February 2: Waste of time

For Arabs, democracy is neither understood nor wanted. The concept of the mosque as state is firmly rooted.

Waste of time
Sir, – The present American push for democratic reform in our region (“Clinton calls for ‘transition to democracy’ in Egypt,” January 31) is another potentially disastrous exercise in futility.
From the signing of the Magna Carta, it took 700 years for democracy to mature in England. The US was fortunate in that it emerged from a country where this process was well under way. It will not be speedily transplanted into the Arab world.
For Arabs, democracy is neither understood nor wanted. The concept of the mosque as state is firmly rooted. America’s efforts are as relevant as if they were to extol the delights of a ham sandwich.
What took so long?
Sir, – After reading “Anger in Cairo starts to focus on Israel, US as change fails to materialize” (January 31), I am surprised that it took six days for the protesters to start blaming Israel. This usually comes much sooner.
Even closer to home
Sir, – Herb Keinon is quite right (“Egyptian chaos and the Palestinian question,” Analysis, January 31) in that the events transpiring in Egypt put into sharp relief Israel’s demand that any peace agreement with the Palestinians include an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley in case similar events occur in the Hashemite Kingdom.
Yet Keinon misses an even more central concern, the possibility – indeed, in light of Gaza, something of a probability – of similar events taking place in the Palestinian territories themselves.
This would leave a hostile, Iran-backed regime on the outskirts of Jerusalem and within artillery range of Tel Aviv.
If anything should give our peacemakers pause, it is the process of violent regime change we are seeing in several of our neighbors – the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and now Egypt – all increasingly hostile to Israel and sworn to its destruction.
Separation inevitable
Sir, – If Jonah Mandel’s report (“Haredi world mulls acceptance of civil unions,” January 31) is correct, it should provide a solution to the conversion problem.
Those whose primary motivation is marital rather than religious would be provided with an alternative, and the current scandalous situation, where the majority of converts have no intention of adopting a Torahbased lifestyle, would cease.
If civil unions were also to be made available where both parties are Jewish, it would solve many of the sources of irritation among non-religious Jews who would be freed from having to submit to the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate. If the latter were to take the position that such unions are viewed as an implicit declaration that the couple does not wish to be halachically married, it would avoid many problems, such as agunot, since the couples would not necessarily require dissolution through a get.
The sooner Israel recognizes that some separation of state from religion is inevitable, the better for it and the whole Jewish world.
MARTIN D. STERN Salford, England
Time for rationing
Sir, – I made aliya from San Francisco six years ago. Israel is my country – I have no desire go back. However, we could really use some help with our water management. We are in the middle of a savage drought, with the Kinneret, coastal aquifer and mountain aquifer all severely depleted. Yet the government is not taking any significant measures.
Coming from drought-prone California, I was and am shocked to see that most Israelis seem not to be very conscious of their water usage. So much for our vaunted status as a leader in water management. I can only conclude that the government is afraid to do what is necessary because it fears the wrath of various lobbies. On the other hand, perhaps it is just hoping that late winter rains will give the appearance of getting us through another year (“On rainy day, cabinet approves first part of emergency water plan,” January 31).
Wishful thinking will not keep us alive in a serious drought. My plea is for the government to find the courage to start water rationing now. Of course, the Bible tells us that God has historically used droughts as a disciplinary measure to bring us to repentance. But that is for another discussion.
YOEL SETON Jerusalem
Which status quo?
Sir, – In “Why the ‘Palestine Papers’ are the death knell of the peace process” (The Region, January 31), Barry Rubin suggests that PA leaders and negotiators will not and can not, given their political context, make comprehensive peace with Israel.
A typical reaction to such a statement is that this supports the status quo, which is exactly what Israel wants so that it can continue to abuse Palestinian aspirations. I would suggest, however, that the obverse is true. It is the PA leadership that prefers the status quo – for multiple reasons, one of which Rubin identifies: The fate of moderates in the Arab world has repeatedly been assassination.
As Rubin also points out, the current PA leadership – including President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat – are moderates in the Palestinian context. These men can do nothing if they are murdered, and right now, signing any paper with the word “peace” on it, as Rubin suggests, will be to sign their own death certificate.
Cause of death: peace agreement.
I would further suggest that these men also know what is painfully obvious: Not only is the PA not ready to become a state, it has no capacity to survive as a state. It has no effective infrastructure, no capability to create reliable power generation, no working economy, and a banking system – the backbone for a working economy – that is near collapse. Indeed, the PA recently went to the Arab League, hat in hand, asking for perhaps $350 million, specifically for economic and banking issues, and was rebuffed.
I believe that if one can argue that Israel has something to gain by maintaining the status quo, a more compelling case can be made that the PA has even more to gain. While the lovers of peace and the haters of Israel do not want to hear such words, I would suggest that Abbas, Erekat and others in the PA know a painful truth when they see it.
I would predict that these men are, personally, in no rush for peace. They cannot afford it. Neither can their constituents.
TUVIA BRODIE Ma’aleh Adumim
A better fate, please
Sir, – In “Yair Stern’s timeless lessons” (Comment & Features, January 31), Tzachi Hanegbi writes: “At a time when Israeli society is waging a daily battle against the outrageous phenomenon of draft-dodging and the unfair distribution of the national burden, Yair’s persona stands out as a beacon of dedication and self-sacrifice.”
Excuse me? With all due respect for the heroes of the past, does Hanegbi really want such a fate for today’s generation? I don’t know anyone who wants their children to be heroes whose lives are cut short.
And why should they when the burden is so unfairly shared? Should we be surprised if they vote with their feet, or if our society is fragmented and therefore weak? I am the grandmother of both a university student and a yeshiva student. It is not right that one served in the army for four years and the other has been free of that responsibly. The focus should be on greater equality of responsibility, in employment and in the army.
Let politicians like Hanegbi work on that. Demagoguery won’t do it.