Window on Israel: Keep the radio on

I have not heard calls today for the finance minister to resign, but that will come.

January 18, 2007 11:35
3 minute read.
Window on Israel: Keep the radio on

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The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem Jews are like other people, only more so. The phenomenon appears occasionally on a day's portion of Israeli news. Yesterday I woke to headlines that Israeli and Syrian representatives had agreed on the outline of a peace treaty. By early afternoon, the headline was that the Attorney General's office had instructed the police to begin investigation of the prime minister concerning criminal charges with respect to improper involvement in a process to sell control of a major bank to one of his political supporters, and perhaps other issues that have been hanging over his head for some time. The evening news chewed over both of these events. Then I went to bed. I awoke for a few minutes before the 5 a.m. news, which reported that the chief of the IDF general staff had tendered his resignation. By 8 a.m., the media chorus was for the prime minister and the defense minister to resign. They shared responsibility with the head of the IDF for the failures in the recent war. How can they possibly remain in office and be the key figures to appoint the next chief of the general staff? I have not heard calls today for the finance minister to resign, but that will come. He, too, is facing serious charges about improper behavior in one of his previous positions. Can we get through this day with a clear mind? Both Syrian and Israeli officials are denying that there is anything to the story of an agreement between them. It may be that the Israeli prime minister cannot be bothered with such stuff when he has to prepare for a police investigation and possible criminal charges. The best guess is that the contacts were informal. On the Israeli side they involved a former director general (the most senior professional position) in the foreign ministry. That is, someone who knows his way around the front and back channels of diplomacy. On the Syrian side, they involved an American of Syrian origin, who may have senior contacts in the Syrian government. We also hear that European diplomats were involved, and that American and Israeli governments were kept informed of the contacts. This comes in the context of several weeks of news concerning Syria's willingness to make peace with Israel, and concern in Washington and Jerusalem about the real intent behind Syria's signals. Does it want peace? Or just negotiations that may lessen the pressure of the United States and others on Syria due to its actions in Lebanon and Iraq? Charges against the prime minister: emerge from several investigations conducted by the State Comptroller concerning Olmert's activities in previous positions as minister of trade and industry, and minister of finance, as well as charges that property transactions by him and his wife were sweetheart deals offered by political supporters who wanted some favor in return. Commentators have pointed out that former prime ministers Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Ariel Sharon were subject to investigations involving the possibility of criminal charges. None of these cases came to trial. In Sharon's case, a son accepted responsibility for wrongdoing concerned with finance for one of his father's political campaigns. He claimed that Dad did not know about the transactions. The good son was convicted and sentenced to several months in prison. Then Dad had his stroke, and began the coma that has now lasted for more than a year. The implementation of the sentence against his son is pending, perhaps due to Dad's condition. It is not yet clear why the chief of the general staff resigned now. Calls for his resignation, along with those of the prime minister and defense minister, have been heard since the end of the fighting. Underway is a government commission of inquiry, which has yet to produce a report. Perhaps the general knew, or suspected that the commission would call for his resignation. He says that he remained in office long enough to put in place needed reforms, and to prepare the military for what may be the next round of fighting. At least in the short run, his resignation, plus the charges against the prime minister, and increased signs of rebellion against the defense minister from within his own party, are spurring a renewal of calls for more widespread resignations. It is one of those days to keep the radio tuned. And most likely tomorrow as well.

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