Saturday, 29 November 2014

HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM

Applying the "TR" Electoral System to the House of Lords

Background
1.  Applying TR as the new electoral system for the House of Lords will  dispense with Hereditary Peers, Life Peers and Appointed Peers – and restores in the process the long-lost link between the Lords and their original links in the country.  

2.  A new Act of Reform would confirm its function and define its status as a secondary revising chamber by reciting within the new Act the 1911 Parliament Acts – as amended in 1949. These Acts limit the Lords’ legislative function to revising and not opposing the will of the House of Commons – thus asserting the primacy of the latter. Limiting any delay in revising legislation would guarantee the supremacy of the Commons. 

3.  The grafting of practising judges into the new, reformed House of Lords is vital. The Montesquieu principle of separation of powers is not meant to render the three arms of the state parallel. The distinctive constitutional arrangement in Parliament is precious. The Executive is enmeshed within the House of Commons and up until now, the House of Lords has had an important judicial component. However, the new Supreme Court  is intended to supplant or preclude the link between these two arms of the state, since its newly-appointed judges (i.e. those who are not already Law Lords) will not be members of the House of Lords. But in my view, a reformed second chamber should include within its ranks some members of the Judiciary with real and current Bench experience, so that the direct and constant link of the sovereign people to all these three arms of the state is preserved. 

4.  The link could, for example, be maintained in the following way: the new Supreme Court would delegate a number of judges from the practising Judiciary to sit ex-officio in the Lords for a certain limited period – say six years. After these six years, they would be rotated and replaced by others. 

5.  Along the same lines, the Queen, the Sovereign, could at her pleasure appoint, say, some religious dignitaries from amongst leaders of the different religions to sit in the new House for periods of six years, after which they would be rotated. This arrangement could neatly solve the problem of how to replace the Bishops and the Law Lords, giving an added gravitas to the  second chamber.  

6. The solution proposed here is essential, given the background in Britain of a steady loss of social cohesion and uniformity, both because of social and ideological trends from within, and as a result of an influx of immigrants from without. The UK is superbly suited – one might say blessed – by a lack of a rigid written constitution and the flexibility of English law – underpinned by the adaptable use of the concepts of equity and precedent. The new Supreme Court should preserve its right to rule against or criticise the EU courts’ judgements, thereby throwing any such rulings back into the melting pot of Parliament to be looked at. 

7.  The process of implementing TR as the solution to the present constitutional limbo  would smooth the path of reform. That leaves the question what to do with the present Life Peers and the remnants of the Hereditary Peers, whose vested interests militate against a speedy solution? There is a simple creative   answer. The political parties who choose, delegate, or appoint their candidates to the newly-created regions to elect the new members of the House of Lords can give priority to those deserving sitting Peers of their different parties. By choosing them to run for election to the new House, they will in fact be given two chances each: to succeed in their regions as Regional Lords, or to accede to the position of Party Lords within the party lists. Even if they fail to capture regional seats, their efforts will be rewarded if they succeed in scoring highly in the regions to propel themselves to the top of their party lists within the rules of TR.. Their chances of acceding to the posts of Party Lords will depend as much on their own canvassing efforts as on the support of their parties.

8.  Some commentators say that we need appointed Lords to ensure the presence of experts. This is a spurious argument. Government and select committees of both Houses can and do always draw on expert advice from outside. Parliaments are there to represent democratically the ordinary citizen, not to create oligarchies and establishments that distance further the representatives from the represented.

Implementation
9. TR is basically a modified form of AV. We start by accepting TR Total Representation as the proffered  electoral system. The new House of Lords will have 300 members. Two hundred members are to be Regional Lords (RL) and 100 Party Lords (PL). Both categories (RLs and PLs) are elected in accordance with the TR system. For this purpose, the country is demarcated in a geographically successive manner, being sliced into 200 regions by the Boundaries Commission without regard to the make-up of the population. The only consideration is to ensure that the number of electors (not inhabitants) in each region is as similar as is possible and practical. 

10.  The ratio of 200 to 100 corresponds to a percentage of 66:33. The reason why we have swung the pendulum downwards, below the ratio of 80/20 recommended for the Commons, is that in this situation a bigger dose of representation (i.e. of PR) is needed to counterbalance the excess rigidity of the House of Commons’ electoral method of first-past-the-post.

11.  Elections take place every six years for half of the House of Lords. Unlike in the House of Commons, this period is fixed and the House of Lords cannot dissolve itself. A by-election for a Regional Lord is initiated and moved by the House Committee within two months of the death or resignation of a Regional Lord. In the event of the death or resignation of a Party Lord, the next in line on the party list of the preceding elections accedes automatically. 

12.  One way of easing the transition from the present House of Lords into a wholly elected chamber is to start by electing just half its members – to be followed in six years’ time by the other half. The next question that springs to mind is: which half to start with? The best solution is to follow the precedent of the reduction of the Hereditary Peers. The present House of Lords can reduce its members to 150 by electing from among themselves the 150 Lords who will stay behind. These can serve their remaining six years to ensure continuity and help to induct their 150 new, elected counterparts into the superb traditions of the House. Those who stay behind are designated as 100 Regional Lords and 50 Party Lords. So although 200 regions have been created, elections take place in only 100 of them, leaving the other 100 to be represented by the remaining ex-appointed Lords. These will terminate their service six years later, when elections take place for their replacements. 

13.  Members of the House of Lords are to observe certain rules of attendance and therefore are to be paid salaries and expenses. These are revised from time to time and fixed by a committee in the House of Commons, presided over by the Clerk of the Parliaments, to ensure neutrality and adequate consultation between the two Houses.

14.  A minimum age requirement – say 40 years – would add gravitas and experience to the House of Lords. The service of a member of the House is limited to the lower of three periods and retirement at 70. This is to avoid inertia and renew its vitality. The modern composition of the House of Commons is made up of young people who look at their membership of Parliament as a career. They have become professional MPs. But membership of Parliament should not be a profession. It is the recent evolution of this practice that has contributed to the chasm between citizens and their representative MPs, who look at their membership as a job for life. It is only the enterprising amongst them who move on and use their positions as launching-pads to go forward into other, more remunerative or more rewarding careers, in business, journalism or academia. To avoid creating a similar situation in the Lords, fixing the minimum age at 40 would attract individuals with experience, a number of whom would have already made their mark or their fortune, and so would be able to devote the mature years of their lives to public service rather than building up their careers.

