Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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January 3, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Farthest Palestinian Rocket Launch Ever Hits Northern Ashkelon - Shmulik Hadad (Ynet News/Ha'aretz)
    A Grad-type Katyusha rocket fired by Palestinians in Gaza landed near a hotel in northern Ashkelon Thursday morning, the farthest distance a Palestinian rocket has struck yet.
    Another Palestinian rocket struck near Kibbutz Zikim south of Ashkelon Wednesday night.
    See also Fatah Group Claims Rocket Launch in West Bank - Ali Waked (Ynet News)
    The al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, the military wing of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, announced Wednesday it had launched a rocket at the Israeli village of Shaked in the northern West Bank.
    Spokespersons for various Palestinians groups have said in the past that they are seeking to fire rockets from the West Bank into Israel.

Libya Assumes Presidency of UN Security Council (Reuters/New York Times)
    Libya took over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for one month.

Oil Hits $100 a Barrel - Clifford Krauss (New York Times)
    Oil prices briefly reached $100 a barrel on Wednesday, before settling at $99.62.

Iran's Inner and Outer Circles of Influence and Power - Borzou Daragahi (Los Angeles Times)
    Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei had ordered his deputies to start privatizing state-owned businesses: the telephone company, three banks, and dozens of small oil and petrochemical enterprises.
    His underlings all but ignored him, months passed, and then Khamenei gathered the country's elite and told them to sell off some businesses - and be quick about it. "Those who are hostile to these policies are the ones who are going to lose their interests and influence," he declared.
    Nine months after his public scolding, only two out of 240 state-owned businesses Khamenei targeted had been sold off.
    To many, it is a government tightly controlled by the Shiite Muslim clergy. But the power of the clerics has steadily eroded.

