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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
May 18, 2011

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In-Depth Issues:

Obama: Mideast Peace "More Vital than Ever"  (White House)
    After a meeting in Washington with King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Obama said Tuesday:
    "It's more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states that are living side by side in peace and security."
    "The United States has an enormous stake in this. We will continue to partner to try to encourage an equitable and just solution to a problem that has been nagging the region for many, many years."

White House Denies Draft of Obama Speech Was Leaked - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
    The White House on Tuesday denied as "completely false" a report by Yediot Ahronot on Tuesday that a draft of President Obama's Middle East speech, calling on Israel to return to the 1967 lines, had been shown to Israeli officials.
    Washington sources are anticipating that Obama will strike a nonconfrontational tone with Israel in his Middle East speech on Thursday, as well as in his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
    There was little expectation that Obama would venture into great detail of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, much less address the controversial final-status issues.

When Obama Meets with Netanyahu - Aaron David Miller (New York Times)
    President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet on Friday. Unlike Obama, Netanyahu sees recent events in the Arab world as a glass half empty, not half full.
    Uncertainties abound: Mubarak is gone, Bashar al-Assad may be going, and Mahmoud Abbas has gotten into bed with Hamas.
    And the international community, now focused on other pariahs (Syria and Libya), has forgotten about what to Israel is the real threat (Iran).
    The recent unity deal allied Hamas with Fatah without an attendant recognition of Israel's right to exist or rejection of "armed struggle." Who could expect an Israeli leader to make concessions under those circumstances?
    The writer is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Coming to the Defense of CUNY Trustee (New York Jewish Week)
    Amid a number of calls for Jeffrey Weisenfeld to step down as trustee of the City University of New York after opposing an honorary degree for Tony Kushner, a grass-roots group of academics has come to his defense and criticized the CUNY executive board for choosing, in the end, to honor the playwright.
    The board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East expressed concern that the CUNY board "collectively refused to come to the defense" of Weisenfeld, who cited Kushner's harsh criticism of Israel as reason not to honor him at graduation next month.
    In another development, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York wrote to the CUNY board to defend Weisenfeld's right to express his views.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Alawite Gangs Hunt Sunnis in Syria - Nicholas Blanford
    The four Syrian men came up the river bank, panting with exertion and fear, the latest refugees to flee from Tel Kalakh, a Sunni-populated town lying two miles west of Arida on the Lebanon-Syria border. Since Saturday, thousands of residents of the besieged town have slipped into Lebanon, some braving sniper fire, others creeping through the rugged stony hills.
        Several refugees described seeing people getting their throats cut in the street by gangs of black uniformed "Shabiha" Alawite militiamen. They said the Shabiha were stopping people in the street and checking their identity cards for potential victims. "If they see he's a Sunni from his family name, they take him away and kill him," one woman said. "What we have here is a sectarian war between the Alawites and Sunnis."
        One man inside Tel Kalakh who was contacted by telephone said that most remaining residents were in hiding, either locking themselves inside homes or slipping into the woods and fields surrounding the town. Sales of black market weapons in Lebanon have skyrocketed in recent weeks, driven almost entirely by demand in Syria, according to arms dealers. (Christian Science Monitor)
        See also Syrian Forces Beat Dozens of University Students - Bassem Mroue
    Syrian government agents trying to break up a protest of about 2,000 students at a university campus in Aleppo chased students into their dormitories Tuesday, beating them with batons and injuring dozens, a human rights activist said. (AP)
        See also Lebanese Official: A Few Syrian Soldiers Flee to Lebanon (CNN)
        See also Assad's Endgame: Can a Bloodbath Be Avoided? - David Ignatius
    The governments of France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which at times in the past have been supportive of Assad, are all said to have concluded that the Assad regime cannot survive the repercussions of the violence it loosed on Syrian protesters in recent weeks. Turkey, too, also appears less supportive. But the White House Tuesday appeared to be weighing whether to make one last attempt at brokering the kind of reforms that Assad has said for years he wanted but has never implemented.
        The U.S. initially held back from personally sanctioning Assad, deciding instead to concentrate its fire on the hard-liners around him. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday, however, that the U.S. is preparing additional sanctions. Many U.S. analysts see Assad as having squandered any chance he had to be a credible reformer. (Washington Post)
  • Violence in Cairo Underscores Conflict over Egypt's Israel Ties - Hannah Allam
    Clashes between Egyptian security forces and protesters outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Monday were an extension of Sunday's protests throughout the Arab world commemorating Israel's declared independence in 1948. Demonstrators in Cairo burned Israeli flags and appeared poised to storm the Israeli Embassy when security forces moved in. The military council has pledged that it would abide by the country's peace treaty with Israel. But U.S. and Israeli officials have been watching with concern developments over the past month that have shown how difficult the council's position is.
        Anti-Israeli activism and speech have proliferated as Egyptians assert their independence from former President Mubarak. A tough stance against Israel is sure to be on the platforms of candidates running in the parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
        Yet in advance of Sunday's anti-Israel demonstrations, dozens of prominent clerics, including some ultraconservative sheikhs who'd typically back actions supporting the Palestinian cause, issued a joint edict against Egyptians striking at Israel, saying the priority now is domestic stability and security. (McClatchy)
        See also Israel Reopens Cairo Embassy - Herb Keinon
    On Monday some two dozen protesters were injured by Egyptian police outside the Israel Embassy in Cairo after the most unruly protest since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. Roughly 1,000 Egyptians, chanting anti-Israel slogans and burning an Israeli flag, at one point tried to remove security barriers outside the building. An Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jerusalem said the protest included the "usual suspects," including Nasserites and radical Islamists. (Jerusalem Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: Abbas Distorting History - Attila Somfalvi
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of "distorting known and well-documented historical facts" in his recent op-ed in the New York Times. Netanyahu said the Palestinians were the ones to reject the UN Partition Plan of 1948, while the Jews agreed to it. "Arab armies assisted by Palestinian forces were those who attacked the Jewish state with the aim of destroying it. There is no mention of this in the article." The prime minister added, "One can deduce that the Palestinian leadership views the establishment of the Palestinian state as a means to continue the conflict rather than end it."  (Ynet News)
  • Israel Again Threatens to Withhold Tax Funds to PA - Tovah Lazaroff and Gil Hoffman
    Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warned Monday that Israel would halt tax funds to the Palestinian Authority if it formed a new government with an unrepentant Hamas. He spoke just hours after the Finance Ministry transferred $105 million in tax funds it withheld at the start of the month when Fatah first announced its intention to unify with Hamas.
        Steinitz said he had always intended the suspension to be a temporary measure, which warned of a more permanent step. "From the start, I intended it as a yellow card for a week, and not as a red card. In the end it lasted two weeks. My goal was to show that when a [unity] government [with Hamas] is actually formed, then we won't give them money at all."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Fatah Agrees with Hamas: Palestinian State Will Be at War with Israel - Noah Pollak
    If anyone doubted whether there was real substance to the Hamas-Fatah “unity government,” Mahmoud Abbas' New York Times op-ed provides the proverbial teachable moment. After statehood, he dismisses even the pretense of working toward peace. Instead, he openly promises that Palestine would assault Israel relentlessly in international legal, political, and diplomatic fora. This is where Fatah and Hamas now join together in substance as well as appearance.
        Until today, Fatah had convinced the world that it had submitted to the linkage of peace with statehood: a Palestinian state would only arise through negotiations with Israel that, at their completion, would require the Palestinians to cease their claims against the Jewish state and declare the conflict over. Hamas, on the other hand, has been perfectly happy to give its blessing to the creation of a Palestinian state - just so long as the continuation of terrorism and the quest for the ultimate destruction of Israel, diplomatically and otherwise, is preserved. Today, Abbas has brought Fatah and Hamas together in this goal. It is an important moment. Both factions now agree on a strategy of statehood without peace. (Commentary)
  • Was Mahmoud Abbas' Family Expelled from Palestine? - Jeffrey Goldberg
    In an op-ed, Mahmoud Abbas writes about himself: "Sixty-three years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria." This statement creates the impression that a certain group of people can't seem to help but oppress little boys from the Galilee. A second, clearer impression is that it was the Zionist army that "forced" Abbas' family to leave Safed. This does not seem to be true. On other occasions, Abbas has stated that his family left Safed out of a general fear that Jews would seek "retribution" against the Arabs of Safed for an earlier slaughter of Jews by Arabs.
        Here is his 2007 recounting of his family's self-exile from Safed: "People were motivated to run away....They realized the balance of forces was shifting and therefore the whole town was abandoned on the basis of this rationale - saving our lives and our belongings."  (Atlantic Monthly)
        See also Abbas Rewrites History in NY Times - Gilead Ini and Tamar Sternthal (CAMERA)
  • How Did this Nakba Day Differ from All Other Nakba Days? - Elliott Abrams
    It is probably correct that Palestinians have been feeling left out, as the attention of the world and of their Arab brothers turns to reform, politics, revolts, elections, constitutions, criminal trials - everything but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So, this Nakba Day had to be used to recover the stage and demand attention. Also, the Syrian regime and Hizbullah were seeking to use this Nakba Day to divert attention from the revolt in Syria, so they organized trouble.
        The worst aspect of Nakba Day 2011 was the continuity. The catastrophe being commemorated was not the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, and not settlement expansion. The demand of Nakba Day is that the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 be reversed. This is what Palestinian leaders continue to feed their people and teach in their schools. For Israelis and all those who seek peace in the Middle East, this is the real catastrophe. (Weekly Standard)

A Moment of Moral Clarity on the Arab Spring - Natan Sharansky (New York Times)

  • Something very important and very dramatic is happening in the Arab-Muslim Middle East. The peoples of the region are deciding to stop living in fear, and are risking life and limb to rid themselves of one seemingly immovable autocracy after another.
  • In so doing, they are simultaneously repudiating the unspoken agreements that the West has reached over the years with their dictators, agreements that bartered the people's freedom for a facade of stability.
  • Engaging with a dictatorial regime and engaging with its people are two different things, and the same goes for disengagement. The U.S. engaged with and subsidized the dictatorship in Cairo, and America is cordially hated by Egyptians; the U.S. and the mullahs in Tehran could not be more disengaged, and America is loved by the Iranians.
  • It is past time to start delegitimizing the evil regimes. It is not a matter of sending troops. It is a matter of saying, not softly but loudly and in the clearest possible terms, that those who violate the human rights of their people cannot be our partners in building a world safe for human rights.
  • To those millions crossing, or waiting to cross, the line into freedom, we can send a simple but thrilling message of support and solidarity: We are with you. No dictator is a legitimate representative of his people.

    The writer, a former Soviet political prisoner, is chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

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