15.  The biggest problem arising in implementing TR for the Lords is in drawing the boundaries. This task of course will be entrusted to the existing Boundaries Commission or a new commission. Unlike the existing boundaries, the new ones for the Lords need to be drawn in a geographically successive sequence from north to south, ignoring national, ethnic or any other local considerations, to avoid as far as possible the curse of gerrymandering. The danger of the impact of gerrymandering is reduced anyway to a minimum under TR because it is a compensatory system. Moreover, unlike with the boundaries for the House of Commons, where it is important for the local MP to have regular meetings with the electors of his/her community, the strict and continuous contact of the Regional Lord is optional and discretionary. His/her contact with the region is more a matter of gauging the political temperature of that region and using this contact to contribute to the deliberations of the House. He/she is not meant to set up a “surgery” similar to that of an MP. The deliberate differentiation of the ages of members, the timing of elections, and the boundaries between the two Houses of Parliament, will result in them complementing, rather than coinciding with or duplicating, each other. This in itself will add to the value of the Lords as a revising chamber.

16.  Any prediction or simulation of the results of the elections to the House of Lords under such a system is valueless. However, it is safe to assume that it will never mirror the composition of the House of Commons. To start with, TR is a balanced system and its results can never mirror the results of FPTP. Secondly, the timing of elections to the two Houses is very unlikely to coincide. Thirdly, even if the election of one half coincides with the Commons, the other half will not. Moreover, the shapes and sizes of the regions are bigger and cannot overlap with the constituencies of the Commons. Add to all this the age and maturity of the new Lords, which will make them less dependent on their parties and less inclined to be easily led by party whips. All that will give them more independence in their contributions, which will add tremendously to the value of their revising function. The debates in the Lords will command respect and attention by the House of Commons and the public at large.

Aharon Nathan, Wimbledon 2012

Friday, 31 October 2014

Is the United Kingdom breaking up? The West Lothian question.



1. The issue of English votes for English laws, commonly known as the West Lothian Question, refers to whether MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sitting in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, should be able to vote on matters that affect England only. The Devolution in Scotland highlighted this problem and put the question in focus owing to the significant number of MPs involved. The Scottish electoral system, AMS, devised specifically for Scotland was decided without due consideration to its consequences. It was an example of how a political party, Labour here, decided on measures which looked like benefitting that party at the time overlooking the wider public interest. That decision came to haunt Labour now.

2. Way back in my book on TR Total Representation published under the auspices of the ERS in 2009,  I analysed in Chapter 7 the faults and consequences of AMS as applied to Scotland comparing it with TR (Total Representation Electoral System) My analysis was based on the actual results of the Scottish elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007. AMS is intended to reflect the voting preferences of the electorate in a more representative manner than the Westminster model, retaining the best features of FPTP – direct though limited accountability – while introducing proportionality between parties through party list regional voting. So Scottish electors each has two votes: one to elect 73 Constituency Members of Parliament, using FPTP; and another vote to elect 56 Regional Members, using  Proportional Representation "PR". Broadly speaking, the percentage of votes obtained by the parties in the list vote (for Regional Members) determines their overall number of representatives; these party lists are used to top up the FPTP seats to the required number. So if a party has won two seats in the Constituencies but its results in the Regional vote give it a proportion equivalent to five seats, the first three candidates on its list are elected in addition, and it ends up with five MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament). Therefore in practice the component of PR in the AMS is the dominant and determining element.

3. In comparison Total Representation TR is an electoral system based on the premise that every single vote cast in an election has to end up with representation in parliament directly or indirectly. It avoids the most serious defect of the first-past-the-post system, under which votes cast for the successful candidate are represented while all the rest  of the votes cast for the unsuccessful candidate are are discarded and left unrepresented. Under TR these unrepresented votes are totalled and distributed to the Parties of the Candidates ( in proportion to their contribution to this Total) to elect Party Members of Parliament (PMP) Therefore TR offers a solution by fusing the positive elements of both systems FPTP and PR in one ballot one vote. And back to Scotland, the following three paragraphs 4, 5, 6 are quotations from that Chapter 7 based on analysis in the tables provided of the actual results of Scottish Elections of 1999, 2003, and 2007:

4. Here is what I wrote in Ch 7 in 2009: "In my view, giving voters two ballots is potentially dangerous and destabilising. My reason for saying this is that it tends to make people think in two different directions – and the system can become a playground for machination and manipulation by professional politicians and their public relations advisers."    and another quote "A close examination of the results shows why the system is likely to become unviable. It is important to bear in mind when reading it that the calculations of the Regional seats are not based on simple straightforward conversion of percentages into seats to determine the resulting number of Regional representatives for each party. The calculation simply determines the topping-up requirements. That is why, for example, you find that (in 2007) almost equal percentages of votes of 29.1 and 31.0 for Labour and the Scottish National Party result in them winning 9 and 26 Regional seats respectively! The idea is to compensate the latter for its lack of success in the constituencies"

5. "Before the (2007) Scottish General Election, it was expected by the UK government that Labour, which was thought to be the most supported party, would win a majority. In fact, the desire of both the Labour government in London and the Labour Party in Scotland was to frustrate the efforts of the Scottish National Party to promote its platform of independence, and to show through the outcome of the election that the nationalists were in the minority and that Scotland did not want to break away. But close scrutiny of the results of 2007 show how AMS, the Additional Member System, subverted the results, and how a determined nationalist party, riding on a strong, emotional platform of independence, managed to overtake among the electorate the hitherto-more-supported Labour Party’s objective of staying within the Union. The results of the Constituency votes compared with those for the Regional List votes already show the manipulation of the votes between the two ballots. Eventually AMS will break down. It was obvious that sooner or later the voters will split their votes in order to push forward the fortunes of sectional interests of minority parties – that is, unless the Scottish nationalists succeed in seceding from the Union. But that will be a different ball game."

6. "To examine the results of 1999, 2003 and 2007 meaningfully, one needs to compare the results of each participant party, and especially the way its voters split their votes in different directions. This comparison is especially significant when one sees that this split occurred in a big way among those who cast their Constituency ballots for the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and others – but not among those who voted for the two big warring blocks: Labour and the SNP.  The final results show the power of emotional, negative protest rather than rational opposition. A basis like this is bound to cause the system to fail sooner or later, sending the authorities back to the drawing board. A detailed examination of the actual results , reveals how – over three general elections – the Scottish Nationalists inched their way to the top. Their dip in the middle served to spur the voters of the other parties on to support them through the Regional votes to attain their objective of independence." End Quotes.

7. All this occurred also, of course, because the Scottish National Party was better led and more organised at campaigning in 2007 than in 2003, and the demand for a non-Labour government was greater. In 2003, a large number of smaller parties, notably the Greens and the SSP, were elected, mostly from the List part of the ballot. It was in that election that the difference between constituency and list voting was more apparent and most significant, while in 1999 and 2007 there was a less of a gap between the two.

8. Indeed the faulty Scottish Electoral System led directly to the recent  Referendum in Scotland and the chaos in the Westminster Parliament that unless dealt with wisely and quickly would be certain to  lead to the break up of the United Kingdom irrespective of the results of the recent referendum and not withstanding the result of 55% rejecting independence. And with the recent disintegration of Labour in Scotland its votes in the next general elections for Westminster could be overtaken by those of  the SNP. We could then find Westminster dominated by a reinvigorated SNP as a  powerful minority party side by side with the Lib-Dems and force the Conservative or Labour to play to its tunes. Therefore unless a proper response to the West Lothian Question is addressed now Scotland will become an independent country and the United Kingdom will be broken up.

9. Meanwhile Politics in the UK in all its aspects and institutions stand today under big question marks. The political establishment and the political institutions  in the country have become the object of distrust and even  derision in the eyes of the public. Westminster Palace has become the symbol of a historical fossil. Democracy itself is in a state of disarray. The political leaderships are in confusion. What are the answers? To create new parliaments for the regions? To abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a Senate?  To leave the EU? These questions need to be settled by the people, the ultimate Sovereign. But we don't live in ancient Athens where we can all assemble at the Agra, vote and decide on our needs and our future. We are not Swiss either who grew up for centuries exercising their democracy through the practice of referenda in all levels of  their politics, Communal, Cantonal and Federal. Shaped by our own historical circumstances we elect representatives to think and decide for us. Unfortunately today there is a disconnect between us, the people, and our representatives, the MPs and the Lords. The fault lies in our outdated Electoral System of FPTP and the mutilations recently of the House of Lords. We need solutions for both based on our present circumstances and in tune with our traditions of practical commonsense  and not on ideologies. The last thing we need now is the use of Referenda which is alien to our democratic traditions and therefore result in low participation and become  easy to manipulate  by vocal activists. That could certainly result in the subversion of the will of the British People the Sovereign..   

10. So where are the solutions? And how to reconnect the voters, the people, to our politics? The answers to all those questions lie in reforming the tools of our Democracy which have become rusty and malfunctioning.  And the biggest tool is  our outdated electoral system that caused and gave rise to all these problems in the first place. But instead of understanding the basic faults of the system we tried to tinker with and patch up the problems derived from its malfunction.

11. My solution has two prongs:  to replace our FPTP System with "TR" a modern electoral system that fuses in one ballot, one vote both the systems of FPTP and PR. And side by side  to  reform the House of Lords converting it to an Elected Chamber while retaining its present revisory functions. I believe that the Smith Commission Recommendations are  reversible. It would be advisable to the Welsh and Irish not to rush to clamour for  devolution and independence. I would not be surprised that the May Elections could result in the SNP gaining  more seats in the Commons. However I would not be surprised either that the SNP could end up later on  after the Scottish Elections with no overall majority in Holyrood. The outcome of the implementations of the Smith Commission will highlight the enormous problems that the SNP has created to the Scottish people in Scotland, in England and in Europe. People cannot be fed with speeches, slogans and emotions.

12. As for England, the last thing we need is a multiplicity of regional parliaments. We have to distinguish between political aspirations and economic  efficacy. Instead of devolving politics to the regions from London we must ensure  economic prosperity there. We must not destroy in haste London as the great centre of finance serving the whole Union. London's role and function can only be in the field of finance. The North and the other regions are our industrial hinterland. Instead of transferring political power to them from the centre we must engage in injecting economic resources to create jobs and increase productivity. Instead of devolving political power to the regions we should  revitalise our local governments and revive their glorious days before both the Conservative and Labour denuded them of financial muscle and authority. Local taxation served good purposes in the past. We should revitalise the town halls that stood for local  pride. It is then that a Councillor becomes a coveted office as important in the eyes of the public as an MP.

Aharon Nathan, Wimbledon, October 2014

Friday, 8 August 2014

Gaza: Make our Hindsight into our Foresight


Aharon Nathan's  opening Statement as delivered at the Israel Forum Meeting on  11 Sept 2011 in Wimbledon Synagogue sharing a panel with  Mr Stephen Hammond MP, Mr Alex Brummer of the Daily Mail and Dr Simon Joseph in the Chair

"Israel is a paradox. Its spectacular achievements in every sphere whether in science, technology, medicine etc., contrast sharply with its utter failure in politics.  As in Greek tragedies, this one fault is bringing about Israel’s downfall. I believe Israel is definitely not safer now than ten years ago.  Arik Sharon apart, its political leaders throughout those ten years have pushed Israel towards a dark slippery slope which threatens its very existence today.

This grave situation is rooted in 3 problems that urgently need practical  solutions:

1.   Reforming Israel’s electoral system of pure proportional representation to bring about stability of government and integration of its splintered society including its Arab minority;

2.   Directing Israel’s policies towards defendable borders based on a 3 state solution: Palestine, Israel and the State of Gaza;

3.   Improving Israel’s image in the world by widening the legitimacy for its existence through focusing on the ethnic cleansing by the Arab countries of their entire Jewish populations that has left them in Hitler’s words: Judenrein, Arab lands clean of Jews. 

These 3 problems are interlinked and intertwined.  If left without action, Israel' support will shrink under the attrition of intermittent Arab and Islamist hostilities, backed by vicious ignorant European public. Time is running out."  (Sept 2011)


What Today, the 5th August 2014?   What we needed then we still need now: Root and branch solutions. To achieve that we must not confine ourselves to reacting to the last events and headlines but be guided by the above underlying causes of the present conflict.

And what to do specifically the day after this War is over?  A Mini Marshal Plan in exchange for Demilitarisation. We must catch the present golden opportunity that Egypt is affording us to deal directly with the leadership of local Hamas in Gaza (with Abu Mazen but better without) to establish a demilitarised viable autonomous entity in Gaza backed by financial help of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States (not Qatar) USA and Europe (definitely not the UN).  Commentaries and detailed analysis on website: www.aharonnathan.com

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

In the aftermath of the Gaza War: A Mini Marshall Plan to break the vicious circle


1. Amidst the sadness frustration and anger we have to think where to go next once a cease fire is agreed. The Israelis showed restraint and humanity in conducting this war. The IDF displayed yet again its moral rectitude facing death and provocation. However once the guns are silenced Israel and the region have to invoke reason and wisdom in dealing with the aftermath. The continuous vicious circle has to be broken and replaced with a new thinking rooted in reason and wisdom and not in emotion and ideologies. The Israeli leadership must initiate and push for a comprehensive plan to delineate a future course for Gaza. We all have to be positive and creative. The real victims of the present confrontation between Hamas and Israel are the 1.7 million Palestinians living today in Gaza. They are our neighbours and will continue to be so. Paradoxically if handled wisely by Israel and the west, they can emerge as the war's main beneficiary.  How? 

