Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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September 17, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Israel: Opening Gaza-Egypt Crossing Increases Risk to Israelis in Sinai - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli defense officials expressed concern Tuesday that Palestinian terrorists will take advantage of Egypt's decision to open the Rafah border crossing next week to infiltrate into the Sinai Desert where they can join existing cells in targeting Israeli vacationers.
    "Whenever the crossing is opened, terrorists cross back and forth," a top defense official said.
    See also Egypt to Allow 600 Gazans to Travel to Mecca (Maan News-PA)
    Egypt agreed on Monday to allow 600 Palestinians from Gaza to travel to Mecca for the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage, through Egypt's Rafah border crossing.

Italian PM Accuses Iran of "Lunacy" on Israel (Reuters)
    Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accused Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday of acting like a lunatic when it comes to Israel, and said the world needed to keep a close eye on him.
    "I think we must pay the utmost attention to the lunacy of someone who says, perhaps for internal reasons, that Israel must be wiped off the map," Berlusconi said in Paris.

Hamas' Gluttony - Tariq Alhomayed (Asharq Alawsat-UK)
    While 60% of the Gaza population survives on $1.5 per day, Hamas is paying approximately 18,000 militants associated with the movement some $16 million a month.
    Abu Obaida, official spokesman of the Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, helped put things into perspective. He revealed that his group has developed into an army by recruiting many of Gaza's youth and developing its capabilities.
    How can there be talk of relieving the distress of Gaza's people while Hamas concentrates all its efforts on recruiting and providing for its thousands of fighters?
    It is clear that Hamas' priority is to look after its militants, at the expense of Gaza's people and their suffering!
    The writer is Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Alawsat.

World Bank Sees Slight Upturn in PA Economy - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    A new report released by the World Bank notes some economic improvement in the territories since May.
    Economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza in 2008 was 0.8%, according to the International Monetary Fund, a figure which reflects the continued shrinking of Gaza's economy, combined with marginal growth in the West Bank.

Study Examines American Philanthropic Support for Israel (PRNewswire-MarketWatch)
    A report released Wednesday, "Philanthropic Support for Israel's Nonprofit Organizations by U.S. Donors," shows that American philanthropic support to nonprofits in Israel continues to rise.
    The study showed an aggregate average of growth of 64% during the period of 2001-2006.

Key Links 
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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • IAEA Info Suggests Iran Worked on Nuclear Missile - George Jahn
    The UN nuclear monitoring agency shared new photos and documents purporting to show that Iran tried to refit its main long-distance missile to carry a nuclear payload, said diplomats who attended the IAEA meeting Tuesday in Vienna. Iranian officials say the missile has a range of 1,250 miles, enabling a strike on Israel and most of the Middle East. The presentation "showed board members for the first time photographs and documents of work undertaken in Iran on the redesigning of the Shahab-3 missile to carry what would appear to be a nuclear weapon," said Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. representative to the IAEA. He said the senior IAEA official doing the briefing "told us that information they have is very credible." (AP)
        See also France Pushing for More Sanctions Against Iran - Jamey Keaten
    The Security Council should impose more sanctions on Iran over its stonewalling of a UN investigation into allegations that Tehran tried to make nuclear weapons, France said Tuesday. "We have no other choice than to work in the days and weeks to come toward a new Security Council sanctions resolution," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said. However, Russia and China would likely resist a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. (AP/Washington Post)
        See also Iran Boasts Its Forces Can Control the Gulf
    Iran has the power to control the Gulf as no vessel can cross the vital seaway without coming in range of its sophisticated weaponry, a top aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday. Gen. Rahim Yahya Safavi, the former commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, told the official news agency IRNA: "Responsibility for defending the Persian Gulf has been handed over to the naval forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps." Their missiles can cover the entire width of the Gulf and "no ship can cross it without being within range." (AFP)
  • CIA: Strike on Syria Reactor a Joint Spy Victory - Randall Mikkelsen
    The destruction of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor last year was the result of an intelligence collaboration that included a "foreign partner" who first identified the facility's purpose, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said on Tuesday. The reactor at Al-Kibar was flattened in an air strike on Sep. 6, 2007, that senior U.S. intelligence officials have said was carried out by Israel on its own initiative. "We were able last year to spoil a big secret, a project that could have provided Syria with plutonium for nuclear weapons," Hayden said. Hayden said a report from the unnamed foreign partner first identified the facility as a reactor similar to one in North Korea. (Reuters)
        See also A Year On, Israel Still Won't Discuss Syria Strike - Dan Williams
    A year after its jets bombed a Syrian facility which U.S. officials openly described as a secret nuclear reactor, Israel still refuses to formally confirm the raid ever happened. "Any discussion of what happened in Syria carries the danger of divulging information on tactics we may have to reuse," said one Israeli official. (Reuters)
  • Retrial of Hamas-Linked Holy Land Foundation Begins in Dallas - Josh Gerstein
    Prosecutors are set to take a second run at convicting officers of a Texas-based charity that the government contends was a Hamas beachhead in America, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The first trial, last year, ended in a muddle of partial acquittals and mistrials. Prosecutors contend that the Holy Land Foundation was part of a web of groups set up on behalf of Hamas, a Palestinian Arab political movement that has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks in recent years. The indictment claims that the foundation, which once billed itself as America's largest Muslim charity, funneled $12 million to local Palestinian relief groups which were under the control of Hamas. (New York Sun)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Assad: "Syria Will Stand with Iran on All Major Strategic Issues"
    Syrian President Bashar Assad said during an interview on Tuesday, "Syria will stand with Iran on all the major strategic issues," Israel's Channel 10 TV reported. "Only one situation would distance Syria from Iran, and that is if Tehran sided with Israel, and if America sided with the Arabs," he said, laughing.
        Commenting on negotiations with Israel, Assad said, "What's happening today is not negotiations, but they are called 'negotiations' in the media."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Kidnappers of Foreigners in Gaza Killed in Clan-Hamas Fighting - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Three of the Palestinian gunmen who kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston and dozens of foreign nationals in Gaza over the past three years were killed by Hamas security forces, Hamas officials said on Tuesday. Hamas forces assaulted the compound of the notorious Dughmush clan early Tuesday, sparking a fierce exchange that killed a dozen people. At least 40 others were wounded and another 15 arrested. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Myths about Islam in Europe - Justin Vaisse
    The riots in France in November 2005 had nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with the social and economic conditions of largely immigrant communities. Muslim groups, who tried to play a mediating role, discovered themselves to be irrelevant and powerless. The 15 to 17 million persons of Muslim background currently in the EU-27 countries (population: 500 million) are anything but a cohesive group. To speak of "a Muslim community" is simply misleading.
        True, European birthrates are generally low, and birthrates among immigrant groups are often high. But in the latter group, they actually fall rapidly after their arrival and among subsequent generations, as they tend to conform to the national norm. In some countries like France or Ireland, general fertility rates are comparable to that observed in the U.S., around 2 children per woman. Finally, immigration to the EU is more tightly controlled. It is doubtful that from about 3 to 4% today, potential Muslims could number more than 6% in the coming decades. (Brookings Institution)
  • Egypt: Will the Dam Burst?
    In the Smart Village, a campuslike technology park on Cairo's western outskirts, construction cranes glint in the mirrored glass of office blocks bearing multinational logos. Beyond its perimeter stretch thousands of acres of new suburbs, complete with gated communities, golf courses and private schools. Lush fields now line the crowded, six-lane route from Cairo to Alexandria, many planted with drip-irrigated garden crops for lucrative European markets. But a glance down one of the alleyways of brick tenements where half of Cairo's people actually live may reveal a crowd of head-scarved housewives pushing and cursing in an early-morning queue for government-subsidized bread. The fact is that most of Egypt's 75m people struggle to get by.
        Since his appointment in 2004, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and his team of technocrats have enacted long-delayed economic reforms. The overall growth rate has risen from below 4% to above 7%. Exports have more than doubled, from $9 billion in 2003 to $24 billion last year. Sales of private cars have quadrupled since 2004. The rate of population growth has slowed, from 2.3% a year in the 1980s to 1.9% today. Bread is still widely available at a subsidized price equal to one American cent a loaf. And despite a recent hike in petrol prices, a liter still costs one-eighth of its average price in Europe. (Economist-UK)
  • Observations:

    Jordan's Outreach to Hamas: The Politics of Distress - Pinhas Inbari (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • Until recently, Jordan was the only Arab country that had boycotted the fundamentalist Hamas movement. However, in 2007 Jordanian intelligence held a series of meetings with Hamas leaders to end hostile relations and start afresh.
    • Jordan's greatest fear is that it be considered the "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians. That is why all political formulas that Jordan is ready to consider are based on the "two-state solution" - a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and a Jordanian state in the East Bank. Jordan would only consider confederation arrangements with the Palestinians after a Palestinian state is declared west of the Jordan River.
    • Israel's regional policies have thrown Jordan off balance. The tahdiya (calm) agreement with Hamas caused great embarrassment to moderate Arab countries and exploded the policy of isolating Hamas. In addition, in its prisoner deal with Hizbullah, Israel agreed to hand over to Hizbullah the bodies of Jordanians. If Israel, for pragmatic reasons, finds it appropriate to engage with Hamas, why shouldn't Jordan do the same?
    • Traditionally, Jordan has cooperated closely with Israel to maintain the status quo in Jerusalem, and Israel has formally recognized Jordan's role as the sole custodian of the Holy City's Muslim shrines, in line with the 1994 "Arava agreement." However, Israel's preference to work with UNESCO as opposed to Jordan regarding repairs to the Al Aqsa staircase was seen to be aimed at ending Jordan's exclusive role as sole custodian of Jerusalem's Muslim shrines.
    • There is a virtual consensus in the Arab media that Russia has been the winner in its bloody attack on Georgia, while the U.S. and its Western allies failed to protect their Georgian ally. Following the Russian invasion of Georgia, King Abdullah II flew to Moscow and indicated an interest in buying Russian weapons, with all of the implications such a move entails.
    • Hamas influence in Jordan and the West Bank is rising. Iran and Russia are moving to reshape the Middle East. At the same time, Jordan fears it cannot trust the political will of its traditional allies as Israel has diplomatically engaged Jordan's adversaries - Syria and Hamas. Jordan's current policy can best be categorized as a "distress call" - one that should be heeded by Israel and the West before it is too late.

      The writer is a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar.

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