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BICOM Daily Briefing December 19 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-19

The policy speech given at the Herzliya Conference by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is prominently featured in The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Times and The Scotsman. Labour MP Louise Ellman’s speech in Parliament yesterday, in which she accused Dr. Azzam Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain of racism, is also covered in The Guardian. The Economist’s cover story this week is on the connection between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In Israel, the news agenda is also dominated by yesterday’s speech with extensive coverage and analysis across all news outlets, with speculation about how and when Prime Minister Sharon will implement his “disengagement plan”. There is also much speculation about the political implications, both inside Israel and on the international scene. In other news, the Jerusalem Post reports on EU intervention to prevent a PLO move to challenge Israeli status in the UN.

Quotes of the Day:

Excerpts from the Herzliya speech:

Ariel Sharon (18/12): “If there is no progress toward peace in a matter of months, then Israel will initiate the unilateral security step to disengage from the Palestinians.”

Ariel Sharon (18/12): “I attach supreme importance to taking all steps which will enable progress toward resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. However, in light of the other challenges we are faced with, if the Palestinians do not make a similar effort toward a solution of the conflict, I do not intend to wait for them indefinitely.”

For a full copy of Sharon’s speech, please see BICOM website.

Responses to Sharon’s speech:

Moshe Katsav, President of Israel (Reuters, 18/12): “We must do something for preventing the continuity of bloodshed against us. We are calling to the Palestinian leadership to stop the violence immediately, to renew the peace talks immediately and to start to implement the road map immediately -- tomorrow morning, tonight, now. The announcement of the Israeli prime minister last night is not an expression of any kind of rejection or hesitation about the road map. The Palestinian prime minister has not done enough for stopping the violence, or stopping terrorism. He must do something for creating a good atmosphere, for creating the possibility of negotiation.”

Tommy Lapid, Minister of Justice (Reuters, 18/12): “I think that within three months we will have to act unilaterally if the Palestinians do not what is necessary, including dismantling the terrorist organizations.”

Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition (AP, 18/12): “What is clear from this speech is that there is no real decision, there are just a few linguistic changes that don't ease the situation or solve anything. I don't see anything that he mentioned happening right now. ... I am very frustrated.”

Ahmed Qureia, Palestinian Prime Minister (AP,18/12): “The language of threats that was evident in the speech -- that ... if things don't work, we will take unilateral steps, draw lines -- these are ultimately dangerous words, and this type of talk is simply not acceptable.”

Foreign and Commonwealth Office press release (18/12): “The British government welcomes the commitment to implement the road map and the determination to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Labour MP accuses British Moslem group of racism:

Louise Ellman, Member of Parliament (The Guardian, 18/12): “[Azzam Tamimi] is not a man of peace. He and his arguments incite hatred against Jews. Messages put out by this association and other Islamist groups, together with the far right, the traditional anti-Semites, incite growing violence against Jews in the UK.”

Behind the News:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivers policy speech at Herzliya conference:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last night delivered his much-anticipated speech at the Herzliya policy conference. Sharon outlined his continued support for the Roadmap, but made it clear that Israel could not wait forever for the Palestinian leadership to fulfil its commitments under the roadmap. He stated that if in a few months, the Palestinians still continue to disregard their part in implementing the Roadmap, Israel will initiate the unilateral security step of disengagement from the Palestinians. Sharon added that that Israel has no desire to rule the Palestinians and that Israel will dismantle illegal settlements and outposts.

For a full copy of Sharon’s speech, please see BICOM website.

EU prevents challenge to Israeli status in the UN:

European Union member countries have prevented an initiative which would have challenged Israel's credentials at the United Nations. The PLO delegation to the UN distributed a draft resolution early this week that said: "The PLO representative in the UN is the representative of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem." However, ahead of a routine affirmation of the credentials of countries represented in the UN, EU representatives met with PLO representative at the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa, telling him that exploiting the routine votes on a country’s credentials crossed "a red line." When it became evident that its resolution would fail to win a majority, the PLO delegation said it would not seek a vote at this stage, but rather sometime later in the current session of the UN, which means any time between now and next September.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Gillerman said "the Palestinian failure to challenge Israel's credentials is a victory for Israeli foreign policy."

Labour MP claims that Muslim Association of Britain supports terrorism:

Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside yesterday claimed that the Muslim Association of Britain, which helped to organise this year's anti-war marches, supports terrorism. In a Commons speech, which is protected from libel proceedings, Ms Ellman accused Dr. Azzan Tamimi, the association's senior spokesman, of inciting racial hatred against British Jews after he voiced strong support for Palestinian suicide bombers. “He and his arguments incite hatred against Jews,” said Ms Ellman, “Messages put out by this association and other Islamist groups, together with the far right, the traditional anti-semites, incite growing violence against Jews in the UK.”

