March 22, 2010 Graves Create New Distraction For Netanyahu, AiPAC

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

March 22, 2010 Graves Create New Distraction For Netanyahu, AiPAC

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first order of business, upon landing in Washington, was not dealing with Israel’s frayed relations with Washington, but rather working to weather the storm of criticism that resulted from a decision of the cabinet to move the proposed location for new Emergency Room at Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon. Four years ago it was realized there was an urgent need to expand the emergency room at Barzilai, which handles 500,0000 visits a year, with only 17 beds. The government finally allocated money to build the new Emergency Room next door. That Emergency Room was to be built underground, recognizing the proximity of Ashkelon to Gaza. Unfortunately, as excavation began on the building, graves were found. Charedim (extremely religious) demanded the construction be stopped, even though there was a very small likelihood the graves were Jewish (Ashkelon was a Philistine city in ancient times) and despite that fact that under Jewish Law one is even permitted to move Jewish graves, if doing so would greatly lessen public suffering. It so happens, the Deputy Health Minister (effectively, the minister at the moment) is Yaacov Litman of Degel Hatorah; (representing the Charedi parties.) Litman demanded the Emergency Room be moved or else his party would quit the coalition. His plan was to move the Emergency Room a few hundred meters away from the hospital and build an above ground bridge to the hospital, a plan that will cost 100s of millions of Shekel and delay the project's completion by years. The non-political Director General of the Ministry, who was a highly regarded health care professional said he would resign if Litman’s positions were upheld. Yesterday, the cabinet decided in 11 to 10 votes to follow the plan presented by Lichman and stop the construction. The Director General resigned. Lichman is the acting minister, rather than minister, since members from his party will not become ministers in the government, as they do not agree to swear allegiance to a country, though they are quite willing to accept money from and influence the policies of the state they do not recognize. Israel Channel 10 totaled the money spent in the last few years, as a result of rerouting roads and railroads to avoid burial places,whose removal was objected to by the Charedim. They came up with a minimum of 500 million shekels in direct costs.

The AIPAC conference began yesterday, but today was the big day. Secretary of State Clinton gave the US government's main speech to the convention. The speech was extremely friendly to Israel and touched on all the key points. However, she made very clear that the Obama administration sees clear linkage between progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front and any possible progress on Iran. Her main point was that a lack of progress, or at least the perception of a lack of progress, weakens the American ability to influence events. Full Text As much as Israelis do not want to hear this, it is clear it is true, to some extent.

PM Netanyahu will be meeting with President Obama tomorrow; the timing is a mixed blessing for Netanyahu. With the passage of health care yesterday, it is clear President Obama should be more relaxed now that his signature bill has passed. Obama will, however, come to the meeting stronger then before. Many of the right wing Israeli commentators over the past few months have been engaging in wishful thinking, drinking the coolaid of Fox News- (which has been saying that Obama’s Presidency has been weakened and that Obama will have no power to do very much of anything. Last night has proved that wishful thinking to be wrong. PM Netanyahu is gong to have to deal with the President being newly invigorated and a Presidency that, for the moment, far from being on the rocks, looks stronger than ever.

On his show on CNN yesterday, Fareed Zacharia was particularly caustic in his criticism of Netanyahu. He stated that its seems to him Israel does not see the Iranian threat as existential, since if it did, it would be doing all it could to improve ties with the US, instead of giving in to local political concerns. He stated Netanyahu was not the Churhillian leader whom he tries to depict himself as, but just another political hack.
There was an interesting Washington Post op-ed piece today that gave a more balance view:
A Familiar Obstacke to Mideast Pace: Mohmad Abbas

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