Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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So Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is elegant and charming but doesn't keep promises. That Netanyahu is elegant and charming is a matter of personal taste. As for the prime minister not keeping his promises, it's possible to ask: "What else is new, WikiLeaks?"

Now if Mubarak had said Netanyahu did tend to keep his promises, that would have deserved a front-page headline - though more because of the doubt it would arouse about the Egyptian president's judgment than by virtue of its contents.

The U.S. State Department does not need to wait for the next wave of leaks in order to know that any promise Netanyahu makes in a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama often lasts only until the prime minister's next meeting with Interior Minister Eli Yishai, or even Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely. In the best case.

Clinton recently received another reminder about Netanyahu's trustworthiness: In closed conversations, the secretary of state has said the prime minister put words in her mouth that were never uttered at her last one-on-one meeting with him. Clinton read in the newspapers that she promised him to send him a written list of the sugarplums meant to sweeten the pill of a temporary moratorium on building in the territories (the prime minister's associates say he stands by his story ).

Nor did former American diplomat Edward Abington need the quote from Mubarak to judge Netanyahu by his actions rather than by his promises. Several weeks ago, Abington, who served as the United States consul in Jerusalem, read in this column that the Palestinians had complained that Netanyahu's special envoy, attorney Isaac Molho, had told them he wasn't authorized to take receipt of a document presenting their outline for a permanent-status agreement. This report reminded Abington of an incident from the period of Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, in February 1997.

"[Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erekat, Molho and I met at the Laromme Hotel [in Jerusalem] so that they could formally sign the Hebron Agreement," Abington recalled. "I was there as the U.S. Government witness. After both had signed the agreement, Erekat handed Molho a piece of paper which contained the names of Palestinian representatives to seven or eight committees that both sides had agreed during the Hebron negotiations would immediately begin work on implementation of various commitments made in previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, including the Hebron Agreement.

"Saeb asked Molho for the names of Israelis who would be on the committees. Molho responded that he would have to get back to Saeb with the names. After a week or so passed, Saeb complained to me and to Washington that Netanyahu was stalling and asked for U.S. assistance in prodding Netanyahu for action.

"Dennis Ross was in charge and made clear that the U.S. wasn't going to get involved since it had been overly involved in brokering the Hebron Agreement. He said it was up to the Palestinians and Israelis to work this out bilaterally, without any U.S. assistance. Of course, Netanyahu had absolutely no interest in any further negotiations and the prospect of the Hebron Agreement giving impetus to Palestinian-Israeli talks died.

"This incident only deepened Palestinian distrust of Ross, which remains to this day. And it shows that Netanyahu's behavior hasn't changed thirteen years later."

On Monday, Netanyahu told newspaper editors that "Israel hasn't been harmed by the publication in WikiLeaks." Regarding him, this is probably true - because what WikiLeaks published concerning Mubarak's opinion of the prime minister was an open secret.

The IDF will pay

The good news is that an Israeli judge has ruled that the magic word "security" is not a synonym for lawlessness. Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Avraham Rubin recently ordered the State of Israel to compensate a Palestinian family whose home was bombarded during a chase after a "wanted man."

The incident occurred in Ramallah in June 2006, during the second intifada. An Israel Defense Forces unit received information about a terrorist hiding in a five-story building and raided his apartment. When they didn't find him there, the soldiers laid siege to the building and implemented the "pressure cooker" procedure, which is aimed at forcing a suspect to leave his hiding place. It begins with an announcement over a loudspeaker and ends with firing tank shells at windows.

The next day, the force entered the building, combed though all the apartments and left empty-handed. The terrorist was captured on another occasion.

Attorney Shlomo Lecker, representing the building's owners, asked the court to award them compensation based on the rules of international law, which obligate an occupying force to compensate owners whose assets are used. The state asked it to reject this request, on the grounds that this was a warlike operation carried out while Ramallah was under Palestinian security control.

With rare courage, the judge ruled that the circumstances of the incident show it was not a warlike operation. He did rule that the means employed were reasonable and that the action was legal under international law. Nevertheless, he continued, "the legality of the action in no way detracts from the state's obligation to compensate the plaintiffs, who were not involved in the terrorist's deeds."

The less good news is that the judge awarded compensation of NIS 429,902 to the plaintiffs - the sum needed to repair the damage, according to the state. In so doing, he opted to rely on the judgment of one party to the case - i.e., the opinion of an assessor on behalf of the state. An assessor on behalf of the property's owners had put the amount considerably higher ($1.4 million for repairs, loss of rental income and decline in value ). Rubin suggested that the owners file a separate suit over the lost rental income.

The state will presumably appeal this important ruling before a higher court. Lecker, who has already petitioned the High Court of Justice over the legality of the "pressure cooker" tactic in general (it has been used in dozens of cases ), said the time has come for the state to compensate Palestinians whose property is damaged in the same way it compensates Palestinians whose houses are taken over to serve as army lookout posts.