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September 4, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Chavez in Syria Bashes Israel - Albert Aji (AP)
    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attacked Israel Thursday during his visit to Syria, saying, "Israel has become a country that annihilates people and is hostile to peace."
    "The entire world knows it. Why was the state of Israel created?... To impede the unity of the Arab world. To assure the presence of the North American empire in all these lands."

Iraq Accuses Syria of Harboring Armed Groups - Jayson Keyser (AP/Washington Post)
    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday that Syria was sheltering armed groups wanted for cross-border attacks, forcing him to appeal to the UN for help in stopping what he called a hostile act.

Iranian TV for Ramadan: "Rothschild Legacy" Controlling the World (MEMRI)
    The Syrian-produced TV series "Al-Shatat," airing on Iran's Channel 2 TV during Ramadan 2009, depicts a "global Jewish government," as well as the notorious blood libel - Jews slaughtering a Christian child to use his blood for Passover matzos.

Poll: Palestinians View Human Rights and Peace Process (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research)
    A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research on 13-15 August 2009 found:
    Do you think there is corruption in PA institutions under the control of Mahmoud Abbas? Yes 68%, No 20%.
    Status of democracy and human rights in the West Bank: Good 37%, Bad 35%.
    Status of democracy and human rights in Gaza: Good 28%, Bad 43%.
    Mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people: Agree 49%, Disagree 49%.
    Chances for establishing Palestinian state next to Israel in the next five years: High 4%, Medium 26%, Low 39%, Non-existent 29%.

Former Abbas Ally Calls Him "a Third World Tyrant" - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Nabil Amr, a long-time political ally of Mahmoud Abbas, described him at a meeting of PLO leaders in Ramallah last week as a "third-world tyrant," joining a long list of top Fatah officials who have accused Abbas of stealing the recent elections for the faction's Central Committee and Revolutionary Council.
    Amr, the PLO ambassador to Egypt and former minister of information, announced his resignation from all PA and Fatah institutions.

Turkey, Iraq and Syria Tussle over Water Rights - Suzan Fraser (AP)
    Drought-stricken Iraq has accused its upstream neighbors Turkey and Syria of taking too much from the rivers and their tributaries.
    Below-average rainfall and insufficient water in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have left Iraq parched for a second straight year, wrecking swaths of farmland and threatening drinking water supplies.
    Sharing water has been a potential source of conflict since the 1970s when Turkey and Syria began constructing dams.

Dead Sea Losing Water More Rapidly - Zafrir Rinat (Ha'aretz)
    The Dead Sea has dropped more quickly in the past two years than the average for the past decade, according to Water Authority figures released this week.
    The average drop for 1998-2008 was 98 cm. a year, but last year the drop was 138 cm. and this year it has already dropped 113 cm. due to increased use of water feeding into the sea.

