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September 7, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Poll Shows Surge of Support for Israel in U.S. - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
    A recent poll for The Israel Project shows support for Israel in the U.S. has bounced back significantly after slipping in the aftermath of President Obama's Cairo speech.
    59% said they were Israel supporters, compared to 8% for the Palestinians, in the poll conducted Aug. 22-25. In June, Israel's support was only 49%.
    63% said the U.S. should support Israel, while 8% said it should support the Palestinians. In June, that number was 44% for Israel, and 5% for the Palestinians.
    57% of the American public believes Israel is committed to peace, compared to 46% in June.
    By a 72%-23% margin, Americans agree with Netanyahu's promise not to build any new settlements, while allowing Israel to accommodate for natural growth of existing settlements.
    As a basis for peace, 95% of Americans agree that Palestinians need to recognize Israel's right to exist and acknowledge its standing as a Jewish state.

    See also Poll: Hamas Approval Sinks in Gaza - Abe Selig (Jerusalem Post)
    Hamas' approval rating has sunk to low levels in the West Bank and Gaza, according to a recent poll for The Israel Project.
    58% of Gazans said they disapprove of the job being done by Hamas in Gaza, while 42% said they "disapprove strongly." 57% of Palestinians in the West Bank also said they disapprove of Hamas.

Encrypted Video Link Installed Between White House and Prime Minister's Office - Ben Caspit (Maariv-Hebrew/IMRA)
    An encrypted video link has been installed between the White House and the Prime Minister's Office so that it is possible to hold secure video conferences.

Israel, Jordan Find Accord in Finding New Water Supplies - Howard Schneider (Washington Post)
    An acute water shortage has prompted Jordan and Israel to embark on audacious water-supply projects.
    The efforts include a pipeline to Amman from the Dissi Reservoir in Jordan's southern desert and an extensive network of desalination plants Israel is building along the Mediterranean coast.
    The two countries are also pushing for action on the long-standing idea of cutting a 110-mile path north from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to reverse decades of decline in the Dead Sea's water level.

The Evils of "Blood Libel" - Frida Ghitis (McClatchy)
    When a slanderous article appeared in Sweden's most popular newspaper, Aftonbladet, Israelis felt an ancient, familiar discomfort rising within.
    Rumors about gory acts of Israelis against Arabs and Muslims swirl in Arab towns. That is where the Swedish "journalist" scooped up his nonstory.
    Palestinian television frequently reports its own "exclusives," including accusations of giant killer rats released by Israelis to attack Palestinians, monstrous medical experiments, deliberate AIDS infections, Palestinians' eyes burned with red-hot stakes.
    These accusations, grotesque echoes of medieval blood libels, are more than sloppy journalism. They are destructive for everyone in the region.
    How can you make peace with people you believe commit such atrocities? Libel helps kill chances for reconciliation.

