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BernieBy BERNIE BELLAN

It’s been more than three weeks since President Trump made his surprise announcement about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. I admit that I was one of the many individuals who expected a very violent reaction from within the Arab world.

Now that it appears that those fears were largely overblown, one wonders what will happen next. The idea that someone like Donald Trump, who gives all the appearances of being almost totally devoid of any knowledge of history, could have judged the time right to make a move that could totally upset the dynamics of whatever peace process may have existed between Israelis and Palestinians, is pretty hard to swallow. Yet, it’s actually possible that Trump, for all his sheer bluster and braggadocio, might have done something that none of his predecessors deemed possible, i.e. recognize that the Palestinians will never be willing to negotiate honestly with the Israelis and change the channel, so to speak.

Looking back, when Mahmoud Abbas rejected then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008 to give back to the Palestinians almost 95% of the West Bank and to turn the Old City of Jerusalem over to international control, it became apparent that no Palestinian leader would ever accept from any Israeli leader anything less than 100% of his demands. (It seems, however, that Abbas was actually very close  to accepting Olmert’s offer -more than anyone realized at the time. Years after he rejected the deal, he told Israeli interviewers that the reason he couldn’t accept the offer was because Olmert had shown him a map of what was being offered, but wouldn’t let Abbas keep the map to study it. If what Abbas has said is true, Olmert wanted him to make up his mind the very same day Olmert made the offer. Apparently, had he had a chance to study the offer in detail, Abbas has said that he would have been willing to accept it – but perhaps he simply said that because he realized what an opportunity he had missed and looks like such a fool now.)

There will undoubtedly be sporadic acts of terrorism committed by Palestinians against Israeli Jews in the months to come but, given the past history of regular terrorist attacks by Palestinians no matter what the circumstances might be at any given time, the notion that Trump’s move will lead to a third intifada now seems highly unlikely. In 2000, Yasser Arafat was able to ignite the second intifada – which took over 1,000 Israeli and over 5,000 Palestinian lives, simply by sending instructions to his underlings to begin rioting. Even if Abbas wanted to attempt to do something similar, moreover, Israeli security has now improved to the point where it can quell any major disturbance without having to invade Palestinian cities, which it was forced to do  during the second intifada. What is even more surprising so far though is the relatively muted response from Hamas to Trump’s announcement. There have been some isolated instances of rockets being fired, but nothing like what one might have expected, based upon past experience. Perhaps the lessons learned by Hamas as a result of three disastrous wars with Israel (in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014), have finally taken hold.

But, there is something else that has occurred over the past few years – and which hasn’t received the recognition that it ought to: the tremendous strides that Israel – along with the United States, have made in cutting off the financial sources of terrorism
I just finished reading a book about which I was made aware as soon as  it was published last month by the name of “Harpoon”. The book tells the story of how various levels of Israeli intelligence and counterintelligence - primarily led by the Mossad, along with a non-governmental Israeli organization known as “Shurat Hadin” (with which I became quite familiar three years ago when I went on a security tour organized by that organization), have struck blow after blow against the PLO, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah by cutting off the sources of their funding.

I hope to have a review of the book done by the next issue; it’s a fascinating read, but quite a complex story though and I’ll have to re-read many parts. At the heart of “Harpoon” is the fundamental realization that organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah are enormous criminal enterprises that are able to survive only with the assistance of conniving and complicit financial institutions around the world that are only too willing to funnel money to terrorist organizations while maintaining veils of secrecy under supposed banking confidentiality requirements.
One of the primary aiders and abetters of Hezbollah, it turns out, was  a bank that had a strong Canadian connection, known as the Canadian Lebanese Bank. It is astonishing to learn how central a role a bank with the name “Canadian” in it played in supporting Hezbollah for so many years. Interestingly, under a totally secret American operation that was created following the 9-11 attacks, Americans penetrated the inter-banking operations that operate under the acronym “SWIFT”. (Anyone who has ever engaged in making a bank transfer to another bank would have been asked to provide a SWIFT code. The fact that an American agency was monitoring all inter-bank transfers for years was such a closely-guarded secret that it was only on very rare occasions that the Americans made use of information they had gathered, so as not to alert the administrators of the SWIFT system (in Belgium) that their supposedly impenetrable security had been breached.)

The person most responsible for creating Operation Harpoon was the late Meir Dagan, who also served as head of the Mossad for nine years (from 2001-10). There is a strong Winnipeg connection to Dagan in the person of Nathan Jacobson, who grew up here. Apparently Jacobson was heavily involved in helping the Mossad many times. If you’d like to read a full-length article about the very intriguing Nathan Jacobson, enter a search for “Nathan Jacobson National Observer article.” I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating.

But, as I noted, through a variety of ingenious tactics, Israelis, often with the assistance of Americans, have been striking at the financial tentacles that link terrorist organizations to the banks, money dealers, and phony charities that have provided cover to them for years.
It will take more seasoned journalists than me to try to figure out whether the relatively muted response from Palestinians to an announcement that, had it been made some years ago, would no doubt have led to a hugely violent reaction, is in no small part due to the financial predicaments in which both the PLO and Hamas now find themselves, i.e. they’re both desperate for cash. Whereas Yasser Arafat was able to tap into the hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, that he had siphoned off from the all-too-willing Western governments that lent him support – along with oil-rich Middle Eastern sheikhs, to finance rioting and terrorism whenever he thought the time was right to do so, poor Mahmoud Abbas has no such windfall to call upon.
As for Hamas, while Iran has stepped in to fill the role previously filled so generously by the Saudis as that terrorist organization’s primary financial supporter, it would appear that even Hamas does not have the motivation to provoke Israel into what would undoubtedly end up as yet another devastating blow to the Gaza Strip.

Does all this mean that President Trump will somehow break the logjam that has settled into what once was described as a “peace process”? That hardly seems realistic now that all the cards would seem to be in Israel’s favour. Never mind that not one other country seems to be prepared to follow suit and recognize Jerusalem, i.e., a unified Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel. The fact that, no doubt to the relief of the vast majority of Israelis, the response around the world, other than the expected demonstrations from Palestinians and their supporters, has been so relatively muted, is as sheer an indication as any that Israel will not be forced into making any concessions to Palestinians in the future.
Which is not to say that the prospect of Israel retaining control over Palestinians for as long as one can envision is something that we should applaud. The fact that a small number of religious zealots living in West Bank settlements can control Israel’s political agenda –with the full support of American Evangelical Christians, is not something about which we should rejoice. That is hardly the fulfillment of the historical Zionist dream.

Speaking about history, the Jewish Heritage Centre has landed one of the world’s pre-eminent historians as the guest speaker for the next Kanee Lecture, which will take place April 15: Margaret MacMillan. MacMillan first made her name with her seminal work on the Paris Peace Conference of 1919: “Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World”.
Anyone who has heard Margaret MacMillan speak is well aware how stimulating a speaker she is, and one who can consistently lace her remarks with formidable wit. I, for one, am looking forward with great anticipation to her giving the 2018 Kanee Lecture.