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BICOM Daily Briefing December 3 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-03

In light coverage of Israel in the UK press, The Guardian carries a feature on IDF pilots who refuse to carry out what they describe as ‘illegal orders’, as well as an article countering Saturday’s piece by Emanuele Ottolenghi on anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The Daily Mirror reports on the family of photographer James Miller shot in Gaza, while The Times looks at the shelved EU anti-semitism report that was leaked yesterday.

Israel contines to debate how to respond to Syrian hints of a willingness to renew negotiations, with Haaretz carrying a commentary article from a Syrian academic on the subject.  Galei Zahal Israeli Army Radio reports that in a private dinner last night in Naples, the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister assured Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom of his country’s desire to make progress in peace talks. There is also discussion in the Israeli press of an unusually direct criticism of the US by Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s response. In breaking news, there is heightened alert in Israel’s north, based on intelligence assessment that terrorists are planning attacks there. Galei Zahal radio also reports on the establishment of a permanent rapid-response IDF force to assist with global terror attacks.

Quotes of the Day:

Prime Minister Tony Blair on peace initiatives in the Middle East:

Prime Minister Tony Blair (Press conference, 2/12): “I remain a supporter of the roadmap, but I think the Geneva Accord, the reason I gave a welcome to it is because I think that anything that promotes dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians about how we find a way forward is to be welcomed. And I think the very fact that the accord took place is an indication that underneath the terrible situation that there is at the moment in the Middle East, is a genuine desire on the part of many Palestinians and many Israelis to find a peaceful solution to this problem. And I don't think it should be seen however as inconsistent with the roadmap. Obviously it is part of something that goes much further, but the roadmap remains in my view essential and the issue is how you implement it.”

Tony Blair (2/12): “The basic principles are still the same actually, it is about how do you create a viable Palestinian state and a secure state of Israel… the solution is to make sure that first of all we have a security plan that can give the Israelis sufficient confidence that everything is being done that is possible to be done to maintain security; and then for the Palestinian side that the reduction of the restrictions… But it is very difficult when people are moving in from the Palestinian territories to Israel and these terrible terrorist events are happening…”

Tony Blair (2/12): “I am aware however of the concern within the Jewish community here and elsewhere in Europe at anti-Semitism, attacks on synagogues, the desecration of synagogues, and we have just got to make it absolutely clear there will be no toleration of that at all, those people who are responsible should be severely punished. We are proud in this country to have a strong Jewish community, as well as a strong Muslim community, and I am quite sure that certainly all the Muslim leaders I speak to, leading members of it here, condemn these attacks fiercely and believe that they represent absolutely nothing to do with the true spirit of Islam, and I am sure that is true. Of course I will take every opportunity to remind people of that.”

Israel responds cautiously to Syrian peace overtures:

Silvan Shalom, Israeli Foreign Minister (Jerusalem Post, 3/12): “Positive statements about peace are always encouraging, but words alone are not enough.”

Silvan Shalom (Reuters, 3/12): “We are looking forward to seeing that the Syrians are taking an active role to move toward peace by putting an end to the terrorism and violence that is coming from its territory. If they will shut down the training camps of the extremists, if they will stop the shipments that are coming... through the airport of Damascus, and if they are willing to resume the negotiations without preconditions, of course we will consider it very seriously.”

Yosef Lapid, Minister of Justice, (Galei Zahal radio, 3/12): “Israel will carefully consider any serious offer that has some content to it. At the moment the Syrian contacts are not serious. It is a glimmer of a hint.”

Behind the News:

Israelis negotiating in Cairo for ceasefire; agree with Palestinians on sharing energy:

An Israeli security delegation travelled this week to Cairo, to help set the stage for ceasefire talks among Palestinian organisations. A source close to the hudna (ceasefire) talks told the Saudi Al-Watan newspaper that the Israeli security officials stayed in Cairo for three hours on Sunday, and met with Egyptian officials. Officials spoke with General Omar Suleiman, who handles Palestinian affairs for Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, and who helped broker the first hudna agreement in June this year.

