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05TELAVIV3244 2005-05-31 06:53:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tel Aviv
Cable title:  

STAFFDEL TALWAR DISCUSSES DISENGAGEMENT WITH

Tags:   PREL PTER PGOV KPAL KWBG OREP EG SY IS GAZA DISENGAGEMENT 
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TEL AVIV 003244 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2015
TAGS: PREL PTER PGOV KPAL KWBG OREP EG SY IS GAZA DISENGAGEMENT
SUBJECT: STAFFDEL TALWAR DISCUSSES DISENGAGEMENT WITH
ISRAELI OFFICIALS

Classified By: Political Counselor Norm Olsen; Reasons: 1.4 (B) and (D)
.



1. (C) Summary: Staffdel Talwar discussed the disengagement
process with high-ranking Israeli military and foreign
affairs officials, minister without portfolio Matan Vilnai,
senior members of Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres' staff,
and an opposition leader during a visit to Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem on May 8-12. An NSC representative called
disengagement a "test case" of the PA's ability to handle
security, economic, and political responsibilities. The
Israelis outlined coordination efforts with the Palestinian
Authority (PA) and complained of the lack of a unified
Palestinian position. Vilnai said that the Israeli cabinet
agrees on the need to strengthen Abbas, but opposition
figures countered that they do not believe this is PM
Sharon's true objective. MOD representatives stressed the
need to balance security constraints with the desire to
assist Abbas and complained that the PA is not doing enough
to prevent terrorism.



2. (C) Summary continued: Most discussion partners said they
believe that the PA will postpone the upcoming legislative
elections and all expressed concern that Hamas will win the
vote. Vilnai acknowledged that Israeli officials meet with
Hamas representatives. None of the Israeli politicians,
officials, or staffers had a clear answer for staffdel on
what will follow disengagement. Peres' staff requested
further U.S. leadership in the peace process, while an
opposition leader urged the USG to update the roadmap,
consider a third-party monitoring system, and provide the PA
with a letter on U.S. views on a Palestinian state, security
issues, and the question of a capital. MFA and MOD officials
expressed concern about Egypt's unwillingness to prevent
weapons smuggling and cautioned that attacks by Hizballah
from Syria or Lebanon could lead to Israeli retaliation. End
summary.



--------------------------



--------------------------


Status of Disengagement and Coordination with the PA


--------------------------



--------------------------





3. (C) Minister without portfolio Matan Vilnai greeted the
staffdel with the words "disengagement is now the main issue
in our lives." He labeled the Cabinet's decisions on the
security barrier and disengagement "historic," claiming they
represent an acknowledgment by the right wing that there will
be a two-state solution. Eran Etzion, the deputy national
security adviser for foreign affairs, stressed that the GOI
sees disengagement as a "test case" of the PA's ability to
handle security, economic, and political responsibilities.
Opposition politician Yossi Beilin, on the other hand, called
disengagement a "terrible misstep," claiming that it will
only give Gaza to Hamas at a time when Israel finally has a
real partner in PA President Mahmud Abbas. Nevertheless, he
said, U.S. support for disengagement leaves him "no choice
but to support Sharon."



4. (C) According to Einat Wilf, Vice PM Shimon Peres' foreign
policy adviser, Peres sees his role as "making disengagement
better" by coordinating the process with the PA and
demonstrating that Palestinians will benefit economically.
She said the process is complicated by splits within the PA,
with PM Ahmad Quraya' opposing the process and Civil Affairs
Minister Muhammad Dahlan leading a more pragmatic group. In
a separate meeting, MFA Director General Ron Proser also
complained that Quraya' is opposing Abbas and Dahlan on
disengagement. Wilf described the coordination process as
currently "in a bit of a lull," claiming that the PA appears
to be torn between its desire to blame Israel for
disagreements and its hope of demonstrating the PA's ability
for self government. Nevertheless, she stressed the positive
aspects of the talks, saying that they are "creating
structures" for closer cooperation.



5. (C) Wilf noted that three coordination groups began
meeting in the beginning of May to discuss technical issues:
a security dialogue headed by DefMin Mofaz and Interior
Minister Yusif, a dialogue on the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement
led by PM adviser Dov Weissglas and senior negotiator Sa'eb
Erakat, and an economic/civil dialogue led by Peres and
Dahlan. She said that the GOI will not discuss safe passage
between Gaza and the West Bank or the reopening of Gaza's
airport, items it considers to be final status issues. Wilf
described Israel's goal in the talks as the transfer of
authority issue-by-issue to the Palestinians.



6. (C) MOD adviser Baruch Spiegel called the GOI's
willingness to coordinate disengagement and crossing points
with the PA a "very important change." Addressing the issue
of property left behind in Gaza, NSC staffer Etzion said that
the GOI will not destroy production facilities in Erez, but
is still examining how to handle greenhouses and private
property. He noted that the NSC had recommended leaving the
property in place, but the cabinet's amended disengagement
decision states that it will be destroyed. He added that
many ministers are "not inclined" to reopen the disengagement
debate.



7. (C) Spiegel complained that talks with the PA have been
"more negotiation than coordination." Similarly, Etzion
claimed, the PA had delayed technical meetings on ports, the
economy, and customs. Even now, he said, the Palestinians
are placing conditions on further cooperation that they know
Israel cannot accept. He speculated that the Palestinians
are stalling in order to create a crisis prior to Abbas'
upcoming visit to Washington.



--------------------------


GOI Attempting to Strengthen Abbas?


--------------------------





8. (C) Wilf said that Vice PM Peres is concerned that the GOI
and the international community are not doing enough to
strengthen Abbas in the run-up to disengagement. According
to Vilnai, the Israeli cabinet agrees on the need to
strengthen Abbas but not on how to do so. Vilnai expressed
frustration with Sharon's refusal to release additional
Palestinian prisoners. Wilf noted that Sharon finds it
difficult to take the necessary steps without further
alienating his party base. Beilin disagreed that the GOI is
trying to strengthen Abbas, commenting, "at the end of the
day, the last thing Sharon wants is a Palestinian partner."
Labor Party supporters Ron Pundak and David Levy maintained
that Sharon wants to maintain Abbas in a weakened state, but
"would prefer to see him fail than to succeed."



9. (C) MOD adviser Baruch Spiegel outlined steps that the GOI
is taking to improve the life of Palestinians in the West
Bank and Gaza. Spiegel said his office is focused on how to
give the Palestinians a chance to succeed after disengagement
and the completion of the security barrier. In Spiegel's
estimation, "the crossing regime is the major key." He said
terminal modernization, privatization and redeployment of
many IDF personnel behind the security barrier will reduce
friction between the IDF and the Palestinians in the West
Bank by up to 80 percent. In response to staffdel questions,
Spiegel said that there are currently 14 manned Israeli
checkpoints and 124 unmanned roadblocks in the West Bank, not
including crossing points in the security barrier. He
compared these numbers to mid-2004, when the GOI maintained
28 manned checkpoints and 250 roadblocks in the same area.
Spiegel acknowledged that the Palestinians claim a much
larger number of checkpoints and said he would met with OCHA
on May 10 to go through the list barrier-by-barrier.



10. (C) Spiegel admitted that there is little chance for
improvement in the Palestinian economy without freedom of
movement, adding that movement between the West Bank and Gaza
is currently "almost zero." He nevertheless insisted that
only the security barrier gives disengagement a chance to
succeed. He discussed steps to increase capacity and speed
passage of goods and people at the crossing points. He
called the new Erez terminal, which should be completed by
the end of 2005, a model for nine other terminals in the West
Bank. He said that the new terminal will be capable of
increasing the numbers of crossings from 5,000 today to up to
20,000. Likewise, he hopes that truck crossings at the Karni
terminal will increase from 340 to 800 a day.



11. (C) Spiegel noted that after the disengagement process, a
contiguous area twice the size of Gaza will be under PA
control around Jenin in the northern West Bank. He claimed
that the GOI has "stopped all physical activity" on
construction in the E-1 area until planning work is completed
and a final decision is made on how to proceed. He noted
that the GOI has begun planning a bypass road around the area
to connect Bethlehem with Ramallah and the expansion of the
existing Jericho-Jerusalem road.



--------------------------

--
Israeli Complaints of PA Inactivity on Security


--------------------------

--



12. (C) In IDF intelligence research chief Yossi
Kupperwasser's view, the Palestinians are in a "problematic
situation" with the PA and Hamas running parallel Palestinian
authorities in the West Bank and Gaza. He said that "the PA
does not show any real readiness to cope with the problem,"
claiming that the PA has the capability -- but not the
political will -- to act. He called restructuring the PA
security forces "a real move forward," but said that the PA
is not investigating, arresting, disarming, trying, or
punishing terrorist attacks or smuggling incidents.
Kupperwasser said that Abbas challenges the political wisdom
of terrorism, but continues to call Palestinian terrorists
heroes.



13. (C) NSC staffer Etzion claimed that "none of our security
agencies say that Abu Mazen is fulfilling his
responsibilities under Sharm." He acknowledged that there
have been minor improvements in Palestinian conduct under
Abbas, but added that "even after lowering your expectations,
the PA is not performing." Beilin said that Sharon told him
that the PA security forces are sharing information with the
GOI about upcoming attacks, but are not taking action to
prevent them. Labor Party supporters Pundak and Levy
suggested that Abbas could make visible progress by taking a
harder line against extremists in Fatah, thereby sidestepping
for the moment the problem of confronting Hamas. Vilnai
stressed that the PA must fight terror, or "disengagement
will stop the day after Gaza."



--------------------------


The PA Elections and Hamas


--------------------------





14. (C) Etzion predicted that the PA will postpone its
legislative elections "by a few months." Pundak and Levy
agreed. Peres' aide Avi Gil noted that a delay might not
help the PA or GOI. In Wilf's analysis, Abbas is distracted
by the upcoming elections and "panicked" about a possible
Hamas victory. Wilf expressed concern that a Hamas victory
would be used as an excuse by other Arab states to postpone
democratic reforms in their own countries.



15. (C) Beilin complained that GOI pressure on the PA is
forcing it to compromise with Hamas, thereby strengthening
the extremists. Drawing parallels to Hizballah in Lebanon,
Vilnai said that dealing with Hamas is a "double edged sword"
that has the potential to both moderate the group's behavior
and legitimize the party. He acknowledged that Israeli
officials meet with Hamas representatives, saying he had done
so himself in the past. Wilf stressed the importance of
formulating a joint U.S. and European policy on Hamas prior
to the PA elections, a policy she said should insist that
Hamas completely renounce violence if it wants a future
political role.



--------------------------


No Post-Disengagement Policy?


--------------------------





16. (C) None of the Israeli politicians, officials, or
staffers had a clear answer for staffdel on what will follow
disengagement. Spiegel said that post-disengagement
political decisions are "still open." Pundak and Levy agreed
that there is "no real plan" on what to do next. Beilin
expressed concern that "no one is trying to square the
circle." He suggested that another interim agreement,
possibly one linked to a third further redeployment
envisioned by the Oslo Interim Agreement, would be a logical
next step. Pundak and Levy complained that the peace camp in
Israel is currently adrift.



17. (C) Wilf acknowledged that Peres and the Labor Party
prefer a quicker and broader process, but "no one wants to
push Sharon until after disengagement is complete." Wilf
listed three factors that she said inhibit consideration of a
post-disengagement plan: Abbas's concerns about a Hamas
victory in PA legislative elections; paralysis on the Israeli
side as Sharon tries to recover his ground in Likud and the
opposition forgoes any step that might postpone
disengagement; and the U.S. electoral calendar, which will
soon shift President Bush's focus squarely to domestic
issues. Beilin cautioned that a lack of progress after
disengagement could lead to an "explosion" or third Intifada.
Separately, Wilf, Gil, Pundak, and Levy all agreed that such
a scenario is possible.



18. (C) Several politicians and staffers predicted early
Israeli elections. Vilnai said that a vote could be called a
few months after disengagement or -- at the latest -- prior
to the budget debate in May 2006. He said his personal plan
for peace is to "define borders for Israel and get inside
them," calling disengagement merely the first step. Beilin
noted that he will withdraw his party's support for PM Sharon
after disengagement and seek a permanent settlement with the
Palestinians. He claimed PM Sharon has dismissed the idea,
telling him "You believe in a permanent agreement. I do
not."



--------------------------


Israeli Views of the U.S. Role


--------------------------





19. (C) When asked about any U.S. role in disengagement,
Vilnai replied that the USG should ensure that the
Palestinians adhere to the spirit of the roadmap. He also
advocated support for PM Sharon, claiming the prime
minister's position is currently "very tenuous." In
contrast, Beilin urged Washington to focus on
post-disengagement and increase pressure on Sharon for the
dismantlement of illegal settlements. Beilin claimed that
the USG could move the peace process forward by updating the
roadmap and establishing a public monitoring system. In his
opinion, only a third-party monitor can overcome the deadlock
that occurs whenever Palestinians and Israelis judge each
other's compliance. Beilin also called any settlement
construction in the E-1 area "the end of a permanent
solution" and urged the USG to make this point clear to the
GOI.



20. (C) Wilf requested further U.S. leadership in the peace
process, saying the current level of USG activity is "not
enough." She suggested either Abbas's visit to Washington or
the day after disengagement as opportunities for the USG to
invigorate the roadmap process. Beilin suggested that the
President give Abbas a letter addressing U.S. views on a
Palestinian state, security issues, and the question of a
capital.



21. (C) All of the Israeli politicians, staffers, and
officials welcomed the Wolfensohn and Ward missions. Etzion
suggested that Wolfensohn concentrate on improving the
crossing points for Palestinians and help "create the
conditions for Palestinians and Israelis to engage." He also
stressed the importance of obtaining financial assistance for
the Palestinians from the international community.



--------------------------



--------------------------


Other Israeli Concerns: Egypt, Syria, and Hizballah


--------------------------



--------------------------





22. (C) MFA Director General Ron Proser told the staffdel
that Egypt is "making good, constructive, noises, but nothing
is getting done on smuggling" of weapons. He noted that the
smuggling issue will determine how the GOI proceeds in its
planned evacuation of the Philadelphi strip. Proser urged
the USG to apply more pressure on Cairo, claiming that the
Egyptians lack the will to police the Palestinians. Etzion
at the NSC echoed this appeal.



23. (C) Kupperwasser claimed that the Iranians are flying one
cargo plane a day to Damascus with money and supplies for
Hizballah and Palestinian extremists in Lebanon.
Kupperwasser noted the importance of Israel's northern border
for Israeli-Palestinian relations, claiming that Hizballah is
increasing its efforts to kidnap Israeli soldiers and may
launch limited attacks to complicate the disengagement
process. He cautioned that Israel would consider retaliation
against Lebanese or Syrian targets for attacks launched from
their territory. He raised the possibility that Hizballah
may still decide to cooperate with the Lebanese armed forces.



24. (U) This cable was cleared by staffdel.

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