Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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February 28, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Report: Abbas Does Not Rule Out Resuming Armed Conflict with Israel - Roee Nahmias (Ynet News)
    Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that he does not completely rule out the possibility of resuming the armed conflict with Israel.
    In an interview with the Jordanian newspaper al-Dustur, Abbas said he is against an armed conflict at this time, but things may differ in the future.
    Abbas also said he objects to Israel's definition as a Jewish state: "We negated the concept in the Annapolis peace conference and it almost ended because of it...they wanted us to state we recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the closing statements, but we wouldn't hear of it."

Jordanian Police Arrest Five Suspected Hamas Spies - Ghassan Bannoura (IMEMC-PA)
    BBC reported Wednesday that the Jordanian police arrested five men, believed to be spies for Hamas, who were taking photos of military installations and the Israeli Consulate in Amman.
    Jordanian authorities alleged that the men were working for the Hamas office in Damascus.

Video: Human Rights Abuses by Palestinian Security Services - Ben Wedeman (CNN)

Saudi Arabia Transfers Its Ambassador Out of Syria (MEMRI)
    Saudi Arabia has decided to transfer its current ambassador to Syria, Ahmad Al-Kahtani, to Qatar, Al-Watan in Syria reported Wednesday.
    Arab diplomatic sources say that the move indicates that Saudi Arabia has despaired of improving relations with Syria, which are tense over the Lebanon crisis.

Fatah Fighters Who Fled Gaza Feel Neglected in the West Bank - Dion Nissenbaum (McClatchy)
    They are the forgotten Fatah loyalists, two dozen maimed Palestinian fighters in Ramallah who fled Gaza when Hamas seized control in June.
    Over the past eight months, their anger toward Hamas has gradually turned into rage at the Palestinian Authority they gave their limbs for but which they now feel has abandoned them once again.