In separate developments, Israeli and Palestinian ministers signed a deal in Italy yesterday on sharing energy. The deal is part of a plan to form an electricity grid connecting power supplies around the Mediterranean. Under the terms of the deal, Israel and the Palestinians will set up a joint office. The European Union co-signed the agreement, known as the Rome Declaration, in the Italian capital. Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Joseph Paritzky and Palestinian Authority Energy Minister Azzam al-Shawwa came together for the signing ceremony. The joining of the Israeli and Palestinian circuits forms a vital part of the so-called "Euro-Mediterranean electric ring," which stretches from Morocco to Turkey. Once completed, it will allow the connection of European Union electricity grids and circuits on the southern rim of the Mediterranean.

IDF acts against terrorist infrastructure in Jenin area:

The commander of the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin, Amjad Sa'adi was shot dead by soldiers while attempting to evade arrest in Jenin on Tuesday morning. According to Palestinian reports, two other Palestinians were wounded in the gunfight between troops and Sa'adi. Four other terrorists, two affiliated with the Islamic Jihad and two with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were captured during the Jenin operation.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, shots were fired at an IDF patrol near Sanur south of Jenin, no one was wounded and no damage reported. Five terrorists were arrested by security forces deployed in Tulkarm. Near Burkhin in Samaria, security forces stopped a Palestinian car for a random check and found a gun and ammunition clips inside the vehicle. In Dahariya south of Hebron, security forces arrested a terrorist. In the Gaza Strip, two mortar shells were fired at an IDF post in Neveh Dekalim in Gush Katif, no one was wounded and no damage reported. During the day a bomb was detonated and grenades thrown at an IDF patrol near Rafah. Also near Rafah, sappers destroyed a bomb that had been placed by Palestinian terrorists to be detonated near soldiers.

Comment and Opinion:

Murhaf Jouejati (Haaretz, 3/12): “From a Syrian perspective, the peace initiative that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah submitted to the Arab League summit in Beirut in March 2002 is the best diplomatic attempt yet to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict peacefully.

The initiative, which essentially calls on Arab states to recognize Israel in exchange for Israel's return of Arab territories it occupied in 1967 and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, converges with Syria's own vision of peace. In light of this, Syria endorsed the plan both in terms of substance and procedure.

In terms of substance, Syria supports Crown Prince Abdullah's peace initiative because it is grounded in the land-for-peace equation - the sine qua non for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. From a Syrian perspective, the land-for-peace equation, embodied in UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, provides the foundation on which a peaceful settlement stands. Any deviation from its basic tenets by either side is a nonstarter. Israel is to withdraw its armed forces from Arab territories it seized by force during the 1967 war in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel. The Israeli-concocted controversy over Israel's obligation to withdraw from "all" or "some" territories is solved by the key UN principle of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force," a principle emphasized in the preamble of Resolution 242.

In terms of procedure, Syria fully subscribes to the initiative's holistic approach. Since 1972, Syria sought a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute based on the simple notion that the conflict is one between Arabs and Israel (as opposed to a Palestinian-Israeli conflict or a Syrian-Israeli conflict, etc.). In light of this, any peaceful settlement must include all Arab parties that have been a victim of Israel's territorial expansion.”

Ofer Shelach (Yediot Ahronot, 3/12): “Even someone, like me, who thought that the Geneva ceremony was a mistake on the part of those behind the initiative, can’t help but admit that Yossi Beilin has done it again: he has brought the issue back to the center of the agenda, and made other politicians, from the Prime Minister to the opposition, change their plans. Beilin is well aware that, unlike him, most politicians base their agendas on the headlines of the newspapers. And these days the headlines are only about Geneva.

But real change in how the country is run never comes from a single act. Beilin, who lead the political move to leave Lebanon, knows the script well: in order that something happens, the political and media act has to connect to reality, and to be expressed in public support. What got the IDF out of Lebanon were the events on the ground, and first and foremost the helicopter tragedy and the failed Naval Commando operation in Nassariya. Beilin’s initiative, Four Mothers and the protests contributed to a change in public mood, and Ehud Barak spotted all of these before he gave his election promise of withdrawl, and then implemented it when he was elected.

The events are unfolding before our eyes. Despite what the Palestinians thought, the change in Israeli public opinion has not collapsed with the pressure of terrorism, but the opposite: the massacre of civilians has only strengthened Israeli opposition to political moves. It is actually the toning down of terror, deliberate or not, together with the feeling of a lack of expectation from Sharon’s frozen government, that have started things moving within Israel.


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM