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December 12, 2005 - Vol. 7, Issue 20

U.S. Says Palestinians Upholding Their End Of Rafah Deal: At a meeting held by Quartet representatives on Friday in Jerusalem, American officials made clear that-contrary to Israeli claims-the Palestinians are upholding their end of the Rafah deal.

U.S. Says Palestinians Upholding Their End Of Rafah Deal: At a meeting held by Quartet representatives on Friday in Jerusalem, American officials made clear that-contrary to Israeli claims-the Palestinians are upholding their end of the Rafah deal. The "violations" cited by Israel as part of new demands, an American official said, are due solely to a technical problem that has caused a delay in the transmission of data from the Rafah crossing to the office where Israeli officials are allowed to examine it. He added that the U.S. is making an effort to purchase new equipment that would satisfy Israel's demands for real-time data transmission. Since the question of information transmission time arose, the delay has been reduced from 15 minutes to less than five minutes, even before new U.S. equipment arrives. In addition, the two sides were supposed to have finalized a security appendix about the operation of Rafah already, but nothing has happened and there is currently no security accord that is acceptable to both sides.

The U.S. and other Quartet members are calling on Israel to fulfill all of its obligations under the Rafah agreement by Wednesday, when an international donors conference will open in London. In particular, they say Israel must resume talks with the Palestinians on running regular convoys between Gaza and the West Bank and significantly ease restrictions on movement inside the West Bank. Senior government sources said they fear that Israel's violation of the Rafah accord will turn the donors conference into a platform of criticism of Israel, thereby undermining the country's diplomatic gains from disengagement.

There are some real gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on the issue of safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. For instance, the Palestinians want all those who have Palestinian Authority identity cards to be allowed to cross between Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel wants only Gaza residents to enter the West Bank, and says they should be allowed to stay there no more than ten days. In addition, the Palestinians oppose the Israeli demand that Palestinian men between 16 and 35 not be allowed to cross from one area to another. The American working paper presented to both sides proposes that the West Bank and Gaza be connected via five convoys per day, each of which would consist of five buses that would transport a total of 1,800 passengers daily. Israel proposes setting a limit at just one five-bus convoy a day, transporting no more than 250 passengers. (Ha'aretz, 12/9 & 11/05; Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/11/05; & Ynet, 12/11/05)

Elections By Numbers: Last week's opinion polls found a continuing rise in support for Kadima, a drop for Labor, and a slight recovery for Likud. According to the Dialog/Ha'aretz survey, if elections were held today for the 120-seat Knesset, Kadima would win 39 seats (up two from the previous poll), Labor would win 22 (down from 26 the week before), and Likud would capture 12 (a jump of three seats from the previous survey). No significant changes were registered for the other parties. The flow of voters between parties has barely changed in recent weeks. Some 60% of Shinui voters have moved to Kadima and 10% of them have gone to Labor. Some 62% of Likud voters have also gone to Kadima, as have 42% of Labor voters. 38% of respondents said social-economic issues topped the list of topics that would most influence them in the elections, while 27% said security-political issues and 21% named corruption. Friday's Dahaf/Yedioth Ahronoth poll found (with the change from last week in parentheses) that Kadima would get 39 seats (+5), Labor 23 (-4), Likud 13 (+3), Shas 10 (-1), Arab parties 8, Shinui 5, Meretz-Yahad 5, National Union 5, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 5 (-1), Yisrael Beiteinu 4 (-1), and National Religious Party (NRP) 3 (-1).

In the Smith/Globes survey, Kadima would win 37 seats, Labor 21, and Likud 14. 62% of respondents in this poll said social-economic issues should top any government agenda, followed by 17% who think peace talks with the Palestinians should be the priority. In a Brain Base survey taken for Israel Radio, Kadima would take 41 seats, Labor 21, Likud headed by Benjamin Netanyahu 16, Shinui 4, National Union 5, Shas 8, Yisrael Beiteinu 6, Meretz-Yahad 3, NRP 3, UTJ 5, and Arab parties 8. Finally, the Teleseker/Ma'ariv poll found (with the numbers from the previous poll in parentheses) that Kadima would take 39 seats (39), Labor 24 (26), Likud under Netanyahu 13 (11), Shas 8 (8), Arab parties 8 (8), Shinui 5 (6), National Union 5 (5), Meretz-Yahad 5 (5), UTJ 5 (5), NRP 4 (4), and Yisrael Beiteinu 4 (3). (Ha'aretz, 12/7 & 9/05; Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/9/05; Globes, 12/8/05; IMRA, 12/8/05; & Ma'ariv, 12/7/05)

