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September 16, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Iran's Economy Slides Toward the Bottom - Hossein Askari (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
    In 1970, Iran's gross domestic product (GDP) ranked 27th among all countries. In 1980, just after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran's GDP was 19th. In 2005, Iran had sunk to 31st in GDP ranking.
    Moreover, real per capita income growth in the period 1980-2005 was about zero, although it increased after 2005 because of rapidly rising oil prices.
    In 1980, Iran's economy was about 50% bigger than South Korea's. Yet in 2005, Korea's GDP was more than four times that of Iran. To say that the Iranian economy has underperformed since the Shah's overthrow in 1979 would be an understatement.
    According to the International Monetary Fund, Iran ranks first in brain drain among developing countries, with roughly 150,000 Iranians leaving Iran every year, and with about 25% of all Iranians with post-secondary education now living abroad in developed countries.
    Under the Shah, corruption was more or less limited to members of the royal family, ministers and other senior officials. In today's Iran it is even at the level of the doorman to government buildings. To go anywhere and get anything done requires a payment.
    In short, the policies of the revolutionary government of Iran have failed the Iranian people miserably. Economic failure and the resulting hardships are more of an issue than political repression for the average Iranian.
    The writer is professor of international business and international affairs at George Washington University.

Gaza Terrorists Fire Phosphorous Bombs at Israel (Ha'aretz)
    Two of the nine mortar shells fired from Gaza at Israel on Tuesday were phosphorous bombs, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed.

Egyptian Newspaper Doctors Peace Talks Photo - Ben Leach (Telegraph-UK)
    A photograph taken at the White House of five national leaders meeting to restart Middle East peace talks on Sept. 1. was doctored by Al-Ahram, Egypt's most widely circulated newspaper, to show Egyptian President Mubarak walking on a red carpet ahead of the U.S., Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders.
    The original image shows President Obama leading the way, with Mubarak trailing behind.
    See the Photos (Ynet News)