Saudi Professor Faces Lashes for Having Coffee with Female Student - Michael Theodoulou (Reuters/Times-UK)
    A university professor in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 180 lashes and eight months in jail - for having coffee with a girl.
    The man, a prominent and well-respected Saudi teacher of psychology at Umm al-Qra University in Mecca, was framed by the religious police after he angered some of their members at a training course, his lawyer said.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Rice Demands End to Rocket Attacks
    U.S. Secretary of State Rice, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Olmert in Tokyo, called for an end to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli territory from Gaza. Asked whether she advised Olmert to prevent the military from using disproportionate force in Gaza, Rice said: "I think that's not a good way to address this issue. The issue is that the rocket attacks need to stop.'' Rice will visit Israel and the West Bank next week to help accelerate Middle East peace talks. (Bloomberg)
        See also Rice Tells Olmert She's Concerned about Gaza Civilians - Arshad Mohammed
    Secretary of State Rice voiced concern on Thursday about Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza, but stopped short of an explicit call for Israel to exercise restraint. "I am concerned about the humanitarian condition there and innocent people in Gaza who are being hurt. We have to remember that the Hamas activities there are responsible for what has happened in Gaza," she said. (Reuters)
  • Israel Targets Hamas Rocket Engineer Trained in Iran - Isabel Kershner
    Palestinians said two of the Hamas militants killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Wednesday were Abdullah Edwan, a rocket engineer, and Muhammad Abu Aker, a rocket squad commander. Residents said the two had returned from Iran three weeks ago. (New York Times)
  • UK Thwarted Plot to Kill Saudi King - Paisley Dodds
    British police thwarted a suspected plot to kill the king of Saudi Arabia during a state visit to Britain last year. Officers caught a courier at Heathrow Airport attempting to smuggle $330,000 in cash into Britain to pay a cell of dissident Saudi Arabians, Detective Superintendent Mark Holmes, head of the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit, said Wednesday. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Fifty Palestinian Rockets Bombard Israel, Israeli Killed at Sapir College, Ashkelon Hospital Targeted - Ofra Edelman and Yuval Azoulay
    Fifty Palestinian rockets hit Israel on Wednesday, with one of them killing Roni Yihye, 47, a father of four, who was inside his car in the parking lot of Sapir College near Sderot. A Katyusha rocket exploded on the helipad of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon while the hospital was treating casualties from Sderot. Two more Katyusha rockets hit Ashkelon: one hit the town's southern industrial zone and another exploded in the middle of a residential area. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Ashkelon Residents Realize: We're Just Like Sderot - Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israeli Minister's Security Guard Wounded by Palestinian Rocket
    One of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter's security guards was wounded Thursday when a Kassam rocket landed at the entrance to Sderot's Sapir College, where the minister was paying a visit. Ten more Kassam rockets hit Israel Thursday morning. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Dying for a Degree - Omri Keinan
    Below the kibbutz-like surface and the relaxed atmosphere at Sapir College, one can find a horrifying reality. You will not find students sitting on the grass. They are scared to be left without shelter should rockets land. Almost every day there are "Red Alerts" and Kassam rockets landing, followed by tears, mass panic, and concerned phone calls from home. I do not have the confidence to say that tomorrow's Kassam rocket will not hit me or any one of my friends at the college. Can you comprehend that this is how students in Israel go about their studies? Do we need to sacrifice our lives for the sake of an academic degree? (Ynet News)
        See also Israel: Palestinian Rocket Fire Is a War Crime
    College student Roni Yihye was killed Wednesday by a Kassam rocket. The firing of rockets by Hamas at Israeli civilians from within populated Palestinian areas is a war crime that harms both Israelis and Palestinians. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Terror Cell in PA "Custody" Was Planning New Attacks in Israel - Efrat Weiss
    Israeli defense officials said that Tanzim leader Ibrahim Masyami, killed by security forces in Nablus on Wednesday, was part of a cell that planned to carry out a terror attack in Israel in the coming days. Three other gunmen were wounded in the arrest raid. The men were to have been under the custody of the Palestinian Authority but were apparently allowed to move freely within Nablus. Several of the men had escaped from the Nablus prison in January and were then given residence at an apartment maintained by the PA. (Ynet News)
  • IDF: Without Presence in West Bank, Hamas Would Take Over in Days
    "Without the massive IDF presence in the West Bank, Hamas would take over the institutions and apparatuses of the Palestinian Authority within days," Head of Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni told President Shimon Peres Tuesday. Shamni said Hamas was engaged in a constant effort to increase its influence "and its presence is felt in hospitals, preschools, schools, universities and mosques." Shamni said the PA was making an effort to keep public order but was not seriously working to stop terrorists operating in the West Bank. Peres was shown a Kassam rocket and launcher captured in Nablus in the West Bank. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • On the Edge in the South - Editorial
    The dozens of rockets that were fired Wednesday from Gaza - one of which killed Roni Yihye - have placed the IDF on the threshold of a major raid into the Palestinian territory. Responsibility for the escalation lies entirely with the Palestinian side: the Hamas government. We can only imagine what would happen had the Palestinians launched rockets southward into Egyptian territory. We can assume that Egypt would protect its sovereignty and the welfare of its citizens with a tough response directed at the sources of the firing. The IDF's preventive activities against the armed squads are justified. They cannot serve as an excuse for the rocket barrages. (Ha'aretz)
  • Mullahs in Space - Peter Brookes
    On Feb. 5, Iranian President Ahmadinejad ordered the launch of a ballistic missile described as a "space launch vehicle" from a new space center in northern Iran. Iran claims it set the stage for a future launch of the first Iranian-built satellite next spring. A space program is critical to developing ICBM capacity. Theoretically, if you can launch a ballistic missile that can place a satellite into earth orbit, you have the scientific wherewithal to hit a target anywhere on Earth with a warhead, including a nuke. A two-stage missile from Iran could reach our East Coast; three-stages, the whole United States. The writer, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. (New York Post)
  • High-Trajectory Weapons and Guerilla Warfare: Adjusting Fundamental Security Concepts - Gabriel Siboni
    Countries such as Syria and organizations like Hizbullah in Lebanon and Palestinian organizations have built up high-trajectory fire capabilities as a key part of their operational capability. The Syrian military has built up powerful, well-stocked firing capabilities in a system built to operate on Israel's northern front as well as within Israel's strategic interior. At the same time, Hizbullah and other terror organizations have also built up high-trajectory systems, which present Israel with a significant challenge. Actually, Syria could launch an attack that comprises firing on IDF forces or a terror attack against civilians without operating any sort of maneuvering force and without any objective of seizing territory.
        Given the special conditions Israel faces, mainly the size of its territory, its minimal strategic depth, and the concentration of its population and strategic infrastructure within a narrow and crowded area, it is imperative to examine the implications of the changing nature of the threat to Israel. (Strategic Assessment/Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Observations:

    Is Israel Bound by International Law to Supply Utilities, Goods, and Services to Gaza? - Abraham Bell (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • On Feb. 27, 2008, the new UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert H. Serry, told the UN Security Council: "Israeli measures amounting to collective punishment are not acceptable. We call on Israel to meet its obligations toward the civilian population of Gaza under international law." Yet international law does not require Israel to supply Gaza with fuel or electricity, or, indeed, with any other materials, goods, or services.
    • Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention permits states like Israel to cut off fuel supplies and electricity to territories like Gaza. It only requires Israel to permit passage of food, clothing, and medicines intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers, and maternity cases. Moreover, Israel would be under no obligation to provide anything itself, just not to interfere with such consignments sent by others. Article 70 of the First Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 creates a slightly broader duty regarding the provision of essential supplies, but it does not list fuel and electricity as items for which passage must be permitted.
    • Dependence on foreign supply - whether it be Gazan dependence on Israeli electricity or European dependence on Arab oil - does not create a legal duty to continue the supply. Absent specific treaty requirements, countries may cut off oil sales to other countries at any time. In addition, neither Israel nor any other country is required to supply goods in response to its foes' resource mismanagement or lack of natural bounty.
    • There is no precedent that creates legal duties on the basis of a former military administration. For instance, no one has ever argued that Egypt has legal duties to supply goods to Gaza due to its former military occupation of the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, control of airspace does not create a legal duty to supply goods either. For instance, UN Security Council-ordered no-fly zones in Iraq and Libya were not seen as the source of any legal duty to supply those countries with electricity, water, or other goods.

      The writer is a member of the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, Visiting Professor at Fordham University Law School, and Director of the International Law Forum at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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