A second successful deterrent to terrorists crossing over into Israel’s cities, are the roadblocks in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Again, the Palestinians protest that they impede traffic and make life hard, and the U.N. is constantly insisting the roadblocks come down. However, Israel responds that until terrorism is brought to a halt by the Palestinians, the roadblocks stay.
Gaza is a horse of a different color because the Hamas and Jihad terrorist gangs have established rocket-making factories. The rockets rain down on a daily basis over Israel’s southern towns. Gazans are constantly improving their technology and as the rocket threat continues to increase, Jihad claims they will soon be able to hit Tel Aviv. If this happens, the Israeli army will have to invade Gaza again in an out-and-out war against the terrorists.
Hamas controls Gaza, whereas Fatah, under President Mahmoud Abbas, rules the West Bank. Israel’s nightmare scenario is that Hamas will dethrone Abbas in democratic elections, build underground weapons factories in the West Bank, and turn it into a launching pad for rockets which could hit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Israel’s three soldiers held hostage for almost two years are still in the hands of the Islamic Jihadists. They are demanding hundreds of Palestinian terrorist prisoners in exchange for just one of our Israelis. So far, no deal.
But last year was also “the year that wasn’t” - the war everyone predicted would happen with Lebanon didn’t. It also seems that Iran is not quite prepared to “annihilate Israel” and wipe her off the map just yet. According to Israeli analysts, she still needs another year or two to perfect her nukes.
Tel Aviv - situated in the center of Israel where more than half of the Jewish population lives.
And against all predictions of Israel’s pundits, Ehud Olmert is still the Prime Minister. His coalition has been surprisingly stable - even after the Israeli army’s debacle in executing the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.
Israel’s economy is doing well. It bounced back after the Lebanon War and in 2007 grew by approximately 5.4% - good by anyone’s standards. Fueling the economy is tourism and hi-tech; Israel is second only to Silicon Valley in the hi-tech industry.
POLITICS AS USUAL
At the end of 2007 there was another ritual peace conference held in the U.S. - a great photo op because so many nations attended, including Saudi Arabia. Israelis polled after the conference, however, exhibited little hope that anything more will come out of the conference. Only 16% of Israelis and 11% of Palestinians believe the conference will ultimately advance peace. What’s more, it is extremely doubtful that anything of substance will come out of President George Bush’s visit to Israel.
So will life in the Middle East continue as is…this coming year? Most likely. There is no doubt that both Ehud Olmert and George Bush want more than anything else a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians with two separate states. Olmert articulates Israel’s dilemma: Israel can either divide the land between the Muslims and the Jews - or - he says, “live eternally in a confused reality where 50 percent of the population or more are residents but not equal citizens who have the right to vote like us.”
Olmert claims that the good thing in all of this is that Bush put in writing (to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004) that he envisages Israel maintaining at least some territory in Judea and Samaria, and for Olmert “that’s an amazing achievement for Israel.” Most of the world is demanding a complete return to the 1967 borders - which would mean dismantling all the settlements and giving up sovereignty of the ancient part of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall.
“THE HAND OF GOD”
The reason Olmert is so passionate about creating two states this year is not only because Bush - the most friendly president to Israel ever - is still in office, but also, as Olmert sees it, there is an incredible constellation of important western nations that are supportive allies of Israel.
Beach party at Tel Aviv - "the city that never stops."
“It’s a coincidence that is almost ‘the hand of God,’” Olmert declared, “that Bush is president of the United States, that Nicolas Sarkozy is the president of France, that Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, that Gordon Brown is the prime minister of England and that the special envoy to the Middle East is Tony Blair.” (Interview with Jerusalem Post, 1Jan08)
Indeed, insists the prime minister, there is currently an almost divinely ordained constellation of key personalities on the international stage favorably disposed to Israel, creating comfortable conditions for negotiations that might never be replicated. (Ibid.) It is Olmert’s desire, then, to push ahead as fast as possible while these leaders are in place. However the general population thinks otherwise. Only 8% of Israelis think a two-state solution can be implemented in just a year. (JP25Dec07)
Actually, most Israelis are so weary of 100 years of war that there is no doubt the majority would give the Palestinians almost anything they wanted - if only they would make real peace with the Jewish state. But how could that come about with today’s reality?
