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BICOM Daily Briefing January 6 2004

Last updated: 2004-01-06

Prime Minister Sharon’s address to the Likud Convention in Tel Aviv yesterday receives wide coverage in the British press. The Guardian has a full report on this story, as do the Times, Financial Times and Glasgow Herald, as well as the online news outlets BBC Online, Reuters and the Associated Press. The Daily Telegraph has an interview with Syrian president Bashar Assad, in which Assad makes significant remarks concerning weapons of mass destruction. The paper also features an editorial on the subject, which disputes Assad’s claim that the onus for stopping the killing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests on Israel alone.  In The Guardian, Salim Tamari claims that the Geneva accords can only succeed with strong international support, whilst Linda Grant, in the paper’s G2 section, looks at the situation of Israeli Arabs and their position in the conflict. The Independent reports on Israeli concerns regarding the International Court of Justice investigation into the Security Fence, a story which is also reported on BBC Online. The Financial Times details the decision by European Commission President Romano Prodi to suspend a planned conference on anti-semitism, following yesterday’s article by Cobi Benatoff and Edgar Bronfman. The paper also features a piece on a new shopping mall in Ramallah, as well as a report on the emergence of Arab liberal pro-democracy voices in Egypt.

In the Israeli press, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post both lead with PM Sharon’s remarks yesterday, and Likud responses to them. Maariv focuses on the ending of the public sector strike in Israel, as does Yediot Ahronot. Haaretz and Yediot Ahronot both have stories on the investigation by the IDF into the shooting of protestor Gil Na’amati. Maariv’s website also reports on the statements by Bashar Assad on weapons of mass destruction.

Quotes of the Day:

PM Sharon to Likud Convention

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (05/01): “We have not and will not carry out negotiations under fire. We will give no rewards to terror. We will not surrender to the pressure of our political foes who have accepted the Arab position almost entirely... But if we get security, we will give a great deal, a very great deal. If a new Palestinian Authority is established, free of terror, if the incitement stops, the Israeli government led by the Likud will be prepared to carry out its part to make possible the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, first in temporary borders and eventually under a permanent agreement. It is clear that under the agreement we'll have to give up some of the Jewish settlements.” (Haaretz)

Prime Minister Sharon (05/01): “We will undertake political and physical disengagement until [the Palestinians] change their path…In the absence of a Palestinian partner, my plan, the disengagement plan, constitutes the best security plan. This is my plan and I will pass it.” (Haaretz)

Behind the News:

PM Sharon addresses Likud Convention, details disengagement plan

Prime Minister Sharon yesterday reiterated his plan for unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians, as outlined in his recent speech to the Herzliya Conference. Sharon was speaking to the Likud Central Committee members, for the first time revealing to them his political plan. The Prime Minister made no attempt to soften his tone in order to cater to his audience. There had been expectations that he would announce at the convention that Likud members will have the opportunity to vote on his proposals, but no such announcement was made. Rather, Sharon said that he is the one who ultimately must decide. “It is my responsibility to consider all the factors, to hear all the opinions, and to make the decisions. Together with the other elected representatives, I decide and I must act.”

Sharon’s statements calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state and accepting the necessity of uprooting some Jewish settlements, were met with noisy opposition, mainly from the settlers in the hall. MKs and ministers were not allowed to speak at the event, which was intended to allow rank and file activists to express their opinions.  In addition to their criticisms of Sharon, the speakers expressed particular anger toward Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert, a prominent supporter of the ‘disengagement’ idea.

Syrian President Assad rejects demands for removal of WMD

In an interview published in today’s Daily Telegraph, Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected western demands for removing all weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East. The Syrian leader described his country as ‘exposed to Israeli aggression.’ As such, in his view, it is only ‘natural’ that the Syrians feel the need to ‘look for means to defend ourselves.’ Of particular note is the fact that in the past, Syrian leaders have routinely responded to questions on weapons of mass destruction by simply repeating the formula that the Syrian arsenal does not include weapons of this kind.

Assad on this occasion chose to note the ease with which such weapons can be acquired. He demanded that all WMD, including Israel’s suspected nuclear capability, be considered. The President then went on to blame Palestinian suicide bombings on Israeli policy, describing suicide terrorism as ‘a reality which we cannot control’, and a response to Israeli ‘occupation.’

Syrian journalist claims Iraqi weaponry removed to Syria

Israel Channel 2 news reported last night that in an interview with Dutch TV, Syrian journalist Nizar Nayouf revealed that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were transported to Syria prior to the fall of the Baathist regime in Baghdad. According to Nayouf, the weaponry was brought into Syria with the agreement of the regime, and has been placed in three separate sites within the country. Nayouf claimed that the removal of the weaponry from Iraq was organised by General Sharif, a close confidante of Saddam, and carried out under the auspices of a Syrian company that traded with Iraq. He claimed that the weaponry has been placed in underground facilities.

Plan for Removal of further 28 outposts

Maariv today reports on a document that it has received, according to which the Israeli security establishment has drawn up plans for the removal of 28 outposts in the coming month. Most of the named outposts are populated, and the list includes Migron, Havat Gilad and Havat Maon. All the named outposts were established since March 2001. According to Ma’ariv, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister are expected to sign orders for the removal of the outposts within the next two weeks.

Comment and Opinion:

The Daily Telegraph (06/01): “Despite its much reduced role on the world stage, Syria remains key to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. This makes the tone of the central part of President Bashar al-Assad's interview with The Telegraph all the more depressing. For the Syrian leader argues that there is nothing that he or any other Arab can do to stop the suicide bombings. "It's a reality we cannot control," he says. The answer, rather, lies with Israel, which must stop killing Palestinians and expanding Jewish settlements, and withdraw from the occupied territories.

This, of course, is one side of the land for peace deal outlined after the Six Day War by UN Security Council Resolution 242. Israel has since fulfilled its side of the bargain only in part. But it has done so in the face of unremitting hostility from many Arab countries, with Syria to the fore. It is extraordinarily disingenuous of Mr Assad to claim that the onus for stopping the killing rests on Israel alone. First, he knows full well that the goal of the Palestinian extremists and their backers in the Islamic world is that Israel should cease to exist, not that a modus vivendi be found on the basis of Resolution 242. Such enmity leaves any Israeli prime minister very little room for manoeuvre. Second, the notion that Syria is powerless to rein in rejectionists sounds bizarre coming from the mouth of a man whose father ruthlessly suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982. The president's counsel of despair suggests there is no point in Israel reopening talks with him on the Golan Heights.

As expected, Mr Assad declined to follow Libya's lead in renouncing weapons of mass destruction. While not specifically acknowledging that Syria possessed such an arsenal, he said it had to look for means to defend itself against "Israeli aggression". He thus confirmed the widespread supposition that his regime has acquired chemical and biological weapons as a means of survival.

Mr Assad expressed himself willing to consider joint patrols with the Americans along the Iraqi border. Apart from this opening, he appeared to be on a different wavelength from the West, not least in his minimising of the threat posed by al-Qa'eda. As under his father, Syria seems content to stand pat in the expectation that others will come round to its way of thinking. Sadly for its people, such inflexibility in the wake of September 11 will merely lead to greater isolation.”

Amos Gilboa (Maariv, 5/1): “Palestinian ‘best man’ of the Geneva Document, former PA Information Minister Yasser Abd Rabbo, spoke about the document on the eve of the new year. This took place far from here, at a press conference in Dubai, and for this reason received little attention in our media, part of which does not like to report ‘not nice’ things said by senior Palestinians. What did Abd Rabbo say? He declared that the document does not give up on the Right of Return, and that on the contrary it is the only joint document in which Resolution 194 is seen as the basis for the solution of the refugee problem. And, what can we do - he is right. For the Palestinians, this resolution, according to their interpretation of it, forms the basis for the right of the refugees to return to their former homes in ‘occupied Palestine.’

Of course, the faithful of Geneva will say, ‘He was under pressure, he was threatened by the Arab street, he was humiliated, so he had to say this. But he does not think in this way.’ May the righteous live by their faith. But it is interesting to note how Abd Rabbo explained the reasons for Geneva from his, the Palestinian, side: Reason 1: to breathe life into the Israeli left, which is in a state of disarray, and allow it to go on the attack. Reason 2: to fight Sharon. Reason 3: to fight against the ‘racist Separation Fence’ policy. Abd Rabbo returned to this latter point again and again.”

“The objective behind the struggle over the Fence, and the insistence on the Right of Return and 194, is the same basic Palestinian conception which sees the entirety of the land between the Jordan River and the sea as ‘occupied territory’, taken from the Palestinian people. This is seen as a single area, inseparable, which neither a fence, nor an artificial 1967 border, shall divide.

This is regrettable, it is depressing, but it remains the reality at the start of 2004.”


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM