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March 15, 2010

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Palestinians Fan the Flames - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    The Palestinian Authority is playing a very dangerous game over Jerusalem and specifically the Temple Mount.
    Mohammed Dahlan, who is not known for his religious fervor, Khatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in Fatah, and others called Sunday on Israeli Arabs and residents of East Jerusalem to go to the Temple Mount to "protect it from the Jews."
    A pamphlet issued Sunday signed by the National and Islamic Forces, an organization that coordinated activities during the second intifada, said that a great 18th-century rabbi foretold that the opening of the Hurva Synagogue on Tuesday will inaugurate the opening of the Third Temple and therefore Al-Aqsa Mosque must be defended.
    See also Police Chief Slams PA Incitement - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
    Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen warned on Sunday that Palestinian organizations and the Palestinian Authority were inciting to violence by repeated allegations that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was "in jeopardy," including a call by a senior Fatah official for Arabs to "defend" the mosque. "Extreme statements and incitement do not match the reality on the ground. I expect all sides at this time to be responsible and to tone down their statements," Cohen said.

Clinton's Words Will Liberate Israel's Critics - David Horovitz (Jerusalem Post)
    Secretary of State Clinton escalated a crisis that Vice President Biden, her superior in the administration hierarchy, had indicated was resolved.
    Acting doubtless on the orders of her president, she resorted to what the ADL - no hysterical critic of the Obama administration - termed "gross overreaction."
    The U.S. knows full well the impact Clinton's words will have - liberating Israel's critics to drastically escalate their diplomatic, legal and economic assaults, and potentially emboldening military enemies.

Most Americans Who Support Israel Are Not Jewish - Walter Russell Mead (American Interest)
    A new Gallup poll shows that Americans by an overwhelming percentage sympathize with the Israelis rather than the Palestinians. This time 63% said their sympathies lie more with Israel, while just 15% sympathized more with the Palestinians.
    Since 1948, Americans have consistently told pollsters that they sympathized more with the Israelis than with their enemies, generally by more than two to one.
    Less than 2% of the 300 million people in the U.S. are Jewish. This means that Jews can at most account for 2% of that 63% of the population who sympathize with Israel. Pro-Israel gentiles in America outnumber pro-Israel Jews by a factor of 20-1. The overwhelming majority of the Americans who support Israel against its enemies haven't been Jewish.

PA TV: "All the Rifles Must Be Pointed at the Zionist Enemy" - Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik (Palestinian Media Watch)
    Official Palestinian Authority TV interviewed Rashida Mughrabi, sister of terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who commanded a bus hijacking known as the "Coastal Road Massacre" on March 11, 1978, in which 37 people were murdered.
    The broadcast praised the terror attack as: "A glorious chapter in the history of the Palestinian people."
    Rashida Mughrabi: "This is a day of glory and pride for our Palestinian people and a blow to the Zionists, who view it as a day of blood for them. It is a day of pride for us."
    "The rifles - all the rifles - must be pointed at the Zionist enemy, as Dalal willed it thirty years ago."
    See also Fatah Holds Ceremony Naming Square after Terrorist - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Despite the PA's announcement that it had postponed the inauguration of a square in el-Bireh named after Dalal Mughrabi, Fatah officials on Thursday went ahead with the ceremony.

Israel Nabs Hamas Leader Behind 2003 Terror Attacks - Anshel Pfeffer (Ha'aretz)
    Israel Defense Forces soldiers Saturday arrested Mahar Udda, 47, a top Hamas official in Ramallah suspected of leading military cells responsible for the murder of more than 70 Israelis during the second intifada.

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  • Clinton Rebukes Israel over East Jerusalem Plans - Glenn Kessler
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday over Israel's announcement during Vice President Biden's visit of plans to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem. President Obama had approved Clinton's call, sitting down with her during their weekly meeting Thursday to determine the language she would use. "The secretary and the president worked through together the specific points she would be making to Prime Minister Netanyahu," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.
        Some analysts said Clinton's call risked emboldening Arab and Palestinian officials to make new demands before talks start. U.S. officials said Clinton made specific requests of Netanyahu to get the peace process back on track and to repair the damage to the relationship. The future of Jerusalem is a major point of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 war and subsequently annexed and populated it in a move not recognized by the international community. (Washington Post)
        See also Text of State Department Statement
    State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday: "Secretary Clinton also spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to reiterate the United States' strong objections to Tuesday's announcement, not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship - and counter to the spirit of the Vice President's trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America's interests. The Secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security. And she made clear that the Israeli Government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process."  (State Department)
        See also Axelrod: Jerusalem Housing Approval an "Affront," "Insult"
    U.S. presidential advisor David Axelrod told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday: "What happened there was an affront. It was an insult, but that's not the most important thing. What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process. We've just gotten so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace and security in the region. Israel is a strong and special ally. The bonds run deep. But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave."
        Q: Does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?
        Axelrod: "I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I'm not going to put it in those terms. But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue."  (ABC News)
  • Netanyahu Voices Regret in Jerusalem Building Row with U.S. - Jeffrey Heller
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced regret on Sunday for the announcement of a Jerusalem construction plan that has strained ties with Washington. "I suggest not to get carried away and to calm down," Netanyahu told his cabinet, after a reprimand by Secretary of State Clinton. "There was a regrettable incident here, that occurred innocently," Netanyahu said. Yet he gave no sign he would meet Palestinian demands to cancel a project for 1,600 new homes in northern Jerusalem. Netanyahu appointed a team of senior officials "to ensure procedures will be in place to prevent these kinds of incidents" in the future. (Reuters-Washington Post)
  • Leaders Push Back on U.S. Criticism of Israel - Ron Kampeas
    U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) described the State Department's tough criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an "irresponsible overreaction" that suggested a pro-Palestinian bias by the administration. "Where, I ask, was the administration's outrage over the arrest and month-long incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms smuggling into Gaza?" she asked. "Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel? It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel."  (JTA)
        See also Administration's Dressing Down of Israel a "Gross Overreaction" - Abraham H. Foxman
    ADL's national director issued the following statement Sunday: "We are shocked and stunned at the Administration's tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem. We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States. One can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians in the hope they see it is in their interest to return to the negotiating table.
        It is especially troubling that this harsh statement came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly and privately explained to Vice President Biden the bureaucratic nature in making the announcement of proposed new building in Jerusalem, and Biden accepted the prime minister's apology for it. Therefore, to raise the issue again in this way is a gross overreaction to a point of policy difference among friends. The Administration should have confidence and trust in Israel whose tireless pursuit for peace is repeatedly rebuffed by the Palestinians and whose interests remain in line with the United States."  (Anti-Defamation League)
        See also AIPAC Hits White House - Ben Smith
    The pro-Israel group AIPAC, which had been at pains for much of President Obama's term to downplay tensions between his administration and Benjamin Netanyahu's, is criticizing Obama in the sharpest terms to date and "calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish state. Israel is America's closest ally in the Middle East....The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests." As Vice President Biden said last week in Israel, "Progress in the Middle East occurs when there is no daylight between the United States and Israel."  (Politico)
        See also AIPAC Calls on Obama Administration to Defuse Tension with Israel
    The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran's rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors. (American Israel Public Affairs Committee)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: I Thought Apology to Biden Was Sufficient - Roni Sofer
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he thought his apology to Joe Biden over the ill-timed announcement of Jerusalem construction was sufficient and believed the matter was closed. Speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Netanyahu said he believed the apology was adequate, especially as it was personally coordinated with Biden himself. Netanyahu emphasized that Israel's construction policy in Jerusalem has not changed from what it was under previous governments. He added that any peace initiative ever proposed by Israel or the U.S. always stipulated that Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, such as Gilo, Ramot, and Ramat Shlomo, will remain under Israeli sovereignty. (Ynet News)
        See also U.S. Orchestrating Ramat Shlomo Crisis - Barak Ravid, Natasha Mozgovaya and Danna Harman
    Sources in the prime minister's bureau said the crisis over apartment construction in Jerusalem appeared to be orchestrated by the U.S. administration, as Netanyahu had apologized to Vice President Biden and believed that the crisis was behind the two allies. (Ha'aretz)
  • Barak: "It Was an Unintentional Mistake"
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday: "The technical mistake during Biden's visit was not intentional but it was undoubtedly superfluous and dangerous." He added: "While we are ultimately responsible for our fate, our friendship with the U.S. is important for security and for the chance to calm down the region and this friendship requires us to behave with mutual respect and responsibility."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Obama's Turn Against Israel - Editorial
    On a visit to Israel last week, Vice President Joe Biden condemned an announcement by a mid-level Israeli official that the government had approved a planning stage - the fourth out of seven required - for the construction of 1,600 housing units in north Jerusalem. Assuming final approval, no ground will be broken on the project for at least three years. But neither that nor repeated apologies from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prevented Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - at what White House sources ostentatiously said was the personal direction of President Obama - from calling the announcement "an insult to the United States." White House political chief David Axelrod got in his licks on NBC's Meet the Press, lambasting Israel for what he described as "an affront."
        It's difficult to see why the Administration has chosen this occasion to spark a full-blown diplomatic crisis with its most reliable Middle Eastern ally. Israeli anxieties about America's role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won't be assuaged by the Administration's neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. If the Obama Administration opts to transform itself, as the Europeans have, into another set of lawyers for the Palestinians, it will find Israeli concessions increasingly hard to come by. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Driving Drunk in Jerusalem - Thomas L. Friedman
    "Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don't let friends drive drunk. And right now, you're driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you're serious."  (New York Times)
  • Lovebombing Israel - Jackson Diehl
    Over the years U.S. envoys from Baker to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have learned that the trick is to sidestep such broadsides, expressing disapproval without allowing the toxic settlement issue to take center stage and derail peace negotiations. After all, most Israeli settlement announcements, including this one, are pure symbolism: No ground will be broken anytime soon, and even if the homes are eventually constructed they won't stand in the way of a Palestinian state. Biden chose to use a word - "condemn" - that is very rarely employed in U.S. statements about Israel, even though he and his staff knew that Netanyahu himself had been blindsided by the settlement announcement. Biden's trip was seen as a way of assuring Israelis that if they took risks in peace talks, this U.S. administration would stand behind them. Mission accomplished? I would think not. (Washington Post)
  • No Time for a Fight - Aaron David Miller
    Don't bet on America hammering the Israelis. The last thing this president needs now is a fight with Israel. Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. Any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran - particularly now, with sanctions in the works.
        But most important, for this very busy president, the Arab-Israeli issue now has little to do with his stock at home. Frankly, it isn't even the most important priority in the region. An overstretched president has to pick his fights carefully. And going after the Israelis now over the Jerusalem issue just isn't one of them. (Politico)
  • Observations:

    Are America and Israel Drifting Apart? (Washington Post)

    • Elliott Abrams: Poll data show that Israel is as popular as ever among Americans. Strategically we face the same enemies - such as terrorism and the Iranian regime - a fact that is not lost on Americans who know we have one single reliable, democratic ally in the Middle East. On settlements, the Obama administration demanded a 100% construction freeze, including in Jerusalem, something never required before even by the Palestinians as a precondition for negotiations. This stance cornered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who could demand no less, and led the U.S. administration last week to "condemn" the announcement of plans for Israeli construction that is years away. The verb "condemn" is customarily reserved by U.S. officials for acts of murder and terrorism - not acts of housing.
    • Danielle Pletka: It might have been hoped that after Sept. 11, 2001, and the revelation that Israel is of little interest to Islamist extremists, the U.S. foreign policy establishment would understand that the bankruptcy of leadership in the Arab world is a more pressing problem for America than the transgressions of a few million Jews, but it has always been easier to blame Israel than to sell reform to tyrants. Ultimately, the more serious problem for the United States is not a distancing between us and Israel but a failure to grasp that the shared threats to both nations - the Islamist totalitarianism that has flourished in the oxygen-free environment of the Arab world and the rise of the Revolutionary Guard class in Iran - will not be mitigated with the resolution of the Palestinians' fate.
    • Hussein Agha and Robert Malley: The ties between the two countries have been too strong for too long for there to be lasting strategic repercussions. The most telling aspect of the announcement was that it represented the Israeli government's stance on East Jerusalem in all its clarity. If the United States intends to bring about an agreement between the two sides, far better that it be aware of their actual positions rather than proceed on the basis of imaginary ones.

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