Well, okay, it was just the Minister of Science, Sport and Culture (minister of sport?!).

And he didn’t do it because of anything he did, but rather what the leadership of his party decided to do.

And the Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and Chief of Staff are all still in place, and the IDF is promoting the very generals and senior officers who gave us the Debacle in Lebanon.

But at least somebody in Israeli politics had the balls to stand up for his values and ideals. One person! One politician! Please somebody make him prime minister some time soon. He’s earned it!

Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines made the expected announcement of his resignation from the cabinet on Monday afternoon and declared his intention to challenge for the Labor Party’s leadership in the May 2007 elections.

Pines made the announcement after the Labor central committee decided the previous day to keep the party in the government, paving the way for the cabinet and the Knesset to approve the addition of Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party to the coalition.

“I believe that a man has to act in harmony with his conscience,” said Paz-Pines at Monday’s press conference. “I fought as hard as I could, but unfortunately Labor Central Committee members approved Lieberman’s addition to the government.”

“Lieberman is a man who holds racist views and has made statements which are to the detriment of Israel’s democracy,” he said, adding, “I had no choice but to resign.”

“I wanted to continue to influence the country. It hurts me to leave, but I cannot remain a minister with someone who holds views which are so contrary to mine,” he added.

Paz-Pines went on to say that he had been in the Labor Party all his life and he had no intention of leaving.

“I cannot quit the party. Therefore, I have decided to challenge for the Labor leadership in May 2007 in order to lead the party back to the right path,” he declared.

“I will be a faithful leader to the party and to the voters,” he said. “Voters will not regret voting Labor under my leadership.”

Thank god there’s still somebody like that out there.

Now let’s review why he’s resigning and discuss Lieberman a bit:

Olmert wants to cover his ass in case, you know, things start looking bad when the investigations about his poor performance and accomplishments during this little recent war he ran start coming out. By adding Israel Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) and its outspoken leader, Avigdor Lieberman, Olmert is adding 11 MKs to his government coalition thereby strengthing it to 84 (out of 120 Knesset seats) and making it impervious to votes of confidence; pushing his old party and primary political threat, the Likud, farther away from the seat of government; and, forcing Labor with its 19 seats to understand that they survive in the government only by playing along with him. This is a classic Sharon political maneuver and shows us that once again, Israel may have lousy leaders and terrible leadership, but these people are REALLY good at playing politics and preserving their own behinds.

Who is Avigdor Lieberman? You know the cartoons where there’s a good angel and a bad devil each advising the character what he should do next? Lieberman is the devil side of the equation. He says about Israeli Arabs and Palestinians what many Israelis may hope or think in their dark sides but don’t act upon because their little angels have the upper hand. He is unabashed about keeping Israel Jewish and is open about his desire to remove at least the vote and perhaps the people from those whom he considers a threat to Israel, namely Israeli Arabs. His notions about Palestinians are not much more enlightened, but at least one can make the case that they’re not citizens.

He earned his power, however, not solely through his views, but because he is originally from Russia and his party has built itself by appealing to Russian disaffection with Israeli society as well as the group’s tendency to lean to the right politically. Thus Olmert can claim with a straight face that bringing Lieberman into the government integrates the Russian Israeli community with the goals of the government and the state.

I should note that Lieberman espouses one idea which is very challenging legally but is an interesting and compelling one in terms of providing a solution for Israeli-Jewish demographic concerns and perhaps even the conflict. He suggests that the “triangle,” an area just north of and adjacent to the West Bank, with its high population of Arabs, be attached to the West Bank and essentially removed from Israeli control with its residents essentially also being removed from Israeli citizenship. Legally this is a very challenging issue, but it will undeniably resolve many of Israel’s problems with its Arab population and vice versa.

Interestingly, he is not the first to have had this idea.

Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, two prominent commentators on the Middle East, with a strong bias toward the Palestinians (Agha is Palestinian and Malley spoke up for Arafat and against Barak after Camp David), first proposed this solution in the prestigious publication Foreign Affairs several years ago.

If the Palestinians seem blind to Israelis’ fears, the Israelis, for their part, have belittled the seriousness of the Palestinians’ demand. With two-thirds of the Palestinian people still living as refugees, Palestinian nationalism remains, at its roots, a diaspora movement — born and bred in refugee camps and animated by the desire to recover lost homes and belongings. The sense of injustice at being evicted from their land pervades Palestinians’ national consciousness and has defined their struggle — even more than the desire to establish an independent state.

A solution that satisfied the political demands only of the nonrefugees in the West Bank and Gaza while appearing to ignore the moral, historical, and political demands of the refugees, would be inherently unstable. It would have questionable legitimacy, would undermine the new Palestinian state, and — most alarming from an Israeli perspective — would leave open the prospect that a sizeable number of Palestinians would decide to carry on the struggle. Although denying outright the Palestinians’ right of return might seem a way to end Israelis’ immediate anxiety, it would not end the conflict; it would only transfer the seat of unrest to the Palestinian diaspora without eliminating the threat to Israel’s security.

The challenge is to find a stable and durable solution that accommodates both the refugees’ yearning to return to the areas they left in 1948 and Israel’s demographic fears. This can be accomplished by relying on two basic principles. First, refugees should be given the choice to return to the general area where they lived before 1948 (along with the choice to live in Palestine, resettle in some third country, or be absorbed by their current country of refuge if the host country agrees). Second, any such return should be consistent with the exercise of Israel’s sovereign powers over entry and resettlement locations. Many of the refugees presumably want to go back to their original homes. But these homes, and indeed, in many cases, the entire villages where they were located, either no longer exist or are now inhabited by Jews. The next best option from the refugees’ own perspective would be to live among people who share their habits, language, religion, and culture — that is, among the current Arab citizens of Israel. Israel would settle the refugees in its Arab- populated territory along the 1967 boundaries. Those areas would then be included in the land swap with Palestine and thereby end up as part of the new Palestinian state.

Together with generous financial compensation and other incentives to encourage refugees to resettle in third countries or in Palestine, this solution would promote several key interests. On one side, Palestinian refugees would carry out the right of return. For them, returning to the general area from which they fled or were forced to flee in the 1948 war would be extremely significant because it would cross an important psychological and political threshold. Although they would not return to their original homes, the refugees would get to live in a more familiar and hospitable environment — and one that would ultimately be ruled not by Israelis, but by their own people. Through the swap, Palestine would acquire land of far better quality than the desert areas adjacent to Gaza that have been offered in the past. For Israelis, meanwhile, this solution would actually improve the demographic balance, since the number of Arab Israelis would diminish as a result of the land transfer. Most important, it would pave the way for a stable outcome in which Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora would all have an important stake.

Nobody has called Malley and Agha racists. In fact, as one reads the article (and I recommend that you do), it presents some very compelling ideas for a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians. Of course, it was written before Hamas rose to power, before the Qassems falling after the disengagement, and before the IDF saw what happened in Lebanon after its pullout. Still, on this issue I believe it is important to speak honestly about the challenges facing the Israeli Arab community and the state in dealing with this community particularly as its Islamic groups grow and become stronger.

In any case, we’ll see what Lieberman has in mind. Right now he’s positioned himself politically not only to have influence, but to have a strong media platform. Labor has effectively been neutered – no, I didn’t just mean to say neutralized, although that has happened as well – Olmert, though sly as a fox, will rely on Lieberman to some degree but could get in trouble and lose his influence if any of the numerous scandals attributed to him actually develop into criminal charges, the IDF is in serious disarray with a leader who is intent on attacking those who attack him and promoting those who don’t even when they stink at being generals. Peres, of course, is simply busy trying to get the long-coveted Presidency so that he can stop rolling around in the muck with all these dirty politicians and finally get to travel around the world as Israel’s elder statesman.

In fact, today, at least in the center portion of the political spectrum, I believe only Ophir Paz-Pines can hold his head high. Unfortunately, he needed to climb out of the cesspool entirely in order to do so. But who knows, maybe he’ll be back one day and can dry it out. If I lived there, I’d vote for him.

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  • I don’t agree with 95% of what Paz-Pines represents but I salute him for always being a person of high repute in our otherwise disgusting cesspool (sorry for stealing your term but it’s the first thing that comes to my mind, too) of politicians.

    Now, Labor is talking about replacing Paz-Pines with – TADA! – Ehud Barak, Israeli politics 2nd greatest loser.

  • That’s so cute that y’all think Ophir Paz-Pines was motivated by a sense of responsibility. Heh… I mean you did note his leadership aspirations, right? Some might say he was also motivated by oppportunism… the old guard at the labor party still bristle at the notion that their party has been taken over by Union organizers and their crude, unkempt Moroccan leader.

    As for Avigdor Lieberman, the most notable thing he’s done is hire a bunch of hoochie mamas as Parliamentary assistants. If you’re in the Knesset lobby and you see someone dressed as a hooker walk by, chances are she’s not there to testify at a women’s issues committee meeting – chances are she’s been plucked from her job at a makolet in Ramle and based on the strength of her hotness and hoochie dressing skills, works for an Israel Beytenu MK. The hooker mistaken imagery is further aided by the insane pointy toe high heel pumps, knee high boots and unmistakeably Russian accent. More on that some other time I suppose…

  • CK, it’s like the argument about Noah in last week’s parsha: “Tzaddik hayah b’dorotav” – “He was a righteous man in his generation”.

    The question is would he have been considered righteous in other generations or only relative to that generation he was righteous but otherwise he wouldn’t stand out in an Agudah convention in any other generation. 😉

  • It seems some Jews have a problem with Russian-Israeli Jews being represented in the government, but I hope I’m wrong.

  • Which Jews have a problem with Russian Israeli Jews being represented in the government?

    ck, you can claim it’s all politically motivated and Paz-Pines is a savvy politician, which he is, but he had already proven himself in the last Labor primaries where he received more votes than anybody else and along with Ramon became the face of the future of the Labor party. He could have fought effectively in the next Labor primary without taking this move and in fact has opened himself to severe criticism for disloyalty to the party and has placed himself “out of the loop” now that he’s outside the government.

    Nah, he’s still brave to do this and right to do this when he is compelled to sit in a coalition with a person whose views he strongly opposes.

  • Eric: I sure don’t. I mean in case you thought my hoochie Mama comment was a slur against Russians. These women really have to be seen to be believed. And I wasn’t even kidding about the makolet thing – this was based on a conversation with one of them.

  • I’m just saying I haven’t seen a positive thing ever said about Israel’s Russian-Jewish immigrants, not here, not really anywhere in the Jewish blogosphere. I wasn’t singling you out per say, but making a general observation.

    Secondly, CK said Russians. Personally, I don’t care what anyone says about Russians. I personally despise them. I am aware that there are many non-Jewish Russians who dishonestly immigrated to Israel. If I had my way, the ones married to Jews would be allowed to stay and the rest, I’d ship out to that whore of a country that they came from. I was speaking specifically about Russian-Jews. There is a tremendous difference between the two and the main reason why there are few Jewish Russians left there. Please, if you can, in the future, differentiate between the two as there is no similarity between the two groups. I am a Jew, not a Russian, but I speak Russian and was a citizen there at one point. When someone calls me Russian, I feel quite insulted.