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June 8, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Mitchell: Obama Wants "Immediate" Mideast Talks (Reuters)
    President Obama wants "immediate" talks between the Palestinians and Israel to forge a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement, U.S. envoy George Mitchell said on Monday.
    "The President has told me to exert all efforts to create the circumstance when the parties can begin immediate discussions," Mitchell said at the start of a Palestinian donors' conference in Oslo.

Obama Seeks Global Uranium Fuel Bank - Bryan Bender (Boston Globe)
    As part of a new strategy to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, President Obama plans to seek the creation of an international supply of uranium that would allow nations to obtain fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but limit the capacity to make bombs, according to senior administration officials.
    Many arms-control specialists consider the idea of a "fuel bank" controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency a key way to test the sincerity of Iranian leaders, who maintain that their enrichment program is only for civilian use.
    The idea is to have a relatively small, but guaranteed supply of low-enriched uranium available as a backup should a country's supplies of civilian nuclear fuel from other nations be cut off.

Israel Lifts More Checkpoints after Obama Speech (Reuters)
    Israel lifted restrictions at two checkpoints in the West Bank on Friday, the army said, after President Obama urged Israel to take concrete steps to improve the lives of Palestinians.
    The announcement came two days after Israel said it had ended inspections of Palestinian cars at two other roadblocks close to the city of Ramallah.

Obama Postpones U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem (AFP/Ynet News)
    President Obama delayed for six months moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the White House said on Friday.
    Ever since Congress passed a law in 1995 ordering the transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, U.S. presidents have routinely delayed the move.
    The international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Hamas Arrests 76 Fatah Members in Gaza (Maan News-PA)
    Hamas security forces in Gaza on Saturday detained 76 Fatah members and others loyal to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reported Sunday.
    The sweep comes after nine Palestinians were killed in two gunfights last week between Hamas fighters and PA forces in Kalkilya in the West Bank.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Pro-Western Bloc Defeats Hizbullah in Lebanese Election - Nicholas Blanford
    The Western-backed March 14 bloc appeared to have retained its parliamentary majority in Lebanon's closely fought election in the face of a strong challenge by the Hizbullah-led opposition, according to preliminary results. Lebanese television predicted that March 14 had won 70 seats in the 128-seat parliament. "We've lost the election," a source close to the opposition told Reuters. "We accept the result as the will of the people."  (Times-UK)
        See also Israel Calls on Next Lebanese Government to Stop Arms to Hizbullah (DPA)
  • IAEA: Iran Nuclear Program Advancing, Uranium Found in Damascus Lab - Borzou Daragahi
    Iran has significantly boosted its supply and output of reactor-grade nuclear material, according to a quarterly report issued Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's arms control division. The report says Iran has increased its supply of low-enriched uranium during the last three months by 30%, to nearly 3,000 pounds, and is now feeding uranium gas into about 5,000 high-speed centrifuges, up 25% since February. It also has an additional 2,000 centrifuges spinning in preparation for being fed uranium gas to turn into nuclear material.
        Meanwhile, in Syria, international inspectors reported finding unexplained particles of modified uranium at a lab in Damascus. The particles "are of a type not included in Syria's declared inventory of nuclear material," the report says. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Israel Calls for Action to Block Iran Nuclear Weapons, IAEA Should Investigate Syria
    The report on Iran again contains serious findings of increased uranium enrichment in Iran, in violation of Security Council resolutions, as well as other activities that could be connected to a military nuclear program. The report also emphasizes the IAEA's inability to carry out full and effective monitoring in Iran due to that country's continued lack of cooperation. These findings demonstrate that the international community, no more than Israel, cannot place its trust in IAEA monitoring in Iran. Accordingly, what is needed from the international community is immediate and determined action to ensure that Iran will not be able to produce nuclear weapons.
        Regarding Syria, the report details many suspicious findings as well as Syria's unresponsiveness to the Agency's demand to visit the various sites and to provide answers to disturbing issues. The Agency should condemn Syria for hiding the facts pertaining to secret nuclear activity at Dir a-Zur in eastern Syria. The IAEA Director General should use all the means at his disposal to investigate Syria. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Obama Visits Buchenwald, Calls for Arab States to Open Ties with Israel - Chris Bryant and Tobias Buck
    President Obama Friday called on Arab states to show willingness to set up diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel in return for "tough commitments" from the Jewish state, ahead of a poignant visit to the former Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. "I will not forget about what I have seen here," the president said, referring to the ovens, barracks and barbed wire. "To this day there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened, a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful." Obama told NBC News that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, should also visit the camp. "I have no patience for people who would deny history." (Financial Times-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinians Attack IDF Forces near Gaza Border - Hanan Greenberg
    A Palestinian force numbering at least 10 gunmen approached the Gaza border with Israel near the Karni fuel terminal close to Nahal Oz early Monday morning and shot at IDF troops, who responded with fire. At least four of the gunmen were hit. Mortar fire was launched from Palestinian territory in order to help the terror cell escape, and several vehicles arrived at the scene to evacuate the gunmen. An IDF helicopter struck the vehicles. The gunmen were apparently planning to launch a major attack against the military forces or an Israeli community in the region. (Ynet News)
        See also Four Palestinian Terrorists Killed in Gaza Border Battle - Sakher Abu El Oun
    At least four Palestinian militants were killed on Monday in a gunbattle with Israeli soldiers along the Gaza border. The bodies of all four had explosives belts around them and two of the bodies were torn to shreds by explosions, medics said after retrieving the remains. At least another 12 Palestinians were wounded in the fighting. (AFP)
  • Netanyahu to Present Israel's Vision for Peace - Roni Sofer
    Prime Minister Netanyahu will lay out his political stance on peace with the Palestinians in a speech at Bar-Ilan University next week in response to President Obama's address in Egypt last week, officials close to the prime minister said on Sunday. "The prime minister is adamant to make clear to Israelis and to the world that Israel is not against peace, and that it is willing to adopt the principles of Obama's vision while maintaining Israel's security interests," the sources said. (Ynet News)
  • Israel Proposes Joint U.S.-Israeli Team Monitor Settlements - Roni Sofer
    A senior Israeli official said on Saturday night that Israel will continue to build in the larger settlement blocs, in communities adjacent to the security fence and in the neighborhoods on Jerusalem's outskirts. Another official sought to stress that Israel was "willing to work towards a solution, one that culminates in the creation of a Palestinian state with limited authorities" pertaining to security issues. Israel has offered the Americans to form a joint body that would be tasked with overseeing construction in the settlements to ensure that the building does not go beyond the existing limits of any given community, and that no new settlements are being built. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Obama in Cairo: Actually, the Arab World Needs to Reach Out - Editorial
    Respect is a two-way street. If they want respect, Muslim states must seek active ways to improve relations with the U.S. We would like to see fewer anti-American harangues in official media and firebrand sermons in state-controlled mosques. Respect for Islam would be much more palatable if the Muslim world decriminalized conversion to other faiths and allowed true religious freedom, as Muslims enjoy in America.
        With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, many Muslim leaders seem to expect progress to come through the United States pressuring Israel unilaterally to surrender to Arab demands. But they, not U.S. officials, will play the decisive role in settling the matter, since they are the countries refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist (excepting Egypt and Jordan). A good first step would be to end the Arab League boycott of Israel, which will also help develop the Palestinian economy. Muslim governments can make gestures such as granting civilian overflight rights, establishing postal and telecommunications ties and promoting regional travel. Israel has shown a desire to do all these things, so the ball is in the Muslim world's court. (Washington Times)
  • Settlements Are No Threat - Aron U. Raskas
    As one looks out from Rimonim, a Jewish settlement in the heart of the West Bank, the most telling fact is what one does not see. Over the miles of rolling hills, there is not an Arab village, building, home or even a herd of sheep to be seen. The scene is the same at other Jewish settlements as well. Palestinian propaganda has for years purveyed the myth of Israeli settlements choking Palestinian communities the way residential developments have encroached upon rural America. Yet, in reality, nothing like this exists in the largely unsettled expanses of the West Bank.
        Even the group Peace Now concedes that Israeli settlements - mostly bedroom communities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - occupy less than 3% of the West Bank. More than 98% of Palestinians already live under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, and there is no shortage of land there for Palestinian expansion. (Baltimore Sun)
  • Observations:

    Compromise Is Achievable on Settlements - Editorial (Washington Post)

    • In the weeks before President Obama's Cairo address to the Muslim world, his administration opened a striking public breach with the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
    • What Mr. Netanyahu almost certainly will not do is abandon the position of previous Israeli governments - accepted in practice by both the Bush and Clinton administrations - that some "natural growth" must be allowed in existing settlements. No Israeli government - not Mr. Netanyahu's, not even one led by the current opposition - is likely to agree to a total construction ban.
    • By insisting on one, the administration risks bogging itself down in a major dispute with its ally, while giving Arab governments and Palestinians a ready excuse not to make their own concessions.
    • Meanwhile, the practical need for a total settlement freeze is debatable. Palestinian negotiators have already conceded that many of the towns will be annexed to Israel in any final deal; so did former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
    • A good compromise is achievable. Then Mr. Obama can turn to the equally important task of pressing Palestinian leaders and Arab states for measures that match Israel's actions.

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