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April 23, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Obama Not Strong Enough on Israel, Voters Say (Quinnipiac University)
    American voters disapprove by 44 to 35% of the way the President is handling the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken April 14-19 and released Thursday.
    Jewish voters, generally supportive of Obama on other issues, turn 67 to 28% thumbs down on his handling of Israel and the Palestinians.
    American voters say 57 to 13% that their sympathies lie with Israel, and say 66 to 19% that the President should be a strong supporter of Israel.
    But voters say 42 to 34% that Obama is not a strong supporter of Israel.

Poll: Palestinians Are Optimistic about the Future, But Pessimistic on a Peace Settlement (JMCC-Friedrich Ebert Stiftung)
    A public opinion poll conducted in the West Bank and Gaza on April 10-15 by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center found:
    Q: How optimistic or pessimistic do you feel towards the future? 68% Optimistic, 32% Pessimistic.
    Q: How optimistic or pessimistic are you that a peaceful settlement for the Arab-Israeli conflict will be reached? 36% Optimistic, 62% Pessimistic.

"South Park" Episode Altered after Muslim Group's Warning - Dave Itzkoff (New York Times)
    An episode of "South Park" that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading "Censored" after a Muslim group warned the show's creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet.

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Jerusalem Renovates Old City's Jaffa Gate - Grant Slater (AP)
    Israel has completed a two-month renovation and cleaning of the 16th-century Jaffa Gate, one of four main entrances to Jerusalem's Old City.
    Built by Jerusalem's Ottoman rulers in 1538, it is the most common entrance for tourists entering the walled Old City - home to key holy sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as a popular outdoor marketplace.
    The Israel Antiquities Authority replaced broken stones and cleaned the facade with lye.
    Jaffa Gate was not used heavily until the end of the 19th century when part of the wall nearby was torn down to allow Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II to enter the Old City in his carriage.
    See also Jaffa Gate Sports New Look - Abe Selig (Jerusalem Post)
    The restoration work on Jaffa Gate was part of a larger, ongoing "Jerusalem City Walls" project to conserve and rehabilitate the Old City's walls after years of neglect, destruction and weathering.
    The gate's dedicatory Arabic inscription was completely dismantled and restored.
    During the War of Independence, Jaffa Gate was the focal point of a number of difficult battles between Israeli forces and the Jordanian Legion.
    The gate was completely blocked by an armored vehicle that had been wedged in the opening. It was not removed and the gate remained closed until IDF forces reentered the Old City in 1967.
    Stones of the gate pierced by bullets are clearly visible on the upper parts of the structure.

Israel Museum Unveils Rare Renaissance Manuscript - Matti Friedman (AP-Washington Post)
    Experts at Israel's national museum have completed the restoration of a 15th-century Hebrew manuscript with exquisite illustrations made by master Italian artisans, officials said Thursday.
    The Renaissance masterpiece is a copy of the Mishneh Torah, an important work of Jewish law written three centuries earlier by the medieval philosopher and rabbi Maimonides.
    The manuscript, written on animal skin, includes Hebrew words in gold leaf and miniature figures in colorful dress against brilliant skies of a blue shade made from lapis lazuli stones.
    The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has half of the original book, which was divided into two parts in the 19th century. The other half is owned by the Vatican Library.

Oslo 2009: Norway's Most Violent Anti-Semitic Riots Ever - Manfred Gerstenfeld (Jewish Political Studies Review)
    The Anti-Jewish Riots in Oslo, by Eirik Eiglad, covers a period of four days - 8-11 January 2009, where in Oslo the author witnessed the large anti-Jewish attacks.
    He mentions that even before and during World War II - when anti-Semitic prejudices were strong, public policies were discriminatory, and the nazified State Police efficiently confiscated Jewish property and deported Jews - Norway had not seen wanton anti-Jewish outbursts of this scale.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • State Department: Israel Has Proposed Ideas to Address U.S. Concerns
    State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Thursday: "We understand that the Israelis have a longstanding position. But as Secretary Clinton has said repeatedly...the status quo is not sustainable. We've had a variety of conversations on these issues and specific steps that in the case of the Israelis we think that they have to take. And there has been a good give and take and this is why [U.S. Middle East Envoy] George [Mitchell] is there today."
        "We have received a number of ideas from the Israelis. Some of them addressed the concerns that we laid out in the initial conversation between Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu a few weeks ago. And this is an ongoing process. Have they done everything that we'd like to see them do? No. But this is why we will continue this conversation."  (State Department)
  • U.S. Lists Companies Aiding Iran's Energy Projects - Ron Nixon
    Over the past five years, 41 foreign companies have helped Iran develop its oil and gas sector, which accounts for more than half of the Iranian government's revenues, Congressional investigators reported Thursday. The Government Accountability Office report, requested by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), cited the China National Petroleum Corporation and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering of South Korea, but did not determine whether the companies had violated the Iran Sanctions Act, devised to punish foreign companies that invested more than $20 million in a given year to develop Iran's oil and gas fields.
        Last month, the New York Times disclosed that over the past 10 years, the federal government gave more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves. In the 14 years since the law was passed, the government has never enforced it. (New York Times)
  • Clinton Defends Outreach to Syria Despite Scud Concerns
    The U.S. defended its policy of engagement with Syria on Thursday despite its concerns that Damascus might be trying to transfer Scud missiles to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Such a weapons transfer could threaten President Obama's diplomatic outreach to Syria and create fresh obstacles to U.S. Senate confirmation of a new ambassador to Damascus. "We have expressed directly to the Syrian the strongest possible terms our concerns about these stories that do suggest there has been some transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of then later transferring it to Hizbullah," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a news conference in Estonia.
        Despite Syria's failure to satisfy long-standing U.S. demands that it cease interfering in Lebanon's affairs and make greater efforts to forge peace with Israel, Clinton argued that it was in the U.S. interest to have an ambassador in Damascus. "This is not some kind of reward for the Syrians and the actions that they take which are deeply disturbing," Clinton said. "It's a tool that we believe can give us extra leverage, added insight, analysis, [and] information with respect to Syria's actions and intentions."  (Reuters)
  • Sen. Schumer: Obama's "Counter-Productive" Israel Policy "Has to Stop" - Ben Smith
    Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) harshly criticized the Obama Administration's attempts to exert pressure on Israel Thursday on a New York radio show. "This has to stop," Schumer said of the administration's policy of publicly pressuring Israel to end construction in Jerusalem. "I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk."
        "Palestinians don't really believe in a state of Israel. They, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there. If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands, the Palestinians say, 'Why should we negotiate?'...You have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in."  (Politico)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: The U.S. Can Stop the Iranian Nuclear Program
    Prime Minister Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 on Thursday: "Moving the political process forward is first and foremost our desire. No one needs to prod us." "Let me be clear: there will be no freeze in Jerusalem. Not now, not later. I also think that...there is complete understanding that the idea of preconditions must be abandoned. This doesn't mean that the United States agrees with us on everything, it doesn't."
        "Our public wants a peace process, but it also wants us to safeguard our vital interests: security, Jerusalem and others. The American public wants to support the State of Israel and does so, and every American president, including President Obama, ultimately recognizes and expresses the fundamental support of the American people for Israel. These things will help us overcome our differences....Those differences exist, but we share something powerful beyond these differences."
        "We left Lebanon and Iran came in; we left Gaza and Iran came in; and if we will leave Jerusalem, Iran may come in. This is a legitimate concern. This [Jerusalem] is a question that will arise during the final settlement talks."
        "Barack Obama demonstrated his determination with regard to issues he felt were important, and his determination was quite impressive. I think President Obama can show that same determination with regard to Iran. If he does so, then certainly the United States can stop the Iranian nuclear program. But before military means, there is an obvious path that can be chosen and that is the path of strong sanctions, not necessarily only in the framework of the Security Council."
        "Peace will be determined not by our desire alone, but also by the desire of our neighbors. We can complete the circle of peace with those of our neighbors who seek peace. One cannot make peace with those who do not want peace. But those who want peace will find in me and in the citizens of Israel unwavering partners in peace."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • U.S. Envoy Mitchell Hopes to Launch Israeli-Palestinian Proximity Talks - Tovah Lazaroff
    U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell is hoping to announce the start of indirect "proximity" talks between Israel and the Palestinians during his current three-day visit. "Mitchell is here to work with both sides to advance the proximity talks," an American diplomatic source said. "We hope it is possible," responded an Israeli official. "There is a very serious effort under way to make it happen."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • Why Salam Fayyad Cannot Deliver - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may be a good man with good intentions, but those who think that he will be able to persuade the Palestinians to make peace with Israel are deluding themselves. In Palestinian culture, it is more important if one graduates from an Israeli prison than from the University of Texas at Austin. Fayyad never spent a day in an Israeli jail. Nor did he or any of his sons take an active role in the "struggle" against Israel.
        In the parliamentary election in 2006, Fayyad ran as an independent candidate at the head of a party called "Third Way." His party got less than 2% of the votes. Fatah, whose followers control large parts of the West Bank, views Fayyad as a major threat to its power. In fact, Fatah officials have long been accusing Fayyad of working, with the help of the Americans and Israelis, to undermine Fatah's authority in the West Bank. On a number of occasions, disgruntled Fatah activists have distributed leaflets denouncing Fayyad as a "collaborator"" with Israel. (Hudson Institute New York)
  • Gaza-West Bank Split Looks Increasingly Permanent - Jonathan Spyer
    Four years after the Hamas victory in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, and three years since the Hamas coup in Gaza, the split in the Palestinian national movement has an increasing look of permanence. There is now no process underway toward ending the Palestinian political divide.
        Parallel to the rise of Hamas in Gaza, and its ongoing popularity in the West Bank, Fatah is in a process of severe decline. It failed to reform following its election defeat in 2006 and remains riven by factionalism and corruption. The key Palestinian leader in the West Bank today is Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad is not a Fatah member, and is in effect an appointee of the West. His gradualist approach is quite alien to Palestinian political culture, despite the undoubted improvements this approach has brought to daily life in the West Bank. It is widely believed that without the security forces trained by Gen. Keith Dayton, which keep Fayyad in place, and more importantly without the continued activities of the IDF in the West Bank, the area would fall to Hamas.
        Both the Gaza and West Bank governments are dependent for their economic survival on foreign assistance. Half of the Fayyad government's annual $2.8 billion budget consists of direct foreign aid. The Hamas authorities announced a budget of $540 million, of which $480 million is to come from outside (Iran). The Gaza enclave gives Iran an effective veto over any attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Both Palestinian governments are able to continue to exist because of the interests of rival outside powers that they do so. The split in the Palestinian national movement is thus likely to continue for as long as this regional reality exists. The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Internal Palestinian Debate - Max Singer
    The Palestinians have been involved in a long-term internal debate between those who think they should continue the effort to eliminate Israel, and those who think the fight to destroy it has gone on long enough, and that it's time for the Palestinians to pursue their own interests in peace and prosperity. While those who prefer to keep fighting are on top, there is no chance for a negotiated settlement. Serious negotiations can only begin when the predominant view is that it is necessary to give up the effort to destroy Israel.
        Currently the Palestinians do not believe they can militarily defeat Israel. Their willingness to keep fighting is now sustained by two hopes: that Israel is becoming soft and divided and that it will lose its will to defend itself, or that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.
        A second crucial issue is whether the Palestinians believe it would be honorable to make peace. This depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land and are attached to it. If the Palestinians understood that there are two peoples with long historical and moral claims to the same land, it would be honorable to recognize that fighting is useless and that compromise is an appropriate way to settle the dispute.
        Currently, their leadership and elite are adamant in insisting there is no Jewish people, and that there was no Jewish presence in the land before Islam. They officially and energetically deny that there was ever a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, despite the many Muslim sources from previous generations that recognized its location in pre-Muslim times. The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land. The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center and a founder and senior fellow of the Hudson Institute. (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

    Other Issues

  • Obama and the Middle East - Eric K. Clemons and Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.
    President Obama should avoid proposing simple solutions to complex problems. Look for causal linkages, not just proximity. Stopping the construction of new settlements won't end centuries of misunderstanding and grievances. Work with these linkages and with the situation as it is, not as he would want it to be. For example, if the Palestinians think they can get all of Palestine just by waiting, President Obama needs to create a better option, either by making it clear that they cannot just wait, or by offering them something they cannot get just by waiting.
        Above all, President Obama should do no harm. The law of unintended consequences suggests that any time anyone adjusts a complex system, the results may be surprising. In this instance, we suspect that President Obama and the rest of the world would find the results of this stare-down with Israel disappointing as well. Eric Clemons is a professor at Wharton and an expert in modeling the behavior of complex and unpredictable system. Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. is an expert on complex negotiations. (Huffington Post)
  • Mugged by Reality - Gary Rosenblatt
    Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon told a New Jersey audience Sunday that Israel underwent "a fundamental political transformation" after five years of high-level terrorism, beginning in 2000. He noted that whereas the leading political parties advocating territorial concessions received 56 seats in the 1992 national elections, they won only 16 seats in 2009. "Israel was mugged by reality," with missile attacks from Lebanon in 2006 and from Gaza for years, heightening a national sense of insecurity. "We can't go back to the land-for-peace paradigm" the U.S. is calling for now because "we got terrorism for land" after withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005.
        "Washington believes in resolving the conflict, but Israelis now talk about managing the conflict." Netanyahu has a peace plan, Keinon said, though it is not to Washington's liking because it calls for gradual rather than dramatic progress. According to Keinon, Obama made two serious miscalculations about the Israeli public on coming into office. One was assuming Israelis would not tolerate a governmental clash with Washington, and the second that most Israelis oppose the settlements. "Both assumptions were misguided," he added, asserting that Israelis are sympathetic to communities in areas like Gush Etzion, Ma'ale Adumim and east Jerusalem with large Jewish populations.
        He said Israeli leaders have lost trust in the administration, particularly after the U.S. denied being bound by a commitment from the Bush administration about settlement growth, and after Obama reached out to and visited the Arab world without making a similar effort toward Israel. (New York Jewish Week)
  • Turkey Takes Sides - Tulin Daloglu
    For the past several years, Ankara has proudly touted its position as a valuable mediator in the Middle East. However, it surrendered its role as a voice of reason when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became obsessed with criticizing Israel at every turn. As Erdogan's populist rhetoric wins over the Arab street, Turkey's relationships with moderate Arab leaders and Israel have faltered. Kadri Gursel, one of Turkey's leading foreign policy columnists, has warned that the country's efforts to integrate with the West would suffer if Erdogan's ambition "is to be the Hugo Chavez of the Middle East."
        I don't think anyone felt comfortable watching the Palestinians suffer during Israel's Gaza operation. But Hamas shares significant responsibility for what happened. If the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a separatist Kurdish terrorist organization, were to attack Turkey with the rockets used by Hamas, human rights concerns would not be the first priority of the Turks or the Turkish military.
        Erdogan's constant rhetorical assaults on Israel have a profound effect on Turkish public opinion, slowly convincing Turks that it is Israel, not a nuclear Iran, that is the primary threat to peace. Yet Turkey's leadership cannot help advance peace and stability if it chooses to see Israel as an enemy. The writer is a Washington-based correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Haberturk. (Foreign Policy)
  • Roots of Islamic Fundamentalism Lie in Nazi Propaganda for Arab World - Allan Hall
    "The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would have been over long ago were it not for the uncompromising, religiously-inspired hatred of the Jews that was articulated and given assistance by Nazi propagandists and continued after the war by Islamists of various sorts," said Jeffrey Herf, a history professor at the University of Maryland and author of the new book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. Herf uncovered 6,000 transmissions, produced under the propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and sent around the Arab world from 1939 to 1945.
        Transcripts of the broadcasts were made by the American embassy in Cairo during the war, and were classified until 1977. But it was not until two years ago that Herf became the first scholar to be given access to the files. The Nazis relied on radio broadcasts because of high illiteracy in the Arab world at the time. "The Arab language propaganda produced in wartime Berlin was a significant chapter in the longer history of radical Arab nationalism and militant Islam."  (Telegraph-UK)
  • Observations:

    Iran: The Case for "Regime Change" - Michael Rubin (Commentary)

    • The Iranian leadership sees diplomacy as an asymmetric warfare strategy employed to lull adversaries into complacency. Hopes for a self-generated revolution from below against Iran's Islamic Republic have been dashed for now. Yet ousting the despised theocracy is the surest way to end the nuclear threat. It can be done.
    • Obama should impose broad sanctions. Targeted sanctions are not sufficient. Restricting gasoline and kerosene importation would sting bitterly and is likely to spark a spirit of resentment among ordinary Iranians at their own government.
    • Obama could also paralyze the Islamic Republic's economy by declaring Iran's Central Bank guilty of deceptive financial practices, a power granted him under the Patriot Act. Such a finding would effectively prevent any non-Iranian bank from doing business with the Central Bank, subservient Iranian banks, or the Iranian government. The resulting economic isolation would be near total, and investment in Iran would halt.
    • A willingness to fund efforts intended to bolster Iran's nongovernmental, nonreligious "civil society" is crucial. That such funding irritates the regime is an indication that it works. Funding would also be well spent in supporting Iran's nascent trade-union movement. During the 1979 revolution, Iranian unions provided funds that enabled wildcat strikes to spread to key industries. Investment here could grease the wheels of regime change.
    • Ultimately, there can be no regime change until the Revolutionary Guard cracks. Thus, U.S. regime-change efforts must be directed at fragmenting the Guards. Washington should encourage defections. Simultaneously, the Obama administration should have no qualms about assassinating Revolutionary Guardsmen with American blood on their hands - like the ones engaged in a campaign of murder against U.S. soldiers and civilian officials in Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea that the administration should determine an entity like the Revolutionary Guards to be terrorists, but then refuse to treat its members as such, is absurd.

      The writer is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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