Monday, 21 May 2018

The trouble with Iran

(Credit: Debka)

                                          Video version
            That the current Iranian regime poses a problem for the free world is a fact of life. But the Iranian dilemma comes into even sharper focus following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, and the escalation of long-standing tensions between Iran and Israel into open military skirmishes,
            Today’s difficulties stem back to the Iranian revolution of 1979, which chased the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, from the Peacock Throne.  Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the revolution, believed fervently that he was on a holy mission to rid Iran – and possibly the world − of what he saw as Western corruption and degeneracy, and to return his country, under an Islamic theocracy, to religious purity.
                                                                                (Credit:  terre d'Iran)
            Khomeini and his radical Shia Muslim regime was viscerally opposed to 80 per cent of the Islamic world − the Sunni branch of Islam − and in particular to its leading state, Saudi Arabia.  Rejecting Sunni Islam as apostasy, Khomeini claimed to be the leader of the entire Muslim world, a claim rejected by the Sunni Muslim rulers of the Middle East.  During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Khomeini declared that Mecca  − which with Medina, two of Islam’s holiest shrines, lies within Saudi Arabia − was in the hands of “a band of heretics” and should be liberated by true Muslims.
                                                                         (Credit: UnitedWithIsrael)
Khomeini’s burning belief in the incontestable validity of his mission led him to undertake and to commission acts of terror against Sunni Muslims and the West, regardless of the loss of life involved.  Starting in the 1980s, a wave of kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations were carried out across the world, maintained after his death in 1989 by his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khameini.  These include the blowing up in 1983 of a van filled with explosives in front of the US embassy in Beirut, killing 58 Americans and Lebanese, and the bombing in the same year of the US Marine and French Drakkar barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers. On May 30, 2003, a US federal judge ruled that Hezbollah carried out the attack at the direction of the Iranian government.
In 1989 Khomeini put a fatwa on Indian-born British author Salman Rushdie because of his novel The Satanic Verses, and the Iranian government offered $2.5 million for his murder.  A bombing in London in August 1989 was assumed to be a failed Hezbollah assassination attempt.
In 1992 Hezbollah operatives boasted of their involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina killing 29 people.  Two years later Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina and the subsequent death of 85 people. Argentinian courts concluded that Iran was behind the attacks.
                                                                              (Credit: telersurtv)
And so the list continues, spanning the globe – 21 people, including 12 Jews, killed in an airplane attack in Panama in 1994; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing inside Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen; the 2005 assassination of one-time Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria killing 6; on and on…
The deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions − a high-water mark of ex-US President Barack Obama’s legacy − was pursued on the grounds that it would encourage Iran to adopt a more reasonable approach to its dealings with the West, and might even end decades of hostility.  In the event the opposite has been the case. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have spent the billions of dollars they have acquired in expanding their malign influence throughout the Middle East.  Over the past three years Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Israel have all been on the receiving end of unprovoked acts of Iranian aggression.
In Syria Iran has used its alliance with Assad to build what amounts to a state-within-a state, just as it did in neighboring Lebanon in the 1980s when it set up Hezbollah. Until Israel’s recent air attack which disabled much of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, the Guard had its own airfield, underground command and control facilities, thousands of missiles, its own dedicated drone base, and an estimated 20,000 Iranian-trained militiamen at its disposal. The purpose of this investment, it seems clear, was to increase Iran’s ability to confront Israel across the Golan Heights, while Hezbollah – armed and equipped by Iran – tackles Israel from south Lebanon.
It is doubtful if Iran’s strategic objectives - to expand its Shia Crescent  so as to dominate the region - have the backing of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.  
                                                                    (Credit:  NetRight Daily)
It was widely reported that Israel’s airstrikes on Iranian positions within Syria had been the subject of an understanding with Russia, and that in consequence there was never any danger of a military confrontation between them.  In fact a day or two later, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flew to Moscow for face-to-face discussions with Putin.
Moreover, Iran’s regional ambitions, both religious and political, lie well beyond Russia’s aims for Syria.  Putin intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015 in order to secure Russia’s military foothold in western Syria.  This he has achieved, gaining the additional bonus of a vastly enhanced political presence in the Middle East.  Now he is looking to secure some sort of political compromise and to back out.  Putin understands perfectly well that any final settlement cannot leave Iran entrenched inside Syria as a permanent military and political force. Netanyahu must have made it quite clear that Israel, with whom Putin seeks a close relationship, would not permit it, and would itself destroy any military infrastructure if need be.
Meanwhile the problem of how to deal with Iran remains.  Trump favors bankrupting it with sanctions, in the hope, perhaps, that deteriorating economic conditions will induce the population to rise up and overturn the regime − or that perhaps, in line with his interchange with the North Koreans, the Iranian leadership would respond to determined opposition by agreeing to recast the nuclear deal.  Alternatively, there is the course that remains the bedrock of Obama’s and the Europeans’ policy – to attempt to bribe the Iranian regime by continuing to lift sanctions and encouraging lucrative trade deals, letting the nuclear consequences take care of themselves.
Which is more likely to yield an effective and lasting result?

