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May 20, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Israel Security Agency: No Chance for Peace Process While Hamas Rules Gaza (Jerusalem Post)
    A day after President Obama informed Prime Minister Netanyahu of his intention to launch a new regional peace effort, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Yuval Diskin told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday that there was "no chance for an effective peace process so long as Hamas rules the Gaza Strip."
    "If ballots were cast in the West Bank today, there is a good chance Hamas would win," he added.
    See also Israel Weighed Overthrow of Hamas in Gaza - Yuval Azoulay (Ha'aretz)
    The Israel Security Agency had recommended Israel overthrow the Hamas regime in Gaza while Ehud Olmert was prime minister, Yuval Diskin told the Knesset committee.
    Hamas was significantly weakened by Israel's Gaza operation, Diskin said. The group has dismissed senior military figures and is busy rebuilding its military capacity, including its rocket arsenal.
    See also Israel: No Need to Finish West Bank Barrier (BBC News)
    Israeli Security Agency chief Yuval Diskin told a parliamentary committee that there is no security reason for continuing construction of Israel's barrier through the West Bank and that Israel had enough capabilities to prevent attacks from Palestinian territory.

New PA Government Sworn In (AFP)
    A new Palestinian government, again headed by Western-backed Salam Fayyad, was sworn in on Tuesday in Ramallah.
    See also PA Government Focused on Internal Issues - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    The composition of Salam Fayyad's new Palestinian cabinet almost conclusively dashed any hope of Palestinian reconciliation, and with it, the possibility that the Hamas regime in Gaza can be ousted in the near future.
    After the most recent round of talks in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas ended Monday without any tangible results, the PA leadership decided to give the go-ahead to the formation of a cabinet without Hamas.
    When asked about Netanyahu's readiness for an immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians, Fayyad said: "I do not think this is the appropriate time to talk about negotiations."
    Most of his remarks were devoted to internal Palestinian issues and he appears to view talks with Israel as being less than urgent at the moment.

Report: Russia Halts Plans for Syria Fighter Sale (Reuters)
    Russia has halted plans to sell advanced MIG-31 fighters to Syria because of pressure from Israel, the Kommersant daily reported on Wednesday citing a source in Russia's defense industry.
    Russia in 2007 agreed to supply Syria with eight MiG-31 fighters.

Spain Moving to Rein In Its Crusading Judges - Thomas Catan (Wall Street Journal)
    Spain is moving to rein in its investigative judges from trying alleged crimes against humanity from around the world, a role that has led to high-profile cases against the governments of the U.S., China, Israel and others.
    Under pressure from irate foreign governments, Spain's Congress on Tuesday passed a resolution to limit the jurisdiction of the crusading judges to cases in which there is a clear Spanish connection.
    Cases taken up by the judges would have to involve a Spanish citizen or the accused would have to be on Spanish soil.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. Officials Press Israeli Leader on Mideast Peace - Amy Teibel
    Winding up a three-day trip after talks with President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and held sessions with House and Senate leaders and a group of Jewish legislators. He also met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Tuesday that she reiterated the U.S. government's commitment to a two-state solution and its demand that Israel halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. "Underlying that commitment is the conviction that the Palestinians deserve a viable state," she said after her dinner with Netanyahu Monday.
        After a meeting with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Netanyahu said that the new thing emerging from his talks with Obama is that "not only Israel has to give but also the Palestinians and Arab countries, not at the end of the process but now. They have to take concrete steps to improve relations with Israel and to begin to set into motion reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world." Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said he, too, had stressed to Netanyahu "the importance of Israel moving forward, especially in respect to the settlements issue." But he said he also told the Israeli leader that the issue was not "a one-way street" and that Arab steps toward joining the "regional roadmap" to peace were also critical. (AP/Washington Post)
  • U.S.-Israel Forming Working Group on Iran - Eli Lake
    The U.S. and Israel are quietly forming a high-level working group to assess the progress of President Obama's outreach to Iran and to share intelligence about Iran's nuclear weapons program, officials said Tuesday. The agreement, reached during Monday's meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama, gives the U.S. a clear channel for communicating with the new Israeli government and a vehicle for keeping tabs on any military contingency plans Israel might make if diplomacy fails. (Washington Times)
  • RAND Study: "Unrealistic" to Believe U.S.-Iran Talks Will Change Tehran's Behavior - Nicholas Kralev
    A major study prepared for the U.S. Air Force by the RAND Corp. recommended "de-escalating" unilateral U.S. pressure on Tehran while strengthening multilateral sanctions and engaging Iran on regional security issues. The new study dismisses hopes that bilateral U.S.-Iran talks alone will change Tehran's behavior as "unrealistic" and advocates a broad international effort that would leverage incentives and punishment, depending on Iran's response. The report - "Dangerous But Not Omnipotent" - compares current U.S. policy toward Iran to Cold War-like containment and attributes failure to Washington's inability to "take into account features of the regional geopolitics and Iranian strategic culture." "Although more appealing, policies relying only on bilateral engagement and/or hopes for some sort of grand bargain are equally unrealistic," the document says. (Washington Times)
        See also Report: Iran a Military Paper Tiger - Borzou Daragahi
    The RAND report found Iran a less formidable adversary than some believe. The report notes "significant barriers and buffers" to Iran's ambitions because of the reality of regional ethnic and religious politics and "its limited conventional military capacity, diplomatic isolation and past strategic missteps." The report also paints Iran as a military paper tiger, with poorly maintained and outdated equipment and shortages of personnel. The report says "Iran has limited leverage over so-called proxy groups" such as Hizbullah, Hamas and its allies in Iraq. "In the event of conflict between the United States and Iran, the willingness of these groups to retaliate purely in the service of Tehran should not be assumed as automatic." (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Dangerous But Not Omnipotent: Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East (RAND Corp.)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Saudis Pushing Obama for New Mideast Plan - Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid
    One proposal that Netanyahu made, both in his White House meeting with Obama on Monday and in earlier meetings with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, was that the Arab states amend the Arab peace initiative to enable it to serve as a basis for negotiations. However, the Saudis told American officials that they oppose the idea of amending the initiative. To Netanyahu, it is important that the Arab initiative be a basis for negotiations rather than an ultimatum. At his meetings in Washington, he said the general tenor of the Arab initiative was acceptable, but he was not willing to sign off on all its details.
        Senior Saudi officials have so far rejected outright the idea of gradual normalization with Israel, American sources said. The Saudis have been pressing Obama to present a detailed plan for an Israeli-Palestinian final-status agreement similar to that offered by former president Bill Clinton, calling for an Israeli withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank, a division of Jerusalem and a complex arrangement on refugees.
        Senior American officials told their Israeli colleagues this week that President Obama will not present a new peace plan in his speech in Cairo next week. Rather, he will focus on extending a hand to the Arab and Muslim world. The two leaders agreed to set up working groups on the issue of settlements, as well as on Iran and normalization with the Arab world. Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom reiterated Tuesday that Israel does not intend to establish new settlements, but will accommodate "natural growth" in existing settlements. (Ha'aretz)
  • Settlement Issue Won't Damage U.S.-Israel Ties - Tovah Lazaroff
    When it comes to the issue of settlements, Israel and America can afford to disagree, Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the U.S., said Tuesday. "Certainly there is a division of opinion between Israel and the U.S. on settlements," he said. "There have been divisions for 40 years." So he was among those who was not concerned that differences on the settlement issue would damage the relationship. "Based on our experience from the past, with good will, both sides can make an effort to find constructive or creative solutions to this issue," said Shoval. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Rocket Lands near Sderot Home, Wounds Resident - Hanan Greenberg
    A woman in Sderot sustained shrapnel wounds Tuesday after a Palestinian rocket exploded in a courtyard adjacent to two private homes. In response, the Israel Air Force struck smuggling tunnels used by Palestinian terror groups to bring weaponry into Gaza from Egypt. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • U.S. and Israel's Opening Bids - Editorial
    It was not hard to discern the incipient cracks in U.S.-Israeli relations behind the show of friendliness between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House on Monday. The cracks need not widen into a split. The administration's strategy seems to center on broadening Israeli-Palestinian talks to include Arab states and outside powers such as the EU and Russia. All would have in common the interest of thwarting Iran's outsized regional ambitions.
        Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, has been seeking to broker initial confidence-building measures that might include Arab grants of overflight rights or trade privileges to Israel in exchange for a settlement freeze. Netanyahu is intrigued by the potential of a de facto Israel-Arab alliance on Iran. It may be that a mere show of U.S. sleeve-rolling on the peace process, along with pro forma Israeli cooperation, will provide adequate cover for Arab states that are eager to join in an anti-Iranian alliance. (Washington Post)
  • Why Netanyahu and Obama Got Along Swimmingly - This Time - Aaron David Miller
    Not since President Jimmy Carter's standoff against Prime Minister Menachem Begin in July 1977 had there been so much misplaced angst about a looming fight between the U.S. and Israel. That meeting turned out better than expected (the two went on with Anwar Sadat to forge an Egyptian-Israeli peace), and this one did as well. Having watched the U.S.-Israel movie many times, I see a rhythm, an ebb and flow, especially at the start of two new administrations. Neither side has fully formed its approach to the core questions of Iran and Arab-Israeli peace. Obama also has no stake in fighting with Israel and its supporters - not at this point in his presidency, at least. The fact is the president is a politician; he knows how hard this issue is.
        If you're an American president, you don't argue with Israel because you're frustrated or to make nice to the Arabs; you press the Israelis in order to reach an agreement that makes you and America look good. It's got to be really worth it. All of this requires a strategy, and Obama doesn't have one yet. With Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran still behaving badly, Israel will never stand alone as the sole object of criticism. (New York Daily News)
        See also Netanyahu's Broader Stance Gets Warmer Reception in U.S. - Howard Schneider
    For his first meeting with President Obama this week, Netanyahu brought a broad argument about the regional security threat posed by Iran and a list of steps he said he would take to improve life for the Palestinians - an approach that appears to have won him some initial goodwill from the Oval Office. (Washington Post)
  • When Is a Palestinian State Really a State? - Gerald F. Seib
    The Israeli prime minister is willing to cede land, and flatly says he has no desire for Israel to govern Palestinians any longer. The problem, in his mind, is that people are throwing around the word "state" too freely and allowing for too many assumptions about what that word means. Being a state means running your own affairs, picking your own leaders, and having your own economic system - none of which Netanyahu appears to have any problem with when it comes to the Palestinians. But when people say "state," Netanyahu worries, they also are implying a self-governing unit that can raise an army, acquire weapons from abroad and control its own borders. And those aspects of statehood, the Israeli leader argues, are non-starters for Israelis. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Observations:

    After Israeli Visit, a Diplomatic Sprint on Iran - David E. Sanger (New York Times)

    • Obama's declaration Monday that "we're not going to have talks forever" was a warning to the Iranians that serious American engagement with Tehran must bear fruit before Iran clears the last technological hurdles to building a nuclear weapon.
    • It is a strategy that some administration officials describe as "negotiations with pressure" - a combination of direct negotiations, reassurances that Washington is no longer seeking regime change in Iran, and an effort to persuade the ruling mullahs that the alternative will be painful: international sanctions that are far harsher and more tightly enforced than the weak mix of actions imposed so far by the UN.
    • Obama's strategy is based on a giant gamble: That after the Iranian elections on June 12, the way will be clear to convince the Iranians that it is in their long-term interest to strike a deal, trading their ability to produce their own nuclear fuel for a range of tempting rewards.
    • But Israeli officials express skepticism that any combination of new diplomatic openness and gradually escalating pressure will work. Their assessment is that Iran wants the bomb, full stop. A senior Israeli said the only benchmark that really matters this year is a halt in Iran's enrichment of uranium. Otherwise, he said, Iran just gets closer to a bomb capability every day that talks drag on.

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