Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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May 22, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Analysts: Syria-Israel Peace Deal Requires Shift in U.S. Policy (Ha'aretz)
    Analysts, including former senior Israeli officials, believe there is little prospect of a peace between Israel and Syria without a shift in U.S. policy toward Damascus.
    One view is that, aside from territory, Israel has little to offer Syria, and that Damascus would move its allegiances away from Tehran only on the prospect of being embraced economically and diplomatically by the U.S. and its allies.

U.S. Aid to Palestinians to Total $550 Million (Reuters)
    The U.S. government will provide $550 million in direct financial support to the Palestinian territories in 2008, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt said Wednesday in Bethlehem.

Agent Says FBI Not Prepared to Deal with Middle Eastern Terrorists - Richard B. Schmitt (Los Angeles Times)
    Career FBI agent Bassem Youssef told a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee Wednesday, "The FBI counter-terrorism division is ill-equipped to handle the terrorist threat we are facing."
    Youssef said that counter-terrorism agents and managers at FBI headquarters often lack basic knowledge about Middle Eastern culture, language and terrorists' ideology.
    The result is that agents are wasting resources chasing leads that more sophisticated observers would quickly dispense with. The time and energy expended on marginal cases has diverted resources from investigating more substantial threats, he said.
    The son of immigrant Christian Egyptians and a decorated counter-terrorism agent, Youssef has long been the highest-ranking Arab American agent in the FBI and one of its few native Arabic speakers.
    He was passed over for promotions after the Sept. 11 attacks, and filed a lawsuit in 2003 claiming the bureau discriminated against him based on his ancestry.

Lieberman Wants Terrorist Content Yanked from YouTube - Jack Date (ABC News)
    Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., has asked Google to remove videos - produced by Islamist terrorists - from YouTube.
    "A great majority of these videos document horrific attacks on American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan," he said. Other videos "provide weapons training, speeches by al-Qaeda leadership, and general material intended to radicalize potential recruits."
    Lieberman asks Google to apply its own community guidelines, which forbid graphic violence, and videos that show "someone getting hurt, attacked, or humiliated."
    In response, 80 videos were removed from YouTube by Google. But while Lieberman considers this a good start, he says it is not enough.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Rice on Syria-Israel Talks: Peace Must Include End to Support for Terror
    In response to the announcement of indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel, Secretary of State Rice said Wednesday: "We knew about these discussions from their inception and we have been kept informed. As we noted at the time of Annapolis, we would welcome any steps that might lead to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East....Now, obviously, there is not going to be a comprehensive peace if there continues to be support for terror. There's not going to be a comprehensive peace if there continue to be rejectionist groups that are not willing to accept the principles on which peace might - must be built, two states living side by side, an end to armed conflict which brings death to innocent people....Until that kind of behavior stops, it's going to be very difficult to get to a comprehensive peace." (State Department)
        See also U.S. Cool on Israel, Syria - Matthew Lee
    U.S. officials were cool to an announcement by Israel and Syria that they have resumed indirect peace talks and made clear the U.S. remains focused on the Israeli-Palestinian track that Secretary of State Rice called "more mature." Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said, "We think the expansion of the circle of peace would be a good thing...and we hope it progresses, but where we're making the effort right now is on the Palestinian track." (AP)
  • Israel Sets Demands in New Syrian Peace Track: Break with Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas - Jeffrey Heller
    Israel set terms for concluding a peace deal with Syria on Thursday, closing ranks with Washington in demanding Damascus distance itself from Iran and stop supporting Palestinian and Lebanese militants. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel wanted to live in peace with its neighbors, but Syria needed to "distance itself completely" from "problematic ties" with Iran. Syria must also cease "supporting terror - Hizbullah, Hamas." (Reuters/Washington Post)
        See also Olmert Discusses Israel-Syria Peace Talks - Herb Keinon
    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday discussed the indirect peace negotiations with Syria: "I have no illusions: Negotiations will not be easy, it will not be simple and it is possible that it will take a long time and may eventually involve difficult concessions....The renewal of negotiations with Syria, after eight years of stagnation, is certainly an exciting topic, but beyond this it is a national obligation that must be exhausted....It is always better to talk than to shoot, and I am pleased that both sides decided to do so." While talks have been going on since February 2007, this week, for the first time, Israeli and Syrian teams were in Turkey at the same time, with a Turkish official shuttling between them. (Jerusalem Post)
  • French Court Backs Claim that Al-Dura Killing Was Staged - Brian Rohan
    A French appeals court on Wednesday ruled in favor of media critic Philippe Karsenty, who called into question the veracity of a report by France 2 television about the killing of a Palestinian boy in 2000. Karsenty, head of an online media commentary site, had appealed a 2006 decision which found libelous his statement that the station's Israel correspondent had orchestrated images which later became a symbol for Palestinian militants. Karsenty presented judges with evidence which he said proved 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura's death had been staged. (Reuters)
        See also A Milestone Victory - Melanie Phillips
    The France 2 TV report on the "killing" by the Israelis of the Palestinian child Mohammed al-Dura was a blood libel which gave modern life to the ancient calumny that the Jews murder children, and which itself directly led to the murder of countless innocents. (Spectator-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinian Suicide Bomber Blows Up Truck at Gaza Crossing; No Israeli Casualties - Avi Issacharoff
    A Palestinian truck bomber attacked the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel Thursday morning, Hamas said. Army Radio reported that there were no Israeli injuries in the explosion. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack in cooperation with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Troops prevented the truck from getting close to the crossing by firing at it before it exploded. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Mortar Hits Israeli Army Base, Wounds Soldier - Yuval Azoulay
    An Israel Defense Forces soldier was wounded on Wednesday when a mortar shell fired by Palestinians in Gaza exploded at the Zikkim base near Ashkelon. (Ha'aretz)
  • Demand for Homes in Gaza-Vicinity Communities at All-Time High Despite Palestinian Rocket Attacks - Matan Tzuri
    According to research by Yediot Ahronot, 122 families have chose to move to the "Kassam communities" over the past 12 months, while only a handful of families have decided to leave the region. "There are no available rooms on any kibbutz or moshav," said Haim Yellin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council. "There are no rooms on the kibbutzim for the students of Sapir College." Netiv Ha'asara, a community frequently targeted by rockets, has said it could not absorb any new families. Director of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council strategic office, Oded Felot, explained: "Deep in their hearts, people believe that one day this will end." (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • White House Advice Not Always Followed - Helene Cooper
    The announcement that Israel has entered into comprehensive peace talks with Syria is at odds with the course counseled by the Bush administration, which initially opposed such talks in private conversations with Israelis, according to Israeli and American officials. A week ago, President Bush delivered a speech to the Israeli Parliament likening attempts to "negotiate with the terrorists and radicals" to appeasement before World War II. While Mr. Bush and his advisers have repeatedly scorned the idea of talking to enemies without first getting preconditions met, administration policy over the last seven years has been far more nuanced. In fact, the Bush administration has shown a sliding definition of just when it is beneficial to talk to whom. (New York Times)
        See also U.S. on the Outside in Peace Efforts - Robin Wright
    For years, the Bush administration has resisted overtures from Jerusalem and Damascus to participate in revived peace efforts over the Golan Heights. At his Senate confirmation hearing on May 1, James B. Cunningham, the ambassador-designate to Israel, said, "We have taken the position that it is not very useful right now for us to be talking to Syria." (Washington Post)
  • Coddling Terrorists In Yemen - Ali H. Soufan
    Seven years after al-Qaeda terrorists Jamal al-Badawi and Fahd al-Quso confessed to me their crucial involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole, and three years after they were convicted in a Yemeni court - where a judge imposed a death sentence on Badawi - they, along with many other al-Qaeda terrorists, are free. When the FBI arrived in Yemen, some government officials tried to convince us that the explosion had been caused by a malfunction in the Cole's operating systems. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh even asked the U.S. government for money to clean up port damage the U.S. "caused."
        Using DNA, we eventually discovered the bombers' identities, and, through other forms of forensics, we were able to identify more terrorists, track them down and prosecute them in Yemeni courts, disrupting further terrorist plots and protecting U.S. interests. If Yemen is truly an ally, it should act as an ally. Until it does, U.S. aid to Yemen should be reevaluated. It will be impossible to defeat al-Qaeda if our "allies" are freeing the convicted murderers of U.S. citizens and terrorist masterminds. The writer, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to May 2005, led the FBI's Cole investigation that began on Oct. 12, 2000. (Washington Post)
        See also Al-Qaeda Operative Jailed in Yemen - Craig Whitlock
    Jaber Elbaneh, an al-Qaeda operative who had roamed free in Yemen despite a $5 million reward offered by the U.S. government for his capture, was jailed Sunday by a Yemeni judge, one day after a Washington Post article on how he was living under the personal protection of Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    The Phenomenon of Islamist National Suicide - Amnon Rubinstein (Jerusalem Post)

    • Lt.-Col. (ret.) Ari Bar Yosef writes in the army journal Ma'arachot that cases of Islamist national suicide are not uncommon. He cites three such examples of Arab-Muslim regimes irrationally sacrificing their very existence, overriding their instinct of self-preservation, to fight the perceived enemy to the bitter end.
      1. Saddam Hussein could have avoided war and conquest in 2003 by allowing UN inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted. Yet Iraq's ruler opted for war, knowing full well that he would have to face the might of the U.S.
      2. Yasser Arafat in 2000, after the failure of the Camp David and Taba talks, could have continued talking to Israel. But he chose to resort to violence, with the result that all progress toward Palestinian independence was blocked.
      3. Post-9/11, the Taliban had the options of entering into negotiations with the U.S., with a view to extraditing Osama bin Laden, or to risk war and destruction. They chose to die fighting rather than to give up an inch.
    • In all three cases, prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide were preferable to peaceful solutions. Dying is preferable to negotiating with infidels. The same conclusion is applicable to the Palestinians voting for Hamas, and to Iran's decision to confront the Security Council on acquiring nuclear weapons.
    • Suicide in the struggle against Israel has acquired a degree of legitimacy the West cannot even fathom. Israel, as well as the West, should be prepared for a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past.

      The writer, a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, is a former minister of education.

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