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BICOM Daily Briefing November 27 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-27

International news coverage of Israel today focuses on the decision by the United States to cut back on loan guarantees pledged to Israel. The Daily Telegraph, Independent, Financial Times, Reuters and BBC Online, meanwhile, all focus on Israel’s decision to continue building the Security Fence. The Independent features a piece on allegations that EU aid to the Palestinians was diverted to terror groups as well as reporting on the Iraqi baby girl who is currently receiving medical treatment in an Israeli hospital. The Independent also proudly focuses on an award won by one of its cartoonists, for a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon devouring an Arab child. The Guardian, meanwhile, comments on growing support for the unofficial Geneva peace plan. Reuters and BBC Online both report on Israel’s decision to withdraw a planned UN Resolution calling for international protection for Israeli children. In the Israeli press, Yediot Ahronot leads with a piece on a conference involving Israeli and Palestinian officials opening today in London. Haaretz and Maariv also lead with this story, while the Jerusalem Post focuses on the cut in loan guarantees.

Quotes of the Day:

HRH Queen Elizabeth II (Queen’s Speech 26/11): “This Government will continue to work to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We are actively working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to remove the obstacles to the resumption of a political process centred on implementation of the Quartet Roadmap. We will continue to provide practical assistance including support for institutional reforms within the Palestinian Authority and the provision of aid to ease the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Territories.”

Tsachi Hanegbi, Israeli Public Security Minister (Jerusalem Post, 27/11): “Without the dismantling of the Palestinian terrorist organizations, there will be no political progress with the Palestinians…They must comply with the specific requirements of the Road Map.”

Behind the News:

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials meet for talks in London:

A two day conference that will bring together senior Israeli and Palestinian officials begins today in London. Israeli attendees include Knesset members Omri Sharon (Likud), Ephraim Sneh (Labour) and Yitzhak Herzog (Labour) of Israel. The Palestinian delegations include National Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub and Ziyad Abu Ziyad, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The talks will focus on rebuilding confidence and moving toward the implementation of the Road Map. Senior British and European figures are to attend.

Preparations for the conference, which is being sponsored by the Labour Friends of Israel and the Yigal Allon Educational Trust, were kept secret. Discussion topics will include: “The role of the international community in promoting stability in the region;” “The key military threats to the region's security” and “Confidence building measures to restart progress on the road map.”

UN Draft Resolution for protection of Israeli children withdrawn:

Israel yesterday withdrew a draft resolution it had tabled at a UN committee for human rights. The resolution demanded protection for Israeli children, and had drawn stiff opposition from a number of other member countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. Amendments from the delegations representing these countries removed all reference to Israeli children in the wording of the resolution, effectively transforming its meaning.

The original text included a call for protection to enable Israeli children to “live a normal life, free from terrorism, destruction and fear.” It went on to mention the names of several Palestinian terror organisations, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, and to demand that the Palestinian Authority carry out its commitments to dismantle these groups and end their violence.

Amendments, however, deleted the phrase “Israeli Children” from the resolution, replacing it with “Children of the Middle East.” It then added the word “Occupation” at the head of the list of evils from which the children of the region suffer.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, explained that these “hostile amendments…distorted and perverted the focus and intent of the draft resolution." Regrettably, he added, Israel had therefore decided to “withdraw the draft resolution and we will not ask the committee for a vote."

Following US loan cuts Israel determined to continue building Security Fence:

Israeli officials cautioned against exaggerating the significance of the US decision to deduct some $290 million from loan guarantees pledged to Israel. They noted that the move was not without precedent, and had been jointly coordinated by both sides. A statement issued yesterday clarified that Israel “understands that the US should not finance directly, or indirectly, activities with which it does not agree. And therefore, suggested that the US deduct the agreed sum of $289.5 million from the $3 billion in loan guarantees currently available.”

Officials also noted that in practical terms, the move has little significance. Israel will now be required to pay a slightly higher interest rate on the amount no longer underwritten by the US. The deduction, according to the officials, includes not only money used to build in the territories, but also money spent on the construction of the Security Fence. The officials said Israel is not "too troubled" by the issue. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom clarified yesterday that in spite of US concerns, the construction of Israel’s Security Fence is to continue.

Comment and Opinion:

Guy Bechor (Jerusalem Post, 27/11): “Where is the Nelson Mandela of the Arab world? Why is there is not one famous dissident among 20-odd autocratic Arab states, no symbol or role model inspiring widespread emulation, as were Andre Sakharov and Ida Nudel in the USSR, despite thousands of political prisoners rotting in regional jails?

In the Arab world, ruler and regime are not mere means of oppression, as the West tends to believe, but primarily an assurance of stability and social order. The ruler enters into a sort of pact with the citizens, whereby they support him and, in return, he ensures lasting social stability. A dissident in this society, then, who speaks out against the regime's oppression, is first and foremost a traitor, threatening not only the ruler but social order itself; a traitor both in the eyes of the ruler and of the masses desirous of preserving the status quo. Self-questioning is rare in the public discourse of the Arab world, since it is regarded as undermining the collective. Writers penning scathing articles in the Arabic press which are published in Europe tend to hide behind a pseudonym for fear of retribution.

Organized rebellion would be pointless - not just on account of pervasive weariness, disappointment, and cynicism towards political alternatives - but because of the might wielded by Arab autocrats.”

“The Arab world finds itself trapped in a series of vicious circles: As long as the existing rule is regarded as justification of independence, there will not be outspoken dissidents. And without them, there will be no change of power. As long as reform and democracy are frightening and unwanted, they will simply not happen, especially given democracy's image as an American and Israeli stick with which to beat Arabs. How can we adopt our enemy's way, they ask, isn't that a kind of treason? Isn't it surrender? It is not only democracy that is foreign; so, too, is dissent.

It turns out that the only true dissident in the Arab Middle East is Israel, proponent of Western ideas, the rights and liberties of democracy, optimism, and symbol of change-within-continuity. Europe and America are remote, but Israel is a challenging, nearby presence, which makes it a target for regional frustrations. Since it is permitted to demonstrate in most Arab countries only against Israel, hatred against those regimes which may not be attacked undergoes a transformation, and is channeled against Israel. Israel is to blame for everything: corrupt government, the bankrupt economy, backward education system, and economic and cultural poverty. Arabs talk about Israel but in fact they refer to themselves. Israel's success is evidence of their failure, and they don't like it. Israel is a tough nut for the Arab regimes to crack, notably the change and revisionism it embodies in its very existence. They have to boycott Israel and minimize its pernicious regional influence, in the same way that they have to lock up every dangerous local dissident.”

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM