Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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March 18, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

More Americans Sympathize with Israel, Don't Want U.S. to Lead Peace Talks - Greg Holyk (ABC News)
    57% of Americans in a new ABC News/ Washington Post poll sympathize more with Israel, vs. 9% who side more with the Palestinian Authority.
    However, 69% want the U.S. largely to leave resolving the conflict to the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
    In addition, 34% say the Obama administration has put too little pressure on the Palestinian Authority rather than too much pressure (8%).
    View the Poll (Langer Research)

    See also Poll: Americans' Sympathies for Israel Match All-Time High - Lydia Saad (Gallup)
    As President Obama prepares to visit Israel, Americans' sympathies lean heavily toward the Israelis over the Palestinians, 64% vs. 12%.
    Americans' partiality for Israel has consistently exceeded 60% since 2010; 64% ties the highest figure seen in 1991 during the Gulf War.
    Majorities of all political as well as major demographic groups in America say they sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians.

CIA Begins Sizing Up Islamic Extremists in Syria for Drone Strikes - Ken Dilanian and Brian Bennett (Los Angeles Times)
    The Counterterrorism Center, which runs the CIA's covert drone killing program in Pakistan and Yemen, recently shifted several targeting officers to improve intelligence collection on militants in Syria who could pose a terrorist threat, U.S. officials said.
    U.S. officials believe some al-Qaeda operatives and fighters in Iraq have moved to Syria and joined Islamic militias battling to overthrow President Assad.
    The targeting is part of an array of CIA and Pentagon responses and contingency plans. Other proposals include plans to seize or destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, which are closely monitored by U.S. intelligence.

Top Syrian General Defects to Jordan (AFP)
    The Syrian army's logistics chief, Gen. Mohammed Khalluf, has defected, activists said on Saturday in a YouTube video.
    Activists said they waited before reporting the defection to ensure that Khalluf and his family had crossed safely into Jordan.

