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  DAILY ALERT Thursday,
April 24, 2014

In-Depth Issues:

UN Seeks Probe of Chlorine Gas Attacks in Syria (AP-Washington Post)
    The UN Security Council called for an investigation Wednesday into reports of chlorine gas use in some Syrian towns, causing deaths and injuries.
    Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari categorically denied the use of chlorine gas. He further disputed chlorine gas could be categorized as a chemical weapon, saying, "it is a mundane substance used for bleaching clothes in the laundry or disinfecting swimming pools." 

Iran, Other Repressive Regimes, Sweep UN Human Rights Posts (UN Watch)
    The UN Wednesday elected Iran and more than a dozen other repressive regimes to top committees charged with overseeing the work of human rights organizations.
    Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and the Committee on NGOs, which oversees all human rights groups that seek to work inside the UN.
    Other human rights abusers elected to the influential panel include Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, slave-holding Mauritania, Russia, and Sudan, whose leader, President Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the ICC for genocide.
    See also U.S. Sharply Criticizes Iran's Election to UN Committee (Reuters)

New European Funding for Legal Warfare Against Israel (NGO Monitor)
    The "Secretariat," a joint NGO funding initiative of Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, has announced a four-year budget of $17.6 million to support political and legal warfare against Israel.
    The Secretariat's local managing partner is the Institute of Law at Birzeit University in the West Bank.
    "The NGO grantees engage in legal warfare against Israeli officials and companies that do business with Israel, promote BDS campaigns, and exploit the false 'apartheid' analogy to demonize Israel," noted Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor.

Turkey Starts Talks to Buy Israeli Gas (Today's Zaman-Turkey)
    Turkish fuel retailer Turcas said on Tuesday its gas unit has begun talks with Istanbul-based Enerjisa to jointly procure natural gas from Israel's Leviathan gas field in the eastern Mediterranean for Turkish markets.

Israeli Economy on Upward Swing - Moti Bassok (TheMarker-Ha'aretz)
    Israel's economy showed unexpected strength last month, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.
    "Indices of economic activity are at high levels compared to the second half of 2013, the rate of employment in the labor market continued to grow, tax collections continue to exceed monthly forecasts, and the capital market showed a positive trend in March."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S.: Any Palestinian Government Must Commit to Nonviolence and Recognition of Israel
    U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday: "I think that the ball, at this point, is in the Palestinians' court to answer these questions as to whether this reconciliation, whether these principles would be met through that process that has been long established....Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties."
        "If the Palestinian Government, the PLO - if President Abbas were to continue to pursue reconciliation, Hamas would need to abide by these principles in order to be a part of the government. So if it's a unified government, yes, they would need to abide by these principles."  (U.S. State Department)
        See also U.S. to Reassess Aid to Palestinians If Hamas-PLO Form Government
    The U.S. would have to reconsider its assistance to the Palestinians if Hamas and the PLO form a government together, a senior U.S. administration official said on Thursday. "If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its...policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on U.S. law," the official said. (Reuters)
  • Skepticism over Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation Deal - Yolande Knell
    Previous reconciliation deals between Hamas and Fatah announced amid much fanfare in Cairo in 2011 and Doha in 2012 were never implemented. Inevitably, that means there is caution and skepticism about the latest announcement of a Palestinian unity government.
        Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said: "This is a move by President Abbas away from peace, away from reconciliation....He's embracing extremists who not only Israel but the international community has called a terrorist organization. We will not talk to a government that has in it people who say my country should be destroyed. Hamas says clearly that Israel should be obliterated."  (BBC News)
        See also Chief Palestinian Negotiator: Hamas Is Not a Terrorist Organization
    Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Friday at a conference in Ramallah: "Hamas is a Palestinian movement, [it] is not and will never be a terrorist organization."  (Middle East Monitor-UK)
        See also Views on the Palestinian Unity Deal - Larisa Epatko (PBS)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Laments Palestinian Reconciliation Pact
    Chief Israeli negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday: "The reconciliation agreement that Mahmoud Abbas signed with Hamas is a bad step, which...casts a heavy shadow on the possibility of progress....Hamas combines religious Muslim extremist ideology with terrorism and doesn't recognize our right to exist."  (Times of Israel)
  • Palestinians Still a Long Way from Real Reconciliation - Amos Harel
    Both Fatah and Hamas have a knack for reneging on signed agreements with one another. There is still a long way to go toward true reconciliation among the Palestinians, including new elections, the formation of a new government and the names of candidates for ministers due to be published within five weeks.
        Fatah and Hamas reached understandings only on the relatively easy items: a formal declaration of reconciliation and an outline for the general framework of elections. They have yet to touch on the more controversial issues, such as how to unify their security forces, what form the new national institutions will take, and what joint course of action should be adopted vis-a-vis Israel. (Ha'aretz)
  • Reconciliation Deal a Maneuver to Extract Concessions from Israel and the U.S. - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The timing of the Fatah-Hamas accord is not coincidental. One week before the April 29 deadline for the peace talks with Israel, Abbas has clearly decided to try every available maneuver to exert pressure on Israel and the U.S. Abbas knows that Hamas will not change. He also knows that there is nothing "historic" about this agreement, the fourth of its kind since 2007.
        Hamas is unlikely to cede control over Gaza to Abbas. Fatah is not going to allow Hamas to establish bases of power in the West Bank. Abbas has only one thing in mind: how to extract concessions from Israel and the U.S. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Why Are We Surprised Every Time Abbas Fails to Sign a Peace Agreement with Israel? - Ari Shavit
    In early 1997, Yossi Beilin showed me a comprehensive outline for peace that he said he had formulated 18 months earlier with Mahmoud Abbas. In 2000, we went to the peace summit at Camp David. Surprise: Abbas didn't bring the Beilin-Abbas plan or any other draft of a peace proposal. The opposite was true: He was one of the staunchest objectors.
        During the fall of 2003, as the Geneva Accord was being formulated, it was clear to us that now, Abbas would sign the new peace agreement and adopt its principles. Surprise: No signature, no accord. in 2008 we got behind Ehud Olmert, and the marathon talks he held with Abbas, and the offer that couldn't be refused. Surprise: Abbas didn't actually refuse, he just disappeared. In 2014, surprise: Abbas said no to both John Kerry and Barack Obama.
        Abbas' position is clear and consistent: The Palestinians must not be required to make concessions. After twenty years of fruitless talks, there is no document that contains any real Palestinian concession with Abbas' signature. There never was, and there never will be. (Ha'aretz)
  • Passports Aside, Jerusalem Is in Israel - Jeffrey Goldberg
    In 2002, an American citizen named Naomi Zivotofsky gave birth in Jerusalem to another American citizen, Menachem Zivotofsky. When the Zivotofskys received Menachem's U.S. passport, they were disturbed to see that his birthplace was listed as simply "Jerusalem," not "Jerusalem, Israel." It is the belief of the executive branch of the U.S. government that Israel's claim of sovereignty to any part of Jerusalem is in dispute, even though Congress enacted a law that demanded that the executive branch record such births as taking place in "Jerusalem, Israel."
        My question is: Why does the U.S. acquiesce to the fiction that Jerusalem - in particular, western Jerusalem, which has been the seat of the Israeli government since 1948 - may not actually belong to Israel? U.S. presidents visit Jerusalem and speak before parliament. They even visit Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall, which, unlike the hospital where Menachem was born, is on land that was captured from Jordan in the 1967 war. (Bloomberg)
        See also What's the Big Deal about U.S. Recognition of "Jerusalem, Israel"? - Rick Richman
    Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 60 years. The State Department website identifies Jerusalem as Israel's capital; so does the CIA website; the Department of Defense website features Secretary Hagel's 2013 meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in "Jerusalem, Israel."
        Meanwhile, the Obama administration is fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid putting "Israel" on the passport of a 12-year-old American boy born in Jerusalem, lest the peace process suffer "irreversible damage." Seriously? (Commentary)

