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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Palestinians mourn Saddam's execution

Palestinians mourn Saddam's execution

The execution of Saddam Hussein sent many Palestinians into deep mourning Saturday as they struggled to come to terms with the demise of perhaps their most steadfast ally.

Unlike much of the rest of the world, where Saddam was viewed as a brutal dictator who oppressed his people and started regional wars, in the West Bank and Gaza he was seen as a generous benefactor unafraid to fight for the Palestinian cause, even to the end.

In Israel, where Saddam was seen as a bitter enemy, there was little sadness. But Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh expressed concerns about Iraq's path in the post-Saddam era.

Sneh told Israel Radio that Israel was concerned about the strengthening of Iranian influence in the Shi'ite sections of southern Iraq and also in the central government. Iraq had also become a regional "power station" for terror that could spread chaos throughout the Middle East, he said.
"We have to be worried about what is going to happen now," he said.

Saddam's final words were reportedly, "Palestine is Arab."

"We heard of his martyrdom, and I swear to God we were deeply shaken from within," said Khadejeh Ahmad from the Qadora refugee camp in the West Bank. "Nobody was as supportive or stood with the Palestinians as he did."

During the first Gulf War in 1991, the Palestinians cheered Saddam's missile attacks on Israel, chanting "Beloved Saddam, strike Tel Aviv," as the Scud missiles flew overhead.

He further endeared himself to the Palestinians during the recent uprising with Israel by giving US$25,000 to the family of each suicide bomber and US$10,000 for each Palestinian killed in fighting. The stipends amounted to an estimated US$35 million.

Saddam's support for the Palestinians, whose cause is deeply popular with Arabs throughout the Middle East, was at least partially aimed at gaining widespread support throughout the Arab world.

"Saddam was a person who had the ability to say, 'No' in the face of a great country," said Hosni al Ejel, 46, from the al Amari refugee camp near Ramallah.

"He wanted the Palestinian people to have a state and a government and to be united. But God supports us, and we pray to God to punish those who did this," said Ghanem Mezel, 72, from the town of Saeer in the southern West Bank.

Others were happy to hear Saddam's final words, knowing that his support for them remained unshakable until the end.

Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem opened a "house of condolences" where people can gather to mourn Saddam. The organizers hung Iraqi flags, pictures of Saddam and broadcast Iraqi revolutionary songs.

Mohammed Barghouti, the minister of labor in the Hamas-led Palestinian Cabinet, said that although his Islamic group was often at odds with the secular Saddam, his execution was wrong.
"The Palestinians had bonded with Iraqis in brotherhood," he said.  


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Shomron gives report on Lebanon war

Shomron gives report on Lebanon war

The General Staff convened to hear former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Dan Shomron's findings on Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz's performance during the war in Lebanon this past summer.

Shomron's report did not detail steps to take against specific individuals in the IDF. Instead, the findings detailed a list of shortcomings in the transfer of orders from commanders to the soldiers in the field. Shomron also criticized the many changes made in operation plans during the war.

The report faulted the "late" decision to enlist reserve soldiers, the non-function of the Kirya military headquarters' top command room, and the delayed declaration of the state of war.

On Monday, IDF officers holding the rank of colonel or higher will gather for a two-day conference during which Halutz and his generals will present the conclusions of the war as well as his plan for rehabilitating the IDF.

Shomron did not call for Halutz's resignation, although he did criticize the chief of staff's conduct during the war. Shomron raised concerns over the belated process of declaring war and of the call-up of reservists, among other criticisms. Halutz was not expected to resign from his post, and was going to wait for the publication of the interim findings of the government-appointed Winograd Commission, military sources said.

Former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak told Army Radio on Friday morning that he did not think that Dan Shomron was afraid of addressing senior IDF officers' behavior; rather, he thought Shomron was going to allow the officers to decide for themselves about their future.

"While personal decisions are more emphatic in people's eyes, the real issue is garnering lessons related to what needs to be done in the military in order to ensure that if fighting is again necessary, then the army is ready to do so at higher standards than we saw this summer," Lipkin-Shahak said.

Probes conducted by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amiram Levine and Maj.-Gen. Udi Shani-Shinotar, which were presented recently to the General Staff, reported that failures during the war stemmed in large part from deficiencies in overall planning and battle doctrine.

Levine, who investigated the Northern Command's performance during the war, held Halutz personally responsible for its failures, claiming that the IDF's battle doctrine was flawed. Shani-Shinotar went even further and accused Halutz of issuing confusing and contradictory orders that were in some cases changed on an hourly basis.  

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Charles Lindbergh, 1941, Adolf Hitler, 1945, Scott Ritter, 2006

You be the judge:
''No person of honesty and vision...can look on [the Jews'] pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. . . . A few farsighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. . . . We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we must also look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.''
[Charles Lindbergh, September 11, 1941]
I have left no one in doubt that if the people of Europe are once more treated as mere blocks of shares in the hands of these international money and finance conspirators, then the sole responsibility for the massacre must be borne by the true culprits: the Jews.
[Adolf Hitler, Last Testament, April 29, 1945]
 "Let there be no doubt: If there is an American war with Iran, it is a war that was made in Israel and nowhere else."
[Scott Ritter, 2006]
Book: Israel, Lobby Pushing Iran War
Nathan Guttman | Fri. Dec 29, 2006
A former United Nations weapons inspector and leading Iraq War opponent has written a new book alleging that Jerusalem is pushing the Bush administration into war with Iran, and accusing the pro-Israel lobby of dual loyalty and "outright espionage."

In the new book, called "Target Iran," Scott Ritter, who served as a senior U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 and later became one of the war's staunchest critics, argues that the United States is readying for military action against Iran, using its nuclear program as a pretext for pursuing regime change in Tehran.
"The Bush administration, with the able help of the Israeli government and the pro-Israel Lobby, has succeeded," Ritter writes, "in exploiting the ignorance of the American people about nuclear technology and nuclear weapons so as to engender enough fear that the American public has more or less been pre-programmed to accept the notion of the need to militarily confront a nuclear armed Iran."
Later in the book, Ritter adds: "Let there be no doubt: If there is an American war with Iran, it is a war that was made in Israel and nowhere else."
Ritter's book echoes recent high-profile attacks on the pro-Israel lobby by former President Jimmy Carter and by scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. Ritter, who recently returned from a weeklong speaking engagement on The Nation cruise, speaks of a "network of individuals" that pursues Israel's interests in the United States. The former weapons inspector alleges that some of the pro-Israel lobby's activities "can only be described as outright espionage and interference in domestic policies." Ritter also accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee of having an inherent dual loyalty. He called for the organization to be registered as a foreign agent.
Representatives for both Aipac and the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment on Ritter's accusations.
In his book, Ritter also accuses the pro-Israel lobby of invoking the memory of the Holocaust and of crying antisemitism whenever Israel is accused of betraying America. "This is a sickening and deeply disturbing trend that must end," Ritter writes.
According to Ritter, Iran is far from developing a nuclear weapons program and will not do so in the future if the world makes sure that stringent inspections are in place to verify that the Iranians live up to the requirements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"If Iran does make a political decision to develop nuclear weapons, it will take them a decade and it won't go undetected," Ritter said. "But it will take the U.S. only five weeks to build up a force capable of destroying Iran by air strikes. It's a timeline of five weeks compared to a decade, so I'm not worried about taking a risk."
As for Israeli and American fears regarding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who vowed to "wipe Israel off the map," Ritter dubbed the leader a "sick joke" and asserted that he does not make the decisions in Tehran.
Ritter argues that the Bush administration knows that inspections can solve the Iranian nuclear problem but, at the urging of Jerusalem and its American allies, is in reality pursuing a different goal: regime change in Tehran.
"Israel has, through a combination of ignorance, fear and paranoia, elevated Iran to a status that it finds unacceptable," Ritter writes in his book. "Israel has engaged in policies that have further inflamed this situation. Israel displays arrogance and rigidity when it comes to developing any diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue."
Ritter is no stranger to controversy.
As a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, he headed several surprise inspection missions that were denied access to suspicious sites, and led to the Saddam Hussein regime accusing Ritter of being an American spy. The frequent refusal of the Iraqis to provide Ritter and his team access to sites of interest led eventually to the abandonment of the inspection regime in Iraq. Ritter resigned his post in 1998, accusing the United States and the U.N. of caving in to the Iraqis.
But Ritter later became a leading voice warning against taking military action against Iraq, arguing that a resumption of inspections would be sufficient to contain Hussein. He accused the United States of trying to use the U.N. inspection force for spying purposes and claimed that Iraq was deliberately held to higher standards than other countries in order to justify a military invasion.
In early 2004, Ritter charged in an interview on the Web site Ynet, operated by the daily Yediot Aharonot, that Israeli intelligence had deliberately overstated what it knew to be a minimal threat from Iraq in an effort to push America and Britain to launch a war. Ritter's accusations were roundly rejected across the Israeli political spectrum. Security officials interviewed by the Forward insisted that no branch of the military could or would deliberately skew the findings in that way, but they also said that Israeli intelligence tended to exaggerate threats because it was operating under flawed assumptions.
Now Ritter is arguing that a similar effort is under way to produce an attack against Iran.
Speaking to the Forward this week, Ritter stressed that he is not accusing all American Jews of having dual loyalty, saying that "at the end of the day, I would like to believe that most of American Jews will side with America."
Ritter is already working on his next book, due for publication in March 2007. In this tome, he sets out to teach the anti-war movements that he supports how to wage an effective campaign to win over American public opinion.
Fri. Dec 29, 2006

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Senators Visit Damascus, Push For Syrian Talks

Senators Visit Damascus, Push For Syrian Talks
Israeli Intelligence Branches Split Over Assad Overture
Nathan Guttman | Fri. Dec 29, 2006
Washington - As the Israeli debate over engaging Damascus intensifies, several influential American lawmakers have defied the White House with visits to Syria and calls for talks between the United States and the Baathist regime.

This week, the issue heated up in Israel as the country's Mossad spy agency and military intelligence sparred over the wisdom of reopening a diplomatic channel with Syria. So far, the Israeli government has turned down the calls from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for renewed peace talks, citing mainly the Bush administration's policy of isolating Damascus.
In the past two weeks, however, three Democrats — Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Bill Nelson of Florida — and one Jewish Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, visited Damascus despite strong criticism from the Bush administration, which opposes any rapprochement with Syria.
Specter, who met with Assad on Tuesday, held a news conference in Damascus in which he said he heard from the Syrian president "an interest in negotiating with Israel to try to bring a peaceful settlement to the Syrian-Israeli dispute under the U.N. doctrine of land-for-peace." The Pennsylvania senator, known for his pro-Israel views and longtime support for talks with Syria, also asserted that the United States could play a positive role in reviving peace talks between Israel and Syria. In their meeting in Damascus, Assad told Specter that Syria is interested in convening a regional conference of the countries neighboring Iraq to discuss possible solutions for resolving the crisis there.
While Specter steered clear of directly criticizing the administration's policy of isolating Syria, his visit to Damascus is seen in Washington as significant, making him the only Republican to openly defy the White House's call for lawmakers to refrain from going to Syria and meeting Assad.
The Democratic senators who met the Syrian president during the past two weeks have made it clear that they see their talks with Assad as part of the push for the implementation of the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendations, which included a call on the United States to engage with Syria on issues regarding the situation in Iraq and a renewal of the Israeli-Arab peace process.
"I feel quite confident in saying this was a conversation worth having and that the administration ought to pursue it," Kerry said last week after his meeting with Assad. "It's worth following up on a number of avenues."
Nelson, set to become a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, offered a similar assessment after meeting with Assad a week earlier. "I think it is a crack in the door," Nelson said, "and it is for discussions to continue."
The White House tried to discourage American lawmakers from visiting the Syrian president, arguing that it would send a mixed message to the Assad regime and be seen as a prize by the Syrian president, who Bush administration officials say has defied American demands to close Syria's border with Iraq and to stop supporting terrorism there.
Ahmed Salkini, press secretary of the Syrian Embassy in Washington, told the Forward that the stream of senators heading to Damascus reflects American lawmakers' dissatisfaction with the administration's policy. "They recognize that the current policy of the U.S. has failed and that overlooking Syria has backfired," Salkini said. The Syrian spokesman also criticized the Bush administration for its opposition to peace talks between Israel and Syria. "If the administration is not playing a negative role in this issue," he said, "it is at least not playing a positive role."
Murhaf Jouejati, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Washington University in Washington, said that the administration's refusal to allow Israel to hold talks with Syria is seen in Damascus as "rather strange."
"Here comes the U.S., which was always the honest broker in the region, and says 'no' to any peace proposal," the professor said. According to Jouejati, who served during the 1990s as an adviser to the Syrian delegation for peace talks with Israel, the continuation of American pressure on the Assad regime will yield no change. "It will be counter-productive," he said.
While the Democrats visiting Damascus were vocal in calling on the Bush administration to engage with Syria, they maintained a cautious approach regarding the possible resumption of peace talks between Israel and Syria. Prior to the 2006 midterm elections, congressional Democrats made it clear that they do not share the administration's opposition to a resumption of Israeli-Syrian peace talks. But one congressional source said this week that the Democrats would not push for such negotiations before Israel decides it is interested in taking part.
The debate over resuming negotiations between Israel and Syria has led to an open dispute between two of Israel's intelligence agencies — the Mossad and the military intelligence. The Mossad doubts the sincerity of Assad's proposals for talks, but Israel's military intelligence believes that Assad is willing to negotiate with Israel without preconditions.
In a briefing for the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the director of research for the Israeli military intelligence, Yossi Baidatz, argued that "Syria's peace signals are genuine." Following the meeting, Knesset members said that they were confused, since only a week ago the same parliamentary committee heard the opposite view from Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad. In his presentation, Dagan said that every time Syria is under international pressure, "Assad pulls the same rabbit out of his hat — the willingness to enter into negotiations with Israel."
Public opinion polls conducted last weekend suggest that Israelis are just as conflicted over the possibility of peace talks with Syria as are the leaders of the nation's intelligence agencies. While two thirds of Israelis believe that Ehud Olmert's government should enter peace talks with Assad, the same percentage of Israelis also oppose giving up the Golan Heights if the issue is raised in negotiations with Syria.
A congressional source dealing with foreign affairs issues said this week that Israelis should not expect Congress to solve the Syria dilemma for them. According to the source, the main goal of the lawmakers visiting Assad in Damascus is to get the Baker-Hamilton report implemented, or at least to highlight the differences between the Democratic-led Congress and the Bush administration on the issue of American engagement with Syria. The question of holding direct talks between Israel and Syria will not be part of the agenda of the new Congress, at least not before Israel makes clear that it is interested in such a dialogue, the source said.
Fri. Dec 29, 2006

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With Pow-wow, Olmert Tries To Bolster Abbas and Himself

With Pow-wow, Olmert Tries To Bolster Abbas and Himself
Dateline Jerusalem
Gershom Gorenberg | Wed. Dec 27, 2006
When Ehud Olmert stepped outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem and kissed Mahmoud Abbas on both cheeks Saturday evening, he was offering the Palestinian leader a political embrace. Regard it as the embrace of two men flailing in stormy waters — but which man was drowning, which was rescuing him and did the rescue stand a chance of success?

The meeting — long expected, oft postponed and arranged in secrecy — was the first between the two since Olmert became prime minister. Strikingly, Olmert made a point of treating Abbas as a head of state. A red, green, black and white flag waved next to the blue-and-white Israeli one in the parking lot of Olmert's residence — the first time the Palestinian banner has been displayed at an Israeli institution. Olmert greet Abbas as "Mr. President" — dropping the Israeli insistence on the lesser title "chairman" for the head of the Palestinian Authority.
The symbols were aimed at announcing that Olmert regards Abbas as a negotiating partner. "The prime minister stated very clearly that he is reaching out to those in the Palestinian Authority who support a two-state solution and achieving [it] through dialogue," Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin told the Forward this week. "We are trying… to show the Palestinian people that there are more benefits to non-violence." Since the start of the second intifada in 2000, the question of "is there a partner" on the Palestinian side has divided Israeli politics. Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and Olmert's own proposal for a unilateral pullout from parts of the West Bank, presumed a lack of anyone to talk to on the Palestinian side. Now Olmert has changed direction.
The Saturday night meeting focused on limited steps: Olmert agreed to transfer $100 million in tax funds that Israel has been withholding since a Hamas-led government, at odds with Abbas, took over last March in the Palestinian Authority. The cash is to be channeled through Abbas's office or given directly to hospitals as humanitarian aid, bypassing the Hamas government. Olmert also agreed to reduce the number of roadblocks in the West Bank, easing living conditions for Palestinians, and to weigh the release a few dozen Palestinian prisoners in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this weekend. Both moves sparked criticism in the Israeli military. Top officers said removing roadblocks would make it harder to prevent terror attacks. Until now, Israel has refused to free any prisoners until Hamas frees abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Beyond those moves, Eisin said, Olmert and Abbas agreed to resuscitate joint committees on returning security control in Palestinian cities to Palestinian forces. The committees stopped functioning when the hardline Islamic Hamas government was formed. Now only the Presidential Guard, directly responsible to Abbas, will be involved in the process — bypassing the P.A. Interior Ministry, which answers to Hamas. The overall goal, Eisin indicated, is to move forward on first and second stages of the American-backed road map — which means stopping violence and establishing a Palestinian state with interim borders.
At first glance, those moves constitute an Israeli rescue effort for Abbas. Since the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections last January, Abbas has been trying desperately to reassert his authority as president, to shore up his Fatah movement and to regain support for achieving Palestinian independence through diplomacy. Negotiations with Hamas on a unity government that would implicitly recognize Israel have dragged on without results.
Abbas's latest gambit, a threat to hold new legislative and presidential elections, sparked street fighting between Fatah and Hamas. The fragile ceasefire between the two movements, many Palestinians believe, won't last past Eid al-Adha. Actually holding elections would also be a dangerous gamble: A mid-December survey by the respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah found that in a presidential race against Ismail Haniyeh — now the Hamas prime minister — Abbas would get 46%, Haniyeh 45%. Since the margin of error was 3%, that result is a toss-up. In theory, renewed high-level diplomacy could bolster support for Abbas. Predictably, that approach gets withering criticism on the Israeli right. "Before the disengagement, a year and a half ago, Olmert and Sharon told us Abu Mazen was not a partner," Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said this week, referring to Abbas by his nom de guerre. "What changed Olmert's mind? Did [Abu Mazen] do something positive?"
Steinitz, an ally of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, said that renewing a diplomatic process today would be "fruitless." Concessions to Abbas only helped Hamas, he argued, adding that any distinction between the Palestinian president and the Hamas-dominated legislature was "an insult to the intelligence." Instead of negotiating, Steinitz argued, Israel should mount a massive ground operation in Gaza to end rocket fire against Israel. For the West Bank, he proposed abolishing the P.A. and establishing limited municipal autonomy in Palestinian cities. The comments indicate how wide a gap has opened between the Likud and Olmert, who spent his career in that party until bolting with Sharon last winter to create the centrist Kadima.
Still, Steinitz is right that Olmert has shifted his stance toward Abbas. One explanation is that the prime minister has been under international pressure to talk to the Palestinian leader. Another is that Olmert himself is having a hard time keeping his head above the water.
As the unexpected heir to Kadima after Sharon's stroke, Olmert ran for prime minister on a platform of unilateral withdrawal, providing an unusually clear program to compensate for weak personal appeal. He won — but last summer's two-front war in Lebanon and Gaza shattered public confidence both in his leadership and in his program. Most Israelis deduced that unilateral pullouts could not bring security. A poll last week by the Dahaf Institute and the daily Yediot Aharonot showed that in a three-way race between Olmert and ex-prime ministers Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, Olmert would come in a poor third. (Netanyahu came in first.) Since both Netanyahu and Barak lost reelection bids by landslides, it's a particularly poor showing for Olmert.
"In the aftermath of Lebanese conflict," spokeswoman Eisin said this week, choosing her words slowly and cautiously, "the prime minister is of the understanding that… it is worthwhile to do the utmost to arrive at a resolution [of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] by agreement." Apparent translation: To revive his promise of ending Israeli rule over the Palestinians, Olmert is now ready to take another step leftward and negotiate. To do that, he needs to show he has someone to talk to.
But Olmert's problems run deeper. When Olmert found himself as prime minister, "even he was surprised," said Yoram Meital, head of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University. "Olmert was a polished politician, but had absolutely no experience in matters of state," lacking even the team of advisers a prime ministerial candidate would normally have. He may still be improvising. The army objections to the concessions he offered Abbas suggest he had not prepared the meeting in coordination with the military.
Olmert dropped his unilateral plan, Meital said, only when public opinion polls turned against it. Now, said Meital, Olmert's "rescue and emergency forces" are trying to save Abbas. But the two leaders have drastically different expectations. Olmert wants to discuss interim arrangements. Abbas's promise to his own public is talks on the final-status accord — stage three in the road map.
"When Abu Mazen talks only about final status, every Israeli would respond, 'I have a problem, they're shooting Qassam rockets at me,'" Meital stressed. To gain Israeli confidence, Abbas needs "to talk about how to stop the violence on the ground right now."
So to help Abbas, Olmert needs to present a clear vision of the future, the final shape of peace. To help Olmert, Abbas needs to speak more clearly about the present. The weeks ahead will show whether the two men flailing in the political waters have the strength to rescue each other — and themselves.
Wed. Dec 27, 2006

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Summary of Editorials from the Hebrew Press - Dec 27, 2006

Information Department, Israel Foreign Ministry - Jerusalem

(Government Press Office)
27 December 2006

Haaretz - Ma'ariv - Yediot Aharonot - Globes - Hazofe - Jerusalem Post -

Haaretz writes: "Reducing the number of checkpoints in the West Bank so that Palestinians can live normal lives, go to work, do their shopping, visit relatives, go to school and even (as in Hebron) cross the road without having to make a kilometers-long detour, should not have to be considered a "gesture" to Mahmoud Abbas, but rather something that should have been done a long time ago. The Defense Ministry, focused on security issues, has had plans for removing checkpoints, but apparently the leadership capable of implementing them was not to be found. In the absence of a determined leadership, it is the brigade and battalion commanders who are determining how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks in daily life; every checkpoint and roadblock and dirt pile and concrete cube is another brick in the wall of hatred. Reducing the number of checkpoints is a gesture not to the Palestinians, but to ourselves."

The Jerusalem Post writes: "At considerable risk to his own people, despite the objections and warnings of many of his own security chiefs, and in defiance of recent grisly experience, Prime Minister Olmert is trying to encourage PA Chairman Abbas to step up to the peacemaking plate. As Israel's intelligence chiefs seek to make sense of the overtures from Damascus, it is grimly ironic that all the evidence from a people that was supposed to have entered into a peace partnership with Israel a full 13 years ago is of determined and violent hostility at all costs. Olmert's rival has, to date, failed to show the public will to remake that mindset. He may never get another chance."

Yediot Aharonot believes that the current government is among Israel's strongest and may finish a full four-year term. The editors suggest that the government's strength stems - paradoxically - from its weakness: Since none of its members is interested in early elections, none will rock the boat however much noise they might make.

Hatzofeh calls for reforms in the provision of services for mentally retarded Israelis who are religiously observant.

[Sever Plocker and Haggai Hoberman wrote today's editorials for Yediot Aharonot and Hatzofeh, respectively.]


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Picture Imperfect - Serious policymakers must get serious about the prospect for peace in the Mideast

Picture Imperfect
Serious policymakers must get serious about the prospect for peace in the Mideast.

By Emanuele Ottolenghi
Would anyone argue today that the best way to stabilize the Balkans is reviving the Federal State of Yugoslavia?

Whether a united post-Communist Yugoslavia was a realistic political solution to Balkan tensions in 1991 is for historians to determine. It clearly is not today. Historical opportunities rarely linger. After the Balkan wars and their horrors, that window of opportunity and that possible political settlement are no longer available. Opportunities that statesmen failed to seize will not return. Certain arrangements succeed only under certain contingent historical circumstances. Unless seized at the right time, opportunities fade. History is not inevitable and neither is peace.

Not so, it seems, when it comes to the Middle East and the prevalent view that regional stability depends on peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Despite the failure of successive attempts at peacemaking, and despite the current lack of favorable conditions to renew peace efforts, there is a broad international consensus that bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a happy ending is both possible and urgent. Diplomats and policymakers even know the contours of a peace agreement: They assume that before long, an Israeli leader and a Palestinian leader, with the blessing of an American president (and possibly of the European Union and the United Nations) will seal a deal resembling the Clinton Parameters proposed in 2000. Armed with this faith, Western leaders periodically produce their own peace plans, in the almost messianic belief that if they can bring peace to Zion, its light will radiate far and wide.

A sense of urgency is gripping Europe's leaders. Though divided by worldviews and sometimes even personal antipathies, British prime minister Tony Blair and French president Jacques Chirac have both pledged in recent weeks to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute. Blair, a Labourite, identified Palestine as the "core problem" of the Middle East; in his recent visit to Ramallah, he proclaimed, unperturbed by the civil war being fought under the windows of the presidential palace in Gaza, that "the next week will be critical" for peacemaking. Chirac, who presides over a right-of-center party, recently launched a Middle East peace initiative with Spanish Socialist prime minister Luis Zapatero, which forgot to mention the Roadmap and other principles to which the EU was formerly committed to. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, shares the same sense of urgency: The Palestine question, he said in a recent Timeinterview, is "the mother of all problems." With the German presidency of the EU now looming, Chancellor Angela Merkel has similarly made an energetic commitment to the Middle East peace process.

For European statesmen, peace between Israelis and Palestinians takes precedence over all other diplomatic initiatives, because it is central to world peace; as the European Council's final statement reads, "The EU is committed to overcoming the current impasse in the peace process and to easing tensions in the broader region." With the PA prime ministers and foreign ministers shot at, and battles in the streets of Gaza, it is remarkable that Brussels still calls this "an impasse" But Europe could not do otherwise — sugarcoating the hopeless situation with such language is needed, if you believe that nothing can be fixed unless peace is first achieved in the Holy Land. How you achieve it is also indicative of a mindset: Israel is only expected to make the "necessary steps" for peace. How else could Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, wish for Israel to make "constructive steps" on the Sheeba Farms to help forestall a crisis in Lebanon? The real steps to forestall a crisis in Lebanon are that the EU — and the rest of the international community — take their own commitments to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701 seriously and realize that the Lebanese government is not under siege in the Serail because Israel is not making constructive steps on the Sheeba Farms. Besides, the U.N. has already adjudicated the issue in favor of Israel six years ago. Why does D'Alema call on Israel to make overtures? Is it not time that Europe hold the Arab side accountable too

Perhaps this is too much to ask. With so many enemies in the area, the French have so far threatened only the Israeli airforce with hostile action. And in its final act before its semester presidency is over, the Finland asked Israel to clarify its prime minister's comments on its nuclear program, in light of EU troops' presence in Lebanon. As if Europe and its troops were truly threatened by Israel, and not by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran's nuclear designs. But asking for Israel to make amends is easier and it keeps the illusion going in Europe, that Israeli concessions will bring peace to the Middle East — and redemption to the world.–And judging by the wording adopted unanimously by the members of the Baker-Hamilton report — the Mideast-centric view is not uniquely European.

