Notes from Limmud Conference 2006

The Limmud conference attracts about 2,300 people from 30 countries and meets in Nottingham England for 5 days during Christmas week. For details, go to 

Gershon Baskin, CEO of Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information….Been dealing with lots of behind the scenes non-governmental relations with Arabs….The Saudis and Syrians send low-level people to deal with Israel; when the representation gets more serious, we’ll know they mean business. Saudis have put no effort into selling their peace plan which they insist on calling the Arab League plan. Gestures are not a substitute for policy. Must have objectives. Israeli intelligence still doesn’t understand the Arab mentality and how things will play out; the Olmert Abbas meeting was humiliating for the Arab street even though it may have been intended to help him. Or perhaps the Israelis were wily enough to make it look nice for CNN and at the same time make it miserable for Abbas on the street.

Gerald Steinberg, strategist based on Bar Ilan University who is often quoted in the press….Syria’s Assad is incoherent according to people who meet with him. Probably not really in charge. Iranian and Syrian leaders understand very little about Israel and its red lines and are most likely to miscalculate and start a war. Had no idea that Pakistan was a problem that needed to be monitored when I mentioned it. He went through the map of regional countries and Pakistan wasn’t even on it. Didn’t have a strong opinion about what should be done about Iran; said he’s an academic. Tends toward Luttwack’s opinion that a week of bombing in Iran could knock out 80% of its capability and disagrees with Uri Lubrani’s analysis that we should focus efforts at changing the government instead of military moves against Iran. 

David Landau, editor in chief of Haaretz newspaper in Israel…..Hamas is so hateful they won’t even deal with Israel on pragmatic governing issues. They are just in la-la land. Gerald Steinberg and Gershon say the same. Israel lost the Lebanon war; army failed to defend the border. Not a guerilla war there. Arabs think they can beat Israel now. Avigdor Lieberman thinks he will be prime minister. No mutually assured destruction deterrent if Ayatollahs are prepared to have 10 million Iranians die destroying Israel. Israel cannot survive under the threat of a nuclear Ayatollah and must pre-empt this threat no matter what. Coming from such a leftist, this apocalyptic vision is amazing to the conference participants.

Clive Lawton on Intermarriage: Immigrants realize that where they are now is not the best it could be since they’ve seen otherwise. This is something they bring to society. Moses couldn’t speak Hebrew and it appears he didn’t care much for Jews. Yehudit was Esau’s wife and a Hittite. Leader must empathize but stand apart from the people he leads. Most biblical figures from Joseph through Moses, David and Solomon all intermarried and not only that but usually daughters of high priests of the other religions.

Fathi, an Israeli Arab involved in NGO work with Shatil of the New Israel Fund: The Arabs should decide their future as to whether to join a Palestinian state; the Jews should decide for them via a Lieberman. If he is prime minister, they will live with it since opposing the state causes death. He agrees Israel should be a Jewish state but agrees it’s a problem with one-man one-vote when you see that demographic changes in Iraq and Lebanon are upsetting delicate balances created a generation ago. Feels today’s Palestine is a click and doesn’t want to be a part of it.

Session on origins of the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book: “Kavana” meant the improvisational words you put into prayer since there was no text. Now it means the feeling behind the words in the text.

Private Conversation with one of these speakers who impressed me that he knows his stuff and has been in the business for about 30 years….Hamas Prime Minister Haniya’s two advisors are smart; one speaks Hebrew but their private words don’t match the public statements and one should believe the public over the private and the public statements are much more hostile. Abbas is a nice guy but a coward. Dahlan is smooth and corrupt and owned by the US and Israel and thus trusted by them. The US gave him $35 million to buy arms and the UK just sent him to Cambridge to learn English while he was listed out for surgery. Israel gave him exclusive franchise to run the Erez checkpoint and has kept a close eye on him since the age of 16. A dangerously corrupt man; wouldn’t sell him life insurance…Jibril is a competent and physically imposing guy… Barghouti is a man of principle who stands by his word; you can deal with him and the Israelis will free him and he will help Abbas create a governing combination that will work. His conviction for murder is intentionally vague to leave an opening; he was not found to have actually pulled the trigger on anyone. Sharon allowed a Meretz member of Knesset to start a dialogue with him which has continued. Barak was such an autistic moron that he sent Ginnossar to Arafat to threaten to kill him while they were negotiating one night  over the 2000 Intifadah which had just begun. Arafat kicked him out of the office and instead of things finishing that night they just went on for months. This was an eyewitness account. Bibi also burned his bridges. Olmert is a good chess player in politics. Nobody better except maybe Livni who is intentionally keeping a low profile for now. Tom Friedman only used 3 sources while he was bureau chief in Jerusalem. Was narrow even then. Ayalon is a Labor man seeing himself as prime minister who should not be trusted. “Hudna” would be the basis of a deal if Hamas stays in government. If Olmert deals with Hamas it will be OK as long as the deal is decent to the Palestinians — it’s the same deal for Hamas or Fatah. Fatah will win local elections; they won the majority of the popular vote last time but split their tickets and lost the parliament; not stupid enough to do that again. Says Hamas is dealing on the prisoners and that a deal is very much in play; Syria did not veto the deal as Mubarak reported and says that it is not true that the Syrians gave $50 million to have Mashaal veto the deal as was charged by the Israeli ambassador to the UN; the reason the Egyptians can’t get the Hamas to agree is that they are strong-arming and asking to be given too much control over the process. Wanted the prisoner Shalit to be handed to them and the Hamas was afraid the Egyptians would just turn him over to the Israelis….Met with Arafat and found him to be as bad as he thought he would be — just a narrow bit of a person who was fussy about what he would talk about if he would see you at all, and at the end of his life was simply out of it.

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