The Sham of Sharm

And what if Abbas does not deliver on his promises? Israeli government spokespeople at Sharm could not answer that question.

David Bedein,

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credit David Michael Cohen
Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, February 9th, 2005 - Avi Pazner, acting in his capacity as press spokesman for the prime minister of Israel said, "They will declare quiet. They will not sign anything. Sharon will not sign anything. The important thing is the 'quiet'."

He said this to more than 100 reporters who got off the plane at Sharm El-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula to cover the summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), Jordanian King Abudullah and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.

"At this summit, we will see calls for a cessation to violence," repeated Gideon Meir, a spokesman from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "There will be no cease-fire proclaimed here today." This was told to reporters as they arrived at an improvised press center established in small villas and tents next to the Movenpick Hotel conference center at Sharm El-Sheikh.

In other words, the consistent message in what the official Israeli government spokespeople told the media was a generalized call for an end to violence. However, the summit participants held no press conference so that reporters could ask the principals at the summit what they meant by "an end to violence". Journalists were allowed to follow the summit through video monitors only.

Israeli government officials were quick to point out during the many hours reporters waited in the press center for a press statement to be released that the Israeli government expected Abbas to dissolve terrorist organizations and to collect all their weapons, and to arrest any and all wanted terrorists. In exchange for which, Israel was prepared to make sweeping humanitarian gestures and free more than 500 Palestinians who had been convicted in Israeli courts of law of murder or of attempted murder.

And what if Abbas does not deliver on his promises? Israeli government spokespeople at Sharm could not answer that question.

Israeli government officials were quick to say, however, that Abbas has not arrested or disarmed one single Palestinian terrorist since his election, which took place exactly one month before the Sharm summit. Israeli government spokespeople did note that Abbas had only ordered that terrorists be "apprehended", and he released the terrorists after their arrest.

Israeli government officials in Sharm did also report to the press that there had been a "reduction in Palestinian incitement" in the official Palestinian media. Indeed, on the previous Sunday, February 8th, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the Israeli cabinet that there had even been a "reduction of incitement" in the Friday mosque speeches that were broadcast and telecast on the airwaves of the "Voice of Palestine" network of the Palestinian Authority, which is under the direct control of Palestinian leader Abbas.

At the summit, I showed officials of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Prime Minister's Office the text of the mosque speeches from the previous Friday, as reviewed by Dr. Michael Widlanski, who holds his Ph.D. on the subject of the official media of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli government officials were surprised when they perused these texts, which called for the violent liberation of all of Palestine, once again, but this time, under the aegis of the new Palestinian leader.

Israeli government officials also did not know that the Fatah organization, also under the leadership of Abbas, had issued a written statement the day before the summit that limited their call for to an end to violence to civilians who live within Israel's pre-1967 lines; meaning that anyone could be killed in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, or that anyone who dons an IDF uniform, on a Tel Aviv bus or in a coffee shop, was fair play for murder.

Israeli government officials also did not seem to know that the official web site of the Palestinian Authority, on the day of the summit, continued to show cartoons of Prime Minister Sharon eating little Palestinian Arab children for breakfast.

Before the Sharm summit, I interviewed the expert retained by the Israeli government to monitor incitement in the Palestinian Authority. That expert indicated that he was not being given any administrative framework within which to operate. He also said that the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which was supposed to be supplying him with raw material on Palestinian incitement, was simply refusing to share information at this time with the Israeli government officials who are supposed to report about the state of incitement to the media.

After Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz also issued a statement that there had been a "reduction in Palestinian incitement," I dispatched the text of the mosque speech from Friday and the latest material from Abu Mazen Watch to his office. Our news agency received no response.

Meanwhile, Israeli government officials at the Sharm summit were asked about the legal ramifications of what it meant to free those convicted of murder or attempted murder.

I showed Israeli government officials pictures and descriptions of 25 Israelis murdered over the past two years by convicts who were released by the Israeli government as a gesture of good will, along with lists of more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists who had been freed from Israeli jails in political deals over the past 11 years, and who had returned to terrorist activity.

I asked if the Israeli government would bear criminal responsibility, if any of the new suggested list of convicts to be released were then to perform acts of murder.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry officials referred questions about the legal ramifications of the Sharon Plan to the officials of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, who were present at the summit.

Officials of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office referred legal questions of this nature to officials of the Foreign Ministry, who were also present at the summit.

It turned out that the Israeli government retained no legal personnel at the summit, and no Israeli government official would relate to either the moral or legal implications of amnesty for convicted terrorists.

While no Israeli government ministers besides the prime minister were present at the Sharm summit, five Palestinian ministers were present. Two of the Palestinian ministers fielded questions from the press - Sa'eb Erekat and Nabil Sha'ath. Both indicated that they would not settle for anything less than the unconditional release of Palestinian Arabs who sit in Israeli prisons.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was not available for questions in Sharm.

And despite repeated statements of all Israeli government officials, on tape and on the record, that no cease-fire had been agreed to in Sharm, the public relations firm that works with the prime minister of Israel reported to every possible media outlet that a cease-fire had been achieved.

And so it was, the sham of Sharm.

Hardly a cease-fire.