Why the Middle East Matters - Tony Blair (Spectator-UK)

  • The Middle East matters. What is presently happening there still represents the biggest threat to global security of the early 21st century.
  • At the root of the crisis lies a radicalized and politicized view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam's true message. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is destabilizing communities and even nations. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.
  • There are four reasons why the Middle East remains of central importance.
    • First, it is still where a large part of the world's energy supplies are generated, and the world's dependence is not going to disappear any time soon.
    • Secondly, it is right on the doorstep of Europe. The boundary of the EU is a short distance from the Levantine coast.
    • Third, in the center of this maelstrom is Israel. Its alliance with the USA, its partnership with leading countries of Europe, and the fact that it is a Western democracy, mean that its fate is never going to be a matter of indifference.
    • Finally, it is in the Middle East that the future of Islam will be decided. Underneath the turmoil of the past years is one very clear and unambiguous struggle: between those with a modern view of the Middle East, one of pluralistic societies and open economies; and, on the other side, those who want to impose an ideology born out of a belief that there is one proper religion and one proper view of it, and that this view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society and the political economy. We might call this latter perspective an "Islamist" view.
  • For the last 40/50 years, there has been a steady stream of funding, proselytizing, organizing and promulgating coming out of the Middle East, pushing views of religion that are narrow minded and dangerous. Unfortunately, we seem blind to the enormous global impact such teaching has had and is having.
  • In Egypt we have to understand plainly what happened. The Muslim Brotherhood government was not simply a bad government. It was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country. The revolt of 30 June 2013 was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation. We should support the new government and help.
  • On Iran, we should continue to make it clear, as the Obama administration is rightly doing, that they have to step back from being a nuclear threshold state. I do not favor yielding to their demands for regional influence in return for concessions on their nuclear ambitions. The Iranian government plays a deliberately destabilizing role across the region. Our goals should not include regime change. Their people will, in the end, have to find their own way to do that. However, we should, at every opportunity, push back against the use of their power to support extremism.

    The writer served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007. Since then he has served as Middle East envoy for the Quartet.

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