Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To contact the Presidents Conference:
Iranian Supreme Leader's Health Worsening - Michael Ledeen (National Review)
- December 21, 2006
Issue of the Week:
Foreign Athletes in Israel
The Battle: To Whom Does Eilat Belong? - Smadar Peri (Yediot Ahronot-Hebrew, 21Dec06)
Syria Building "Death Trap" Villages - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
Saudis Struggle for an Answer to Iran's Rising Influence - Hassan M. Fattah (New York Times)
See also Saudi Arabia Set to Name Jubeir as Ambassador - Robin Wright (Washington Post)
Gaza Resident Describes Hamas Threats - Martin Patience (BBC News)
Iran's Doctrine of Asymmetric Naval Warfare - Fariborz Haghshenass (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
Emergency Preparedness Lessons from Israel - Terri Russell (KOLO-TV)
Seeking Affordability in Israel - Jessica Steinberg
(New York Times)
Fitch Changes Israel's Outlook to Positive (Globes)
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
President Bush signed into law a bill meant to block U.S. aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government and ban contacts with Hamas until the militant faction has renounced violence and recognized Israel's existence. It also creates a $20 million fund to promote democracy, human rights, freedom of the press, and peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), sponsor of the Senate bill with Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), said the legislation makes clear the PA can expect no U.S. help so long as it continues to be led by Hamas.
Despite the ban on official aid, the U.S. has provided $468 million in humanitarian aid in ways that bypass the Hamas government. (AP/San Francisco Chronicle)
See also America to Increase Arms, Training for Fatah - Eli Lake
To counter Iran's arming of Hamas, America will step up its training and arming of Mahmoud Abbas' security services, American Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones said Wednesday. (New York Sun)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday that Canada will not talk with the "genocidal" Islamic groups Hamas and Hizballah. "We will not solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem, as difficult as that is, through organizations that advocate violence and advocate wiping Israel off the face of the Earth," Harper said. "It's unfortunate because with Hamas, and with Hizballah in Lebanon, it has made it very difficult to have dialogue - and dialogue is ultimately necessary to have peace in the long term - but we are not going to sit down with people whose objectives are ultimately genocidal." "I think all of the civilized world is agreed - and it's not just Canada - we can't deal with organizations whose principal and only objective is terrorism and the eradication of the other side." (Globe and Mail-Canada)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has reached an understanding with the Egyptian authorities not to allow the Hamas-led Palestinian government to circumvent an international boycott by carrying millions of dollars in suitcases across its border to Gaza, a well-informed source told UPI. Lt. Gen. Pietro Pistolese, the commander of the European (EUBAM) monitoring force at the border, said that at a meeting Wednesday, "The Palestinians committed themselves to avoid this import of money." It "has to be stopped by the Egyptians" before arriving at the crossing, he added.
The Rafah Crossing can be open only when EUBAM's representatives are present and video and data links from the Israeli terminal of Kerem Shalom are functioning to allow Israeli monitors to see who crosses, Pistolese said. Because delays in data transmission sometimes enabled people to get through before their names arrived, a fiber optic cable was installed. However, during last week's riot a pole carrying the cable was "broken," Pistolese said. An Israeli official said it was stolen. (UPI)
The U.S. is preparing a package of almost $500 million in aid for Lebanon's military and police, part of almost $1 billion in total U.S. assistance to help the beleaguered Lebanese government. It is designed to strengthen the government's hand over the influence of Hizballah, a force often better-equipped than the country's army. After Iraq, Lebanon has become the primary battleground for influence between the U.S. and Iran. (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Palestinians in Gaza fired two Kassam rockets Thursday evening at the Israeli town of Sderot. One rocket landed near a school, while the other fell in the heart of town. At least 40 rockets have been fired from Gaza since a truce was declared. (Ynet News)
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Thursday that Syrian President Bashar Assad "wants to negotiate with the Americans, not with us. We offered the Syrians peace four times, including withdrawing from the Golan Heights, and it didn't happen four times....Young Assad makes different statements every day....It is the Syrians' duty to prove their intentions." (Ynet News)
A series of heavy gun battles between Hamas and Fatah militants broke out in Gaza City on Friday. (Ha'aretz)
See also Fatah Alive and Kicking - Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel
Gaza resident Abu Awad, 43, says, "Before the recent events, Hamas felt like a superpower in Gaza - that no one could challenge its strength. But now the senior Hamas people and the people of the operational force are afraid to walk in the street alone. If at the beginning of the fighting they were talking about a day of victory over the heretics, today they are aware of Fatah's strength and the need for unity. This is a fundamental change in the political culture of Hamas."
According to Abu Awad, Fatah demonstrated surprising unity this week in Gaza. "Minutes after [Abbas'] speech on Saturday, there were thousands of Fatah supporters in the streets. They weren't hiding behind masks. Many of us in Gaza thought that Fatah already had one foot in the grave. But after years when Fatah didn't have any presence in the streets, they have come back....In Gaza now a balance of terror between the camps has developed."
But S., a journalist, notes, "The war is far from ending. The height of it is still ahead of us. On the military plane, there is no doubt that Hamas will win. It has had a total of just two killed, as opposed to nine for Fatah." (Ha'aretz)
See also "Islamic Fatah" - Amira Hass
"A week ago I wouldn't have believed that Fatah could get so many of its people on the streets and that its armed men would openly attack the armed Hamas men," said Majd, a Gaza resident.
In recent months, a new tension has arisen in light of the tendency of Hamas spokesmen to portray their government as God's choice and themselves as God's representatives on earth. In Gaza, the vast majority of people are faithful Muslims and the appropriation of Islam by Hamas is angering Fatah people, many of whom are starting to display more signs of piety. "It won't be long before we start calling ourselves Islamic Fatah," commented one person in the movement that used to be considered secular-democratic. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
In Iran's midterm elections last week there appears to be a potential tectonic shift in a real center of power - the Assembly of Experts and, by association, the selection of the next Supreme Leader and in turn the Guardian Council. In Tehran, former President Rafsanjani drew the most votes for the assembly.
If Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei cannot carry out his duties, Rafsanjani, as the behind-the-scenes confidant and friend of the Supreme Leader and the big vote getter from Tehran, is now in the catbird's seat to be the next Supreme Leader. In the meantime, Rafsanjani has been bolstered by his support in the assembly, whereas Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, Mahmoud Taghi Mesbah-Zadeh, was trounced but still managed to secure a seat. The writer is Iran professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University.
See also Results of Elections Reflect Poorly on Ahmadinejad - Nazila Fathi
Nationwide, allies of Iran's president won fewer than 20% of the city council seats contested in last Friday's elections. (New York Times)
See also Ahmadinejad Supporters Defeated Outside Tehran Too - Ali Akbar Dareini
Election results outside Tehran also showed a heavy defeat for Ahmadinejad supporters. None of his candidates won seats on the councils in the cities of Shiraz, Bandar Abbas, Sari, Zanjan, Rasht, Ilam, Sanandaj, and Kerman. The moderate daily newspaper Etemad-e-Melli urged Ahmadinejad to change his policies if he has any respect for the vote. (AP/Washington Post)
Former President Jimmy Carter says he wrote a book in order to stimulate a debate, and then he refuses to participate in any such debate. When Larry King referred to my review several times to challenge Carter, Carter first said I hadn't read the book and then blustered, "You know, I think it's a waste of my time and yours to quote Professor Dershowitz. He's so obviously biased, Larry, and it's not worth my time to waste it on commenting on him." (He never did answer King's questions.)
Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz had invited Carter to come to Brandeis to debate me, and Carter refused. The reason Carter gave was this: "There is no need to for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine." As Carter knows, I've been to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, many times - certainly more times than Carter has been there - and I've written three books dealing with the subject of Middle Eastern history, politics, and the peace process. The real reason Carter won't debate me is that I would correct his factual errors. (Boston Globe)
See also Emory Professor: Carter Will Hurt Center - Ernie Suggs
Noted Emory University anthropologist Melvin Konner is calling for the Carter Center to distance itself from its namesake in the wake of the former president's latest book and recent comments about Israel. "If you want the Carter Center to survive and thrive independently in the future, you must take prompt and decisive steps to separate the center from President Carter's now irrevocably tarnished legacy," Konner wrote to Carter Center Executive Director John Hardman to decline a position on an advisory panel.
After watching Carter's reaction to the controversy and his failure on several occasions to address any of the criticisms, Konner said, "This rigidity of thought and complete failure to engage criticisms from much greater experts than me about his numerous and serious errors of commission and omission make it clear to me that an attempt by me to advise him would be pointless and counterproductive." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Despite the failure of successive attempts at peacemaking, and despite the current lack of favorable conditions to renew peace efforts, there is a broad international consensus that bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a happy ending is both possible and urgent. Western leaders periodically produce their own peace plans, in the almost messianic belief that if they can bring peace to Zion, its light will radiate far and wide.
Peacemaking belongs to yesteryear, and all that a realistic foreign policy can do is to ensure that the current bloodletting does not submerge our allies and subvert our interests in the region. Containment of our enemies and the management of conflict is all that our generation can hope for.
The chance to make peace in 2000 was turned down by the Palestinian refusal to come to terms with history and the limits it imposes on national dreams and fantasies. Their failure to embrace reality now makes the quest for a new opportunity futile, until the historical tide has turned again. Until then, any policy that centers on Palestinian-Israeli peace in our times is futile, wasteful, and delusional. The writer is executive director of the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels. (National Review)
This year Israel recorded the best economic year in its history. In the 1990s, Israel proposed that the Arab world join it to transform the Middle East in a grand renaissance of prosperity and renewal. The Arabs rejected the vision and a new Middle East didn't materialize. On the contrary, the vision only led to the rise of Islamic defiance that found itself threatened by it. Israel sincerely wanted to advance a joint economy with the Palestinians and Jordan, but Arab leaders refused.
In December 2006, Israel's GNP stands at $150 billion, up from last year's $132 billion. The GNP of the Palestinian Authority, with whom we sought a unified economy without borders, is $3 billion. We are speaking about two completely different economies, with a clear distinction between the destitution of the third world and the achievements of the first world. If the economies of all our neighboring countries are put together, they almost amount to Israel's level of GNP, and this is while we have one hand tied behind our backs after six years of intifada. (Ynet News)
The Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya, which perpetrated terror attacks in Egypt throughout the 1980s and 1990s, has in recent years undergone an ideological reversal exceptional among Islamist organizations. Its leaders have undertaken to forsake violence, have apologized for past attacks, and now promote a new ideology of coexistence with the regime. In addition, they have gone to great lengths to argue against al-Qaeda's ideology and to restrict its influence on Muslims. (MEMRI)
Life for Palestinian Christians has become increasingly difficult in Bethlehem - and many of them are leaving. The town's Christian population has dwindled from more than 85% in 1948 to 12% in 2006. There are reports of religious persecution in the form of murders, beatings, and land grabs. The sense of a creeping Islamic fundamentalism is all around in Bethlehem. Samir Qumsieh, general manager of Nativity, the only Christian television station in Bethlehem, has had death threats and visits from armed men demanding his land. "As Christians, we have no future here," he says. "We are melting away. Next summer I will leave this country to go to the States....I would rather have a beautiful dream in my head about what my home is like, not the nightmare of the reality." (Daily Mail-UK)
See also Christians Flee Growing Islamic Fundamentalism in the Holy Land - Justus Reid Weiner
The Christian population of the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority has sharply declined in recent decades, as tens of thousands have abandoned their holy sites and ancestral properties to live abroad. Those who remain comprise a beleaguered and dwindling minority. In sharp contrast, Israel's Christian community has prospered and grown by at least 270 percent since the founding of the state.
While Israel understands that the construction of the security barrier inconveniences some of the Christian communities living in its vicinity, Israel has shown sensitivity to Christian interests in planning the route of the barrier. The plight of Christian Arabs remaining in the PA is, in part, attributable to the adoption of Muslim religious law in the PA Constitution. Israel, by contrast, safeguards the religious freedom and holy places of its Christian (and Muslim) citizens. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also Bethlehem's Christians Are Voting with Their Feet - Tim Butcher (Telegraph-UK)
See also Sectarian Violence Accelerates Exodus of Bethlehem's Christians - Joel Greenberg (Chicago Tribune)
The U.S. and Israel cooperate extensively on defense, intelligence, and economic matters. Nearly 90% of U.S. aid to Israel is military and 74% of Israel's military aid is spent buying U.S. goods. Israel's military not only defends its citizens against enemy attacks, but also serves as a powerful presence in the region to deter terrorism and aggression. Israel's military strength keeps extremist forces in check in the eastern Mediterranean, without the need for a single American soldier, in contrast with the Gulf region, where the U.S. has had to send troops because there is no equivalent to Israel to provide stability. U.S. troops use several Israeli technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles, decoys to confuse enemy radar, and reactive armor on Bradley tanks to repel enemy fire. The writer is chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Delaware. (Wilmington, Del., News Journal)
On most days, a tumor on Zvulun Muola's spinal cord keeps him confined to a wheelchair, but today he is standing on a small, wooden dinghy gliding downstream, navigating between the islands of a tropical paradise. Muola, whose legs are partially paralyzed, is among a handful of disabled patients in Israel using the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment. The virtual-reality system puts patients at the helm of a life-size video game, forces them to use atrophied muscles, and teaches the basic skills necessary to recover from severe injuries and disorders. (AP/Newsday)
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The orchestra is one of the hardest-working in the world, supplying the demands of 26,000 subscribers, repeating programs across Israel up to six times, and spending 50 days a year touring abroad. The orchestra's resilience is matched by that of its audience. When the Philharmonic performed in Jerusalem during the first Gulf war, the audience wore gas masks. And earlier this year, at the time of the conflict in Lebanon, the orchestra was in mid-performance in Haifa when the first missiles hit the city. Nobody left the hall. (Telegraph-UK)
Why Syria Won't Negotiate with the United States - Clinton Bailey (New Republic)
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