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Film Review: 'Policeman,' a study of the Israeli alpha male

By leaving the Palestinian conflict in the background, filmmaker Lapid manages to skip over the common ‘shooting-and-crying’ formula, in which Israeli protagonists are portrayed more as victims than perpetrators of the conflict.

The timing of the release of Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s debut, “Policeman,” was very unique in Israel: October 2011, right after that summer’s so-called Tent Protests, which saw hundreds of thousands Israelis take to the streets over social and economic issues. “Policeman,” which was shot and completed before the surprising demonstrations erupted, tells the story of a confrontation between a group of young revolutionaries plotting to kidnap a local tycoon, and a police officer in an anti-terror unit that will be called upon stop them.

When Lapid wrote a script about violent internal struggle over economic issues in a country whose politics had been dominated by the conflict for a century, it must have seemed like science fiction (in interviews, Lapid referred to it as “a fantasy”). By the time the film was released Lapid’s fantasy seemed more like a prophesy, winning the movie a nice turnout and more attention than one could expect from a movie that is very challenging, both in style and in content. And yet don’t be fooled: at the heart of “Policeman” lies a delicate deconstruction of modern Israeli identity, and like everything Israeli, it has a lot to do with the Palestinians.

Yiftach Klein as Yaron in the Israeli film Policeman (© 2014 Corinth Films)

Yiftach Klein as Yaron in the Israeli film Policeman (© 2014 Corinth Films)

I know Lapid pretty well so I got to see “Policeman” in an early screening, and I haven’t seen it since. But the movie, which was screened in New York  last week, stuck with me in more than one way. Right now there aren’t any future screenings listed on the film’s site, but if there are in the future, I recommend checking it out.

The plot is basically broken into two: In the first 40 minutes we get to know Yaron (played by the excellent Yiftach Klein) – a member of an elite police unit, popular with his friends and with women, an all-Israeli alpha male. Two important events take place in his life – Yaron and his unit members are facing an investigation regarding the killing of a Palestinian detainee,...

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Reward activism and diplomacy, not violence

Far too many times Israel has mocked peace initiatives and adored violence. Altogether, it seems that the government is about to score major points in the propaganda war, only that each such victory is another step on the path to defeat.

As Israeli news outlets moved to live coverage mode over the weekend, I had a chance to speak with a friend who is involved in the politics of the mainstream Israeli left. He was enraged by the Palestinians, “who are again missing an opportunity.” At a time when Netanyahu is finally cornered, blamed for the failure of the peace talks, when we are moments away from public European intervention – so claims my friend – and when the coalition’s fractures are clearly visible — at such a moment, comes this terror attack that turns everyone against the Palestinians, takes the pressure of the government, and unites the public behind the prime minister. Next it will be discovered that Hamas is connected to the kidnapping and the West will reconsider its recognition of the Palestinian unity government.

I have heard these rants from other people as well, and many others on the Left simply preferred to stay silent over the past few days. The Israeli Left is clearly embarrassed by the more violent moments of the Palestinian struggle. Sometimes that embarrassment turns into anger about “the lack of a partner” on the other side, as if the Left is a PR person who discovers his client is a psychopath.

At times like this it is worth remembering that the Palestinians don’t work for the Israeli Left — or for the American peace camp, for that matter — and their national goal is not to score political points against Bibi or to improve the approval ratings of Meretz, Tzipi Livni or J Street. The sooner the Left stops analyzing the world through the lens of its own political interests, the better (this is also true for all those complaining that the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a “Jewish State,” thus making it more difficult to sell the negotiations to a reluctant Israeli mainstream).

The Palestinians are conducting a national struggle for freedom, one which has heroic aspects to it but also despicable and intolerable ones like the latest kidnapping. Every such national liberation struggle in history has gone the same way, including our own.

In the past, Israeli society...

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Livni’s number two: We should leave the government now

MK Mitzna adds that he hopes the departure of his party from the coalition will lead to its downfall.

Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni and Amram Mitzna [right] (photo: Yotam Ronen /

Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni and Amram Mitzna [right] (photo: Yotam Ronen /


Amram Mitzna, former head of Labor party and currently number two in Tzipi Livni’s Tnuah party, called on his fellow party members to leave Netanyahu’s government due to the prime minister’s lack of commitment to the peace process. “I don’t believe Netanyahu anymore that he is interested in a settlement with the Palestinians,” said Mitzna in a public political event in Kfar Saba.

Mitzna added that he hopes the Tnuah’s departure from the coalition will make the government fall. Netanyahu’s collation has 68 members but without Livni it would only have 62, only one seat more than a Knesset majority. Estimates are that such a narrow government will either be highly dysfunctional or will collapse altogether.

This is a new position for Mitzna, suggesting the great depth of his disappointment with Netanayhu. Only recently, Mizna published an op-ed in Haaretz explaining that his party’s presence in the government puts checks on the extremism of the Jewish Home party, and it was thank to Livni that negotiations with the Palestinians took off in the first place. Recent events, such as Netanyahu’s response to the Palestinian unity government and the announcement of 1,500 new settlement housing units could have contributed to Mitzna’s change of heart.

On Friday, Channel 2 reported that leaders of the centrist parties – Lapid, Livni and Herzog – have begun secret talks on establishing a bloc that would challenge Netanyahu and Lieberman’s Likud-Beitenu party. Some early negotiations also included former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon. So far, no breakthrough has been reached.

The peace industry’s slippery slope
Tzipi Livni joins the ‘Israel apartheid’ club

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Jeffrey Goldberg joins the 'Haaretz'-bashing club

American columnist’s liberalism stops at Ben-Gurion Airport. But then again, we already knew that.

For many years there was a running joke at Haaretz is that if every person who called to cancel their subscription actually had one, the paper wouldn’t have suffered a financial crisis. The latest to join the club is Jeffrey Goldbreg, who tweeted earlier today:


What made Goldberg jump was an article by Palestinian columnist Salman Masalha criticizing the policy of racial profiling policy at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Unlike almost every other place in the world, racial profiling is part of the protocol for Israeli citizens while traveling through their own country’s airports; if you are a Palestinian – which is the case for one in every five Israelis – you are likely to spend way more time in security, and suffer a long questioning and body searches, both of which can often times be humiliating. There has been tons of writing on this issue, from many angles.

Goldberg’s take, however, is unique: he actually prefers Israel’s security procedures (i.e. racial profiling) to the U.S. system of random screenings, or something that pretends to be random. Dump your political correctness and let the Jew through, was Goldberg’s message last time he visited the issue.

In the Twitter conversation that followed, Goldberg tried to explain his anger by citing a racist comment Masalha used to describe one of the security personnel in the airport; but that is just silly. If Goldberg were to stop reading every Israeli news outlet that at some point published a racist remark, I wonder where he is going to get his news from. (UPDATE: reading the Hebrew original, I think Masalha’s comment was ironic, not racist. Goldberg simply missed it).

The bottom line is simple. Goldbreg’s own liberalism literally stops at Ben Gurion, and not for the first time. When Haaretz – Israel’s liberal paper – runs an op-ed from the perspective of a Palestinian citizen, Goldberg is so insulted by his tone, that he abandons the paper altogether. Well, he is in good company.

Jeffrey Goldberg: TLV airport security should ask me if I’m Jewish

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Public reading of soldier testimonies to be held in Tel Aviv on anniversary of occupation

 Avner Gvaryahu, spokesperson for the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence: ‘We want as many public figures as possible to assume responsibility, in broad daylight, for the kind of stories every soldier knows to tell.’

Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of ex-IDF soldiers that seeks to expose the reality of the occupation, is organizing a public reading of soldier testimonies from the West Bank and Gaza in central Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. The event will mark the 10 year anniversary of the organization, which has taken a leading role in documenting Israel’s control over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

“The Israeli public and the media are not willing to hear about what is taking place in the occupied territories,” says Avner Gvaryahu, an ex-IDF paratrooper who has been with BTS since 2007. “The story surrounding [the killing of two Palestinian teens in] Beitunia proved that. If this wasn’t caught on tape, the story wouldn’t have made headlines. The public’s reflex is to remove any responsibility from us. Nobody denies that two teens were killed, and yet this fact is not debated, and nobody needs to account for it.

Meretz leader Zehava Galon (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

Meretz leader Zehava Galon will be among those reading testimonies in Tel Aviv (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

“There is a better chance that we will hear about Britain’s Royal Family or what Obama wore today [in the media] than about a whole people whose future, present and past are linked to us. Our testimonies reflect a reality that is missing from the public debate. It’s not about a right-wing or left-wing media – people simply don’t want to discuss the occupation.”

The public reading will take place on Friday, June 6th and will last for ten hours, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Among the dozens confirmed to participate are prominent academics, journalists, authors, actors, NGO workers, activists, ex-soldiers and politicians. Some of the more well-known participants are author Amos Oz and head of the leftist Meretz party, Zehava Gal-On. Journalist Amira Hass of Haarez will also read, as will +972’s Yossi Gurvitz. I recognize some of the names from various Israeli refusal movements among the participants.

“We thought it was time that those responsible for the reality in the West Bank – namely the Israeli public –...

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Israel renews restrictions on nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu

Despite serving 18 years in prison, including 11 in solitary confinement, Vanunu is forbidden from traveling and speaking to the media. Recently, he was denied a permit to speak before the British Parliament, following an invitation by 54 MPs. 

The Israeli interior minister and the IDF Central Command have decided to extend restrictions on nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu’s freedom of movement and speech. Vanunu’s attorney, Avigdor Feldman, has been notified on the decision and told +972 Magazine he will once again petition the High Court of Justice on Vanunu’s case.

Since his release from prison in 2004, Vanunu hasn’t been allowed to leave Israel, enter a foreign consulate or embassy, come within 500 meters of an international border, port or airport or enter the West Bank. He is forbidden from speaking to journalists, and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) monitors all foreign nationals with whom he meets. The Shin Bet must also approve Vanunu’s meetings with a foreign national who the Israeli media says is his partner.

Last month, Vanunu’s request to travel to London for a three-day visit was denied. He had been invited to speak before the British Parliament (his invitation was signed by 54 MPs) as well as to attend an Amnesty International event. Feldman also petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against that decision.

Vanunu was a radiation technician in the Negev Nuclear Research Center, which according to foreign sources, is a facility used to develop and manufacture nuclear weapons. Vanunu was fired in 1985 due to his political activism for left-wing causes. In 1986 he gave extensive details regarding the Negev facility to British Sunday Times reporter Peter Hounam, along with pictures he took without authorization. The Mossad later lured Vanunu to Rome where Israeli agents kidnapped and renditioned him back to Israel. He was convicted of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Vanunu sepnt his first 11 years in solitary confinement; he went on to serve his sentence in full – up to the very last day. The restrictions regarding his freedoms of travel and speech shouldn’t be confused with terms of parole (as CNN does here); they came in addition to his sentence. In 2010 Vanunu served two and a half months in prison for violating the restrictions placed on him.

Feldman describes those restrictions as new form of punishment placed on Vanunu after he fully paid his debt to society,...

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How will the EU elections affect Israel-Palestine?

The EU’s measures on settlements, limited as they were, remain a source of serious concern in Jerusalem. Some in the Israeli Right hope that the rise of the ‘Euro-Skeptics’ will rid Israel of the problem. 

The year 2013 was a turning point with regards to the European Union’s role in Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until then, one could hardly speak of any European political involvement that transcended the role of banker for American-led efforts and various civil society initiatives. The working assumption was that the Americans will create the solution, the Europeans will pay for it, and that’s it.

In fact, until very recently, one could hardly speak of European diplomacy on any front; diplomacy and foreign policy was left to the member states. The creation of an EU foreign ministry of sorts — in the form of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy — did change things, though. Press coverage of the crisis in Ukraine already started a discussion about – and not for the first time – “the EU’s policy.”

Greater involvement by the EU in Israel/Palestine is also the result of changes on the ground, most notably the American failure to generate any positive political process, especially on the Israeli side. While Europe backed Secretary of State Kerry’s recent efforts, the EU also took serious independent measures of its own. The much-discussed settlement guidelines regarding grants to Israeli entities and the decision on labeling of settlement products gave many the feeling that the EU is indeed becoming a leading actor in the region.

In the Israeli Right today, many see the EU as extremely hostile to Israel, a point of view that has led to the public humiliation of the EU’s most pro-Israel elements, as was demonstrated during the visit of EU Parliament President Martin Schultz in Jerusalem. At the same time, the Israeli Left and some other elements think that the EU is the greatest hope for ending the occupation now that the U.S. appears unwilling or unable to do it.

Read also:
The day Europe got Israel’s attention

In recent months I had the chance to speak EU diplomats and bureaucrats, including those involved in the Middle East. They all dismissed such theories. Everyone I spoke to began by stating the EU doesn’t want to and cannot replace the U.S. in the region, nor...

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Netanyahu explains how he stood up to the U.S., kept building settlements

‘Peace talks? What peace talks,’ the Israeli prime minister jokes with supporters from his party.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted of his settlement building achievements in a recent meeting with young Likud supporters. Responding to a question from the audience, Netanyahu said: “I was threatened in Washington: ‘not one brick’ [of settlement construction] … after five years, we built a little more than one brick…”

Asked “about peace talks with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu reportedly replied, “about the – what?” to which the audience responded by breaking out into laughter.

Last year was a record year in settlement construction in the West Bank. According to figures released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), there were construction starts on 2,534 housing units last year, not including East Jerusalem – an increase of 123 percent from 2012, and more than any other year since the CBS began compiling data.

Netanyahu’s quotes were posted online by Akiva Lamm, a Likud member from Kiryat Arba, a settlement near Hebron. Lamm himself posed a question to Netanyahu on the lack of new construction in his home settlement, and on Israel’s prisoner releases during the American-led negotiations with the Palestinians. This was Netanyahu’s reply (my translation):

When I entered the Prime Minister’s Office for my second term, I was summoned to Washington. “Not one brick,” they told me (referring to settlement construction in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem). I was threatened specifically: “Not one brick.” The pressure from the international community and the Americans was enormous. I don’t think anyone in Israel was under such pressure. And still, after five years on the job, we built a little more than “one brick.” But the important thing is to do it in a smart way, in a quiet way, without inflammatory statements.

Do you think it’s a problem for me to say, “I am a hero, I am strong, I don’t care about anything, what do I care what the world says?’” I don’t have any problem saying that, but it would be a lie. Whoever tells you that doesn’t deserve to be prime minister; he is a populist. This is not a feature leader. A leader knows to stand up to international pressure by maneuvering.

Imagine yourself standing on a hill overlooking the whole valley. You get to see all the obstacles below from above – some from the right and...

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Unilateral withdrawal makes a comeback in Israeli politics

What is it that is making Israeli leaders (Netanyahu and Barak among them), think tanks and pundits talk more about a ‘unilateral solution,’ and what would such a plan look like? Details below.

I published the following post on my Hebrew blog earlier this week. Yesterday, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “it’s true that the idea of taking unilateral steps is gaining ground, from the center-left to the center-right. Many Israelis are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense.” While don’t I think that Netanyahu is planning such a move any more than he was aiming for a two-state solution, there is a larger context to the Israeli preference of unilateralism over diplomacy. Here is my take.

Ever since Hamas took over Gaza, unilateral withdrawal has become an extremely unpopular idea in Israel. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used what was left of Prime Minister Sharon’s momentum in presenting his “disengagement plan,” but that pretty quickly turned into an “agreed-upon (negotiated) solution.” Olmert then went the furthest an Israeli prime minister ever has in peace talks, though even he fell short of a real two-state solution. The assumption was that any land evacuated by Israel would be taken over by Hamas. The international community wasn’t thrilled by the idea of Israeli unilateralism either;  the European Union and United States support the diplomatic process, and have invested considerable time and money in helping Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hold on to power.

In Israel, unilateralism has been denounced by the Right and the Left alike. The Right gave up the settlements in Gaza without a real fight, and ever since, it has been trying to prove that history will not repeat itself in the West Bank. The Israeli Left, meanwhile, has tried to defend the two-state model at any cost. For the Left, the reason things turned sour in Gaza was Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. If it wasn’t for the power vacuum created after the IDF and the settlers left, subsequent confrontations with Hamas could have been avoided, they say. The fact that Hamas won in democratic elections doesn’t support this theory, but that’s beside the point right now.

Following the collapse of the most recent round of peace talks, Israeli unilateral withdrawal is once again gaining popularity, especially among centrists and in the security establishment. It makes some sense: these are the same people who...

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Beitunia killings and the media's incredibly high bar for Palestinian stories

Faced with the most striking evidence, the Israeli media continues to treat the Palestinian version of the killings as a fabrication, demanding more and more evidence of wrongdoing; that is how the public is taught, day by day, that the reality of occupation isn’t worthy of its attention.

The mother of Nadim Siam Abu Nuwara mourns over her son who was shot and killed by Israeli army during a Nakba Day protest near Ofer military prison the previous day, May 16, 2014. Mohammed Awad Salemeh Abu Thaher, 22, was also shot and killed at the same demonstration.

The mother of Nadim Siam Abu Nuwara mourns over her son who was shot and killed by Israeli army during a Nakba Day protest near Ofer military prison the previous day, May 16, 2014.

Ever since I left working on the sports pages and began dealing with current affairs, I remember myself trying to initiate stories on the Palestinian issue. Writing about the West Bank and Gaza seemed to me the most crucial contribution an Israeli paper can make. Besides, there were always great stories, of all kinds, in the occupied territories.

Israelis walk around feeling they know everything about the occupation and the conflict, but my impression has always been that this more of a defense mechanism than a fact of life. I often meet internationals who have traveled on the ground and know their way around better than most of the Jewish public. The more I deal with the occupation, the more I understand how much more I have to learn.

But the real problem in the media organizations I worked for was never a shortage of knowledge or good stories, but rather, self-censorship. In the most grotesque moments, the orders came straight from the top. I specifically remember an op-ed by our publisher at Maariv, Ofer Nimrodi, published during Cast Lead. In it Nimrodi apologized to his readers and to the army’s soldiers and generals, for a text by one of our regular columnists that criticized the IDF’s conduct.

Another time, the late editor of Maariv, Amnon Dankner, stood on the newsroom floor screaming at the editor of the the weekend magazine: “Israelis don’t want a picture of an Arab terrorist with rotting teeth on the front page of their holiday paper!” The thing that made him...

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Human rights NGO: Investigate senior IDF officers over Ofer killings

Following the release of CCTV footage showing the killing of two Palestinian minors near Ofer prison on Thursday, the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem called for an investigation of senior officers who were present at the scene. B’Tselem also asked the IDF to look into “misleading information” given to the local and international media after the incident.

The organization released several more videos from the event, showing the moment of shootings and the minutes leading up to them from two different angles. Here are the clips:

Nadem Syam Nawara, 17, and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh, 16, were shot to death near Ofer military prison in the West Bank during a Nakba Day protest. Two more Palestinian protesters were injured. Stones were thrown at IDF soldiers during the protest, but as the new footage revealed, Nawara and Odeh were shot from afar; one of them was actually with his back to the soldiers, and neither posed any risk to the army forces, nor threw any rocks.

Following the incident, the IDF Spokesperson claimed that no live ammunition was used by the military that day. However, the medical team that treated the teens said that they were wounded from live bullets. The distance from which they were shot also supports this theory, as rubber coated bullets very rarely kill from such a distance.

B’Tselem obtained the full tapes of four CCTV cameras which operated at the scene. A spokesperson for the organization said that the raw footage will be handed to the military police. B’Tselem also invited all media organizations to examine the raw footage themselves.

“The evidence might suggest intentional killing,” said B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli. “There was no danger posed by the deceased or by the injured to the security forces, nor from anyone standing close to them.” All four Palestinians were hit in the upper parts of their body. Army orders allow the use of crowd control measures and rubber coated bullets. In extreme cases of immediate threat to soldiers, the orders allow shooting live ammunition in the lower parts of the body.

