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April 26, 2010

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Hamas Releases Cartoon about Captured Israeli Soldier - Ben Hubbard (AP)
    Hamas released an animated film Sunday bearing a grisly message for Israel: If it doesn't meet the Islamic militant group's demands, an Israeli soldier it has held for nearly four years could return home in a coffin.
    The short but sophisticated cartoon - which depicts Sgt. Gilad Shalit's aging father wandering empty streets with a picture of his son - is the latest product of Hamas' growing media machine.
    The video was intended to pressure Israelis to accept demands to trade Shalit for about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
    The father, Noam Shalit, called the film "psychological warfare."

Agreement Means More Flights between U.S. and Israel (AP)
    A deal announced Friday will mean more airline flights between the U.S. and Israel, with airlines able to pick routes and destinations based on demand for passenger and cargo services.
    The agreement places no limit on the number of flights offered or the number of airlines that can fly between the two countries, according to the Transportation Department.
    U.S. and Israeli airlines can market flights jointly and book passengers on trips in which one leg is operated by a carrier from the other country.

Israel Ends Ban on iPad Imports (AP)
    Israel has ended its ban on Apple's iPad tablet computer, imposed earlier this month over concerns its wireless signal could disrupt other devices.
    Israel's Communications Ministry says that after a technical review, officials have decided to allow the popular device into the country.

What's Preventing Peace? - Marty Peretz (New Republic)
    What's preventing peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not an incursion of Jews onto this piece of land claimed by the Arabs or that.
    What no one has ever shown is that a cohesive and coherent Palestinian Authority is ready to live with Israel.

Gaza Bubbles with Weddings (Economist-UK)
    In the crisp fourth floor office of Fahmi al-Atiri's Islamic dating agency in Gaza, he explains that polygamous marriages were increasingly popular - a sign of fertility and status.
    After all, Gaza's burly interior minister, he noted, had six wives, though in accordance with Islamic tenets he had had to let two of them go.
    For the sake of appearances, Atiri felt obliged to set a good example, though in a nod to gender equality had let his first wife select his second.
    Gaza's evenings now bubble with weddings. Open-topped trucks piled high with boys banging tambourines lead convoys of claxoning cars accompanying newlyweds through the streets.
    Restaurants have mushroomed in the city in recent months, but are frequently fully booked for celebrations.

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  • Signs of Progress as Obama Envoy Wraps Up Mission - Mohammed Daraghmeh
    President Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell wrapped up his latest diplomatic mission Sunday without getting the Palestinians to agree to indirect peace talks with Israel, but there were signs the impasse could be broken soon. Mitchell said he would return to the region next week, signaling he is making progress. A senior Palestinian official said PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was inclined to agree to the talks, in large part because of personal appeals in recent days from Obama, Mitchell, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Last week, Obama wrote to Abbas, promising to work hard to achieve a comprehensive Mideast peace deal. The Palestinians have low expectations of the U.S.-brokered talks, but also want to avoid offending Obama and do not want to be cast in the role of nay-sayers. (AP)
  • Iran Strikes Secret Nuclear Mining Deal with Zimbabwe's Mugabe Regime - Itai Mushekwe and Harriet Alexander
    Iran has struck a secret deal with Zimbabwe to mine its untapped uranium reserves in a move to secure raw material for its steadily expanding nuclear program. "Iran secured the exclusive uranium rights last month when Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mutasa visited Tehran," said a Zimbabwean government source. In return, Iran will supply Zimbabwe with desperately needed oil to keep its faltering economy moving. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, visited Zimbabwe last week to show his support for Mugabe. At a lavish official dinner in his honor on Thursday, Ahmadinejad blasted what he termed "expansionist countries" for exerting "satanic pressures on the people of Zimbabwe." Any deal to supply Iran is likely to put Zimbabwe in breach of current UN sanctions on Iran. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Disillusioned Iranian Technocrats Offer Wealth of Intelligence to U.S. - Joby Warrick and Greg Miller
    Iran's political turmoil has prompted a growing number of the country's officials to defect or leak information to the West, creating a new flow of intelligence about its secretive nuclear program, U.S. officials said. "There is a wealth of information-sharing going on, and it reflects enormous discontent among Iranian technocrats," said a former U.S. government official. He added that among senior technocrats in the nuclear program and other fields, "the morale is very low." Sources said there has been a spate of recent defections by Iranian diplomatic and military officials, some of which have not been made public. (Washington Post)
  • Mahmoud Abbas Calls on U.S. to "Impose" a Solution to Middle East Conflict - Robin Henry
    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called on the U.S. Saturday to "impose" a solution to the Middle East conflict. He also rejected the idea of a state with "temporary borders" reportedly being offered by Israel. Speaking to members of his Fatah party, he addressed the U.S., saying: "Mr. President and members of the American administration, since you believe in this [an independent Palestinian state], it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution."  (Sunday Times-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: Israel and U.S. Want to Start Peace Process Immediately - Roni Sofer
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday, shortly after meeting with U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, that "Israel wants to start the peace process immediately. The U.S. wants to start the process immediately, I hope the Palestinians will want to start this process immediately." He added, "we will know in the coming days if the process will be launched. The talks with envoy Mitchell were very positive."  (Ynet News)
        See also Netanyahu: Israel Willing to Discuss Core Issues - Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. special envoy George Mitchell Sunday that as part of indirect talks with the Palestinian Authority he would be open to a "frank exchange of views" regarding the core issues (Jerusalem, borders, and security arrangements). Senior officials in the Obama administration expressed satisfaction with the results of Mitchell's visit to Israel. Officials in Jerusalem are hoping that the visit of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to Washington in a week, after the May 1 Arab League summit, will lead to proximity talks between Israel and the PA. (Ha'aretz)
  • Top Hamas Terrorist Killed in West Bank Shootout - Avi Issacharoff
    Israeli forces on Monday stormed a house in Beit Awa south of Hebron, killing senior Hamas militant Ali Sweiti, who was wanted for killing IDF Border Guard Yaniv Mashiah in Hebron on April 25, 2004. Sweiti refused demands to surrender and opened fire on soldiers surrounding the house, the army said. The IDF returned fire and Sweiti was killed. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Palestine Peace Distraction - Richard N. Haass
    President Obama recently said it was a "vital national security interest of the United States" to resolve the Middle East conflict. To be sure, peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be of real value. But it is easy to exaggerate how central the Israel-Palestinian issue is and how much the U.S. pays for the current state of affairs.
        The emergence of a Palestinian state would not affect the power struggles in Iraq or have any effect on Afghanistan. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would not weaken Iran's nuclear aspirations. The Palestinian impasse did nothing to dissuade Arab governments from working with the U.S. to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the Gulf War when they determined it was in their interest to do so. Similarly, an absence of diplomatic progress would not preclude collaboration against an aggressive Iran. Nor would al-Qaeda's radical terrorist agenda be satisfied by Palestinian statehood.
        What is more, any Palestinian state would materialize only amidst compromise. There will be no return to the 1967 borders and there will be nothing more than a token right of return for Palestinians to Israel. Terrorists would see this as a sell-out, and they would target not just Israel but those Palestinians and Arab states who made peace with it.
        Those urging President Obama to announce a peace plan are doing him and the cause of peace no favor. Announcing a comprehensive plan now - one that is all but certain to fail - risks discrediting good ideas, breeding frustration in the Arab world, and diluting America's reputation for getting things done. The writer is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S. Messages to Syria May Not Be Getting Through - Editorial
    Bashar al-Assad is proving to be an embarrassment for the Obama administration. In pursuit of President Obama's policy of "engagement" with U.S. adversaries, the State Department has dispatched several senior envoys to Damascus for talks with the Syrian dictator and has also nominated a new ambassador. So far Assad has responded by holding a summit with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah leader Nasrallah, at which he publicly ridiculed the U.S. diplomatic initiative. In secret, he has stepped up an illegal and dangerous transfer of weapons to Hizbullah's forces in Lebanon. Most recently, Assad has been accused by Israel of handing Scud missiles to Hizbullah, which would allow the Iranian-sponsored group to attack every major city in Israel with one-ton warheads.
        What's been lacking are tangible steps by the administration to accompany more engagement with more pressure, such as more sanctions against Syrian officials and companies. The problem isn't that Assad is not getting the U.S. message. It's that he sees no need to listen. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    On Israel, Obama Playing the Mideast Game Wrong - Mortimer B. Zuckerman (U.S. News)

    • The Middle East peace process is stalled thanks to a second deadlock engineered by the U.S. government. President Obama began the process with his call for a settlement freeze in 2009 and escalates it now with a major change of American policy on Jerusalem. The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its capital - in an exclusively Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem. This, despite the fact that all former administrations had unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain part of Israel in any final peace agreement.
    • Objecting to housing in East Jerusalem is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem - even before the start of final status talks with the Palestinians. In 1995, a substantial bipartisan majority in Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act calling for the movement of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - and equally importantly, stating that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty.
    • Israel's claim for sovereignty over the whole, undivided city of Jerusalem predates the arrival of any Arabs to the region, and stems from biblical times. Jews in prayer turn toward Jerusalem. The Arks, the sacred chests that hold the Torah scrolls in synagogues throughout the world, face Jerusalem. Each year on Passover Jews say, "Next year in Jerusalem." When Muslims pray, they face Mecca, not Jerusalem. The Old Testament mentions Jerusalem, or its alternative name Zion, a total of 457 times. The Koran does not mention Jerusalem once.
    • The Israelis have no intention of ever again being prevented from living throughout the city as they were between 1948 and 1967 when, under Jordanian control, Jewish communities were ruthlessly and violently driven out of areas where they had lived for centuries. To Israelis, there is no Jewish Western Jerusalem and Eastern Arab Jerusalem but simply a mosaic of people who are mixed and cannot be separated or divided.
    • Dividing Jerusalem would put Palestinian forces and rockets a few miles from Israel's Knesset. Also, the Jewish neighborhoods bordering Arab neighborhoods would be within range of light weapon and machine-gun fire. This is exactly what happened after the Oslo Accords, when Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla toward Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, wounding scores of residents.

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