A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

3 Adar 2 5760
March 10, 2000
Issue number 262

News...

Court Forbids Jewish-Only Communities

The Supreme Court Wednesday issued a precedent-setting decision, which Chief Justice Aharon Barak called "one of the hardest that I have ever encountered." The Court ruled that a Jewish community association may not refuse an Arab citizen permission to buy land on its property and live on it. Justice Yaakov Kedmi, who wrote the minority opinion, felt that the value of 'national security' overrides that of 'equality,' and that it is therefore permitted for Arabs to be indirectly prevented from receiving land in Jewish communities. The ruling also stipulates that the Jewish Agency must change its regulations and charter before it can continue to distribute lands. The Court's ruling was given in the case of an Arab couple that wished to live in the Jewish community of Katzir, between Hadera and Afula - a community which is partially funded by the Jewish Agency. MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) said that the Supreme Court is detached from Israel's social and national problems, and does not understand the significance of allowing mixed Jewish-Arab towns. MK Michael Kleiner (Herut) said that the ruling is "another nail in the coffin of Zionism."

A Likud response: "This ruling could mark the end of the country as a Jewish State." The NRP plans to propose a bill allowing Jewish communities to determine their composition and character. Avraham Duvdevani, head of the Settlement Wing of the Jewish Agency, spoke to Arutz-7 about the significance of today's ruling: "This decision is unprecedentedly severe, and has smashed one of the most important remaining ideals of Zionism - claiming the Land for the Jewish People...The new aspect of this ruling is that an Arab can go to a cooperative association such as a moshav or kibbutz, and buy land. Until now he was always able to go into a city and buy land, but now he may do so in these other communities as well... This is also a tremendous security risk, and the Cabinet must immediately take action to stop this."

Other reactions:

* "This is a clear statement against the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency, that they are anachronistic and discriminatory, and should be disbanded." - Arab MK Ahmed Tibi
* MK Yuval Shteinitz (Likud) said that the Court's ruling is "undemocratic," in that it "is a blow to the freedom to form communities in accordance with the residents' ideals."
* "This is one of the most important Supreme Court rulings in the past 50 years, and the most important regarding equal rights for Israeli-Arab citizens." - Atty. Dan Yakir, who represented one of the petitioners, the Association for Civil Rights.
* Dubi Sandrov, head of the Katzir Local Council: "We are a law-abiding community, and we will accept the Supreme Court decision. But we have to study the ruling. As you know, it is long and complex and it includes a minority opinion as well."
* Jewish Agency chairman Salai Meridor warns that the Supreme Court decision is liable to harm Jewish sovereignty in Israeli areas with high concentrations of Arab populations, and called upon the government to hold an urgent meeting on the matter.
(arutzsheva.org Mar 8)

Barak and Arafat "On Verge of Breakthrough"

Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat as well as Foreign Minister David Levy, PA official Abu Mazen, and American mediator Dennis Ross participated in a meeting in Ramallah Wednesday, their second in less than 24 hours. Ross told reporters that intensive talks between the sides will resume next week in Washington. Barak said "We are on the verge of a breakthrough in the negotiations with the Palestinians." Ross, who returned to the region Tuesday after a failed trip last week, brought a new proposal to the effect that the final-status principles will be signed in two months' time, and the final-status agreement itself will be signed in September. Barak and Arafat, meeting in central Israel last night, reached agreement on some of the outstanding issues. The Likud today said that Prime Minister Barak "is on the verge of carrying out the most grave diplomatic move since being elected, with his intention to give away more than the 1% of Yesha decided upon by the Netanyahu government in the third Oslo withdrawal." (arutzsheva.org Mar 8)

Mordechai on Leave

Transportation Minister Yitzchak Mordechai has taken temporary leave, following the filing of charges raised against him that he sexually harassed one of his employees. Another woman filed a similar complaint against Mordechai Wednesday, and Army Radio reported about yet a third complaint. (arutzsheva.org Mar 8)

Public Funding For Shmittah

The government has allocated 15 million shekels for farms and moshavim that plan to refrain from working the land in the upcoming Shmittah year. So declared Yerachmiel Goldin, Shmittah-year coordinator in the Agriculture Ministry, during a meeting with the Fruit Growers Association yesterday. The Biblically-mandated Shmittah occurs once every seven years, as a Sabbatical period during which the Land of Israel must lie fallow. HaTzofeh reports that the aid will be reserved for farmers who are taking a Shmittah "break," and to help operate non-profit sales of agricultural produce, in accordance with Jewish Law. (arutzsheva.org Mar 8)

Cabinet Member Conflicted?