Palestinian Women Knit Jewish Skullcaps - Mohammed Assadi (Reuters)
    Of all the cottage industries in the West Bank, the crocheting of Jewish skullcaps by Palestinian hands seems one of the oddest.
    But creating the colorful cap, known in Hebrew as a "kippah," keeps hundreds of women busy in villages like Deir Abu Meshal, which have been making the religious headgear for their Jewish neighbors for some 40 years.
    Almost every house in the village of 3,000 west of Ramallah makes the little caps. Women bring their wool and needles to each other's home to crochet and chat.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Won't Bow to Deadline Demand for Nuclear Talks - Henry Meyer
    Iran said it won't bow to international pressure to meet an end-of-September deadline for holding talks on its nuclear program. "The Iranian nation favors interaction and dialogue but will not surrender to pressure," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that the threat of sanctions won't sway Iran. "No one can impose sanctions on Iran anymore," he said. It remains unlikely that Iran is willing to make the necessary compromises on at least limiting its enrichment of uranium, said Cliff Kupchan, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group in New York. (Bloomberg)
        See also Iran Assembly Approves Most of Ahmadinejad's Hard-Line Cabinet - Ali Akbar Dareini and Sebastian Abbot
    President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a broad mandate Thursday as parliament backed his main Cabinet choices, while rejecting his choice for energy minister and two of three women nominated for posts. Analysts said parliament's strong support could indicate that despite differences among conservatives, they believe it is better to present a fairly united front as Iran faces possible harsher international sanctions and continued pressure from reformists at home. (AP/Washington Post)
  • Arms Dealer Indicted in Plot to Ship Jet Parts to Iran - Spencer S. Hsu
    Jacques Monsieur, 56, a Belgian arms dealer, was indicted on Aug. 27 for trying to smuggle fighter-jet engines and parts from the U.S. to Iran, U.S. officials announced Wednesday. Authorities say Monsieur in February contacted a person he thought could supply him with engines for F-5 fighter or C-130 cargo transport aircraft. That person turned out to be an undercover U.S. Customs agent. (Washington Post)
  • Iran Recalls Envoys Who Backed "Rioters" - Philippe Naughton
    Iran is to recall 40 ambassadors who gave their backing to "rioters" during the popular unrest which erupted after June's disputed election, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported. "Some of these people officially took positions during the recent riots in Iran in support of rioters," the report said. (Times-UK)
  • Norway Pension Fund Drops Israeli Company Over Security Barrier
    Norway's state pension fund has sold its shares in Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that designed surveillance equipment used for the West Bank security barrier, Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said Thursday. The government acted on advice from a special ethics panel. Construction of the barrier began in 2002 after a wave of suicide bombings in Israel. (DPA)
        See also Israel Summons Norway Envoy to Protest Divestment - Amira Hass and Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Releases Nine Hamas Lawmakers
    Israel has released nine Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament after the completion of their prison terms for belonging to an illegal organization. They were among more than 30 MPs from the Islamist movement arrested in the wake of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. (BBC News)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • U.S. Sees Dealing with Iran More Urgent than Palestinian State - Aluf Benn
    Later this month, President Obama will take the podium at the UN General Assembly and, flanked by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, declare the resumption of the Middle East peace process. He will set an ambitious goal: to achieve, within two years, a "comprehensive regional peace" that will end the Israeli-Arab conflict. Obama emissaries will sit in the conference room and put forward compromise proposals and solutions. After another decade of wars and disappointments, it's tough to sell the "New Middle East" in a new wrapping to cynical populations that have long since lost all belief in impassioned speeches promising peace and change. But by presenting a two-year timetable, Obama will make it clear that dealing with Iran is more urgent than establishing an independent Palestine alongside Israel.
        Next year, 2010, will be the "year of Iran." In return for advancing action on Iran, Netanyahu agreed to freeze construction in the West Bank settlements for a period of nine months, according to leaks from his talks with U.S. envoy George Mitchell. (Ha'aretz)
  • Air Force Strikes Terror Tunnel in Southern Gaza
    The Israeli Air Force on Thursday targeted a terror tunnel leading from the southern Gaza Strip towards Israel that was intended to be used to infiltrate Israeli territory to attack Israeli citizens or soldiers. It was dug from underneath a building 1.5 km. from the security fence The attack was in response to mortar shells fired from Gaza into Israel on Thursday. Since the end of Israel's Gaza operation on Jan. 18 there have been approximately 225 mortar shells, Grad missiles, and Kassam rockets fired at Israel. This past month ten mortar shells and three Kassam rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian terror organizations. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • High-Level PA Panel to Investigate "Organ Theft" Claims
