Border Control / The Iranian Bogeyman

For nearly an entire year Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been building up the Iranian bogeyman. The Americans spoke to him in Palestinian and he replied to them in Persian. The Europeans talked to him about sanctions against the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and his answer to them was sanctions against the ayatollahs of Tehran.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dared to draw a straight line between "his" crisis in the Palestinian arena and the Iranian nuclear crisis, Netanyahu was deeply insulted. Within a day or two, someone from his circle warned the Americans that "all options are open." In other words, if you keep at him, anarchy might be what you get. This is called "the military option."

This past month the White House decided to remind Netanyahu who is really in charge. Contrary to the headlines, the trouble in the relations with the United States does not stem from the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee's bad timing in announcing the plan to build 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.

Rather, Netanyahu's problem is that the Obama administration has in fact adopted his very own approach, whereby the danger of the spread of Iranian influence is the greatest threat to the strategic interests of the United States in the region.

This message came to Washington from the Sunni regimes in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and Ramallah. The Alawite regime in Syria is also on edge about too much influence on the part of the Iranian Shi'ites.

Now Netanyahu's turn has come to adopt the American approach, whereby the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is seen as feeding the greatest threat to the strategic interests of the United States and its allies in the region.

This double loyalty is scaring even the most professional functionaries in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. And if that were not enough, General David Petraeus told Congress that the Israeli occupation is causing the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ever since the Jonathan Pollard spy affair, which shook the Jewish community 25 years ago, the Israel lobby's worst nightmare has been a head-on collision with the defense community. Netanyahu no doubt recalls how in 1998 the good old boys from U.S. intelligence services intercepted and shot down the attempt to include Pollard's release in the Wye agreement with the Palestinians.

United States President Barack Obama will not squander whatever political capital he has gained with the passage of the healthcare bill on stopping construction in East Jerusalem. He has invited Netanyahu to the White House in order to ask the prime minister what he is prepared to do to stop Iran.

This evening Netanyahu will be given the choice between forming an American-Arab-Israeli coalition against Iran (like the elder George Bush's coalition against Iraq two decades ago), or pandering to the right-wing Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu/Habayit Hayehudi/Shas coalition here.

As a sworn fan of public opinion polls, Netanyahu will no doubt be interested in a new survey to be presented today in Tel Aviv at a discussion sponsored by Beit Berl College. The survey was conducted by Market Watch for the non-profit Bayit Echad (One Home) association, which is active in promoting an evacuation-compensation law.

It has found that only one out of 10 Israelis chose "the future of Judea and Samaria" as the issue topping the agenda of the majority of the public (as compared to one-third of polled settlers, who selected this possibility).

The Iranian issue garnered 29 percent and in first place, the socio-economic situation, with 37 percent.

Another datum relevant to that decision: Sixty-five percent of the public (40 percent of the settlers) support immediate implementation of an evacuation-compensation law in isolated settlements beyond the separation fence. Twenty-six percent of the general public, including Arabs (668 respondents) are opposed to implementing the law. Among the settlers (400 respondents in 48 settlements), the proportion of opponents reached 52 percent.

Forget Haiti part two

Last month it was reported here ("Let him go to Haiti," February 9) that Be'er Sheva District Court Judge Rachel Barkai rejected an application from Gaza resident Atsem Hamdan, who sought a permit to receive urgent medical treatment at a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem.

Before she cottoned with the prosecution's suggestion that Hamdan seek help in other countries, the judge saw fit to praise the aid Israel extended to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Barkai said there was a danger that the man, who is paralyzed in half his body, would take advantage of Israel's generosity to settle in the West Bank. In deliberations a few days ago on the appeal of Barkai's ruling, Supreme Court Justice Uzi Fogelman signaled to the prosecution representative that the stories about Haiti and settling in the West Bank don't work on him.

And now, after more than half a year of severe back pain and a considerable worsening of Hamdan's medical condition, the state has declared that "in light of the special circumstances of the case" it is prepared to allow him to leave Gaza for the hospital in East Jerusalem.

However, it made certain to note at the same time that the state is retaining its authority not to allow Gazans into Israel, for fear they will take advantage of the permit for illegal movement in Israel or the West Bank.

At the non-profit organizations Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which filed the petition on Hamdan's behalf, they are hoping the authority of a Supreme Court ruling will override the state's authority to deny the inhabitants of Gaza the right to medical care. Even if it does send doctors to save people in Haiti.