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November 30, 2009

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Thousands of Palestinian Prisoners May Be Freed - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    The number of Palestinian prisoners Israel is officially saying will be released in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit: 980, in two stages: 450 heavy-duty prisoners whom Hamas wants freed, and another 530 terrorists whom Israel will select "as a gesture to the Palestinian people."
    This figure doesn't include the hundreds of prisoners Israel is likely to release in a bid to furbish the image of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.
    In other words, if the Shalit deal goes through, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners will be released in the coming months, possibly close to 2,000.

Swiss Vote to Ban Minarets in Backlash Against Islam - Alexander G. Higgins (AP)
    Swiss voters Sunday approved a constitutional amendment to ban the construction of minarets, projections by the respected gfs.bern polling institute showed.
    The nationalist Swiss People's Party, the country's largest party in terms of popular support and membership in parliament, describes minarets as symbols of rising Muslim political and religious power that could eventually turn Switzerland into an Islamic nation.
    Muslims make up about 6% of Switzerland's 7.5 million people. Many Swiss Muslims are refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Fewer than 13% practice their religion, the government says, and Swiss mosques do not broadcast the call to prayer outside their buildings.
    The Cabinet that heads the Swiss government has spoken out strongly against the initiative, and rights defenders objected to campaign posters showing minarets rising like missiles from the Swiss flag next to a fully veiled woman.
    See also A Sharp Challenge to Islam in Europe - Robin Shepherd (Robin Shepherd)
    The move is likely to provoke the kind of mass confrontation that followed the publication of cartoons in Denmark in 2005 which linked the Prophet Mohammed to terrorism.
    In the months that followed, more than 100 people died in unrest across the Muslim world; Danish embassies and shops were burned to the ground.
    It looks as though a backlash against Islam in Europe by nationalist forces energized by the failures of multiculturalist orthodoxies is now really starting to take hold. There's more of this to come. You can rely on it.
    The writer is director of international affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London.
    See also Switzerland and the Minaret - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
    The construction of new minarets is banned, but the building of mosques is unaffected, and the vote does not affect the four existing minarets in the country. Nobody's freedom of worship is threatened.
    The ban seeks merely to hide from view the problems that gave rise to the fear of the minaret in the first place.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Announces Plans for Ten New Uranium Enrichment Plants - Thomas Erdbrink
    Iran's government will build ten new sites to enrich uranium, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday, a dramatic expansion of the country's nuclear program and one that is bound to fuel fears that it is attempting to produce a nuclear weapon. Ahmadinejad told state news agency IRNA that construction of at least five nuclear facilities was to begin within two months. The announcement comes just days after a censure of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency over the Islamic republic's refusal to stop enriching uranium, a key demand of Western powers. (Washington Post)
        See also Iran Says UN Criticism Prompted New Nuclear Plans - Ali Akbar Dareini
    Iran had no intention of building ten new nuclear facilities until it was strongly rebuked by the UN nuclear watchdog over its nuclear activities, Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday. The ten-fold expansion of Iran's nuclear program will likely significantly heighten tensions with the West. (AP/Washington Post)
        See also U.S.: "Another Serious Violation of Iran's Clear Obligations" - Jeff Mason
    Reacting to the announcement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sunday, "If true, this would be yet another serious violation of Iran's clear obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself....Time is running out for Iran to address the international community's growing concerns about its nuclear program."  (Reuters)
  • Latest UN Censure of Iran May Start More Confrontational Phase - Glenn Kessler and Joby Warrick
    The resounding censure of Iran on Friday by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency signals the start of a potentially more confrontational phase in the Obama administration's dealings with Iran, including the prospect of strengthened U.S.-led efforts to cut off Iran's economic links to the world. Iran will face a "package of consequences" if it does not soon become a "willing partner" in talks on its nuclear ambitions, a senior U.S. official warned. (Washington Post)
        See also Rebuke Recasts Standoff with Iran - David Crawford and Jay Solomon
    U.S. officials said stronger-than-expected support for the measure reflected international consensus that Iran's nuclear ambitions need to be checked. U.S. officials said they were particularly pleased that the Chinese took part in writing the draft resolution the IAEA board passed. Officials said the final resolution included specific wording offered by Beijing.
        Discussions have focused on eight "baskets" of areas that could be targeted, including Iranian banks, shipping companies, insurance firms and energy assets. U.S. officials said they have also focused on the assets of Iran's elite military unit, the Revolutionary Guard. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Iran Earmarks $20M to Support Anti-Western Militants
    Iran's parliament passed a law on Sunday earmarking $20 million to support militant groups opposing the West and investigate alleged U.S. and British plots against the Islamic Republic. The legislation is widely seen as a response to Western criticism of Iran's violent crackdown against protesters following the disputed June presidential election. (AP)
  • Hamas Bans Women Dancers, Scooter Riders in Gaza Islamic Drive - Daniel Williams
    Signs of Hamas' creeping Islamization are everywhere in Gaza. The Islamic Hamas movement banned girls last month from riding behind men on motor scooters and forbade women from dancing at the opening of a folk museum. Girls in some schools must wear Islamic headscarves and cloaks. "Ruling by itself, Hamas can stamp its ideas on everyone," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza's al-Azhar University. "Islamizing society has always been part of Hamas strategy."  (Bloomberg)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: Israel Wants Peace, But Palestinians Don't Seem Ready - Gili Izikovitch
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, "It is clear today, to anyone willing to check the facts, that Israel wants peace - to enter the peace process with the aspiration of fulfilling it....I don't see the same firmness on the other side." "I see preconditions being laid that never before existed. I see legal steps being taken at the international court to advance that absurd thing called the Goldstone report. You can't reach peace if the horizon is moving away."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Barak: Israeli Settlement Freeze Is Unprecedented Peace Move - Barak Ravid
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday called the government's move to enforce a construction freeze in West Bank settlements an unprecedented step that proves Israel is serious about pursuing Middle East peace. "The real significance is that for the first time, we are suspending all new construction for an extended period and therefore giving peace negotiations a chance," said Barak. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • America vs. the Jihadist Narrative - Thomas L. Friedman
    Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced - I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled "Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam," and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America - the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by "The Narrative" - even though he was born, raised and educated in America.
        The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books - and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes - this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand "American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy" to keep Muslims down.
        Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny - in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan - a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving. This narrative allows Arab governments to deflect onto America all of their people's grievances over why their countries are falling behind. (New York Times)
  • Settlement Freeze Improves U.S.-Israel Relations - Barry Rubin
    The U.S.-Israel agreement on freezing construction in West Bank settlements represents a considerable, well-crafted, albeit unilateral, concession by Israel. The U.S. government praised the decision; it was pretty much what President Obama has been trying to obtain for nine months and has worked hard to negotiate. But it will have no impact whatsoever. On the contrary, the Palestinians and the Arab states will complain that it isn't enough and that they have more demands. In giving something in exchange for no material gain or even a gesture from the other side, Israel can only hope that the president appreciates this and remembers that he did not deliver on his promise to get some concession from the Arab side to match it. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The West Goes Wobbly on Iran - Matthias Kuntzel
    The West is not deterring the mullahs. Instead, the mere prospect of their nuclear capability is deterring the West. Ahmadinejad and his friends sense their chance. They are putting pressure on the democratic nations to drop Israel in exchange for a tempering of Tehran's hostility. They are using the entire repertoire of intimidation, ridicule, and insult in an attempt to transform the Jewish state into what the Czech Sudetenland was for France and Great Britain in 1938: the price to be paid for "peace in our time."
        Nobody can be sure that a nuclear-armed Iran will allow itself to be disarmed and deprived of its power without using its nuclear weapons. In that case, the world may be faced with the choice of either submitting to Islamism or defeating it - albeit at an unimaginable price. There is only one thing that can prevent the building of the Iranian bomb: the shutting down or destruction of the facilities that are producing the nuclear materials for it. The writer is a German political scientist. (Weekly Standard)
  • Observations:

    The Arabs Have Stopped Applauding - Fouad Ajami (Wall Street Journal)

    • In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth. He has not made the world anew, history did not bend to his will, the Indians and Pakistanis have been told that the matter of Kashmir is theirs to resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the same intractable clash of two irreconcilable nationalisms, and the theocrats in Iran have not "unclenched their fist," nor have they abandoned their nuclear quest.
    • Obama's election has not drained the swamps of anti-Americanism. That anti-Americanism is endemic to this region, an alibi and a scapegoat for nations, and their rulers, unwilling to break out of the grip of political autocracy and economic failure. It predated the presidency of George W. Bush and rages on during the Obama presidency.
    • In an effort to resolve the fight between Arab and Jew over the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, the Obama diplomacy had made a settlement freeze its starting point, when this was precisely the wrong place to begin. Israel has given up settlements before at the altar of peace - recall the historical accommodation with Egypt a quarter century ago.
    • The right course would have set the question of settlements aside as it took up the broader challenge of radicalism in the region - the menace and swagger of Iran, the arsenal of Hamas and Hizbullah, the refusal of the Arab order of power to embrace in broad daylight the cause of peace with Israel.

      The writer, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

        See also Deflated Arab Hopes - Jackson Diehl
    It's been nearly six months since Barack Obama stirred hearts and raised hopes across much of the Arab world with his much-promoted Cairo address. The peace-process bubble burst two months ago when attempts to launch final-settlement talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed. Arabs who were led by Obama's rhetoric to believe that the U.S. would force Israel to make unprecedented unilateral concessions were bitterly disappointed. (Washington Post)

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