b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    May 7, 2007 Edition 16                      Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Ramifications of the Winograd report
  . Between the lines        by Yossi Alpher
Olmert's successors will have a clean slate. And hopefully they will be more capable.
. Undermining nascent political efforts        by Ghassan Khatib
Blocking developments on the Palestinian-Israeli front will in turn complicate the internal Palestinian situation.
  . This is lunacy        an interview with Shlomo Ben-Ami
Now, if there really is a case for a war in Gaza, Olmert will be constrained from acting by Winograd.
. Winograd report serves the "peace-makers"        by Khader Khader
The United States can feel relieved of any potential pressure exerted by the Palestinians or Arabs to push toward Palestinian-Israeli final status negotiations.

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Between the lines
by Yossi Alpher

Between the lines, the Winograd commission report tells us quite accurately that Israel is different from the western democracies it aspires to resemble. Because of its strategic situation and the security challenges confronting it, it needs senior leaders with a strong capacity, based on a combination of wisdom and experience, to make sound decisions in the realm of national-security--i.e., in matters of peace and war. They don't necessarily have to be ex-generals, but they have to display the desired decision-making capability as a precondition to holding the office of prime minister or defense minister.

Accordingly, those who follow PM Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are likely to be more qualified than them to hold their jobs. But if, in the short term, Olmert succeeds in his quest to remain in office despite the devastating conclusions of the Winograd report concerning his decision-making last summer, he will almost certainly be crippled in the performance of his duties--not only by his low public approval rating and proven lack of capacity to hold his office, but also by the high standard of performance set by the commission's recommendations. True, Olmert's successors will also be held up to this standard. But they at least will have a clean slate. And hopefully they will be more capable.

Eventually, the luster of the Winograd recommendations is liable to wear off. Sadly, they might end up filed away with the unapplied judgments of earlier commissions of inquiry. In the interim, though, the report's insights regarding Israel's security decision-makers, when applied to the sphere of Israeli-Palestinian relations, are liable to constrain the freedom of decision that an Israeli prime minister enjoys in deciding which avenues of war and peace to pursue with the Palestinians. This is particularly so if Olmert remains in office.

Thus in a near-term worst case scenario, the Palestinians (and Iran, Syria and Hizballah) are liable to interpret Israel's strategic position as one of considerable weakness, precisely because the prime minister's hands appear to be tied. In particular, the non-state actors on our immediate borders (Hamas and other militants in Gaza; Hizballah in Lebanon) cannot help but notice that Winograd, in omitting immediate recommendations for improving the defensive capability of Israel's civilian rear, points to a dilemma: the IDF will not have the capacity to intercept incoming short-range rockets for a year or two at least; nor does the government have any immediate capability to provide significantly improved conditions for bombarded civilians.

Suppose, for example, that Hamas wants to draw Israel, against its better judgment, into reoccupying Gaza with all that this entails for IDF losses, controversy among the Israeli public and complications with the international community. It could be tempted into launching a major rocket attack on the western Negev region and beyond. A new and more qualified Israeli leader would be far better suited to responding to this sort of dilemma than Olmert and Peretz.

There are two important areas of Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian issue that are linked to last summer's events yet are not even dealt with between the lines of the Winograd report. This is unfortunate, because these are critical areas of Israeli policy that desperately need to be revised and that would have benefited from the voicing of firm criticism and constructive recommendations for change by the commission.

First, the link between 40 years of IDF occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and particularly the past six years during which the IDF fought the second intifada, on the one hand, and the army's poor performance on the ground in Lebanon last summer on the other, is not pursued to its logical conclusion. As long as Israel has other wars to fight, the military occupation of Palestinian territories, meaning essentially police/gendarmerie duties that reduce the army's capacity to train as an army, are bad for the IDF's warfighting capabilities and erode its readiness to engage in anything approaching classic warfare. In other words, the sooner we end the occupation, the more capable we will be of dealing militarily with the challenges posed by Iran, Syria and Hizballah.

Secondly, the commission completely ignored the motivation for Hamas and Hizballah to engage in the abduction of IDF soldiers last June and July--the actions that started the war. From the standpoint of Hamas and Hizballah, abductions were the only conceivable way to free Palestinians and Lebanese in Israeli prisons. Israel's sentencing policies regarding enemy terrorists are draconian compared to the enlightened prison conditions it imposes on its own citizens convicted of murder. An Israeli murderer sentenced to life imprisonment knows he/she will be released after 20 years and will enjoy the occasional weekend leave from prison from about year eight of his/her sentence. If Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails knew they could be released after 20 years, the incentive to start wars in order to effect their release might be reduced.- Published 7/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Undermining nascent political efforts
by Ghassan Khatib

The Winograd report has shaken the domestic Israeli political scene and as a consequence seems also to have undermined the political contacts between the Israeli and Palestinian political leaderships, recently instigated by a relatively active American diplomacy.

