Opinion: Was The ZF Right To Reject Yachad? … NO

Long-frustrated at having been told their support for Israel was not good enough, people wanted a seat at the table.

It is no surprise Yachad grew so quickly. It captured the hearts and minds of so many thousands of our community, many from a younger generation, who, graduating through Zionist youth movements and active on university campuses, wanted a new framework by which they could support Israel, rather than simply defending the status quo.

When Yachad applied to affiliate to the Zionist Federation we did so in good faith, hoping to be able to represent this perspective within an organisation that claimed to be an umbrella movement of Zionism in the UK today.

After nearly ten months of answering questions, inviting council members to our events and doing everything that was required of us, we were told our application had been rejected ‘on no grounds’.

It was simply put to a vote and the vote went against us. We know from those present at previous discussions within the Zionist Federation, members of
the constitution committee ‘found no strong grounds to reject the application’, but nonetheless did so.

We thought this community had long ago done away with the notion that being ‘pro-Israel’ and ‘pro-Palestine’ – or, more accurately, ‘pro-the creation of a Palestinian state’ – were mutually exclusive. Apparently not. We’ve been told that our desire to show Anglo-Jewry Palestinian areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem means we are ‘too pro-Palestinian’ and not ‘pro-Israel’ enough.

The fact that we vocalise concerns in relation to settlement expansion is apparently indicative of our lack of support for Israel, despite the fact that 70 percent of this community does not support settlement expansion.

But supporters of Yachad stand with large numbers of current and former political, military and cultural leaders inside Israel whose opinions are no different to ours. Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister of Israel, recently said of Yachad: “A two-state solution is the only possible road to peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. The work of Yachad, which takes a strong and firm approach in support of this outcome is to be commended as the work of a truly Zionist organisation.” Is he too not welcome at the table?

When Yuval Diskin, most recent former head of the Shin Bet, was quoted as
saying tensions cannot be diffused so that a resolution can be found while settlement expansion is ongoing, did he forgo his right to call himself a Zionist? The chairman of Meretz, Zahava Gal-On, supported Palestine’s upgrade at the United Nations. Yet Meretz in the UK remains a member of the Zionist Federation. Had Meretz applied to join today, would its application, too, have been rejected?

Zionism has never been a monolithic ideology. One only has to look at the
disagreements between Ben Gurion and Ze’ev Jabotinsky as proof of this.
However it appears the Zionist Federation today perceives its role as policing the term, deciding what is Zionist behaviour and what is not, and in doing
so, chooses to exclude large numbers of this community.

A supporter of Israel, who desires to see a two-state solution and chooses to visit East Jerusalem with Yachad, in order to better understand who lives
there and the options for how the city could be shared in a final status agreement, can, it seems, no longer claim to be a Zionist.

The Zionist Federation of course has a right to make any decision it likes, but surely it has lost the right to define itself as the ‘umbrella of Zionism in
the UK’?

It is clear from the depth of feeling inside the community that has been shown this past week, that many people are looking to understand why supporting Yachad and being represented at the Zionist Federation are mutually exclusive.

This is now a conversation about what, and who, defines Zionism in 2013, and is too important to remain behind closed doors.

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Opinion: Israel’s Survival Depends On A Religious Majority in Knesset

All the major parties in Israel had active counterpart movements here. In the weeks and months preceding elections, a flurry of animated debates would take place around the country between British spokesmen for groups such as Likud (formerly Herut), Poale Zion (Labour) Mapam, Mizrachi and Aguda. Large enthusiastic audiences would often attend. Election night gatherings were as compelling here as in Israel itself. The euphoria in London when Menachem Begin was first elected Prime Minister in 1977 was something I shall never forget.

How radically things have changed. Once the disastrous policy of territorial appeasement in Judea and Samaria began in the early 1990’s followed by the fiasco of Gaza ten years later, the difference between the parties on foreign policy became increasingly blurred. Previous “Zionist” ideologies became redundant and the suicidal concept of a “two-state solution” entered the Middle East vocabulary. Coupled with this, the rise and fall of numerous new parties, alliances and coalitions made Israeli politics so complicated and unpredictable that the wider Jewish public simply lost interest.

