Friday, December 28, 2007

What to watch in 2008

From GLORIA, by Barry Rubin*, December 23, 2007:

...2007 are some of its significant trends which will continue to dominate the year to come.

Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.
This is the most important single Middle East event of 2007 because it is a clear, probably irreversible, shift in the balance of power. is conceivable that Hamas will take over the West Bank within a few years and marginalize its rival. To Islamists, this is a great victory.

In fact, it is a disaster for Palestinians and Arabs.... A negotiated resolution of the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with it prospects for a Palestinian state, has been set back for decades.

...In years to come, struggles between Arab nationalists and Islamists, as well as between Sunnis and Shias, will dwarf the Arab-Israeli conflict. During 2008 we will have to assess whether the Palestinian Authority still ruling the West Bank can meet the Hamas challenge. (We already know it won't meet the diplomatic challenge but it will take all year for most Western politicians and much of the media to discover that.)

The military success of the U.S. surge in Iraq.
U.S. forces showed that pessimistic assessments were wrong and they were able to reduce the power of anti-government insurgents and lower the death toll in Iraq. However, this is a long way from winning the war.

During 2008 the two key questions will be whether U.S. troop withdrawals start in earnest and whether there is any political progress in bringing together Sunni and Shia communities in that country....

The Western failure to tighten sanctions substantially against Iran.
It was clear in 2007 that negotiations with Tehran would fail to deter Iran from its campaign to obtain nuclear weapons. Certainly, France, Britain and Germany were more willing to take--or at least to talk about taking--action but due to their own hesitations, plus resistance from Russia and China, very little happened.

The reaction to these events in Iran was mixed. On one hand, there was more worry about the pressures facing that country plus its own economic woes. On the other hand, the regime expressed more confidence that the West was chicken and that time and tide was on Iran's side.

In 2008 we will be able to see if Tehran's drive for nuclear weapons continues without serious hindrance. Equally, it will be possible to assess whether President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is being weakened by his factional opponents--especially in the March parliamentary elections--or tightening his hold on power and holding to his reckless course....

...Israel prospers.
Despite outdated talk of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's weakness, he used 2007 to rebuild his authority. Especially interesting, Israel's economic growth has been impressive; unemployment fallen to all-time lows. Revolutionary enthusiasm and paper victories still thrill the Arab world and Iran but material gains continue to be what is important.

The demoralization of Lebanon.
Worried that it is being abandoned by the West, forces supporting the moderate Lebanese government began to wonder if in fact Iran, Syria, and Hizballah would be able to reestablish their control over the country. A key element is the identity of the country's next president. In 2008, it will be important to watch how power shifts in Beirut and whether the investigation of Syrian involvement in terrorism against Lebanese opposition figures leads to an international tribunal.

France changes course.
President Francois Sarkozy has moved France away from the nationalistic effort to undercut the United States and appease radical regimes. Sarkozy, however, has played footsie with Syria and Libya. The question for 2008: Will he implement pledges to get tougher and will French institutions follow him in changing course?

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Show Syria the Stick

From BESA Perspectives Paper No. 36, December 26, 2007, by Ely Karmon:

....The Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas alliance has acted during the last 15 years as an “axis of destabilization” in the Middle East, achieving major strategic victories at the expense of moderate Arab states, and US, European, and Israeli interests.

The Damascus regime, weakened by the withdrawal of its army from Lebanon and international pressure after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, still maintains a firm grip on the Sunni majority population at home, plays a strong hand in Lebanon, and supports radical Palestinian groups.

With Syrian support, Hizballah (Tehran’s closest ally) has become a state-within-a-state potentially able to become Lebanon’s arbiter if not actual ruler.

Syria is actively involved in the destabilization of the Palestinian arena and has a growing role in supporting the Shi’a anti-American forces in Iraq....

...The "Axis" significantly influences Israel's relations with its neighbors. The inconclusive results of the Second Lebanon War of July-August 2006 and the continuous bombing of Israeli cities and villages from Gaza have diminished Israel’s deterrence versus Hizballah, Hamas, Iran and Syria.

Similarly, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, despite the Annapolis gathering, is essentially paralyzed. Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip, threatens the Fatah-controlled West Bank, and is able to derail any negotiation in the peace process by terrorist attacks.

....This alliance works because of the strong religious ideologies that shape the strategy of three of the actors: Iran, Hizballah and Hamas.

The Tehran regime, based on the revolutionary doctrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, has implemented its creed through an aggressive strategy after silencing all internal dissent. The apocalyptical overtone of Mahdism in its leadership circles makes this ideology even more dangerous.

Hizballah, as proven by its covenant and the open declarations and deeds of its leaders, closely follows the religious ideology and the strategy of export of the Khomeini revolution.

Hamas, as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Sunni Islamist movement, sees jihad as a general duty of all Muslims and is the only MB group involved in systematic warfare against Israel and “world Zionism.”

Different from the other three, Syria is still driven by Pan-Arabism and the concept of Greater Syria....

The US, Europe and Israel Didn’t Challenge the Alliance
However, the victories of this alliance are not only the result of the robust and durable cooperation between its four members, but also in great measure the consequence of the US, European and Israeli leaderships’ lack of strategic vision and political courage.

The United States and France (the major European country challenged by the axis) did not inflict any serious damage on Iran and its operational arm Hizballah, for the long series of terrorist attacks against their citizens, soldiers and interests. Nor has Syria paid a real price for the direct and indirect support to Iranian and Hizballah anti-Western terrorism. Not only has Iran not suffered any consequences for 20 years of lying about its nuclear program, but the West is still willing to offer ever-greater incentives, strengthening Iran's leaders' sense of self-confidence that they can achieve nuclear military capability.

The West has forced Bashar al-Asad to withdraw the Syrian army from Lebanon, but it has stopped short of endangering his regime at home or curtailing his influence in Lebanon. The continuous political killings there are designed to intimidate those working courageously to end Syria's interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.

Since 1982, Israel has permitted Syria to support Hizballah attacks and Palestinian proxy against its territory. Israeli leaders did not have the courage to challenge Damascus. Even during the July-August 2006 War, when Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was running the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier from Damascus and Syria continued to provide heavy military hardware and ammunition to Hizballah, the Israeli government sent the message that it had no intention to bother Syria.

By giving Hizballah the credit for the Israeli disgraceful withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, by permitting its consolidation as a state-within-a-state and the building of a small modern guerrilla-army, the various Israeli governments have preferred tactical political gains at home to real strategic long-term interests. In the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel paid a high price not only in human lives and material damage, but also in its regional standing and its deterrent power versus its enemies....

The Threat of a Nuclear Iran
The dangerous destabilizing effect of the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas alliance on the Middle East and beyond and the leadership role of the Tehran regime in this coalition place the prevention of the Iranian nuclear military program as first priority for the international community.

The US, the international community and Israel face a daunting challenge: how to prevent a nuclear Iran. After 20 years of futile diplomatic dialogue and a year of mild international sanctions, three options remain:
  • severe economic sanctions,
  • military operation against the Iranian nuclear facilities, or
  • laissez faire tactics that allow the Iranians to achieve their goal and devise a deterrent strategy for the future.

As a global power, the Bush Administration needs to find a grand strategic compromise with Russia to display a common front against Iran and thus considerably enhance the success of the sanctions. Russia could have a crucial role in convincing the ayatollahs of the seriousness of their situation. Russia has redefined the limits of its nuclear cooperation with Iran: it has halted Russian work on the construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor and is procrastinating in transferring the nuclear fuel required for its activation.

However, in light of the growing tension between the US and Russia on important strategic issues, such as the building of the missile defense system in Poland and the radar station in the Czech Republic or the expansion of NATO into the old Eastern Bloc on Russia’s western border, President Putin is less willing to cooperate on the Iranian file.

There is the possibility to isolate Tehran by breaking the alliance with Syria, which is key in isolating and disarming Hizballah and reducing the influence of radical Palestinians on the peace process with Israel.

Israel cannot defeat Hizballah if it does not occupy most of Lebanon, which it is reluctant to do. Therefore, the best way to change the equation in Lebanon is to challenge Syria. The carrots the European leaders proposed President Bashar al-Asad have not convinced him to join the moderate Arab camp. These incentives should perhaps be improved, but the stick should be waved higher.

....Israel’s air raid on Syria on September 6, 2007 has broken the immunity of the Damascus regime without provoking a European or Arab outcry. Israel should decide on a more forceful Syrian strategy, based on the Turkish example of 1998 (and 2007), and seek US and European support for it. Israel’s air raid also proved that if a country does act against a clear and present danger, the Muslim world will not erupt. Moreover, Iranian aspirations should be viewed in proper proportion. Iran is not an international superpower and it has its own domestic, economic and military vulnerabilities.

If the military option is the last resort, it is imperative to dissuade the Tehran regime from retaliation. ....The US, the European Union and Israel ...must stand firm against the “axis of destabilization” and the apocalyptic plans of the radicals in Tehran.

Dr. Ely Karmon is a Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC.

Haaretz disgraces itself

From an article by Isi Leibler, December 27, 2007 [my emphasis added - SL]:

In the course of a visit to Israel by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, approximately 20 heads of the most senior Israeli think tanks and media leaders were invited by the American Ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, to a dinner at his private residence to receive a confidential briefing from the Secretary of State....on September 10.

A bizarre exchange took place at this gathering between ... [Haaretz editor David] Landau, who was seated adjacent to the Secretary of State....

Landau opened his remarks by referring to Israel as a "failed state" politically. He said that the only way Israel could be saved would be if the United States were to impose a settlement. Landau told Rice "I implore you" to intervene and added that the Government of Israel wanted "to be raped".

Condoleezza Rice responded that whilst she appreciated the dilemmas facing Israel, the United States would never impose its views on the Jewish state in such a manner.....

..... Whilst Ms. Rice rejected Landau's entreaties for the United States to force Israel to act in what he perceived to be Israel's best interest, there is little doubt that his remarks would have subsequently been widely aired in US State Department circles.

Anyone familiar with Israel's diplomatic history will be aware that the worst fear of government after government was the prospect of the United States alone or in conjunction with another power, seeking to impose a settlement which would be to Israel's political detriment or compromise its vital security interests.

By any benchmark, Landau's behavior as an Israeli citizen would be deemed unacceptable. But it is surely unconscionable that the editor of one of Israel's most influential newspapers, which also appears in an English and global internet version, could urge an American Secretary of State to "rape" his own government. If ever there was a crossing of every red line in terms of propriety, national integrity, and civic responsibility, this extraordinary intervention tops the bill....

What is even more outrageous is that far from displaying remorse at his behaviour, Landau told the Jewish Week that "he had no regrets and that, on the contrary he was pleased, adding that he was later congratulated by several professors in the room who felt 'I articulated what many Israelis feel'."...

...Of course, Landau is entitled to his personal opinions. But it is surely a staggering act of reckless arrogance and a reflection of utter contempt for the democratic process when the editor of Haaretz newspaper at such a venue to have passionately conveyed such views to the American Secretary of State at this most sensitive diplomatic juncture. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Israelis across the entire political spectrum would condemn his action as irresponsible and immoral.

Mr. Landau should apologize or resign.

[Also see Shame on 'Haaretz', posted 6 November 2007]

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fund the Palestinians? Bad Idea

From Jerusalem Post by Daniel Pipes, December 19, 2007:

Lavishing funds on Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to achieve peace has been a mainstay of Western, including Israeli, policy since Hamas seized Gaza in June. But this open spigot has counterproductive results and urgently must be stopped.

Some background: Paul Morro of the Congressional Research Service reports that, in 2006, the European Union and its member states gave US$815 million to the Palestinian Authority, while the United States sent it $468 million. When other donors are included, the total receipts come to about $1.5 billion....

....One report suggests the European Union has funneled nearly $2.5 billion to the Palestinians this year.

Looking ahead, Abbas ...won pledges for an astonishing $7.4 billion (or over $1,800 per capita per year) at the donors' conference. [$1,400 per year is about what an Egyptian earns annually.]

Well, it's a bargain if it works, right? A few billion to end a dangerous, century-old conflict – it's actually a steal.

But innovative research by Steven Stotsky, a research analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) finds that an influx of money to the Palestinians has had the opposite effect historically. Relying on World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other official statistics, Stotsky compares two figures since 1999: budgetary support aid provided annually to the Palestinian Authority and the number of Palestinian homicides annually (including both criminal and terrorist activities, and both Israeli and Palestinian victims). ....In brief, each $1.25 million or so of budgetary support aid translates into a death within the year. ....

....The Palestinian record fits a broader pattern, as noted by Jean-Paul Azam and Alexandra Delacroix in a 2005 article, "Aid and the Delegated Fight Against Terrorism." They found.... the more foreign aid, the more terrorism.

If these studies run exactly counter to the conventional supposition that poverty, unemployment, repression, "occupation," and malaise drive Palestinians to lethal violence, they do confirm my long-standing argument about Palestinian exhilaration being the problem. The better funded Palestinians are, the stronger they become, and the more inspired to take up arms.
....Rather than further funding Palestinian bellicosity, Western states, starting with Israel, should cut off all funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Dec. 20, 2007 update: Using the Stotsky materials and extrapolating to include the $7.4 billion committed earlier this week, Hal M. Switkay comes up with an estimate of 4,600 Palestinian-caused deaths .... in the three years ahead:

Extrapolation of Stotsky's analysis for $7.4 billion over three years.

[Homicides by Palestinian Terrorists (1,000s) vs Foreign Aid (US$b)]

....One must be cautious, as the authors are, and explain that correlation – even perfect correlation – does not imply causation. One must present a plausible explanation that could justify the claim of causation, and I have one.

Most of the ignoramuses who opine or make policy regarding the Middle East and jihadists worldwide, believe that poverty causes war, just as poverty causes crime at home, and that terrorists must be given hope to stop their deadly rampage.

However, we know that quite the opposite is true: poor people can choose to study hard, work hard, and lift themselves and their communities gradually out of poverty; crime causes poverty; terrorism causes poverty; and terrorists are given hope by the craven appeasement of the empty-headed Western intellectuals and politicians who come to bargain for their lives – at others' expense, of course. My theory is justified, I believe, by the strong relationship between foreign aid and homicides that occur one year later.

Based on the strong linear correlation between foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and the number of homicides committed by Palestinian Arabs one year later, I have used extrapolation to predict the consequences of a promised $7.4 billion in aid to the Palestinian Arabs. Please understand that extrapolation is far less reliable than interpolation. Nevertheless, my model predicts approximately 4600 homicides can be expected within a year after the infusion of the pledged foreign aid. This is equivalent to the murder of some 215,000 Americans.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hit ‘em where it hurts

From Ynet News, by Zvi Hauser, 18/12/07:

Forget economic sanctions; Qassams should prompt Palestinian territorial losses

The failure of disengagement, Hamas’ Gaza takeover, and the ongoing Qassam rocket attacks require us to adopt “out-of-the-box” thinking regarding the way to regain Israeli’s deterrence capabilities, which have been lost.

The Israeli obsession with making do with a search for a passive, defensive solution merely encourages the belligerent Palestinian approach and boosts Hamas. Israel must change the rules of the game and actively exact a Hamas territorial price for Palestinian belligerence. Israel’s diplomatic thinking must be brought up to date in the face of the regional interpretation of our compromise policy, which labels any withdrawal as a sign of weakness.

What’s been going on in Gaza in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal proves once again that Palestinian society’s supreme value is not human life or economic welfare, but rather, land. Therefore, we should take the “land for peace” formula and link it to yet another formula, “land for war,” and present this choice to our neighbors.

The ongoing Qassam fire justifies and requires us to take over the Gaza Strip’s “northern edge” where most missiles are fired from. ....

.... The Palestinian exploitation of Israel’s unilateral pullout requires us to reassess the “withdrawal to the last centimeter” approach. The ongoing harm to human rights in Israeli Gaza-region communities justifies a renewed takeover of unpopulated territory, while making it clear to the Palestinians and to the international community that instead of killing civilians, destroying infrastructure, or cutting off the water and electricity supply to a helpless population, Israel chose the most humane move – taking over dominating positions and preventing rocket attacks on civilians.

‘Land is gained through peace, lost in war’ The loss of territory is the most painful stick that can be waived in the face of the Hamas ethos. This is the genuine price tag in Gaza. Not human life, and certainly not economic welfare and all the services that depend on electricity supply, unlike what we would expect in Western civilizations. A future withdrawal from these areas after they are retaken would only be examined as part of a comprehensive peace agreement that would guarantee the security of Israel’s citizens.

... not only those who seek normal life in Sderot must back the shunning of the failed disengagement principles, but also the eternal optimists who believe that somewhere on the horizon there is a formula for making peace with the Palestinians.

