Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Bush "Erased" Assad as He Did Arafat - Ben Caspit (Maariv-Hebrew)
Most of Iran's Troops in Lebanon Are Out, Western Officials Say
- Robin Wright (Washington Post)
U.S. Muslims Guilty of Aiding Hamas
- Ian Pannell
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Wednesday that despite mounting concern in Israel over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, his government was not "planning any military attack on Iran" and would push for "an international effort" to deal with the problem. "I think that here it should be a coalition of democracies who believe in the danger, led by the United States, in order to put pressure upon Iran," Sharon told CNN. He added that he wanted it understood "that Israel is not leading the struggle" against Iran even though it was sharing information on the matter with the U.S.
Much of the Israeli press has reported that Sharon wanted support for Israel's plans to expand settlements in large populated areas in the West Bank. Bush did not give such a green light, but he did add a sentence to his letter of last year saying a final accord between Israel and the Palestinians would have to recognize certain "realities" of the existence of these settlement areas. On Monday, Bush said it was "the American view" that they "must be taken into account in any final status negotiations" on Israel's boundaries. That wording was very satisfying to Sharon, an Israeli official said. (New York Times)
Israel's ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, said the Bush-Sharon summit had been "a success over a whole series of points" and emphasized that Bush had pledged to help underwrite the cost of developing areas of the southern Negev desert and Galilee where some of the Gaza settlers are set to relocate. "I was personally present at the meetings which took place in an atmosphere of genuinely deep friendship," Ayalon told public radio. Ayalon said the differences between Israel and the U.S. over settlements were "nothing new" and that they would not affect the "intimate relations" between the two countries. (AFP/Times of Oman)
Mahmoud Zahar, 60, Hamas's senior leader in Gaza, told The Times that Hamas will not only challenge Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement in legislative elections in July, but also seek to topple it from leadership of the Palestinian parliament. He made clear that Hamas intends to claim Israel's withdrawal from Gaza as a retreat under fire and victory for its campaign of violence. Ominously, he refused to commit Hamas to peace in Gaza once Israel withdraws its 9,000 settlers. "Our goal is...to keep the mood of the Palestinian people anti-occupation, to move towards a new strategy: co-operation with the Arabs, not co-operation with the Israelis," Zahar said. (Times-UK)
Distraught American hostage Jeffrey Ake, 47, appeared on al-Jazeera television Wednesday with automatic weapons trained on his head. Ake was kidnapped Monday from a water treatment facility near Baghdad where he worked as a contractor on a reconstruction project. (Washington Post)
Caterpillar shareholders soundly rejected a resolution that would have directed the heavy equipment manufacturer to investigate the use of its bulldozers by the Israeli army. The company said the resolution was defeated at its annual meeting Wednesday in Chicago by 97% to 3%. (AP/Houston Chronicle)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Six Israel Defense Forces soldiers and four Palestinians were wounded Wednesday in the village of Tsurif, southwest of Bethlehem, in an incident that began when an army jeep overturned during a routine patrol of the village, injuring four soldiers. Dozens of Palestinians residents surrounded the jeep, pelting the injured soldiers and rescue forces with stones and cinder blocks. (Ha'aretz)
Border Police on the Negev-Sinai border nabbed seven sacks containing three dozen assault rifles and ammunition clips Wednesday. (Jerusalem Post)
In a public opinion survey conducted by the Al-Mustiqbal Center in Gaza two weeks ago, 52% said they would vote for Hamas in the upcoming elections, while only 13% said they would vote for Fatah. While the rate of support for Hamas is higher in Gaza than in the West Bank, no one disputes that the current political trend in the territories is to punish Fatah and therefore support Hamas in the elections. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
Israel says Abbas has yet to do what is most essential: Clamp down on Hamas and other terrorist groups. Israel says that by refusing to disarm Hamas and disband its terrorist cells, Abbas is in violation of the U.S.-backed road map for peace, which requires the Palestinians to take such steps. Israeli officials regard Abbas as a well-meaning but ineffectual leader. They point to his unkept promise to neutralize 495 fugitive terrorists in West Bank cities. Also, Palestinians affiliated with Abbas's Fatah organization have been smuggling anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza, weapons that could be used to target Israeli military helicopters or bring down a civilian airliner.
The time for Abbas to act is growing increasingly short. The burden is on him to demonstrate that he is prepared to move against terrorists instead of co-opting them. (Washington Times)
The Gaza Strip is now the pivot for the hopes of a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Gaza is a barren enclave filled with 1.3 million perpetually angry and impoverished Palestinians. Yet Gaza must be made whole and free and relatively prosperous. Gaza becomes a laboratory for the broad rethinking that is needed on international involvement in the conflict zones of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Precisely because it is so unpromising and so important, Gaza demands radical and urgent efforts to combine peacekeeping muscle with economic and technical assistance. (Washington Post)
See also Summit Talk - Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey
The White House is counting on the Gaza withdrawal as a critical step in its self-styled march of freedom across the Middle East. The real focus of U.S. attention, they say, is violence and lawlessness among Palestinians in Gaza following the settlers' departure. (Newsweek)
It is wrong to assume that the Israelis and Palestinians can simply return to the summer of 2000, when Washington thought that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was within sight. Trust between the parties has been shattered by violence, and rebuilding it will not be quick or easy. Reaching for too much too soon will turn the current opening into one more lost opportunity. Rushing to an endgame approach will energize hard-liners in both camps and undermine the leadership of Abbas and Sharon. Abbas does not yet have the authority to veer from Arafat's legacy on the conflict's most sensitive issues.
The experience of 2000 demonstrates that for any agreement to succeed, Arab states must give vocal support to it so that the Palestinian leader will have the political cover he needs to compromise on questions central to Palestinian identity. Since Arab governments have been unwilling to do this, it is preferable to focus on practical steps.
Washington should work with Egypt to reconfigure the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) currently stationed in Sinai to patrol the border between Gaza and Egypt. The MFO would be useful because the framework for it already exists. Although simply diverting personnel from the MFO's current mission may not suit the needs of the new task, its configuration could be quickly enhanced. The writer is Senior Fellow and Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Foreign Affairs)
Human Rights, UN-Style - James S. Tisch (Jerusalem Post)
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