Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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March 3, 2014

In-Depth Issues:

The President's Threats to Israel - John Podhoretz (Commentary)
    In an extraordinary interview, President Obama warns Israel and its leader that a failure to "make peace" now with the Palestinians will have terrible consequences.
    Palestinian rejectionism plays almost no role in the Obaman calculus. The Palestinians, in Obama's view, do not actually need to make changes; astonishingly, he says, they're ready for peace, overlooking every piece of polling data we have about the opinions of the Palestinians.
    60% of the Palestinians reject a two-state solution. They are so eager for peace and coexistence with Israel that they remain the only significant Muslim population that still has a favorable view of suicide bombings, according to a Pew survey.
    Obama said: "Nobody would dispute" that Abbas is committed to "diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue."
    Yet in 2008, offered a peace deal by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert giving the Palestinians 92-95% of the territory, Abbas basically fled the table and didn't return.

Palestinians Weigh Calls for Successor to Mahmoud Abbas - John Reed (Financial Times-UK)
    As PA President Mahmoud Abbas turns 79 in less than a month, Palestinians are broaching the sensitive topic of who will succeed him.
    The PA's ruling Fatah movement has held discussions on creating an office of vice-president to establish a clear successor.
    "All of the world's leaders have deputy presidents, vice-presidents; we can't be the only country in the world that doesn't have a number two," said Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of Fatah's central committee.

Argentina Shifts Away from Tehran and towards Israel - Isabel de Bertodano (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
    The Argentinian government has suspended dialogue with Iran, heralding a shift in policy that coincides with improved relations with Israel.
    The Kirchner government is understood to have taken the measure after becoming frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation into the 1994 AMIA Jewish community center bombing in Buenos Aires in which 85 people were killed and 300 injured.
    According to sources cited by the Argentine daily La Nacion, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman has admitted that dialogue with Iran stalled some time ago and has been suspended since December.
    At the same time, there is talk of cooperation with Israel on human rights, bilateral dialogue on legal matters and a potential purchase of Israeli military planes by Argentina.
    An aide to Timerman this week said "there is a very good climate with Israel and we are much friendlier than before."

