Prepared for the |
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Bush Pardons Man Who Gave Israel Arms in 1948 War - Deb Riechmann (AP)
Czech Pilots Train in Israel for Afghan Mission (CTK-Ceske Noviny-Czech Republic)
Hamas Passes Bill Authorizing Hanging, Whipping - Roee Nahmias
Generation Faithful: Jordanian Students Embracing Conservative Islam - Michael Slackman (New York Times)
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
Palestinian gunmen launched more than 60 strikes into Israel, the largest barrage since before an Egyptian-brokered truce went into effect in and around Gaza in June. The military wing of Hamas said in a statement that the firing was "to avenge the killing" of three of its members by the Israeli army on Tuesday. The army said it had fired at three militants planting explosives near the border fence. (Telegraph-UK)
See also Palestinian Terrorists Bombard Ashkelon with Grad Rockets - Yaakov Katz
Palestinian terrorists on Wednesday fired Kassam and Grad rockets from Gaza at Ashkelon and other Israeli towns, prompting Israel to hold up a shipment of aid. Rockets continued to rain on southern Israel throughout the morning hours. A number of Grad-type rockets were fired at Ashkelon throughout the morning, one of them landing in the yard of a private residence. A house in the Negev region sustained a direct hit from a rocket. Earlier, a volley of rockets was fired at Netivot, and several rockets landed outside the town. (Jerusalem Post)
On the second day of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, Geut Argon sat on the toilet lid, shivering, her hands covering her face. Her elder sister Ruth and another few people who also rushed into the small bathroom stood beside and waited nervously. After an anxious quiet, Ruth said it was okay now. As people walked out of the makeshift shelter they started talking about why the rocket-attack alarm sounded after the explosion. During the past month, the Israeli towns near Gaza have been subject to almost daily rains of rockets and mortar shells fired by Palestinian militants. Geut, a mother of two, is still recovering from the terrible incident in January when a rocket made a direct hit on her house, knocking her into a temporary coma and injuring her head and knee. (Xinhua-China)
Six years ago the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was the site of a five-week standoff between Israeli troops and armed Palestinian militants. This year there are more tourists in Bethlehem than at any time in a decade, and their presence signals that life for West Bank Palestinians seems to be making substantial improvement. Both Israeli and Palestinian officials report economic growth for the territories of 4-5% and a drop in the unemployment rate. Israel reports that in 2008 wages are up more than 20% and trade by 35%.
In the West Bank, Hamas is currently subdued, with its armed men deep underground, its political leaders in Israeli jails, and those representatives still at large diligently playing by PA rules. The governor of Bethlehem, Salah Tamari, said Hamas was weakening in the West Bank as people saw how hard life was under its rule in Gaza. (New York Times)
See also The Sad Exodus of Christians from the Birthplace of Jesus - Kim Sengupta and Donald Macintyre
"It is a sad fact, but it remains a fact, that a lot of Christians are leaving," says Victor Batarseh, the Christian mayor of Bethlehem. One charge is that Muslims have been taking over Christian lands with the Palestinian authorities turning a blind eye. Yusuf Nassir, 57, is looking for a way to emigrate. "My house was attacked [by Muslims] over nothing. There was a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian boy, this turned into a communal fight and then around 70 men turned on us." Nicola Lolas, 38, says: "What we are seeing now is organized extortion from some Muslims....In each case they have been forced to pay compensation even though they have done nothing wrong." Mrs. Lolas says: "As an uncovered Christian woman I get insulted a lot more by Muslim men than I used to." (Independent-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Hamas warnings are looking more and more like brinkmanship. The same spokesmen who kept threatening an end to the six-month cease-fire are now willing to renew talks about extending it. Hamas knows full well that the food supply of two-thirds of Gaza residents depends on international aid. If the crossing points remain closed, the Gazans who stood on long bakery lines Tuesday are liable to turn their anger not just against Israel, but also against Hamas. (Ha'aretz)
See also Gaza Tunnels to Egypt Foil Israel Blockade - Jonathan Ferziger
Ninety percent of all products entering Gaza each month - as much as $40 million worth of contraband - comes through the tunnels from Egypt, says Omar Shaban, an economist in Gaza City. (Bloomberg)
Senior U.S. State Department officials sent concerned messages to Israel in recent months regarding the negative effects an Israel-Syria peace deal could have on Lebanese sovereignty. The diplomatic messages stated: "Israel must not sacrifice Lebanon for the sake of peace with Syria." A senior Foreign Ministry official said the U.S. even asked Israel for "guarantees" on the matter. Political sources in Jerusalem said the Americans' concerns stemmed from a number of recent statements made by Israeli officials to the effect that only Syria is capable of restraining Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Political sources in Jerusalem said the U.S. is placing significant pressure on Israel to withdraw from the border village of Ghajar before the 2009 Lebanese elections in order to strengthen the government of Fouad Siniora. Such sentiments were expressed by David Hale, the State Department's envoy on Lebanon and a former U.S. ambassador to Jordan, during a visit to Israel several days ago. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
Iran and its nuclear program may well constitute the Obama administration's first foreign policy crisis. Iran is well down the path to being able to enrich uranium on a large enough scale to produce a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency just reported that Iran may well reach this point in 2009. An Iran with a nuclear weapon or the ability to produce one or more bombs in short order poses a true danger. One path for the new American administration would be to adopt the "North Korea option" and live with the threat. The risk is that doing so would make an already unstable Middle East even more so.
What would it take to essentially eliminate Iran's uranium enrichment effort? To begin with, it would entail putting together a diplomatic package that offered Iran access to nuclear energy but not physical control over nuclear materials. It is possible that Iran will reject any diplomatic compromise, even one put forward directly by the Americans. Mr. Obama and the world would then have to choose between tolerating an Iran with nuclear weapons (or the ability to produce them quickly) and using military force to prevent this outcome. It is the worst sort of choice, as neither option is attractive. For that reason, it is all the more important that diplomacy be recast and given one last chance. The writer is President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former director of policy planning at the State Department. (Globe and Mail-Canada)
It has been 20 years since the U.S. became a party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Yet we still lack the necessary institutions, policies and strategies to prevent and halt systematic campaigns of massacres and forced displacements. What is needed is a national blueprint to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. We must learn to recognize the early warning signs of genocide and move quickly to marshal international cooperation, to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear against those who violate the norms of civilized behavior.
We are keenly aware that the incoming president's agenda will be daunting from Day One. But preventing genocide and mass atrocities is not an idealistic addition to our core foreign policy agenda. It is a moral and strategic imperative. Madeleine K. Albright, the secretary of state from 1997 to 2001, and William S. Cohen, the secretary of defense from 1997 to 2001, are the co-chairmen of the Genocide Prevention Task Force. (New York Times)
How President Obama Can Promote Israeli-Palestinian Peace - David Pollock, Editor (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
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