What unites this illustrious lineup of statesmen of different nationalities and political persuasions is not just a commitment to peace, but a conviction that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is — with the right mixture of pressures, incentives, and brinksmanship — possible, imminent, and crucial to the achievement of other important policy goals. This focus is certainly well-intentioned: The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a human tragedy that deserves resolution for its own sake, regardless of the extent of positive repercussions it is bound to have on the region and beyond.

The question that serious policymakers must ask, though, is not whether all this is desirable. Of course peace is desirable. The question is whether peace is attainable at present. And on this matter, all historical evidence is against it. The peace efforts of the 1990s occurred under exceptional circumstances: The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the aftermath of the Gulf War all contributed to unique conditions for peacemaking, which included an exceptional international consensus around the procedures and substance of peacemaking. But the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000 coincided with a return of turbulent times in which the unique conditions that could have given Palestinians a state and Israel its security simply no longer exist. While it is not wholly unreasonable to think that these circumstances may materialize again in the future, one should be once again cognizant of history: The previous missed opportunity for peacemaking occurred in 1947, when another rare set of historical circumstances created an ephemeral international consensus around the two-state solution. In 1947 there existed a rare alignment of forces that made a compromise possible: The end of the old world order, the new one not yet fully formed, opened a rare window of opportunity. History was made differently then by the will of men, but the chance was there for the taking.

Once that opportunity faded -- challenged by the Arab refusal to come to terms with Jewish statehood and then overtaken by the events of 1948 -- it took another 46 years before a new set of historical circumstances could make peace efforts realistic once again. By then, of course, the substance of a possible agreement between Israel and the Palestinians had been radically altered by half a century of conflict and international politics. But in the 1990s, again, an old order collapsed, giving way to a new world order that was not yet defined. The exuberance of that age was ephemeral, and so were the conditions that made peace possible. Promoting a two-state solution then was realistic, and even urgent. But once that narrow window of history closed, it is foolish to assume a new opening will reoccur soon. A new order of things has crystallized now, and with the return of history to the world stage, the curtains have fallen on the peacemakers.

Statesmen, diplomats, and policymakers should surrender themselves the fact that what was once possible, for but a season, is no more. Peacemaking belongs to yesteryear, and all that a realistic foreign policy can do is to ensure that the current bloodletting does not submerge our allies and subvert our interests in the region. Containment of our enemies and the management of conflict is all that our generation can hope for.

The chance to make peace in 2000 was turned down by the Palestinian refusal to come to terms with history and the limits it imposes on national dreams and fantasies. Their failure to embrace reality now makes the quest for a new opportunity futile, until the historical tide has turned again. Until then, any policy that center on Palestinian-Israeli peace in our times is futile, wasteful, and delusional.

— Emanuele Ottolenghi is executive director of the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Kassam barrage continues on Friday; Prisoners not to be released

Kassam barrage continues on Friday; Prisoners not to be released

Palestinians fired eight Kassam rockets from northern Gaza toward Israel on Friday, Army Radio reported.

One missile landed near Sderot, while another five hit the western Negev. No one was wounded and no damage was reported.

Two rockets landed inside Palestinian Authority territories.

IDF troops reported that they did not identify the launching sites.

Earlier Friday, Israel decided not to release Palestinian prisoners for the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha before kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit was freed.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas last week that he would consider such a move as a goodwill gesture, but the prime minister has not yet held a meeting on the subject, and the Muslim holiday begins on Saturday.

Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat, expressed their displeasure with the Israeli government's decision not to release prisoners before the holiday.

"It's unfortunate," Erekat said of the decision, adding that it would hurt Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's standing.

A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office responded to the Palestinians' complaints, saying "instead of expressing regret, if these officials would abide by the cease-fire, maybe they would get prisoners."

On Thursday night, Israel denied reports by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that a prisoner swap was imminent, citing problems that have arisen in the negotiations for Shalit as the reason for the government's failure to reach a decision on the Palestinian prisoners.

However, security forces were easing travel restrictions for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in honor of the holiday. Israeli Arabs were going to be allowed to visit family in the West Bank, and around 4,000 Palestinians were to be permitted to visit family in Israel.

In addition, Israeli Arabs were being allowed to visit immediate family in the Gaza Strip.

The eased restrictions were going to be in force from Friday morning until Monday. Soldiers manning checkpoints were instructed to act with extra sensitivity during the Muslim holiday period.

Earlier in the week, Olmert mentioned Abbas's request in the Knesset, where Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz expressed their support for the goodwill gesture; however, a follow-up discussion never materialized.

Peres told Israel Radio Friday that he believed there was still room to make such a gesture toward the Palestinians.

However, Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said that a premature prisoner release would be unwise, as it was unlikely to be interpreted properly by the Palestinians. "I think that a gesture that in normal times is accepted at holiday time must not happen today because it would be misinterpreted," Boim told Israel Radio.

With AP

Continued (Permanent Link)

US: Arafat responsible for diplomat's death

US: Arafat responsible for diplomat's death

State Dept. declassifies document revealing Yasser Arafat was behind attack on US embassy in Sudan 34 years ago. During attack, terrorists killed US ambassador, his deputy, and Belgian diplomat
Yitzhak Benhorin Published:  12.29.06, 00:11

WASHINGTON - Thirty four years after Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed the American ambassador to Sudan, the US Department of State announced Thursday that the person who was behind the planning of the attack was none other than PLO chairman and later Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The attack was carried out on March 1, 1973. According to a declassified State Department document, eight "Black September Organization" terrorists seized the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Khartoum as a diplomatic reception honoring the departing United States Deputy Chief of Mission was ending.

After the takeover, the terrorists kidnapped US Ambassador Cleo Noel, his deputy George Curtis Moore, the two deputy ambassadors of Belgium and Jordan. In return for the freedom of the hostages, the terrorists demanded the release of various individuals, mostly Palestinian guerrillas, imprisoned in Jordan, Israel and the United States.

When the terrorists became convinced that their demands would not be met and after they reportedly had received orders from Fatah headquarters in Beirut, they killed the two United States officials and the Belgian Charge, sparing the life of the Jordanian envoy.
'Inimical to Palestinian interests'
US intelligence agencies managed to intercept a message from Arafat to the terrorists in Khartoum before the attack, prompting an urgent message to the embassy warning of the attack. Unfortunately, the message did not reach the embassy in time.
 "The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the head of Fatah," the document reads.
"Fatah representatives based in Khartoum participated in the attack, using a Fatah vehicle to transport the terrorists to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Initially, the main objective of the attack appeared to be to secure the release of Fatah/BSO leader Muhammed Awadh (Abu Da'ud) from Jordanian captivity."

The document also estimates that one of the primary goals of the operation was to strike at the United States because of its efforts to achieve a Middle East peace settlement which many Arabs believe would be inimical to Palestinian interests.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Lieberman: Bibi's remarks on Iran irresponsible

Lieberman: Bibi's remarks on Iran irresponsible,7340,L-3345919,00.html
Minister of strategic affairs says Iranian threat too important to become political issue, tells Ynet, 'Bibi has no idea what we are doing. I am sorry politicians bring the issue into internal political discussion'
Attila Somfalvi Published:  12.28.06, 22:49
From his job as minister of strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman decided to put an end to the chatter within the political system surrounding the Iranian threat, and at the same time blast opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
In an interview with Ynet, Lieberman calls the former PM's latest statements regarding the Iranian threat "irresponsible."
According to Lieberman, "Bibi has no idea what we are doing. I'm sorry that politicians drag the issue into the political discussion. I think this is irresponsible when someone tries turning the issue into an internal problem. Bibi is irresponsible for doing that. The Iranian issue is not a matter of territory. There is not one on the Right or on the Left that is not bothered by this. Because of this, saying something without knowing what is going on is severe."
Lieberman also referred to the announcement of billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak to support Netanyahu for prime minister.
"I think that it is Gaydamak's right to support any politician in any party. I think the Likud is a worthy party and so is Netanyahu. I wish both of them luck."
Since he took the job as minister of strategic affairs, Lieberman was at the receiving end of much criticism.
Some, including the writer of these words, have written that he is sorry for entering the coalition and that he is eating himself from the inside when he sees the Likud soar in the polls and his party rapidly losing support. Lieberman saw, read, and kept quiet.
'They don't hide or sugarcoat'
Now he wants to explain to everyone that they were wrong, and how important is his contribution. "Before I came in," he tells Ynet.  "I had my doubts and fears. I didn't know if I would get backing from the prime minister. Today I am completely content with my decision, and I have no intentions to leave the government. I receive full support from the prime minister for what I am doing. I am doing a good job; even the most sensitive officials in Israel think that. I do real things."
Naturally, Lieberman cannot discuss the details of what he does. What can be said is that he deals with the most sensitive material of Israel's defense organizations.
These organizations are under the direct supervision of the prime minister and he is the one who needs to give Lieberman leeway in order for him to act. For now, Lieberman feels he is acting freely.
"Today it is apparent to all that Israel's central problem, for the first time since the Holocaust, is that there are those who say they want to destroy us," he said.
"They don't hide it, and don't sugarcoat it. The say it directly and invest a lot of money and efforts in it. We see it through investments in terror organizations, in involvement in Lebanon, and other things. I think I am contributing and this job should have been there before.
 "How much time does the prime minister have to invest in an existential issue? He, after all, has a coalition, a crisis in Kadima, a budget, guests from abroad and trips abroad," Lieberman said.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel - Report by Central Bureau of Statistics reveals growing population, more poverty among children, less enlisting to army

Statistics report: Less enlisting to army

Report by Central Bureau of Statistics reveals growing population, more poverty among children, less enlisting to army
Ynet Published:  12.28.06, 18:22

The Central Bureau of Statistics published its annual report on Thursday, just before the start of 2007.
The data revealed that at the end of 2006, 76 percent of Israel's residents were Jewish (5,393,600 people) 20 percent were Arabs (1,413,500 people) and 4 percent were of other nationalities (309,100 people). 
Israel's population growth rate for 2006 was 1.8 percent. A similar rate has been recorded since 2003 up to 2005. During the year, some 146,300 babies were born.

During 2006 some 19,900 new immigrants arrived in Israel, similar to the number of new immigrants in the years 2004 and 2005.
In total, Israel's population was increased by some 125,000 people in 2006, most a result of natural reproduction (88 percent) and the rest (12 percent) were immigrants.

 More poor children, less enlisting to army

On Wednesday, The National Council for the Child presented its 2006 annual statistics report containing information on Israel's youth.
The report revealed that more than a third of Israeli children are living under the poverty line. The data showed that in the year 2005, 35 percent of the children living in Israel were considered poor, as opposed to 33 percent in the previous year.
 A drop in the percentage of teenagers enlisting to the army has also been recorded, out of all the candidates for military service the percentage has dropped to below 78 percent.
Eighty percent of the youth own a mobile phone and the favorite pastime for 82 percent of the youth is going out to shopping malls.
The National Council for the Child's data reported that by the end of 2005 there were 2,326,400 children living in Israel. Although in the previous years an increase in the number of children in the population has been recorded, a drop in their percentage of the whole population has also been noted.
While in 1907 children made up 39.2 percent of the population, in 2005 they only made up 33.3 percent. This drop occurred in all population groups, including the Muslim population, where a drop from 58.7 percent in 1970, to 48.8 percent in 2005 was recorded.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Danger zone around Gaza to triple

Danger zone around Gaza to triple
IDF braces for improved Qassams with a firing range of 20 kilometers; army
to expand danger zone surrounding Gaza by 13 kilometers
Alex Fishman YNET  Published: 12.28.06, 13:34,7340,L-3345689,00.html

The Israeli army is preparing for the possibility that Palestinian armed
groups would improve the range of makeshift rockets fired from the Gaza
Strip, with the Home Front Command drafting plans to expand the protection
zone around the tiny coastal territory to 20 km, three time wider than

The plan includes the fortification of schools and strategic sites in cities
that lie within the new boundaries at the cost of NIS 1.4 billion (USD 331.8

The new initiative is based on estimations that the conflict with the
Palestinians will protract and that rocket fire will be most relied-upon
weapon in the fight against Israel.

About 50,000 residents live within the 7-kilometer wide zone, and expansions
to 20 kilometers will bring that number to 162,000.

Ashkelon, Netivot and Ofakim are among the cities to be included in the
danger zone.

The IDF will complete the protection of all schools within the current zone
by March 2007.

The army said that 81 out of 151 kindergartens in the area have been fully
protected and fortification work on another 58 will be completed by

In 21 out of 46 communities in the area have been fitted with electronic
fences and emergency rooms.

NIS 285 million have been invested in the settlements lying within the range
of Qassam rockets over the last two years.

The government is no responsible for building shelters in public places like
synagogues, malls and cultural centers.

More so, some 4,000 households in the current zone lack shelter rooms. In
Sderot alone, 900 out of 1,250 households lack such facilities of
life-saving qualities in the Qassam-battered town.

Costs of setting up such facilities in all households in the area would cost
NIS 1 billion (USD 237.5 million).

Continued (Permanent Link)

The in-married Jewish people, the intermarried Jewish people * Are intermarried couples hopeless?

(Both articles in the series are included)
The in-married Jewish people, the intermarried Jewish people
The catchiest paragraph in the new study by Prof. Steven M. Cohen - Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, New York - is quite frightening: we are developing into two distinct populations: the in-married and the intermarried... The identity chasm between in-married and intermarried is wide, which suggests the imagery of "Two Jewries."
Cohen adds this observation to the mix of numbers, facts and analysis: Intermarriage does indeed constitute the greatest single threat to Jewish continuity today, both on an individual level (for specific Jewish families and their descendants) and on a group level (for the size and distinctiveness of the American Jewish population).
No wonder that the study is headlined "The inconvenient truth for American Jews." No wonder that the cover letter accompanying this study - and written by Rabbi Irving Greenberg, President of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation (the sponsor of this new study) - contains this warning: "We do not offer this analysis to drive us to despair but to stimulate new focus, creativity and investment..."
Now, to the findings: There is an important segment of American Jewry, one about evenly divided among Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and non-denominational Jews. It is a population segment where the observance of Passover and Chanukah is almost universal and where the vast majorities (80% or more) belong to synagogues, attend services on the High Holidays, and fast on Yom Kippur. Majorities light Sabbath candles, report that most of their friends are Jewish, feel that being Jewish is very important to them, have been to Israel, and contribute to Jewish charities. Most also send their young children to Jewish pre-schools and their older children to Jewish youth groups. Almost half of this segment did some volunteer work for a Jewish organization in the past year, attended an adult Jewish education program, and feel very attached to Israel. People who belong to this group have had a reasonably strong Jewish upbringing. Hardly any report having been raised by intermarried parents or having had a Christmas tree in their home growing up.
Who are these people? They are in-married Jewish couples with school-age children.
Even more encouraging: the in-married have spurred a major expansion in Jewish educational utilization. The in-married had a stronger Jewish education than their counterparts 30 years ago. Signs point to an even further increase in the levels of their own children's Jewish education. They suggest that the in-married are riding an inter-generational "up escalator" in Jewish education.
The intermarried homes with school-age children stand in sharp contrast. As compared with the in-married, only half as many of the intermarried observe Passover, Chanukah or Yom Kippur, or belong to a synagogue. Just 7% have mostly Jewish close friends (as compared with 53% of the in-married). Only handfuls (from 9-14%) attend services at least monthly, have been to Israel, light Sabbath candles, keep kosher at home, or volunteer in Jewish contexts as compared with about four times as many among their in-married counterparts.
These lower rates of engagement are partially due to the far lower rates of Jewish education that intermarried Jews experienced in their youth. Twice as many of the intermarried than the in-married grew up with Christmas trees in their homes, and far fewer observed their parents lighting Shabbat candles. Among the intermarried, in fact, the rates for those who had Christmas trees and Shabbat candles are about equal; among the in-married, three times as many saw Shabbat candles lit in their homes on Friday nights as those whose families erected Christmas trees in December.
But this is not the only factor driving intermarried away from Jewish life. Cohen writes: Suppose two siblings with equally low levels of parental observance and Jewish education make different marital choices. One marries a Jew and the other marries a non-Jew. Empirically, the intermarried sibling will be far less likely than his or her in-married brother or sister to raise children as Jews, let alone affiliate with Jewish institutions or practice many Jewish ritual observances.
Even Jewish day school alumni will be heavily (more Jewish) influenced by the marital decision. Of those who marry a non-Jew who does not convert, just 61 percent raise their children exclusively in Judaism, as compared with 99 percent of those who marry Jews. Intermarriage independently depresses Jewish involvement. It both reflects weaker Jewish socialization in the past and promotes lower levels of Jewish engagement today.
The group of the in-married is raising about three quarters of the next generation of American Jews. The intermarried are responsible for only a quarter of today's Jewish children under the age of 18. Parents exert significant influence on the chances that their children will marry Jews. Those with more Jewish capital tend to marry Jews; while those with less Jewish capital tend to marry non-Jews. The aim, then, is to increase the cultural, spiritual and social capital of today's Jewish children, so that they will marry Jews.
Coming tomorrow: What can Jewish institutions do with this study and what are the implications? 
Are intermarried couples hopeless?
By Shmuel Rosner
It is the difference between the optimist and the fatalist - or between the delusional and the realist. Should one invest more in the intermarried as to strengthen their Jewish identity?

Yesterday, I wrote about the new study by Prof. Steven Cohen. Bottom line: We are developing into two distinct populations - the in-married and the intermarried. The identity chasm between in-married and intermarried is wide, which suggests the imagery of "two Jewries." Intermarriage constitutes the greatest single threat to Jewish continuity today.
I also mentioned the cover letter, written by rabbi by Rabbi Irving Greenberg, President of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, the sponsor of this new study. But now its time to quote some more from this letter: "Let it be clear. We do not believe that the act of intermarriage has an inexorable, determined assimilationist outcome. We (at JLN) believe that intermarriage is a symptom more than a cause. In an open society, it cannot be directly fought ? although the value of in-marriage can be upheld. Primarily, Jewish life must be so enriched and Jews offered so much participation in vital education and living experiences that they will prefer in-marriage and if they fall in love with a non-Jew they will encourage conversion or, at least, will choose to raise their children Jewishly ... education, broadly defined and mediated through family and community, has become the only way to motivate people to choose Jewish identity..."
Rabbi Greenberg, with whom I also spoke a couple of days ago, would like people to understand Cohen?s study in a very specific way. He doesn?t "give up" on the intermarried (Cohen previously expressed some doubts about the feasibility of investment in this sector) but rather believe that Jewish institutions need to try and renew their Jewish identity. Thus, he is not focusing his attention on the more "juicy" part of the study ? the one dealing with the "growing gap" ? but rather on the part dealing with the transformational power of Jewish education.
"The results are in: Jewish education works" - writes Cohen. Almost all forms of Jewish education diminish the frequency of intermarriage and elevate adult Jewish engagement. And the more Jewish experiences one has, the better the chances he will remain within the tent. Cohen explains: Someone who went to a supplementary school that met twice a week into adolescence, went to Israel, and attended a Jewish camp can be compared with someone with the same background with no such experiences. The chances that the former would marry a Jewish spouse would increase by 14 percentage points (comparable to reducing the intermarriage rate from 47 percent to 33 percent).
How does he calculate this? In the study he estimates that day school attendance reduces intermarriage by 14 percentage points. The impact of attendance at supplementary school more than once a week is 2 points if continued for more than 6 years; each informal education experience (camping, youth groups, or Israel travel in one's youth) reduces intermarriage by 4 percentage points.
The shortcomings of Jewish education, Cohen writes, rest not so much with an inability to influence participants as with an inability to attract participants. This is where Greenberg sees hope: These results suggest that if we persist and expand the availability of great Jewish experiences we can reverse the demographic/cultural decline of Jewry.
Cohen's tone is sobering and pessimistic. Convincing young Jews to marry within the tribe is crucial. "Only conversion substantially improves the chances that today's intermarried couples will have Jewish grandchildren in two generations," writes Cohen. But there's a "long-term decline in conversion rates, lasting over half a century" that "is smooth and steady."
Greenberg chooses to see the full half of the glass. He just doesn't believe that asking people not to marry 98 percent of the population can provide for better results. Jews will keep finding non-Jewish spouses and Jewish organizations better find ways to incorporate these couples into the tribe. "We need urgent attention to try to find programs that work in this sub-community," he writes.
It is more than just minor disagreement. It is the difference between the optimist and the fatalist - or between the delusional and the realist. The next study that JLN will publish is one that supports the more optimistic view: Intermarried couples in the Boston area show a surprisingly high percentage of Jewish identity. Whether this one study can prove Greenberg's point will be a subject for further debate.
Cohen's tone is sobering and pessimistic. Convincing young Jews to marry within the tribe is crucial. "Only conversion substantially improves the chances that today's intermarried couples will have Jewish grandchildren in two generations," writes Cohen. But there's a "long-term decline in conversion rates, lasting over half a century" that "is smooth and steady."
Greenberg chooses to see the full half of the glass. He just doesn't believe that asking people not to marry 98 percent of the population can provide for better results. Jews will keep finding non-Jewish spouses and Jewish organizations better find ways to incorporate these couples into the tribe. "We need urgent attention to try to find programs that work in this sub-community," he writes.
It is more than just minor disagreement. It is the difference between the optimist and the fatalist - or between the delusional and the realist. The next study that JLN will publish is one that supports the more optimistic view: Intermarried couples in the Boston area show a surprisingly high percentage of Jewish identity. Whether this one study can prove Greenberg's point will be a subject for further debate.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Palestinian prisoners won't be freed ahead of Muslim holiday

Last update - 11:50 29/12/2006   

Palestinian prisoners won't be freed ahead of Muslim holiday
By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

Israel will not free Palestinian prisoners ahead of a major Muslim holiday, demanding that Palestinian militants first agree to release captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, political sources said Friday.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision came despite a personal request from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during the meeting last week. Olmert had suggested such a release could happen, even before
militants in Gaza free Shalit.
Israel makes it a practice before the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins Saturday, to free prisoners in a goodwill gesture toward the Palestinians.
The sources said that Olmert did not have sufficient support in his cabinet for the move ahead of the holiday and had also faced criticism from Shalit's family.
"It does not look as though there will be anything before Shalit is out," said one political source.
An official in the Prime Minister's Office said no decision had been taken yet on when prisoners might be freed.
The defense establishment announced that it would be easing some restrictions on Palestinians in light of the holiday. Israeli Arabs will be permitted to enter the Gaza Strip and Zone A of the West Bank to visit relatives. In addition, 4,000 Palestinians will be permitted to leave the West Bank to visit family members withint the Green Line.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called the decision not to release prisoners "unfortunate" adding that it showed Olmert apparently was unwilling to risk the wrath of Israeli public opinion by releasing Palestinian prisoners without assuring Hamas-linked militants would free Shalit, who was captured in a June 25 cross-border raid.
Erekat also said that the decision would hurt Abbas' standing.
Israel holds at least 8,000 Palestinians in its jails. The prisoners have an iconic status in Palestinian society.
"I think that a gesture that in normal times is accepted at holiday time must not happen today because it would be misinterpreted," Minister Zeev Boim told Israel Radio.
Meanwhilw, a Palestinian newspaper published a letter from Shalit's mother and father on Friday.
"We are looking forward to seeing you released soon," they said, adding that they hoped the factions would allow him to read the letter. "The fact that we do not know anything about you is really hard."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Painting a rosier future

Painting a rosier future
By Haaretz Editorial

The views that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has expressed recently are a welcome continuation of the prime minister's Sde Boker speech, and even go beyond it. The foreign minister proposes directing efforts toward energetic diplomatic activity with the Palestinians, in an orderly and sustained fashion, and not only as an occasional gesture. She thinks that progress must be made constantly, without being conditioned on progress in the cease-fire. Livni also says that Palestinian good behavior should not be a precondition for goodwill gestures, but only for the agreement that will be signed in the end. And she also calls for bolstering the moderate camp among the Palestinians.
When the Palestinians hold elections, which appears likely to happen in the coming months, they must know what is at stake if they elect Hamas. This is not a threat, just a promise, and it should be made clear at the most practical level. At the end of the day, it is the Palestinians' decision. Currently, the Palestinian voter can see no obvious advantage in voting for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority chairman. But if they are shown a brighter future, with a detailed program for gains; if it is made clear to them what symbols of Palestinian sovereignty they will be given and how their lives might improve, then perhaps there is still a chance for the moderates to win. Israel is the occupier, so it is the one that must present the future that will follow the occupation. Instead of handing out carrots in measured quantities, it must make it clear to the Palestinians that the final target is for them to grow their own carrots and not be dependent on Israel. It is necessary to talk ceaselessly about the stage after the occupation - the stage of separation, independence - and about borders and cooperation.
The foreign minister's moderation; her support for Ehud Olmert's policy of restraint against Amir Peretz; her openness to the world and her willingness to accept their help; her desire for a cease-fire as early as the second day of the war in Lebanon, out of a clear understanding that diplomacy would achieve more than a thousands bombs; her emphasis on the conflict with the Palestinians as the root of the problem; her attempts to deal with Iran in a low-key, discreet way, instead of being drawn into Benjamin Netanyahu's rhetoric; and above all, the optimism that Livni broadcasts and the hope that the Olmert-Livni team, if they cooperate instead of being dragged into prestige battles, could further a genuine agenda - these are the important aspects of the interviews she has granted to the press.
The foreign minister emphasizes that the ball is in the Palestinians' court. The Palestinians are the ones who need to decide whether their aim is to bring about an end to the occupation and the conflict, by deciding between Hamas and Fatah. However, Israel cannot remain an uninvolved observer. It must promote a better future, instead of just talking about it. If the Palestinian voter thinks that nothing will come of supporting Abbas, he will vote accordingly. If instead of continuing to say that Abbas is weak and that, in the end, Hamas will inevitably win, we say that everything depends on the Palestinian voter, and that only he can bring about an end to the Israeli occupation, then perhaps Abbas and his supporters, with the active support of the Arab world, will succeed in tipping the balance.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Political Animal / Gut feelings

Political Animal / Gut feelings
By Yossi Sarid

Oceans of ink will now be spilt on the disagreement between Military Intelligence and the Mossad regarding the Syrian president's intentions. Before they fight here to the last drop of ink, I hereby reveal the state's deepest secret.
The following is the secret of someone who spent 25 years on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and five years in the security cabinet: Our intelligence community in all its branches hasn't more than an inkling as to what Syrian President Bashar Assad intends and where he is heading. Who can read thoughts and who, as the Book of Jeremiah has it, tries the reins and the heart. Even in the heart of totalitarian regimes thoughts are many, and only the word of the ruler prevails.
Israel is getting to the bottom of Assad's thoughts just as the Soviet Union got to the bottom of Hitler's intentions on the eve of the big attack; just as the United States deciphered Japan's plot before the calamity at Pearl Harbor; or just as the United States understood four years ago what was waiting for it in Iraq; or what Israel knew only five months ago about Hezbollah that was right under its blocked nose.
The aforementioned secret is even worse: We are conversant with Syria's ways exactly to the extent that we are conversant with Iran's ways. And all of the assessments that we are offered in the conference call that is known as a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are gut feelings, and to each assessor his own gut.
Even the head of the Mossad has a gut of his own in which the juices are particularly caustic, and even his good friend, former prime minister Ariel Sharon, was exposed more to his gut than to his mind. Did anyone here really expect that Meir Dagan's prejudices, which have long been familiar, would not shape his later opinions? Military Intelligence, however, already understands that if evil does indeed come down from the north and a Winograd on behalf of the government is appointed again, its people will be able to appear with a Power Point display in hand: Here is what we said before, here is what we warned again and again, we fulfilled our obligation and the general deafness is not our fault.
We must not forget the observation of Abba Eban, himself a British intelligence man during World War II. "The intelligence community," he said, "is born to err." And it has indeed erred in various ways, and in its persistent erring has even contradicted the laws of statistical chance that apply to roulette games. The community was in the dark on the eve of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War and the peace agreement with Egypt and the outbreak of Lebanon Wars I and II and the first intifada and the war in Iraq. Each time the warning bells rang and the red lights flashed but they had eyes and did not see, ears and did not hear.
When a heavy shadow of consternation and perplexity weighs on our lives, many of us are still seduced into believing, into hoping: "We are thoroughly confused. But the people up there certainly know what is happening and what has to be done." I regret that I must disappoint once again: They don't have a clue up there either. And when there is no solid intelligence, there is no alternative but to think and analyze with the help of the individual head that has been affixed to the shoulders of each and every one of us; this a quite an effort, I know. And when there is no intelligence, there is no alternative but to probe, to check, to examine, to try; and this is an impossible mission for a government that is blind and lame.
Cutting words
Education Minister Yuli Tamir is also letting the defense world devour the education goat, that same goat that the Finance Ministry brings into the budget-fold every year. At the last minute they cast it out and suddenly an illusion of wellbeing is created: Indeed the goat is gone but the cut stays and bleats.
Last week the education minister met with representatives of the students; they came to her bureau with a demand to implement the recommendations of the Winograd committee on education, which reduced tuition fees, and to add a member on their behalf to the Shochat committee, which is liable to raise tuition fees. The meeting ended in nothing. Tamir said to the students that the Winograd committee had been a mistake, that its conclusions had damaged higher education and that they had led to a drop in the number of registered students at the universities and colleges.
Riddle me a riddle: How does a decrease of 50 percent in tuition fees decrease the number of candidates for registration? Tamir must have the solutions. But the minister's personal stance is even more of a riddle and we have the solutions. My memory kills, and not only me. I have suddenly recalled that Professor Tamir was the first to have shaken my hand after former prime minister Ehud Barak's government approved the Winograd report and she congratulated me for the achievement; I found her congratulations pleasant at the time. All this was ages ago; times have changed and with them so have people.
But only two years ago, in December, 2004, the Knesset Education Committee held a special meeting on the subject of tuition fees. And I've remembered - the Devil's work - the impressive words of Labor MK Yuli Tamir at that meeting: "Yesterday I already sent a letter to Shimon Peres saying unambiguously that Labor cannot join the government if the Barak government's best and finest decision is canceled upon our entry into the government." The participants in the meeting applauded her announcement, but the MK wrapped herself in modesty. "Applaud," she said, "after I succeed." And then she turned to the student representatives: "Come to my party's central committee too, because that's where the real struggle is."
And she concluded her pertinent and assertive remarks: "I see how Shinui is moving from the opposition to the coalition. I don't want that to happen to us, and if it does happen to us it will be a disgrace, and I will be the first to acknowledge that."

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The Archbishop's guide to Muslim intolerance.

The Archbishop's guide to Muslim intolerance.
By Bradley Burston

Problem: You are the spiritual leader of the Church of England and, by extension, some 70 million Anglicans worldwide. You have come to Bethlehem, where you will address the issue of Muslim attacks on Mideast Christians and Arab Christian institutions.
In Bethlehem, you have heard reports of incidents in which Muslims have intimidated, shaken-down, beaten, and even killed Christian Palestinian residents of the city. Some Christians have reported that Muslims issued them death threats if they failed to sign over title to Christian-owned land.
In Iraq, priests have been attacked, some of them murdered.
You are the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is time you spoke out.
In the back of your mind, however, is the Pope's September speech which, touching on Islam, touched off the murder of a nun in Somalia, and the bombing of churches in the West Bank, Gaza, and Iraq.
Solution: Blame the Christian West. And, while you're at it, blame the Jews.
Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury is no one's fool. The spiritual head of the Church of England knows a trap when he sees one. He knows what happened to the head of the Church of Rome. The archbishop wasn't about to suggest that responsibility for bloodshed committed in the name of Islam should be borne by the Muslims who commit it.
"In an extraordinary attack," the Times of London summarized the archbishop's message as stating, "Dr. Williams accuses Tony Blair and the U.S. of endangering the lives and futures of many thousands of Christians in the Middle East, who are regarded by their countrymen as supporters of the ?crusading West.'"
The Times further paraphrased the archbishop as maintaining that "Christians in the Middle East are being put at unprecedented risk by the Government?s ?shortsighted' and 'ignorant' policy in Iraq."
Radical chic? Fear of reprisals? Doctrine-grounded belief? If you're the Archbishop of Canterbury, there's no need to choose.
In Bethlehem, which, like Iraq, is a focus of an ongoing exodus of Mideast Christians, Dr. Williams turned his sights on the Holy Land landmark which has fast become a pilgrimage site for the doctrinaire Left.
Speaking after his delegation passed through an Israeli checkpoint and entered Bethlehem, Dr. Williams said "The wall which we walked through a little while ago is a sign not simply of a sign of a passing problem in the politics of one region; it is sign of some of the things that are most deeply wrong in the human heart itself."
Someday, there will be a cogent explanation for the Western left's obsession with the wall, for the left's elevation of the barrier to the status of ultimate wickedness. The Anti-Kotel. The apotheosis of evil, before which the killing of innocents pales.
Balance, after all, is overrated. In February, less than two weeks after Hamas swept to victory in Palestinian Authority elections, the Anglican Church's General Synod overwhelmingly voted to divest from "companies profiting from the illegal occupation," such as Caterpillar, makers of the IDF's D9 bulldozers.
Dr. Williams's predecessor, Lord Carey, was quoted as responding that the decision, which he said ignored the trauma of Israeli Jews subjected to terrorism, made him "ashamed to be an Anglican."
There's a pattern here, and not just the knee-jerk necessity to pin all blame for the Middle East catastrophe on the Bush-Blair-Israel axis.
There is also the racism of the politically correct. There's a sense here that Muslims aren't really responsible for their own actions, any more than they would be if they were mischievous children or animals in the wild.
No, it's us ? the West, Tony Blair, George Bush, Israeli Jews ? we are responsible. It was our hamhanded arrogance and state terrorism that brought on 9 /11 and the cavalcade of suicide bloodletting that followed. The only role of Muslims was to position the bombs, the box cutters, the Katyushas, the Qassams, the Kalashnikovs. We had already pulled the trigger.
The archbishop is telling us that it is Christians, aided and abetted by Jews, who have brought about Muslim intolerance toward Christians.

Has the war, in fact, fueled an upsurge in Muslim attacks on Christians? Undoubtedly. Does the wall cause Bethlehem's Christians terrible hardship? No question.
But Dr. Williams' formulation, that Muslims are attacking Christians because of what other Christians have done to other Muslims, was, perhaps more than anything else, a perverse echo of Holocaust denier David Irving's remarks this week on the Jews:
"They should ask themselves the question, 'Why have they been so hated for three thousand years that there has been pogrom after pogrom in country after country?'"
In the end, the Archbishop has taught us all at least one lesson. Muslims must take responsibility for fighting Muslim intolerance toward Christians.
Christian leaders may not be up to the task.

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200 new trailers placed in West Bank outposts since June

Last update - 09:05 29/12/2006   

200 new trailers placed in West Bank outposts since June
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Settlers are continuing to place mobile homes and trailers in West Bank outposts and settlements, without legal permits. Civil Administration reports show that since the start of the second Lebanon war in July, some 200 mobile homes have been placed. This is a substantial increase over the few dozen trailers placed in the first half of the year.
Despite declarations by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, there has been no progress toward dismantling outposts.
Since the beginning of the month, nearly 90 trailers were placed illegally in the West Bank. A Defense Ministry aerial survey found new mobile homes in illegal outposts such as Givat Assaf, near Beit El, and Amona, near Ofra. Some of the new mobile homes were also placed in veteran settlements.
The Yesha Council of settlements says the number is lower than the 200 stated by the Civil Administration and that most of the buildings spotted in the latest aerial survey were simply never identified before.
The red tape and foot dragging in dismantling outposts is creating a legal tangle as demolition orders expire, which will further delay the eventual resumption of evacuation procedures.
Construction celebration
Peretz was accorded an extraordinary honor on Thursday when The New York Times devoted a front-page headline to his activities. The newspaper drew attention to Peretz' authorization to populate the abandoned outpost Maskiot in the Jordan Valley, and construct 30 new houses there for Gush Katif evacuees. The NYT expressed restrained astonishment at the move, which came just a few days after Olmert promised a gesture to the Palestinians. The paper noted this would be the first Jewish settlement to be built in the territories in the past 10 years, and that it comes with the authorization of a minister considered a political dove.
These flaws are also manifested in Israel's commitment to ease conditions for the Palestinians and in the government's approach to violations of the Gaza truce. The defense minister is finding it difficult to leave his mark on the system he heads. He is being manipulated by the army, which is not showing him much respect in return.
Immediately upon taking up his position this May, the defense minister said taking down the illegal outposts would be a central issue during his term. On his first visit to the Central Command, he promised to deal firmly with outpost inhabitants who attacked their Palestinian neighbors. In other declarations that month, he committed himself to re-examining the construction policy in the territories and ordered preparations for the first outpost evacuations. In June, the Nahal Brigade trained to evacuate settlers from Havat Maon. The abduction of Gilad Shalit at the end of June and the outbreak of the Lebanon war two weeks later shelved the plans and took the outposts off the agenda. Ever since the end of the war, there has been a building celebration in the West Bank. Civil Administration reports have been piling up on the minister's desk: The 10 mobile homes placed in June rose to about 50 in October and 90 this past month.
Ostensibly, the Israel Defense Forces are preparing for an evacuation. From time to time Peretz's bureau issues soothing releases to the left, stating the minister is determined to take down outposts. However, even Peretz knows this is no longer expected to happen. The prime minister told the Italian media two weeks ago that the political situation does not currently enable the evacuation of outposts.
The army has yet to present the minister with evacuation plans. When Peretz expresses a desire for progress, the IDF responds that conditions are not yet ripe. The excuses change: the scars of the war in the north, then the olive harvest and finally Hanukkah and Christmas.
Peretz, hoping to avoid a forced evacuation, tried to establish a secret channel with the settler leadership. Yesha heads Bentzi Lieberman, Pinhas Wallerstein and Ze'ev Hever showed up for some non-committal conversations at the Defense Ministry, but meanwhile the settlers leaked news of the channel's existence. Meanwhile, Peretz's bureau discovered late that the prime minister has a channel of his own with the Yesha Council. MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), himself a settler, discussed an arrangement with Yesha heads whereby 26 outposts would become part of nearby settlements.
Wallerstein and Hever come to the Defense Ministry, gossip a bit with the officials, gather information about the army's intentions for them and refuse to commit to anything. The real negotiations are going on in Schneller's channel. Peretz's associates don't have the slightest clue about these negotiations, and Olmert's bureau is denying any connection.
Easements any minute
The defense establishment zigzagged this week regarding easing conditions in the territories. The "Peretz plan" for easements is in fact the Spiegel plan, and was formulated by a former aide to the defense minister, Brigadier general (Res.) Baruch Spiegel. The original document is dated November 29, 2005.
The plan calls for the dismantling of 49 dirt barriers, among them a few permanent roadblocks. It was translated into English and won enthusiasm from the American administration. Then, GOC Central Command Yair Naveh convinced Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to block it. As an alternative, Naveh proposed creating a separate road system for Palestinian traffic in the West Bank. The price is in dispute. Naveh is talking about approximately NIS 40 million. Defense Ministry sources are convinced his plan would cost at least NIS 150 million, making it unfeasible.
In the meantime, Peretz has replaced Shaul Mofaz as defense minister, and the whole matter has been neglected. In recent months, Peretz's political aide Hagai Alon - who replaces Spiegel as "assistant for matters concerning the Palestinian fabric of life" next week - has been trying to breathe life into the barrier plan. The army refused to cooperate, and even refused to send officers to meetings on the issue. Then, in the wake of the meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the urgent need for gestures cropped up, and the dust was shaken off the Spiegel plan.
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh helped persuade Peretz to adopt the plan. Over the course of several meetings this Monday, Peretz accepted the plan, then accepted Naveh's reservations, and in the end, after a stormy discussion with Sneh, returned to his assistants' position. On Tuesday Olmert agreed with Peretz. The army was given a week to submit reservations. If there is no interference from the weather - or a suicide bomber - the barriers will begin disappearing next week. It is still but a drop in the bucket.
Yair Naveh, who this week determinedly and persuasively opposed Sneh, is a key figure in this story. The GOC is the father of the "separation" system, through which Palestinian movement in the West Bank has been severely limited over the past two years. In effect, Israel has cut off almost all movement between the northern, central and southern West Bank and between Samaria and the Jordan Valley. The move stemmed from an operational constraint: The IDF was having difficulty dealing with the Islamic Jihad network in Jenin and Tul Karm, which was sending suicide bombers across the Green Line.
In this context, the general provided the settlers with dozens of roads nearly devoid of Palestinian traffic. Taken along with about 600 barricades and dirt barriers scattered throughout the West Bank, very often without coordination among the various brigade sectors, insufferable restrictions on Palestinian civilians resulted. But Naveh says his primary and main responsibility is preventing the murder of Jews. Given the general consternation over the failure in Lebanon, the IDF perceives the Central Command as the only contractor of success. The terror threat in its sector is "contained" - that is to say, usually blocked before it reaches Tel Aviv - the system is functioning well, and it spares the chief of staff superfluous headaches.
The bottom line: As always, the field dictates the policy. Barricades may be taken down, but a new warning will quickly bring them back, and only the inhabitants of nearby Palestinian villages will know. The sergeants commanding the barriers, the brigade commanders and the major generals are more influential than any deputy minister or assistant sitting in Tel Aviv.

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Why Jimmy Carter is not an anti-Semite

Why Jimmy Carter is not an anti-Semite

I grew up in the US during the 1970s, the one decade universally acknowledged to have truly sucked. In 1970s America we danced to disco music, wore leisure suits and watched the Brady Bunch. But if that wasn't torture enough, we had Jimmy Carter as our president.

I can still recall how depressing it was to watch his taciturn face on TV announcing one catastrophe after another, from the skyrocketing misery index, to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to the capture of our hostages in Iran, to the tragically-botched rescue attempt to free them.

Jimmy Carter was arguably the most hapless president in all American history, and indeed, today most presidential historians today rate him at or near the very bottom of the list.

Ronald Reagan was able to crush Carter at the polls with the simple slogan "Morning in America," a tacit acknowledgement that under Carter's watch it had been a cold midnight across the fruited plain.

But with the publication of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his ignorant rant against Israel, many in the American Jewish community believe that Carter is not just a loser but an anti-Semite. I disagree.

Jimmy Carter is not so much anti-Semite as anti-intellectual, not so much a Jew-hater as a boor. The real explanation behind his limitless hostility to Israel is a total lack of any moral understanding.

Carter wants to do what's just. His heart's in the right place. He just can't figure out what the right is. He is, and always has been, a man of good intentions bereft of good judgment. He invariably finds himself defending tyrants and dictators at the expense of their oppressed peoples. Not because he is a bad man, but because he is a confused man.

CARTER SUBSCRIBES to what I call the Always Root for the Underdog school of morality. Rather than develop any real understanding of a conflict, immediately he sides with the weaker party, however wicked or immoral.

Israel has tanks and F-16's. The Palestinians don't. Therefore the Palestinians are being oppressed. Never mind that the Palestinians have rejected every offer to live side by side with Israel in peace and elected a government pledged to Israel's annihilation. Their poverty dictates the righteousness of their cause even if their actions speak otherwise.

If Israel builds a barrier to cordon off the Palestinians, it is not to prevent their suicide bombers from dismembering children but to punish them for having darker skin.

Carter's obsession with the unrighteous underdog has embarrassed him many times before. It was what motivated him to visit and legitimize Fidel Castro and take his side in a bio-weapons dispute with the United States. Castro runs a tiny island in the shadow of the world's superpower. He must therefore perforce be a victim of American bullying, even if he is a brutal dictator and tyrant.

Championing the unrighteous underdog also led Carter to praise the murderous North Korean tyrant Kim Il Sung with these words: "I find him to be vigorous, intelligent... and in charge of the decisions about this country." Carter added, "I don't see that [the North Koreans] are an outlaw nation."

He also hailed Marshal Joseph Tito as "a man who believes in human rights," and said of the murderous Romanian dictator Ceausescu: "Our goals are the same: to have a just system of economics and politics... We believe in enhancing human rights."

Championing the underdog also had Carter tell the Haitian dictator Raul C dras that he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country."

AS A MARITAL counselor I have met many well-meaning arbitrators who always take the side of the wife in an ugly dispute in the belief that a woman, inherently weaker than her husband, is always the innocent and aggrieved party. Even where the evidence points to the wife as being violent and unreasonable, such arbitrators cannot conceive of the husband as anything but the oppressor.

Needless to say, such arbitrators cause more harm than good, which is why Jimmy Carter would make an even worse marital counselor than he was president.

No, Carter is not anti-Semitic so much as a man whose lack of judgment and shallowness render him absolutely incapable of telling right from wrong.
Carter's obscene comparison of Israel with apartheid South Africa ignores the fact that Israel is the first country to airlift tens of thousands of black Africans to become free and full citizens in its borders, a phenomenon that has no precedent in the history of the world.
But by saying that the Palestinians are being subjected to apartheid Carter has grossly maligned not Jews, but black South Africans. Whereas black South Africans inspired the world with their humane capacity for forgiveness and peaceful coexistence with their white brethren, even after having been so egregiously wronged, the Palestinians have unfortunately embraced murderous hatred and racism. Arab newspapers routinely publish grotesque caricatures of Jews, and the Palestinians teach kindergarten children to grow up and blow up Israeli buses.

Nelson Mandela rose to become the world's greatest statesman with his articulation of brotherhood and reconciliation. But Yasser Arafat fathered international terrorism and stole hundreds of millions of dollars from his own people.

Which leads to one conclusion: Before one runs around the world as a global do-gooder, one should first develop the ability to identify the good.

The writer, a rabbi, hosts the national television program "Shalom in the Home" and is author most recently of Parenting with Fire: Lighting Up the Family with Passion and Inspiration(

This article can also be read at


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Imam: Holocaust denial cannot be Islamic cause

Imam: Holocaust denial cannot be Islamic cause
Local Muslims visit Holocaust museum

by Andrea Barron
Special to WJW

Eight days after Iran held a two-day conference denying the Nazi Holocaust, Washington-area Muslim leaders gathered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to honor the memory of Jews murdered during the Shoah.

Standing before the eternal flame in the D.C. museum's Hall of Remembrance, they lit candles to remember Jewish suffering.

Muslims "have to learn from the lessons of history and to commit ourselves, never again," said Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling.

Joining him were American University professor Akbar Ahmed, who helped arrange the visit on Wednesday of last week, museum director Sara Bloomfield, three Holocaust survivors, ADAMS president Rizwan Jaka and representatives from the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Arab American Institute.

Magid, whose father had been a mufti of Sudan, had heard about the Teheran conference on his car radio. He wanted to go beyond condemning the event by organizing a delegation of Muslim leaders to declare their solidarity with Jewish victims.

"No Muslim anywhere has the right to turn Holocaust denial into an Islamic cause," the Sudanese native said. "I applaud the Jewish community for making sure humanity never forgets how the Nazis murdered Jews, gypsies and disabled people, including more than 1 million children. They set an example for the rest of us on how to make people more aware of horrors like the genocide in Rwanda and slavery."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saw the Tehran meeting, which brought together Holocaust deniers from all over the world including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, as a vehicle to delegitimize the state of Israel, which he wants to see "wiped off the map."

Bloomfield said she was proud to be standing with her Muslim friends at an institution devoted to history and committed to confronting hatred. Ahmed agreed, but also emphasized that "hate is not only about hating Jews or anti-Semitism, but also about Islamophobia, the hatred of Islam."

The Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Ahmed is a longtime activist in interfaith dialogue. For the past two years, he and Judea Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, have led public dialogues nationwide on Muslim-Jewish reconciliation. Last June, he led a conversation at the museum on "How to tackle Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism in the Muslim world."

Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, said "misguided people" are wrong to question whether the Holocaust took place. "Belittling the suffering of any people contradicts Islamic teachings and the actions of the prophet Muhammad. It's a red line that no one should cross."

A Palestinian who grew up in Amman, Jordan, Awad acknowledged that Jews and Muslims have differences on contemporary issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, he said Muslims are reflecting their faith when they sympathize with how Jews suffered in Europe, and cited a Koranic verse: "Let not the dispute with other people make you swerve you from being just."

Halina Peabody, 74, was one of the Holocaust survivors attending last week's event. The Bethesda resident said she was "overwhelmed with happiness" at this gesture by Muslim leaders.

"This makes me believe there are moderate Muslims, but I keep wondering if they are living under a cloud and are in danger of being assassinated," she worried.

Peabody, her sister and mother had survived the war in their native Poland after buying papers from a priest certifying that they were Catholic.

Another survivor, Silver Spring's Johanna Neumann, and her parents were saved by Njazi and Liza Pilku, Albanian Muslims whose names are inscribed at the Holocaust museum and Yad Vashem among the "Righteous Among the Nations."

The Pilkus hid Neumann's father during the war while the teenage Johanna and her mother passed themselves off as members of the Pilku family.

When Magid lit a candle commemorating victims of the Holocaust, he mentioned the Pilkus. Neumann, 76, was impressed, saying, "I mentioned their name only once in a conversation with him before the candlelighting ceremony."

She and her parents had fled their home in Hamburg, Germany, in early 1939, shortly after Kristallnacht ("Night of the Broken Glass") in November 1938, the date often used to mark the onset of the Holocaust.

On the day after the museum ceremony, Magid led a delegation of 100 Muslims on the annual hajj to Mecca. He said that once he returned, he wanted to invite Neumann to address youth at the Sterling mosque. This would not be the first time that ADAMS reached out to the Jewish community. Last April, it hosted a Jewish-Muslim Passover seder for 30 people in the mosque.

Neumann said she would be pleased to speak there.

"Education is the best way to counteract negative propaganda. I can tell them about how my own experiences and how Albanian Muslims saved more than a thousand Jews from the Nazis," she said. "This is a historical fact that no one can dispute."

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Hamas denies meeting Israelis

Nawaf Hawatmeh, general secretary of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has told Al Jazeera that Hamas officials met Israeli officials in London and prepared what he called the "Geneva Hamas document".

Hamas has denied that any such meeting took place.

In an interview broadcast on Wednesday, Hawatmeh said Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, had given the document to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

The DFLP is a Damascus-based Palestinian group which advocates a tough line in confronting the Israeli occupation.

However, Hawatmeh's claim was challenged by Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon. In an interview aired by Al Jazeera on Thursday, he denied that any meeting between Hamas and Israeli officials in London had taken place.

Abbas said recently that Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, had welcomed the idea of an unofficial line of communication between Palestinians and Israelis.

Arms for Abbas

In another development, Israeli officials said on Thursday that Egypt has sent a large shipment of weapons to the Gaza Strip to shore up Abbas.

They said the shipment of 2,000 automatic rifles and ammunition was approved by Israel and escorted through its territory by police on Wednesday. The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity because the delivery had not been officially confirmed by Israel, the Palestinians or Egypt.

The four lorries then crossed into the Gaza Strip through the Karni checkpoint, the officials said.

The weapons are meant to strengthen Palestinian security services affiliated with Abbas's Fatah, currently engaged in a violent struggle for power with Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament and cabinet.

According to the daily Haaretz, the details of the shipment were settled by Olmert and Abbas at their first official meeting, held in Jerusalem on Saturday night.

However, a spokesman for Abbas denied that any weapons had been transferred. "The talk about the president's security services receiving arms is unfounded and not true at all," Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

Miri Eisin, Olmert's spokeswoman, declined to comment, as did the Israeli defence ministry.

At the meeting on Saturday, Olmert also pledged $100m in withheld tax revenues to the Palestinian president, bypassing the Hamas-led government.

Israeli officials have said Washington has been instrumental in helping to organise a number of past shipments of guns and ammunition to Abbas's presidential guard from Egypt and Jordan.

The Bush administration is seeking congressional support to provide up to $100m to bolster the force and expand Abbas's control over strategic border crossings.

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Correction: Lieberman calls on Israel NOT to move directly into talks with PA

[Note: This is an apparent correction of an earlier Ha'aretz article, which had a "tiny" omission - they forgot the word "not."
Original story, previously circulated:
Lieberman calls on Israel to move directly into talks with PA
By Haaretz Service

Minister of Strategic Threats and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel must move directly into negotiations for a political
Emphasis has been added by Mewnews below. ]
Last update - 20:02 28/12/2006   

Lieberman calls on Israel not to move directly into talks with PA
By Haaretz Service

Minister of Strategic Threats and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel must not move directly into negotiations for a political settlement with Palestinians and give up efforts at achieving security, Israel Radio reported.
"We must promise a complete end to rocket fire on the southern communities," he said. "Coming to negotiations from a weak stance means receiving a weak political settlement."
Lieberman also said Israel should, however, initiate joint financial projects with Palestinians in order to help them improve their economic situation.
The minister's comments came two days after two teenage boys were badly wounded when a Qassam rocket slammed into the street near where they were walking in the western Negev town of Sderot.
In response to the attack, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the Israel Defense Forces to resume pinpoint operations on rocket launchers but to maintain a general policy of restraint.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas proposed Wednesday the start of "backdoor" negotiations with Israel on the most difficult problems of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Recent weeks have seen a growing momentum toward reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with Olmert meeting Abbas on Saturday and the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan Washington commission, reporting to U.S. President George W. Bush that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would contribute to reducing the conflict in Iraq.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Three Iranians seeking conversion to Judaism denied Israel visas

Last update - 08:25 28/12/2006   

Three Iranians seeking conversion to Judaism denied Israel visas
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent
Three Iranians interested in converting to Judaism recently left their native country, but have been unable to find any entity to assist them.
The three Shi'ite Muslims left Iran and approached the Israeli embassy and Jewish communities in Azerbaijan, but were rejected. It is impossible to convert to Judaism in Iran, as they would be considered heretics, a crime punishable by death. They are now waiting in a makeshift city in Turkey for a United Nations hearing on their application for refugee status.
The three left Iran two months ago and immediately approached the Israeli embassy in Baku. According to N., they were given a chilly reception. N. points out that embassy officials did not invite them into the building, but talked to them on the street.
"We told them we want visas to Israel in order to convert," N. recounts. "They told us that if we are not Jewish, our parents aren't Jewish and we have no family members in Israel, we cannot get visas."
The three also did not receive warm welcomes in Baku synagogues. At one place of worship, they were laughed at, at another - locked out. They were told there is no rabbinical court that can handle conversion in Baku.
N. says he became interested in other religions while still a practicing Shi'ite, and learned that Judaism was the basis of the other religions. N. wrote to the United Nations: "Since I stopped obeying the Muslim commandments, my soul has sought a way home. In order to be a complete Jew, it is necessary to undergo official processes."
Iran does not officially allow its citizens to travel to Israel, although many of the 25,000-strong Jewish community have done so through Turkey.
The three potential converts are now waiting for a February hearing date, and dependent on financial help from their families. "The Iranian authorities are aware of our plans. They can't hurt us so they are trying to harm our families." They hope to get assistance from some Israeli or Jewish institutions.
Contact with the three is mostly through e-mail and the occasional phone call from N., who always verifies at the beginning of each call that recent e-mails really originated in Israel and not with Iranian security forces.
The Foreign Ministry stated that the three approached the Baku embassy on a weekend when offices were closed, and have not returned. They would have been helped during regular office hours. The ministry also noted that Israeli law prohibits entry to Israel for the purposes of conversion, although there is an appeals committee to examine specific cases.

