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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS NEW PEACE INITIATIVE TO KEEP PALESTINIANS IN THE MIX… Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has proposed a new peace initiative that is intended to create stability and uniformity among the Palestinians, particularly in the area of security issues following Israel’s imminent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The plan places all of the security apparatuses under Yassir Arafat, but brings to the fore a lineup of figures who have played roles in present and previous attempts to reform the Palestinian Authority. Muhammad Dahlan would take the key security post, combining West Bank and Gaza forces into a single command. Former premier Mahmoud ‘Abbas would join with his successor, Ahmad Qurei’, and Jibril Rajoub, Arafat’s security head, in overseeing the new infrastructure. The driving force behind the plan is the fear that once Israel withdraws a vacuum will be created that will be filled by the Hamas terrorist organization. It is also intended to prevent a U.S.—Israel agreement on the consolidation of Israeli communities in post-1967 territories.

2. NEW CRACKS IN SHARON’S CABINET OVER PULLOUT… Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom left no doubt that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not have an easy time selling his Gaza withdrawal plan to his cabinet. And most of the conflict is coming from his own Likud party. The latest row came in a meeting of Likud ministers. Shalom’s primary criticism seemingly stems from the unilateral nature of the Sharon unilateral proposal — Shalom believing that it is necessary to have a partner with whom to negotiate. Shalom said that the plan remains incomplete and that he will only come to a final conclusion when the remainder of the details are made available. He jolted the prime minister when Mr. Sharon challenged Shalom, asking him to name a partner with whom peace can be negotiated. Shalom responded by accusing Sharon of not having offered disengagement when there was a partner — presumably referring to Mahmoud ‘Abbas.

3. SHARON’S LEGAL WOES WORSEN SIGNIFICANTLY… Clouds are rapidly thickening over Ariel Sharon’s political future as a bribery case against him picks up speed and momentum. On Sunday, State Attorney Edna Arbel submitted her recommendation to prosecute to the newly appointed Attorney General Menahem Mazuz – who will make the final decision on whether to proceed or not. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Sharon’s sons must hand over pertinent documents in the case that have been the subject of a legal chess match. Experts believe that with this week’s ruling, legal gymnastics are at an end and police can conclude their investigation. The lawyer for the Sharon family said his clients would comply with the ruling. The newspaper Haaretz, which has been pressing the case, reported on Monday that a key comment that it originally reported was the lynchpin to the decision to prosecute. A former senior prosecutor told Army Radio that the comment was “almost equivalent to an admission of guilt.” In addition to the legal woes, national debate over “what happens if…” is in full swing. Although it is accepted by most that an indictment would require Mr. Sharon’s suspension but not his resignation, the largest coalition partner, which controls the Justice Ministry, said it would quit the government if he was indicted and did not resign. Others are accusing Mr. Sharon of accelerating his controversial Gaza withdrawal plan to beat the indictment.

4. ISRAELI PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE CRITICIZES INTELLIGENCE OVER IRAQ LEAD-UP… The Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee took the unusual step of publicly criticizing Israel’s intelligence agencies when it announced its findings about the nation’s involvement in the Iraqi war. A subcommittee reported that, “The military and political echelons are responsible for an intelligence foul-up regarding Iraq and Libya,” but stressed that their involvement in no way influenced the American decision to wage the war. Committee Chairman Yuval Steinitz called Israel’s involvement “a very minor role.”

5. BUSH, BLAIR SPLIT OVER BRITISH SUGGESTION OF ARMED MONITORS BETWEEN ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS… British Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to be miffed at U.S. President George W. Bush for turning down his suggestion to send armed U.K. and American troops to serve as monitors between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Times cites Whitehall sources as saying that “the government had been pressing Washington for ‘proactive engagement’ in Gaza and the West Bank, even before Sheikh Yassin’s killing.” The report contends that Blair believes that only U.S. engagement can assure proper “addressing of Palestinian grievances.”