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Middle East Crisis Headlines - 1/18/2001
Opposition leader Ariel Sharon has set out his peace plan, in which Israel would not cede any more land to the Palestinians. Sharon confirmed the details of the plan which were published today in the Hebrew daily "Haâ€™aretz." Under the plan, Israel would aim for a long-term interim agreement, where the Palestinians would continue to rule the areas they now control in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In Judea and Samaria, that would total about 42 percent of the territory, a far cry from the 95 percent offered to the Palestinians by Prime Minister Ehud Barak. All the settlements would remain in place, and while Sharon would not build new communities, he would continue to expand them, especially around Jerusalem. Israel would retain control of the strategic Jordan Valley on the border with Jordan, traditionally regarded as vital for preventing an invasion from the East. Sharon would offer the Palestinians economic cooperation and development projects, provided they cooperate with Israel in fighting terrorism. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat described Sharon's proposals as a "recipe for disaster, a recipe for war."
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami said today that there's still a slight chance for a peace agreement before Israeli elections on February 6th. Speaking after meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Cairo last night, Ben Ami said he had the impression that the Palestinians "really wish to exhaust the possibilities of this process with us." But with his popularity plummeting over concessions to the Palestinians, Prime Minister Barak is sounding less than enthusiastic about the peace talks. "This subject torments me," Barak said in a campaign ad, referring to the fact that negotiations are being conducted as Palestinian violence continues. "The more I think of it, the more I hate it." Barak added that meeting Arafat is "no great joy."
In a mafia-style shooting, three masked men carrying guns equipped with silencers opened fire on the director of Palestinian television as he sat in a restaurant in the Gaza Strip. The victim, 54-year-old Hisham Mikki, was an associate of Yasser Arafat. He was shot ten times. The Palestinian authority quickly blamed collaborators with Israel for the murder, but that charge was proven false when a Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the attack. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which has in the past claimed responsibility for attacks on Israeli targets, issued a statement saying its "anti-corruption" unit had gunned down the TV chief. The group said it had killed Mikki because he misappropriated millions of dollars earmarked for the Palestinian people and sexually harassed female employees. It accused Yasser Arafat of failing to punish corrupt officials. "The failure of the... Authority and its president to punish those filthy people has pushed us to punish them," it said. The attack seems to indicate growing opposition to Arafatâ€™s regime, since it took place just out of his headquarters and criticized his leadership.
The intifada has killed tourism to Israel. According to a new report by the Central Bureau of Statistics, tourism in the fourth quarter of last year dropped off by 54 percent compared to 1999. Nevertheless, the year 2000 was still a record year, with 2.672 million foreigners entering the country. The first three quarters of the year were the best ever (up 25 percent from the previous year) because of the millennium and the visit of the Pope. But with the Palestinian uprising and the threat of terrorism continuing, the outlook for 2001 is grim.