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Lieberman: End of a Zionist bogeyman? Not quite

28.12. 2006
Original content copyright by the author
Zionism & Israel Center

Anti-Zionists need a Zionist bogeyman, an archetypal greedy evil and bloodthirsty Israeli villain who combines the worst features of Attila the Hun, Joe Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. A Jewish Hassan Nasrallah or Ahmadinejad. If none is available, they invent one, or they work with the available materials. At the same time, they are busy explaining that the actual Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad are not really as bad as they seem, or are in reality the fault of the Zionists. The previous candidate for Zionist bogeyman was Ariel Sharon. His controversial and erratic military record and policies, and his outspoken and demagogic rhetoric, made Sharon an ideal candidate for the office of bogeyman. Add to that a faked interview with Amos Oz, and fabricated quotes from interviews with non-existent people like "General Ouzi Merham" and we have the quintessential Zionist Bogeyman myth. Sharon's apogee as Zionist bogeyman undoubtedly came in 2002, when Israel at length responded to a wave of lethal suicide bombings that took the lives of over a hundred civilians by invading Jenin and killing about 56 people, of whom perhaps half were civilians. The forces of darkness worked overtime. The UN condemned the imaginary Jenin massacre, scarcely paying any attention to the actual massacre of Jews by suicide bombers. The Independent, a bastion of progressive anti-Semitism, published an award winning cartoon of Sharon eating babies, which has now become a classic pillar of racist rhetoric, along with Mein Kampf and the Eternal Jew.

Sharon's bogeyman career was not terminated by his adoption of the unilateral disengagement policy. Disengagement was converted, somehow, into another villainous Zionist genocidal plot, because facts don't matter for anti-Zionist propaganda. Whatever Israel does, it is evil Zionist expansionism. If Israel retreats, it is reverse expansionism. If Israel offers a Palestinian state, it is apartheid and bantustans.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Media experts meet to discuss how Mideast war is waged on TV and the web

Media experts meet to discuss how Mideast war is waged on TV and the web
By israelinsider staff  December 28, 2006 
Scenes and subtitles from documentary by German television (NDR/ZAPP)
It's no secret that the global clash of civilizations is being fought to the death on a screen near you. There is a hot frontier in today's global clash of civilization -- the mass media, and especially the Internet, where even poor terrorists can loom large in providing training, recruitment and operational guidance. After decades of relative silence, scholars, journalists, and military experts alarmed by jihadist media tactics came together to discuss how to fight on this 21st century front.

Participants of the 7th Annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel's National Security, entitled "The Media as a Theater of War, the Blogosphere, and the Global Battle for Civil Society," examined the national security lessons for Israel and the West to be gained from recent incidents of the use and misuse of the media in war.

Initiated by noted historian Boston University Professor Richard Landes, the conference attracted hundreds of visitors to the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya last week. Landes, a medievalist by training, has turned his attention in recent years to analyzing how the media is serving as a modern battlefield in the clash of civilizations, playing an influential role in the global battle for "civil society," in his scholarly work, the Augean Stables blog, and the media conference, considered the largest such gathering since CAMERA launched the first "media and mideast" conference back in 1989.

"The main theme of this conference is that reality bites, and it bites with sound bites and megabytes," Landes told Israel Insider. "The conference capitalized on the sense of urgency so many of us feel around addressing the problem of how the media portrays Israel and also how Israel and the advocacy community can use the media to good effect," he said.

"The attitude until now has been to be as conciliatory as possible," regarding accusations made against Israel in the media, "which is the Oslo method." The conciliatory view, as in Oslo, marginalized the assertive view. "What I think needs to happen is that we need to play 'tough cop-nice cop' and not undermine each other."

For some others, the conference represented a "coming out party" for a group of under-recognized but influential Middle East media experts, wrote Ami Isseroff, a blogger-participant from ZioNation.

These scholars, journalists, and PR experts "have been laboring to bring people the truth about what is happening in the Middle East, including the inconvenient bits left out by the 'mainstream' media," said Isseroff.

Incidents in which stories were faked and then distributed by the mainstream Western media, such as the infamous Qana incident, were exposed by online watchdogs as pro-jihad propaganda.

Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, added that Israeli spokesmen could do a better job of selling Israel's case by avoiding speaking what he called "American English." He argued that using terminology that is largely associated with the Bush Administration automatically aligns much of the world against Israel.

Instead, Regev suggested enlarging Israel's support base by speaking the language of "international legitimacy."

One focal point of the conference was the notorious distortion of the death of Muhammed Al-Dura, a Palestinian boy who was caught in the gunfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen and became a pivotal symbol of "martyrdom."

Despite expert examination which showed that video of the incident had been faked by French and Palestinian cameramen to make it look as if the Israeli soldiers shot the boy, most of the mainstream media reported the fabrication as truth -- Israel never even contested the frame-up.

Nidra Poller, the noted journalist and Paris Editor of Pajamas Media, explained that in producing an episode where Jews were falsely portrayed as wanting the blood of children, the jihad media and its Western distributors have created a modern day blood libel.

Media expert Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, showed how the boy's death was used as a propaganda tool to entice other Palestinian children to martyrdom.

A television commercial targeting children showed a photo of Al-Dura and quoted him as saying, "I wave my hand to you, not in parting, but to tell you to follow me as martyrs."

Another video clip showed by Marcus exhorts a small Palestinian child to massacre.

The popular show for preschool-age children features a small yellow hatchling bird who tells a young girl that if someone were to cut down his tree he would, "Call the whole world and make a riot! I'll bring AK-47s and the whole world. I'll commit a massacre in front of the house."

Despite the shock in the audience, many of the seasoned experts such as Dr. Raanan Gissin, strategic consultant and former advisor to Ariel Sharon, Jonathan Davis, a veteran of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, Joe Hyams of Honest Reporting, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, Israel Insider publisher Reuven Koret, and renowned "national pacifier" Nachman Shai (so named for his cool and reassuring demeanor as IDF spokesman during nightly SCUD attacks in the first Gulf War), appearing on a panel about the second Lebanon War, observed that what they were seeing has been going on for years.

Koret, who coined and popularized the term "Hezbollywood," spoke about the way Hezbollah exploited civilian deaths in Qana during this year's Lebanon war: "Bloggers did what the mainstream media and the Israeli government did not do: show that reports of a massacre were untrue, that deaths were exaggerated, and that the aftermath was crudely staged."

Blogs, such as Richard North's EU Referendum which did in-depth analysis based on photographs of the incident, investigated the role of a supposed "rescue worker" -- 'Green Helmet' as the man came to be known -- who played the role of director and lead actor in the staging.

Bloggers discovered that 'Green Helmet', who had posed as a rescue worker in the 1996 Qana incident, holding up a dead baby, was busy -- while wearing the same headgear -- performing a similar role in the 2006 Qana episode: North documented that he was shown holding the same dead infant in at least eight different locations, directing photographers to be sure that the media was there to snap photos as he displayed the body -- in one case tossing it into the air -- for all to see.

"Keep on filming!" he screamed at the photographers (many of whom were from mainstream media organizations), who complied without question or protest. "Better images must be shot!"

Continued (Permanent Link)

Drop this cherished illusion

Dec. 27, 2006 21:48 | Updated Dec. 27, 2006 22:25
Drop this cherished illusion
Does anyone really think it is possible to reach a settlement with the Palestinians that will guarantee peace between us?
I can understand that there are those who believe it may be possible to reach a settlement. And I can understand that there are those who hope it is possible to reach a settlement. But does anyone really think it is possible to make peace with the Palestinians - I mean, really think so?
How can one not see the rift among them, their inability to administer their own lives, Fatah's helplessness, Hamas's abysmal hatred, the murderousness of the popular resistance organizations, the destructive influence of radical Islam, the interference of Iran and the belief - so deeply rooted in almost every Arab heart - that, sooner or later, Israel will disappear off the map?
How can anyone see all that and still think there is a chance for a peace settlement? Or that all the different Palestinian factions, so hostile not only to us but to each other, will somehow find a way to cooperate in order to reach a settlement with Israel?
EVEN IF Israel agreed to withdraw to the 1967 borders (and it doesn't); even if Israel agreed to allow the refugees to return to Israel within the 1967 borders (and it doesn't); would Hamas ever recognize the right of a Jewish state to exist in the heart of the Muslim Middle East?
After all, Hamas's entire raison d'etre is founded on its refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist. Its members would sooner convert to Judaism than relinquish that principle.
True, anything is possible. But not in the foreseeable future. Not in this generation. And if not the Palestinians, then radical Islam will make sure there is no peace agreement with Israel.
Iran on one side and al-Qaida on the other are threatening not only Israel, but the regimes in Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well. Israel isn't even their first target, it is their last.
WHAT SHOULD we conclude from all this? That the time has come to emigrate from Israel? Maybe give in to the Arabs' demands? Perhaps put an end to the Zionist enterprise and close up shop?
Never. Israel will continue to exist and flourish, as it has existed and flourished since the establishment of the state, thanks, among other reasons, to the Arab boycott, which forced it to export computer software to America and Europe instead of making plastic toys for the market in Damascus. (Did any of us ever imagine that the shekel might one day become stronger than the dollar, or that we would export more than we import?)
Yet, while the leaders of the Islamic countries have not accepted Israel's existence in principle, they have accepted it in fact - and only because they know they cannot wipe Israel off the map without themselves being wiped off as well.
And that, rather than any pie-in-the-sky, illusory hope for the brotherhood of nations, is the basis for the relationship between us. In the entire Muslim world, numbering over a billion people, one would be hard-pressed to find even a dozen willing to stand up and justify Israel's existence.
THIS DOES not mean we should forget about striving for peace. We must behave as if we believed that it was possible to achieve a peace settlement. Why? Because if we do not strive for peace, the result will be war. And we do not want war.
But even as we strive for peace, even if we follow the road map, we mustn't delude ourselves. We won't arrive at peace, not here.
But it may be possible to reach a modus vivendi, a balance of terror and a balance of mutual interests that will enable us to lead our lives more or less normally. And not just for a year or two, but for generations.
If we foster no illusions, we won't be disappointed.
The writer is a former Knesset member.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Lieberman supports arms delivery to Fatah

Lieberman supports arms delivery to Fatah Staff, THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 28, 2006

Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that he
supported the arms delivery to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas'
Presidential Guard.

During an interview with Israel Radio, Lieberman said that "these arms will
help the forces fighting Hamas and Jihad," adding that it was "a calculated
risk worth taking."

Continued (Permanent Link)

[Interview:] The Livni Plan

The Livni Plan
By Ari Shavit Haaretz Magazine Section 29 December 2006

Does Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have a clear diplomatic plan that she is
trying to promote? Livni implies that she does, but refuses to explain. She
speaks of the two-state vision. She talks about the need to divide the
country politically. She speaks of the fact that she has a clear,
high-resolution picture of what can be done vis-a-vis our Palestinian
neighbors in the coming year. However, she does not explain what the plan
really is, the nature of the operative Israeli idea now under discussion.

Apparently the idea is as follows: to promote a diplomatic process by means
of a package of gestures that includes transferring money to the
Palestinians, releasing prisoners and bringing in the Egyptians to help stop
the arms smuggling on the Philadelphi route. Then, to conduct negotiations
with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas about the second stage of
the road map and about the establishment of a Palestinian state within
interim borders. Then, to convene the moderate Arab countries to give him
backing. And then, to hold elections in the PA in which the moderates will
have a reasonable chance because they will be able to offer the Palestinian
public a clear and existing political horizon.

And only then, if the moderates do in fact win, to return to the first stage
of the road map, to deal with the dismantling of the terror infrastructure
and to begin to move forward toward the evacuation of the settlements, a
reduction of the occupation and the establishment of a real Palestinian
state, while ensuring Israel's security needs and receiving international
guarantees that Israel will be recognized as a Jewish state and will not be
asked to absorb Palestinian refugees.

Can this plan be implemented? Isn't it totally divorced from reality? The
foreign minister is very careful not to mention any details, but she
radiates optimism. She is full of self-confidence, is Livni. Energetic. Upon
leaving a meeting with hostile European MPs, she is full of adrenaline. The
challenges with which she presented them. The arguments with which she
surprised them. The way in which she convinced them that they themselves
don't want to return to the 1967 lines. And when she finally sits down in
her armchair and treats herself to some chocolate, Livni tries to overcome
the directness that is gushing from her and to become formal once again. To
become a stateswoman. To be the real alternative to the prime minister.

Palestinians? Two states for two peoples

Tzipi Livni, it's been 10 months since you became foreign minister. Have you
learned anything you didn't know before?

"As a person, I haven't changed. I think I've learned how significant
diplomacy is. I've seen how much the right conversation between leaders can
influence decision-making. That doesn't meant there are no vested interests.
That doesn't mean there are no political constraints. But in the end it's
people. And in most cases these are people who want to do the right thing.
That's why if you identify the common interest but also show them our real
argument, they'll listen to you. You can change things that are

What do you see as the main challenge now facing Israel?

"I'm disturbed by the process of turning national conflicts into religious
ones. And the Iranian issue is, of course, a problem. But my main commitment
is to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I think that the conflict between
Israel and the Palestinians is a keg of gunpowder that we're sitting on and
for which we have to find a solution. Time is not on the side of the
moderates on both sides. Time is working against a solution of two

And is the two-state solution still relevant? Is the present government
committed to dividing the country?

"Of course."

The practical significance of dividing the country is the establishment of a
Palestinian state as soon as possible.

"Yes. Yes. My vision says that the principle of two nation-states is not
only an Israeli gift to the Palestinian but a promotion of Israel's

And do you believe that the establishment of a Palestinian state during the
term of this government is a possible goal?

"I don't like to set timetables. I'm not talking only about a Palestinian
state but about two nation-states living in peace side by side. And in my
view there is a Palestinian public that considers this goal its own as well.
Up until now, the Palestinians have missed every opportunity. They could
have been celebrating the 60th anniversary of their state - had they
accepted the Partition Plan - and alternatively they could have been
celebrating the sixth anniversary of their state - had they accepted the
Camp David ideas.

"But I believe that today there is another opportunity. The moderate
Palestinians must understand that Islamization and religious extremism are
working not only against Israel, but against every Palestinian who wants a
nation-state of his own."

In effect, do you see the government bringing about a significant change in
Judea and Samaria in the coming years?

"If that doesn't happen, it's because the Palestinians have become more

But do you, for your part, have the determination to bring about this
dramatic change?

"Absolutely. And I'm not talking only about a vision. I'm talking about an
operative diplomatic plan with quite a high resolution. I won't reveal all
the details to you now, but I can tell you that I, for my part, know exactly
what must be done."

Do you propose returning to the road map?

"The road map contains stages, not content. It lacks content to a certain
extent. It affirms that in the second stage, a state with temporary borders
and symbols of sovereignty will be established. But what does that mean? I
think that in talks with the Palestinians, I can get into details on this

"I think that I can conduct talks with Abbas that will clarify what they
want to achieve in the two-state vision. On the one hand, I want to anchor
my interests on the security issue, demilitarization and the refugee
problem, and on the other I want to create a genuine alternative for the
Palestinians that includes a solution to their national problem. If we
achieve such an alternative, the moderate Palestinians will have to receive
a mandate to implement it. At a certain point, it will also be necessary to
bring in moderate Arab countries to support the plan. It may also be
possible to formulate some of the basic principles of the final status
agreement, even if it's impossible to reach such an agreement now."

You're optimistic.

"Anyone who lives in the Middle East and has his feet on the ground cannot
permit himself to be optimistic. But I see a type of opportunity. On the one
hand, we're surrounded by a growing threat and extremism and zealotry. But
on the other hand, precisely because of this threat, moderate countries and
moderate factors in the region understand today that their problem is not

"I think that this opportunity must not be missed. At least we must examine
it. We must clarify for ourselves whether it has a chance."

But meanwhile Qassam rockets are falling on Sderot. What you are proposing
is negotiations under fire.

"Even during Sharon's term of office, I claimed that we shouldn't say that
we won't talk under fire, but that we won't make concessions under fire. We
have an obligation to work to stop the Qassams. As of today, as we speak, I
don't think that it's right to carry out a dramatic military operation for
that purpose. But even if the situation changes and there is no escaping
some kind of incursion, at the end of the operation the diplomatic question
will remain the same. The plan that I am proposing can also be a consequence
of such an operation."

And aren't you afraid that if we leave the territories in Judea and Samaria
in the near future, the Qassams and Katyushas will pursue us?

"The plan that I'm talking about must provide an answer to the problem of
steep-trajectory firing. That is one of the reasons why I prefer a
consensual diplomatic process to a unilateral one. I think that after the
disengagement, it's absolutely clear that we cannot simply throw down the
keys and leave. The separation fence provided a solution for the suicide
bombers and it began the process of partition, but it is not providing a
solution to the present security problems. We have to find an answer for
them in a diplomatic context."

Is the separation fence a reference point for you for dividing the country?


And do you believe that the present government will be capable of evacuating
the tens of thousands of settlers living to the east of the fence?

"The behavior of the Palestinians in Gaza after the disengagement creates a
major problem. But I believe that in the final analysis, if a reasonable
solution is found for the security issues, most of the Israeli public will
support this process."

What you are in effect proposing is a return to the convergence plan. But
your convergence is a convergence in agreement with the Palestinians.

"I didn't use the term convergence a year ago, and I certainly won't use it

But in effect that is your vision. That's what you're aiming for.

"The vision is the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people,
which provides a solution for the problem of the Jewish people and for
Jewish refugees, and provides a national expression for each and every Jew,
and alongside it a Palestinian state that is the national home of the
Palestinian nation, which provides a total solution for the problem of the
Palestinian nation and the Palestinian refugees, and provides a national
expression for each and every Palestinian. I feel that I have the obligation
to make that happen."

Syria? I'd remain silent

And Syria? What will happen with Syria meanwhile?

"I'm not ruling out anything. The question is mainly one of timing and wise
tactics. Here, too, it's clear that we want to achieve peace. But when you
enter negotiations, you have to know what you'll do if they fall apart."

Have you undergone the same ideological process in relation to the Golan
Heights that you underwent in relation to Judea and Samaria? As far as
you're concerned, is there no basic deterrent to leaving the Golan Heights?

"Anyone who talks about a future discussion with Syria understands that we
are talking about the Golan Heights."

In other words, there is no basic problem here. You're simply afraid that a
possible failure of negotiations with Assad will increase the chances of

"In the Syrian context, it's not clear what outcome we will have at the end
of the process. There is a package that we call peace. At this point,
entering negotiations will not lead to this outcome, but will enable Syria
to enter Lebanon through the door rather than through the window. At the
moment, I must take that into consideration. Syria knows exactly what it
must do in order to be part of the international community, but it is doing
the opposite. The meddling in Lebanon, the embargo on the Syria-Lebanon
border, Gilad Shalit. There is a gap between Syrian statements and Syrian

Some people in the Israel Defense Forces top brass and the intelligence
community are warning that in the wake of the Lebanon war, the status quo
with the Syrians is over. Now it's either-or. If there is no progress within
a few months, there will be deterioration. Maybe even war.

"Like everything in life, the Syrian issue is also a matter of timing. I
think the statements on the subject do not contribute a thing. Neither the
refusal to negotiate nor the peace festivities contributes a thing."

In that case, you wouldn't openly refuse the Syrians?

"I would remain silent. I don't think I have to reply every time someone
offers me a microphone. There is significance to what a foreign minister
says. There is significance to what a prime minister says."

But meanwhile the impression is being created that we are refusing. The
Syrians are knocking at our gate, begging for peace, and we're slamming the
door in their face.

"I'm not sure that the Syrians are begging for peace. We want peace. They
want negotiations."

In that case, the right thing to do is to expose the bluff. But we aren't
doing that because we are obeying the orders of the Americans.

"It's not only the Americans. Many people all over the world understand the
problematic nature of Syria. Many understand that the Syrians must be

What you are saying is that certain Europeans are also cool to the idea of
Israeli talks with Assad at the present time?

"Cool? That's an understatement. Go to France."

But neither France nor the United States will bear the results of this
policy. As before the Yom Kippur War, the government of which you are a
member is waiting for a phone call. Aren't you afraid that in the future
we'll see this winter as the winter in which we didn't prevent war?

"I ask myself that question every day. That's why I think it's proper to
conduct a situation assessment every day. To examine at every moment whether
conditions have changed. As of today, Syria is totally involved in terror.
It is doing as it pleases in Lebanon and is trying to bring down the Siniora

Really? And I thought that the situation on the northern border is
excellent. The declarations of the prime minister convinced me that our
historic victory in the second Lebanon war led to a situation where
Hezbollah was smashed, Nasrallah is in a bunker and the situation of the
moderates in Lebanon has never been better.

"I still think that the situation in Lebanon is better than it was. But the
pressure on Siniora and his government is disturbing."

The war? And I say, boys, stop it

Do you view the war as a success?

"The diplomatic result of the war - UN General Assembly Resolution 1701 - is
a success. It reflects the Israeli interest. But there were failures in the
war. There were failures. Something very negative happened to the public as
a result of the war."

What happened?

"There was a huge gap between the expectations and the reality. And it's not
that the public got up in the morning and said 'I expect.' This gap was fed.
There was a problematic dynamic of talk and of declarations and of raising

Were there moments when you looked around you and saw belligerence?

"Yes, yes."

Was there an excess of enthusiasm at the beginning of the war?

"Yes. About everything. It was a real heartache. The period that was hardest
for me was the period of euphoria. I wasn't there."

Did you return from meetings with a heavy heart?

"Forget it. I don't want to talk about personal feelings. But did I have a
heavy heart during that period? Yes."

What was the root of the problem?

"I think that from the second day of the war, it was clear that the exit
would have to be political. The military campaign was important to make it
clear that Israel will not conduct business as usual when soldiers are
kidnapped, but the campaign couldn't stand on its own. That's why I thought
that the exit must be diplomatic and immediate."

Did you support a diplomatic exit from the war right from the start?

"From the second day. I wanted us to begin to create it then. That was the
great difficulty. Part of the leadership and certainly the army had a
feeling that the issue was the military campaign itself. Whereas I thought
that the military campaign had to be only an entry point to a diplomatic
process. People expected the military campaign to produce something that it
couldn't provide."

Did you think that it was possible to arrive at a good diplomatic exit point
at a much earlier stage?

"And that it should be done immediately. After the blow of the first night,
we should have been concerned about how the future would look. And how the
future will look is more than a military campaign."

Did you see male hormones raging around you?

"Sometimes there are guy issues."

Was there a guy problem in the conduct of the war?

"Not only in the war. In all kinds of discussions, I hear arguments between
generals and admirals and such and I say guys, stop it. There's something of
that here."

Did the Israel Defense Forces worry you during the course of the war?

"Yes. During those days, the thinking was too militaristic. But I think that
today, in the wake of the war, there's a better understanding that the
strategy cannot be only military. They understand that in the army too. At
the beginning of the war, some people thought that the diplomatic role was
to provide the army with time. That's understandable: In the past we always
achieved, we conquered, we released, we won, and then the world came and
took away from us. The victory was military and the failure political. But
this time it was the opposite."

So what should be changed now? What cannot be repeated in the next war?

"We have to tell the army officers that they're wonderful and they know how
to do wonderful things, but we also have to ask them how. We have to ask
them more questions. To ask the right questions."

And the right questions weren't asked?

"The main question that must be asked is, Then what? Okay, do such and such
a thing, but then what."

Iran? People know what they know

In light of the way in which Olmert, Peretz and you conducted the small war
in Lebanon, do you have confidence in your ability to conduct the major
battle against Iran?


Don't you feel a need to expand the government?

"It's not as though there is someone outside the government who has a magic
solution in his hat."

Can Israeli citizens sleep peacefully when Olmert, Peretz and Livni are
repelling the Iranian threat?

"Yes. There's always room for improvement. But that's not something that is
a function of a different coalition or a different composition of the
cabinet. I feel very confident about what I want to do and what I'm capable
of doing. Nor do I feel any lack of group confidence on this issue."

And the Iranian threat itself - how serious is it?

"The danger of Iranian nukes is more than just the Iranian nuke. The fear is
of a domino effect. Many countries in the region understand that the
combination of Iranian ideology and a nuclear bomb is not something that
they can tolerate. Therefore, if Iran goes nuclear, they will do one of two
things: Either they will compete with Iran or they will join it. Countries
that can develop nuclear weapons on their own will do so in order to compete
with Iran, and countries that cannot develop nuclear weapons will join the
neighborhood bully, Iran.

"For many of the moderate countries in the Middle East, the choice will be
between creating their own bomb or asking for sponsorship. That will have
two consequences: widespread nuclear proliferation not only to countries but
to terror organizations as well, a fact that will change all the
international rules of the game on the nuclear issue, and moderate countries
being dragged toward the extremist ones. The world cannot permit itself a
nuclear Iran."


"My texts are different."

Is the threat dramatic?

"Israel has been a threatened country during all the years of its existence.
We are a country that lived under threats for many years and knew how to
deal with them. There's a problem here. On the one hand, you can hear even
me saying terrible things about the Iranian threat, all over the world. And
it's true. But I wouldn't want the citizens of the country to reach an
almost physical sense of dread. The public today is filled with anxiety and
that bothers me. We are here and we will be here for many years to come. We
and our children and our children's children after us."

The things you are saying are heartwarming. But the feeling is that
Ahmadinejad is continually marching forward and there is nobody stopping

"It's true that Ahmadinejad is moving forward. And it's true that he must be
stopped. But nobody has given up. Neither the Israeli government nor the

Do you see enough determination and ability in the West to stop the Iranian
nuclear bomb? Don't you think that both the West and Israel have failed so
far in a big way in their attempts at stopping it?

"Everyone agrees about the need to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.
The problem is that the attempt to arrive at consensus decisions at the UN
leads to delays in the timetables and to compromises. That's why even the
decision taken this week in the UN Security Council was taken very late, and
deals only with soft sanctions. There is a need to impose harsh sanctions on
Iraq, immediate and unequivocal ones. Most members of the Security Council
understand that."

It's not too late?

"The important point is the acquisition of know-how. The crossing of the
technological threshold."

Crossing the threshold is liable to take place in 2007. Maybe even in the
coming months. "Israeli policy is to lower our profile on the Iranian issue.
And if I continue to answer your questions that won't be lowering our
profile. We have to be aware of the fact that time is working against us.
But we are working. We're in a process. We're maintaining international
awareness of the Iranian threat."

And not only that. We're doing even better, and coming out with a series of
unprecedented declarations that create a feeling that the policy of
ambiguity has changed. Did you like the declarations?

"To be fair, it must be said that a problem has been created. Even in places
where they understand the Iranian threat, they were forced to respond
aggressively on this matter because of inner discomfort stemming from the
fact that Israel is seen as a threat. But a large part of the impression was
created due to media coverage."

Are the media to blame?

"The media are always to blame. By definition."

Is there a change in the policy of ambiguity?

"There's no change. I'm a partner in this context and there is no decision
about a change in policy."

And shouldn't there be a change?

"No. What people know they know."

Shouldn't the change in the situation lead to an increase in the level of
Israeli deterrence vis-a-vis Iran?

"Israel has deterrent power in this area. People know what they have to

Are you aware of the fact that since the Lebanon war there has been a sense
of profound crisis in Israel?

"I see it. People have a feeling of an existential threat. If there is
anything that disturbs me, it's the sense that people feel a need for
physical survival. I think that's extreme. There's no justification for
that. But this process disturbs me because it has internal consequences.
Anyone who can is beginning to think in family terms of bank accounts
abroad, to send the child to study abroad, a foreign language, a foreign
passport. I feel that's wrong both from a Zionist and a social point of
view. Because this is being done by those who are able, and that increases
the distress of those who are unable."

The distress does not stem only from the external threat. It also stems from
the sense that there is a leadership crisis in Israel.

"That's the situation. I can't argue with feelings. Yes. It exists."

Olmert? I'll run if I have to

You were close to Sharon. What did Sharon give the Israeli public and what
was lost with his leaving?

"Sharon provided a sense of security. The public does not expect the
leadership never to make mistakes. The public expects the person who is
sitting there on top to have the right considerations. To consider the good
of the nation and the country over the long term rather than in the here and

"That's why the question is not whether the leadership makes mistakes. It's
natural to make mistakes. The question is whether there is someone sitting
and weighing things in such a way that even if he makes a mistake, it will
not be a dramatic one. And if he makes a mistake, he'll know how to fix it.
That's how it was with Sharon. Slower movement is good."

Do you remember the moment of Sharon's collapse?

"Yes. There was that terrible night. When most of the night you crossed your
fingers. A silent prayer. And then I went to Jerusalem and I had a buzzing
in my head that the public is looking toward Jerusalem and it needs a
government in Jerusalem. Otherwise everything will fall apart. I remember
the feeling that they were looking at us, and now we would either take
responsibility or everything would fall apart. And we had to convey the
message that there was a responsible adult. There are responsible adults.
And that we were together.

"Therefore, when I heard people in the media already talking about the fact
that there were two heads - Olmert and me - I knew we had to cut off a head
immediately, and that was my head. I approached the television cameras and
said that there was a deputy prime minister and that we were standing behind
him and with him."

And when you look back after a year - did you fulfill the assignment? Is
there a responsible adult in Jerusalem? "I know that the public feels

Are you satisfied with the government in which you are serving?

"The fact is that the public feels a lack of confidence."

And what is the source of that feeling?

"The leadership in Israel is a very lonely place, unfortunately. I believe
in teamwork. But in teamwork, you also expose weaknesses. That's why many
politicians in Israel refrain from that. I feel that the problem is one of
an absence of teamwork as it should be."

We all hope that the term of Prime Minister Olmert will continue for as long
as possible. But after the Olmert era, do you see yourself qualified for the

"In terms of qualifications, yes. I did not set my sights on being prime
minister. I really didn't. It's something that was created. A while ago, I
would have answered you differently. But there was a process here that has
prepared me."

So that as far as you're concerned, you've grown and matured and today
you're qualified to be prime minister?

"I'm qualified to be prime minister."

So when the Olmert era is over, you're next in line?

"If I see that at the point when the contest takes place, there are missions
that I haven't completed and that I must complete and I'll be able to
complete by being prime minister - I'll run for the premiership."

Is there a possibility that you would run against Olmert?

"I've told you what my test is. It's not personal. It's not connected to
some identity or other. If I can do what I believe in and receive that same
cooperation that we discussed - I'm happy where I am. If I can't do that,
I'll compete for the place where I can do it, which is the place of prime

I don't hear any outright rejection of running against Olmert.

"I'm interested not in the job but in the issue. I entered politics first
and foremost to further the diplomatic issue. At the point where I am, that
can be done if there is support from the prime minister. Therefore, if I
have such support and I can do what I believe I must, I won't look for the
next slot. If not, I'll run for prime minister."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Polls: Extend ceasefire 36%:47%, Terror will break Israeli society 15%:68% Support gestures Olmert gave Abu Mazen 33%:49%

Polls: Extend ceasefire 36%:47%, Terror will break Israeli society 15%:68%
Support gestures Olmert gave Abu Mazen 33%:49%
Dr. Aaron Lerner     Date:  28 December 2006

Telephone poll of a representative sample of 595 adult Israelis (including
Arab Israelis) carried out by Maagar Mohot Survey Institute (headed by
Professor Yitzchak Katz for Israel Radio's "Its all Talk" on 27 December
2006.  Statistical error +/- 4.5 percentage points.

[29 November:  Do you support or oppose the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip?
Total: Support 66% Oppose 19% Other 15%
Voted Kadima: Support 76% Oppose 15% Other 9%
Voted Likud: Support 44% Oppose 22% Other 34%
Voted Labor: Support 78% Oppose 6% Other 16%
Voted Yisrael Beiteinu: Support 43% Oppose 48% Other 9%]

27 December
Do you support or oppose continuing the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip?
Total: Support 36% Oppose 47% Other 17%
Voted Kadima: Support 26% Oppose 48% Other 26%
Voted Likud: Support 38% Oppose 56% Other 6%
Voted Labor: Support 48% Oppose 32% Other 20%
Voted Yisrael Beiteinu: Support 6% Oppose 88% Other 6%

Do you think that the Palestinians are correct or mistaken in their belief
that additional terror pressure on Israel will cause a breakdown of Israeli
Total: Correct 15% Mistaken 68% Other 17%
Voted Kadima: Correct 44% Mistaken 78% Other 18%
voted Likud: Correct 25%  Mistaken 69% Other 6%
Voted Labor: Correct 12% Mistaken 64% Other 24%
Voted Yisrael Beiteinu: Correct 12% Mistaken 82% Other 6%

Do you support or oppose peace talks with Syrian president Assad?
Total: Support 58% Oppose 29% Other 13%
Voted Kadima: Support 61% Oppose 30% Other 9%
Voted Likud: Support 19% Oppose 69% Other 12%
Voted Labor: Support 88% Oppose 4% Other 8%
Voted Yisrael Beiteinu: Support 35% Oppose 47% Other 18%

Do you support or oppose the gestures that prime minister Olmert granted to
PA head Abu Mazen (Mahbous Abbas) in their meeting this week?
Total: Support 33% Oppose 49% Other 18%
Voted Kadima: Support 48% Oppose 39% Other 13%
Voted Likud: Support 19% Oppose 75% Other 6%
Voted Labor: Support 36% Oppose 36% Other 28%
Voted Yisrael Beiteinu: Support 18% Oppose 71% Other 11%

Does the 2007 State budget meet the social-welfare needs of Israel?
Total: Yes 5% No 55% Other 40%
Voted Kadima: Yes 2% No 56% Other 42%
Voted Likud: Yes 19% No 63% Other 18%
Voted Labor: Yes 0% No 58% Other 42%
Voted Israel Beiteinu: Yes 12% No 53% Other 35%

Can prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz cooperate
between themselves on defense matters even though according to minister
Peretz, the level of cooperation between them reached zero?
Total: Yes 14% No 60% Other 26%
Voted Kadima: Yes 13% No 70% Other 17%
Voted Likud: Yes 13% No 69% Other 18%
Voted Labor: Yes 32% No 36% Other 32%
Voted Yisrael Beiteinu: Yes 6% No 92% Other 2%

Do you think that the boycotting of the Chanukah party of Arkadi Gaydamak by
secular MKs and ministers was justified?
Total: Yes 22% No 42% Other 36%
Voted Kadima: Yes 26% No 48% Other 26%
Voted Likud: Yes 6% No 88% Other 6%
Voted Labor: Yes 32% No 16% Other 52%
Voted Yisrael Beiteinu: Yes 6% No 59% Other 35%
Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
(mail POB 982 Kfar Sava)
Tel 972-9-7604719/Fax 972-3-7255730

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Israeli lawmakers receive Sudanese refugees from Darfur

Israeli lawmakers receive Sudanese refugees from Darfur

Dec 26, 2006 (JERUSALEM) — Sudanese refugees in Israel were received yesterday in the Israeli parliament to request lawmakers help to get political asylum; the Jerusalem based Israel Today reported.

Sudanese refugees visited the Knesset Monday at the request of the committee for foreign laborers. The two refugees, Ahmad and Yassin, spoke about their horrible life story as they saw their family members murdered before their eyes, were themselves tortured by government agents, and were subjects of humiliation and abuse until they managed to cross the border from Egypt to Israel.

One of the refugees, who came to the committee in order to ask them to help him get political asylum, brought the Knesset members to tears. He addressed MK Sarah Marom-Shalev (Pensioner's party) who was born in Romania and survived the Holocaust and asked her:

"Please, as a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, please help the victims of the Sudanese holocaust. There was nobody who could have helped the Jews of WWII, but today the Jewish state is a strong democratic country and has the power to help survivors of a similar genocide."

About 250 of Sudanese refugees managed to arrive in Israel and asked for political asylum, but instead of receiving protection, they were thrown in jail for long months because they are nationals of an enemy state.

The committee for the refugees of Darfur has so far managed to release about 50 of the refugees to kibbutzim and moshavim, and there is an ongoing public struggle to release those who remained in custody.

Technically the Sudanese are citizens of what Israel deems an enemy state and cannot stay. But their cause has been taken up by Holocaust campaigners and civil rights groups, who argue that Israel, of all countries, should give refuge to people fleeing genocide.

"We cannot ignore refugees of the Darfur genocide when they knock on our door," Avner Shalev, the director of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, said.

He had written to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, comparing their plight to Jews who in vain sought sanctuary from European countries during the Second World War, reported The Times in June 2006.

(Israel Today/Times)

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Israel and the Middle East II: Goals for Zionists and Israelis

28.12. 2006
Original content copyright by the author
Zionism & Israel Center

The first article in this series explained that there is no salvation. There is no magic solution that will make all the problems of Israel, the Middle East and the world vanish forever. There is an ongoing reality. History is a process, and our actions on one day will have repercussions on the next day. We need to plan for those repercussions, as well as to deal with new challenges that are going to be thrown at us by history. History will also offer us opportunities that we can and must exploit. We can exploit those opportunities only if we have laid strong national foundations.

It follows that the work of Zionism is never done, just as the work of any national movement or any national culture is not done, as long as the nation exists. There will not be a "post-Zionist" period as long as there is a Jewish nation, just as "post Hellenism" could only occur after there was no longer a Hellenistic civilization.

We must constantly return to our ideological foundations and renew them, and derive our policies from our ideas and long term goals, rather than seeking "salvation" or "permanent solutions" in gimmicks such as peace treaties or wars. The gimmicks are tools and results of policies, they are not goals or policies in themselves. The results of wars and peace treaties depend on their context: the underlying demographic and geopolitical realities and historical processes.

Continued Here

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How the West could lose

How the West could lose
Daniel Pipes,
After defeating fascists and communists, can the West now defeat the Islamists? On the face of it, its military preponderance makes victory seem inevitable. Even were Teheran to acquire a nuclear weapon, Islamists have nothing like the military machine the Axis deployed in World War II nor the Soviet Union during the cold war.
What have Islamists to compare with the Wehrmacht or the Red Army? The SS or Spetznaz? The Gestapo or the KGB? Or, for that matter, to Auschwitz or the Gulag? Yet, more than a few analysts, including myself, worry that it's not so simple.
Islamists (defined as persons who demand to live by the sacred law of Islam, the Shari'a) might in fact do better than the earlier totalitarians. They could even win. That's because, however strong the Western hardware, its software contains some potentially fatal bugs. Three of them - pacifism, self-hatred, complacency - deserve attention.
Pacifism: Among the educated, the conviction has widely taken hold that "there is no military solution" to current problems, a mantra applied in every Middle East problem - Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Kurds, terrorism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. But this pragmatic pacifism overlooks the fact that modern history abounds with military solutions. What were the defeats of the Axis, the United States in Vietnam, or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, if not military solutions?
Self-hatred: Significant elements in several Western countries - especially the United States, Britain and Israel - believe their own governments to be repositories of evil, and see terrorism as punishment for past sins. This "we have met the enemy and he is us" attitude replaces an effective response with appeasement, including a readiness to give up traditions and achievements.
By name, Osama bin Laden celebrates such leftists as Robert Fisk and William Blum. Self-hating Westerners have an outsized importance due to their prominent role as shapers of opinion in universities, the media, religious institutions and the arts. They serve as the Islamists' auxiliary mujahideen.
Complacency: The absence of an impressive Islamist military machine gives many Westerners, especially on the Left, a feeling of disdain. Whereas conventional war, with its men in uniform, its ships, tanks and planes, and its bloody battles for land and resources, is simple to comprehend, the asymmetric war with radical Islam is elusive.
BOX CUTTERS and suicide belts make it difficult to perceive this enemy as a worthy opponent. Like John Kerry, too many dismiss terrorism as mere "nuisance." Islamists deploy formidable capabilities, however, that go far beyond small-scale terrorism:
A potential access to weapons of mass destruction that could devastate Western life.
A religious appeal that provides deeper resonance and greater staying power than the artificial ideologies of fascism or communism.
An impressively conceptualized, funded and organized institutional machinery that successfully builds credibility, goodwill and electoral success.
An ideology capable of appealing to Muslims of every size and shape, from Lumpenproletariat to privileged, from illiterates to PhDs, from the well-adjusted to psychopaths, from Yemenis to Canadians. The movement almost defies sociological definition.
A non-violent approach - what I call "lawful Islamism" - that pursues Islamification through educational, political, and religious means, without recourse to illegality or terrorism. Lawful Islamism is proving successful in Muslim-majority countries like Algeria and Muslim-minority ones like the United Kingdom.
A huge number of committed cadres. If Islamists constitute 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population worldwide, they number some 125 to 200 million persons, or a far greater total than all the fascists and communists, combined, who ever lived.
Pacifism, self-hatred and complacency are lengthening the war against radical Islam and causing undue casualties. Only after absorbing catastrophic human and property losses will left-leaning Westerners likely overcome this triple affliction and confront the true scope of the threat. The civilized world will likely then prevail, but belatedly and at a higher cost than need have been.
Should Islamists get smart and avoid mass destruction, but instead stick to the lawful, political, non-violent route, and should their movement remain vital, it is difficult to see what will stop them.
The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures. His next column will appear in mid-April, after he teaches a course on "Islam and Politics" at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California (

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Assad's French nightmare

Assad's French nightmare
By Akiva Eldar

Paradoxically, Syrian President Bashar Assad, the host of Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, unintentionally managed to ease the blockage clogging the channel between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. To say "no" to the entire world all the time, Likud could have been left in power. Benjamin Netanyahu met with Yasser Arafat and sent Ron Lauder to talk to Hafez Assad. Therefore, moving for a political process with Abbas is, to a certain extent, the default option.
The prime minister clearly has not adopted the assessment of Mossad chief Meir Dagan. During the last Lebanon war, Dagan constantly reiterated his recommendation that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora should be ignored. In private talks, Olmert has said that even though he knows a successful peace process with Syria would mean leaving the Golan Heights, this would not stop him from opening negotiations. The main reason for Olmert's lack of interest in talking to Assad is Assad's desire to talk with Olmert. According to intelligence assessments presented to the senior political leadership, Syria's peace assault on Israel is basically a defensive maneuver ahead of what the Alawite regime sees as a French-American plot to bring it down. The fear of the French is greater than the fear of the Americans. Jacques Chirac does not conceal his deep hatred for those he sees as behind the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
According to the information at Israel's disposal, Assad fears that Chirac is determined not to leave the Elysee Palace so long as his friend's murderer is sitting pretty in his palace. In order to get past Chirac in one piece, Assad is willing to promise the Americans that if they back off a bit, he will seal out Al-Qaida on the Iraq border, provide information on Jihad activists and even ensure that Siniora does not prematurely join Hariri and Pierre Gemayel.
In the meantime, Washington has not responded, Paris is not changing its policy, and Olmert is not letting himself irritate either of them. Hamas is refusing to recognize Israel, Hezbollah is making threats, and Iran is acquiring nuclear capabilities. Who's left? Abu Mazen, the man whom Sharon, who brought Olmert to where he is, referred to as "a chick without feathers." When there are no songbirds, one must make do with a chick.
Listen to his mother
Olmert's refusal to talk with the Syrians made Labor MK Matan Vilnai reminisce about his mother. On Tuesday, during a discussion in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Vilnai said Assad's peace efforts should not be ignored. The retired general said that before the Yom Kippur War, "My Egyptian mother used to say we have to compromise with the Arabs. I was a young officer full of strength, and I thought we need not rush to respond to the Egyptians."
MK Yossi Beilin asked if that was also how his father, Prof. Ze'ev Vilnai, a Greater Land of Israel proponent, felt. "The smart one in the family was Mom, and Mom was always right," Vilnai answered with a smile.
Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi intervened: "What would happen if my mother were also always right?" said the Knesset member who forewent the right-wing doctrines of his mother, Geula Cohen, in favor of the center. It would be even more interesting if Hanegbi's Kadima colleagues, and primarily Olmert, were to start listening to Tzipi Livni's mother. The foreign minister has come a long way from the house of her father, Eitan Livni, the operations officer of the Irgun, to Condoleezza Rice's apartment in Washington.
On Saturday night less than three weeks ago, the two met there for talks that lasted nearly four hours. The meeting was described as "private," and its contents were not publicized. However, some foreign ministry officials identified the source of the report by Nathan Guttman, the Washington correspondent for the Jewish weekly The Forward, on a new American proposal to establish a Palestinian state now within temporary borders. A small group of confidantes knows this is not exactly "an American proposal," nor is it a new proposal.
On June 13, it was reported here that "Livni confirms she told senior officials that 'at the moment Abbas is not a partner for a permanent arrangement, but he can be a partner in other arrangements, on the basis of the gradual program cited in the road map." Livni specifically spoke of an agreement with the Palestinians to establish a state within temporary borders, Haaretz reported.
These borders are supposed to abut the route of the fence, an arrangement that will leave the large settlement blocs (approximately 10 percent of the area) in Israeli hands, at least until a permanent arrangement is signed. At the time, it was noted that the second stage of the road map presents the option of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state within temporary borders as "a step en route to a permanent arrangement." All of this would be in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, and with its full consent.
Then, too, the Americans were involved. Then, too, there was talk of a timetable and guarantees that would ensure temporary did not become permanent. When Beilin asked Livni not long ago to define the difference between her ideas and the plan he formulated with Yasser Abed Rabbo (a permanent arrangement by 2010), Livni responded with a smile that it really was difficult for her to see any differences.
The new thing in this story, as opposed to what was publicized in June, is the American secretary of state's increased involvement in the process, and the rise in Livni's self-confidence. Even though Livni and Olmert are members of the same party, ties between them are reminiscent of the days of the Labor-Likud rotation government of the 1980s. At the height of the second Lebanon war, when Livni sought to head to New York in order to take part in the talks ahead of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and Olmert grounded her, she learned firsthand that flattery is not her boss's strong point.
The story of the Palestinian state within temporary borders reminded veterans of Shimon Peres' way of Americanizing Israeli plans. He assumed that if he could transform his understandings with King Hussein (the London Agreement) into an American document, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir would swallow the bitter pill. The Foreign Ministry hopes that this time, the story will have a much happier ending.
What Ford saw
President Gerald Ford, who died yesterday at a ripe old age, taught Yitzhak Rabin an important lesson on the relationship between American domestic politics and foreign policy, between election-eve promises and the day after. In the late 1960s, as Republican minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ford promised Rabin, then Israeli ambassador to Washington, that the first thing he would do if he made it to the White House was move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the mid-1970s, Prime Minister Rabin sat across from President Ford in the Oval Office. The guest reminded the president of his promise. Ford smiled and said without hesitation, "Yitzhak, my friend, from this room, life looks completely different."
In spring 1995, Rabin told me this anecdote - which is also cited in his memoirs, "Pinkas Sherut" - in the home of the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Itamar Rabinowitz. A short time earlier, he had found out that Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole and Republican House majority leader Newt Gingrich, with the help of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, were sponsoring a bill requiring the administration to move the embassy to Jerusalem no later than May 1999 (the scheduled date for a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians).
Rabin and President Bill Clinton were furious. They feared the initiative would further damage the problematic relations with Yasser Arafat and embarrass King Hussein. The prime minister was consoled by the fact that that the bill would grant the president authority to suspend it so long as he felt the move might damage the U.S.'s strategic interests.
The man who initiated the bill was Jerusalem's mayor, Ehud Olmert, who was looking for another gimmick to add to Jerusalem's 3,000-year celebration. President George W. Bush has just signed a form to suspend the law for the umpteenth time. Apparently, life seems totally different from the Prime Minister's Office, too, or as the right-wingers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon said shortly after they entered that office: "What you see from here is not what you see from there.

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Egypt transfers arms to Fatah, with Israel's approval

Last update - 12:12 28/12/2006   

Egypt transfers arms to Fatah, with Israel's approval
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents

Egypt transfered a large quantity of arms and ammunition to Palestinian Authority security organizations in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, with Israel's approval.
The Palestinian security forces are largely allied to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and draw their numbers from his Fatah movement.
The move was carried out in an effort to bolster Fatah affiliated groups, following recent clashes with paramilitary organizations belonging to the ruling Hamas movement.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh on Thursday denied that the transfer had occurred. "The talk about the president's security services receiving
arms is unfounded and not true at all," he said.
However, a decision on the matter had apparently been made in a Saturday meeting between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The shipment included 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 magazines and two million rounds of ammunition. The arms and ammunition were transfered from Egypt to Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing, in coordination with the Israel Defense Force and with the government's authorization.
The four trucks carrying the weapons were accompanied by Military Police, and crossed into the Gaza Strip through the Karni crossing, where PA security personnel received the shipment.
Senior members of various Fatah affiliated groups in the Gaza Strip have complained of their inferior firepower when confronted by Hamas forces.
One of the main reasons they point to for their inability to counter Hamas is the fact that the radical Islamic organization controls most of the smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip through tunnels running from Sinai to Rafah in the South.
The issue of reinforcing the Fatah forces was the subject of discussions among Israeli, Egyptian and American officials.
During the meeting, Abbas also promised to deploy men from his Presidential Guard along the Philadelphi Route to prevent smuggling, and also in the northern Gaza Strip, to prevent the targetting of Israeli towns with Qassam rockets.
Abbas traveled to Egypt Wednesday for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. At the end of their meeting, Abbas said that Israel has not rejected the possibility of establishing a "back channel" - closed to the media, but not secret - through which negotiations could be held toward a permanent settlement.
Abbas said that this matter was raised in his meeting with Olmert and that the Israeli leader had promised to evaluate his proposal.
The Palestinian leader added that the Americans have also not rejected this option.
The proposal for a back channel involves the participation of Quartet representatives in the talks, and Abbas said that the visit of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region in January will "be the right time to manifest this idea and discuss it seriously."
Palestinian sources told Haaretz on Wednesday that Abbas is trying to revive the idea of negotiations for a permanent settlement, because he is wary of an initiative to set up a Palestinian state with interim borders.
The same sources said that the Palestinian leadership is closely following the proposal put forth by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which is backed by the U.S. and which Hamas may be willing to accept in return for a complete cease-fire for a five-year period.

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IDF sources slam PM decision to limit response to Qassam fire

Last update - 12:39 28/12/2006   

IDF sources slam PM decision to limit response to Qassam fire
By Haaretz Service
Senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday sharply criticized the government's decision to respond to Qassam fire using pinpoint operations while generally upholding a policy of restraint, Israel Radio reported.
The officers said the political echelons had denied an IDF request to send forces into the Gaza Strip, near the scurity fence, to create a security belt which would prevent Qassam rocket cells from reaching the launching areas, according to the radio.
A senior officer said the chances to locating rocket launchers in real time were low, adding that it was often difficult to attack the launchers after locating them.
Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal (ret.), who was discharged in October over his outspoken criticism of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, told the radio that the only way to stop Qassam fire was to send troops into Gaza.
"Pinpoint operations are a good direction, but they are really just a partial direction. Security forces must be permitted to control the area in a much better way," said Ron-Tal.
"We have no other way but to control the northern Strip using forces," he added. "Not for a long time, for a limited time... if [forces] aren't there, [militants] will continue to fire from there."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave the IDF permission on Wednesday to attack rocket-launching cells in the Gaza Strip as long as they are identified shortly before the launching, but the Prime Minister's Office said the Israeli commitment to the cease-fire in Gaza still stands.
Olmert also banned the IDF from operating near Palestinian population centers in the Strip. The decision heralds the first change in the policy of restraint in Gaza, which Defense Minister Amir Peretz and top IDF officials have sought to limit.
The move came in a security consultation that took place after two Sderot youths were wounded by a rocket Tuesday evening.

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Greens, settlers work together to fight West Bank fence route

Last update - 13:02 28/12/2006   

Greens, settlers work together to fight West Bank fence route
By Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz Correspondent

Environmental activists and settlers in the Hebron region have set up a joint operation to stop the construction of a section of the separation fence in the Judean Desert.
The defense establishment is planning on building the section in question deep within the Judean Desert, where activists and settlers maintain that it will seriously threaten the ecological balance and views in the region.
Work on this particular section of the fence started a few weeks ago.
A source within the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said Wednesday in response to the complaints that, "the environmentalists woke up too late.'
Mount Hebron Regional Council Chairman Tzvika Bar-Chai recently met with official from the Israel Defense Forces' Central Command in an attempt to persuade them to reroute that section of the fence, or to cancel its construction altogether.
Bar-Chai enlisted the support of one of the founders of the Israeli conservation movement, Ezriya Alon, who in turn contacted GOC Central Command Yair Naveh.
"The essence of the Judean Desert is wholly unique in all of Israel. The fence will amputate the desert and destroy its vistas and appeal for backpackers and tourists, dealing a severe blow to the living world," Alon said in his statement to Naveh.
Dr. Yossi Lashem, former general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and one of the country's foremost aviary researchers, sent a letter on Wednesday to IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Defense Department General Secretary Gabi Ashkenazi. In the letter, Lashem warned that the planned route of the fence would prevent animals from moving freely and would destroy food access for birds of prey.

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Lieberman calls on Israel to move directly into talks with PA

Last update - 13:20 28/12/2006   

Lieberman calls on Israel to move directly into talks with PA
By Haaretz Service

Minister of Strategic Threats and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel must move directly into negotiations for a political settlement with Palestinians and not give up efforts at achieving security, Israel Radio reported.
"We must promise a complete end to rocket fire on the southern communities," he said. "Coming to negotiations from a weak stance means receiving a weak political settlement."
Lieberman also said Israel must also initiate joint financial projects with Palestinians in order to help them improve their economic situation.
The minister's comments came two days after two teenage boys were badly wounded when a Qassam rocket slammed into the street near where they were walking in the western Negev town of Sderot.
In response to the attack, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the Israel Defense Forces to resume pinpoint operations on rocket launchers but to maintain a general policy of restraint.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas proposed Wednesday the start of "backdoor" negotiations with Israel on the most difficult problems of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Recent weeks have seen a growing momentum toward reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with Olmert meeting Abbas on Saturday and the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan Washington commission, reporting to U.S. President George W. Bush that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would contribute to reducing the conflict in Iraq.