MK Tzvi Hendel (National Union) has appealed to the Supreme Court against Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami (Labor). Hendel maintains that Ben-Ami cannot continue in his position overseeing the police and appointing senior police commanders, in the throes of a police investigation against his own party. The ongoing police probe involves suspicions, confirmed by the State Comptroller, that Ehud Barak and One Israel illegally availed themselves of non-profit associations during last year's election campaign. Speaking with Arutz-7, Hendel cited Ben-Ami's definitive comments several weeks ago regarding his certainty that Prime Minister Barak will come out of the scandal "as white as snow." "I am not suggesting that Minister Ben-Ami, in his ministerial function, would try to influence interrogators' approach to the investigation," Hendel explained. "I have no doubt that he is a righteous man and a good Jew... But we are all aware that major police department appointments, from the Chief of Police on down, are to be made this year. How is an investigating officer in the associations scandal, who is up for promotion, likely to behave when he hears his responsible Minister say that he is sure that the Prime Minister is innocent?" Hendel insists that even if Ben-Ami is not switched, a minister from another party must be assigned the task of making the police appointments. (arutzsheva.org Mar 7)

Standing up for the SLA

Two SLA soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in southern Lebanon Tuesday. The jeep of one of the victims drove over a roadside bomb, while the second soldier was killed in his military outpost by Hizbullah mortar fire. The small Southern Lebanese Army, allied with Israel in the fight against Hizbullah, is still reeling from the loss of five soldiers last week. The IDF responded with artillery fire towards terrorist targets. David Hirst, writing from southern Lebanon for Guardian Newspapers, explained the dangers facing the SLA soldiers in the event that Israel unilaterally withdraws from Lebanon: "Several thousand people - SLA soldiers, and those who work in Israel or do business with it - have already been condemned in absentia by Lebanese courts," and they, and others, are in fear of being left to the mercy of Hizbullah this July. "For Israel to withdraw unilaterally," continued Hirst, "would seem to make nonsense of the whole rationale which the security zone has embodied - to keep hostile forces away from the international border," but, he intimated, Israel is simply anxious to get out of Lebanon at almost any cost. Predictions of what may occur after the withdrawal range from renewed civil war and slaughters in Lebanon, to regional war, terrorist attacks against Israel, and more.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said last week that the soldiers would not be given asylum in Israel. A senior security official told Associated Press, however, that the army was making plans to resettle some SLA fighters in Israel, as well as in other countries. AP quoted the source as saying that militiamen, their families, and Lebanese citizens who collaborated with Israel would be categorized according to the level of risk they faced and would be protected accordingly. The Supreme Court rejected an appeal yesterday from SLA fighters to grant them political asylum in the event that the IDF withdraws. The Court stated that the government should be relied upon to come through on its promise - expressed in this week's Cabinet decision - to ensure the safety of the SLA fighters and their families. The Court added that they could re-appeal later if they were not satisfied with the arrangements made for them. (arutzsheva.org Mar 7)

Mofaz Predicts Violence

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Sha'ul Mofaz sees violent flare-ups as likely to occur on three fronts in Israel in the near future. Appearing before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday, Mofaz said that the army has not changed its evaluation that Hizbullah would attack Israel even after a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Terrorism and other Palestinian violence are also a threat, he said: "Hamas is in the process of preparing attacks, and there are warnings of impending attempts to kidnap soldiers” A unilateral declaration of independence by Arafat, as he has promised to do by Sept. 13, is [also] liable to ignite a conflagration." (arutzsheva.org Mar 7)

