Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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August 23, 2005

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In-Depth Issues:

Fatah Builds Private Army in Gaza (Associated Press)
    In southern Gaza members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the military wing of the ruling Fatah movement, have organized three military training camps for more than 3,000 activists.
    "There is no Fatah army, no popular army," said Tawfik Abu Khoussa, a Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman. "We want to get rid of the military images. After the withdrawal, there is one authority and that's it."
    However, the Al Aqsa men said they were getting Fatah funding for the camps, and Palestinian security officials sat in on an interview with camp organizers.
    In organizing a private army, Fatah gunmen in southern Gaza also appeared to be sending a warning to the PA that they could make trouble if jobs are not found for them in the security forces.
    However, Finance Minister Salam Fayyad has imposed a hiring freeze in the security forces under intense pressure from the international donor community, which is partially bankrolling the PA and has complained about a bloated public payroll.

Abducted French Journalist Freed - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    A French journalist abducted by Palestinian gunmen in Gaza City last week was freed unharmed on Monday.
    In the West Bank, arsonists set fire to the offices of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Hebron on Sunday.
    Hebron residents said the arson was apparently the work of a local Fatah gang whose members were angry because they were not given jobs and money.

Islamist Militants Impose Will in Some Iraq Towns (Reuters)
    Substantial parts of a 120-km stretch between the towns of Haditha and Qaim on the Euphrates are now run by fighters loyal to Jordanian al-Qaeda figure Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other groups fighting U.S. forces.
    "We have many bodies that are brought in that have just been thrown in the street after being tortured," said a doctor at the hospital in Haditha.
    "Sometimes the militants come in and drag out people who have survived assassination and kill them," he said.
    Music and Western-style dress have been banned in both Haditha and Qaim, residents say, and women are forced to cover up with veils. Barbers are forbidden from cutting hair in Western styles.
    Anyone breaking the rules, which recall Taliban edicts in Afghanistan, is lashed with cables.
    "They are trying to create an Islamic caliphate," said Sheikh Thafir al-Aani, the imam of the main mosque in Qaim.