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  • Israeli Cabinet Backs New West Bank Construction - Amy Teibel
    Israeli Cabinet ministers lined up on Sunday behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to approve the construction of hundreds of new apartments in West Bank settlements. Israel says a curtailment in construction would not apply to the new housing units, the 2,500 units currently under construction, or to east Jerusalem. Netanyahu hoped to defuse a coalition crisis by linking a possible building slowdown to the approval of new building projects. In recent weeks, the U.S. administration has appeared to back down from its initial insistence that Israel halt all settlement expansion. (AP/Washington Post)
        See also 455 New Units Approved in West Bank Settlement Blocs
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved construction of 455 new housing units in settlements, the Israel Defense Ministry confirmed Monday. Har Gilo, just south of Jerusalem, will receive 149 units. Ma'ale Adumim received 89 units. Modi'in Illit will see an additional 84 units, Givat Ze'ev is to grow by 76 units, and Kedar, near Ma'ale Adumim, has received 25 new units. Also approved are 20 units in Maskiot in the Jordan Valley for Gush Katif evacuee families, and 12 units in the Gush Etzion settlement of Alon Shvut. Barak also approved a sports park in Ariel and a new school in Har Adar. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also below Observations: Entrance Ramp to a Settlement Freeze - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
  • Arabs Moving into Jewish Areas of Jerusalem - Ben Hubbard
    Thousands of Arabs have crossed the housing lines to Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Pisgat Zeev. In 2007, the latest year with available statistics, about 1,300 of Pisgat Zeev's 42,000 residents were Arabs. In nearby French Hill, population 7,000, nearly one-sixth are Arabs, among them students at the neighboring Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Neve Yaakov, with 20,000 people, had 600 Arabs, according to the Israel Center for Jerusalem Studies. Netanyahu says Arabs have the right to live anywhere in the city, and so should Jews. (AP)
  • Iran Rules Out Talks on Its Nuclear "Rights"
    Iran will continue its disputed nuclear work and will never negotiate on its "obvious" rights, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday. He said Iran, which plans to present its own "package" of proposals to world powers, was ready to negotiate and cooperate on making "peaceful use of clean nuclear energy" available for all countries and in preventing the spread of nuclear arms. (Reuters-New York Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF Uncovers Hamas "Tora Bora" Cave System - Yaakov Katz
    The IDF recently raided a mountainous area in the Judean Desert filled with caves that lead to underground tunnel networks and have been used as training camps for Hamas operatives in the West Bank. "It is like the Tora Bora of the West Bank," a senior Central Command officer said, in reference to the cave complex in eastern Afghanistan that was a hideout for Taliban and al-Qaeda. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Islamists in Gaza Tried to Kill Carter and Blair - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Mahmoud Taleb, a former commander of Hamas' armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, revealed on Sunday that his men recently tried to assassinate former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair. Taleb's group, Jaljalat (Thunder), consists of dozens of former Hamas militiamen who left because of their movement's move toward "moderation." In a recent e-mail message to the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Taleb declared that his loyalists considered Osama bin Laden to be the "emir" and "guardian" of all Muslims. Taleb said his men had planned to kill Carter and Blair during their recent visits to Gaza, but that Hamas arrested the men who were to carry out the assassinations. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Lessons from the IDF Paratroop Commander - Amir Buhbut and Ofer Shelah
    Col. Hertzi Halevy, commander of the IDF Paratrooper Brigade, discussed the challenges of the Dec.-Jan. Gaza operation: "Your biggest nightmare is sending a platoon of 25 people into a three-story building, and half an hour later the entire building collapses. This was a totally realistic scenario. A platoon leader threw a grenade into a building, opposite our command post, and the entire building exploded and collapsed in a single moment. It had been completely booby-trapped....In the Sultine neighborhood we found 50 explosive charges spread over an area of 70 meters. If an armored personnel carrier had gone in, we would have lost ten men. These are facts, not impressions. And why didn't they set off all of these explosives? Because we entered using the proper degree of force."
        "I've met many military men from around the world and I've learned from them. Most of the dilemmas that we deal with simply do not exist for military officers in other Western armies. For them, in a case like the Sultine neighborhood, it would first receive massive air bombardment, followed by softening up with artillery and mortar fire, and only afterwards would the first soldier be sent into the area, if at all. But the IDF set aside the principle of surprise in order to warn the civilians that we were about to enter the area."
        "During the first year that I served as commander in northern Samaria, which included Jenin, suicide bombers from my area of authority were responsible for the deaths of more than 40 Israeli civilians. The entire infrastructure of the Islamic Jihad, who presented us with such difficult challenges during this period, was comprised of terrorists who had been released in the 2004 prisoner exchange."  (Maariv-Hebrew, 4Sep09)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Private Motive for Egypt's Public Embrace of a Jewish Past - Michael Slackman
    In the Alley of the Jews in Cairo, the government is busy renovating an abandoned, dilapidated synagogue. In fact, the government is publicly embracing its Jewish past. Egypt has restored two synagogues and plans to restore eight more. But because of public anger toward Israel and deep, widespread anti-Semitism, the government initially insisted that its activities remain secret. Why the sudden public display of affection for Egypt's Jewish past? Global politics. Egypt's minister of culture, Farouk Hosny, wants to be the next director general of UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 2008 he said he would burn any Israeli book found in the nation's premier library in Alexandria, a statement for which he has since apologized. (New York Times)
        See also Egypt's UNESCO Candidate: An Anti-Jewish Bigot? - Bruce Crumley (TIME)
        See also The UN's New Censor - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
  • Are Inaccurate Media Reports Hurting the U.S.-Israel Relationship? - Eric Fingerhut
    President Obama told Jewish leaders in a July meeting that Israel needs to "engage in serious self-reflection." Israel's new U.S. ambassador was "summoned" to the State Department to be lectured about Israel's building settlements in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called two top aides to Obama "self-hating Jews." All of these reports appeared in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. And they've all been disputed or denied by the principals involved.
        Yoram Peri, director of the Gildenhorn Center for Israeli Studies at the University of Maryland, attributed the problematic reporting to "the serious decline in the level of Israeli media." Today's Internet-driven news culture and the financial difficulties facing newspapers have contributed to a tabloidization of the news in Israel, Peri said. Stories that inaccurately portray the situation "are simply bumps in the road," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. (JTA)
        See also Wishing It Were So - Noah Pollak
    The UK Times has a great deal of trouble distinguishing truth from fiction and views the sensationalization of the Middle East as one of its main jobs. A recent report entitled "U.S. Fury as Israel Defies Settlement Freeze Call," declared that "Israeli plans to authorize the construction of hundreds of houses in the occupied West Bank sparked furious protests from American and Palestinian officials." "Furious protests" from the Obama administration? Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said: "We regret the reports of Israel's plans to approve additional settlement construction." There is regret, but who could characterize this as "fury"? (Commentary)
  • Observations:

    Entrance Ramp to a Settlement Freeze - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)

    • Prime Minister Netanyahu's office has announced the entrance ramp into a settlement freeze. Israel will agree to a temporary moratorium - the first such moratorium since then-prime minister Menachem Begin held talks at Camp David in the late 1970s.
    • But before the moratorium, Israel will announce the approval of hundreds of new apartments that - together with the 2,500 units already being built in West Bank settlements - will provide for what Netanyahu calls normal life (and which the world has taken to calling "natural growth").
    • Netanyahu brought this plan to the inner cabinet late last month and the forum approved the move. It is obvious that Washington knew about these plans. Netanyahu reportedly briefed U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell during his visit to Europe two weeks ago.
    • The U.S. administration misread the Israeli public, thinking that the settlements were enormously unpopular, and that the public would back the U.S. president. The Israeli public saw the U.S. demand as unreasonable and rallied around Netanyahu.
    • In addition, it became clear with time that there had indeed been agreements with the Bush administration on where and how Israel could continue to build in the settlements, and that the Obama administration was simply tossing those out the window. This led to some push-back, not only in Israel, but also in the U.S., with some asking how the Obama administration could call on Israel to fulfill its commitments, when it itself was not doing the same.
    • Another element that led to a change in the U.S. position was Saudi intransigence. Ironically, it is this inflexibility that has led - to a large extent - to the Obama administration becoming more flexible on Netanyahu's position that he can't stop all settlement construction.

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