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July 29, 2010

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Egyptian Journalist: "A Sense of Absolute Prosperity Prevails in Gaza" (MEMRI)
    "Returning [to Gaza] three weeks ago, I found it almost unrecognizable....I would have expected a change for the worse, considering the blockade - but the opposite was the case; it seemed as if it had emerged from the blockade," journalist Ashraf Abu Al-Houl wrote in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on July 18.
    "A sense of absolute prosperity prevails, as manifested by the grand resorts along and near Gaza's coast. Further, the sight of the merchandise and luxuries filling the Gaza shops amazed me. Merchandise is sold more cheaply than in Egypt."
    "The reality proves that the siege was broken even before...the Freedom Flotilla in late May; everything already was coming into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. If this weren't the case, businessmen would not have been able to build so many resorts."

    See also Hamas Thrives in Gaza's "Besieged" Economy - Mai Yaghi (AFP)
    The seaside Garden Resort beach club in Gaza City, owned and operated by the Islamic Foundation, a charity established to aid poor families and orphans, is one of several commercial ventures recently launched by groups and individuals linked to Hamas.
    Just down the beach another Hamas-linked charity has established the Freedom Resort, which includes a new $250,000 wedding hall.
    Hamas is widely believed to be behind a new shopping mall that opened in Gaza City with a ceremony attended by several Hamas ministers.
    Hamas also played a direct role in the Bisan City tourist village which includes gardens, playgrounds, football fields, a petting zoo and restaurants. It attracts some 6,000 people every weekend, many of whom are brought in on government-subsidized buses.
    The high-end beach resorts have proven popular, but many wonder how Hamas-linked groups can build new facilities when thousands of homes severely damaged or destroyed during the 2009 war remain in ruins.

    See also As the Israeli Blockade Eases, Gaza Goes Shopping - Donald Macintyre (Independent-UK)
    The new Gaza Mall has electrified the conservative blogosphere, now seething with claims that it makes a mockery of the idea that its residents are suffering from the blockade.
    One prominent Gaza business figure said the mall was part of a new wave of businesses, mainly in retail and leisure services which show a quicker return than manufacturing, that had been started by the Hamas regime.
    These range from the Hamas-owned Asdar Media Center, which combines film production with a livestock farm, to the Crazy Water Aqua Fun Park for children.
    See also Video: Luxury Mall Opens in Gaza (YouTube)

Report: Egypt Denies Visas to Gaza-Bound Iranian MPs (AFP)
    Egypt has denied visas to four Iranian lawmakers who planned to travel to Gaza via Egypt's Rafah crossing, Iran's Press TV reported on Wednesday.

