As PA Prepares to Exhume Arafat's Body, Israel Calls Poisoning Claim "Baseless" (Ha'aretz)
As the Palestinian Authority prepared to exhume the body of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after a Swiss lab announced that it found elevated levels of polonium on Arafat's belongings, Israeli government officials on Wednesday rejected suggestions that Israel may have poisoned him with the lethal radioactive isotope.
"The report is baseless," said one senior official, adding that it was not Israel that decided to keep the late Palestinian leader's medical records closed.
"The circumstances of Arafat's death are not a mystery," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "He was treated in France, in a French hospital by French doctors and they have all the medical information."
See also Rewriting the Arafat Story - Alex Fishman (Ynet News)
Ahmad Jibril, the head of the Popular Front and an Arafat rival, said that top PLO officials told him that Arafat died of AIDS.
In Israel as well, intelligence officials estimated that he died of AIDS or of another infection that prompted his bodily systems to collapse.
On the eve of his death, Arafat was perceived by Israel's defense establishment as a first-rate public relations asset: He was unstable, confused, isolated in his headquarters and not functioning well.
At that point, Israel had no interest in assassinating him.
See also For the Palestinians' Sake, It's Time to Kill Off Arafat - Lenny Ben-David (Times of Israel)
Proposed United Church Boycott of Israel Denounced by Canadian Senators - Charles Lewis (National Post-Canada)
A letter from nine Canadian senators has condemned a proposed United Church of Canada boycott of Israeli goods as being one-sided.
The senators, all United Church members, said, "It's baffling that - aside from a passing request that all parties reject violence - the Church's [proposal] does not mention a single expectation of the Palestinians in its recommendations."
"To put it bluntly, the Church cannot maintain credibility in criticizing Israeli policies while relieving the Palestinian leadership of its own duty to advance peace."
Russians and Syrians, Allied by History and Related by Marriage - Ellen Barry (New York Times)
Walk into any government ministry or corporate headquarters in Syria and you will almost certainly find men who spent their 20s in Russia; many brought home wives and raised children in Russian-speaking households.
There are an estimated 30,000 Russian citizens living in Syria, most women and children, Russian government officials estimate.
The Russian women "are wives of the elite, who can have some influence, but it's a soft influence," said Nina Sergeyeva, who until recently led an organization of Russian expatriates from her home in Latakia. "The elite of Syria, the men, are very oriented toward Russia."
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- Facing Diplomatic Isolation, Syria's Assad Says He's Willing to Step Aside - Roy Gutman
Syrian President Bashar Assad gave an interview Sunday, a day after Russia and China joined the U.S. and other major powers to call for a transitional government with full executive powers to replace Assad's one-man rule. "If the president's departure is in the interest of Syria, the president should naturally go," he told the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. "The most important thing is that everything should be decided inside Syria, not outside it," Assad said.
See also Jihadists Claim Responsibility for Attacks across Syria - Elizabeth A. Kennedy
The Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-inspired group, has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks across Syria. Western intelligence officials say Al-Nusra could be a front for a branch of al-Qaeda militants from Iraq operating in Syria.
- Iran Ready to Fire Missiles at U.S. Bases - Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Iran is prepared to launch missiles at U.S. bases throughout the Gulf within minutes of an attack on the Islamic Republic, according to a commander of the country's Revolutionary Guards. In an apparent response to reports that the U.S. has increased its military presence in the Gulf, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' air force, Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said on Wednesday that missiles had been aimed at 35 U.S. military bases in the Gulf as well as targets in Israel. (Guardian-UK)
- West Bank High Life Masks Deepening Economic Crisis - Noah Browning
Downtown Ramallah sparkles.
Cafes bustle with smartly dressed patrons, water-pipe smoke perfumes the air and basslines from trendy clubs shake the night. New model BMWs ply leafy avenues beneath villas and tall apartment blocks sprout from the West Bank hills. But it's more mirage than miracle. Government spending and living on credit at all levels of Palestinian society is rampant and may prove to be the economy's undoing.
Salaries for a swollen public sector again cannot be paid in full this month. The productive base for the economy is shriveling while unemployment climbs. And foreign aid is waning partly because of global economic conditions and partly in a backlash to the Palestinians' abortive bid for statehood at the UN last fall.
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- Committee Report: "Israelis Have a Legal Right to Settle in the West Bank" - Edna Adato
Retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, who heads a committee tasked with examining the legality of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), declared on Tuesday that, "According to international law, Israelis have a legal right to settle all of Judea and Samaria, at the very least the lands that Israel controls under agreements with the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, the establishment of Jewish settlements is, in itself, not illegal."
The committee, which issued its report on Tuesday, was established by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to determine the legal status of communities that were not built on privately-owned Palestinian land but their status was still in doubt due to legal bureaucracy.
Levy wrote that "from an international law perspective, the laws of 'occupation' do not apply to the unique historic and legal circumstances surrounding Israel's decades-long presence in Judea and Samaria."
"Likewise, the Fourth Geneva Convention on the transfer of populations does not apply, and wasn't intended to apply, to communities such as those established by Israel in Judea and Samaria." (Israel Hayom)
- Israel: Iranians Stalling for Time in Nuclear Talks - Herb Keinon
Israel continues to say the Iranians are using talks with the world powers to waste time. One Israeli official said, "We have seen no serious indication that the Iranians are even thinking about curtailing their nuclear program, and we call on the international community to upgrade the sanctions, and to be very clear in their demands of the Iranians."
The official said Israel wanted those demands to be an end to all enrichment "and to present an Iranian regime with a simple message: that the international community will under no circumstances tolerate the continuation of the Iranian nuclear program."
Israel's position is that without Iran feeling that it will face military action if it does not stop its program, it will indeed have no incentive to stop.
- Investment in Palestinians, Not Divestment from Israel - Rev. John Buchanan
The Presbyterians gathered this week in Pittsburgh are grappling with the complexity of the political challenges in the Middle East.
I am fairly certain that the decision of an American denomination to divest from corporations that do business with Israel
has no effect on Israeli policy and no effect on the corporations involved. BDS adds to Israel's sense of isolation and perplexes and angers American Jews.
A rabbi who is a vocal critic of the current Israeli government and a strong advocate for Palestinians' rights made this point to me: "When you Christians start talking about divesting from Israel, it sounds to us as if you are undermining Israel's economy and thus Israel's existence. We close ranks, and even progressive, sympathetic Jews become adamant Zionists." The writer,
pastor emeritus of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, is editor/publisher of The Christian Century.
- Iran Nuke Talks a Wild-Goose Chase - Amir Taheri
Iran is acting in accordance with a famous Persian proverb: "Leading the horse to water and bringing it back thirsty." That is, Tehran will only make time-consuming gestures toward letting the "horse" drink - but will never actually agree to stop the core of its nuclear program.
Three years ago, Iran had a few kilograms of low-grade enriched uranium. Today, it has several tons of uranium enriched to about 20%.
The regime has also embarked on a vast program of building "protected sites" for its nuclear program, deep in mountains and designed to withstand air attacks. One site, at Fordo, is already operational; completion of five more is expected within the next two years. (New York Post)
- It's Time to Commute Jonathan Pollard's Sentence - R. James Woolsey
I recommended against clemency for Jonathan Pollard early in the first Clinton administration when I was director of Central Intelligence, but now, nearly two decades later, I support his release. What would I say has changed? The passage of time.
Pollard has been incarcerated for over a quarter of a century under his life sentence.
Of the more than 50 recently convicted Soviet bloc and Chinese spies, only two - Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen - also received life sentences, and two-thirds of these some-50 enemy spies served or have been sentenced to less time than Pollard has already served.
There is absolutely no reason for Pollard to be imprisoned for as long as Ames and Hanssen, and substantially longer than spies from other friendly, allied, and neutral countries. For those hung up for some reason on the fact that he's an American Jew, pretend he's a Greek- or Korean- or Filipino-American and free him.
(Wall Street Journal)
Yitzhak Shamir's Perspective - Daniel Gordis (Tablet)
- About a year ago, I was standing with Yitzhak Shamir's son, Yair, at a reception in Tel Aviv. At the end of our conversation, Yair said to me: "People ask, 'Must the sword devour forever?' And the answer is 'Yes, it will.'" I was dumbstruck. In the American, suburban home in which I was raised, we were taught that war was an aberration. Conflict is solvable.
- Yair's startling comment, one his father surely would have made, was a reminder of what has undoubtedly been the single most difficult dimension of making aliyah - learning to accept, however grudgingly, that the moral assumptions of my old life are wholly inapplicable to the place my family now calls home. The Middle East is not a Hebrew-speaking version of the comfortable, safe, suburban Baltimore in which I'd been raised. I had moved, Yair unintentionally reminded me, from the land of Jeffersonian optimism to the land of hard-edged biblical realism.
- Ours is not the world that Shamir and his generation inherited. Ours is a world in which the Jews are secure, and largely safe, in no small measure as a result of what those men and women did.
Are we foolish enough to imagine that the British relinquished their hold on the colonies because early colonial Americans signed petitions? American Revolutionary heroes knew exactly what Shamir and others knew: The British would leave when the costs became too high.
- Yitzhak Shamir knew what he had seen, both in Europe and then in the Arab world, and he knew what it meant. He was no less ambivalent about the Arabs than he was about the Poles and refused to vote for Begin's peace treaty with Egypt. He thought Israel was paying far too high a price. Today, with the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Cairo and with Israel now missing the Sinai as a buffer, is it possible that he was right?
The writer is Senior Vice President at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
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