Netanyahu will most likely let Peres address the United Nations amid the Palestinians' bid for a nation. For the president, this will be a bittersweet moment.
In a month, on September 20, the Palestinian Authority will submit its official request to the United Nations for recognition of a Palestinian state. Officials at the Prime Minister's Bureau have long realized the damage cannot be undone. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might visit Poland over the next few weeks, after postponing the trip due to the social protest, in order to try to persuade the Polish government to not to back the PA's bid. It's not clear the Polish vote is worth the price of flying Netanyahu's entourage to Warsaw.
Netanyahu is still divided over whether to attend the General Assembly meeting himself. As of midweek, he was leaning toward sending President Shimon Peres. If Peres goes, he will speak at the General Assembly on September 23, immediately after the Palestinian representative, his veteran interlocutor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
For Peres, this will be an occasion of both joy and sadness. For many years he has been calling for a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement. And now that one is finally coming about, despite Israel's huge objections, he is the one who will have to save Israel from the diplomatic tsunami.
Netanyahu knows Peres will say something completely different than what he would say. Not to mention what Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would say. However, Netanyahu has told associates he does not intend to "go crazy" over the General Assembly vote. He has no intention of listening to Lieberman, who says Israel should revoke the Oslo agreements, or Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who wants to halt the transfer of tax revenues to the PA.
Netanyahu gave Lieberman his pound of flesh when he decided not to apologize to the Turks in the Marmara flotilla affair. Regarding the Palestinian state, he is siding with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor. Sending Peres, the moderate, admired and beloved statesman, to the UN General Assembly to say pleasant things goes along with Netanyahu's soothing strategy.
The Shaul report
On Wednesday morning, the diplomatic-security cabinet convened to discuss Israel's security preparedness ahead of September. All the heads of the security organizations, including the police, reviewed what they would do in various scenarios. In the coming weeks, the cabinet is slated to convene again to discuss other related issues.
On Sunday, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) will publish a report on the government's preparedness or, to be more precise, lack of preparedness. The Prime Minister's Bureau attempted to delay/prevent/thwart this report through the beginning of this week. When Netanyahu's associates understood that they had failed, the cabinet was summoned at short notice for Wednesday's meeting. Some people within the government and the parliamentary system believe the subject of panicky cabinet meetings is how to preempt the report's publication.
Mofaz has been working on this report for four months, much to the chagrin of the Prime Minister's Bureau. In a nutshell, the report says Israel's government is not prepared for September. It missed opportunities for a diplomatic process, which would have prevented the declaration of the Palestinian state. Instead of pursuing a single policy, the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister each has his own agenda.
The report slams the conduct of the National Security Council, headed by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yaakov Amidror. It says the council has been fiddling with trivial matters and neglecting its main task: maintaining national security. Materials for the report were collected through some 30 meetings, tours and discussions with all the country's leaders in matters of diplomacy, security and economy: the prime minister, the foreign minister, the defense minister and all the heads of the security and intelligence organizations.
The report was the brainchild of committee member MK Yohanan Plesner, Mofaz's party-mate. He had no trouble recruiting Mofaz. Mofaz's opinion of Netanyahu has long been known. "This is a double-headed missile: against Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Kadima chair MK] Tzipi [Livni]. In the short run, Netanyahu is the target, but the main target is Livni," said a highly placed Likud source.
Netanyahu's advisers approached Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and asked him to cancel the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting scheduled to discuss the report on Sunday.
"How can I do that?" Rivlin responded. "When we went on recess I announced that the committees would continue to work as usual and to oversee the executive branch. And now I'm supposed to cancel a committee meeting?"
On Monday evening, Reuven convened a meeting in his bureau with Mofaz, Plesner and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon.
"If you want to declare the report as being on behalf of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, you have to bring the report to the committee for a vote," Rivlin and Yinon told Mofaz. "Without a vote, it's your own private report."
Mofaz left in the middle of the meeting; he had other commitments. When Netanyahu's bureau learned Mofaz was sticking to his guns, it ordered coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin to recruit all the coalition members on the committee to vote against the report.
"This is not my private report," Mofaz said. "This is a serious report written out of a sense of responsibility. It has been through the censor. There is also a classified intelligence report that will be presented to the decision makers and will not be made public. The role of the committee, as I see it, is not to come along in November-December and write a report about what happened. Its role is to oversee in real time. This is a very professional report that reflects things as the committee members see them."
Reality is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, you know.
"I have been expressing my opinion of Netanyahu's conduct for the past two and a half years. But the report is the outcome of thorough discussion by the committee and the subcommittees. In any case it will come out on Sunday. If they want to vote, they'll vote. If they don't, they won't. I don't think a vote is necessary. They are telling me this is a political report. A vote will make it political."
Did the Prime Minister's Bureau ask you not to publish it?
"Of course. They asked me to publish it after September. I said no. They asked me to send them the final version. I said no. Anyone who wants can come to the committee room and read it. Anyone who's allowed, mainly the committee members. They are trying to stop the committee, whose role is to oversee the government, from warning about risks. They aren't going to succeed."
The Manu commando
When Prof. Manuel (Manu ) Trajtenberg is asked nowadays how he is doing, he replies: "For now, fine." The protesters' initial response to his work is not encouraging.
This is not necessarily his fault. Trajtenberg's positive messages were answered with a volley of charges from Prof. Yossi Yonah, one of the experts on the so-called "alternative team," which is formulating recommendations in parallel with Trajtenberg's government-appointed committee.
"We have no intention of discussing matters with committees whose goal is to mislead the public," Yonah was cited as saying in Haaretz this week. He called Prof. Trajtenberg a "neo-liberal" and said a person with that philosophy is not worthy of leading a committee for social change.
This is not only impolite, it's also unwise to use such vitriol against a man of Trajtenberg's caliber who identifies with the protest, has turned up for demonstrations himself, expresses willingness to listen and has called Yonah and his colleagues "excellent people."
Nor does an aggressive approach like this serve the protest. Most of the demonstrators who turned out for the mass Saturday-night protests are not interested in burning down the clubhouse but rather in having their justified complaints heard. If Trajtenberg's proposal to the social-economic cabinet does not satisfy the protesters, they will have all the time in the world, and all the attention in the media, to rally against it.
Most of the experts on the alternative team were neither appointed nor chosen by the protest leadership. In part, this is because the protest does not have a single unified leadership. The experts appointed themselves, called a press conference and announced they were setting out. It is not by chance that National Union of Israeli Students head Itzik Shmuli was not present at that press conference. He is leading an entirely different campaign, both in essence and in style.
In government corridors, the Trajtenberg team is being called the "Manu commando," after its members started infiltrating tent camps around the country. At the beginning of the week Trajtenberg showed up at the tent camp at Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv. Contrary to what was reported, his visit was not a complete surprise. He was invited. At the camp, he radiated modesty, matter-of-factness and directness. Our politicians, who are so full of themselves, have a lot to learn from Manu.
He had new insights at that meeting and in other discussions, he said.
"Even if you can't explain exactly what these insights are, I can feel them," he said this week. "There are several kinds of knowledge: in the head, in the heart and and in the gut. Even if you know some things, the moment you have direct, unmediated contact with the protest, the knowledge changes its form."
He was asked what he thought about the hostile attitude evinced by members of the other team. His reply should be taught at the Foreign Ministry cadet school.
"In the British Parliament, the members of the government and the members of the opposition sit facing each other. [Asking that] is like asking one side what it thinks of the other side. Each side has the right to exist and each side plays an important role in this process and in democracy," he said.