue of Beit Yonatan was before the courts and the comptroller's office does not argue with the courts. (The legal process ended a while ago ).

Raz said that according to the principles of the democratic system, the comptroller does not monitor the political activities of MKs; that's why he did not comment on their visit. He also noted that at the end of the recommendation to the authorities that they nip illegal construction in the bud, it was written that "at the same time steps should be taken to encourage legal construction according to plans that take into consideration the needs of the population - while involving the public in the planning."

It's doubtful that Silwan residents presented with demolition orders will find this comforting.