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BICOM Daily Briefing December 8 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-08

News coverage of the Middle East today focuses on the breakdown of Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo between representatives of the Palestinian Authority and of Palestinian terrorist groups. The Guardian reports on a meeting between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and the authors of the unofficial Geneva peace plan. BBC Online features a piece about a course in counter-terrorist tactics available to tourists in Israel, which was also the subject of a programme Sunday on BBC2. In the Israeli press, The Jerusalem Post reports on statements by Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin in which he repeated his denial of Israel’s right to exist. Haaretz focuses, in addition to the Cairo talks, on discussions resulting from Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert’s statements in favour of Israel imposing a unilateral arrangement on the disputed areas of land.

In the weekend press, Saturday’s Times magazine contains an article on the Security Fence, while The Sunday Times features a piece on female Palestinian suicide bombers, which includes interviews with the potential human bombs. The Independent on Sunday reports on a 21 year-old Israeli Arab who won the Israeli version of 'Big Brother'. Saturday’s Financial Times features an article on the Geneva Accord, the unofficial peace plan, claiming it is a threat to democracy in the Middle East.

Quotes of the Day:

Breakdown of Cairo ceasefire talks:

Dore Gold, adviser to Prime Minister Sharon, (Haaretz, 07/12): “Israel is not a party to the Cairo talks, which anyway seemed to be a discussion about which Israelis it was permissible to kill and which ones it wasn't.”

Jonathan Peled, Foreign Ministry spokesman (Haaretz, 07/12): “We will only accept a comprehensive ceasefire. We can't distinguish between blood and blood. The Palestinians have to resolve this among themselves… We are not conditioning anything on the ceasefire, we have already removed some roadblocks and we are willing to go ahead with other humanitarian measures.”

Cabinet Discussion of proposed unilateral measures:

Tzipi Livni, Immigrant Absorption Minister, Likud (The Independent, 07/12): “Giving up part of the territories and some of the settlements is necessary…It is preferable to do this within the framework of an agreement, but if not, as a unilateral measure.”

Avigdor Lieberman, Transportation Minister, National Union (Haaretz, 08/12): “Even if we follow Olmert and return to the 1967 borders, give up East Jerusalem and the Western Wall, willthe terror attacks stop? Will the Palestiniansstop signing up volunteers? Will they stop manufacturing Qassam rockets?”

Behind the News:

Palestinian organisations fail to reach ceasefire agreement:

Egyptian-brokered talks between Palestinian terror organisations, intended to produce agreement on a truce, broke down yesterday. Spokesmen for Hamas and Islamic Jihad reported that the issue of whether a ‘truce’ would be limited to Israel within the Green Line was the stumbling block. Neither organisation is prepared to cease violence against Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Despite pressure from Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), the two organisations refused to contemplate anything more than a limited, conditional ceasefire.

The breakdown of the talks is a personal setback for Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.  In Ramallah yesterday, he acknowledged his disappointment. Qureia said that the task at hand now was to talk directly with the Israelis, adding that that he remains determined to place all issues on the table, rather than agree to what he referred to as a ‘unilateral or free hudna (temporary truce)’. Israel has made it clear that it would only accept a complete ceasefire, which would end attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians on both sides of the Green Line, in return for Israeli reciprocal moves.

Preparations for Sharon-Qureia summit continue:

Meetings took place yesterday between Israeli and Palestinian officials in preparation for the planned summit meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Qureia. Dov Weisglass, Director of the Prime Minister’s Bureau, represented Israel, Saeb Erekat and Hassan Abu Libdeh spoke for the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Qureia had hoped to be able to bring a comprehensive proposal to the planned summit, with the backing of all Palestinian factions. The proposal was to have made clear demands on Israel, in return for a cessation of Palestinian violence.

Given the uncertainty following the breakdown of the internal Palestinian talks, no date has yet been set for the summit. Both sides confirmed that the meeting was held in a friendly atmosphere, and that they would be meeting again in the near future.

IDF Chief of Staff briefs government on Syria and Hezbollah:

Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon told the government on Sunday that Syria and Hezbollah had recently restrained their activities along Israel's northern border, in order not to stir things up. According to Haaretz, Yaalon said that whereas in the past, Hezbollah had fired at Israeli aircraft over northern parts of the country, the organisation had now taken to firing anti-aircraft shots at Israel's air force far beyond Israel's borders. The Chief of Staff put the quiet along the northern border down to talks currently being held on a possible prisoner swap with Hezbollah. Yaalon said Israel continues to identify Syrian involvement with Palestinian terror, saying that there was a clear link between the Islamic Jihad infrastructure in Jenin and the Damascus regime. In addition, there continued to be large funds flowing from revolutionary forces and the Hezbollah to Fatah in the territories for terror activities, he said. The funds were often simply transferred from European banks to banks in the territories.

