Published in The Jerusalem Post on December 28, 1997
Looking ahead into 1998, here’s what to watch for:
* Oslo: This is the year Netanyahu gets flushed out. Does he really intend to advance the peace process, or to bury it? The die is cast for another painful IDF pullback. Where does he go from there? A national unity government by spring, I think.
* Honest broker: Pretty soon we’ll know whether Clinton and Albright plan to adopt the Bush-Baker approach and lean hard on Netanyahu. More likely, I think, they’ll conclude that undue pressure only leads Bibi to circle the wagons and helps rally the troops to his side. Anyway, it’ll be domestically difficult for Clinton to do so.
* The Palestinian Authority: At least 18 Palestinians have been tortured to death in PA custody, and often it’s the good guys – civil rights and democracy activists. How many more in 1998? Plenty of Hamas activists, mind you, will pass unharmed through the revolving-door penal system that passes for Arafat’s anti-terror campaign. And by the way: might Arafat’s obvious illness or other misfortune leave us nervously watching an internecine Palestinian battle for power between the various Rajoub-type heavies?
* US Jewry: Who will set the community tone on Israel – the Israel Policy Forum (left) or ZOA (right)? Where will the vaunted friends of Bibi and American Yesha activists be when Netanyahu moves into final status talks? Will the Conference of Presidents regain its prominence?
* Revenge of the princes: Meridor, Begin, Olmert and Milo are scheming something. Watch for dissension and mutiny within Likud that will make kick-boxing look like child’s play. And pay attention to Sharon.
* Labor: Can Barak lead? Why don’t the polls show him clobbering Bibi? It’s unlikely that Ehud be able to maintain his outreach to the Israeli center. Radicals like Dalia Itzik and Uzi Baram unfortunately will drag him into an anti-religious, stridently anti-rightist embrace with Meretz.
* Sharansky: Yisrael Ba’Aliyah is tearing itself apart from the inside, and a split into two factions isn’t inconceivable. Sharansky and Edelstein are too ‘right-wing and religious’, and ‘insufficiently tough’ in pushing the immigrant agenda – detractors say. But don’t count out Natan yet. The Russians are organizing seriously for the November municipal races and will surprise us all.
* Neeman Committee: There’s hardly any chance whatsoever that by January 31 the hareidiized Chief Rabbinate and radicalized Reform leadership will agree on marriage and conversion procedures, and call a cease-fire in the pluralism wars. Time to go back to administrative solutions, perhaps, and keep the issue out of the courts and Knesset.
* Histadrut: Will the government have the guts to put Amir Peretz and his Bolshevik gang behind bars the next time they defy the courts and try to close down the country?
* Regional stability: King Hassan and King Fahd are deadly ill; Hussein and Assad are not exactly healthy. We’ll actually miss some of these guys when they pass on; Islamic fundamentalist challenges are possible in Morocco and Jordan.
* Teheran spring: The Islamic Republic is advancing determinedly towards full nuclear weapons status and sponsoring terrorism against regional moderates like Mubarak — while making conciliatory noises in Washington’s direction. Let’s not be hoodwinked. Remember North and McFarlane’s cake caper?
* Iraq: I’d like to believe, but don’t, that this is the year America will finally take down Saddam. No, there’s no nuclear and biological facilities in all those ‘presidential palaces’, the French will tell us at the UN. Just mini-golf courses and milk powder factories, didn’t you know?
* Nazi Gold: Will the Swiss vote to set up a humanitarian fund for Holocaust survivors, as demanded by Jewish groups? Who’s the next ‘Switzerland’ to be targeted for financial dealings with Hitler? Probably Argentina, Spain and Sweden. When will Israeli banks open their records of dormant Holocaust accounts?
* Congress: It’s not a certainty that Republican control of Congress can be maintained through the November elections. (This is important to Netanyahu). A group of key pro-Israel stalwarts in the Senate will have to defend their seats in competitive races, including Al D’Amato, Arlen Spector, Barbara Mikulski and Bob Graham.
* Pope: Vatican denials notwithstanding, the Pope is very seriously ill. What will Catholic-Jewish relations be like after John Paul II, and what will become of the millenium 2000 celebrations in Israel that he is so keen on?
* Media: Can the battle between the yellow-journalism giants Maariv and Yediot get any worse? Haaretz shows signs of being dragged down to their oh-so-low levels. Will Channel Two turn all our minds to mush with yet more silly sitcoms, stupid game shows and moronic chat programs?
* What about loose nukes in the former Soviet Union, the ozone hole, El Ninio and global warming? Take a deep breath and pray for deliverance…..