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December 12, 2006 - Vol. 8, Issue 6

ISRAELI PUBLIC SUPPORTS CEASEFIRE, NEGOTIATIONS; ISG REPORT; GEOGRAPHY LESSON; ISRAELI-ARAB COOPERATION; SAUDI INITIATIVE IS POLITICAL HORIZON...

ISRAELI PUBLIC SUPPORTS CEASEFIRE, NEGOTIATIONS: 74% of all Israelis - and 71% of Jewish Israelis - support peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority according to the latest poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center at Tel Aviv University. This poll also found that only 18% of Israelis oppose Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This remains true even though most Israelis - 57% (62.4% of Jewish Israelis) - don't believe that these negotiations are likely to result in peace in the coming years. Indeed, 61% of Israelis (and 57% of Jewish Israelis) opposed re-occupying Gaza even if that would be an effective method for stopping Kassam rocket fire. 50% of Israelis (with little difference evident when non-Jewish Israelis were removed from the sample) agreed with the statement that "Israel agreed to the Gaza ceasefire, even though this meant negotiations with Hamas, because military means did not prevent Kassam (rocket) fire."

A poll carried out for Israel Radio on December 6th found that 63% of Israelis support the continuation of the ceasefire. This support was high among Labor voters (93%) and Kadima voters (87%), while 53% of Likud party voters disagreed. 54% of Israelis agree - and 35% disagree - that the ceasefire should be extended to the West Bank. Asked about the prospect that Hezbollah would take control in Lebanon, most Israelis (53%) opposed the launch of a "preemptive war" in this theatre. (Tami Steinmetz Center 12/6/06; Israel Radio 12/7/06)

ISG REPORT: An editorial column by Yael Gwurtz in Yedioth Ahronoth read: "Good morning Israel, we have received a wakeup call from America. Despite the fact that official Israel chooses to continue to sleep-Olmert urges the ministers 'not to talk about it,' Livni says that 'it is not related to us'-the last thing it is recommended to do with the Baker report is to bury our heads under the blanket. On the contrary, it is very important for the ministers to voice their opinion about it, and it is very good for the government to hold a serious discussion following it. Otherwise, we will be late for our rendezvous with reality, and things will be determined for us.

"If we refuse to wake up, it means that we do not understand what is happening around us. This is a report that is both very important and highly interesting. Its importance stems from the fact that it was prepared through bipartisan cooperation, and as such it expresses approaches and moods that could become official US policy in the future. To fail to understand that the United States is telling us that resolving the conflict is important for US interests-in other words, we are interfering with the realization of its interests in the Middle East-means a failure in understanding English at the most basic level.

"Treating the report as something that should not be examined also misses the interesting part of the text. The 'bad news' is that the US will be active in resolving the conflict, and that if Syria meets a series of difficult conditions, Israel will have to withdraw from the Golan. As for the former, even those who do not welcome this development must prepare for it. As for the latter, Rabin, Barak and even Netanyahu certainly took this into account [all of whom were reportedly prepared to agree to an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan]. To put it briefly: Beware of ostriches, for America is telling us some very clear things." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/11/06)

GEOGRAPHY LESSON: Education Minister Yuli Tamir's decision last Tuesday requiring future Israeli textbooks to include Israel's 1967 borders, sometimes called the Green Line, on maps prompted an outcry from Israel's right. One group of rabbis associated with the "Headquarters to Save the People and the Land" went so far as to issue a Halakhic decree forbidding the possession of, or the studying from, books that featured maps marking the Green Line.

"Soon they will put out a death decree against me," joked Tamir, who also denied the accusation that her decision was politically motivated. "You can recognize the Green Line and support it, and you can recognize the Green Line and oppose it, but you cannot not recognize it." Tamir was also quoted saying, "the State of Israel has complicated borders and it is impossible to teach children to understand political processes without knowing the historic background. It is impossible to teach history when it is cut off from the geo-political reality in which we live." The change in policy will only apply to books not yet published; existing books will remain unchanged.

Former Education Minister Yossi Sarid backed Tamir, saying, "the students of Israel should know that Israel's eastern and northern borders are not final, and they will be settled one day through negotiations."

Tamir also said that "one cannot demand that our Arab neighbors mark the June 4, 1967 borders, while our education system erased them from schoolbooks and from the consciousness of students." Indeed Ha'aretz's Akiva Eldar reveals that "the claim that textbooks have been conscripted into the Arab propaganda machines appears (in three languages) on the Web site of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence division, in a section dubbed 'the hatred industry.' The site analyzes the textbooks distributed by the Palestinian Authority. The writers point out that the maps do not mention Israel's name. They complain that when the Green Line is marked, Israel and the territories are shown in the same color. That is one of the 'sophisticated methods of bypassing the problem,' the site says. It goes on to explain that this is done to make it easier to confront anticipated criticism for ignoring Israel."

An op-ed published in Ma'ariv last week recalled that after the Six-Day War the Israeli military drafted an "operational plan whose title was 'the occupation of the West Bank.' But when the occupation created a new reality, the Israeli government did what occupiers have always done, and began to change the geographic terms. The 'Syrian Heights,' as it had been called in all the years previous, suddenly became the 'Golan Heights,' and a short time later, Judea and Samaria also cropped up in our geo-political lexicon. When these terms also came into use in radio and television weather forecasts, the innocent listener could think that these were parts of the state, just like the Galilee or the Arava. The first Intifada reminded even the dreamers among us that there is an essential difference between the country's sovereign areas, which are recognized by the majority of the world's countries and by international organizations, and those territories captured in the Six-Day War, which in the world's eyes, were a matter for negotiation, first with Jordan and then with the Palestinians. Those who wish to teach Israeli students about the world in which we live must show them the only borders of Israel that the world recognizes. So must those who hope that the Arab world will one day recognize the Zionist entity's right to exist." (Ha'aretz, 12/5/06; Ynet, 12/5/06; Maariv NRG, 12/5/06; Labor Party, 12/5/06; Ma'ariv, 12/6/06)

ISRAELI-ARAB COOPERATION: Egyptian police blew up a tunnel running under the Egypt-Gaza border, which was thought to be used for smuggling, Israeli police revealed last Tuesday. No one was found in or near the tunnel. The Egyptians also found 500 kg of explosives in central Sinai, concealed in a mountain area near Giddi, about 130 km west of the Egyptian-Israeli border. Last month, Egyptian police found more than four tons of explosives - thought to be bound for Gaza - in central Sinai.

Elsewhere, Israel, Jordan and the PA decided Sunday to conduct a feasibility study into the construction of a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The study was announced at a conference attended by Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Jordanian Water Minister Zafer Al Alem, PA representative Dr. Mohammed Mustafa and representatives of the World Bank, which initiated the conference and is financing the two-year study. (Ha'aretz 12/5/06; Yedioth Ahronoth 12/11/06)

PALESTINIAN ECONOMY: UN aid agencies launched their biggest funding appeal to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza last week. They are looking for $453 million to be spent next year mostly on emergency food aid and economic recovery programs. Two-thirds of Palestinians are living below the poverty line and about half are "food-insecure." Unemployment is running as high as 40% in Gaza and 25% in the West Bank. David Shearer, head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, observed that "under the current circumstances, poverty levels keep continuing to rise." He added that "while humanitarian aid can slow the deterioration, what is really needed is a political settlement to the issue." (Ynet, 12/7/06; Guardian, 12/8/06)

MIXED MESSAGES ON SYRIA: "Assad is operating on two parallel tracks," explained IDF Intelligence Research Department Director Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz to the Israeli cabinet on Sunday. "On the one hand, he does not rule out the possibility of a peace agreement with Israel. On the other hand, he is preparing his forces for a military clash. In the Syrian view, there is no contradiction between these two things." Baidatz reported that Syria has stepped up production of long range surface-to-surface missiles and brought advanced anti-tank units to the border. He noted, however, that the increased military deployment is due to Syrian concern that Israel will launch a war.

A senior IDF Northern Command source commented that Israel has "no intelligence that Syria has any plans to begin a war in the coming summer, or to heat up the border with acts of resistance and warfare." He added that "talk about war in the summer of 2007 is irresponsible, and is not based on what is happening in fact on the Syrian and Lebanese front." Reports from the Northern Command suggest that most of the Syrian troops have returned to their positions and bases of before the war. Northern Command officials believe that following the Israel-Hezbollah war the Syrians will increase their reliance on advanced anti-tank missiles. In addition, IDF officials believe that the Syrians will try to improve the hiding places and camouflage of their surface-to-surface missile reserves.

"The position that has begun to take root within the IDF is that political negotiations with Syria are crucial, as they are with the 'moderate Arab' states-Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates," reports Ben Caspit in Ma'ariv, who quotes a high-ranking military official: "With respect to Syria, we've reached a corner. Now is the right time to set a process in motion. The current situation with Syria is not good. It is important to do something different and there are conditions to do so. We've exhausted sitting on the fence. Something needs to be done. At the current juncture, the Syrians are deliberating in which direction to turn. With our current mode of activity we are pushing them into Iran's arms. On our side the Syrians meet a wall, and that is why they get repelled to the other side." This perspective is similar to the one reportedly voiced last week in closed meetings by Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin. (Ma'ariv, 12/10 & 12/11/06)

SAUDI INITIATIVE IS POLITICAL HORIZON: "The Saudi initiative should be treated as a basis for negotiations," said Defense Minister Amir Peretz Sunday. He explained that a political horizon should be opened up with the Palestinians, and Israel should display generosity "so that they will know there is a future. We have to make gestures. Our role is to influence reality, not to be dragged. I make a distinction between Palestinian terrorism and the [Palestinian] people. We will fight the former, but will try to assist the latter. It is Israel's duty to re-open the axis to dialogue. There is an alternative for life in the Palestinian Authority. There is a possibility of improving the Palestinians' quality of living and to put an end to generations of suffering and occupation. I am saying this as a defense minister who supports peace, one who comes from Sderot, whose personal bodyguard lost both legs from Kassam rocket fire. We must influence reality, not let it drag us."

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote last week that rarely "have there been so many signs indicating such asymmetry in the Arab world's desire for an agreement, versus the refusal of Israel and its ally, the United States. The all-Arab (Saudi Arabian) peace initiative, joined by even Syria and Libya; Syrian President Bashar Assad's repeated calls for an agreement; Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' entreaties for diplomatic meetings; and the Arab League's appeals to the UN Security Council to adopt the Saudi Arabian peace plan form an unprecedented revolution in the pan-Arab position on peace with Israel... The Arab regimes' desire for an agreement with Israel is not a call to recognize the moral legitimacy of the Jewish state, but rather an appeal for a diplomatic border arrangement. It is the answer to a political need, a strategic necessity. The issue is not putting an end to an ideological conflict with the Zionist movement, but rather agreeing on a border. The issue is peace, not love.

"From Israel's point of view, this cold peace is a worthy strategic objective. The processes taking place in the region are not working to our benefit. The American presence in Iraq has a direct negative effect on Israel, since it backs the concept that terror and resistance can challenge mighty powers, and that in asymmetric wars, superior force does not offer an advantage... If we do not take advantage of this narrow window of opportunity for a comprehensive agreement, and we freeze everything to combat the Iranian bomb, we are likely to find ourselves facing the tanks of an Iranian-Shi'ite empire that stretches from Iraq to Syria." (Ha'aretz 12/5/06; Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/11/06)

ISRAELI STYLE MCCARTHYISM: Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that "whoever does not recognize Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state will not be able to be a citizen of the state." Lieberman also said that "a diplomatic solution must include two components: An exchange of land and population and a new citizenship law." GSS Director Yuval Diskin also warned that some Israeli Arabs are promoting initiatives that challenge the definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/11/06)

OF DONKEYS AND PIGS: Months of work and thousands of dollars went down the drain this week when settlers cancelled a project to train attack pigs. Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov, director of the "Hebrew Brigade," said, "after the pilot which took several months, we discovered that the pig is not like the dog, which attacks and enjoys attacking." Ben Yaakov added: "We succeeded in training the pig to attack, but the investment cost more than the results." The "Hebrew Brigade" hired a professional animal trainer, who explained: "We wanted to take advantage of the psychological obstacle that the pig would create among the Muslims. We thought that a Muslim terrorist would not want to come to a place with a pig, because of the religious aspect. We hoped the Muslim religious leaders would not approve letting terrorists come in contact with pigs, and in this manner we would reduce the number of attacks in the area." Members of the organization previously had six attack dogs, but Israeli security agencies confiscated them.

The organization is now raising attack dogs in the settlement of Tapuah, which are then distributed to various settlements. Their photos appear on the organization's internet site alongside the name of the donor. So, for example, the dog "Abu Mazen" is in Karmei-Tzur, the dog "Snap" is in Yitzhar, and the dog "Archie" is in Tekoa.

In other news, donkeys now serve in one of the special units of the IDF Paratroopers Brigade. The donkeys were put into operation by the former commander of the unit, Col. Amir Baram, who dismissed complaints about the heavy loads that soldiers were carrying by saying that if the soldiers don't want to be donkeys themselves, they should bring other donkeys to replace them.

Several soldiers seized the moment, and brought real donkeys. The donkeys soon proved capable, and were quickly put into operational service. Weapons experts of the unit made special harnesses for the donkeys, to which heavy loads, including sophisticated rockets and heavy camouflage kits, can now be attached. Rival units have teased the paratroopers, noting that "the donkeys have their own agenda. A donkey can decide suddenly to refuse to go, stop in its tracks, and nothing can get it to move, until it decides otherwise. The donkeys can also suddenly bray loudly and cause a ruckus." (Ma'ariv, 12/11/06)