Monday, December 29, 2008

Quo Vadis, IDF?

As a number of commentators are pointing out, "Operation Cast Lead" has reached a critical point. It looks like the air force is starting to run out of significant targets to hit. Israel has destroyed Hamas's major above-ground military installations and has bombed the known tunnels. The trouble is that rockets are still flying, and with more effect than before the war. Have Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabriel Ashkenazi sufficiently absorbed the lessons of the Lebanon war to maintain the initiative against Hamas? 

If the IDF proves incapable of staying on the offensive, it may as well push for an improved cease fire now. Otherwise, it can only be Lebanon all over again: a tentative ground operation, with many casualties, that fails to make a dent in the enemy's rocket-firing capabilities. Granted, the air force has inflicted significant casualties on Hamas and, at least temporarily, disoriented its leadership and troops. Israel also did well to prepare its citizens for a potentially lengthy engagement, that may see many of them confined to bunkers. 

But the tide can turn quickly. Should Hamas score a major hit against a civilian site, prove successful in defending against Israeli armor, or ambush a reconnaissance platoon, Israel will be drawn into a media contest similar to the one waged against Nasrallah in 2006. 

A ground operation would have to train overwhelming force on strategic sites and persons, and move with rapid speed. The truth is that we do not know Hamas's defensive capabilities. No doubt, the group has carefully studied the Hizbullah playbook. Accordingly, we could expect to see heavy use of anti-tank weapons against armor as well as infantry, and IEDs along the lines of those used to stop the tank pursuing the kidnappers of Gilad Shalit. 

The question is what the objectives - understood in a more limited, tactical sense - of a ground operation would be. What sites can be seized and held with purpose? Does it make sense to land troops from the sea, in addition to entering the Strip with tanks and infantry from the north and east?

More important, of course, are the larger strategic objectives of "Operation Cast Lead." The foolish comment by Haim Ramon, which formulated the objective as "bringing down Hamas," does not bode well. It sets Israel up for failure. 

Russian Academic: US Will Disintegrate in 2010

Igor Panarin, a former KGB analyst, predicts that in 2010 the U.S. will collapse, as a result of economic and moral decay. China will take over the West Coast, Canada will seize the Midwest, and Mexico the South. The East Coast will join the European Union. Oh, and Russia will grab Alaska (WSJ).

His analysis provides a very interesting view into the mind of post-Soviet Russian nationalism.

Meanwhile, the Russians are running into some economic troubles of their own, as Nobody points out. 

Victims of Hamas

I wonder if the Knesset members from the Arab parties will mention these victims of Hamas's rocket attacks in their speeches:
One Israeli was killed and fourteen others were wounded by a Palestinian Grad missile which exploded near a construction site in the coastal town of Ashkelon.

Most of the victims were construction workers from the Galilee village of Manda and the Bedouin town of Rahat. Five were considered in serious condition, four sustained moderate wounds, and five suffered light injuries. 

The man who was killed was named as 27-year-old construction worker Hani al Mahdi, from the Bedouin village of Aroer (Ha'aretz).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Invading Gaza?

Video: Israel's Foreign Ministry Addresses the People of Gaza

Let's assume that Hamas is a rational political actor. What did the organization hope to achieve with the barrage of rocket, mortar, and missiles that it has fired at Israeli civilians since the conclusion of the cease fire? There are two separate but linked strategic aims that the Hamas government in Gaza is pursuing:

1. maintaining control over and legitimacy among the Gazan population against the challenges of other terrorist factions and Fatah

2. deterring Israel from attacking Hamas's fighters, political leadership, and infrastructure.

In order to maintain both control and legitimacy, Hamas has to reconcile two contradictory objectives. First, it has to ensure that the border crossings which deliver food, oil, and other supplies into Gaza stay open. Second, it has to prove its military superiority over other factions and local strongmen, by being at the forefront of the terrorist struggle against Israeli civilians and attacks on soldiers.

As far as Hamas's strategic objectives go, I am increasingly convinced that protecting Gaza's civilian population from being injured or killed by Israeli air force strikes and ground operations are not a priority. In fact, Hamas wants to draw Israel into bombing operations or incursions that will lead to dramatic footage of dead Palestinian "martyrs" being aired on Al Jazeera and other Arab television networks. Such deaths hardly seem to hurt Hamas's legitimacy, as they tend rather to stoke feelings of revenge and mobilize civilians to put aside dissatisfaction with their government in favor of unity against the enemy.