Comment and Opinion:

Julie Burchill, (The Guardian, 06/12): “In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr published his Letter To An Anti-Zionist Friend: "Anti-Zionism is inherently anti-semitic, and ever will be. What is anti-Zionism? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the globe. It is discrimination against Jews... because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-semitism." As I said last week, I have come to believe - looking at how anti-semitism is the only form of racial prejudice that unites both left and right, from the KKK to the PLO - that loathing the Jews is more about the personal than the political, despite the phoney, anticolonial cant of the anti-Zionists. For instance, I've noticed that some people use the Jews as a sort of warped magic mirror, accusing them of things that they themselves are obviously guilty of. When the Old Etonian Tam Dalyell claimed that there was in this country a Jewish "cabal" of politicians wielding disproportionate influence, did he not consider the fact that, since time immemorial, the country has been run by overprivileged public schoolboys such as himself, allowing barely a look-in for equally (or, perish the thought, more!) electable and capable citizens of working-class origin?

Then there is Tom Paulin, he of the Ulster Protestant heritage, who has always seemed so unsuited to the dignity and stoicism of this ill-used, long-suffering tribe. Never mind: by shrieking away about the "Zionist SS" who gun down "a little Palestinian boy/In trainers, jeans and a white T-shirt", Paulin can be teleported to the moral, or at least fashionable, high ground and find himself the hot hunk of the humanitarian hop. Still, you've got to wonder if his refusal to see anything wrong with the murder of American Jews who settle in Israel means that he'd be equally sanguine if his relatives in Northern Ireland were murdered by looners whose nationalist creed dictated that Ulster Protestants were asking for it by settling in a country not "theirs".

So emboldened by the filthy free-for-all, the danse macabre of resurgent Judeophobia - attacks on Jews in this country have risen by 75% this year; and since 2000, there has been a 400% increase in attacks on synagogues - are the ignorant armies of darkness that even Germans are opening their yaps on a subject that you'd have thought they'd have the sense, if not the decency, to keep away from. Just a few weeks ago, a German MP was forced to resign after claiming that the Jews were responsible for Soviet army "atrocities" against the defeated Nazi state.

To contemplate the thought processes of such individuals makes any decent person want to wash their hands until the slime of hypocritical hatred is swept away. But when whole sections of society peddle such lies, it's scarier still. And when carriers of the disease are shielded by those who govern us, you start to believe the lunatics have taken over the asylum: the EU's racism watchdog recently suppressed a report on the rise of anti-semitism because it concluded that Muslims were behind many incidents. What sort of world do we live in, when racism is "allowed" to be reported only if it comes from the white and the right? What about a stubborn, shimmering little thing called truth?”

Jerusalem Post (08/12): “The salient fact highlighted by the meeting of 13 Palestinian factions, including the Palestinian Authority, gathered in Cairo is that it is the Palestinians who started this war, and it is they who can end it any time they want. They are not negotiating a cease-fire (or hudna), they are essentially negotiating over whether to offer Israel one.

The temptation to buy a few months of quiet that is really a pause to rearm must be rejected. The question is, why would this cease-fire be different? The key lies in Yasser Arafat, since he is the one who really pulls the strings, deciding to do what he refused to do during the decade since Oslo: eliminate competing armed factions. The PA would develop one of the first and most basic elements of statehood: a monopoly over the use of force. This would mean the confiscation of weapons and the arrest of those who resist such a process. This sort of process has been proposed, agreed to, and flouted so many times that it would be hard to find Israelis this side of Geneva who believe it will happen. But Israel can settle for nothing less.

The Palestinians should be made to understand, both by Israel and the US, that there will be no movement to the second phase of the road map and no "unilateral" Israeli concessions absent concrete results on the ground - whether it is called ending chaos or cracking down on terrorism. It should go without saying that Israel should not slow, let alone stop, the construction of a security fence based on a Palestinian cease-fire.

Only a fundamental change in PA leadership should begin to convince Israelis to shed physical barriers to terrorism in exchange for political or diplomatic ones. Fences can be built and brought down, as can representative governments. Neither can guarantee peace and security. But both are much less ephemeral than a cease-fire. The fence was built by Palestinian terrorism; only the credibly permanent end of that terrorism can bring it down. The audacity of the Palestinian opposition to the fence is mind boggling. Of course the fence causes dislocation and inconvenience for innocent Palestinians, but how can Israel do otherwise before the terror campaign not only ends, but the threat of terror is lifted? The fence, settlements, outposts, targeted killings, etc. are all distractions from the real question: Are the Palestinians willing to end terror and make peace with Israel or not. Israel is ready, even aching, for peace, and the Palestinians know it. But they cannot have peace and keep terror. It is their choice.

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