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BICOM Daily Briefing November 19 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-19

In breaking news, the online editions of the papers report on a shooting attack at the Jordanian border, which wounded five Israelis. Israeli newspapers Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Yediot Ahronot and Maariv cover the killing of two IDF soldiers yesterday at the Tunnel Road south of Jerusalem, an incident also reported in The Independent and Reuters. All Israeli newspapers as well as Reuters focus on hopes for a renewed ceasefire with the Palestinians, with editorials dedicated to the subject. The Jerusalem Post also features a piece on the warnings to the Israeli government from Mossad head Meir Dagan concerning Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weaponry. The Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune both report on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon‘s visit to Italy. The Times, meanwhile, has an account of the posting to all Israeli homes of the unofficial Geneva peace plan.

Istanbul attack marks a worrying trend:

Silvan Shalom, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs (Jerusalem Post, 19/11): “The attacks in Istanbul and Paris are not isolated incidents, they are symptoms of growing anti-Semitism…When Jews cannot pray in synagogues without fear, we are all in danger. Europe has a moral obligation to make sure anti-Semitism is stamped out."

Palestinian ceasefire on the horizon:

Ahmed Qureia, Palestinian Prime Minister (Ha‘aretz, 19/11):This is not about a cease-fire for a few months, but about a long-term initiative.”

Colin Powell, US Secretary of State (Jerusalem Post, 19/11): "Another cease-fire cannot be the solution. We will judge the new Palestinian government only by its performance.”

Shaul Mofaz, Israeli Defence Minister (Yediot Ahronot, 19/11): “The government of Abu Ala will be judged by its actions. But if its security forces will be subordinate to Arafat, I am not convinced that this will create a positive situation for all those concerned with the fight against terror, but this will be (the Palestinians‘) problem. We will be judging them throughout.”

Israeli Foreign Minister meets with EU ministers:

Silvan Shalom (Jerusalem Post, 19/11): “Europe can play a key role in the peace process, but it must take a more balanced attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…Otherwise it will be more of the same like it was in the last 30 years…We would like to do everything we can in order to cooperate with the EU. I don't accept that formula that existed for so long: that Israel can live without Europe and that Europe can live without Israel."

Terror attacks continue:

According to initial reports on Israel Radio, two terrorists opened fire Wednsday morning at the Jordan border crossing north of Eilat, wounding five people, including three tourists, one of them critically. Haaretz reports that one of the terrorists was killed at the scene. Israeli security services are currently conducting a manhunt for the second terrorist.

Two IDF soldiers, Sergeant Major Shlomi Belski, 23, from Haifa and Staff Sergeant Shaul Lahav, 20, from Kibbutz Shomrat, were killed yesterday when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire at a roadblock on the tunnel bypass road, which links Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. The terrorist succeeded in escaping from the scene, and entering the village of El-Khader, which is under Palestinian security control. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the terrorist wing of Fatah movement, later claimed responsibility for the attack. Palestinian sources reported that PA security forces had arrested a resident of Gaza and an officer in the Palestinian National Security forces suspected of carrying out the attack.

In related news, IDF soldiers have uncovered weapon smuggling tunnels in Rafa, in the southern Gaza Strip. During the operation, terrorists opened fire at IDF forces, lightly wounding an IDF soldier.

Hopes for a renewed ceasefire:

Talks between Palestinian Authority officials and representatives of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, both of whom have indicated that they are willing to consider a ceasefire, are planned to take place over the next days. The talks are to be brokered by a delegation of Egyptian security officials due to arrive in Gaza today. The hope is that these contacts will make possible a summit of all Palestinian factions in Cairo after the conclusion of Ramadan, from which a renewed ceasefire might emerge. Plans are also underway for a meeting next week between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Prime Minister Qureia (Abu Ala). A senior Israeli official confirmed that should a ceasefire be achieved and maintained by the Palestinian side, Israel would be willing to cease military operations in the territories, including targeted killings.

Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Shalom both on trips to Europe:

PM Sharon described Italy as ‘Israel’s best friend in Europe’ whilst meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday. The government of Silvio Berlusconi, which currently holds the rotating prsidency of the EU, has used this position to offer determined diplomatic support for Israel. Mr. Berlusconi refused to meet with Yasser Arafat during his last trip to Israel, in line with Israeli policy on the matter. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini has expressed understanding for the construction by Israel of its Security Fence, which has faced some opposition from other European governments.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, meanwhile, has been in Brussels to meet with European foreign ministers, including those from Sweden, Denmark, Portuagal, Czechoslovakia, France, Britain and Ireland, who will assume the rotating EU presidency on 1 January 2004. FM Shalom called upon the EU to form a European-Israeli ministerial concil to monitor the threat of anti-Semitism. Talks in Brussels between Israeli FM Silvan Shalom and EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten were strained, as Patten criticised the construction of the Security Fence.

Ha‘aretz (19/11): “Two Israel Defense Force soldiers were killed yesterday at their posts at a checkpoint on the road south of Jerusalem. The assailant came from territory under Palestinian control. It does not bode well for those watching the Egyptian-mediated contacts under way in recent weeks between the Palestinian government, headed by Ahmed Qureia, and two elements: Israel and the opposition groups that reject compromise with Israel, particularly Hamas.

Apparently, Qureia and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon learned the lesson from the failure of Qureia's predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas. Both know it will take a joint effort to prevent another failure that would fatally harm the moderate strain in the Palestinian leadership. Such an effort means readiness by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to suspend their mutual suspicion and to act with a spirit of hope for the tired, scarred populations on both sides. For the fall 2003 version of the hudna to not end up filed in the archives, like the previous one last summer, Qureia must impose his authority on the security apparatuses in the PA to make an effort to end terror attacks. That is a necessary condition for an opening, but deeper efforts will be needed against terror's capabilities and the preparations to renew it.”

Matthew Gutman (Jerusalem Post, 19/11): ““Learning from the last hudna (cease-fire) venture, the security establishment believes that it will enable terrorist groups to rest, rearm, and upgrade. "We've seen that movie," said one IDF source, who recalled that Hamas used the last hudna to smuggle an unprecedented number of arms into Gaza. Sharon is being squeezed toward a new hudna. To his left he sees four former Shin Bet directors prophesying disaster, an IDF chief of General Staff calling for an easing of restrictions on the bulk of the Palestinians, and a foreign minister quietly saying the same.”

“Sharon has agreed to high-level talks with PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), and might put up an ante for the hudna, in a gamble that some close to him believe could lead to a breakthrough. However, for Israel, this latest round could be called "hudna lite." Qurei has less control over the PA security apparatuses than did his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). There will be no PA claims that the terrorist infrastructure will be dismantled; and, this time, Israel will be a signatory to the hudna.

IDF commanders in Gaza who have witnessed the influx of weapons to the strip believe that Hamas's weapons now outnumber those in the hands of the PA. They have warned for months that the PA could lose an armed confrontation with Hamas. The PA can, however, with a little help from Europe and the US, freeze the accounts of Hamas and al-Dawa, its social branch, says Matthew Levitt, senior fellow at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy. This would cripple Hamas's ability to recruit, train, and dispatch those who seek to kill civilians.

Concurrently, the US and Europe, hopefully with Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the lead, could establish an alternative fund to ease the poverty of the Palestinians, making Hamas and other terrorist-affiliated charities obsolete. Recent studies show that more than 60 percent of Palestinians live below the poverty line, and PA official say that it is now easier to recruit terrorists because of economic hardship.

If this were changed, said Levitt, "it would undercut Hamas and the other terrorists groups." It could also save the PA face, by showing its political salience, and enabling it to stick by its word to its own constituents that it "will not start a Palestinian civil war." But such a move would have to be coupled with an internal PA house-cleaning that would rid it of corruption, said Levitt.”

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM