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By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

A cynic's paradise


As I look around me this mid-August morning in 2014 I see a number of crap shoots, or games of chance.

We can argue what historical events they reflect. Among the candidates are the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Arab Spring that began toward the end of 2010 with a promise of democracy but now unraveled to barbarism, or the spread of independence throughout the Third World after World War II and then the conquest of the UN General Assembly and several ancillary bodies by governments that barely—if at all—meet the criteria of being civilized.

The crap shoots continue by no rules that are apparent. Barack Obama’s dream of no victors and no vanquished may waft somewhere in the air, but with no practical effect. Proposals float, conferences convene, reports will be offered, agreements may or may not be signed, but implementation of anything will be illusory. Participants may pat one another on the back, but whether the world, a region, or a country becomes a better place will be nothing more than fodder for academic seminars.

Close at hand are multiple efforts to settle the issues of Gaza, and further away but hardly less interesting are maneuvers focused on what used to be Iraq until George W. Bush broke it.

My own view of what is most pathetic are two units of the United Nations. 

One is the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which has appointed a man described as an anti-Israel extremist to head a commission to investigate war crimes. Israeli officials have already signaled their unwillingness to cooperate with a commission bound to be biased, coming from a council with a long record of animosity. The chances of balancing charges against Israel with allegations of Hamas war crimes against its own civilians as well as against Israel appears some place on the wrong side of zero.

The other UN agency worthy of being ignored or destroyed is UNRWA, the refugee agency for Palestinians that has been operating for six decades and seems about to get another lease for several more decades. It coddles Palestinians with the title of refugee unto the third, fourth, or more generations; feeds and schools those not allowed to find their own way in Arab societies; provides employment for thousands anti-Israel incitement and facilities for the storing of weapons and launching of missiles against Israeli civilians.

Best would be to declare UNRWA and its personnel appropriate targets for the IDF, and to assure their early and permanent “neutralization” in Gaza and elsewhere. Sadly, that prospect is as much of an illusion of anything useful coming out of the UNHRC.

Israel’s government is betting on a forum currently underway in Cairo, managed by Egyptians whom the U.S. views as unacceptable, but which appears to be our best chance of getting something decent from a month of warfare, about 60 dead and 150 injured Israelis, a modest level of destruction on our side of the border, and much more misery and destruction in Gaza. 

We’re hearing conflicting reports—from significant progress to none at all—along with competing threats from Hamas and Israel of what may happen at the end of the 72-hour cease fire.

No one knows what will come out of those meetings, either their present round or what may happen if there is another bout of missiles from Gaza and destruction by the IDF. The words heard and written will be less important than what occurs, either soon or whenever a mad faction of Gazans decides that their future depends on killing Jews.

Israelis are not innocent in these crap shoots. Yair Lapid became a minister in Israel’s government and a member of its inner Cabinet with no more experience in international affairs than the present or immediate past presidents of the United States. George W. Bush was not an academic star at Yale, but at least he emerged with a degree. Obama has a better academic record. Lapid learned how to give a rousing address from his years as a media personality, but some of his ideas as government minister remind us that he did not finish high school.

The latest embarrassment is Lapid’s proposal to convene an international conference to deal with the future of Gaza. Participants would include Egypt, the Palestine National Authority (i.e., Mahoud Abbas), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the U.S., E.U., UN and Israel.

Lapid’s aspirations are that the conference will de-militarize Gaza in exchange for resources to restore housing and infrastructure, and investments to assure a rosier economic future. It all sounds great, but the reassuring news is that the prime minister is not enthusiastic and Israeli media are scarcely paying attention. Surely someone will tell Lapid that it is too early to count Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt as firmly in the camp of those likely to assure a future for Gaza that will benefit Israel, and the E.U., UN, and present U.S. administration are, at the least, shaky in that regard. It is hard to believe that such a collection of governments and international organizations will accept an invitation from Israel for such a forum. And if they do, Israel as organizer will be hard pressed to pull out when it becomes apparent that their ideas are less than desirable.

Another crap shoot is further away, but has already produced casualties that dwarf the numbers in Gaza.

Initial U.S. military efforts to halt the progress of ISIS barbarians proved more symbolic than helpful, and led the president to say that the process would take time. Read that as a preview of Obama’s escalation or scurrying for cover with a well-written explanation. European governments are dithering about military or humanitarian aid to the Kurds, currently the best bet for stopping ISIS. Pressures on the Iraqi government to become more representative are floundering on the refusal of the prime minister, with his policy of goodies for Shiites only, to step down. John Kerry has weighed in with the term “genocide” against the actions of ISIS, a commitment to international consultation, and a plea that the Iraqi prime minister not stand in the way of democracy.

Syria is far from a final body count. Ukraine is also clogging the media, the Muslims of Europe and the U.S., along with a few others, are calling for death to the Jews.  

Others can parse the details. Israeli officials have reminded the Jews that they can avoid the local crap shoots by coming here. 

Not all is material for cynicism.

A hundred young Americans and Canadians have arrived at the airport with plans to enlist in the IDF. All told there are close to 3,000 soldiers who came from overseas. 

Our own small circle includes an American brother and sister and a Korean brother and sister in IDF uniforms.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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