The calculus for Israel, on the other hand, looks different. The Israeli government's main aim is to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks - whether in the form of rockets or suicide bombings. Because of Hamas's commitment to armed struggle against Israel and its rejection of peace negotiations, the state of Israel has viewed Hamas's removal from power as a means to safeguarding Israel's security.  A cease fire of limited duration, while providing some relief to Israeli civilians, is clearly not a viable long-term solution. The problem is that assuming Israel succeeded in dislodging Hamas from power, it is hardly realistic to expect Fatah to take over and stop rocket fire on Israel. 

Israel's best bet, therefore, seems to me, to threaten Hamas with destruction - of its legitimacy and control in Gaza - while simultaneously holding out a deal by which Hamas might stay in power if it ceases its rocket attacks on Israel and other terrorist operations. 

All this is easier said than done, of course. On the military front, the following is precisely what Israel does not need:
"If the Qassam [rocket] fire does not stop, the Israel Defense Forces will fight you with the same might with which it fought Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War," said Hanegbi (Kadima), speaking to Army Radio (Ha'aretz).
Hanegbi wants a repeat of the Lebanon War? I.e., a hundred plus rockets raining on Israeli civilians every day for a month and many dead soldiers? The truth is that we do not know whether the IDF will be able to restrain Hamas's rocket attacks even if it embarks on a major ground operation. Might is not enough. The IDF will have to demonstrate a significant improvement in its rocket hunting capabilities in order to prevent a repeat of July 2006. 

Beyond the military option, Israel must create as much diplomatic space as possible to maintain a crippling embargo on Gaza, should the Hamas government continue to terrorize Israeli civilians. It has come to the point where all measures ought to be on the table - including cutting off Gaza's power and certainly closing all crossings. Israel's message to Hamas and its supporters must be unambiguous: stop your terrorism in words and deeds, and you can live in peace and perhaps even prosperity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dutch May Boycott Durban II

Photo Credit: Buitenlandse Zaken (Dutch Foreign Ministry)

Earlier today, Maxime Verhagen, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, threatened that his country would not participate in the planned UN Anti-Racism Conference, which is to take place in Geneva in April 2009. 

Verhagen said that 
Nederland zal er niet aan meewerken dat deze top, net zoals de vorige, ontaard in een antisemitische hetze (Foreign Affairs press release).

The Netherlands will not take part if this conference, like the previous one, turns into antisemitic agitation [my rough translation - Dutch speakers, please correct mistakes!]
He objected to a draft that accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians. The minister has also opposed moves by Islamic member states to issue a declaration against "blasphemy" at the conference, and he has initiated a UN declaration calling for a decriminalization of homosexuality. 

A Dutch boycott of "Durban II" would be a significant blow to the conference and may result in boycotts by other European nations. At a talk about the conference that I attended recently, one audience member, who had recently interviewed Verhagen, expressed skepticism about the likelihood of the Dutch delegation walking out of the conference. Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, on the other hand, suggested that it was a real possibility. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some Hasidish Thoughts on the US Presidential Election

Essex and Grand St., January 2008

Overheard at a bakery on the Lower East Side:

Owner: Oy. Gesheft [business].

Customer 1 looks at him.

Owner: A lot of simonim [signs] that moshiach is coming.

Customer 1: Which ones? Do you know any that we don't?

Owner: The world ... the Zoyher [Zohar] .... 

Customer 1: Yes, I read.

Owner: It says someone will become melekh [king] who is not fit to be melekh.

Customer 1: Yes, yes. 

Customer 2 [objecting in some way]: I'm not saying he's good but ...

Customer 1: He has no more qualification to be president than you!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Richard Falk on Gaza

Yesterday's statement by Richard Falk, the UN "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967" and a former Princeton professor,  on the situation in Gaza:
Last week, Karen AbyZayd, who heads the UN relief effort in Gaza, offered first-hand confirmation of the desperate urgency and unacceptable conditions facing the civilian population of Gaza. Although many leaders have commented on the cruelty and unlawfulness of the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel, such a flurry of denunciations by normally cautious UN officials has not occurred on a global level since the heyday of South African apartheid

And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease. Such a policy of collective punishment, initiated by Israel to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza strip, constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
This man appears to be stuck in the same dream he was dreaming when he predicted that the Iranian revolution would provide a "humane model of governance" for the Third World. Who exactly are these "cautious UN officials" to which Falk refers? Are they the same officials who have made careers out of attacking Israel and defending some of the world's vilest dictatorships simply because they are "anti-Western"? 

