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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 07 TEL AVIV 006368

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:
--------------------------------

Mideast

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

Jerusalem Post quoted British diplomatic officials as
saying that PM Sharon has "softened" his opposition to
a British-sponsored international conference on the
Middle East after hearing more about the proposed
British agenda. The newspaper quoted one British
official as saying that Nigel Sheinwald, British PM
Tony Blair's primary foreign policy adviser, made clear
to Sharon during a two-day visit that ended Tuesday
that the British have no intention of using the planned
conference to leapfrog over phase one of the road map.

All media quoted PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)
as saying in an interview published Tuesday in the
London-based newspaper Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat that the use
of weapons in the second Intifada was a mistake and
that it should end (banner in Ha'aretz). Israel Radio
quoted White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan as
saying Tuesday that the U.S. welcomes "steps aimed at
fighting terrorism."

Israel TV and Israel Radio quoted Israeli diplomats as
saying that the work of the Israeli Embassy in
Washington -- at echelons lower that the top level --
has been affected by the FBI investigation of the pro-
Israel lobby AIPAC on suspicion that it transferred
secret information about Iran to Israel.

SIPDIS

All media reported on the signing of the U.S.-brokered
Israeli-Egyptian free trade agreement in Cairo on
Tuesday. Ha'aretz cited a statement issued by FM
Shalom as saying that the agreement will increase trade
and that Israel "hopes the movement of goods and
entrepreneurs will lead to warmer relations will lead
to warmer relations between the peoples, giving
expression to the fruits of peace." Jerusalem Post
reported that USTR Robert Zoellick called the accord,
which requires ratification by the U.S. Congress, the
"most important agreement between Israel and Egypt in
20 years," and quoted him as saying it sent a strong
signal across the entire Middle East. Yediot quoted
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as saying, at a
meeting with Trade, Industry and Employment Minister
Ehud Olmert, that Sharon is a "reliable person" and a
"strong man."

Yediot reported that fearing the digging of further
explosive tunnels in the Gaza Strip, the IDF's Southern
Command is bracing for the evacuation of some outposts
before the withdrawal that is supposed to take place
next summer.

All media reported that a female Thai agricultural
worker was killed Tuesday in a mortar attack in the
greenhouses of the Gaza Strip settlement of Ganei Tal.
Israel Radio reported that Thailand's Employment
Minister will arrive in Israel on Thursday to try to
convince Thais employed in Israel to come back home.
Israel Radio reported that this morning a Qassam rocket
was fired at the settlement, and that afterwards heavy
exchanges of fire took place in the area.

Saying that the Labor Party insists on getting key
ministerial portfolios in the next government, the
media continued to cover the continued stalemate in
Likud-Labor coalition negotiations, and Likud's talks
with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Ha'aretz cited the state's response to a High Court
petition by residents of Nirit, a community inside the
Green Line, which asks the court to rule that a suburb
of the settlement of Alfei Menashe, across the Green
Line from Nirit yet due to share Nirit's
infrastructure, is illegal, and to rule a halt to the
construction. The state responded Tuesday that the
government decision adopting the road map that
obligates Israel "to freeze all settlement activity,
including natural growth," has no operative legal
standing.

Israel Radio cited the London-based newspaper Al-Quds
Al-Arabi as saying that current PLO representative at
the UN Nasser al-Qidwa could replace Nabil Shaath as
foreign minister of the PA, among other changes in the
PA cabinet's' make-up.

Ha'aretz says that Sharon is expected to tell the
Herzliya Conference Thursday that his disengagement
plan will present the Palestinians with an opportunity
to take responsibility for their own fate, and that it
could become the basis for a expansive diplomatic
process in the Middle East. Leading media reported
that Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the
conference Tuesday that there will be no peace without
democratization of the PA.

Israel Radio quoted Foreign Ministry D-G Ron Prosor as
saying today at the Herzliya Conference that Israel
should seriously consider Syria's negotiating
proposals.

Leading media reported that Tuesday Defense Minister
Shaul Mofaz ordered the closure of the Rafah border
crossing until further notice, following Sunday's
attack on an IDF outpost there.

Jerusalem Post cited denials by Cristina Gallach,
spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief policy chief
Javier Solana, and by State Department Spokesman
Richard Boucher, of claims made by Hamas's political
leader Khaled Mashal on Monday that his organization
has held contacts with the EU and U.S. Jerusalem Post
reported that fearing an Israeli reprisal attack, Hamas
has decided to cancel a major rally marking the 17th
anniversary of its founding, which was supposed to be
held in one of Gaza City's stadiums on Friday.
Ha'aretz quoted Fathi Hamad, a member of the Sura
Council, the supreme Hamas religious body in Gaza
responsible for the organization's communications
system in Gaza, as saying two months ago that a growing
rift between Hamas and Islamic Jihad has led to a break
in cooperation between the two groups, and that it is
threatening to lead to an all-out clash between them.
Ha'aretz says that Hamad had been speaking to a group
of the organization's Communications Councils, whose
job is to promote Hamas in the Palestinian, Arab and
international press.

Jerusalem Post reported that the Foreign Ministry is
putting together a new diplomatic initiative aimed at
finding a permanent solution to the issue of the
Palestinian refugees in the territories and in
neighboring countries. Israel reportedly intends to
ask countries that financially support the PA to invest
capital in finding permanent housing solutions for
Palestinians living in the refugee camps in the Gaza
Strip, West Bank, Syria, and Lebanon

Jerusalem Post reported that the Association of Civil
Rights in Israel and the Jerusalem Center for Human
Rights asked the High Court of Justice on Tuesday to
stop the army from beginning construction of the
security fence near three Palestinian villages, even
though it has already changed its original route for
the benefit of the villagers. The petition dealt with
the section of the fence around Dir Balut and Rafat,
east of Rosh Ha'ayin. The Internet news service
NanaNews reported that seven left wing activists,
including four Israelis and three foreign nationals,
were arrested on Tuesday morning during a demonstration
against the separation fence in the village of Bilain,
near Modiin. The seven were arrested after the IDF
declared the area a closed military zone.

Ha'aretz, Yediot and Jerusalem Post reported that
Tuesday the Knesset's Finance Committee approved the
transfer of 2 million shekels (around USD 460,000) in
state funds for developing tourism in the territories,
as part of a planned transfer of 4 million shekels for
tourism projects in the territories. The projects
include the building of a new entranceway to the Gush
Katif settlement bloc, which is slated for evacuation
within a year.

All media reported that the police might have found
connections between several deaths and disappearances
in northern Israel, including the vanishing of AmCit
Dana Bennet in the summer of 2003.
Ha'aretz reported that the Palestinian candidates in
the PA elections are decrying IDF obstructions to their
freedom of movement.

Hatzofe reported that about 50 religious leaders from
various communities and faiths in Israel will gather in
Haifa today and issue a joint call to act against
violence and incitement and in favor of peace.

Yair Reinman, secretary-general of the National
Religious Party-affiliated Religious Kibbutz Movement,
was quoted as saying in an interview with Jerusalem
Post that the religious Zionists' single-minded push to
settle beyond the Green Line had been a tragedy.

Jerusalem Post reported that Presbyterians Concerned
for Christian-Jewish Relations, a Presbyterian group,
is mounting a campaign to reverse the Presbyterian
Church USA's policy of divesting from companies that do
business with Israel.

Ha'aretz and Yediot Tuesday reported that UN Secretary-
General Kofi Annan has begun to poll UNGA members in an
effort to convene a special commemorative session to
mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi
concentration camps.

Prof. Phillip Zelikow, executive director of the
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the
United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission, was
quoted as saying in an interview with Jerusalem Post:
"Threat fatigue dulls the senses to information of
novel intelligence." Zelikow, who is attending the
Herzliya Conference, was also quoted as saying that
Israel has the most to teach about intelligence.

Yediot reported that the national airline El Al will be
effectively privatized on Sunday.

