|05TELAVIV2924||2005-05-10 12:11:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Tel Aviv|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (C) Summary: Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Chairman
of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Yuval Steinetz
told Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist May 2 that PM Sharon
would be "making a mistake" if he allows Egyptian troops to
deploy along the Gaza-Egypt and the Israel-Egypt borders.
Himself a disengagement opponent, Rivlin said that, although
the majority of Israelis support Israel's withdrawal from
Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank, there will be a
backlash once the populace realizes that they might also have
to give up settlements that are widely viewed by Israelis as
intrinsically a part of Jerusalem. Rivlin and Steinetz both
expressed what they called the GOI's disappointment with PA
President Mahmud Abbas's failure to disarm terrorist groups
as well as the codification of that failure in the agreement
reached with the factions in Cairo allowing them to keep
their weapons. Rivlin predicted that Abbas is too weak to
negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians, while Steinetz
compared Abbas to Arafat, who also allowed militant groups to
re-arm in the mid-1990s rather than completing their
destruction. End Summary.
Skeptical of Disengagement,...
2. (C) Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, accompanied by
staff members Mark Esper, Nick Smith, and Col. Michael
Barbero, met May 2 with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and
head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee
Yuval Steinetz. The Ambassador and Poloff (notetaker) also
attended. Rivlin opened the meeting by stating that,
although "the vast majority" of the Israeli public support PM
Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of
the northern West Bank, he believes the population will
ultimately view the PM's plan as a mistake -- once it sinks
in that Israel may also have to give up Jerusalem
neighborhoods that most Israelis think of as intrinsically
part of Israel, rather than as "settlements" per se.
3. (C) Asked if the evacuation could actually lead to civil
war, Rivlin replied that he was doing everything in his power
to prevent just that. "If we knew where we were going after
Gaza," he said, "it would be better." Israeli attitudes
towards the West Bank settlements are "totally different"
than towards those in Gaza, Rivlin said. Steinetz said that
he had supported the disengagement plan when it was
unilateral. Now, however, Israel and the PA are supposed to
be back on the roadmap, he continued, and the Europeans are
trying to get Israel to ignore the Palestinians' obligations
under the first phase. While he said he did not think the
situation would lead to civil war, Steinetz stressed that the
situation is very difficult for Israel. Rivlin's preference
is to live "along with" the Palestinians, so long as Israel
retains its fundamental character as a Jewish state. Many
Israelis, however, view a Palestinian state alongside an
Israeli state as a danger, he said. Rivlin said he agreed,
adding that if there is an actual border between Palestinians
and Israelis, there would inevitably be war.
...Of Abu Mazen, ...
4. (C) Noting that it had been hard to convince people,
especially the Europeans, that Arafat was a terrorist and
thus an obstacle, Rivlin opined that President Mahmud Abbas
(Abu Mazen) is headed down the same road of compromise with
terror as Arafat had in the past. Rivlin said that Abbas has
"failed to deliver the goods," and that Israel is intensely
disappointed, doubting even that Abbas can hold his people
together. The fact that the militant groups agreed only to a
period of quiet, as opposed to a cease-fire, is indicative of
the President's weakness, Rivlin said. Abbas is not, in
Rivlin's view, the person who will be able to negotiate on
the difficult final status subjects of refugees, permanent
borders and Jerusalem. Rivlin opined that Abbas will be able
to keep his position as PA president "only if we (Israel)
meet his every demand." Otherwise his government will
5. (C) When asked, in light of this pessimistic assessment
of President Abbas' chances for political survival, what
Israel could do to help Abbas, Rivlin replied that any
concessions from Israel while it remains engaged in the fight
against terror have ultimately been unproductive.
Furthermore, Israel has already made a number of concessions
-- now it is the turn of the Palestinians, who need to take
some concrete steps in order to build Israeli confidence in
them. Although he expressed confidence that most
Palestinians want peace, Rivlin said, the national movements
6. (C) Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Yuval
Steinetz agreed, adding that, until President Abbas met with
militant leaders in Cairo, the GOI had remained hopeful.
During his campaign, for example, Steinetz recalled that
Abbas had repeatedly promised to dismantle terrorist
organizations and unauthorized militias, as called for under
the roadmap. Since Cairo, however, things have clearly been
going in the opposite direction, Steinetz said, with
President Abbas having agreed that the organizations would
not be disarmed. Israeli intelligence, Steinetz continued,
is reporting that the militant groups are using the time of
quiet to recover, a development similar to what occurred with
Yasir Arafat in the mid-1990s.
7. (C) In response to the Senator's question as to what the
U.S. could do to help, Rivlin said unequivocally that the
U.S. must continue to insist that there be no more terror --
even the idea of terror in Palestinian society had to go.
Rivlin stressed that, as the U.S. had done with Syria, the
U.S. must maintain a consistent refrain opposing terror.
Steinetz concurred, adding that there are no acceptable
compromises on this subject and no valid shortcuts to
disarming the terror groups.
...and Last, But By No Means Least, Skeptical of Egypt
8. (C) Turning to one of his favorite themes, Steinetz said
that Lebanese organizations as well as Iran and Syria supply
most of the weapons to the Palestinians, but that, regardless
of place of origin, some 90% of all weapons and explosives
come into Palestinians hands via Egypt. Steinetz said that
Egypt is "doing nothing" in response. Furthermore, the GOE
is trying to "blackmail" Israel into accepting the deployment
of two Egyptian battalions along the Egypt-Gaza border and
another three armored infantry brigades along the
Egypt-Israel border. Some variant of this proposal is
currently being debated in the Knesset, Steinetz said,
calling it the "beginning of the end of demilitarization."
Sharon, Steinetz concluded, needs convincing that this is a
9. (C) Steinetz urged Senator Frist to recommend that the
U.S. use its economic and military aid to pressure Egypt into
backing away from what Steinetz termed its clear policy of
allowing the Palestinians to re-arm so that they and Israel
can "bleed together." Pressing his point, Steinetz said that
Egypt is doing two things. First, the GOE allows arms to
enter the territories through Egypt. Egypt, Steinetz said,
imprisons or even executes individuals who smuggle weapons
into Egypt, yet the GOE "does nothing" against those who
smuggle weapons out of Egypt. Second, Steinetz maintained
that the GOE is pressuring President Abbas into allowing the
factions to continue to exist, adding that the GOE had reined
in Arafat similarly in the mid-90's when the PA had cracked
down on Hamas.
10. (C) Rivlin echoed Steinetz's skepticism regarding Egypt,
saying that he does not believe that the Egyptians are ready
to "get involved seriously" in Palestinian affairs. If they
were, Rivlin maintained, they would be encouraging Abbas to
take on the militant groups, instead of the opposite.
Furthermore, allowing the Egyptians to deploy along the
Israel-Egypt border could also have implications for the
Golan Heights: Syria could well make the same demand, in an
area where there is only the width of the Sea of Galilee
rather than the entire Sinai peninsula dividing the parties.
11. (U) CODEL Frist did not clear this message.
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