As for the Gaza siege, the Hamas government has a very simple solution at its disposal: stop the rocket attacks and recognize Israel.

Murder and Torture

It took the New York Times a while to state with certainty that the Chabad Center in Nariman House was targeted by the plotters of the Mumbai attacks because it was a Jewish site. Now, the paper is reporting news that have been circulating since the end of the Nariman standoff; the victims were brutally tortured before being murdered:
Some of the six people killed at the Jewish center in the city had been treated particularly savagely, the police said, with bodies bearing what appeared to be strangulation marks and other wounds that did not come from gunshots or grenades.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Durban II

Hillel Neuer (l) of Geneva-based UN Watch and Aaron Jacob of AJC (r)  in New York, December 2008

The last UN Conference against Racism in Durban, held in late August 2001, quickly turned into a disgraceful spectacle of Israel-bashing and downright antisemitism. Anyone interested in a personal, though occasionally melodramatic account, of the conference, should check out the "Durban Diaries," by a member of the European Union of Jewish Students who attended it as part of a large delegation of the NGO. A follow-up to the Durban conference, which was actually the third UN Conference against Racism, will be held at the end of April 2009. 

On Monday, December 8, Hillel Neuer of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch briefed a small audience of AJC Access members in New York on what happened at Durban I and what might happen at Durban II. It does not look good.

The first Durban conference consisted of the actual governmental conference attended by UN member states, an NGO forum, and a series of street demonstration in the South African city. It was at the NGO forum and street demonstrations where some of the worst excesses of the "anti-racism" conference took place. But even the governmental conference involved a protracted fight by the US, Israel, and some of the European countries, against a declaration that specifically accused Israel of apartheid, crimes against humanity, and genocide, without mentioning any other states. This particular part of the declaration had been formulated at the Asian regional conference in February 2001.

At the 2007 preparatory conference for Durban II, Libya was chosen to chair the 2009 conference against racism. The 19 vice chairs chosen included Cuba and Iran. Worse, the current draft declaration includes a verbatim copy of the 2001 Tehran wording. 

Neuer outlined 3 categories of problematic language in the declaration proposals so far - a longer review of the document has been published in a report titled "Shattering the Red Lines." UN Watch has expressed concern in
  1. specifically anti-Israel language, including the charge that the Law of Return is inherently racist
  2. broadly anti-Western material
  3. a campaign by the Islamic states  to import anti-blasphemy provisions and legitimize them in international law under the notion of “defamation of religion”
The latest draft proposals hammered out at the preparatory conference, by no means final, nevertheless testify to the direction in which Durban II might be headed.

So far, only Canada has announced that it is not attending the conference. Israel will be making a decision soon, and the U.S. will do so after the inaugaration of Barack Obama as President. Meanwhile, the Europeans have pledged to maintain certain red lines that, if crossed by the conference, will compel them to walk out of the process. However, it remains to be seen whether they will act on this. 

I hope to post more details later.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The House of Contention in Hebron

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

UPDATE - LATEST REPORTS: Masked Jewish youths set fire to a Palestinian house in Hebron, as "revenge" for the evacuation. The total number of the residents evacuated from the House of Contention was 250; they were dragged out one-by-one, and police used stun grenades and tear gas to overwhelm the occupants. Protesters inside the house resisted using various means; some police officers were pelted with rocks, eggs, and, in one case, acid (leading to the injury of one officer). Reports of Jews (civilians) shooting at Palestinians in Hebron; also of Palestinian militants shooting at Israeli security forces (YNET). 

In the last two weeks, there has been a great deal of coverage about the "House of Contention" (בית המריבה), as most of the media call it, or the "House of Peace" (בית השלום) as the settlers and their supporters have dubbed it. Earlier today, to everyone's surprise, Israeli police forces forcibly removed the occupants of the building (see coverage here). There were 25 wounded, including one police officer, in the confrontation that ensued between the occupants and the security forces. Following the forced removal of the people inside the house, the entire area of Hebron was declared a closed military zone, to prevent right-wing protesters from flocking to the site. Meanwhile, demonstrators blocked the entry roads to Jerusalem.

The debate around the House of Contention/Peace has been understandably polarized. The settlers and right-wing have accused the media as well as the state of leading a campaign of persecution against them. The judicial sphere and politicians on the center, center-left and left have expressed frustration about the seeming state of anarchy reigning in Hebron. All this has been compounded by a number of riots staged by Jewish youths in Hebron, usually targeting Arab stores and houses, as well as a Muslim cemetery. The settlers and others on the right-wing have lashed out at what they perceive as a lack of concern for their rights. They argue, for example, that human rights organizations would rally to protect Palestinians from being evicted from their homes, and that the law is being instrumentalized in order to punish the settlers and "de-Judaize" Hebron. 

The polarized nature of the debate has obscured the legal background to the decision to evacuate the house. Instead, the whole affair has been rendered as Gush Katif Part III (Part II beingthe evacuation of Amona). But the legal issues in this particular case are quite different from either Gush Katif or Amona. The House of Contention/Peace has become a symbol for both the left and the right. I want to de-symbolize it, by stripping away the significations that have coalesced around it, and returning to a legal, procedural rather than substantive discussion of the issues. 

Here is an attempt to sort through some of those legal matters. The structure in question is close to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and is generally known as the "Brown House." On March 19, 2007, a group of settlers came to the house and occupied (or took up residence in) it. They claimed that they had purchased the house from the Palestinian owner, in a videotaped cash transaction. The owner or the person who sold it, however, appealed to the police, arguing that the house was still in his possession and that the occupants had "invaded" (this is the technical legal term) it by force.  

On November 16, 2008, Israel's High Court issued one decision on the matter of the House of Contention. The case before it, however, was not actually about the ownership of the building. Rather, it concerned the question of whether it was legal for the State of Israel to forcibly remove the current occupants of the structure. The court ruled that the state was allowed to remove the current residents. By law, if someone lives in a house more than 30 days unchallenged, they have certain rights to the residence and cannot be easily removed, but in this case, the owner/seller appealed to the police on the same day of entry and declared the entry unlawful. The court did NOT rule on the question of ownership. It simply said that even with the ownership under debate, the structure could be evacuated, and returned to the person who owned it before the entry of the residents. Here is the relevant part of the court's verdict; Ayala Procaccia wrote the opinion. A full translation will follow in the future.

. 43        בעיקרו של דבר, הראיות המינהליות שבידי המדינה נותנות בידיה עילה לעשיית שימוש בכוח הנתון על-פי צו סילוק פולשים לסייע למחזיק כדין להחזיר לעצמו את החזקה שנתפסה שלא כדין על-ידי העותרות. די בראיות מינהליות אלה כדי לבסס את התנאים הנדרשים לצורך עשיית שימוש באמצעי של סילוק "פולש טרי", הניתן למחזיק המנושל על-פי צו סילוק פולשים. בירור שאלת "החזקה כדין" של המחזיק המנושל לצורך עשיית דין עצמית מחייב בדיקה סבירה ברמת הוכחה מינהלית בלבד, כנדרש לצורך הגנה אפקטיבית כנגד פלישה (מיגל דויטש קנין א 420 (1997); ויסמן בספרו, שם, עמ' 113-114). בשימוש בכוח לסלק פולש טרי ניתן ביטוי לאינטרס הציבורי בהגנה על החזקה, ומודגש הצורך בשמירה על הסטטוס-קוו בשטח לבל יותר מצב של כל דאלים גבר. בסילוק "פלישה טרייה" מסייעת המשטרה למחזיק כדין לממש את הגנתו מפני פולש (ענין סוכובולסקי, שם). בכך מקיימת המשטרה את חובתה להגן על שלום הציבור, ולמנוע שימוש בכוח כאמצעי לאכוף טענות בדבר זכויות (בג"צ 418/78 אבנר לוי ורפאל לוי חברה לבנין ולהשקעות בע"מ נ' שר הפנים והמשטרה, פד"י לג(2) 108 (1979)). בנסיבות הענין, היה על העותרות לפנות לערכאה שיפוטית לצורך הוכחת זכויותיהן למבנה, ולהימנע מעשיית דין עצמית בדרך של נטילה חד-צדדית של החזקה בניגוד להסכמת המחזיק. שיקולי סדר ציבורי עומדים מאחורי הכלל לפיו מחלוקות בענין זכויות קנין מקומן להתברר בערכאות שיפוט, ולא בכוח הזרוע בין הצדדים היריבים. מי שמשנה מצב קיים שלא בהסכמת המחזיק נתפס כמפר סדר, ולכן ראוי להחזיר סדר על כנו על-ידי הוצאת הפולש מן הנכס, והפנייתו לבית המשפט לשם בירור זכויותיו (ויסמן בספרו, שם, עמ' 113-114). חובתה של המשטרה היא לסייע למחזיק אשר נושל מחזקתו, כאשר הפלישה היא טרייה, וזה המצב בענייננו (פרשת טל השקעות ובנין, שם, השופטת נאור).