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Shin Bet 'warns' Israeli blogger about his reporting on interrogations

After he began researching Shin Bet interrogations of Palestinians, Noam R. is questioned about his political activism and warned that he ‘might lose his job.’

Illustrative photo of a plainclothes security officer by Photo by ChameleonsEye /

Illustrative photo of a plainclothes security officer. Photo by ChameleonsEye /

Israeli blogger Noam R. was summoned on Monday to a “warning meeting” by the Israel Security Agency (the Shin Bet). Noam was questioned on research he is conducting, and was warned about various aspects of his work.

According to Noam’s account, three people were present in the meeting, which took place in a local police station: a male interrogator calling himself “Zaki,” a women presenting herself as “Rona,” and a local policeman. The questions focused on Noam’s investigations regarding different aspects of the Shin Bet’s work. (Noam has written recently on torture, administrative detention and Shin Bet interrogations). “Zaki” warned Noam about a specific aspect of his investigations, and added that he “might lose his job.”

“Rona” asked Noam what was the aim of his investigation, and what he intends to do with his research. She protested when Noam claimed that Shin Bet people are involved in the torture of Palestinians. From there on out, the conversation turned into “an ideological debate,” as Noam put. He was asked why he attends protests in the West Bank and for the names of other political activists. When he refused to answer, “Rona” and “Zaki” dropped that line of questioning.

“We discussed detentions,” says Noam. “I told her [‘Rona’] about violent interrogations, of administrative detention. She was surprised to hear that I opposed administrative detention for right-wing activists as well. ‘Rona’ said that people don’t get arrested for nothing. That if a man is arrested there is evidence against him.”

“The entire conversation left me with a very uncomfortable feeling. It is too early to analyze it, but the fact that a person is summoned to a police station without informing him why, and there he is reprimanded for his activism and interrogated about his ideology and on his ties to others – this is wrong.”

Noam’s blog, Godwin was Right, was launched in 2009. It deals with affairs that don’t receive enough media attention, with the occupation, with arrests under gag orders, violence in interrogations, undemocratic legislation...

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Between bloody wars and peace offers: The end of the road for Ehud Olmert

The former prime minister was sentenced to six years in prison. Olmert will appeal to the Supreme Court, but his return to power seems unlikely.

Ehud Olmert in the Tel Aviv District Court on the day of his sentencing. (photo:

Ehud Olmert in the Tel Aviv District Court on the day of his sentencing. (photo:

Prior to the last elections, Ehud Olmert was still mulling his return to politics. The long deliberation ended with nothing, as the circumstances didn’t seem right: his trials were still under way, his protégé Yair Lapid entered the race, and most importantly – the polls weren’t kind to him. Without a team of strong centrist candidates around him, Olmert didn’t stand a chance.

The public simply doesn’t like Olmert. He has a small group of centrist followers – those who believe he was a great prime minister who was wronged by the media and the public – the one who stabilized the southern and northern borders and conducted serious peace talks with the Palestinians. There is, however, a much larger camp, both on the political left and on the right, who saw in Olmert a symbol of recklessness and corruption, even prior to his conviction.

Olmert was indeed the prime minister who came closest to adopting a full two-state formula, in practice, rather than as lip service. In September 2008 he presented Mahmoud Abbas with the most far-reaching map drawn by an Israeli prime minister: 94 percent of the West Bank and Gaza were to be made into the Palestinian state, with nearly 1:1 land swaps on the remaining territory. But Olmert was already history due to his legal troubles. The Bush administration recommended Abbas not sign, as did Tzipi Livni, who was certain she was about to become the next prime minister. Olmert himself used Ehud Barak’s questionable strategy from the failed Camp David summit by trying to force Abbas with threats and promises into signing on the spot on his balcony in Jerusalem. Abbas wanted to take the maps back to his team, Olmert refused, and pretty soon all that remained was another story in the Israeli myth of “Palestinian rejectionism.”

In the years that passed since his departure from the Prime Minister’s Office, Olmert realized that the only way he can regain power is by positioning...

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