Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To contact the Presidents Conference:
"Swastika" Harry Sparks International Outcry - Laura Elston (Scotsman-UK)
Pollster: Palestinians May Still Not Support Ending Violence Against Israel - Akiva Eldar (Ha'aretz)
CIA Report: Iraq New Breeding Ground for Terrorists - Dana Priest (Washington Post)
IDF Reservists Arrest Armed Fugitives, Thwart Terror Attack - Margot Dudkevitch (Jerusalem Post)
Cow Sets Off Bomb on Israel-Lebanon Border (Ha'aretz)
Peres to Manage Gaza Recovery - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
Palestinian Magnate Hopes Banks, Not Bombs, Will Build Palestine - Dan Williams (Reuters)
U.S. Sailors R&R in Haifa for First Time in 4 Years - David Rudge (Jerusalem Post)
Tsunami Relief and the Saudis - Greg Sheridan (Wall Street Journal, 10Jan05)
A Boost for Israel's Credit Rating (BusinessWeek)
Pilot Made History Over Israel
- Lisa J. Huriash (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
Six Israeli civilian security guards were murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack at the Karni crossing at the Israel-Gaza border on Thursday night. Five others were wounded. Three attackers planted a large bomb at a door separating the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the terminal, blowing it open, then infiltrated inside where they died in a gunbattle. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas, and the Popular Resistance Committee claimed responsibility for the attack. (Reuters)
Karni is the main crossing for goods and merchandise between Israel and the Gaza Strip. It was open late as a gesture to new PA head Mahmoud Abbas. In recent months there have been constant attempts by Palestinians to attack the crossings, security officials said. (Jerusalem Post)
Abu Abir of the Popular Resistance Committee said the attack was "further proof that the enemy will leave the Gaza Strip under fire from the strikes of the Palestinian resistance." (Ha'aretz)
See also Israel Closing All Gaza Crossings in Wake of Terror Attack - Amos Harel and Nir Hasson
Israel is closing all checkpoints connecting the Gaza Strip to Israel and Egypt until the Palestinians take steps to fight terrorism, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and army chief Moshe Ya'alon decided Friday, effectively isolating the Strip after the Palestinian attack on the Karni crossing Thursday. (Ha'aretz)
Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN Thursday: "I'm encouraged that Chairman Arafat is no longer there as an obstacle or excuse for people to point to. I'm encouraged in that the Palestinian people have an open, free, fair election, and with the assistance of the Israelis to make it happen....[Abu Mazen] is a good man; we know him well. But he knows and we know and the Israelis know that the Palestinians have to come together now and stand behind their president and insist on a reformed government, an honest government, a government that has a solid security apparatus that will go after these terrorists. It's going to be another tragedy if people who conduct these acts of terror, who shoot mortars out of Gaza or try to get bombs into Israel from the West Bank, are allowed to continue to destroy the peace process and deny the Palestinian people their opportunity to have a state of their own."
"The intifada did not accomplish a single thing for the Palestinian people toward their goal of a state of their own. So it has to end, and all of these organizations and individuals and terrorists who continue to kill Israelis or to create conditions of instability are not doing their people a favor. They're denying their people their dream." (State Department)
Syrian officials have begun returning Iraqi assets that Saddam Hussein kept in a Syrian bank, but not enough to satisfy the U.S, said Juan Zarate, assistant secretary of Treasury overseeing terrorist financing and financial crimes. The money has been a source of friction between the U.S. and Syria as the Bush administration weighs the possibility of imposing additional sanctions against the Assad government. Zarate said Tuesday that Syria has transferred "a small amount of frozen assets, which is encouraging, but it's again not what we've been looking for in terms of the total amount....They still have not done what they need to do." In congressional testimony in November, Zarate said Hussein had about $1 billion in Syria at the start of the war and about $600 million was later paid from the account to satisfy Iraqi debts. The Bush administration says Syria isn't doing enough to secure its border with Iraq and to prevent former members of Hussein's regime from operating in Syria. (AP/Boston Globe)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
"Abu Mazen must take matters into his hands immediately," a senior officer at the IDF's General Staff said Thursday. "Before the elections, the Palestinians told us that he is trying to achieve calm through dialogue. That did not work. In the meantime, the elections are over, terrorism continues as usual, and the [Palestinian] Authority has done nothing."
According to another senior IDF officer, "Our biggest worry is that the world will buy the argument that Abu Mazen is too weak to take action against terrorism. We cannot wait for months until he acts." The officer expressed confidence that a determined stance by the new chairman was capable of bringing about calm in the territories and forcing the terrorist organizations - and Hamas first and foremost - to cease their attacks. Military sources say Abbas should issue a clear order to end incitement in the official media organizations of the PA; he should ban the bearing of arms in public; and he should prevent the firing of Kassam rockets. (Ha'aretz)
Israel intends to propose to the new Palestinian leadership to take over security responsibility for the cities of the West Bank, and to impose law and order in them. Sharon intends to grab the opportunity offered with the election of Abu Mazen and not wait for Abu Mazen the chick to grow its feathers. The starting point is that Abu Mazen was elected on a platform that expressed his intent to end the terror and impose law and order in the PA.
The prevailing view in the Israeli defense establishment is that Abu Mazen should be pressed to strike while the iron is hot, and start dismantling the armed organizations. The assessments are that Abu Mazen is in favor and understands it is his first priority, but he refuses to use force to achieve the goal. In Jerusalem they fear that his approach, no matter how understandable from his point of view, will expose him to domestic difficulties that will foil his intentions. And in the Israeli power centers they say that if Abu Mazen is not quick to impose his will on the terror organizations, there will be major terror attacks that will send the conflict back into the cycle of bloodshed. (Ha'aretz)
Adnan Abu Sneineh, 36, a high school teacher from eastern Jerusalem, said, "I voted for Abu Mazen because he's Israel's friend and maybe he would be able to remove the checkpoints and the separation wall and improve the economy. The Israelis and Americans like him very much, so there's hope. We want to live a normal life, like all human beings, because we are tired. We want to give peace a second chance." After four years of fighting, which have resulted in thousands of casualties and the destruction of the economy and infrastructure, a steadily increasing number of Palestinians are now convinced that the time has finally arrived for real changes. Abbas's message to the Palestinians is: Now that the armed struggle has failed, it's time to start collecting the pieces and return to the negotiating table because we are likely to achieve more by talking than shooting.
Abbas promised during the election campaign to follow in Arafat's footsteps, but those who know him say they nearly fell off their chairs when they heard him talk so highly of his predecessor. It's no secret that Abbas and Arafat were at loggerheads for many years. "Arafat regarded Abu Mazen as a threat to his leadership and did almost everything he could to block him," said a veteran Fatah official. Abbas will spend the first few weeks in power trying to persuade Hamas and other armed groups to accept a hudna (temporary truce) with Israel. The movement's leaders in Syria and Lebanon are strongly opposed to any form of cease-fire, while its representatives in the West Bank and Gaza, who have been forced to go underground for fear of being targeted by Israel, appear to have softened their position. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
With perhaps the most open election in Arab history, the Palestinians are off to a salubrious start. Rhetorically, however, their elected leader has hardly digressed from Arafat's phantasmagoric promises. That may be the real reason Abu Mazen won so handily.
The lesson of Palestinian history is that words matter; they condition the politics of the street. So let's establish the no-nonsense basics: The 1967 borders (which were not borders at all, but the flimsy, happenstance 1949 cease-fire lines where the exhausted armies stopped fighting) are bygones; there will never be a mass "return" of Palestinian "refugees" to within the agreed territories of Israel; the barrier separating what will ultimately be Palestine and Israel will not be taken down in our time, if ever; and the real territorial arrangements between Israel and its Arab neighbors have not yet been truly put on the table. (New Republic)
Even on his own terms, Abbas is an ideologue. The demand that any acceptable peace agreement permit all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to live in Israel is very close to his heart. Such an outcome, of course, is designed to destroy Israel. It is a sign that the Palestinian leadership is not ready for real peace with Israel, whatever the rhetoric directed to the West. Thus, there are serious problems with Abbas's views, though they also represent some progress.
A consensus probably exists among Palestinians to say they will stop incitement, accept a cease-fire, and negotiate for a smooth turnover of Gaza, but there are important reasons to believe that they cannot or will not implement such promises. Unfortunately, what is most likely to happen is that Abbas will be a moderate front man for the hardliners in Fatah. He will say the right things and then demand Western help and Israeli concessions. (UPI/Washington Times)
See also What If Bush Invited Sharon and Abu Mazen to Camp David? The Prospects for Negotiations in the Post-Arafat Era - Dore Gold and David Keyes (JCPA)
Abbas's victory masks deep divisions and contradictions in Palestinian politics that threaten his viability as an effective leader. The greatest challenge Abbas now faces is how to impose control on the warlords who have become rife in Palestine and to recreate a single security force. No state can be credible when rival groups using guns and terror proliferate, whether they are loosely organized, as in the case of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, or disciplined, as in the case of Hamas. There are steps that the PA can and must take: going after "ticking bombs"; countering smuggling; rooting out Kassam rocket production; and cooperating on security matters with the Israelis. But Americans and Israelis must empower Abbas with the capabilities and the political cover to take the tough decisions that lie ahead. The writer served as an adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs to six U.S. secretaries of state. (International Herald Tribune)
The Palestinian election process has proved that if a Palestinian state is established it will be the first Arab democracy. But the state has not yet been established, and the system now headed by Abbas is not much more than a stage set. The real question is not whether Abbas is genuinely ready for peace and will start combating terrorism tomorrow but whether the U.S., Europe, and Israel are prepared to seize this rare opportunity: the election as Palestinian leader of a pragmatic person who has taken part in all the peace processes with Israel and who courageously came out against the use of violence in the most recent intifada. On a personal level, Abbas is a pragmatic person but not necessarily a moderate. He has no sympathy for the Zionist enterprise, but he understood, before many of his colleagues, that the distress of the Palestinian people could be resolved through an independent state next to Israel, rather than in place of it. (Washington Post)
Life in Israel has returned to normal, or at least as normal as it ever gets in a country that has faced threats to its existence from day one. Conventional wisdom holds that it is almost impossible for a democracy to defeat a determined insurgency - an impression strengthened by recent events in Iraq. Israel provides a contrary case.