    The Palestinian Authority is forming a high-level panel to investigate allegations that the Israeli military "stole organs" from Palestinian detainees, the secretary general of the PA Council of Ministers, Dr. Hassan Abu Libdeh, said on Thursday, after the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published a story laying out such claims. (Maan News-PA)
  • Palestinians Improving Israeli ID Forgeries - Yaakov Katz
    The quality of counterfeit Israeli identity cards produced by Palestinians has increased in recent months, IDF officers warned on Thursday, making it more difficult to identify those trying to illegally cross into Israel for work or to assist in terrorism. "We have found a lot of forged documents recently," said Maj.-Gen. Oz Arad, commander of the Syfan Military Police Company. "The quality of the forgery is a big problem."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Syrians Still Haven't Come Clean About Their Covert Nuclear Program - Gregory L. Schulte
    Two years after Syria's suspected reactor was destroyed, Damascus continues to stonewall the IAEA. Syria did not notify the IAEA of the reactor's construction, thereby violating its Safeguards Agreement, a standard agreement meant to allow the IAEA to verify the peaceful use of nuclear material, and has gone to great lengths to cover up its violation. Mohammed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, reported that the agency's "ability to confirm Syria's explanation regarding the past nature of the destroyed severely impeded because Syria has not provided sufficient access to information, locations, equipment or materials." "Severely impeded" is about as strong as language gets in Vienna.
        The IAEA must keep the spotlight on Syria, insist on Syria's full cooperation, and be prepared to exercise the IAEA's full authority. Ultimately the IAEA Board must be ready to find that Syria's noncooperation constitutes noncompliance and report that noncompliance to the UN Security Council. President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons, a vision widely supported by IAEA member states, is unthinkable without a robust verification system. The writer was the U.S. Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency from July 2005 to June 2009. (Foreign Policy)
  • Assad Doesn't Want a Peace Treaty with Israel - Michael J. Totten
    Syria's Bashar Assad couldn't sign a peace treaty with Israel even if he wanted to - and he doesn't want to. Assad and his late father Hafez Assad have justified the dictatorial "emergency rule," on the books since 1963, by pointing to the never-ending war with Israel. Assad would face more pressure to loosen up his Soviet-style system without it. An official state of war costs him very little. His army does not have to fight; he can fight Israel through proxies like Hamas and Hizbullah. No Arab government is as stridently anti-Israel as Assad's. There is no better way for a detested Alawite regime to curry favor with Sunnis in Syria and the Arab world as a whole than by adopting the anti-Zionist cause as its own.
        Earlier this year, I met with Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who asserted that the Alawite regime is actually afraid of signing a peace treaty with Israel. "Suppose we go ultimately to the so-called peace. Then later on, what is the purpose of the Syrian regime? What is Assad going to tell his people? Especially, mind you, he is a member of the Alawite minority. This minority could be accused of treason. It's not like Egypt or Jordan whereby the government has some legitimacy." Syria's Alawite elites understand this very well, even if Western diplomats do not. (Commentary)
  • Ahmadinejad - the Economic Reformer - Rachel Ehrenfeld
    Iran plans to sell 50% of its telecommunication company, Iran Telecom, to private investors on Sept. 9, and to privatize some 230 companies in the coming year. But Ahmadinejad's privatization is no laissez-faire style capitalism. If the past is an indication, Iran's latest privatization sham is designed to consolidate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' power over Iran's state-controlled economy. The IRGC controls all strategic industries. What it does not control on behalf of the state is owned directly by the state. In previous "privatizations," the shares were sold to companies that were minimally veiled fronts for the IRGC.
        It is time for the U.S. to follow the money trail and to accurately identify all Iranian-linked businesses and organizations as assets of the Iranian state. The U.S., preferably with some allies, should then stop the money flow that allows Iran to develop its nuclear weapons and arm itself and its many subversive terrorist organizations the world over. The writer is director of the American Center for Democracy. (Huffington Post)
  • Israel and Egypt: Closer Than Expected - Ashraf Khalil
    Egyptians know that there are extensive economic and agricultural ties with Israel, but prefer not to think too hard about it. However, it's becoming harder for Cairo to hide the fact that its foreign policy interests are more in line with Jerusalem than ever. The main source of common ground is a mutual desire to contain Iran's regional and nuclear ambitions. Egypt doesn't fear Iran militarily, but dreads the gradual expansion of revolutionary Shi'ite ideology into the Sunni sphere. Egypt's own bilateral relations with Tehran are fraught with tension - partially stemming from Iran's insistence on glorifying Sadat's assassins. The writer is the news editor for the English edition of Al Masry Al Youm. (Jerusalem Post)

    Weekend Features

  • In Israel's Sderot, a Reprieve from Palestinian Rockets, But Not Fear - Joshua Mitnick
    Sderot, less than three miles from the Gazan border, became infamous as a frequent target for Palestinian rockets. Sderot's wrecked homes have been largely rebuilt. But after being on constant alert for unpredictable rocket attacks, it has not been as easy for Sderot's 19,000 residents to restore their peace of mind. "9/11 happened once. It was terrible, but it was only once," says Yehudit Barkai, a field worker in Sderot for Natal, the Israel Trauma Coalition. Barkai says many in Sderot suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. "We're talking about eight years." No other town here has endured such sustained stress for such a long period of time. Amid Israeli press reports that Hamas is rearming with smuggled weapons, even kids here utter the mantra that it's merely "the calm before the storm." (Christian Science Monitor)
        See also Sderot: Living with Rockets - Anav Silverman
    On Aug. 30, two rockets fired from Gaza triggered Sderot's rocket warning system and sent residents racing for a shelter. "I was scared but not surprised," says Rotem, 16. "We know that the rocket attacks will begin again and I don't think that anyone here really believes that the quiet will last." Dina Huri, principal of a Sderot elementary school, said, "During the summer, I had the three school bomb shelters made 'kid-friendly,'" having the shelter painted in bright colors and installing rugs so the children would feel more comfortable. (Jerusalem Post)
  • How a Non-Jewish UK Stockbroker Saved 669 Jewish Children - Yehuda Lahav and Nir Hasson
    Nicholas Winton was a 30-year-old British stockbroker in the summer of 1939, and had been planning to spend his vacation in Switzerland. But when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in March of that year, he traveled to Prague instead. Winton was not Jewish; there were few Jews among his friends and acquaintances. He simply felt an obligation to help people in trouble. At his own initiative (and at first, at his own expense), Winton founded an organization to assist children from Czechoslovakia to find homes with British families, most of them Jews. During the course of that summer, 669 children arrived in England. Many of their parents died in Auschwitz.
        Seventy years after the outbreak of the war, a memorial train set out from Prague to London along the 1,300-km. route traveled by the children. The survivors and their families now number 5,000 people, 240 of whom are on the train. When they arrive in London, they will be greeted by Sir Winton himself, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday. Winton considered the rescue project so natural that he never bothered to mention it, even to his wife Grete. His activity came to light only 50 years later when she found an old suitcase in the attic with a scrapbook from the war years that included a list of the 669 rescued children. (Ha'aretz)
  • Observations:

    Palestinian Recognition of the Jewish State (Middle East Strategy at Harvard)

    Robert O. Freedman, Visiting Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University:

    • If there is to be a long-lasting peace between Israel and a Palestinian state, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a necessity. Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is central to ending the conflict.
    • While acknowledgment of Israel as a Jewish state was not a component of Israel's peace treaties with either Egypt or Jordan, in neither case was Israel involved in the type of existential conflict with these countries as it currently is with the Palestinians - a conflict in which it often appears that the assertion of one people's national aspirations negates those of the other people. Thus it is necessary for both sides to recognize the legitimacy of the other's national aspirations.
    • Finally, and perhaps most important of all, it is necessary for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state to replace the image of the Jew as dhimmi, or second-class citizen, with the image of the Jew as a member of a national group exercising legitimate national rights, just as the Palestinians themselves do. Once this is done, the chances for a long-lasting peace between Israel and a Palestinian state will be greatly enhanced.

    Walter Reich, Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:
    • The Palestinians and other Arabs actively deny that religious Zionism (as opposed to political Zionism) betokens a Jewish connection with the land that's very real and very ancient. In fact, the Jewish claim to the land, including Jerusalem, is so old, and so far predates Islam or the Palestinians, that it's extremely threatening and elicits repeated denials of historical reality. Thus the repeated insistence throughout the Muslim/Arab world that the Jews have no historical basis for their claim to Israel.
    • Freedman also believes that the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is important because it would replace the image among Palestinians of the Jews as dhimmi, or second-class citizen. But given the religious currents that have become manifest across the Arab/Muslim world in recent years - and the non-stop insistence in sermons, textbooks and other teachings, especially in the West Bank and Gaza, that Jews are evil usurpers and will never have a right to be in Muslim lands - I don't see that happening, either among Palestinians or elsewhere in the Arab/Muslim world, for a very long time, probably generations.

    Robert Satloff, Executive Director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
    • If it is to be successful, a Palestinian-Israeli permanent status agreement will end all claims that each national group has on the other. If it is indeed to end all claims, once and for all, it will have to address not just issues raised by the 1967 war, but issues left unaddressed from the 1948 war. The first and foremost is recognition of what the relevant UN resolutions repeatedly called "the Jewish state." Without an unambiguous statement of recognition, it is difficult to imagine that any agreement will indeed have ended all claims.
    • It is not surprising that an Israeli government has made this demand a sine qua non of a permanent status agreement. What is surprising is that no Israeli government has made this a sine qua non until now.
    • The U.S. voted for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine 62 years ago. The U.S. should not be indifferent to Israel's request that endorsing its status as the Jewish state be enshrined in a permanent status agreement designed finally to end the conflict over Palestine, once and for all.

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