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March 23, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Anti-Corruption Campaigner Is Headache for Abbas - Karin Laub and Dalia Nammari (AP-Washington Post)
    After getting Abbas aide Rafiq Husseini suspended over an embarrassing sex tape, former Palestinian intelligence agent and anti-corruption campaigner Fahmi Shabaneh, 48, is tapping into long-standing popular resentment of the West Bank's ruling class.
    He has set up a Web site so ordinary Palestinians can send him evidence of official misconduct, thievery and nepotism.
    Prominent on the home page are pictures of three public officials, including Husseini, with their faces crossed out by large red Xs to show that their cases have been handled.
    Two other photographs are on the page - of top Islamic court judge Taysir Tamimi and of Shabaneh's former boss, ex-intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi - but without Xs.
    See also PA Scandals Are Weakening Abbas, Fayyad - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    An overwhelming majority of Palestinians believes that reports about financial corruption and sex scandals within the Palestinian Authority are accurate and that the corruption charges weaken the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad's government, according to a poll published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research on Monday.

Iranians Train Taliban to Use Roadside Bombs - Miles Amoore (Times-UK)
    Two Taliban commanders revealed to The Sunday Times that hundreds of Taliban insurgents have been trained in Iran to kill NATO forces in Afghanistan.
    The commanders said Iranian officials paid them to attend three-month courses where they had learned to mount complex ambushes and lay improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have been responsible for most of the deaths of British troops in Helmand province.
    The first month was devoted to teaching the Taliban how to attack convoys and how to escape before NATO forces could respond.
    During the second month they were shown how to plant IEDs in sequence so that the rescuers of soldiers wounded in one blast would be caught in further explosions.
    The third month was spent on storming bases and checkpoints.

The Resistance Bloc Will Not Be Appeased - Michael J. Totten (Commentary)
    Hizbullah's reaction to Israel's plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem might help President Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hizbullah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.
    "The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds [Jerusalem] truly shows American cover to it," Hizbullah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times. So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel's government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.
    The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the U.S. declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. When the U.S. doesn't follow the script, they just lie.
    If we extend a hand in friendship, they'll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they'll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot.

Obama's Israel Crisis - Benjamin Kerstein (New Ledger)
    In the end, Obama will likely have to face the fact (or suffer the consequences of refusing to face it) that the Israeli-Arab conflict is impervious to Israeli concessions.
    The Israeli-Arab conflict was begun by the Arabs, and it can only be ended by the Arabs. It was a war of choice, unnecessary and unfortunate; and the Arabs, should they wish, can choose to end it.
    This would not be easy, given how the conflict has become culturally ingrained throughout the Arab world, and how any number of deranged and at times psychotic myths about the evils of Israel and the Jews have become normalized.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Netanyahu: Jerusalem Not a Settlement But Our Capital
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday sharply defended his government's plan to build new housing on disputed land in east Jerusalem. In a speech to the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, Netanyahu said, "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital." Netanyahu added that his government's policies are in line with those of previous Israeli administrations. (CNN)
        See also below Observations: Netanyahu's Speech to AIPAC (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Limited Applause for Hillary Clinton at AIPAC Conference - Dana Milbank
    At the AIPAC policy conference on Monday, the crowd stood to applaud the arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but with little of their past enthusiasm. As Clinton defended her criticism of Israel, the crowd was still and quiet. During her primary fight against Barack Obama, Clinton counted many in the room as part of her core constituency, but now she was part of an administration they didn't entirely trust. When she asserted that "the Obama administration has worked to promote Israel's security and long-term success," there was only silence in the room.
        Both Israel and the Palestinians, she said, "must confront the reality that the status quo of the last decade has not produced long-term security or served their interests, nor has it served the interests of the United States." There was no applause. It remained quiet as she called for a settlement "based on the '67 lines with agreed swaps" of territory. "It is our devotion to this outcome, two states for two peoples secure and at peace, that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in East Jerusalem," she said. In the audience, the majority just sat and stared at their old friend. (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu Meets Clinton in Washington - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Washington on Monday. Netanyahu presented Clinton with a sketch illustrating the long bureaucratic process entailed in securing building permits for houses in Israel, including in Jerusalem. He described a process consisting of dozens of stages, with each stage having the potential of sparking an international controversy. Thus, he cannot guarantee that similar crises won't happen in the future. Netanyahu also told Clinton that Israel is willing to hold immediate direct negotiations with the Palestinians. (Ynet News)
  • Israel: UN Human Rights Council Has Done Nothing to Stop Rockets - Tovah Lazaroff
    Israel charged Monday that the UN Human Rights Council does not believe it has the right to self-defense against the rockets Gaza Palestinians launch against its citizens. "You have done nothing about it, and you expect that Israel does nothing either," said Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar. He noted that even South African jurist Richard Goldstone had stated that "the firing of these rockets are war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity." Last Thursday, he said, one such rocket killed a Thai citizen, Manee Singueanphon, who was working in a greenhouse near the Gaza border. He accused council members of disproportionately focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way to shift the body's focus away from their own human rights issues. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • In Middle East, Public Diplomacy Is the Wrong Approach - Mortimer B. Zuckerman
    Who would have thought that a decision by a community planning board could ignite a firestorm between Israel and the U.S.? There is a serious problem in the harshness of the American response. How is Israel to interpret the fact that the U.S. spoke more harshly to a longtime ally than it did to the government of Iran when that oppressive regime reacted to a democratic uprising? Nor does it help that Israel was being held to account while the Palestinians escaped any rebuke for incitement to terrorism.
        Nothing positive comes out of public negotiations or public controversy. If issues are to be resolved, it will happen only through private channels and private dialogue. Above all, it is unwise to elevate Jerusalem as an issue because the question is so emotional for both parties. The status of Jerusalem should be raised only at the very end of a negotiation. (U.S. News)
  • Would a Palestinian State Stymie Iran's Plans? - Ephraim Kam
    Gen. David Petraeus has been the head of U.S. Central Command, responsible for the Middle East, since 2008. People who have met him say he is friendly to Israel. Last week, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus said the hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors pose a challenge to U.S. interests in the region. Petraeus did not blame Israel for the situation but simply discussed the problem and its repercussions.
        Petraeus painted a similar picture last year in front of the same panel, but this time his analysis was seen as part of the pressure that the Obama administration is putting on Israel, as a continuation of the linkage it is trying to create between progress in the peace process and its handling of the Iranian issue. Basically, it's hard to see how such progress would help block the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran would certainly not give up its goal of achieving a nuclear weapons capability, something that has nothing to do with the Palestinian question.
        The Obama administration had better not delude itself. The Arab street does not support America, even in those countries whose governments are friendly with Washington. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will not solve America's problems with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or al-Qaeda. The writer is deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Ha'aretz)
  • Iran's Nuclear Clock - Howard L. Berman
    Iran is rapidly acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons, and the prospects for preventing this nightmare scenario are shrinking by the day. The U.S. must act urgently to intensify pressure on the Iranian regime - with the cooperation of the international community if at all possible, but on our own if necessary. It is foolhardy to believe that the West could contain or deter Tehran were it to acquire the bomb. A nuclear-armed Iran would usher in a dangerous new era of instability in the Gulf and Middle East. The writer is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (New York Times)
  • A Counterproductive Tactic for Advancing Peace Negotiations - Jeff Jacoby
    Last November the government of Israel agreed to a 10-month moratorium on new Jewish housing in the West Bank, with the caveat that the moratorium did not apply to eastern Jerusalem. So when Israel's Interior Ministry announced its interim approval for the construction of 1,600 new apartments in Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, it was not reneging on any commitment. If anyone was guilty of bad faith in the diplomatic crisis that ensued, it was the Obama administration, which had explicitly accepted the terms of the building freeze, yet was now going back on its word.
        If the president's goal was to bring Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table, he couldn't have chosen a more counterproductive tactic. The Palestinian Authority promptly seized the opportunity to back out of the indirect talks it had agreed to - why negotiate for Israeli concessions if Washington can force Israel to deliver them on a silver platter?
        Israel will generally bend over backward to accommodate Washington, but there are some things no Israeli government can relinquish. One of them is the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem - in all of Jerusalem, including the parts of the city conquered by Jordan in 1948 and kept judenrein until 1967. Americans agree as well. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 stated that it is U.S. policy that "Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected."  (Boston Globe)
  • Shaming Israel Hurts American Interests in the Middle East - Lee Smith
    The new catch phrase in the Middle East is strategic realignment. This means the balance of power is shifting from the U.S.-backed regional order to the axis of resistance. The Obama administration has blundered by jeopardizing not Israel's stature but our own regional interests and the Pax Americana that has been ours over the last 35 years. Our position in the region depends on every actor there knowing that we back Israel to the hilt and that they are dependent on us. Should any real distance open up between Washington and Jerusalem, that will send a message that the U.S.-backed order of the region is ready to be tested. And that's exactly what the axis of resistance is seeing right now.
        The recent U.S.-Israeli contretemps is not about progress on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. It is about Iran. The Obama administration has all but announced that it has resigned itself to an Iranian nuclear program and that it is moving toward a policy of containment and deterrence. In rattling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cage, the Obama administration was warning Israel not even to contemplate an attack on Iran. The writer is the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. (Slate)
  • Observations:

    Netanyahu Tells Washington: Jerusalem Is No Settlement (Prime Minister's Office)

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the AIPAC policy conference on Monday:

    • "Iran's brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to self-defense."
    • "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital....Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city's Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines....They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."
    • "While we cherish our homeland, we also recognize that Palestinians live there as well. We don't want to govern them. We don't want to rule them. We want them as neighbors, living in security, dignity and peace. Yet Israel is unjustly accused of not wanting peace with the Palestinians. Nothing could be further from the truth....From day one, we called on the Palestinian Authority to begin peace negotiations without delay. I make that same call today. President Abbas, come and negotiate peace."
    • "Leaders who truly want peace should sit down face-to-face. Of course, the United States can help the parties solve their problems but it cannot solve the problems for the parties. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside. It can only come through direct negotiations in which we develop mutual trust."
    • "Israel must make sure that what happened in Lebanon and Gaza doesn't happen again in the West Bank....Experience has shown that only an Israeli presence on the ground can prevent weapons smuggling. This is why a peace agreement with the Palestinians must include an Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state."
    • "For decades, Israel served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Today it is helping America stem the tide of militant Islam....Our soldiers and your soldiers fight against fanatic enemies that loathe our common values. In the eyes of these are the Great Satan and we are the Little Satan....Militant Islam does not hate the West because of Israel. It hates Israel because of the West - because it sees Israel as an outpost of freedom and democracy that prevents them from overrunning the Middle East. That is why when Israel stands against its enemies, it stands against America's enemies."

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