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BICOM Daily Briefing December 12 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-12

In coverage of Israel and the Middle East in the British media today, The Guardian, The Independent and Reuters report on yesterday’s criminal bombing in Tel Aviv in which three Israelis died. The Independent and Associated Press have pieces detailing Palestinian objections to proposed Israeli unilateral measures in the West Bank and Gaza. The Associated Press also features a report on the meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh. The Times, meanwhile, runs a feature focusing on the continued threat of Islamist terrorism in the UK. Reuters reports on a document published by former senior Israeli security officials predicting Hamas domination of Palestinian politics after Arafat’s departure from the scene.

In periodicals published this week, The Spectator contains a feature by Corelli Barnett which is generally critical of the thinking behind the war on terror. The New Statesman has a report by Anton La Guardia on the involvement of Europeans in various attempts to solve conflicts throughout the world, among them the Israel-Arab dispute while Prospect runs an investigative enquiry by David B. Green on the Security Fence.

In the Israeli press Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Maariv and Yediot Ahronot all lead with the criminal bombing yesterday in Tel Aviv. All four papers contain comment and speculation on the ongoing gangland feuds in Israel. The websites of all four papers also include reports on this morning’s terrorist attack at Joseph’s Tomb.

Quotes of the Day:

Deputy PM Olmert on his initiative:

Ehud Olmert (Jerusalem Post 12/12): “What I have done is bring the debate back to its real dimensions: which part of the territories we will be able to retain without returning to [what Abba Eban once described as] the Auschwitz borders.”

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on his meeting with Sec of State Powell:

Silvan Shalom (Israel Radio 12/12): “I will present Powell with a plan for renewed talks with the Palestinians, according to the road map.”

Fatah leader Hatem Abd el Kader on Palestinian aims:

Hatem Abd el Khader (Jerusalem Post 12/12): “Geneva and other peace initiatives are mainly designed to isolate Sharon and change the government in Israel. What we are seeing now is a serious crack in Sharon's coalition and ideology. We want to dismantle Sharon's political infrastructure, just as he unsuccessfully sought to dismantle the infrastructure of the Palestinian factions.”

US Special Envoy Edward O’Donnell on Anti-Semitism:

Edward B. O'Donnell Jr. (Jerusalem Post 12/12): “We must find practical ways to deal with and to understand why these incidents happen, and how we can educate in order to eliminate them, whether the anti-Semitism be the traditional kind, or of the new forms such as those linked to anti-Americanism and anti-globalism or those coming from Muslim minorities in Europe.”

Behind the News:

Attack on Israelis at Joseph’s Tomb:

Eight Israelis were wounded this morning, one critically, when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on a van carrying Israeli visitors to the site of Joseph’s Tomb, outside the West Bank city of Nablus. The attack took place in the hours before dawn. The wounded are members of the Bratslav Hassidic sect. The terrorist approached the worshippers’ vehicle as they were leaving the site, and began shooting.

The site of the tomb was subjected to severe vandalism by Palestinian rioters at the onset of the current violence, in the autumn of 2000. Since then, due to security concerns, the IDF has declared it off-limits to Israelis. Members of the Bratslav Hassidim and other religious groups, however, have begun in recent months to enter the site without authorisation, in order to pray there. The IDF evacuated the wounded to an adjoining roadblock, and arrested other passengers in the vehicle for entering the area without permission.

Rivlin reveals outline of Sharon plan:

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has revealed what he claims to be the broad outlines of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s much awaited new diplomatic plan. Rivlin, a close ally of Sharon, opposes the plan, which has been described as an attempt to create a Palestinian state possessing territorial contiguity, while minimising potential points of friction with Israel.

In order to achieve the desired territorial contiguity, the plan envisages the evacuation of a number of isolated settlements, including Ganim and Kadim in northern Samaria. Rivlin noted that centrist elements in the government are also pushing for the dismantling of Netzarim and other isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip. Rivlin noted that a key aim of Sharon is to avoid confrontation with both the US Administration and the PA Administration of Ahmed Qureia.

A meeting of the Likud Bureau has been called for Sunday to express opposition to this initiative. All Likud MKs have ben invited to the meeting. A draft resolution to be presented there rules out all unilateral withdrawals, calls for negotiations to begin only after the cessation of Palestinian terror and incitement and re-affirms the Likud’s opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state. Half of the Likud faction are said to have already expressed support for the resolution.

In related news, an Israel Radio poll indicated that Ehud Olmert’s plan for unilateral withdrawal has the support of 54% of those people who described themselves as Likud voters, and 81% of people describing themselves as Labor voters.  Fifty-two percent supported the foundation of a national unity government. 31% supported the continued rule of the current governing coalition.

