As he settles in after officially assuming the post of prime minister on Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu may quickly face his first challenge from George Mitchell, America’s special envoy to the Middle East.
Still reeling from charges in the international community that Israel used disproportionate force in its 22-day Gaza offensive, Israelis awoke late last week to a stunning new bombshell: its soldiers had reportedly wantonly killed women and children in Gaza.
And this week, just as Israelis were trying to make sense of it all, came news of a new and disturbing phenomenon — the apparent widespread use among Israeli soldiers of T-shirts that appeared to glorify the murder of civilians.
The expected presentation next week of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is likely to intensify pressure on Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni to join his coalition or face defections, according to political analysts.
Livni insisted in an interview with Israeli media that she would not sit “in a government in which I am a permanent minority,” but Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said he heard that refrain before.
Lisa Ostad, a 32-year-old mother of three from Manhattan, ran in last Sunday’s 15K New York Road Runner race through Central Park to raise money for an indoor playground dedicated March 10 in the Israeli southern city of Sderot. The $5 million facility — equipped with a small indoor soccer field, video games, movie theater, fun-house mirrors, a climbing wall, food court and disco — was built by the Jewish National Fund in 10 months with 300 tons of steel to enable it to withstand rocket attacks from Palestinian terrorists in neighboring Gaza.
As Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu continued to struggle to put together a coalition government this week, Israelis were riveted to a different drama — the negotiations to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s assertion this week that relations with Israel will be normalized only when the Palestinian conflict is resolved has “poured cold water on the Syrian track,” according to Dore Gold, a senior foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.
Gold was referring to Assad’s interview in the United Arab Emirates daily Al-Khaleej, in which Assad was quoted as saying that a peace agreement with Israel is possible that would perhaps include an embassy and formalities.
Although she has been to Israel many times — nearly a half-dozen in the last two years alone — the prospect of quitting her job and moving alone to Israel was daunting for Ilana Rabinoff of Forest Hills, Queens.
“I don’t have a family there, which makes it harder to go,” said Rabinoff, 34, a lawyer for a Jewish not-for-profit organization here. “The process is overwhelming — moving to another country with another language.”
There appeared to be a lot of smoke and mirrors but little if any progress this week in the latest effort by special Middle East envoy George Mitchell to restart Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
“The U.S. is clearly pursuing the relationship and giving [Syrian President Bashar] Assad every opportunity, but so far there is no indication that this is a priority for him,” observed Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Ronen and Leah Hillel were happy in their home in North Woodmere, L.I. Ronen Hillel was working as the manager of a mortgage bank and the oldest of their six children were attending Jewish day schools.
“When times were great in New York and the money was there, the party was going on and we were living a comfortable life,” Hillel said. “But when the recession hit, things became a lot more difficult.”
The Israeli government emphatically rejected this week a proposal by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to impose a settlement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if none is reached by a set deadline, and Israeli analysts dismissed it as infeasible.