Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To contact the Presidents Conference:
Palestinian Prime Minister Vows Not to Recognize Israel (AP/USA Today)
- December 7, 2006
Issue of the Week:
Israel's Dangerous Neighborhood
Saudis Funding Sunni Insurgents in Iraq - Salah Nasrawi (AP/Washington Post)
UN Secretary-General Deplores Any Conference that Would Question Reality of Holocaust (United Nations)
Four Arabs Condemned to Death Over U.S. Ship Attack in Jordan - Hala Boncompagni (AFP/Yahoo)
Israel's Ballistic Missile Defense Dilemma - Martin Sieff (UPI)
What's Holding Back Arab Women? - Scott Macleod (TIME)
Israeli Surgeons Repair Young Palestinian Hearts - Allyn Fisher-Ilan (Reuters/Malaysia Star)
Israeli Economy Demonstrating Extraordinary Strength - Nehemia Shtrasler (Ha'aretz)
EMC Sees More Investments in Israel - Tova Cohen (Reuters)
Israeli Exports to Arab Countries Rise 19 Percent - Avi Krawitz (Jerusalem Post)
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
At a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Washington Thursday, President Bush responded to a question about the Baker-Hamilton report: "One thing is for certain, when people - if people come to the table to discuss Iraq, they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country. And if people are not committed, if Syria and Iran are not committed to that concept, then they shouldn't bother to show up."
"I find it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert reaches out to Palestinians to discuss a way forward on the two-state solution, Hizballah attacks Israel. Why? Because radicals and extremists can't stand the thought of a democracy. And one of the great ironies is that people in the Middle East are working hard to prevent people in the Middle East from realizing the blessings of a free society in their democracy." (White House)
See also Bush Expresses Caution on Key Points in Iraq Panel's Report - Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Kate Zernike
President Bush moved quickly on Thursday to distance himself from the central recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group: pulling back all combat brigades over the next 15 months and direct talks with Iran and Syria. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the co-chairmen of the panel, James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, called on Congress to exert pressure on Mr. Bush to accept the report in its entirety. But Mr. Bush, in his first extended comments on the study, pushed back, as the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council moved ahead on their own reevaluations of policy in Iraq. (New York Times)
Many Arabs on Thursday interpreted an American advisory panel's bleak assessment of President Bush's Iraq policies as proof of Washington's failure in the Middle East. "This report is a recognition of the limitation of American power," said Abdel Moneim Said, head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "In the short term, America will highly suffer the loss of its reputation and credibility in the region." "Al-Qaeda must smell victory, but it's a negative victory that comes from the defeat of America in Iraq," he said.
Mustafa Bakri, an outspoken critic of the U.S. and editor of the Egyptian tabloid Al-Osboa, told state-run television that the report indicated "the end of America." Bakri urged Arab countries to "capture the moment as America now is in its weakest period." (AP/Washington Post)
See also Kurdish Leader Blasts Iraq Group's Report
The president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq issued a stinging rejection of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, saying Kurds "are in no way abiding by this report." President Massoud Barzani said Thursday that the report contradicts assurances given to Kurdish officials by study group co-chair James Baker before the report's release. Baker "assured us that the special status of Kurdistan was taken into account in the report," Barzani said. He rejected the study group's call for a "new diplomatic offensive" that would include discussions with all of Iraq's neighbors. Barzani also criticized the study group members for "failing to visit Iraqi Kurdistan...a major shortcoming that adversely influenced the credibility of the assessment." (CNN)
See also Iran, Syria Wary of Proposed U.S. Diplomacy on Iraq - David R. Sands (Washington Times)
See also Baker Aide: We Aim to Help Israel
The Baker-Hamilton report does not constitute a bid to force Israel into concessions in order to solve the Iraq crisis, Edward Djerejian, one of the study's principal advisers, insisted Thursday. The aim, said Djerejian in an interview, was to "test the intentions of Israel's neighbors." Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel, heads the James Baker III Institute for Public Policy, one of the think-tanks sponsoring the Iraq Study Group. Djerejian said the report was not designed to pressure Israel and that "no one in the group was advocating pressing Israel." He said its call on the U.S. to engage with Iran should not be construed as suggesting a new American tolerance for Iran's nuclear program. (Jerusalem Post)
See also below Commentary: The Iraq Study Group (Baker-Hamilton) Report
A day after a bipartisan panel urged the Bush administration to try harder to broker Middle East peace, the State Department said Secretary of State Rice would devote more energy to reviving Israeli talks with the Palestinians. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice would travel to the Middle East early next year. "You are going to see her devote a tremendous amount of energy and...focus to create conditions" that allow peace talks to resume, McCormack said. (USA Today)
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed Thursday to keep protesters in downtown Beirut until a new Lebanese government is installed. "Those betting on our surrender are delusional," he said. Both sides have insisted that time is on their side, that the door remains open to negotiations, and that neither will give in. Hizballah has called for another mass demonstration on Sunday. (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
The U.S. Congress has passed the Palestinian Anti-Terror Act of 2006, forbidding the U.S. administration from holding talks with the Palestinian Hamas government until the terror organization recognizes Israel's right to exist and denounces terror. The bill must still be approved by President Bush. According to the bill, the U.S. will refrain from aiding the PA directly until the president declares that it is no longer controlled by a terror organization. The bill also forbids U.S. officials to hold talks or meet with members of Hamas or other terror organizations, and denies Hamas members the possibility of receiving U.S. visas. (Ynet News)
Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket overnight Thursday that landed in Israel's western Negev. (Jerusalem Post)
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem are already pointing out the flexibility in the U.S. stance regarding the three conditions set out by the Quartet that enable the lifting of sanctions on the Hamas cabinet. One of the staunchest conditions was that Hamas would recognize Israel's right to exist. Now the American administration is prepared to live with a Hamas government whose ministers do not publicly condemn Israel's right to exist.
According to Israeli diplomatic sources, Hamas is very much aware of this erosion in the American stance and is sensing the loosening of the sanction rope around its neck. Even IDF military pressure on Hamas has waned. It is no wonder, therefore, that Hamas is walking around with a sense of achievement, and the immediate result is the hardening of the Hamas stance vis-a-vis Abbas, which is likely to lead to further inflexibility on the issue of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. (Ynet News)
For Hamas, it is important to have a cease-fire that does not include laying down arms in the Palestinian territories and for its military strength to continue growing apace. When Hamas gets a bit stronger, it will replicate its efforts in Judea and Samaria. Hamas expects that the international community will roll back the pressure it is currently exerting, and recognize the group without its having to recognize Israel and adopt prior agreements. Meaning that funds will be transferred to Hamas even if it doesn't forfeit its ideology of liquidating Israel. Chances of a prolonged cease-fire are slighter as long as the Philadelphi route remains porous to arms smuggling, and so long as the Egyptians prefer not to initiate any large-scale operations against the Palestinians. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
The Iraq Study Group (Baker-Hamilton) Report
No one should expect that reaching out to Tehran and Damascus will prove central to fixing Iraq. The same goes for the commission's recommendation that the administration seek to jump-start the Arab-Israeli peace process: It may be a wise move for other reasons, and it certainly can't hurt our efforts in Iraq, but it isn't going to make an enormous difference there.
Singling out Iran and Syria gives them more of a reason to be spoilers and to up the ante for what they seek in return. The more we treat them as fixers in Iraq - when, in fact, they are not - the more they will seek trade-offs on other issues. Engaging the Iranians or Syrians should be done on terms that don't favor them so clearly. We should be prepared to raise the costs to them practically, not only rhetorically, when it comes to their bad behavior. To date, with both Iran and Syria, we have been speaking loudly and carrying a small stick. This needs to change. The writer is counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (New Republic)
The problems in Iraq were not caused by the Iranians, nor can Iran solve them all. Most Iraqis dislike the Iranians. In fact, "dislike" is too mild a term. While Iranian support is no doubt gratefully received, the evidence suggests that it is now more a supplement than a necessity for the major militias. Tehran can influence the behavior of the Shiite groups, but it probably would have a hard time forcing them to do things they do not want to do.
The limits on Iranian influence are a double-edged sword. They mean that we cannot count on Iran to solve Iraq's problems, but they also mean that we need not offer the Iranians the world in return for their assistance. Right now, Tehran and its bombastic president are riding high in the Middle East, and they will doubtless want something in return for helping us deal with Iraq. The writer is director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. (New York Times)
As Senator Joseph Lieberman noted, "Asking Iran and Syria to help us succeed in Iraq is like your local fire department asking a couple of arsonists to help put out the fire. These people are flaming the fire." Iran and Syria have been very much part of the problem in Iraq and cannot be trusted to be part of a genuine solution. Both seek to inflict a decisive foreign policy defeat on the U.S., and both seek to throttle democracy in Iraq because it would pose an ideological threat to the survival of their repressive regimes.
Both countries have a long history of supporting terrorism and opposing democracy. Neither can be trusted to fulfill any pledges to help stabilize a democratic Iraq. Washington already has talked to Damascus about cutting the flow of foreign Islamic militants across Syria's border with Iraq. The Assad regime promised to crack down on cross-border movements but has failed to do so, just as it failed to expel Palestinian terrorist groups from its territory despite promising to do so.
U.S. efforts to open a dialogue with Iran's revolutionary regime failed in the Carter, Reagan, and Clinton Administrations. There is little reason to expect a different outcome with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who is even more hostile to the U.S. than previous Iranian presidents. (Heritage Foundation)
The panel urges the administration to re-energize the Israeli peace talks with Palestinians who accept Israel's existence. Peace talks are not a synonym for peace and unless carefully prepared, they can lead instead to war. Witness the failure at Camp David in 2000 and the resulting human carnage of the second intifada. Does any Palestinian today have both the will and the political power to negotiate a deal with Israel that waives the so-called right of return for refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants? Will the region be more content with a failed Camp David-type spectacular? The bridge between Israelis and Palestinians is fragile enough to barely support the weight of its own parties. Adding to it the weight of a conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is simply not smart. The writer is a professor of journalism at Boston University and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. (Christian Science Monitor)
Essentially, Baker has three diplomatic prizes in mind: Palestine, Syria, and Iran. Baker's long-held belief that there is no problem in the Middle East that does not require for its solution the immediate creation of a Palestinian state is well-documented. A Palestinian state? Sure, but not for the sake of pacifying Anbar province. The road to Baghdad does not lead through Ramallah. As for Syria, while Baker is dreaming of Assad, Assad is murdering Pierre Gemayel. Is delivering Lebanon to Syria really our idea of a carrot? (New Republic)
See also A Positive Step in Washington - Editorial (Ha'aretz)
Baker confirmed on December 6, 2006, that the Iraq Study Group derived some of its inspiration from the "six-plus-two" talks on the future of Afghanistan at the UN. But in Afghanistan, back in the 1990s, Iran sought to contain a radical Sunni regime under the Taliban. In 2006, in contrast, Iran seeks to dominate Iraq through its Shiite majority. The two situations are entirely different.
Should the Bush administration adopt this approach from the Iraq Study Group, it would not be seeking a radical shift in Iranian and Syrian policies from a position of strength. From the perspective of Teheran and Damascus, the U.S. would be seeking their help after they had succeeded in defeating coalition forces. As a result, the price for their cooperation would be exorbitant.
The Iraq Study Group suggests that "the Israelis should return the Golan Heights." There is no negotiation over the withdrawal as in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. It appears that the Golan Heights are being used as an inducement to obtain cooperative Syrian behavior on Iraq. On the Palestinian track, the Baker-Hamilton report does not call for talks over "refugees," but rather over "the right of return," adopting Palestinian legal nomenclature and undermining Israel's legal position. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also Video: The Baker-Hamilton Report - Interview with Dore Gold (Israel Television-English News)
Israeli experts on Wednesday cast doubt on a central thesis of the Baker-Hamilton commission report about U.S. policy in Iraq - that a concerted effort to resolve the Israel-Arab conflict would improve the situation in Iraq. Gerald Steinberg from the BESA think tank at Bar-Ilan University said, "It repeats the mistakes of the past without learning anything from them." In the 1990s, when Baker was secretary of state, he pushed hard for Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, and once grew so frustrated with Israel's refusal that he told Israel's leaders, while testifying before a Congressional committee, to call the White House when they were serious about peace - and gave the White House switchboard phone number.
Efraim Inbar, director of the BESA Center, said, "Iran is not interested in Israel and the Palestinians. The main issue of regional stability is the nuclearization of Iran, not whether the Palestinians are fighting a low-intensity conflict with Israel." (AP/International Herald Tribune)
The latest Wise Men have spoken and their highly anticipated solution to the entire Mideast crisis, from Lebanon to Iraq and Iran, begins where it always seems to: with squeezing Israel. The approach the Study Group has taken is to call for prodding Washington to negotiate with the enemy (read: Iran and Syria) as a means of stabilizing the situation in Iraq, and to prod Israel and the Palestinians into a peace agreement (read: pressure Israel into more concessions).
But the dirty little secret here is that the Arab world cares very little about the plight of the Palestinians - indeed Israel cares a great deal more - and the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the center of this mess is wildly inaccurate - historically and logically. Moreover, the problem with Palestinian-Israeli peace talks is that even when they are concluded, the Palestinians refuse to keep their part of the bargain, namely ceasing their violent attacks on Israel and accepting its permanence as a Jewish state. (New York Jewish Week)
An effective counterterrorism strategy must focus on the fact that terrorism by Muslims in the name of Islam presents the strategic threat today to civilized peoples, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. On the low end, this threat involves lone individuals seized by the Sudden Jihad Syndrome who unpredictably set off on a murder spree. At the high end, it involves an outlaw organization like Hamas running the quasi-governmental Palestinian Authority, or even al-Qaeda's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
The surge of violence by Muslims in the name of Islam does not flow from the religion of Islam, which just a generation ago did not inspire such murderousness. Rather, it results from political ideas. Ideas, usually ones about radically changing the world, are central to terrorism, and especially to its suicidal variety.
Islamists have come to dominate the ideological discourse of Muslims as the result of several factors: a historic rivalry with Jews and Christians, a boisterous birth rate, the capture of the Iranian state in 1979, support from oil-rich states. As a result, Islamic law, in retreat over the previous two centuries, came roaring back, and with it jihad, or sacred war. The caliphate, defunct in real terms for more than a millennium, became a vibrant dream.
Only Muslims can formulate and spread an Islam that is modern, moderate, democratic, liberal, good-neighborly, humane, and respectful of women. Although theoretically possible, the weakness of its advocates at present makes moderate Islam appear impossibly remote. But the success of moderate Islam ultimately represents the only effective form of counterterrorism. Terrorism, begun by bad ideas, can only be ended by good ones. (New York Sun)
The keynote speaker at Hizballah's massive Beirut demonstration last week was a Maronite Christian, Michel Aoun, an army general driven into exile by Syria in 1990 but who has been oddly friendly with Syria and its local allies since his return to Lebanon last year. Aoun's primary objective is to become president (a position that by long custom goes to a Christian leader). To achieve this goal, he concluded a political alliance with Hizballah in February.
There's a cardinal rule in Lebanese politics that the president must be acceptable both to his own community and to the others. Aoun is neither. His positions have been antithetical to the Maronite patriarchate. Aoun's alliance with Hizballah and Syria's puppets has infuriated the anti-Syrian Christian community, which aimed much of its anger at him after the assassination of Maronite cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel last month. By agreeing to be the vanguard of a Shiite-led coup attempt against a Sunni prime minister, he has broken an unwritten rule against getting his community involved in a Sunni-Shiite conflict, potentially putting the already polarized Maronite community at risk. The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Los Angeles Times)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former President Jimmy Carter all declare that fixing the Muslim Middle East requires fixing the Israeli-Palestinian mess. But what's awry in the Middle East would still be awry if the UN had never created Israel. First Jews and then Israel have throughout provided the excuse used by the Middle East's satrapies, strongman states, and oil baronies for their failure to compose the region in the interests of the people who live there. A Palestinian-Israeli deal has lain to hand ever since the UN partitioned the old British Mandate in 1947. Arabs instead choose the romantic "armed struggle" over any Palestinian state whose creation doesn't kill off Israel.
The last three Israeli prime ministers have supported the creation of a Palestinian state. But Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza and got, in return, a terrorist Hizballah ministate in Lebanon and a terrorist Hamas government in Gaza. In the unlikely event that movement toward a broad Mideast bargain can be set in motion, it will be time to start asking Palestinians the question that always seems to be asked only of Israelis: What are you willing to do for peace? (Cox News Service/Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Don't Expect Peace Soon - Jonathan Spyer (Guardian-UK)
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