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Israel and the Middle East: Looking for a policy instead of a "solution"

28.12. 2006
Original content copyright by the author
Zionism & Israel Center

Almost all foreign policy analysis is based on "problem solving." There is a "problem" posed and an attempt is made, to offer a solution to this problem. Thus, there is an "Arab-Israeli" conflict problem, an Iran nuclear development problem, and an Iraq problem, and policies and attitudes are based on solutions to these problems.

This approach incorporates a naive misunderstanding of history and foreign relations and how they work. It generates a Messianic fallacy. It creates the delusion that once we get past the time of troubles caused by this "problem" there will be a new reality, in which the laws of history will be suspended, and everything will be perfect. It generates plans for tomorrow that fail to take into account the day after tomorrow. Foreign policy and national goals cannot be based on such Messianism, either in the religious or secular sense. History is a continuous process. It does not end. Ben-Gurion noted that the important thing about Meshiach (Messiah in Hebrew) is the anticipation of his arrival. The arrival would be an anti-climax. For forty-five years, America lived with the myth of solving the USSR problem. Once the USSR problem was solved, it was thought everything would be OK. Then the USSR problem solved itself, the cold war ended, and many people were surprised to find out that not everything was OK; history had gone on to pose a different set of problems and challenges. In real life, the prince and princess did not live happily ever after. They got married, they had children. They had big fights because the prince wouldn't let the princess practice her profession and the princess snored and put on weight. Eventually they died and their children ruled instead, or else there was a revolution perhaps.

There is no "solution," not because the situation is hopeless, but because every situation will continue to continue and will evolve, based on geopolitical realities, some of which we can create or influence, while others are beyond our control and still others are beyond human control. We cannot plan as if the Messiah is coming and the end of days is in the offing. Some religious sects do that, but they are sorely disappointed by events. The Messiah, if there is one, will come when and if he or she is good and ready and not before. It is not our department.

In every generation or so there is a fool who thinks that history or inventions or ideology or wars are coming to an end, but it isn't going to happen. Life and civilization and war and power struggles will continue in the Middle East and elsewhere as they have continued for over 5,000 of history -- recorded and otherwise -- that have passed since people started building cities and engaging in agriculture. Continued here

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Have rocket will travel: Hizbullah paying terrorists for Kassam attacks

Hizbollah, likely financed by Iran, is paying terrorists to carry out Qasssam attacks in Gaza, according to a Jerusalem Post report. If true, this story sheds an entirely different light on the "resistance struggle" of the Palestinians. Israel is simply the victim of hired hoodlums. As long as Hezbollah has an interest in fomenting unrest, there cannot be peace, no matter what concessions Israel might make.
Exclusive: Hizbullah paying terrorists for Kassam attacks
By Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz,

Hizbullah is paying Palestinian splinter groups "thousands of dollars" for each Kassam rocket fired at the western Negev, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to Israeli intelligence information, Hizbullah is smuggling cash into the Gaza Strip and paying "a number of unknown local splinter groups" for each attack.
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) sources said the Islamist organization paid several thousand dollars for each attack, with the amount dependent on the number of Israelis killed or wounded.
"We know that Hizbullah is involved in funding terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank," a security official said.
"Palestinian terrorists get thousands of dollars per attack. Sometimes they are paid before the attack and sometimes they submit a bill to Lebanon afterward and the money gets transferred a short while later."
According to the officials, while Islamic Jihad was behind most recent rocket attacks - including the one on Tuesday night that critically wounded 14-year-old Adir Basad in Sderot - several splinter terrorists groups are also involved and have received direct funding from Hizbullah.
According to security officials, Islamic Jihad gets the money via its headquarters in Damascus while Fatah's Tanzim terror group and the Popular Resistance Committees receive payment from Hizbullah in Lebanon.
All of the money originated in Iran, the officials said.
Government officials said Hamas was not currently involved in firing missiles, but was doing nothing to stop those who were.
Also Wednesday, the IDF Operations Directorate relayed new orders to the Southern Command following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision earlier in the day to permit the army to once again target Kassam rocket cells.
This decision came after a meeting Olmert held with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, and other senior security officials.
Following the meeting, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying that in light of the increase of rocket attacks, despite the cease-fire, "an instruction was given to the security forces to take pinpointed action against the launching cells."
At the same time, the statement said, Israel would continue to observe the cease-fire and to work with the Palestinian Authority to get it to take immediate action to stop the firing of the rockets.
Peretz told the cabinet on Sunday that there have been cases over the last month where the IDF spotted terrorists preparing to fire rockets, but - because of the cease-fire - did not act. The new policy would put an end to that situation.
In the past two weeks, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant has recommended taking much more extensive action inside Gaza to stop the rocket fire, but on Wednesday - according to government sources - he was resigned to accepting the new policy.
According to the IDF, troops will not be allowed to operate inside the Palestinian Authority except when provided precise intelligence concerning a specific Kassam rocket cell.
According to government officials, Olmert argued at Wednesday's meeting that the cease-fire had strategic value, and that Israel's policy of restraint had earned it "a lot of understanding and appreciation" around the world that would provide "leeway" in the future.
Israel, according to officials in Olmert's office, can afford to continue to observe the "overall parameters" of the cease-fire, and can always take more forceful action down the line.
These officials also said that even when Israel did employ more force in Gaza it was unable to stop the rocket fire, and that the 64 rockets that have fallen during the monthlong cease-fire were only one-quarter of the number of rockets fired in the month preceding the agreement.
Olmert has argued in recent days that a strong military response would only unite Hamas and Fatah.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza alluded to this when he expressed the hope that renewed fighting with Israel would help end internal Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip.
A Kassam rocket hit near Sderot after the security meeting. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, with Abu Hamza saying it was a response to Israel's arrest of operatives in the West Bank, which is not covered by the cease-fire.
According to the new orders, the IDF is allowed to fire at Kassam cells before and after they launch rockets at Israel. The rules of engagement are dependant on intelligence, primarily on the location of the cell and whether there is a possibility that Palestinian civilians would be harmed. Terrorists often use urban areas to launch sites the rockets.
"We are aware of the sensitivity of the situation," said an officer in the Southern Command. "We do not want to cause diplomatic problems."
According to the officer, the IDF is also allowed to target Kassam launchers if no people are present. Based on the government decision, the IDF will continue to refrain from targeting Kassam workshops and will only fire at people if they are "ticking bombs" - terrorists on their way to, or in the midst of, an attack. Armed gunmen who approach the Gaza security fence were also, the officer said, legitimate targets.
"When there is a danger, we will not stand idly by but will open fire," he said. The IDF plans to utilize the air force to target the Kassam cells and launchers.
"The terrorists need to feel like they are being hunted," said one officer. "We intend to make that happen."
AP contributed to the report.

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Fw: Immigration to Israel falls to 18 year low

Immigration to Israel falls to 18 year low
Wed Dec 27, 2006 2:54 PM ET
By Steven Scheer
LOD, Israel (Reuters) - Immigration to Israel hit its lowest in 18 years in 2006 due to a drop in the number of Jews arriving from former Soviet states, although immigration from North America edged higher, figures showed on Wednesday.
Some 21,000 made "aliya", the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, which promotes immigration. The 2006 figure was the lowest since 13,000 in 1988. A total of 22,657 people moved to Israel in 2005.
The agency said it was getting harder to bring immigrants out of countries that made up the former Soviet Union, from where more than one million people moved to Israel in the 1990s. The number for 2006 was 7,300 -- about 23 percent down on 2005.
"These people are no longer running away from something," said Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, explaining the decline.
The agency played down suggestions that the war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas during the summer had a negative impact on immigration -- which had grown recently after a sharp drop following the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.
The government places great significance on immigration amid concerns in Israel that without an influx of foreign Jews the country's Arab minority, which has a higher birth rate, could eventually outnumber the Jewish population.
Jews constitute 76 percent of Israel's population of just over 7 million people, while Arabs make up nearly a fifth.
No figures were immediately available for the number of people emigrating from Israel in 2006.
Forecasts earlier this year were for immigration to grow to 24,000, but Jankelowitz said expectations were not met because the government had not brought as many Jews from Ethiopia as originally planned.
With the decline in numbers of immigrants from elsewhere, the Jewish Agency has made particular efforts to bring immigrants from Europe and North America.
That means trying to persuade people to move on ideological grounds rather than as a way to flee economic hardship or repression.
Aliya from North America rose to 3,200 in 2006 from 2,900 in 2005 and just 1,700 four years ago. Immigration from Britain rose to 720 this year from 481 last year. About 2,900 came from France, slightly down on 2005.
"We would love bigger numbers but we have to live in reality," Jankelowitz said.
On Wednesday, about 220 North Americans landed in Israel. Another group landed from London. Among those who arrived were Simcha and Rachel Gluck from New York, who gave up a thriving knife sales business.
"Life is not all about money," said Simcha Gluck. "It's about quality of life. America is awesome but we are Jews first."

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The delusion of a dialogue with Syria

The delusion of a dialogue with Syria

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, the fundamental problem in the Middle East is not intervention by the West. On the contrary, the real problem is that, for all their dabbling, the Western powers seem capable of neither war nor dialogue. This leaves everyone in the region at the mercy of the Middle East's oppressive regimes and proliferating terrorists.
Advocates of the Iraq war lacked an understanding of the complexities on the ground to wage an effective war of liberation and democratization. As a result, their policies merely ended up eliminating Iran's two major regional rivals: the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's regime. This presented Iran with a golden opportunity to project itself as a regional hegemon, and Iran's leaders are unlikely to let this opportunity slip away.
Advocates of dialogue with the Iranians and their Syrian allies, like former US Secretary of State James Baker, labor under the delusion that they can actually reach an understanding that would enable a graceful US exit from Iraq and help stabilize that wounded country. The delusion is based on two false assumptions: that the Iranians and the Syrians can succeed in Iraq where the US has failed; and that the international community can afford to pay the price of ensuring their cooperation.
True, Syria and Iran are playing a major role in supporting Iraqi insurgents, and Syria is still encouraging the trafficking of jihadists and weapons across its borders with Iraq. But the idea that these activities can be halted at will is naive.
For one thing, the interests of the Shiite communities in Iraq and Iran are not the same. Iraqi Shiites have never accepted Iranian dictates, and many took part in Saddam's war against Iran in the 1980s. After all, the Iraqi Shiites are Arabs, and if they are now willing to coordinate their activities with their Persian counterparts, their main goal will always be to secure an independent course as soon as possible, even while they carry on with their internecine disputes within Iraq. Iran is in no better a position than the United States to convince them to resolve their differences.
President Bashar Assad of Syria faces a similar dilemma. Although he has opened Syria's border to jihadists and has allowed Saddam's supporters to operate freely there, that choice may not be entirely his. Syria's aid to Saddam in maneuvering around the United Nations' oil-for food program brought Iraqi money to inhabitants of the border region, who have always been closer in customs, dialect, and outlook to their Iraqi neighbors than to their fellow Syrians. In the absence of government investment, local inhabitants' loyalty went to Iraqi Baathists who helped improve their lot. Indeed, even local security apparatuses have been unwilling to comply with instructions from Assad and his clique to seal the borders.

Under these circumstances, neither Syria nor Iran seems capable of delivering anything but mayhem in Iraq. What, then, would the proposed dialogue between the US and these states achieve other than continue to empower their corrupt yet ambitious regimes?
The story gets more complicated when one considers the UN inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Assad wants nothing more than to see this affair forgotten - and the proponents of dialogue think that they can give him what he wants in the hope of breaking Syria's alliance with Iran.
But that is merely another erroneous (not to mention amoral) assumption. The alliance between Syria and Iran dates back more than two decades, and was explicitly reaffirmed by the two ruling regimes as recently as January 2005. Indeed, the two are now joined at the hip. Assad's recent refusal to attend a summit in Tehran with his Iranian and Iraqi counterparts was a mere tactical move designed to appeal to the proponents of dialogue.
In fact, Iran has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Syria, and annual bilateral trade tops $1 billion. Growing Iranian influence over the Syrian security apparatus is well established, and Iran is funding an effort to create Syrian Shiite militias to compensate for Assad's sagging support in the army and in the minority Alawite community. Assad cannot turn his back on all of this. No deal would be sweet enough, even if it included the return of the Golan Heights. For Assad and his supporters, survival is more important than sovereignty.
Still, to read the well-known names of commentators and policymakers who are recommending engaging Syria and Iran is a testament to how inconsequential and cut off the Western powers have become from the realities on the ground in the world's most turbulent region. That, it seems, is the price of their arrogance.

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian author, blogger and dissident. He runs the Tharwa Foundation, an independent initiative that focuses on diversity issues in the region. THE DAILY STAR
publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (

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No answers, and no questions either

No answers, and no questions either
By Yossi Sarid

Chagrin has descended upon Capitol Hill. A Democratic congressman from Texas, Silvestro Reyes, was appointed head of the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees all the secret services in the United States. Following his appointment, the congressman was interviewed by Jeff Stein, a well-known Washington columnist. Stein asked him whether Al-Qaida is a Sunni or Shi'te organization, Reyes stuttered that it was probably Shi'ite. On a roll, the interviewer asked him another question. What is Hezbollah? Reyes pulled up an answer from the depths of his shallow thoughts, "Hezbollah," he groaned, "Why do you ask me these questions at five o'clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?" And the Hill blushed in shame.
A not-inconsequential number of high-browed Israelis are shaking their heads at the Americans: Look who they appoint to key positions. But those Israelis shouldn't mock. Here, too, ignoramuses like Reyes reign.
When the first Lebanon War started and quickly became complex and interminable, I had an opportunity to exchange some words with the deputy prime minister at the time, Simcha Erlich. "What did you see in this tragic foolishness," I asked him privately. "Yossi, believe me, nobody told us there were so many Shi'ites in Lebanon. They talked to us all the time about Christians and more Christians." And nobody asked?
Many muddy years went by in the Lebanese quagmire, and the Four Mothers came to solicit my support for the withdrawal from Lebanon. They insisted on telling me a story. "You've got to hear this," they begged. "A few days ago we went to see Raful [former IDF chief of staff and minister Rafael Eitan]. "Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, we realized Raful thought that Hezbollah was a Palestinian organization. Would you believe it?" I would.
In the first days of the second Yitzhak Rabin administration, the government decided to deport Hamas members to Lebanon. "How many deportees?" I asked. "Maybe 20," they told me. On that same evening it turned out they were deporting 400. And they didn't ask?
Enter Benjamin Netanyahu's government, in which the prime minister together with the Mossad resolved to assassinate Khaled Meshal. The fiasco is well remembered, and its outcome equally hard to forget. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee set up a committee of inquiry. They chewed on the matter for months, and as it turns out, no one had bothered to ask whether it was right to carry out the assassination in Jordan, causing a friendly king dangerous distress. No one stood up and no one asked one little question?
Then came the second Lebanon war, five months ago, and by now it is clear that it was not at all clear what was being decided: To embark on an operation or embark on a war? No one really asked.
And now that there's talk of returning to the Gaza Strip for the thousandth time in hopes of wiping out the Qassams, the question is: What will another military operation accomplish that all the previous ones did not? They only made the situation worse in Sderot and its surrounding communities. That is the question now.
That is what is happening, what must happen, when you put the full pot on the fire before you know what is cooking. And how will it not get burned? These are your leaders, Israel, that send your soldiers into battle, soldiers at the battlefront like civilians on the home front.
Not only is there no one to give answers, there is no one to ask questions ---questions of life and death.

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PM [Olmert]: Opposition to Syria talks not the result of U.S. pressure

Last update - 22:24 27/12/2006   
PM: Opposition to Syria talks not the result of U.S. pressure
By Haaretz Service and The Associated Press

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday reiterated his opposition to holding talks with Syria, adding that his opposition did not come at the behest of the United States.
In a meeting with Israeli ambassadors to Europe in his Jerusalem office, Olmert said that Syria's continued support of extremist elements and ties to Iran prove that its offers of peace talks with Israel are meaningless.
He said Israel is interested in peace with Syria but sees no substance to its offer, according to a statement from his office.
"The actions of the Syrian regime, including its support for Hezbollah and its promotion of instability in Lebanon, its sheltering of the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and its close ties with the president of Iran, who calls for the destruction of Israel, show us, unfortunately, that there is nothing behind its declarations" in favor of peace talks, read the statement.
In recent weeks, Syrian President Bashar Assad has offered to restart peace talks with Israel. The offers came in different forms, including news interviews.
Olmert noted that the international community is insisting that the Palestinian government must renounce terrorism and fight it as a condition for opening negotiations. "There is no reason why Israel should abandon these principles concerning Syria, which is up to its neck in supporting terrorism," Olmert said, according to the statement.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that before any change in policy regarding negotiations with Syria could be considered, Israel would have to ask itself whether the talks culd lead to any sort of peace agreement.
"We must ask ourselves if the significance of Syria's signals is that [Syrian] President Bashar Assad wants just negotiations with Israel or if he also wants to reach peace at the end of the process," Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "We must know what we are going to get at the end of the process."
A senior Foreign Ministry official earlier in the day backed the view expressed last week by Mossad director Meir Dagan that Syria is serious about renewing negotiations.
"Syria is ready for negotiations and there are sources in the Arab states who believe that Syria will ally itself to the Western bloc headed by the United States and Britain," said Nimrod Barkan, the director of the Foreign Ministry Center for Policy Research.
A senior security source told Haaretz that, "There is no doubt that there is a movement within Syria that is interested in talks with us. The only way to gauge their level of seriousness is to talk to them."
In peace talks that broke down in 2000, Israel offered return of all of the captured Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel took from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, but the negotiations foundered on Syrian demands for a foothold on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and conditions for peace it would give Israel.

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U.S.: Plans for new West Bank settlement violate road map

Last update - 21:56 27/12/2006   
U.S.: Plans for new West Bank settlement violate road map
By News Agencies

Israel's plan to settle 30 families on a former Israel Defense Forces base in the West Bank would violate terms of a U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the United States said on Wednesday.
"The establishment of a new settlement or the expansion of an existing settlement would violate Israel's obligations under the road map," Gonzo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington.
"The U.S. calls on Israel to meet its road map obligations and avoid taking steps that could be viewed as predetermining the outcome of final-status negotiations," he said. Washington was seeking an explanation from Israel, Gallegos added.
Israel agreed to the road map in 2003. It was devised by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia in an effort to guide Israel and the Palestinians into an agreement that estalishes a Palestinian state.
The European Union said earlier Wednesday it was deeply concerned about the plan, which would turn a former Israel Defense Forces base in the West Bank into a settlement for 30 settler families evacuated from Gaza last year.
A U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan known as the road map calls for a halt to settlement construction in the West Bank, land Palestinians want for a state.
"This development runs contrary to the commitment undertaken by Israel in the road map," Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said in a statement.
"The Presidency of the European Union expresses its deep concern at the news that the Israeli government has authorized the construction of the Maskiot settlement in the West Bank.
"Such unilateral actions are also illegal under international law and threaten to render the two-state solution physically impossible to implement," it said.
The families planning to move to the former army base in Maskiot lived in two of the 21 settlements Israel dismantled in the Gaza Strip in 2005 under the disengagement plan promoted by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Some 8,500 settlers were pulled out of the Gaza Strip, along with IDF troops, after 38 years of control.
"The Presidency of the EU urges the parties to refrain from all activities that would endanger the cease-fire," Finland said. "Extending the ceasefire to the West Bank must be an urgent goal."
Some 260,000 settlers live in the West Bank, among 2.5 million Palestinians. The World Court has branded Israeli settlements on land captured in the 1967 Six Day War as illegal.
Repopulating Maskiot
Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Tuesday authorized the repopulation of Maskiot, an abandoned Nahal infantry brigade settlement in the Jordan Valley.
Peretz approved the construction of 30 new homes in Maskiot that are intended for families evacuated from Shirat Hayam and other uprooted Gaza Strip settlements.
Shirat Hayam was one of the more ideological settlements among the Katif settlement bloc. It was founded in response to a Palestinian terrorist attack against a bus carrying children from the nearby settlement of Kfar Darom.
The proposal to relocate the families in Maskiot was approved in principle by the former defense minister Shaul Mofaz and the former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Maskiot originally had belonged to the ultra-Orthodox branch of Nahal and currently houses a premilitary academy.
The area of Maskiot, along with that belonging to Beitar Ilit, Givat Ze'ev, and Oranim, was expanded in May. Of the four settlements, Maskiot is the only one on the eastern side of the West Bank separation fence.
It was initially reported that Peretz would suspend authorization to repopulate the settlement. Construction on the new homes will begin in the upcoming weeks, according to Jordan Valley Regional Council Chairman Dubi Tal.

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Abbas to Mubarak: PA ready for 'backdoor' talks with Israel

Last update - 21:36 27/12/2006   

Abbas to Mubarak: PA ready for 'backdoor' talks with Israel
By News Agencies

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas proposed Wednesday the start of "backdoor" negotiations with Israel on the most difficult problems of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
"It is the right time to talk about this issue seriously," Abbas told reporters after he met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak onTuesday.
Recent weeks have seen a growing momentum toward reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert meeting Abbas on Saturday and the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan Washington commission, reporting to U.S. President George W. Bush that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would contribute to reducing the conflict in Iraq.
Abbas did not spell out why he was proposing that the negotiations with Israel be "backdoor" - meaning conducted out of the media spotlight. But as one of the architects of the Oslo peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993, he is known to champion quiet, informal diplomacy.
"We have the idea of a backdoor channel between us and the Israelis, with the participation of one or all members of the Quartet to discuss all the issues of the final status," Abbas said, referring to the four Western powers - the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations - that oversee the peace process.
Abbas said he had proposed backdoor negotiations to Prime Minister Olmert at their weekend meeting, and that the Israeli leader had no immediate objection and promised to consider it.
Abbas said he planned to discuss the idea with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she comes to the Middle East next month.
"This is not secret negotiations, therefore, they would help more than they would harms," Abbas said.
Abbas made clear he wanted the talks to focus on the issues that have been the hardest to resolve in previous negotiations - the future of Palestinian refugees, the sovereignty of Jerusalem - which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital, and the borders of the future Palestinian state.
It is not clear if Olmert would agree to tackle the thorniest issues rather than proceed by the more cautious route of step-by-step negotiations and interim agreements.
It is equally unclear what would be the reaction of Hamas, the party that dominates the Palestinian cabinet, to what might emerge from backdoor talks with Israel.
Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, is believed to favor a limited truce in exchange for its complete withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

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Urban kibbutz youth steer at-risk teens away from life of crime

Urban kibbutz youth steer at-risk teens away from life of crime
By Fadi Eyadat

It's early evening in the Hadar neighborhood of downtown Haifa, and a few members of the Noar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement were waiting for the rest of their group, when suddenly a woman screamed "Help! Stop, thief!" A tall young man in a black coat had grabbed the woman's purse but after being chased a short distance by a young man in the street, the thief threw it away and disappeared. In another case that same night, a couple was arrested for robbing an 82-year-old woman. Robberies, drugs and street gangs are not as common as they used to be these past few months. Not since the municipality of Haifa, together with the police and social action groups started a project to restore the center-city neighborhood to its former glory.
The city called on 70 young people from all over the country, members of the Noar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement, to establish an urban kibbutz to work with the neighborhood's at-risk youth.
"Instead of a kibbutz raising cows, we are cultivating education," the coordinator of the kibbutz, Yuval Becker, 27, of Kfar Sava, said. The goal of the group, known as Kibbutz Mehanchim (Hebrew for "educators") is to create an alternative to street crime for the neighborhood's youth. "Some of the children we work with have a police record for drugs and property crime," Keren Sagi, 26, from Mazkeret Batya, said, "and our goal is to prevent them from getting into even more serious crime when they get older."
The group's youth counselors keep on the lookout for kids who appear to be neglected and wandering around, and direct them to the welfare services, or accompany kids who have gotten into trouble with the law to the courts or the police. Some work in the schools or community centers, teaching in the classroom and informal educational frameworks. Others work to restore abandoned neighborhood parks. Last summer, before the war, they opened a coffee shop for the kids, operated by the kids.
The counselors, who receive a tiny salary, live in a number of apartments in the neighborhood, which the youth movement rents for them. They share a kitchen, a common area, and a petty cash fund.
Hadar, whose population is about 40,000 mostly new immigrants and Israeli Arabs, as well as Palestinian Arabs who collaborated with the Israeli security authorities and were brought here to live, was once one of the city's most central neighborhoods. With time, the original residents moved away to newer neighborhoods on Mount Carmel. Tulik, Gina and Hiba, 15, are members of the movement and the kibbutz. "Before, life was just passing me by," Gina says. "Now I'm not wasting my time. There are programs and activities and I feel like I'm doing something," she adds. Tulik says most of his friends are into drugs and alcohol and hanging out in the park. He, on the other hand, has found a way to work and develop.
Every Tuesday and Thursday the counselors and members hold what they have dubbed "the night birds" program. They troll Hadar looking for kids to help. "The goal is to reach as many kids as possible," says Sagi, who knows almost every teen in Nordau park, where the interview was held. "We start to talk to them, to talk and to listen. Some of them open up quickly and it takes others a long time," she added.
Becker and Sagi grew up in the Noar Haoved Vehalomed movement, completing a year's volunteer work in the community before their compulsory army service. Sagi says the movement's goal "is to move a kid ahead in community action," and that the movement is "a force that has been around for many years but the idea is to refresh it. The entry into Hadar is through the front door in cooperation with all the groups connected to the kids. This way we create a complex and efficient system of responsibility with the kids," Becker said.
Becker explains what brought him to Hadar: "You see the amount of violence and crime in society, children who are hungry who don't have proper education are in constant battle, and you say things should look different, you should build a society where people know they have the right to be happy without danger hanging over them, and the right to education and health services."

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Syria and Iran enhance scientific cooperation

Syria and Iran enhance scientific cooperation
Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - 02:30 PM

TEHRAN, (SANA - Syrian news agency)-

Higher Education Ministry and Iranian Ministry for Science, Researches and Technology on Wednesday signed an agreement on cooperation in scientific research and cultural development.

The Agreement provides for doing joint scientific researches between the two countries on issues of mutual priorities for the two sides, establishing a joint fund for supporting the scientific researches, conveying technology and exchanging expertise between them.

It also stipulates for establishing a center for joint scientific researches in addition to set up a Syrian-Iranian joint work committee for the formation and following up the executive projects.

The Ministry also signed a number of memos of understanding on higher education due to the cultural, scientific and educational executive program and on reciprocal education for the Arabic and Persian languages in the Syrian universities and institutes.

The ministry signed with Regional Shiraz Library a memo on establishing direct contact in the field of electronic libraries between the information center in the Library and the information departments in the ministry.

Singing the agreement and the memos came in the framework of the Higher Education Minister Dr. Giyath Barakat's visit to Iran.

Dr. Barakat and the accompanying delegation toured Asfahan city and got acquainted with its universities.

H.Zein/ Younes

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

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[Iran will share "scientific and technical (nuclear?) expertise with Syria] Iranian official describes Syrian-Iranian Ties as important

Iranian official describes Syrian-Iranian Ties as important
Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - 07:25 PM

Tehran, (SANA - Syrian news agency)-Chairman of the Iranian Expediency Council Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Wednesday described as important the Syrian-Iranian relations, calling for enhancing them in all fields, particularly in the higher education field.

"Tehran is ready to transform its new scientific and technical expertise to the regional countries, particularly Syria," Rafsanjani said during a meeting with Syrian Minister of Higher Education Ghiath Barakat.

"Scientific and cultural ties between Syria and Iran are not on a suitable level if compared to the distinguished relations in other domains. time is ripe now to boost the level of scientific and cultural ties between Tehran and Damascus," he added.

Mr. Rafsanjani referred to the sensitive situations in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, saying "the current situation requires more joint cooperation to face the current challenges."

For his part, Minister Barakat expressed satisfaction over the scientific development in Iran, particularly in the peaceful use of the nuclear energy, saying "we seek to promote cultural, scientific and research ties to the level of the political relations between the two countries."

Mazen / S.Younes

Continued (Permanent Link)

A stench of sewage

A stench of sewage
By Nehemia Shtrasler 
A tourist who comes to Israel and travels either northward or southward will quickly encounter an embarrassing phenomenon: The country simply stinks. Israel's sewage overflows its pipes, just as it does in third world countries. After decades of neglect, Israel's water and sewage system is on the verge of collapse; it is suffering from a chronic shortage of investment in its maintenance.
This enormous failure starts with our treatment of water. Some 620 million cubic meters a year flow to Israeli households. But due to leaky and burst pipes, about 10 percent of this figure - some 60 million cubic meters of fresh water - is lost on an annual basis.
It is impossible to completely prevent leaks, but suitable investments could reduce leakage to 30 million cubic meters a year. That would save NIS 90 million, since the price of desalinated water is NIS 3 per cubic meter. And this is not even to mention the poor quality of the water, which causes many to buy mineral water - a heavy expenditure for many households.
In the sewage system, the failures are even more serious. Some local authorities, despite having received generous grants to build plants for purifying waste water, have not maintained them. There are even facilities that have been completely abandoned and ceased to operate altogether. The result is the loss of some 100 million cubic meters each year that could be used for agriculture and industry. This is the equivalent of the output of the huge desalination plant in Ashkelon, which desalinates 100 million cubic meters a year, at a cost of NIS 300 million.
The untreated sewage, which flows through streams to the sea, has a devastating and irreversible effect on the environment. Sewage, and the poisonous metals that it contains, enter the aquifers and poison them, slowly but surely. About a month ago, the streams of the western Galilee - Kabri, Ga'aton and Kaziv - were found to have been polluted by sewage and poisonous metals, and pumping from these streams was thereby halted.
So why are mayors not jumping for joy at a proposed reform that would fix all these problems? Because the mayors have a different agenda: They see the water and sewage impost as an easy way to collect additional tax money from the public. They buy water from the Mekorot Water Company at a price of about NIS 2.5 per cubic meter, but sell it to the public at an average price of NIS 4.5 per cubic meter. Another NIS 1.5 is tacked on per cubic meter for sewage treatment.
The problem is that a large portion of this money - hundreds of millions of shekels a year - is not pumped back into the water and sewage systems. The mayors use this money to finance other operations, such as manpower, events, trips, building traffic circles and staging summer performances, so that the public will see that they are "good" mayors. After all, who sees the water and sewage pipes that burst underground? Who sees the idle treatment plants?
Moreover, collection rates for water and sewage bills are very low in some local authorities - a mere 50 percent - because it is not pleasant to collect money from one's friends and kin.
The water and sewage reform is intended to fix all these evils. It will remove water and sewage fees from the mayors' control. Under the proposal, 30 regional corporations would be formed, each of which would serve several local authorities in order to take advantage of economies of scale. Each corporation will be fully owned by the local authorities, but it will operate as a closed economy for the sole benefit of the water and sewage systems. One such corporation has already been established in Petah Tikva, and miracle of miracles, annual investment in the water and sewage systems has risen by NIS 5 million a year, to NIS 17 million!
Small-town mayors are supporting the reform, but those who head large cities are opposed. The mayors of Holon, Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv want to continue doing as they please with the water and sewage imposts. If they wish, they could replace a pipe; if not - they could organize a performance in the park. They will manage their cities as they see fit; no one will teach them how to do so.
But water is a special commodity in Israel, both because of its short supply and strategic implications. The quality of the water in the coastal aquifer is a matter of nothing less than life and death. Therefore, it is impossible to sustain a situation in which precious water is wasted and sewage is destroying our groundwater. This is straight out of the third world.
But like every other issue, this, too, has turned into a political battle. The mayors of the large cities are pressuring Knesset members not to approve the reform, or at least, to remove it from the Economic Arrangements Bill - which would give it an elegant burial. Because the mayors wield great political power in party central committees, MKs do not know what to do. They know what is good for the country, but they also know that one day, they will stand for reelection in the central committee.
The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee is supposed to discuss the issue today, and a vote will take place on Thursday. The question is whether the committee chair, Raleb Majadele (Labor), who has thus far demonstrated responsibility, and the other committee members who are wavering, will withstand the political pressure and save the environment - and us.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Egyptian FM: Egypt knows captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is alive

Last update - 15:23 27/12/2006   

Egyptian FM: Egypt knows captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is alive
By Yoav Stern and Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and The Associated Press

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Wednesday that Egypt knows that captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive.
Aboul Gheit said Egypt is working to win the Shalit's release, who was captured in a cross-border raid by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza last June.
"This is a very sensitive issue and we have to treat it with very serious sensitivity," he said at a news conference in Jerusalem. "I hope and believe that he will be released ... but I emphasize that we are working hard for his release and we are sure that he is still alive."
Gheit met Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday in Jerusalem, and told him that Cairo was appreciative of Israel's policy of restraint, the Prime Minister's Office said.
The two met Wednesday morning as the Prime Minister's Office announced that Olmert will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheik on January 4.
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, Olmert and Aboul Gheit discussed the continuing Palestinian violations of the Gaza cease-fire.
"The Egyptian foreign minister expressed Egypt's deep appreciation for the Israeli policy of restraint, and its contribution to the strengthening of moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority," said the statement.
"The prime minister explained the complexity of the situation given the continued firing of missiles against Israel during the cease-fire, and the Israeli need to protect the lives and security of the citizens of the State of Israel," the statement continued.
The two also discussed the upcoming Red Sea summit between Olmert and Mubarak, which will deal with the developments between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Saturday's meeting between Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The meeting will also deal with continued arms smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip via the Philadelphi Route, as well as broader regional developments in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Abbas met with Mubarak in Cairo on Wednesday, to brief the Egyptian president about his Saturday meeting with Olmert.
Egypt has played a major role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, and has been trying to negotiate the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by militants linked to Hamas, the militant group that controls the Palestinian parliament and cabinet.
Aboul Gheit is expected to discuss with officials in Israel the mediation efforts his country has undertaken on the release Shalit, even though no noticeable progress is expected in the near future.
The foreign minister is also expected to meet with officials to lay the groundwork for the meeting between Olmert and Mubarak.
He was also to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Meretz leader Yossi Beilin.
Political sources in Jerusalem said Tuesday that the calls of Syrian President Bashar Assad for renewed peace negotiations with Israel would also be discussed during Aboul Gheit's meetings with Israeli officials.
The Israeli ministers will update Aboul Gheit on recent decisions taken by the government to alleviate the daily existence of the Palestinians.
MK Beilin was expected to present the Egyptian visitor with his plan for furthering the road map by skipping over the first stage that demands the dismantling of the militant groups.
However, the arrival of the Egyptian foreign minister has led some, including MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) to call on the government to declare him persona non grata and prevent Aboul Gheit's visit from taking place. Steinitz maintains that unless Aboul Gheit publicly declares that Egypt recognizes Israel's sovereignty over Eilat, he should not be allowed to visit Israel.
Several weeks ago, the Egyptian foreign minister claimed that Eilat is Palestinian territory.
"We must not accept this," Steinitz said. "Had the Egyptian foreign minister said that Gaza or Nablus belonged to the Palestinians, I could understand it, but 25 years after the signing of a peace agreement with Egypt, raising questions regarding Israel's sovereignty in Eilat is something that we must not allow to pass," the former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee added.
Steinitz maintains that Aboul Gheit's statement was not a slip of the tongue but a sustained Egyptian effort to undermine Israel's sovereignty in the south. The Likud MK said President Mubarak ordered the creation of a panel of experts in 1995 to examine the legitimacy of Egyptian claims. The panel, Steinitz says, concluded that Egypt can claim the southern triangle of territory covered by Uvda, Yotvata and Eilat.
The Clinton administration pressured Egypt to shelve the panel's report, and Mubarak agreed to the request.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Foreign Minister Livni supports talks with Palestinians, even under fire

Last update - 10:31 27/12/2006   
Foreign Minister Livni supports talks with Palestinians, even under fire
By Ari Shavit, Haaretz Correspondent

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni believes in talks with the Palestinians, even under fire.
"Even during Sharon's term of office, I claimed that we shouldn't say that we won't talk under fire," Livni told Haaretz in an interview, " We have an obligation to work to stop the Qassams ... But even if there's no escaping some kind of incursion, at the end the diplomatic question will remain the same."
The foreign minister hinted she had a diplomatic plan she was trying to promote, but declined to give details. "The vision is of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people, which provides a solution for the problem of the Jewish refugees, and provides a national expression for each and every Jew, and alongside it a Palestinian state that is the national home of the Palestinian nation, which provides a full and complete solution for the problem of the Palestinian refugees," she said.
Her statements give the impression that she wants to "skip over" the first stage of the road map, which involves diplomatic progress in stopping terror. The road map, she said, "affirms that in the second stage, a state with temporary borders and symbols of sovereignty will be established. I think I can conduct talks with Abbas that will clarify what they want to achieve in the two-state vision," she added.
As to whether the present government is committed to dividing the land, even after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's convergence plan is off the agenda, Livni answered in the affirmative. The dividing line, according to Livni, is the separation fence, and the public will support the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers who live beyond it. "The behavior of the Palestinians in Gaza after the disengagement creates a major problem. But I believe that, in the final analysis, if a reasonable solution is found for the security issues, most of the Israeli public will support this process," she said.
As to whether the establishment of a Palestinian state was a possible goal of this government, she said, "I don't like to set timetables...But I see a type of opportunity. On the one hand, we're surrounded by a growing threat and extremism and zealotry. On the other hand, precisely because of this threat, moderate countries and moderate factors in the region understand today that their problem is not Israel."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Qassam hits Negev as IDF told to renew pinpoint action

Last update - 13:09 27/12/2006   

Qassam hits Negev as IDF told to renew pinpoint action
By Aluf Benn, Amos Harel, Mijal Grinberg and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents and Haaretz Service

A Qassam rocket struck the western Negev on Wednesday, hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz instructed the Israel Defense Forces to resume pinpoint operations targeting rocket launching cells in Gaza.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The decision by Olmert and Peretz essentially adopts the defense minister's proposal to alter the policy of restraint in the wake of ongoing fire on southern Israel.
"A directive has been given to the defense establishment to take pinpoint action against the rocket-launching squads," Olmert's office said in a statement, a day after two teenage boys were wounded, one of them critically, by a Qassam rocket that struck the western Negev town of Sderot.
The two met with senior military and intelligence officials to discuss the escalation of rocket fire across the Gaza border on Wednesday morning.
According to the Prime Minister's Office statement, the IDF has also been instructed to uphold the cease-fire in general. "In parallel, Israel will continue to maintain the ceasefire and work with the Palestinian Authority so that immediate steps are taken to halt the Qassam firings."
Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Israel would do its best to preserve the truce, even while attacking rocket-launching cells. "Israel has shown restraint," she said. "Israel will continue to be restrained, and we will only take pinpointed action against the launching cells."
Responding to decision, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said maintaining the cease-fire was in the Palestinian national interest, calling on Palestinian militants to stop firing Qassam rockets.
"I also urge Israel to refrain from attacking the Palestinians and to be committed to the ceasefire," he said. "Our past experience taught us that violence begets violence and bullets beget bullets."
Hamas government spokeswoman Ghazi Hamad denounced the decision to
"continue their aggression against our people," but added: "We still believe that this agreement is alive, and both sides should respect this agreement because it is (in) the interest (of) our people."
Islamic Jihad, however, threatened to increase the rocket fire in response to the decision, Israel Radio reported.
Peretz and senior IDF officials had called on Olmert to suspend the policy of restraint and let the army fire at Qassam rocket-launcher cells that can be identified during or shortly after operation.
"We cannot continue to restrain ourselves," Peretz told Olmert on Tuesday night. "We cannot let Jihad continue to do what it wants; we must take immediate action against the Qassams."
Peretz has been vocal in recent days about his dissatisfaction with the policy of restraint. He agrees with IDF officials who support identifying missile-launcher cells and destroying them during or immediately after a launch. Peretz believes the risk to Palestinian civilians is low if the IDF operations are confined to unpopulated areas used by terror cells, and that this would not end the cease-fire.
Military sources admitted that the cell responsible for Tuesday's missiles could not be located due to inclement weather. Military officials had warned since close to the beginning of the cease-fire that failure to respond to the attacks would cost Israeli lives.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the Israel Defense Forces must immediately reoccupy key areas of the Gaza Strip, including the Philadelphi Route along the Gaza-Egypt border, in order to prevent the ongoing Qassam rocket fire and arms smuggling.
"[The government] must take control of the areas from which Qassams are fired - this is not the entire Gaza Strip, it is not even a small part of the Gaza," said the former prime minister. "But it is a defined area. We know the Qassam [range] radius, and where they are firing them."
"[The government] must stop [arms] smuggling, by taking control of key areas," he said. When asked if this includes the Philadelphi Route, Netanyahu responded "definitely," although he said the military presence there would not necessarily be permanent.
Netanyahu also called on the government to work to bring about the fall of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government, and "halt all negotiations and all gestures, until a complete end to the terrorism."
"The way to overthrow the Hamas government is to strangle it," he said. "They were under a strangle-hold that almost brought about their collapse, you saw them in a civil war. And this strangle-hold was an economic one - they couldn't pay salaries."
"What has the government done?" he said, referring to the decision to transfer $100 million to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "The government has opened the flow of money - not just from Israel, [although] $100 million is a lot of money - but also the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Europeans, saving the Hamas government."
"That is a fundamental error, and an additional error is to declare a unilateral cease-fire that essentially allows them to fire at us and demonstrates weakness," he said.
National Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Eliezer echoed the defense minister's sentiment, telling Israel Radio: "We cannot restrain ourselves anymore. We've restrained ourselves, and it's good that we did, because the entire world saw that we did above and beyond [what was called for], but we cannot turn an entire town, excuse me, into a graveyard."
The former defense minister stressed, however, that he would only recommend the IDF resume targeting Qassam rocket cells, saying the military should not reoccupy parts of Gaza.
Qassam wounds two 14-year-old boys, one critically
Two boys, both 14, were injured on Tuesday night when a Qassam rocket landed in the street near where they were walking. Both were treated by Magen David Adom paramedics and taken to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
A total of eight Qassams were fired at Israel Tuesday, the most in a single day since the cease-fire was declared about a month ago.
Late Tuesday night, hospital officials said that Adir Ghasad was in surgery and in critical condition, while Matan Cohen was in moderate to serious condition and in danger of losing his leg.
The hospital's director Dr. Shimon Sherf told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning that Ghasad's condition had stabilized.
"He arrived in very serious condition, in critical condition, [and] was barely able to maintain blood pressure," said Sherf. "He was full of shrapnel from head to toe, and after a lengthy surgery ... we were able to stabilize him. He is currently in recovery and maintaining blood pressure, and I hope he will make it through this trauma."
Sherf however said it is too early to say that the injuries are no longer life-threatening.
"The second boy [Cohen] is stable, he is on a respirator, and he is maintaining blood pressure," said Sherf. "He has shrapnel in soft tissue in various parts of his body. Other than the amputation of four toes ... his condition is relatively stable." Cohen's condition is listed as moderate to serious.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for firing the missiles from the Gaza Strip at the western Negev town.
The incident was the most serious since a cease-fire was put into place, although more than 60 rockets have been fired during this period.
The IDF did not respond to the Qassams, observing the policy of restraint set by Olmert.
Another Sderot resident was slightly injured earlier this week by a Qassam.
One of the Qassams fired at Israel Tuesday landed in the industrial area in south Ashkelon, close to a strategic infrastructure installation. Another rocket landed south of the city. Four Qassams landed in open areas in the vicinity of Sderot, while another landed inside the city. Eight people were treated for shock as a result of that missile, which also damaged buildings and cars.
A mortar landed near an IDF base near the Gaza border, across from the center of the Strip.
Palestinian sources said that a Palestinian farmer in the northern Gaza Strip was shot by IDF soldiers. Ismai'il Ghaban, 27, was on land owned by his family, north of Beit Lahia, when he was reportedly shot in the neck and the knee. IDF sources say he was shot while causing damage to the border fence. Palestinians have recently dismantled large parts of the border fence in the area to sell the metal for scrap. IDF soldiers are permitted to shoot anyone damaging the fence.
A resident of Sderot who lives near where the two teenagers were hit Tuesday night described what happened when the missile fell in the street outside. "I was at home, my daughter was on the second floor and suddenly started screaming," Shimon Peretz related.
"I went downstairs and saw the boys. I got my neighbor, he's a medic, and performed first aid on them and then I called for an ambulance. I can't describe the moment when the children were screaming and panicking. Just this morning two Qassams fell here with no warning."
A friend of the two injured boys adds: "I heard the 'red alert,' I was at home, and then I heard a loud noise and suddenly saw my friends lying on the ground, one was lying there with no foot." He added that the home of one of the boys, Matan Cohen, had been hit previously by a Qassam.
Angry residents gathered at the site. Some people were in shock, others expressed anger at the government's impotence and at its failure to protect Sderot's inhabitants.
Two teenage girls who were in shock were evacuated by ambulance after refusing to return to their homes. The families of the two boys,¬ the Cohens and the Ghasads, ¬ went to Barzilai to be with the injured, as did many friends of the families.
The residents expressed anger at Olmert's failure to visit Sderot and see the true situation of the city. One mother shouted that she cannot go to work because she has to stay at home with her children due to their great anxiety.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Jihad: Calm has collapsed

Jihad: Calm has collapsed
Spokesman for al-Quds Brigades, which fired rocket at Sderot, explains:
'Truce us over since Israel continues to arrest Palestinian activists.' He
adds he refuses to separate between Gaza calm, Israeli actions in West Bank,
warns suicide attacks are on their way

Ali Waked YNET Published: 12.26.06, 22:53,7340,L-3344982,00.html

The al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad's military wing, claimed
responsibility Tuesday evening for the rocket fired at Sderot, which wounded
two youths. One youth sustained critical wounds and the other was moderately
to severly injured.

The organization said that the attack came in response to "the Israeli violations of the ceasefire.

Abu Abdallah, a spokesman for the al-Quds Brigades, told Ynet that the attack was done in the framework of a response to a series of ongoing
breaches of the ceasefire by Israel .

"As far as we are concerned, the calm has collapsed since Israel has
continued to arrest Palestinian activists, including head of the Islamic
Jihad in Jenin Sheikh Muhammad Saidi, who was arrested Tuesday morning."

According to him, "The Israelis have not stopped their breaches, and since
the ceasefire has taken effect, they wounded eight residents of northern
Gaza and several fishermen in the southern Strip, so there is no calm."

'Israel arresting, Killing Palestinians in West Bank'

Abu Abdallah added that his organization has already announced that it will
not differentiate between the Gaza Strip and the west Bank.

"They talk about calm in Gaza, but continue to arrest and kill Palestinians
in the West Bank. We do not accept this separation and any Israeli breach in
the West Bank will be met with a similar response of more and more Qassam
fire which our fighters are continuing to improve."

He also said that the organization is working on a series of suicide attacks
in Israel and does not settle for rocket fire.

On Tuesday morning it was cleared for publication that in early November a
joint Shin Bet and IDF force apprehended a senior al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
member who later admitted to killing Israeli Maryk Gavrielov in Ramallah six
years ago.

Muhammad Saidi, a resident of the al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, said
during his interrogation that he and Atzam Faruah, an al-Aqsa member jailed
in Israel since 2003, killed Gavrielov in October 2000.

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DSP Poll # 29: 77.2% Palestinian society not heading in the right direction; Support elections 47.1%:46%

DSP Public Opinion Poll # 29

Development Studies Programme - Berzeit University
Release Date: 26/12/2006
[For Background & Methodology - see below]

Section One : Living Conditions
1. How do you describe the current economic situation of your family?
 Very good 2.7 Good 13.9 Fair 32.6 Bad 28.6 Very Bad 22.2

2. Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
 Optimistic 42.1 In between 22.7 Pessimistic 34.6 I don't know 0.7

3. Do you believe that Palestinian society is heading in the right
 Yes 16.7 No 77.2 I don't know 6.1

Section Two : Evaluation of President and Prime Minister
4. How do you evaluate the performance of President Mahmoud Abbas?
 Good 30.7 Average 30 Poor 39.3

5. How do you evaluate the performance of Prime Minister Ismael Hanneya?
 Good 41.4 Average 28.8 Poor 29.9

Section Three : The Current Events

6. Who do you believe is responsible for the failure to reach a unity
 Hamas 16.5 Fateh 22.4 Both 53.7 Don't know 7.3

7. Who do you believe is responsible for the violent confrontations and
assassinations in the Palestinian Territories?
 Hamas 16 Fateh 14.6 Both 49.5 Others 15 Don't know 4.9

8. Which of the following proposals is most appropriate to resolve the
current crisis?
 A one-year transitional government comprised of professionals 9.9
 A new presidential and legislative election 25.1
 A government composed of all political parties based on the (National
Reconciliation Document ) 47.8
 Keep the government as is 14.9
 Others 2.4

9. In his address (16/12/200, President Mahmoud Abbas called for
presidential and legislative elections as a means to go beyond the current
situation, do you support or oppose his call?
 Support 47.1 Oppose 46 No opinion 6.9

10. If presidential elections took place in the coming future, would you
 Yes 63.7 No 28.9 Undecided 7.4

11. If presidential elections took place in the coming future, which one of
the following personalities would you vote for?
 Bassam Al Salhi 0.5 Khaled Meshal 3.2 Saeb Ireakat 2.3
 Marwan Barghouthy 17.9 Ismael Hanneya 24.2 Mustafa Barghouthy 5.2
 Mohammed Dahlan 6.9 Mahmoud Azzahar 0.7 Hanan Ashrawi 1.6
10) Mahmoud Al Ramahi 0.1 1 Ahmad Sadat 2.1 1 Mahmoud Abbas 18
1 Undecided 17.4

12. If only the following candidates ran for presidential elections, who
would you vote for?
 Mahmoud Abbas 49.8
 Khaled Meshal 31.8
 Undecided 18.4

13. If only the following candidates ran for presidential elections, who
would you vote for?
 Mahmoud Abbas 47.2
 Ismael Hanneya 39.3
 Undecided 13.5

14. If only the following candidates ran for presidential elections, who
would you vote for?
 Marwan Barghouthy 51.3
 Ismael Hanneya 36.1
 Undecided 12.6

15. If legislative elections took place in the coming future, would you
 Yes 65.8 No 24.8 Undecided 9.4

16. If a new legislative election was carried out today, which bloc would
you vote for?
Al Badil 1 Independent Palestine 4.1 Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa 2.4 Martyr Abu
al Abbas 0.2
Freedom and Social Justice 0.7
Change and Reform (Hamas) 30.6
National Coalition for Justice and Democracy 0 The Third Way 1 Freedom and
Independence 0.3
Social Justice 0.9
Fateh 43.3
Undecided 15.6

17. If only the following lists ran for elections, who would you vote for?
 Fateh 43.3
 Hamas 29.4
 A united list composed of PFLP, DFLP, PPP, Mubadara, Nidal and other
independence 15.1
 Undecided 12.1
Dates of fieldwork: 20-21/12/2006
Number of field researchers: 75
Sample size: 1200 Palestinians in (West Bank and Gaza Strip)
Margin of error: + 3%
For further information or queries, contact team coordinator Dr. Nader Said
(059-9204527) or Polling coordinator Ayman Abdul Majeed at the listed
address or through our e-mail (
 For the sample distribution, please refer to Annex (3), and for the full
methodology refer to our website ( ).
Supported by the International Republican Institute (IRI)
Contact Info:
Ramallah Office:
Irsal Str. opposite Khalid Hospital
Tel : 970 (2) 2959250  970 (2)  2958116
Fax : 970(2) 2958117
P.O. Box 1878
Ramallah, Palestine

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

Continued (Permanent Link)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Iraq court upholds Saddam death sentence [To be hanged within 30 days]

Iraq court upholds Saddam death sentence
Tue Dec 26, 2006 6:17 PM EST
By Mariam Karouny and Ibon Villelabeitia
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi appeals court on Tuesday upheld Saddam Hussein's death sentence for crimes against humanity and said he should hang within 30 days.
Human rights groups condemned his trial as seriously flawed and called on the government not to carry out the sentence, which comes amid raging violence between Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs and majority Shi'ites.
The White House called the court's decision a "milestone" in replacing tyranny with rule of law.
Sunni Arab leaders reacted angrily to the ruling, saying it was politically motivated by Saddam's former enemies now in power in a U.S.-backed Shi'ite-led national unity government.
"The appeal court has approved the death sentence. They (the government) have the right to choose the date starting from tomorrow up to 30 days. After 30 days it will be an obligation to implement the sentence," the head of the Iraqi High Tribunal, Aref Abdul-Razzaq al-Shahin, told a news conference.
Saddam, 69, and two others were sentenced to death on November 5 for crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi'ites from the town of Dujail after he escaped assassination in 1982.
"Every criminal should get what he deserves, whether he is Saddam or anybody else, but with a fair trial. They turned the Saddam trial into a show," said Salim al-Jibouri, an official of the Islamic Party, the largest Sunni Arab party in parliament.
Human rights group Amnesty International said the appeal court ruling came after a trial that lacked independence from political interference.
"We are against the death penalty as a matter of principle but particularly in this case because it comes after a flawed trial," an Amnesty International spokeswoman said.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, also objected.
"Imposing the death penalty, indefensible in any case, is especially wrong after such unfair proceedings," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch.
The nine-judge appeal court also upheld death sentences against Saddam's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and former judge Awad al-Bander for their roles in the incident.
The court recommended toughening the sentence on former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, who had been sentenced to life in prison over Dujail, saying he should also be executed.
Saddam's chief defense counsel, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said the ruling would inflame Iraq's sectarian divide: "If they dare implement the sentence it will be a catastrophe for the region and will only deepen the sectarian infighting," he told Reuters from Amman.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Saddam had "received due process and legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people for so long."
"Today marks an important milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law," he told reporters.
Saddam is still on trial with six others for genocide against ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s. Shahin said the trial would continue without Saddam if he is executed. Saddam is scheduled to appear in court again on January8.
Many human rights and legal experts have argued that Saddam could not get a fair trial in a country torn by sectarian conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.
In the latest violence, bombs killed nearly 40 people in Baghdad, including 20 in western Adhamiya district, a Sunni area. Earlier, a triple car bombing in a Shi'ite area killed 16.
The U.S. military reported the deaths of six more American soldiers, bringing the U.S. toll to at least 2,978 -- five more than the number killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
At least 89 U.S. soldiers have died this month, making it the deadliest this year after October's toll of 106, and increasing pressure on President George W. Bush to find a strategy to extricate 135,000 U.S. troops from the war.
Stung by Republicans' defeats in congressional elections in which voter discontent over Iraq was a major issue, Bush has said he will announce a new strategy in January after listening to his military commanders and State Department officials.
A senior defense official said the Pentagon is expected to send 3,500 troops into Kuwait to stand ready for use in Iraq.
The "call-forward" force was requested by Army General John Abizaid, head of the military command responsible for the Middle East, and must be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not know if Gates had yet approved the deployment, but said the announcement was expected as early as Wednesday.

