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Cablegate: Special Israel Media Reaction

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UNCLAS TEL AVIV 001038

STATE FOR NEA, NEA/IPA, NEA/PPD

WHITE HOUSE FOR PRESS OFFICE, SIT ROOM
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SECDEF WASHDC FOR USDP/ASD-PA/ASD-ISA
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COMSIXTHFLT FOR 019

JERUSALEM ALSO ICD
LONDON ALSO FOR HKANONA AND POL
PARIS ALSO FOR POL
ROME FOR MFO

SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR IS

SUBJECT: SPECIAL ISRAEL MEDIA REACTION


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SUBJECTS COVERED IN THIS REPORT:
--------------------------------

Visit of President Bush to Israel, May 14-16, 2008

-------------------------
Key stories in the media:
-------------------------

All media extensively reported on President Bush's warm welcome to
Israel, his meetings with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert, and his warm speech to the President's Conference in
Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Post noted that "President Bush and
President Peres share an unflagging optimism about the prospects for
peace between Israel and the Palestinians." Peres said last night
at the "Facing Tomorrow" presidential conference in Jerusalem:
"Without the support of your people and without your support and
that of the American presidents before you, attaining [independence]
would have been an extremely difficult task. You encouraged us when
we were alone to establish a real democracy, to develop a modern
economy. We built an army that sought victory and a people that
sought peace." Peres was also quoted as saying that history would
look kindly upon Bush's policies in the region: "It will be heard
when history depicts your courage and decisiveness while addressing
challenges that faced the U.S.A. and in fact the entire world"
Peres added: "You taught the world that it is possible to be
powerful without being power hungry. For us, this is a thanksgiving
party to a tremendous nation, for the leadership of President George
Walker Bush -- never short of faith, never postponing a choice,
always in the service of the great American tradition." This
morning, the President and First Lady Laura Bush visited Masada.
The media reported that yesterday the First Lady toured Jerusalem,
visiting a baby clinic and a mixed Jewish-Arab school, and walking
through the Western Wall Tunnels.

Ha'aretz reported that speaking alongside President Bush yesterday,
President Peres yesterday Peres talked about "very extremist groups"
to counter moderate regimes in the Middle East, singling out
Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. President Bush vowed
continued American support for Israel: "The objective of the United
States must be, on the one hand, to support our strongest ally and
friend in the Middle East, against the forces of terror you've just
described, while at the same time to talk about a hopeful future."
Ha'aretz quoted Bush as saying afterward during a closed working
meeting between the American and Israeli teams that there is no
difference between Hamas, Hizbullah, and Al-Qaida. Ha'aretz quoted
Bush as saying at the closed meeting that Bashar Assad will have to
decide where he is headed but reported that he expressed doubt that
the Syrian president will decide to break with Iran. He warned that
progress will be impossible unless the Syrians change tack.

The Jerusalem Post reported that PM Olmert is interested in drawing
up an agreement with the Palestinians that will include
understandings on borders, refugees, and security arrangements, but
that will leave Jerusalem for a later date and another framework.
The newspaper said that Olmert alluded to this proposed new
framework for the first time during a press briefing after meeting
President Bush.

All media led with a strike on an Ashkelon mall yesterday by a
long-range Grad rocket injuring around 90 people, four of them
seriously, including a toddler and her mother. Media reported that
Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) --
according to Israel Radio, the PFLP-General Command and a PRC
faction did so, while Islamic Jihad and Hamas praised the strike --
claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as President Bush
was meeting with PM Olmert. Ha'aretz only cited the claim by the
PFLP-General Command, saying that it is the first time a
Syrian-backed group claims responsibility for such an attack.