2. Like everything else in the Middle East we have to start with geography and demography, and only then build our analysis and conclusions. The Palestinians are Sunnis and so are the Egyptians. Gaza’s borders are: Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean. Today its population is imprisoned within these three sides resulting in a pressure cooker situation which was bound sooner or later, eventually and predictably to explode. It exploded three times in the last five years, but this time the situation is different. Hamas has proved to be a formidable enemy with a well equipped and disciplined army, innovative and far sighted. It is useless for Israelis to take that lightly and, hankering to the past, keep repeating how we fought and won so many past wars against the Palestinians and our neighbours. It is not victory we need but positive long term peaceful co-existence.  Power and force have to be tempered with wisdom and charity to produce peace. It is more productive to analyse the present leaving the past to historians.

3. Egypt's General Al-Sisi has broken completely the strength of the Islamist Brotherhood at home. Hamas is a branch of the Moslem Brotherhood, and so is Qatar's leadership. The last thing that General Al-Sisi wants is to join Qatar and  be part of  any solution of the present crisis. Erdogan in Turkey is neither Ataturk nor Suleiman the Magnificent. He undermined Turkey's pivotal powerful position between East and West, almost wantonly and foolishly, and now he is deep in the Syrian multi ethnic morass. Thus today the only possible mediator is Egypt. It is in its interest and ours for it to assume this role. However Egypt needs the backing of the West and the funds from Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, to stabilize and lift Gaza's population economically from the dire state that it finds itself today  rendering  Hamas irrelevant while reasserting Egypt as the dominant power in the Arab World.

4. For Israel too it is a golden opportunity to separate Gaza in a State or a political entity of its own away from the West Bank, thus sparing itself further conflict with the Palestinians and avoiding future pincer attack simultaneously from Gaza and Hebron.  Hamas is a fervent religious movement which is feeding on the misery, resentment and hatred that Gaza's prison situation engenders. However it is the only government and civil administration there and it is in power at the moment. So any initiative and solution has to include it. An Israeli/Egyptian open cooperation backed by the West could help Gaza today by offering and encouraging a potentially rosy future for its people. But that has to be and perceived to be in the self interest of the three participants, Egypt, Israel and Gaza including its present Hamas Administration. This latter should be maintained as its dismantling will lead to chaos. The grave mistake of Iraq should be avoided here. Hostile civil authority is better than no authority. However any cooperation with Hamas authorities should be confined only to those of its members inside Gaza, The Hamas leadership in exile must be excluded and prevented from coming back. We have to create conditions in Gaza that could motivate its people to prefer peaceful coexistence with us. We cannot impose a government on them; they have to choose themselves the alternative to Hamas. And in time as their situation improves they will.

5. We and the Egyptian on our borders used the big stick to hit the Hamas Government in Gaza. It will work and bring Hamas to a cease fire which could give us a period of quiet interim coexistence. To make that permanent we all need a huge carrot that will move the population to raise their voices against conflict and hostility. This Carrot is a comprehensive and detailed Rehabilitation Plan, a sort of a Mini Marshall Plan that will transform Gaza not to a Singapore but may be more like one of the Gulf Emirates. Gaza has all the resources especially the human educated element to create such an entity. Egypt can help but Israel most of all  can be instrumental in bringing this about.

6. The Saudi Peace Initiative is still on the table for Israel to consider. It has been foolish in the past to ignore it, and of course it is doubly foolish today. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are faced with real dangers from the Shia inside their countries and from their neighbours Iran and Iraq outside. They are also facing an Islamist wave that can engulf them and topple their governments. They want neither Islamist Qatar nor Shiite countries to be part of any rehabilitation plans for Gaza. For those reasons they are ready to fund any future comprehensive plan but only through Egypt.  They have already pledged such funds. In order to avoid these funds ending up in corrupted pockets the Gaza Rehabilitation Authority should be set up in Cairo where all funds have to go through it with some form of international auditing. All this is in order for honesty and probity to be seen to be exercised. Cairo and Egypt will benefit from its pivotal position in all plans, and thus would control any possible hostile infiltration from Gaza into Sinai. As part of this Authority’s remit it would set up an adequate and viable sea port and a small airport to ensure flights to Egypt and Israel and from there to connect to the outside world. Egyptian architects, financial personnel and expertise should provide the backbone of such an Authority and Israel should be ready to add its own to help when called upon. And after all it is only Israel that can provide the electricity and water needed to restore normality to the ordinary people of Gaza.  Gaza will in this way orientate itself towards Egypt. The first fruit of this scheme will be profitable employment in Gaza, which will divert its workers from digging tunnels and preparing missiles.

7. All this and the reconstruction of the local infrastructure in Gaza itself should be undertaken under the supervision of this New Authority. These activities will create immediate employment. In time, Gaza with new hotels and beaches, would attract tourism from all sides including Israelis who are so fond of availing themselves today of Sharm El-Sheikh and other facilities in Sinai. Mutual interest of Israel and Gaza will prove to be the best guarantee for peaceful coexistence between neighbours. Slowly this process will spill over to cultural cooperation in education, literature and the fine art. And here is a word of warning. If the reconstruction of the war damage is left for Hamas to carry out it is a recipe for future disaster because all Donors' contributions will go to revive Hamas and keep its stranglehold on the population. It would be the restart of the vicious circle.

8. And what about the West in all this?  What is the role of America and Europe apart from joining the Donors' Club. They can carry the task of the demilitarisation of Gaza. Such operation here will be much easier than dealing with the chemical weapons in Syria. It would have to be done with the full cooperation of the Hamas Government. This process would convert the Hamas Government into a responsible government for all the people of Gaza. The cooperation will bestow on Hamas the recognition and the respectability it needs to shed the terror label stuck on her for so long. Why should Hamas agree? Because it is exchanging prosperity for a doubtful weaponry which proved time and again to be unable to stand up to the  power of Israel Defence Force, the IDF.

9. Ultimately it is up to the Palestinians, how they want to shape their future. However from Israel’s point of view Gaza has to be separated from the West Bank absolutely to avoid exposing itself in the future to simultaneous pincer attacks from Hebron and Gaza thereby cutting itself in half. Therefore to avoid another conflict and war this physical separation has to be complete whatever Gaza and the West Bank decide to do in the future. Absence of conflict is as much the interest of the Palestinians as that of the Israelis. They may choose to be in a federation the way East and West Pakistan started after Independence. Or they may choose to be two separate States knowing what ultimately happened to Pakistan. As for Israel it will need to deal with each side separately and directly and not via a central authority. Israel cannot prevent the Palestinians to unite if so they choose but it should put in place every necessary measure to prevent direct physical link through Israel between the two sides.  With all the greatest respect and admiration with which Abu Mazen is regarded justifiably by the international community, I believe that he should have no role in dealing with the outcome of the present Gaza War, not least anyway because of the way he is viewed in Gaza. It will be a grave mistake for Israel to support, initiate or encourage Abu Mazen to preside over shaping the final order in Gaza following this war. Hopefully the interrupted negotiations between Tsipi Livni and Saeb Erakat will resume to resolve the impasse in the West Bank.

Aharon Nathan, London, 22nd July 2014
(N.B.  Aharon Nathan set up and headed the first Israeli Civil Administration in the Gaza Strip following the Suez War of 1956)

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Gaza Conflict - Background and solutions to Israel-Arab Conflict


Note : With the war raging in Gaza today friends ask me what is the background and what are the solution for this ever continuing conflict. The following is my view which I held for many years and believe it holds true today as it did for all those years. It appeared as  chapter 14 of my book,  Israel : State or Ghetto

Israel Arab Conflict (Address to the Academy for Political Development in Zagreb on 15 April 2009)      

Seeking solutions for the Israel-Arab Conflict      

Historical Background:
1. The Israel/Palestine conflict we witness today started as an Arab/Jewish confrontation at the beginning of the 20th century, with the rise of nationalism. The Jews were being persecuted in Eastern Europe but found no refuge in the West. They needed a national home and the only place they could claim any historical connection with was the Holy Land, the ancient home of the wandering Jew. Meanwhile, the Arabs were trying to free themselves, first from the yoke of their Muslim brothers, the Ottoman Turks, and then from the colonialist powers. Nationalism was the order of the age everywhere.

2. At the time, there were also the Middle Eastern Jewish Communities who lived, co-existing with other peoples, in Arab countries, sometimes tolerated but often not. As nationalism bubbled up everywhere they attempted to join and identify themselves with their Arab majorities – but they were never accepted. Their story is often overshadowed by the myriads of books written about Europe’s Jews and the establishment of Israel. Yet today, these descendants of Jews from Arab countries make up half of Israel’s population. Their claim to the right to live in peace in Israel is stronger than that of the European Jews, and even more so than that of the Palestinians. Unlike the Palestinians, with the whole of the huge Arab world open to them, Middle Eastern Jews have nowhere else to go but to live in tiny Israel. Think about it in another way. Let us for argument’s sake accept the Arab contention that Palestine, together with Israel, are all part of the Arab Land. It follows therefore that what in fact actually happened was that Eastern Jews have moved from one corner to another within the same Land. They are not invaders, not settlers. They are natives, and their ancestors were natives before the Arab conquest swept the Middle East in the seventh century. They are not the Crusaders that the Arabs today like to call Jews of European origin. To fully understand the present ME conflict it is important to learn about this aspect of it to see that there is not one set of ME refugees but two. And no better way to introduce this aspect of the conflict than to tell my own personal story. I was both witness and victim of the cruel process that made me a refugee in my own land.

3. I was born in Iraq, and was immersed in its culture and shared in its national aspirations. I was an Iraqi Jew growing up together with Iraqi Muslims. But my personal effort to integrate into the social and political fabric of the country, and God knows I did try, was always met with a rebuff by them. To them I was an alien. And by the time Israel was born in 1948, this rebuff became literally persecution. When all the doors were closed in my face, together with so many other Jews of my generation who were denied exit visas, we had to find a way to escape; literally to flee the country by crossing the border on foot. In my case that was via Iran, whose people I will always be indebted to for my safe passage at my desperate time of need.

4. There was no other country but Israel which would give refuge to me and to some 150 000 Jews who followed in 1950/52. These people could trace their ancestry back through 2500 years of continuous life in Iraq – long before the Arab Conquest. I arrived at the absorption centre in Israel in 1949. I found there a mixture of people: all dejected, all helpless. My fellow refugees from Arab countries were desperately trying to rebuild their lives out of nothing in a land of nothing. But it was the sight of the remnants of the Holocaust camps that broke my heart and my spirit. I saw frightened shadows of human beings, dazed, confused and broken, trying to regain their existence as humans. But worst of all, instead of natural hatred, rage and bitterness I found many of them trying to remove the concentration camp numbers on their arms because they felt guilty for being alive and ashamed of not having put up a fight before allowing themselves to be led as sheep to the Gas chambers. It is the combined images of the ethnically cleansed Arab Jews who lost their countries, and the Holocaust remnants of European Jews who lost their dignity, that are engraved in my being and in the mind of every Jew who says: “never again” That is why Israelis feel the need to keep their military power and even their nuclear shield –not because they are on a Samson-like suicidal mission. It is because they are determined to live with the pride and dignity denied to them in other countries throughout the ages. They are determined now that if they must die, they want to die fighting. For the Arabs, if they want to coexist with Israel, they should first remember this.

5. These fears, as reflected in my own personal story, must also be understood against wider Jewish history. Two thousand years of persecution, execution and forced conversion to Christianity and Islam, culminated in Hitler’s Final Solution, a solution which wiped out almost half the world’s Jewish population on the watch of the civilised world.

6. Today, it is worrying Israelis and Jews alike that what happened in Germany under the Nazis in the early 1930s is being re-enacted in a startlingly similar way in Europe. Every aspect of life in Israel, its people, its institutions, its places of learning, even its acclaimed courts of justice, are being demonized. Recently, this demonizing has been organized and reinforced by concerted bans and boycotts here in Europe in protest they say against the occupation of Palestinian lands, which in fact the majority of the people of Israel would be happy to hand back. All this sends shivers down the spines of Jews everywhere, reminding them of the anti-Semitic demonizing propaganda of the 1930s in Germany, which was the precursor of, and prepared the ground for the Holocaust. As Condoleezza Rice stated recently: Anti-Semitism is not just a historical fact but a current event.

7. The Arab World has played and continues to play its active part, too, in the Jewish tragedy. During World War 2 they made Jewish life in their midst a living hell. By the early 1950’s, when the safe haven of Israel opened, some 900,000 Jews were ethnically cleansed to Israel from Arab countries leaving most Arab countries what the Nazis called Judenrein, lands without Jews. Therefore what the Nazis failed to do the Arab countries accomplished and perpetuated. And the world accepts that as normal.

8. In contrast, today, 20 per cent of Israeli citizens are Arabs who enjoy full rights. They sit in parliament and can find their way, as indeed they have done, to sit in the various national institutions – even in the cabinet and in the Supreme Court. Nobody denies their right to be where they are, having lived in Israel even before the creation of Israel. But in Iraq, there is not one single Jew now living there.

9. Iraqi Jews were part of the tide of 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Their plight and fate are forgotten because Israel did not leave them in camps to rot and did not ask the UN to set up agencies to perpetuate their misery and status as refugees. With help from Jews worldwide, these Jewish refugees with their bare hands gave themselves dignity, security and a future in stark contrast to the way rich, very rich, Arabs treated the then 700,000 Palestinian Refugees and disgracefully continue to treat their descendents since. Consequently, today only the Palestinian Refugees are remembered.

10. This, however, is not to gloss over the events of the 1948 War when the Arab Armies attacked the Jews in Palestine. Here no excuse or justification should wipe out or absolve either side of the wrongdoings, whether these were committed by State armies or by individual political leaders and local commanders. We need to deal not only with the memories but also with the outcome of that war. Irrespective of which side was to blame, the Arab countries which attacked, or the nascent State of Israel which needed to defend itself. It is the outcome that matters. Unless a just practical solution is found for the Palestinian refugees in the same way the Jews dealt with their own Jewish refugees, the Middle East will have no peace. But this will not happen until – in the words of Prince Hassan of Jordan – both sides begin to internalise the disaster and the suffering that befell each of them as a result of that war.

11. The Arabs, and recently even the historians of the conflict, name what happened to the Palestinians in the 1948 War “The Naqba”: in Arabic, the Disaster. But they conveniently ignore the Arab Jews’ corresponding Naqba. The reason for this is that while the Palestinian Naqba was a consequence of a war, the Arab Jews’ Naqba had much deeper historical roots. It was the culmination of the Judenrein process which threw the Arab Jews out of Arab countries, a process that is still reflected right now in Arab attitudes and prevents any compromise or solution of the Arab/Israeli conflict that has been festering since the creation of Israel.

The Islamist Version of Judenrein:
12. Judenrein is land pure and clean of Jews. This is a dream that Hitler designed for Europe, but the Arabs fulfilled it in their countries. This is the Arab side of the Holocaust, the real tragic “NAQBAH” of the Jews who lived for centuries in Arab countries. Today every nation in Europe tries to apologise for this policy. Not so the Arabs. They are proud of their achievement, which they declare day and night as a matter of religious piety.

13. Unfortunately for the Arabs, as was so unfortunate for the fanatical Germans this is not helping the Arabs themselves. In fact it is at the heart of their problems, pulling them back to the dark ages. Islamic learning and tolerance brought the Enlightenment into Christian Europe, but recently it seems – sadly – to be receding from their own nations.

14. The solution to the Arab and especially the Palestinian plight in their relationship with Israel could have been resolved long time ago, if only their leaders had grasped the immorality of the concept of Judenrein, and even more so if the West stopped accepting it as the norm in Arab countries. This acquiescence fostered its encouragement, with disastrous effects for the Arabs themselves.

15. If, as recently as at the time of the evacuation of Gaza by Prime Minister Sharon, the Palestinians had stood up and said: we claim back Gaza as land belonging to the State of Palestine, restoring the status quo ante before the 6-day War, but we have no problem with the Jewish settlements there staying as part of Palestinian Gaza, with Israelis living the way they live today in Germany, England and the USA…. If the Palestinians had done this, today Gaza would have been the new Hong Kong of the Middle East, with Israel as its hinterland and market and source of finance. Unfortunately, they missed this chance, because the Judenrein that shaped their attitude towards Jews got the better of them. It continues to be the obstacle in the way of practical and mutually beneficial solutions.

16. Such a chance to act sensibly is still open and could prove to be the way forward today for the Palestinians with regard to the future State of Palestine. The ball is also in the court of the Syrians to start a process which will bring real peace and prosperity to the region. Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian leader, who clamours for the Golan, should take the initiative and suggest that the Jews in the Golan Heights could stay – after the withdrawal of Israel – as citizens of Syria or as Israelis-in-residence in a Syrian Golan – subject, just like other citizens in Syria, to Syrian law. This is exactly the same way that foreigners live in England, France or Germany today. It is then that Israeli resistance to withdrawal on security grounds will melt away, and a great and prosperous Golan can offer itself to millions of tourists from all over the world, who will enjoy the fusion of Arab and Jewish culture reminiscent of the glorious days of Cordoba and Toledo.

The Way Forward:
17. Unfortunately the Arab countries surrounding Israel are facing acute internal problems of social strife, political bankruptcy and overwhelming population explosion. The Palestinians have been left to themselves, and they are revelling in their infighting and delusions, making it impossible to reach any accommodation with Israel. They have become a plaything in the hands of Arab countries who are fighting each other for supremacy; they are also a proxy in the Islamic tug-of-war between the Shiaa of Iran and the Sunni of Saudi Arabia and Bin Laden. New Nassers and new Arafats are popping up everywhere without the Arabs asking themselves what good their old heroes did for them and what purpose the new ones serve. With this hopeless situation prevailing, it was right and practical for Israel to build the controversial Security Wall and it was wise to act unilaterally to give both sides time to find a solution for co-existence. Although they acted late, Sharon and Olmert proved to be foresighted both in building the Security Wall and in evacuating Gaza.

18. Amidst this confusion, Arabs can only accept co-existence once it dawns on them that Israel is there to stay, not because of its army, not because of its history, not because of the Holocaust, but because the 6 million Jews in Israel (more than half of whom are descendents anyway of ethnically cleansed Arab Jewish Refugees) have nowhere else to go. They have no choice but to stand up and fight even if it is a war of mutual destruction with their enemies. Only this realization will convince the Arabs to seek mutually acceptable solutions.

19. On our side, the Israeli side, our social fissures and political instabilities are creating hesitancy and lack of resolve which are sabotaging the implementation of our only available policy: i.e securing ourselves unilaterally and quickly within defendable borders. These new borders have to be defended militarily and, even more importantly, they have to be acceptable in due course internationally through negotiation. We cannot solve these problems without introducing real changes in our political structures. Social divisions are impeding the process of fusing together our Jewish communities and integrating our Arab minorities. These, together with the political instability of governments, stand in the way both of our negotiations with the Arabs and the implementation of our only available policy of securing ourselves unilaterally. The new electoral system I have proposed: TR -- Total Representation – is key to the urgent changes needed to overcome these difficulties. At its core is the direct accountability of Parliament to ordinary citizens, making it easy for a broadly representative parliament and a stable government to evolve, and empowering them to make brave decisions for peace.

Conclusions and Solutions:
20. Unlike Christian or Muslim countries, Israel cannot be treated in isolation from the Jewish people worldwide. After what happened in Europe and in the Arab countries, Jews everywhere believe that the defeat of Israel would mean annihilation. Israel is all the Jewish People’s refuge of last resort.

21. Lasting Peace is not a matter of goodwill. It lasts only if it is based on the absence of potential future conflicts on the ground. In the aftermath of the recent tragic and unnecessary Gaza War, we Israelis, have to ask ourselves fundamental questions. These questions need to be daring, deep and all-encompassing. There is no doubt that for one century now our Arab neighbours have not accepted us. In turn we, on our side ceased long ago to try to understand them. A mental curtain has descended between the Arabs and us, and that includes our own Arab citizens. In fact we seem to live parallel lives – so much so that we have become accustomed to a view of each other only through telescopic gun-barrels.