According to The Guardian, Ms Ellman cited a series of speeches in which Dr Tamimi, who describes himself as a "sympathiser and supporter" of the terrorist group Hamas, attacked Israel and supported suicide bombers. At a conference in South Africa last year, Dr Tamimi said: "Do not call them suicide bombers, call them Shuhada [martyrs]. They [Israelis] have guns, we have human bombs. We love death, they love life." Dr Tamimi was also quoted as saying that Israel would be destroyed and replaced by an Islamic state and that Jews should "sail on the sea in ships back to where they came from and all drown in it".

Dr Tamimi reacted angrily to Ms Ellman's speech, but declined to disassociate himself from the quotes attributed to him.

Comment and Opinion:

Uzi Baram (Former Labour MK, Yediot Ahronot, 19/12): “The Prime Minister’s speech was preceded by a great deal of preparation - public opinion was readied for a landmark speech and the local foreign television stations broadcast the speech like the Israeli Prime Minister were Churchill.

Sharon may have surprised those who hoped that he would propose a strategic plan for the State of Israel and not a string of tactical moves that he has always agreed to.

There were two positive parts to the speech: firstly, the clear and unequivocal declaration that a Palestinian state would be created alongside Israel. The second thing was the “redeployment” that will take place in the absence of agreement, and that Israeli settlements in the heart of Arab population concentrations will be moved. The rest was banal and repeated cliches that the Prime Minister has already used.

I am not thrilled by unilateral withdrawal because any agreement, even deep withdrawal, it is preferable to no agreement at all, which keeps Palestinian claims alives and maybe even Palestinian terrorism. But in the reality in which we live, a statement such as this is positive because it creates fissures in the right-wing camp, which in my humble opinion is endangering the resolve of the State of Israel.

Luckily, Sharon’s policy will be quickly tested. The test will be the evacuation of the settlement of Migron. Evacuation could have been implemented without international eyes, and without any reverberations within Israel. But the radical right has turned Migron into the litmus test of its strength. So Sharon’s immediate problem is the specific question of Migron, and his ability to continued to hold together a right-wing government through this charged atmosphere.

So, too little and too mean-spirited but when I see Arieh Eldad, MK starting to tremble, I begin to look for the good and important bits in the banal speech that the Prime Minister gave at the Herzliya conference.”

Adi Mintz (Head of Council of Jewish Communities in the West Bank and Gaza, Yediot Ahronot, 19/12): “Settlement and immigration to the Land of Israel were the heart and soul of Zionism from its inception. The Arabs and the British waged bitter war on them. The British through the White Paper which limited immigration and settlement, and the Arabs through waves of terror and murder.

The People of Israel, through all the years of Zionism, knew how to deal with this. Its answer was more ‘illegal’ immigration, and the age-old answer to terrorism was settlement. In every place where we ploughed the land, there were the borders of the state. Waves of immigration balanced the demography, from the East and from Russia. Terror was always defeated by a defence force, together with the settlement.

Arik Sharon, together with the settlers, has always had the plough and the sword in his hand, but in old age, his strength has waned.

The inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and Gaza settled the land on the order of Israeli goverments over the years, in the heart of the Land. They took nothing from the Arabs. Settlements were established on State land in the most moral and just way possible. These settlemetns, like Metulla and Hanita, define the future of Zionism and of the existence of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel.

Unilateral withdrawal means the destruction of Zionism and the future of the Jewish People on the Land of Israel.”

Yossi Beilin (Maariv, 19/12): “In his Herzliya speech, Sharon gave a third prize to terrorism. The first prize he gave was when he was elected in 2001, when he declared that there would be no negotiation so long as there was terrorism. He thus changed Rabin’s policy which said that we would fight against terrorsm as if there were no negotiation, and proceed with negotiation as if there were no terroroism. Sharon gave the right of veto to every single Palestinian terrorist. Those who wanted to prevent negotiation knew that they could do that by continuing terrorism, and thus ensured that during his term of office more Israeli citizens have been killed than ever before.

The second prize was pushing Abu Mazen and Abu Ala into the arms of Hamas.

Instead of helping them, holding political negotiations and security coordination, he sent them to negotiate with the heads of Hamas in Cairo and Syria about an internal ceasefilre. Sharon made the Hamas the most influential element in the Palestinian camp. In yesterday’s Herzliya speech, Sharon said to the Palestinians: If there is terror there will be no negotiation, but I will get out of the territories and relieve you of my presence unilaterally. That is the third prize.

Is this planned? Does Sharon really prefer a PA under Hamas leadership over pragmatic Palestinians prepared to agree with Israel in a Geneva-style accord with two states for two people, in a full and final agreement to the refugee question which guarantees a stable state with a guaranteed Jewish majority? It’s difficult to tell. Because I am no great beleiver in conspiracies, I think that it is just ongoing nonsense, the damage of which Sharon does not understand.

Sharon is not going to change the settlement map. In his map he has done all the damage he is going to, but he continues to play for time and put off the moment of truth for as long as possible. The conditions he places on implementation of his new dream are so many that there is too much space to say that they have not been realised. Sharon will still have plenty to say in the next Herzliya speech. The question is how much blood will be shed until then, how far do we have to go away from the only serious chance to save the Zionist dream: a final agreement between us and the Palestinians.”


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM