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August 31, 2007: Lowering Expectations

August 31, 2007

So, after all of the excitement and angst and fury , this is where we likely are with regard to "the peace process":

According to the Post this morning, the US-sponsored summit in the fall may be only at the level of foreign ministers and may not involve heads of state at all. A major diplomat at the Russian Embassy here in Israel reported that he had been told this by US Ambassador Richard Jones. Israeli officials say they haven’t been told at what level the conference will be held.

It depends, clearly, on what sort of progress is achieved before the conference. Thus the push to get Olmert and Abbas to put together a pre-conference agreement — that document stating principles.

There’s a move here to play it low key out of a desire to not look like idiots when nothing comes of the meeting. But an additional problem is that Saudi Arabia is less than eager to attend, and is more likely to be induced to do so if it’s at a lower level.


Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t doing too well:

"A Palestinian leader who feels safer in Jerusalem , Paris and Washington than in Nablus and Jenin will never be able to deliver."

Thus begins Khaled Abu Toameh’s report today, citing a senior Fatah official.

Seems that (and this was a surprise to me) Abbas hasn’t been in Jenin or Nablus since before the January 2005 presidential elections when he was campaigning. He’s referred to jokingly as the mayor of Ramallah because the only time he leaves this city is to go abroad. "A visit to Nablus or a refugee camps in the West Bank remains out of the question, mainly for ‘security reasons,’" one of his aides explained.

All in all, Abbas is lacking popularity and credibility . Concludes Abu Toameh, "Given the current divisions among the Palestinians, the ongoing Hamas-Fatah power struggle, the growing mistrust of the US and Israel in the Arab world and Abbas’s shaky status, it is highly unlikely that the PA chairman would be able to win the backing of a majority of his people for a US-backed deal."


A brief word about the issue of African refugees coming into Israel via Egypt, as I suspect this is something that’s making press in the US.

Some of those who have come — as I understand it, roughly 3,000 over time — have been kept here in Israel (where there is discussion as to what to do with them) and some have been turned back to Egypt. The situation is vastly complicated — far more complicated than would appear at first glance — and exceedingly painful.

In a nutshell, there is the feeling that we Jews here in Israel have a moral obligation to receive suffering refugees. And that perspective tugs at my own heart, without a doubt. It comes from the gut, in terms of who we are and how we are supposed to act.

But — while I believe mistakes have been made in handling them — Israeli officials who respond differently are not necessarily being heartless and without compassion or sense of responsibility.

When one hears "African refugee" one thinks first of Darfur , and this obscures the larger issue. For it turns out that less than 1/4 of those who have come here are from Darfur (most of whom have been kept), and just over 50% are from Sudan at all. The rest are from various other parts of Africa.

Word has apparently gotten out that if you can get yourself to Egypt, and then over the Sinai border to the Negev, that’s a wise move. But this could result in absolutely huge and untenable numbers arriving that we are simply not capable of coping with; we are a small nation with a host of problems and an African Jewish population (from Ethiopia) that we are still contending with absorbing. We cannot accept unlimited numbers of refugees, and that message must be delivered; there is talk about building a fence so that they cannot get into Israel.

Then there is a further concern — though there has been no evidence yet that this has been the case — that active enemies of Israel from Africa might come with a refugee population. In particular there is concern about al-Qaida, which has an African presence.

Part of the problem in handling this has been Egypt’s reprehensible way of dealing with the refugees. From that perspective it is easy to understand why they’d prefer to jump the border and take their chances in Israel (and why our sensitivity is necessary). There was one obscene incident witnessed by Israeli soldiers at the border who saw a refugee killed. If some refugees are being returned to Egypt, acceptable conditions for them must be assured — and apparently arrangements have been made with Mubarak. Beyond this, it is appropriate for the international community — the UN High Commission for Refugees and various NGOs — to be involved here.

According to an Israeli Foreign Ministry official: "Given Israel’s size and limited resources, it has taken significant measures. Israel is well aware of its responsibility as a sovereign state, but we cannot address this complex issue on our own."


For about a month, Arabs on the Temple Mount have been digging with heavy equipment, creating a trench 1.5 meters deep and 400 meters long that they say is needed for new electrical cables. They are doing so with the acquiescence of the Israeli government and the Israeli Antiquities Committee.

Independent archeologists from the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount have become deeply disturbed about this and registered protest without effect. One of the most outspoken, Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai, then called a Jerusalem press conference, at which he explained that archeological ruins of inestimable value have been severely damaged by this work, while Israel is turning a blind eye. He is referring to a seven-meter wide wall that apparently dates to Second Temple times and was likely part of the Temple courts.

An appeal to the High Court, to stop this work will be registered next week. The work is being done at night, which makes inspection more difficult.

Why would Israel turn a blind eye? Because stopping the work would cause protest in the Muslim population and it’s easier not to take them on. How despicable is this disregard for our heritage.




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