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BICOM Daily Briefing January 5 2004

Last updated: 2004-01-05

The main Middle East-related story in the UK press today is a tape issued by al-Qaida, purporting to contain a message from Osama Bin-Laden, who expresses opposition to all attempts at a compromise peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In other stories, The Guardian covers the latest moves on dismantling illegal settlement outposts, a story also covered by Reuters, as well as the fight by non-orthodox Jewish women for prayer rights at the Western Wall. The paper also features an obituary of noted Israeli documentary film-maker David Perlov. The Financial Times reports on criticism by two prominent Jewish leaders towards the European Commission for the way it handled the recent reports dealing with European anti-Semitism. The newspaper’s website also features an editorial piece by the two leaders, Edgar Bronfman and Cobi Benatoff.

In the Israeli press, Haaretz leads with a story on Israel’s likely tactics toward the International Court of Justice’s investigation regarding the Security Fence. The paper also covers the latest developments on the ground in IDF actions against terrorists in Jenin. The Jerusalem Post leads with the government order for the removal of an additional four outposts. Maariv and Yediot Ahronot, meanwhile, lead with domestic economic matters.

Over the weekend, The Observer’s Foreign Affairs editor writes about Israeli concerns over the demographic issue. The Independent on Sunday includes a feature on a joint Israeli-Palestinian mission to the Antarctic. In the Sunday Express, Robert Kilroy-Silk claims that the West owes nothing to the Arab world and should aim to replace corrupt Arab states with democratic governments. The Times on Saturday ran a story on the continued delays in appointing a new Israeli ambassador to Britain.

Quotes of the Day:

On Palestinian attempts to pressure Israel via international bodies

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, (at weekly Cabinet Meeting, 04/01): “The Palestinians are continuing to make mistakes just like in the past. Instead of negotiating with us directly, they are turning to international forums to score points rather than trying to solve problems.”

On the Security Fence

Dan Meridor, (Yediot Ahronot, 05/01): “For many years, the objective was to reach peace, and not to move until there was peace. I propose changing the order, so that the main objective will be setting a border. The sooner the government decides, the lower the price will be.”

Behind the News:

Settler opposition to evacuation of outposts grows

Defence Ministry sources have confirmed that the Israeli government has issued a directive ordering the removal of eight settlement outposts. The evacuations could begin as early as Tuesday, although they may be held up because of legal discussions in the High Court of Justice. In the past, the settlers have succeeded in holding up the process via the appeals procedure in the courts. The signing of the evacuation directive by PM Sharon and Defense Minister Mofaz was intended to side-step this possibility.

Settler leaders were scathing at news of the latest developments. Adi Mintz, head of the Council of Jewish Communities in the West Bank and the Gaza District, drew particular attention to the important role that Sharon himself had played in the settlement movement in general and the establishing of the outposts in particular. Settler activists are also engaging in determined political lobbying, both among Likud legislators, and with MKs from the national religious and ultra-orthodox streams. The settlers are planning a large-scale demonstration in Tel Aviv, which they hope will add momentum to their opposition to government policy.

For further details on the order to dismantle of unauthorized settlements, see: Bicom Weekend Brief.

Israel plans response to International Court of Justice

Israel is in the process of formulating its response to the International Court of Justice on the question of the security fence. A special team, led by former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Meir Rosen, is leading the team, which will present its recommendations to the inner security cabinet. The team is being advised by senior experts on international law. Sources confirm that they met last week with Professor Alan Dershowitz, during the latter’s visit to Israel.

It is speculated that Israel will reject the authority of the court in deciding on this matter. In making its response, Israel is likely to nevertheless include substantive security arguments justifying construction. The ICJ is due to discuss this matter on February 23 2004. The Israeli response will be sent in writing, and it is not yet clear if Israeli officials will be dispatched to appear in person before the hearing.

Comment and Opinion:

Edgar M. Bronfman and Cobi Benatoff (Financial Times, 05/01): “Anti-Semitism can be expressed in two ways: by action and inaction. Remarkably, the European Commission is guilty of both. First, the Commission released a flawed and dangerously inflammatory poll, which purported to name Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. Then, it censored a study commissioned by its own Monitoring Centre that reported on the involvement of Muslim minorities in incidents of mounting European anti-Semitism.

Inaction must be countered by action, and transparency must be the hallmark of democratic institutions, which is why we made public the Monitoring Centre report. The Talmud teaches that silence implies agreement and that is why we will not rest until every European parliamentarian, member state and inter-governmental body has a copy of this report in their hands. The significance of this study is clear to anyone who reads it. Just consider its most fundamental finding, that "one cannot deny that there exists a close link between the increase of anti-Semitism and the escalation of the Middle East conflict". The report explains that Israel's policies toward the Palestinians provide an excuse to "denounce Jews generally" throughout Europe.

These findings are not theoretical. In 2002, the World Jewish Congress's annual study of anti-Semitism worldwide found that prior to the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, physical violence had been directed mainly at institutions, principally cemeteries and synagogues. Throughout 2002, however, the pattern changed dramatically and the number of physical assaults on Jewish individuals, or people who resembled Jews, almost doubled. In France, as the debate continues over the display of religious clothing and accessories in schools, France's chief rabbi has had to suggest that Jewish men wear baseball caps instead of traditional yarmulkes for reasons of personal security.

Outside Israel, the majority of the world's violent anti-Semitic attacks took place in western Europe. For the EU to hide these facts reeks of intellectual dishonesty and moral treachery. The war on anti-Semitism, the world's oldest form of racism, suffered a tremendous defeat at the hands of European censors. Europe perfected anti-Semitism last century and those who wish to see the continent free from that evil cannot allow a few thugs, be they on the street or in parliament, to sully a people that needs no lesson in the history of appeasement and inaction.”

Peter Beaumont (The Observer, 04/01): “Crucially, however, the figures show that despite financial incentives for couples who have more children, the population rose last year by 116,000, or 1.7 per cent - its lowest increase since 1990.

In the Nineties, annual immigration ranged from 70,000 to 200,000 as around a million Jews from the former Soviet Union - many of them more loosely defined as Jewish than some religious authorities would prefer - flocked to Israel.

At the heart of all this is simple mathematics. Forecasts from the United States' Population Reference Bureau show Israel's population doubling in 45 years, that of the West Bank in 21 years and that of Gaza in 15 years. In other words, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and Israeli Arabs will outnumber the Jewish population by 2020.

This has led commentators such as David Landau, editor of the English-language edition of the newspaper Ha'aretz, to warn of a 'cataclysmic' demographic challenge if Israel is to retain its identity as a Jewish democratic state. Landau told a symposium in San Francisco that he feared Palestinians would abandon calls for a two-state solution and insist on equal voting rights within a wider Israel - which would end the Zionist dream.”

“Without massive immigration, Israel's survival in the way it was envisaged by its founders must rely ultimately on a two-state solution. For all its military might, it is the birth rate that is wounding Israel.”

Headlines:

Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM