Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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February 18, 2004

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Latest News on Israel's Security Fence: Upcoming Hearings at the International Court of Justice
  (Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations)

In-Depth Issue:

Bombed Bus on Way to Hague (AP/Jerusalem Post)
    ZAKA transported a bombed-out bus to Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday, beginning its journey to The Hague, said a spokesman for the volunteer group that deals with rescue work at the site of suicide bombings and gathers body parts for burial.
    The project was funded by the "Christians for Israel" organization in the Netherlands, which donated about US$10,000.
    The Dutch government has approved a site near the World Court for the display, and ZAKA volunteers would explain it to passers-by.

    See also Israel Readies for PR Blitz in The Hague - Nina Gilbert (Jerusalem Post)
    Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Public Affairs Gideon Meir presented Israel's plan to win the PR battle outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague next week, at a meeting Tuesday with the Knesset's subcommittee on foreign relations and information.
    927 Jewish students from Israel and abroad will represent all the victims of Palestinian terror attacks since September 2000, as they each hold a placard detailing the identity of a terror victim and his life story.
    According to Meir, Israel's sole message is that the "fence stops terror."
    A delegation of parliamentary assistants from political parties on the Left and Right is being dispatched to The Hague to handle the media.
    A number of families of terror victims are also to be included in the delegation of demonstrators.

More Israeli Workers Being Hired Than Fired (AP/Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli manufacturers hired more workers than they fired toward the end of 2003, a sign the Israeli economy is crawling out of a slump, the Manufacturers Association said Tuesday.
    The Central Bureau of Statistics reported Monday that the economy grew by 1.3% in 2003.
    "In the last months of 2003, we saw a sharp rise in industrial production...especially in the high-tech sphere," said Nira Shami, an economist with the Manufacturer's Association.
    The Israeli economy showed 6% growth in 2000, before Mideast violence and the collapse of the high-tech sector plunged the nation into recession.
    The Finance Ministry predicts 2.5% growth for 2004.

Conference of Presidents Leadership Mission Opens in Israel (Conference of Presidents/IMRA)
    More than 100 leaders of the major American Jewish organizations will convene for the 30th annual Conference of Presidents Leadership Mission to Israel, February 18-22, in Jerusalem.

Key Links

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Back Issues

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. Seeks Safeguards for Israel's Gaza Pullout
    In the absence of Palestinian action against militant groups, the Bush administration has for many weeks signaled that it is supportive of Sharon's plan to "disengage" from the Palestinians. Deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, national security senior director Elliott Abrams, and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns are arriving in Israel Wednesday with a list of questions to better understand how the plan would unfold, how it is connected to possible unilateral steps on the West Bank, and how it meshes with the broader goal of establishing a Palestinian state.
        U.S. officials are especially concerned that the PA is so weakened that Hamas could emerge as the de facto ruler in Gaza in the wake of Israel's departure. Israeli officials say they also do not want a Hamas ascendancy in Gaza, but they appear to welcome a fracturing of the Palestinians, such as the emergence of Dahlan as a sort of mayor of Gaza. A White House invitation for Sharon to visit Washington will not be forthcoming until the administration reaches an understanding on the scope of Sharon's plan. (Washington Post)
        See also U.S. to Endorse Israeli Plans for Gaza (Guardian-UK)
  • Violence Fills the Vacuum as Gaza Becomes Lawless
    Many Gazans saw Sharon's announcement that he was preparing to withdraw Jewish settlements as a victory for Hamas and its campaign of suicide-bomb attacks. Many Hamas activists are now in hiding from the Israeli army, but the prospect of an Israeli retreat has boosted their already growing support in the territory, further weakening the PA and its ruling party, Fatah. "If Sharon pulls out and Hamas claims its military operations were the main reason, many Palestinians will agree with them," said Yasser Najjar, a senior PA official. There are fears that a partial Israeli withdrawal might leave Gaza divided into separate cantons controlled by local warlords associated with the plethora of active security forces. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Arafat Blocking Key Palestinian Reform
    Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is preventing his prime minister from implementing a financial reform that is a key European and American demand, and has become a condition for much-needed financial aid, cabinet ministers said Tuesday. Qurei's cabinet approved legislation on Saturday allowing the PA to pay security forces directly into their bank accounts, but Arafat refused to implement the cabinet decision. Currently, security officers are given lump sums of cash and then distribute the money to their employees. International donors have said the cash distributions are an invitation for corruption. The Palestinians rely on international assistance for 60% of their annual budget. (AP/Los Angeles Times)
        See also Arafat Corruption Spurs Aid Cuts
    International aid to Arafat has been cut in half because of suspicions of corruption and a Palestinian failure to show the money is being spent properly, Western diplomats and officials in the West Bank said Monday. Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad said aid from the EU, which used to run $120 million a year, had fallen to $80 million. He said all international aid to the Palestinians had dropped "by around half" over the last two years. Western diplomats said more than $50 million in EU aid was being held back until the PA paid salaries for its security services through bank transfers - rather than by cash that cannot be traced. (New York Post)
  • U.S. General Maps New Tactic to Pursue Taliban and Qaeda
    The commander of American-led forces in Afghanistan said Tuesday that the military had adopted new tactics to combat Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Lt. Gen. David Barno said that in the past three months, American units down to the level of 40-soldier platoons had been dispatched to live in villages where they can forge ties with tribal elders and glean better information about the location and activities of guerrillas. The new strategy had already paid dividends: Afghan civilians have reported more insurgents' weapons caches in the past month than had been turned in during the past half year.
        General Barno said cooperation with Pakistani forces on the Afghan border had increased, especially in the past six to eight weeks. Using a harsh, century-old British method, Pakistani forces have handed local tribal leaders a list of villages suspected of sheltering members of al-Qaeda. If the tribe refuses to hand over the suspects, the Pakistani army threatens to punish the group as a whole, withdrawing funds or demolishing houses. (New York Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • PM, Security Chiefs Discuss Disengagement Plan - Margot Dudkevitch and Herb Keinon
    Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, National Security Council head Giora Eiland, and senior security personnel Tuesday to prepare for Wednesday's arrival of a high-level U.S. delegation to discuss Israel's disengagement plan. Officials at the meeting studied the possibility of allowing the IDF to retain a presence in the northern Gaza Strip as well as along the Philadelphia Route in the southern Gaza Strip, the thin length of land under Israeli control that runs between the border with Egypt and the Palestinian-controlled part of Rafah.
        An Israeli official said there will be a reluctance on the part of the U.S. to enthusiastically adopt the plan since doing so would be tantamount to saying the road map has failed. Officials said the U.S. delegation is interested in giving U.S. input before the plan is crystallized. The U.S. is also concerned a Gaza withdrawal will lead to calls for the deployment of a multinational force there to restore order, something the U.S. will be reluctant to join, and that Israel will also likely present the U.S. with an enormous bill to help defray the cost of withdrawal. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Netanyahu: Pullout Must be Reciprocated - Gil Hoffman
    Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday that he opposes an unreciprocated pullout from settlements, Netanyahu's spokesman said. Netanyahu told Sharon he favors reaching an agreement based on reciprocity. He said with unilateral steps it may be clear what Israel is giving, but not what it is receiving. Sharon told Netanyahu he is making an effort to convince the Palestinians to take action on the diplomatic and security fronts. A source close to Netanyahu said if Israel takes a unilateral step, it should receive a unilateral step in return. The source said an agreement can be worked out with the U.S. to advance Israel's interests if it pulls out from the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu is believed to have the swing vote in the cabinet that could decide whether Sharon's plan passes. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also PM Readies Israel's Pullout "Principles" for U.S. Envoys - Aluf Benn
    Netanyahu raised some ideas for what Israel could get politically and for its security in exchange for the disengagement. He came away with the impression that Sharon is considering such action. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Terrorist Wounds Israeli Motorist - Margot Dudkevitch
    An Israeli motorist was shot in the leg as he drove near the intersection leading to Beit El and Ofra north of Jerusalem Tuesday. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Border Talks Exclude Palestinians - Barbara Slavin
    For the first time in a half-century of Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel is negotiating its boundaries not with its adversaries but with its longtime ally, the United States, according to Israeli, Palestinian, and former U.S. officials. The road map appears all but dead, and a high-level U.S. official acknowledges that the administration is working with Prime Minister Sharon to refine his proposal for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and to determine the route of a security barrier on the West Bank. If Sharon's plan goes through, the Bush administration hopes the World Bank and the EU will provide substantial economic aid to mollify Palestinians. (USA Today)
  • The Next Plague - Anne Applebaum
    According to one molecular biologist who should know, there are already 20,000 labs in the world where a single person will be able to synthesize any existing virus within the next decade. In the same 20,000 labs, five people with $2 million will be able to create an enhanced pathogen - a virus that could infect people who have been immunized with conventional vaccines - and kill perhaps a billion of them. With an additional $3 million, the same five people could build a lab from scratch, using equipment purchased online. The threat, then, is not merely from the diseases we know about - anthrax, smallpox, plague - but from the diseases that haven't been invented yet. It isn't possible to distinguish "safe" lines of biological engineering research from "dangerous" ones, since they are identical. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    Israel and Russia Challenge OPEC - Ed Blanche (Beirut Daily Star)

    • A 250-kilometer pipeline running from Ashkelon on the Mediterranean to Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba has become a vital artery for Russian oil exports to the Far East, the fastest-growing energy market in the world. By sidestepping the Suez Canal, the Trans-Israel Pipeline, known as the Tipline, opens up a shorter and cheaper route for Russian oil exports to Asia and thereby threatens Arab exports from the Gulf.
    • According to British energy analyst Simon Henderson, this "has the potential to greatly impact the international oil market. Russian oil exports are unconstrained by the quotas of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and a steady stream of expanded Russian shipments via the Tipline could...lower prices worldwide."
    • The new route puts Israel firmly on the oil industry map. It also strengthens Russia's position in the global energy market, challenging Saudi Arabia's as the pre-eminent oil producer. Russia has little interest in aiding Saudi-dominated OPEC, and is expected to push up production this year.
    • The Tipline has the capacity to handle 55 million tons of oil a year. Moscow is expected to pump 20-30 million tons through Israel this year, as well as provide most of Israel's requirements that formerly came from Egypt and the North Sea.
    • Russian oil shipped through Israel is made more attractive because it eliminates the so-called "Asian premium," the extra $1 per barrel arbitrarily imposed on Asian consumers by Gulf producers.

      The writer, a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, is a Beirut-based journalist.

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