While aides to Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak were busy formulating the coalition agreement and dividing up ministerial portfolios, Barack Obama's men were working on a bipartisan document and burrowed through files.
The document they produced is waiting for the new Israeli government to be sworn in. The American president is due to use it as the basis of a special speech in which he will present his vision for the Middle East.
Of prime importance among the files on the desks of those who composed the document is a report drawn up at the end of 2008 by 10 senior figures from the two principal political parties in the United States.
One of them, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, has in the interim been appointed a senior economic adviser to the president.
The authors of that report recommended to the president that he replace "the conditions of the Quartet" with a readiness to recognize a Palestinian unity government, on condition that that government would agree to a cease-fire with Israel, authorize Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to conduct negotiations on a final-status solution, and bring the agreement to a referendum. Since Netanyahu refuses to accept the principle of a Palestinian state being established alongside Israel, he would have some difficulty complaining about the U.S. relieving Hamas of the same demand.
The report's authors proposed that the president adopt the following positions with regard to the components of a final-status agreement: an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, with the exception of large settlement blocs; Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine, and divided on a demographic basis; adoption of a special regime in the Old City; the rehabilitation of refugees within the Palestinian state, with Israel accepting a degree of responsibility for the problem; and the stationing of a multinational force in the territories during an interim period.
The experts who drew up the report placed the Palestinian channel ahead of the Syrian channel in urgency, and expressed the opinion that 2009 constitutes the last opportunity for a partition solution.
They suggested as well that a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict would be a central factor in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalists and world jihad.
In his column in The New York Times last week, Roger Cohen wrote that the approach of Volcker and the other authors of the report, an updated version of which Volcker recently presented to the president, was to a large extent in keeping with the approach of Obama's national security advisor, James Jones, and special emissary George Mitchell. The 10 members of the team that prepared the report included Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, both of whom headed the National Security Council; former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel; James Wolfensohn, formerly president of the World Bank as well as the Quartet's Middle East emissary; and Thomas Pickering, a former under secretary of state. All of them are members of the U.S. Middle East Project, headed by Henry Siegman. True, Siegman is considered a member of the "far left," but Netanyahu will have a hard time accusing him of anti-Semitism, since he is an ordained Orthodox rabbi, and he served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress.
Ehud vs. Barak
One paragraph that stands out in the coalition agreement between Likud and the Labor Party is that which states that "the government will take steps to enforce the law with regard to the illegal [settlement] outposts." (Someone apparently forgot that their name was laundered to "unauthorized"). This is the first time that a politician has dictated a demand viv-a-vis himself.
According to data collected by Peace Now, Defense Minister Barak not only defaulted on his commitment to freeze construction in the settlements and to dismantle at least 24 outposts, but 1,518 new buildings were constructed on his watch last year in the territories, 261 of them on outposts.
Barak found devious ways to circumvent the High Court of Justice's order to evacuate the outpost of Migron, which had been set up on stolen private land.
Hagit Ofran, a member of Peace Now's follow-up team, says that there are no grounds for the claim made recently before the Court that the Israel Defense Forces had evacuated 30 outposts.
In return for the settlers' agreement to evacuate some of their mobile homes, the vast majority of which were in any case unoccupied, Barak gave the go-ahead for "new neighborhoods," a code name for new settlements.
The coalition agreement makes no mention of renewing the work of the ministerial committee for applying the recommendations of the report on the outposts, which was intended to block practices of this kind.
Nor does a single word appear in it about the voluntary evacuation by settlers who live east of the separation fence, an idea that had won the wall-to-wall support of the Labor faction and even received the blessing of Barak himself.
Incidentally, the report presented to President Obama calls for Israel to evacuate all of those settlements. Those that are willing and those that are not.
Who's to watch over the watchman?
Several days ago there appeared in the newspapers advertisement declaring the establishment of a committee that is tasked with filling the vacant position of deputy to the attorney general (for economic-fiscal matters) and the new position of deputy attorney general (in charge of counsel and legislation). The advertisements include job descriptions, minimum qualifications, and a deadline for submission of candidacy. A government decision from 2002 stated that the committee would not only be the body to choose the candidates, but would also determine the job descriptions and define the minimum conditions required of the candidates.
Even in normal times, such a mechanism would be considered irregular, a method for sidestepping tenders. But it's far worse for it to operate during a period of a transition government, after the resignation of the prime minister, and before the new government has received the approval of the new Knesset.
Two weeks ago, attorney Gilad Barnea, an expert in constitutional and administrative law, asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to explain why he postponed the establishment of the search committee until after the swearing-in of the new government.
Mazuz and the civil service commissioner, Shmuel Hollander, explained that there had been "a technical mistake or error in the government decision" from 2002, and that they intended to propose that it be amended.
And until such time? Even though the deadline for candidates to present their candidacies has passed, Mazuz announced that this was merely "a preliminary measure" and that the committee would be appointed after the government is instated.
In the interim, Barnea has petitioned the High Court on the matter in the name of MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union). The court is expected to rule during the coming days on whether it is fitting that those appointed to guard over the law and the rules should violate decisions of the government.
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