Even if Abbas genuinely believes in peaceful coexistence, it is not clear that he has the will or the power to repress militants who want to drive the Jews into the sea. It would be a mistake for the West to embrace Abbas in a bearhug - the same mistake that was made with Arafat in the 1990s. What's needed now is not another Palestinian strongman puffed up by the West, but a vibrant Palestinian democracy with a multitude of leaders. (Los Angeles Times)
There is ample reason to be skeptical of the view that a Palestinian-Israeli agreement is key to peace in that entire region. The reality is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has often been used as a scapegoat by Arab leaders to divert attention from their own internal problems or to camouflage the deeply felt disputes between Muslim nations. The hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims has nothing to do with the Israeli-Arab dispute. There is a mountain of evidence that Arab leaders have exacerbated the Palestinian situation because it was a way to divert attention from their dismal failure to build modern, democratic, prosperous states. (Newsday)
Abbas won't solve the problems of Jerusalem, the return of refugees to Israel, and the borders of an independent Palestinian state anytime soon. But the absence of Arafat and the election of a man willing to work with Israel can start the process of recovery from more than four years of violence. That's a necessary prelude to building corruption-free civil institutions and an effective government en route to an independent, peaceful country. (Los Angeles Times)
There is the temptation to wax euphoric at the electoral mandate given Mahmoud Abbas in the first really democratic election by Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem. Words, we have long ago learned, are cheap, especially in the Middle East. A lot of words were spoken by Yasser Arafat over the years about peace and reconciliation. They proved to be empty. And so, along with the people of Israel, we await the deeds that must follow - the willingness of Abbas to help bring an end to terrorism and to help end the culture of hatred in the schools and in the Arab media that have allowed terrorism to thrive. (Boston Herald)
I have developed some basic rules for Middle East reporting over 25 years of writing from that region:
Rule 1 - Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza, or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over by the time the next morning's paper is out.
Rule 2 - Never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person who is supposed to be doing the conceding. If I had a dime for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasser Arafat, I would be a wealthy man today.
Rule 3 - The Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure that they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.
Rule 4 - In the Middle East, if you can't explain something with a conspiracy theory, then don't try to explain it at all - people there won't believe it.
Rule 5 - In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away - unless the coast is completely clear.
Rule 6 - The most oft-used phrase of Mideast moderates is: "We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it's too late. It's all your fault for being so stupid."
Rule 7 - In Middle East politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, "How can I compromise?" And the minute it becomes strong, it will tell you, "Why should I compromise?"
Rule 8 - What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in Arabic, in Hebrew, or in any other local language. Anything said in English doesn't count. (New York Times)
The disengagement plan offers an opportunity for the creation of a positive dynamic in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The plan contains a message to the Palestinians and the international community that Prime Minister Sharon is serious in his intention of achieving a two-state solution. Sharon included the evacuation of four settlements in northern Samaria because it is important for him to send the message that Judea and Samaria are likewise part of the larger design. The principal criteria for success will be the security situation and the reality created in Gaza and in northern Samaria after the withdrawal. If the level of violence decreases, and if the PA will be in stable control and Palestinian living conditions improve, this would encourage a continued process of stabilization, possibly followed by a rapprochement. (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies-Tel Aviv University)
For a contrasting view, see:
The Unilateral Withdrawal: A Security Error of Historical Magnitude - Yaakov Amidror
Rather than standing at the threshold of a significant strategic achievement, where it is clear to the Arab side that Israel makes no diplomatic concessions to terror but continues to combat it successfully to the bitter end, the unilateral withdrawal will place us on the verge of a protracted confrontation, under far worse conditions, facing an enemy gaining momentum and strength because of its success. This is the nature of the missed historic opportunity. It was interesting to listen to American officials who explained that the U.S. was opposed in principle to the unilateral withdrawal because it contradicts its strategic concept not to surrender to terror. In the end Jerusalem succeeded in persuading Washington to support the move in return for adding northern Samaria to the withdrawal and restricting construction in the settlements. (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies-Tel Aviv University)
The Middle East is on the brink of going nuclear, and the rest of the world is fiddling or looking the other way. Israel's senior intelligence and military officials have produced a chilling countdown to Iran's imminent emergence as a nuclear power. Israeli intelligence is reported to have cracked the sophisticated Iranian code that enabled Israel to eavesdrop on communications between Iran and its nuclear suppliers over several years. While Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan is said to have provided Tehran not only with equipment for enriching uranium but also actual designs for the bomb, it is clear, said one Israeli intelligence source, that without the transfer of nuclear technologies from Russia, Iran could not have achieved the pace of progress that it has in developing nuclear weapons.
Israel is facing a very serious threat, a senior official in the Vienna-based UN nuclear-monitoring industry - who is neither Jewish nor, indeed, Western - said this week, and the nuclear-monitoring industry has "utterly failed to address the profound and legitimate concerns it has about its national security." A senior Israeli intelligence source estimates that "since the Iranians are so bent on the destruction of Israel, there is a probability that they will use their nuclear weapons aggressively against Israel." (Spectator-UK)
Interethnic conflicts largely ignored for years in order not to provoke the "ugly German" are finally out in the open. The Nazi past is so well understood, its lessons drawn so thoroughly, that Germans of all political persuasions at last can address some of the issues that trouble their inner cities without having to fear for the stability of their democratic institutions. It's about time. Not only in Germany, and not only because of the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist fanatic late last year, Western Europe is rethinking its attitude toward its fellow Muslim citizens.
Europeans are waking up to the challenge of Islam. The roaring silence of most Muslim organizations, whatever the origins of their members, after 9/11 or after Beslan infuriated even the staunchest defenders of multiculturalism. Arguing that Islam has nothing to do with it is no longer good enough, not even in Europe. The writer is editor of the op-ed page of the German daily Die Welt. (Wall Street Journal Europe, 13Jan05)
Columbia Unbecoming is a 40-minute reel of testimony from fourteen students and recent graduates who describe, among other things, moments of feeling cowed by professors for expressing pro-Israel sentiment in the classroom. The startling thing about the video, made by a group called the David Project, isn't just that these students showed their faces. It's that they dared to name names, and that all of the professors are in the university's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, known around campus as MEALAC.
One student, an Israeli and a former soldier, says a professor named Joseph Massad demanded to know how many Palestinians he'd killed; another woman recounts how George Saliba, one of the country's foremost scholars on Islamic sciences, told her she had no claim to the land of Israel because - unlike him - she had green eyes, and therefore was "not a Semite." (New York Magazine)
Ariel, a town of 20,000 people 12 miles inside the West Bank, is Israel's second-largest settlement. It is home to a large college, has wireless broadband, a new shopping center, good schools, quality home construction, and affordable prices. "This is a great community, a thriving city, and the most high-tech place in Israel," boasts Ron Nachman, Ariel's mayor. Two decades of Jewish settlement, representing about three generations of Israeli settlers, now call the West Bank home. "This is nothing more than a gated community, just like you have in Fort Lauderdale," said Nachman. "We all want peace with our Palestinian neighbors, but Ariel isn't going anywhere," he said. "Whether there is a fence or not, Ariel is not going to disappear. We're too big, and too important a city now for anything to be dismantled." A recent survey of settlers by Ariel's College of Judea and Samaria found that West Bank settlers tend to be younger and better educated and earn higher incomes than Israel's overall population. They also tend to have more children. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
Mai Yamani's new book about Saudi Arabia, Cradle of Islam: The Hijaz and the Quest for an Arabian Identity, is the story of a subtle resistance that has developed to the oppressive uniformity that the House of Saud seeks to impose on the country. Rather than a challenge to the Saudi princes' political power, this quiet defiance takes a cultural form. Yamani calls it Hijazification: a reassertion of regional identity by the elite families of the cosmopolitan western province known as the Hijaz. The sophisticated elites of the Hijaz, with their schools and libraries and foreign embassies and their Sufi-influenced Islam, looked down on the illiterate nomads of the Najd, home to the al-Saud family, whose alliance with Wahhabism goes back to the 18th century. (Weekly Standard)
Anti-Zionism has become a civil religion in Belgium and the Jews have become an instrument in Belgian politics. Opposing Israel serves many segments of Belgian society. Hatred of Israel is used both as a tool for electoral reasons and to enable Belgium to act on the international scene. An unprecedented outburst of anti-Semitic acts is taking place due to violence by youngsters, mostly of North African origin. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Truth and Consequences - Saul Singer (Jerusalem Post)
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