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BICOM Daily Briefing January 20 2004

Last updated: 2004-01-20

The Independent, The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman all report on the controversy sparked by the proposed marriage of Yitzhak Rabin’s murderer. The story is also heavily covered in the Israeli press. The Guardian’s G2 section has a feature on young people in Tel Aviv, while The Times interviews an IDF soldier. The Daily Mail reports that last week’s suicide bomber 'was being punished for adultery'. Reuters carries news that President Bush's State of the Nation speech is likely to call for greater European involvement in the drive for democracy in the Middle East.

Maariv this morning reveals that Israel and Pakistan have been holding talks over the last few months, an initiative which will be further boosted in March with a visit by Agriculture Israel Katz to Pakistan. The paper also has unconfirmed reports from Al-Jazeera TV that two Israeli journalists were arrested in Cairo yesterday when they attempted to enter the Arab League building in the city. All Israeli newspapers report Ariel Sharon’s concerns about Jordanian involvement in the discussions on the security fence at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Haaretz reports the leak of sensitive intelligence information about secret meetings between Shimon Peres and senior Palestinian leaders. The Jerusalem Post interviews British actor Stephen Fry, in Israel for the British Film Festival.

Quotes of the Day:

Israel and Pakistan relations warming

Yisrael Katz, Agriculture Minister (20/01 Galei Zahal radio): “I have been invited to visit Pakistan this March. I have accepted the invitation. The matter is coordinated and expresses the increasingly close relations between the countries. I intend to visit, I see it as a positive act. I expect it is part of a range of ties that are emerging.”

On relations with Syria

Ariel Sharon (19/01, Haaretz): “I hope it is clear to everyone that negotiations with Syria that start where they left off, means giving up the Golan Heights.”

Ariel Sharon (19/01, Haaretz): “[Assad] can prove the seriousness of his intentions by responding positively to the world's demand to cease his support for global and regional terror and end his support for the terror organisations and then we will be happy to negotiate with him on every issue without any preconditions.”

Moshe Yaalon, IDF Chief of Staff (Channel 2 TV, 19/01): “I think that opening negotiations with Syria is definitely worth investigating and discussing.”

Dore Gold, advisor to Ariel Sharon (19/01, Haaretz): “The Hezbollah attack on the IDF position illustrates the duplicity of the Syrian regime, which talks peace to the New York Times and backs Hezbollah attacks in violation of United Nations resolutions.”

Yigal Amir will not be permitted to marry

Yaakov Ganot, Chief of the Israel Prisons Service (19/01, Jerusalem Post): “I object to Yigal Amir getting married behind prison walls. That said, he still has not filed a request, and I have no desire to put the cart before the horses.”

Behind the News:

Maariv: Israel and Pakistan may renew relations

Maariv reports this morning that Israel and Pakistan officials have held meetings over the past few months, and that it is hoped that the countries will open economic interests offices in each other’s capitals. Such a move might lead to full diplomatic relations.

The next major step in the warming of relations is to be a visit by Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz to Pakistan in March, in the framework of a UN agriculture delegation. This would be the first visit of an Israeli minister to the Moslem state for many years. Pakistan is understood to have confirmed that Katz is on the list of delegates.

Hezbollah attacks IDF along Lebanese border; soldier killed

An anti-tank missile hit an IDF bulldozer in the western section of the Israel-Lebanon border, killing an IDF soldier and injuring a second. The attack came as the soldiers were clearing roadside bombs, planted by Hezbollah. According to Haaretz, the bombs were discovered two weeks ago, but their removal was delayed due to weather conditions. A senior Lebanese army source said that the bulldozer had crossed into Lebanese territory.

Major General Benny Gantz, head of GOC Northern Command, said the bulldozer crossed an Israeli security fence to clear the bombs planted by Hezbollah but operated short of the international frontier. He placed responsibility for Hezbollah's operations on Syria and Lebanon, and said that the people on the other side of the northern border “should be worried.” Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz is to convene a special meeting of senior security officials this morning, to weigh Israel's response to the attack.

