Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To contact the Presidents Conference: click here
State of Emergency Declared in Amman - Roee Nahmias (Ynet News)
Al-Qaeda Targeted Bush Last Spring - James Gordon Meek (New York Daily News)
Polls: Fatah Will Be a Minority in New PA Parliament - Danny Rubinstein (Ha'aretz)
What is Hanukkah? - Paul Greenberg (Washington Times)
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
According to a survey of Palestinian opinion financed by Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 65% support al-Qaeda actions in the U.S. and Europe, 32% support al-Qaeda actions in Iraq, and 13% support al-Qaeda actions in Jordan.
Some 69% of Palestinians see violent action as legitimate and half believe that suicide attacks are necessary to force Israel to make political concessions. However, 57% believe the intifada should stop and 74% think that attacks from Gaza should cease. 83% think it is in the Palestinian people's interest to keep the ceasefire with Israel, but only 26% support the use of force by Palestinian security services against those who break the calm. (FAFO-Norway)
After years of unwavering support for the Bush administration, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC has begun to sharply criticize the White House over its handling of Iran's nuclear program. In lengthy news releases and talking points circulated to supporters on Capitol Hill, AIPAC describes the Bush administration's recent policy decisions on Iran as "dangerous," "disturbing," and "inappropriate." At issue for AIPAC is Bush's decision last month to hold off on pushing to report Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council. (Washington Post)
An Egyptian court sentenced Ayman Nour, a leading opposition figure, to five years at hard labor on Saturday after convicting him in a forgery case widely seen as a political prosecution aimed at silencing a challenge to President Hosni Mubarak's monopoly on power. The White House released a statement within hours of the verdict calling for Mr. Nour's release and saying that his conviction "calls into question Egypt's commitment to democracy, freedom, and the rule of law." (New York Times)
About 30,000 pilgrims converged on Bethlehem on Sunday for Christmas celebrations, about twice as many as last year. For the first time in six years, restaurants were crowded, souvenir sales were brisk, and hotels were full of tourists. More than 1,000 people attended a special service for Filipino worshippers, many of whom work in Israel as health aides. (AP/Newsday)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Senior Israel Defense Forces officials and Shin Bet security service officials have said recently during internal discussions that Abbas has said that the Kassam rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel are "Israel's problem" and that he does not intend to interfere. "Let the Israelis deal with it," he said. The Israeli officials attribute the continuing launches, including the recent focus on Ashkelon, to specific directives from the headquarters of the Islamic Jihad in Damascus. (Ha'aretz)
See also Israel to Implement Anti-Rocket "Security Zone" in Northern Gaza - Herb Keinon
Israel will implement its "no-go" policy in the northern Gaza Strip as soon as weather permits the IDF's state-of-the-art technology to accurately identify and fire on anything that moves in the area, a senior government official said Sunday. In a special meeting of top security officials, Prime Minister Sharon ordered the implementation of the buffer zone policy designed to keep terrorists launching Kassam rockets from entering the areas in northern Gaza where they have been able to fire on southern Ashkelon. When the policy is implemented, the Palestinians would be warned that anyone who entered the two-kilometer no-go zone would be fired upon.
Defense Minister Mofaz asked the government to allocate an additional NIS 125 million to reinforce homes and public institutions in communities bordering Gaza that are at high risk of Palestinian rocket attacks. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Islamic Jihad Vows Harsh Response to "Security Zone" - Ali Waked (Ynet News); Palestinian Resistance Committees: "We Have Detailed Maps of Israeli Military Camps" - Saed Bannoura (IMEMC-PA)
Several Palestinian militiamen who tried to cross the Rafah border into Egypt on Sunday were turned back by PA policemen and European monitors. One was Jamal Abu Samhadana, the overall commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, a group responsible for many attacks including the attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy in October 2003 in which three Americans were killed. A senior PA security official said that the Egyptian authorities were responsible for the ban. "The Egyptians don't want these guys," the official explained. "They threatened to arrest Abu Samhadana if he entered Egypt." Abu Samhadana was recently recruited to the PA security forces as a senior officer. He quoted PA security officials as saying that his name appeared on a "blacklist" of 15 Palestinians who were not permitted to travel through the border crossing. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
For years, the U.S. has maintained sanctions on Iran that prohibit most trade, investment and assistance. And because Iran is on our list of state sponsors of terrorism, U.S. law requires the president to oppose all multilateral assistance to Iran in international forums and impose sanctions on those who aid its weapons programs or invest in its energy sector. Now, we should persuade other countries to follow our lead.
Although we should continue IAEA discussions with Iran - a process that has given us insights into its nuclear program - we need to ask allies who trade with Iran to join a sanctions campaign against Tehran. A multinational sanctions regime might begin with an embargo on technologies that Iran can use in its nuclear program. If we let Tehran develop nuclear weapons covertly while IAEA negotiations slog forward, Iran's theocrats will have little reason to negotiate with anyone. The writer is Senate majority leader. (Los Angeles Times)
See also The Elephant in the Gulf: Arab States and Iran's Nuclear Program - Simon Henderson
At the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), held in Abu Dhabi on December 18 and 19, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman avoided confronting Iran directly on its suspected nuclear weapons program. Instead, these member states confronted Israel. At a news conference after the end of the summit, GCC secretary-general Abdulrahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah - asked why the final communique had not mentioned Iran's nuclear program - simply acknowledged that the leaders had discussed it, giving no indication it was a central component of the summit. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
The real threat of Egypt's state security apparatus, as in many other Middle Eastern states, is that it continues to secretly manipulate the entire political system. American and domestic efforts to promote political reform in the region will achieve only cosmetic changes, of the kind we've seen so far, unless this clandestine chokehold is broken.
The media are subjected to the same control. Even private, independent papers are held hostage to the security services, which have the power to license and shut down any newspaper and which exercise similar control over the granting of licenses to journalists. The same goes for TV stations - including al-Hurra, the U.S.-sponsored satellite channel, which is supposed to be providing uncensored news from an American point of view. From the beginning, al-Hurra's operation in Egypt was subject to the covert control of the security services. While al-Hurra is supposed to be a vibrant, fresh forum for freedom, it has failed to provide a real space for balanced views, and so it has been incapable of competing with the "Islamic" al-Jazeera and "pan-Arabist" al-Arabiya channels.
Unless the security services are reined in, real political change and efforts to implement "reform from within" will continue to be blocked in Egypt and across the Middle East. The enlightened political elite will remain powerless, individuals who can make genuine contributions will be systematically targeted, moderate groups and trends will continue to be excluded, and most citizens will remain absent from political life (Washington Post)
A Shah With a Turban - Thomas L. Friedman (New York Times, 23Dec05)
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