Syrian Textbooks Bode Ill for Peace

"The foundations of Syrian society must change for peace and normalization to come to the Middle East." So concludes a new study by Dr. Meyrav Wurmser, Executive Director of the Middle East Research Media Institute (MEMRI, www.memri.org), analyzing some 40 Syrian schoolbooks. The report notes that the education of children is both "a gauge by which to assess the degree of change a society must undertake and an accurate indicator of that society's prevalent view of its adversary." It is based on the study of books on many subjects in state-run school courses from Grades 4 to 11. Following are some of the themes stressed in the Syrian school curriculum:
* Zionism is totally negated, and youngsters are inculcated with their moral obligation to take anti-Israel action.
* Zionism is colonialism, is based on fabrications, is similar to Nazism, and is the ultimate racist movement inspiring Nazi thought and action.
* Zionism endangers the Arab world in its entirety, and is the ultimate contradiction to Arab nationalism and the dream of Arab unity.
*Israel is an aggressive and expansionist enemy, singularly responsible for the backwardness of the Arab world. Syrians must act to remove that threat to the Syrian state and obstacle to Arab unity through "holy war" and martyrdom.
Dr. Wurmser adds that the Syrian educational system "expands hatred of Israel and Zionism to anti-Semitism directed at all Jews. That anti-Semitism evokes ancient Islamic motifs to describe the unchangeable and treacherous nature of the Jews. Its inevitable conclusion is that all Jews must be annihilated." (arutzsheva.org Mar 7)

Arafat Releases Students

Yasser Arafat has ordered the release of all 30 of the Bir Zeit University students detained by the PA after the stoning of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin last week. The French leader was stoned after praising Israel's restrained response in southern Lebanon and condemning Hizbullah's terrorist activities. PA officials said that the students apparently had not planned the violent melee in advance - although journalists present at the university at the time reported later that preparations for the "ambush" on Jospin were evident an hour before he arrived. The PA apparently feared widespread violence and protests if further legal measures would be taken against the pro-Hizbullah students.

Meanwhile, LAW - the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment - denounced what it called the "cruel, unjust and irresponsible attack campaign" against it by the Director of the Palestinians General Intelligence Agency. The official called LAW an "organization that should be held in question," and said that LAW's reports of the above students being tortured and threatened are "fabricated information meant to defame and incite against the Palestinian National Assembly." LAW insists, however, that its information on the use of torture and threats is accurate, and has been corroborated by several sources. (arutzsheva.org Mar 7)

Rushing to Where?

IMRA reports that a Gallup Poll finds that 61% of Israeli Jews do not think that Israel should hurry to sign a peace treaty with Syrian President Assad, in light of his ill health. Among citizens who voted for Barak, over 52% feel that Israel should wait until Syria has a new president before signing an agreement, while over 72% of Netanyahu voters feel the same. Analyst Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA explains that the results indicate that the Israeli public does not accept the argument being promoted by the Barak government that Israel should quickly make a deal with the ailing Assad before he leaves office. Israeli intelligence has learned that Syrian sources consider Assad quite ill, and that his doctors feel that "he could live a day or two years - probably closer to a day." (A7 Mar 6)

It's Official: Withdrawal From Lebanon by July

Following a three-and-a-half hour meeting Sunday, the Cabinet announced its unanimous decision to withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon by July. The intention is to redeploy along the northern border and protect the northern communities from there. The session followed an eight-hour meeting on the same topic last week, enabling government ministers such as David Levy and Yossi Beilin, who did not speak last week, to have their say Sunday. The decision stipulates that the government will attempt to reach an agreement with Syria on the withdrawal, but will convene at a later date in the event that no such agreement is reached in order to decide how to implement the pullback. The decision also stipulates that Israel will provide aid to SLA soldiers and strengthen northern communities.

Foreign Minister David Levy, appearing before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday, said that he does not share the view that a withdrawal from southern Lebanon will lead to an end to the fighting in the north. Feelings on the issue are mixed among those who stand to be most directly affected by the withdrawal. Kiryat Shmonah city council member Herzl Ben-Asher, speaking with Arutz-7, expressed concern:

"Over the last while, the only issue being debated is whether or not the IDF should remain in Lebanon - as if the withdrawal was as an end in and of itself, without considering the fact that we, the northern residents, will find ourselves in an intolerable, even impossible situation! Years ago, the army was posted in Lebanon for a reason: to protect the northern communities - and the army leadership continues to feel that such should be the policy today. But yesterday, the entire government suddenly voted in favor of a withdrawal! Our political leadership has not made a security decision, but has capitulated to the Four Mothers and public pressure!"
Arutz-7's Yigal Shok noted that Prime Minister Barak told the Cabinet Sunday that Israel must "choose the lesser of two evils,' and that he 'opts for an end to the burial of our sons.'" Ben-Asher responded,
"We [Israel's northern residents] don't have to be given lessons about what it's like to bury the dead of this terrible war and how to deal with such pain. Our point is that the government must make the right decisions, and not just the 'convenient' or 'popular' decisions. It is unacceptable for the IDF to withdraw without some sort of agreement, without any commitment from the other side, when terrorists can simply cross over into Israel and slaughter us as they did years ago... The Hizbullah has not even promised to remain quiet after the IDF leaves - the opposite is true, they threaten to come up on us from behind [as we are retreating] - just like [the Biblical nation of] Amalek!"
On the other hand, Four Mothers founder Rachel Ben-Dor welcomed the government decision. "But what if the worst happens and Hizbullah continues to bomb northern Israel?" she was asked by Arutz-7's Shok. "We, the residents here in the north, will be the ones to be affected the most," she said. "Let's not forget that we established our [pro-withdrawal from Lebanon] group after 20 years of bearing the brunt of another mistake, which, right now, seems worse than the alternative. It seems to us that this new approach is the correct one... Let's hope that the government succeeds in bringing about - and that we merit - a return to the way it was when we were children, when we grew up here in peace and quiet..." "But what will happen if Hizbullah continues to fire on us after the withdrawal?" Shok persisted. Ben-Dor: "First of all, we are being fired on now. And when the IDF - which, after all, is the best army in the Middle East - is deployed in large numbers on the international border, we will hopefully be able to prevent and respond to such attacks... What is happening now is that we are responding to them in their own backyard, and we are playing into the hands of a couple of hundred people - who, granted, are getting support from here and there... They are just small fry, sustained by the current situation in which they can claim that they are merely 'struggling against the conqueror'... We thought that this plan would bring greater security for northern residents, but this has not happened. When they fire katyushas, the north is completely silenced." (arutzsheva.org Mar 5,6)

The History of the IDF in Lebanon

The press is talking about yesterday's decision to quit Lebanon and "end the 18-year Israeli presence in Lebanon." In point of fact, however, Israel's presence in Lebanon extends back longer than 1982 - all the way to Operation Litani in the mid-1970's. "Who has an interest in 'hiding' those years?" asked Arutz-7's Yigal Shok of Meir Indor, who participated in the Litani battle. "The ruling elite," he answered. "It wants to emphasize the role of [right-wing leaders] Begin, Sharon, and Raful in involving Israel in the Lebanese morass. But the fact is that the Litani operation was decided upon by Yitzchak Rabin as Prime Minister, Motta Gur as Chief of Staff, and Amnon-Lipkin Shachak was the division head." Indor explained that what brought about Israel's entry into Lebanon at the time was "repeated shelling of the northern towns, the emptying out of Kiryat Shmonah, and terrorist penetrations. Israel fired back in a massive way, which caused an international uproar, and finally there was no choice but to go in and create a buffer zone, or a security zone - which was even larger than the one that exists now. The situation then, which caused our entry into Lebanon 25 years ago, is very reminiscent of that which could arise from Israel's withdrawal in July." (arutzsheva.org Mar 6)

Soldier to Be Disciplined

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Sha'ul Mofaz said Sunday that disciplinary measures should be taken against soldier Ofer Sharon. Sharon was involved in a battle with Hizbullah in southern Lebanon in February 1999, in which terrorists ambushed and attacked a paratroopers unit in Lebanon, killing the commander and another man immediately. A battle then broke out, and Lt. David Granit single-handedly held off the terrorists for close to a half-hour before being killed. Lt. Granit, of Ofrah, was later awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for his actions. Sharon was a soldier in the besieged unit who did not storm the terrorists during the battle, and later explained his actions as being based on a combination of fear and dovish ideology. Mofaz said that the IDF will have to consider whether to enlist soldiers who "bring their ideology with them to combat duty and don't know how to separate it from their actions as soldiers." A petition was filed in the Supreme Court last week demanding that the army try Sharon for "shameful behavior during combat."

The Court decided that the petition would be heard by three justices. Daniel Ben-Gavriel of the Gush Etzion community of Bat Ayin, who petitioned the Supreme Court to have Sharon tried in a military court, explained his decision to do so: "There are many clauses in the law books for exactly this type of situation, such as '15 years for refusal to carry out orders during battle,' and others... I first sent letters to the Chief of Staff, high-ranking officers, and other public figures, but once I saw that nothing was being done, I felt forced to turn to the Court." "Why do you think that Ofer Sharon was not made to stand trial until now?" Arutz-7's Ariel Kahane asked. Ben-Gavriel replied: "I think that there is no one who really wants to put this whole issue of Lebanon - a matter of great public controversy - on trial in this manner." Kahane continued, "Don't you think that issues such as sensations of fear and the storm of emotions that overcome a soldier during battle should not be dealt with in court, but rather left for military disciplinary proceedings?" Ben-Gavriel responded, "I'll tell you: If he had asked not to serve in Lebanon, or asked not to serve in this mission, then I wouldn't have said anything. If no one would have been killed, I also might not have done anything. But he did agree to go up to Lebanon, and also went out on the mission, and then stood by and did not help his comrades - this was too much, and I could not remain silent." (A7 Mar 5)

Collecting Shekalim

A new umbrella organization formed to unify the efforts to increase Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) awareness has begun a new Shekalim campaign, in honor of the month of Adar and the traditional collection of shekels for the Temple. A silver-plated coin minted specially for the occasion is being offered for purchase, with the Hebrew words "Temple Treasury" engraved on one side, and "Anticipating the Renewal of the Commandment of Giving a Half-Shekel" on the other. Rabbi Menachem Makover, director of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, told Arutz-7's Yosef Zalmanson today that the purpose of the campaign is to "increase public awareness of the importance of the Temple in our lives. We want to remind ourselves that this is a live issue, one that is dynamically relevant."

He admitted that it is hard for us to understand what we are missing, "but our purpose is to do just that." Rabbi Makover said that the money being raised would be used not only to build more Temple instruments, "of which we presently have far from enough," but also to carry out large-scale educational programs on the centrality of the Temple. He emphasized that those who contribute are clearly informed that the money is not consecrated for actual Temple use, but merely for "preparing the way." (arutzsheva.org Mar 5)

Husseini Jerusalem Declaration "In Violation of Oslo"

Feisal Husseini, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in the Palestinian Authority, has announced that meetings between visiting foreign diplomats and Palestinian figures will take place only in the Orient House or in other offices to be determined by the PA. The decision was made, Husseini said, in light of Israeli pressure on foreign visitors not to conduct meetings in the Orient House. The Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed "dismay" at the statement noting that under the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, the PLO obligated itself not to establish Palestinian Authority offices in areas in which the PA has no authority, and to refrain from any foreign affairs activity there. As Jerusalem, in its entirety, is not within the areas of PA authority, the announcement by Husseini constitutes a flagrant violation of the agreements with Israel, said the Ministry statement. Palestinian sources said last week that they would no longer concede to Israeli demands that no diplomatic VIPs meet with PA representatives at the Orient House, because of "Israel's unilateral measures in Jerusalem at Har Homa and Ras el Amud... [and the] new situation of crisis between the Barak administration and the Palestinian leadership." The new Palestinian position appears to place Jerusalem, once again, in the center of the dispute between Israel and the PA. (arutzsheva.org Mar 3)

Cohen Slams Barak

A verbal attack against Prime Minister Barak by Labor Secretary-General MK Ra'anan Cohen has engendered a mini-storm within their party. Cohen told the Ma'ariv newspaper, in an interview published today, "I don't want to compare Ehud to Fidel Castro of Cuba, but I have a bad feeling when a person shakes off his natural surroundings and runs the nation with a handful of former military officers." He said that he had warned Barak before the elections against using non-profit organizations in his campaign, but that Barak prefers "round-about and winding tactics... He works like a general, and does not like anyone opposing him... The Labor party ministers have learned that anyone who wants to survive near Barak must shut up." He also attacked other Labor party government ministers and seniors. Sources close to Barak, as well as government ministers, had severe criticism of Cohen's attack. (arutzsheva.org Mar 3)