Things have spiced up again since the election in January of this year. It has produced a polarisation that is quite unprecedented. It has effectively produced a straight 50-50 division in the Knesset between right and left. On the right there is Likud and all the religious parties, totalling 60 seats. On the left there is Labour, Yesh Atid, various miscellaneous groups and the Arabs, also totalling 60. A fascinating outcome, and it is to be hoped that Netanyahu will form a strong coalition with the right people, well equipped to stand up to the vicious international pressures that are bound to follow.

To me, the most negative feature of the election was the 19 – seat success of Yesh Atid. I see its “ultra-chilled” leader Yair Lapid as representing all that is decadent in Israeli society and in what remains of secular Zionism. He has the profile of a Hollywood film star, with little to distinguish his image from any swash-buckling upstart one might encounter on the European or South American political scene. Apart from the fact that he speaks Hebrew, his attributes and outlook are not in the slightest bit Jewish. On the Yesh Atid agenda, Shabbat, Kashrut and Torah study are completely irrelevant, as is any notion of the sanctity of the land of Israel. It is deplorable that downgrading religion, forcing Yeshiva students into the army and demonizing the Charedi community are the major planks of that party’s social policy.

In Jewish terms, the Lapid philosophy is both destructive and self-destructive. It represents a sterile modern day hellenism which, for all their faults, was not the approach of the country’s “founding fathers”. Zionist leaders like Weizman, Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky generally recognised the paramount role of Judaism within the land of Israel, even though they themselves were not actively observant. It was Ben Gurion who coined the phrase “the Bible is our mandate”. Even today’s political leaders – Peres and Netanyahu – are capable of connecting with their Jewish heritage and retain a residual “heimishkeit” in their statements and conduct. Little of this can be said for Lapid and his ilk for whom assimilationist secularism seems to be a creed in itself.

On the positive side, every time there is an election, an increasing number of seats move to religious parties and religious politicians. In this new Knesset, there are 18 Charedim (Shas and UTC combined) and 12 national religious (Habayit Hayehudi). If you add to this the 9 observant MK’s among the secular parties you find that virtually one quarter of the Knesset is actually religious. This development surely reflects the demographic reality of Israel’s population that religious families are increasing in numbers, while non religious are decreasing or remaining static.

If, as one can only hope, the said trend continues, there will in due course inevitably be a religious majority in the Knesset and a religiously dominated Government. This, more than anything else gives me reason for optimism, since Israel’s survival can only ultimately depend on adherence to Torah values. That, ironically, is the real meaning of “Yesh Atid”. Yes, Mr. Lapid, there is indeed a future, but it is quite different from the message you are preaching.

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PM sanctions slowing nuclear programme

He told guests at the Hilton Park Lane: “Now there are some who say nothing will work – and that we have to learn to live with a nuclear armed Iran. I say we don’t and we shouldn’t. But at the same time I also refuse to give in to those who say that the current policy is fatally flawed, and that we have no choice but military action. A negotiated settlement remains within Iran’s grasp. But until they change course, we have a strategy of ever tougher sanctions.

“Just today, Britain has secured a further round of new sanctions through the EU Foreign Affairs Council. And these relentless sanctions are having an impact no-one expected a year ago. They have slowed the nuclear programme.”

News of the new sanctions focusing on gas exports and banks was welcomed by Benjamin Netanyahu, though he warned that only when the “centrifuges stop spinning and when the Iranian nuclear programme is rolled back” will the world know the goal of sanctions has been achieved.

Cameron insisted that “nothing – and I mean nothing is off the table” but said he had personally told Netanyahu that “now is not the time for Israel to resort to military action. Beyond the unpredictable dangers inherent in any conflict, the other reason is this: At the very moment when the Regime faces unprecedented pressure and the people are on the streets and when Iran’s only real ally in Syria is losing his grip on power a foreign military strike is exactly the chance the Regime would look for to unite his people against a foreign enemy. We shouldn’t give them that chance. We need the courage to give these sanctions time to work.”

The Conservative leader – who said Britain “will always stand by Israel, protect Israel” – told the gathering that standing up to Iran was one of three key steps to securing the country’s future, alongside seizing the opportunities presented by the Arab Spring and “taking the hard choices needed to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians”. He said he believed “time is running out for a two-state solution – and with it Israel’s best chance to live in peace with her neighbours”.

The prime minister called on Israel to relax restrictions on Gaza, provide more support for economic development in the West Bank and halt settlement building. But he added: “I know it takes two to negotiate. So let me say this clearly to President Abbas there is no path to statehood except through talks with Israel. So if the Palestinian plan is simply posturing with the UN rather than negotiating with Israel, Britain will never support it.”

On the domestic front, the prime minister – who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech – had particularly tough words for the boycott movement. “To those in Britain’s universities and trade unions who want to boycott Israel and consign it to some sort of international ghetto, I say not only will this Government never allow you to shut down 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make our countries stronger. But I also say this: we know what you are doing – trying to delegitimise the state of Israel – and we will not have it.”

He paid tribute to those in the room – including Ambassadors Matthew Gould and Daniel Taub – who are “determined to build the strongest possible” bilateral relationship including the Nobel prize winners of the UK-Israel Life Sciences Council. And he joked: “These are proper Nobel Prize winners. Not the European Union.”

Stuart Polak, Director of CFI, said friends of Israel should be “deeply satisfied” with the Prime Minister’s words. “He maintained a strong stance on Iran, confirming that nothing is off the table. He expressed concern about Palestinian delegitimsation of Israel, their glorification of terror and their refusal to negotiate. His assertion that Britain would never support Palestinian posturing at the UN was also very welcome.” Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister’s clear acknowledgement of our longstanding position that boycotts are a tactic of those who promote the assault upon Israel’s legitimacy. We wholeheartedly commend his stance that he will respond to them by further strengthening ties between Britain and Israel.”

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Netanyahu confirms Shalit talks are back on

Shalit has been held by Hamas for more than four years, since he was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in a June 2006 cross border raid.

In January expectations were raised that a prisoner swap deal was nearing fruition, but the Israeli government was unwilling to agree to the demands placed on it by Hamas and the deal was scuppered.

Since then no indirect contact between Israel and Hamas was reported, until Saturday, when rumours emerged that negotiations via a German mediator.
On Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the rejuvenation of discussions over Shalit’s release with the German mediator at the centre of the talks.

“We are working on Gilad’s issue on a daily basis. We are constantly trying to find various new ways to secure his return,” Netanyahu said.

“One of these ways, the main avenue, is the negotiations, which indeed have been renewed several weeks ago.”

“Efforts are ongoing in many directions, the majority of which are left undisclosed; as they should be.”

Some Hamas leaders also confirmed the news, with one prominent official, Mahmoud al-Zahar, agreeing that the possibility of completing a deal is back on the table.

“It’s clear that the occupation (Israeli) government, according to its leaders, is interested in finalizing the negotiations with Hamas in the prisoner exchange deal. We are ready for that,” Zahar told Palestinian news agency Safa

“We reject the idea that the negotiations will end as they did last time, in other words that understandings reached will be canceled by the narrow Israeli cabinet.”

The Shalit family, however, was unsurprisingly unmoved by the latest reports, having had their hopes raised on many occasions over the past four years.
Parents Noam and Aviva Shalit have sat in protest in a tent outside the Prime Minister’s official Jerusalem residence for the last few months, and said they were waiting for real actions rather than reacting to more reports.

“There is no progress, and everything is blocked. There are efforts, but nothing new because, ultimately, the prime minister has to take the right decisions,” said Noam.

On Monday the family was at Kibbutz Degania in the north of Israel where the government held a special meeting to mark the 100th anniversary of the Kibbutz movement.

Dozens of protestors came together at the Kibbutz to demonstrate against the lack of progress in the negotiation process.
On Tuesday it was reported that Netanyahu was considering releasing imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti as part of a prisoner swap for Shalit.

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End or extend

Danny Danon MK, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of the World Likud, believes the freeze should end: “This Sunday we will celebrate the end of the ill advised building moratorium in the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria.

“Ten months ago Israel unilaterally declared this unprecedented step as a supposed incentive to encourage the Palestinians to return to the negotiation table. We now find ourselves in an extremely weakened strategic position as we begin peace talks under threats from all sides that all will be lost unless we extend and increase this freeze on people’s lives. Prime Minister Netanyahu has told me repeatedly in private, as he has told Israeli people, that all citizens of Israel will be allowed to build once again beginning next week. This is the right policy for Israel, and the Likud Party together with a majority of Israeli citizens will provide full backing to the Prime Minister on this most important decision.

“There are numerous reasons why this policy was the wrong decision at the wrong time for the State of Israel. From a pure human standpoint, the freeze has been highly unfair to the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria. It is important to remember that these Israeli citizens have broken no laws. On the contrary, a vast majority of them were encouraged by successive Israeli governments and all the leading political parties (Labor, Likud and Kadima) to settle in these historic areas. These “settlers” are the crème of the crop of the Israeli population, serving in our most elite army units and are active in all parts of Israeli cultural, business, and social society.

“Last November, the Israeli government decided out of the blue to essentially freeze their lives. Since then, young couples have been unable build their new homes that for which they had already begun paying mortgages. Growing families have been prohibited from expanding their houses for their growing families. Our government has basically designated the residents of Judea and Samaria as second class citizens enacting draconian rules that don’t apply to anyone else in our country.

“Leaving aside the extreme unjust implications on the lives of our citizens, the long term strategic damage of the freeze is something that must be rectified immediately. Israel has never before declared a building freeze – even when negotiations with the Palestinians were at their most intensive peaks under the left wing governments of Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Barak. There was sound strategic thinking behind this policy. Why should we declare at the outset that our historic and legal claims to these lands are less legitimate than those of the Palestinians? Why should we put our peoples’ lives on hold while at the same time our Palestinian neighbors have continued to build unabatedly, putting facts on this disputed ground as they expand their existing cities while even building a completely brand new metropolis with full financial and logistic support of the Americans and the Europeans?

“We now enter these negotiations with an extremely dangerous fait accompli – that it is illegitimate to build anywhere in Judea and Samaria and doing so would somehow be more dangerous to the prospects for peace than the thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli population center by the Hamas entity in Gaza. This is not the ideology of the Likud Party and its coalition partners that triumphed in the 2009 elections, but rather the historic claim of extreme left wing groups like Peace Now that have been discredited at the ballot box where their representatives in the Meretz and Labor parties have suffered historic blows in recent years.

“Some supporters of the Prime Minister have claimed that the objective of the freeze was to call Mahmoud Abbas‘ bluff and unmask his real intentions about his unwillingness to really reach a negotiated settlement to this century old conflict. This too is a dangerous strategy that has been tried before. In fact, Ehud Barak publicly made that argument following the failed Camp David talks in July of 2000. We all know the result of that experiment – almost a decade of Palestinian initiated bloodshed that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Israeli citizens. We cannot risk repeating this mistake.

“It is now clear that our government policy regarding a moratorium in Judea and Samaria was mistaken from both a moral and strategic standpoint. The good news is that this mistake can hopefully be rectified. If the Prime Minster and his cabinet stay true to their word and end the freeze on September 26th then we will make clear to our own citizens, the Palestinians, and the world, our true intentions and goals. We all want peace and an end this conflict, but we are not ready to enact ill-advised, unjust, and dangerous policies that serve only extreme elements on all sides while only moving us further away from a peaceful and prosperous existence that we so desperately strive for.

Paul Usiskin, chair of Peace Now UK, believes the freeze should be extended:

“In the gap between ‘we took it’ and ‘we never left it’ is a reality that Israelis and many Jews are either unable or unwilling to confront, echoing the “Ain Breira”- “No Choice” attitude in the years before Israel stepped into the limelight after June 1967. These phrases are shorthand definitions of Jewish history and the Jewish people’s relationship with Eretz – the Land. Part of that Land is regarded by both the international community and the Palestinians as territory illegally occupied by Israel.

“The former, many believe, has nothing to tell us. We were the butt end of everyone else’s history, and suffered the consequences of it. Only our own moral code provided us the key to survival. With it were we able to rise above the exigencies of our endless ‘guesthood’, believing that we were the equals of the majorities amongst whom we lived, and aspiring to be better than them, should our oppression ever end. Herzl dreamed of removing us from the path of the eternally rushing train of anti-Semitism, and his successors set the bar with ‘a light unto the nations.’ Whether that train has finally reached its terminus and we have crossed the bar are moot points.

“Of the latter, the Palestinians, we have few if any positive or amicable thoughts. For some they are Amalek and deserve the fate of that tribe. For others their existence is conveniently hidden away by a separation fence that must have cost the citizens of Israel as much as the Bar-Lev line along the Suez canal.

“’We took it’ summarises how the West Bank was occupied. Whether unwittingly as Shlomo Gazit suggests in “Trapped Fools” (Frank Cass 2003) or accidentally in Gershom Gorenberg’s “The Accidental Empire” (Times Books 2006), is not moot but fact.

“‘We never left it,’ reflects what has been in our hearts and souls. But the very code by which we have survived, reminds us of the reality behind that quintessence.

“There are a couple of familiar signposts. The first is the Mitzvah we read in shul on Yom Kippur – “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In one sermon our Rabbi reminded us of the inherent reciprocity in this Mitzvah and she went to the heart of it when describing it as the fulfilment of the highest of our values.

“The second I stumbled across one Shabbat a few years ago. It is from the Soncino Humash notes for Exodus 22.20: ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ We learn that the Talmud says the precept ‘to love, or not to oppress the stranger,’ occurs 36 times in the Torah. The commentary concludes: ‘The reason for this constantly repeated exhortation is that those who have been downtrodden frequently, prove to be the worst oppressors when they acquire power over anyone.’

“Israel has become the regional power. But there are limits to that power and for a people that has rightfully been greedy for freedom, accepting limits is hard indeed. We resent questions, especially when we know the answers. We cannot be told that the occupation is morally corrosive even if we know that it is. We pretend not to notice how we and it have become pejoratively synonymous abroad.

“We have forgotten the ‘light unto the nations’ message and the minority experience from which it was born. We seem intent on ignoring any limits, even those set by whatever or whoever we believe is our Jewish moral arbiter. The Mitzvot and exhortations are just a nuisance.

“Those who insist on us having our cake and eating it too, who simultaneously seek to blur the green line and pretend the separation fence they built isn’t there, are in danger of creating a divide as destructive as between Judah and Israel. They undermine the moral values the state of Israel is supposed to represent and call into question whether Israel as an occupying power is capable of being the guiding spirit for the House of Israel.

“We owe it to ourselves not just to extend the settlement freeze but to use it as a statement of our sincere desire for an end to occupation and for peace. Not doing so says the opposite of what we believe and what we want to be.

Danny Danon MK

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Still talking, but building freeze deadline just days away

Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave statements to the media following the talks in the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh.

It was left to Mitchell to outline what had gone on behind closed doors in the four-way meeting he had attended alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Today, he parties have begun a serious discussion on core issues,”
Mitchell explained.

“President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu also reiterated their intent to approach these negotiations in good faith and with a seriousness of purpose.”

Although no specific examples of progress were revealed, the simple fact that Netanyahu and Abbas were willing to continue the direct negotiations that began in Washington earlier this month was considered an achievement in itself.

Netanyahu implemented a controversial 10-month freeze on construction in the West Bank last November as a gesture towards the Palestinians.

With the 10-month period due to end next week on September 26 debate had been raging in Israel over whether to extend the freeze.

After meeting with Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Sunday Netanyahu spoke to Likud cabinet ministers, implying he had decided to renew building in the West Bank.

“At the end of the month, the freeze order is due to expire and we have to think about what is the wise thing to do,” he said. ”But I believe that in practice what will be built will be much less. We will not agree to be dictated to that nothing will be built, but between 0 and 1 there are other possibilities.”

However, a limited building plan is unlikely to be accepted by either the Americans or the Palestinians, with Abbas continuously claiming he would quit the talks if construction is renewed.

Speaking after the talks in Sharm, Mitchell made his government’s view totally clear.

“We think it makes sense to extend the moratorium; especially given that the talks are moving in a constructive direction,” Mitchell said.
“We know that this is a politically sensitive issue in Israel. And we have also called on President Abbas to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process. We believe that both sides have a responsibility to help ensure that these talks continue in a constructive manner.”

Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon is one of a number of Likud MKs firmly opposed to a continuation of the freeze, and stressed his position on Tuesday.

“The moratorium was a poor decision and I told the Prime Minister 10 months ago that it would be very hard to continue to build after the freeze,” Danon said, before criticising the negotiations themselves.

“We feel that the Prime Minister knows that there is no partner for peace in Abu Mazen (Abbas), but that he is still playing the game, and does not really believe a deal can be reached. I think that the manner in which it is being carried out and the language that [Netanyahu] used is not in the Likud way, and if anyone thinks that in a year you can finalize the conflict, that is wrong.”

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UK Opposes Gilo Housing Expansion

In response to the construction in the Gilo neighbourhood a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The Foreign Secretary has been very clear that a credible deal involves Jerusalem as a shared capital. So this decision on Gilo is wrong and we oppose it. Expanding settlements on occupied land in East Jerusalem makes that deal much harder.”

The US has also attacked the settlement expansion. In an interview with Fox News President Barack Obama called the project “dangerous”. He denied additional settlement building would help make Israel safer and said it would make it more difficult for the country to find peace. “I think it makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbours, I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous,” he said.

Israeli officials have insisted that that Gilo legally belongs to Israel and that there is nothing new about the construction in the area.

According to Israeli website Ynet, sources in the Prime Minister‘s office said: “The Gilo neighborhood is an integral part of Jerusalem just like Ramot Eshkol, Rehavia, the French Hill, and Pisgat Ze’ev. This issue has broad national consensus.”

The sources added: “The building in Gilo has been occurring continuously for dozens of years and there is nothing new about the planning and building proceedings.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also defended Israel‘s right to build the construction. In a statement, he said: “Israeli law does not discriminate between Jews and Arabs or between East and West [Jerusalem]. The demand to stop Jewish construction only would not be legal in the United States, either, or in any other enlightened country in the world.”

The Palestinians are refusing to negotiate with Israel until the government institutes a complete freeze on settlement construction.

Obama has frequently called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to adopt a total freeze of all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, which Netanyahu has refused to do.

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‘Cruel’ Shalit Stunt At Gaza Celebration

Wearing an IDF uniform, the man spoke in Hebrew about how he missed his family and begged Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to give in to Hamas demands and bring about his release.

“Shalom to my father and mother, I miss my father, I miss my mother,” the fake Israeli soldier said. “I want to ask Olmert: Why did you forget about the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit?” he added.

The perverse stunt came more than 900 days after Shalit was captured by Hamas operatives on the edge of the Gaza Strip in June 2006.
This was “another example of [Hamas] cruelty and inhumanity,” Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said.

Hamas has demanded the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners by Israel in return for Shalit’s release, but the list of prisoners has not been approved by the Israeli authorities.

Earlier on Sunday, the leader of Hamas’s political wing, Khaled Meshaal, announced that a so-called ceasefire, which was supposed to have lasted for the last six months and is due to end on 19 December, would not be renewed.
“It appears that the agreement will not be renewed after it reaches its end,” Meshaal said in a television interview marking 21 years since Hamas was founded by Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Although there have been sporadic firings of rockets into the Western Negev from the Gaza Strip during the ceasefire period, there are now concerns that the attacks could become much stronger.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, however, appeared less sure that the ceasefire was over. In a speech made at the Gaza rally, Haniyeh said the situation needed to be reassessed.

“After all these months, the factions here and abroad held meetings to assess the truce and the assessment was negative regarding the position of the Zionist enemy.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni responded on Monday by repeating her view that the Hamas control of Gaza is unacceptable.

“Hamas cannot continue to control Gaza,” Livni said in a speech to high school students. “In the long term, Israel cannot tolerate an extreme Islamic state on its southern border.”

Livni is currently the leader of the Kadima Party and aiming to become the first female Prime Minister of Israel since Golda Meir when a general election is held in February.

The Hamas comments did not deter a continuing international effort to bring about a peace agreement.

On Monday, former US President Jimmy Carter met with Meshaal in Damascus for five hours to discuss issues including negotiations to release Shalit.

Meanwhile, Israel went ahead with a release of some 230 Palestinian prisoners on Monday, prompting wild scenes of welcome in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Around 210 of the prisoners were sent back to the West Bank, although Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not satisfied.

“Our joy will not be complete until all 11,000 prisoners are freed,” Abbas said. “I promise you that there will be other groups like the one today until there is an end to the suffering of all our detainees.”

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A New Life in Israel

Hours earlier, 38 British Jews and 240 Americans had boarded Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah flights in their first steps to starting a new life in Israel, and as the former Prime Minister welcomed them, the atmosphere was one of jubilation. “I know you come from great lands,” Bibi continued. “The US is a great country. The UK is a great country. But this is your country.”

A roar of excited, optimistic agreement shot around the hall. Images of children and young couples flashed up on the big screen. Hope and desire danced in their eyes. This is why they were coming. It was not 1948, or 1951 or the 70s. These Jews were not fleeing from persecution or fear or atrocities, but moving voluntarily towards something: a climate, or a country, or an ideal; for some people all three.

“I believe Israel is a place where all Jews should live,” explained twenty-something Londoner, Naomi Kaplan, who was making the move with her new husband. “But my decision is for both Zionist and religious reasons, and because I love the country. It’s an intellectual reasoning to an emotional desire.”

Rebecca Godfrey, a mother of two young children agreed: “I feel like I’m finally where I’m meant to be.”

This is the intangible pull that seems to have inspired many of these journeys. Unlike the examples of emergency aliyah that have come from Georgia in recent weeks, these British and American Olim expressed a myriad of positive reasons for their upheaval, a concoction of ideology, yearning, and practical desire.

“It’s a new form of aliyah adapting to the 21st century,” explained former Israeli ambassador to the US and co-chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh Danny Ayalon. “Most of the Jews are no longer behind iron curtains or in areas of political persecution or poverty. They are in well-to-do countries like the UK, and they are not running away from anything, they are simply coming home.”

It is a unique kind of homecoming, a choice that in the flicker of television coverage of Israel can at times seem difficult to understand. But for some, political pressures and issues of security are only additional reasons to make the move.

Ben Apfel, a student from Leeds completed a stint of volunteer service in the IDF a year ago and now, as a citizen, is returning straight to the army. “I felt an extra pull because of the media coverage,” he explained. “In the UK I became very used to the idea that Jews often have, that they have to keep their heads down, or they have to keep quiet and not respond to criticisms of Israel. So to be part of a huge body that actually welcomes you because you’re Jewish is very stimulating. I wanted to go back to the army. Ideologically, I feel part of something in Israel, rather than being on the outskirts.”

Despite this feeling however, new kinds of Olim present Israel itself with new challenges, not least the task of absorption. Over the past few years government funding for immigrants has steadily decreased, educational provisions have diminished, and issues of integration between the various fragments of society have grown; but this is where Nefesh B’Nefesh is radicalising the process of aliyah.

“Anyone who crosses a border and emigrates has difficulties,” acknowledged former ambassador Ayalon. “But at Nefesh, our model is to focus on the absorption. We help Olim to bridge the gap between the ideals, the vision, the dream, and the every day practicalities: finding jobs, good homes, education, social networks and support.

