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BICOM Daily Briefing November 13 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-13

The news agenda is dominated by yesterday’s ratification of the Abu Ala government by the Palestinian Parliament, with wide coverage in the UK and Israeli press. Haaretz reports that Ariel Sharon is to meet Abu Ala next week, with Yediot Aharonot reporting that the US will not consider a Palestinian ceasefire enough to resume negotiations. The Times reports on a leaked Foreign Ministry document which deals with Israel’s image in the international press, while the Jerusalem Post has an editorial on the subject. The Guardian carries a feature on a joint Israeli-Palestinian mountaineering expedition in pursuit of dialogue.

The appointment of the BBC editorial advisor on the Middle East is also reported widely in the Israeli press. There is also coverage of the Israeli High Court decision to allow the screening of the controversial film “Jenin, Jenin”.

Quotes of the Day:

Abu Ala government approved by Palestinian Parliament: Israel is cautious

Yasser Arafat (12/11): "We do not deny the right of the Israeli people to live in security side-by-side with the Palestinian people that is also living in their own independent state. The time has come for us to get out of this spiral, this destructive war, that will not bring security to you or us."

Abu Ala (12/11): "I extend my hand to you with sincerity in order to begin serious and prompt action for a mutual ceasefire to halt the bloodshed and stop violence."

Zalman Shoval, Adviser to Ariel Sharon (12/11): “If [Abu Ala] will bring about quiet, Israel will not oppose this."

Behind the News:

New Palestinian Cabinet

The Palestinian parliament yesterday endorsed a new 24-member cabinet, granting it a mandate to seek a renewed dialogue with Israel and implement the "road map" for peace. Parliament endorsed the government in a 48-13 vote of confidence, with five abstentions.

Abu Ala said his priorities would also include ending what he called a state of chaos, in which unauthorised individuals and factions continued to bear arms. He stopped short, however, of announcing a crackdown on terrorist groups and indicated he would pursue a policy of dialogue aimed at securing a ceasefire. However, in a meeting on Wednesday night with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, US Secretary of State Colin Powell clarified that the US expects more than another ceasefire from the Palestinians.

In what appeared, in part, a gesture to public pressure for fundamental change within the PA, Arafat and Abu Ala called for general elections to select a president and parliament by June next year. A plan to hold elections last January was shelved.

Arafat reversing Abu Mazen reforms in security services

In moves which effectively reverse the reforms implemented under the Abu Mazen government, Yasser Arafat has once again divided the Preventive Security Service, the main security force in the PA. According to instructions that arrived at the Gaza Preventive Security forces headquarters on Tuesday, the force has been re-divided into two separate units, one in Gaza and one in the West Bank.

In the wake of the move, Rashid Abu Shbak, who headed the unified force, will be in command of the force in Gaza, while Ziad Habariah will command it in the West Bank. The change in the Preventive Security force command follows a move two weeks ago by Arafat when he reappointed General Razi Jibali as commander of the civilian police in the territories after firing him last year under pressure from Israel, which declared Jibali a wanted man.

Comment and Opinion:

Gerard Baker (Financial Times, 13/11): “Israel was the country identified as the number one threat to world peace; the US, in fact, could manage only joint second place with Iran and North Korea. So, in the popular European world view, we now have a new axis of evil that spans the globe from Washington to Tel Aviv to Teheran to Pyongyang. There are so many possible responses to this illuminating survey that it is hard to know where to begin.

The sanest reaction is probably to laugh it off.”

“A second response is more sober. It notes that, for some unfortunate reason, the 7,000 Europeans who were polled by the Commission were not asked what they thought about the threat to peace posed by Palestinians who immolate Israeli children on their way to school, Saudis who fly airlines into civilian buildings, or Sunni Iraqis who detonate themselves at Red Cross offices.”

“For decades, the peace the US sustained in the Middle East was a false peace. By failing to challenge dictatorial regimes and by accommodating the ambitions of palaeo-terrorists such as Yassir Arafat, the US did not make the world one jot more peaceful.”

“And you do not have to be a supporter of Mr Sharon to believe that Israel is fighting a determined terrorism that seeks to annihilate the Jewish state. When the Palestinians were given the chance four years ago to accept a one-sided compromise that would have given them virtually the entire West Bank, they chose instead the maximalist option of the intifada.”

The Jerusalem Post (13/11): “The Foreign Ministry needs to get this:

First: With the occasional bright exception, ambassadorial posts are awarded either to career diplomats - who tend to lack the muscle for public diplomacy - or has-been politicians - who lack the finesse for private diplomacy.

Matters are not helped by a system in which young cadets can expect nothing but 20 years of tedious service in diplomatic backwaters before there's any hope of doing something interesting. Far better would be to adopt the two-track British system which sorts out stars performers at a young age and sends them to important places, giving them hope for an exciting career.

Second: Government spokesmen tend to be mediocre performers on TV. Would it strain the Foreign Ministry's budget too much to do some media training? Or consistently to select, as its English-language spokesmen, native-English speakers? Or to identify its best speakers and send them out to college campuses and other venues where Israel's cause is contested? These suggestions are, in the language of management consultancy, "low-hanging fruit."

Third: Arguments matter. For years, Palestinian spokesmen have made an argument about ends: ending the occupation, creating a Palestinian state. And for years, Israeli spokesmen have argued about means: They object to the terrorist means the Palestinians have employed to achieve their stated ends.

From this opposition, the best conclusion that can be drawn for Israel is that while Palestinian goals are just, their choice of means isn't. Then again, since Israel never contests the "occupation" thesis, the original sin for the conflict lies squarely upon it.

In the media age, it is easy to fall prey to historical amnesia. But it is the job of Israel's spokesman to remind the world, ad nauseam, that ours is a crisis that began in 1948 and has not really abated since; that UN resolutions are sequential and the one that brought Israel into existence predates the one calling on it to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967; that the current wave of terrorism is not a means to an end, but an expression of the end.”

Meirav Yudilovich (Yediot Ahronot, 13/11): “Judge Dalia Dorner opened her judgement cancelling the decision of the Film Censorship Board and allowed the screening of Mohammed Bakri’s film “Jenin, Jenin”, with the words “With wisdom does man distinguish between true and false.” With this, the judge clarified not only the court’s opinion on the screening of the film, but in essence the view that the Censorship Board’s authority is limited. The judgement rules that a reasonable viewer is entitled to decide for himself if the film is a distortion of reality or not. With this the court stated its faith in Israeli civil society and acted not as an educator, but as a body that encourages independent thinking.

For some time now, a question mark has hovered over the institution of the censor in Israel, which derives its authority from Mandate-era legislation. The question has arisen a number of times around the power of censorship in an era in which the information superhighway cannot be brought to a halt. Other questions arise: If we ban the broadcast of items we don’t like, will they simply disappear? Is it better to surround the audience with cotton wool instead of exposing it to a range of ideas, even if they are in direct contradiction to the majority opinion, or its morals? By doing this, are we serving the community well, or paying it lip service?”

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM