Israel Resource Review 8th March, 2004


BJs for Journos
The Unreported Story of the Persecution of Jorunalists by the Palestinian Authority

Columnist, the City Paper (Philadelphia)

EAST JERUSALEM -- It's like a grand hotel from a Graham Greene novel, a silk-rug-and-polished-wood sort of place where you might ask the desk clerk to send a boy to your room. It's also where many foreign journalists who cover Israel stay.

The American Colony Hotel keeps a calligraphied honor roll of famous journos who've graced the place, topped conspicuously by Peter Jennings. For those sleeping elsewhere, but who go there to sip scotch, smoke cigars, snarf burgers and swap stories, there's also a guest book. My friend and I didn't bother signing though, because we know they could find out about us easily enough.

The "they" is the Palestine Liberation Organization. And while the Swiss reputedly run the hotel, it's long been said -- it's actually an open joke around those parts -- that the American Colony Hotel is the unofficial headquarters of the PLO. As a journalist, you go there for access and for safety.

Like many Arab-run sectors, East Jerusalem, where the hotel is located, is not a place you want to visit unaccompanied. The hotel is a shiny oasis in a filthy slum, where you'll find great phone service, wideband Internet and a chauffeured Mercedes driven by an expert who knows exactly where to take you.

For a journalist, it's a great place in an unforgiving land. Gripped by terror, the rest of Jerusalem is somber at night, but here, the hotel's many lounges are filled with laughter in a dozen languages. When I ask a polite and well-coiffed bartender for Armagnac, he motions to a long shelf of rare vintages -- and they're cheap. There are also scented gardens, a tiled pool and even a well-stocked bookstore, filled with the very best thinking on Israeli oppression. In other words, whatever a foreign journalist needs to tell the sad Palestinian story.

Meanwhile, just 50 miles southwest of the American Colony, Palestinian reporters are trying to tell another kind of Palestinian story. And for their efforts, the reporters are being beaten, harassed and finding their homes trashed. The Jerusalem Post reports that some 200 reporters in the Gaza Strip are staging a one-day strike. The reporters are refusing to report on anything the Palestinian Authority says or does because of these ongoing attacks against Arab journalists.

I Google the journalists-on-strike story -- no hits. Apparently, no Western reporters are writing about the beatings of Palestinian journalists. But then again, there's also no coverage of fellow reporters who are being treated to blows of a very different sort from the PLO, either.

Published in The City Paper on February 26th, 2004

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How the EU Funds PA Terror
A critique of Chris Patten's Policies
David Frankfurter
Business consultant, Corporate executive and writer

Whatever his other failings, European Commissioner for External Relations, Mr. Christopher Patten cannot be accused of beating around the bush. He evidently means what he says.

Take the stance he adopted on the repeated allegations of financial impropriety, relating to European funding of the Palestinians. On June 19, 2002, Patten stated: "I repeat. The documents presented to us by Israel do not prove that EU funds have been misused(nor) has financed terrorism"

Things look much less clear today. Officials from the EU?s anti-fraud OLAF office were in Jerusalem recently, reviewing evidence. Has EU financial aid for the Palestinian Authority (PA) been diverted?

However, OLAF is not the only inquiry in progress. French authorities have announced an investigation into mysterious transfers to Mrs. Arafat's personal bank balance. This might account for some $9 million. Where is the rest?

The scale of the alleged fraud is immense. Brussels has handed around 4 billion Euro to the PA since 1993, directly and via non-government organisations like UNRWA. This excludes significant contributions from individual European countries, from the USA, Canada, and from Arab League states. In 2003, EU transfers reached ? 245m. Some suggest that total foreign aid to the PA has finally exceeded the level of funding provided to Israel by the United States.

It's an open secret that the flow of money to the Palestinians has often lacked appropriate controls. This inherent weakness in the EU's budget structure is waiting to be tapped by the unscrupulous. At least some of that cash has funded terrorists and gunrunning, even through the misuse of ambulances.

Sadly, the victims of misplaced investment of this kind include citizens of the EU like Marianne Zaoui, murdered by Palestinian activists.

The weight of evidence confirms that much of the EU money paid to the PA has disappeared, with no benefit to the man on the street. Instead of investigating its own channels and procedures, the EC continues to wave an accusatory finger in every other direction.

As Europe's chief civil servant for foreign affairs, Mr. Patten is in the firing line over these allegations. Fair-minded people are entitled to ask whether the charges against Patten stand up to scrutiny.

Patten himself has long complained that it's not easy tracking money transfers to the PA. In that 2002 speech, he compared the situation to a previous career posting in Northern Ireland, where he feared that money was also being diverted. An interesting career record. In his defence, Patten has argued for years that the IMF monitored the distribution of EU funding to the Palestinians. The IMF's own website did clarify that point, way back in 2002, unfortunately not by backing the Commissioner but by contradicting him: "The IMF does not and cannot control downstream spending by the various Palestinian agencies. This matter remains between the PA and the donors".

Patten's distinguished team of advisors includes Mr. Alan Seatter, the Head of Division for the Near East Region. In evidence to a UK Parliamentary committee last September, Mr. Seatter gave assurances about the "improved" procedures by the PA's Ministry of Finance, largely on the basis that the new Palestinian finance minister has introduced proper controls.

Sadly, the minister, Mr. Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, has also spoken clearly. He has repeatedly reported that the PA's finances remain under a cloud of suspicion. Three short months after Seatter's conjectures, Fayyad stated: "Unfortunately, the documents related to the revenues from oil products - or how the money was used - can't be found. They have disappeared from the ministry."

Fayyad knows that these revenues, rightfully a resource of the Palestinian Authority, were deposited in a bank account under Chairman Arafat's personal name and sole control. Meanwhile, Seatter was openly stating the case in London for the PA and how it prefers to request general budget support rather than aid for specific infrastructure projects. What causes Patten's staff to ignore facts like these?

But there's more. Last year, Patten and others publicly praised on the management improvements proposed by Arafat?s handpicked prime minister, Abu Mazen.

Abu Mazen, another clear speaker, complained at length in his resignation speech of illegal tamperings with Palestinian civil servants' salaries, a payroll largely funded from contributions by the EU taxpayer. He abhorred the way that tens of millions were siphoned off annually from Palestinian monopolies. All this and more was simply a "cover for theft".

The EC's response to the speech: utter silence. Abu Mazen?s statement came some weeks before Seatter's testimony.

At least, the EC is being consistent. It has just released a statement, sponsored by EC chief Romano Prodi, committing "to review its block on 40m EUR in aid to the PA following concerted reform efforts".

Should we expect better? Patten's workload is immense. So, it's understandable that he apparently did not manage to review fully the IMF findings published in September 2003.? Had he done so, he would have seen that $900m was "diverted" (using the IMF's term) from PA tax revenues. He would also have noticed that these same "diverters" manage the EU-funded PA budgets - which, the IMF says, suffer from a long list of control flaws.

And Patten's officials have been up to their eyeballs with Afghanistan and Iraq. Does this explain their failure to appreciate the severity of the evidentiary material previously shown to them by the Israelis, very probably the same documents proffered to the OLAF officials? And as for checking out the myriad of reports available documenting the theft of UNRWA contributions and misappropriation of European donated hospital equipment by PA officials - well, how many hours are there in a day?

Let us not even ask about the EU millions sent to the PA to cover the budgetary gap, stemming from Israel suspending tax transfers collected on behalf of the PA. When the Israelis cleared the backlog and resumed the payments, several members of EU Foreign Affairs committees complained that no attempt was made to recover those EU loans. Some now assert that the Parliament had not actually approved the payments in the first place.

Are Parliamentarians trying to shift the blame to Patten, now that the money seems irrecoverable?

Let's be clear. Hundreds of millions of Euros have gone missing, but it's unfair to blame it all on Patten.

But let's ask this: How in the name of everything decent in Europe is it that a veritable library of verbal, written and circumstantial evidence, all pointing to the same conclusion: Massive misappropriation of vast amounts of money intended for the Palestinian Arab people has been ignored and denied for years

Some plain answers are urgently needed.

Patten's office no longer seems the place to go. Maybe the EC is just hoping the issue will be filibustered until the summer elections.

As Patten always explained, they were all just following the orders of the EU Parliament. Weren't they?

This article ran in on March 8, 2004

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High Level US Defense Establishment Sources Reveal:
Sharon has set May 1st as the day to Begin Retreat from Katif
David Bedein

Israel Resource News Agency has learned from highly placed sources in the US Defense Department that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has informed the US government that he intends to implement the retreat from Gush Katif as of May 1, 2004. This move is being carefully coordinated with the US, the UN and the EU.

Dr. Uzi Arad, the head of the Herzlia Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, says that "it was predictable that Sharon would find that there is no such thing as 'unilateral' withdrawal, and that this move will now find Israel with many bedfellows that it would rather not have".

That means one of two things. Either Sharon will implement a government decision and ignore any constraints, as he ignored the constraints that the government placed on the road map and the prisoner exchange, or he will implement the rules that he can apply under the military law which currently operates in Katif - cutting off electricity, water and protection.

This news item will appear in my column in the MAKOR RISHON newspaper on March 12th, 2004.


The following item which appeared in the Jerusalem Post on March. 9, 2004 elucidates the issues now at hand:

Disengagement Talks Pick up Speed
By Herb Keinon

Israeli-US consultations on the disengagement plan are shifting into high gear, with Shin Bet head Avi Dichter and Defense Ministry Shaul Mofaz holding talks this week in Washington, and a high level US delegation expected to arrive in Israel Thursday. In addition, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met Monday night in Jerusalem with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to discuss the disengagement plan.

Israel is interested in Egypt opening its borders for Palestinian workers after the IDF withdraws, and also for Egypt to take some security responsibility over the border area to prevent smuggling. Suleiman is expected to hold talks in Ramallah on the issue on Wednesday. Diplomatic officials said Egypt will be reluctant to play any future role in Gaza if it is not fully coordinated with the Palestinians.

Mubarak was quoted on Monday in the French daily Le Figaro as saying Egypt would not contribute to security arrangements in the Gaza strip after an Israeli withdrawal "It is a trap because we would find ourselves in a situation of confrontation with the Palestinians," Mubarak said. "And if there were a problem, we could even find ourselves in conflict with the Israelis." Sharon and Suleiman reportedly discussed the possibility of a Sharon-Mubarak meeting.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who has come out against unilateral steps, will be going to Egypt Thursday for talks with Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher about the disengagement plan. Sharon is expected to brief Shalom Wednesday on where matters currently stand. Diplomatic sources said Shalom will try to gage the level of Mubarak's declared opposition to an Egyptian security role in the post-Israeli Gaza Strip.

Sharon, meanwhile, said at a meeting with the American organizers of a project to build an Israel-Jordanian university in the Arava that he will be meeting Jordan's King Abdullah in "a few days." Officials in Sharon's office, however, said no date for the meting has yet been set. Dichter is currently in Washington and Mofaz is scheduled to arrive there Wednesday.

The US high-level delegation "Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the National Security Council's Elliott Abrams, and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns is expected to remain in Israel only until Friday night, and is slated to meet Sharon, his bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, and National Security Council head Giora Eiland, charged with developing the plan.

Diplomatic officials said the US is seeking answers to a wide variety of questions regarding the plan. The official said that even after Mofaz, Dichter and the three US officials go back to their respective homes; the US will still not have a final idea of the plan because "Sharon has not yet filled in all the details." The plans final details are expected to be unveiled to US President George W. Bush when he meets Sharon, a meeting still expected to take place before Pessah, which begins on April 5.

The officials said the US is looking for answers to a number of fundamental questions, including:

  • How extensive will the evacuation from Gaza be? Will it include the three northern settlements of Elei Sinai, Dugit and Nissanit?

  • Will Israel also remove its military presence from Gaza?

  • Who will control the strategic Philadelphia Corridor, and what will the Egyptian role be in patrolling that strategic road?

  • How will Israel coordinate the disengagement with the Palestinian Authority?

  • How will Gaza's maritime borders be patrolled to prevent penetration from organizations such as Hizbullah?

  • Where will the evacuated settlers go to live?

  • What will happen to the evacuated homes, will they be transferred to the Palestinians or razed to the ground?

  • What will happen to the water and electricity infrastructure left behind?

  • How will Israel respond if settlers physically resist evacuation?

  • What isolated West Bank settlements will Israel evacuate?

  • What plans does Israel have for the West Bank settlement blocks of Ma'ale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel?

  • Does Sharon plan on annexing these areas?

  • Who will be footing the bill for the disengagement project?

Diplomatic officials said despite reports the US administration is keen on seeing implementation of the disengagement plan wait until after the November US Presidential elections, it is difficult to imagine a plan of this magnitude getting off the ground before then even if the timing was unimportant to Bush.

The daunting task that Sharon will have to perform to pull the disengagement off includes overcoming opposition to the plan inside the Likud, getting the plan through the cabinet and Knesset, bringing Labor into the government if the National Religious Party and National Union bolt as expected, dealing with legal challenges by settlers to the evacuation, and then carrying out the actual physical removal of the settlers.

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Israel Deputy Min. Hendel Reveals Plans To Suppress Israeli Residents of Katif During Evacuation
Dr. Aaron Lerner

Israel's Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, and Sport MK Zvi Hendel (National Union) revealed secret plans from the Prime Minister's Office to suppress the Israeli residents in Katif during their evacuation in a live interview broadcast this morning on Israel Radio.

According to Hendel, the secret report provides for electricity and all communications (telephone, cellular phones, radio) to be shut off so that the Israeli residents are not able to communicate during the evacuation. Every building evacuated is to be immediately destroyed either by bulldozing or the use of explosives.

Hendel noted that while the plan provides for using a strong hand against the Israeli resident that it calls for the IDF to make every effort not to clash with the "Palestinians celebrating their victory at the gates" of the communities being destroyed.

This news item ran at on March 1st, 2004

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