Radical militants have learned to use democratic elections in Arab-Muslim states to dominate a nation. The fact is Arab states with “moderate policies” are ruled by “moderate dictators.”
There is only one way that has worked in the past. For an Arab nation to live peacefully with non-Moslem neighbors (i.e. Israel) a strong dictator with moderate views and a courageous spirit must be in control. When Egyptian president and dictator Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979, he was far more forward-looking than the general population of Egyptians. But in two years after making peace with Israel he was assassinated by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
His successor, Hosni Mubarak, who is still Egypt’s president, has kept himself alive by walking a very tight rope. The vast majority of his Muslim constituents hate Israel and believe it has no right to exist. For that reason, although Egypt still has a peace accord with Israel, Mubarak periodically breaks agreements. In January, Mubarak allowed Palestinian terrorists and loads of weapons into Gaza from the Egyptian side. This was in direct contradiction to what he promised Olmert just days before.
The other Muslim authoritarian figure who signed a peace treaty with Israel was the late King Hussein of Jordan. He was the most moderate of all Arab Muslim rulers of this generation. Educated in Great Britain, he absorbed western culture and by nature was a very warm and caring individual. His son Abdullah, now the king of Jordan, has fortunately followed in his father’s moderate footsteps.
Israelis love sports, especially soccer and basketball.
Though a modern man, King Abdullah knows real democracy could never work in Jordan as his subjects, if given the chance, would elect radical Muslims for their leaders. The king has a large minority of Palestinians living in his nation, and his citizens are very anti-Israel. Yet King Hussein dared to make peace with Israel.
So why doesn’t Syria follow suit? Today, Syria, together with Iran, supplies Hizbullah and Hamas with arms and a stage from which to constantly attack the Jewish state. The dictator who made all this possible was Hafez al-Assad who ruled for 29 years with unmitigated cruelty until his death in 2000.
His son, Bashar al-Assad, was unanimously elected president by the powers-that-be. He had been studying in England to be an ophthalmologist when his older brother was killed in a car crash, making Bashar next in line for the presidency. When he became president, there were hopes in Israel that he too might be a moderate young man, as is King Abdullah in Jordan. But alas, he has followed his father’s footsteps, only more so. He, along with Mamoud Ahmadinejad, are promoting the terrorist organizations with the goal of destroying Israel. If not today, then tomorrow.
And what of the Palestinians? There will not be peace with the Palestinians even as much as Israelis desire it. The Palestinians do not have a strong, courageous and charismatic leader who can rise above his hate-filled constituents and defang the terrorists. Mahmoud Abbas is a weak elderly man who himself had been a terrorist for decades, serving as Yasser Arafat’s right-hand man.
Who knows? Maybe he has changed, and would be satisfied to have a small Palestinian state beside Israel. But he is simply too weak. His Fatah party dreams day and night of their D Day when they can wipe out Israel and take over the whole land. Just a few days ago, Fatah security people (armed by the U.S. and Israel to stop terrorism) killed two off-duty Israeli soldiers who were hiking through a wadi on the West Bank.
Israelis are unified on one point: There cannot be a peace agreement until the Palestinians stop the terror. And there is no one who can force the Palestinians to do that. Certainly not Abbas. Not even George W. Bush.
The area north of Haifa, a port city with heavy industry.
Even though the majority of Israelis would go for a “land for peace” deal if peace were real, there is still a fairly high percentage of all Israelis, especially among the religious, who are dead set against a Palestinian state. The 250,000 Israelis living in Judea and Samaria presents an almost insurmountable hurdle to evacuating this area - the very place where Abraham stood when God promised him the Land of Canaan forever. Their representatives in the Knesset vow they will bring down the Israeli coalition if Olmert makes such a deal.
So what does the year 2008 hold for Israel? Chances are incredibly slim for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Of course there could always be a surprise war. But probably it will be business as usual for the government and its neighbors.
More threats of war with Lebanon or Gaza.
More sounds coming out of Iran.
More Hamas rockets raining on Israel.
More negotiations to get our three kidnapped soldiers back.
More attempts by Israel to give the Palestinians land for peace.
More attempts by Bush to broker a peace agreement as his term comes to an end. The time clock ticks on.