Published in the MPC Journal, 21 May 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/05/21/the-trouble-with-iran/

Thursday, 10 May 2018

UN human rights: as wrong as ever

                                                                               Video version
Comparatively speaking, the UN Human Rights Council is still in its infancy.  Set up only twelve years ago by the UN General Assembly, it had one over-riding purpose – to rectify the egregious faults of its predecessor body, the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).  The UNCHR had been a working body of the United Nations virtually from its foundation in 1946, but over its 60 years of existence it had accrued a raft of objectionable practices which finally made the organization totally unacceptable to many governments, activists and eventually to the UN itself.

Among its more unseemly usages was to include among its members representatives of states with records of flagrant human rights violations and, moreover, to elect such people from time to time to chair the Commission − representatives of countries like Zimbabwe, Algeria, Syria, Libya, Vietnam and China. These individuals, by opposing resolutions to the Commission which condemned human rights violations, in effect sustained and promoted despotism and repression throughout the world.  Finally the Commission seemed to have turned its purpose on its head, and far from identifying and eliminating violations of human rights, in many cases it supported, if not actively encouraged, them.

For example, the Commission turned a blind eye toward violations of the UN charter committed by member states. When issues such as the stoning of women, honor killings, mutilations, and the death penalty for apostasy were raised during the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2004, officials from certain Muslim-majority states rejected any criticism as “interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state."  The Commission meekly gave way, and abstained from pursuing the issues.

The other face of this overt political bias – and a major cause of criticism of the Commission − was its compliance with being used as a UN-backed platform from which selective targets could be condemned and vilified.  The chief victim of this barefaced politicization was Israel.  An analysis in 2003 revealed that the Commission – the old UNCHR − had devoted no less than 33 per cent of its country-specific resolutions to condemning Israel in one way or another. 

All this finally became too much even for the UN General Assembly, which in 2006 voted overwhelmingly to disband the old Commission and to set up a shining new United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in its place.
                                                                      
How has the new body been doing?

It is perhaps, significant, that UNHRC is UNCHR with just one letter transposed.  In short, you can barely see the difference.  For example, in its first six years – that is, from the time of its foundation in 2006 until 2012 − the new council published nine reports on Syria’s mass killings of its own citizens, and three on the terrorist-supporting repressive régime in Iran.  It published nothing on China, which was far removed from granting its billion citizens basic human rights.  Yet in those six years it published no less than 48 reports condemning Israel. More than this, the council voted on June 18, 2007 to include, as a permanent feature of each of its three annual sessions, a review of alleged human rights abuses by Israel − a  resolution sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This Item 7, the only standing item directed at a specific country, has become a permanent feature of the UNHRC agenda, and as a result the Council has targeted Israel with more condemnatory resolutions than the rest of the world combined.

