Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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February 10, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Election Day in Israel (Ynet News)
    On Tuesday, 5,278,985 registered Israeli voters will choose their representatives to the 18th Knesset from among 33 parties.

Ex-Amnesty International Official to Head UN Probe of Israeli Actions in Gaza (AFP)
    Ian Martin of the UK, a former secretary general of Amnesty International who also served as a UN envoy to East Timor and Nepal, is to head a five-member panel that will probe last month's Israeli attacks involving UN facilities in Gaza, Palestinian UN observer Ryad Mansour said Monday.

Hamas' Challenge to the PLO - Mohammad Yaghi (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    On Jan. 28, Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashal announced the start of a new campaign against the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization, declaring Hamas' intention to replace the PLO with a new body that would serve the Islamist group's agenda of "resistance."
    Hamas' efforts to take over or replace the PLO represent a severe challenge to Palestinian moderates. The outcome of this political struggle will shape the future of Palestinian politics and the prospects for peace.
    Despite the political weakness of Fatah and Abbas and the increasing support for Hamas, it is difficult to see a way that Hamas could gain control of the PLO without Fatah's surrender.
    Further, Fatah's allies in the PLO, such as the Popular Front and the Democratic Front, will not accept Hamas' leadership.

Yemeni Jews Demand Rescue - Kawkab al-Thaibani (Yemen Times-Yemen)
    Despite numerous government assurances and presidential instructions to protect and relocate the Jewish minority in Raidah village, Amran governorate, the some 400 Yemeni Jewish citizens fear for their lives today more than ever.

Nazi Find Sheds Light on Egypt's Sensitive Past - Lee Keath (AP)
    Nazi hunters urged Egypt on Friday to come clean about how much it knew about former concentration camp doctor Aribert Heim, a fugitive dubbed "Dr. Death," who reportedly lived there for decades until he died in 1992.
    But Egypt has long kept a strict silence about former Nazis reported to have taken refuge on its soil.
    A number of Nazis are believed to have been welcomed in the 1950s by the Egyptian regime of then-President Nasser, who enlisted some Nazis to train Egypt's military, produce anti-Israel propaganda, or help build rockets.