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  • Palestinians Set to Reject Direct Talks with Israel - Ali Sawafta
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will tell the Arab League on Thursday indirect talks with Israel have not progressed enough to justify face-to-face peace negotiations, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday. Palestinian officials said that at a meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell on July 17 in Ramallah, Abbas turned down a U.S. request to begin direct negotiations. Abbas, head of an administration that depends on Western aid, has surprised many observers with his resistance to U.S. pressure. (Reuters)
        See also Israel: Palestinians Have Set "Impossible" Conditions for Direct Peace Talks
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has laid down "impossible" conditions for moving to direct peace talks, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Wednesday. "The Palestinians have set three impossible conditions: that the negotiations start from the point they left off at the end of 2008 when Ehud Olmert was prime minister, that they be based on a total Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines and that the freeze of construction continue."  (AFP)
  • Turkey's Ruling Party Trailing in Poll - Benjamin Birnbaum
    A new poll shows Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's governing party is trailing in advance of next year's elections. The survey shows Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) at 31.1% and the Republican People's Party (CHP) at 33.5%. "There is a sense among some elements of the population that AKP has overreached on foreign policy," said Turkey expert Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Washington Times)
        See also Turkish Opposition Leader Critical of Government Policy on Iran, Hamas and the Flotilla - Sami Kohen
    According to Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the support that the AKP government provides to Iran has caused isolation of Turkey in the international arena. The CHP holds the government responsible for the deaths on board the Mavi Marmara aid ship because the ship was sent to the area despite Israeli warnings. Kilicdaroglu also views the AKP's siding with Hamas as a deadly mistake. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization in the West, he said. (Hurriyet-Turkey)
  • Jordan Trade Unions Slam Netanyahu's Visit
    Jordan's Islamist-led trade unions on Wednesday strongly condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Jordan on Tuesday, describing him as a "criminal." Netanyahu met with King Abdullah II in a bid to convince Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to upgrade Middle East peace talks. (AFP)
        See also Jordan's Anti-Israel Voices Grow Louder - Ferry Biedermann
    In Jordan, protests against ties with Israel are getting louder. "I'm hearing things from the inner circle of the ruling elite [code for the people close to King Abdullah II] I have not heard before," says Jordanian analyst and writer Oraib Rantawi. "They are talking about Israel as the enemy." The country's 1994 peace treaty with Israel has never been particularly popular in Jordan, which has a large Palestinian population. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Australia Adopts New Sanctions Against Iran
    Australia will impose new sanctions against Iran, including restrictions on that country's oil and gas sector, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Thursday. Australia's sanctions follow those announced earlier in the week by the EU and Canada. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Air Force Rescue Unit Describes Search for Comrades in Romania - Hanan Greenberg
    The IDF rabbinate has completed the identification of the six IDF soldiers who lost their lives in the helicopter crash in Romania. Earlier, members of Rescue Unit 669 recounted the harsh terrain and weather conditions they endured during the search for their comrades. In order to reach the crash site, the unit's 50 soldiers had to climb for an hour and a half from where they had been dropped off by helicopter.
        "We took ladders to climb over the waterfalls and used ropes to avoid slipping on the rocks. We [were]...on a slope of 60%, so in many places it was impossible to stand. We spread ropes over the whole area, and in some places worked while harnessed to the ropes. Every few minutes there was a downpour which completely soaked us."
        When they arrived at the crash site they saw the charred remains of the helicopter. "We lifted every part, looked under every stone," they said. "We knew there was a danger of bad weather and stones that could roll down from above....Then we picked everything up, dozens of kilos, and carried it all back to the helicopter."  (Ynet News)
  • New Office Begins Investigating Lost Property of Middle East Jews - Benjamin Joffe-Walt
    A new department has been set up by the Israel Ministry of Pensioners Affairs to manage the legal claims of Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern descent who lost their property when they left countries throughout the region. The office will help identify, locate and seek compensation for the assets of the more than one million Jews who came to Israel from Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria. The Knesset approved a law earlier this year requiring the compensation of Jews from Arab countries and Iran to be included in any peace negotiations.
        "The Palestinians have been collecting evidence of their losses for many years," said Yoni Itzhak, a spokesman for the ministry. As of 2007, "the estimated value of Jewish property in Arab countries is 50% more than the value of the property of Palestinian refugees and is valued at billions of dollars." "Just like the Palestinians tell everyone that they have the keys to their old homes, we have our keys as well."  (Media Line-Jerusalem Post)
        See also Algeria Won't Honor Jewish Property Restitution Requests - David Regev (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Abbas Faces Dilemma on Israel Talks, Says Aide - Tobias Buck
    Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said that Abbas had already risked his reputation by starting indirect negotiations with Israel through a U.S. mediator. Erekat said Abbas "would be totally undermined" if he now agreed to move to direct talks without a change in Israeli policy. "If we don't get anywhere in the proximity talks, then we will seek out the UN Security Council," said Erekat. "We want them to call upon all members who believe in a two-state solution to recognize a state of Palestine in the borders of 1967, and to call for direct talks on that basis."  (Financial Times-UK)
        See also Will the Palestinians Declare Statehood? - Dan Diker
    Threats by the Palestinian leadership in late 2009 to declare statehood unilaterally, while supported quietly by some European officials, have been flatly rejected by the Obama administration. In line with the Oslo interim accords of 1995 that still govern Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, Washington insists that bilateral talks and a Palestinian state by agreement is the legal and proper diplomatic path to take.
        However, the recent dramatic announcement by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia "did not violate international law" holds substantial ramifications for the Palestinians, as it does for other prospective succession bids including the Kurds and Northern Cypriots.
        Even if the Palestinians agree to avoid making unilateral declarations, the latest international legal backing for unilateralism paves the path for the current Palestinian default position: a resolution in the UN Security Council seeking recognition of "Palestine" on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital. The writer is the director for strategic affairs at the World Jewish Congress and a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Classic Islamic View of Jews - Hagai Mazuz
    In 628, Muhammad besieged the Jewish city of Khaybar. Before doing so, he sent in assassins to murder the Jewish leaders of the city. A bloody battle ensued and the Jews surrendered. The victory against the Jews in Khaybar is constantly invoked at every opportunity when discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Turkish terrorists on board the flotilla headed towards Gaza shouted: "Khaybar, Khaybar, Oh Jews, Muhammad's army shall return!" - just a few months ago. (Hudson Institute-New York)
  • Observations:

    The Flotilla Farce - Danny Ayalon (Wall Street Journal Europe)

    • There are currently 100 armed conflicts and dozens of territorial disputes around the world. There have been millions of people killed and hundreds of millions live in abject poverty without access to basic staples.
    • Yet hundreds of high-minded "humanitarian activists" are spending millions of dollars to reach Gaza and hand money to Hamas that will never reach the innocent civilians of Gaza.
    • The latest flotilla is preparing to leave from Lebanon, while its organizers ignore the dire human rights situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon.
    • This amply demonstrates that these flotillas have nothing to do with humanitarian concerns and everything to do with delegitimizing Israel.

      The writer is Israel's deputy minister of foreign affairs.

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