A Short Circuit in the Decision-making Apparatus

The preoccupation with the failure of the military echelon, which cost the lives of two soldiers at Kerem Shalom and the capture of their friend, is diverting attention from far worse failures of the political echelon.

Talks with ministers and senior officials make clear that the strategic decision to bring down the Hamas government was not preceded by a discussion of the security, political and economic consequences of the move.

Had Prime Minister Ehud Olmert talked with the professionals about the chances that Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chair Mahmoud Abbas] would return Fatah to power on the backs of Israeli tanks, it is very doubtful he would have approved the operation.

Had the decision-makers asked the opinion of those who make the assessments, they would have been cautious about the approaching danger that Abu Mazen will tire of the role of "good guy" and give Israel back the keys to what is left of the offices of the PA.

After all, someone has to take responsibility for the civilian population in the territories. Major General Yosef Mishlav, coordinator of government activities in the territories, would have told them that "someone" is the Israeli government, and that bringing back the military administration to the West Bank would cost the Israeli taxpayer NIS 7 billion a year. He would have told them that bombing the power station in Gaza will cost the American taxpayer millions of dollars.

The decision to destroy the transformers in Gaza and to bomb the bridges was preceded by a discussion in an operational forum headed by Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Last Tuesday morning the chief of staff, the head of the Shin Bet security services and additional key people in the security system were there. The power plant was established eight years ago, at the initiative of then U.S. president Bill Clinton, who convinced Enron to join a group of Palestinian businessmen. The project was funded with an investment of $60 million and a loan of $90 million from the Arab Bank. After Enron went bankrupt, the Morganti Group agreed to purchase its share.

Those participating in the operational discussion were not aware that Morganti's share is ensured by the government insurance company OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation). Those who did know, for example the Foreign Ministry, whose people are well-acquainted with Ned L. Siegel, on the board of OPIC, a Jew who is close to President George W. Bush and often visits Israel, did not attend the discussion. Only after the fact did those deciding policy discover that the American insurance company would be forced to bear a substantial share of the cost of repairing the equipment that was destroyed in the power plant (almost $43 million, in addition to a loss of income of about $21 million). Thus the U.S. joined a series of European countries that invested in infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and picked up the pieces after Israel destroyed it.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contacted Peretz to demand he order a halt to the destruction of infrastructure, and to stop pushing Abu Mazen even further into a corner.

Had Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni been invited to the discussion, she also could have expressed her opinion of the contribution of television reports about "Gaza in the dark" to public opinion in the world in general, and to the neighboring Arab world in particular. The Prime Minister's Office said yesterday that the plan, which included the bombing of the power plant, was presented at a cabinet meeting that took place 72 hours before the operation. The only minister who had reservations about it was Minister of Infrastructure Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

Not surprisingly the government did not take into consideration that eliminating the central government in the territories is likely to place responsibility in Israel's hands, nor did it pay attention to the wild speculation of Ben-Eliezer to the effect that cutting off electricity to half the residents of the Gaza Strip would place responsibility for supplying electricity on the Israel Electric Corporation. The prime minister apparently forgot the deliberate electricity blackouts that recently paralyzed half the country. Gisha, the Israeli Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, which came to the aid of the residents of the Gaza Strip, warned the Defense Minister that in a few days from now the sewer will begin to flood the streets of Gaza. When the water stops running in the taps and the food rots in the refrigerators, the political leadership will have to choose between the air-conditioners in central Israel and the incubators of babies in Gaza.

Circular transactions

During recent High Court of Justice discussion on the petition of Peace Now and the residents of Bili'in regarding a new illegal neighborhood of Modi'in Illit, the construction companies claimed that the entrepreneurs purchased the land years ago from the residents of the village of Bili'in, and that the State Prosecutor's Office had acceded to their request to turn the private lands into "government property," and eventually returned the deposit to them.

Supreme Court President Aharon Barak and Justice Dorit Beinisch were skeptical. The entrepeneurs have recently placed on their desks an expert opinion that confirms and explains the method of circular transactions. A copy was submitted to the proxy of the petitioners, attorney Michael Sfard.

The opinion is signed by attorney Daniel Kramer, who says that he served for 25 years as an adviser and proxy for the person responsible for government property, and is very familiar with the law that applies to the region and with the policy of the Justice Ministry. Kramer agrees that the proper way to prove that A has purchased B's land is to publicize the transaction in order to invite possible opposition, "as is done in Israel." However, when it comes to the territories, publicizing the sale of land to Jews means, he says, "an immediate death sentence for the sellers."

He claims that no fewer that 30 sellers and mukhtars, most of them from the Modi'in area, have paid for it with their lives. For that reason, Himnuta, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund, waited until the seller died or left the country before opening the first registration file. Is it self-evident that nobody voiced opposition. The attorney emphasizes that the Justice Ministry was involved in determining this policy.

Later in the opinion Kramer writes that after examining the purchase documents, Plia Albeck, who for years headed the Civil Department in the Justice Ministry, declared these lands "government property." He sees fit to say that Albeck, who has since passed away, "was the one exclusively empowered by the attorney general and on his behalf to express her opinion regarding the legal status of state lands and government property, and to instruct the Civil Administration." Among her superiors was former attorney general Aharon Barak. Among her neighbors in the ministry was state prosecutor Dorit Beinisch.

It is possible that already in the proceedings that will take place this coming Sunday they will have to decide whether to approve the dubious circular transactions carried out under their noses, or to order the demolition of 40 buildings constructed without a permit.

Suggesting a nap for Peretz

Despite his advanced age, peace activist Lova Eliav ran from one end of the country to the other to collect a few more votes for his friend Amir Peretz. Lova is not finding any pleasure in the government's policy of collective punishment, in whose implementation the defense minister is a senior partner. But Lova Eliav is faithful to the Russian proverb that one does not hit a friend who is down. He is making do with a suggestion to his neighbor from Sderot, to adopt David Ben-Gurion's habit of making sure to take an afternoon nap.

After seeing Peretz's fatigued face on television, Lova recalled that he and his colleagues in Mapai (the forerunner of the Labor Party) knew that even if a world war broke out, Paula Ben-Gurion would not allow them to disturb the rest of the Old Man. At 2 P.M. Ben-Gurion would don pajamas and would not return to the office before 3:30.