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Middle East Headline Brief - May 4, 2001

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David Dolan
Israeli officials are anticipating the arrival today of a draft copy of the Mitchell Commission of Inquiry Report. A copy was delivered to the White House in Washington on Thursday. The "fact-finding" report, investigating the root causes of the violent Palestinian uprising that began last September, was compiled at the request of former US President Bill Clinton. The international committee that put together the report was headed by former US Senator George Mitchell. Israeli officials say they understand that the commissioners blame both sides equally for the explosion of violence. Israel's position is that there was no excuse for the Palestinians to revert to violence, despite the snags that developed in the peace process after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected far-reaching Israeli government concessions at the Camp David summit last July. Israeli officials note that Arafat signed a solemn pledge in 1993 that he would never revert to violence even if such log jams developed, and that his written promise was the basis of Israel's painful land transfers since then and its compliance in the establishment of an armed Palestinian security force, a Palestinian international airport, radio and TV stations, and other such trappings of statehood. Arafat maintains that the uprising was a spontaneous occurrence that he had little control over. However, Israeli officials note that his media outlets have been actively encouraging the violent uprising to continue since day one.

Israeli newspapers today report that US President George Bush, who met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Washington on Thursday, expressed shock that some Palestinian parents encourage their children to become suicide "martyrs" for the Palestinian cause. "I just can't understand such a thing," the US leader was quoted as saying. Peres said that Bush displayed great interest in learning more about the situation on the ground, and said he hoped to visit Israel in the near future. The two officials met at the White House for an hour. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said afterwards that Israel and the US have agreed to "work closely with Egypt and Jordan to rebuild trust and return to dialogue instead of violence." Meanwhile a Palestinian official responded to the Peres visit by renewing calls for the White House to invite Arafat to Washington to "counter the Israeli lies being told against us." The Bush administration has indicated it will not host the Palestinian leader until he keeps his Oslo accord commitment to halt violent attacks against Israelis.
Several Israeli politicians say they are upset over Thursday's announcement by Israeli Arab political leaders that they will encourage their constituents to march in Jerusalem in mid-May to commemorate "Catastrophe Day" (Al-Nakba in Arabic). The day is commemorated annually by Palestinians in the disputed territories on the May 15 date of Israel's establishment as a sovereign state in 1948, which the Arabs view as an unmitigated disaster. Most of Israel's one million Arab citizens did not mark the day prior to Israel's Jubilee celebration in 1998, but participation in Palestinian "Al-Nakba" events have grown since then. The politicians say the announcement that Israeli Arabs will be encouraged to join in the scheduled Jerusalem march is another indication of growing extremism on the part of Israel's Arab citizens.

Israeli media outlets today are highlighting hostile remarks made by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad during a visit to Spain on Thursday. The Syrian leader maintained that the Sharon government is not at all interested in peace, and thus there is no reason for Syria to pursue negotiations with it. Assad displayed the Syrian regime's traditional hostility toward Israel by repeating a Nazi slur that he made at the Arab League summit meeting in March. He told reporters in Madrid that "The racism of the Israeli people is even beyond the Nazis." Such racism, he maintained, was displayed by the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister who "slaughtered Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982 in one of the cruelest human massacres ever." He failed to note that the hideous mass murders came amid a bitter civil war that saw atrocities on all sides, including many committed by Palestinian militia forces, and that the killings were actually carried out by Lebanese Maronite militia forces allied with Israel, but not controlled by it. On top of that, the Maronite forces were full of quite understandable wrath after the assassination of their beloved leader, Lebanese President Gemeyal, who was killed only a few days before in a bomb blast perpetrated by Syrian-backed agents. An Israeli commission of inquiry established after the mass Palestinian killings determined that Sharon shared some indirect blame for the slaughters in that he did not attempt to stop the Maronite forces from entering the camps. Sharon, who told the commission that he could not have imagined that the Catholic militia forces would carry out such an atrocity, was Defense Minister at the time.

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Middle East Headline Brief - May 4, 2001