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Spinning a Sharon statement


Joseph M. Hochstein
MidEast Web News Service

Two prominent news organizations drew opposite conclusions about what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meant by a statement which his office issued Sunday night after an emergency cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The New York Times, in a story by James Bennet, reported that "Mr. Sharon issued an implicit repudiation" of the Bush administration's roadmap plan. The Times' front-page headline stated, "Israel Pulls Back From Peace Plan After 4 Attacks."

Agence France-Presse, on the other hand, stated in its headline that "Sharon underscores search for Mideast solution despite bombings." The AFP story, by Jacques Pinto, said an emergency meeting of Sharon's cabinet "concluded with a statement saying he was determined to achieve peace with the Palestinians."

Spinning a Sharon statement

Joseph M. Hochstein
MidEast Web News Service

Two prominent news organizations drew opposite conclusions about what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meant by a statement which his office issued Sunday night after an emergency cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The New York Times, in a story by James Bennet, reported that "Mr. Sharon issued an implicit repudiation" of the Bush administration's roadmap plan. The Times' front-page headline stated, "Israel Pulls Back From Peace Plan After 4 Attacks."

Agence France-Presse, on the other hand, stated in its headline that "Sharon underscores search for Mideast solution despite bombings." The AFP story, by Jacques Pinto, said an emergency meeting of Sharon's cabinet "concluded with a statement saying he was determined to achieve peace with the Palestinians."

The statement from Sharon's office does not mention the roadmap, nor does it imply any Israel government decision about that plan.

The New York Times story does not specify why the editors infer that the Israeli statement implies repudiation of the roadmap. Instead, The Times quotes the statement: "Peace can only be achieved after terror has been eradicated and there is quiet here.... Only then will we be able to make progress through political channels." This is not a new Israeli position.

Here are the two conflicting stories, followed by the English text of the Israel statement, as released by the Israel Foreign Ministry. (Quotations in both The New York Times and the AFP versions differ somewhat from the official text.)


May 19, 2003
Israel Pulls Back From Peace Plan After 4 Attacks
By JAMES BENNET [New York Times]

JERUSALEM, May 18 The new Middle East peace effort stalled today, after a barrage of four Palestinian attacks killed nine bystanders, prompting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to postpone a trip to see President Bush and to decide that Israel would shun foreign representatives who met with Yasir Arafat, Israeli officials said.

After convening his cabinet tonight, Mr. Sharon issued an implicit repudiation of a new international peace plan, which calls for simultaneous concessions by both sides and rapid political progress to achieve peace and a Palestinian state in just three years.

"Peace can only be achieved after terror has been eradicated and there is quiet here," read a statement released by Mr. Sharon's office. "Only then will we be able to make progress through political channels."

Israel imposed a "general closure" on the West Bank, barring any Palestinians from crossing the boundary with Israel.

Despite the violence, Mr. Sharon told his cabinet ministers tonight that he intended to continue meeting with the first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli officials said.

At least two of the attacks appeared to be the work of militants from Hamas, which opposes any negotiations with Israel. But at the cabinet meeting, ministers reviewed information implicating Mr. Arafat, Israeli officials said, without disclosing details. Mr. Arafat dismissed the accusation as propaganda and, in a telephone interview with Fox News, condemned violence against civilians.

Since December 2001, Israel has tried to isolate Mr. Arafat internationally, but it had not instituted a policy of ignoring all foreigners who meet with him. Israeli officials said the ban would apply only during the visit in which any offending official saw Mr. Arafat. They said it would not apply to five visits that were already planned, including one by the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin.

The Bush administration has not sent officials to meet Mr. Arafat since last June.

The attacks were also a blow a deliberate one, it seemed to the new Palestinian government of Mr. Abbas, fanning Israeli doubts about his ability or willingness to fight terrorism. Further, Mr. Abbas had been hoping that President Bush would persuade Mr. Sharon during their meeting, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, to accept the new peace plan, known as the road map.

The violence came before, during, and after a three-hour meeting Saturday night between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas, the highest-level talks between the sides since the current conflict began 31 months ago.

The meeting left the leaders still at loggerheads, with Mr. Abbas insisting that Israel must adopt the peace plan before he could act against violence, and Mr. Sharon insisting that the Palestinians must stop terrorism before he could begin making the substantial concessions called for in the plan.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visited Jerusalem a week ago to press both parties to begin putting the plan in action. But Mr. Sharon has argued that the plan slights Israel's security needs, and he had intended to lobby Mr. Bush for substantial changes.

Diplomats involved in the peace effort said any prospect of pressure from Washington on Israel had been rendered less likely by the violence, particularly a suicide bombing aboard a Jerusalem bus this morning that killed seven people in addition to the bomber. Two Israelis a settler and his pregnant wife were killed in a separate suicide bombing on Saturday evening, in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Two other attacks resulted in no Israeli casualties. Minutes after the bus bombing this morning, another suicide bomber blew himself up on the outskirts of Jerusalem. And Israeli security forces shot dead two Palestinian gunmen overnight Saturday as they tried to infiltrate a settlement in the West Bank.

"It's pretty grim," one Western diplomat said. "We desperately need a signal from Washington on how they're going to proceed."

Another diplomat said, "Anyone who tries to say anything positive right now is going to look stupid."

In a statement today, Secretary Powell condemned the bus bombing and called on the Palestinians "to begin to take immediate and decisive action to eradicate the infrastructure of terrorism."

Nabil Amr, Mr. Abbas's minister of information, issued a statement condemning the violence and saying that the Palestinian leadership "is serious in taking measures and arrangements that aim to stop such attacks in order to create a proper atmosphere for resuming the political process." He called on Israel to accept the peace plan.

With the plan still pending, Israeli soldiers have continued to operate in what by previous agreement is Palestinian-controlled territory. In Khan Yunis today, in the Gaza Strip, soldiers shot dead an 18-year-old man described by Palestinians as an unarmed civilian. The army said it fired on Palestinians who were planting a bomb.

[Early Monday, a Palestinian suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself next to an Israeli patrol in the central Gaza Strip, slightly wounding three soldiers, Reuters reported.]

Israel also banished to Gaza for one year a West Bank Palestinian whom it accused of aiding a brother in terrorist attacks. The Israeli Army called it the first time in eight months that it had resorted to such action, which it referred to as "limitation of residence." Israel describes the action as part of a policy to deter people from assisting terrorism.

The new peace plan calls on Israel, in a first phase that includes a Palestinian crackdown on violence, to take "no actions undermining trust, including deportations." The plan is the work of a diplomatic "quartet" consisting of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

The plan calls for parallel progress on what are known as the security and political tracks, on the theory that past agreements failed because they stressed security, the central concern of Israel, over progress toward statehood, the central concern of Palestinians.

Israeli officials said their public would not support the plan.

"As an Israeli, I don't want to hear the words `road map' right now," one senior official said. "What counts for me is the seven bodies, and the funerals we are going to witness tomorrow morning."

Unlike Mr. Arafat, who retains control over much if not most of the governing Palestinian Authority, Mr. Abbas has almost no popular backing. Palestinian officials say he can do little to act against violence without tangible gains from Israel, like an easing of checkpoints.

Mr. Abbas has said he will disarm Hamas, but he has tried to accomplish that through negotiation rather than force, as Israel demands.

Moshe Katsav, Israel's president, said, "Our willingness to make concessions is a result of the Palestinian willingness to battle terrorism," adding that "as the security situation and terror worsen, the willingness to make concessions diminishes."


Sharon underscores search for Mideast solution despite bombings
Jacques Pinto

JERUSALEM, May 18 (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insisted late Sunday he sought a just solution with Palestinian leaders despite a double suicide attack in Jerusalem that killed seven people plus the bombers.

After cancelling a pivotal trip to Washington, Sharon held an emergency meeting of his cabinet which concluded with a statement saying he was determined to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

The prime minister "is determined to make progress and eventually achieve quiet, security and genuine peace and all the things which stem from these things," the statement said.

Sharon "will continue in his efforts to reach a hopeful and correct solution which will bring about quiet, security and peace for both our peoples", it added.

The suicide attack unleashed a barrage of Israeli accusations against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom US and Israeli leaders want sidelined in the search for peace.

The blasts came hours after Sharon held his first talks with Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas on implementing an international peace plan known as the roadmap, which ended inconclusively.

Sharon's statement Sunday said: "The State of Israel will continue to operate in order to prevent any intention to murder its citizens until there is proof that there is someone on the other side who is capable of doing so."

One suicide bomber blew himself up after boarding a bus in the city's French Hill area, killing seven other people.

A heavier death toll was nonetheless avoided because a second attacker blew himself up prematurely nearby, police said.

Police Chief Shlomo Aharonishki said the first bomber was disguised as an Orthodox Jew and that a skullcap and prayer shawl were found on him.

The attack in the annexed east Jerusalem neighbourhood was the first suicide attack in Jerusalem in six months and the first inside Israel since three people were torn to shreds in a Tel Aviv pub three weeks ago.

Six of the victims on Sunday were Israelis while the seventh was a Palestinian from east Jerusalem.

Around 20 people were also wounded, four seriously, in the explosion which came hours after another suicide bomber, also disguised as a religious Jew, killed two settlers in the southern West Bank city of Hebron late Saturday.

Hours later, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian militants who had infiltrated a Jewish settlement in the northern West Bank, and another teenager was killed in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis, Palestinian sources said.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops shot dead another young Palestinian in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun, Palestinian medical sources said.

Khaled Nasser, 15, was killed by heavy machine-gun fire from an Israeli tank, the sources said, adding that clashes between Israeli troops and young stone-throwers had wounded 17 Palestinians.

The latest deaths bring the total number of people killed since the beginning of the uprising to 3,253, including 2,454 Palestinians and 739 Israelis, according to an AFP count.

The worst spate of anti-Israeli attacks this year prompted Sharon to postpone a trip to Washington, where he was due to meet with US President George W. Bush and hold talks on the roadmap, which Israel has refused to accept without changes.

Israeli public radio said Sharon decided not to leave the country in order "to personally supervise the fight against terrorism".

He held off from a massive response, however, "so not to destabilise the government of prime minister Mahmud Abbas," who was sworn in last month by the Palestinian parliament on a platform of bringing an end to the violence of the 31-month intifada, said Israeli television channel 10.

During the cabinet meeting, Sharon ruled out deporting Arafat from the West Bank despite the clamour for his expulsion among Sharon's right-wing constituency, the channel added.

Palestinian information minister Nabil Amr condemned the suicide attacks and urged Israel to exercise restraint in its response.

Abbas, during his first meeting with the Israeli prime minister since being sworn in on April 30, had given Sharon assurances the Palestinian side would make a "real and sincere effort" to curb militant groups, Sharon's office said.

An earlier statement issued by Amr said Abbas had urged Israel to officially accept the blueprint, stressing he could not start implementing it without full Israeli approval.

"We are ready and we have the ability to deliver on our commitment to the roadmap, but we need you to do the same on your side. We cannot work on the basis of a partial approval," Amr quoted Abbas as telling Sharon.


Statement by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser - May 18, 2003
Information Department, Israel Foreign Ministry - Jerusalem

Following is a statement delivered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Media Adviser, Arnon Perlman, this evening (Sunday), May 18, 2003, following the Cabinet meeting:

"This morning's terrorist attack in Jerusalem in which seven civilians were killed and dozens were wounded, last night's terrorist attack in Hebron in which a husband and his pregnant wife were killed, and other attacks and victims in recent days, all prove - again - to us and the world what kind of an enemy the State of Israel is dealing with. The murderous suicide attacks which have struck the entire region, and which have been directed against Western targets, show all of us the brutality of the enemy with which we are at war.

The objective of Palestinian terror, as perpetrated by all of the organizations operating out of the Palestinian Authority areas and from abroad, is to continue to murder civilians, women, children, babies and the elderly simply because they are Jews and Israelis. The goal of the terrorists, their accomplices, those who dispatch them, and those who finance them, is to cause us to despair and lose hope. They will not succeed. The State of Israel will continue to fight terror everywhere, at all times, and in every way possible. The State of Israel will continue to act in order to foil the murderous designs on its citizens until we see that there is someone on the other side who can do this.

Israel is a peace-seeking country. Its hand has always been, and will always be, extended in peace to those who are willing, and mainly to those who can accept it. However, peace can prevail only after terror has been defeated, only after there will be quiet here. Only then will it be possible to make diplomatic progress.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is determined to make progress and, in the end, to achieve quiet, security and a genuine peace, in all its ramifications. The Prime Minister will continue his efforts until the hoped-for and correct solution is reached that will bring quiet, security and peace for both peoples.

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet send their condolences to the families of those who were murdered and their best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were wounded and who are still hospitalized."

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Replies: 1 Comment

IDEAS? Thank you, Mr. Jefferson!

Many of us agree that 'ideas' represents an anemic effort by the U.S.
in dealing with Iraq and other Middle East countries - and a few
others. Pushing a concept of 'democracy' is rightly perceived as
merely 'political' and thus unacceptable under their philosophical
and religious criteria and appears to be shallow when compared to
America's true potential offering to the world out of our unique
founding and inventive creative-growth values and experiences.

The definitive in human nature is the ability to make choices at
the individual level. (Is there any other kind of human? 'Groups'
are verbal conveniences - not Reality.) All humans share in this
true depiction of our nature. Man is earth's choice-maker.

Such a valid assertion undercuts every alien opinion and is verified
everywhere on planet Earth daily. Thus, nature itself has laid the
foundation for every human relationship, institution, and social act.

What are our leaders waiting for? Mr. Jefferson's statement, "all men
are endowed by their Creator with...Liberty" says the same thing.
(Liberty is internal - the ability to choose. Freedom is external -
the opportunity to choose.)

As I taught my 5th Graders for over 30 years, it is as natural a
requisite for man the choice-maker to require Freedom as for a gold-
fish to need water!

Please take part in placing this concept before the leadership of our

Warm regards,
Jim Baxter
Santa Maria, CA

For the complete statement, see:

"What is man...?" Earth's Choicemaker

P.S. I successfully taught this concept in public, private,
and Christian schools for 30 years. My choicemaker-based
civics workbook (Gr. 5-8) won numerous awards in the '60's
and was placed in the Eisenhower Presidential Library,
Abilene, KS, by "Ike," himself.

Isn't it time for a universal "Season of Generation-Choicemaker"
to flower world-wide and bear fruit? Mr. Jefferson would agree.
I trust you and others will also agree. JFB

* * * * *

Posted by Jim Baxter @ 06/10/2003 07:34 AM CST

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