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Latest News on Disengagement
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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • After 38 Years, Gaza Settlement Era Ends - Scott Wilson
    The Israeli military evacuated Netzarim, the last of the Jewish settlements in Gaza, on Monday as hundreds of residents carried Torah scrolls and a large menorah that once stood on the synagogue's roof. Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, head of Israel's Southern Command, said: "Right now there are no Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. The only Israeli citizens are the security forces." (Washington Post)
        See also Leaving the Last Settlement - Photos (Washington Post)
  • Jordan Arrests Syrian in Aqaba Rocket Attack - Hassan M. Fattah
    The Jordanian government said Monday that it had arrested Muhammad Hassan al-Sihli, a Syrian, as a prime suspect in the rocket attack on two American warships last week in Aqaba. Sihli, who was in charge of planning the attack, was part of a terrorist cell that included three Iraqis. The cell was reported to be directed by an unidentified insurgent group in Iraq. Earlier this month, the men smuggled seven Katyusha rockets from Iraq into Jordan. (New York Times)
  • As Gaza Empties, Israel Looks Ahead - Ilene R. Prusher
    Even though the withdrawal is moving ahead of plan, Israel says it does not want the world in general - and the Palestinians in particular - to get the wrong impression. "We've finished making unilateral, painful concessions," says Ranaan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Sharon. "After the euphoria dies, the Palestinians will have to get down to taking real steps to show that they can stop terrorist activity....If anyone has illusions that this means they can force Israel into making further concessions under pressure of violence, they're in for a big surprise," Gissin said.
        By no longer having citizens in Gaza, Israel decreases soldiers' and settlers' vulnerability to attacks by Palestinians. But if Israel is attacked from Gaza in the future, it will likely respond with more firepower than before, because it will no longer be facing the complication of fighting people living under Israel's military rule. Palestinian militants, in turn, will find it harder to argue that they are simply struggling against an occupation. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Ousted Settlers Struggling to Cope - Joel Greenberg
    Their communities are ghost towns now, and bulldozers have begun tearing into the homes. Living in hotels after their emotional evacuation last week, thousands of Jewish settlers removed from the Gaza Strip are adrift, caught between grief over their loss and a dawning realization that they have to start charting a new course. The Israeli settlements in Gaza, mostly communities of religious Jews, were close-knit, held together by strong faith. For the evacuees from Neve Dekalim, the prime concern now is maintaining their community and rebuilding it as one unit in a new location. "We want to stay together, and we're going to fight for it," said Malka Yanai. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Palestinians Plan "Carnival of Victory" - Annette Grossbongardt and Stefan Simons
    Abd al-Hakim Awad, 39, chairman of the Fatah Youth Organization in Gaza, is planning a "Carnival of Victory" as soon as the last Israeli soldier leaves Gaza, complete with folklore shows, fireworks, and parades through the settlements of their former neighbors. Palestinian authorities plan to operate a shuttle service that will bus hundreds of thousands of curious Palestinians into the settlements - to tour the "liberated Palestinian territory." The impoverished Palestinian leadership will spend more than $2 million on the spectacle.
        To demonstrate their power, the Islamists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad held a parade of uniformed recruits to their supposedly 40,000-strong "People's Army," armed with Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers, in the Jabaliya stadium last week. The high point of the military show was the simulated storming of a Jewish settlement. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Unauthorized Outposts May Be Targeted Next - Herb Keinon
    Israel is likely to begin dismantling unauthorized settlements in the West Bank within 90 days of the evacuation of the northern Samaria settlements, a senior government official said. The official referred to "momentum" that the IDF was keen to capitalize upon. One official said Sharon wanted to ensure that Bush would stand by the assurances he gave Israel in his letter: namely that, in any final status agreement, Israel would retain the major settlement blocs and that there could be no return of Palestinian refugees to pre-1967 Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
  • PA Won't Disarm Hamas, Islamic Jihad - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced on Monday that they have reached an agreement with the PA according to which the two groups would not be disarmed. The agreement was achieved during talks in Damascus between PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Road Map After Gaza - Dennis Ross
    The Bush administration should act to help Abbas build his authority - something that is essential for raising the costs to Hamas and others of challenging him. The administration must be the spearhead for getting international pledges of assistance transformed into labor-intensive projects on the ground. To date, billions have been pledged, but little has been delivered and Palestinians are not going back to work. Abbas must be seen as producing very quickly on jobs in Gaza. The administration should also work with the EU and World Bank to help the PA function more effectively. Abbas inherited Arafat's system of corruption and ineptitude. He needs systematic help to build his administrative capacity, with specific goals, monitoring, and evaluation established. (Boston Globe)
  • Time to Forget the Road Map - Shlomo Avineri
    Many governments internationally were initially skeptical about disengagement, but realized that this is the only game in town. Among them, as well as among the Palestinians, one hears the hope that after the Gaza withdrawal it will be possible to return to the road map and to resume negotiations leading to a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a big mistake. While motivated by the best of intentions, the hope of reviving the road map is out of touch with reality.
        Future negotiations will have to deal with the ultimate borders between Israel and Palestine, the fate of 200,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, the status of Jerusalem, and the problem of the 1947-48 Palestinian refugees. On all these issues, the gulf between the Israeli and Palestinian positions has not narrowed since the failed negotiations at Camp David in 2000, while fear and distrust have increased.
        To attempt negotiations under these circumstances would not only be an exercise in futility, but also might merely deepen alienation and suspicion on both sides. Probably the only rational way to proceed would be to acknowledge that unilateral steps on both sides can still further the cause of de-escalation and ultimate reconciliation. The writer is former director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (The Australian)
  • Defensible Borders - Ruthie Blum
    Jerusalem Center head Dr. Dore Gold said in an interview Friday: "After disengagement, members of the Quartet may come to Washington and say, 'Look, we have a very serious problem before the January elections in the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen is too weak; Hamas is gaining strength; the way to build him up is to provide him with a "political horizon." It's not enough that he's getting a Palestinian state. He needs to know what that state will look like - what its territorial contours are.' Then it could be proposed that the Quartet get behind a unified position that the Palestinian state will be based on the '67 borders - though the words 'based on' provide Arik Sharon with a little wiggle room."
        "The U.S. should reject such an effort for a variety of reasons, but on one basis in particular, and that is that it's contrary to the Bush letter to Sharon....Because of the Bush letter, the U.S. should say, 'If you ask us, the American position is that Israel is entitled to defensible borders and it's only realistic that it retain settlement blocs.'" (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    A Soldier's Story - Michael B. Oren (Wall Street Journal)

    • For the first time in history a state sent its army not to protect Jews from foreign attack, but to evict them from what many regarded as their God-given land, in Gaza.
    • The mother of a child who had been killed by terrorists had locked herself in his room, together with gasoline tanks that she threatened to ignite. Another family whose son, an Israeli naval commando, had fallen in Lebanon, was also hesitating to leave.
    • The severest test of one battalion's fortitude - and humaneness - occurred in Badolah's synagogue, where the settlers were afforded an hour of parting prayer. But after two hours waiting in the blistering sun, the soldiers decided to enter. The scene that greeted them was shocking: settlers clutching the pews, the Ark and the Torah scrolls, or writhing on the floor. The troops tried to comfort them, only to break down themselves, and soon soldiers and settlers were embracing in mutual sorrow and consolation.
    • Ultimately, the settlers were either escorted or carried, sobbing, onto buses. But their rabbi, stressing the need for closure, requested permission to address the soldiers, and the battalion commander remarkably agreed. So it happened that 500 troops and 100 settlers stood at attention, with Israeli flags fluttering, while the rabbi spoke of the importance of channeling this sorrow into the creation of a more loving and ethical society. "We are all still one people, one state," he said. Together, the evicted and the evictors, then sang "Hatikvah," the national anthem - "The Hope."

      The writer is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

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