Israel Resource Review 30th December, 2002


Covering Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman's Press Conference in Tel Aviv
David Bedein

(Tel Aviv) December 29, 2002

Senator Joseph Lieberman made his final appearance in the middle east in a small press briefing that occurred near the US embassy in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, December 29, 2002.

The Senator had just returned from a visit to three Gulf states - Bahrain, Quatar and Saudi Arabia after an initial meetings in Israel and inside the Palestinian Authority.

Lieberman's opening remarks at the briefing addressed the morale of the US troops that he had just visited, and the determination of the US military "to do what needs to done". Liebeman declared that he hopes "that the US can finish the job with Saddam this time", and repeated his long standing position that the US should have finished off Saddam at the time of the Gulf War more than a decade ago, and that it was a mistake to have left Saddam in power.

I asked three questions of Senator Lieberman:

  1. What is your reaction to the daily drumbeat of support for Iraq that we have been hearing in the official media of the PA?

  2. What is your response to the PA endorsement of the murders that occurred this past of four yeshiva students this past Shabbat in Otniel.

  3. What is your response to the continued Saudi support for terrorism against Israel?

    In response to the first question, Lieberman said that "Palestinian support for the Iraqi cause can only hurt the Palestinian cause in the US", saying that that the US had not forgotten the Palestinian support for the Iraqis in the gulf war 12 years ago, and that the US had not forgotten how some Palestinians demonstrated against the US on September 11 2001.

In response to the second question Lieberman went on to say that "We support two state solution. This cannot occur until and unless terrorism ceases, and that "I would think that the PA must first stop terrorism. The one glimmer of hope was the level of hope that I found on my visit to Ramallah was the level of enthusiasm for the talks with the Hamas.which might result in at least a partial cease fire".

When I pointed out to Lieberman that the Hamas-Fateh talks in Cairo would allow for terrorism to continue in all areas beyond the 1967 armistice line in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Lieberman quickly said that "All terror must stop, and that what we have not seen is a full fledged effort from the PA to stop the terrorism " He then repeated his reading of a "spirit of hope" in the Fateh-Hamas talks, "even if that would result in a partial ceasefire"

A "partial cease fire" would mean the continued murder of Jews, yet Lieberman reiterated that he saw the Fateh-Hamas talks as a "glimmer of hope" at "a moment of despair". It was clear that Lieberman did not view the Cairo talks as a meeting of terrorist groups who were coordinating their next terror activities against the state and people of Israel

On the Saudi question, Lieberman chose to look at what the Saudis are doing to stop terror aginst the US, not what the Saudis are doing to stop terror against Israel. Lieberman noted that "there is a civil war inside the Islamic world, between the militant Islamic minority represented by Bin Laden and the rest of the Islamic world" and warned that Bin Laden intended to overthrow Saudi Arabia.

Characterizing Saudi Arabia as a "US ally", Lieberman said that he had called upon the Saudis to address a spirit of tolerance, and mentioned that he had indeed appealed for Saudis to stop supporting terrorism. Lieberman said that he was impressed by the steps taken by the Saudis to curb their support for terror groups that operate inside and against the US. Lieberman added that " The Saudi government did not have adequate control of funds" that were being diverted to charitable organizations in support of terror, but that he was "impressed with the Saudi plan for stopping the flow of funds to terror", and emphasized the strong coordination of US and Saudi intelligence.

I reminded Senator Lieberman that my question was about Saudi support for terror, and that the Israeli government had provided his office in Washington with hundreds of documents that were seized from Arafat's headquarters which proved the Saudi financing of terror against Israel.

Lieberman nodded his head and was careful to not say that Saudi Arabia would cease its support for terror against Israel.

Lieberman did say, however, that Saudi Arabia should "use its influence with groups like Hamas" to cease their terror activities against the state and people of Israel, and that " any support coming from Saudi Arabia to terror groups would be a detriment to peace".

Lieberman concluded that any process should be completed with "a recognition of Israel by the Arab states". Yet it was clear from Lieberman's remarks that neither the US government nor he as a US Senator would make any real demands that Saudi Arabia, defined by Lieberman as a "US ally", would cease and desist from financing terrorism against the Jewish state.

There were more questions that I would have asked Lieberman had he not stopped his press conference in order to make one more engagement before flying back to the US.

Those questions would have been:

  1. You were quoted as favoring the Saudi plan for peace. Are you aware of the fact that the Saudi Peace Plan endorses the "right of return" for 3.6 million Arab refugees to return to their "homes" from 1948 that have been replaced by Israeli cities, collective farms and woodlands

    You were quoted as expressing deep concern over the humanitarian conditions in the Arab villages and cities. Have you reviewed the well documented reports that show how the Palestinian Authority has plundered the humanitarian assistance offered to the PA?

  2. You mentioned this evening that US is pushing for democratic reforms inside the PA. What is your reaction to the fact that Arafat has placed 200 of his critics on death row and that the US will say nothing to stop him from murdering his opponents?

  3. You were quoted as favoring a limitation on settlement expansion. The US state department spokespeople have indicated that they want Israel to halt building projects in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, calling that an illegal settlement. Do you concur in that assessment?

  4. You were quoted as saying that the Palestinian Arab terrorists do not act on the basis of public support. Has your staff not shown you that consistent Palestinian Arab public opinion polls show that more than 75% of the Palestinian population favors murder attacks against Jews? Have you seen the study released today from the National Security Council of Israeli intelligence which details the extent to which the terrorists do indeed receive aid from the local population.

  5. This evening, you were quoted as favoring a democratic Palestinian state that would emerge from this process. Is there any sign of democracy in such a state?

  6. This evening, you again gave strong endorsement to the idea of an independent Palestinian Arab state. Have you considered the implications of the fact that the PA, which is the embryo of that state, has provided honorary asylum to anyone who will murder a Jew?

  7. Concerning Saudi Arabia, what will happen if the Saudis continue to Assert their right to support Arab terrorism against Israel. Will that affect the US-Saudi relationship in any way or your view of that relationship?

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Who is Briefing Senator Lieberman?
Dr Aaron Lerner
Director, IMRA

Just after a Palestinian public opinion poll demonstrated once again that the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian public continues to support terror and violence against Israel, Senator Lieberman proclaims that "it is not the Palestinian people who are to blame for the violence of the past two years, but rather Palestinian terrorists."

Other indications of a serious void in Senator Lieberman's understanding of the situation:

  • He praises Mubarak's "death takes an election holiday" efforts to bring about a temporary halt in the murdering of certain Israelis [hunting season would remain open for settlers and soldiers] to help the Labor Party campaign. The absence of any serious Egyptian efforts to close down the flow of terrorists and weapons from Egypt to Gaza via tunnels has no place in his narrative.

  • He calls for a "strong" Palestinian state - when the the last thing the region needs is a "strong" Palestinian state. If he wants a Palestinian state he might talk of a state with a "strong will and determination to prevent terror and violence" but this can be accomplished with a fraction of the security and forces and firepower the PA has today.

  • He calls for more heavy American intervention in the diplomatic process - a sure formula to encourage Palestinian intrasigience as they can sit back and wait for Uncle Sam to deliver Israeli concessions on a silver platter.

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Sen. Lieberman: Solution here would serve as global model
Shmuel Rosner
News Editor, Ha'aretz

At a meeting with journalists in Jerusalem yesterday, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman recalled a trip he once took to Asia with his good friend, Republican Senator John McCain. On that trip, he received the impression that there is a genuine war between Islamic extremists and the majority of Muslims who just want to live a quiet life. It seems to me, he said, that this is also the situation in the Palestinian Authority - and therefore, it is not the Palestinian people who are to blame for the violence of the past two years, but rather Palestinian terrorists.

The press conference and a subsequent conversation revealed more than a little about how the observant Jewish senator from Connecticut - his party's vice-presidential candidate in 2000, who said yesterday that he will "probably seek" the presidential nomination in 2004 - believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved, as well as his assessment of the conflict's significance and ramifications.

He was, of course, cautious, as someone vying for the presidential nomination must be at this stage. But he nevertheless made it clear that he views the solution to the conflict as two states for two peoples - "a free and secure Palestine" alongside a free and secure Israel. ["There's strong support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people for independent statehood," Lieberman told reporters in Ramallah earlier yesterday.

"The question is whether there will be sufficient leadership here and in the world to bring this about sooner rather than later."]

He is troubled by the expansion of the settlements, and he said so to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday. [He told the reporters in Ramallah that once the Iraqi crisis is resolved, Israel is likely to face American pressure on this issue. He also said he was troubled by the humanitarian situation in the territories, saying he had observed "desperate humanitarian conditions" during his tour of Ramallah.]

He believes that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat - who was pointedly left off the long list of Palestinian officials with whom he met yesterday - has failed as a leader, and that a halt to terror attacks is a necessary precondition for progress.

The great importance Lieberman attaches to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be seen in one sentence he tossed in at the end of his remarks: A solution to the crisis, he said, could serve as a model that could help prevent a "clash of civilizations" in other regions. This is a view that swells the conflict in the territories to frightening proportions. He also noted that the support Israel currently enjoys in the United States stems from the link Americans see between Israel's experiences and their own war on terror.

Overall, as is typical of American politicians, Lieberman is optimistic. He believes that American involvement is essential to resolve the conflict, as America is the only mediator accepted by both sides. And in the end, this mediator has only one serious proposal up its sleeve, he said: The Clinton plan is essentially indistinguishable from the goal at which the Mitchell, Tenet and Zinni plans - and most recently the "road map" now being worked on by the Quartet (the U.S., UN, European Union and Russia) - were all aimed. Furthermore, a free and democratic Palestinian state could serve a model for other Arab states, he told the Palestinian officials with whom he met yesterday.

Lieberman believes that the Bush administration's decision to postpone publication of the road map was reasonable under the circumstances. There is no point to the map if it does not lead to progress, he said, and at the moment, it appears that it would not. What would lead to progress? Perhaps the talks Fatah is holding with Hamas in Cairo over a cessation of terror attacks, he said. He discussed these talks yesterday with Abu Mazen and other PA officials and was impressed by their "enthusiasm" and willingness to move forward. His impression is that the Palestinians understand that the violence has gained them nothing. He said the Cairo talks could potentially spark a breakthrough even before the expected American war on Iraq - and if so, he would expect a "positive response" from Israel.

Lieberman is a hawk on foreign policy, and on many issues his approach is similar to that of the current President Bush. He believes that George Bush senior erred by not completing the job in Iraq in 1991, and he was one of the sponsors of a 1998 law that made regime change in Iraq America's declared foreign policy. Yesterday he said that the Bush administration was handling the Iraqi issue well, and that he supports the administration's policy "because it's right."

Bush's "axis of evil" speech, he said, was "good rhetoric - not good foreign policy." Therefore, the U.S. should not deal with North Korea the way it is dealing with Iraq. In North Korea, he believes that a diplomatic solution is possible. On Iran - and Syria - he recommends waiting, as regime change in Iraq could have a positive effect on these countries' behavior as well.

Lieberman believes that a Jew can become president of the United States. He truly believes this, he said. He said he will make a final decision on whether to run in January, but it seems as if he has already decided. "It's an enormous decision, and it obviously has a significant impact on my family's life," he said. His wife and daughter, sitting next to him in their suite at the King David Hotel, seem to have heard this sentence before - and to be fully cognizant of its meaning.

This news story ran in HaAretz on 24 December 2002

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Lieberman Optimistic about Hamas-PA talks
Correspondent, The Jerusalem Post

Significant leaders inside the Palestinian Authority are very hopeful that this week's talks with Hamas in Cairo could lead to a joint declaration of a cease-fire, US Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Monday.

He made these comments after meeting in Ramallah with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who will be representing the PA at the talks. He also met with PA negotiator Saeb Erekat and with Finance Minister Salaam Fayad.

If such a cease-fire declaration is followed by implementation on the ground, Lieberman told a press briefing in Jerusalem, "there is the beginning of an ember of hope that could be built into something more substantial perhaps a return to face-to-face negotiations."

"Abu Mazen seemed passionate, energetic, and optimistic about his ability to conclude these discussions successfully," he said.

Lieberman said such a declaration should elicit some kind of tangible response from Israel and the US, although he did not say what response he had in mind.

He praised Egypt for "showing leadership" in promoting these talks.

The senator from Connecticut, who last visited in the spring of 2000 on the eve of his landmark vice presidential campaign, said he told the Palestinians that the "most important thing they could do as Palestinian leaders is to separate Palestinian aspirations from terror and violence."

He said he also told the Palestinians what he told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the day before that Israel is enjoying more support in the US than he has seen at any time during his 14 years in the Senate.

"I believe the reason for this is because the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is being viewed by the American people and Congress in the broader context of the worldwide war on terrorism. The point I made repeatedly to the Palestinian leaders is that the cause of Palestinian nationalism and statehood can only be advanced if it is separated from the reality of terrorism," he said.

Lieberman took a jab at the Bush administration's Mideast policies, saying he believes the US should be more actively engaged.

"I think the probability that the situation here will get out of hand grows as the US is less engaged," Lieberman said. "And so I think even now we ought to be giving this more attention."

He said he had "tremendous regard" for the devotion former president Bill Clinton had for creating peace in the Middle East, and for the "enormous effort" he put into trying to solve the conflict.

At the same time, Lieberman does not advocate a return to the Clinton parameters, saying that while the endgame is clearly a two-state solution, "the details are up to the negotiators."

Regarding the US campaign against Iraq, Lieberman said he is happy that Bush has "embraced a position I have argued for a decade."

Though he said he thinks Bush has handled Iraqi policy well up to now, he said the time has come to "open up some of the intelligence information we have and share it with UN inspectors, more of our allies, and the public.

"I'm convinced, based on what I know from the briefings I have received, that the 12,000-page document given by the Iraqis was a lie. I can't say it more directly than that."

Lieberman said his concern with the administration's Iraqi policy has to do with what will happen after the war. He voiced concern that, as in Afghanistan, the administration is not adequately prepared for a commitment to Iraq the day after the regime is changed and "for as long as it takes to stabilize the country and hopefully create a strong, independent state."

Lieberman is considered a likely candidate for the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nomination. He has said he will make a decision about whether to seek the nomination early next year.

In Ramallah, he said he came with a message from Congress that it wants to take an active part in bringing peace to the region.

"There's strong support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people for independent statehood. The question is whether there will be sufficient leadership here, and in the world, to bring this about sooner than later," Lieberman told reporters after meeting PA Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

"It's important to bring about hope in Palestinians and among Israelis, because without hope there will be no progress."

Erekat said they discussed the presence of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and about the urgent need to revive the peace process.

"We agreed together that every effort must be exerted to revive the peace process and put it back on track," Erekat said. "And we agreed that, at the end of the day, if there's going to be peace, it's going to be in a two-state solution."

Touring the city, Lieberman was surprised by the damage to the main Palestinian West Bank commercial hub. "There are desperate humanitarian conditions here," he said.

Abed Rabbo said he had explained to Lieberman that the cabinet decided Sunday to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for January because it is logistically impossible for people to vote while Israel occupies every major Palestinian West Bank town and city, except Jericho.

News agencies contributed to this report.

This piece ran in the Jerusalem Post on 24 December 2002

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There was no Lull in Terrorist Attacks During the Month of December.
How Many Attacks Occurred During December 2002?

Following the murder of four Yeshiva students in Otniel on Shabbat, December 27th, 2002, it was widely reported in the media that this came after a lull in terror attacks. The only other instance in December where a death had occurred as a result of a terror attack had occurred when Rabbi Yitzhak Arama was murdered in a drive by shooting near Katif on December 20th, 2002.

The IDF computer shows that 351 terror attacks indeed occurred during the month of December, including mortar shells, drive by shootings, roadside bombs and ambushes. Hardly a lull.

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