Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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June 16, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Jailed for Outing the Mullah Mafia - Amir Taheri (New York Post)
    Abbas Palizdar, a member of the Iranian General Audit Office, was arrested by the secret police after claiming that "a mafia-style group of mullahs" is "plundering the country and sending the proceeds to foreign banks."
    He also said the same "mafia" had assassinated two prominent officials who had stood in its way.
    Palizdar claimed that former president Rafsanjani, a small building contractor before the mullahs seized power, controls more than 300 businesses, making him the richest man in Iran.
    Palizdar denounced many others, including Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, known to Iranians as "Sugar Ayatollah," since he controls sugar imports; Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi, who is a silent partner in more than 100 businesses; and Ayatollah Abbas Va'ez-Tabassi, who heads the Imam Reza Foundation, Iran's largest business conglomerate.

U.S.-Trained Weapons Expert Teaching Hamas Forces (People's Daily-China)
    Captain Fares al-Ashi, a weapons expert who once received training in South Carolina, is teaching a group of Hamas-controlled policemen about explosives.
    The training program is called the "martyr Aziz Massoud course." Massoud, a police trainer, was killed in February in an Israeli airstrike on a car alongside four members of Hamas' armed wing, the Ezz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades.
    "Every program should carry the name of a martyr," said Major Khalil Hejjo, chief of the police training administration.

Israeli Support for Roadmap Plan Dips Below 50% - Anthony Jaffee (Washington Times)
    Support among Israelis for the U.S.-led "Roadmap" has slipped below 50 percent for the first time since 2003, according to a poll conducted jointly by Hebrew University's Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
    A large majority of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state, but only 28% believe the chances of establishing it in the next five years are fair or high, while 69% believe the chances are nonexistent or weak.
    The continued rocket attacks and suicide bombings in Israel over the past several years are behind the growing cynicism in the Israeli public, said Ariel Cohen, a specialist on the Arab-Israeli conflict at the Heritage Foundation.
    "The Israeli public was very committed to a negotiated solution for decades," he said. "Every Israeli child grows up singing songs about peace, but even after that conditioning the population is becoming disappointed because the other side is clinging to terrorism."
    Russell Stone, director of the Center for Israeli Studies at American University, said, "After the [Israeli] withdrawal from Gaza a couple years ago rocketing of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip began immediately....This has been a great tactical mistake for the Palestinians because it lessens the willingness among the Israeli population to make any further concessions."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Rejects Six-Nation Proposal - Thomas Erdbrink and Robin Wright
    Iran said Saturday that a package of incentives offered by six countries was "out of the question" because it includes a demand for the country to suspend uranium enrichment activities. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana presented the proposal to Iranian authorities Saturday on behalf of the U.S., China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia. He told reporters in Tehran that the offer was "generous and comprehensive and a starting point for real negotiations" on the country's nuclear program. But Gholam Hossein Elham, Iran's government spokesman, said, "If the package includes suspension, it is not debatable at all....Any precondition regarding suspension would be out of the question." (Washington Post)
  • Bush: Iran Has Replaced Palestinians as Key Mideast Focus
    In an interview published on Sunday, President Bush said: "We need more sanctions. The next step is for the Europeans and the United States and Russia and China to understand that diplomacy only works if there are consequences. It is the international issue that faces us all. If the people in the Middle East do not think that the United States and Europe, for example, are going to work to provide security, they will find ways to secure themselves. And what the Middle East does not need is a nuclear arms race. It does not need the instability that comes from an innate fear that the West is not strong enough or willing enough to take on the problem."
        "When you go to the Middle East and you sit in my seat and listen, yes, there's concern about the Palestinian state. But the dialogue has shifted dramatically from 'solve the Palestinian state and you've solved the problems in the Middle East' to, now, 'solve the Iranian issue and you solve the problems in the Middle East'." (Observer-UK)
  • Rice Says Houses Hurt Mideast Talks - Ethan Bronner
    On the latest of her nearly monthly visits to Jerusalem, Secretary of State Rice said Sunday that thousands of housing units that Israel is building on captured land were harming peace talks with the Palestinians. Referring to the construction of Jerusalem neighborhoods, Rice said, "I do believe, and the United States believes, that the actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed having a negative effect on the atmosphere for the negotiation." (New York Times)
        See also Olmert to Rice: Israel to Continue Building in Jerusalem - Roni Sofer
    "We are not confiscating additional Palestinian lands but building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem which are expected to remain in Israeli hands," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told visiting Secretary of State Rice on Sunday. (Ynet News)
        See also Jerusalem Mayor: Jerusalem Is Not a Settlement - Jonathan Lis
    A proposal by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski for the construction of 40,000 residential units in various neighborhoods of the capital over the next decade was approved Sunday by the District Planning and Building Committee. The plan aimed to deal with the serious shortage young couples face in hunting for affordable housing, and will include housing for Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, in the northern neighborhoods of A-Tur, Issawiyeh and Shuwafat. "Jerusalem is not a settlement and construction in the capital will continue," the mayor said Saturday. (Ha'aretz)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF: Jenin Forces Not Fighting Terror - Yaakov Katz
    On Sunday, top Israeli defense officials and IDF officers slammed two American-backed initiatives to deploy additional Palestinian forces in the West Bank, saying they are allowing terrorism to flourish. Defense officials say that since 600 PA soldiers trained by U.S. defense contractors in Jordan were allowed to deploy in Jenin last month, there has been an increase in terrorist activity in the city. On Sunday, a 20-kg. bomb detonated next to an IDF force in Jenin without causing any casualties. Terror suspects arrested by PA forces were usually released in a few days or just hours later, one defense official said. Weapons provided by the U.S. to the PA are finding their way to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Jenin as well as in Nablus, a top officer in the IDF Central Command said. In addition, terrorists have infiltrated the ranks of the PA police and military. (Jerusalem Post)
  • One Year after Takeover: Hamas Remains Popular in Gaza, Fatah Offers No Alternative - Khaled Abu Toameh
    After its violent seizure of Gaza in June 2007, Hamas appears to be as popular as ever. Hamas supporters in Gaza say that despite its failure in almost all fields, Hamas has successfully ended the state of anarchy and lawlessness that prevailed under the Fatah-dominated PA security forces. Hamas officials boasted that not a single foreigner has been kidnapped since the movement took full control of the area.
        A Palestinian journalist working for a foreign news agency in Gaza City noted, "Most people here are happy that the Fatah security forces are gone because they were very corrupt and many of their commanders were acting like mafia leaders. They are also happy that all the Fatah gangsters who used to roam the streets and intimidate the people have disappeared. Today no one dares to carry a gun in public." But all this has been achieved at a very heavy price. More than 450 Palestinians have been killed and 1,800 wounded in the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas. "As long as the Palestinians don't see a better alternative to Hamas, they will continue to support the movement," a Palestinian editor from Gaza City said. "Many Palestinians still don't trust Fatah because of its failure to reform itself and remove all the corrupt leaders."
        Hamas is desperate to reach a cease-fire agreement with Israel; such a truce would allow Hamas to claim "victory" over Israel and the U.S. and to further consolidate its authority in Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah would emerge as the biggest losers from any cease-fire agreement. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • A Year Reshapes Hamas and Gaza - Ethan Bronner
    The notion of Gaza as an enduringly separate entity is solidifying, making it less likely that Palestinians might agree even among themselves on peace with Israel. "What happened in Gaza a year ago was not really a coup," said an Arabic-speaking Israeli security official. "Hamas' takeover was a kind of natural process. Hamas was so strong, so deeply rooted in Palestinian society through its activities in the economy, education, culture and health care, and Fatah was so weak, so corrupt, that the takeover was like wind blowing over a moth-infested structure."
        "Hamas is strong and brutal but very good at governing," observed Eyad Serraj, a British-trained psychiatrist in Gaza. "They have gotten people to pay for car registration. They are getting people to pay their electricity bills after years of everyone refusing to. The city and the hospitals are cleaner than in many years." Jawad Tibi, a health minister under the Fatah government, said, "Hamas is talking about a 30-year truce which is no different really from what we want. Hamas is Fatah with beards." (New York Times)
  • Critics of America's Israel Policy Are Outside Mainstream - Geoffrey Berg
    Some have criticized our presidential candidates' positions on Israel as being in lockstep with the pro-Israel lobby. That view says more about the malevolence or ignorance of those who hold it than it does about the candidates. As one observer wrote recently, Israel's very existence as a Jewish state is viewed as its real crime by its enemies. No politician who believes that Israel has a right to exist and says so will ever win the approval of such extremists.
        Thailand, France and India all have lobbies in Washington. Despite widespread American political support for the continued existence of all of those countries, I don't recall these same critics decrying what must be the obvious undue influence the Thai, French and Indian lobbies have over our politicians. Instead, the critics' obsessive focus is on Israel, the world's only Jewish state. I wonder why that is. (Houston Chronicle)
  • Observations:

