Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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February 1, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

U.S. May Fund Training of Larger Palestinian Force - Adam Entous (Reuters)
    The U.S. is considering expanding assistance beyond Mahmoud Abbas' presidential guard to members of the National Security Forces (NSF), the largest force under his command, Western and Palestinian officials said.
    Palestinian officials estimate that the NSF has as many as 40,000 members, the closest thing the Palestinians have to an army.

Iraq Study Group Advisers Surprised, Upset by Israel-Iraq Linkage - Nathan Guttman (Forward)
    Several advisers to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group were surprised and upset by the decision of panel leaders to argue that American success in Iraq depends in part on progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    In interviews, several of the experts who advised the panel said they were shocked that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was included in the final report, since they had been told not to address the matter in their recommendations.
    One staff member argued that making such a linkage was "stupid" and pointed to Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria and Israel with close ties to James Baker, as the person who inserted the language regarding Israel.
    Another staff member told of a joke that was made when the issue came up: "Does anyone think that if we solve the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, the insurgent in Fallujah will say 'Great, now I can put back my AK-47 and go home.'"

Iraq Restricts Air, Land Passages to Syria, Iran (Washington Post)
    Iraq indefinitely halted all flights to and from Syria and closed a border crossing with Iran as the government prepares for a security crackdown, officials said Wednesday.

Syrians Search for Freedom Online - Guy Taylor (Reason)
    The last six years have seen an explosion of Internet use in Syria, with close to 1 million of the country's 18 million people now online, compared to just 30,000 in 2000.
    Damascus writers are churning out hundreds of blogs in English and Arabic as well as dozens of broader independent news-and-commentary sites.
    But is the Internet really opening Syria's public sphere to freer speech, or is the government simply letting people speak up online as a means of identifying opposition figures and troublemakers?
    Reporters Without Borders ranks Syria as "one of the worst offenders against Internet freedom." Its 2006 report said the government "censors opposition and independent news websites, barring access to those that deal with Syrian policy, monitor[ing] online activity to silence dissident voices, and jailing Internet users and bloggers."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • British Police Arrest Nine in Terror Plot - Peter Graff
    Police in Birmingham arrested nine people in a major security swoop on Wednesday which a defense source said involved a plot to kidnap and possibly kill a Muslim British soldier. Sky TV quoted sources as saying the intent was to mimic the abductions and beheadings of Westerners carried out by militants in Iraq and post a video of the killing on the Internet. "It certainly seems to confirm Britain is particularly vulnerable to al-Qaeda-style attacks because of the historic links to Pakistan and the Pakistani community here," said Shane Brighton, a terrorism expert at London think-tank Chatham House. (Reuters)
        See also How Al-Qaeda "Tried to Bring Baghdad to Birmingham" - Russell Jenkins and Daniel McGrory (Times-UK)
  • Israeli Envoy Rejects Mideast "Linkage" - David R. Sands
    Foreign-policy crises in Iraq and Iran will not be eased by pressuring Israel to cut a peace deal with the Palestinians, Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor said in an interview Thursday. "Frankly, we don't see any connection between our dispute with the Palestinians and the level of violence on Haifa Street in Baghdad," said Meridor. "And there is no linkage in my mind between the Israeli-Palestinian question and what Ahmadinejad is planning for the region and the world by pursuing a nuclear weapon." "We think that, yes, there is a convergence of interests of many Arab countries in the region and Israel today in recognition of the threat to the entire region from Iran," he said. "Whether that can be translated into action and a new alliance, we will have to see."
        "Nobody is more interested in a real two-state compromise than Israel, as we have demonstrated time and time again," Meridor said. "The real problem is that, right now, we don't have a real interlocutor on the Palestinian side willing and capable of delivering an agreement that meets basic international principles." Meridor said Israel was taking a "calculated risk" in allowing the buildup of security forces of Mahmoud Abbas, locked in a bloody power struggle with the elected Hamas government. (Washington Times)
  • U.S. Cautions Europeans to Avoid Oil, Gas Deals with Iran - Steven Mufson
    The Bush administration is warning European oil and gas companies against investing in Iran, trying to head off a push by Tehran to attract new investment by international petroleum giants. An executive from a major European company said, "The administration is putting the full-court press on foreign companies and is going all out to impress upon them that it would be a mistake to do anything with" Iran. Oil company executives and consultants said any reluctance to invest in Iran ultimately has more to do with the stingy terms Iran offers than with arm-twisting by the U.S. government. Generally, Iranian contracts give foreign companies a small profit before control of the fields is turned over to National Iranian Oil. "In effect, the Iranians have made our sanctions work better than we have," said Gary G. Sick, an expert on Iran at Columbia University. (Washington Post)
        See also CENTCOM Nominee Warns of Iran Influence in Gulf Region - Ann Scott Tyson and Glenn Kessler
    Iran is positioning its military to deny U.S. access to the Persian Gulf while acting as a "destabilizing" influence in the region, President Bush's nominee to command U.S. forces in the Middle East, Adm. William J. Fallon, told the Senate Tuesday. (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • U.S.: Quartet Will Not Change Policy towards Hamas - Shmuel Rosner
    The U.S. does not expect a change in the position of the Quartet toward Hamas, a senior State Department official said Wednesday in light of reports of a Russian intention to change current policy in the Quartet meeting in Washington on Friday. A source in the State Department says there is consensus between the U.S. and the Europeans on policy. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Russia Wants Freeze on Aid to Hamas Government Lifted
    Russia wants the Middle East Quartet to lift a blockade on Western aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said on Tuesday. (Reuters/Boston Globe)
  • Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues
    Palestinians in Gaza fired two Kassam rockets at Israel Wednesday. One landed near Sderot. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • An Act of Remembrance - and a Remembrance to Act - Irwin Cotler
    The genocide of European Jewry succeeded not only because of the industry of death, but because of the state sanctioned ideology of hate - the teaching of contempt of the other. As the Canadian courts affirmed in upholding the constitutionality of anti-hate legislation, "the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers - it began with words."
        Today we are witnessing a state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, whose epicenter is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, which denies the Nazi Holocaust as he incites to a Middle Eastern one. This is not only an assault on Jewish memory but a violation of the prohibition against the public incitement to genocide. Never again will we be silent in the face of evil. May this International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust be not only an act of remembrance, which it is, but let it be a remembrance to act, which it must be. (National Post-Canada)
  • Not One Thin Dime for Abbas - Andrew C. McCarthy
    On Monday, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three innocents in Eilat in an operation carried out by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, working in conjunction with Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Aqsa Brigades are the terror wing of Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, which is regarded as the "moderate" Palestinian faction. There is nothing moderate about them. Peace would require two sides desirous of coexistence. We're one short. Palestinians do not seek to coexist with Israel. They seek to destroy Israel. The Fatah constitution still calls for the "eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence" through an "armed revolution" which is to be the "decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence."
        Fatah may occasionally say it will live with Israel, but it has demonstrated repeatedly that it will never agree to the commonsense requirements of coexistence: It not only demands land and Jerusalem as its national capital; it refuses to disarm terrorist militias and insists on a refugee "right of return" - an influx of well over a million Palestinians that would effectively destroy the tiny Jewish state from within. Before Congress gives Abbas a dime, let's first hear him unambiguously condemn the Aqsa Brigades and purge them from Fatah. (National Review)
  • Bernard Lewis: Muslims "About to Take Over Europe" - David Machlis and Tovah Lazaroff
    Islam could soon be the dominant force in a Europe which, in the name of political correctness, has abdicated the battle for cultural and religious control, Prof. Bernard Lewis, the world-renowned Middle Eastern and Islamic scholar, said on Sunday. The Muslims "seem to be about to take over Europe," Lewis said, and "the outlook for the Jewish communities of Europe is dim." Lewis stressed that for Ahmadinejad's Iran, "mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that they do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. If they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick, free pass to heaven. I find all that very alarming." (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    Is Now the Time to Talk Peace in the Mideast? - Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor)

    • The Quartet of powers seeking to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ends a hiatus in peacemaking efforts with a meeting in Washington on Friday. But it comes at what would seem to be a particularly unpromising moment as rival Palestinian factions battle each other in Gaza.
    • "Nothing has changed over recent weeks or months to suggest any hopes for a major breakthrough, so I can't see that [the calling of the Quartet meeting] has anything to do with improved prospects," says Bernard Reich, a Middle East expert at George Washington University.
    • Secretary Rice and other U.S. officials speak of a new willingness of Sunni Arab regimes - increasingly alarmed by Shiite Iran's growing clout in the region - to work together and with Israel to push the peace process forward.
    • However, while the scenario of Sunni Arabs teaming up with Israel over Iran may be what Rice considers "logical," it is not what Sunni regimes are ready for, says Reich.

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