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BICOM Daily Briefing October 14 2003

Last updated: 2003-10-14

As Yasser Arafat continues to undermine the efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala to create a viable Palestinian government, Israel waits for a credible partner to emerge from the Palestinian side willing and capable of dealing with the terrorist infrastructure and negotiating peace.

Media Summary

Prominent coverage is given to the Geneva Accord alternative peace plan in the pages of The Independent, with the paper welcoming the initiative. The story is also reported in The Financial Times. The aftermath of the Israeli military operation to uncover weapons smuggling tunnels in the Gaza Strip is featured by The Times. In The Financial Times, Dennis Ross and David Makovsky offer a defence for Israeli construction of the security fence. Richard Pendlebury examines the tactics used by fundamentalist terrorist groups to recruit suicide bombers in The Daily Mail.

Quotes of the Day

Capt. Jacob Dallal, IDF Spokesperson (13/10): “We discovered and dismantled three tunnels. Usually to find even one tunnel takes much longer. We had to go into this densely populated area because that’s where the tunnels are. When these houses are used either for tunnels or as cover for shooting, under international law they lose their status as private property.”

Behind the News

IDF continues searches for weapons smuggling tunnels in Gaza:

Reports from Gaza say that Israeli forces have re-entered the Rafah refugee camp. During the three-day incursion, Israeli forces located and destroyed three tunnels used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons and explosives under the border from Egypt. Most of the Israeli forces were withdrawn from the area on Sunday. Captain Jacob Dallal from the IDF Spokesperson’s Office said that claims of many homes destroyed in the operation were exaggerated, saying that most of the buildings were already damaged or destroyed in previous firefights. Dallal said that those buildings that were destroyed either had tunnels under them, were used by gunmen to fire on IDF troops, or they were booby-trapped and as such were used for military purposes.

Arafat loyalist to become new PA Interior Minister:

The Jerusalem Post reports that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat has decided to appoint his own nominee as interior minister. Arafat told PLO and Fatah officials on Monday that he has decided to appoint Hakam Balawi, a member of the Fatah central council and former PLO ambassador to Tunisia, as acting interior minister. Balawi, who served as cabinet secretary in the previous administration of Abu Mazen, is a long-time associate of Arafat. Relations between the two were strained shortly after the establishment of the PA in 1994, when Arafat refused to give Balawi a position. PA officials said Balawi will serve in the seven-member emergency cabinet for only three weeks, when the term of the cabinet expires. Abu Ala has announced that he plans to quit at the end of this period following a bitter confrontation with Arafat over the Interior Ministry. Abu Ala insisted on giving the ministry to Nasser Youssef, a former security chief, but Youssef refused the position as it did not offer enough authority over the Security Services.

Alternative peace plan put forward:

The ‘Geneva Accord’, a privately formed peace plan, has been put forward as an alternative to the roadmap by a team of unofficial negotiators, led by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Authority minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. The details of the ‘Geneva Accord’, which is a varient of the land-for-peace formula, were hammered out in Jordan this weekend by a larger group of politicians, intellectuals, retired military personnel, and activists on both sides, working as individuals and not as governmental representatives.

The main points of the ‘Geneva Accord’ include: the Palestinians recognising Israel as the state of the Jewish people, Israel withdrawing to the 1967 borders (with some territorial exchange). Jerusalem would be divided, Palestinian neighbourhoods for the Palestinian state and Jewish neighbourhoods in Israel. Israel, under the ‘Geneva Accord’, would also transfer parts of the Negev adjacent to Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. In return, the Palestinian must undertake to prevent terror and to disarm all terrorist groups. The Palestinian state would have no military and the borders would be manned by an international force.

A contentious area of the accord is the Palestinian ‘right of return’. It is thought that the accords expect the Palestinians to concede the right of return to Israel although Palestinian leaders have condemned this suggestion as false. Under the accord a limited number of Palestinians would be permitted to settle in Israel but this settling would not be defined under the right of return. There has been both official Israeli and Palestinian criticism of this accord.

Comment and Opinion

Dennis Ross & David Makovsky (The Financial Times, 14/10): “One thing, however, is clear: if there were no Palestinian terrorism, there would be no Israeli impulse to build a barrier in the West Bank. There is a fence around Gaza and in the three years of the intifada not a single Palestinian suicide bomber from Gaza has reached Israel. Contrast that with the West Bank, which has been the source of 121 suicide bomb attacks. Small wonder that 80 per cent of Israeli Jews support the construction of the barrier.

At the same time, the Israeli perception is that there is no Palestinian body to combat terror. More than anyone else, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the builders of the fence. Their commitment to terrorism - and the unwillingness or inability of the Palestinian Authority to confront them - provides the main impetus for construction. With no fence and no security, the fence stands as testament to the belief that partition is more urgent - and more achievable - than peace.”

The Independent (14/10): “One of the unwritten laws of international politics states that, just as the last vestiges of hope seem to have drained from an already hopeless situation, a small chink opens in some hitherto unsuspected corner to prove that all is not yet lost. The so-called "alternative peace plan" for the Middle East, initialled in Jordan at the weekend, offers one such slim ray of light.”

“Just as the prophets of doom were foretelling a new war that would engulf the whole region, however, the outline of the new, "alternative", peace plan started to become known. It transpired that a group of politicians, academics and others from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide had been working on a draft agreement that could replace the road-map.

By no means all the details of the plan are yet public; they will be disclosed only when the initiative is formally presented in Geneva next month. Of what is known, however, two elements encourage at least some optimism - a commodity that has become all too rare in discussion of the Middle East.”

“It would be wrong to draw parallels between the new document, to be known as the Geneva Accord, with the Oslo peace plan - and to their credit, neither the participants nor their supporters are trying to do this.”

“According to advance reports, a key element is Palestinian agreement to forego a demand that has hitherto been central to their position: the right of refugees to return to their homeland. The Israeli negotiators for their part are reportedly ready to cede sovereignty over Temple Mount, one of the most disputed religious sites in Jerusalem. With a few carefully negotiated exceptions, Israel would also agree to withdraw to its 1967 borders.

In essence, there is little that is "alternative" about this alternative peace plan. The bargaining counters are the same as they have been since before the Oslo accords, as is the shape of the proposed final settlement. The most intractable issues are the same as they were in every set of talks and every near-agreement, including Camp David and Taba. What is new is the precedence given to the final settlement and the fact that the initiative comes not from officials, but from influential representatives of civil society.”

Evelyn Gordon (The Jerusalem Post, 14/10): “It is difficult to argue that protecting one's own civilian population from brutal suicide attacks is not a legitimate military goal. Indeed, the protection of one's own citizens is universally recognised - except, for some reason, when it comes to Israel - as the most legitimate of all military goals. But the argument is even more absurd given that one of the fence's main "bulges" into the West Bank is designed to keep Ben-Gurion Airport, which handles 99 percent of Israel's aerial traffic, out of the reach of terrorists with shoulder-launched missiles. It is hard to imagine any country that would not define defending its only international airport as a vital military necessity.”

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