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Cablegate: Israel Media Reaction

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SUBJECT: ISRAEL MEDIA REACTION

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SUBJECTS COVERED IN THIS REPORT:
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Mideast

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Key stories in the media:
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Today's newspapers are mainly devoted to reactions to Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu's announcement of the cabinet decision on a
construction freeze in the West Bank settlements.

The lead item in all print media relates to statements made by
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who at a meeting of Likud
activists called the American administration "awful" for the
pressure it exerted on Israel which led to the construction freeze
decision. Ma'ariv quoted Livnat as saying: "If in another week a
tractor will drive up and start building housing units that have
already been approved, we will be attacked again and nothing will
remain from that decision that was meant to appease the world." The
Prime Minister's Office was quick to dissociate itself from Livnat
and said that her statements did not represent the prime minister's
position

The Likud's right wing faction will begin a campaign to combat the
freeze with a meeting this Saturday night and is trying to persuade
members of Knesset and ministers who oppose the freeze to attend.
The faction's leaders will also try to convene the Likud Central
Committee in an effort to put pressure on the ministers. The
Settlers Council and the chairmen of the local authorities in the
West Bank also held an emergency meeting last night and decided on a
series of steps "to continue the development and strengthening the
base for settlement in Judea and Samaria, including the continuation
of the construction in the Judea and Samaria settlements." Yediot
Ahronot reports on plans to build thousands of new rooms in the
settlements by closing balconies, to establish a school for Jewish
construction workers, and to deluge the Supreme Court with appeals
against illegal Palestinian construction.

Ma'ariv' provides a look at the presumed new attorney general,
Yehuda Weinstein, who is Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's preferred
candidate. He describes him as a "work machine, but he loves to live
well. The fact that he is one of Israel's successful lawyers does
not contradict the fact that he is not the owner of any major firm.
He does not believe in this. Weinstein chooses his clients well.
Takes on a case, studies it from A to Z, dedicates as much time as
necessary, and perhaps even more. A man of quality, not quantity."

Block Quotes:
-----------
--------
Mideast:
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I. "Netanyahu versus the Settlers Council"

Senior columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the mass-circulation,
pluralist Yediot Aharonot (11/27): "The small hall in the Prime
Minister's Office was not festive. Netanyahu showed up to improve on
his Bar Ilan University speech. His words were directed at Barack
Obama. Had Netanyahu been able to speak freely, he would have said:
these are not my improvements. You screwed up. You raised everyone
on a high horse of a settlement freeze and only later did you
discover that you forgot to bring ladders. You screwed up, and I'm
being generous. I'm willing to pay the price only to a certain
point... His speech was aimed at telling the Americans: this is the
effort Israel is willing to make in order to thwart the resignation
[of Mahmoud Abbas]. If he does resign, don't blame us. He can also
expect to face a clash with the settlements... [They are] in the
minority, but they are more consolidated, more focused, and thus
have a better chance of succeeding... Begin provided Netanyahu with
an ideological kashrut certificate. Yaalon provided him with a
security one... Their vote essentially neutralizes all opposition
within the Likud... But Netanyahu is under suspicion. He needs to
freeze to get the negotiations which will let him build. And his
freeze will be closely monitored... The IDF will be tasked with
enforcing the construction freeze. The government... will now have
to destroy buildings in long standing communities. It will not be
easy. This will be Netanyahu's first real audition before the Obama
administration: the tougher it is, the more they will respect his
determination... He believed he had passed the ball into Abu Mazen's
court. However Abu Mazen is the master of movement without a ball:
Netanyahu is the second prime minister who has thrown a ball into
Abu Mazen's court only to discover that by some magical force, the
ball has remained with him."

II. "Is Netanyahu positioning himself to be the next Ariel Sharon?"
Yossi Verter, senior political correspondent, wrote in the
independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (11/27): "These days are
especially tough for Benjamin Netanyahu... 'Mr. Anti-terror' is
about to go down in history for paying the highest price ever to a
terrorist group in order to free one soldier... Netanyahu feels
besieged... by his own past, beliefs, and declarations. His adoption
of the "two state" principle, freezing construction in the
settlements, and the Shalit deal are cases in point. Some even
speculate that Netanyahu, like Sharon, is planning a far-reaching
political move that will enable him... to break Likud up... and
establish the new Likud with his partner Ehud Barak. The latter...
would be glad to leave his ailing party... [The] prime minister
promised the Likud faction to get the Shalit deal approved by both
the cabinet and Knesset. The next day... he announced that he would
bring the deal 'to the cabinet and to a public debate.' This was a
small, imperceptible retreat. If the Knesset approves the deal with
a small majority, he would rather drop it. Netanyahu wants an
impressive majority... Such a majority would alleviate his
agonizing. Thus, covertly, the prime minister's men began asking the
various Knesset factions about their stance regarding the deal,
should there be a Knesset debate."

III. "A tiny diplomatic crack"

The independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized (11/27): "The
prime minister's announcement this week to halt construction in the
West Bank settlements will not satisfy those who consider the
existence of settlements an obstacle for peace. Limiting the hiatus
to a 10-month period... raise serious doubts about the prime
minister's true intentions. It may be possible to be satisfied with
the change in Benjamin Netanyahu's stance... but this is not a
political test. This is an essential step in view of tremendous
international pressure, the enormous blow to Israel's standing, and
the threat to crush the diplomatic process. At the same time, the
decision is not meant to bring about a peace agreement... The prime
minister's decision... should have been made long ago. This latest
freeze may be perceived as insufficient... The prime minister's
decision cannot remain just a declaration... A freeze in
construction is not meant to satisfy the United States as having
achieved a diplomatic victory, or to be seen as a personal
achievement by its president. Netanyahu opened a tiny diplomatic
crack, but it is too little too late. This is only the first link in
a process that Barack Obama has promised to bring to fruition. Now
Washington must resume action along the main track, focusing on the
immediate resumption of negotiations and determined mediation until
an agreement is reached."

IV. "Price Tag of the Sacrifice"

Military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote in the mass-circulation,
pluralist Yediot Aharonot (11/27): "It will not end with the 450
prisoners that Hamas is demanding and not with an additional 550
prisoners, a good will gesture for President Mubarak... In order to
preserve the partners on the Palestinian side, Israel will be forced
to carry out another step of a wholesale prisoner release, which
contradicts any security, diplomatic, or legal rationale. The PA is
gravely concerned over the Shalit deal. The power that Hamas will
gain will become an existential threat to the Palestinian
Authority... All eyes in Israel are on December 15. On this date Abu
Mazen is supposed to convene the PLO Central Committee and announce
if he adopts their recommendation to postpone the elections. On
this date Abu Mazen will clarify his personal intentions. He could
resign immediately from his position as chairman of the PA or wait
with his resignation until the elections are held. From here on out
the PA might start to deteriorate quickly. His abrupt departure
will create a dangerous vacuum and will place great question marks
over the entire peace process. Barak led the decision on the freeze
of new construction in the settlements for the next ten months. This
is definitely a sort of oxygen mask for Abu Mazen. More
resuscitation steps can take the form of more freedom of movement in
the territories, in economic issues, or even in the form of an
Israeli initiative to expand the areas under Palestinian Authority
control... steps that ignite the Israeli Right.... Security sources
in Israel are predicting that there will be no third Intifada...
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is now in the momentum of building the
government institutions in preparation for the Palestinian state,
which will be established within two years. The economy is growing,
various cultural initiatives are emerging in the cities, and
international organizations are involved in all levels of life in
the West Bank: from the construction of offices of the Interior
Ministry and the courts system through the establishment of a
Palestinian army under the supervision of General Dayton."

V. "It's not enough"

The conservative, independent Jerusalem Post editorialized (11/27):
"With the patience of a taxi driver at a red light about to turn
green, the Palestinian leadership responded to Wednesday's
announcement of an Israeli moratorium on new settlement building
with: 'It's not enough!'... The dispute between Palestinians and
Israelis is not about settlements. It hinges on whether the Arabs
are willing to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as the state of
the Jewish people within any boundaries... Generation after
generation, decade after decade, Israeli concession after
concession, the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to
say, 'It's not enough.'... Special Envoy George Mitchell reacted
with sparing approval to Netanyahu's moratorium... Secretary of
State Clinton... acknowledged that "agreed swaps" should be part of
negotiations based on the 1967 lines. To take additional risks for
peace, Israelis must feel secure that the Obama administration
wholly backs the 1967-plus formula. Washington needs to cajole
Mahmoud Abbas back to the table to bargain in good faith and it
should extract diplomatic gestures from its Arab allies in
reciprocity for the premier's concessions. Otherwise, the
discouraging message that comes across to Israelis who want an
agreement is that no matter what we do, it will always 'fall short'
with this administration and never be 'enough" for the Arabs.'"
MORENO

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