Laboring To Hold Ground: Analyzing the results of the Ma'ariv survey, Nadav Eyal wrote, "Ma'ariv's poll.proves what political observers had begun to sense over two weeks ago: The Labor Party has an increasingly difficult electoral problem to cope with. Within about ten days, according to the Ma'ariv polls, the Labor Party headed by Peretz has lost some four seats, and dropped from 28 seats to 24. There is no point in continuing to say what the Labor Party is doing wrong: It is a cliché to say that the Labor Party has gone too far left. That the elected chairman has not succeeded yet in producing an effective campaign against Kadima. That the social agenda has faded somewhat in the security-oriented winter that has fallen upon us. The Labor Party's crisis becomes clear in light of the results achieved by Kadima, which has maintained its strength. It appears that the truncated Likud has also halted its free fall. The process that is now taking place is precisely what was foreseen: The Labor Party is giving over seats to Kadima, while Kadima is returning seats that it took from the Likud. True, this poll was held [December 6th], 24 hours after the terror attack-but the trend was clear even before it.

"Another person who will be disappointed this morning is Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz contends that only he can bring back the seats that the Likud has lost to Sharon's party. He desperately needs objective proof to back up that argument, but the Ma'ariv poll does not confirm it-on the contrary: Netanyahu brings 13 seats to the Likud, more than Mofaz, who finds himself after Silvan Shalom. The aggressive tone he has taken in his campaign thus far has been unsuccessful, for the time being at least. And another word of warning. It would seem that Kadima is continuing to rush ahead. Its stability in the polls, four months before the elections, should arouse concern among its leaders. Sharon's people would prefer slow growth, one seat after another, and not a meteoric rise. It is a much harder fall from such heights. The voters' infatuation could prove to be short lived." (Ma'ariv, 12/7/05)

Defective Likudniks: Likud may have gained ground in the polls last week, but there were fewer people in party headquarters to celebrate. The party's acting chairman, Tzahi Hanegbi jumped ship to Kadima. Hanegbi was considered one of the hardest of hardliners-one of those who holed up the Sinai settlement of Yamit before it was torn down, one of the chronic rioters against Yitzhak Rabin, the terror of Arab students in Jerusalem during his youth, the son of Geula Cohen, the high priestess of the Greater Land of Israel. Turns out that he has a more sensitive side to him that he's been hiding from the public. After years of opposing any concession in the occupied territories, he said last week that, "There has been movement in my political positions over the years. I came to the conclusion that it was our duty to fashion our future here in the coming years by means of a political compromise." When asked if he's accepted that the dream of the entire Land of Israel is over, he replied, "Yes. This dream died many years ago. Ever since Begin consented to autonomy. When we left Hebron, I had to face this. My mother then lived in Givat Harsina, and wept bitterly. I told her back then: 'We've no reason to be in the Palestinian cities. I have no interest in patrolling the Nablus casbah, or Hebron, or Jenin, or Tulkarm.'" Another high-profile Likud defection to Kadima came yesterday when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced during a cabinet meeting that he was jumping ship. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appears to have promised Mofaz to appoint him as defense minister if he is elected to form the new government after the March elections.

Meanwhile, about 200 Likud members, including prominent activists in local politics, went over to Labor. Shlomo Yifrah, chairman of Likud's Rehovot branch and a member of the Histadrut, told a rally, "I haven't come just to vote for Amir Peretz. I've come to bring all the thousands of people, Likud supporters, whom I've helped in the course of the last 30 years. We are fed up with the connection of the wealthy to the Finance Committee, which privatizes and sells the country's assets to 20 families that have taken over all the businesses in Israel. Amir rehabilitated the Histadrut, and led it in its toughest battles; he has proven himself." Etti Sandrusi of Dimona said, "I voted for Likud in the last elections because of Arik Sharon, who I thought would lead us on the right path, but now Amir Peretz represents us, the weaker sectors, and knows us. Sharon doesn't really care about all the people down below." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/8/05; Ma'ariv, 12/8/05; Ynet, 12/11/05; & Ma'ariv-NRG, 12/8/05)

The Kibitzer Kings: Analyzing the Israeli reaction to the Islamic Jihad terrorist attach in Netanya, Alex Fishman wrote, in part, "This is the finest hour for the 'kibitzers:' potential and impotent defense ministers, prime ministers, and ministers from the past, present, and future. Everyone has something to say. There is nothing like a terror attack in an election period. They send a terrifying look straight into the camera and pearls come out of their mouth: from reasoned calls to 'deal' with the PA to ordinary 'pound the living daylights out of them.' Strike the Palestinian and win another seat. This is the supreme test for the top security echelon: to withstand the temptation, to halt this wave of adrenaline, to retain sanity. Because in the present situation, collective punishment will indeed add seats-but mainly to Hamas. Why, for example, was a general closure imposed on the territories? Even the public has already learned that this is a sort of conditioned reflex. Something genetic that passes through heredity from one defense minister to the next defense minister and usually has no operational benefit. Certainly not now, when even the Palestinian street in the West Bank has a more 'civilian' agenda. They talk less of terror there and more about improving their quality of life.

"The army too talks about the vital need to separate between the Palestinian population and terror: give the population hope-and it will decrease its cooperation with the terrorists. That is the ABC of fighting terror. The terror attack in Netanya is part of the of the intense pursuit that has been going on now for weeks for Islamic Jihad in northern Samaria. This organization tried to establish an autonomous region, 'Jihadistan,' in the Tulkarm-Jenin-Nablus triangle-and failed. It stays in a specific area, its members are known. So why punish the entire population? This will only give another seat to terror." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/6/05)

Palestinians Detain Islamic Jihad Members: The Palestinian Authority (PA) carried out arrest raids last week targeting Islamic Jihad members in several West Bank locations in response to the terror attack in Netanya, prompting harsh reactions from Palestinian groups. The arrests continued despite threats that further operations will endanger the relative lull in violence. The PA concentrated its operations in the town of Tubas near Jenin. More than ten Islamic Jihad members were taken in, and about 40 houses were raided by Palestinian security forces in a bid to apprehend group members. Islamic Jihad said arrests were also reported in the Hebron area, and it accused the PA of persecuting Palestinian groups. It also accused the PA of conducting the arrests in coordination with the IDF, and claimed that the list of suspects used by the Palestinian police was received from Israel. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees said they would abandon their commitment to the lull if the PA continued conducting arrests. (Ynet, 12/8/05)

All Aboard For Ramallah: The Israeli Transportation Ministry is proposing to build a railway line to Ramallah as a branch of the high-speed line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem now under construction. The branch would leave the main line in the Lod area. Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit confirmed that because of the need to expropriate Palestinian land for building the line, the branch to Ramallah would be a form of compensation so the Palestinians could also benefit from the high-speed railway. He pointed out that in the area of Latrun, where Highway 1 crosses over the Green Line, the railway would be in a tunnel.

The Justice Ministry objected to building the railway in the occupied territories, Sheetrit said. "I spoke to everyone in the Justice Ministry and asked them whether they thought they we would return this territory to the Palestinians. It is Highway 1. Can anyone even conceive of giving Highway 1 to the Palestinians? So why are you arguing with us in the first place? They said no, according to international law, if you use Palestinian territory, the Palestinians have to be able to use it," he said. "I said absolutely. When there is peace, let them use it." Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said he was unaware of the plan, but that in any land grab the Palestinians would not benefit, but could only lose. (Jerusalem Post, 12/4/05)

Palestinian Economic Update: According to a new UN report on the Palestinian economy, the number of Palestinians now living below the poverty line of $2.20 a day has climbed to nearly two-thirds of the population, despite the Gaza pullout and a slowdown in fighting this year. Still, the World Bank forecasts that the Palestinian economy will grow by 8%-9% this year compared with 2004, and the jobless rate will fall to 22.5% from 27%. Although growth in 2005 was strong, with personal income rising by an estimated 12%, expansion was from a low base, said the World Bank. Per capita gross domestic product was still 29% less than in 1999, it noted. The World Bank attributed the economic expansion in part to increased government spending, Israeli economic growth (which created demand of Palestinian goods and labor), and a relaxation of Israeli border closures as violence declined. Closures have pummeled the Palestinian economy by sharply restricting Palestinian workers from entering Israel and halting the flow of Palestinian exports at Israeli's borders. They also limit movement inside the West Bank.

But the positive trend ground to a halt after the Gaza withdrawal, the World Bank said. The number of Palestinians with permits working in Israel and the settlements dropped by about 25% between the second and third quarters of 2005. Although exports increased by 8.4% in inflation-adjusted terms in the first nine months of the year compared with last year, they slowed after the pullout. Internal movement remains constrained in the West Bank. On the Palestinian side, promised government reform has been lacking. "Of greatest concern is the serious deterioration in internal law and order," which is deterring potential private investment, according to the World Bank. The Palestinian Authority has not done enough to combat corruption and it caved in to salary and pension demands it can't afford. The World Bank cautioned that donors won't increase further aid payments if they don't see progress in security, governance, and economic management. (AP, 12/11/05)

Jailed Hamas Leader Calls For Continued Calm: The head of Hamas in the West Bank, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who is in an Israeli jail, called on all the Palestinian factions to preserve the tahdiya, and urged Israel to do the same. Yousef, who is a candidate for the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Israel Radio that all the Palestinian factions are committed to the tahdiya, and the consensus on that issue must be preserved. He said the reason for the suicide bombings lies with the Israeli occupation. He refused to condemn the bombing in Netanya. Yousef said Hamas leaders are candidates in the Palestinian parliamentary election, and Hamas is willing to cooperate with any Palestinian party. However, Hamas has not yet decided whether it will join the Palestinian government. (Israel Radio News, 12/7/05)

More Women In The Running: A record number of women will take up seats in the Palestinian parliament after January's legislative elections. Under a new quota system, the number of women deputies will increase to at least 13 within the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), up from the current total of five. In addition, many women have run in the ongoing municipal elections. In the first round of these races, a record 139 women took part and won 52 seats on local councils, nearly 17% of the total. Similar results have been recorded in subsequent rounds. A record number of women, many of them Islamists, are also expected to contest the PLC elections on January 25th, including Rasha al-Rantissi, whose husband was the late Hamas leader Abdelaziz al-Rantissi.

Wafa Abdel Rahman, director of the media outlet Filastiniya and one of the activists who lobbied for the quota system, says some of those running for election are not necessarily advocating a women-centric agenda. "Rasha al-Rantissi is not running as a woman, but as the wife of somebody who was killed by Israel," she said. "She is running on the basis of her husband's legacy. A women's agenda is not part of [Hamas'] discourse. We have been fighting since 2002 for a women's quota system of 20% of PLC seats, so these elections are very important. Women's involvement in politics has definitely increased, but it is not about just having women represented, but about having women who can bring a women's agenda to the table." Women represent just over 47% of the 1.34 million registered voters in the Palestinian territories, according to Fadwa al-Barghouti, wife of jailed Intifada leader Marwan Barghouti and a candidate in this month's local elections. She added, "Palestinian women need the training and the courage to reach the point where women are considered no different from men on the political scene." (, 12/6/05)

Party Animals: Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Salam Fayyad is planning to form a new party that will run in January's parliamentary elections. Fayyad will head the new faction, which will be independent and serve as an alternative for those who don't want to vote for Fatah or Hamas. Legislator Hanan Ashrawi and former Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo are expected to join Fayyad's party. Other Palestinians whose names have been mentioned in connection to the new faction are Dr. Iyad Sarraj and Khaled Abdel Shafi of Gaza and Abdel Kader Husseini of Jerusalem. Sarraj and Abdel Shafi are known as leading reformists who have been pressing for democracy and freedom of speech. Husseini is the son of Faisal Husseini, the late PLO representative in Jerusalem. Secret polls are said to have found that a majority of Palestinians are eager to vote for a non-political party consisting of independent figures. Some Palestinian officials think that if Fayyad gets enough votes, he may be asked to form the new cabinet. (Jerusalem Post, 12/3/05)