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2004-03-12 15:08:00
Embassy Tel Aviv
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 001587 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2014

Classified By: Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)


C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 001587



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2014

Classified By: Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)


1. (C) In a March 10 meeting with the Ambassador, Minister
of Science and Technology (and Shinui MK) Eliezer Sandberg
outlined his opposition to unilateral withdrawal from Gaza,
adding his view that the Israeli public is moving in that
direction as well. Sandberg cited three reasons for his
opposition: history shows that the withdrawal from Lebanon
encouraged greater violence and the present intifada; Israeli
military presence within Gaza is needed for the time being;
and aversion toward appearing to reward Arafat. Sandberg
could support withdrawal from Gaza if it were coupled with
measures designed to send the message to the Palestinians
that it did not come without a price (e.g. shifting of
settler presence to the West Bank), and provide the incentive
for negotiations. He would support a unilateral move only if
the IDF were to signal that continued presence in Gaza is not
militarily tenable. Sandberg indicated that he and other
Shinui members would vote their conscience and not be bound
by party loyalty if this issue were brought to a Cabinet
vote. Turning to science issues, Sandberg expressed
frustration at the limited budget and clout of his ministry.
He would like to have closer relations with the USG --
particularly on space issues -- and stated that he has
pressed PM Sharon to embrace nanotechnology in the same
manner that Israel created the National Water Carrier and
Dimona nuclear facilities. Sandberg has been in the Knesset
since 1992, is Chair of the Shinui Knesset faction and while
one of the party's more right-wing members, is not regarded
as an influential figure. End Summary.

Israeli Public Moving Toward Settler Position

2. (C) Sandberg, one of 5 Shinui members in the Cabinet,
opened the meeting by asserting that public sympathy in
Israel is shifting toward the settl
er position on Gaza
withdrawal. If the Palestinians would only attack soldiers
protecting the settlements, then public opinion might well
build for unilateral measures. But as long as attacks
continue within Israel, the public sees the value of
continued Israeli military presence in Gaza. Sandberg
outlined three key reasons why he opposes unilateral
withdrawal. First, the Lebanon experience demonstrates that
unilateral withdrawal inspires the Palestinians toward more
violence. It gives them hope that through terror they can
force Israel to run. Second, Sandberg believes that Israeli
military presence is still required in Gaza for the time
being. The ability to rapidly segregate the Strip into three
isolated boxes and to control crossroads offers valuable
security. Finally, this move will be viewed as rewarding
Arafat -- "the partner who betrayed us" -- and continuing the
failed Oslo process.

Palestinians Have to Pay a Price

3. (C) The Palestinians must be convinced that there is no
alternative to negotiation, Sandberg continued, and a price
must be paid for Gaza withdrawal. To do otherwise would feed
the view that time is on the Palestinian side and that the
Israeli presence in the region is reversible. He suggests
that withdrawal from Gaza be coupled with a settler move to
at least one West Bank area to create facts on the ground
that will change only through further negotiation. This
would accelerate, not retard, efforts to return to
negotiations. Sandberg would apply the same approach to the
separation barrier, pushing deeper into the West Bank with
the understanding that it could be moved back through
negotiation. Planting the barrier close to the 1967 border
would be the worst case scenario since it would remove any
incentive for the Palestinians to come to the table. In the
end, Sandberg opined, we will evacuate many areas in the
territories, but "we must be tough now in order to be soft
later." How would Sandberg react, the Ambassador queried, if
the USG were to offer the GOI "something attractive" in terms
of coupling the withdrawal with additional measures in the
West Bank. Such a move would be persuasive, the Minister
replied, since it would provide the Palestinians with an
incentive to negotiate.

Shinui Unity in the Cabinet

4. (C) With respect to whether Shinui will vote as a bloc
should the withdrawal issue come to a Cabinet vote, Sandberg
noted that "it depends on who you ask." He made clear that
he would not feel bound to follow the party line --
suggesting that he is contemplating leaving public office
anyway at the end of his term -- and indicated that up to
four Shinui Cabinet members may be prepared to buck the party
position on unilateral withdrawal. He will vote his
conscience, Sandberg continued, and the only set of
circumstances that could cause him to change his view on a
unilateral withdrawal would be if the IDF were to declare
that continuing to stay in Gaza and providing security for
the settlements was not militarily tenable.

Science Ministry Struggling

5. (SBU) Turning to his role as Minister of Science and
Technology, Sandberg bemoaned the small budget and clout of
his ministry. The three principal foci of his ministry are
management of 10 R&D centers, support for the Israeli space
program, and efforts to coordinate GOI positions in key areas
of applied research. Sandberg expressed interest in closer
relations with NASA -- particularly in the fields of science
education and efforts to send a second Israeli astronaut on
the shuttle. He also recounted efforts to expand Israeli
scientific presence in the global scene, including the recent
S&T agreement signed with India and discussions with
Ethiopian officials concerning exchanges in the areas of
research, education and equipment. He indicated that he
intends to participate in the next Earth Observation Summit
ministerial in Japan. The Ambassador noted that Israeli
observers have not been regularly attending meetings of the
OECD Committee on Science and Technology Policy, a logical
place for Israeli input on issues of regional and global
concern. Sandberg stated that he had only recently become
aware of this problem, and had asked the Director General of
the Ministry to resolve the matter. He reassured the
Ambassador that Israel was interested in remaining engaged on
the committee.

6. (SBU) In Sandberg's view, the GOI should engage in a
major policy and research initiative in the area of
nanotechnology. He suggested to the Prime Minister that an
effort along the lines of construction of the National Water
Carrier or the Dimona nuclear facility be dedicated toward
this field. Although the GOI could never match the resources
that the USG and European countries have dedicated, he
believed that Israeli scientists could establish their niche
and gain access to international funding. The Ambassador
suggested that the U.S.-Israel binational science
organizations (Binational Industrial Research and Development
(BIRD), Binational Agricultural Research and Development
(BARD), Binational Science Foundation (BSF)) might provide a
convenient mechanism for Israeli scientists to engage U.S.
counterparts in state-of-the-art research in the field,
potentially leading to access to additional USG or
international funding.

Bio Note

7. (C) Sandberg, a Knesset member since 1992 and Minister
of Science and Technology since 2003, is one of the Shinui
party's right-wing members. He is not regarded as one of the
more vocal or influential members of the party. Sandberg
began his political career in the hard-line Tsomet party,
where he served as legal advisor and secretary general.
While in Tsomet, he was one of the architects of the
electoral reform proposals adopted in 1992. He left the
party in the late 1990's during a round of "party musical
chairs," when 14 ministers who were not returned to the
Knesset on their own party lists joined other parties, where
they were promised a high enough slot on the list to be
elected. Sandberg ultimately joined Shinui, and now serves
as chair of the Shinui Knesset faction. He has served on the
economics, constitution, law and justice, and science and
technology committees. From February 1998-June 1999 he was
Deputy Minister of Education, Culture and Sport. Sandberg has
long fought draft deferrals for yeshiva students and the
stringent Shabbat regulations, and pushed for Israeli
membership in the European Union. Sandberg graduated with a
degree in law from Tel Aviv University. He delayed his entry
into the military by participating in the academic reserve,
eventually serving as a lieutenant in the Army Prosecutor's
Office. He is married, has three children and speaks Hebrew
and English.

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