Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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October 30, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Quartet to Discuss Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks - Karin Laub (AP)
    A senior Palestinian official said Wednesday the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers, including U.S. Secretary of State Rice, will meet in Egypt on Nov. 8 to assess progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
    Rice had asked Egypt to host the meeting before President Bush's term ends in January.

Court Gives Go-Ahead to Tolerance Museum in Jerusalem - Tomer Zarchin and Yoav Stern (Ha'aretz)
    Israel's High Court Wednesday gave the final go-ahead for the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, rejecting appeals by Muslims who complained that the museum will be built on part of an ancient Muslim cemetery.
    The justices ruled that since no objections were raised in 1960, when the city put a parking lot over a small section of the graveyard, they would not block construction of the museum on that same site now.
    The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles-based Jewish organization behind the project, welcomed the court ruling and said work on the $250 million museum would resume immediately, after a two-year delay due to the legal proceedings.
    In their ruling, the justices required that any human remains be reburied at an alternative site, or that the museum be built on pillars so that the graves beneath are not disturbed.

Turkey Interested in Israeli UAVs - Yaakov Lappin and Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
    Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul is in Israel for a two-day visit to examine unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that Turkey is slated to acquire.
    Last year Turkey began operating Israeli-made Heron UAVs over northern Iraq, home to scores of Kurdish rebel bases.
    The UAVs were acquired by Turkey in a 2005 deal worth $150 million.

The Tunnel Kings of Gaza - Ulrike Putz (Der Spiegel-Germany)
    Abu Hisham is one of the tunnel kings of Gaza. His grandfather set up the business in the 1980s when he built the first tunnel and brought weapons into Gaza. A smuggled Kalashnikov would fetch up to $4,000.
    The gun trade has slumped since Hamas won the power struggle in Gaza. It's hard to make money with guns because the arsenals of the radical Palestinian organizations are plentifully stocked.
    Around 20 pipelines have been laid, and diesel and gasoline are pumped into Gaza through them. The price of gasoline has halved since the pipelines were installed.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Leader Signals Not Time for Thaw in U.S. Ties
    Iran's supreme leader said on Wednesday Iranian hatred of the U.S. ran deep, remarks analysts said signaled an end to any debate about closer links between them. "This dispute (with America) is beyond differences of opinion on a few political issues," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted by state TV as saying.
        "What he is actually doing is putting an end to the discussion that has been going on in the country sparked by the idea of opening an American interests section and the possibility it can create a thaw," said one political analyst. "Second, Iranians have been watching the American election closely, and this sends a clear message to everyone that whatever happens, that is not going to have any effect on the way Iran views the United States," he added. (Reuters)
  • Syria Hardens Stance after U.S. Raid - Albert Aji
    Syria threatened Wednesday to cut off security cooperation along the Iraqi border if there are more American raids on Syrian territory, and the U.S. Embassy announced it would close Thursday because of a mass rally called to protest the U.S. attack. (AP/Washington Post)
        See also Iraq Denounces U.S. Raid in Syria
    The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, after initially saying the U.S. raid in Syria targeted an area used by militants to launch attacks into Iraq, on Tuesday denounced the raid and said Iraq must not be used to stage attacks on other nations. "Iraq hopes this unfortunate act will not disturb brotherly relations between the two countries," said an Iraqi government statement, quoting a Foreign Ministry source. (Reuters)
  • Syria Sentences 12 for Political Crimes
    A Syrian court sentenced 12 dissidents to 2 1/2 years each in prison on Wednesday for political crimes after they had called for democratic reforms. The 11 men and a woman were arrested after holding a meeting to revive a movement calling for freedom of expression and a democratic constitution in Syria. The charges included "weakening national morale." (Reuters)
        See also Syria Comes Down on Dissidents - Stephen Starr
    The 12 Syrian dissidents were held behind a cage in a court room packed with family members and well-wishers. After the sentences were read out, several of the detained shouted cries of defiance and locked hands together. About a dozen diplomats from various embassies, including Canadian and Dutch representatives, attended the proceedings.
        Several Internet cafes dotted around Damascus have recently seen new regulations posted whereby every computer user must provide an identity card before being assigned a computer. The computer number and time spent on the Internet is then recorded. (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinians Fire Rocket at Israel in Truce Breach
    Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket at Israel on Thursday, in the latest violation of a six-month Israel-Hamas truce that began on June 19. Last week, Palestinian sources in Gaza predicted that Hamas is likely to seek to extend its truce with Israel for another six months. (Ha'aretz)
  • First-Temple-Era Water Tunnel Found in Jerusalem - Etgar Lefkovits
    A water tunnel dating back to the First Temple era has been uncovered in the ancient City of David, Israeli archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar said Wednesday. The tunnel was discovered under an immense stone structure built in the 10th century BCE that has previously been identified by Mazar as the palace of King David. The tunnel's characteristics, date, and location, Mazar said, testify with "high probability" that the water tunnel is the one called "tsinor" in the story of King David's conquest of Jerusalem (Samuel II, 5:6-8; Chronicles I, 11:4-6). (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Archeologists Find Hebrew Text in Ancient Town
    An Israeli archeologist digging at Hirbet Qeiyafa near Beit Shemesh, southwest of Jerusalem, believes a ceramic shard found in the ruins of an ancient town bears the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered. The five lines of faded characters written 3,000 years ago, and the ruins of the fortified settlement where they were found, are indications that a powerful Israelite kingdom existed at the time of the Old Testament's King David, says Yossi Garfinkel, the Hebrew University archeologist in charge of the dig. A teenage volunteer found the pottery shard in July containing written characters in a precursor of Hebrew. Carbon-14 analysis dated the layer in which it was found to be between 1,000 and 975 BCE. (AP/International Herald Tribune)
        See also Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David - Ethan Bronner (New York Times)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Will Syria Dump Its Old Friends? - David Blair
    When you lead a poor country with hardly any oil, only 19 million people and a pitifully weak army, you cannot afford to burn your bridges with anybody. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's foreign policy is to reach in all directions at once, play in every game and explore every possible alliance. In a country that calls itself a republic, Assad inherited the presidency from his father, Hafez, who died in 2000. This makes him the world's only example of an absolute monarch, with no throne, ruling a hereditary republic. When it comes to lacking any shred of popular legitimacy, no one can compete with Assad. He cannot even claim the dubious standing that comes from having led a successful coup, as his dad did 38 years ago.
        The West and Israel both want Syria to shake off Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran. At present, Syria forms the crucial supply route linking Hizbullah with its chief paymaster and arms dealer, Iran. Assad's goodwill also saves Iran from near total diplomatic isolation in the Middle East. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Syrian Leader Makes Strategic Decision to Turn the Other Cheek - Mark MacKinnon
    In Latakia, Syria, Bashar Assad's hometown, people make an extremely good show of appearing to love their leader. The dictator's mustachioed face glares from the back of taxi cabs and smiles benevolently out from the windows of banks and hair salons. His countrymen were looking anxiously to see what Assad will do after U.S. troops and attack helicopters carried out a raid into Syrian territory. Unfortunately for Assad, there's not a lot he can do, at least not without jeopardizing the progress Syria has made in recent months toward bringing itself out of the international isolation imposed by the Bush administration.
        "Syria has its hands tied behind its back. It can't allow its anger to rule this moment," said Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "Syria does not want to let this raid have any impact on its relations with the European Union or other countries," said Marwan Kabalan, a political scientist at the University of Damascus. (Globe and Mail-Canada)
  • Middle East Challenges for Next President - Alistair Lyon
    Almost a year after President Bush relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Annapolis, sporadic talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have failed to bridge rifts over borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Palestinian divisions have put any deal out of sight for now. Hamas Islamists seized Gaza in June 2007, leaving Abbas' Fatah faction in charge of the West Bank. Obama and McCain both stress how pro-Israel they are, but neither has proposed any policy shift to rescue the two-state solution from oblivion. (Reuters)
  • Observations:

    Lebanon's Enemy Within - Michael J. Totten (Commentary)

    • Peace talks with Damascus won't get Israelis anywhere. Syria's tyrant Bashar Assad needs a state of cold war with Israel to justify the oppressive policies against his country's own citizens, and bad-faith negotiations yield him some measure of international legitimacy he doesn't deserve.
    • Hizbullah is "moderate" compared with the worst jihadist groups out there, but it simply cannot survive in its current form if it isn't engaged in at least a low level of conflict. Hizbullah doesn't even pretend to want peace and will almost certainly gin up another shooting war on the border. "See?" Hizbullah will say to fellow Lebanese after violently provoking the Israelis to cross the border again. "We told you. You need us."
    • Lebanon probably really is the least anti-Israel Arab country in the world. It is certainly the most liberal, democratic, and cosmopolitan of the Arabic countries - at least the non-Hizbullah parts of Lebanon are.
    • Most Lebanese were furious at Hizbullah for starting the last war in July 2006. Some even supported Israel's initial counterattack. A huge number of Lebanese Christians were Israel's allies during the [1975-1990] civil war, and even a large number of Shias from South Lebanon volunteered to fight Hizbullah and joined the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army until the year 2000.
    • Most of Hizbullah's supporters are drawn from the ranks of those who sincerely believe Israel is a threat to them and that Hizbullah is their only defense. This is nonsense on stilts - Israel wouldn't have invaded Lebanon at all in 2006 if Hizbullah had not attacked first.

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