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Suicide Attack in Damascus Kills and Wounds Dozens (AP-Washington Post)
A suicide attacker detonated his explosives in central Damascus Friday, killing and wounding dozens of people, state TV said.
An official suggested that the target was a police bus.
Israeli and U.S. Troops Gear Up for Major Missile Defense Drill (AP-Washington Post)
The Israeli military is gearing up together with U.S. forces for a major missile defense exercise called "Austere Challenge 12," designed to improve defense systems and cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli forces, the Israeli military announced Thursday.
The largest-ever joint drill by the two countries will involve thousands of American and Israeli soldiers and test multiple Israeli and U.S. air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets.
Martin Van Creveld, a military historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the drill was intended also to pressure Iran.
"This, among other things, is an exercise to show Iran, the people in Tehran, that Israel and the United States are ready to counterattack."
Egypt Not Relenting on NGOs - Jill Dougherty (CNN)
Egyptian officials still have not returned property or cash seized in a Dec. 29 police raid on the Cairo offices of U.S. non-governmental organizations, contradicting assurances the State Department says were given to the U.S. ambassador by Egyptian authorities.
The raids could jeopardize aid to Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion yearly of U.S. taxpayer money.
Iran Intensifies Efforts to Influence Policy in Afghanistan - Ernesto Londono (Washington Post)
Worried that U.S. troops could stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Iran is mounting an aggressive campaign to fuel anti-American sentiment and convince Afghan leaders that a robust, long-term security partnership with Washington would be counterproductive, Afghan officials and analysts say.
The Iranian initiative involves cultivating closer relations with the Taliban, funding politicians and media outlets, and expanding cultural ties with its eastern neighbor.
Iran's strategy in Afghanistan is reminiscent of its maneuvering in Iraq, where it helped fuel the insurgency and persuaded Iraqi politicians not to yield on allowing the Americans a small military presence beyond 2011.
Tehran has also taken steps to open lines of dialogue with the Taliban and recently began allowing Taliban representatives to operate openly in Tehran and Mashhad.
Iran invited a delegation from the group to a state-sponsored Islamic conference in Tehran in September.
Red Sea Electronic Fence to Foil Sinai Terror Attacks - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
A virtual electronic fence in the Red Sea as well as new fortified military positions and a significant increase in the number of IDF units along the border with Egypt are some of the changes that have taken place in recent months amid concern over the growing terrorist presence in Sinai.
The navy has boosted the number of electronic sensors along the coast. It can now detect and track targets the size of soda cans floating in the sea, said Lt.-Cmdr. Ronen, commander of the patrol ships in the Red Sea.
The rapid pace of construction along the 240-kilometer border has now closed 100 kilometers with a newly-built barrier.
The IDF is also investing large resources in intelligence-gathering, to create a clearer understanding of terrorist groups that operate in Sinai.
Syria Sought Nuclear Know-How from Pakistan's Khan in 1980, 2002 (Mainichi-Japan)
The Syrian government approached disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan twice - in 1980 and 2002 - for assistance in its clandestine nuclear program, but the moves were rejected, Khan recently told Kyodo News.
The accusation, denied by Syria, serves to corroborate claims that it had been working on a secret nuclear program for many years.
Natural Gas Found Off of Cyprus - David Wethe and Stelios Orphanides (Bloomberg)
Noble Energy Inc. said the first discovery of natural gas off the coast of Cyprus may hold as much as 8 trillion cubic feet.
The discovery has heightened tensions between Cyprus and Turkey, which invaded the northern third of the island in 1974. Turkey doesn't recognize the Greek Cypriot government.
UN Slams Sharp Rise in Saudi Arabia Executions in 2011 (AP-Washington Post)
A spokesman for the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the number of executions carried out by Saudi Arabia in 2011 jumped to 70 compared with 29 in 2010.
The UN human rights office also criticizes the frequent use of "inhuman" double amputation for robbery offenses.
Israel an Important Partner for India - G. Parthasarathy (The Hindu-India)
During the past decade, Israel has emerged as the second largest supplier of sophisticated weapons systems to India.
This has led to vastly expanding collaboration in areas like air defense systems and missiles, upgrading of aging equipment from the Soviet period, including tanks and fighter aircraft, and cooperation in areas of research and development, in highly-advanced night vision devices, sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles, which have a crucial role in dealing with cross-border terrorism.
Hizbullah: Pious Coke Dealers? - Jonathan Schanzer (New York Post)
It's hard to uphold a reputation as a devoutly religious terrorist group if you make millions selling cocaine. Just ask Hizbullah.
