|Israel Resource Review
||25th Febuary, 2005
The Jericho Casino:
Why the IDF
Chief of Staff was Fired
Makor Rishon Staff
It took barely an hour following the start of this week's Knesset (Israel's parliament)Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting to figure out that its guest speaker, Israel Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, had quickly become the least popular person in the room. Mofaz was blasted equally by both left and right wing MK's committee members for his decision not to extend the tenure of IDF Chief of staff Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon past July of this year, just days before the Gaza disengagement plan is slated to be carried out.
In a rare and fleeting moment of unity, Meretz MK's Yossi Sarid and National Union MK Professor Aryeh Eldad both accused Mofaz of endangering Israel's security by turning Yaalon into a "floor rag to serve the immediate needs of Mofaz and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon". Oppositon head and Shinui party Chairman Tommy Lapid also said that Mofaz had made a mistaken decision in firing Ya'alon. MK Eldad even called for Mofaz' resignation.
Committee chairman Dr Yuval Steinitz said he was too dissatisfied with Mofaz' answers and that the committee would seek specific clarifications from him, Prime Minister Sharon and even the Chief of Staff due to the seriousness of the matter.
Likud MK Ehud Yatom pointed to Yaalon's public warnings and disapproval (as well as those of General Security Service Chief Avi Dichter) regarding Sharon's disengagement plan as the real reason for Yaalon's unexpected dismissal.
But, according to a credible security source, the main reason for Yaalon's ouster is more closely tied to the City of Jericho in the West Bank than it is to Gaza.
The source revealed that Ya'alon was critical of the recent set of security meetings between Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan, Senior Advisor to Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former PA Gaza Preventative Security Chief. The Chief of Staff reportedly warned Mofaz against turning over Jericho to PA security control at this time. Ya'alon reportedly told Mofaz. "What can Dahlan give you? He will not be able to secure the city." Mofaz rebuffed the chief of staff reportedly telling him that "the issue is a political one and not military."
According to a source close to the Palestinian Authority, Ya'alon's fierce opposition to relinquishing IDF security control over Jericho at this time and Mofaz' and apparently Sharon's displeasure with Yaalon's warnings, may also lead directly to the doors of the Jericho Casino and back to some senior offices in Israel.
The source noted that Yaalon and other senior security figures have expressed concern in the past that Jericho's casino profits --that have been estimated at more than one million dollars per day even after the start of the Al Aksa terror war in 2000- had also been used as a prime funding source for Palestinian terror activity against Israel. As recently as this month on Channel One's Friday evening program with Amnon Zichroni, journalist Uri Dan, a close associate of Sharon, said that the Jericho casino is a source of funding for Palestinian terror groups and should not be reopened now. Dan also said the Israeli underworld and their Palestinian counterparts are cooperating in the Jericho Casino racket." The problem, Dan added "is that the Palestinian underworld is also part of the current leadership of the PA."
Israeli concerns aside, Palestinian sources confirmed this week that returning Jericho to PA hands and its casino to full operation is now "at the top of the Palestinian agenda." West Bank strongman Jibril Rajoub and former senior Arafat financial advisor Mohammed Rashid, who is known to control Arafat's several billion dollar portfolio -top the list of Palestinians believed to have among the heaviest financial interests in the casino. It was also reported on radio Palestine in Arabic this week that Dahlan has been appointed Palestinian Minister for Local Government Affairs-- a post that would logically include responsibility over Jericho.
It is also well known in Israel that MK Omri Sharon, the Prime Minister's son and closest confidante, and Former Sharon Bureau Chief Dov Weissglass have been long time associates of Rashid. The younger Sharon and Weissglass were reportedly Rashid's guests at his swank Tel Aviv Apartment on the night of Sharon's election victory in February 2001 according to Israeli journalists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in their 2004 book, The Seventh War.
An Israeli source with close ties both to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan noted this week that some Israelis and Europeans may also be interested in reopening the Jericho casino as soon as possible. A very senior Israeli security source said this week that he and others in the IDF remember "with a cynical smile the repeated approaches Weissglass made to the IDF and security establishment after the closing of the Jericho Casino in 2001 to convince them to reopen the casino."It was well known to us that Dov Weissglass had personal interests in the Jericho Casino, the senior security source added this week. The source added that he does not understand Mofaz's role in the matter.
Of equal interest is the fact that Weissglass is still actively associated with his law firm Weissglass-Almagor that until recently was the law firm of record representing the Jericho Casino and other interests of the Palestinian Authority, facts that were reported in Makor Rishon and as recently as September 2004 by investigative journalist David Bedein in the American Magazine Frontpage.com. According to Bedein, the law firm Weissglass -Almagor is today listed as representing the interests of Casino investor and European financier Martin Shlaff whose alleged financial contributions to Prime Minister Sharon's 1999 and 2001 campaigns are under criminal investigation.
Prime Minister Sharon's office responded angrily to Makor Rishon's request for clarification regarding the reported Mofaz -Ya'alon discussion and the statements by separate senior security sources regarding Dov Weissglass' connection to the Jericho Casino.
The unsigned response from the office of the Prime Minister's media advisor read as follows:
"The arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians was signed between Defense Minister Mofaz and his Palestinian counterpart. Mofaz is soley responsible for transferring (security control of Palestinian) cities and he and only he will decide when to transfer them. In addition, even if the city of Jericho is transferred there is no intention of allowing Israeli citizens to enter the city, in accordance with the standing orders of the Head of IDF Central Command. The hinted charges in your request for clarification are not only a complete lie but they also contain intentional slander. "
Makor Rishon has not responded to the veiled threat made by the Prime Minister's media Advisor.
Dov Weissglass himself issued a similarly angry response some years ago against Mendy Orr, former Coordinator of Israel's activities in Judea and Samaria,. During the 1990's. At that time, Weissglass, who was not in Government service but represented the Jericho Casino, threatened to sue Orr for slander for his public charges that that the casino funded Palestinian terror groups. Following Orr's statements that he made while in uniform, Weissglass sent him a warning that if Orr did not take back his charges against the casino, Weissglass would sue him for slander. Orr ignored Weissglass' warnings.
Late last week it was also reported that Omri Sharon is expected to be indicted by Attorney General Manny Mazuz for breach of trust and illegal campaign contributions for misappropriating funds for his father's 1999 Likud primaries campaign and Sharon's 2001 campaign for Prime Minister. The Omri Sharon indictment is part of the ongoing investigation into his connection to various illegal funding sources including Martin Shlaff, reportedly a source of illegal campaign contributions to Sharon. Shlaff's loan to Sharon is believed by many to have been wired into the account of Sharon's South African connection and friend Cyril Kern before being transferred to Sharon's account in Israel. All these issues are still under criminal investigation.
Austrian financier Martin Shlaff is also well known as a major investor in the Jericho Casino, together with Sharon longtime friend Cyril Kern.
So perhaps even IDF chief of Staff Ya'alon did not realize how raw the political situation was that he touched when he told Mofaz that Jericho should not be transferred so quickly to Palestinian control.
Published in the weekly Israeli paper, Makor Rishon, 25.2.05
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Beneath the Moderate Veneer
"If anyone deserves to be given a chance, this is the guy."
So declared Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, referring to PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), in an address just this past Friday.
Abbas has been working hard to lend just that impression and he certainly seems to be succeeding. But precisely what does he "deserve?" Does this ostensible moderate truly seek the cessation of violence and genuine peace? Does he accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state?
More than 11 years ago now, on September 13, 1993, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO, shook the hand of a reluctant Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as the Declaration of Principles was signed on the White House lawn. A culmination of the negotiations in Oslo, the Declaration called for putting an end to "decades of confrontation and conflict" and stated that the parties would "strive to live in peaceful coexistence."
Within 24 hours Arafat had gone on Jordan TV and explained his position (in Arabic) with remarkable candor:
"Since we cannot defeat Israel in war; we do this in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel," he said.
At the end of 1995, a formal pact was established between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Signed in the names of Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, it called on the PA to "cease all preventative security." That is, in flagrant violation of Oslo agreements, the PA was agreeing to look the other way as Hamas continued terrorist attacks, and in fact viewed such terrorist acts - from which it publicly disassociated itself - as a means of pushing Israel harder in negotiations.
In the summer of 2002, well after Oslo had collapsed, Dennis Ross, who had been President Clinton's special envoy in the Middle East, addressed this approach when he wrote about Arafat's tactics in Foreign Affairs:
"Not withstanding his commitment to renounce violence, he has never relinquished the terror card," Ross said.
Now we see Mahmoud Abbas standing in Yasser Arafat's stead. Far more polished than Arafat ever was, certainly a good deal less abrasive, and likely considerably smarter, Abbas chooses to be seen as his antithesis - a new, moderate leader for a new time. Arafat was so deeply detested in so many quarters that it's not hard for Abbas to project this persona successfully. Worn down by the need to cope with Arafat, people are ready to embrace someone new. The current euphoria, the expressed hope that we may be on the cusp of peace, would not be possible without a vision of Abbas as the man of the hour.
Abbas understands that Arafat's belligerent style had become counterproductive and that terror attacks were not working to further Palestinian interests. Thus he is eager to project that appearance of moderation, and to bring to the area a period of "quietness." There is no question about this. But at the end of the day he was Arafat's buddy - someone who shared goals and values with him. At the end of the day Abbas has no more intention of relinquishing that terror card than Arafat did.
Born in S'fat in 1935, he fled to Syria with his family in 1948. By the mid-50s he had landed in Kuwait, where he hooked up with Arafat and helped to found Fatah - which, it should be noted, still advocates "liberation" of the entire land. As Arafat moved about over the years, Abbas went with him - to Jordan (where he became involved with the PLO when Fatah gained ascendancy in that group), to Lebanon and to Tunis.
For many years, Abbas was Arafat's deputy, his protégé and his constant companion:
"He was party to the plan to take Israel in stages. A formal PLO resolution outlining this strategy, called the 'Phased Plan,' was adopted in 1974," according to Arafat was referring to after the Oslo signing.
He was privy to the advice from North Vietnamese revolutionaries that the PLO should conceal its true intent and appear flexible. In fact, Fatah had the works of the North Vietnamese General Giap translated into Arabic.
He was cognizant of, if not deeply involved in, decisions to formally ally the PA with Hamas.
And, it must be added, he was the signatory on behalf of the PLO for the Declaration of Principles. While Arafat shook hands, it was Abbas who penned his name. Quite clearly, he was privy to Arafat's declaration a day later - which is to say, privy to the lack of sincerity that accompanied the show on the White House lawn to which he had lent his name. He has been partner to it all.
At one point in his career, Abbas went to Oriental College in Moscow, ostensibly to earn a doctorate in history. His thesis was expanded it into a book, called The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement. In it he explained that:
"[the Zionists gave] permission to every racist in the world, led by Hitler and the Nazis, to treat Jews as they wished, so long as it guaranteed immigration to Palestine…"
He was a Holocaust denier when he wrote that and remains one. In an interview he gave on official Palestinian TV, he charged that the Nazis had no specific plans to murder the Jews.
All indications are, however, that Abbas was in Moscow for a great deal more than academic study. By the 1970s, the Soviet Union had become a prime source of training in terrorism, espionage and indoctrination. It has been noted as more than coincidence that one of the first places Abbas visited after his election was Russia, where he met with President Putin, formerly of the KBG.
Not surprisingly, there is evidence that Abbas has been complicit in terrorism. A couple of years ago a charge surfaced that he was the man who financed the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich. The charge was made credible because it was leveled by Abu Daoud, the terrorist who planned the operation. More recently (in March 2003 in the Arabic paper Al-Sharq al-Awsat) he has sanctioned the killing of (civilian) Jews outside the Green Line.
Yossi Beilin, the left wing Israeli politician who worked with Abbas, believes that his positions during the Oslo negotiations were actually more extreme than Arafat's. Beilin says Abbas "was among Arafat's 'restrictors' during the Camp David summit." And indeed, Abbas lauded Arafat's rejection of Barak's offer at Camp David in 2000, saying:
"I do not feel any regret. What we did was the right thing to do. [No opportunity was missed since] the opportunity did not exist…they say 'we offered 95 percent [of the territory],' and I ask why not 100 percent."
He has sustained his uncompromising demand for full return to pre-1967 borders. He is even on record as questioning whether there was really ever a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, saying, "I challenge the assertion. But even if it were true, we do not accept it…"
Coupled with this is his consistent position over the years pushing for the "return" of refugees:
"The refugees…have the right reserved to return to their homeland and every place they have left…this is not only limited to land under the sovereignty of the PA. We demand their return to Jaffa, to Haifa and the other regions they came from."
Were Israel to accede to the demands of Abbas, she would find herself with indefensible borders, and overrun by hostile population within those borders: She would be facing her own destruction.
Abbas's present intentions, then, are clear for anyone who is ready to put aside wishful thinking and see that he will give the impression of moderation, and he will disarm people with his spoken commitment to peace. "We have agreed on halting all violent actions against…Israelis wherever they are," he intoned at the Sharm el-Sheik summit on February 8."
He will make loud noises about how the terrorists groups must cooperate in achieving quiet - which is in the interest of the Palestinian people. He will dispatch police - whose allegiance is dubious to begin with and who are not truly empowered to take strong action in any event. The "quiet" he stitches together will be a temporary quiet, however, merely consented to voluntarily by groups such as Hamas, who reserve the right to initiate terror again if and as they deem it appropriate.
At no time has Mahmoud Abbas committed to dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. He has made it clear that he will not do battle with the terrorists - who, he has indicated, are his brothers. Nor will he ask them to surrender weapons. Neither has he uttered a word about re-vamping the PA-published textbooks, which do not acknowledge Israel's legitimate existence and teach yet another generation of Palestinians about "jihad" and "martyrdom."
Abbas's immediate goal is withdrawal of the IDF to the pre-Intifada position of 2000. He would follow this with a rush to final status negotiations with Israel. It is nothing short of astonishing how frequently officials of the PA refer to the need to get to these negotiations quickly, when they haven't met even preliminary obligations under the roadmap. Abbas is clearly counting on the goodwill and impressions of moderation he is generating to lessen the stringency of the international community in requiring him to meet these obligations.
Is it possible that a rush to final status negotiations might bring a lasting peace and a genuine two-state solution? Consider the words of one Sheikh Mudeiris. The Sheikh is in the employ of the Palestinian Authority. He offered a sermon (in Arabic) on official PA TV on February 4. In it, he said:
"We tell you Palestine, we shall return to you, by Allah's will, We shall return to every village, every town, and every grain of earth which was quenched by the blood of our grandparents…Our willingness to return to the 1967 borders does not mean that we have given up on the land of Palestine. No!…We might be able to use diplomacy in order to return to the 1967 borders, but we shall not be able to use diplomacy in order to return to the 1948 borders [i.e., to the situation before Israel existed]… No one on this earth recognizes [our right to] the 1948 borders. Therefore, we shall return to the 1967 borders, but it does not mean that we have given up on Jerusalem and Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Ramle, Natanyah …and Tel Aviv… Never. We shall return to every village we had been expelled from, by Allah's will…Our approval to return to the 1967 borders is not a concession for our other rights. No! . . . Palestinians will return the way Muhammad returned there, as a conqueror." (Palestinian Media Watch translation).
These words would not have made it on to PA TV without the sanction of the PA head - Mahmoud Abbas. The PLO "Phased Plan," you see, is alive and well in the Palestinian Authority headed now by Arafat's good disciple. His goal is still the eventual destruction of Israel. Arafat would be proud of him.
Arlene Kushner lives and writes in Jerusalem. She had done three major reports on UNRWA for the Center for Near East Policy Research and is the senior investigative reporter for Israel Resource News Agency
on February 25, 2005
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