Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 27, 2004

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In-Depth Issue:

Syrian Role in Iraq Attacks Highlighted - Richard A. Oppel Jr. (New York Times)
    On Sunday Iraqi insurgents gunned down Muhammad Abd al-Hussein, a member of a secular political party that has been strongly critical of Syria, in front of his house in Baghdad.
    "We have lost today a hero killed by terrorists," said Mithal al-Alusi, the head Hussein's Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation. "After he took part in the demonstration in front of the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad, he received death threats, and now he is killed."
    In Najaf, a former Baathist arrested in connection with bombings last week that killed at least 50 people told police he trained in Syria, police chief Ghalib Al-Jazaeiri said Sunday.
    "I did not accuse the Syrian intelligence, but I confirm that we have arrested a Baathist from Basra shortly after the explosion, and he was holding a handkerchief covered with blood," Jazaeiri said.
    "He confessed during the interrogation that he was under training in a so-called mujahedeen camp in Syria for six months and confessed also to his ties with the Syrian intelligence."

Israel Starts Palestinian Prisoner Release (Reuters)
    Israel began the release of 159 Palestinian prisoners on Monday in a gesture to the new Palestinian leadership after Arafat's death.
    Prime Minister Sharon had promised the release to Egyptian President Mubarak after the handover earlier this month of Azzam Azzam, an Israeli imprisoned by Egypt in 1997.

Ansar Al-Sunnah Army Gains Clout in Iraq - Rawya Rageh (AP/Guardian-UK)
    The Ansar al-Sunnah Army has emerged as one of Iraq's deadliest terror networks, carrying out spectacular strikes like last week's suicide bombing at a U.S. base.
    Ansar al-Sunnah is believed to be made up mainly of Iraqis, and its apparent strategy is to target only Americans and those viewed as collaborating with them - Iraqi security forces and Kurds.
    In its deadliest operation, Ansar al-Sunnah claimed responsibility for Feb. 1 suicide bombings against two Kurdish political parties in Irbil, killing 109 people.
    Now the group is warning Iraqis not to participate in the Jan. 30 elections, promising to attack polling stations.

Useful Reference:

Roadblocks to Peace - Part 1: Security (Los Angeles Times)
    A photo essay by Rick Loomis looks at suicide attacks by Palestinian militants in Israeli cities, and the measures Israel's security forces have taken to prevent them.


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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Abbas Echoes Arafat in Campaign Kickoff
    Cloaking himself in Arafat's legacy, interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pledged Saturday in his first official campaign speech to fulfill Palestinian dreams of statehood. He said he had chosen the path of peace and negotiations. "Israel must pull out of all Palestinian lands occupied in 1967," Abbas said in Ramallah. "We cannot compromise on Jerusalem."  (AP/ABC News)
        See also Abbas: "I Won't Turn Guns on My Own People"
    Abbas said Saturday, "I will not use weapons against any Palestinian.... Israel calls them [the armed groups] murderers, but we call them strugglers." Abbas said the release of all Palestinian prisoners, including Marwan Barghouti - who is serving five life sentences for his role in a series of murders - was a condition for reaching peace with Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Shalom Slams Abbas Stances, Compares Them to Arafat
    Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom Monday said Israel could not ignore the "harsh statements" Palestinian leader Abbas made at a campaign kickoff at the weekend. "This speech does not bode well," said Shalom, noting Israel could not write off Abbas's remarks as mere campaign rhetoric. "You cannot speak of 'continuing the struggle in all forms,' or sell the illusion of the refugees," Shalom said. "We will do everything that we can at this stage so that they can hold proper elections. However, we expect that the next day they will enter into real action against both incitement and terrorism. Otherwise, it will be more or less as it was under Arafat," he said. (Ha'aretz)
  • U.S Rejects European Pressure on Israel, Eases Roadmap for Palestinians - Glenn Kessler
    Administration officials reject the European notion that U.S. pressure on Israel is the key to ending the conflict. "Public pressure on Israel is not what's going to work. Private reasoning does," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in a Dec. 20 interview with PBS's Charlie Rose. Armitage said that Israel's "presence in the occupied territories provides them some sort of buffer, and it's going to take a lot of development of confidence on the part of Israel before I think they fully remove themselves and live next door to...people with whom they've had such a difficult and rocky relationship." A senior administration official said the European gambit for greater U.S. pressure on Israel will fail. "Israel bashing is not the answer," he said. "The road to peace is not bashing a democratic state that has significant restraints in what it can do."
        Unofficially, the administration, for the moment, appears to have lowered the bar for the Palestinians. The road map plan calls for a dismantling of militant groups by the PA, but officials have indicated that a period of quiet - some sort of cease-fire - would be acceptable at first. (Washington Post)
  • General Assembly Condemns Human Rights Violations in Iran
    The UN General Assembly last week approved a U.S.-backed resolution criticizing Iran for human rights violations by 71-54 with 55 abstentions, citing new restrictions on freedom of expression and the persecution of political and religious dissenters. The resolution, co-sponsored by 34 countries, deplored Iran's execution of children under the age of 18. (AP/San Francisco Chronicle)
        See also Holding Tehran Accountable - Editorial
    The resolution was sponsored by Canada, which has long pursued a policy of engagement with Iran. But ties have significantly deteriorated ever since Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was beaten to death while in Iranian police custody in 2003. The Iran resolution may be a sign that the UN is feeling the heat over its hypocrisy and double standards on human rights. (Washington Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israeli Cabinet Okays Steps to Aid Palestinian Elections - Gideon Alon
    The cabinet Sunday unanimously approved a series of measures meant to facilitate the election for a new PA chairman on Jan. 9. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that in the 72 hours up to and including election day, Israel will reduce its military presence in the territories as much as possible to facilitate free movement. Roadblocks and checkpoints will be removed wherever this is feasible from a security standpoint. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Cabinet Approves PA Election Voting in Eastern Jerusalem The cabinet decided to allow Arabs from eastern Jerusalem to vote in the PA chairmanship elections at ballot boxes in post offices in the same manner as in the 1996 elections. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Strong Hamas Showing in PA Vote - Arnon Regular
    Official results announced Sunday confirmed Hamas' strong showing against Fatah in the Palestinian municipal elections held Thursday. Hamas, participating for the first time, scored victories in nine councils against 16 for Fatah. Voter turnout was extremely high. Hamas is boycotting the upcoming election for PA chairmanship on Jan. 9.(Ha'aretz)
        See also Palestinian Women Flushed with Success in Historic Vote
    At least 50 local women councilors were elected in the West Bank in a historic vote that punched through a taboo in conservative Palestinian society. In the first local Palestinian council elections in 28 years, 886 candidates, including 139 women, ran for 306 council seats in 26 municipalities, with a quota of two women per council. (AFP/The Peninsula-Qatar)
  • Palestinians Urge End to Armed Attacks
    Some 560 prominent Palestinians, including senior PLO officials, cabinet ministers, lawmakers, intellectuals, and poets, urged an end to armed attacks and a push for democratic reform in a front-page advertisement in Palestinian newspapers. "We reaffirm our legitimate right to confront occupation, but call for restoring the popular character of our intifada and ceasing actions that reduce the range of support for our cause and harm the credibility of our struggle," they said. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Text of Statement: "What We Want from the Elected President" (Palestine Media Center)
  • Fears Grow for Israelis Missing in SE Asia
    As the death toll in the Southeast Asian earthquake and tidal wave catastrophe rises, fears grew Monday for the fate of Israelis missing in the region. At least 10 Israelis were injured in Thailand Sunday. The Foreign Ministry Sunday sent baby food and medicines worth $100,000 to the affected countries. In addition, an Israeli medical team was dispatched to Sri Lanka and Israel has offered its assistance to India. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • A Renewed Middle East? - Emmanuel Sivan
    Ever since the G8 Sea Island summit in June, there has been a heavy cloud hanging over Egyptian-American relations. The revised formulation of Bush's Middle East vision adopted at the summit calls for basic reforms in the countries of the region. It is not by chance that Mubarak was the most scathing in his response to the summit, declaring that an attempt to encourage reforms from the outside is liable to lead to anarchy. The Egyptian regime's major interest is to ensure another presidential term for Mubarak, which requires an amendment to the constitution by means of a referendum - a resounding slap in the face for America's vision of democratization.
        Since the Egyptians have no desire to clash with the world's only remaining superpower, they are taking limited steps directed towards the U.S., not Israel, which are dictated by interests of its own, while at the same time not decreasing the severity of the anti-Semitic attacks in its media. The renewed Middle East is not just around the corner. (Ha'aretz)
  • Wahhabis Aiding Iraqi Insurgents - Claude Salhani
    Intelligence sources say a number of "regional foreign powers are actively involved in Iraq," pursuing their national interests. Among those powers are the Iranians, Syrians, Saudis, and, to a lesser extent, the Kuwaitis. A strong and politically stable, oil-rich (thus financially secure) and steady Iraq, but one controlled by Shiites, must be giving the Sunni Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia nightmares. One reliable source said he had "seen proof, documents showing Saudi Arabian involvement in supporting the Sunnis in Iraq." (UPI/Washington Times)
  • Observations:

    The Struggle for the Middle East - Reuel Marc Gerecht (Weekly Standard)

    • Should the Bush administration now become more engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation?
    • The oldest, luckiest, and most influential terrorist, Yasser Arafat, is at long last dead. Some of his minions in the Palestine Liberation Organization seem in comparison more moderate. The Europeans, who view the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio as the epicenter of Islamic militancy in the Middle East and among Europe's millions of Muslims, are desperate to see progress in the Holy Land.
    • The Palestinian national movement, led by the PLO, waged war on the Israeli liberal imagination. That imagination isn't dead, but it is circumscribed by the security barrier across the West Bank. The "Wall" has cut the Palestinian suicide-bombing success rate by 90%, and returned something close to normalcy to the Israeli psyche.
    • A renewed "peace process" begins with that barrier: It ain't going anywhere. And no American government post-9/11 is going to force the democratically elected government of Israel to move it, not before the Palestinian people have proven beyond doubt that they have gone cold-turkey on terrorism.
    • It is in fact the "Wall," not Arafat's death, that is the real catalyst for change among West Bank Palestinians.

      The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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