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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Friday, May 28, 2004 ::

Now this is more like it
In terms of his hold on political power, most of Sharon's tenure as prime minister has been quite a bit calmer than the previous decade of Israeli politics, which was marked by frequent coalition crises, rampant backstabbing, and an almost Italianesque level of government instability. But all that is changing as we speak, as a few Ha'aretz articles argue quite strenuously. Sharon seems to floating the idea of a "mini-disengagement" now, a sort of watered-down version of the previous plan that was trounced in a Likud party referendum a few weeks ago.

Aluf Benn:
The depth of the political crisis became clear yesterday in a meeting that was meant to result in the final formulation of the proposal to the cabinet. The previous evening, his aides had assumed that they could get a majority in the cabinet vote and recommended that Sharon put the whole plan up for approval in principle by the cabinet. By morning, they had discovered that they have no one to lean on...

Since the referendum, Sharon's ruling circle has been reminiscent of the final days of Ehud Barak's government: a growing number of trial balloons, contradictory announcements and empty threats of dismissing ministers. The unity that characterized the Sharon government has now escaped the building. Discord among the inner circle is no longer kept indoors.

A mini-disengagement makes no sense. The IDF opposes it, particularly if it is done in stages; its effect on security will be minimal; and the Americans will withdraw their support. Still, Sharon did break the taboo of talking about dismantling settlements, a move that many of his predecessors feared no less. Yet Barak also broke taboos, on Jerusalem and the Golan, and in the end brought no results. It seems that in order to take another step, it will be necessary to stake the whole pot and call elections.
I'm not sure the Americans wouldn't get behind a different version of the plan. Bush's desire to stay out of the whole Israeli/Palestinian situation at all costs will lead him to support any course of action that will achieve that goal. US support for the original version of the plan failed to help it get passed, but if it looked like American backing might make a difference for getting another version passed, it would probably be forthcoming.

Yossi Verter talks about who's really in charge:
The government of Israel is today being run de facto by Netanyahu, economically and politically. The finance minister's refusal to support the "government recognizing the overall revised disengagement plan" formula has left Sharon with no options.

Netanyahu's proposal, under which the government would decide to pull out only from three settlements, would have brought about the immediate resignation of the right-wing parties - The National Union and the National Religious Party - while still keeping Labor out of the government.

Thus, Sharon would have been left with no majority at the Knesset. Or, as he once said of Netanyahu in another context, "caught with his pants down." Perhaps this is what Netanyahu is aiming for - to leave Sharon with no government and inherit his place.

This is what the people at the PM's bureau think. Yet even assuming this is true, the seeds of the current situation sprouted in the behavior of Sharon's own bureau in the past few months.

What began with a dramatic declaration at the Herzliya Conference, continued with the dramatic interview to Haaretz's Yoel Marcus, and peaked with the dramatic Likud Party referendum - has slid into farce.

Did anyone at the PM's office during all that time bother to check whether Sharon had the majority needed to carry out his declarations? Sharon's real problem is not with the government but in the Knesset.

He can fire a minister and so gain a needed majority. Even if he managed to create a national unity government along with Labor and Shinui, he would still have a hard time managing the Knesset.

He could threaten general elections, but that would be an empty threat, because Netanyahu is already snapping at his heels, with the signatures of 61 MKs who, rather than put themselves through uncertain elections, would recommend him as an alternate prime minister.
And if you really want to get your head spinning, try this other Verter article that deals with recent developments regarding both intra-Likud and intra-Labor intrigue (the latter being almost comedically childish).
3:43 PM
:: Thursday, May 27, 2004 ::
Political CW on Iraq
I've seen a stressing dynamic in some articles like
this one on Iraq. The basic idea is that Bush's half-hearted flip-flop towards Kerry's year-long consistent position on post-regime-change Iraq--internationalize the occupation, send enough troops to deal with the problems on the ground--is somehow a problem for Kerry, if the two candidates' positions come out sounding similar. This is absurd, given that Bush's dreadful leadership is what has us where we are today, but that's how some in the media seem determined to frame the issue. So Bush gets to act like he's being steady, staying the course, being a determined leader, etc., while the media glosses over that on focuses on Kerry.

Not so fast, says TNR &c., in a comforting series of posts. From the first one:
Regardless of what either Kerry or Bush says from here on out, the only thing most voters will end up knowing about the two candidates' proposals on Iraq is that Kerry's was to not get us into this mess in the first place, while Bush's was to get us into this mess. (Yes, I know. Kerry voted for the war resolution in Congress. But since then he's been a pretty vocal critic of the way the war's been prosecuted, and the Bushies have taken care to portray him as one.) If the situation gets worse or stays the same, Bush's "proposal" looks like a loser. If it gets appreciably better, Bush's proposal looks like a winner. That's easily 95 percent of what you need to know about Iraq as it relates to the election. At least assuming Kerry can clear a minimum bar of acceptability in the eyes of the American people--which polls suggest he can.
From another post, this one responding to part of the NYT article I linked to above:
First, the fact that Bush has moved closer to Kerry on some Iraq-related questions is neither here nor there. Iraq is Bush's baby. Everyone knows it's Bush's baby. And if it keeps going badly, he's finished, regardless of how close he happens to be to Kerry's positions on the matter. Second, Kerry isn't left to argue that he has more credibility in executing the same policies. He's left to argue that Iraq has been a disaster, and that it's Bush's fault--which is almost self-evidently true. And, finally, declaring a timetable for withdrawing the troops would not be politically advantageous for Kerry. Doing so would give Bush cover to lay out a timetable of his own, which would be substantively disastrous but pretty useful politically for the White House. By not budging from his commitment to stay the course in Iraq, Kerry forces Bush to do the same, meaning [Bush] has to keep owning every inch of the disaster Iraq has become.
And then the latest one, with some refreshing honesty from a fairly prominent neo-con:
From today's Washington Post:
Foreign policy experts on the left and the right said that, on Iraq, the principal focus will remain on Bush. "Kerry can let the administration stew in their own juices, and he can just essentially say incompetence has led them to this point," said Gary J. Schmitt of the Project for a New American Century, a conservative think tank. "I don't think the public really would even pay attention if he had an eight-point plan for fixing things."

3:44 PM
:: Monday, May 24, 2004 ::
Martin Peretz? Still a clown.
His latest New Republic article, basically just a rambling screed of Israeli-left-bashing, is subscriber only, so I'll just quote this comical bit:
Sharon is considering a proposal to ask Egypt to allow Gaza to expand westward into the Sinai desert. In return, it would get land in Israel's Negev. There are preliminary explorations between Jerusalem and Cairo on this suggestion. Let's see how far that goes.
This ain't going nowhere, as anyone who's even slightly informed about the region is well aware. Here's something from a Ha'aretz article from a couple of weeks ago, talking about this same issue:
The head of the National Security Council, Giora Eiland, presented a comprehensive regional plan to the United States a few weeks ago, according to a report published in Yedioth Ahronoth yesterday. The plan calls for Egypt to transfer 600 square kilometers of territory in northern Sinai (the former Yamit region) to the Palestinians in order to expand the Gaza Strip. In exchange, Israel will transfer 200 square kilometers in the Negev highlands in the area of Paran, to Egypt, which in return will be allowed to build a tunnel between the Sinai and Jordan. U.S. officials who were presented with the plan dismissed it.
A more blunt appraisal from Yossi Alpher in Bitter Lemons:
[Sharon's] apparent disdain for any constructive interaction with the US and Israel's neighbors regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace is illustrated by the incredibly naïve peace plan that he sent National Security Adviser Giora Eiland to present to Washington some weeks back: Egypt cedes territory from Sinai for the Palestinian state and in return Israel cedes one-third as much territory from the Negev to Egypt and enables Egypt to tunnel under the rest of the Negev and link up to Jordan! Suffice it to say that Sharon never asked either the Egyptians or the Jordanians, who can only wince at this incredible scheme, and that the Americans, to their credit, reportedly laughed Eiland out of the room.
They weren't the only ones laughing. From the sister site to Bitter Lemons, here's the reaction from Mohamed Shaker, a former Egyptian ambassador to the UK:
BI: Israel National Security Adviser Giora Eiland recently presented to the US administration an Israeli peace plan under which Egypt would be asked to give 600 square kilometers of northeast Sinai to enlarge a Palestinian state based in Gaza, and Israel would compensate it with 200 square kilometers of the southern Negev and the right to tunnel under the rest of the Negev and link up with Jordan. Is this an attractive offer?

Shaker: (Laughter). Do you think any Egyptian would give up Egyptian sovereign territory to anybody--and, what's more, territory that was occupied for so many years?
Maybe Sharon and Peretz could do a modern version of one of my favorite movie musical numbers: Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, don't you know everyone wants to laugh...
2:51 PM

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