This has been a busy week for Israel and the Middle East, starting with events last Monday. The Israeli cabinet authorized Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead a committee that will be empowered to release Palestinian prisoners in the course of the upcoming peace negotiations. The decision was very emotional. In the hours leading up to the conclusion, many in the Likud voiced their opposition to the ruling. In the end, the Prime Minister obtained a comfortable majority in favor of the decision. Needless to say, the outcome is profoundly painful for all of the families with loved ones who were slain by the terrorists involved (who have been in prison– on average– for 25 years.) After previous agreements, (including the recent deal made to secure the release of Gilad Shalit), the current projected prisoner release seems modest. In my opinion, of all the commitments Netanyahu had to concede to renew negotiations, releasing prisoners was the lesser of three evils to him. Given an environment where honor means so much this is an important gesture to the Palestinians. Furthermore since the Shin Bet has been recommending we let go some of these same prisoners in order to strengthen Abbas against Hamas– a clear benefit that will be achieved as a result of this move.
The second decision of the Israeli cabinet was to extend the current law calling for a referendum on any decision to withdraw from the territory that is officially part of Israel, before the withdrawal can be implemented. That means a national poll would be taken on changing the status of any part of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, or any land given as part of a territory swap. This law already exists. However, many on the right wanted this to become a “basic law”, a law that cannot be overturned by a simple majority of the Knesset. There is a great deal of opposition to “upgrading” this law to a basic law, especially by the left. Last night I listened to the head of the Meretz party fulminate against the idea. It astounds me that rather than embracing the idea, (as a way of getting the country to go along with a peace agreement), Zehava Galon was talking nonsense about “how instituting such a basic law would weaken the Knesset and the democracy of this country.” Since very few people think the democracy here works well to begin with, this is an illogical argument. I believe that if an agreement is reached with the Palestinians, only a referendum can insure that our nation goes along with it– it the hopes the decision will not permanently tear us apart.
Recent polls show that a majority of Israelis would support such an agreement.
The underlying decision made by both sides was an approval to return to the negotiating table based on the agreements reached with John Kerry. Negotiations will begin this week.
The third news item this week was the election of the two new Chief Rabbis. There is really nothing to say. The Haredim won. 150 nearly anyomous people decided that the two new Chief Rabbis will be Haredim, who are both sons of former Chief Rabbis. I have nothing to add, other than sadness.
While events carry on in Israel, the situations among our neighbors continue to deteriorate. In Egypt, the violence has been exacting a growing death toll. It’s hard to separate out truth from accusation. Though from my best reading of first hand accounts, it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood was looking for a violent confrontation that would end in many deaths, so that they could blame the government. Who exactly started what is not clear. However, after being repeatedly provoked by the Muslim Brotherhood, it seems police or other groups attacked the Brotherhood’s protestors. As a result, somewhere between 50-100 people have been killed in Cairo. It would seem that the Muslim Brotherhood killed between 10 and 20 people in Alexandria, including a significant number of Cops. One thing is clear: the Brotherhood has lost the support of most of the Egyptian people. Tens of millions came out yesterday in a demonstration supporting the military, and opposing the Brotherhood.