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WikiLeaks: the 'Israel file'

April 10, 2011 10:50 P.M. (Updated: April 21, 2011 12:04 A.M.)
By: Charlotte Alfred
TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma'an) -- A portrait of behind-the-scenes commentary on Palestinian issues has been detailed in a series of Israeli newspaper reports on non-public US documents that began last week.

The cables were released by the founder of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks Julian Assange to Israeli newspapers in recent weeks. Stories began to hit newsstands Thursday, but were quickly pushed down the news agenda by escalating violence in Gaza.

The diplomatic reports include frank comments to US officials from Israel's top brass, in parliament, the army, and the settlement movement.

Israeli prime ministers on Abbas and Fayyad

The cables show Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu criticizing President Mahmoud Abbas in November 2009 for “sulking”, remarking in conversation with a group of US lawmakers that sulking “is not a good policy,” according to Israel's Haaretz daily.

The meeting report continued: “The premier also accused the Palestinians of exploiting ‘the stereotype that Netanyahu is a peace obstructionist,’ even though he had moved considerably toward them.”

Netanyahu complained that he had endorsed the two-state solution, removed West Bank movement restrictions, and tamed settlement construction with little in response, according to the documents.

“What have they [the Palestinians] done?” the prime minister laments, retorting, “Precondition upon precondition.”

Just before Netanyahu assumed office in March 2009, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave a different evaluation of Palestinian leaders, also in a meeting with US congressmen.

Abbas is not like Arafat, the cable quotes him saying: Arafat was a killer but Abbas is a “pleasant guy.”

Abbas and the Israeli premier spent many hours “in wonderful talks,” Olmert said.

Abbas’ electoral majority in 2005 gave him authority, but he did not use it, in Olmert’s opinion.

Caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, however, “was a good manager but not a politician,” according to Olmert.

Asked what advice Olmert would give his successor, the prime minister said he did not want to embarrass Netanyahu, noting his successor would give his ideas to Abbas but the president might tell him “to go to hell.”

The WikiLeaks 'Israel file'

The ongoing series of disclosures is based on some 10,000 cables related to Israel, including documents from the US embassy in Tel Aviv and consulate in Jerusalem, which contain some of the most militarily sensitive information, according to The Guardian newspaper.

The first batch of leaked documents were aired in the international press in November 2010, after which Netanyahu said "Israel has not been harmed at all by the publication in WikiLeaks."

Assange told Al-Jazeera in December 2010 that he had 2,500 files related to Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.

Hamas' election victory

Cables record top Israeli defense adviser Amos Gilad warning a US State Department official in September 2005 about the Palestinian election in January 2006, Haaretz reported.

Gilad told Elizabeth Dibble that "We are doomed if Hamas becomes a real power and part of political life, especially as the PA continues to be helpless."

Israeli officials failed to anticipate the results of the vote, which saw Hamas take over half of the seats. Gilad predicted Hamas would win 40 percent.

"This will give them a good showing, but will not saddle them with responsibility," he said.

He continued: "They will offer anything to win votes, and then they will take over the municipalities. They have a plan to take over Nablus and all the jobs it will offer. This will give them incredible power. Then they'll prepare the Palestinian street so that their frustration will erupt."

Israel's Palestinian minority

The latest cables to be released, detailed in Haaretz, show Israel’s internal security chief telling a US diplomat in May 2008 that Palestinians in Israel "have taken their rights too far."

The Shin Bet is a "voice for assisting Arab-Israelis constructively," the agency’s director Yuval Diskin said before continuing to outline the threat posed by Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament and Palestinians entering Israel via family unification.

The reunification of West Bank- and Gaza-born family members of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or residency has been in effect halted since 2003.

Diskin said prior allowances for reunification had been "foolish," as Palestinians in Israel have family connections with "bad people on the other side doing bad things," and such relatives "brought their bad ideas with them."

The security chief also alluded to race-based concerns about maintaining a Jewish minority. He said that "The Bedouin have brought women with them from the Gaza Strip and Jenin, and now have many children."

"We need to manage this immigration in a controlled way," he continued.

Diskin criticized the role of Palestinian members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, saying that "these people don’t spread Israel's democratic values and principles, and abuse their diplomatic immunity."

They are "flirting with the enemy," he alleged, "co-opted by people like [Syrian President] Bashar Assad."

He accused Palestinian Knesset members of trying to take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new direction and give it a new “national color."

"Thankfully, they are not succeeding, and their efforts are not filtering down to the general public, which is more concerned with daily life."

On Friday Palestinian MKs reacted angrily to the leaked remarks.

"With this statement Diskin has defined us as enemies and not citizens," MK Hanin Zoabi of the predominantly Palestinian party Balad told Ynet, an Israeli news site.

"We know what Diskin means when he says we bring negative ideas with us. He wants to shut us up," she said.

"We don't care what people say about our participation in Palestinian conferences together with people from all over the world. What Diskin fears is what we say about Israeli democracy and the new laws."

MK Taleb El-Sana, United Arab List-Ta'al, called for an investigation, Ynet reported.

Diskin "has gone too far," he said.

Discord in Israel’s political establishment

The cables also showed internal dissent in the Israeli political establishment on how to deal with Palestinian issues.

Diskin criticized the Israel police "incompetence" which led the Shin Bet to interfere in the case of Balad’s chair, Azmi Bishara, who was accused of spying for Hezbollah and left Israel in 2007.

A report from the US embassy in Tel Aviv in November 2009 also cites army general Yoav Galant, at the time responsible for Gaza and southern Israel, saying that "Israel’s political leadership has not yet made the necessary policy choices among competing priorities."

Galant referred to Israel’s short-term goal to strengthen Hamas, in order to enforce a ceasefire, while preventing the movement from furthering its hold on Gaza in the long term.

Settlers and the leaked cables

Leaked documents also show settler leaders criticizing the so-called price-tag policy, in which settlers engage in violent reprisals against Palestinians following Israeli curbs on their illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Elyakim Haetzni, a founder of the Yesha settlements council, said in a meeting with US diplomats that he was concerned that settler rabbis were not doing enough to deter aggression against Palestinians.

Yesha's head, Danny Dayan, was quoted as saying that some settlers' behavior was "morally horrific."

In remarks which the settler leader now insists have been taken out of context, Dayan was quoted as saying in the meetings that economic incentives to leave the settlements would work "if the price is right."

A Haaretz editorial also highlighted cables showing that Israeli policy-makers depend on the nongovernmental organization Peace Now, which opposes the settlements, for information on the enterprise in the West Bank.

Eitan Broshi, an aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, was quoted in 2008 as telling US diplomats he was "eager" to meet Peace Now representatives to discuss settlements in the West Bank.

Later, US officials quoted a Peace Now representative saying that Broshi "did not appear to be aware of the recent construction in some settlements and questioned the legality of construction in some others."

Israeli newspapers are expected to continue reporting on the thousands of documents in their possession in coming days, but some commentators are already sharply criticizing their leadership over the disclosures.

In a withering Haaretz op-ed Monday, Israeli analyst Alon Idan said the WikiLeaks "Israel file" has shown that "the Israeli public likes to be governed aggressively by persons who tend to feed them lies."
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