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Daily Briefing: Sol Salbe's Middle East Roundup

Sol Salbe's Middle East Roundup – 27 Sept. 2006

The Daily Briefing & Middle East News Service

[Introduction by The Daily Briefings’ Wayne Sanderson

Sol Salbe has been unwell this week, which is why his regular round-up did not appear yesterday, but the wonders of Western medicine seems to have him on the road to recovery (please). But, do look for the Middle East Round-up on Tuesdays. With Jews and Muslims feasting between fasts right throughout the Middle East, Sol has picked some choice morsels from the Israeli media. He says that whatever you do checkout the final link – it is not what you may expect!]

Middle East round-up

Things are quiet in the Middle East. Open any of this morning’s Australian broadsheets and the coverage of Israel, Palestine and Lebanon is minimal.

There are good reasons for this situation. The Muslim world and that includes the majority of Lebanese and an even higher proportion of Palestinians has just started its celebration of the holy month of Ramadan. The biggest news there concerns the nightly television series especially created for the occasion. [The way the Israeli media’s Arab affairs commenttors describe it, the entire annual ratings period is condensed into one month.] For their part Israelis have nearly a month of holidays on and off starting with the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) holidays last weekend.

So the Israeli media have had plenty of historical features, current news stories were not as prominent. Even the putative meeting of Prime Minster Olmert with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did not generate much excitement when it was reported in the country’s largest circulating newspaper Yediot Acharonot last Friday.

Some of this was a matter of timing. The biggest thing to have happened in the Middle East was the Hezbollah rally in Beirut on Friday 22 September. It was huge. Hebrew media estimates ranged mainly around the 800,000 - one million mark. [The Sydney Morning Herald reported 500,000 but for some reason that detail was omitted from the identical report in the Age.]

The size was significant – whatever other consequences the war has had, support for Hezbollah has not waned. (There are only four million people in Lebanon.) The opposite may well be the case. But what the media wanted to talk about was the appearance of Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Speculation about his appearance was ripe right up to the last minute as Israel has indicated that it would use the first available opportunity to assassinate him. [Israel killed the previous Hezbollah leader, so nobody thought it was bluffing.] But Nasrallah did turn up and gave his predictable speech with the only newsworthy (and new) item being his claim that Hezbollah has already recouped its losses and it has 20,000 rockets ready to launch again at Israel.

The question has been asked as to why Israel didn’t try to kill him or more likely disrupt the rally with sonic booms etc? Such a disruption/mass killing (there were literally thousands of people on the platform) would have been seen as a clear violation of the ceasefire, Hezbollah would have gone back to firing rockets at Israeli towns villages and even Israelis, let along the rest of the world would have blamed their government.

Speculation of a different reason came from Debka file. This Israeli news service (which has English web site as well) has close links with Israeli intelligence. Occasionally it comes up with real gems but for each one of these it has dropped several clangers. Debka reported that French warplanes based on the nuclear powered aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle were scrambled over Lebanon to prevent Israeli incursions and that these warplanes patrolled over other Lebanese cities and the Bekaa valley where the rally was being beamed by satellite to giant screens. This story is unlikely to be true – it did not appear in the English language version and therefore may be used for local consumption only. But one can never rule anything absolutely out in the Middle East.

Observant Jews spent the New Year in synagogues. Many other Israelis took the time to travel. The North of the country is a traditional popular destination. This time checking out the war damage seemed to have provided an extra attraction although numbers were down on estimates. There was also a tendency to take day trips rather than stay overnight. Of course they could have visited the million Israelis who during the war stayed with them when they fled south. Except that the report of a massive evacuation of the north during the war turned out to have more myth than fact, if a survey by Haaretz is to be believed.

“A survey showed that 86 percent of residents in the north stayed in their homes throughout most of the war this past summer, according to a survey by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. Eight-five percent of men surveyed never left their home during the war, while an additional 9 percent left for a few days, despite the war-time perception that most residents had fled south.

“Some 66 percent of women never left their towns during the war, while an additional 13 percent only left for a short period of time. The survey also revealed that about 90 percent of Arabs remained in their homes, compared to 66 percent of Jews. Differences among income levels also appeared in the survey, which indicated that 77 percent of low-income earners stayed in their towns, while 60 percent of those with high incomes stayed behind.

“In areas where residents were told to stay in underground shelters, 63 percent remained, while 79 percent of residents who were urged to find protective spaces stayed in their homes.”

Palestinian Government

Other stories remain on the boil. The on again, off again formation of a mew Palestinian government keeps in hovering in the background. It is difficult to make head or tails out of it. Sticking my neck out I would venture to say that there’s probably a serious negotiations process going on and some of the more dramatic events (such as the occasional breakdowns) are there to convince each side’s backers that they are getting the best deal. As the old cliché goes, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Whatever happens, ordinary Israelis are not buying their government’s line of no negotiation with Hamas.. According to this morning’s Haaretz a whole 67 per cent of them favour negotiating with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. In fact 56 per cent favour negotiations even with the current Hamas government.

One thing for sure it is better to check the original surveying institutions than read second-hand reports in the media. I refer to this paragraph in another Haaretz report: “PA poll: 67% say no need to recognize Israel”

“A poll conducted in the territories over the weekend found that 67 percent of Palestinians think that Hamas does not need to recognize the State of Israel, while 30 percent think that it does.”

The actual Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) survey asked a different question. From the media release: “Moreover, a majority (67%) does not think that Hamas should accept the demand of the donor community to recognize Israel and only 30% believe it should.” The question is not whether Hamas should recognise Israel but whether it should succumb to donor pressure to do so, which is a totally different proposition. By way of an analogy one may favour the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq but still answer with an emphatic “no” to the question “should Australia reduce its risk from international terrorism by withdrawing from Iraq?”

Tied in to the new government are the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit. Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) has demanded the release of Fatah Leader Marwan Barghouti as part of the exchange. Olmert is highly unlikely to do so.

There have been some other very worthwhile articles worth reading in the Israeli media over the week. The best one of these was penned by Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs correspondent Danny Rubinstein. His final paragraph will give an idea why the paper called it “Why recognise Israel?”

“When the Israelis build large new neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (Har Homa and Reches Shlomo), expand the neighborhoods and settlements in the Muslim part of the Old City, in Silwan, Ras al-Amud and Sheikh Jarrah, expel Arabs from the city and surround them with tens of thousands of Jewish settlers in a tight belt from Upper Beitar in the south, via Ma'ale Adumim in the east and Givat Ze'ev in the north - this conveys a clear message: There is no chance that the capital of the Palestinian state will be established anywhere in Jerusalem. If you add to this the growth of settlements in Samaria, Ariel, the suburbs of Ramallah, in an expanded Gush Etzion and Mount Hebron, the Israeli message becomes unequivocal: You Palestinians have no chance. You recognized Israel and what you received in return was the liquidation of your national hopes. So why should Hamas repeat the same recognition whose results we have already seen?”

Finally a real treat. Check this link out: ( You probably need broadband and even then it is interminably slow in loading but you won’t regret it. A quick glossary (just in case) Shana Tova (Hebrew) - Happy New Year, Ya’ani (Arabic also colloquial Heb) – In other words/Meaning and Inshallah (A) – God willing.

- Sol Salbe/The Daily Briefing


[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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