22. The only thing that will work is maximum defensible real, physical separation of the two states of Israel and Palestine on the ground. The recent wars of Lebanon and Gaza and all the ensuing killing and destruction make separation more urgent and necessary – indeed mandatory. Gaza is at the core of the problem. It needs to be developed economically along the lines of Singapore or Hong Kong; it has to become a viable entity supporting its population. Some of its refugees have to be given means and opportunities and encouraged to resettle in the West Bank and in Arab Countries, including the sparsely-populated, labour-hungry Gulf. Its border to Sinai and Egypt has to be opened for free trade and interaction with the world beyond. Otherwise Gaza will remain a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

23. But Gaza also needs to cease being a potential threat to Israel. A situation has to be avoided where it can become the western arm of a future Palestinian pincer that together with Hebron on the eastern border of southern Israel will fuel future rising tension, leading to a conflagration that can have only one result: either Israel or Palestine will have to be divided into two halves, thus stoking up more violence. The solution here will have to be for Gaza to become an independent state. Europe has many examples of such small states that sprang into being out of realpolitik necessity. Today, the Palestinian President Abu Mazen’s West Bank is already separated from Hamas’s Gaza. Why not keep them that way for the sake of peace both for Israelis and Palestinians? Thus, four states will arise out of the old Palestine: Israel, Jordan, Palestine and the republic of Gaza. The result will be the final end and the last nail in the coffin of the ill-conceived British Mandate. These four states can join together in an economic Common Market that will bring stability, peace and prosperity to all their inhabitants.

24. How would the Egyptians react to the establishment of a separate state in Gaza? I believe they will welcome this solution which in effect would solve their own problem which is even more thorny and complex than that of Israel. Terrorist Gaza as it is today is a threat to Egypt through illegal infiltration. Hamas members find internal allies and homes amongst the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The border with Sinai is porous and out of control because both sides of it are united in their hatred of Israel. All this will change once it becomes the border between two Arab sovereign states controlled by passports and visas the same way that Egypt today protects its border with Libya and the Sudan. Egypt can facilitate the filtering of refugees to other Arab countries from the State of Gaza where the latter’s government becomes responsible for taking back undesirable elements. The inhabitants of the State of Gaza will be more interested in their livelihood and sooner or later will themselves throw out Hamas. In the new situation Israel can legitimately in the eyes of the world defend vigorously and effectively its border against a hostile state which will be responsible for its actions. Israel and Egypt will then have identical common interest instead of the present ambivalent attitude towards the Gazans and towards each other.

25. Jerusalem has to be divided into: Jerusalem Capital of Israel; and Al-Quds Capital of Palestine - Twin Cities with a clear SEPARATION between the two. Without this no peace will survive. Arab inhabitants in Jerusalem (those who were annexed after the-6 Day War) should revert to Palestine citizenship but can live as residents in Jerusalem if their residence falls within Israeli Jerusalem. Likewise, Jews who choose to stay in Al-Quds can retain their Israeli citizenship but continue to live as residents in Palestine subject to its laws after a period of protection by Israel.

26. Similar status should apply (after a period of protection by the Israeli army) to all Israelis who choose to stay in the new Palestine. This includes the Jewish enclave in Hebron. The same arrangement should be accorded to the cluster of Jewish settlements which fall on the borders of Palestine, in accordance with the spirit of the exchange of letters between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon of 14th April 2004. If the enclave of this cluster of settlements on the western border of new Palestine is allowed to remain within the sovereignty of Palestine then no need remains to the tortuous business of exchange of territories. Otherwise such exchange needs to be carried out by negotiations.

27. It is not our business to interfere and certainly not to decide for the Palestinians which government or leaders are best for them. The Palestinian President, Abu Mazen, is not in control. Hamas has to be brought directly into any negotiation for an enduring settlement. If either or both do not accept these or similar proposals, Israel should unilaterally implement them on its side of the new borders the way Prime Minister Sharon implemented the evacuation of Gaza, UNILATERALLY.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

National Service and Army Service


1. The Ultra Religious mass demonstration in Jerusalem should be a huge wake-up call to all of us. As the demonstrators were mainly male it is not unreasonable to assume that they represent at least one million and probably even more. If we add to this the number of the Arabs in  Israel we find that over 40 per cent of the citizens of Israel don't want to serve in the Army. And so while the army was the unifying force and a leveller of the diverse segments of our population make-up in the 50s and 60s, it has now become a divisive factor added together with other factors to weaken Israel from within.

2. Gradually the army moved from being a unifying factor to become over the years a divisive social factor. It churned out generals and officers that created military oligarchies  within the civil, economic and the political  life of the country to the exclusion not only of the Haredi religious community but also to some immigrant communities and certainly to all the Arab minorities.  This highlights sharply how the people in Israel are divided and it calls for immediate and long term measures to rectify this serious situation.

3. This is not a healthy state of affairs and therefore it has become imperative to find a long term consensual solution. One such simple solution is to separate National Service from Military Service by creating a modern professional smaller army fit for the emerging warfare of the 21st century. How?

4. All adult citizens irrespective of religion, nationality or ethnicity are to serve by law a period of 2/3 years Compulsory National Service from age 18. This Service concentrates on Home Defence, emergency duties and social services and extends to farming and infrastructural projects. Nachal was a great and proud division of the IDF. We would do well by avoiding imported foreign labour into Israel stalking for ourselves future problems.

5. Military Service will be based on army voluntary recruits. These recruits have to be passed by the army as to their suitability for military service, especially for combat specialised units for the defence of the country from outside threats.

6. Salaries of members of both services are set in favour of the military recruits to incentify them. Moreover Military Service exempts its members automatically from National Service once they served equal term in the Army to that set for the National Service. 

Aharon Nathan, 4th March 2014

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Kerry's Framework for settling the Arab / Israeli conflict.


1. It was reported way back in July 2013 in the Sunday Times (and quoted in the Jerusalem Post) that “The Palestinian leader, Abu Mazen, said to President  Peres that "we should complete the peace process that we initiated together many years ago," adding, "There is hope; we will continue to build the future and I hope we will reach a good end."  Citing unnamed Israeli and Palestinian sources, the Times reported that Peres met Abbas in Amman for secret talks in which he convinced the PA President to accept that "West Bank settlers and Jewish residents of East Jerusalem could remain in their settlements but be subject to the Palestinian state." According to the sources, Peres pressured the Palestinian leader to accept this condition "as the minimum that he needed to convince Netanyahu to give his blessing to the talks." We need now to pray to God to keep these two old men alive to avoid another decade of mutual bloody conflict causing disintegration from within of the two States that have no other choice but to live next to each other in peace.

2. Now the cat is out of the bag, Kerry's patience is being rewarded. And as with his Iranian cry wolf Netanyahu's messianic vision of the future is yet again facing the rock of realities. And the winner is crafty Abu Mazen who all his life was watching the Israelis and learning how to manipulate their tactics to his advantage playing one faction against the other within Israel's political establishment.  By now Netanyahu must have realized that it was not clever to talk about a Referendum. Once Netanyahu said he would submit any settlement to a referendum Abu Mazen rushed to offer a similar procedure for his people. He understood the implication for him of such an unexpected gift. Netanyahu  does not need a Referendum because he knows fully well that the majority of the country is behind him anyway in seeking peace and the survival of Israel and so is the Knesset. But Abu Mazen can now keep his options open and use this pretext as a powerful chip. It will be up to him to ask which Palestinians should vote and when and where: the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon or wherever there are Palestinian Refugees. And here therefore lies another problem of our own making handing it a gift to Abu Mazen!.

3. And then comes the question of the Jordan Valley. Here there are two issues, the security and the settlements created there. As part of any final status agreement the Jewish Settlers can continue living there as Israeli citizens living as residents in Palestine. The commercial enterprise created by them will continue to need Arab workers and can therefore contribute to a continued successful commercial cooperation in the future under Palestinian sovereignty. As for the security issue; in modern age warfare and weaponry is it really vital for Israel to hold on to it? Even some top Israeli security experts think not. Any Israeli force stationed there will be vulnerable and become in the hands of extremists provocative in the future. Meantime it can only serve to protect Jordan from a future Palestine instead of facilitating letting the two merge into one State. At the time of the disengagement in Gaza we protected Egypt by insisting on the Philadelphi line separating them and Gaza to Mubarak's delight. We are repeating the same mistake now, this time protecting Jordan. No wonder King Abdullah rushed to register his interest meeting Netanyahu to give him support on this issue. Abu Mazen of course will oppose any Israeli presence or sovereignty on the Valley and insist on stationing an international military presence for the time being. And Kerry might offer an American proxy from Europe. But for how long? By default it will be Abu Mazen's successors who will decide, not Israel. There are many precedents for that.

4. And then the question of recognizing Israel as a Jewish Democratic state. For the life of me I don't understand why do we need this recognition. It is up to any sovereign state  to define and redefine itself democratically and by consensus of its citizens.  In the case of Israel it was decided way back by the UN in 1947. But now Israel says that   once Abu Mazen recognizes Israel Jewish status that will be the end of the Palestinian Refugees' claims. This is another gift, a bargaining chip to Abu Mazen. So what will Abu Mazen do now? I bet he will continue to resist such recognition using his resistance to gain concessions. At the end he will agree and sign. But what is the value of his signature when Hamas does not follow and even if it does declare its recognition, another group of Palestinian Refugees somewhere could in time raise the same question and demand the return of the refugees to their original villages and towns.  Are we not playing with useless semantics? Irridenta claims are open ended which only close neighbouring cooperation can put stop to it.

5. Meantime as with Iran Netanyahu is again misreading American evolving policy changes in general and in the Middle East in particular. Secretary of State Kerry is implementing those changes. However as one of the most consistent friend of Israel for many years he decided to give time for Netanyahu to sort out his problems with his Party and Coalition and his electoral weakness reflected in the results of the last Elections. That is why he came up with the idea of extending the negotiations to the end of the year but within an agreed Framework. But Netanyahu is a political tactician. He is not the leader that Ben Gurion, Rabin and Begin were. Unfortunately for Israel his moral authority is rooted in vague historical past rather than the future survival of Israel. Realities dictate and he lacks the authority or the steel in him to confront it and convey its grave consequences to our people.   

6. The American President in his second term is dubbed "lame duck" That might be true in home policy although Obama in his recent Address to Congress came out fighting even on that front. But one thing is sure, he can be even more defiant on foreign policy. Having extricated America out of Iraq and Afghanistan he set his vision on resolving the two intractable pending issues, those of Iran and the Arab-Israel conflict to keep American central dominance in the Middle East while turning his attention to the Pacific.  Kerry is carrying out diligently and tenaciously the resolution of these issues. He is not going to give up.  It was easier in Iran which found for itself a strong  leader, Rouhani. Unfortunately in our arena we have two weak leaders.  Of the two the weaker is Abu Mazen,  but not necessarily the less effective. He knows he is weak with nothing to fight with. So he must have learnt from De Gaulle sitting isolated in his embassy in London during War II pretending to face Churchill as equal.

7. I wonder if it occurred to the Extreme-Right Israeli politicians claiming in unison that they have no Palestinian partner, that in fact the Palestinians were not party to the 6-Day War, they were the victims.  Gaza was part of Egypt and the West Bank part of Jordan. Israel negotiated the peace that ended that war both with Egypt and Jordan gratuitously choosing to retain and therefore to accept  responsibility for both these regions. After the two peace treaties Egypt and Jordan washed their hands of the whole conflict. The Palestinians were left to themselves and became Israel's problem and responsibility to the delight and relief both of Egypt and Jordan.

8. Abu Mazen must be amused to hear Israeli politicians accusing him day in day out of this and that when in fact he is their captive with nothing to fight with except words. And luckily for him he is not a good speaker so he does not need even to use rhetoric against Netanyahu and lose. He waits, letting us do all the running and all the mistakes. But Kerry needs to find a solution to help the American-Israeli de facto military alliance while avoiding a failure that would have repercussions on American new policy in the Middle East and its world wide leadership. So he came with the idea of a Framework that will enable the negotiations to continue till the end of the year. But this is going to be an American Framework no doubt approved by the Quartet.  The biggest problem that will face Israel then will be if Abu Mazen out of desperation applies to the Security Council asking it to ratify Kerry's framework accepting all the conditions on his side. What has he got to lose? To him it would be a win-win situation, the end of the occupation and the legitimization of the State of Palestine. How could America veto his application? And even if it needs under pressure to abstain, the resolution will of course be still carried. Abu Mazen knows that through this gate Palestine can be established and he can speak to Netanyahu with the status of equal, not as the leader of captives but as head of a state recognized by all the world.  

9. Kissinger was right all that long time ago when he said that Israel had no foreign policy only internal policy. He repeated this again recently in Munich. Is it not time for us to wake up, stop using and abusing our past  and face the realities of our  present.  The new generations in Israel and in the world at large can't buy our convoluted prehistoric narratives any more pitching our fundamentalism against Arab fundamentalism. Now that Avigdor Lieberman no less  is echoing the late Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph that the safe existence of Jews in Israel should come before possessing this or that piece of land and settlement is it not time for all of us to get real.  May be the time has come for Israel's political establishment to face realities and internalize the truth that it cannot procrastinate any longer. The Palestinian leadership still possesses the trump card, the joker.  It could declare that the negotiations are leading nowhere and it is too late anyway to set up a  viable State so they have no choice but to accept  living in greater Israel, from the sea to the river demanding full citizenship. What would Israel's response be then?

Aharon Nathan, 13th February 2014