MKs move to forbid Yigal Amir from marrying

It was revealed yesterday that Yigal Amir, who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, is engaged and is due to file a request with the Prisons Authority to marry. The parliamentary reaction to the reports was immediate. Labour Knesset member Eitan Cabel yesterday submitted a bill that would forbid convicted murderers serving a life sentence from marrying during their time in jail. Another Knesset member, Etti Livni (Shinui), tried to table a bill which would deny the right to marry to any person convicted of murdering an elected official for political or ideological reasons. However, her party, which is part of the government coalition, opposed the move on the grounds that it would mean passing a law aimed at one specific person.

The Chief of the Prisons service, Yaakov Granot, yesterday held a press conference in which he announced his intention to disqualify in advance any request by Yigal Amir to marry. However, his views were immediately challenged by his own legal advisor, and by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). “Every individual has the right to marry, including prisoners,” ACRI's legal adviser said yesterday.

Comment and Opinion:

The Times (20/01): “I served in the infantry division of the IDF for three years, and spent two of them in Gaza and the West Bank. The experience changed me completely. I was just 18 when I joined up. I was a boy, and believed so strongly in peace. I was ready to give the Palestinians anything they wanted, just to have peace. Now, at 22, having seen many terrible things, I still believe in peace, and am willing to sacrifice a great deal for it, but I’ve lost my trust in the Palestinians. I know there are many good ones who do not support the suicide bombings, but the radical faction that does will never be content. They do not want land, they want the Jews and Israelis to cease to exist.”

“Every night we had some kind of event — an attempted infiltration, bombs, shooting. They were trying to get to us all the time. I could have been killed many times. It is a fact of life in the territories, and something one is constantly aware of.”

“These days my feelings towards the Palestinians are very mixed. One day we were searching a house. A little blonde girl was there. She was so small and sweet. I searched my pockets for candy and gave her one. She pretended to eat it, and then held out her hand for another. It was such a nice moment, but it broke my heart. I flip from one emotion to another. I sympathise with the Palestinians, and feel sorry for their suffering. I feel remorseful and guilty. Then a day later a friend explodes through a wall, and everything flips back. Sometimes they behave like animals. I have seen terrorists put their children in front of them while they are shooting, knowing that we won’t shoot back — what father would put his own child in danger? Or an ambulance comes, and everyone stops shooting, then a terrorist leaps out of the back and kills someone.”

Ha'aretz (20/01): “Yitzhak Rabin was not murdered by a monster; his killer is not freak of nature. The act was committed by a man with a name, a face, an address, who carried out his crime for ideological reasons. For this crime, he was tried and punished by the cold, objective code of laws of the State of Israel.

Any attempt to dress up this act in mythology or shroud it in mystery - however rhetorically convenient for politicians on the left or right - only misses the point and makes the already terrible consequences even worse. And this applies all the more so to attempts to bend or change the laws to fit a specific criminal, which only ends up rewarding him further.

With all the tangle of emotions this murder arouses in us, and the catastrophic outcome it has had on our daily lives, Rabin's murderer must be subject to the same laws and procedures employed by the Prison Service in its handling of every convicted murderer. It is part of the Israeli national normalcy that Yitzhak Rabin symbolized and his killer sought to disrupt.”

Efraim Halevy  (Yediot Ahronot, 20/01): “What we need at a time like this is a thorough and painful clarification of our overall strategy with regard to the Palestinians. It would be appropriate for the cabinet to convene soon and hear professional assessments from intelligence and security agencies on the full scope of the “situation”. Nearly a year has gone since the current government was sworn in, and in that time neither the cabinet nor the government has heard a systematic and full situation update! Instead of taking hasty decisions on the fence and on “going to the Hague”, it is suggested that the government look at the whole range of our relations with the Palestinians and decide where it wants to take this heavy and overloaded cart.

The government will find that Israel has a number of levers, strengths and ways of working that will give us back the initiative, including our credibility which has been so harmed, both in the region and in the capitals of the world, especially Washington. This is almost the last minute to collate all the information and the assessments, to allow the government of Israel to hear it, look at it, consider the range of options and make policy.

If they don’t do this, the Palestinians will continue to set the agenda, and to a great extent, its results. Israeli envoys will continue to rush between the capitals of the world seeking full support, some support, de-escalation in the face of this or that political threat, and Israel will go to Washington not as a strong ally, credible and secure, but as yesterday’s partner whose stock is down, begging for political hand-outs in order to deal with its hardships.

But hold on! It’s not too late. When is the cabinet meeting? When will the information be presented? When will the government assume its responsibilities?”