Which countries’ representatives sit in judgment on Israel’s human rights record?  The UNHRC’s current membership includes Afghanistan, Angola, China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Qatar and Venezuela. It almost goes without saying that in its recent 2018 session the Council passed no resolutions on human rights violations by − for example − China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Qatar, or Venezuela, about each of which there is much to say.  

To keep the record entirely straight, during the latest UNHRC session both the US and Australia opposed every anti-Israel text issued by the council while the UK representative, citing the UNHRC’s criticism of Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights, coupled with its deafening silence on the Assad regime’s atrocities in Syria, said:  “Nowhere is the disproportionate focus on Israel starker and more absurd than in the case of today’s resolution on the occupation of Syria’s Golan.”

A global backlash against the council is well under way.  David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.  Writing in the prestigious US political journal, The Hill, he urges a root and branch reform of the Human Rights Council. “As long as some of the world’s worst human rights abusers hold positions on the Council,” he writes, “many of the most egregious human rights violations will languish in darkness.”

He offers a schedule of proposals aimed at ensuring that the UN can meet its obligation to expose and help eliminate violations of human rights, wherever they occur and whatever form they take.  A prerequisite for UNHRC membership, maintains May, should be some basic standard of respect for human rights.  Currently, 14 of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council were ranked “Not Free” – the lowest possible ranking − in the “Freedom in the World 2018” table of country scores run by Freedom House, which annually assesses the state of political rights and civil liberties across the world, country by country.

The present situation regarding the UNHRC is clearly far from satisfactory.  It is surely up to Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, in the interests of the credibility of the UN itself, to take the bull by the horns.  Whatever the difficulties, he must identify the problems, set out the steps needed to correct them, and carry through the necessary reforms. 

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 18 May 2018:

https://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/UN-Human-Rights-as-wrong-as-ever-557760

Published in the MPC Journal, 14 May 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/05/14/un-human-rights-as-wrong-as-ever/


Friday, 4 May 2018

Post-Brexit Israel

                                                                                         Video version

       The UK will be leaving the European Union at precisely 11 pm on March 29, 2019.  There will be significant consequences for Israel. 

         
          Israel’s current relationship with the EU, of which Britain has been an important member for the past forty years, might best be described as “creative tension” – a constant tug-of-war between trade interests and politics.  The truth is that the political objectives of the EU have inhibited trade with Israel from expanding at the rate, or to the levels, that might have been possible.

          A prime example is the EU’s 2015 decision to enforce a special labelling system for Israeli goods produced beyond the temporary boundaries that delineated sovereign Israel prior to the Six Day War in 1967.  The EU regards those lines, which simply mark where the Arab and Israeli armies stopped fighting in 1949, as Israel’s international borders – a position fraught with anomalies.  The EU asserts that East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, but does not acknowledge West Jerusalem to be part of Israel.  It objected strongly when US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, even though he left wide open the possibility of an eventual separate or conjoint Palestinian capital in the Jerusalem municipality.  Indeed, recent reports indicate that he will be asking Israel to relinquish control of four neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem to allow this to take place.

          The legal basis for Israel’s trade relations with the EU is the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which came into force in June 2000.  Over the past eighteen years it has certainly fostered healthy, although somewhat unbalanced, trade between the parties. Israel currently has a trade deficit with the EU – in other words, it imports more than it exportsLatest available figures show Israeli imports in excess of €21 billion, against exports to the EU of some €13 billion.  Britain’s departure from the EU should not adversely affect this bilateral EU-Israeli trade, even though EU-Israeli political relations are not cordial.

The same cannot with justice be said of the UK-Israeli relationship.  Both Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, and its foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, have made no secret of their friendship towards the Jewish State.  The latest manifestation is the recent announcement that the first-ever official royal visit to Israel will take place in the summer of 2018, when Prince William tours the Middle East. 

