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Ira Sharkansky



Kind words for Livni,
Peretz and Olmert, May 22, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM It is not in the Jewish tradition to praise one's government. There is ample testimony for this ancient trait in the Books of the Prophets, especially Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea, and in the treatment of David in the Books of Samuel and Kings. To be sure, Jews may also be sycophants who are skilled is saying only the best about the ruler. This appears in the cleaning of David's biography in the Book of Chronicles. Yet the first characteristic seems to be dominant. For its modern manifestation, there is no better testimony than appears in the daily op-ed page of Ha'aretz, Israel's most prestigious newspaper.
I see myself in the critical tradition, although I do not claim to be like the prophets in hearing the voice of the Almighty.
Yet every once in a while there is something to praise. On this occasion, I see three items worthy of commendation in the first month of the new government. They do not account for all our current experiences, but they are worth noting.
First, the Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni, is emphasizing the best way to aid the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, while avoiding financing of violence: buy medicine and medical equipment that they say they need desperately, and send it to them. To be sure, there will be no Israeli control over who among the Palestinians get treatment. And it may be possible to sell some of the stuff and buy weapons, or send the money to Switzerland. But those actions will be cumbersome, and may leave a trail that can embarrass those who do them, or try them.
Second, the Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, who lacks experience outside of his background in the Labor Federation, seems to have learned fast. He has approved a number of targeted killings of the bad guys who have been involved in building or firing missiles toward Israel. It may help that the Minister's home town is Sderot, where he maintains a home and where got his political start as mayor. Guess where most of the missiles have been landing? One of them went through the roof of a Sderot school yesterday. Fortunately, the students were elsewhere at the time. Also yesterday, an Israeli missile attack succeeded in eliminating its target, but also killed a grandmother and a young child. The Defense Minister and the Air Force Commander apologized for the unintended consequences.
Third, the prime minister has been skilled in putting his finger on the best reason to support his key policy of unilateral withdrawal: there is no point in negotiating with the "president" of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, because Abbas is without power to bring the Palestinians to accept any decision that might be taken. It will not be easy to assemble key Israelis and others behind a program of withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, but Olmert's argument is the key. No one is likely to demand that Israel negotiate with a Hamas administration that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, and Abbas did nothing against the violent gangs when he was the sole Palestinian leader. Now he cannot do more than say that he wants peace. Not enough. He has to acquire the power to lead his country. Must he begin with a civil war? It may be the only way for him to become meaningful.
Not all is worthy of unqualified praise. The saddest of the knotty problems appears in a group of people suffering from intestinal cancer who have been on a hunger strike for more than a week, demanding that certain expensive medicines be subsidized by the government. Several of those who are ill and striking are articulate, and they have gotten a great deal of media attention. Yet here as elsewhere, the government's health budget is limited. There is an elaborate procedure, with committees of professionals, to define criteria and make the choices for what is subsidized. Israeli does substantially better than Great Britain and Canada in providing timely treatments by surgeons and other specialists; it provides universal coverage of physician visits and heavy subsidies of many medications and medical tests. The average Israeli is much better off than the average American in these regards. Yet the country does not assure access to everything.
After several days of public worrying about the needs of those cancer patients, people suffering from other conditions, and also dependent on expensive medications, began expressing themselves. The key committee pondered the question of reconsidering its decisions for the sake of intestinal cancer medications, and indicated that it could not reallocate resources among those who suffer from different problems. If the government wants to provide major new funding, it will consider the issue again, but cannot promise at this point to emphasize one group of people over others. A wealthy Israeli offered to donate enough money to provide a month's supply of the medications at issue, but strikers said they would refuse. They would not beg for charity; they have a right to live; the government must help them.
Apparently not, or not now.

Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem