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      Fundamentally Freund
      by Michael Freund
      An alternative approach to Israeli political commentary.
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      Michael Freund is Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post. Previously, he served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister´s Office under former premier Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He has lived in Israel for the past decade.
      Adar 7, 5765, 2/16/2005

      A Dark Day for Israel

      I can’t believe it. I just can not believe it is true.

      By a vote of 59 to 40, with 5 abstentions, the Knesset has now formally approved the expulsion of all Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria.

      After 12 years of Oslo, after thousands of innocent Israeli men, women and children were systematically murdered by Palestinian terrorists, after all the suicide bombings, the rocket attacks, the stabbings, the shootings, and the failed “peace accords”, the sovereign parliament of the State of Israel has formally declared defeat.

      For decades, Yasser Arafat dreamt of the day when Jews would be forced to flee their homes, handing them over to Palestinian control. But what Arafat failed to accomplish during his lifetime, the Israeli government is now planning to carry out instead.

      Sharon_and_peres It defies all logic, it makes no sense. A Jewish government in the Land of Israel expelling Jews from their homes? Is this some sort of nightmare, some type of horrible dream that we will all suddenly awaken from, only to discover that it was an illusion?

      I have to admit – I’m afraid. I’m afraid for the 9,000 Jews who face expulsion from their homes. I’m afraid for the growing split in the nation that the withdrawal plan is causing.

      But most of all, I’m afraid for the future of this country, for its very identity as a Zionist and Jewish state.

      Don’t be fooled – this is about far more than just the fate of 9,000 Jewish “settlers”. This is about the very essence of Israel itself – and when it comes to that, there can be no compromises.

      We must raise our voices, loud and clear, before it is too late. We must storm the heavens with our prayers, and plead for Divine mercy and intervention. We must do whatever is legally and morally possible to avert this evil decree.

      I can’t believe it. I just can not believe it.

      G-d help us all.

      Adar 6, 5765, 2/15/2005

      A Blast Heard Round the World?

      The car bomb that tore through downtown Beirut’s beachfront area yesterday, killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, did far more than just rock the Lebanese capital. In the days ahead, the shock waves emanating from the explosion will likely ricochet across the entire Middle East - and far beyond.

      Hariri There seems little doubt that the thuggish regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind Hariri’s untimely demise. The former Lebanese premier had recently become one of the most vocal critics of Syria’s ongoing occupation of Lebanon, and he is said to have committed a great deal of his time, energy and vast fortune to pressing for the removal of Syrian troops from the country.

      With the Lebanese opposition growing increasingly vocal (and brave) in calling for an end to Syrian domination, and with Lebanon due to hold a round of elections in a few months’ time, the message behind Hariri’s assassination is unequivocal: Syria has no intention of removing its stranglehold from its tiny and rather helpless neighbor.

      Why should anyone outside the region care about any of this? The answer is really quite simple: Syria is rapidly becoming one of the greatest threats to Middle East stability alongside Iran.

      The same Syrian regime that is aiding the insurgency in Iraq against US soldiers is also seeking to ensure continued volatility in Lebanon, Israel and elsewhere. Damascus hosts various Palestinian terror organizations, serves as one of the chief backers of Hizbullah, and does not shy away from thumbing its nose at the US and its interests. In other words, Syria is out to disrupt US President George W. Bush’s vision of a more democratic Middle East, and they don’t seem too concerned about the consequences.

      It is time for that to change, and rapidly. Enough is enough – how much longer does Washington plan to sit on the sidelines and allow Assad to bleed US troops in Baghdad while simultaneously holding Beirut in a chokehold?

      If the US is serious about bringing some more tranquility to the region, then it is time to turn up the heat on Assad and put him on notice that he will pay a heavy price for his actions.

      The Bush Administration has tried diplomacy, and even imposed some economic sanctions on Syria early last year. But as Hariri’s killing yesterday clearly demonstrated, that doesn’t seem to have impressed Assad very much.

      A couple of US Marine divisions knocking at his palace door, however, now that may just do the trick...

      Shevat 24, 5765, 2/3/2005

      A London Salute to Terror

      About the only thing missing from today’s little pep rally for the Palestinians in England was a squad of cheerleaders swinging colorful pompoms in the air while reciting some catchy tunes.

      Cheerleaders Even the name of today’s gathering - the “London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority” – sounds more like it was thought up by some eager college radicals than by an institution as haughty as the UK Foreign Office.

      Graced by the presence of dignitaries such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, those in attendance did just about everything possible to minimize, if not downright ignore, the ongoing Palestinian violence against Israel.

      Indeed, just hours before the festive opening in London, Palestinian terrorists opened fire on an Israeli vehicle near the town of Kfar Oranim, injuring two civilian security guards.

      In addition, a major bombing attack was thwarted when Israeli soldiers discovered a Palestinian car booby-trapped with half a ton of explosives near Jenin. Col. Oren Avman told Israel Army Radio that, “Even an armored vehicle or bus could not withstand such a huge bomb", and that its discovery had prevented “a huge disaster”. It was said to be the largest bomb built by Palestinian terrorists in the past four years.

