HEBRON WATCH: Check out “Hebron Watch,” the new feature on Meretz USA’s website. “Hebron Watch” will help keep you informed about the Hebron settlers’ ongoing acts of hooliganism, as they seek to intimidate the city’s Palestinians and destroy their property in a methodical effort to violently drive them out.
Focus on: The Winograd Report
The interim report released on April 30th by the Winograd Committee launched a maelstrom of protest, analysis, and commentary in Israel, including a large rally held four days later. As Ari Shavit points out, the majority of Israelis believe that Olmert must go and the rally drew protestors from across the political spectrum. Yet, not all agree on exactly why or how it should happen.
For one, right-wing critics are tending to dwell on the bungling of the war effort by the Olmert-Peretz team, calling for a redoubled effort to prepare the IDF for “the next war.” Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu stated soon after the report’s release that “Israel’s existence depends on its strength.” Netanyahu and other right-wingers are also advocating new elections, which, if held in the near future, right-wing parties are likely to win.
In another corner stand those who come from a “good governance” perspective. These critics are focusing on the Committee’s findings that the war’s decision-making process was dominated by military considerations, which ignored the important role that diplomatic efforts from the Foreign Ministry could play. Those like Ze’ev Segal are most concerned with restructuring the way the state makes decisions so that Israel does not again go to war without examining all plans and options. Yigal Walt points out that this is a process that has long needed fixing: during the first Lebanon War, decisions were made in much the same manner.
Finally, and perhaps most interesting, is the perspective of the Israeli left, which has endorsed the manifold criticisms leveled against military and government officials by the Winograd Committee (lack of preparation, lack of care for Israel’s north, lack of a proper decision-making apparatus, etc.), but tried at the same time to refocus public debate and use the report to reignite the peace movement. They argue that Israel did not concentrate enough on making peace in the time leading up to the war. Meretz member Susie Becher contends: “The most important lesson to be learned from the Winograd findings is not that Israel must prepare itself better for war but that it must adapt its strategic thinking to prepare for peace.” Aluf Benn agrees. In his estimation, the Winograd report points out that, deluded by convictions of invincibility, Israel made no serious effort to achieve peace.
Other left-wingers focused more on the future. Peace Now for instance criticized the anti-Olmert and Peretz rally, saying that it offered no alternative direction for the government. And Ehud Asheri despaired, wishing that the demonstration had been aimed at restarting the peace process.
Observers from outside Israel are also concerned. The United States, which recently proposed a plan for easing restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza, is now treating Olmert like a “lame duck.” Arab parties have reacted with skepticism and apprehension. Palestinians doubt a revival in peacemaking: Rami G. Khouri writes that many Arabs doubt that there will be positive change and fear that the report may lead only to additional Israeli military action.
Certainly, there is reason for these parties to worry. Even though Olmert has weathered the initial wave of criticism – on Monday, he comfortably survived three no-confidence votes in the Knesset – many believe he is so weakened that he will receive no support even if he makes a major move towards peace.
In other news
* A World Bank report, released on Wednesday, criticized Israeli restrictions on travel in the West Bank. Returning to New York after years in the region, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Under-Secretary General Alvaro de Soto also spoke about Palestinian hardship.
* A US proposal for easing restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza was rejected by the Israeli defense establishment and Palestinian militants, but praised by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams assured Jewish community leaders that it would not lead to Israel being pressed into an “uncomfortable” situation.