Reported from Jerusalem
1. ISRAEL MOVES AHEAD WITH DETAILS OF DISENGAGEMENT… Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with logistical details necessary to implement his disengagement plan. Sharon threatened to take unilateral action if the Palestinian Authority fails to fight terror within several months. His intent is to withdraw from parts of the post-1967 territories, abandoning some Jewish communities located there, and secure the nation behind the controversial buffer being built along the border between Israel and Palestinian areas. Government sources revealed on Tuesday that those residents who will be uprooted will be given three compensation options: moving the entire community elsewhere; moving to another community in post-1967 areas; or moving inside of the Green Line (pre-1967 borders) and receiving compensation that will include cash and relocation assistance. Sharon will now begin to establish the exact line to which Israel will withdraw. The prime minister will then begin an intense lobbying campaign in Washington to convince the Bush Administration that his disengagement plan fits into the American president’s “two-state vision” for the Middle East. Members of Sharon’s Likud party and other right-wing coalition members will begin to coordinate their opposition to Sharon’s proposed withdrawal with the council that represents residents of the post-1967 areas.
2. PRISONER SWAP SET FOR THURSDAY… Israel and the Hizbullah terrorist organization will carry out their prisoner exchange on Thursday. Preparations are underway for a ceremony to be held at the airfield as the bodies of three kidnapped and murdered Israeli soldiers arrive home along with abducted Israeli Elhanan Tennenbaum. Israel’s chief pathologist is in Germany accompanied by army chaplains overseeing the identification of the dead Israelis. Red Cross officials and the German intermediaries who brokered the deal are checking today on the prisoners that Israel will release. Others in Lebanon will check on Tennenbaum. The complicated exchange procedure involves flights from Tel Aviv and Beirut on German planes that will land together at an army base in Germany where the actual exchange will take place away from the scrutiny of the public or media. The deal remains controversial in Israel, where officials of the Sharon government are already preparing the public for additional releases of terrorists the administration has long promised it would not set free. Hizbullah leader Sayyid Hasan Na’srallah said publicly that his group intends to abduct more Israelis in the future.
3. HUMANITARIAN WATCHDOG PANEL APPOINTED BY ISRAEL TO OVERSEE ‘FENCE’ ISSUES… One week after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon admitted that the controversial security barrier he is building along the border with the Palestinian areas “damaged Palestinians’ lives,” his defense minister has appointed a retired general to head a panel assembled to oversee civilian and humanitarian issues caused by the buffer. Members of the group will be drawn from the army, defense ministry, and office for coordination of government activities in post-1967 territories. Israel is under severe international pressure because of its decision to build the physical barrier that it claims serves solely to prevent suicide bombers from reaching Israeli population centers. The government claims that the buffer has already been decidedly effective where sections have been completed. Much of the international community contends that the barrier is an Israeli land-grab tactic that harms the quality of life of Palestinians living along its route. The International Court of Justice at The Hague will begin deliberations this week to judge the legality of the fence.
4. PALESTINIAN LEADERS ALLOWED INTO ISRAELI PARLIAMENT FOR “GENEVA” EVENT… Reuven Rivlin, the Speaker of Israel’s Knesset (Parliament), said that he will allow Palestinian leaders to come to the Knesset in order to participate in an event in support of the unofficial Geneva Initiative peace plan as long as each participant has no record of security offenses. The conference, which will be held in two weeks, is being called “There is Someone to Talk To,” and is sponsored by Labor Member of Knesset Ophir Pines-Paz and former MK Yossi Beilin, an author of the plan. Rivlin made clear that it was not a Knesset event, but rather an “event a member of Knesset is being allowed to hold.” The Geneva plan is an unofficial effort created by Israelis and Palestinians outside of their respective governments. The Israeli prime minister has bitterly rejected the initiative claiming it seriously complicates his government’s ability to carry on peace talks based upon the official Road Map plan. “Geneva,” which is being bolstered by a costly public relations campaign funded by European governments, has been finding support in the international community.
5. ARMY RADIO: MAJORITY DISSATISFIED WITH SHARON… A poll commissioned by Israeli army radio indicates that a majority of citizens are dissatisfied with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s performance. The percentage of those not happy with the PM stands at 56%, up a staggering 13 points since only last August. In addition to a security situation that shows little sign of improving, Sharon has been under constant international criticism for his policies. Domestically, he has been under increasing threat of indictment for two financial scandals involving himself and his two sons. When asked which officials the country does like, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz proved to be the most popular public personality, leading all others by 11 percentage points. The next level, bunched together in the mid- to upper-40s range of percentages, included Justice Minister Tommy Lapid, candidate for Labor Party leadership Matan Vilna’i, and Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom. Former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is often spoken of as Sharon’s heir-apparent, did not fare as well. He was in a virtual tie at the back of the pack with arch-rival Ehud Olmert.