The US administration has apparently realized that its previous policy of non-interference in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict contributed to its deterioration. Instead, Washington has begun to show an emergent interest, illustrated by successive visits from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as several prominent members of Congress.

The latest and probably most significant and practical example of a more hands-on US approach is the American benchmarks scheme that was presented to the two sides near the end of April. This scheme has as its objective the implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which has up until now been almost completely ignored by Israel.

The Americans have also realized that deterioration not only in the political but also the economic situation in Palestine will only contribute further to the radicalization of the Palestinian public and that Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and their products are the primary cause of this economic deterioration. If the radicalization and economic deterioration process is to be halted and the peace camp in Palestine re-empowered, these closures must end.

The Winograd report, which of course has nothing directly to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is causing paralysis in the Israeli political system that will prevent any meaningful political developments vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

This is not unprecedented. There were several historical occasions on which internal Israeli developments undermined political processes or prevented third party initiatives. That it is happening again can be seen by the recent American decision to postpone Rice's next visit. The regular biweekly meetings between Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are also in jeopardy.

Blocking developments on the Palestinian-Israeli front will in turn complicate the internal Palestinian situation. The recent political engagement between the two sides, no matter how preliminary it has been, was reflecting positively on the internal Palestinian situation. It was empowering the president and allowing for a healthy division of labor in which the Hamas-majority government was getting used to the role of the president in pursuing political negotiations on the basis of signed agreements and the relevant provisions of international law and Arab resolutions as stipulated by the Mecca agreement.

Another casualty of these internal Israeli developments is the planned diplomatic initiative of some Arab governments, particularly Egypt and Jordan, to activate the Arab peace initiative. Jordan has been pursuing areas of activity that aim at influencing Israeli public opinion and creating a healthy dialogue on the public level as well the governmental.

Such developments will unfortunately further strengthen the argument of Palestinian groups opposed to the political process and the peaceful resolution of the conflict that Israel is again escaping international efforts to bring back the two sides to the negotiating table.

Even if this crisis ends quickly, it will leave the current Israeli leadership in a weaker position and consequently in a less conducive situation for peace.

Ultimately, it is the absence of clear messages from the international community, especially Washington, which allows Israel to play the role of the spoiler. More than ever, the international community, especially Europe and the US, is invited to make Israel understand that escaping its obligation to end the occupation in order to make peace will negatively affect world relations with Israel. If this does not happen, there will only be further radicalization in the region in general.- Published 7/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.

This is lunacy

an interview with Shlomo Ben-Ami

bitterlemons: How will the Winograd commission's conclusions affect the capacity of the government of Israel to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians?

Ben-Ami: The conclusions and recommendations certainly do not enhance the government's capacity to register progress in the Israel-Arab sphere. Since the Olmert government was formed, and more recently in view of the prime minister's poor position in the polls, one would have expected him to try following in Ariel Sharon's footsteps and diverting public opinion by bringing about a breakthrough in the peace process. But so far Olmert doesn't seem to have even the minimal popular support needed to give credibility to a major move in the peace process.

On the other hand, there are vague indications that something has been developing between Olmert and Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas]. So regardless of Winograd, and before the commission files its final report in the summer, we might discover the existence of some sort of discreet [Israeli-Palestinian] channel.

bitterlemons: Based on your Sharon example, wouldn't this be precisely the time for Olmert to seek to divert public opinion away from Winograd?

Ben-Ami: It appears to me that Olmert initiated the biweekly meetings with Abu Mazen before Winograd. I met Abu Mazen twice in the last two months. He is very upbeat; so maybe something is going on.

bitterlemons: How does the Winograd report affect Israel's capacity to pursue military objectives?

Ben-Ami: The Israeli military is conveying the message that Syria is preparing a war, while the Syrians say the same about Israel. Winograd certainly doesn't encourage another round of hostilities at Israel's initiative. Two wars in a year would be breaking an Israeli record--and for a government already condemned as inexperienced and incapable of conducting its response to the challenge posed by Hizballah in the north. Nor do I see repeating that exercise in the south before the second Winograd report. The Israeli military is pushing to go into Gaza, but the politicians will prevent it.

On the other hand, there is a general sense that Israel's deterrent capacity has been reduced and that accordingly, at some point not in the immediate future, this just might motivate Israel to try and recover that lost deterrence. I can see a different defense minister trying to make a point that Israel has recovered from the setbacks of the campaign in the north. I also think the Israeli army needs another campaign badly to "recover" after Lebanon. I hope that if we're bound to fight, it will happen because this is inevitable, a last resort, and not because the system needs it.

bitterlemons: At the personal level, can you comment on PM Olmert's performance under fire?