IMF: Palestinian Economy Is Growing - Charles Levinson (Wall Street Journal)
    The Palestinian economy grew by 9% in the West Bank and 16% in Gaza through the first half of 2010, due to the easing of Israeli restrictions, donor aid and aggressive financial-sector overhauls by the Palestinian Authority, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Netanyahu, Abbas "Mean Business," U.S. Envoy Says - Glenn Kessler
    Israeli and Palestinian leaders are delving very quickly into some of the most difficult issues dividing them, U.S. special envoy George Mitchell said in an unusually upbeat report Wednesday. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted PA President Abbas at his Jerusalem residence, with a Palestinian flag as a backdrop, for two hours of talks that also included Secretary of State Clinton. "They are serious, they mean business," Mitchell said afterward.
        "I will say that the two leaders are not leaving the tough issues to the end of their discussions," he said. "We take this as a strong indicator of their belief that peace is possible." Mitchell noted that talking about delicate issues was not the same thing as negotiating solutions. But he positively compared the experience of the past two days to his work as peace envoy in the Northern Ireland conflict. Then, he said, it was months before the difficult topics were addressed. In the current talks, he said, "it has been literally days."  (Washington Post)
        See also Briefing on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks - George Mitchell (U.S. State Department)
  • Clinton, Abbas Meet as Peace Talks End - Joshua Mitnick
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Palestinian President Abbas in Ramallah Thursday, ending three days of mediation in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations but failing to win resolution of a dispute over settlement-building that threatens to sink the newly launched talks. Abbas, who is threatening to walk out of the talks if Israel doesn't extend a partial building moratorium beyond its late-September expiry, acknowledged the tension in a statement before a brief meeting Thursday morning with Mrs. Clinton. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Clinton: "Status Quo Is Unsustainable"
    Speaking before a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "I'm well aware of the obstacles that stand in the way of peace....But I see the future that can deliver on the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for this city [Jerusalem], and which safeguards its meaning forever."
        "President Peres referred to the challenges that confront the people of this region....He understands better than most the fundamental reality facing the State of Israel, that the status quo is unsustainable - now, that doesn't mean that it can't be sustained for a year or a decade, or two or three, but fundamentally, the status quo is unsustainable."  (U.S. State Department)
  • New Western Concerns over Iran's Nuclear Program - Edith M. Lederer
    The U.S., Britain and France expressed growing concern Wednesday that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The three Western powers were joined by Russia and China in calling on Tehran to return to negotiations on its nuclear program.
        U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice pointed to "clear evidence that Iran is refusing to take any step to begin resolving concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons - and continues actions that in fact deepen these concerns." Rice also expressed concern that Iran is pursuing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons in violation of UN sanctions - a concern echoed by the British and French UN ambassadors. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Shaking Hands in Jerusalem Against the Backdrop of the Palestinian Flag - Barak Ravid
    The Palestinian flag was hoisted at the side of the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday for a photograph of Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. This was customary in former prime minister Ehud Olmert's days, and it was decided to follow the previous government's precedent.
        Netanyahu took great pains to demonstrate warmth and friendship toward Abbas. Netanyahu received Abbas at the door, shook his hand cordially and ushered him in. "I'm glad you came to my house," he said. Abbas wrote in the guest book: "Today I returned to this house after a long absence, to continue the talks and negotiations, hoping to reach an eternal peace in the entire region and especially peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples."  (Ha'aretz)
  • PA Officials May Deploy at Gaza Crossing - Yaakov Katz
    In an effort to increase the Palestinian Authority's influence inside Gaza, Israel and the PA are finalizing plans to deploy Palestinian officials at the Kerem Shalom crossing in the coming months, according to Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The possible deployment of PA officials at Kerem Shalom is part of a larger international and Israeli effort to enable PA President Mahmoud Abbas to reestablish a presence in Gaza. Hamas drove the PA out of Gaza in 2007. (Jerusalem Post)
  • New Dome Installed on Joseph's Tomb - Jonah Mandel
    A new dome was installed at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus (Shechem) on Monday in place of the one destroyed ten years ago when a Palestinian mob ransacked the structure, smashing the dome with pickaxes and setting the compound on fire. All the work inside the tomb on objects pertaining to worship and sanctity, such as the ark and the tombstone, is being done by Jews, though the broader construction work is being carried out by a Palestinian contractor commissioned by the Israeli Civil Administration.
        According to the agreements with the Palestinian Authority, the holy Jewish site is under Israel's jurisdiction, though Jewish worshipers have been barred from entering during the day. Monthly nighttime visits, coordinated with and secured by the IDF, have enabled busloads of Jewish worshipers to visit the tomb since November 2007. Israel's chief rabbis visited the site last month. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Hillary's Dangerous Mideast Leap - Leslie H. Gelb
    Unless the Secretary of State knows something we don't, the Middle East peace talks will fail. And failure is worse than not negotiating. During the last couple of years, while negotiations have been decidedly on the backburner, Israel has been almost entirely free from terrorist attacks emanating from the Palestinian West Bank. Palestinian and Israeli security forces now work together to keep the peace. All of that could go up in smoke if these talks fail. Indeed, terrorists are likely to shed Israeli and perhaps even Palestinian blood in order to make the talks fail.
        Many officials tell me that neither Netanyahu nor Abbas came close to giving Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. Nor did either leader push Obama into these talks; Obama pushed them. The writer is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Daily Beast)
  • Hamas and the Peace Process: New Talks Highlight Internal Tensions - Ehud Yaari
    The August 31 and September 1 and 2 shootings show that Hamas has decided to make a full effort toward resuming attacks in the West Bank. While most of its terrorist operatives in the West Bank were arrested through joint Israeli-PA efforts, Hamas is now encouraging some dormant cells to take action. The group has also continued its efforts to send Gaza operatives through the Rafah tunnels to the Sinai with the goal of infiltrating the West Bank. Yet, according to well-placed sources within Hamas, the group is not planning a reversion to suicide bombings.
        Most of Hamas' West Bank leaders have privately criticized the military wing and the way it is running Gaza. They advocate quiet reconciliation with Abbas rather than confrontation and question the effectiveness of "armed struggle" at this juncture. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Observations:

    Restore Reason and Decency to the Discussion Concerning Israel - Jose Maria Aznar (Friends of Israel Initiative)

    Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said Tuesday in Washington:

    • Many of us came from Europe. Most of us are not Jewish. We defend Israel because we believe that is the best strategy in current times to defend the West.
    • Israel is facing increasing dangers. It has been forced to defend its people from Hizbullah in the north and thousands of Hamas rockets in the south. And, perhaps most worryingly, Israel is increasingly threatened by the scenario of a nuclear Iran - something the world must certainly act urgently to prevent.
    • On top of that, Israel is under a new kind of attack - an attack on its legitimacy, a "soft-war" where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGOs to present Israel internationally as an illegitimate state.
    • We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk - not only for Israel and its people - but for all of us. Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be.
    • It is not only that if Israel goes down, we all go down. It is that letting Israel be demonized will lead to the delegitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.
    • Enough. Stop this nonsense of making Israel responsible for all the problems in the region, if not beyond. Enough of the short-sightedness which refuses to see Israel as a cornerstone of our Western civilization. I hope that you will share our vision, and will help us in bringing reason and decency back to the discussion concerning Israel.

          See also The Fight to Marginalize Delegitimization - Jeffrey Goldberg
      Jose Maria Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain, hosted a dinner Tuesday on behalf of his new organization, the Friends of Israel Initiative, dedicated to the proposition that Israel has a right to exist. Which is why I found the event so depressing. What other country, 62 years after its birth (rebirth, actually), requires advocates to argue that it should continue to exist? Why is it that the world's only Jewish country is the only country to persistently face questions about its own legitimacy? (Atlantic Monthly)
          See also Former Spanish Prime Minister Aznar Launches Pro-Israel Initiative - Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy)

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