Saturday, February 2, 2013

Highlights From Another Trip to Israel


Another post from 40,000 feet above the Atlantic on my way back from Israel, and like every previous visit there was plenty of news, experiences, fun, hard work, and observations.  And of course wherever there’s an election, there is election analysis.

Over a week ago, 64% of Israelis went to the polls to elect a new government after the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for early elections.  Netanyahu’s Likud party and its coalition partners assumed an easy go of it and that the electorate would deliver a mandate of four more years of lip service concerning a two state solution, bellicose relations with the US, increased isolation from Europe, and more settlement building.  Well a funny thing happened on the way to the polls, of the 120 Knesset (Parliament) seats up for grabs, 60 seats when to left or center-left parties, and 60 seats when to right or center-right parties. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party (Likud merged with Yisrael Beiteinu) did end up with the most seats, 31, but that was a significant loss compared to the 45 Likud received in the previous elections.  President Peres will set a deadline for Netanyahu to form a new coalition and early indications Bibi will form a more centrist government by bringing in the upstart Yair Lapid, the TV news anchor turned politician, whose Yesh Atid party garnered the second most votes.  The next four weeks will be very interesting to see the makeup of the next Israeli government and its domestic and Palestinian policies.

This visit to Israel included another trip to Jerusalem to explore the old city; a tour I never get sick of as we included a trip through the excavation tunnels along the western wall underneath the Muslim Quarter, literally a trip through time.  Of course the excavation is not without controversy as Arabs believed the Israeli excavation was a plot to set off explosives under the Dome on the Rock at the Temple Mount and destroy the third holiest site in Islam.  Of course it would also destroy Zion, the holiest site in Judaism where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac and when the Temple of Solomon once stood.  Yes, looking for rationality in politics and religion is like looking for a needle in a haystack on the dark side of the moon without a flashlight.

The visit was also highlighted by a little military action as Israeli jets attacked, depending on who you believe, a convoy carrying Russian-made SA-17 missile batteries and/or a ‘research center’.  The attack took place in three sorties late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, less than 12 hours after we heard a pair of jets fly at full military power over us in the Galilee in northern Israel.  Immediately after the attack, the usual condemnations were issued by the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah Russia, and the Arab League.  Missing from that list was Jordan.  Israel’s moderate neighbor has been working with the Jewish State in securing Syria’s chemical weapons as the al-Assad government implodes.  Once again the Arabs leave it to Israel to do the dirty work in the region.  The other striking observation from the aftermath of the aerial attack was the sustained normalcy of Israelis as they went about their normal routines and the media hype of impending retaliation from Iran.  I can honestly say that I was never concerned about safety; the Israeli mindset is to deal with adversity and threats and carry on.

This week, the farcical United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued yet another condemnation of Israel over settlement building.  The  council went as far as to threaten Israel with charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Now, I have been critical of the current Israeli government and its opposition to a lasting peace accord, but the UNHRC is a joke:

·         40% of the group’s condemnations are aimed at Israel

·         The latest report did not include any actual visits to the settlement areas

·         This austere body has recently added Sudan as a member.  Yes the home of Darfur has been approved as a member.

So another visit is in the books and while the region sinks further into civil breakdown, Israel remains the sole, albeit imperfect, democratically elected free state.  I look forward to my next visit.

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