Ben-Ami: One has to admit that Olmert's resilience is remarkable. Look not only at his low approval rating but also his reaction to the massive press and public criticism; he's surviving.

bitterlemons: Your own performance as a minister in October 2000 was scrutinized by the Orr commission that investigated Israel's response to the rioting by its Arab citizens at the outbreak of the second intifada. Can you broaden the spectrum and comment on the effect these commissions of investigation have historically on governance and decision-making in Israel?

Ben-Ami: The only effect is political. The commissions are about targeting individuals rather than radically changing the course of events. How did the Kahn report [on Sabra and Shatila] change the course of events when the war in Lebanon lasted 18 years after it? Nor did Agranat [investigating the Yom Kippur War of 1973] change anything; his report didn't even touch the political level.

This scrutiny is counterproductive. It's not only the commissions but the entire setup of judicial hyperactivity, invading territory that is not its natural territory. Now add the press, which is overwhelmingly righteous and critical and doesn't leave space for politicians to move, and add the usual coalition difficulties. Given all these constraints, it is no wonder politicians in Israel have little room for maneuver.

Take the case of Yitzhak Rabin in the first intifada. Imagine a commission had been established to investigate his reasoning and performance at the political and military level. Rabin stayed in the US for 10 days after the intifada began; when he returned, he didn't gauge what was happening. After 20 years of occupation, the army was not prepared to face an intifada; it lasted for five years. So the commission would have found Rabin, "mister defense", unfit to be minister of defense. By current standards, why were the Qana deaths or the Hashmonean tunnel events in 1996 not investigated? This is lunacy. Now, if there really is a case for a war in Gaza, Olmert will be constrained from acting by Winograd.

Winograd said nothing the public didn't know anyway. This Monday morning quarterback philosophy is not helpful in any way because things will always happen by surprise and decisions will have to be taken under stress. Scrutiny should be parliamentary and by the press and public opinion.- Published 7/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Shlomo Ben-Ami is the vice president of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He was a minister in the last Labor government.

Winograd report serves the "peace-makers"

by Khader Khader

No Palestinian really believed that a new opportunity for the peace process was actually emerging in the past few months after the reactivation of the Arab peace initiative. Palestinians have become experienced in Israeli-American tactics to give the impression that efforts are being exerted for the sake of the peace process while at the same time facts on the ground lead nowhere.

Wishful thinking, on the other hand, pushed some to believe that since the Palestinians agreed on a national unity program and government--which represents more than 95 percent of the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and which called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders along with a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194--and given the Arab countries' move to re-launch the Arab peace initiative and provide political support to the Palestinian people in their quest for peace, a real opportunity emerged for the Palestinians and Arabs to attack Israel with a peace offensive that could have gained the approval of the international community.

However, and amid the "cautious" international euphoria, the Winograd interim report came out to smash all dreams and bring Palestinians back to reality. The content of the report and the severe criticism launched against the main political players in the Israeli government means that Israel is no longer in a position to allow it to deal with any peace process with the Palestinians for some time in the future even if Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated on many occasions that he is ready at any moment to meet with "moderate" Arab leaders in public to discuss the Arab peace initiative.

Apart from its immediate impact on the political system in Israel and with the growing possibilities for early elections, the Winograd report thus came also to serve several parties involved in the Middle East peace process.

Taking into consideration the weak and "fragile" political position of the current Israeli government, the United States can feel relieved of any potential pressure exerted by the Palestinians or Arabs to push toward Palestinian-Israeli final status negotiations. In fact, the most recent US document on mutual measures and timetables between Israel and the PA is a clear proof of the American position. The United States believes at this moment that Israel is in no condition to be put under pressure to offer any commitment pertaining to the peace process, so easing the restrictions on Palestinian movement in exchange for a halt to rocket firing seems the most logical thing that one can expect from Israel after the Winograd report. The most recent media reports indicate that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has postponed her scheduled visit to the region until further notice.

Furthermore, since the publication of the report, we have stopped hearing statements from international officials on the "emerging window of opportunity" for peace.

The Arab countries were also served by the report as they knew in advance that Israel would not accept the Arab peace initiative. The Winograd report and its political ramifications inside Israel thus saved them from any embarrassment. At least, they can say, they did their share and no one can blame them afterwards. If they want, the Palestinians can blame the Winograd commission.

Experience has taught the Palestinian people that whenever the peace process is activated, an Israeli prime minister resigns or a Winograd report is published. This leads to early elections in Israel and Palestinians are made to wait. This time, the Palestinians are made to wait and in addition suffer economic and political sanctions imposed on them by those parties that exert "peace efforts" in the region.- Published 7/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Khader Khader is a media analyst with the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons.org and yossi@bitterlemons.org, respectively.

Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.