    Do Jewish Homes in Jerusalem Really Undermine Peace? - Editorial (New York Sun)

    • In his speech to the Knesset marking Israel's 60th birthday, President Bush called the founding of the Jewish state 60 years ago "the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David - a homeland." What a disappointment, then, to read Sunday's headline in the Wall Street Journal: "Rice Says Jewish Housing Plan Undermines Mideast Peace Talks."
    • The settlements at issue, after all, aren't in the West Bank, but in Jerusalem, Israel's capital. Even if they were in the West Bank, it can't have escaped Mr. Bush's notice that the land promised to Abraham and Moses and David was the West Bank.
    • What is the point of celebrating God's promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people if every time the Jewish state wants to create new housing units in its own capital the American secretary of state turns it into an international cause of complaint?
    • The Palestinian Arabs have no more standing to tell Israel not to build in Jerusalem than al-Qaeda has standing to tell America not to build in Washington. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 sets forth "the policy of the United States" that "Jerusalem should remain an undivided city" and that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel."
    • There are lots of obstacles to peace in the Middle East. Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are funding and harboring anti-Israel terrorists. A Hamas state dedicated to Israel's destruction holds sway at Gaza, whence it daily launches rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. For Ms. Rice to elevate Israeli housing construction in its own capital to the level of a problem in the peace talks indicates a lack of seriousness.

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