Injured Israeli Soldier Proposes in Front of 1,000 Cheering Onlookers in U.S. (JTA)
    Cpt. Ziv Shilon, an Israeli soldier who lost his arm in a Hamas terror attack, proposed to his girlfriend from the stage of a "Friends of the IDF" event in Florida on Thursday in front of about 1,000 people. His girlfriend, Adi Sitbon, said yes.
    Shilon put an engagement ring on Sitbon's finger using his prosthesis.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Obama to Israel: Time Is Running Out - Jeffrey Goldberg
    When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu visits the White House, President Obama will tell him that his country could face a bleak future - one of international isolation and demographic disaster - if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians. Obama told me in an interview Thursday that he views Abbas as the most politically moderate leader the Palestinians may ever have. It seemed obvious to me that the president believes that the next move is Netanyahu's.
        Obama said: "If there's something you know you have to do, even if it's difficult or unpleasant, you might as well just go ahead and do it, because waiting isn't going to help. When I have a conversation with Bibi, that's the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?"  (Bloomberg)
        See also For Netanyahu, a Bombshell Battering by Obama - David Horovitz
    The timing of President Obama's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg could not have been any more deliberate - an assault on the prime minister's policies delivered precisely as Netanyahu was flying in to meet with him. At the very least, that might be considered bad manners, poor diplomatic protocol, a resounding preemptive slap in the face: I've just told the world you're leading your country to ruin, Mr. Prime Minister. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?
        The president's comments reinforce years of grievance that have accumulated in Netanyahu's circles and some distance beyond, to the effect that the president ignores the inconsistencies, duplicities and worse of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, while placing exaggerated blame for the failure of peace efforts at the door of the Israeli government. The president's public display of disaffection will hardly encourage the Palestinians to adopt more flexible positions on such core issues as their demand for a "right of return" for millions of Palestinians to Israel.
        The president's resort to an interview on the eve of their talks to issue near-apocalyptic warnings to Netanyahu is unlikely to bolster the prime minister's confidence in their alliance. (Times of Israel)
  • U.S. Officials Do Not Foresee Breakthrough in Obama-Netanyahu Meeting - Jeffrey Heller and Matt Spetalnick
    U.S. officials do not foresee a breakthrough in the Oval Office meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday. Israeli officials say the ball is in Abbas' court, noting his refusal so far to agree to Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. "We are working very close, very intensely with [Secretary of State] Kerry to try to make this process work," a senior Israeli official said. (Reuters)
        See also U.S. Pessimistic on Israeli-Palestinian Framework Deal - Barak Ravid
    Two senior Israeli officials who have talked to senior U.S. officials in recent days said that, in contrast to the past, they sensed pessimism regarding the possibility of reaching a framework agreement by the end of March. U.S. pessimism started about 10 days ago after meetings between Secretary of State Kerry and Palestinian President Abbas in Paris. The talks in Paris revealed how far away a framework agreement is.
        After reaching certain understandings with Netanyahu, the Americans found they were still far from what Abbas is prepared to accept. Senior Palestinians say that, in light of the poor talks between Abbas and Kerry, the Americans are considering foregoing a written document and making do with general verbal agreements. (Ha'aretz)
  • U.S. Senate Letter Maintains Iran Pressure - Burgess Everett
    Congress will need "to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions" against Iran if global negotiations to scale back the country's nuclear program fail, a bipartisan group of six senators said in a letter to President Obama released Sunday by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "Iran must clearly understand the consequences of failing to reach an acceptable final agreement. We must signal unequivocally to Iran that rejecting negotiations and continuing its nuclear weapon program will lead to much more dramatic sanctions, including further limitations on Iran's exports of crude oil and petroleum products."
        The letter is being led by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). Congressional sources expect more senators to join them by the time the letter arrives at the White House. (Politico)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu, in U.S., Says Mideast Peace Needs Palestinian Desire to Reach a Solution - Herb Keinon
    Prime Minister Netanyahu said upon arriving in the U.S. on Monday that for peace in the Middle East to take hold, the Palestinians must demonstrate their desire to reach a solution. "The tango in the Middle East needs at least three," Netanyahu said. "For years there have been two - Israel and the U.S. Now it needs to be seen if the Palestinians are also present."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • How the Ukrainian Crisis Impacts the Middle East - Herb Keinon
    Israel will try as best it can to stay out of the Ukrainian crisis. Israel has a good and cordial relationship with Moscow, and does not want to unnecessarily irritate Putin. Putin can, if he would want, make things much more difficult for Israel. That explains Jerusalem's total radio silence regarding the crisis.
        Jerusalem's concern is not only the possibility that the Ukrainian crisis could trigger a full-blown war, but also that a revival of a Cold War-like rivalry between the U.S. and Russia would harm Israel's interests. It is critical - from Israel's vantage point - for the U.S. and Russia to work together on Iran, and to be on the same page regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Iran Deal Could Encourage Rather than Limit Nuclear Activity - Yuval Steinitz
    A final deal that allows Iran to retain centrifuges for uranium enrichment ultimately would allow the development of nuclear weapons in Iran. Iran already possesses ballistic missiles suited to carry nuclear warheads and advanced knowledge of weaponization. Given that the production of fissile material is the principal stage in the process of making a nuclear weapon, acquiescing to Iranian enrichment is tantamount to legitimizing Iran's status on the nuclear threshold.
        Proposals to restrict the number of centrifuges are almost irrelevant. Even if Iran were forced to reduce its number of centrifuges to only 3,000, its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5% would allow the production of enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb within six months.
        Sooner or later, Tehran's anxiety over potential retaliatory actions against its regime, including its nuclear project, would increase pressures within Iran to dash toward a fait accompli nuclear weapon. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's "charm offensive" has had a dramatic effect in the West, but no one in the Middle East buys Iran's projection of pacifism.
        Should the final compromise include de facto recognition of Iran's "right to enrich," the international community would find it difficult to insist later that other problematic regimes concede that "right." How could the U.S. cast greater legitimacy on the previously clandestine centrifuge facilities in Qom and Natanz than on those that would be aboveboard from the outset? Ironically, a deal intended to prevent the nuclear armament of one dangerous country, Iran, could plant the seeds for the wholesale sprouting of many nuclear powers. The writer is Israel's minister of intelligence. (Washington Post)
  • Situation Assessment on the Iranian Nuclear Program - Avner Golov
    It appears that the West has not yet convinced Supreme Leader Khamenei that he must choose between the stability of the regime and Iran's nuclear capabilities. Tehran sees the interim agreement that it signed with the major powers as a strategic achievement. In contrast to Western perceptions, Iran's goal of easing the sanctions was a secondary objective. In fact, Iran's primary goal in the interim agreement was to attain international recognition for independent enrichment capability. And indeed, contravening UN Security Council resolutions, the interim agreement recognizes that in the framework of a final deal, Iran will have independent enrichment capability.
        Israel must try to ensure that the U.S. does not agree to preserve an infrastructure that could serve military needs in Iranian hands, even if it is frozen or under supervision. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

Palestinian Intransigence Is the Obstacle to Peace - Daniel Gordis (New York Times)

  • The reason that no agreement has ever been reached is because the Palestinians are not interested in a deal. Boycotting the settlements is immoral, for it would punish Israelis for Palestinian intransigence. It is also unfair to Palestinians, for boycotts that focus on businesses based in the West Bank result in Palestinians losing their jobs.
  • Polls show Israelis want a deal. Yet the Palestinians still refuse to budge, because people like those who support a boycott let them know that time is on their side, so they might as well dig in their heels.
  • When the Palestinians commit to ending the conflict once and for all and recognize us as the Jewish state we are, they will have their state. Israelis like me will vote for far-reaching concessions, wishing our neighbors nothing less than unbounded success and genuine peace.
  • It is for the West to do what it used to do when it was animated by principle and conviction - to support those countries that embody its values, and to pressure those that do not to embrace the very best of political liberalism.
  • Israel is a genuine democracy, but the Palestinian Authority is not. Israel has a vital and free press, but the PA represses free expression at every turn. Israel has consistently stated its commitment to the realization of the political aspirations of the Palestinian people, but no Palestinian leader has been willing to state that Israel is the legitimate fulfillment of the national aspirations of the Jewish people.
  • Which society, then, should the U.S. and Europe be cajoling? Had the West pressured the Palestinians to create a genuine liberal democracy decades ago, Palestinians might have voted for a brighter future and this conflict might well have been resolved.

    The writer is chair of the core curriculum at Shalem College in Jerusalem.

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