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February 24, 2009

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Veteran Mideast Envoy Ross Named to Advise Clinton on Iran Strategy - Glenn Kessler (Washington Post)
    Dennis Ross, a longtime diplomatic troubleshooter, has been appointed as a special adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with responsibility for developing a strategy for engaging Iran.
    In an article titled "Diplomatic Strategies for Dealing with Iran," published in September, Ross recommended that the initial approach to Iran take place through a "direct, secret back channel."

In a Palestinian Unity Government, Hamas Wins - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Reconciliation talks are slated to be launched in Cairo this week between Hamas and Fatah on the formation of a new Palestinian unity government.
    Both Hamas and Fatah realize that the only way to persuade the international community to contribute to the reconstruction work in Gaza is to form a unity government.
    A new Palestinian unity government would mean victory for Hamas, which would not be required to make any major political concessions, while its participation in a unity government would turn it into a legitimate and internationally recognized player in the Palestinian arena.

Israel's Jewish Population Getting Younger, Arab Population Getting Older - Yoram Ettinger (Jerusalem Post)
    According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of annual Jewish births increased by 45% between 1995 (80,400) and 2008 (117,000), and the proportion of Jewish births has grown from 69% (of total births) in 1995 and 74% in 2007 to 75% in 2008.
    The number of annual Arab births has stabilized since 1995 at around 39,000.
    The Westernization of the Arab fertility rate is apparent throughout most of the Arab and Muslim world.

Ancient Seals Unearthed in Jerusalem Dig - Etgar Lefkovits (Jerusalem Post)
    An archeological excavation in Umm Tuba on the southeastern edge of Jerusalem has uncovered a series of seal impressions from the reign of the biblical King Hezekiah 2,700 years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.
    The seal impressions found include those of two high-ranking officials named Ahimelech ben Amadyahu and Yehohail ben Shahar, who served in the Judean kingdom's government.
    Another Hebrew inscription, dating 600 years later, was discovered on a jar fragment from the Hasmonean period in the second century BCE.
    The site also housed a large building during the First and Second Temple periods unearthed during the dig.
    See also Greetings from Ahimelech and Yehohail in Judea (Israel Antiquities Authority)

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. to Give $900 Million in Gaza Aid - Helene Cooper
    The Obama administration intends to provide some $900 million to help rebuild Gaza, administration officials said Monday. A U.S. official said that the aid would not go to Hamas but would be funneled through nongovernmental organizations.
        The aid will be formally announced next week when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to a Palestinian donors' conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, which is seeking to raise close to $2 billion for Gaza. After the conference, Clinton will make her first trip to Israel as secretary of state. (New York Times)
  • Judge's Opinion Could Spell End of AIPAC Case - Walter Pincus
    A memorandum opinion written by U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Ellis III on Feb. 17 and released last week may spell the end to a four-year effort by the Justice Department to convict two former pro-Israel lobbyists for allegedly violating the Espionage Act by passing classified government information to journalists and an Israeli Embassy official. The case against the AIPAC lobbyists was the first time two civilian nongovernment employees were indicted under the Espionage Act, although the type of information they gathered and passed on was similar to that collected every day by Washington journalists and think-tank analysts who cover national security affairs.
        Ellis determined that the government's authority under an executive order to put a "confidential," "secret" or "top secret" stamp on information does not automatically qualify it as national defense information under the law. Ellis noted that J. William Leonard, who had been director of the government's Information Security Office responsible for oversight of the entire U.S. classification system, would testify about the "back channel" practice of government officials disclosing classified information to journalists and lobbyists "for the purpose of advancing national security interests."
        That claim would support the defendants' argument that some of the information in the case was passed to them by government officials, some of whom, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have been subpoenaed to testify if the matter goes to trial. (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF: Barghouti's Release Won't Unify Palestinians - Yaakov Katz
    A report prepared by the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories states that the release of Marwan Barghouti - who was sentenced in an Israeli court to five life sentences in 2004 - would not have a dramatic impact on the Palestinian Authority and would not succeed in uniting Palestinian factions. On Monday, the London-based Al Hayat cited Palestinian sources as saying that Israel was considering releasing Barghouti as a goodwill gesture to Mahmoud Abbas. The report concluded that Barghouti's influence was mainly in Ramallah, but not in other parts of the West Bank. In addition, Barghouti would encounter fierce opposition from the "old guard" in the PA. (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Attacks Terrorists Trying to Bomb Troops on Gaza Border - Amos Harel
    Israeli soldiers stationed near the Kissufim border crossing opened fire on Palestinians planting explosives on Monday. An Israel Air Force helicopter subsequently bombed the terrorists' car as they tried to escape. (Ha'aretz)
  • Rockets from Gaza Continue to Land in Israel - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket on Monday afternoon that landed near a kibbutz in southern Israel. Several hours earlier, a Kassam rocket exploded near the town of Sderot. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • How Effective Was the U.S. at the Pre-"Durban II" Negotiations? - Anne Bayefsky
    The U.S. administration attended four full days of negotiations in Geneva on planning the UN's Durban II "anti-racism" conference. During that time they witnessed the following: the failure to adopt a proposal to act against Holocaust denial, a new proposal to single out Israel which will now be included in the draft without objection, vigorous refusal by many states to back down on references to "Islamophobia" (the general allegation of a racist Western plot to discriminate against all Muslims), and numerous attacks on free speech. This "dialogue" is not promoting rights and freedoms. It is legitimizing a forum for disputing the essence of democracy, handing Holocaust deniers a global platform and manufacturing the means to demonize Israel in the interests of those states bent on the Jewish state's destruction. (Forbes)
        See also Boycott Durban II - Gregg J. Rickman
    The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, otherwise known as the Durban Conference, was a parley hijacked by radicals to become an anti-Israel hate-fest. The April 2009 Durban II conference promises to top that fiasco, despite the Obama administration's decision to attempt to influence the process. We must do the only honorable deed and boycott Durban II, denying the world's terrorists and bigots the privilege of our legitimizing presence among them. The writer served as the first U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism from 2006 to 2009. (JTA)
  • The Road to Damascus - Editorial
    As a Middle East way station for terrorists, Syria can't be ignored. Candidate Barack Obama pledged during the campaign to engage Syria in contrast to President Bush's attempt to isolate it. Now a limited engagement has begun as Obama gave a nod of approval for trips last week to Syria by the heads of the Senate and House foreign affairs committees. The U.S. has tried soft diplomacy before with Syria, under President Clinton and pre-9/11 Bush. Both attempts revealed a Damascus unwilling to give up ties with Iran, Hamas, and Hizbullah, or to end its dark influence in Lebanon. The Assad regime, based on the rule of the minority Alawite tribe, needs the economic benefits of those ties and a perception of external threats to control internal dissent. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • With Rivals in Key Posts, U.S. Faces Hurdles at UN - Colum Lynch
    President Obama's UN envoy, Susan Rice, has pledged to "refresh and renew American leadership" at the UN. But U.S. rivals with a long history of opposing American aims now hold some of the most influential posts at the world body, a testament to the diminished power of American diplomacy to shape the organization. The General Assembly is headed by a leftist Nicaraguan priest, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, who routinely rails against the evils of American imperialism. Cuba chairs the Non-Aligned Movement. Libya serves on the Security Council and next year will preside over the General Assembly. Last week, Libya blocked a U.S. plan for a Security Council resolution condemning violence against civilians in south Darfur.
        Even Iran and Sudan, which are subject to U.S.-backed UN sanctions, have secured leadership positions on the board of the UN's top development agency and at the head of the Group of 77, a group that coordinates social policies for Third World countries. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    Repetition of Failed Experiments Is Not a Formula for Israeli-Palestinian Peace - Elliott Abrams (Weekly Standard)

    • As an official of the Bush administration I made three dozen visits to the Middle East in the last eight years, and after lengthy discussions with Israelis and Palestinians, it seems to me obvious that it is time to face certain facts: We are not on the verge of Israeli-Palestinian peace; a Palestinian state cannot come into being in the near future; and the focus should be on building the institutions that will allow for real Palestinian progress in the medium or longer term. What are the chances of a final status agreement in 2009? None. Despite the pressures for progress after Annapolis, little progress was made in 2008, and if anything conditions are worse now.
    • It has been true for decades that the most Israel can offer the Palestinians is quite evidently less than any Palestinian politician is prepared to accept. Those who say "the outlines of an agreement are well known" are wrong: To the extent that such outlines are "well known," they are unacceptable to both sides or they would have led to a deal long ago.
    • Meanwhile, Fatah as a party is moribund. Its reputation for incompetence and corruption remains what it was when Arafat was alive, for there has been no party reform despite endless promises. If democracy is impossible without democratic parties, the collapse of Fatah suggests that a future independent Palestine would either be run by Hamas and other extremists and terrorists or become a one-party "republic" on the model of Tunisia or Egypt.
    • The lesson of Gaza to Israelis is identical to the lesson of south Lebanon, and a cautionary tale regarding withdrawal from the West Bank: "Land for peace" concessions have failed and become "land for terrorism." Until there is far better security in the West Bank, few Israelis would risk withdrawing the Israel Defense Forces from operating there.
    • Furthermore, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now part of a broader struggle in the region over Iranian extremism and power. Israeli withdrawals now risk opening the door not only to Palestinian terrorists but to Iranian proxies. While Iran is able to sustain the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza, negotiations over a full final status agreement are little more than staking territorial claims to a mirage.
    • These factors suggest that a final status agreement is not now a real-world goal. What is? An intense concentration on building Palestinian institutions in the West Bank. The U.S. and the Quartet should take some time away from endless meetings and speeches and resolutions calling for immediate negotiations over final status issues, and turn instead to making real life in the West Bank better and more secure.

      The writer, senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration.

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