Olmert told participants at the "Facing Tomorrow" conference
yesterday that the attack was "intolerable and unacceptable," and
that Israel's government was committed to stopping the rocket
attacks from Gaza. Maariv reported that Olmert and Defense Minister
Ehud Barak are weighing carrying out a large-scale military
operation in Gaza. Ha'aretz reported that at this stage, it seems
that there will not be a broad response and that the IDF will settle
for pinpoint attacks on Gaza. Nevertheless, Ha'aretz quoted a
senior defense source as saying yesterday that "Israel is on a
collision course with Hamas in Gaza that is reaching its
conclusion." Israel Radio quoted Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit
(Kadima) as saying in an interview with the East Jerusalem daily
Al-Quds that, were he prime minister, he would have done away with
Hamas. Ha'aretz reported that IDF Intelligence head Maj. Gen. Amos
Yadlin told the newspaper that even Beersheva may come within range
of the Hamas rockets. Major media reported that the contacts over a
temporary cease-fire in Gaza are expected to continue. Ha'aretz
quoted a senior government official in Jerusalem as saying yesterday
that Israel is interested in reaching a situation where once it
decides on a broad operation in Gaza, it will receive broad
international support. "Any operation in Gaza will lead to the
freezing of negotiations, and we want to make sure we will not be
viewed as guilty [for the freeze]," the official was quoted as
saying. Ha'aretz reported that Olmert updated Bush on the Egyptian
talks, and that Barak met yesterday with Secretary Rice, and even
invited her to visit Ashkelon and Sderot to view the situation from
up close and to see how the people in the area live. Ha'aretz also
spoke to Rice about the situation in the West Bank. He said Israel
plans to further ease restrictions on the Palestinian population
there shortly, particularly in the northern West Bank.

The Jerusalem Post quoted a senior Israeli official as saying
yesterday that a cease-fire that does not include the prevention of
the transfer of weapons to Gaza will be a "major strategic victory"
for Hamas and that it will only serve to strengthen its rule there
at the expense of the Fatah-led government in the West Bank. Israel
Radio reported that Hamas officials denied that the group was
smuggling weapons and that this was the sole work of "merchants."

Major media reported that the Palestinians -- both under the PA and
Hamas -- are planning to mark the 60th anniversary of their Nakba
("catastrophe") today by staging a series of marches and strikes
throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel recently rejected a request
by the U.S. security coordinator to the region Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton
to allow Palestinian security forces to receive personal armor kits,
night-vision goggles, and electronic communication systems that the
PA planned to use to set up a military communications network. The
newspaper quoted senior defense officials as saying yesterday that
Dayton made the request on behalf of the PA several weeks ago and
that it was immediately rejected, since some of the items had the
potential to "break the balance" between the IDF and the PA security
forces. The Post also reported that Israel is considering
transferring security control over Tulkarm, Qalqilya, and Hebron to
the PA if a program being tested in Jenin is successful. Quartet
envoy Tony Blair revealed the Jenin test project during a press
conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Leading media reported that Olmert's former attorney and associate
Uri Messer, who is alleged to have informed on the PM's dealings in
an alleged bribery case, might become either state witness or a
witness for the prosecution against Olmert.

Ha'aretz and Israel Radio reported that right-wing groups have
announced they would build a new neighborhood at the location of the
Shdema army base south of Har Homa in East Jerusalem. The groups
were quoted as saying that have learned that the Defense Ministry
was poised to accede to Palestinian requests to build a children's
hospital there.

---------------------------------
Visit of President Bush to Israel, May 14-16, 2008:
---------------------------------

Summary:
--------

Columnist Calev Ben-David wrote in the conservative, independent
Jerusalem Post: "Simply talking about serious subjects doesn't
necessarily qualify as substance; if it did, all of Israel's
problems, and many of those of the rest of the world as well, would
have been solved at the 'Facing Tomorrow' event."

The independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized: "When he
landed yesterday on Israeli soil, Bush declared that the 'Israelis
are our close friends.' A close friend of the Israelis is not
permitted to stand on the sidelines while their government is
playing with matches next to a barrel of explosives."

Military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote on page one of the
mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot: "In the Second Lebanon
War the Israeli government forgot to declare war. In the current
war of attrition with Gaza, it has already forgotten what it means
to fight.."

Diplomatic correspondent Ben Caspit wrote in the popular, pluralist
Maariv: "'Tomorrow' is the great, real love of Shimon Peres....
[But] the make-believe games are over. Sometime, someone will have
to do the job [of invading Gaza.]."

Block Quotes:
-------------

I. "Bush, PM Defy Reality to Put Best Face on Tomorrow"

Columnist Calev Ben-David wrote in the conservative, independent
Jerusalem Post (5/15): "The real policy of the day was supposedly
being elsewhere [than at the President's Conference], in the private
meetings between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But whether
those policy discussions actually had more substance than the
high-level musings as the 'Facing Tomorrow' event -- or more
accurately perhaps, relevance to actual developments now unfolding
on the ground -- is questionable.... Simply talking about serious
subjects doesn't necessarily qualify as substance; if it did, all of
Israel's problems, and many of those of the rest of the world as
well, would have been solved at the 'Facing Tomorrow' event."

II. "Jerusalem Is Waiting for Bush"

The independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized (5/15): "As a
gesture to Israel on the 60th anniversary of the state, U.S.
President George W. Bush is visiting Jerusalem, Israel's capital,
for the second time in four months. The welcome prepared for him by
Hamas -- a major attack on a mall in Ashkelon -- illustrates perhaps
better than anything else the urgency of reaching an agreement that
will check the extremist forces in the region. Therefore it is
essential to prevent any attempt to create areas of friction that
hinder the diplomatic process. One of those areas is East
Jerusalem, and primarily the Old City and its environs.... However,
initiatives by nationalist Jewish groups to take control of lands
and assets in the Old City and the neighborhoods of the 'holy basin'
are continually being exposed.... The creeping annexation of parts
of the Arab neighborhoods will turn a political conflict into a
religious struggle, which will prevent any diplomatic solution. It
will also arouse the entire Arab and Muslim world against Israel.
The United States, Israel's greatest friend and the broker of the
two-state vision, will not emerge clean either. When he landed
yesterday on Israeli soil, Bush declared that the 'Israelis are our
close friends.' A close friend of the Israelis is not permitted to
stand on the sidelines while their government is playing with
matches next to a barrel of explosives."

III. "They Have Forgotten What it is to Fight"

Military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote on page one of the
mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (5/15): "In the Second
Lebanon War the Israeli government forgot to declare war. In the
current war of attrition with Gaza, it has already forgotten what it
means to fight. It has forgotten that it has a central, overriding
purpose -- to protect the security of the residents of the state,
not to try to conciliate the Americans, the Egyptians, and the
Europeans.... The Palestinians are really out of order. They do not
understand that Israel's policy of appeasement was born in the
framework of a brain-storming session, in the framework of a
brilliant political exercise which was to have led the Middle East
to a better future. They see the appeasement as weakness, and they
are behaving accordingly.... The political leadership of Hamas,
unlike the military leadership, reads the mood of the population in
the Gaza Strip. They themselves know that continuation of the siege
and the military pressures will turn the Palestinian public against
them and they will have to find other solutions in order to survive.
They are firing rockets at us today so that we will agree to a
tahdiya [truce] on their terms. They will not be able to cope with
prolonged military pressure. In such a situation they will request a
tahdiya on conditions favorable to Israel, including Gilad Shalit's
release. The Egyptians too will understand in the long run that such
a consistent policy will bring a cease-fire closer."

IV. "'Tomorrow' and Today"

Diplomatic correspondent Ben Caspit wrote in the popular, pluralist
Maariv (5/15): "Millions of light years separated yesterday between
the 'Facing Tomorrow' conference in Jerusalem and the events of
'today' in Ashkelon. Israel is a crazy place. By any standard.
But the gap that was created yesterday between the two extremes of
the manic-depressive Israeli reality was monstrous even in our
terms. The luxurious International Convention Center in Jerusalem,
versus the bombed mall building in Ashkelon.... 'Tomorrow' is the
great, real love of Shimon Peres. He is already there. The tragedy
is that we are still stuck here, in today, which for Peres, is
actually yesterday. Religious fanaticism, terror overcoming the
fences, demonstrations that were held yesterday throughout the
territories to mark the Nakba, Lebanon is falling, Iran is galloping
towards nuclear capability, but Peres sticks to his guns.... Until
now, [IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi] Ashkenazi spoke out in every
discussion, clearly and firmly, against an operation in Gaza.
Recently, he has stopped doing so. This did not prevent the IDF
Spokesperson's Office from denying the report, in one-on-one talks
with reporters. It wanted to deny it publicly, but the Grad rocket
on Ashkelon spoiled its plans. Ashkenazi will soon understand, as
will his spokesman, that one cannot have the Gazan cake and eat it
too. The make-believe games are over. Sometime, someone will have
to do the job."

JONES

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