UN Human Rights Council Urges Saudi Arabia to Give Women Rights (Ms. Magazine)
    Members of the UN Human Rights Council last week urged Saudi Arabia to actively work to end pervasive human rights violations in the country, particularly those against women and children.
    According to Reuters, Britain, Switzerland, Canada, and Israel spoke against Saudi Arabia's current practices.
    Israel's delegation reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of "severe discrimination against women and minorities, corporal punishment, torture, forced labor, and the sexual exploitation of children."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Obama: U.S. Seeks Dialogue and Engagement with Iran
    President Obama told a press conference Monday: Iran's "financing of terrorist organizations like Hizbullah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they've used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon...all of those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace."
        "My national security team is currently reviewing our existing Iran policy, looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them. And my expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face to face; of diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction."
        "As we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country, that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable, that we're clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing." "My designation of George Mitchell as a special envoy to help deal with the Arab-Israeli situation, some of the interviews that I've given...indicates the degree to which we want to do things differently in the region. Now it's time for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently as well and recognize that even as it has some rights as a member of the international community, with those rights come responsibilities."  (New York Times)
  • Hamas Returns Seized Aid Supplies to UN in Gaza - Adam Entous and Nidal al-Mughrabi
    The UN said on Monday that Hamas has returned all of the aid supplies that it had seized in Gaza last week. UNRWA had suspended imports of goods Friday after accusing Hamas of twice seizing aid supplies, accusing Hamas of taking blankets, food and other goods from a warehouse and 10 aid trucks. (Reuters)
  • Palestinians Stop Paying Israeli Hospitals for Gaza and West Bank Patients - Ethan Bronner
    The PA has stopped paying for scores of Palestinian patients being treated in Israeli hospitals. Palestinians whose children were being treated in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem say they have been instructed by Palestinian health officials to place them in facilities in the West Bank, Jordan or Egypt. "We have been bombarded by frantic parents. This is a political decision taken on the backs of patients," said Dr. Michael Weintraub, director of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplantation at Hadassah.
        The Palestinian health minister, Fathi Abu Moghli, said he was examining the entire referral procedure because he had no desire to see the wounded from the Gaza war receive Israeli care. An Israeli clinic set up on the Israeli-Gaza border the day the war ended has already closed since both Hamas and the PA boycotted it. Dr. Abu Moghli said that with 24 hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank, there was no reason for so many Palestinian patients to go to Israeli facilities, which he said were much more expensive and contributed to a culture of dependency.
        Dr. Weintraub said that if patients "live 10 minutes from Hadassah, they will do everything they can to get admitted. And we are happy to take them. There are no politics in our wards. Twenty percent of our patients are Palestinians, and we have one common enemy: cancer. The rest is immaterial." (New York Times)
  • Iran Marks 30th Anniversary of 1979 Islamic Revolution - Scott Peterson
    As Iran marks the 30th anniversary of its revolution on Tuesday, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's legacy lives on in fact and myth - from Iran's opposition to America as the "Great Satan," to the spread of its ideology of resistance. Khomeini's words and ideas are still drawn upon daily by politicians of all stripes, who fight to prove they follow Khomeini's "true path." When former President Khatami declared his candidacy Sunday for June presidential elections, he said he had to take part because his "heart is with the revolution, with the Imam, with Iran." (Christian Science Monitor)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF Kills Palestinian Suicide Bomber at Gaza Border - Anshel Pfeffer
    IDF troops spotted an armed Palestinian trying to cross the Gaza-Israel border late Sunday and opened fire, after which a bomb belt he was wearing detonated. Islamic Jihad said the man killed was on a mission to attack an Israeli patrol along the border. (Ha'aretz)
  • Rights Groups Say Hamas Carried Out Extrajudicial Killings during Gaza War
    Human rights groups have called on Hamas to investigate widespread allegations of abduction, torture and killing of Palestinians accused of being collaborators with Israel during the war in Gaza. "There is a state of vigilantism and chaos, lawlessness in the Gaza Strip right now," Randa Siniora of the Independent Commission for Human Rights said Sunday. Separately on Sunday, the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights called for an investigation into the death of Jamil Shakoura, who died in a Gaza hospital after being beaten in the custody of Hamas security forces.
        Khalil Abu Shammala, a human rights monitor, told Al Jazeera that dozens of Fatah members were shot and tortured during the war. Naem Atallah told Al Jazeera that he found the body of his son Osama, a Fatah supporter, at Gaza's Shifa hospital after he was taken away from the family home by ten masked men who said they were from internal security. Osama, a teacher and father of five children, had been strangled, suffered blunt force trauma to his head and been shot. (Al-Jazeera-Qatar)
        See also Gaza: Hamas Kneecappings, Punishment Beatings and Killings of "Collaborators" Revealed (Amnesty International)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • One Region, Two States - President of Israel Shimon Peres
    Some Middle East pundits have recently emerged as advocates for a one-state solution, which would undermine Israel's legitimacy and internationally recognized right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state in the land of my forefathers. The one-state solution has enough intrinsic flaws to render it no solution at all. From Israel's perspective, it is not possible for the Jewish people to accept an arrangement that signifies the end of the existence of a Jewish state. From the Palestinians' perspective, they should not be denied the opportunity to take their national destiny into their own hands.
        The area of the West Bank and Gaza is nine times as large as Singapore's, yet the combined population of Palestinians in both regions is smaller than that of Singapore. This Southeast Asian country enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world. We have faith that the Palestinians are capable of achieving similar success, and we will continue to work tirelessly with our partners across the negotiating table to establish an autonomous Palestinian state where the people will institute a modern economy based on science, technology and the benefits of peace. (Washington Post)
  • An Opening to Iran? They've Sold Us This Rug Before - Michael Rubin
    In 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran, many in Washington had been happy to see the shah go. On Nov. 1, 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser and now, ironically, an Obama adviser on Iranian affairs, met in Algiers with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi to discuss normalization of relations. Iranian students, outraged at the possibility, stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. On Aug. 31, 1984, national security adviser Robert McFarlane decided to ship arms to Iran to win the goodwill necessary to free U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon. Not only did the Iranian leadership stand McFarlane up during his trip to Tehran, but Hizbullah seized more hostages for Tehran to trade.
        During President Clinton's second term, the State Department encouraged U.S. businessmen to visit Iran, until Iranian vigilantes attacked a busload of American visitors in 1998. Secretary of State Albright even ordered U.S. officials to cease referring to Iran as a rogue regime, and instead as a "state of concern." It was during this time that, according to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, Tehran sought to develop a nuclear warhead. The writer, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was an Iran country director at the Pentagon between September 2002 and April 2004. (Weekly Standard)
  • Observations:

    What Hamas Has Wrought - Edgar M. Bronfman (Huffington Post)

    • "We do not recognize your right to exist. We reserve the right to attack you at any point. And we will surely not honor any previous agreements regarding peace and reconciliation." These are Hamas' positions vis-a-vis Israel, which they state publicly and repeatedly. The same organization fires rockets at Israeli civilians from among the people of the Gaza Strip, and then the whole world condemns the Israeli government for acting to defend its citizens.
    • As a Jew and as a liberal, I am appalled at what took place last month in Gaza and the tragic loss of innocent life. But the fundamentals of this crisis have not changed. Hamas is still not a partner in any meaningful way, certainly not for peace. The ongoing negotiations in Cairo are being held up by Hamas' maximalist demands. All the while, rockets are still being smuggled into Gaza; their only function is to instill terror and increase bloodshed.
    • Armchair ethicists in the West would do well to imagine a Middle East that, for the past 15 years, did not have a Hamas. Imagine a strong Oslo Peace Process, since the countless suicide bombers of buses and shopping malls and coffee shops would never have been dispatched to undermine any progress towards peace. Imagine a Gaza Strip after Israel's 2005 pullout being built-up, not as the world's first inhabited launching pad for rockets, but as the first step in real Palestinian self-determination and self-sufficiency. And imagine the tragic but unavoidable recent events in Gaza never having taken place, since thousands of Hamas rockets would not have found their way into Israeli living rooms and schoolyards.
    • The crucial point about Israel that is often overlooked is that, for all its faults (and I have never been shy about pointing those out), a two-state solution to this conflict has been the official policy of every government since 1993.
    • It is time for observers in the West to understand that the biggest impediment to a better future for both Palestinians and Israelis is not the actions Israel might take to defend itself, but rather Hamas' obstinate rejectionism and violence. Solve this, and then you can begin to solve the overall conflict.

      The writer, chairman of the Board of Governors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, is the former president of the World Jewish Congress.

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