Last month, a U.S. government indictment in Manhattan charged Hizbullah kingpin Ayman Joumaa with smuggling more than 100 tons of Colombian cocaine with the Mexican Zetas drug cartel, yielding hundreds of millions of dollars for the terror group.
$50M Israeli UAV Sale to Latin America (Ynet News)
Elbit Systems Ltd. announced Tuesday that it was awarded a $50 million contract to supply Hermes 900 Unmanned Aircraft Systems to a country in the Americas to provide a variety of perimeter security missions.
Google Pouring Money into Israeli Startups - Jonathan Ferziger and Gwen Ackerman (Bloomberg-Washington Post)
Google's investments in fledgling Israeli companies in the past two years include takeovers of LabPixies, a developer of game applications, for $25 million, and Quiksee, which makes software for posting three-dimensional video online.
Other U.S. investors that have acquired Israeli assets include Facebook and EBay. Apple agreed to buy semiconductor designer Anobit Technologies Ltd., Calcalist reported Dec. 20.
Israeli Brothers Win World Debating Championship - Tomer Velmer (Ynet News)
Brothers Omer and Sela Nevo from Tel Aviv University won the World Universities Debating Championships in the English as Second Language category which was held in Manila on Tuesday.
More than 3,000 teams from around the world participated in the competition.
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- Britain Threatens Military Action If Iran Closes Strait of Hormuz - Amy Willis
Britain has issued a stark warning to Iran saying that any attempt to block a key trade route in the Gulf will be met with military force from the Royal Navy. Philip Hammond, the defense secretary, said Thursday in Washington that Britain will not tolerate an enforced closure of the Strait of Hormuz, where 20% of the world's oil passes through. "Any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz would be illegal and we need to send a very clear message to Iran that we are determined that the Strait remains open," he said. Royal Navy ships based in Bahrain are already poised to ensure tanker traffic remains unrestricted. U.S. warships are also on patrol in the area.
- China Extends Iran Oil Import Cut as Sanctions Mount - Chen Aizhu
China will reduce crude imports from Iran for a second month, sources said on Thursday, as the two remain divided over payment terms for Iranian crude targeted by ever tougher international sanctions. Top Chinese refiner Sinopec is insisting on 90 days to pay for imports, while Iran wants payment in 60 days.
The dispute underlines the difficulty Iran will have selling its oil after EU governments on Wednesday agreed in principle on banning its import and as new U.S. sanctions target payments for the country's crude.
China is the top buyer of Iranian oil and also the fastest growing major oil importer, putting it in a strong position to negotiate for better terms from Iran.
It has been scouring the globe for replacements, snapping up February cargoes from Vietnam, Russia, the Middle East and Africa at high premiums.
Refiners in number three buyer Japan on Thursday also expressed concern about being able to secure supplies of Iranian crude, with the country's biggest refiner saying it is looking at possible alternatives. (Reuters)
- U.S.: We Expect Muslim Brotherhood to Maintain Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty
U.S. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked Thursday:
"We have the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in an interview with Al Hayat saying that they don't regard the peace treaty with Israel as binding, that they didn't sign it, and if they come to power, they might put it to a referendum. Do you have any reaction to that?"
Nuland: "We have had other assurances from the party with regard to their commitment not only to universal human rights, but to the international obligations that the Government of Egypt has undertaken. As we've said again and again, not only with regard to Egypt but with regard to other states in that region in transition, we expect that legitimate parties will not only support universal human rights, but will also continue to support international obligations made by their governments."
Q: "You still think that they are bound to uphold the treaty?"
Nuland: "They have made commitments to us along those regards, and as I said, we will judge these parties by what they do." (U.S. State Department)
- Charges Against Journalists Dim the Democratic Glow in Turkey - Dan Bilefsky and Sebnem Arsu
Turkish journalist Nedim Sener, who has spent nearly 20 years exposing government corruption, is among 13 defendants who appeared in state court this week in Istanbul on charges related to abetting a terrorist organization, in what human rights groups call a political purge of the governing party's critics.
At a time when Washington and Europe are praising Turkey as the model of Muslim democracy for the Arab world, Turkish human rights advocates say the crackdown is part of an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Erdogan to repress freedom of the press through a mixture of intimidation, arrests and financial machinations, including the sale in 2008 of a leading newspaper and a television station to a company linked to the prime minister's son-in-law. There are now 97 members of the news media in jail in Turkey, a figure that rights groups say exceeds the number detained in China.
(New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel Gave PA Document of Principles at Jordan Talks - Herb Keinon
The 21-point document Israel gave the Palestinians in Amman this week dealt with general principles of what will be needed to reach a final agreement, not with detailed Israeli proposals, Western diplomatic officials said on Thursday. Officials said the topics on the list are among the issues to be discussed at a follow-up meeting in Amman on Monday. The Palestinians presented Israel on Tuesday with their proposal on borders and security, which calls for a full Israeli return to the 1967 lines, except for a 1.9% land swap.
The London-based pan-Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Wednesday that Israel's document included a refusal to accept Palestinian refugees; a refusal to withdraw from all the settlements; a security presence in the Jordan Valley; that the Palestinian state not be allowed to forge alliances with countries hostile to Israel; the continued presence of IDF forces at strategic West Bank sites; and an implementation of the agreement gradually over a number of years.
Israel emphatically denied on Thursday the paper's claim that Israel expressed willingness to withdraw from some Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem. "It never happened," a senior diplomatic source said.
- IDF: Egyptian Bedouin Behind August Attack - Yaakov Katz
The IDF has concluded that the terrorists who carried out the August 18 attack along the Egyptian border were all Bedouin from Sinai.
Several terrorists opened fire at Israeli cars traveling along the border road. Eight Israelis were killed in the attack. The cell that carried out the attack numbered 20 terrorists, most of whom remained inside Egypt, launching their attack from the cover of a nearby Egyptian military post. Three of the terrorists killed in Israel were wearing explosive suicide bomb belts.
- Two Arab Israelis Suspected of Aiding Hamas - Yoav Zitun
Brothers Amir Asaad, 29, and Mahmad Asaad, 20, two Arab-Israeli residents of Kafr Kanna, were arrested by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and police last month. They were accused of joining Hamas in the West Bank and their interrogation revealed that they were actively involved with terrorists planning attacks.
Several Hamas operatives who were in contact with the brothers were also arrested. The Hamas men admitted to the charges, incriminated the brothers and handed in the weapons that were to be used in carrying out their terror attacks, including shooting attacks on settlers, IDF vehicles and soldiers.
See also Palestinian-Born Australian-Jordanian National Convicted of Aiding Hamas - Joanna Paraszczuk (Jerusalem Post)
- As Feud with West Deepens, Iranians Brace for War - Thomas Erdbrink and Joby Warrick
At a time when U.S. officials are increasingly confident that economic and political pressure alone may succeed in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, the mood in Tehran has turned bleak as Iranians prepare for a period of prolonged hardship and, they fear, war.
Economists and independent analysts say the sanctions have aggravated the country's chronic economic problems and fueled a currency crisis.
The Iranian currency, the rial, shed more than a third of its value, triggering huge increases in the prices of imported goods. Iranian authorities ordered money changers to post much lower exchange rates for dollars in their shop windows Wednesday.
Economists and businessmen say that after years of erratic economic policies by the government of President Ahmadinejad, each new round of sanctions increases fears of an overall economic meltdown. According to the Iranian Labor News Agency, high prices for commodities and raw materials, caused by the rial's plunge, have led to the closure of 50% of businesses in the biggest industrial zone near Tehran.
- Can Iran Close Down the Strait of Hormuz? - Con Coughlin
The free and uninterrupted passage of trade through the Strait of Hormuz is comparable to the importance of the English Channel in sustaining the prosperity of Europe. It would be prudent for the West to be on its guard against any attempt by Tehran to disrupt such a strategically important linchpin for global trade.
Any attempt by Iran to use military force to disrupt Gulf shipping would inevitably lead to America and its allies using it as an excuse to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, thereby resolving the nuclear crisis once and for all.
But in a country where normal rational assessments do not apply, there remains the distinct possibility that, having acquired the means to close the strait, the ayatollahs will go ahead with their threat. (Telegraph-UK)
- Iran's Empty Threats - Richard Weitz
Equipped as Iran might be to create trouble in the Strait of Hormuz, the reality is that the U.S. wouldn't allow Iran to close it. The U.S. certainly has the military capacity to meet any Iranian challenge. U.S. ships and planes would most likely aim to rapidly destroy most Iranian military assets in the region before they could be used against U.S. targets, and would likely be able to detect Iranian crews trying to lay mines. U.S. forces would also rapidly respond to an Iranian missile strike by destroying any Iranian missiles within range.
The writer is director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.
See also Iran Does Not Have the Arsenal to Back Up Its Many Threats - Ahmed Al Attar (The National-Abu Dhabi)
- Iran's Rulers See U.S. and Europe as Weak and Vulnerable - Vali Nasr
The latest warning by Iran, that a U.S. aircraft carrier that recently transited through the Strait of Hormuz should not do so again, is a sign to the West that Tehran is ready for a fight. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. are so high, a conflagration could be tripped off without either country intending it.
Furthermore, the more sanctions threaten Iran's internal stability, the more likely the ruling regime will be to pursue nuclear deterrence and to confront the West to win the time Iran needs to reach that goal.
Obama administration officials think Iran is weak and isolated. But Iran's rulers have a different outlook. They see the U.S. and Europe are economically weak and extremely vulnerable to high oil prices. China and Russia have broken with the U.S. and Europe over Iran. The U.S. is hastily leaving Iraq and abandoning the war in Afghanistan. U.S. relations with Pakistan are unraveling.
Iran's rulers believe the new Middle East is a greater strategic challenge to the U.S. than to Iran. Consequently, the Iranian regime thinks it can counter international pressure on its nuclear activities long enough to get to a point of no return on a weapons program.
The writer is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
See also Iran Signals Its Readiness for a Final Confrontation - Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (ICA-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Make Clear to Tehran that Closing Shipping Lanes Won't Be Tolerated - Frederick W. Kagan
Iran's threat to close a vital international waterway if stricter sanctions are imposed on Iranian oil exports is a test of U.S. will and commitment in the Persian Gulf.
It is important for the U.S. to declare its commitment to using all necessary force to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. Such a declaratory policy would be explicitly defensive: If Iran violates international law by attacking shipping in transit through the strait, the U.S. will act in defense of international law to stop the illegal action and eliminate the capabilities of the violator to persist in such behavior.
As tension between the U.S. and Iran increases, the risk of miscalculation will also increase. This is one of those moments when stability is best served by what might seem a provocative statement. The Iranian leadership at every level must be convinced that any attempt to close the strait will both fail and lead to disaster for Iran. The more the U.S. and its partners do to drive that fact home in Tehran, the less likely Iran's leaders will be to try.
The writer is a resident scholar and director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
(Los Angeles Times)
- America and the Solitude of the Syrians - Fouad Ajami
Nearly a year into Syria's agony, the Syrians' noble defiance of the most entrenched dictatorship in the Arab world has played out against the background of a sterile international diplomacy. Rescue started for the Libyans weeks into their ordeal. Not so for the Syrians.
The two big autocracies in the world - Russia and China - have given this regime cover and sustenance at the UN. A toothless resolution brought to the Security Council last October was turned back, courtesy of these two authoritarian states, and with the aid and acquiescence of Brazil, India and South Africa. (So much for the moral sway of the "emerging" powers.) An Arab League "Peace Plan" was signed on Dec. 19, but still the slaughter continued.
From the outset of the Syrian rebellion, the Obama administration has shown remarkable timidity. After all, the Assad dictatorship was a regime that President Obama had set out to "engage" (the theocracy in Tehran being the other). Syrian rulers and protesters alike ought to be able to read the wind: An American president ceding strategic ground in the Greater Middle East is no threat to the Damascus regime. The Syrian people are on their own.
The writer is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
(Wall Street Journal)
See also Hundreds Tortured in Syria, Human Rights Group Says - Kareem Fahim (New York Times)
See also Those Who Continue to Appease Assad Also Have Blood on Their Hands - Nick Cohen
- A Lesson in Demonization - Editorial
UK Ambassador Matthew Gould's righteous indignation last Tuesday over supposed new Israeli building projects in Jerusalem was uncommonly instructive.
Subsequently it emerged that no new plans had been announced.
What's enlightening is the exceptional opportunity he afforded Israelis (and fair-minded observers everywhere) to peek into the actual mechanisms of demonization. By rushing to judgment, Gould (followed a day later by France, although the farce had already been exposed) showed all and sundry precisely how Israel is condemned, facts notwithstanding. Israel can apparently only do wrong - even when it does nothing.
This episode, as in other cases in which Israel is besmirched, was instigated by an Israeli NGO which reportedly enjoys EU/British financial largesse. Its word alone sufficed to trigger a harsh rebuke of Israel. Presumably, checking up on the NGO's claims was not warranted, to say nothing of the fact that Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its unified capital under its sovereignty.
Gould's knee-jerk eagerness to scold Israel powerfully indicates an undeniable pattern: first comes the stern admonishment and only later - perhaps - an unenthusiastic examination of whether the upbraiding was justified. We may be forgiven for doubting that this is the order of things when Britain approaches other countries and other conflicts.
Since an overwhelming Jewish majority has existed in Jerusalem since the first 19th-century census, plain decency should command the British envoy to at least portray eastern Jerusalem as disputed territory rather than as outrightly occupied.
After all, it was the Arab Legion in 1948 - under British leadership and active assistance - that conquered it, expelled its Jews, and occupied it for 19 years in brazen contravention of the 1947 UN Partition Resolution. (Jerusalem Post)
- The Palestinians Are Part of the Old Arab Order - Hillel Frisch
The Palestinians are part of the old Arab order because time and time again they have aligned themselves with the worst dictators of the Arab world. Their own governments in the West Bank and Gaza are cut from the same cloth as the regimes of the old Arab order; they are one-party police-states where the opposition and the media are suppressed. They demand the right to self-determination for themselves but deny it to others. They are also part of the old Arab order of terrorism.
The PLO itself is the ultimate example of the old Arab order. The dozen or
more factions that constitute the PLO are over forty years old; yet in none of them has leadership change taken place except through the natural or
unnatural death of the leader. The same can be said of the relatively younger
Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements. There is no internal
democracy in these groups. The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center.
(BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
- Israeli Natural Gas to Jordan? - Gal Luft
Jordan has been deeply affected by the repeated explosions caused over the past year by saboteurs in Sinai on the natural-gas pipeline there. These disruptions, though most likely directed at Israel, another purchaser of Egyptian natural gas, cost the kingdom more than $1.7 billion per year in switching to more expensive fuels.
Israel's recent discovery of vast reserves of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean means it will soon be in a position to export gas to Jordan and thus boost economic relations. The construction of a pipeline connecting Israel and Jordan would be far less expensive and faster to build than any of the other proposals currently contemplated by Israel for marketing its gas.
A joint ministerial committee tasked with forging a national natural-gas strategy by the end of February is torn between those who call to retain all the surplus gas at home for future domestic use, and those who wish to see Israel in the big league of world gas exporters. Between those two doctrines lies a middle ground: a relatively small market and an opportunity for Jordan and Israel to solidify their fragile peace. The writer is executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington.
- EU Should Ban Ahmadinejad over Holocaust Denial - Shlomo Avineri
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and calls for the destruction of Israel. Assume for a moment that the head of a European country were to say that the Holocaust did not take place and that the State of Israel must be destroyed. There is no doubt that the EU reaction would have been to recall ambassadors, if not to break off diplomatic relations or declare that leader persona non grata in EU member states.
Because of less severe statements by Joerg Haider, Austria was almost banished from the EU. And the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko - who is not a danger to anyone except the citizens of his country - has been forbidden from entering any of the EU countries.
Sanctions of this kind were not imposed on Ahmadinejad and this constitutes a severe political and moral failure, especially on the part of Europe which in recent years has taken significant steps to include remembrance of the Holocaust in textbooks and in the collective memory.
It is not too late. There is no reason why the EU should not declare Ahmadinejad persona non grata in its region, which will send an important message to the Iranian people. It is intolerable that such a step has not yet been taken.
There are issues about which one must not remain silent. One of those is the denial of the Holocaust by the leader of a country and his declared intention to destroy another country. There is no reason why demonstrations should not be held outside Iranian embassies in any place in the world, why Iranian ambassadors should not be accompanied at every appearance or trip by demonstrators carrying placards with "Holocaust deniers - out!" The writer, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a former director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry.
- Why Anti-Semitism Is Moving toward the Mainstream - Alan M. Dershowitz
For the first time since the end of World War II, classic anti-Semitic tropes - "the Jews" control the world and are to blame for everything that goes wrong, including the financial crisis - are becoming acceptable and legitimate subjects for academic and political discussion.
A book that included all the classic anti-Semitic tropes entitled The Wandering Who, written by Gilad Atzmon, says we must take "very seriously" the claim that "the Jewish people are trying to control the world." He calls the recent credit crunch "the Zio punch."
What is remarkable about the publication of this hateful piece is that it was enthusiastically endorsed by two prominent American professors, John Mearsheimer and Richard Falk, who urged readers to "reflect upon" and "discuss widely" the themes of Atzmon's book. (Stonegate Institute)
- Palestinian People - Children Especially - Are Being Indoctrinated in Hate - Richard Chesnoff
When the Palestinian political leadership preach in Arabic to their own public - and notably its school-age population - they loudly glorify terrorists, demonize Israelis and Jews and totally reject Israel's right to exist.
On the Holy Land maps the Palestinian Authority prints for distribution among Palestinians, every inch of land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is "Palestine." School
children are taught that Israeli cities like Jaffa (part of Tel Aviv), Haifa, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Ashdod, Tiberias, etc. are all "Palestinian."
Palestinian terrorists killed in attacks on Israeli civilians are honored as "brave martyrs."
We've feared for years that the current generation of Palestinians is unprepared to make peace with Israel. We now have strong and depressing evidence that the next generation may not be ready either. (New York Daily News)
Palestine's Bid for UN Membership Is Dangerous and Wrong - Katy Waldman interviews Dore Gold (Slate)
See also The Granddaddy of Dumb Ideas - Aaron David Miller (Slate)
- My objection to the Palestinian position is chiefly over the issue of borders and security. On this point, Israel has vital needs which have been expressed by the main authors of its national security doctrine, such as Rabin, Sharon, and Dayan, since 1967. Therefore, my concern is how to protect those vital Israeli interests in any future negotiation.
- The fathers of Israel's security doctrine always viewed the Jordan Valley as the front line of Israel's defense. When Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, it learned again the importance of controlling the outer perimeter of the territory where it is waging a counterinsurgency campaign. For example, when Israel left the Philadelphi Route, which was the outer perimeter of Gaza, the entire area was penetrated by massive arms smuggling, including Grad rockets from Iran. This gave Hamas the ability to strike deep into southern Israel, which previously it did not have.
- By analogy, should Israel abandon the Jordan Valley, it is very likely that major Jihadi organizations, from southern Syria down to Yemen, would seek to smuggle weaponry into the West Bank, putting Israeli civilian aviation over Ben-Gurion Airport and most of Israel's large cities at risk.
- The Palestinian Authority's bid for UN membership is part of a unilateralist course that it decided upon a few years ago. Rather than pursuing a negotiated peace, which would require the Palestinian leadership to make certain concessions, just like Israel, Mahmoud Abbas decided to lean on the international community to obtain statehood, without having to agree, for example, to demilitarization....The point is that any move of the Palestinians towards statehood has to be negotiated with Israel.
- Borders are another issue. Israel is entitled to "secure and recognized boundaries," according to UN Security Council Resolution 242. It is not required to withdraw to the pre-1967 line, which was never an international border, but only an armistice line, where the armies stopped in Israel's 1948 War of Independence.
- The settlements are a red herring. The amount of territory they sit on is miniscule - only 1.9% of the West Bank. If you're talking about 1.9%, and then somebody adds a few houses, you're not undercutting the negotiations; you're just addressing the needs of the people. Meanwhile, the Palestinians want to build a whole new city, called Rawabi, near Ramallah. Why not? They have needs; let them do it! Is that called a settlement?
Former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
- Right now, no idea will bring Palestinians any closer to realizing their legitimate national aspirations for statehood. But neither desperation nor sympathy for a deserving cause should compel us to embrace and pursue bad ideas that might only make matters worse. And admitting the nonstate of Palestine to the UN - the granddaddy of dumb ideas - will do precisely that.
I should know. Having spent 20 years providing both very good and very bad advice on Arab-Israeli issues to half a dozen secretaries of state, I've come up with my fair share of doozies. These included inviting Yasser Arafat to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and encouraging then-President Clinton to believe he could negotiate a conflict-ending agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit in July 2000.
It must be something in the water that leads well-intentioned American mediators to assume that trying anything to keep the peace process alive - no matter how wrong-headed, risky, or dysfunctional - is better than not acting at all. This obsession with process over results, motion over movement, is the solutionist's curse. Once you conclude that action is mandatory, no matter the cost, you begin to slide down a slippery slope. At the bottom of the hill, failure almost always awaits.
- The Palestinians cannot succeed in gaining admission to the UN as a member state. We've already seen a trial run in September and October. The U.S. will veto, and has already persuaded others on the Security Council to oppose, Abbas' petition. Nor does winning by losing seem to have gotten much for Palestinians so far, except a UNESCO admission which prompted the U.S. to cut off the program's funding. The UN gambit just made it easier for Israelis to claim that it is the Palestinians who aren't serious about negotiations.
- Negotiations between empowered Israelis and Palestinians willing and able to pay the price of a settlement would remain the only possible path to a solution, if there was one. But right now, there isn't.
The writer, a former adviser on the Middle East to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, is now a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
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