The Politics from Today -- Day 2

Today, our experience in Israel was focused on meeting with a journalist and government officials (along with some special visits I will detail tomorrow) to better understand what is happening in “Israel today.” This email is a lot of “reporting out,” but I hope you will find it of interest.

Our first speaker was Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Ha’Aretz newspaper. His informed analysis included the following key thoughts:

  • The eight-day Gaza episode has been quickly forgotten by Israelis. The rockets have stopped and the thinking is more focused on the upcoming elections.

  • The “Iron Dome” defense system was both a blessing and a curse. Iron Dome helped to keep people alive and minimize the potential damage to houses and infrastructure. It was incredibly successful and truly set a new standard in defense systems. But in some ways it is a future “curse” because the public now relies on the success of the system and makes people feel almost invincible.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for early elections. It is expected that Netanyahu will be reelected. Although he has already aligned his Likud party with other “right of center” parties, we will have to wait until after the election to see which parties actually make up the governing coalition.

  • The “Arab Spring” has reinforced the relationship between the United States and Israel. Israel remains the only pro-American democracy in the Middle East. In addition, no one is sure what the Arab governments will look like over the next few years, while Israel is more stable.

  • Netanyahu has publicly set a deadline for diplomacy (with a potential military intervention to follow) with Iran for next summer. In many ways, Netanyahu sees the upcoming election as a referendum on Iran –especially since he has been so public about his thoughts. Who is selected as the next Minister of Defense will provide a clearer idea about Israel’s intentions, because some of the candidates have outwardly discussed the importance of “stopping” Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

  • One of the biggest issues following the United Nations resolution regarding Palestine was the Israeli government’s announcement about planning 3,000 houses on an area known as E-1. For more than twenty years the United States has said to Israel not to build in this area due to the impact on a potential two-state solution. Many world governments, including the United States, have come out criticizing this policy. Mr. Benn explained that most misunderstood this public statement. The idea is to “plan” for potential construction (which may or may not ever happen), yet just the talk of possibly building in the settlements has raised much concern. His feeling is that this was more of a strategic political move for Netanyahu to maintain his standing on the “right” in Israel. In Netanyahu’s mind, national interests (and the election) far outweigh international concerns.

Mr. Benn’s analysis was one of the most insightful I have ever heard.

We (Steve “Rosy” Rosenberg also joined us at this time) had the pleasure of meeting with the United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro (see photo above). Ambassador Shapiro shared with us his impressions and thoughts on the current conflict:

  • During the eight day conflict, the United States made a clear statement about Israel’s right to defend her citizens. In addition, the U.S. emphasized the need for a de-escalation of rocket fire.

  • The Ambassador shared his own “instructive moment” when the sirens went off in Tel Aviv on three occasions. It was certainly unexpected. He said, “It is a scary situation and you feel the missile is headed straight for you.”

  • The United States disagrees with the United Nations’ action in regard to Palestine. The U.S. believes that direct negotiation between the parties is the only way to reach a long-term peaceful solution.

  • The United States also opposes the settlement announcement from Israel. Ambassador Shapiro emphasized that Israel’s stated plans for the area known as E-1 is counterproductive and that this is still a “stoppable process.”

  • The United States continues to work hard to achieve a two-state solution. When either party takes unilateral steps it makes negotiations more difficult going forward.

We met with Yarden Vatikye, a representative spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office. He was asked directly about the decision to announce planning for new settlements in E-1 almost immediately after the ceasefire and the United Nations announcement, since many countries came down so harshly on Israel. Yarden said that in the Prime Minister’s eyes, there is a clear difference between security issues and the issue of settlements. The Israeli government wanted to show the Palestinian and international communities (primarily Europe) that by going to the United Nations, the Palestinians violated past agreements and that there will be ramifications. People will have differing views on the United Nations vote and the E-1 planning process. But the main goal is for all parties to sit together and seek a positive and peaceful solution in the very near term.

Finally, we heard from Brigadier General Asaf Agmon, a retired pilot in the Israeli Air Force. He shared with us that this most recent operation had three main goals: a single and clear strategy, a controlled offensive, and zero collateral damage on the other side. Gen. Agmon felt they basically achieved each of these, yet more can be done in preparation for any future conflict. (Tomorrow you will hear more about the experiences of one of the fighter jet navigators in the conflict).

This was quite an enlightening day. To hear various perspectives of people “in the know” provided incredible food for thought (I am sure I am not doing justice to it all in this email). How does one deal with these issues/challenges and what are the ramifications/expectations going forward? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. 

Tomorrow, the personal stories.


PS – Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Soviet Jewry Rally in Washington, DC on December 6, 1987. I have shared in the past the impact this experience had on me both personally and professionally. Click here to learn more and to join the virtual march with over one million people from around the world already signed up.


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