August 1, 2004

Members from Israeli Likud and Shinui parties met yesterday at the Dead Sea shores with the Adviser of President Arafat Mamdouh Nofal and four other Palestinian officials in preparation for implementing the separation plan. Both parties agreed that implementing the separation plan is a first phase towards changing the current political situation. They also agreed that a ceasefire must prevail and other meetings must take place to find the spirit of confidence. The meeting was initiated by Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) for the purpose of finding means to resume the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian side was attended by Mamdouh Nofal, Gayath Omari, Riyad Malki, and Elias Zananiri. The Israeli side was attended by Michael Ratson and Michael Eitan and Majali Wahbeh from the Likud and Eilan Libovic and Eti Livni from Shinui Party. The Israeli participants expressed optimism regarding the meeting. Eti Livni said it seems that there is a leadership in Gaza that we can push dialogue forward with them. There is great importance in dialogue with the Palestinian officials who state publicly that they oppose terrorism and talk about the need to fight terrorism. Israeli MK Wahbeh said: at the end of the day the Palestinians started to criticize their leadership. Despite their opposition, we agreed that the separation steps are the hope to resume the peace process.

Meanwhile, Cairo will host today Egyptian-Israeli talks that gather Israeli Labor Party member Matan Vilnai with Egyptian FM Abul Gheit and Dr. Osama al-Baz, political adviser to President Mubarak, and Chief of Egyptian Intelligence Apparatus Omar Suleiman. The talks are devoted to tackle the unilateral separation plan prepared by Sharon. (Al-Quds)




Likud MKs meet Palestinians, call for dialogue

A group of MKs led by Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Ratzon and Knesset Law Committee Chairman Michael Eitan met Palestinian officials at the Royal Dead Sea Hotel on Friday, in a workshop organized by the Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information.

The Palestinians included Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's strategic adviser Mamdouh Nofal and journalists Riad Malki and Elias Zanzniri. Other MKs that participated included Majallie Whbee(Likud), Eit Livni (Shinui), and Ilan Leibovich (Shinui).

The Israelis and Palestinians issued a joint call to resume the diplomatic process parallel to the disengagement plan, in an effort to use the plan to promote bilateral steps through the Road Map.


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Michael Ratzon after a meeting with Palestinians – interview with Dave Bender
A|ME exclusive - 8/2/2004 12:00 AM
Israel, according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will undertake no diplomatic process with the Palestinians until the destruction of their terrorist infrastructure as demanded in the road map and that is why his disengagement plan is a unilateral initiative.

Meanwhile, however, informal talks do go on between Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors from across the political spectrum, the latest example being a parley on Friday at a Dead Sea resort attended by Likud and ministers and Knesset Members, including Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Michael Ratzon and Knesset Law Committee Chairman Michael Eitan. The Palestinians included Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's strategic adviser Mamdouh Nofal and journalists Riad Malki and Elias Zanzniri. Likud MK Majalli Whbee and Shinui MKs Eti Livni and Ilan Leibovitch also attended the session.

Ratzon, who is against Sharon's disengagement initiative, explained to Access|Middle East’s Dave Bender why he was prepared to talk to Palestinians despite the government’s official stance. The off-the-beaten track get together was set up by the Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) in an effort to keep lines of communication open between the sides.

A|ME: What induced you to take part in the IPCRI meeting, and what transpired between the Israeli and Palestinian representatives?

Ratzon: “Well, I’m generally supportive of such meetings bolstering dialogue, despite absolutely understanding the reality that such get-togethers establish a positive atmosphere and are not formal talks that take executive decisions.”

“There were also Palestinian academic representatives, journalists and PA officials. It was, certainly from that standpoint, a fascinating and interesting discussion.

A|ME: What was on the agenda?

Ratzon: “At issue was the disengagement plan’s effect on the Palestinian Authority and bilateral relations. Personally speaking, I, of course, oppose the plan and the evacuation of communities, such that I found it very difficult to go along with conclusions reached at the parley, which supporting the plan and a cease-fire.

“But I can tell you that I learned a lot about the Palestinian positions. For example, about the grave situation in the PA, which is facing dissolution and total anarchy; of a significant possibility of a Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip, as a result of the planned disengagement. They [the Palestinian delegation] are very concerned about this.

“I also learned something else no less interesting, about the extremely harsh, semi-public criticism of Arafat…

A|ME: But hasn’t slamming PA Chairman Arafat become a very public trend recently?

Ratzon: “Sure -- there’s been a spate of newspaper opinion articles saying it quite openly -- as far as I’ve seen. It was certainly a refreshing change to see the willingness for a change in leadership and reform in the PA.”

A|ME: How does the PA view this parley? After all, you met with officials very close to Arafat.

Ratzon: “I don’t know how Arafat viewed the meeting, but I have no doubt that he’s fully aware of any talks of this nature, and while I can’t tell you if he agreed to the parley, I can say that he updated ‘on-line’ about what’s taking place.”

A|ME: What is the outlook for the Palestinian Authority in light of the increasing anarchy and wave of violent attacks and kidnappings in recent weeks?

Ratzon: “I think something [significant] has taken place in Palestinian areas; the PA has lost control over the Palestinians. We’ve seen the gangs trying to take control over what’s taking place -- like [Mohammed] Dahlan or other groups in Gaza, and now spreading to the West Bank.”  

A|ME: Do you view Dahlan as strong enough to take over from Arafat, or will be soon?

Ratzon: “He has taken the first steps to gain power in Gaza, perhaps leading to a bid for a presidential position… maybe the next step will be seeing the terrorists or anarchists controlling this area… hopefully a short period before new leadership takes over.

A|ME: You are considered a solid Likud right-winger; how do you justify meeting with PA officials close to Arafat?

Ratzon: “Listen. Any public figure wielding any degree of influence has to get acquainted with the range of opinions, get a feel for what’s happening, on the ground; to learn what going on first-hand and not just via the newspapers and intelligence briefings.

“I find these get-togethers, first and foremost, as being extremely useful for learning about prevailing opinions. It’s also vital to speak with people face to face, seeing them up close and not just via gun sights.

“Someone sure of where he stands has nothing to fear from meeting the other side, or that it will change his opinions -- although it possible, and that’s nothing to be afraid of either.

A|ME: Do you think you changed anything in the Palestinian’s positions?

Ratzon: “Up until now, they always met with the left-wing Israelis, of the same political stripe. Lately they’ve begun meeting with Shinui members, and the Likud too, and the Likud has also changed its political stance. But I think it’s really worthwhile for them to also hear -- in my opinion -- central opinions, that, in the final analysis, are the ones prevailing in Israel today.

“I think my beliefs are held by the majority of the public, despite attempts to show otherwise in polling results, and it’s worth it for the Palestinians to hear them.

A|ME: What did they think of the Gaza-Jerusalem human chain demonstration held by the Right last week?

Ratzon: “They well understand that thinks aren’t as simple as they first seem, and that things won’t happen as fast as they’d hoped. At the end of the road, the Palestinians will have to accept a compromise or an agreement with these people [on the Right] and not only with the Left.

A|ME: What, all in all, was the significance of this meeting?

Ratzon: “You have to understand that these meetings are important, but not decisive, since policy is decided by the government of Israel. We can aid in setting a conducive atmosphere, express our opinions; but a final, executive decision can only be achieved by democratic means.

A|ME: What do you have to say to Arafat?

Ratzon: “I think it’s worthwhile that the PA Chairman, who has wide-ranging responsibilities towards his people and not to us, allow the next generation to take over, and lead the Palestinians to peace in the near future.”