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Iran Suspected of Planning New Atomic Sites - David E. Sanger and William J. Broad (New York Times)
UN inspectors assigned to monitor Iran's nuclear program are searching for evidence of two new nuclear sites, and are looking into the whereabouts of recently manufactured uranium enrichment equipment.
In an interview, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said President Ahmadinejad had ordered work to begin soon on two new plants that "will be built inside mountains." Salehi said, "we may start the construction of two new enrichment sites" in the Iranian new year, which began March 21.
Abbas Promotes Terrorist Killer
of Three Americans to Major-General - Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook
(Palestinian Media Watch)
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has promoted Mahmoud Damra, commander of Yasser Arafat's personal guard and terror unit called "Force 17,"
to the rank of major-general.
Damra was responsible for the planning and logistic coordination of numerous terror attacks including those which killed U.S. citizens Esh-Kodesh Gilmore and Binyamin and Talia Kahane in the year 2000.
He has been imprisoned by Israel since 2006.
PA Purges Hamas-Linked Educators - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
The PA in the West Bank has over the past two years fired hundreds of schoolteachers and imams suspected of being affiliated with Hamas, Palestinian sources in Ramallah disclosed on Sunday.
A source in Ramallah said the crackdown was aimed at undermining the Islamist movement's influence and preventing it from extending its control beyond Gaza.
Another source said over 1,000 teachers and more than 300 imams have lost their jobs since the beginning of the clampdown, though not all had ties to Hamas.
"Many of them were fired because they don't support Fatah and the Palestinian Authority," the source said. "Others were fired because they had become too religious and there was fear that they would one day join Hamas."
Some teachers said they were dismissed after they refused to work as informants for the PA security services.
Gaza Islamists: We Will Decapitate the Jews and Rip Their Hearts from Their Bodies (MEMRI)
On March 20, 2010, the Gaza-based Salafi-jihadi group Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad (JTJ) issued a communique:
"As for the descendants of apes and pigs [i.e., the Jews], we bring them the tidings that the wave of jihad is inexorably coming, and they, Allah willing, will taste the bitterness of the blows."
"They will see men who love to be killed for the sake of Allah as much as they [the Jews] love life, men who throw themselves into the thick of battle and storm fortresses to separate their heads from their necks and to rip their hearts out of their bodies."
Saudis Fund Balkan Muslims Spreading Hate of the West - Bojan Pancevski (Sunday Times-UK)
Saudi Arabia is pouring hundreds of millions of pounds into Islamist groups in the Balkans, some of which spread hatred of the West and recruit fighters for jihad in Afghanistan.
Fundamentalists have financed the construction of scores of mosques and community centers as well as paying some followers a monthly stipend. They are expected not only to grow beards but also to persuade their wives to wear the face veil, a custom virtually unknown in the liberal Islamic tradition of the Balkans.
"Hundreds of millions have been poured into Macedonia alone in the past decade and most of it comes from Saudi Arabia," said a Macedonian government source.
"Their so-called Wahhabi teachings are completely alien to our traditions and to the essence of Islam, which is a tolerant and inclusive religion," said Sulejman Rexhepi, leader of the Islamic community in Macedonia.
Obama's Posturing Strains Key Alliance - Steve Huntley (Chicago Sun-Times)
Five hundred years before the golden age of Greece, Jews constructed homes in Jerusalem. A thousand years before the birth of Jesus, Jews led by King David established the city as their capital. A millennium and a half before the arrival of Islam, Jews built housing in Jerusalem.
Now, for some reason, President Obama has chosen to turn Jewish construction in Jerusalem into a make-or-break issue. This manufactured crisis is no way to promote peace negotiations and will only fuel Arab intransigence.
The Right to Our Opinion - Hanoch Daum (Ynet News)
There is no reason to panic, yet there is definitely room for regret.
It is regrettable that the American administration comprises figures who do not respect Israel's right to think differently than them. It is regrettable that officials around Obama have embarked on a rash effort to turn the U.S., within a short period of time, into a friend of the Muslim world even if this means clashing with their ally.
Most of all, what's regrettable is the very thought that a deep and complex conflict can be managed in a capricious and aggressive manner, without listening to the mood on both sides.
This is no longer an optical illusion: There are disagreements between Israel and America. This is unpleasant in the short term, yet in the long term it's a situation that presents an opportunity to face the Americans candidly and tell them: Precisely because you are our real allies, you will have to cope with one of our most basic rights - the right to think differently than you about our future.
We wish our readers a Happy Passover holiday!
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In Confrontation with Israel, Obama May Double His Bets - Warren P. Strobel
After nearly three weeks of open confrontation with Israel, President Obama may be about to double his bets.
Obama, fresh from his legislative victory on health care, is planning an attempt to turn the current disaster into a diplomatic opportunity, according to U.S. officials, former officials and diplomats.
The administration is said to be preparing a major peace initiative that would be Obama's most direct involvement in the conflict to date, and would go far beyond indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks.
"It is crystallizing that we have to do something now. That this can't go on this way," said one official. (McClatchy-Miami Herald)
See also Israel Fears Obama Heading for Imposed Mideast Settlement - Ari Shavit
President Obama's demands during his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu last Tuesday point to an intention to impose a permanent settlement on Israel and the Palestinians in less than two years, political sources in Jerusalem say.
Israeli officials view the demands that Obama made at the White House as the tip of the iceberg under which lies a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Israel.
Of ten demands posed by Obama, four deal with Jerusalem: opening a Palestinian commercial interests office in east Jerusalem, an end to the razing of structures in Palestinian neighborhoods in the capital, stopping construction in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, and not building in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
The fact that the White House and State Department have been in contact with Israel's European allies, first and foremost Germany, is seen as part of an effort to isolate Israel and put enormous political pressure on it. (Ha'aretz)
See also President Obama's Mideast Gamble - Ben Smith
The question facing Obama is whether he will be able to turn a perception of increased "evenhandedness" into an Arab engagement in the peace process that the administration sought, but did not get, last year. Obama's new focus, and the intense pressure his administration has placed on Netanyahu, have stirred deep concern among Israel's allies on Capitol Hill, they say, because it represents an acceptance of the Arab narrative that Israeli intransigence lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict. David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration trade official, said the new model drawing attention from Democratic foreign policy hands is to build support among Arab leaders for a U.S. plan and then present that to Israel - to serve as the Arabs' lawyer, rather than as Israel's.
Fierce Debate on Israel Underway Inside Obama Administration - Laura Rozen
Since Netanyahu's tense visit to the White House last week, an intense debate inside the Obama administration about how to proceed has grown more heated. Sources say within the inter-agency process, White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is staking out a position that Washington needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu's domestic political constraints including over the issue of building in east Jerusalem in order to not raise new Arab demands, while other officials including some aligned with Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell are arguing Washington needs to hold firm in pressing Netanyahu for written commitments.
See also Report: U.S. "May Not Veto UN Resolution on Jerusalem"
The U.S. is considering abstaining from a possible UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem.
The possibility surfaced at talks in Paris last week between a senior U.S. official and Qatar's foreign minister.
The official said the U.S. would "seriously consider abstaining" if the issue of Israeli settlements was put to the vote. Nearly half a million Jews live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu Tries to Play Down Tensions with U.S. - Matti Friedman
Israel's leader tried to play down tensions with the U.S. on Sunday, saying that relations with Washington remain solid.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel and the U.S. can work out their differences.
"The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is one between allies and friends, and it's a relationship based on years of tradition," Netanyahu said. "Even if there are disagreements, these are disagreements between friends, and that's how they will stay." (AP)
See also Israel Blames Palestinians for Blocking U.S. Peace Efforts - Charly Wegman
Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday accused the Palestinians of blocking U.S. peace efforts.
"We continue to see that the Palestinians are hardening their positions. They do not show any sign of moderation," Netanyahu told the cabinet.
Obama Aides: U.S. Bond with Israel Remains Strong
Top Obama adviser David Axelrod told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Israel is a close and valued friend of the U.S. He said there's an unshakable bond but that sometimes blunt talk is part of friendship.
Axelrod says the peace process is essential to Israel's security and the administration is doing all it can to move that process forward.
Meanwhile, senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett told ABC's "This Week" that friends like Israel and the U.S. can disagree without incurring damage. Jarrett said Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should have no doubt about Obama's commitment to Israel's security.
Netanyahu Pressed to Resist U.S. - Tobias Buck
Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel last week to face pressure from his coalition partners to resist the demands of the U.S., and widespread public concern over the prime minister's treatment at the hands of his foremost ally.
Netanyahu has made clear to Washington that construction will continue in east Jerusalem, which Israel regards as part of its sovereign territory.
That stance arises both from the prime minister's firmly held beliefs and his instinct for political survival. Offering concessions on east Jerusalem would quite simply "put his coalition at stake," according to Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu.
Pollsters say Israelis have always wanted their leader to enjoy good relations with the U.S. However, the White House's treatment of Netanyahu may provoke a backlash against the Obama administration.
"The people of Israel saw how their prime minister was addressed and I don't think that gave them much comfort," Gold said.
"How the prime minister is addressed and treated affects how the people of Israel feel they are treated," he said.
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Two IDF Soldiers Killed in Gaza
Major Eliraz Peretz and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky were killed and two other soldiers were wounded in an exchange of fire with terrorists who were planting explosives along the security fence in Gaza. At least two terrorists were killed. The head of Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, said on Friday: "One of the bullets fired in the soldiers' direction hit a hand grenade that was on Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky's vest, and as a result, the explosion killed him and injured two other soldiers." (Israel Defense Forces)
See also Thousands Mourn IDF Officer and Soldier Killed in Gaza - Nir Hasson, Anshel Pfeffer and Yaniv Kubovich (Ha'aretz)
Barak: Connection with U.S. the Foundation of Israel's Security - Hanan Greenberg
"The connection between us and the U.S. is strong and remains the foundation of Israel's security," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday.
"We are the only ones responsible for our fate and the future of the State of Israel," he said. "We alone will decide on fateful issues, but we must never lose eye contact or the ability to act in harmony with the U.S., in coordination and with understanding, as long as this does not harm our vital interests."
"The U.S. administration led by President Obama gives extensive support to Israel's security," he added. "The U.S. is the source of Israel's superiority in advanced weaponry, of financial aid of some $3 billion each year, and of spare parts that the IDF relies on."
"Even when there is disagreement between friends, we must remember that America is Israel's friend. We turn to the U.S. when there is a Goldstone Report, we turn to the U.S. when intervention is required in the UN Security Council, and it is from the U.S. that we received support during every crisis in which Israel found itself."
Barak also called on the Americans and the Palestinians to leave the issue of Jerusalem and the construction of settlements for direct talks.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
Rift Exposes Split in Views on Mideast - Ethan Bronner
The current discord in American-Israeli relations, ostensibly over Jerusalem housing, is really over the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as over differing perceptions of the Palestinians' capacity for self-rule. Two main issues are keeping tensions on the front burner: disagreement on the effects of what happens in Jerusalem on the rest of the Middle East, and the strength of the Palestinian leadership.
The Obama administration considers establishing a Palestinian state central to other regional goals; it also believes that the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, are ready to run a country. The Netanyahu government disagrees on both counts. It thinks the issue of Palestinian statehood has little effect on broader American concerns and is also dubious about the ability of the Palestinians to create an entity that can resist a radical takeover.
"To think that what happens here has a major impact on the state of affairs in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq is, in my view, quite far from accurate,"
said Sallai Meridor, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.
Many Israeli leaders argue that the timetable the Obama administration posits to begin establishment of a Palestinian state - two years - is illusory because Hamas remains a threat. "One needs to see what has taken place here during the past 17 years," Moshe Yaalon, a top government minister, said in an interview last week in an Israeli newspaper. "The belief of land for peace has failed. We got land in return for terror in Judea and Samaria and land in return for rockets in Gaza. What, the Americans don't see this?" (New York Times)
The Future of an Illusion - Elliott Abrams
Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three American presidents and six Israeli prime ministers have taught clear lessons that are being ignored by President Obama, which is why his own particular "peace process" has so greatly harmed real efforts at peace.
Israeli withdrawals do not lead to peace unless law and order can be maintained by responsible security forces. Israelis learned this the hard way in South Lebanon and Gaza, and it is unquestionably the greatest factor leading them to oppose a similar withdrawal from the West Bank. There has been considerable progress in training Palestinian security forces, but no one believes they can yet maintain order without the presence of the IDF and the Israel Security Agency. Those who say that there can be a peace deal in 24 months are saying that fundamental security issues can be finessed or forgotten.
What Arab political leaders want most of all is calm. Palestinians are not at the center of their hearts or they would visit the West Bank and bring plenty of cash with them. What preoccupies them is survival and Iran. If they take any lesson from the current coldness between the U.S. and Israel, it is that the U.S. is not a reliable ally. If we can ditch Israel, they know we can far more easily ditch them.
The argument that Israel would be a great burden and ruin our place in the Arab world was proffered in 1948 by George Marshall - and rejected by Harry Truman. It should be as disturbing to Americans that traces of this approach are emerging again in Washington.
We explode, and damage U.S.-Israeli relations, over a tiny construction announcement because it might slow "proximity talks" Mitchell has cooked up. We use American influence with Israel to try and impede Jewish (never Arab) construction in Israel's capital city. This set of priorities is perverse and will not lead to peace. The writer is a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Obama Ignores Palestinian Rejection of Two-State Proposals - Benny Morris
Today, Israel faces an Israel-hating Islamist coalition of Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, which may soon have nuclear weapons - but does so without any certainty about American goodwill and protection. Most Israelis see Obama as lacking in that basic commitment to and sympathy for Israel that characterized American presidents since Truman.
Obama's deliberate coldness has not been lost on the Israeli public. He pettily humiliated Netanyahu during last week's visit to America and Washington's overbearing tone will not be quickly forgotten. Many Israelis will not endorse American interference in Israel's politics or with its
vital interests and most Israelis resent Obama's arm-twisting.
Obama has ignored evidence that the Palestinians are averse to a two-state solution. How else to explain the majority Palestinian vote in 2006 for Hamas, which advocates Israel's destruction? Or the rejection by Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas of Clinton's two-state proposals six years before? Or Abbas' effective "no" to the peace proposals in 2008 of Ehud Olmert? The writer teaches at Ben-Gurion University. (Telegraph-UK)
Has Obama Declared Diplomatic War on Israel? - Barry Rubin
Has the Obama administration, against U.S. interests, declared diplomatic war on Israel? It has become reasonable to ask whether the Obama White House is running amok, whether it is pushing friction so far out of proportion that it is starting to look like a vendetta based on hostility and ideology. The administration seems to envision Israel paying for everything: supposedly getting the PA to negotiate, doing away with any Islamist desire to commit acts of terrorism or revolt, keeping Iraq quiet, making Afghanistan stable and solving just about every other global problem.
At the very moment when it is coddling Syria and losing the battle for anything but the most minimal sanctions on Iran, the administration has chosen to bash Israel.
Since this administration has already unilaterally abrogated two major U.S. promises - the previous president's recognition that settlement blocs could be absorbed as part of a peace agreement, and the Obama administration's own pledge to let Israel build in east Jerusalem if it stopped in the West Bank - why should Israel put its faith in some new set of promises? (Jerusalem Post)
UN Creates a New Israel-Bashing Body - Anne Bayefsky
The UN Human Rights Council has created yet another UN committee dedicated to the demonization of the Jewish state. The new body will be charged with monitoring compliance with the notorious Goldstone Report. The new committee will be added to the existing collection of UN standing bodies already fixated on Israel-bashing, such as the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, and the UN Division for Palestinian Rights.
Congress has adopted provisions that deny American funds to the Inalienable Rights Committee, the Special Committee and the UN Palestinian Division, and unless it takes quick action, American taxpayers will be footing 22% of the bill of this latest Goldstone outrage.
Are Jerusalem's Jewish Neighborhoods "Settlements"? - Daniel Gordis
The real cause for the nadir in Washington-Jerusalem relations is the fact that Barack Obama seems to have little comprehension of the region on which he seeks to impose peace. He seems unaware of how profoundly troubled Israelis are by his indiscriminate use of the word "settlement," he appears to have little comprehension of the history of Palestinian recalcitrance, and he has apparently learned little from decades of American involvement in the Middle East peace process.
Gilo, to Israelis, is a huge neighborhood of Jerusalem. When Obama in November called Gilo a settlement, Israelis drew the conclusion that the president of the United States is wholly out of his element.
When the president demands an absolute freeze on construction to appease the very Palestinians who have never been serious about peace efforts, he does not win friends. The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
Conference of Presidents Statement on U.S.-Israel Relations - Alan P. Solow and Malcolm Hoenlein
Israel is America's closest ally and proven reliable friend in the Middle East and differences that may arise should be addressed directly between them in accordance with their historical relationship. Peace for Israel is an obsession, as it has proven repeatedly. We note with appreciation and support the bipartisan letter to the Secretary of State signed by more three quarters of the members of the House of Representatives, as well as a similar letter circulating in the Senate, that call for issues between Israel and the U.S. to resolved "quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies."
We welcome the clarification by General David Petraeus in which he thoroughly denied the reports attributed to him regarding the consequences of the strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel. We wish everyone a happy and meaningful Passover as we recall the ancient declaration: Next Year in Jerusalem...a Jerusalem at peace with security for all who dwell there.
The Conference of Presidents is the central coordinating body representing 52 national Jewish organizations on issues of national and international concern.
Alan P. Solow is Chairman and Malcolm Hoenlein is Executive Vice Chairman.
(Conference of Presidents)
The Security Implications of Dividing Jerusalem - Nadav Shragai (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
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