Sarid's New Literature Plan Includes Palestinian Nationalists

Education Minister Yossi Sarid announced last week that works by nationalist Palestinian writers will, for the first time, be included in the literature curriculum of public high schools. He said that his new program, which will also add works by writers and poets from development towns and new immigrants, "will reflect the multi-culturalism of Israeli society." The new plan has aroused a storm of controversy, as one of the new writers to be studied is Mahmoud Darwish, known for his poems expressing longing for the Palestinian homeland. He is an opponent of Arafat and the Oslo accords. Speaking with Arutz-7, writer Aharon Amir - who has translated several of Darwish's poems to Hebrew - was critical of the implications of such a move for Israeli literary education. "What most perturbs me," Amir said, "is the approach that literary works, which reflect fundamental societal values, can be treated like a city street. We are accustomed to the regular repair of roads, the occasional repair of sewage lines under the street, the erection of telephone poles. Literature, the soul of a culture, cannot be treated in the same fashion, and must not be the subject of political manipulations or the coalition needs of the moment... The central value [in our society] seems to be the sanctification of an idea, and we play with the school curriculum in response to the most popular idea. Now it is peace with the Arab world, specifically, Syria and the Palestinians. It cannot be like that... The mere fact that we are supposed to be making peace with the other side does not mean that we have to change fundamental values of the Hebrew culture." From a political perspective, Darwish's works are even more explosive. Amir recalled that he translated a Darwish poem from the beginning of the intifada: "The message of the poem is that the Israeli presence [in the Land of Israel] is temporary. We are mere wayfarers, he writes, and that even our graves will have to be removed from Israel. He was hailed in Arab countries throughout the world for the poem." In "My Mother," a poem that will be included in the curriculum, Darwish writes: "Give me back the star maps of my childhood so that I along with the swallows can chart the path back to your waiting nest." A review of "Bed of a Stranger," from November 1998, states that Darwish is talking about the failure to reach the goal of a Palestinian state, but that "Darwish's inner self keeps dreaming about the liberation of Palestine." (arutzsheva.org Mar 3)

Terrorists Killed in Shoot-out in Israeli-Arab Town

A building in Taibe was the scene of a shoot-out last Thursday between Israeli security forces and a Hamas terrorist cell, in which four terrorists were killed and another Hamas terrorist was taken prisoner. One Israeli special-unit officer was injured during the shoot-out. The security forces surrounded the building upon learning that newly-arrived residents of the house were planning a major terrorist attack and called on the terrorists to give themselves up, whereupon three terrorists came out - one brandishing a gun, and the others with suitcases full of explosives ready to be detonated. The Israelis opened fire, killing four terrorists, and capturing the third. The Hamas cell was planning to execute a mass terror attack in central Israel. Prime Minister Barak praised the units involved in the battle, and said that it was an outstanding achievement by the GSS and police. "A severe incident, whose aim was to attack Israeli citizens and sabotage the peace process, has been prevented," the Prime Minister said. MK Yisrael Katz (Likud) reacted by repeating his call for the outlawing of extremist Palestinian groups, specifically the Islamic Movement, that operate within Israel. Katz noted that the government did not do this after the bungled terror attacks in Haifa and Tiberias, and even in the face of ongoing anti-Israel incitement from Israeli-Arab mosques, and "as a result, now finds itself battling terrorists within Israel."

Voice of Palestine Radio called the terrorists who were killed "holy martyrs," and lavished praise on their actions. Likud MK Uzi Landau said that the PA is operating a "well-oiled machine" to encourage terror attacks against Israel. Likud sources demanded that the negotiations with the Palestinians not be resumed until Arafat destroys the Hamas infrastructures in the PA. "Barak has not even asked Arafat to do this," according to the Likud. Associated Press reported that PA official Ahmed Qureia, who serves as the speaker of the PA parliament, said in response to the battle that "if Israel does not turn over parts of the West Bank [of the Jordan River] that Palestinians believe they are entitled to under the interim peace accord, they will send their own police to take control of the territory." (arutzsheva.org Mar 2,3)

Arab Source: Syrian-Israeli Agreement Is Complete

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin admits that negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus continue - although the Prime Minister's Office denies recent newspaper reports that there has been phone contact. The office did not deny, however, reports in the same paper that Prime Minister Barak has agreed to waive Israel's demand to man the early-warning station atop Mt. Hermon. Beilin said today that the details of the talks will be publicized within a few days, at which time "everyone will see that Barak has succeeded in attaining concrete concessions from Assad." Freih Abu Medein, responsible for the Justice Portfolio in the Palestinian Authority, went even further. "The agreement between Syria and Israel is completely ready, and it remains only to be signed," he said. He added that his information is not based on rumors, but on facts from trustworthy sources. The Golan Residents Committee said that the reports must be taken seriously, as "they are a trial balloon released by Prime Minister Barak, who is attempting to gradually prepare Israeli public opinion for major concessions in the Golan." (arutzsheva.org Mar 2)