The writer is an attorney and former Communication Ministry official

There'll be no peace in our time

From, by Greg Sheridan, December 16, 2007 [my emphasis added - SL]:

THIS past week in Israel, where I have been staying for a couple of weeks, there began what should be a historic process: negotiation of a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. This is the outcome of the recent Annapolis conference in the US. Three leaders - US President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas - have committed to finding a final settlement within a year. They have not committed to full implementation of this final settlement in that time, merely to the conclusion of an agreement on what the terms of the final settlement will be.

This covers areas such as the amount of territory an independent Palestinian state will get; the so-called right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants (which Israel interprets as a right of return to a new Palestinian state and the Palestinians interpret as a right of return to Israel itself), and the arrangements that will cover Jerusalem.

The obstacles to any settlement are enormous. For a start, the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction over one-third of its population, which lives in the Gaza Strip under the control of the Islamist terrorist organisation Hamas - an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But even in the West Bank, the real power of the Palestinian Authority is very limited. Several West Bank cities are ruled by warlords, not the Authority. Indeed, Palestinian leaders cannot travel safely in all their own cities and are not ready to take over security in most of their cities from Israeli security forces.

In truth, the Palestinian Authority does not have functioning state institutions. Outside donors, including Australia, are set to pump an enormous amount of money into the West Bank to try to improve the quality of life there. This is designed, in part, to strengthen Mahmood Abbas and to show the Palestinians that life on the moderate path, in the West Bank, is much better than life under the extremist path, as in Gaza under Hamas. The Palestinian Authority, however, shows no signs of re-establishing control of the Gaza Strip, and it is inconceivable that Israel would allow the creation of a Palestinian state that did not control both the West Bank and Gaza.

Many people around the world tell Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders. Two years ago, Israel did pull out of Gaza - and the result was that Hamas took over. Every day now, Hamas terrorists fire rockets - aimed at civilians - from Gaza into Israel. Eventually, one of these rockets will kill a large number of Israeli civilians and there will be a huge Israeli military response inside Gaza. Whatever Mahmood Abbas thinks of this, or Hamas (some of whom have pledged to kill him), he would be forced to make an ultra-nationalist response - and that, in itself, could kill the peace process.

Further, the Annapolis process requires the fulfilment of the conditions of the so-called Road Map, the very first of which is that the Palestinians stamp out terrorism and stop attacks on Israeli civilians. There is no sign the Palestinian Authority can do this, or even that it really wants to do this. Its educational materials are full of hatred against Israel and incitement to terrorism. And that is the fundamental problem.

Neither the Palestinian leadership, nor most of the surrounding Arab states, has really come to grips with Israel's right to exist at peace behind secure borders. Until that happens, no agreement is likely to work on the ground. So, what should have been an epic week may prove only to have been just another footnote of failure in the long saga of failure in the Middle East.

Israel could exchange territory to keep settlements

From the International Herald Tribune, by The Associated Press, December 18, 2007:

JERUSALEM: A confidant of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's said Tuesday that Israel was pushing forward with construction in major West Bank settlements, but proposed compensating the Palestinians with Israeli territory under a final peace deal.

The comments by Vice Premier Haim Ramon were the first time an Israeli official has openly endorsed the idea of a land swap. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also supports the concept, which could solve one of the most contentious issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Jewish settlements in the West Bank....

...Olmert has signaled he is ready for a large withdrawal from the West Bank, but that he wants to retain the large housing blocs where the vast majority of Jewish settlers live....

..."The Palestinians won't say that this is good, but there is no doubt that the Palestinians understand that in the end of the peace process, the settlement blocs will be under Israeli sovereignty in return for an exchange of territory," Ramon said....

....Abbas said any swap would require Israel to hand over "the same quality and quantity of land" that it keeps, but also said it was "premature" to discuss such a deal.....

....The U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan calls on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including so-called natural growth in existing communities. However, Israel says the U.S. supports its position on retaining settlement blocs, pointing to a 2004 letter in which President George W. Bush said a final peace deal would have to recognize "new realities on the ground.".....Israel is expected to seek a final border along the lines of its West Bank separation barrier, which is expected to leave roughly 8 percent of the West Bank, along with the settlement blocs, in Israeli hands when it is complete.

...The road map also requires Israel to remove several dozen tiny settlement outposts scattered throughout the West Bank. ...The Palestinians, meanwhile, are required to rein in militant groups. ... Israel also says Abbas must control militants in the Gaza Strip, which was overrun by the Hamas militant group last June. Abbas wields no control in Gaza, raising questions about his ability to carry out any future peace deal....

$7.4 Billion Pledged to PA

From The New York Times, December 18, 2007, by ELAINE SCIOLINO:

PARIS — Eighty-seven countries and international organizations pledged $7.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians on Monday, in the most ambitious fund-raising effort in more than a decade to help Palestinians create a viable, peaceful and secure state of their own.

The total is set to cover the next three years. The Palestinians had hoped to secure $5.6 billion ...but the amount pledged exceeded that figure.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said at the conference that a “moment of truth” had arrived, urging the world to increase its aid for Palestinians — or risk disaster.
“Without this support, without the payment of aid that will allow the Palestinian treasury to fulfill its role, we will be facing a total catastrophe in the West Bank and Gaza,” Mr. Abbas said.
In appealing for the financing, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an economist appointed to lead the Palestinians’ caretaker government, formally presented his new recovery plan for economic, institutional and security reform for a future Palestinian state.

...Many countries do not fulfill pledges that they make at such conferences. Egypt and other Arab countries are known for pledging funds to the Palestinian Authority that they do not deliver...

....The event on Monday was the largest Palestinian donor meeting since 1996, and the latest in a string of aid-raising events for the Palestinians over the years. The Palestinians are one of the highest aid-dependent populations in the world, according to a new World Bank report.

....“Our aim is not to perpetuate assistance to the Palestinians indefinitely,” said Mr. Sarkozy, who calls himself a close friend of Israel. To that end, he called for Israel to allow freedom of movement of people and goods and to immediately freeze all settlement construction on the West Bank. “I must insist on this point: it is in Israel’s best interest, provided its own security is not threatened, to foster a normal existence in the West Bank,” he said. “This alone will enable the Palestinians to work, to stop ruminating on their humiliation, to curb the violence and trafficking and to regain their zest for life.”

As for the Palestinians, Mr. Sarkozy told them to live up to their promises to maintain “law and order over its territory” and to overhaul their security services.

Stephen Castle reported from Brussels and Graham Bowley reported from New York. Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Syrian Alliance With Iran Unshakable

From AP, by ALBERT AJI, 14/12/07:

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — President Bashar Assad rejected claims that Syria's alliance with Iran had been weakened by Damascus' participation in last month's U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference, insisting Thursday that ties between the two countries will never be shaken....

....The November conference in Annapolis, Md., which relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, was widely seen as also aimed at isolating Iran by bringing together Arab nations. U.S. officials have expressed hopes that Syria's attendance would mark a start to easing it out of its alliance with Tehran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top officials denounced the conference, and some officials expressed surprise over Syria's participation — though none directly criticized it....

.....Syria is Iran's closest Arab ally. The two countries have had warm relations since 1980 when Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dichter: NIE proves that Israel failed

From JPost, Dec 15, 2007, by REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter on Saturday blasted the recent US National Intelligence Estimate that says Teheran has halted its nuclear arms program, warning that a nuclear Iran could lead to a regional war that would threaten Israel.

Dichter also suggested that if American intelligence agencies were wrong about Iran in the NIE, released on December 3, they could also issue false information about whether the Palestinians are fulfilling their security commitments....

...."The softened intelligence report proves that Israel failed to provide the Americans with the whole picture concerning the Iranian nuclear threat," he said. "Something went wrong in the American blueprint for analyzing the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat," said Dichter, in one of the strongest criticisms of the US intelligence analysis offered by a cabinet member.

....He added that it was now the duty of Israel and other concerned countries to provide the US with intelligence information and analyses that would help to change the American assessment.
Regarding the Palestinians, Dichter warned that retired US general James Jones, who heads the mechanism to judge the implementation of road map obligations, could also receive an inaccurate assessment of the situation on the ground and that there were no guarantees he would not make a serious error of judgment regarding the Palestinians' adherence to their commitments.

The "US could make a mistake and decide that the Palestinians have fulfilled their commitments, which could entail very serious consequences from Israel's perspective," Dichter warned.

"Israel cannot allow a situation in which Hamas conducts a war of attrition from Gaza, while Israel is simultaneously holding negotiations with the Palestinians," Dichter said.
He stressed the need for the Palestinians to establish "real and operational" law enforcement, legislative and judicial systems.....