Shalom-Powell meeting:

Israel Radio reports that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom will present to Secretary of State Colin Powell plans for renewed negotiations with the Palestinians within the framework of the Road Map. This latest announcement comes in the wake of meetings between the Secretary of State and the authors of various unofficial ‘peace plans’ agreed upon by private citizens from both sides in the conflict. On Thurday, Powell met with Palestinian Professor Sari Nusseibeh to discuss the petition he is promoting together with Israeli Admiral (Res) Ami Ayalon. This latest meeting follows the Secretary of State’s meeting with Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abd Rabbo, the promoters of the ‘Geneva Accord’, which they co-authored.

Comment and Opinion:

Yael Paz-Melamed, (Maariv,12/12): “Sharon, a seismograph where public opinion is concerned, has understood that the moment when he would be able to advance his plan for unilateral disengagement, in which he has believed for years, is approaching. As a last defensive shield before standing up before the public and saying that he has taken a decision to evacuate Netzarim, he sent the man closest to him, Ehud Olmert, to the frontline. Not that Olmert is the puppet in the theatre, who Sharon moves about according to his will. Olmert is too strong and independent to agree to such a role. But there is no doubt that his ‘coming out of the closet’ was coordinated with Sharon, and the principles of his plan are acceptable to the Prime Minister. So Olmert said that it was necessary to evacuate the greater part of the territories, including well established settlements, spoke about a Jewish majority and the demographic danger, and once again, nothing happened.

The public, in its great majority, accepted with ease the plan for unilateral withdrawal, the right wing element in the Likud announced that it would ‘show’ Olmert, and nothing happened. Silence. Lieberman convened his faction and announced that if such and such happened he would immediately quit the government. So he announced. We have heard that at least ten times. And that was it. The ground was prepared for landing. The location was carefully chosen: a discussion in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. Respectable, on the one hand, not too public, but available for leakage. Sharon spoke of ‘measures.’ Not a comprehensive programme, like that outlined by Olmert. But still, we read his lips, and they said: evacuation of settlements. Not outposts. Of course, only if the Road Map fails. And it is clear that it has already failed. If there is a need for redeployment, or reaching an arrangement, then why necessarily according to an American script. I will bring you a plan of my own. And in return perhaps you will give me another term as prime minister.

And that, it would seem, is the whole story. And that is why, this time it is serious. Sharon, who builds his diplomatic plans in stages, while in motion, has understood that if he wishes to survive, he has to do something. Not just words. Deeds.”

Jerusalem Post (12/12): “Nothing is seemingly more immutable than the UN's incredible anti-Israel double standards. The General Assembly demonstrated its bias when it voted by a whopping 90-8 majority to refer the security fence to the International Court of Justice. Israel, desperately resorting to the most non-violent defensive measure against relentless terror, is thereby put on trial, while mass-murderers cast themselves in the role of the outraged plaintiffs. But if any silver lining can be detected in this latest episode of the General Assembly's annals, it is that, unequivocal as the anti-Israel majority was, it was less massive than to which we have become accustomed. No less that 74 nations chose to abstain, and many others were no-shows for the session. In all, less than half of the 191 assembly members voted against Israel. This didn't result in an Israeli victory, but as Ambassador Dan Gillerman noted, it was at least "a moral victory." Qualitative analysis of who voted for the Arab resolution and who did not is further enlightening. Israel was supported by the US, Australia, Ethiopia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau. The long list of abstainers include the entire EU contingent, along with all other European countries and all other members of the Free World. No democracy supported the Arab initiative.

The dividing line seems to be that which separates democracies from dictatorships. Those who voted for turning the fence issue to the ICJ for deliberation were on the whole autocracies, which succumbed to the tyranny of tyrannies. It can be regarded as a poor man's consolation, especially when we consider the surreal viciousness of the debate which preceded the vote and which in essence constituted a compilation of anti-Israel invective. The Syrian ambassador went so far as to accuse Israel of "massacring Palestinians for sport."”

“Gillerman reminded the assembled representatives of member nations that they had recently overwhelmingly adopted a resolution for the "protection of Palestinian children," but that Israel was unable to secure a vote on protecting "Israeli children. We were told that Israeli children, deliberately targeted by terrorists, would not receive the Assembly's protection. Now we are told we cannot protect them ourselves." In this sense, the UN's decision to declare the fence illegal was on par with it's notorious and ultimately repealed "Zionism equals racism" resolution. For if Israel, despite the the Geneva Convention's explicit permission granted to build fortifications, is not allowed to even passively defend its children, than it is being denied the right of self-defense. A nation that may not defend itself has no right to exist. Israel will never acquiesce to such a verdict, which has sullied the body in which it passed and those who did not oppose it more than it does this nation.


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM