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BICOM Daily Briefing November 10 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-10

Two documentaries aired this weekend, Arafat Investigated on the BBC and one on American CBS’s 60 Minutes, expose financial misdealings within the Palestinian Authority, with money being given to both terrorists and being siphoned off for Arafat’s personal use. There is wide coverage of the decision by the Israeli cabinet to approve a prisoner swap deal with Hizbollah yesterday. However, in news this morning there was a note of caution, with the release of terrorist Samir Quntar likely to be a sticking point. Most of the UK press also report on the agreement between Abu Ala and Arafat on the composition of the new Palestinian government, in which security powers remain largely in the hands of Arafat.

The Times has a feature on failed suicide bombers, ahead of a Channel 4 documentary tonight, and the Sunday Times reported on the case of ISM activist Tom Hurndall, wounded in Gaza earlier in the year. Haaretz features an editorial by Democratic nomination candidate Wesley Clark, on the relationship between the US and Israel.

Quotes of the Day:

Close links between Fatah and Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades:

Fatah leader in Jenin: “Fatah has two sections: a military wing, led by the military and a political wing, led by politicians. But there is no difference between Fatah and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.”

Avi Pazner, Israeli spokesman (8/11): "In our experience... the Palestinian Authority funds terrorist attacks. The Brigades are directly subject to Arafat's authority, and therefore all he needs to do is order it to stop its terrorism if that is what the Palestinian Authority really wants."

Arafat approves new cabinet but keeps security portfolio under his command:

Ra'anan Gissin, Spokesman for Ariel Sharon (9/11): "This is a sad day for reforms in the Palestinian Authority because we see that the cartel of terror headed by Arafat still calls the shots when it comes to security."

Jonathan Peled, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman (9/11): “We want to get a feel for what the policies and intentions of this new government are going to be. We want to see what Abu Ala has in mind given the fact that he's not getting what he wanted in terms of control of the security forces and to see if he can really deliver. Then we will know if we have a partner we can negotiate with."

Behind the News:

Fatah is funding Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades; Arafat is diverting funds to his wife:

A BBC investigation aired on Sunday night has shown that Fatah, the dominant faction in the Palestinian Authority headed by Yasser Arafat, has been funding terrorist group the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. The revelations come from Abdel Fattah Hamayel, who had served as the PA’s Minister for Sports and Youth until Abu Mazen resigned in September. He says the policy of paying the money was not instigated by Mr Arafat but has been carried out with his knowledge and agreement. Claiming that the amount given to each activist - some $250 per month - was not sufficient to buy arms or to carry out further suicide bombings, Hamayel denied that the money was intended to support terrorism. However, the leader of the al-Aqsa Brigades in Jenin, a centre for terrorist activities, said that he would not stop attacking Israel until ordered to do so by Arafat. "When Arafat calls for a ceasefire, we will respect his decision and stop," he said.

Another investigation - for American CBS’s 60 Minutes programme - reported that Yasser Arafat is transferring $100,000 a month from PA monies to his wife, Suha, who is living in Paris. The report says the money goes to support a luxurious life style for 40-year-old Suha and the couple's 8-year-old daughter Zahwa. According to calculations presented on "60 Minutes," Arafat has succeeded in transferring no less than $800 million of international aid money given to the Palestinian Authority to secret bank accounts over the past 10 years. The report also said that Arafat and his aides had gotten hold of Israeli bank accounts in which the government of Israel had deposited tax monies it owed the PA. "60 Minutes" said that Arafat sees the money as an emergency fund that he could use in case he was exiled or forced to flee.

New PA cabinet leaves Arafat in effective control of security affairs:

Yasser Arafat and Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) agreed yesterday to appoint Hakam Balawi, a member of Fatah's Central Committee and one of Arafat's close associates, as the new Interior Minister. The Interior Ministry oversees three of the PA's eight security forces: the Preventive Security Service, the police and civil defence. The appointment means that Arafat will retain effective control of the PA security services and is a clear victory for him. Qureia had been trying for weeks to get his own candidate, General Nasser Yussef, into the appointment. The decision gives Balawi him authority over the ministry's security functions turning him into one of the most powerful men in the PA.

Prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah may not go ahead:

Haaretz reports Monday morning that the prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah, narrowly approved in a Sunday Israeli cabinet meeting, is floundering as Hezbollah demand the release of Samir Qutar, jailed in 1979 for murdering an Israeli family in the their home in Nahariyah. For more information on the prisoner exchange deal, please visit www.bicom.org.uk (8-9 November 2003).

Comment and Opinion:

Robert Fisk (The Independent, 8/11): “I was walking towards Sadat Street this week when my beaver eyes surveyed the window of a bookstore. And there in the window - how my heart sank - was an all too familiar title: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Yet again.

The vile old anti-Semitic tract, a product of the Tsarist secret police, complete with stories of child-cannibalism, was back on the shelves, a whole row of it, in a bright-red cover. There was an Arabic edition, too, and a French edition (Les Protocols des Sages de Zion). Each claimed it was printed by "Vigilance 2003". But there is no Vigilance publishing house in Lebanon. At least, years ago, an earlier edition with a white cover carried its birthplace as Damascus.”

“I once shocked a group of Hizbollah fighters in southern Lebanon by suggesting to them that way back in history (or not that far back), their families and those of Jews may well have been interrelated. You can imagine the reaction. It was an accountant at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, an orthodox Jew and a giant of a man with a massive beard, who said to me that he must look like a lot of Hizbollah fighters. I had to admit he did.

But how come this vicious little tract can turn up in a sophisticated country such as Lebanon?”

“Lebanon once had a large Jewish community. This was the only Arab nation that allowed Lebanese Jews to work in the government and civil service after the creation of Israel in 1948. The old Jewish cemetery still exists in Beirut. I often walk through its pine-shaded lanes at weekends; many of its graves honour German Jews who fled the Nazis and were making their way to 1930s Palestine when they arrived in Beirut, loved the city and married local Beirutis. There is still a tiny Jewish community here - it numbers about 100 - and the small synagogue.”

“But still I cannot pass that bookstore without looking at that ominous line of red covers in the window. So I walked in the other day. The proprietor said it was a reprint of an Australian edition of The Protocols, published in 1948. He didn't know where Vigilance had its offices. So I called again. He admitted he had reprinted this edition himself. He was Vigilance. "I don't want profits," he said.

"I want people to read it." But it was a fake, I insisted, trash, zbeile (rubbish). "You don't know that," he replied. "Who said it was a fake?" So I listed all the references, told him about the Tsarist secret police. Useless. In this little shop, lies continue to be the basis of politics. I pushed the copies in the window on to a back-shelf.

Useless again. Next day, they were back in the window.”

Wesley Clark (Haaretz, 10/11): For 50 years, Israelis stood side by side with Americans in fighting against communism and terrorism. We forged a unique relationship based on common interests and a common dedication to the principles of democracy. In the aftermath of September 11, and with Israelis facing a fresh campaign of suicide bombings, this relationship is more firmly founded then ever before.

Every president since Harry Truman has kept America's commitment to the security of Israel. At Camp David, President Bill Clinton helped the parties come close to peace, but Arafat balked and chose violence. Upon assuming office, the Bush administration decided to disengage. That strategy didn't work. So, under pressure from some allies, the administration reversed course and sent powerful emissaries to the region. Sadly, this positive step was too little too late.

Leading a real peace process is a responsibility the United States cannot walk away from - and it is a responsibility that starts in the White House. Negotiations must proceed along a
multifaceted track. The Israeli government should not be forced to make further territorial concessions until the Palestinian Authority acts decisively to dismantle terrorism. But to get negotiations back on track, the next administration must make peace for Israel one of its top priorities.

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