44.         בירור הזכויות המהותיות בין הצדדים אכן מתקיים עתה בערכאות המוסמכות. בירור זה אינו מייתר את הצורך להחזיר את המצב בשטח לקדמותו עד להכרעה שיפוטית בשאלת הזכויות לנכס על מלוא היקפן ומורכבותן. אין צריך לומר, כי בעתיד, על הצדדים יהיה לפעול על-פי ההכרעה המשפטית הפסוקה החלוטה שתינתן במחלוקת ביניהם. למותר לומר, כי אין אנו מביעים כל עמדה במחלוקת המהותית בדבר זכויות הצדדים בעקבות עיסקת המכר שנקשרה ביניהם.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Qassams on Gaza and the Dream of Palestinian Statehood

Image: Map Showing Entry Points into Gaza (Source: Palestine Trade Center)

Once in a while, we read accounts of qassam rockets landing inside the Gaza Strip. Today, a mortar shell apparently hit a power cable that provides electricity for the Hamas-ruled territory. Unlike the April 9, 2008 attacks, which deliberately targeted the Nahal Oz fuel depot used by Israel to transport gas to Gaza, this latest incident appears to have been an accident. But many of the Palestinian mortar attacks and cross-border raids into Israel have struck precisely those points through which the territory receives supplies crucial to its inhabitants' lives. How can Hamas seriously complain about fuel or food shortages when its own actions directly threaten the infrastructure used to provide these necessities to Gazans?

Of course, in a larger sense, every qassam attack on Israel is an own-goal by the Palestinians. The rocket attacks that have plagued southern Israel since the withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005 as well as the cross-border raids such as the one that led to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006, imperil the likelihood of a future withdrawal from the West Bank more than anything else. The Gaza evacuation showed that both Israel's leadership as well as the majority of the Israeli population support a withdrawal from much of the territory captured in 1967. But no responsible leadership can authorize such evacuations, when it results in more attacks on Israeli citizens inside the country's recognized borders. 

The Palestinians and their supporters will argue that settlement expansion and the IDF's actions in the territories have had a similar effect in undermining Palestinian trust as the qassams (and the suicide bombings before them) have had on Israelis. This kind of argument might fly in academia, but it is a dead end, especially for anyone who is serious about Palestinian statehood. Israel is in a position to grant Palestinians the land that they need for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. It depends on Israel to realize these ambitions. But the Palestinian dream of statehood requires the Palestinian organizations to demonstrate their trustworthiness to Israel, not vice versa.

The best analogy might be that of a lender and a hopeful borrower. Even if the lender has failed to repay debts to other people or to the would-be debtor himself, s/he is still the one with the capital that the debtor hopes to borrow. In order to procure the loan, it is incumbent upon the debtor to demonstrate to the lender ability to return the principal and interest in the future. Everything else is irrelevant. 

I hope that my analogy, which equates Israel with a lender and the Palestinians with a debtor will not occasion yet another self-righteous diatribe on the alleged immorality of the Zionist enterprise. Those who believe that Israel does not have a right to exist or to be a "lender," are living in a dream world. They may continue idling away their time with stirring, moralistic pronouncements. But they would do well to remember that no state has been created on moral claims alone - not even the State of Israel, which, post-WWII had a stronger claim to a moral right for its existence than any other country in the world. Statehood is achieved by those who combine moral vision with pragmatic politics and, most importantly, attention to the contingencies of history and the vagaries of fortune.

Monday, December 01, 2008


The attacks on Mumbai last week are depressingly familiar in many respects. Once again, Islamist terrorists managed to sow chaos in a major urban center and to exploit, with determined evil, the liberties held dear by open, democratic societies. Once again, the failure by intelligence agencies to prevent these attacks was primarily one of the imagination. But there is another sense in which these attacks are familiar. They represent a problem, going back at least as far as June 28, 1914, that the international community has been unable to solve until now. 

