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March 22, 2010

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Clinton to AIPAC: "Our Commitment to Israel's Security Is Rock Solid"  (Reuters)
    In remarks released prior to delivery at the AIPAC conference in Washington on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel's security and Israel's future is rock solid."
    On Iran, she said: "The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
    At the UN, "our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite. It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these weapons."
    "As Israel's friend, it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed."
    "The status quo is unsustainable for all sides....There is another path....It will require all parties - including Israel - to make difficult but necessary choices." 

Video: AIPAC President - "That's Not How Friends Behave" - Lee Rosenberg (JTA)

Poll Finds Americans Side with Israel (UPI)
    Americans, by a significant margin, believe the U.S. should support Israel in its conflict with Palestinians, a poll released Sunday by The Israel Project shows.
    80% agree with the statement, "Enemies of America use the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as an excuse to create anti-American sentiment. Even if the dispute is settled, they would find another excuse to justify their hostility towards America."
    73% said the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is about ideology and religion, not land.
    64% said they believed Iran will pursue a goal of destroying Israel, and 80% believed Iran's nuclear program would make it easier for terrorist groups to gain access to nuclear weapons.

Squeeze Israel by Cutting U.S. Aid? Not Likely - Karoun Demirjian (AP-Washington Post)
    The diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Israel has sent a tremor through their alliance, but one key part of the bond seems virtually untouchable: the roughly $3 billion a year in U.S. military aid.
    The overwhelming part of the money cycles back into the American economy. Israel's aid is earmarked entirely for military spending, and at least three-quarters of the aid must be spent with U.S. companies.
    This means that the "close, unshakable bond," as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described it, is also a mutually beneficial one: Israel gets the latest American military technology, and American weapons makers - Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and others - get a steady stream of income.
    The package represents about 20% of the country's annual defense budget. Israel spends the bulk of its aid on warplanes such as F-15s and F-16s, jet fuel, high-end munitions and missile defense systems - weaponry the Israeli military would find difficult to replace or do without.

How Our Muslim Allies Understand the "Crisis" Between the U.S. and Israel - Harold Rhode (Hudson Institute New York)
    It is important to keep in mind how our Muslim friends view the crisis between the U.S. administration and Israel.
    Our Arab friends in the Gulf see us as abandoning our closest ally. If the U.S. abandons Israel - such a close friend, ally and in some deep way family to the U.S. - our Muslim allies reason that the U.S. would surely do the same to them.

Students Reject Gaza Twin Plan - Marcus Dysch (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
    By a vote of 1,155 to 878, students at the British University of Warwick have rejected a plan to twin with the Hamas-backed Islamic University of Gaza.
    Economics student Daniel Schwarz noted: "The Islamic Society has around 800 members, Friends of Palestine has around 100 and the Jewish-Israeli Society has only 70."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Obama Offers Engagement in Video Message to Iranians - Helene Cooper
    President Obama delivered his second message to the Iranian people for the festival of Nowruz, which marks the Iranian New Year, releasing a video on Saturday in which he again offered Iran's leaders engagement with the U.S. But he tempered his offer for dialogue with a threat of international sanctions if Tehran did not rein in its nuclear ambitions.
        "You have refused good faith proposals from the international community," he said, adding, "Faced with an extended hand, Iran's leaders have shown only a clenched fist....We know what you're against; now tell us what you're for."  (New York Times)
        See also Ayatollah Khamenei Rejects New Obama Offer of Dialogue as a "Plot" - Hugh Tomlinson and David Charter
    Iran's Supreme Leader Sunday rejected a renewed offer of dialogue with Washington from President Obama, and accused the U.S. of continuing to plot against Tehran while offering peace. Khamenei accused Obama of arrogance for using a Persian new year message to repeat his offer of talks. On Saturday Obama sent a message saying that Washington would maintain its "commitment to a more hopeful future for the Iranian people....Our offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue stands."  (Times-UK)
        See also Ahmadinejad's New Year's Message
    "The spring of human prosperity is the establishment of praying for one God and justice in the world, which will be built by the Lord of the Age [the Shi'ite 12th Imam, the Mahdi]....The age is the age of the appearance [of Imam Mahdi]. The mystery of persistence, happiness and the growing awareness of the Iranian nation is in faith and hope for the rule of the Imam in the world."
        "The government is determined to assert its presence in managing the world wisely and powerfully in order to restore the Iranian nation's honorable position....All of you should be ready, as tomorrow belongs to us."  (Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran-Persian)
  • New Efforts on Iran Sanctions Run into Familiar Snags - David E. Sanger
    It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, nearly a year ago, fired the Obama administration's first warning shots about imposing "crippling sanctions" against Iran. Now, no one in the Obama administration has used the word "crippling" in public in a long while; instead, the new line is that taking time and maintaining unity - code words for Chinese and Russian cooperation - are more important than rushing ahead amid international divisions over how best to convince Iran that the cost of continuing uranium enrichment will be prohibitive.
        The delays and the potential for a substantially watered-down resolution highlight the difficulty Obama has encountered in demonstrating results from the underlying argument of his engagement with Iran: that if he made a bona fide effort to negotiate and was rebuffed, it would be a lot easier to win meaningful sanctions. Some senior administration officials acknowledge that if there are sanctions, they may take months to enact, while Iran steadily adds to its stockpile of fuel. White House officials have dropped, at least for now, talk of cutting off refined gasoline products to Iran, for fear that would hurt the people more than the government. (New York Times)
  • UN Chief Rejects Distinction between East Jerusalem and West Bank
    During a visit to Ramallah in the West Bank on Saturday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon rejected Israel's distinction between east Jerusalem and the West Bank. "Let us be clear," he said. "All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped."  (AP-Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: Building in Jerusalem Is Like Building in Tel Aviv - Barak Ravid, Natasha Mozgovaya and Jack Khoury
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet on Sunday that all Israeli governments have maintained the same policy on building in east Jerusalem. "Construction in Jerusalem is like construction in Tel Aviv and we have clarified that for the American government."
        Netanyahu has promised the Obama administration that Israel will make several goodwill gestures to the Palestinians. Israel has agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza, release hundreds of Fatah-affiliated prisoners as a gesture to Mahmoud Abbas, and discuss all core issues during the proximity talks, with the condition of reaching final conclusions only in direct talks with the PA. However, the prime minister refused to revoke a decision to build 1,600 Jewish homes in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem or freeze construction in the city. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Netanyahu Goes to Washington - Barak Ravid
    Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet with President Obama at the White House Tuesday evening, the fourth time the two leaders have met since they took office. Netanyahu was accompanied by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The pair will meet Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Monday evening Netanyahu will speak to the AIPAC conference. On Tuesday, Netanyahu will meet with a large group of congressmen, before his meeting at the White House. On Wednesday, Netanyahu will do interviews with the U.S. media, and then depart for Israel.
        Sources in Jerusalem expect the proximity talks with the Palestinian Authority to begin next month after Passover. (Ha'aretz)
  • U.S. Lawmakers Urge Obama to Resolve Israel Spat Quietly - Hilary Leila Krieger
    U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), joined by the bipartisan leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Middle East subcommittee, have drafted a letter expressing "deep concern" over the recent U.S.-Israel row and calling for the Obama administration to resolve differences with Israel "quietly." "We hope and expect that, with mutual effort and good faith, the United States and Israel will move beyond this disruption quickly, to the lasting benefit of both nations," it said. A similar letter is being circulated in the Senate, sponsored by Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Jerusalem Will Not Return to the Pre-1967 Borders - Avi Dichter
    Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Jewish nation. Despite its most sacred Jewish status, the State of Israel has transformed the Temple Mount in Jerusalem into a place of religious freedom. Nonetheless, there is a faction of radical Muslims today that is inciting violence at the Mount in an attempt to create an atmosphere of conflict in the city and in the entire region. To make matters worse, these rioters are supported by the Palestinian Authority.
        The world must clearly understand that Jerusalem will not return to the pre-1967 borders. This is a clear and important strategic policy in the heart of consensus in Israel. Before negotiations surrounding Jerusalem are even conceived, the level of trust between Israel and the Palestinians must soar to new heights. Such trust will occur only after the issues of Gaza, the West Bank, the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley are resolved. The absolute sole route toward a lasting agreement is direct bilateral negotiations. The writer, a Kadima MK, is a former head of the Israel Security Agency and a former minister of public security. (Jerusalem Post)
  • U.S. May End Up Boosting Netanyahu - Edmund Sanders
    By drawing a line against expansion of Israeli housing units in Jerusalem, the Obama administration is confronting a policy that enjoys a strong consensus among Israelis: the effort to ensure that the city remains united and under their control. Focusing the debate on Jerusalem may actually prove to be of domestic political benefit for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even many Israelis who otherwise oppose the government's settlement activity in the West Bank see nothing wrong with building homes for Jews in parts of Jerusalem that were seized during the 1967 war.
        "For Netanyahu, this is the best issue you could have given him," said Efraim Inbar, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, who said the prime minister could emerge politically stronger by refusing American pressure to limit or temporarily delay housing construction in east Jerusalem. "Jerusalem touches an important nerve for so many Jews that they would support the government, even in a confrontation with the U.S.," Inbar said. "Even if it causes damage, sometimes you have to draw a red line." He said about 70% of Israelis support a "united Jerusalem" under Israel's control, according to polls he has conducted. The Jewish population of east Jerusalem has grown to 200,000 today. (Los Angeles Times)
  • For Islamic Extremists, the Main Target is the U.S., Not Israel - Avi Issacharoff
    In his testimony before Congress, Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus conspicuously avoided any hint that the conflict with the Palestinians is the result of Israeli policy. He made no mention of Israeli settlements, nor any reference to Israeli building in east Jerusalem. Even a peace deal with the Palestinians will do nothing to alter al-Qaeda's combat strategy, to say nothing of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or Iraqi militants.
        Even were the U.S. to announce a total military and economic boycott of Israel tomorrow, nothing would induce radical Islamists to lay down arms against America. Even if America joined the global jihad and offered to fight shoulder to shoulder with al-Qaeda, the extremists would not accept the offer and give up their attacks against U.S. targets. For extremist regimes like Iran, Israel is a secondary target. Their main problem is the Western world and its leader, the United States. Those who rushed to interpret Petraeus's comments as a hint that Israeli settlements are the root of America's woes should think again. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinians Drop the Ball as Obama Squeezes Israel - Yoel Marcus
    As a reporter who covered the Camp David summit hosted by President Jimmy Carter, I wonder if we would ever have achieved a peace agreement had Egypt demanded the freezing of the settlements in Sinai and other preconditions for the final negotiations. American mediators have wasted months listening to far-fetched Palestinian excuses for refusing direct negotiations with Israel. It isn't clear why the idea of proximity talks came up when Mahmoud Abbas and his friends used to come and go freely for talks with Israel's prime minister and foreign minister in Jerusalem.
        What the U.S. administration has proposed is not proximity but distance - keeping the two sides apart. America says Israel must prove that it is committed to peace. It is unfortunate that the Obama administration is not making this demand of the Palestinians as well. (Ha'aretz)
  • Observations:

    A Familiar Obstacle to Mideast Peace: Mahmoud Abbas - Jackson Diehl (Washington Post)

    • Lesson No. 1 from history is that there will always be a provocation that threatens to derail Israeli-Palestinian peace talks - before they start, when they start and regularly thereafter. Israeli settlement announcements are among the most common, along with the orchestration by West Bank Palestinians of violent demonstrations and attacks from Gaza by Hamas. The Obama administration saw all three in the past 10 days: It went ballistic over one and barely registered the other two.
    • The trick is not to let the provocation become the center of attention but instead to insist on proceeding with the negotiations. On settlements, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice adopted a pragmatic guideline she called the "Google Earth test": A settlement that visibly expanded was a problem; one that remained within its existing territorial boundary was not. The virtue of this is that Rice got the Israelis and Palestinians talking not about settlements but what they really needed to be discussing - the future Palestine.
    • Former Prime Minister Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas went over everything: the border, the future of Jerusalem and its holy sites, security arrangements, Palestinian refugees. Privately, they agreed on a lot. Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement - one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the U.S. had ever put forward.
    • Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer.
    • Behind Obama's deliberate fight with Netanyahu last week seemed to lie a calculation that a peace settlement will require the U.S. to bend or break Israel's current government. That might be true; it's almost certainly the case that Netanyahu would not accept the terms that Olmert offered. But behind that obstacle lies another - the recalcitrance of Abbas - that the new administration has been slow to recognize.

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