US intelligence flawed

From DEBKAfile, December 15, 2007:

Israeli minister warns “flawed” US intelligence on Iran nuke will lead to “Yom Kippur”

Internal security minister and former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter was the first government member to publicly and harshly question the US National Intelligence Estimate which says Tehran no longer develops nuclear weapons. He warned that it could spark a “regional Yom Kippur” – a reference to the 1973 Middle East War. The minister said Saturday, Dec. 15: “We know the threat to be ongoing and palpable” for Israel and a whole region within the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles, i.e. Europe and North Africa. Israel and other troubled nations must help the US in every way possible, including by their intelligence, to correct a misconception that could spark a “regional Yom Kippur.”

DEBKAfile reports: Dichter voiced concerns which other Israeli ministers have so far expressed only in private (as reported last week on this site), because they conflict with the views of prime minister Ehud Olmert. The NIE report is deemed negative on three grounds:

1. It means the Bush administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear-armed Iran.

2. While Dichter had the courage to open the eyes of the Israeli public to the danger, he too knows there is no way to correct the “misconception” governing the actions of President Bush and Secretary Rice, because the NIE did not come out of the blue; it was the product of a comprehensive strategic reassessment planned to play out up to the end of the Bush presidency. Both its two underlying objectives are detrimental to Israel:
First: America seeks integration in the unfolding Saudi-Iranian axis. This will entail turning its back on Israel.
Second: It will also entail concessions to Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinians at the expense of Israel and its security.

3. DEBKAfile’s Jerusalem sources reveal that Olmert has confided in his close aides his intention of using the White House’s about-face in the Middle East to advance on simultaneous peace tracks with the Palestinians and Syria. In other words, the Israeli prime minister is willing to make Bush a gift of broad concessions on the West Bank and Golan to aid and abet the president’s pursuit of the budding Riyadh-Tehran partnership.

This was hinted at in Dichter’s added caution Saturday that Washington’s “faulty intelligence” and “erroneous conceptions” could warp its judgment as arbiter of the Middle East roadmap between Israel and the Palestinians, by reporting their nonexistent crackdown on terrorists.
At the same time, as long as ministers like Dichter who are clearly at issue with the prime minister stay in his government, Olmert has no incentive to abandon his plans.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

UN passes resolution proposed by Israel


The UN passage of an Israeli resolution on agriculture Tuesday is the first time a nonpolitical Israeli resolution has been adopted by the international body, and signifies a breakthrough in Israeli-UN history.

The resolution, which calls on member states to work with relevant UN organizations in promoting the development and transfer of agricultural technologies to developing countries, was passed by the economic and financial committee with a vote of 118 in favor, 29 abstentions and no opposing votes.

"For Israel, this is a very dramatic development, and an historic day at the UN," said Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman. "This makes Israel a much more normal and acceptable member of the UN. One of our main aims is to not be a one issue country and to bring awareness of Israel's excellence to the world."

Though Israel has long been known as a source of agricultural innovation, passage of the resolution signified recognition from a body that has been less than welcoming of anything bearing an Israeli stamp.

...."South Africa is a big disappointment," said Gillerman. "They sent out the wrong message.
Presuming to be a leader of the African continent, and as a member of the Security Council, for them to abstain on a resolution which Africa will be a main beneficiary of is shameful."

The resolution stresses ongoing concern that "Africa is the only continent currently not on track to achieve any of the goals of the United Nations Millennium Declaration by 2015," and emphasizes the need for "concerted efforts and continued support" to address Africa's special needs. The Permanent Mission of South Africa did not return calls for comment.
Another impetus for the current resolution is the upcoming meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which will meet for the 16th time in May. The agenda for that meeting will include agriculture, water and desertification, and Israel will be one of the vice-chairs of the commission.

"Some people tend to downplay agriculture, but anyone who knows the UN, understands the significance," said Gillerman.

Olmert vows to remove Qassam rocket threat

From Haaretz, by Barak Ravid, 12/12/07 [this story is particularly relevant to me right now, visiting Sderot, with several members of the Western Australian government]:

The security cabinet was set to meet Wednesday to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed on Tuesday to remove the threat of Qassam rockets from the southern part of the country.

"The situation in the south of the country, in light of the Qassam rocket fire, has generated a difficult reality," Olmert told an Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv Tuesday night.

"We will have to act on this matter in the necessary manner, with the appropriate dose and the right timing, without exaggerating and creating unrealistic expectations. We will not rest until the Qassam rocket threat is completely removed from Sderot and the western Negev." ...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gillerman to the UN: 'Stop eternalizing the past'

From JPost, Nov 29, 2007 by MICHAL LANDO:

As Hamas officials called for the United Nations to rescind the partition plan that was adopted in 1947, UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman on Thursday urged it to stop "eternalizing the past" and work toward a better future....

"It is possible to bring the spirit of Annapolis also to the halls of the UN - a coalition of moderates in favor of peace, instead of the spirit that currently blows through the halls that brings hatred and eternalizes the past," he said in an address to the General Assembly.

On November 29, 1947, the UN voted for Resolution 181, which recommended an end to the British Mandate in Palestine and a partition plan that called for the creation of two states - one Jewish and one Arab....

..... Since 1977, this day is earmarked at the UN as an annual day of "Solidarity with the Palestinian People," and is typically commemorated as a day of mourning. Part of the discussion in Thursday's General Assembly meeting was reserved for the "Question of Palestine," an annual ushering-in of several anti-Israel resolutions.

Israel sees it as a happy occasion and streets in several Israeli cities are named after the date.
"The 29th of November is a reason for celebration," said Gillerman.... "On this date, the world got a gift: a state which contributes to humanity more than all the countries in the UN that mourn on this day."

..."Israel recognized two states for two peoples already 60 years ago," Gillerman said. "If the Arabs would have agreed to the historic partition plan, the Palestinians would have had a state for 60 years. What would a 60-year-old Palestinian state look like? Look at what Israel has accomplished in 60 years, where we are and where those who tried to destroy us and who continue to try to destroy us are today." ...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Bush Letter

From JCPA, Vol. 7, No. 22, 23 November 2007, by Dore Gold [synopsis only - follow the link for the full paper]:

  • ... The Bush Letter of April 14, 2004, received by Israel as a quid pro quo for the Gaza Disengagement, introduced new elements into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that completely superseded the Clinton proposals.
  • Prime Minister Sharon explained the significance of the Bush Letter to the Knesset on April 22, 2004: "There is American recognition that in any permanent status arrangement, there will be no return to the ‘67 borders. This recognition is to be expressed in two ways: understanding that the facts that have been established in the large settlement blocs are such that they do not permit a withdrawal to the ‘67 borders and implementation of the term ‘defensible borders.'"
  • There is a serious question about the exact standing of the Bush Letter on the eve of Annapolis. Secretary of State Rice stated on November 13, 2007: "I believe that most Israelis are ready to leave most of the - nearly all of the West Bank, just as they were ready to leave Gaza for the sake of peace." Yet all serious public opinion polls actually show strong Israeli support for retaining strategic areas of the West Bank, like the Jordan Valley.
  • It has been frequently stated, particularly in Washington, that, "We all know what the final outcome of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement will look like," an assertion usually followed by some reference to the Clinton proposals and the talks at Taba. Such statements try to introduce inevitability into the expected parameters of a peace settlement, even though they are based on a whole series of failed negotiating attempts seven years ago that cannot possibly bind the State of Israel, and completely ignore the fact of opposition by the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces to the Clinton proposals as endangering Israel's security.
  • It is critical for Israeli diplomacy to protect the Bush Letter against those who seek to undercut and replace it with a new set of Israeli-Palestinian documents. Israelis have learned from their experience with Gaza what can happen to their most vital security interests if they are not safeguarded at the same time that far-reaching territorial concessions are made....

60 years on...Hamas dreams on..

From JPost, Nov 29, 2007:

Hamas on Thursday called on the UN to rescind the 1947 decision to partition Palestine into two states, one for Jews and one for Arabs. The group said in a statement, released on the 60th anniversary of the UN vote, that "Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem... there is no room in it for the Jews."

.....In [an interviewwith Army Radio], Peres described the first moments after the historic vote in 1947: "I was next to [Israel's first prime minister, David] Ben-Gurion. That night, when all the streets were filled with dancing and rejoicing, he said that tomorrow there would be bloodshed. I wasn't sure he was right… but he was in a very grave mood."

...."After the terrible Holocaust, there remained only a few thousand Jews who came out of the camps weighing 30-40 kilograms. We had to set up a state, and there was no other choice… Ben-Gurion stood at the edge of the abyss. He decided to take a chance - and he was right."

One of our best friends defeated

From JPost, by Isi Leibler, November 29, 2007:

...Many Australian Jews and Israelis will be deeply saddened to lose a leader whose genuine and unremitting friendship captured their hearts. John Howard was unquestionably one of Israel's greatest champions among world statesmen and a unique friend of the Jewish people.

...He regarded his principled support of Israel as a moral imperative ...There are few politicians who could state, as he recently did, that "the personal friendship I have for the Jewish people will never be diminished. It is something I value as part of my being and as part of what I have tried to do with my life."

The defeat of the Howard government will also see the retirement of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Treasurer Peter Costello, both of whom were enthusiastic supporters of Israel in their own right....

...There is considerable hope that the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will maintain Australia's tradition of friendship.... I did harbour reservations ...when I heard that Rudd would invariably tend to support the "more politically balanced" approach on the Middle East exemplified by European abstentions on Israel-related issues in United Nations bodies. Rudd also distanced himself from President George W. Bush on Iraq and has committed his new government to a phased withdrawal of the 550 Australian troops stationed there.

Yet by and large since assuming leadership of the Labor Party prior to the elections, Rudd has unquestionably displayed a warmer approach to Israel.....

.... on the eve of the elections, Rudd declared his adamant refusal to have any relationship with Hamas unless it reversed its refusal to recognize the Jewish state. He also announced that a Labor government would initiate steps to summon Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the International Court of Justice on charges of incitement to genocide....

....In a parallel move related to the needs of the Australian Jewish community, Rudd committed Labor to provide $36 million of additional support for Jewish schools over a four year period. This included funds to cover the special security related requirements of Jewish day schools. This precedent is of great importance to a Jewish community which prides itself on having achieved the highest pro rata enrolment in Jewish day schools in the world.

Needless to say, undertakings made prior to elections should not be taken for granted. Rudd will encounter opposition from within his party to the implementation of some of his commitments. He will certainly face opposition from the radical pro-Palestinian wing of the party, described by a former Jewish Labor Party Minister Barry Cohen as "distinctly anti Semitic." They will undoubtedly endeavor to undermine Rudd's pro-Israel stance. However their chances of success are slim for they are politically marginal......after such a landslide victory at the polls, Rudd is now in a unique position of strength to ensure that his policies are implemented.

To summarize, all indicators suggest that the new government will remain pro-Israel. Only time will tell the extent to which it will fully replicate the extraordinary support of the former Howard government and resist the temptation to become more "even handed" at the UN and other international forums....

Howard's achievements, Rudd's promise

From The Australian Jewish News, November 30, 2007, by Colin Rubenstein [my emphasis added - SL]:

The new Rudd Government gives every indication of not only seeking to match, but if possible, even improve on the excellent record of the Howard Government in terms of both willingness to act on Jewish domestic concerns and also Australia's support for Israel's security and peacemaking efforts...

....Firstly, historically, despite some exceptions, Australian governments of both political persuasions have gone out of their way to cultivate positive Australia-Israel relations. This has been the historic norm.

Secondly, that being said, the Howard Government has brought that relationship to new heights since 1996. Howard, his Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Treasurer Peter Costello have made Australia one of Israel's closest and most consistent friends. This government has given Israel tremendous verbal support, articulated not only in speeches to the Jewish community, but also in the media.....

....At the United Nations, Howard's Australia fought to end institutional discrimination against Israel; played a leading role in the fight against the violent anti-Zionism mixed with antisemitism that marred the 2001 Durban "anti-racism" conference; voted to end funding for the series of permanent anti-Israeli bureaucracies built into the UN structure and actively lobbied others to do the same; and was willing to be in a small minority in promoting these reforms and opposing one-sided anti-Israel resolutions.

And it should not be forgotten that at the start of the 2003 war in Iraq, Australia primarily contributed elite Special Air Service (SAS) troops whose main role, successfully executed, was to penetrate behind Iraqi lines and prevent the launching of Scud missiles against Israel.

Foreign policy went almost unmentioned during this election campaign, and there is likely to be more continuity than major reversals in Australian foreign policy in general. Moreover, both Rudd and most of his key team members, as their public statements indicate, are committed and longstanding friends of Israel. There is every chance the new ALP government will work to maintain the uniquely close and supportive relations with Israel of the last 11 years, and Kevin Rudd himself fully intends to do this....

....One area to be watched in this regard will be United Nations voting, where we hope Prime Minister-elect Rudd will make sure that Australia does not return to a pattern of European-style abstention on key votes, such as those on the security fence and the funding of anti-Israel bureaucracies within the UN (despite an earlier view that Australia should have abstained from the 2005 vote condemning the security barrier, which Australia courageously opposed).

On the other hand, because the ALP will likely make the UN a larger focus in Australian foreign policy, it has additional incentives to make UN reform a priority - including weakening its institutionalised biases against Israel. And this is certainly in Israel's interest, as well as Australia's.

Further, the suggestion by Kevin Rudd that Australia could play a leading role in international efforts to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide is also promising. Pursuing such a legal avenue is an important additional diplomatic tool that can increase pressure on the Iranian regime when combined with other diplomatic measures, including especially increased economic sanctions.

In short, there is every reason to believe that the new Rudd Government will continue Australia's tradition of a warm, supportive relationship with the Jewish community and Israel, and succeed in maintaining, perhaps even exceeding, the exceptional support and closeness that characterised the Howard era.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Letting Syria Drill a Hole in the Lifeboat

From GLORIA, by Barry Rubin, November 25, 2007:

.... what is the worst mistake that could be made to ensure that an already difficult situation becomes worse? Answer: invite Syria.

.... Palestinian leaders ...are horrified by Damascus getting equal time [to the Palestinian issue].

...Iraq? Syria is the main sponsor of the terrorist insurgency. It has a deep interest in ensuring that no moderate, stable, pro-Western regime takes root in [Iraq].

The radical alliance? Syria is a leading factor in the problem, a partner with Iran for twenty years. Anyone who believes that Damascus can be split from Tehran understands nothing about the mutual benefits Syria gets from the alliance, far greater than anything the West could possibly give to its dictator President Bashar al-Asad.

Iranian nuclear? When Iran gets atomic weapons it will be a great day for Syria, ensuring its strategic protection, damaging Western influence, and helping the radical Islamist cause that Syria backs.

American credibility? It undermines years of U.S. efforts to pressure Bashar away from radical adventurism. Syria can now show that it can kill Americans soldiers in Iraq, murder democratic Lebanese politicians, foment Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, and sponsor Hizballah’s effort to seize power in Lebanon without incurring any serious risk or cost.

On the contrary, Syria is now making demands on the United States for concessions ....This is happening at the very moment when plans for an international trial of Syrian leaders for political assassinations in Lebanon is gathering momentum, as Syria’s campaign to install a puppet government in Beirut has just been foiled.

.... Syria [is] the main Arab sponsor of Hamas, a state working tirelessly to throw out the current Palestinian leadership and raise the level of Arab-Israeli violence.

Annapolis Conference

From a statement by President George W. Bush, Memorial Hall, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, November 27, 2007 and published on the Department of State Web site (excerpts of the key points only):

PRESIDENT BUSH: .... I'm about to read a statement that was agreed upon by our distinguished guests:

The representatives of the government of the state of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.... concluded the following joint understanding.

We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace....

....we agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues....

We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008......

....President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will continue to meet on a bi-weekly basis ....

...The parties also commit to immediately implement their respective obligations under the performance-based road map ...and agree to form an American, Palestinian and Israeli mechanism, led by the United States, to follow up on the implementation of the road map.

The parties further commit to continue the implementation of the ongoing obligations of the road map until they reach a peace treaty. The United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitment of both sides of the road map. Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.

Congratulations for your strong leadership. (Applause.)

....Our purpose here in Annapolis is not to conclude an agreement. Rather, it is to launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians..... I believe now is precisely the right time to begin these negotiations -- for a number of reasons:

First, the time is right because Palestinians and Israelis have leaders who are determined to achieve peace. ....

Second, the time is right because a battle is underway for the future of the Middle East -- and we must not cede victory to the extremists..... if Palestinian reformers cannot deliver on this hopeful vision, then the forces of extremism and terror will be strengthened....

Third, the time is right because the world understands the urgency of supporting these negotiations......

....For these negotiations to succeed, the Palestinians must do their part..... They must demonstrate that a Palestinian state will ....dismantle the infrastructure of terror.....

The Israelis must do their part. They must show the world that they are ready to begin -- to bring an end to the occupation that began in 1967 through a negotiated settlement....

...Arab states also have a vital role to play..... All Arab states should show their strong support for the government of President Abbas -- and ....should also reach out to Israel, work toward the normalization of relations, and demonstrate in both word and deed that they believe that Israel and its people have a permanent home in the Middle East.....

Finally, the international community has important responsibilities....With strong backing from those gathered here, the Palestinian government can build the free institutions that will support a free Palestinian state.

The United States will help Palestinian leaders build these free institutions -- and the United States will keep its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people....

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The forgotten Refugees

From The Natinal Post (Canada), by Steven Edwards, CanWest News Service, Monday, November 05, 2007 [my emphasis added - SL]:

UNITED NATIONS - New research shows there was Arab inter-state "collusion" to persecute Jews in Arab countries after Israel's creation, former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler and Jewish rights scholars ... announce[d] .... in New York.

While it is known up to 850,000 Jews left Arab countries after the post-war division of the Palestine mandate, the group is holding a news conference to highlight a rediscovered Arab League "draft law" that suggests a pan-Arab conspiracy was at play. The new assessment comes just ahead of a major Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis, Md., where the rights of millions of descendants of up to 600,000 Palestinian refugees of the Arab-Israeli conflict will be discussed -- but not the rights of Jews squeezed from Arab countries.

Without the inter-Arab draft, the measures individual Arab states took against their Jewish citizens may not have been so widespread, the researchers will say. Only 8,000 Jews remain in 10 Arab countries today that once hosted many more.

"We will show that the various state sanctions in Arab countries did not occur haphazardly, but were the result of an international collusion organized by the League of Arab States at the time to set in place a blueprint for the denationalization of their Jewish nationals, the sequestrations of their property and the declaration of Jews as enemies of the state," Mr. Cotler said.

He said he and his research colleagues will also present evidence showing the United Nations failed to investigate the matter, in part because an Arab League representative ran the agenda at one of its key debating chambers.

"It is now clear the United Nations has played a singular role in expunging the whole question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries on the Middle East agenda for the last 60 years," Mr. Cotler said....

..."The existence of the Arab League draft law makes the story of what happened all the more heinous because it represented the acting out of a master plan," Mr. Matas said . "It enhances the case for redress, which should at least include recognition of the Jewish refugees, given the peace process speaks of redress for the Palestinian refugees."

The researchers hope their work will influence U.S. lawmakers currently considering two bills that call for the rights of all refugees -- Muslims, Jews, Christians and any others displaced in the region-- to be recognized in the peace talks....

....The researchers will also call on the Canadian government -- as chair of the Refugee Working Group under a peace track launched in Madrid in 1991 -- to include displaced Jews as refugees.

Today comprising 22 countries, the Arab League had seven members in 1947, the year documents say its political committee drafted a Text of Law concerning Jews. They were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. After the UN created Jewish and Arab areas in the Palestine mandate, laws reflecting what had appeared in the Arab League draft began to appear in Arab countries.

The draft law calls for registering all Jewish citizens of Arab countries, and freezing their bank accounts to use the money to help fund "resistance to Zionist ambitions in Palestine." This would happen even to those Jews prepared to join an Arab army. A Jew considered an "active Zionist" would be interned as a political prisoner. Such Jews would see their money confiscated.

Brackets written into the draft law suggest it was intended as a template: "Beginning with (date), all Jewish citizens of (name of country) will be considered as members of the Jewish minority State of Palestine," it begins.

The researchers located the document in UN and World Jewish Congress archives after spotting a May 16, 1948, New York Times reference to it. In the Times article, Congress officials cited the document as evidence Jews faced grave danger in Arab lands -- something the researchers say turned out to be prophetic.

Israel is a Jewish State

From the Boston Globe, November 14, 2007, by Jeff Jacoby [with emphasis added...]:

IN ADVANCE of the upcoming diplomatic conference in Annapolis, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the other day that he expects the Palestinian Authority to finally acknowledge Israel's existence as a Jewish state. A newly arrived visitor from Mars might wonder why this should even be an issue - after all, Israel is a Jewish state. If the more than 55 countries that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference are entitled to recognition as Muslim states, and if the 22 members of the Arab League are universally accepted as Arab states, why should anyone balk at acknowledging Israel as the world's lone Jewish state?

Yet Olmert's demand was rebuffed. Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian Authority negotiator, said on Monday that Palestinians would refuse to recognize Israel's Jewish identity on the grounds that "it is not acceptable for a country to link its national character to a specific religion."

In fact, there are many countries in which national identity and religion are linked. Argentinian law mandates government support for the Roman Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth II is the supreme governor of the Church of England. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the constitution proclaims Buddhism the nation's "spiritual heritage." The prevailing religion in Greece," declares Section II of the Greek Constitution, "is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ."

In no region of the world do countries so routinely link their national character to a specific religion as in the Muslim Middle East. The flag of Saudi Arabia features the shahada - the Islamic declaration of faith - in white Arabic script on a green background; on the Iranian flag, the Islamic phrase "Allahu Akbar" (God is great") appears 22 times. And then there is Erekat's own Palestinian Authority, whose Basic Law provides in Article 4 that "Islam is the official religion in Palestine."

Clearly, then, Erekat and the Palestinian Authority do not refuse to accept Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state out of some principled opposition to linking national and religious identity. Perhaps, our visiting Martian might surmise, their objection is simply tactical: Are the Palestinians withholding formal recognition from Israel in order to extract some corresponding recognition for themselves?

But that explanation also doesn't hold water. Olmert has repeatedly endorsed the creation of a sovereign state of Palestine. "We support the establishment of a modern, democratic Palestinian state," he says. "The existence of two nations, one Jewish and one Palestinian, is the full solution to the national aspirations and problems of each of the peoples." Last week he went so far as to suggest that a plan for Palestinian peace and statehood might be achieved "even before the end of President Bush's term in office."

So why won't the leaders of the Palestinian Authority acknowledge the obvious - that Israel is the Jewish state? The Jewish connection to Palestine is a matter not just of rich historical fact, but of international law. When the League of Nations entrusted Britain with the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, it expressly recognized "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" and the rightfulness of "reconstituting their national home in that country." By that point, Britain had already transferred 80 percent of historic Palestine to Arab rule - today's Muslim kingdom of Jordan. All that remained for a Jewish state was the residual 20 percent. But there, at least, it was clear that the Jewish community was "in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance," as Winston Churchill underscored at the time.

Eighty-five years later, that small sliver of the Middle East is home to nearly half the world's Jews. If that isn't a Jewish state, what is?

Yet all this is beside the point. The refusal of the Palestinian Authority to acknowledge Israel as a legitimate Jewish state isn't a denial of reality; it is a sign of their determination to change that reality. Like Arab leaders going back a century, they seek not to live in peace with the Jewish state, but in place of the Jewish state.

Olmert can show up at Annapolis bearing Palestinian sovereignty on a silver platter, with half of Jerusalem thrown in for good measure. He will not walk away with peace. On the contrary: He will intensify the Arab determination to replace the world's one Jewish state with its 23rd Arab state.

The key to Arab-Israeli peace is not Palestinian statehood. It is to compel the Arab world to abandon its dream of liquidating Israel. As a matter of national self-respect, Olmert should repeat his demand that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel's Jewish identity - and make it nonnegotiable. If Israel cannot insist even on so fundamental a point of honor, it has already lost more than it knows.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Does Syria want peace?

Analysis by Ely Karmon, from THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 22, 2007 [my emphasis added - SL]:

... Syria [is] the key to a stable and pacific Lebanon and a disarmed "political" Hizbullah.

Syria - not Iran - has provided the most important support for Hizbullah's terrorist and guerrilla activity against Israel from the north. Without Syria's overall strategic umbrella, specific military and political coordination and pressure on Beirut to give the organization free rein in southern Lebanon, Hizbullah could not have achieved its current status. Syrian aid in heavy weaponry alongside Iranian support has transformed Hizbullah into a strategic partner and operational arm of the Syrian army.

Syria is also heavily involved in the support of all the radical Palestinian organizations and factions and actively participated in the derailing of the peace process between Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab states.

But Syria is also extremely important in the attempt to isolate Iran in the region by denying the Teheran regime its only ally in the Arab world and the direct operational link to the Palestinian radical organizations acting from Damascus. Without that alliance, Teheran's negative influence on the Palestinian arena and on the peace process would be significantly curtailed.

It is possible that the combined efforts of the European Union leaders, the Bush administration and the Israeli leadership will convince the Syrian leaders of their sincere wish to strike a deal and offer Damascus the return of the Golan Heights and generous economic incentives. Still, in my view, Bashar Assad's regime actually has other priorities that outweigh the Western and Israeli potential incentives.

Fear of the fall of the regime
....Syria lacks internal coherence due to its diverse population and minority-dominated regime. To survive, the regime needs transcendent slogans like Arabism. The regime requires conflict and radicalism as tools for maintaining internal control.

Damascus correctly assumes that any strengthening of US influence in the region will run counter to Syrian interests, so it is no accident that the regime has become the most systematically anti-American state in the Arab world. Defiance and resistance to American pressure will win Assad the support of the Syrian public, and even popular Arab support at large, and ensure the survival of his regime for many years to come.

For Syria, Lebanon is much more important than the Golan Heights....

....Although US policymakers publicly hinted that the United States would help bring about a "Lebanon free of foreign forces" once a peace treaty was concluded, they sent Damascus unmistakable signals to the contrary. American officials failed to recognize that Assad would be prepared to sign a peace treaty only if the expected benefits outweighed the guaranteed political, strategic, and economic returns of the occupation of Lebanon.

Lebanon is, of course, important to Syria for political and military reasons, but this tends to overshadow the economic aspect of Syrian-Lebanese relations. The direct and indirect income derived from Syria's presence in Lebanon has over time become an almost indispensable factor in the Syrian economy.

The Baker and Hamilton Iraq Study Group report proposed cooperation with Syria in stabilizing Iraq. But what Assad wants is a cancellation of the investigation into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the corollary international tribunal approved by the Security Council, a free hand in Lebanon and possession of the Golan without conditions. Are these acceptable conditions?

A Syrian peace agreement with Israel foretells a peace agreement of Israel with Lebanon - which means the Cedar country will be lost forever as a Syrian protectorate.

Palestine part of Greater Syria?
.....This Syrian regime probably still dreams of seeing the national Palestinian movement, like in the 1920s and 30s, part of a Greater Syria.

Waiting for the Iranian nuclear umbrella
Should Iran succeed in completing its nuclear project and declare a nuclear weapons capability, Syria would face a conflicting situation. On the one hand, its devotion to the Arab cause would compel it to share a sense of anxiety. On the other hand, more than other Arab states, it would be untroubled by an Iranian nuclear capability due to the strategic partnership between the two states. Syria would see an Iranian bomb as a useful deterrent against Israel and a newly assertive Iraq and as an important constraint on US freedom of action in the region......That's the sort of rising star to which Syria would like to be hitched.

....In this author's view, a real change in the Syrian regional strategy could happen only if Assad evaluates that the US, or Israel with US support, would attack the nuclear facilities in Iran and thus bring even more direct pressure on the rogue elements in the Middle East.

Possibly, the September 6 Israeli air attack against the presumed "nuclear facility" has shaken the Damascus leaders' confidence in the Iranian invincibility on the nuclear front and they want to use the conference as a feeler for the future US plans and a kind of insurance in case…

The US, Europe and the other powers present at Annapolis should insure that Syria's participation at the conference will not be used to bestow on its regime "incentives" like the "liberation" of the Golan, recognizing its "rights, interests and positive role" in Lebanon, or the closing of the investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination.

The Damascus regime should see at the conference a united front which presses it firmly, first and foremost, to stop the support to Hizbullah and the Palestinian radicals and to exit the strategic alliance with Iran.

Ely Karmon is Senior Research Scholar at Institute for Counter-Terrorism, The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stop abusing the memory of Yitzhak Rabin

From JPost, by Isi Leibler November 21, 2007:

... I am enraged at the cynical, even obscene manner, in which the memory of an assassinated prime minister has been transformed into a cult to promote political objectives ... which Rabin adamantly opposed, even at the height of the Oslo period of his career.....

...I had considerable interaction with Rabin ...I found his frankness refreshing and developed a warm relationship with him. ...Oslo proved to be Rabin's undoing....Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and their cohorts had sandbagged him into endorsing policies which utterly conflicted with his long-standing attitudes....

... in the course of my private encounters with Rabin I shared with him my growing concerns. I clearly recollect him telling me repeatedly that Oslo was a "gamble" but that he felt obliged to put it to the test. "If it fails," he said, "we will have a carte blanche to take everything back." ....

....It is therefore clear that despite the best possible intentions, Rabin gambled and failed. As a consequence, the nation paid a bitter price. Since Oslo, 1,400 Israelis were killed and some 20,000 injured. Despite one-sided and unilateral concessions, our geopolitical position is at an all time low. Beyond that, we made an irretrievable blunder by literally resurrecting Arafat who at the time, in the wake of the first Gulf War, was effectively a political corpse, even reviled by the Arabs....

....It is therefore surely surrealistic, year after year, to hear speeches sanctimoniously extolling and misrepresenting Rabin's allegedly glorious Oslo legacy and spuriously claiming that he was the first to achieve a historic breakthrough in peace with the Arabs. Promoting such fantasies renders a disservice to Rabin.

It is even more infuriating when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Peres and Peace Now activists have the gall to claim that they are implementing Rabin's vision. How Rabin may have acted had he not been struck down by the assassin is open to conjecture. Some speculate that once he came to the realization that his gamble had failed, unlike his Labor successors, he would have reverted to his former stance and initiated tough and resolute military action.

However, what is surely beyond the realm of speculation is that Rabin was a genuine Labor Zionist and despised the Peace Now agitators. He displayed uninhibited contempt toward Beilin, Burg and the young radicals who were then steering the Labor Party toward post-Zionism. The bitter remarks about Shimon Peres which appear in his memoirs speak for themselves.

Indeed, even at the height of the Oslo debate, Rabin's views remained diametrically opposed to the proposals now emanating from those claiming to have inherited his mantle. For example, in one of his last speeches in the Knesset, on October 5 1995, only days before his assassination, referring to borders Rabin said: "We will not return to 4 June 1967 lines."

In relation to Jerusalem he said "First and foremost, united Jerusalem …as the capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty."

And about settlements he stated "We committed ourselves before this Knesset not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim government and not to hinder building for natural growth."

In this context, for Prime Minister Olmert and his allies to continuously proclaim that they are fulfilling Rabin's vision is pure Orwellian double speak.

But the problem transcends misrepresenting themselves as heirs to Rabin. ....To make matters worse, by collectively portraying entire law abiding sectors of Israeli society especially Orthodox Jews and settlers, as sub- human accomplices to the Rabin assassination, the promoters of the personality cult are themselves indulging in outright incitement and defamation.

....Yitzhak Rabin should be commemorated as an assassinated Israeli Prime Minister who served his country with distinction as a leader, military commander and diplomat. However such commemorations must be apolitical and promote harmony and unity, expressing a tragic national loss as opposed to indulging in divisive and provocative political opportunism.

This, I believe, is how the overwhelming majority of Israelis would wish to honor the memory of Yitzhak Rabin.

The writer is a former chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress and a veteran international Jewish leader.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Conspiracy theory dismantled

From a review of "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt in The Weekend Australian, by Bret Stephens November 17, 2007 [very brief excerpts only - follow the link for the full article]:

JOHN J. Mearsheimer ...[and]...Stephen M. Walt ...are prominent and highly respected theorists of the realist school of international relations.... That is in part why, when The Israel Lobby first saw light in March 2006 as a long article in the London Review of Books, it caused a worldwide sensation and why its charges were taken with the utmost seriousness by gleeful admirers and shocked detractors alike....

In short, much of The Israel Lobby's authority derives from its authors' resumes. Something similar can be said of the book's effect, particularly of the damage it has caused by throwing a mantle of academic legitimacy over some of the most disreputable ideas to infect political discourse...

... The Israel Lobby makes the case, briefly, that US support for Israel is not only wildly and irrationally excessive but has increasingly become a strategic liability; that it can no longer be justified on moral grounds; that it has led the US into one catastrophic misadventure in Iraq and may soon lead it into further misadventures against Syria and Iran; and, what is key, that it has been sustained only by the strenuous and sometimes bullying exertions of a "loose coalition" of pro-Israel interest groups and individuals, which in turn are often co-ordinated with the Israeli Government.....

.... Precisely because it has issued from two respected establishment figures and comes cloaked in a tone of academic reasonableness, The Israel Lobby and its claims have been subjected to exceptionally close scrutiny during the past 1 1/2 years by any number of careful analysts and researchers. What their collective labours have demonstrated beyond any doubt is that behind the authors' conclusions lies a farrago of shoddy or nonexistent scholarship and rank intellectual dishonesty....

....consider the challenge for a reader or reviewer who must wade through not just The Israel Lobby's 355 pages of text but its no fewer than 1399 footnotes, many of which contain references to multiple sources. The opportunities for intellectual mischief are staggering, and Mearsheimer and Walt rarely miss a chance to take them.

Amid the blizzard of detail, however, one thing stands out: the complete absence of original scholarship. Scarcely any primary source materials cited; no first-hand interviews; no hint that Mearsheimer or Walt bothered to visit Israel during the course of their researches or so much as spoke to an actual member of the lobby against which they level heavy charges of working at cross-purposes with vital US interests.

.... Instances in which Mearsheimer and Walt present claims that are wholly unsubstantiated or blatantly contradicted by a reading of the sources they themselves cite in their footnotes multiply in dizzying profusion. It is no doubt for this reason, among others, that Benny Morris, a controversial Israeli historian on whose scholarship and credentials Mearsheimer and Walt heavily rely, wrote of their original essay that were it "an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body".

True, the authors are on somewhat safer ground with some of their other sources. But what [nasty] sources those are! In addition to Chomsky, one finds respectful appeals in The Israel Lobby to the work of Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish supporter of Hezbollah, as well as to revisionist historian Ilan Pappe, the hysterically anti-Israel Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and radical online newsletter Counterpunch. Where, moreover, the likes of the Brookings Institution and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy are dismissed by Mearsheimer and Walt as lapdogs of the Israel lobby, these other disseminators of supposedly more objective information escape identification as voices from the far Left or the lunatic fringe.....

.... their whole argument is geared towards insinuating (sundry disclaimers notwithstanding) that not Islamist but Jewish behaviour, objectively considered, is the menace to the peace of the world.

...."Some Islamic radicals," they grudgingly concede, "are genuinely upset by what they regard as the West's materialism and venality, its alleged theft of Arab oil, the support for corrupt Arab monarchies, its repeated military interventions in the region, etc." .... if it is the case that Osama bin Laden is "genuinely upset" (!) over our sins against Islam, why should Mearsheimer and Walt's principal prescription for palliating this discontent be to cut back or sever our ties with Israel? Why not press for cutting our ties to the Saudi royal family, or voluntarily paying more taxes on oil, or devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to improving America's moral tone so as to lessen the offence to bin Laden family values? Ah, but none of those would lead us back, always back, to Israel and its American lobby....

....What need for manipulation by unseen forces when the simple truth... is that friends of Israel have "a pretty good product to sell" and that this product is not fake, fabricated or ersatz but a country whose democratic history and daily tribulations resonate in a compelling way with a whole variety of American audiences: Jewish and Gentile, religious and secular, liberal and conservative?

... why, with all the conspiracy theories that political scientists have at their disposal at any given moment, [should] Mearsheimer and Walt have alighted on this one[?] ...that is a question to which the answer may finally have to be sought in modes of investigative analysis beyond the routinely political.

This article was opriginally published in Commentary Magazine [subscription required] by Bret Stephens, a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and author of the paper's "Global View", a weekly column.

New Palestinian Political Movement Launched

From AP, by MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, 16/11/07:

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Hundreds of Palestinian business people and professionals, led by an influential billionaire, launched a new political movement Thursday, reflecting growing disillusionment with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

...Billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri, 73, inaugurated his "Palestine Forum" with meetings in Ramallah and Gaza, linked by video conference. Supporters said he would convert the new group into a political party and field candidates in the next Palestinian election. No date for an election has been set.

...Recent polls have shown that about a third of the people have no faith in either [Fatah or Hamas]. Al-Masri said he plans to step into that breech, emphasizing the economy, education and welfare programs for the needy as well as reuniting the West Bank and Gaza.

"My concern about the fate of my people has driven me to form a national democratic body that cares about people," al-Masri told The Associated Press. "The situation is very difficult, the national cause is deteriorating and people are frustrated."

The U.S.-educated al-Masri runs an investment company that controls the telecommunications sector and has holdings in industry, agriculture, tourism and in banks. His leadership appeals to the West Bank's elite and middle class, trying to protect their investments and businesses in a chaotic political situation.....

...The 2006 election reflected frustration with Fatah for corruption, nepotism and ineffective rule as much as support for Hamas. Members of the Palestine Forum said if Fatah does not reform itself, the new group is poised to replace it.

Palestinian public opinion expert Jamil Rabah said that is a distinct possibility. The people "are closer to Fatah," supporting a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel, so "if Fatah doesn't reform itself, people would see the Forum as an alternative."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

US slams UN Human Rights Council, says body too focused on Israel

From Ynet, 16/11/07, by Reuters:

US ambassador blasts [UN Human Rights] council for failing to address grave human rights violations across world while 'focusing relentlessly' on Israel.

Israel took the unusual step of calling a vote at a UN General Assembly committee on a resolution that would normally have passed by consensus, saying it wanted to put its criticism about the work of the Human Rights Council on the record....

... Friday's vote on a resolution endorsing the council's working rules, including a periodic human rights review for all countries, passed overwhelmingly, but Israel won backing from the United States, Canada, Australia and three other countries in voting against.

Explaining the US "no" vote, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the new body had failed to address the "deficiencies that had politicized the council and prevented it from acting as a serious and effective human rights institution."

He said it had been "a very bad first year" for the council because of its "relentless focus" on Israel and failure to address serious human rights violations in other countries such as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Cuba.

Israel's deputy ambassador, Daniel Carmon, said the council had shown double standards and hypocrisy. "It is high time to see moral conviction in the Human Rights Council - so that it becomes a shield to protect victims of human rights and not a weapon for those who abuse them," he told the committee.

... French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, who voted in favor, said he shared concerns about the council's focus on Israel but he said the resolution had [to] pass to allow the council to do its work effectively.

Iran buying time ...

From THE JERUSALEM POST, by JPost and AP, Nov. 16, 2007:

The IAEA's report on Iran's nuclear activities released Thursday makes it clear that ....that nation continues to buck UN demands and develop its nuclear program, Israel said Friday.

...the long-awaited report ... warned that its knowledge of Teheran's present atomic work was shrinking.

The report also confirmed that Teheran continued to defy the UN Security Council by ignoring its repeated demands to freeze uranium enrichment ...

..... on Friday, Britain's Foreign Office said that talks planned for next week to discuss hardening sanctions over Iran's nuclear program have been postponed....

...A European Union official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Chinese could not attend due to scheduling problems. China, along with Russia, is opposed to a hardening of sanctions against Teheran.

....Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported the meeting had been postponed because China had refused to attend.

Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.

Putin reneges

From DEBKAfile November 16, 2007:

In a dramatic reverse swing, Putin decides to send uranium to fuel Iran’s atomic power station in Bushehr

The Russian president Vladimir Putin indicated Friday that Moscow would send uranium to Iran’s atomic reactor in Bushehr (a reactor unconnected with Iran’s suspect military program) ....

... by this step, Moscow has backed away from the commitments Putin gave President Bush and Israeli prime minister Olmert, after his mid-October talks with Iranian leaders in Tehran broke down in discord. He then promised to withhold the fuel from the Bushehr reactor and indeed pulled all the Russian staff out before they had completed work on the project’s final stages.

Olmert received Putin’s commitment to withhold the uranium fuel from Iran when they met in the Kremlin on Oct. 18 and passed it on to President Bush and later to French president Nicolas Sarkozy and British premier Gordon Brown in special trips he made to Paris and London. The Israeli prime minister announced then that Israel had a true friend in the Russian leader. He is deeply embarrassed by Putin’s about-face.

It also bodes ill for the third round of sanctions, for which the Bush administration is pushing at the UN Security Council, where Russian holds a veto, now that the nuclear watchdog confirmed in its latest report Nov. 15 that Iran had not given up uranium enrichment.

DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources report that the Russian president has reverted to his previous tactic of broadcasting to Muslim nations a message that Moscow has its own agenda and is willing, unlike Washington, to help them develop their nuclear programs.

The question mark hanging over UN sanctions also affects the decision on military action against Iran’s suspect military nuclear facilities, which President Bush had put on a back burner under the influence of Putin’s breach with Tehran. There was a brief thaw in the tense relations between Washington and Moscow and signs of a new willingness for compromise on both sides on such matters as the US plan to deploy anti-missile systems in East Europe.

The month-long détente was abruptly curtailed Friday, Nov. 16, with Moscow’s decision to let Iran have the uranium to fuel its Bushehr reactor six months before its scheduled start-up. The step was gladly welcomed in Tehran.