Two plans for an Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon are on the agenda. Minister of Defence Yitzhak Mordechai proposes a complete withdrawal in the framework of some understanding with the Lebanese government short of a peace treaty that would ensure quiet on the northern border. Minister of National Infrastructures Ariel Sharon’s idea is a unilateral, staged withdrawal, with Israel weighing her moves according to the other side’s response at each stage.
On the ground, both sides are sniffing the wind. Hizbollah says Israel’s retreat from Lebanese territory is now a matter of time, while members of the South Lebanese Army, Israel’s allies against Hizbollah, have reportedly begun seeking asylum in Israel. Yisrael Harel ("Ha'aretz" March 26) sees in the readiness to leave these allies to the tender mercies of the Syrians and the Shiites not only a betrayal of those who put their trust in us, but a sign of the decline in Israel’s moral fibre and capacity to defend her own interests.
Lose Lebanon, gain Golan
Ariel Sharon’s underlying aim, most commentators agree, is to keep Syria out of things. For it was Sharon who took Israel into Lebanon in the first place. If getting out involves an overall settlement including giving up the Golan Heights, which Syria would demand as the price of an Israeli deal with her Lebanese protege, then the result of that adventure will prove to be not only ruin, loss of life, and opprobrium for Israel, but, in Sharon’s terms, colossal defeat. "He has a burning desire to set his seal on the end of the Lebanese episode. Part of this is determined opposition to withdrawing from all of the Golan. Another part is the shadow of that wretched war." (Nahum Barnea, "Yediot Aharonot" March 15).
Zvi Barel ("Ha'aretz" March 20) gives neither plan much chance of succeeding. He thinks staged withdrawal would mean Israel becoming even more bogged down in Lebanon. Hizbollah would continue to harry and harass. It would then be "much harder to convince the Israeli public of the need to withdraw, for if it proves impossible to rely on Lebanon and the Hizbollah when Israel has announced it is withdrawing, how will it be possible to rely on them when the withdrawal is complete?" On the other hand, Mordechai’s plan, though more attractive, is merely theoretical "because there is no-one prepared to give him a signed agreement."
Col. (Res.) Uri Dromi, writing in "Ma'ariv" (March 16), says Israel is losing the war in Lebanon, as the US lost the war in Vietnam, not so much on the ground as in the media. The root cause of this is a lack of preparedness for full scale attack against the real enemy - in the case of the US, against North Vietnam, which stood behind the Vietcong, and in Israel’s case, against Syria, which is behind the Hizbollah - resulting in a bloody and humiliating war of attrition. Dromi recommends unilateral withdrawal, which would allow the IDF to fight from behind the international border without having one hand tied behind its back.
Arnon Sofer (Makor Rishon March 20) says the media front is one that must be attended to, with the soldiers’ mothers movement calling for an immediate pullback which "might mean fewer casualties in the next few weeks, but might lead to a very bloody war." In the same paper, Amnon Shomron surveyed anti-Syrian ferment in Lebanon, and secret Lebanese contacts with Israel, as well as European disquiet at Syria’s continuing domination, but did not think these factors could bring about a solution convenient to Israel. "Europe will not force any course of action on Syria," he concluded.
Salman Mazalha ("Ma'ariv" March 5) suggests that an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon is Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat’s worst nightmare. The apparent Hizbollah victory would encourage Palestinian opponents of the Oslo accord in their belief that "Israel’s decision makers only understand force."
Oren Shahor ("Ma'ariv" March 26) thinks the notion of a settlement in Lebanon without the Syrians is a non-starter, while talks through UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan are a useless ritual. The so-called initiatives, Shahor believes, are a deliberate distraction from the difficulties of the Palestinian question. "We should simply tell the government of Israel, ‘Stop pulling our legs’"
Till They Have Built Jerusalem
"Jerusalem cannot stay frozen," is Mayor Ehud Olmert’s justification for plans to turn the city high-rise. The outline plan, covered in two articles in "Ha'aretz" (March 12 and 19), is to allow construction up to 24 storeys in the city centre, and 30 on the periphery. The alternative, according to Olmert, (who also has plans to extend the city boundaries), is low-rise construction so dense that no open spaces will be left.
Architect Mike Turner doesn’t buy it. In an alternative plan Olmert dismisses as "cheap demagoguery", Turner proposes limiting all buildings in Jerusalem to twelve storeys "in preference for social-moral values over the interests of a clique with capital and connections, which will profit from building towers." Turner claims city engineer Uri Ben Asher took the building permit applications in the pipeline, and drew up a plan to fit them. He points to other historic cities, such as Florence, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh, that have understood the danger to their character, and imposed construction height limits.
Professor Hasson, head of the Hebrew University’s geography faculty, argued that the maintenance costs of very tall buildings would mean only the rich could afford to live in them, and the infrastructure required to support them would in any case eat up the city’s open spaces.
Time for change
The municipality’s response was: "Anyone who wants to develop Jerusalem must change their approach and dissociate themselves from traditional planning patterns in the city, which were good for their time, but need to be changed and adapted to current reality."
Published by Israel's Business Arena March 26, 1998
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Israel’s Main Hebrew Dailies:
|Readership as % of population|
|Yediot Aharonot|| 48.4%|| 62.5%|
|Ma’ariv|| 23.5%|| 33.3%|
|Ha’aretz|| 7.1%|| 9.8%|
|Globes|| 3.5%|| 2.8%|
The above figures are based on a survey carried out by the Israel Advertising Association in November 1996. The survey covered a sample of 2,500 people representing a cross-section of the population of Israel.
Other newspapers referred to in this edition:
Makor Rishon Right-leaning weekly.
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- Levy Leaves (January 8, 1998)
The significance of David Levy's resignation as Minister of Foreign Affairs
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Why has Labour Leader Ehud Barak not set the political scene alight? Plus: For and against Hannuka.