Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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March 28, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Palestinians Say Rice Plays "A Negative Role" (JMCC/IMRA)
    82% of Palestinians say Secretary of State Rice is playing a negative role in reviving the peace process, according to a poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center conducted March 19-21, 2007.
    Q: What do you think of the role U.S. Secretary of State Rice is playing in reviving the peace process?
    A very positive role - 1%, a positive role - 11%, a negative role - 34%, a very negative role - 48%, don't know - 5%, no answer - 1%
    Q: In your opinion, did Secretary of State Rice's efforts in the region make the image of the U.S.?
    Better than before - 5%, worse than before - 44%, didn't change - 46%, no answer/don't know - 5%

Alleged Egyptian-Canadian Spy Details Torture by Egyptians - Mark MacKinnon (Globe and Mail-Canada)
    Given the chance to speak at a hearing of Egypt's State Security Emergency Court in Cairo, Mohamed el-Attar, 31, said: "I was pressured psychologically and physically by [Egyptian intelligence] into saying things that weren't true. I was electrocuted and not only this."
    El-Attar, detained after flying into Cairo on Jan. 1, is charged with spying for Israel.
    Judge el-Gohary was clearly conscious of the bank of television cameras in his courtroom, as well as the smattering of foreign reporters and Canadian diplomats in attendance, and made a theatrical show of listening to the defendant's claims of innocence.

Hamas Prepares Rocket War in Former Settlements - Aaron Klein (WND/YnetNews)
    Palestinian terrorist groups on Monday used the former Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim in Gaza to test new explosives and rockets, senior Hamas members said.
    Abu Abdullah of Hamas also said land in Eli Sinai and Dugit is being used for weapons training, practice for ambushing Israeli forces, courses for the production and use of explosives, and rockets firing.

BBC Pays £200,000 to "Cover Up Report on Anti-Israel Bias" - Paul Revoir (Daily Mail-UK)
    The BBC has been accused of "shameful hypocrisy" over its decision to spend £200,000 blocking a freedom of information request about its reporting in the Middle East.
    The corporation, which has itself made extensive use of FOI requests in its journalism, is refusing to release papers about an internal inquiry into whether its reporting has been biased.
    The BBC is fighting to prevent the public finding out what is in the review, which is believed to be critical of the BBC's coverage in the region.

Israel's Foreign Debt Falls 53% to Record Low - Zeev Klein (Globes)
    Israel's net balance of external liabilities totaled $14 billion at the end of 2006, 53% less than at the end of 2005, and the lowest ever figure as a proportion of GDP, the Bank of Israel reports.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Saudis Warn Israel: Accept Arab Plan or Face War - David Blair
    The "lords of war" will decide Israel's future if it rejects a plan crafted by the entire Arab world, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister warned Tuesday as leaders began gathering in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for Wednesday's Arab League summit. Prince Saud al-Faisal dismissed any further diplomatic overtures towards Israel. (Telegraph-UK)
        See also Arab Summit Considers Military Plan - Salah Nasrawi
    Arab countries should forge closer military and security ties, including nuclear cooperation, according to a document to be discussed at the Arab summit in Riyadh. The document says the countries should set up a "new and effective pact for Arab national security." (AP/Washington Post)
  • Blair Pushes Iran for Release of Captives - Alan Cowell
    Tensions escalated between Iran and the West on Tuesday over 15 Britons held by the Iranians, with Prime Minister Tony Blair warning that Britain's campaign to free them would move into a "different phase" if they were not released. The British government seems to be feeling increasingly uneasy at the way the crisis is unfolding, evoking comparisons with a similar episode in 2004 when Iran captured eight British military personnel and released them after three nights, during which they were subjected to blindfolding and mock executions. (New York Times)
  • Gaza: Sewage Disaster Caused by Palestinians Stealing Sand from Embankment
    The collapse of a septic pool in a Gaza village, killing five people including two babies, has been blamed on residents stealing sand from an embankment. Gaza City Mayor Majid Abu Ramadan blamed the collapse on local people digging sand from an embankment around the structure and selling it to building contractors. (AP/The Age-Australia)
        See also Israel Sends Water Pumps to Flooded Gaza Town - Yaakov Katz
    Two float water pumps supplied by Mekorot, Israel's national water company, were sent into Gaza on Wednesday to assist the Palestinians in pumping waste water that flooded a village near Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel: "Now Is Not Time for Final Status Talks" - Herb Keinon
    "In the current situation it is impossible to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Tuesday. She said the new PA unity government was not abiding by the conditions set by the Quartet and that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was "disappointing, especially because he failed to condition the formation of the new Fatah-Hamas coalition on the release of captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit."
        Earlier Tuesday, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said that for the first time since 2000, Israel and the Palestinians will begin regular discussions on all aspects of a future Palestinian state except for borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. This followed Secretary of State Rice's announcement that Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert had agreed to hold biweekly meetings. The "most important thing to come out of Rice's visit," the official said, "was that the Israelis and Palestinians decided to resume talks on the parameters of future Palestinian statehood, on the characteristics of this statehood." The official said that despite Abbas' weakness and "inability to deliver," there was need to talk to someone, and Abbas was the natural candidate. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Two Fatah Terrorists Killed in West Bank - Amos Harel
    An IDF force shot and killed two armed Fatah militants - Muhind Marish, 20, and Ala Gliz, 24 - in Nablus Tuesday. The two had been involved in shooting incidents, bombings, and suicide bomber attacks, including an incident in Nablus when a bomb was thrown at an IDF force in July 2006, killing a soldier and injuring five others. The same Fatah cell, whose members received funding and orders from Hizbullah in Lebanon, was responsible for dispatching a suicide bomber that carried out an attack on French Hill in Jerusalem in September 2004, killing two border policemen. (Ha'aretz)
  • After Rice's Visit - Aluf Benn
    Condoleezza Rice ended another disappointing trip into the diplomatic minefield of the Middle East. In her closing statement, Rice maneuvered between the adamant refusal of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to discuss a final status agreement with the Palestinians and her desire to come home from this trip with some sort of achievement. Olmert is not afraid of Rice. He perceives that President George W. Bush is willing to let Rice venture on her shuttle diplomacy; if she solves the conflict and a Palestinian state is established, he will cut the ribbon and host the ceremonies. But Bush is not allowing Rice to pressure Israel's prime minister. (Ha'aretz)
  • The Arab League Summit - Zvi Bar'el
    "The Arab citizen has gotten used to the idea that Arab summit meetings bring no benefit. He expects the meetings to produce declarations, but realizes that these declarations will mean nothing," Lebanese analyst Mohammed Mashmoushi wrote in Al-Hayat last week. A senior Jordanian visitor in Israel this week told Ha'aretz that the Arab summit meetings long ago stopped serving as a serious forum for debating the Middle East's problems. In fact, it is difficult to point to even one Arab League achievement in the past few years. It did not prevent the war in Iraq, and it cannot present an Arab formula for solving that country's problems. It is out of touch on the Palestinian issue, both in terms of a solution and the internal Palestinian crisis. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Saudi Initiative - Dennis Ross
    The Arab League is poised to reaffirm the Saudi initiative that offers the Israelis peace, but only after Israel has taken all the steps the Arabs want. Conflicts are rarely solved by one side making all the concessions before it sees what it gets in return. Today, with Hamas continuing to embody rejection, the Arab world must show that if Israel meets its terms (or something close to them), it will receive peace and security not as a slogan but as a reality.
        At this point, a plan that lays out the final contours of an agreement is unachievable. No one is prepared to embrace the necessary compromises. The Arab League is only conceding Israel's existence - useful, but hardly a breakthrough. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Stop Appeasing Those Who Kidnapped British Servicemen - Editorial
    It is depressing that the Western response has been so feeble. Some misguided "understanding" of the kidnapping seems to inhibit any response that may exacerbate tensions. This is precisely the wrong message. It encourages Tehran's hardliners and probably prolongs the bargaining over the men's detention. Even the Shia-dominated Iraqi government has called on Iran to release the men - a far bolder call than anything coming from London or Washington. The coalition cannot allow Tehran to intimidate its neighbor. It must set a deadline for the men's release and tell Iran bluntly that its piracy justifies immediate and more drastic sanctions. (Times-UK)
  • Hostage Gambit - Amir Taheri
    The British sailors would not have been captured without Tehran's approval at the highest level. Ever since it erupted on the scene, the Khomeinist revolution has always accompanied a hardening of its position by seizing hostages. In November 1979, just eight months after seizing power, the Khomeinist regime endorsed the seizure of American diplomats as hostages in Tehran. During the following quarter-century, the Islamic Republic was involved in seizing more than 1,000 hostages from more than 30 countries in Iran or through its Hizbullah agents in Lebanon. These included a French ambassador to Tehran, Guy Georgy, two German bankers, and eight American and French journalists - plus dozens of businessmen, priests and tourists from countries such as South Korea and Italy. Right now the Islamic Republic is holding a German hostage.
        Western apologists for the Khomeinist regime have already started blaming the U.S. for having made the mullahs nervous. The argument of the apologists is: Don't do anything that makes the mullahs unhappy, or else they will do more mischief. The truth, however, is that making the mullahs nervous may be the only way of persuading them to end their defiance of the UN and stop trying to export Khomeinism to neighboring countries. (New York Post)
  • Observations:

    Why Did Saudi King Abdullah Cancel Dinner with Bush? - Jim Hoagland (Washington Post)

    • President Bush had scheduled a mid-April White House gala for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, signifying the president's high regard for an Arab monarch who is also a Bush family friend. Now the White House is pondering Abdullah's sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner.
    • Administration sources report that the cancellation followed Saudi decisions to seek common ground with Iran and the radicals of Hizbullah and Hamas instead of confronting them as part of Rice's proposed "realignment" of the Middle East into moderates and extremists.
    • Abdullah's reluctance to be seen socializing at the White House this spring reflects a scampering back by the Saudis to their traditional caution in trying to balance regional forces, and their displeasure with negative U.S. reaction to their decision to return to co-opting or placating foes.
    • Don't count on Abdullah to put new force behind his long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative at the Arab summit this week in Riyadh. Rice had hoped the summit would provide a boost in her current proximity talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, but she appears to have struck a dry well.
    • A few months ago, Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, was championing the confrontational "realignment" approach in Saudi family councils: Iran's power would be broken, the Syrians would have to give up hegemonic designs on Lebanon, etc. Now the Saudi prince visits Tehran and Moscow regularly.

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