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September 23, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Egyptian Loses UNESCO Vote - Steven Erlanger (New York Times)
    Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova was elected Tuesday as the new director general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, defeating Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny by a vote of 31 to 27 in a fifth and final round of voting.
    Hosny was accused of anti-Semitism and censorship, and his lead slowly melted away as his opponents coalesced around Bokova.

Iran Shows Modern Ballistic Missiles - Including Two-Stage Sejjil (Fars-Iran)
    Iran's armed forces displayed Sejjil missiles, considered the third generation of Iran-made long-range missiles, during military parades on Tuesday.
    The solid-fuel, two-stage Sejjil missile with two engines is capable of reaching a very high altitude and has a longer range than the 1,250-mile (2,000 km), liquid-fuel Shahab 3.
    Iran successfully tested Sejjil missiles and brought it into mass production earlier this year.

Terror Probe Widens in U.S. - Josh Meyer and Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times)
    Federal authorities have tied as many as a dozen people to a suspected al-Qaeda-linked bomb plot on U.S. soil, law enforcement officials said Monday.
    The potential suspects had been connected through electronic intercepts, surveillance, seized evidence and interviews, and appeared concentrated in the New York area.
    See also Terror-Plot Fears Spark U.S. Transit Warning - P. Solomon Banda and Steven K. Paulson (AP/ABC News)
    Counterterrorism officials are warning mass transit systems around the nation to step up patrols because of fears an Afghanistan-born immigrant under arrest in Colorado may have been plotting with others to detonate backpack bombs aboard New York City trains.

Spain Boycotts Ariel College - Yaheli Moran Zelikovich (Ynet News)
    The Spanish Housing Ministry disqualified Ariel University Center of Samaria from competing in the finals of the Solar Decathlon, an international competition between university architecture departments to design and build a self-sufficient house using solar power.
    The decision was made by the Spanish government based on the fact that the college is located in the West Bank.
    The college had been awarded a 100,000 Euro grant by the competition's organizers to build a model house for the final competition.
    Ariel University Center responded: "The anti-academic decision harms 10,000 students in the university center, including 500 Arab students who study at the institution, in particular the Jewish and Arab students studying together in the school of architecture."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Obama Drops Demand that Israel Freeze Settlements - Elise Labott
    Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Chairman Abbas Tuesday in New York, President Obama dropped a demand for an Israeli settlement freeze, saying that Israel has had meaningful discussions about "restraining" settlement activity. "Obama told Abbas that he couldn't get the settlement freeze and promised to keep trying, but that it shouldn't be a condition for talks and it was time to move on," one Palestinian aide to Abbas said. Several U.S. officials said that Obama told Abbas that although the U.S. believes a settlement freeze would create a better atmosphere for talks to begin, the lack of one should not be used as an excuse not to talk.
        A senior Israeli diplomat said Israel agreed to not building any new settlements, no outward expansion of existing growth and to only build for "natural" growth within existing settlements. (CNN)
        See also Mitchell: Freeze Not Essential for Peace Talks - Roni Sofer
    Obama's special envoy George Mitchell suggested on Tuesday that an Israeli settlement freeze was not essential for peace talks with Palestinians to resume. Mitchell said: "Neither the president nor the Secretary (of State Hillary Clinton) nor I have ever said of any one issue...that it is a precondition to negotiations....We do not believe in preconditions. We do not impose them and we urge others not to impose preconditions."  (Ynet News)
        See also U.S. to Continue Israeli-Palestinian Peace Efforts - Howard LaFranchi
    President Obama told Israeli and Palestinian leaders he met Tuesday that he would keep up his administration's diplomatic efforts until negotiations are relaunched. He then directed Secretary of State Clinton and special Mideast envoy Mitchell to continue the intense contacts with Israeli and Palestinian officials. "It's a very good thing that Obama is not giving up, but I think he is learning that this won't happen quickly and will probably take a long time," says Doron Ben-Atar, a specialist in Mideast affairs at Fordham University. (Christian Science Monitor)
        See also Text: President Obama's Remarks at Meeting with Israeli, Palestinian Leaders (White House)
  • China Now Supplying Iran with a Third of Its Gasoline Imports - Javier Blas, Carola Hoyos and Daniel Dombey
    Chinese state companies this month began supplying gasoline to Iran and now provide up to a third of its imports in a development that threatens to undermine U.S.-led efforts to shut off the supply of fuel on which its economy depends. Over the past year international companies, including BP and Reliance of India, have moved to stop selling gasoline to Iran, but Lawrence Eagles, head of commodities research at JPMorgan, said: "We estimate, based on what we are hearing in the market, that 30,000-40,000 barrels a day of Chinese gasoline is making its way from the Asian spot market to Iran via third parties."  (Financial Times-UK)
  • U.S.: Goldstone Report "Unbalanced, One-Sided and Unacceptable"
    America's UN Ambassador Susan Rice said in an interview Tuesday: "The mandate was unbalanced, one-sided and unacceptable....The weight of the report is something like 85% oriented towards very specific and harsh condemnation and conclusions related to Israel and very lightly treats without great specificity Hamas' terrorism and its own atrocities." "The fundamental problem with this particular report is it was hatched with a bias inherent in its mandate....It comes from a body whose track record and history is one of focusing unduly and excessively on one country, Israel, to the exclusion of credible sustained treatment of the world's most egregious instances of human rights abuses in places like Sudan or Zimbabwe or Burma."  (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • The Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas Meeting: Building Drama-less Diplomatic Paradigms - Herb Keinon
    Good-bye to the dramatic summits that raise expectations sky-high. Hello to the long haul and drudgery of trying to change the reality on the ground. Netanyahu's approach holds that peace will come from the bottom up, not the top down. In this conception, peace does not flow from high-level meetings, but from incremental changes on the ground that change attitudes. The U.S. - apparently cognizant of its mistake in calling for an impractical total settlement freeze - has turned down the pressure. A new diplomatic paradigm has been developed, and it consists of making progress where possible, hoping that progress begets progress. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Protesters Await Ahmadinejad at UN - E.B. Solomont
    A broad cross-section of Jewish and human rights groups are mounting demonstrations and rallies this week to protest Iranian President Ahmadinejad's visit to the UN General Assembly. The American Jewish community is planning the major demonstration on Thursday in conjunction with a broad group that includes labor unions, ethnic and religious groups, and Iranian-Americans. The "Stand for Freedom in Iran Rally" is set to take place at noon at New York's Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Supreme Court Rejects Petition Against City of David Excavations in Jerusalem - Abe Selig
    The Israel Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a petition against the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) submitted by residents of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, concerning excavations at the City of David archeological park. The IAA claimed that the residents were being "incited by other figures whose considerations are political," and maintained that the excavations are "exposing Jerusalem's magnificent past, in all of the periods."
        "These finds are of utmost importance to the Jewish people in particular and world culture in general," the IAA said. Justice Edna Arbel, who issued Monday's court ruling, said: "The petitioners did not argue that any damage had been caused to their houses, and the respondents explained that the activity on the land was indeed underground, but did not extend as far as the houses of the petitioners."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • President Obama Is Learning Why Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking Isn't Easy - Editorial
    President Obama and his aides assumed that Israelis and Arab governments would welcome an aggressive effort by the new U.S. president to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. As a practical matter, that hasn't proved true. Netanyahu's government would prefer to bolster Abbas' government economically before beginning final peace talks; Abbas himself has been preoccupied with consolidating his own authority and gaining the upper hand over the rival Hamas movement. Leading Arab states such as Saudi Arabia appear - like Israel - much more concerned with how the Obama administration will handle the threat of Iran.
        The administration also concluded, wrongly, that obtaining an unconditional Israeli settlement freeze was an essential first step. In fact settlements are no longer a strategic obstacle to peace; as a practical matter, most of the construction is in areas that will not be part of a Palestinian state. The administration's inflexible stance led to an unwinnable confrontation with Netanyahu, turned Israeli public opinion against Obama, and prompted Palestinians to harden their own position. The compromise now being discussed between Washington and Jerusalem will differ little from past deals. (Washington Post)
  • How Should Israel Respond to the Goldstone Report on Gaza? - Irit Kahn
    Judge Goldstone's choice to announce the report in New York, just prior to the UN General Assembly, rather than in Geneva, home of the UN Human Rights Council which requested the report, added to the political nature of the report. The report looks at Hamas with a forgiving attitude, presenting a picture of two similar parties: one a terror group and one the State of Israel. The report denies that the Gaza operation was one of self-defense for Israel. The mandate establishing the Goldstone commission had already declared that Israel had committed war crimes. I have no doubt that if Israel had cooperated with the commission, the result would have been the same. The writer, former director of the International Affairs Department of the Israel Ministry of Justice, is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs-Hebrew)
  • Observations:

    Netanyahu: "Iran's Nuclear Ambitions Are a Threat to the Entire World" - Interview with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Wolf Blitzer (CNN)

    • "Iran's ambition to acquire or develop nuclear weapons is a threat, not only to Israel, but to the entire world. Remember, this is the country that sponsored terrorism worldwide. And imagine what would happen if these terrorists had a patron that gave them a nuclear umbrella, or, worse, actually gave them the nuclear weapon. I think that these are catastrophic consequences. And it's the interest of the entire international community to make sure this doesn't happen."
    • "Iran has to be pressed strongly. There are ways of pressing this regime right now, because it's weak. It's weaker than people think. It doesn't enjoy the support of its own people."
    • "The state of U.S.-Israeli relations is very good, indeed. I was very pleased with the meeting hosted by President Obama today. For months, I have been calling for such a meeting, to put aside all these preconditions, and get on with the business of talking about peace."
    • "I hope to make peace. Any time we have encountered an Arab leader who wanted to make peace, we made peace....If Mr. Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, genuinely steps forward and says, we recognize the State of Israel, we're willing to make peace with the Jewish state, just that, the Jewish state, and it will be a peace of recognition and security, then my government will make peace. I'm no exception, because the people of Israel want peace."
    • As to the question of settlements, I think that raising this condition, something that hasn't happened in 15 years of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue - nobody put this precondition - this is just costing us a great deal of time. The issue of settlements has to be discussed at the end or in the context within these negotiations, not before."
    • Q: The UN report says that you overreacted in Gaza.
      Netanyahu: "We overreacted, did we? Well, let me tell you, after a million or so of our people were under rocket fire, progressively larger and larger circles of rockets falling on our cities, we did what every reasonable country would do. We tried to get at the rocketeers....The Hamas actually was committing a double war crime, firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians....So, the terrorists are exonerated. The victims are accused."
    • "The international community says, if you take risks for peace, we will support your right of self-defense. And yet we did just that. We vacated Gaza in the hopes that this would advance peace. And when we're rocketed with thousands of rockets and missiles from the places we vacated, people say Israel is the war criminal."

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