Better to Milk Lebanon Than Drink Golan Wine

I recently reported that in Washington, there is a growing sense that a document advising President George W. Bush on how to Baker-Hamilton document resolve the Iraq crisis will address the Israeli-Arab conflict at length. Zvi Rafiah, a former Israeli congressional attache who is very involved in American politics, says there is no need to speculate.

Rafiah has the transcript of an interview James Baker, one of the document's authors, gave ABC television about a month ago. During the interview, the former secretary of state strongly suggested that the White House open direct talks with countries it was keeping at arm's length, including Iran and Syria.

"I believe in talking to your enemies," Baker declared, noting that as the elder Bush's secretary of state, he visited Damascus 15 times. Talking to your enemies does not constitute appeasement, he said. He even noted that the team drafting the document met with representatives from Syria and Iran to discuss the future of Iraq.

Baker is not Bush's only adviser who believes that in order to get out of the Iraqi quagmire, the United States must dip into the chilly waters of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Rafiah says that on the eve of the Iraq invasion, some tried to convince Bush that the road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah. A few added Damascus to the list.

The president preferred the position of his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who recommended a direct flight. Now that the latter has vacated his seat, those who say the way out of Baghdad also runs through Israel and the territories are gaining strength. This time too, a few have added Syria to the list. Even fewer include Iran. "Before us is an outline of a process," summarizes Rafiah, "and the people guiding it are Baker and [former national security adviser] Brent Scowcroft, veterans of the elder Bush's administration, and not Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, who came from the neo-conservative school."

Given the cool attitude toward Syria of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the statesman closest to the president, Olmert need not be concerned. A European diplomat said in a conversation several days ago that even Europe is not pinning any exaggerated hopes on Damascus. After several talks with government leaders there, including President Bashar Assad, the senior diplomat concluded that milking Lebanon, as he put it, interested the Syrian regime much more than wine from the Golan Heights.

His impression of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also led him to some pessimistic conclusions regarding the chances of diplomatically convincing Tehran to forego the nuclear option. He is against wasting time on pointless diplomatic talks, and says it would be better for the international community to devote its efforts to formulating effective sanctions against Iran.

Given the failure of lesser sanctions on Iran, some in the west West are considering imposing a naval blockade on the Strait of Hormuz at the tip of the Persian Gulf, and damaging the country's oil income. Vice Premier Shimon Peres believes such moves would be effective if they were accompanied by a massive investment in developing alternative energy sources.

The European diplomat further noted that an Arab leader told him Iran and Syria are making every effort to thwart a prisoner exchange over captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to sabotage the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Precisely because of this, he says, Israel should seek to open this channel, thus isolating Iran and Syria. In the meantime Ahmadinejad still cannot utter - even in closed meetings - the word "Israel," the diplomat said.

Conclusions from the olive harvest

Human rights activists closely monitoring the West Bank olive harvesters report that when the High Court of Justice rules, the attorney general intervenes and the defense minister takes action, the Israel Defense Forces knows how to restrain Jewish bullies.

Volunteers from Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights confirm that contrary to previous years, the IDF, Civil Administration and Israel Police did not abandon the Arab farmers to the bad will of outpost residents. The security forces accompanied the olive harvesters to their lands and ensured that no harm befell them. Things are more complicated when the orchards are on the western side of the separation fence, however. Farmers often obtained a permit to enter the area - only to find that others were there before them. Human rights activists investigated and found that in many cases, Israeli Arabs living nearby were stealing their brethren's olives.

The outpost residents, most of whom purport to observe God's commandments, also discovered this harvesting method. Instead of using force against their neighbors or cutting down their trees, it is much safer - and much more profitable - to enjoy the stolen fruits. When the sun set, and after the harvesters and guards left, the residents of the settlements would descend on the orchard and carry away the sacks of olives left on the ground. The more industrious among them even shook the branches and collected the fallen fruit. In some cases, the Palestinians watched the thieves from a distance. The Israeli volunteers asked the police for help.

Two weeks ago, the Samaria District Police informed Michael Sfard, Yesh Din's lawyer, that "villagers' complaints are not cause for a search or search warrants."

Sfard reminded the district commanders that criminal regulations obligate the police to open an investigation once they learn a crime has been committed, "whether via complaint, or in any other way." Major General Yisrael Yitzhak, the Judea and Samaria district commander, is presumably familiar with this. Yesterday morning on Israel Radio, the senior officer prided himself on the successful completion of the olive harvest, but regarding the investigation into the large-scale burning of olive orchards, he acknowledged that he had no news. As in most cases, here too not a single arrest has been made.