That projected visit follows the recognition and celebration by the British government last November of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.  Prior to that, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas twice called upon the British government to apologize for what he characterised, in his address to the UN General Assembly, as “this infamous declaration”.  The official UK response ran:  “The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which Her Majesty’s Government does not intend to apologize.  We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”

Peace through trade is what Britain has been assiduously fostering for the past few years.  Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, announced on February 27, 2018, that bilateral trade between the UK and Israel had increased by 25% in 2017 to a record £6.9 billion. Speaking at the UK Israel Business Awards dinner, Regev called the rise from £5.5 billion in 2016 to £6.9 billion in 2017 remarkable: “It demonstrates the momentum behind our economic relationship.”
The pace is only likely to increase as Brexit approaches, and once the UK finally leaves the EU, the current Association Agreement will no longer apply. The two countries will be free to determine the best deal for themselves.  In anticipation, ever since March 2017 the two governments have been negotiating a new Free Trade Agreement.  Such an Agreement will open up the UK market to more Israeli exports, in both goods and services, and make a huge contribution to Israel’s economy. It will also foster increased interest by UK companies in the Israeli market, and give Israeli consumers a wider range of product choice.

The Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce is a major driving force behind expanding UK-Israel trade.  In the past two years it has encouraged more than 30 Israeli firms to open operations in the UK, investing £152m and creating almost 900 jobs, After Brexit, many Israeli firms will want to use the UK as their main hub outside Israel.  The UK is easily accessible in terms of distance and time zone, and is a convenient base to access Europe and elsewhere. Moreover the UK government has been actively promoting foreign investment.  The UK’s Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and its Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) already offer UK taxpayers incentives to invest in early-stage firms, and reduce the costs in the event of failure. These schemes, which enable Israeli companies to operate from Britain while keeping their Research and Development in Israel, make the UK an especially attractive place for Israeli start-ups.  Once Britain is free of EU restrictions, such schemes will undoubtedly be extended.

In addition the UK government offers grants to companies in certain industrial sectors. Israeli entrepreneurs in fields such as electric vehicles and agricultural technology are already choosing to base their entire business in the UK, partly because of targeted government grants which go hand in hand with British expertise.  After Brexit incentives like this will not only be maintained, but almost certainly expanded.

The fact of the matter is that the UK is already so attractive to Israeli entrepreneurs − especially, but not exclusively, those engaged in start-up enterprises – that once Britain has cast off the shackles of restrictive EU regulations, the prospect is that the UK-Israeli trade relationship will flourish as never before.  Floreat Brexit!

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 9 May 2018:
https://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/Post-Brexit-Israel-555944

Published in the Eurasia Review, 6 May 2018:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/06052018-post-brexit-israel-oped/

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Little Boy Lost - a short story