On that date  a Serbian terrorist assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand. The Habsburg empire at the time ruled over Bosnia-Herzegovina, which the assassin and his colleagues hoped to see united with Serbia proper, the relatively new nation-state of the Serbs. But Gavrilo Princip did not act on behalf of the kingdom of Serbia. He and his fellow conspirators were non-state actors. As Austria-Hungary and many others at the time suspected, however, it was difficult not to assume some kind of link between Princip and the state organs of Serbia. Furthermore, it seemed highly likely that Serbian citizens residing in Serbia had aided in the attack. In order for the killers of the archduke to be brought to justice, Austria-Hungary needed the help of Serbia. Unfortunately, however, relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary were extremely hostile. 

My point here is not that India and Pakistan are on the brink of unleashing another world war, although such an outcome takes hard work to avert. I am pointing rather to the problem posed by the non-state actor with deep state connections. The investigations carried out by Indian authorities so far (see The Hindu for the best round-up) have revealed the involvement in the Mumbai attacks of Pakistani citizens, trained in Pakistan. Locked in a long state of war, the two nuclear powers now again appear to be on a collision course. 

India has long complained about the alliances between Islamist terrorists and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Setting aside the links between the ISI and Osama bin Laden, the U.S. is growing increasingly antsy about the threats that ISI-supported Islamists are posing to NATO troops in Afghanistan. But so far, Pakistan's rulers have rebuffed American pressure to get at the roots of the problem inside their country. 

It may very well be true that Pakistan is too weak to purge itself of the al-Qaeda-inspired enablers of terrorism that pervade its state.  Furthermore, the U.S. clearly cannot afford to see Pakistan disintegrate into mayhem. But neither can it turn a blind eye to the Pakistani shipping labels on the attacks in Mumbai and in Afghanistan. In both cases, we are seeing a state incapable of reining in its attack dogs. 

Obama raised eyebrows during the presidential campaign when he  spoke about his willingness to attack targets inside Pakistan "with or without approval from the Pakistani government." A month later, NATO and US ground troops entered Pakistan to attack a Taliban stronghold. Pakistan's ongoing protests about these violations of its sovereignty by outside actors ring hollow when it is unwilling to enforce a monopoly of violence inside its own borders.

We will see how the policy of the president-elect and his impressive national security team evolves in the coming weeks.

The Future is Now

With the US presidential campaign behind us, it's worth revisiting a question often raised over its course, particularly on the day the President-elect officially announced his foreign policy and national security team: what will an Obama administration mean for Israel? For those who encountered the insinuations of Clinton surrogates during the primaries, floating here and there around the Internet, that Obama isn't the friend Hillary is to the Jewish state, today's announcement of her nomination for Secretary of State, I think, is a reminder of the cynicism of such campaigning. By surrounding himself with Clinton, Biden, a cadre of establishment generals, and by retaining the services of Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Obama isn't giving any indication that the "special relationship" is subject to the "change" we all eagerly anticipate. For the time being, at least, he'll have silenced the fear-mongers in the American Jewish community. Provided that his reorganization of the American defense budget doesn't cost Israel, if he maintains the status quo, Obama will inevitably be seen by some as "good for Israel." And isn't that what this is all really about? Will he be "good for Israel?" What we should consider, then, is what that really means: what is good for Israel? Roger Cohen's opinion piece in today's Times urges "tough love." Cohen riffs off of Ehud Olmert's Yediot interview from September, now translated and excerpted in the New York Review of Books. In the interview, Olmert takes a hostile stance toward the military leadership in discussing a legacy that he's clearly ambivalent about. What the generals and the demagogues don't understand, the PM argues, is that the Golan is going back to Syria, (this or that hilltop is "worthless"), and almost all territory conquered in '67, minus a few bits that will be exchanged for territory currently within the Green Line. Jerusalem will have to be divided. As I recall, Olmert's proposal for the compensatory land is mostly Negev desert that will be used to provide a link between Gaza and the West Bank in the future, final Palestinian state. I'm curious to hear what people think of Cohen's column -- or Olmert's proposal. I can't find much in the column that is, to me, objectionable. When I consider all this, I ask myself whether the Obama administration can provide what John McCain called a "game changer:" a new element in the stale mix of fear, resentment, demagoguery, and domestic political imperatives that prevents a breakthrough in Israeli-Arab relations. Will the preternaturally calm President who is an out-and-out friend of a Palestinian intellectual change the dynamic with his very demeanor -- all his freshness? Freshness will fade, but, alas, there's hope. Or will a second Clinton profit from the lessons learned by the first? And what's wrong with tough love? What else will persuade a government led by Bibi in coalition with right-wing religious parties to crack down on the illegal settlement activity that American diplomats and American power have in recent years so miserably failed to rein in?