Some good news for a change

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ... only bad news is considered news.

WASHINGTON – In Sherlock Holmes stories, the dog that didn't bark is considered significant. That is not true when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where only bad news is considered news.

It is now four months since the Egyptian-brokered Israeli-Hamas ceasefire went into effect. According to Alex Fishman, the security-minded Yediot Achronot military correspondent, the "agreement has resulted in an almost complete cessation of Qassam rocket fire" on Sderot and other Israeli towns.

Four months of calm may not seem significant to those of us living the United States. But in a town where residents are accustomed to 30-second warnings of incoming rockets, it is a long time indeed.

Now the Israelis have to decide whether or not they want to extend the ceasefire for another six months. Defence Minister Ehud Barak favours extending it indefinitely, although he may be resisting the Israeli side of the bargain—easing the blockade of Gaza.

Of course, few people here even know that the ceasefire is holding and that Hamas is scrupulously enforcing it. In fact, I imagine many believe Hamas is still firing those rockets, despite the evidence. The very thought that Hamas actually adheres to agreements is, for some, an inconvenient fact.

Another inconvenient fact is that Egypt has been effectively working to shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Fishman reports that Israeli officials "praise the Egyptians' achievements in discovering tunnels to and from Gaza." These officials note that the Egyptians "successfully nabbed part of a terror cell operating in Hezbollah's service, which was planning the kidnapping of Israeli tourists in Sinai."

You won't read about that in those direct mail appeals from pro-Israel organisations whose raison d’être is to convince Jews that the situation is bad and only getting worse and that Egyptians are not to be trusted. Fear is the bread and butter of such organisations. However, facts are facts.

Then there is the continuing good news from the West Bank, where General Keith Dayton has helped transform some violence-ridden population centres into veritable islands of tranquillity (at least by West Bank standards). For years, Americans and Israelis have demanded that the Palestinian Authority crack down on local terrorists and gangsters; under Salam Fayyad, it is happening.

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Here is what Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff have to say in Ha'aretz: "Four and a half months after the Jenin project began, it is proving a big success. The Shin Bet security service has received very few intelligence warnings about attempts at terror attacks emanating from the region, and clashes with the IDF have almost subsided. Commerce and industry have improved and, what is most important from the Palestinian perspective, order has returned to the streets."

Things will improve further if Israel gives a boost to the Palestinian economy by dismantling unnecessary and redundant checkpoints rather than continuously adding more. You can't do business if your customers and your inventory are held up at internal checkpoints.

The important thing is not to let "Jenin First" become "Jenin Last." Replicating the Jenin model is imperative.

On the Washington front, I attended the annual banquet of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) two Sundays ago. The keynote speaker was Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who issued a stirring call for implementing the two-state solution. There were several other speeches and various greetings and messages.

But there was not a single anti-Israel statement. Speakers decried the 41-year occupation but there was not one anti-Israel remark. ATFP sent a clear message of friendship for Israel and Jews. By way of contrast, the loudest cheers at AIPAC (and other Jewish organisational events) are often reserved for those speakers who indulge in the most paranoid and extreme Arab-bashing. To their credit, these Palestinians have rounded the corner. This is in large part due to the leadership of Palestinian-American physician, Ziad Asali, his wife and partner Naila Abed Asali, and ATFP, the organisation they founded.

Things have changed since Golda Meir preached that there was no such thing as Palestinians. The Palestinians have been mainstreamed which means that at long last their voices are being heard in Washington. Whether or not the next administration will take action to address their legitimate needs – as well as those of Israel – is an open question.

Avoiding simple-minded hawkishness on Israel is good politics. According to a recent American Jewish Committee poll of American Jews, Israel ranks number six on the list of issues Jews consider when they vote for president. Three percent cite Israel as compared to 54 percent of Jews who cite the U.S. economy (this was before the stock market collapse) and the large numbers citing health care, Iraq, and other domestic concerns. This is not to say that American Jews do not care about Israel; they most certainly do. When it comes to voting for president, however the Israel issue is barely a blip.

That is because Jews know that in this election both candidates are pro-Israel and also because they understand that mouthing lobby-crafted formulations about Israel does nothing to advance its security.

They certainly aren't buying the lies being circulated in partisan hate emails. Jews have been called a lot of things. Stupid isn't one of them.


*MJ Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, was a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC's Near East Report. Rosenberg also serves on Search for Common Ground's Middle East Advisory Board. This abridged article originally appeared in IPF Friday and is distributed with permission by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). The full text can be found at: www.ipforum.org.

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