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Cablegate: Israel Media Reaction

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 TEL AVIV 006071

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA, NEA/IPA, NEA/PPD

WHITE HOUSE FOR PRESS OFFICE, SIT ROOM
NSC FOR NEA STAFF

JERUSALEM ALSO FOR ICD
LONDON ALSO FOR HKANONA AND POL
PARIS ALSO FOR POL
ROME FOR MFO
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: IS KMDR MEDIA REACTION REPORT
SUBJECT: ISRAEL MEDIA REACTION

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

1. Mideast

2. Syrian-Lebanese Track

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

All media led with last night's defeat of PM Sharon in
the Knesset vote on the 2005 state budget, which was
rejected 69-43. Eight Knesset members were absent.
Only Likud and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) voted in
favor of the bill. Immediately afterwards, Sharon
fired the five Shinui cabinet ministers. All media
reported on the expected negotiations with the Labor
Party and other parties (notably Shas and UTJ) toward a
national-unity government. Ha'aretz quoted senior
Likud members as saying that Sharon will be hard-
pressed to expand the government without Shas. At a
news conference this afternoon, Sharon hinted that
Labor would enter his government, and announced that
cabinet minister Tzipi Livni would become acting
justice minister.

Ha'aretz and Israel Radio quoted President Bush as
saying Wednesday in Halifax, Canada, that the way to
resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to promote
Palestinian democracy, not by pressuring the parties
regarding particular border routes or settlement sites.
"This approach has been tried before without success,"
said Bush, adding, "The Palestinian people deserve a
peaceful government that truly serves their interests,
and the Israeli people need a true partner in peace."

Israel Radio quoted Secretary of State Colin Powell as
saying that the decision announced Wednesday by Marwan
Barghouti to run as an independent candidate for PA
chairmanship may be "problematic." Leading media cited
criticism of Barghouti's move within Fatah.

The media reported that Israel and Egypt agreed
Wednesday on the deployment of 750 Egyptian troops
along the Gaza-Egypt border. Ha'aretz reported that
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and FM Ahmed
Abu el-Gheit proposed at high-level talks in Jerusalem
Wednesday that Israel pull out from the entire
"Philadelphi Route" and help bolster the new
Palestinian leadership's efforts to maintain calm by
refraining from assassination operations, demolishing
homes and entering cities in the territories. The
media quoted Sharon as saying that a withdrawal from
Philadelphi would only be possible if the arms
smuggling from Egypt stops. Leading media cited FM
Silvan Shalom's response: "Where there is no terror,
there will also be quiet, but a hudna [truce] is a time
bomb. We favor quiet, but that's not a solution,
merely postponing the inevitable." Leading media
reported that Egypt and Israel will exchange letters
about the redeployment in order to avoid amending the
peace treaty, which currently allows Egypt to deploy
only civilian police in the region. Ha'aretz quoted
Suleiman as saying the deployment could occur in
January. Israel Radio quoted Palestinian FM Nabil
Shaath as saying that, in talks with PLO Chairman
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Hamas's leaders have agreed
to a mutual truce with Israel, when it resumes its
negotiations with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem Post quoted Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as
saying Wednesday that Israel hopes that the new
Palestinian leadership to emerge from the January 9
elections will prove to be a true partner and ready to
embark on dialogue.

Ha'aretz quoted Israeli officials as saying that the
real reason for the cancellation of the visit of Deputy
U.S. National Security Advisor Steve Hadley to the
region was probably the absence of senior PA officials
from the region and the political crisis in Israel.
The officials were quoted as saying that the U.S. also
feared that an American embrace would hurt the new
Palestinian leadership. Ha'aretz reported that Elliott
Abrams, Special Assistant to the President and Senior
Director of the National Security Council for Near East
and North African Affairs, will make a private visit to
Israel this weekend, where he will also hold diplomatic
talks.

Ha'aretz (Akiva Eldar) reported that Palestinian PM
Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) wrote a letter two weeks ago to
the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) coordinating donor-
nation funding to the territories, in which he
expressed concern over the possibility that the AHLC
conference to be held next week in Oslo "may have the
effect of reinforcing Israel's unilateral acts and
further harm prospects for a viable solution to the
conflict by focusing on short-term needs in the Gaza
Strip without sufficient attention to the West Bank."

Leading media reported that Sharon and Shalom have
denied a report published in Maariv Wednesday that
Israel ignored Syrian President Bashar Assad's
readiness to come to Jerusalem and speak to the Knesset
as a first step toward renewing peace talks. The media
quoted Egyptian FM Ahmed Abu el-Gheit as saying
Wednesday that he did not bring any message from Syria
to Israel. Eytan Bentsur, who was Foreign Ministry D-G
between 1996 and 2000 and who represented Israel in
talks with Syrian officials a year and a half ago,
confirmed in various media that Assad had agreed to
come to Jerusalem. Maariv quoted senior Israeli
defense establishment sources as saying that Israel
should not turn a blind eye to Assad.
Leading media reported that FBI officials searched the
Washington offices of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Wednesday. Israel Radio
and Jerusalem Post's and Ha'aretz's web sites reported
that the FBI issued subpoenas to four senior AIPAC
officials requesting that they appear before a grand
jury, possibly in relation with the alleged leaking of
materials to Israel by Pentagon official Larry
Franklin. The FBI officials also seized computer files
from senior AIPAC employees Steve Rosen and Keith
Weissman. Yediot quoted GOI sources in Jerusalem as
saying that Israel does not spy in the U.S.

Israel Radio reported that Israel Police and the
Prisons Service are asking the GOI for 470 million
shekels (around USD 107 million) for carrying out the
evacuation of settlers in accordance with the
disengagement plan.

Ha'aretz reported that the World Bank wants to
condition increased international aid to the
Palestinians upon a series of measures to be taken by
Israel and the PA, according to a report it issued on
Wednesday, ahead of the conference of PA donor
countries in Norway next week. Israel Radio says that,
according to the World Bank report, Israel will allow
35,000 Palestinians to continue working in the country
for another four years.

Jerusalem Post notes that the members of the delegation
of U.S. Senators who ended their visit to Israel on
Wednesday have made upbeat declarations about peace
prospects in the Middle East.

Jerusalem Post reported that the UN Relief and Works
Agency (UNRWA) has defied orders by the Jerusalem
Municipality to stop illegal construction inside its
Jerusalem compound.

Ha'aretz and Jerusalem Post reported that Wednesday the
Knesset plenum narrowly rejected a law that would allow
the Israel Lands Administration to build communities
for Jews only.

Leading media reported that Tuesday Knesset Member
Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor Party-Meimad) created a
new social movement, "Tnufa" (Momentum), which he said
might run for the Knesset in the future.

Maariv reported that Saudi Arabia's King Saud
University has started offering Hebrew classes, which
are currently attended by 20 students. The teachers
are Hebrew speaking Jordanians and Egyptians. The
newspaper quoted a Saudi source as saying that it is
important to learn Hebrew in order to acquire first-
hand knowledge about the Jews.

Yediot cited a poll conducted in Germany by Bielefeld
University researchers, according to which over 52
percent of Germans believe that Israel's actions in the
territories are not different in principle than what
the Third Reich did to the Jews. Almost 70 percent of
Germans said that Israel is fighting a "war of
extermination" against the Palestinians. The results
of the survey will be published today in Berlin, at a
conference conducted by bodies fighting the far Right
in Germany.

------------
1. Mideast:
------------

Summary:
--------

Veteran journalist Yaron London wrote in the lead
editorial of mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot
Aharonot: "It seems that there has never been such a
wide gap between a majority of Israelis, which is
averse to this coalition, and the Knesset members who
have brought it about."

Diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn wrote in
independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz: "Israel needs a
strategic change in its attitude toward the UN."

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

I. "Toward an Unwelcome Government"

Veteran journalist Yaron London wrote in the lead
editorial of mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot
Aharonot (December 2): "A public opinion poll
[published Wednesday in Yediot Aharonot] found that a
huge majority [of Israelis] opposes the holding of
elections at this time, and that the three largest
parties [Likud, Labor and Shinui] together enjoy a
sweeping majority among voters. It apparently is no
coincidence that the percentage of support for those
parties is similar to that of Israelis who support a
disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The clear inference
of this is that a government formed by the three large
parties might relieve Israeli politics from its
predicament.... Very unfortunately, the establishment
of such a government is not possible, since Sharon
can't manage to subdue the branch of his party that
opposes an exaggerated veering of the government to the
left. In order to assuage that branch's hostility to
the Labor Party, Sharon has sacrificed Shinui, and
bought the support of United Torah Judaism; in order to
stabilize his government, he intends to invite Shas, an
opponent of disengagement.... It seems that there has
never been such a wide gap between a majority of
Israelis, which is averse to this coalition, and the
Knesset members who have brought it about."

II. "Edging Back Toward the UN"

Diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn wrote in
independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (December 2):
"Reading the United Nations resolutions on the Middle
East is a difficult experience for Israel.... [Yet,]
Israel has chalked up a few points at the General
Assembly this year. For the first time the resolutions
state that they are 'gravely concerned' about 'suicide
terror attacks against Israelis,' without mentioning
their Palestinian perpetrators, and condemn anti-
Semitism. At the Foreign Ministry they are proud of
the achievement. But in diplomacy there are no free
lunches, and in return for a certain softening of the
criticism of Israel's behavior in the territories --
the 'military actions' instead of the 'military
attacks,' for example -- the condemnation of the Jewish
settlements in the territories has become more
severe.... A tactic of dealing with clauses and
formulations is not enough. Israel needs a strategic
change in its attitude toward the UN. Is it perhaps
worth accepting the applicability of the Geneva
Conventions to the territories, instead of opposing
this and being subjected to repeated condemnations?....
A government that has dared to initiate an evacuation
of settlements is able also to reexamine its attitude
toward the international community. And just as the
disengagement plan has improved Israel's international
standing, it can also enjoy the fruit of a bolder
diplomacy."


--------------------------
2. Syrian-Lebanese Track:
--------------------------

Summary:
--------
Middle East affairs commentator Guy Bechor, a lecturer
at the Interdisciplinary Center, wrote in Yediot
Aharonot: "If [Bashar Assad] means a frozen peace
devoid of legitimacy and bordering on hostility, as we
have with Egypt, perhaps it is preferable for Israel to
have the present situation, both stability and
territory, remain in place."
Block Quotes:
-------------

"Bashar's Photo-Op"

Middle East affairs commentator Guy Bechor, a lecturer
at the Interdisciplinary Center, wrote in Yediot
Aharonot (December 2): "The urgency that has now come
over Assad stems from the fact that George Bush was re-
elected to the U.S. presidency, contrary to the hopes
of the Syrian President. Washington may therefore
remember Syria's membership in the 'axis of evil' and
acting accordingly.... Perhaps Syria thinks that Israel
is like Lebanon, with which it made a 'fraternity and
friendship agreement' and in practice subjugated it to
its authority.... If Israel understands that Bashar
Assad is only interested in using it and being saved,
without paying anything in return, he should be
reminded of his father's favorite rule: there are no
free lunches. Syria continues to act as a lawbreaking
state, and therefore its regime has no legitimacy....
After four years of Intifada, burning Arab hatred
unparalleled in the past, and deception, Israel has
matured. It no longer automatically buys into the
peace mumblings of Arab dictators, who do so at its
expense solely for their own benefit. Irrespective of
... three conditions that should be posed to Bashar
[regarding the removal of Palestinian terror groups
from Syria, the disarming of Hizbullah, and the removal
of the Syrian troops from Lebanon], let the Syrian
president be kind enough to make it clear in his own
words what he means by 'peace' with Israel. If he
means a frozen peace devoid of legitimacy and bordering
on hostility, as we have with Egypt, perhaps it is
preferable for Israel to have the present situation,
both stability and territory, remain in place."

CRETZ

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