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Several MKs: 'Foreign Minister Shalom Should Resign, He Runs The Foreign Ministry Like A Byzantine Court!'

FM Shalom: 'Let's Not Slavishly Follow The Smoke Screen By Ambassador Ayalon And The Media Over the Madonna Affair'

'Doubtful If Palestinian Election Will Be Held on July 17th'

FM Silvan Shalom

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has reacted to allegations that he acted inappropriately in seeking to fire Israel's Ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon; this because Shalom's wife Judy was not photographed with Madonna during her visit to Israel. Shalom told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the entire affair was a 'smokescreen' blown out of proportion and everyone should wait for the results of the Civil Service enquiry that is now underway at the Washington embassy. However several opposition members called on the Foreign Minister to resign.

'You are running Israel's Foreign Ministry as if it were a Byzantine Court!' Those were the charges of several opposition Knesset Members who demanded that the Foreign Minister resign. However Shalom rejected the allegations contending that he would be vindicated in not extending the term of Israel's Washington ambassador Danny Ayalon, an appointee of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In practice, Ayalon bypasses the Foreign Minister and reports directly to Sharon leaving Shalom 'out of the loop'.

The Foreign Minister has been facing a firestorm of criticism over the role of his Judy. It allegedly was her pique, over not been photographed with Madonna, that sparked the current scandal swirling around the Shalom and Ayalon in general, and the Foreign Minister's demand to fire Ayalon's top aide and not to renew the term of the Ambassador himself. Today in committee, Shalom tried to play down the whole affair by linking it to the dismissal of the Ambassador's aide. There were some 1,000 diplomats serving in 100 diplomatic missions around the world and Shalom quipped: 'In every barrel there are always some not so beautiful apples!'

Resign! Two committee members Ilan Shalgi of Shinui and Aryeh Eldad of the National Union accused Shalom of running the Foreign Ministry with all the corruption of a 'Byzantine Court'. They accused him of interfering in the administration of the Ministry by appointing Likud cronies. Eldad went a step further; he said Sharon should fire the Foreign Minister and then the people of Israel should fire the Prime Minister! Meretz MK Yossi Sarid agreed; he said that on a 'Richter scale for corruption' Sharon was the most corrupt with Shalom somewhere in the middle. Sharon went on to say that most cabinet ministers also had wives, but did not let them intervene inappropriately in their public affairs.· Shalom's Supporters: Likud Mks rallied to the Foreign Minister's defense. Chairman Yuval Steinitz said that something must be done about the anomaly of the Washington ambassador not reporting directly to the Foreign Minister.

Ehud Yatom: He felt the Foreign Minister had displayed public courage in appearing before the committee saying Shalom could have continued his tour of Germany. In praising Shalom for doing a good job Yatom cracked: 'Let your detractors drop dead!'

Uzi Landau: he also used the opportunity to take a poke at Ariel Sharon saying Shalom had taken a dim view of the unilateral disengagement; the same way that security officials had and then been penalized by the Prime Minister. Now in the U.S., Sharon said Ayalon is an 'excellent' ambassador and Silvan Shalom is a 'very good' foreign minister.

The Palestinians: Hamas believes it has acquired Palestinian legitimization to continue the terrorism. However, Shalom added that Hamas would halt the violence if it felt no support from Palestinian society. There is now 'great doubt' that the Palestinian election will be held on July 17th as planned. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas favors postponing the ballot until after the Israeli withdrawal this summer in order to gain popularity with Palestinian voters. Similarly, Hamas wants to delay the election so it can build its strength and take control of the area evacuated by Israel.Shalom recounted a conversation with Palestinian Internal Minister Nasser-Youssef who said his security forces look more to Muhammad Dahlan as their leader. Shalom recalled how in 1996, after a wave of deadly bus bombings in Israel, the Palestinian security forces rounded 1,000 terrorists killing 18 of them in clashes. The Foreign Minister added that the Palestinian security forces today number 65,000 personnel as opposed to some 1,000 Hamas militants. Nonetheless, Nasser Youssef replied that Hamas is still stronger in the Palestinian Street.

Disengagement: Shalom said Israel wanted a dialogue with the Palestinian authorities about Israel's upcoming evacuation but the Palestinians had shown little interest. As he put it: 'The Palestinians believe they will get the territory for free anyway so why risk clashes with the terrorists'.

Philadelfi Axis: Shalom said Sharon prefers that the IDF totally withdraw from the Philadelfi Axis, a very narrow buffer zone separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt. However, Israeli security officials think differently; they are worried that terrorist smuggling of arms and explosives will increase if IDF troops are not there to stop it. The Foreign Minister indicated where he stands when he said if IDF personnel remain in the Philadelfi Axis after the withdrawal they could become a pretext for more attacks on Israel because the Palestinians would argue that Israel had not totally evacuated the Gaza Strip.

Demolish Or Not? Months ago, the cabinet voted in principle to demolish the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, but a final decision has yet to be taken. Shalom said leaving the buildings in tact would naturally photograph well abroad. But there was a problem; the buildings close to the Israeli border could be exploited by the terrorists for attacks. Explosives and Qassam rockets weapons could be stored in the buildings and fired at night. The Palestinians themselves have signaled Israel they are not really interested in receiving the buildings. They say Israel got the land clear of buildings and should leave it that way.

PM Ariel Sharon

Sharon: Prime Minister Sharon is now in Washington to address the conference of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. In a speech to American Jewish leaders in New York, Sharon was heckled by some opponents to his withdrawal plan. The Prime Minister was unruffled and went on to describe what he views as the benefits of disengagement from the Palestinians.

Laura Bush

Laura Bush: In Israel, America's First Lady also faced some Jewish protesters who called on President Bush to release Jonathan Pollard who has served 20 years for spying for Israel. In addition, Laura Bush also faced some Arabs who chanted that the U.S. was killing Muslims. Although Sharon is used to being jeered these days, the First Lady obviously is not, but she also came through with flying colors.

David Essing

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