Israeli Arabs Split Over National Service Plan - Ken Ellingwood (Los Angeles Times)
    In a bustling classroom in Kafr Qara, Israel, school volunteer Hanan Masarwa, 18, is teaching first-graders to add as part of an Israeli national service program.
    Civilian volunteers agree to work full time for one or two years. In return, they receive a $150-per-month stipend and qualify for up to $2,000 more in payouts upon completion of their term.
    Masarwa, one of 600 volunteers to sign up for the program, sees it as a way for her to help children in the Arab village where she grew up.
    But Arab politicians and activists in Israel have denounced the program as a government attempt to co-opt young Arab citizens into serving the Jewish state.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Hizbullah Wants Veto in Lebanon - Hussein Dakroub
    No president will be elected in Lebanon unless the Hizbullah-led opposition gets veto power in the future government, Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah declared Wednesday. "A solution lies in a partnership through a constitutional guarantee (and) through a veto power for the opposition," Nasrallah told Lebanese NBN television. He accused the U.S. of obstructing the presidential vote by telling its allies in the parliamentary majority not to give the opposition a veto power in any future government. (AP)
  • Intelligence Report on Iran, Not Annapolis, at Top of Israel's Agenda for Bush Visit - Stewart Ain
    "If President Bush is coming here expecting to talk about Annapolis, the Iran report killed it," said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University. The release of the National Intelligence Estimate has propelled the Iran issue to the top of the agenda, with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announcing that Iran will be the prime topic of discussion with Bush. "The Americans think the main issue is Annapolis. But the issue Bush will be asked about when there is a press availability is Iran. There is no serious Israeli constituency for Annapolis. It isn't going anywhere and the deaths last week are evidence of that," Steinberg said, referring to the killing last Friday of two off-duty Israeli soldiers by PA employees. Therefore, "U.S. pressure to relax security precautions to make Abbas look good is a non-starter."
        Raphael Israeli, a professor of Islamic history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said, "We see the PLO demanding that Israel cease building in the West Bank while they continue to build and while their security forces, financed with aid from Europe and America, are shooting Israelis." Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, noted that the terrorist group associated with Abbas' Fatah political party, the al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, has still not been disarmed even though it continues to be involved in terrorist actions. "Not words but deeds [are required]," he said. (New York Jewish Week)
  • Congressman Lantos Announces Retirement
    Rep. Tom Lantos, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been diagnosed with cancer and will not seek a new term this year, his office announced Wednesday. The Hungarian-born Lantos came to the U.S. in 1947 after surviving a forced-labor camp in his Nazi-allied homeland. "It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress," Lantos said. (CNN)
        See also Lantos a Giant among Men - Editorial (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Nasrallah: Hizbullah Has Bodies of Abducted IDF Troops - Yoav Stern
    Hizbullah has in its possession the bodies of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers and has attempted to use them as part of prisoner swap negotiations, the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday. IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted by Hizbullah militants in a cross-border raid into Israel that sparked the Second Lebanon War in 2006. (Ha'aretz)
  • Egypt Permits Palestinians into Gaza Without Promised Security Screening - Roni Sofer
    Hundreds of Palestinians were allowed by Egyptian authorities to cross into Gaza Wednesday night without going through inspection - in violation of an understanding reached between Israeli Defense Minister Barak and Egyptian President Mubarak. Hamas-controlled media outlets celebrated the event as a "victory for the resistance." Among those returning to Gaza are dozens of senior Hamas political and military figures. Israel claims that some of the returning Palestinians raised millions of dollars for Hamas while in Saudi Arabia and Israel also suspects that some underwent military training in Iran. (Ynet News)
  • Involvement of PA Security Forces in Murder of Israelis to be Raised During Bush Visit - Herb Keinon
    The involvement of Palestinian security forces in the murder of Israelis in terrorist attacks will be raised when Prime Minister Olmert meets President Bush next week, according to Israeli diplomatic officials. PA security forces were responsible for Friday's murder in the Hebron Hills of off-duty soldiers David Rubin and Ahikam Amihai, and for the murder in November of Ido Zoldan near Kedumim. "There are rogue, extremist elements inside the Fatah machine and the Palestinian security apparatus who have been responsible for not one or two, but a series of attacks," said Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev. "If this [diplomatic] process is going to succeed, the Palestinians must put their security house in order," Regev said. Bush is scheduled to arrive next Wednesday afternoon, and leave on Friday. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Palestinians Who Prefer Israel - Daniel Pipes
    Two polls released last week, from Keevoon Research and the Arabic-language newspaper As-Sennara, survey representative samples of adult Israeli Arabs on the issue of joining the PA. Asked, "Would you prefer to be a citizen of Israel or of a new Palestinian state?" 62% want to remain Israeli citizens and 14% want to join a future Palestinian state. Asked, "Do you support transferring the Triangle [an Arab-dominated area in northern Israel] to the Palestinian Authority?" 78% oppose the idea and 18% support it.
        These earnest views do not repudiate the vicious anti-Zionism that reigns in the Middle East, but they reveal that four-fifths of those Palestinians who know Israel first-hand understand the attractions of a decent life in a decent country, a fact with important and positive implications. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Libya's Inconvenient Truth - Mohamed Eljahmi
    On Thursday, Libyan Foreign Minister Shalqam is to meet with Secretary of State Rice, seven months after President Bush declared himself a "dissident president" and promised active support for dissidents around the world. My brother, Fathi Eljahmi, is Libya's most prominent democracy activist. He was arrested in October 2002 after suggesting that legal guarantees of free speech and a constitution should accompany Gaddafi's rhetorical embrace of reform. After 17 months, Fathi won a respite, thanks to the intercession of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), and on March 12, 2004, President Bush cited Fathi's release as a barometer of change in Libya. Two weeks later, Gaddafi rearrested Fathi. My brother has been in solitary confinement ever since.
        With Washington offering wholesale concessions to Tripoli, Gaddafi has little incentive to improve human rights. Absent pressure, Gaddafi understands that he has a free pass to rule Libya as a private fiefdom. (Washington Post)
  • Islamists Are Not About to Seize Power in Pakistan - Amir Taheri
    Some fear that in the wake of the death of Benazir Bhutto, that Islamists are about to seize power in Pakistan. Yet today, Pakistani Islamists are at their weakest in terms of popular support and their coalition, the United Action Assembly (MMA), has fragmented. In the last election, the Islamists collected some 11% of the vote. One British magazine has come out with a cover story that Pakistan is about to fall to the Taliban, based on a claim that "Taliban-like" groups are assuming power in parts of South Waziristan, a mountainous region covering half of 1% of Pakistan's territory. South Waziristan's population is less than half a million, compared to the total Pakistani population of 169 million.
        The best policy would be to buy off the armed groups rather than "dishonor" them in the battlefield. This is, perhaps, why Congress has just approved a package of $800 million for Waziristan. (New York Post)
  • Observations:

    The Unholy Return of the Palestinian Pilgrims - Zvi Mazel (Jerusalem Post)

    • Under the joint agreement signed by Egypt, Israel, the PA, and the EU following Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza, the checkpoint at Rafah between Gaza and Egypt was to have been closely monitored by EU inspectors and double-checked by Israel through video surveillance.
    • However, the Hamas takeover of Gaza led to the flight of the EU inspectors, who feared for their lives, and ultimately to the closing of the checkpoint.
    • Israeli Defense Minister Barak came back from a visit to Egypt last week with a firm Egyptian commitment to have the Palestinians cross through the Kerem Shalom checkpoint so that Israel could make sure that no explosives or cash for Hamas would go through. Yet Egypt was not prepared to be portrayed any longer in the Arab media as a country persecuting innocent pilgrims in order to do Israel's bidding.
    • Though Egypt has made peace with Israel, it is first and foremost an Arab country aspiring to regional leadership, and wholeheartedly on the side of the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel. The idea that Egyptian soldiers would be instructed to stop smuggling at all costs is ludicrous in that context.

      The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

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