UN Report Reveals Iranian Violence Against Bahais - Benjamin Weinthal (Jerusalem Post)
    Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, announced last week in Geneva "that 110 Bahais are currently detained in Iran for exercising their faith, including two women...that 133 Bahais are currently awaiting summonses to serve their sentences, and that another 268 Bahais are reportedly awaiting trial."
    The UN report noted "members of the Bahai community are reported to continue to be systematically deprived of a range of social and economic rights, including access to higher education."
    A report issued in March by the Bahai International Community said, "The increase in arrests has been accompanied by a rising tide of violence against Bahais, marked by incidents that include arson attacks, anti-Bahai graffiti, hate speech, the desecration of Bahai cemeteries, and assaults on schoolchildren."
    There are an estimated 350,000 Bahais in Iran, a peaceful religious community founded in Iran in 1863.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Despite Sanctions' Toll on Iran, U.S. Sees No Shift in Nuclear Behavior - Joby Warrick and Anne Gearan
    Nine months after Iran was hit with the toughest restrictions in its history, the nation's economy appears to have settled into a slow, downward glide, hemorrhaging jobs and hard currency but appearing to be in no immediate danger of collapse, Western diplomats and analysts say. At the same time, the hardships have not triggered significant domestic protests or produced a single concession by Iran on its nuclear program. Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, said Iran has accelerated its nuclear program in the past year, despite the diplomatic and economic pressure. (Washington Post)
  • Palestinians to Seek Approval of Report Against Israeli Settlement in UNHRC - Thomas Whittle
    The Palestinians will seek the unanimous endorsement of the UN Human Rights Council for a report of a fact-finding mission that condemns Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Ibrahim Khraishe, the Palestinian representative to the UN in Geneva, said Saturday. A Palestinian-Arab draft resolution is to be voted on at a council meeting on Monday, he said.
        The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory urged Israel to evacuate all the settlements that were built after Israel had occupied the West Bank in 1967. Israel has boycotted the UNHRC since its decision to form the fact-finding mission. (Xinhua-China)
        See also below Observations - Biased, Prejudiced, and Unprofessional: The UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission Report on Israeli Settlements - Amb. Alan Baker (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • White House Lowers Expectations Ahead of Obama's Trip to Israel - Brian Hughes
    White House officials on Thursday downplayed expectations for any major breakthrough during President Obama's trip to Israel next week, setting the stage for a symbolic visit unlikely to produce Middle East peace initiatives or progress on curtailing a nuclear Iran. "This visit is not about trying to lay out a new initiative," Obama spokesman Ben Rhodes said. (Washington Examiner)
        See also Kissinger Sees Little Hope for Mideast Peace, Arab Spring - Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
    Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 89, said in an interview aired this weekend on Bloomberg TV, "I'm not optimistic" about reviving stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, in large part because of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties in the region that aren't inclined to support a "just outcome" with Israel. (Bloomberg)
        See also Video: Previewing Obama's Visit to Israel - Ben Rhodes
    U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes previews President Obama's trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. (White House)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Names Ya'alon Israel's New Defense Minister - Moran Azulay
    On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon, who currently serves as minister of strategic affairs, that he will be replacing Ehud Barak as defense minister. "During such a crucial time for the security of the State of Israel, when everything is in turmoil around us, it is important that a man with Moshe Ya'alon's experience hold this position," Netanyahu said. (Ynet News)
        See also Israel's New Minister of Defense - Amir Rapaport (Israel Defense)
  • Palestinians Attempt to Kidnap the Next Bargaining Chip - Nadav Shragai
    A year ago, Yael Shahak and her 8-year-old daughter were returning from a family gathering to their home in Beit El in the West Bank. Suddenly, the car in front of them slowed down, then stopped in front of her, blocking her way. Yael tried to go in reverse, but the other car also shifted into reverse and drove after her. Then four young men got out of the car and signaled to Yael to open her car door. When she refused, they began smashing the car windows with metal rods. Luckily, another car arrived driven by a Jewish resident. Lookouts warned the men to flee.
        Only a few months ago, it was learned that Yael and her daughter had been saved from a kidnapping attempt in which they were to be used as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinian prisoners. The terrorist cell, discovered by the Israel Security Agency, was headed by Muhammad Manzar Muhammad Ramadan of El-Bireh.
        There were other attempts at kidnapping. Near Beit Aryeh, the members of the cell tried to entice a Jewish driver out of his car, but he managed to avoid them. An another attempt, an Israeli woman driving along the access road to Maaleh Levonah was blocked by the cell members, who began to smash the windows of her car, but she managed to maneuver and speed away.
        In 2012, 26 attempts were made to kidnap soldiers, and an unknown number of attempts were made to kidnap civilians. This year one took place just several weeks ago. One terrorist cell tried for several days to kidnap soldiers or civilians from bus and train stations throughout the Sharon region in the center of the country. But they did not succeed because the soldiers and civilians refused the ride they offered. (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Obama and Netanyahu Quietly Move Closer on Iran's Nuclear Program - Eli Lake
    Israel and the U.S. have quietly moved much closer on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. Six months ago, Netanyahu declined repeatedly to assure Obama that he would not attack Iran before the U.S. election. Today, according to U.S. and Israeli officials, no more does Netanyahu hint Israel will take matters into its own hands over Iran's nuclear program. Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the director of military intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces, told the annual Herzliya Conference that he assesses "Iran's nuclear program is advancing slower then they planned." "The Iranians understand our red line, and for now they are respecting it," said one former senior Israeli diplomat. (Daily Beast)
  • For Obama, Trip Is a Chance to Repair Relations with Disappointed Israelis - Scott Wilson
    Among the landmarks the Israeli government asked President Obama to visit during his trip to Jerusalem this week is the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the chief theoretician of Zionism. Obama agreed - part of a series of carefully considered moves aimed at repairing relations with America's primary Middle East ally. For many Israelis, Herzl's grave represents an ancient Jewish claim, rather than one rooted in the Holocaust, to the slice of land that comprises their modern state.
        On his first presidential trip to Israel, Obama will seek to clarify his support for the Jewish state's theory of its historical roots - addressing one of several missteps he is attempting to fix in his second term. The trip is a mission of remedial diplomacy, rather than the kind of specific peace initiative common for previous presidential visits.
        Obama will speak not only to government officials but also to young Israelis in a speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. "It's part of building confidence," said Dore Gold, a former Netanyahu adviser who heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "Building that kind of faith with the people of Israel is extremely important, especially if President Obama wants to pursue a line of policy that brings us closer to a political solution."  (Washington Post)
  • Will Obama Finally Crack the Israeli Code? - Jeffrey Goldberg
    One of the reasons Obama is traveling to Israel is to correct the impression, partly created in his 2009 Cairo speech, that he doesn't understand Israel's history, and has no feeling for the underlying justice of its cause. The Cairo speech had a chilling effect because, to Israelis, the Holocaust alone doesn't justify the existence of their state. "The Holocaust doesn't explain why we're here," said Yossi Klein Halevi, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. "The Holocaust explains why we fight as fiercely as we do to stay here, but it doesn't explain our rootedness."
        Halevi said Obama failed to acknowledge "Jewish indigenousness in the region," the idea that the uninterrupted Jewish presence in the lands of ancient Israel for more than 3,000 years justifies the modern Jewish claim to a state there.
        In his first term, the president thought that he shouldn't travel to Israel or the Palestinian territories until a negotiating process was well underway. But his thinking shifted last year, when he realized that reintroducing himself to Israelis, and conveying to them that he understood their situation, could serve to build trust and create more space for an American-guided peace process. (Bloomberg)

Biased, Prejudiced, and Unprofessional: The UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission Report on Israeli Settlements - Amb. Alan Baker (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

The UN Human Rights Council will discuss its fact-finding mission's report on Israeli settlements on March 18 in Geneva.

  • On 31 January 2013 the "International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory" published its findings on the implications of Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people.
  • The enabling resolution of the Human Rights Council, the composition of the mission, its mandate, mode of operation, and substantive content are, from the outset, based on a premise that considers Israel's settlement policy to be illegal. This premise dictates the one-sided and prejudiced nature of the mission and its report.
  • The accepted usage in UN and other international bodies of the term "occupied Palestinian territories" (OPT) is legally flawed and indicative of the inherent bias accompanying this entire exercise. There has never been any determination that the West Bank territories are in fact "Palestinian territories." The use of the expression "OPT" constitutes a politically biased and unjustified prejudgment as to the legal status of the territories, which remain "disputed territories" pending agreement between the parties.
  • The report is based entirely on material submitted by a small number of Israeli, Palestinian, and international non-governmental organizations known for their anti-Israel agenda, residents of the territories, a left-wing-oriented Israeli newspaper (while ignoring other newspapers that take a different stand), UN bodies, and even the Jordanian foreign ministry.
  • This one-sided report by the fact-finding mission displays blatant bias, lack of objectivity and unprofessional conduct. The UN Secretary General should reject the report in its entirety.

    Amb. (ret.) Alan Baker is former Legal Counsel of Israel's Foreign Ministry and former Israeli Ambassador to Canada.

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