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BICOM Daily Briefing December 29 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-29

The decision by the UK government to place armed sky marshals on some British flights dominates the news agenda this morning, with many referring to the extensive experience of Israel in the field of aircraft security. There are editorials on the subject in the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. The newly-appointed Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, is interviewed in the Independent, and continues in the anti-Israel vein he struck in a Radio 4 interview over Christmas. The Independent also carries an editorial on the subject, in which the paper supports the Bishop’s uncompromising line on Israel.  BBC Online reports that a group of Israelis and Palestinians are to attempt climb an unconquered Arctic mountain together, a story which is also carried by the Jerusalem Post.

In the Israeli press, Haaretz leads with the National Religious Party’s decision to support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s order to begin the dismantling of unauthorised outposts in the West Bank and Gaza. There is also discussion of Syrian peace initiatives in all the Israeli daily newspapers, with Prime Minister Sharon striking a cautious note in yesterday’s cabinet meeting. Maariv carries defence establishment assessments that New Year’s Eve will be a target for a ‘mega terror’ attack in Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports on an embarrassing diplomatic incident in which the Palestinian Authority claimed that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a message of support to PA Chairman Arafat. A sharp UK denial was met with a swift Palestinian apology.

Quotes of the Day:

PM Sharon cautious about Syrian overtures

Ariel Sharon (28/12): “In the event of talks between Israel and Syria, they will start from scratch.” (Haaretz)

Ariel Sharon (28/12): “We have serious problems with Syria. They extend patronage to Palestinian terror, they allow terrorist training camps to exist, they send terrorists off to Israel. They must get rid of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, expel Hezbollah from south Lebanon and enable the Lebanese army to deploy along the border, dismantle the missile system along the northern border and give us information on our missing men and hostages.” (Haaretz)

Palestinians apologise for claims of UK support for Arafat

Spokeswoman for Tony Blair (28/12): “We are not aware of such a message being sent, so I'm not sure what they're reporting, to be honest. The prime minister doesn't usually send out messages at this time of the year. It is not something that we do. I'm afraid we're not aware of any specific message being sent.” (The Jerusalem Post)

WAFA Palestinian News Agency (28/12) “Before we say anything, we wish to apologize for making a mistake by reporting that Mr. Blair had sent a cable of greetings to President Arafat in which he expresses his hope that the Palestinian people would realize their hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state.” (BBC Monitoring)

New Bishop of Durham attacks Israeli policy

Right Reverend Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham (29/12): “I'm not anti-Israel but when I see what's been done to the Palestinians over the past 50 years, I say, 'Well I'm sorry, but if you put people behind barbed wire, keep them caged, take their land despite international resolutions, and bulldoze their homes, you are asking for trouble'. This is not in any way to excuse or exonerate the horror and enormity of suicide bombing. It is just to say that if you squeeze people that tight sooner or later they'll do drastic things. There must be better ways to achieve peace than the road taken by the government of Ariel Sharon.” (The Independent)

Behind the News:

Government orders dismantling of outpost settlements

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz yesterday ordered the dismantling of four West Bank outposts and tasked GOC Central Command Major General Moshe Kaplinski with implementing the order. The four outposts slated for evacuation are: Ginot Aryeh, Hazon David, West Bat Ayin and Havat Shaked. Only one of the outposts - Ginot Aryeh - is inhabited, with about 10 families living there as well as a few single people. The other outposts are currently empty.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Sharon approved a proposal by Minister of Defence Mofaz to transfer the issue of evacuating illegal outposts to the "political track" instead of the complicated procedure of issuing demolition orders under planning and construction laws. This political track was approved under a previous government, which granted the prime minister and the defence minister the authority to earmark a site for evacuation. Rather than lengthy legal processes, the political track only allows a formal hearing for those opposed to the evacuation as well as a petition to the High Court of Justice.

The Central Command has yet to begin its operational preparations for the evacuation, as Mofaz and Sharon's order was only received yesterday. The preparations are expected to take at least a few days. The evacuation of a manned outpost will take a force of hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers and police officers.

UK-Palestinian diplomatic incident over Blair’s “support” for Arafat

The official Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, apologised yesterday for a report it issued saying that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had sent a cable to Yasser Arafat wishing for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In a report by the agency's political editor on 27 December, the agency said that Blair had instead sent the Palestinian leader "a traditional greetings card".

The claim was quickly met with a stringent UK denial, in which the Prime Minister’s spokesperson made it clear that no such message was sent and that there is no such tradition of seasonal greetings being issued by British Prime Ministers. The Palestinian news agency criticized Britain's "abrasive denial" of the original report, adding that Palestinian hopes for statehood were legitimate.

Comment and Opinion:

Daily Telegraph (29/12) “The one nation that has made extensive use of air marshals since the 1970s is Israel, which has seen a commensurate decline in terrorist attempts against its carrier, El Al. If the security services have reason to believe that we now face a similar threat on transatlantic flights - and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must accept their analysis - then it makes sense to learn from Israel's successful example. Much of the legislation adopted over the past two years has diminished our freedom without enhancing our security. This one, though, by any measure, is proportionate.”

Yehosua Amishav (Haaretz, 29/12) “As attorney Arno Klarsfeld wrote (Jerusalem Post, December 12) - the moment is fast approaching when the Jews will have to leave Europe or live as "political Marranos."

That is the essence of the new anti-Semitism. No French scientist has ever been required, even at the height of the Algerian war, to issue a condemnation of his government's policy to be accepted among his colleagues. No Oxford professor has announced that he won't teach any Belgian student who served in the army, even after the responsibility of Belgium and its army for the 1994 Rwandan genocide became clear. But the very identification of an Israeli as such already spells trouble.

The chair of Amnesty-Israel, Miriam Shlesinger, was expelled from the editorial board of a British linguistics periodical; they wanted to take away the Nobel Peace Prize from Shimon Peres. From here it's a short distance to signaling the Jews: Keep your distance from Israel, or you won't be able to go on living as you did till now. Your safety is at risk.

These signals come from the heart of the Western European cultural world, from circles that are in no need of any lectures about the Holocaust. These people, the educators of the next generation and the symbols with which the young people identify, are now the greatest threat to the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe. It is very doubtful whether increased Holocaust studies will solve anything in this tragic situation.”

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM