Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 20, 2004

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In-Depth Issue:

U.S. Weighs Punishing Syria - Janine Zacharia (Jerusalem Post)
    Livid over Syria's sheltering of former Iraqi Baathists who are using Syrian territory to help organize the insurgency against U.S. forces, Washington is contemplating a range of punitive measures to use against Damascus.
    "It's clear we are heading into some kind of confrontation with Syria unless the Syrians reverse their policy," a senior government official said, suggesting that fresh sanctions could come first.
    "It's not just about border control. It's about what the Syrian government is tolerating inside Syria," the official added.
    The U.S. has provided Syria with a list of people it would like to see detained who are either planning attacks against Americans in Iraq or raising money for the insurgency, but Syria has failed to honor Washington's request.

Israeli, Palestinian Officials Meet to Coordinate PA Elections - Aluf Benn (Ha'aretz)
    On Sunday Dov Weisglass and Shalom Turjeman, Prime Minister Sharon's advisers, met in Jerusalem with Palestinian officials Saeb Erekat and Hassan Abu Libdah for a coordinating meeting ahead of the January Palestinian elections.
    See also Israel to Free 170 Palestinian Prisoners - Aluf Benn (Ha'aretz)
    Israel on Sunday approved the release next week of 170 Palestinian prisoners including 120 Fatah activists.
    Israel had promised the release to Egyptian President Mubarak, in exchange for the release two weeks ago of Azzam Azzam.

Iran's Secret Plans for "Nuclear" Gas Go Ahead Despite Earlier Promises - Damien Mcelroy (Telegraph-UK)
    Iran has drawn up secret plans to make large quantities of a gas that can be used to produce highly enriched uranium, despite promises to suspend enrichment activities.
    Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, Iran's atomic energy chief, has authorized construction of a plant near Isfahan to make anhydrous hydrogen fluoride (AHF).
    The plant is expected to be finished by 2006 and will have a capacity to produce 5,000 tons of AHF a year, according to a Western intelligence official.

Palestinian Tunnelers Dig Their Way Out - Saud Abu Ramadan (UPI/Washington Times)
    Six Palestinians said to have died Friday after a smuggling tunnel collapsed on them in Rafah in southern Gaza managed to dig their way out after being trapped for 22 hours.
    As Israeli soldiers tried to reach the tunnel, Palestinian militants kept up a steady stream of fire to enable the six to escape.


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  • Bush: Assad Must Wait
    President Bush wants Israel to make peace with the Palestinians before considering Syria's offer of talks, Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported Sunday. Washington correspondent Orly Azulai reported she asked Bush about Syria during a reception for journalists. Syria is a very weak state, that is why it cannot be trusted, the president reportedly said. Now Assad must wait: First peace between Israel and Palestine and then we'll see what to do with Syria, Bush reportedly added. (UPI/Washington Times)
        See also I Will Bring Peace to Middle East, Bush Promises
    "I want you to know that I am going to invest a lot of time and a lot of creative thinking so that there will finally be peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Bush told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. "I am convinced that, during this term, I will manage to bring peace." "It is very important that the Palestinians also understand that peace is not something that is arrived at through words, but through deeds," said Bush. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Bush Camp Cautious on Post-Arafat Support
    Despite a flurry of hopeful signs since Arafat's death, the Bush administration is keeping a cautious distance from the emerging Palestinian leadership, saying that future political and economic support will depend on whether a new Palestinian president can rein in militant groups. A State Department official involved in the issue said negotiations on a final peace deal could take at least a year or two to begin in earnest, and maybe much longer. To earn renewed U.S. political and financial support for such a process, the official said, the new Palestinian president will need to take concrete steps to end terrorist attacks against Israel, reform Palestinian institutions, and root out corruption. But "if a government is elected that does not view the peaceful resolution of this conflict as their main priority, then there is going to be a limit on what we can do," the official said.
        The cautious sentiment from inside the State Department exposes the gap in expectations between the sides, with Palestinians hoping for a quick resumption of full peace talks in the months after the election. (Boston Globe)
  • Blasts Kill At Least 64 In Iraq's Shiite Holy Cities
    Explosives packed in vehicles tore through crowds Sunday in Najaf and Karbala, Iraq's two most sacred Shi'ite cities, killing at least 64 people and wounding scores more. (Washington Post)
        Shi'ite leaders blamed Sunni insurgents for what they described as an attempt to ignite civil war. Officials said the spectacular style of the attacks pointed to the Sunni insurgents who have been waging a daily campaign against targets associated with the Iraqi government, its security forces, and the U.S. military. A spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, who has called off his anti-U.S. attacks to allow the election to proceed, blamed the current violence on Saddam loyalists, followers of the Saudi-based fundamentalist Wahhabi sect, and terrorist groups like that of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (Chicago Tribune/Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinian Rockets Wound Three Israelis in Sderot - Arnon Regular
    Three Israelis were wounded Sunday when Palestinians fired a volley of Kassam rockets from the Gaza Strip at the western Negev town of Sderot. A number of other people suffered from shock when one of the rockets struck a main intersection in the town. Eight Kassam rockets were fired at Sderot over the weekend. Last week 76 mortars were fired at settlements and IDF fortifications in the Gush Katif area. The IDF said most of the mortars were fired from multistory buildings, which were demolished to prevent continued mortar fire. (Ha'aretz)
  • Jordan Rejects Sharon's Statements - Khalid Dalal
    Jordan on Saturday rejected Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's statements that Tel Aviv would keep large settlements in the West Bank and block the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland. Describing Sharon's statements as "unacceptable," government spokesperson Asma Khader said, "no party has the right to unilaterally decide on the final status issues." Former Prime Minister Taher Masri said "Arabs, including Palestinians, will never accept what he said." (Jordan Times)
  • FM Shalom: Security Fence is Not the Final Border - Herb Keinon and David Horovitz
    The security fence is not the country's final border, and settlers on the "other side" of the barrier should not fear they will necessarily be moved, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday. Shalom said the government has made clear that "the fence is not a political route, not a route that will tell us or others where the border will run. If that were the case, many of us would not accept it, and much of the international community wouldn't accept it either. We have said more than once this is only a temporary, preventive measure."
        Shalom's remarks came after Elliot Abrams, the White House's chief Middle East specialist, was quoted as telling a group of Jewish organizational leaders that eventually all the settlements beyond the fence will be dismantled. Shalom said the U.S. has never accepted the idea of settlements in the territories, and that the settlers went to live in those areas "knowing that the Israeli government took the decision to settle them there, not because the Americans gave any approval." (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Will the Real Abu Mazen Please Stand Up? - Michael Widlanski
    Does the Palestinian Arab press know something that the Israeli press does not know? Even as the Hebrew press headlined the remarks of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) calling for an end to the intifada, the Arab press - especially the Palestinian press - ignored the "news" item. A careful examination of Abu Mazen's remarks to the Arab newspaper in London - as well as other recent remarks - shows that he does not oppose violence against Israelis from a moral or ideological perspective. Rather, he opposes some violence only from a "pragmatic" or "utilitarian" perspective. And then only for a short time.
        It appears possible that Dr. Abbas (who got his Ph.D from the Soviet Patrice Lumumba University on the subject of "Relations between Zionism and Nazism") is not only the formal successor to Arafat but a willing and eager student anxious to apply Arafat's methods of sending multiple messages to multiple (and sometimes gullible) audiences. Dr. Abbas, who wears a suit rather than the military uniform of Arafat, has a more refined and subtle style than his mentor, but it seems likely that their ideological content is similar, if not identical. We will surprise ourselves a lot less if we study the words and methods of the new Palestinian leadership. The writer teaches political communication at the Hebrew University's Rothberg School. (Ha'aretz-Hebrew)
  • End of the Armed Intifada? - Amos Harel
    Does the new reality in the region herald the end of the armed intifada? Despite the declaration by Abu Mazen about the failure of the armed struggle, the answer, so far, is no. Hamas will step up or reduce terrorism according to its own interests in the near future, but will not desist from it. The more trouble it makes for Abu Mazen, the more political concessions it will be able to extort from him in order to achieve its goal of a status equal to that of the PLO in the post-Arafat PA.
        In addition, Col. Yuval Bazak, commander of the Samaria Brigade, notes that eight attempts to dispatch suicide bombers from Nablus have been thwarted in the past six weeks. Fatah is behind most of these efforts, with instructions and funding coming from Hizballah in Lebanon. Bazak reports "an intensification of attempts to mount attacks" since Arafat's death.
        The investigation of the terrorist attacks in Sinai last September showed Egypt that its intelligence deployment there is incapable of providing even basic information about events. Under its nose, different networks of extremist Egyptian Muslim groups, most of them offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, operated freely in Sinai. (Ha'aretz)
  • Born-Again President - White House Hannukah - Dennis Prager
    I celebrated Hanukkah at a White House party attended by President and Mrs. Bush. Only in America does a president light a menorah while a Jewish choral group sings Hebrew songs and the Marine band plays American songs. Only in America do Jews feel so honored as Jews and yet so completely part of the larger culture, fully Jewish and fully part of the greater nationality.
        As a yeshiva graduate, I never thought I would live to see identifying Jews, let alone Orthodox rabbis, so happy to be in a room with a menorah and a Christmas tree. Yet that signified a sea change taking place in American Jewish life - the realization that Christianity is no longer the enemy or the great Other but, for the first time in 2,000 years, a great ally. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Observations:

    UNRWA's Hamas Problem - James Tisch (Jerusalem Post)

    • Today UNRWA is a Palestinian organization with a thin UN veneer. In its Gaza and West Bank field offices, UNRWA has 12,916 employees, of whom only 37 are not Palestinian.
    • UNRWA Commissioner Peter Hansen's admission that he did not see the hiring of Hamas members as "a crime" is just the latest example of his unfitness for the UN post. During Operation Defensive Shield, he lent credence to Palestinian lies about Jenin, saying: "Jenin camp residents lived through a human catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history." Apparently, Hansen's "recent history" did not extend back three weeks earlier to the Passover massacre in Netanya, where more civilians died than in Jenin.
    • The job of a refugee organization should be to eliminate camps by helping the destitute find permanent homes. By this measure UNRWA is a colossal failure since, by its own account, the Palestinian refugee population has swelled 500% over 55 years.
    • It is clear that UNRWA has been instrumental in perpetuating the refugee problem it should have solved long ago. UNRWA must at least rid itself of Hamas influence, or the charade of its neutrality should end.

      The writer is chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

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