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BICOM Daily Briefing December 2 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-02

The UK press leads with yesterday’s launch of the Geneva Initiative, with editorials in The Guardian and Independent while The Scotsman features an article by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, Geneva Initiative negotiators. BBC online, meanwhile, has an interview with Major-General (retd.) Amos Gilad, head of the Political-Military Bureau at the Ministry of Defence. The G2 section of The Guardian features a piece by Linda Grant in which a father tells of his son’s last day before being murdered by a suicide bomber.

Alongside extensive coverage of the Geneva Initiative, the Israeli press also reports on a frosty reception for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s apparent peace overtures. The Jerusalem Post has obtained a copy of the shelved EU report on anti-semitism from which it quotes in length. Haaretz reports that Lord Chief Justice Woolf is visiting Israel.

Quotes of the Day:

Geneva accord officially launched:

Tony Blair, Prime Minister (1/12): “There is today a broad consensus, embracing most Israelis and Palestinians, and governments in the region, on the need for a comprehensive settlement that brings peace and security to Israel and a viable Palestinian state. The ongoing violence and suffering in the region, not to mention a sense of frustration sometimes bordering on despair, underline the urgency of achieving that goal. The Quartet's roadmap sets out the steps needed to get there. We look to the Israeli and Palestinian governments to take those steps in parallel, starting with action on security, settlements, reform of Palestinian institutions and normalising life for ordinary Palestinians. It is particularly important that neither side take steps which pre-empt the two-state solution. We will do all we can to help.”

Jimmy Carter, Former US President (Haaretz, 2/12): “There remains one basic choice for the Israelis: Do we want permanent peace with all our neighbours, or do we want to retain our settlements throughout the occupied territories? And it is of equal importance that the Palestinians renounce violence against Israeli citizens in exchange for the commitments of this Geneva initiative.”

Syrian peace overtures meet cool reception:

President Moshe Katzav (Maariv, 2/12): “Syria is speaking with two voices. She must stop supporting terror.”

Richard Boucher, US State Department Spokesman (Yediot Ahronot, 2/12): “It is difficult to understand how Syria is talking about peace at the same time that she supports to terrorist organisations which violently oppose the peace process.”

Support for Israeli Supreme Court from Lord Chief Justice:

Lord Chief Justice Woolf: (Haaretz, 2/12) “If you ask me which of the supreme courts in the world is the finest, I would happily say that the Israeli court was a candidate for that title.”

Behind the News:

Shelved EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia report leaked:

A controversial report on European anti-Semitism, shelved by the EU agency that commissioned it, has been leaked. It links the rise of attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets in Europe and the escalation of the Middle East conflict.

"The local Jewish population is closely associated with the State of Israel and its politics. It can be said that the native Jews have been made 'hostages' of Israeli politics. Here anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, and anti-Zionist motives are mixed together," the report said. According to the report, "anti-Semitic incidents in the monitoring period were committed above all either by right-wing extremists or radical Islamists or young Muslims, mostly of Arab descent, who are often themselves potential victims of exclusion and racism," although it also noted that that "anti-Semitic statements came from the pro-Palestinian left."

The report noted that the rise in anti-Semitism started with the renewed outbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000, but that it was further fuelled both by anti-Semitism at the UN racism conference in Durban and the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.  The EU's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which commissioned the report, shelved it for being inflammatory, because the study, which focused on the period between May 15 and June 15, 2002, concluded that Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups were behind many of the incidents examined.

Palestinian opposition to the Geneva Initiative:

While the Geneva Initiative ceremony took place yesterday, Palestinians registered their opposition to the peace plan at an alternative conference held in Gaza. Various Palestinian groups, including political factions, local NGOs, public figures and ordinary Palestinians denounced the peace plan and reiterated the right of Palestinian people to return their ‘homeland in Palestine’. Those at the conference called on all institutions of the PLO to work immediately to put an end to such initiatives and to punish all those involved in them.

Israeli Arab groups have also expressed their dissatisfaction witih the Initiative, saying that neither side gave enough weight to their voice while negotiating the Initiative.

Comment and Opinion:

The Independent (2/12): “The point about the Geneva Accord is not that it is about to be embraced as the basis for a settlement by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, although the Authority did allow two representatives to go to Geneva to observe the end of the proceedings. The hostile reactions on the part of Mr Sharon and from militant Palestinian factions respectively graphically demonstrate how far away any agreement still is.

But what this accord has already achieved is to show to all the parties concerned that progress, at least on paper, is possible, and to outline in some detail what the core components of an eventual treaty might be. If nothing else, the accord has made some people in the region think once again about their future and their children's futures, made the Israeli left relevant again and, just possibly, forced Yasser Arafat and his allies to reassess their refusal to enter meaningful talks about the right of return to their homeland for Palestinian refugees.

The Geneva Accord, in other words, embodies what has been, for many years, the clear basis for any eventual settlement: the two-state solution. In that sense, it is very much part of the process begun by the Oslo agreement more than a decade ago. The talks at Camp David and Taba, and the White House's road-map, can also be placed very much in that continuum.”

“Mr Beilin himself acknowledges that the Geneva initiative is unlikely to be adopted by Washington and to displace the road-map as the main focus of American policy. Yet it doesn't really have to. Where the road-map seeks to create secure conditions under which talks and a political agreement could be built, the Geneva initiative envisages a settlement first, which should then lead to peace. The two processes could thus be complementary.”

Mark Steyn (The Daily Telegraph 2/12): “Islamic terrorism is a beast that has to be killed, not patted and fed. The Palestinians use children as human shields and as human bombs. Would it be too much to expect the archbishop, instead of bleating about "serious moral goals", to dust off, say, Matthew 18:6 and offer up something about how it would be better if these fellows shoving their kids into the suicide bomber belts hung the old millstone round their necks and drowned in the sea? Or will we have to wait for such Bushesque "self-referential morality" till His Grace is brushing the plaster from his cassock after his next close shave?”

Amnon Rubenstein (Haaretz, 2/12): “Israel must be at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism. The peace agreement with Egypt, for example, does not include a clause against anti-Semitic propaganda - and even if it did, Egypt would breach it just as it has done others. But how can one accept the fact that at the exhibition to mark the opening of the new library in Alexandria, the Bible was displayed alongside "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" as an expression of Jewish culture?

Any future peace agreement and any settlement with the Palestinians must include a clause that forbids anti-Semitic incitement. However, even without one, Israel must exercise the pinch of influence it has to initiate denunciations against expressions of incitement of this kind. It must protest the repeated use of the blood libel; and at every international forum, even if it is currently isolated at them, it must propose resolutions against anti-Semitic propaganda.”

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM