Saturday, August 31, 2013

Gas masks and dancing soldiers

 "The U.S. Army awaits orders reads one headline." “The countdown has started" announces another; on a photo of submarines and aircraft were superimposed Obama and Assad facing each other, like two in a Wild West showdown.  

Israeli citizens were not impressed by experts telling them that there is only a "low probability" of a Syrian attack on Israel in retaliation for an American assault. The demand for gas masks immediately jumped up, and there was revealed again what was already known - that the government had not taken care to provide enough masks for all Israeli citizens. Personally, I did not join the race. After all, since the end of the First World War nobody in the world has used chemical weapons against an enemy who could respond in kind… 

Meanwhile, the countdown slowed down a bit after the British Parliament's vote and accelerated again with the speech by  Secretary of State Kerry. A speech rather similar to  the "smoking guns" speech which Colin Powell delivered at the UN ten years ago on behalf of George W. Bush  – with not a trace of those Smoking Guns found after the Americans invaded and occupied Iraq. But that does of course not mean that again now the evidence is false.

Had Obama been really enthusiastic to intervene in the Syrian Civil War, he could have found plenty of reasons and justifications for his actions in the gory acts of Bashar Assad over the past two years - even before the massive use of gas in the suburbs of Damascus . But this is a president who prides himself on having brought American troops back from Iraq and who prepares to evacuate Afghanistan as well. He certainly does not wish to wade into a new, particularly murky, Middle Eastern swamp. In fact, over the past year Obama had chosen to overlook several instances of the "minor" use of gas resulting in "only" dozens of casualties

Still, it is hard to see how Obama can avoid adhering to the Red Line set by himself, and ignore the harrowing photos of children suffocated to death which flooded the global media . Unless ... unless the unexpected happens when Obama comes to Russia on his scheduled visit in the middle of next week. Unless the Americans and Russians overcome the Cold War which has returned to our world also without Communism , and Obama and Putin roll up their sleeves and impose some kind of political solution on their respective clients in Syria. Or at least a more or less stable ceasefire, which would save the lives of many. What are the chances of that? Higher or lower than the likelihood that superpower intervention will lead to an end of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

And meanwhile, what is really going on between Israel and the Palestinians? Over the decades, Israeli governments have always tried to exploit situations where the spotlight was directed elsewhere , and create new accomplished facts while the world was not looking. In 1956, when international attention was focused on the Soviet invasion of Hungary, David Ben Gurion – supported by Britain and France - launched a war against Egypt and occupied the Sinai. And in 1981, when the Polish government moved to suppress Solidarność, Menachem Begin was quick to enact within a single day the annexation of the Golan Heights

Uri Ariel, Minister of Housing and Construction in the Netanyahu government, tried his best to continue the tradition. With the world focused on Syria, he inaugurated a new settlement called "Leshem" , in the northern part of the West Bank, where forty settler families entered solemnly into their new homes . The guest of honor at the ceremony was the minister, and his words left no room for doubt : "This is a moving occasion, the laying down of one more brick in the building of the Land of Israel. Let me say it in the clearest way: I'm here in order to build you a home. We are building here in Leshem another  300 housing units. The Jewish People needs apartments everywhere in the country, and we can meet everybody’s needs! This is the right thing to do, from the  Zionist as well as the socio-economic point of view. Anyone who is present here today can understand why the two-state vision is unrealistic and will not happen. It should be obvious to any thinking person: there will be no two states west of the Jordan River. Such a thing will not happen. Even if we are involved in negotiations, this is not on the agenda”. 

And of course, Minister Uri Ariel did not neglect  to claim the moral high ground and from that location arouse the conscience of the world against the war crimes taking place in Syria. “Go to the murderous doctor of Damascus and leave alone the Israeli settlement enterprise.” 

There is no doubt that  the ongoing atrocities in Syria had the effect of distracting the world from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Indeed, the media did not pay much attention for example to what happened this week in the Kalandia Refugee Camp north of Jerusalem

Entanglement" the military authorities called it. "A detention operation which had gone wrong”. Every night the army goes out on such operations, five to ten of them at various locations throughout the West Bank. The goal is not to engage in all-out confrontations with the Palestinians. Rather, the soldiers are to arrive in the wee hours of the night to the door of a “wanted” person and as quickly as possible get him, bound and blindfolded, into the waiting military car . In many cases the force is able to leave the area before the neighbors are aroused and get the detainee to interrogation under "moderate physical pressure" at the facilities of the Shabak Security Service. One hardly hears about such routine operations

But for the second time within one week such a routine detention went wrong, and local residents rallied and took to the streets at this nightly hour and actively expressed their opposition to the arrest of a neighbor by the occupation army’s soldiers. As per routine, the force came to the Kalandia Refugee Camp to arrest a “wanted” Palestinian, in this case a person who had just a month ago been released from prison in Israel . On what charges was he wanted ? This we cannot know. The regulations issued by the Commanding General (Center), who is since 1967 the sovereign legislator in the West Bank, do not require detaining officers to inform the detainee what he is suspected of, nor does he have the right to call a lawyer

Some unfortunate disruption happened and the operation did not proceed smoothly. Within minutes the Kalandia Camp was aroused. The soldiers - artillery soldiers converted into detentions troops – faced a large and angry crowd , first numbering some three hundred and swiftly increasing to as many as 1500. "There was a very violent riot, the military jeeps were pelted from the roofs with stones, iron bars, and even burning carpets and washing machines" stated the military communiquי. Whereupon the soldiers opened fire and killed three residents of the camp - Jihad Aslan, 21, Yunis Jahjuh, 24, and Rubin Zayed, 34.years old and a father of four

It was an act of self-defense" said the IDF Spokesperson – which does have some plausibility, as long as one assumes that the Israeli military has the right to enforce its rule. Probably, the  Palestinians in Kalandia saw themselves as acting in self-defense against armed intruders, representatives of an oppressive occupation rule which had imposed itself on them for 46 years. But such a way of seeing things did not get expressed in the Israeli media.

Coincidentally or not, the settlement inauguration by Minister Uri Ariel and the deadly raid on Kalandia both occurred on the day before the scheduled third meeting in the series of renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. There was an angry mood among Palestinians, and the bureau of President Mahmoud Abbas announced the cancellation of the negotiations meeting: ''The string of Israeli crimes, and the continued settlement activities, constitute a clear message about Israel’s true intentions regarding the peace process.” In the end , the meeting did take place on that day. In fact, it was the first time that the peace talks were held in Palestinian territory, in Jericho

What was said there, in the peace talks held at the same time that three funerals were held in Kalandia? What was the atmosphere? By the rules prescribed by the Secretary of State John Kerry, the lid was kept on and no information given to the media. In fact, the media did not show any great interest in what was kept hidden. And probably John Kerry himself, the man who initiated and pressured Israelis and Palestinians to meet and talk, was this week busy with other things and only skimmed the report submitted to him of the meeting in Jericho.

On the following day, however, news came of a very different and unexpected kind of a meeting between Israelis and Palestinians.  A group of combat soldiers of the Rotem Battalion of the Givati ​​Brigade patrolled the Ja’bari Neighborhood of Hebron. Suddenly they heard, coming from a Palestinian wedding held in one of the houses, the famous  “Gangnam Style” of the South Korean singer PSY. The song which had swept young people across the globe,  regardless of religion, race and nationality, also swept the patrolling soldiers. Against orders and in contravention of their set task, the soldiers decided to enter the hall and join dozens of celebrating young Palestinians. These were from the Jabari Clan who are defined by the military authorities as “Hamas supporters”, but who did welcome the soldiers and invite them to join the dance.

The publication of this event  on Channel 2 of Israeli TV, and especially the video showing soldiers carried on the shoulders of dancing young Palestinians,  aroused the ire of the military authorities. Unlike the soldiers who shot and killed at Kalandia, defined as having acted in accordance with the military orders and regulations, the entire patrol of dancing soldiers from Hebron were suspended and are expected to be punished severely. "This is a very serious incident. The soldiers are being interrogated, the brigade and battalion commanding officers are conducting an investigation and the soldiers will be treated accordingly”. 

The event could have ended differently, the military authorities asserted. The young Palestinians might have also attacked the soldiers who entered the wedding celebration, to injure or kill or kidnap them. Not a completely baseless assertion . Still, what did happen was different. For a single moment, the soldiers did not come to the Palestinians as occupation troops but as fellow young fans of the South Korean PSY . And for that moment , the Palestinians received them as such

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Settlement boycott on the Supreme Court Agenda

The following article appeared on Wednesday, August 21, 2013, in the op-ed section of the Jerusalem Post

Israeli settlement on the West Bank, always a hot issue, seems to have heated up even more in recent weeks. The Netanyahu government’s decision to authorize 1,200 new housing units precipitated a predictable crisis in the just-resumed talks with the Palestinians. And since the European Union put down a collective foot, no Israeli academic institute located or active in a settlement would be eligible to get European grants. Should the government of Israel fail to provide a written acknowledgement of these terms, all of our country’s universities and research institutes stand to lose hundreds of millions of euros in grants, a considerable blow to Israeli science and academia.

Meanwhile, the same issue is soon due to figure prominently on the agenda from a different angle – as a weighty matter of Israeli law. The Supreme Court secretariat informed various appellants and litigants that on February 16, 2014, a special ninejudge panel headed by Supreme Court president Asher Grunis will deliberate on the constitutionality of the socalled “Boycott Law,” and will address the key question: Is the act of boycotting the settlements located in the territories of “Judea and Samaria” tantamount to “boycotting Israel,” to be punished as such? Undoubtedly, the initiators of the Boycott Law – enacted late at night, at the end of a stormy Knesset debate on July 11, 2011 – meant this question to be answered with a very strong affirmative.

Some of these initiators explicitly stated that they were particularly targeting the Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) movement (of which I happen to be a member).

Already in the 1990s, Gush Shalom has compiled and published – and constantly updated – a list of settlement products reaching the shelves of Israeli supermarkets, calling upon consumers to avoid purchasing such products. Quite naturally, if you consider settlements in the Occupied Territories to a be major impediment to peace with the Palestinians and/or a gross violation of international law (and many Israeli citizens do), you should take care not to help finance the same settlements with your shopping.

Under the Boycott Law, continuing the above campaign might have exposed Gush Shalom to hundreds of tort actions by settlement-based corporations, resulting in a far from affluent movement having to pay many millions in damages and being effectively wiped out.

On the very morning after it was enacted, advocate Gaby Laski went to the Supreme Court to present Gush Shalom’s appeal, arguing that this law constituted an unacceptable violation of freedom of speech and of political action in Israel. Also, that it was a gross discrimination, as any other civil boycott action remains completely legal under Israeli law, and the settlements alone are granted immunity.

Indeed, the Chief Rabbinate regularly points out restaurants and shops which are unkosher and calls upon observant Jews not to go there. Such rabbinical boycott calls are not only legal but are even financed (lavishly) by the Israeli taxpayer.

The appeal had been dragging on for the past two years. The state attorney’s bureau had tried various delaying tactics. It is well known that they were far from happy with this law to begin with, and had tried in vain to dissuade the right-wing MKs from enacting it. Meanwhile, a considerable number of other appellants joined in and lodged their own appeals against this law: The Civil Rights Association (ACRI), Yesh Din, Adalah, the Women’s Coalition for Peace, The Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, MK Ahmed Tibi, The Arab Monitoring Committee and many others.

Soon, the time for delay will be over and Israel’s Supreme Court – which assigns three judges to rule on more routine issues, and assigns a panel of nine only to particularly significant and crucial cases – will deliberate and make a ruling. It would have many implications, both for civil liberties inside Israel and for the ever more thorny issue of the settlements.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bloodshed and basketball

Mohamed El-Baradei found out that he had gotten himself into trouble. Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who had been at the head of  the Cairo crowds protesting against the rule of President Mubarak, and again two years later against President Morsi. A month and a half ago Baradei and his fellows openly called upon  the Egyptian Army to overthrow the hated Morsi Administration and seize power. Baradei also agreed to serve as Vice President in the government appointed by the army. But this week, at the sight of the blood spilled in the squares, Baradei understood that he had let himself become a fig leaf for a brutal regime of military dictatorship.

This is not only true for Baradei, but for all the liberal secular Egyptians, who had made Tahrir Square into a global symbol of the struggle for freedom and democracy. By supporting  the military coup they had turned themselves into extras in the play in which they had been the main actors, condemning themselves to be crushed  between two millstones - the army and  the Muslim Brotherhood.

Itzhak Levanon, who had been Israel's ambassador to Egypt and who is now considered an expert, strongly condemned  Baradei for his "weakness". Levanon  said that he had been wrong to resign and should have "fully supported" the killing of the  Muslim Brother demonstrators by the Egyptian army. In general, the Israeli government seems nowadays to be General el-Sissy’s most steadfast supporter. As commentator Alex Fishman disclosed in "Yediot Aharonot", the government did its best in Washington, invoking the full authority of the AIPAC lobby so as make sure that the mass killings in the streets of Cairo would not impair the regular flow of generous U.S. aid to Egypt and its government and its armed forces.

The killings in Egypt pushed off the headlines the first meeting of the resumed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which took place on the same  evening in Jerusalem. In any case it was not hard to push to the background an event which was so deliberately kept low-profile. Probably just by coincidence, it was nearly on the twentieth anniversary of the first Oslo Agreement, that famous handshake on the White House lawn. On this anniversary, not marked in any official way, there started a new round of negotiations, arousing little hope and a lot of doubts. The low profile meant that there were few photos taken  (in future sessions, we are told, there will be no photos at all). No information was provided on what Livni and Erekat spoke about, other  than that the talks had been "serious."

All that seems quite intentional. To hold meetings and discussions (and serious negotiations?) below the media radar, without attracting attention, without media briefings (also no unofficial leaks?). To hold sessions – once in Jerusalem, then in Jericho - to which nobody would pay attention any more. And in nine months? A surprise announcement of an agreement which nobody  expected? Or the anticipated death notice, to which the response would likely be "What? Were these negotiations still going on"?

In the absence of concrete information from the negotiations room, the Israeli media centered on the side effects, especially the release of Palestinian prisoners. One hundred and  four prisoners are to be released from the prisons and detention camps of the State of Israel, of which twenty-six were freed this week , the rest to be released (or not) in later months, subject to the course of the negotiations and to other developments in our unpredictable region. One hundred and four prisoners, who were incarcerated since before the Oslo agreement of twenty years ago, some of whom had been behind bars for nearly   thirty years. It had not been all that hard for Binyamin Netanyahu to obtain a majority in the cabinet for the decision to free these prisoners. Still, the mass-circulation daily papers gave huge front page coverage to very small demonstrations of the kind which usually gets no mention at all. News editors competed for the most belligerent of headlines: "The Black List: terrorists with blood on their hands to be set free", "Bereaved families cry out: The wound has been reopened, the heart bleeds, this is a black day"; "Now it has been proven that over here there is no penalty for murderers"; "The murderer of my brother should have been killed, even Kerry could not get a dead terrorist released”; "Under cover of darkness, the killers are set free! ";  "Going back to negotiations - with a heavy heart".

"I tried to find a spoonful of justification for the murderers, not only for their own sake but also for myself" wrote commentator Dan Margalit on the pages of "Israel Today”.  "After all, if they had killed because of an ideal, if in their own eyes they are freedom fighters, it is slightly easier to accept the injustice done to the victims and the bereaved families. I tried to find a spoonful of justification, but I could not; they are too vile, like lepers of whom nothing good can come. Such they are, and they are different from us. That is the truth, even if it sounds condescending. There were none like them in our history. "

Away from the big headlines, in the sports sections in those same newspapers, there was a news item of another kind, sober and far from impassioned. There is an ongoing  debate in Israeli sporting over whether Dan Halutz should be appointed as Chair of the Israel Basketball Association. Some say that Halutz is a highly capable man who could make an important contribution to promoting basketball in Israel. Others argue that with all due respect, it doesn’t make sense to appoint to a crucial leading position in Israeli Sports a person  with no experience in this field, a person whose qualifications and experience are limited to the military, to having been  Commander of the Air Force and   then Commander in Chief of the IDF.

It is noteworthy that the phrase "blood on the hands" was completely absent from this particular debate. Nobody bothered to quote one of the most well-known of Dan Halutz’s utterings: "When the bomb left the plane, I felt only a slight bump on the wing. I sleep very well at night."

The bomb which had caused just a slight bump on the wing and which failed to disturb Dan Halutz’s later sleep was a one-ton bomb thrown off an Israeli Air Force jet flying over Gaza City on the night of July 22, 2002. A one-ton bomb intended to kill Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh and which incidentally also happened to kill fourteen of his neighbors and family members, including eight children.

All of these facts about Dan Halutz are well known and uncontested, easily located by two minutes’ Googling. These facts are at least just as widely  known as the acts for which 104 Palestinian prisoners got life sentences in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. But this week, there was none of the reporters or news editors bothering to search out or mention the dark patches in the past of the new basketball manager Dan Halutz.

The media did talk quite a bit of the counter-balancing measures taken by Netanyahu and his ministers, so as to sweeten the bitter pill of the release of the despicable Palestinian prisoners. A virtual flood of settlement construction permits, 1200 housing units and another 900 for good measure and the status of "national priority areas" and various other subsidies and benefits. "This is just the appetizer, a lot more will follow” promised Housing Minister Uri Ariel, and he is known as a person who means what he says.
Yedioth Ahronoth reporters Oded Shalom and Akiva Novick went out on the ground, visiting four settlements and finding construction going on at full swing in all of them.

At the entrance to the settlement or Revava, in the northwest part of the West Bank, the two journalists found huge signs bearing the words "Revava Groves, spacious apartments with five rooms and a courtyard, at a special price", under which were Biblical verses emphasizing the Divine Promise and Historic Rights of the Jewish People over the Land of Israel, as well as  computer simulated images of a large detached house surrounded by a green lawn. "It is a huge success. We sell these apartments at a million and three hundred thousand apiece, in Petach Tikva the same would cost a minimum of two millions. Everything we put on the market was snapped up immediately, if we  get more building permits we can easily sell twice as much" said entrepreneur Reuven Gur Aryeh – a former Deputy Chair of the settlers’ Samaria Regional Council, who had moved to the private sector and found the golden path to combining ideology and profit. "Do you not mind that the project you are now marketing is causing the world to feel upset?" asked the reporter. "Do you mind if I speak candidly?” asked Gur Aryeh. "The world is upset? My ass!"

"The World" in this context refers particularly to the EU Commission in Brussels, whose functionaries have become fed up with ineffective verbal  protests at ever-new Israeli settlement projects. For the first time, they have taken concrete steps. Three weeks ago, the EU proclaimed that Israeli participation in European scientific projects could take place solely within the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel, and that institutions located or active in settlements would not be eligible to European grants. Without the Government of Israeli officially acknowledging  and strictly applying this  limitation, Israeli researchers and academic institutions could end up barred from the EU’s highly desirable "Horizon 2020" scientific program, altogether.

Over the past week scientists, researchers and university heads have been crying out ever more desperately. As they point out, government intransigence  over settlements and “National Honor” could lead to 300 million Euros in  grants will just go down the drain - about forty percent of the total research budget available to Israeli academia.

It seems these researchers now do take seriously the things which upset the world. .

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Civil Agenda's short life

Precisely six months ago, on February 3, 2013, various political parties embarked on negotiations to form a new government coalition, with the new cabinet  again headed by Binyamin Netanyahu. Uri Ariel, who headed the negotiating team of the Jewish Home and would soon gain the Housing portfolio in the new cabinet, announced at the outset: "The voters have spoken, they decided for an essentially civil agenda, and that will be the new government’s main business."

What exactly is a civil agenda? A lot of people gave the term a lot of different meanings and interpretations. Uri Ariel said on that day that a civil agenda would imply "for example, a greater concern for the poor, and budgetary issues which we would discuss with professionals". The government budget which was actually formulated a few months later, in consultation with economic experts of a specific school, actually included a lot of bad news for  the poor, bearing the imprimatur of the new Finance Minister, Yair Lapid - also among the chief upholders of the Civil Agenda.

For Lapid, who entered into a close partnership with the Jewish Home Party to the extent of symbolically proclaiming himself “brother " to its leader Naftali Bennett, the Civil Agenda consists primarily of landing blows on the ultra-Orthodox – leaving them outside the cabinet, and on the other hand dragging  them into the army. The law now passing its first reading would remove  their exemption and get them all conscripted in four years’ time – that is, of course, unless the government which would then be in power decides to give them another respite of four or eight years ...

So what exactly is this Civil Agenda? It is easier to describe what it is not. A Civil Agenda is not about Palestinians, and settlements, and Territories. It has nothing to do with any of the confusing headaches which  preoccupied and troubled Israeli society since 1967. All of this belongs to the Old Politics, which we at last left behind us. Anyway, the bad Old Politics have become irrelevant, because the Palestinians do not want peace and we have no partner and there will be no negotiations and if there will be some talks they would lead nowhere and the Two State Solution is dead and we need to think creatively about other solutions but there is no hurry since time is working in our favor and Israel is prosperous and the world has forgotten the Palestinians and we just need to manage the conflict rather than resolve it and of course we should devote ourselves to the New Politics of the Civil Agenda. This  was how nearly everybody in our country talked for years.

Indeed, most of the political parties which gained an electoral mandate in January 2013 had avoided the Palestinian issue like the plague. For example the Israeli Labour Party and its leader Shelly Yechimovitz, who made sure to focus the election campaign on being Social Democratic, vowing to restore the Israeli Welfare State and dreaming of channeling the Social Protest Movement into a Labor Party electoral momentum and taking care not to stray into dealing with the Palestinians and the settlements.

This past week should have been Shelly Yechimovitz’s week, the moment for which she had waited and prepared for years, ever since she had gone over from journalism into politics. The sleepless night in the Knesset when the social militant Yechimovitz fought like a lioness against budgetary cuts and economic austerity and the cutting of social services. But in actuality the opposition filibuster ended with a whimper, and in the media it was pushed into the back pages by the dinner in Washington which marked the opening of the renewed negotiations with the Palestinians (was it just by chance on the very same day?).  For the time being Tzipi Livni is the star, Livni whose party gained only six seats at the elections and whose insistence on getting the position of Chief Negotiator with the Palestinians had gotten her a lot of  ridicule.

After all, it seems that the dream of emulating the European countries, where it is social issues that determine the difference between Left and Right, must be deferred until (and unless) we achieve peace. While attacking Netanyahu’s socio-economic policies, Yechimovitz has already promised him her party’s  support on diplomatic issues against the rampant hawks inside his government and his own party.

The change in line was marked yesterday by Knesset Member Hilik Bar, Secretary General of Yechimovitz’s party:  "Yesterday, Minister Naftali Bennett yelled at me in the plenum: 'Tell me, KM  Bar, have you gone crazy? '. Bennett was out of his mind when he heard that I hosted a Palestinian delegation in the Knesset in order to jointly offer support for the negotiations just beginning between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Probably Minister Bennett does not really appreciate the idea of ​​opposition members helping the cabinet of which he is a member in promoting and strengthening its own declared policies..."

The Jewish Home Party certainly does not feel easy or comfortable to be in a government which enters into negotiations with the Palestinians - and they are not  any more entirely convinced, as they were during the formation of the government, that negotiations, if any, would lead to nothing. It was particularly difficult and unpleasant for them to be in a government which took the decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in order to facilitate the opening of negotiations.

These prisoners  had been incarcerated in Israeli prisons for twenty or even thirty years, since before the Oslo Accords. They remained in prison for decades after the commanders who had sent them out had already shaken hands with Israeli government officials and some of them even got from Israel VIP certificates which ensure free passage through IDF checkpoints. Even so, after all these decades, the news of their impending release precipitated an outcry about "murderers with blood on their hands", and relatives of Israelis killed in the eighties made very emotional outpourings of pain which were published on the front pages of the mass circulation papers. Naftali Bennett and his party voted in the cabinet against the release of prisoners and were in the minority but remained in the government. Bennett contented himself with  announcing publicly that while serving as a combat officer he had managed to accumulate quite a bit of Arab blood on his hands.

It might be noted in passing that the Palestinian cabinet had no need to hold an emotional debate on whether or not to release the Israeli pilots who threw bombs and killed 1300 people in Gaza - since these pilots never were in Palestinian captivity...

Anyway, what could and should one expect from these talks which began in Washington and which are intended to last for nine months and end in a final status agreement that would provide full and comprehensive solutions to all outstanding problems between Israel and the Palestinians? Did Netanyahu change his spots, would he, can he? Is Kerry going to push seriously and would he have the backing of Obama? Will the Europeans do their share by some sort of intensive pressure or at least a threat to use such pressure? Would Bennett eventually leave the government? Would Yechimovitz get in  to replace him? The analyses and guesses and predictions and hopes and fears filled the media a few days, and even the commentators wearied themselves.

Only one thing was reported in unambiguous detail from the Washington event: The menu of the dinner eaten by Israelis and Palestinians and their  Americans hosts in “a symbolic moment of peace and tolerance at the elegant Thomas Jefferson room”. Dinner consisted of sweet corn and shell bean soup, grilled fillet of Atlantic grouper, saffron Farro risotto and apricot upside-down cake, washed down with peach and mango iced tea.

Apart from the menu, everything remains ambiguous and mysterious and subject to rumors and conflicting interpretations. But one can assume that  long before the end of the stipulated nine months we would get a clear idea if the whole thing is leading anywhere.

The last time someone promised an agreement within nine months it was Yitzhak Rabin, in the wake of being elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1992. He did not quite meet that timetable, but it was not significantly later when in September 1993 he did sign an agreement and make a symbolic handshake. It was an interim agreement which was to last for five years and end no later than May 1999 and be replaced with a permanent agreement. By  May 1999, Rabin was no longer with us and we will never know if he would have met that deadline.

If John Kerry succeeds in actually implementing what he announced this week, the agreement will be signed at a delay of precisely fifteen years. Too late for thousands of dead, for many Israelis and many more Palestinians and quite a few Lebanese too. Still, it is definitely better late than never.

Maybe, maybe then at last we could start thinking of a real Civil Agenda.