“When they arrive, the work of Nefesh is only just beginning. And once they are absorbed well, not only do they stay, but they also send back to their friends and families and communities, the message that it’s a great place, come over.”

This message is perhaps the most overwhelming part of the whole occasion. Far from the furore of negative press surrounding immigration in Britain, it is with open arms and by former prime ministers that Israel’s newcomers are greeted. It is an emotional moment, a true celebration. It makes one ashamed of the hostile reception we throw in the UK. It also makes it surprisingly easy to forget that this is only half the story.

The other half is that these Olim are welcomed purely because they are Jewish. As a bonus, this particular bunch are skilled and affluent and therefore (unlike the Falash Mura for example) attractive; but it is their religion that is the sticking point, the reason they have automatic rights to return, and the crux of a policy that has drawn accusations of racism and prejudice and apartheid.

It is difficult to dismiss such charges. However, as Bibi delivered his closing words to the bright-eyed crowd brimming with deep-rooted dreams, and in the context of the increasing Arab population, the continuing threats to Israel’s existence, and the growing number of emigrants from the country, it seemed equally difficult to deny the significance of the only defence there can be.

“We must help ourselves,” upheld the right-winger. “We need to secure the Jewish future. You have that power… This land was rebuilt by Jews to ensure Jewish lives. To those who threaten the Jewish people today, I say, we will protect ourselves.”

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Beyond Olmert – Scenarios and Policy Implications

Olmert – the accidental Prime Minister who took office after Ariel Sharon’s stroke and led the party in the elections that followed – had little support, particularly after the mistakes of the Lebanon War. And in many ways, the race to succeed him began immediately after the war two years ago.

But sceptics note that Olmert may make a slow exit, depending on who emerges on top in Kadima – the two most likely candidates are Foreign Minister Zippi Livni and ex-IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz. Either will have a difficult task holding the current coalition together and general elections in the Spring of 2009 are more likely than not. Under these circumstances, Olmert could cling to power in charge of a caretaker government for another six months.

Kadima’s survival is by no means assured in this process. Without Ariel Sharon’s leadership, this new party lacks a viable political base and is widely perceived as a haven for corrupt career politicians with little less to offer. Livni is an exception, but critics point to her lack of security experience – a crucial factor with Israel facing Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other threats.

In this situation, if elections are held, polls show that the Likud under Netanyahu has a substantial advantage, at least for now. And Likud’s image was boosted with the addition of General Uzi Dayan, the late Moshe Dayan’s nephew, who had a distinguished military career, is widely respected, and has steered clear of the corruption is Israeli political life. He will bring some centrist voters from Kadima and perhaps Labor back to Likud, and could end up as Netanyahu’s defense minister. And if Likud does well enough, the leadership could renew the effort to fix Israel’s dysfunctional political system.

In the Labor Party, another former Prime Minister and ex-IDF Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak, is struggling to rehabilitate the ranks in order to challenge Netanyahu and either Livni or Mofaz. Barak needs more time to heal the deep divisions in Labor and re-establish his leadership, and may seek to postpone elections by working with the new Kadima head after Olmert, but this will be difficult.

Given the centrality of the domestic political considerations, the impact of Israeli security and foreign policy is limited. The longer Olmert stays in office, the more he is likely to push for the appearance of breakthroughs in negotiations with the remnants of the Palestinian Authority and with the Assad regime in Damascus. Olmert may be hoping that such a breakthrough will salvage his political career, or at least his legacy, but most Israelis are skeptical and do not take either process seriously. Of the main candidates to become Prime Minister, only Livni shows much enthusiasm for George W. Bush’s “shelf peace agreement” which would outline terms when or if the Palestinians end their civil war and the longer history of rejectionism and terror.

Finally, on the looming confrontation with Iran over illicit nuclear weapons development, there are few differences between Israeli leaders, and key decisions are made collectively among the main policy makers, including the IDF and Mossad. If military action is deemed necessary for Israel’s survival, the policy process will continue to function, regardless of the state of play in the political game.

– Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is executive director of NGO Monitor in Jerusalem, and chairs the Political Science department at Bar Ilan University, in Israel.

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