Reason Reasserts Itself (Slowly)

Reason is reasserting itself in the world, albeit slowly. The would-be Putins of the world are stumbling. There are even anti-corruption demonstrations in Russia. In the Dutch elections of March 15, although Gert Wilder the candidate of the xenophobes did well, his party received 13 fewer seats in the parliament than did the party of Mark Rutte, the moderate. The next big test for the moderates in Europe is France. It holds its first round of presidential elections on April 23 and a runoff, if needed, on May 7. There the candidate of the xenophobes is Marine Le Pen. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was suspended from the National Front after describing the gas chambers of the death camps as ‘a detail of history’. To Marine’s credit, she led the fight to dump her father. Her core constituency is Trump like. She appeals to the anti-Muslim xenophobes and to those who have been displaced by the loss of factory jobs. A moderate candidate, probably Emmanuel Macron, is expected to win the presidency in a runoff.

In the United States, the aura of invincibility that surrounded President Trump is dissipating. That’s the big take-away from the House of Representative’s refusal to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare. Although blocking the legislation is being billed as a victory of the Freedom Caucus (far right fringe of the Republican Party), the number of centrist Republicans opposed to the bill was equally large. If President Trump hopes to do something constructive in this area, he will align himself with the moderates of both parties.

There is moderation in the administration’s approach to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Apart from a possible move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump’s approach to the Israeli Palestinian conflict looks more and more like Obama’s.

Jason Greenblatt, an Orthodox Jew who is President Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, is getting plaudits from all sides. As reported by Raphael Ahren in the March 17 issue of the Times of Israel, ‘‘The lawyer-turned-diplomat did not only meet Netanyahu’s counterpart, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but also Jordan’s King Abdullah, another important regional stakeholder whose views on the conflict are not exactly congruent with those of the Israeli leader.
While Greenblatt’s sessions with Abbas and Abdullah were much shorter than the two meetings with Netanyahu, officials in Ramallah were uncharacteristically optimistic after their contacts. Abbas, who Trump had last Friday invited to the White House, declared after his talks with Greenblatt that a “historic” peace deal was possible. “The mood is good,” one Palestinian official said with succinct enthusiasm in a private conversation.

In an unprecedented move for US officials, Greenblatt met Thursday with the heads of the Yesha Council, the settlement movement’s most important advocacy group. But he also spoke to young Palestinians in Bethlehem and at the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah “to understand their daily experiences.” He met Palestinian high-tech entrepreneurs and a “cross section of folks from Gaza,” as he wrote on his busy Twitter account. The Gazans gave him “hope we can find solutions to humanitarian challenges while meeting Israel’s security needs,” he noted.’

Greenblatt’s open-minded, exploratory approach could be a life saver for Netanyahu. Herb Keinon reports in the Jerusalem Post of March 26, ‘Channel 2 reported on Saturday that, under an agreement hammered out last week in Washington, Netanyahu will be able to fulfill his pledge and build a new settlement for Amona evacuees, but then have to restrain settlement construction elsewhere and focus on construction in the large settlement blocs. Earlier last week, another report said the Americans were demanding that all construction beyond the fence cease, while Israel could continue to build inside the large settlement blocs according to certain guidelines.’

Although Netanyahu denies the accuracy of these reports, and claims that he is opposed to any constraints on settlement expansion, Washington’s constraints support his nirvana – the status quo. Washington’s stance shields him from the expansionist demands of Bayit Yehudi and the right wing of Likud.

A settlement freeze certainly is consistent with recent statements made by President Trump. The Trump doctrine on settlements has become, “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” At the meeting between Trump and Bibi, Trump requested that Bibi ‘hold back on settlements for a little bit.’ Trump has also stated, “{settlements are not} a good thing for peace, and every time you {Israel} take land for a settlement, there is less land left for the Palestinians.” Although the hands are the hands of Trump, the voice is the voice of Obama.

The other big story in Israel is Netanyahu’s threat to dissolve the coalition over disagreements concerning the government broadcasting corporation. Nobody understands why Bibi is making these threats. David Horovitz suggests as possibilities 1) Bibi is trying to humiliate Moshe Kahlon who supports the legislation forming a new broadcast authority. (It was Bibi who pushed for the new broadcast authority originally.) 2) Bibi hopes that new elections might slow down his indictment on corruption charges. 3) Bibi is obsessed with controlling the Israeli media. Naomi Chazan suggests that it is a shrewd bluff by Netanyahu. If Moshe Kahlon backs down, he becomes chopped liver politically. If he stands up to Bibi, he becomes a major player in Israeli politics.

Chag Sameach v’Kasher

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.