Erratum: An item in Tuesday's review should have read:
"Maariv cited research conducted by an organization
aiding new immigrants, according to which the Israeli
economy gains USD 200,000 from each immigrant from
North America."


--------
Mideast:
--------

Summary:
--------

Arab affairs commentator Danny Rubinstein wrote in left-
leaning, independent Ha'aretz: "Lately ... there
appears to be a change in public opinion in both the
West Bank and Gaza, and Abbas can now make such a
statement [against the use of weapons in the Intifada]
without causing an uproar or provoking public
opposition."

Foreign News Editor Arik Bachar wrote in popular,
pluralist Maariv: "At this time the West is not
interested in weakening Israel, but actually in
strengthening her."

Nationalist writer Emuna Elon opined in mass-
circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot: "What is
important now is to take advantage of Arafat's passing
in order to offer a concrete solution to the refugee
problem."

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

I. "Confident Abbas Can Afford to Be Anti-Weapons"

Arab affairs commentator Danny Rubinstein wrote in left-
leaning, independent Ha'aretz (December 15): "Mahmoud
Abbas is a confident man, certain of a landslide
victory on January 9 in the Palestinian Authority's
presidential elections. That is the conclusion that
can be drawn from the clear statement he made in his
interview with Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat against the use of
weapons in the Intifada. Abbas's position was long
known, and one that was repeated. But this is the
first time he has said so publicly after the death of
Yasser Arafat. Abbas's stand against what he calls the
'military Intifada' caused him much damage in the past,
as Palestinian public opinion largely supported attacks
against Israel and condemned Abbas. Lately, however,
there appears to be a change in public opinion in both
the West Bank and Gaza, and Abbas can now make such a
statement without causing an uproar or provoking public
opposition. His confidence in his victory is the
result of several elements, including Marwan
Barghouti's dropping out of the race, which resulted in
complete unity in Fatah behind Abbas.... Abbas also
feels good about his ability to reach an agreement with
Hamas.... Abbas also feels good about his ability to
reach an agreement with Hamas."

II. "The World Actually Supports Israel"

Foreign News Editor Arik Bachar wrote in popular,
pluralist Maariv (December 15): "Without much fanfare,
the connection between Israel and the NATO alliance --
the strongest military body since the Roman Empire --
is tightening. During 2005, we'll most certainly see
IDF troops take part in one of the central arenas of
the battle against international terrorism.... [Also,]
the tightening of ties between Israel and very powerful
regional bodies, such as the EU and NATO, raises a
range of possibilities. At this time the West is not
interested in weakening Israel, but actually in
strengthening her.... It is clear that the destruction
of Israel's power would encourage fundamentalist
terrorism, which has long turned from Israel's private
problem into the key threat to international
stability."

III. "Refugees Now"

Nationalist writer Emuna Elon opined in mass-
circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (December 15):
"More and more Israelis are finally beginning to
understand that the refugee camps will not disappear of
their own accord, the aspiration of the camp residents
to return to their lands inside Israel will not
dissipate over time, and the terror issuing from the
camps will not stop as long as the aspiration to return
is alive and kicking. Still, only few people place the
issue of Palestinian refugees in its proper place, high
on the national agenda. Therefore, Foreign Minister
Silvan Shalom should be praised for the courageous
speech he intends to give today on this topic at the
Herzliya Conference.... What is important now is to
take advantage of Arafat's passing in order to offer a
concrete solution to the refugee problem. It is
important to mobilize the international community to
invest billions in rehabilitating the refugees, it is
imperative to require Syria and Lebanon to absorb the
residents of the camps in their territory, and it is
vital to ask other countries in the world to also take
in Palestinian refugees to the best of their ability,
since only a small portion of them can be settled in
Judea, Samaria and Gaza [i.e. the territories].
Minister Shalom is supposed to speak today about all of
this, and he must not be deterred by those who allege
that his plan is 'not logical': it is much less logical
to ignore the refugee camps as Israel has done up until
now, or to refuse to rehabilitate them on the grounds
that their rehabilitation would constitute a
'transfer.'"

KURTZER

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