                                                       "Blue eyes,,,blue like the sea..."
You know what they say about the sea‑front at Tel Aviv.  Walk along it often enough, and you're bound to meet everyone you've ever known.
On a July afternoon in the mid‑1960s the beaches running south from Kikkar Atarim were packed.  Children were scampering up and down to the sea over the blistering sand and mothers were screaming at them.  The ice‑cream sellers and the life‑guards were doing a roaring trade.  The scene was vivid in the brilliant sunshine – coloured umbrellas, red‑and‑yellow sun shelters, striped deck chairs.  In the midst of it all a woman, not young not old, in a long‑sleeved blue dress with polka dots and a little white collar and cuffs, was gazing to left and right. 
"My God, what am I going to do?  What can I do?"
She spoke to herself, for there was no one with her, but it chanced that the words were overheard by a fair‑haired young man in his twenties carrying a towel, who had just stepped on to the sands.
"In some sort of trouble?" he said, for he had a kind heart.  "Perhaps I can help."
"I don't know."
She looked distractedly from side to side.
"Why don't you tell me about it?" said the young man.  "What's happened?"
The woman clutched at his arm.
"It's terrible, terrible.  My little boy ‑ Danny ‑ he seems to have wandered off."
"Wandered off?  You mean, he's lost?"
The woman nodded, and pressed both hands to her cheeks. 
"What am I to do?  Tell me what I can do."
The young man kept his cool. 
"He can't have gone far.  When did you last see him?"
The woman was vague.                                       
"I don't quite know.  I was just sitting here.  Then I looked up, and he wasn't there."
Seized by a sudden spasm of energy, she called down the beach towards the sea, her voice mingling with the cries of the children and the portable radios:
"Danny!  Danny!  Where are you'?"
"Come on," said the young man, abandoning thoughts of stripping to the bathing trunks he wore beneath his slacks and snoozing in the sun.  "I'll help you look for him.  What does he look like, Mrs ...  ?"
He glanced at her enquiringly.
"Weiss," she said.  "My name is Weiss.  Oh, he's a most beautiful child.  Soft, fair hair.  Blue eyes – blue like the sea.  Blue, just like yours.”
"And how old?"
"Four," said Mrs Weiss.  "He's four years old."
"That's very young.  We must find him quickly."
She seemed disturbed by his reaction, and her hand flew to her mouth as a new thought suddenly struck her. 
"The sea!  Could he have wandered into the sea?  Oh, my God!"
The young man kept his head. 
"Was he wearing a bathing costume?"
"No!  No, he wasn't.  See – I have it here."
She scrabbled in a beach bag that was lying at her feet, and stood up triumphantly, holding a small pair of trunks.
"Then he can't have gone into the sea," said the young man.  "Someone's sure to have seen a little boy fully clothed going into the water."
The thought calmed her. 
"No, you're right.  Thank heaven.  But where can he be?  My little baby all on his own, wandering about, lost.  I can't bear to think of it."
Her eyes roamed the crowded, animated scene.  Another possibility presented itself and she turned back to him. 
"But perhaps he isn't on his own?  Perhaps someone has taken him.  Some woman baby‑snatcher.  You read of things like that.  Or worse ‑ some man.  Dear heaven, what shall I do?"
And again she called down the beach:  "Danny!  Danny!"
"Keep calm, Mrs Weiss" said the young man.  "We'll walk together along the sands, and if we don't find him we'll ask the lifeguard to make an announcement.  But we'll find him, Mrs Weiss, never fear."
The woman seemed comforted.  She looked up as if seeing him for the first time.
"You're so kind, Mr… There, I don't even know your name."
“I'm Uri Segal," said the young man.  "Call me Uri.  Now let's get started.  I'll look to the left, you look to the right."
Side by side the two of them ploughed their way through the sand, the woman calling "Danny! Danny!" from time to time; the young man concentrating on isolating a tiny sole figure from among the hundreds all around. 
By three o'clock they had scoured the beach, the lifeguard had made a fruitless announcement, and the two of them were back close to their point of departure.
"I'm not sure there's much more I can do, Mrs Weiss," said Uri.  "Shouldn't we contact your husband?"
The woman looked at him vaguely. 
"My husband?"
"Danny's father," said Uri.  "Where is he?"
"Oh, I'm quite alone," said Mrs Weiss.  "There's only me and Danny.  You're not going to leave me now, are you, Uri?  What shall I do?"
"There's only one thing left," said Uri.  "We'll have to contact the police.  Someone could have found Danny and taken him to a police station."
“Yes, yes.”  She grasped at the idea.  “He may be waiting for me now, waiting for his Mummy to come and find him – his wicked, wicked Mummy, who let him wander off on his own.  How could I have done it?  How?"
She was overcome with a fit of weeping as together they made their way to a street telephone.  Mrs Weiss, a folorn figure, stood clutching her beach bag as Uri contacted the central police station at the far end of Dizengoff street in the city centre.
"I've got a distraught mother at my side.  Her little boy has disappeared somewhere on the beach.  We've searched as best we can; the lifeguard has broadcast an appeal.  Nothing.  Have you any news of a little boy being found?"
"You aren't the boy's father, I take it," said the desk sergeant.
"No, I simply offered to help.”
"And what is the child's name?  And the mother’s?  And yours?"
Increasingly impatient with the calmly methodical policeman, Uri supplied the necessary information.  The desk sergeant thought it advisable for them to come down to the station. 
"In the meantime I'll be making a few enquiries – hospitals and so on.  Get over here as soon as you can.”
Uri hailed a taxi, and the woman allowed him to usher her into the rear seat.  As the car pulled away from the kerb, however, a sudden change of mood seemed to affect her.  The apathy that had succeeded her previous bursts of hysteria fell away.  In its place she became voluble, as if she felt an urgent need to explain herself precisely to the young man who had befriended her.