Yesha Protection

Yesha Council leaders met with Finance Minister Avraham Shochat last week, regarding planned budgetary cuts of up to 40% in settlement security measures. The Yesha representatives demand that Magen David Adom emergency health services be restored in those places where they were cut, and that the planned by-pass roads be paved. Knesset Audit Committee Chairman MK Uzi Landau (Likud), after hearing a report on the subject from Yossi Vardi, responsible for settlement affairs in the Defense Ministry, charged that the security establishment is exposing Yesha residents to ever-increasing risks. He said that the government may be deliberately trying to leave settlers vulnerable to danger, thus engendering support for the evacuation of the settlers from their homes. (A7 Mar 2)

Palestinian Nazi Imagery

The Palestinian Authority's press is jumping on the "liken Israeli leaders to Nazis" bandwagon. A cartoon in lasWednesday's edition of the official PA organ Al Hayat al-Jadida showed Ehud Barak waving a flag with a swastika inside a Jewish star, while Foreign Minister David Levy uses a pitchfork-like menorah to mortally wound a "dove of peace." (arutzsheva.org Mar 2)

Israel-Mexico Agreement

Two years of complex negotiations have been crowned with success with the announcement last week that Israel and Mexico will sign a Free Trade Agreement. The agreement will be signed before a Mexican-European Union free trade agreement comes into effect, which could adversely affect Israeli exports to Mexico. Industry and Trade Minister Ran Cohen expects that the agreement will increase bilateral trade by ten of millions of dollars annually, and that it will help Israeli exporters compete with goods entering Mexico from the United States and Canada (which are covered by NAFTA), and EU goods (which will be covered by the new agreement). The agreement will eliminate the import duty of 0.8% on 83% of Israeli exports to Mexico. Tariffs on all other products will be completely eliminated within five years. Exports to the fast-growing Mexican market amounted to $130 million in 1999, a 35% increase over 1998. (arutzsheva.org Mar 2)

Levy's Sharp Tone

Foreign Minister David Levy continued his recent sharp tone and statements, when he met last week in Jerusalem with the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson. Levy told his guest that the Palestinian Authority has recently released Hamas "activists" from their prisons and that "whenever there are misunderstandings between Israel and the PA, we hear about very dangerous Palestinian elements who have 'suddenly escaped' from Palestinian prisons..." Levy noted that incitement against Israel continues in Palestinian schools, while Israeli flags and pictures of Prime Minister Barak are burned during demonstrations in the territories. He said that the PA tried to damage the credibility of the Prime Minister with its delay in arriving at a framework agreement on the final-status negotiations that had been planned for mid-February. Earlier last week, Levy met with the President of the EU Commission, Romano Prodi, and explained Israel's position vis-a-vis Syria: "Syria is vacillating, taking one step forward and two steps backward, alongside the hateful incitement and abuse which leaves us doubtful as to Syria's true aims and intentions... This incitement is intended to weaken Israel, instead of strengthening the process... We have done our utmost, but what can we do when faced with a leader who is unyielding? A leader that does not provide answers to basic questions, such as his perception of peace, the demilitarization of the Golan, cooperation on the water issue, etc. The Syrian refusal to deal with these matters is unacceptable."

Minister Levy related to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shara's 'Phased Plan,' i.e., a January statement by A-Shara that "restoring Palestine in its entirety is a long-term strategic goal, that cannot be achieved in one stage... The first stage is the stage of restoring the occupied lands [of 1967] and of guaranteeing the national inalienable right of the Palestinian Arab people." Levy said that this statement leaves Israel thinking that "if this is the actual ideology, then it poses a danger to us..." (arutzsheva.org Mar 2)

Quote of the Week

[A treaty between Israel and Syria]... would not be in the interest of the United States. The U.S. government should not endorse such a treaty, and least of all should it support it financially... for three main reasons: I do not believe that the negotiations will bring about real peace; Assad does not keep his word; and a treaty would bolster a failing Assad regime.
- Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and the author of three books on Syria.

Commentary

Wait Assad out By Aaron Lerner

As more news comes in about Syrian President Hafez Assad's poor health, the Clinton and Barak administrations argue that Israel should scramble to complete a deal with Assad before his demise.

Golan withdrawal proponents maintain that while Assad's successor may not be willing or able to cut a deal with Israel, he would honor whatever agreement As sad bequeaths him.

The Israeli public overwhelmingly rejects this reasoning, with a Gallup poll of Israeli Jews this week finding only 21% of the public (30% of Barak voters) wanting to beat the Grim Reaper.

Israeli "deal now" proponents choose to ignore the very serious possibility that if Israel signs a treaty with Assad now it will be pressured, after his demise, to allow post-Assad Syria (PAS) to renege on the very security and other concessions that enabled Barak to agree to leave the Golan in the first place. To make matters worse, America can be expected to bolster the PAS regime to the detriment of the Jewish state.

While it is anyone's guess who will ultimately rule in the place of Syria's ruthless Alawite minority dictator, it is already abundantly clear that his authority and position will be challenged by both domestic and foreign rivals.

The PAS regime's rivals can be expected to highlight various elements of the Syria-Israel treaty as impinging on Syrian independence.

Consider how the regime will be criticized for permitting even the temporary operation of a ground station on sovereign Syrian soil.

Barak has stated that access to real-time surveillance of Syrian activity is crucial for the efficacy of any ex-Golan security arrangement. But even if one accepts the optimistic assertion that ground stations can ultimately be replaced by gizmos in space, even withdrawal proponents concede that years will pass before such an alternative would be operational.

Under those circumstances, with the "violation" of Syrian sovereignty threatening the stability of the PAS regime, it would be reasonable to expect America to counsel Israel to accept the premature replacement of ground station surveillance even at the sacrifice of what, a priori, would be considered bare minimum security requirements.

While accepting substandard monitoring information might be a temporary Israeli "sacrifice for peace," ex-post changes in Syrian force limitations would be permanent.

Withdrawal supporters assure us that any agreement will provide for restrictions on the deployment of Syrian forces near Israel's vulnerable post-Golan border. Yet Israel can be expected to be pressured to accept significantly increased PAS force deployments in the nearby Damascus area to protect the shaky regime against its enemies - both foreign and domestic.

America can be expected to enhance PAS's military capability, arguing that the additional weapons and training will both appease the potentially rebellious army and allow America to develop closer relations with the new generation of Syrian military leaders. As always, America will maintain that the additional weapons and training will not disturb the balance of power in the Middle East, based on a time-honored American logic: since transactions are only permitted if they do not disturb the balance, the fact that it is taking place is proof that it does not disturb the balance. (America claims it didn't disturb the balance when it completely modernized Egypt's army or sold the United Arab Emirates 60 F16 fighters this week featuring technology even the US Air Force doesn't have).

And that's not all.

The Israeli presence in Syria - diplomatic, commercial and otherwise - will be reduced to a bare minimum in order to placate PAS opposition forces.

In a repeat of the Oslo experience, Israel will be pressed to ignore Syrian noncompliance since requiring compliance would undermine an already weak PAS regime.

Additional PAS demands against the Jewish state will also be accepted by America as part of the PAS leadership's efforts to shore up their position in the Arab world.

Israel's options to respond would, in any case, be seriously limited.

Ha'aretz correspondent Amir Oren reported this week that senior Israeli defense officials believe that if Israel rejects a "fair offer" from Syria for a peace agreement, the American administration could severely limit the provision of weapons to the IDF, similar to Kissinger's 1975 reassessment of relations. With its Golan-less security based on the supply of offsetting American equipment, the ever-present threat of an American "reassessment" would certainly keep Israel on a short leash.

"Deal now" proponents argue that Israel would never be expected by America to jeopardize its security just to keep PAS stable, but they ignore the "salami" nature of the concessions Israel can be expected to make for the sake of PAS. As Israel's short history has shown, concessions that only recently were considered unthinkable can quickly become de rigueur.

Unfortunately the above is far from a worst-case scenario. After all, the only part of a "land-for-peace" deal signed today that is sure to survive Assad is Israel's withdrawal from the Golan. (Jerusalem Post Mar 8)


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