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June 9, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Report: Obama Proposed Plan for Peace Deal within Two Years (Ha'aretz)
    President Obama has presented to Egypt and Israel a plan for a two-state solution to be finalized within two years, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat reported on Tuesday.

PA Exposes Hamas West Bank Terror Plot - Ali Waked (Ynet News)
    The Palestinian Authority said it has exposed a plot by Hamas to carry out a string of terror attacks against its officials and institutions in the West Bank city of Nablus.
    PA officials said Monday that recently detained Hamas member Wajia Abu Aidi admitted to receiving 1.5 million euros from the Islamist group's leadership in Gaza to establish infrastructure aimed at undermining Mahmoud Abbas' regime.
    See also Three Hamas Women Arrested for Plotting Suicide Attack Against Fatah (AP/Ha'aretz)

Russia Sending 50 Armored Vehicles to Palestinians (AFP/Defense News)
    Russia has offered the Palestinian Authority 50 armored troop transport vehicles, a senior Russian Army officer told the Interfax news agency on June 2.
    "The delivery of the armored troop transport vehicles has been negotiated with all the countries involved. They will be delivered by sea from July to September," said the officer.

Iranian Weapons Streaming Across Afghan Border to Taliban - Ben Farmer (Telegraph-UK)
    Border police in Afghanistan say they are regularly intercepting consignments of anti-tank mines and mortars from Iran bound for Afghan militants fighting NATO-led forces.
    International forces believe elements within the Iranian regime are either behind the smuggling or at least doing little to stop it.

Two Arab Reporters Skip Obama Interview to Avoid Israeli Journalist - Robert Mackey (New York Times)
    After his speech in Cairo last week, President Obama sat down for a group interview with reporters from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Malaysia and Indonesia.
    Reporters from Lebanon and Syria were also invited, but they passed on the interview when they realized they would be sitting next to an Israeli columnist.

Egypt Ups Gas Supplies to Israel (Platts Energy News)
    The East Mediterranean Gas Supply Company has increased the flow of natural gas from Egypt to the Israel Electric Corp. in the past few days and was close to meeting its commitments for the first time, Israeli energy industry sources said.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • IAEA: Iran's Main Nuclear Plant Expanding Rapidly - David Blair
    Sources say IAEA inspectors were finding it increasingly difficult to monitor Iran's underground nuclear plant at Natanz because of the facility's rapid expansion. Cameras have been installed to cover the plant's work, but they need adjusting to keep new centrifuges under surveillance. At present, Iran's officials will not allow the cameras to beam their pictures directly to the IAEA's headquarters in Vienna. Instead, the inspectors must travel all the way to Natanz to download the footage. Mark Fitzpatrick, the senior fellow in non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the lack of "real time monitoring" of Natanz meant the safeguards in place may not "give a timely warning" if Iran diverted its enrichment efforts towards making a nuclear weapon. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Congressmen Seek Compromise on Settlements - Daniel Dombey
    Two years ago Congressman Robert Wexler was one of the first Jewish elected officials to endorse Barack Obama for president. Today, as the president finds himself at loggerheads with Israel over his demand that it stop settlements, Wexler and many of his colleagues are quick to make clear their support for Obama does not mean they endorse any sort of ultimatum for Israel to meet unconditionally. In any showdown on the issue, many of the president's supporters in Congress will want compromise. (Financial Times-UK)
  • UN's Gaza War Crimes Investigation Unlikely to Lead to Prosecutions - Ben Hubbard
    Veteran UN war crimes investigator Judge Richard Goldstone acknowledged his probe of possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas in Gaza is unlikely to lead to prosecutions. Israel has refused to cooperate, and Hamas security often accompanied his team during their five-day trip to Gaza last week, raising questions about the ability of witnesses to freely describe the militant group's actions. But the chief barrier remains the lack of a court with jurisdiction to hear any resulting cases stemming from the investigation. (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Mitchell Seeks to Ease Tensions over Settlements - Herb Keinon
    U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell will meet with Israeli leaders on Tuesday after trying to lower the volume in the U.S. dispute with Israel over settlement construction. On Monday, U.S. Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said that Mitchell was "shocked and deeply dismayed to read in Ma'ariv that he was alleged to have said, 'The Israelis lied to us all these years. It's over.'" Mitchell called the quotation "a complete fabrication." "Nobody wants an adversarial relationship right now," a senior U.S. official said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Obama, Netanyahu Speak by Phone - Roni Sofer
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday. Netanyahu's office characterized the conversation as positive, and said the two leaders touched on a number of issues. Netanyahu also informed Obama of his planned policy speech next week. (Ynet News)
  • Lebanon Election Results Offer Some Relief, But No Major Changes - Jonathan Spyer
    The pro-Western March 14 alliance won an unexpected victory in the parliamentary elections in Lebanon. The movement now controls around 71 seats. In the outgoing parliament, they controlled 70. The results represent a defeat for the party of former general Michel Aoun, whose Free Democratic Party is the Christian element in the Hizbullah-led March 8 bloc. The Sunnis and Druze overwhelmingly backed March 14, while the Shi'ites were almost exclusively aligned with March 8. Since most ethnic allegiances were clear and predictable, around 100 of the 128 seats were effectively allocated in advance.
        While the averting of an electoral victory for the pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian bloc is significant, it has no bearing on the wider issue of Hizbullah's possession of an independent military capacity, and its consequent ability to pursue an independent foreign and military policy. The results represent a continuation of the problematic pre-election reality, rather than any major transformation. The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Lebanese Election - Same Complex Status Quo - Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Glib Talk of a Two-State Solution - Mortimer Zuckerman
    President Obama's speech in Cairo illustrates his commitment to a major outreach to the Muslim and Arab worlds. But it is dangerous to court new friends if you risk doing it at the expense of old friends, in this case the long-standing friendship between Israel and America.
        Mahmoud Abbas is the Palestinian leader who rejected the most generous ever outline for Palestinian statehood put forward by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He survives only because of massive economic aid from the West and massive support on security from Israel. His Fatah is so unpopular that, if elections were held today and the votes properly counted, it is probable that Hamas would win a majority.
        There is much glib talk of "a two-state solution," but who would govern a Palestinian state? Abbas and Fatah are chronically weak; Hamas is strong and has not diminished its radical objective of obliterating Israel. So there is no "two-state solution" if one of the two sovereign states is intent on destroying the other. The conventional "two-state" formula is a problem masquerading as a solution. (New York Daily News)
  • Likely International Failure to Stop a Nuclear Iran - Emily B. Landau
    The first implication of Iran becoming a nuclear state will be to drive home the extreme helplessness of the international community in the face of a determined nuclear proliferator. As the U.S. has signaled its distaste for military force and has given Israel a clear red light in this regard, the likely scenario at present is that Iran's going nuclear will come in the wake of a long, drawn-out and failed U.S. attempt to engage Iran. After assuming the role of the major external player facing Iran, then abandoning both economic and military pressure, it will be primarily a U.S. failure when Iran ultimately goes nuclear. The U.S. will be exposed globally as weak and ineffective. The writer is senior research associate and director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. (bitterlemons-international)
  • Observations:

    U.S. Policy on Israeli Settlements - Dore Gold (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • The Obama administration's tough, confrontational rhetoric on Israeli settlements raises a number of specific questions: Were Israeli settlements a violation of international law? Were Israeli settlements a violation of agreements and an obstacle to further progress in any future peace talks? Did the administration envision Israel withdrawing completely to the 1967 lines or did it accept the idea that Israel would retain part of the territories for defensible borders?
    • Many observers are surprised to learn that settlement activity was not defined as a violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords or their subsequent implementation agreements. If the U.S. is now seeking to constrain Israeli settlement activity, it is essentially trying to obtain additional Israeli concessions that were not formally required according to Israel's legal obligations under the Oslo Accords.
    • President Bush's deputy national security advisor, Elliot Abrams, wrote in the Washington Post on April 8, 2009, that the U.S. and Israel negotiated specific guidelines for settlement activity, whereby "settlement activity is not diminishing the territory of a future Palestinian entity." If the U.S. is concerned that Israel might diminish the territory that the Palestinians will receive in the future, then the Obama team could continue with the quiet guidelines followed by the Bush administration and the Sharon government.
    • Given the fact that the amount of territory taken up by the built-up areas of all the settlements in the West Bank is estimated to be 1.7 percent of the territory, the marginal increase in territory that might be affected by natural growth is infinitesimal. Moreover, since Israel unilaterally withdrew 9,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the argument that a settler presence will undermine a future territorial compromise has lost much of its previous force.
    • The U.S. and Israel need to reach a new understanding on the settlements question. Legally and diplomatically, settlements do not represent a problem that can possibly justify putting at risk the U.S.-Israel relationship. It might be that the present tension in U.S.-Israeli relations is not over settlements, but rather over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank that the Obama administration envisions.
    • Disturbingly, on June 1, 2009, the State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, refused to answer repeated questions about whether the Obama administration viewed itself as legally bound by the April 2004 Bush letter to Sharon on defensible borders and settlement blocs. It would be better to obtain earlier clarification of that point, rather than having both countries expend their energies over an issue that may not be the real underlying source of their dispute.

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