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June 3, 2009

In-Depth Issues:

Inside Hizbullah: No Separate Military and Political Wings - Natalia Antelava (BBC News)
    Ahead of key elections in Lebanon, BBC News gained rare access to Mahmoud, a fighter of the powerful military wing of Hizbullah.
    Created in the 1980s with the financial backing of Iran and a goal of fighting Israel, today Hizbullah is probably the most powerful, best-funded militia in the Middle East.
    Recently, the UK decided to distinguish between the two faces of Hizbullah - by talking to its politicians while keeping the military wing on the terrorist list.
    But Mahmoud says the UK is fooling itself by making this distinction. "We have two arms, but we belong to one body. There is no such thing as the military wing or the political wing of Hizbullah - we are all part of one resistance," he said.
    "Hizbullah will become a purely political party only when Israel ceases to exist," he said.

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Additional Roadblocks Removed in West Bank (IDF Spokesperson)
    On Tuesday, the Rimonim and Bir Zeit roadblocks located near Ramallah were removed in order to improve the daily life of Palestinian civilians.
    A number of steps have taken place this year, in accordance with decisions made by the Israeli government, designed to widen the free movement of Palestinians and strengthen the Palestinian Security Forces and the Palestinian economy.
    Some 145 roadblocks were removed in the past year.

UN Human Rights Council Has Different Rules for Israel, Sri Lanka - Editorial (National Post-Canada)
    The UN Human Rights Council voted to affirm Sri Lanka's right, justifiably, to self-defense from terror attacks launched against its citizens and territory by the Tamil Tigers.
    Indeed, the council went further, "condemning all attacks that the LTTE launched on the civilian population and its practice of using civilians as human shields."
    Why, then, when Israel seeks to do the same - protect its citizens and territory from rocket and terror attacks launched from Gaza - does the very same council accuse Israel of being a "genocidal empire?"
    We are not disagreeing with the UNHRC's assessment of Sri Lanka's actions. Even more than Hamas and its jihadi brothers-in-arms, the Tigers were enthusiastic suicide bombers.
    Our question is merely: Why such a double standard when it comes to Israel?

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Growing Concern in Congress Over Obama Pressure on Israel on Settlements - Ben Smith
    The administration's escalating pressure on Israel to freeze all settlement growth has begun to stir concern among Israel's numerous allies in both parties on Capitol Hill. "My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute," said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). "I think it would serve America's interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements." Even a key defender of Obama's Mideast policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration's definition of "settlement."
        Other Democrats raised similar concerns. While few will defend illegal Jewish outposts on land they hope will be part of a Palestinian state, they question putting public pressure on Israel while paying less public attention to Palestinian terrorism and other Arab states' hostility to Israel. "There's a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line," said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). "I would have liked to hear the president talk more about the Palestinian obligation to cut down on terrorism." "I don't think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there's "room for compromise."
        "It's misguided. Behind that pressure is the assumption that somehow resolving the so-called settlements will somehow lead to the ultimate goal" of disarming Iran, said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip. "A backward assumption is being made that if we deal with the Israel-Palestine question, somehow all the problems in the Middle East will be solved." The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC last week got the signatures of 329 members of Congress, including key figures in both parties, on a letter calling on the administration to work "closely and privately" with Israel - in contrast to the current public pressure. (Politico)
  • Arab States Cool to Obama Pleas for Peace Gesture - Michael Slackman
    President Obama starts his Middle East tour on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to press the Arab nations to offer a gesture to the Israelis to entice them to accelerate the peace process. But when he meets in Riyadh with King Abdullah, he should be prepared for a polite but firm refusal, Saudi officials and political experts say. "What do you expect the Arabs to give without getting anything in advance?" said Mohammad Abdullah al-Zulfa, a member of the Saudi Shura Council. (New York Times)
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Meets Putin in Russia
    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met Tuesday in Russia with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "The first Russian-speaking foreign minister of the Jewish state has set developing relations with Russia as one of his priorities. Moscow is treating him in kind," the Russian daily Kommersant said. (AFP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel: We Accepted Roadmap and Adopted Disengagement from Gaza - Based on Understandings with U.S. Over Settlements - Herb Keinon and Hilary Leila Krieger
    Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Tuesday that, "over the past decade, important understandings were reached on the issues of settlements, understandings that Israel abided by. While Israel committed itself not to build new settlements and to address the unauthorized outposts, there was an effort to allow for normal life in existing communities, especially those in the large settlement blocs that will definitely stay part of Israel in any final-status agreement." "On the basis of these understandings, the government accepted the Roadmap in 2003, and adopted the disengagement plan in 2005," the officials said.
        Dov Weisglass, former Prime Minister Sharon's advisor who was involved in reaching these understandings with the U.S., wrote in Yediot Ahronot Tuesday that there was "no doubt" that the Bush administration recognized Israel's right to build within the construction lines of the settlements, on condition that no new settlements would be established, that there would be no expropriation of Palestinian land for the settlements, and that no budgets would be allocated for encouraging settlement. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel Ready to Resume Negotiations with Palestinians Immediately - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Israel is willing to resume diplomatic and economic negotiations with the Palestinians immediately, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday in New York. "I told the UN secretary-general that the current government is committed to a diplomatic and economic dialogue with the Palestinians," Shalom said following the meeting. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Avoiding a U.S.-Israel Confrontation - Abraham Foxman
    The last thing either the U.S. or Israel needs is an unnecessary conflict. For America, a rift with Israel will not impress the moderate Arabs despite their rhetoric, because what is on their mind is the Iranian and Islamic extremism threat. U.S. displeasure with Israel will send a message of U.S. diversion from and even weakness on the central strategic issue threatening the region. Moreover, the notion that Israeli steps stopping natural growth in the settlement blocs will turn the Muslim world around is an illusion. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to dismantle 80% of the settlements, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled all the settlements in Gaza. Yet none of these significant steps regarding settlements produced any moderation or concessions on the Arab or Palestinian side. The writer is national director of the Anti-Defamation League. (CBS News)
  • With Support for Abbas, Is Obama Betting on Wrong Horse? - Leslie Susser
    As the U.S. presses for progress in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, President Obama is redoubling Washington's efforts to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas. The thinking is that with strong American backing Abbas will be able to carry the Palestinian street and deliver a workable peace deal with Israel. But some analysts question whether Abbas has the clout to cut a deal that will be accepted by most Palestinians. They reckon Obama is betting on the wrong horse.
        Some argue that Obama is making a huge blunder in trying to construct an ambitious new Middle Eastern peace edifice with a Palestinian partner who cannot deliver, due to Abbas' political weakness. It's not only a question of Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank; Fatah itself is deeply divided both between veterans and the young guard, and on key issues. Whereas Abbas is for the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and a small group of leading businessmen argue that first there should be a long period of institution-building to ensure that the state is not established on a foundation of corruption. The upshot of all these divisions, says Menachem Klein, an expert on Palestinian affairs at Bar-Ilan University, is that Abbas and the Fayyad government have little support in Fatah or on the Palestinian street. (JTA)
  • A New Red Line for Iran - Graham Allison
    Over the past eight years, the U.S. has insisted that Iran would never be allowed to develop the capability to enrich uranium, as that could be used to build a nuclear bomb. Three unanimous UN Security Council resolutions demanded that Iran "suspend all enrichment-related activities." Technically, mastery of enrichment is the brightest red line short of nuclear weapons. Sadly, the strategy pursued to prevent Iran from crossing that red line failed. Iran has demonstrably mastered the capability to manufacture and operate centrifuges to enrich uranium, and has already produced more than a ton of low-enriched uranium - an amount sufficient, after further enrichment, to make its first nuclear bomb.
        The best hope for defining a new meaningful red line is to enshrine the Iranian supreme leader's affirmations that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons in a solemn international agreement that commits Russia and China to join the U.S. in specific, devastating penalties for violation of that pledge. The writer is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    What Obama Will Tell the Arabs and Muslims in Cairo - Thomas L. Friedman (New York Times)

    • During a telephone interview Tuesday with President Obama about his speech to Arabs and Muslims in Cairo on Thursday, he said a key part of his message will be: "Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly." He then explained: "There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the 'threat' from Israel, but won't admit it."
    • There are a lot of Israelis "who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution - that is in their long-term interest - but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly."
    • There are a lot of Palestinians who "recognize that the constant incitement and negative rhetoric with respect to Israel" has not delivered a single "benefit to their people and had they taken a more constructive approach and sought the moral high ground" they would be much better off today - but they won't say it aloud.
    • "There are a lot of Arab states that have not been particularly helpful to the Palestinian cause beyond a bunch of demagoguery," and when it comes to "ponying up" money to actually help the Palestinian people, they are "not forthcoming."
    • "What I do believe is that if we are engaged in speaking directly to the Arab street, and they are persuaded that we are operating in a straightforward manner, then, at the margins, both they and their leadership are more inclined and able to work with us."
    • Part of America's "battle against terrorist extremists involves changing the hearts and minds of the people they recruit from," he added. "And if there are a bunch of 22- and 25-year-old men and women in Cairo or in Lahore who listen to a speech by me or other Americans and say: 'I don't agree with everything they are saying, but they seem to know who I am or they seem to want to promote economic development or tolerance or inclusiveness,' then they are maybe a little less likely to be tempted by a terrorist recruiter."

          See also Obama's Muslim Speech - Madeleine K. Albright (New York Times)
          See also Obama and the Freedom Agenda - Paul Wolfowitz (Wall Street Journal)

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