Tel Aviv taxi
"How we yearned for that child.  He was a long time in coming, you see, and we got frightened that there was something wrong – with one or other of us.  You understand?"
She peered round into his face.  Uri nodded.
"You can only comprehend the agony of yearning for a child if you have lived through it.  Month after month, the prayers, the hopes, the disappointment.  Month after month.  The doctors, the prescriptions, the suggestions.  Month after month.  But when the months turn into years, and hope continues to turn into despair – then come the recriminations.  Which one of us is being punished?  And why?  What have I done? What have you done?  Month after month, year after year.  Imagine what that does to a human being.  And then – picture it, Uri.  The same faint glimmer of hope as last month, as the month before – but this time the glimmer is not extinguished like a spark in the dying embers of a fire.  This time the glimmer remains, grows stronger.  You dare not let yourself believe it.  You present yourself to your doctor in fear, in trembling.  You take the tests.  You wait for the verdict.  Uri, can you possibly begin to understand what such a woman feels when she learns that the everyday miracle, so commonplace for so many, has at last occurred for her?  And can you understand with what love, what adoration, that child is received?"
Suddenly, as if the release of words marked also the release of pent‑up emotion, she burst again into a fit of crying.  
"Oh my darling, darling baby.  Where are you?"
The main Tel Aviv police station was comparatively calm for a July afternoon.  The desk sergeant looked up as they approached,
An Israeli policeman
"Ah yes, the missing child.  You'll be Mrs Weiss."
"Have you any news?" she said.
“We've had a phone call," said the sergeant.
Mrs Weiss clasped her hands.
"Thank God.  Thank God."
“…but I'm afraid," he went on, "there's nothing very definite."
"Not definite?" said Uri.  "What do you mean?"
"A man rang just after I finished speaking to you."
"A man?"  Uri was puzzled.  "Did he say who he was?"
The policeman shook his head.
"Well, what did he say?  Is it a kidnap? Will there be a demand for ransom?"
"All he said," said the desk sergeant, a man of unshakeable imperturbability, "was: 'Have you had a report of a missing child?' When I said: 'Yes, the mother's just on her way to the station, ' he rang off.” 
"That's very strange," said Uri.
A man approached them from behind and stood in front of the desk.  Uri glanced at him.  Cool grey suit, neat beard.  Mrs Weiss caught sight of him.  Her face lit up.
“Dr Tannenbaum!  What on earth are you doing here?"
"Hullo, Mrs Weiss," said the newcomer.  “I was worried about you.  You know I worry about you a lot."
Mrs Weiss's face was suffused with a great smile. 
"Dear Dr Tannenbaum.  You are so good to me."
The desk sergeant laid down his pen. 
"I take it you know this lady, sir."
“Mrs Weiss and I are very well acquainted, sergeant," said Dr Tannenbaum. 
He drew a paper out of his pocket and presented it across the desk. 
"If you glance through this document, you'll see it certifies that Mrs Esther Weiss is a long‑stay patient in the Eshkol Psychiatric Hospital, to which I have the honour to be consultant psychiatrist."
The policeman studied the paper carefully, before folding it and returning it.
"Yes, this seems in order."
"Poor Mrs Weiss does have a tendency to wander, from time to time," said Dr Tannenbaum.
"Well, doctor," said the desk sergeant, "and what am I to enter on this report?  I take it there is no little boy?"
"Oh, there was," said the doctor, "twenty years ago.  At the very end of the war, in Europe.  Mrs Weiss was in one of the concentration camps with her son.  They were picked up in '42, but she managed to keep her little boy with her.  Then, with only a few weeks to liberation, they were separated.  She was force‑marched to somewhere further inside Germany; the child was kept in the original camp.  She never saw her son again.  After the end of the war she eventually found her way to Israel, but the shock of it all had unhinged her mind.  For twenty years she has been searching for the son she so yearned for, and who was snatched away from her.  Sometimes she prowls round the grounds of the hospital at night carrying a child's coat and calling for him; sometimes she goes to the nearest town and walks the streets.  On occasion she gets further afield – like today."
"Poor woman," murmured Uri, for he had a very kind heart.
The doctor took her gently by the arm. 
"Such beautiful blue eyes," said Mrs Weiss. 
As he led her away, she looked Uri full in the face. 
"Just like yours."
Uri was taken up with the woman's sad story. 
"Still looking for her lost child," he said to the policeman.  "After all that time."
"You still here?” said the sergeant.  "What are you waiting for?"
"A happy ending?" said Uri.  "Please – take a look at those particulars you took down so carefully.  See what you have about me."
“Uri Segal," read out the sergeant.  "Aged 24.  That's right, isn't it?"
"As far as it goes," said Uri.  "Yes, I'm 24, more or less.  And yes, I'm known as Uri Segal.  But there's more to it.  You see, I came to Israel as a very young boy in a group of orphan children, and I grew up in a children's village.  They told me that I came without papers or belongings of any sort.  I didn't say a word for nearly six months.  So they made up a name for me – it's as good as any other – and they guessed my age.  So yes, for all practical purposes I'm Uri Segal, aged 24.  But – and this is the incredible, the fantastic possibility – couldn't I just as well be Danny Weiss, little Danny lost at the age of four in 1945, sought for ever since and, by a chance in a million, found twenty years later by his own mother on the beach at Tel Aviv?"
You know what they say about the sea‑front at Tel Aviv.  Walk along it often enough, and you're bound to meet everyone you've ever known.