      But the notables in London didn’t let these inconvenient little facts get in the way of their pro-Palestinian parade. As the left-wing daily Ha’aretz reported,

      The final statement to be issued at today's London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority will not mention terrorism and refers only in vague terms to Palestinian security commitments. But the PA does promise "to restore and revive the lines of communication with the Israeli security establishment on security issues and will seek to strengthen them in the process."

      The Palestinians persuaded the British hosts to leave out any mention of a Palestinian commitment to act against the launching of Qassam rockets or armed attacks on Israelis from the territories.

      From the comfort of London, cheering on the Palestinian Authority even as it does next to nothing to stop anti-Israel terror might seem like an act of creative diplomacy.

      But for the people of Israel, who live daily with such threats, it more closely resembles an act of willful ignorance and futility.

      Shevat 22, 5765, 2/1/2005

      Listen to What He's Saying

      Palestinians go to the polls next week to elect a successor to Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority, and the excitement among international observers couldn’t be more palpable.

      Take, for example, former US Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross, who writes gushingly in the Washington Post, “Something is stirring in Gaza. There is a sense of hope and possibility, a belief that it is time for a change. And there is a new discourse that includes all Palestinian factions and an open questioning of violence.”

      Ross, and others like him, are unwittingly violating rule number one of international diplomacy: allowing wishful thinking to cloud one’s judgment and take the place of rational policy-making.

      In the past few days, the leading candidate to replace Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), has made it clear that he intends to follow his predecessor’s route.

      Just yesterday, on a campaign stop in Jenin, Abbas “embraced Israel's most wanted man, Zacaria Zubeida, leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin, and accepted his protection,” notes the Guardian newspaper. Zubeida is being sought by Israel for organizing and planning numerous lethal terrorist attacks.

      Then, in an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Abbas made a series of revealing remarks that indicate he is no man of peace by a long stretch. Asked to explain why he continues to appear at election rallies with armed Palestinian gunmen involved in anti-Israel terror, Abbas said, “When we see them, when we meet them, and when they welcome us, we owe them,” asserting that the Palestinians have “a debt” to these killers of Israelis and that he would act “to protect them”.

      Abu_mazen_with_gunmen Later in the day, Abbas attended a rally in Gaza, which the AP described as follows: “When his convoy arrived, several hundred gunmen stopped his vehicle to greet their leader. Abbas got out of his car and waved to the ecstatic crowd. The gunmen, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group with ties to Abbas' ruling Fatah party, placed a black baseball cap on his head and briefly hoisted him on their shoulders. Chanting pro-Abbas slogans, they escorted him through the noisy crowd before he headed indoors to deliver a speech.”

      In his speech to the crowd, Abbas had nothing but words of praise for those who commit murder and mayhem for a living: “We will not forget those wanted by Israel. These are the heroes that are fighting for freedom.”

      If this is what Ross and others have in mind when they speak of a new “sense of hope and possibility”, then my advice is: batten down the hatches.

      If “experts” such as Ross would only listen to what Abbas is saying, they might very well begin to understand just how misguided they are in their assessment of the situation.

      Shevat 20, 5765, 1/30/2005

      Hamas' Landslide

      If Ariel Sharon thought that his plan to withdraw from Gaza would somehow moderate the views of the area’s Palestinians – then he should think again. A glance at the results of Gaza’s municipal elections held last week paints a terrifying picture of growing Islamist militancy and extremism in the strip.

      Palestinian_vote It was, quite simply, a rout - with Hamas inflicting an overwhelming defeat on the Fatah party of newly-elected Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen). Hamas took 77 of the 118 seats that were up for grabs, which is nearly three times the 26 seats won by Fatah.

      As a result, Hamas gained control over 7 of the 10 municipalities where balloting took place, including some of the largest Palestinian-controlled cities in the area such as Dir al-Balah. Of the 3 towns that Fatah won, 2 of them - Zahara and Al-Masder – have fewer than 1,000 residents.

      Hamas spokesman were quick to assert that the tide of Palestinian public opinion has turned in their favor – and the results would seem to bear this out. If Abu Mazen couldn’t ride the momentum of his own recent victory at the polls to elicit a better showing at the municipal level in Gaza, then how would he possibly be able to assert control over the area should Israel go through with a withdrawal?

      Worse yet – the election results indicate quite clearly that the bulk of Gaza Arabs support ongoing attacks against Israel. If they were opposed to Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks on the Jewish state, then they surely would have expressed this at the ballot box. Fact is they didn’t.

      What does all this mean? Well, to put it rather bluntly – it is just another darn good reason why Israel shouldn’t even consider withdrawing from Gaza. To do so would create a Hamas-dominated terror state just down the road from some of Israel’s major cities and population centers.

      This is no longer just a matter of mere speculation – the numbers, as they say, speak for themselves.