Thursday, 26 April 2018

Thinking confederation


Letter published in the Jerusalem Post, 26 April 2018

In  “Nevertheless, a confederation” (April 23), advocates from the Israeli-Palestinian movement A Land for All propose two sovereign states, Israel and Palestine, allied into a new legal entity – a confederation.  The state of Palestine would be based on the pre-Six Day War boundaries.

From the Israeli perspective such a solution, however much modified by land swaps, simply will not do.  Almost certainly Hamas, which is intent on Israel’s destruction, would gain power sooner or later, either through elections, or by way of a violent coup as it did in Gaza. The new state would become a Gaza-type launching pad for the indiscriminate bombardment of Israel. 

This in itself may not concern the leaders of the Palestinian Authority very much, but what does worry them very much is the prospect of losing power to Hamas. Like it or not, they would need stronger defenses against “the enemy within” than their own resources could provide.

       
 A much more robust approach is required in which both Israel’s security needs and those of a new sovereign Palestine are taken into account. One possibility (and US President Donald Trump’s peace team may be considering it) would be an initiative, backed by the US, the Arab League and Israel, that is aimed at bringing two new legal entities into existence simultaneously – a sovereign state of Palestine and a three-state confederation of Jordan, Israel and Palestine.  

   A confederation is a form of government in which constituent states maintain their independence while amalgamating certain aspects of administration, such as security or commerce.  A Jordan-Israel-Palestine confederation would be dedicated above all to defending itself and its constituent sovereign states, but also to cooperating in the fields of commerce, infrastructure and economic development, and also in administering Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Such a solution, based on an Arab-wide consensus, could absorb Palestinian extremist objections, making it abundantly clear that any subsequent armed opposition, from whatever source, would be disciplined from within, and crushed by the combined and formidable defense forces of the confederation.  

A confederation of three sovereign states, dedicated to providing high-tech security but also future economic growth and prosperity for all its citizens – here’s where the answer to a peaceful and thriving Middle East might lie. 

Neville Teller