Continued (Permanent Link)

FM: Before agreeing to talks, we must ask if Syria wants peace

Last update - 19:21 26/12/2006   
FM: Before agreeing to talks, we must ask if Syria wants peace
By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that before any change in policy regarding negotiations with Syria could be considered, Israel would have to ask itself whether the talks culd lead to any sort of peace agreement.
"We must ask ourselves if the significance of Syria's signals is that [Syrian] President Bashar Assad wants just negotiations with Israel or if he also wants to reach peace at the end of the process," Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "We must know what we are going to get at the end of the process."
Livni did not clarify her own stance on the matter during her address to the committee, but said Syria was interested in holding talks in order to improve its own situation in the international arena and reduce the global pressures it has faced in recent years.
A senior Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday backed the view of Military Intelligence that Syria is serious about renewing peace negotiations with Israel.
"Syria is ready for negotiations and there are sources in the Arab states who believe that Syria will ally itself to the Western bloc headed by the United States and Britain," said Nimrod Barkan, the director of the Foreign Ministry Center for Policy Research.
A senior security source told Haaretz that, "There is no doubt that there is a movement within Syria that is interested in talks with us. The only way to gauge their level of seriousness is to talk to them.
"But Olmert is inflexible on the issue at the moment - he is more driven by political considerations regarding American reservations [on the issue of talks] than by renewing contacts with Damascus."
Barkan was speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee a day after the head of the Military Intelligence research division told the same panel that he believes recent peace overtures emanating from Syrian President Bashar Assad are sincere.
"Syria is genuinely interested in negotiations," Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
"The Syrian regime believes that dialog with Israel will only better its position and improve its standing," Baidatz said.
Last week, however, Mossad director Meir Dagan expressed the opposite opinion, saying that Syria is not prepared to return to the negotiating table with Israel despite declarations by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.
"I don't truly see Syria offering to renew negotiations with Israel," Dagan said.
"They have their public comments, but have made no attempt to ask the United Sates and Europe to try to advance the political process."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he would like to renew peace talks with Syria, but insisted that Damascus first end its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups.
"I hope that we will be able to arrive at some point at a dialogue with Syria if Syria upholds the most basic commitment: the cessation of violence, the same commitment we demand of anyone we talk to," Olmert said at a meeting of lawmakers from his Kadima party.
The prime minister told the cabinet last week that now is not the time to embark on negotiations with Damascus, given that U.S. President George W. Bush is demanding Assad "stop instigating war."

U.S. Senator Specter: Syria wants to resume talks with Israel Syria's president wants to resume peace negotiations with Israel, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter said Tuesday after meeting Bashar Assad.
"Assad stated an interest in negotiating with Israel to try to bring a peaceful settlement to the Syrian-Israeli dispute under the UN doctrine of land-for-peace," the Republican senator said at a press conference at Damascus airport before leaving the country after talks with the president and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
Specter did not say what conditions Assad gave for restarting talks with the Israelis. Syrian officials were not available for comment.
Syria has said it would resume negotiations but only within the framework of a comprehensive peace process. Damascus wants the return of the entire Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day war.
Specter said he discussed with Assad how Syria could use its influence with Hamas to urge the Palestinian militant group to give up its refusal to recognize Israel.
Syria's official news agency, SANA, reported that the Assad-Specter talks focused on the current situation in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and the issue of terrorism and ways of combating it.
Assad told Specter that all the region's problems should be solved, stressing that the solution to these problems is a political, rather than a security one, SANA said.
It added that Specter stressed the importance of reactivating the dialogue between the United States and Syria to achieve security and stability in the Middle East.
A bipartisan panel on Iraq recommended earlier this month that the U.S. engage Syria, Iraq's neighbor, toward returning stability to Iraq.

Related articles:

Continued (Permanent Link)

Peretz updates Jordan, Egypt on plan to ease Palestinian restrictions

Last update - 21:52 26/12/2006   
Peretz updates Jordan, Egypt on plan to ease Palestinian restrictions
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service

Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Tuesday evening called Egyptian and Jordanian officials to update them on Israel's plan to gradually ease restrictions on Palestinians in order to strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
During a phone summit with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit and Egypt's chief of intelligence, Omer Suleiman, Peretz praised Egypt for its attempts to curb arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip and urged it to increase its efforts on the matter. He also told the Arab officials that Israel had continued to abide by a nearly month-old ceasefire with Palestinian in Gaza, despite Palestinian violations.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that as a result of the new plan, Palestinians would soon feel a significant improvement in their daily lives.
"The proposed plan is likely to contribute to improving the atmosphere, strengthening moderate forces and distancing the civilian population from the cycle of terrorism," Olmert said in a statement. "My hope is that by [the Muslim holiday of] Eid al-Adha, the Palestinian population will feel a considerable improvement in its fabric of life."
"This is not say that we are slacking off in our was against terrorism," the prime minister added. "We will continue to fight terrorism with the same determination."
Olmert approved the plan Monday, which, among other gestures, includes the removal of 27 roadblocks across the West Bank.
Following a meeting between the prime minister, Peretz, and several other senior defense officials, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said the prime minister accepted all of Peretz's proposals for easing restrictions.
"The prime minister directed that restrictions be eased immediately for the Palestinian population in order to strengthen moderate elements and implement the agreements and understandings that were achieved [at his meeting with Abbas]," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.
According to the PMO, Sneh, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi, Defense Ministry Director-General Gabi Ashkenazi were also among those who participated in the meeting.
Peretz told a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing Monday that there are currently roughly 400 roadblocks in the West Bank. Peretz said the removal of 59 of the roadblocks had been decided upon, including the 27 to be removed in the immediate future.
But, the PMO statement said, the removal of roadblocks will only occur in the second stage of the plan to ease restrictions, in keeping with developments in the coming days.
In addition to the removal of roadblocks, security screening of Palestinian pedestrians and vehicles will be eased at 16 main checkpoints throughout the West Bank.
The plan also includes increasing the flow of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip through the Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings, as well as the flow of goods through West Bank crossings.
According to the PMO, the plan includes an increase in the number of transit permits for Palestinians not involved in terror activities.
Olmert also decided to implement a plan to pave dozens of interchanges along Route 60, which bisects the West Bank.
"According to security establishment data, paving the interchanges will reduce by approximately 40 percent the friction between the Palestinian population and IDF soldiers," said the PMO statement.
"In practice, paving the interchanges will enable the Palestinians to travel more easily - and without roadblocks - between rural communities and the main towns in Judea and Samaria."
The PMO said the cost of paving the intersections is estimated at millions of shekels.
Peretz also told the Knesset panel that he will receive a proposal for the removal of unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts within 10 days. According to Peretz, an agreement has been reached with the Yesha Council of Settlements on the voluntary evacuation of some of the outposts.
Peretz: Prisoner release could help free Shalit
Peretz said Monday that he supports the release of some Palestinian prisoners, even without a deal on the return of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and that such a measure could speed Shalit's release of the kidnapped.
"There has been a humanitarian release of prisoners every year at the approach of Eid al-Adha, Christmas, the holiday week," Peretz told reporters after a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
"A humanitarian act such as this would not distance the release of Gilad Shalit, and, I hope, would increase the chances for it." Shalit was kidnapped on June 25 from an IDF position bordering the Gaza Strip.
Olmert urged the cabinet Sunday to consider a prisoner release, reversing his earlier insistence that Shalit be released before Israel frees any Palestinians.
Peretz' plan, presented to the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, will follow the outline formulated by Sneh. The defense minister also approved steps that will make it easier for Palestinian workers and merchants to enter Israel.
As senior IDF officers and Defense Ministry officials were still in the throes of debate over the removal of army checkpoints in the West Bank, Sneh said Monday that the disagreements were to be expected under the circumstances.
Sneh told Army Radio that, "there are always disagreements between those who seek to take fewer risks and focus on security, and those who are interested in curbing hostility, friction and hatred."
Olmert promised Abbas that he would "personally supervise" the removal of checkpoints, in order to give Palestinians greater freedom of movement.

Continued (Permanent Link)

AG orders probe of government officials who funded outposts

Last update - 16:11 26/12/2006   
AG orders probe of government officials who funded outposts
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent

The attorney general on Tuesday ordered a criminal investigation opened against certain government officials who transferred funds and resources to settlers in illegal West Bank outposts.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided to probe the affair, which was exposed in a state comptroller report, in response to a petition submitted by the Peace Now movement calling for focused surveillance of the settlements.
However, Mazuz denied Peace Now's demand to open a general criminal investigation of every aspect of the affair.
"We see no room or possibility to open a general criminal investigation," said attorney Eyal Yanun, an aide to Mazuz. "We do not feel that the phenomenon in general, despite its gravity, is befitting of a criminal investigation, with the exception of a few specific aspects, which will be investigated."
Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has begun in recent days to consolidate government documents regarding the implementation of other recommendations from the state comptroller report on the matter of illegal outposts.

Continued (Permanent Link)

MI and Mossad disagree over Assad's intentions

MI and Mossad disagree over Assad's intentions
By Gideon Alon, Amos Harel and Aluf Benn
Military Intelligence believes that Syrian President Bashar Assad is serious about wanting to make peace with Israel, but the Mossad disagrees.
Brigadier General Yossi Baiditz, the head of MI's research division, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday, "Syria's signals about peace are genuine, and are intended to send Israel the message that they [the Syrians] are interested in peace in order to improve their regional situation."
But last week, Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the committee that he does not take Syria's peace overtures seriously. Every time Assad comes under international pressure, Dagan said, he pulls a "rabbit" out of his hat regarding his readiness to begin peace talks. "But I don't see Syria offering to resume negotiations with Israel," he said. "They have made public statements, but they have not made any attempt to turn to the U.S. and Europe to try to advance the diplomatic proces."
And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking at a meeting of his Kadima faction yesterday, said he "has no doubt that it is possible to begin speaking with Syria if it commits itself to ending violence and its support for terror, for Hamas and Hezbollah, and severs its connection with Iran." However, he said, he expects Assad to stop making "bombastic declarations" with nothing behind them and to take concrete action that would lead to a diplomatic process.
But Baiditz told the Foreign Affairs Committee that Syria is reluctant to make any gestures because it identifies no willingness on the part of the United States and Israel to meet it halfway.
Baiditz acknowledged that Syria is also building up its forces in preparation for a possible conflict with Israel, in part by acquiring weapons that could hit Israel's home front. However, he said, Damascus is not interested in such a conflict, and negotiations with Israel are in Syria's interests.
Committee members sounded rather confused by the Dagan-Baiditz disagreement. MK Danny Yatom (Labor), himself a former Mossad chief, said that Olmert should sit the two men down in one room and demand that each explain "how he interprets the exact same intelligence material in the opposite fashion - and then make a decision." In Olmert's place, he added, he would accept MI's interpretation.
In response to a query from MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), Baiditz confirmed that MI's view has been presented to Olmert.
A source in the Prime Minister's Office responded: "We believe the Syrians want to obtain the Golan Heights. The question - which MI doesn't answer - is whether negotiations with Syria would lead to the achievement of our goals, such as expulsion of the terrorist headquarters from Damascus and a severing of Syria's ties with Iran."
Baiditz, added the source, also failed to address Dagan's claim that talks with Syria would damage Israel's relations with Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Amir Peretz commented yesterday on a statement by army intelligence, reported in the media a few weeks ago, that war could erupt with Syria this summer. "There is no intelligence that a war is going to break out with Syria this summer," Peretz said.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Two teens hurt in Qassam strike by Sderot building

Last update - 00:08 27/12/2006   

Two teens hurt in Qassam strike by Sderot building
By Amos Harel and Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondents and Haaretz Service
Two teens were wounded on Tuesday evening, one moderately and one critically, when a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip landed in the western Negev town of Sderot.
The children, both approximately 14-years-old, were wounded in their limbs when the rocket hit near their residential building. They were treated on the spot by medics from Magen David Adom, and the evacuated to hospital.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Tuesday night in a telephone conversation to rescind the policy of restraint against Qassam rockets. "We cannot continue to restrain ourselves," he said. "We cannot let Jihad get stronger. We must fight against Qassam fire."
Olmert and Peretz will convene the security cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the escalation on the Gaza border.
Militants fired at least seven rockets at Israel over the course of the day, one of which landed near a strategic site in the southern port town of Ashkelon. Five of the rockets were fired within the morning hours. There were no injuries in any of those incidents.
Almost 30 Qassams have been fired over the last week, despite a cease-fire agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians.
One of the rockets landed in the western Negev city of Sderot causing damage to a building, and the other three landed in open areas nearby. No injuries were reported.
The Foreign Ministry said Monday that Israel's ambassador to the United Nations has been instructed to submit an urgent protest to the duty president of the UN Security Council, "strongly condemning Palestinian violations of the November 25 cease-fire."
The protest will note that since the cease-fire went into effect, 53 Qassam rockets have been fired into Israel, the ministry said in a statement.
The statement also said that Israel will ask the Security Council "to convey its serious protest andwarning to the UN secretary-general and to the Palestinian side, which it accuses of acts of provocation."
According to the ministry, "The formal protest is to note that no country in the world would tolerate the unceasing firing of rockets into its territory, and point out thatIsrael has the right to defend itself under Article 51 of the UN Charter."
The Shin Bet lifted a gag order on Tuesday dealing with the arrest of a Palestinian suspect in the murder of Israeli Marik Gavrielov six years ago. Gavrielov had traveled to the city of Bitounia outside Ramallah in order to sell his car, and was shot to death.
The suspect, Muhammad Saidi, a member of the military wing of Fatah from the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, was arrested for the October 2000 murder of Gavrielov, shortly after the outbreak of the second Intifada. Another suspect in the murder was arrested three years ago by the Shin Bet.
According to the Shin Bet, Saidi confessed to his involvement in the murder during his investigation.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Recovering the cradle of civilization

Recovering the cradle of civilization
By Akiva Eldar and Salameh Nematt

The following is an exchange of letters between two of the region's most respected journalists: Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief for the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, and Haaretz senior columnist Akiva Eldar.
Dear Akiva,
The ancient Romans used to say: Ex Oriente Lux: "Light comes from the East." They were not merely referring to the fact that the sun rises from the east. The three main monotheistic religions originated from the so-called Middle East. Indeed, civilization itself started in Mesopotamia.
But in today's world, the Middle East is better known for being the world's biggest source of political upheaval and violence, that has not only plagued the region's people but is now threatening global security. The term "terrorism," which is yet to gain a globally accepted definition, has become a common term associated with developments in the Middle East, and, more ominously, linked to people originating from that mainly Muslim part of the world.
When perpetrators of these violent acts, which are mainly committed against innocent civilians, portray their murderous acts as being in the service of God, one is reminded of Christianity in the Dark Ages and of the bloody "Crusades" that terrorized people in the Middle East nearly a thousand years ago. Are these self-righteous and self-appointed guardians of Islam - Bin Laden and Co. - just beginning to adopt tactics pursued by Christian leaders in Medieval times?
Judaism is not free of the violent types who use religion as a means to achieve political gains either. A case in point is the terrorism committed by the Irgun and Stern gangs in Palestine during the 1940s' movement to establish the state of Israel.
Even if we assume that the Jews and the Christians have succeeded in achieving some of their goals through violence in the past, what do the Muslim extremists, including Hamas and Hezbollah and their Iranian and Syrian backers, hope to achieve today in a world where what you could get away with a few centuries ago, or even a few decades ago, is no longer tenable?
How did the cradle of civilization turn into the cradle of blind political violence in the name of religion?
Dear Akiva, one could go as far back as the Crusades, or much more recently to the times of European colonization of the Middle East and the creation of Israel, with Western backing. One could blame today's miserable state of affairs both on the history of Western involvement in the region and the corrupt and oppressive regimes left behind to rule.
But this alone could not have created the type of terrorism we witness today. For why do Muslims kill fellow Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere more than they target alien, Western invaders?
One must question whether the politics of despair are responsible for the kind of violence we have been witnessing in the last few years. Is the absence of hope for Palestinians a recipe for further violence against Israel and among Palestinians themselves? This is a question that needs to be answered if we are to understand what drives these extremist and fanatical groups to wreak havoc in the Middle East and beyond.
It is naive to think that religion is responsible for the violence in the Middle East, even if it is often used as a convenient excuse for achieving political goals. Violence is the product of weak and desperate people suffering unaddressed grievances, real and imagined. The failure of states in the region to provide peaceful means for political change through a democratic process has largely contributed to the growing phenomenon. Threats to regional and global security are the product of current realities in the Middle East that must change before we can hope that the cradle of civilization can once again become a beacon of light upon nations.
But how do we change these realities, dear Akiva?
You know how much influence Israel, the superpower of the Middle East, can exercise over America, the world's superpower. And you know that Israel's continuing occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands has been a key factor in igniting and perpetuating a regional conflict that has spread beyond the region and is now drawing us into a clash of civilizations. You know very well that Israel, in defiance of international law, has deliberately and consistently worked to undermine and abort every local, regional or international peace plan that has ever been tabled. The aborting of these plans was also achieved with the help of Palestinian and Arab militants, but isn't it Israel's policies that have undermined Palestinian and Arab moderates?
This "jihad" business was first championed by Arabs seeking the liberation of Palestinian and Arab lands, before it became an international phenomenon plaguing the entire world, overtaken by their more violent Islamic successors. Don't you agree that Israel's occupation inspired the secular, PLO jihadists before they were overtaken by their more violent Islamic successors? Is it conceivable that nobody knows, including the Israelis, where the borders of Israel are, or where they should be?
What will it take, dear Akiva, for Israel to realize that it has to do the right thing before it can claim the higher moral ground? What would it take for Israel to realize that force alone does not bring legitimacy?
I have no doubts, dear Akiva, that a solution will not come from Washington, London or Paris. It has to come from where everything seems to have started, from the region, perhaps from Israel. Light Comes from the East.
Dear Salameh,
Thank you so much for your trust. I truly appreciate your effort to start this dialogue with an Israeli colleague while our people, instead of negotiating peace, are killing each other.
Our peoples are at a critical juncture, and we cannot afford to dwell on the wounds of our past. You will surely agree with me, my dear Salameh, that in light of the threats looming over our area and affecting peace in the entire world, the peace camp and the pragmatic forces must focus on searching for a cure for the severe malady which assails us from all directions - the malady of fanaticism and violence.
Nevertheless, in order for this dialogue to lead us to common ground, allow me to disagree with a few of your comments, mainly those pertaining to the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. First of all, I was glad you mentioned the terror attacks led by the right-wing Jewish resistance against Arab civilians before 1948. To these I may add the vile attack by Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 believers at prayer in a Hebron mosque, as well as the harassment of Palestinians by settlers.
My friends and I at Haaretz and other Israeli media outlets incessantly report the sins of occupation. The Haganah [the mainstream Jewish resistance against the British mandate] and David Ben-Gurion's government fought the Jewish terror organizations and excluded them from their camp. Four hundred thousand Jews, myself included, demonstrated against the Begin-Sharon government during the first Lebanon War, until it was forced to create a formal commission of inquiry - all this because our army was in control of the area while Christian criminals massacred Muslims at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps.
Dear Salameh, I remember the day, in the early summer of 1994, when King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the peace treaty between both our countries. A Jordanian newspaper editor who was introduced to me in Washington refused to shake my hand and respond to my excited congratulations on this historic occasion. Several years later, the Jordanian Press Association expelled a group of journalists who had visited the Haaretz offices in Tel Aviv. Most leading Egyptian intellectuals also boycott Israel and avoid contact with even the most moderate elements of Israeli society. The reason, or excuse, is always the Israeli occupation.
As you noted in your article, dear Salameh, and as you found out during our joint lecture in Washington in early November, I do not hide my severe criticism of the Israeli government's policy in the territories. But I do believe that the highlighting of failures and the allocation of blame are not the sole, or even the main, role of those who shape public opinion. Our main challenge is constantly to sound the alarm regarding the dangers of extremism and the threat of war looming over our area, while showing the benefits of reconciliation and the fruits of peace. A necessary condition for our success is finding the common ground between the Israeli peace camp and the Arab peace camp.
As you noted, Israeli governments have been indifferent, or even hostile, to peace programs based on UN resolutions, the Clinton parameters, the "road map," or the Arab League's Beirut resolution. Our politicians cynically use the terror attacks and the propaganda led by Arab fanatics as a black smokescreen. The role of our colleagues in the Arab media and elites is to help us lift this thick screen and show our readership that behind it are millions of people who long for a secure and peaceful life.
The Jewish minority that calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and steals their olives is my enemy. I will do everything legally possible to protect my Arab neighbors from the obnoxious attacks of this racist minority. But Israelis need to know that Arabs who call for the expulsion of Jews from their land, and deliberately murder their children, are enemies of yours, and that there are many among you willing to defend my family against those who deny my right to a secure existence in my own country.
Your claim that Israeli occupation inspired the first Arab terrorists as well as international terrorism is far from accurate (unless the definition of "occupation" applies to Haifa and Tel Aviv as well). The PLO first recognized Israel and UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and renounced terrorism only as late as 1988. The covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which called for the destruction of the Zionist entity, was amended only following the Oslo Accords, which were signed five years later. Unfortunately, the light that shone over Oslo is dwindling, in great part because of our leaders, who missed countless opportunities, but also because of indolent Palestinian leaders.
As your letter shows, the hurts of the past and subjective narratives are in the way, even when it comes to such true lovers of peace as yourself. Our peoples are handicapped. Unless our friends in the West offer us crutches immediately, we shall fall headlong. And when the East falls, it will not fall alone. Unfortunately, dear Salameh, the light will start shimmering in the East only if the West will awaken and help the peace forces in our area to turn back the forces of darkness.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Last update - 11:02 26/12/2006

Last update - 11:02 26/12/2006
New settlement planned for former Gaza settlers
By Nadav Shragai, Nir Hasson, and Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondents

The Defense Ministry has approved the building of a new settlement in the northern Jordan Valley, outside of the West Bank separation fence, which will house families evacuated from Gaza settlements.

The site of the planned settlement will be a former installation of the Haredi branch of the Israel Defense Forces Nahal infantry brigade.

The plans, approved Monday, include the construction of 30 houses intended for families who were evacuated from Gush Katif as part of the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005.

The settlement, to be named Maskiot, will include 20 families from the former Gaza settlement of Shirat Hayam and another 10 families from other settlements in Gush Katif.

Jordan Valley Regional Council leader Dubi Tal said Tuesday that construction is expected to begin in two weeks. Nonetheless, it is not certain when families will begin moving to the settlement.

Emily Amrusy, a spokeswoman for the Yesha Council of Settlements, said 42 of the 1,700 families evacuated from the Gaza Strip had moved to the West Bank and were living in temporary housing.

"The explanation [for the low numbers] is that most of the families wanted to live in southern Israel to be close to working places and relatives," she said.

She said the government had promised to build "a neighborhood" for Gaza evacuees in Maskiot and they planned to move into caravans at the site to await the construction of permanent housing.

The plan for the new settlement was first approved during the tenure of former prime minister Ariel Sharon by his then-senior aide Ilan Cohen, but approval was delayed pending approval by the defense minister.

In the past, Maskiot was an installation of the Haredi branch of the Nahal infantry brigade. The installation was later abandoned, and today most of its buildings are empty and are used for pre-army preparatory programs.

In May, GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, who is the overall West Bank commander, approved the expansion of the territory of four settlements, Beitar Illit, Givat Zeev, Ornit, and Maskiot. Maskiot is the only one of the four located outside of the separation fence.

The proposal to approve the expansions was received by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, and was met by opposition from his successor Amir Peretz. Nonetheless, the plans remained on the table, pending approval.

Shirat Hayam was one of the more ideologically-driven settlements in Gush Katif and was the last settlement founded in Gush Katif. Shirat Hayam was founded in 2000 in response to a terrorist attack on a school bus transporting children from the settlement of Kfar Darom.

"We want to move together as a group, and carry on the legacy of our community. The place to do this is the [Jordan] Valley," said Avinadav Vitkon, an evacuee from Shirat Hayam.

"Of course we're worried about a future evacuation, and we do have mixed feelings, but this seems to be our fate, we see this as a challenge," he added.

Another Gush Katif evacuee, Yossi Hazot, on Wednesday stated that "We aren't moving to the Jordan Valley just to be evacuated in two years, but, also not to prevent a future evacuation. I expect that the Jordan Valley will remain in our hands for many years. Some say the Jordan Valley is a question mark, in which case, we are the exclamation point."

Continued (Permanent Link)

The Carter disappointment


December 26, 2006


Jimmy Carter's Book:
An Israeli View

December 26, 2006; Page A12

Several prominent scholars have taken issue with Jimmy Carter's book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," cataloguing its historical inaccuracies and lamenting its lack of balance. The journalist Jeffrey Goldberg also critiqued the book's theological purpose, which, he asserted, was to "convince American Evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel."

Mr. Carter indeed seems to have a religious problem with the Jewish state. His book bewails the fact that Israel is not the reincarnation of ancient Judea but a modern, largely temporal democracy. "I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures," he recalls telling Prime Minister Golda Meir during his first tour through the country. "A common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of the Labor government."

He complains about the fact that the kibbutz synagogue he enters is nearly empty on the sabbath and that the Bibles presented to Israeli soldiers "was one of the few indications of a religious commitment that I observed during our visit." But he also reproves contemporary Israelis for allegedly mistreating the Samaritans -- "the same complaint heard by Jesus almost two thousand years earlier" -- and for pilfering water from the Jordan River, "where . . . Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist."

Disturbed by secular Laborites, he is further unnerved by religiously minded Israelis who seek to fulfill the biblical injunction to settle the entire Land of Israel. There are "two Israels," Mr. Carter concludes, one which embodies the "the ancient culture of the Jewish people, defined by the Hebrew Scriptures," and the other in "the occupied Palestinian territories," which refuses to "respect the basic human rights of the citizens."

Whether in its secular and/or observant manifestations, Israel clearly discomfits Mr. Carter, a man who, even as president, considered himself in "full-time Christian service." Yet, in revealing his unease with the idea of Jewish statehood, Mr. Carter sets himself apart from many U.S. presidents before and after him, as well as from nearly 400 years of American Christian thought.

* * *

Generations of Christians in this country, representing a variety of dominations, laymen and clergy alike, have embraced the concept of renewed Jewish sovereignty in Palestine. The passion was already evident in 1620 when William Bradford alighted on Plymouth Rock and exclaimed, "Come, let us declare the word of God in Zion." Bradford was a leader of the Puritans, dissenting Protestants who, in their search for an unsullied religion and the strength to resist state oppression, turned to the Old Testament. There, they found a God who spoke directly to his people, who promised to deliver them from bondage and return them to their ancestral homeland. Appropriating this narrative, the Puritans fashioned themselves as the New Jews and America as their New Promised Land. They gave their children Hebrew names -- David, Benjamin, Sarah, Rebecca -- and called over 1,000 of their towns after Biblical places, including Bethlehem, Bethel and, of course, New Canaan.

Identifying with the Jews, a great many colonists endorsed the notion of restoring Palestine to Jewish control. Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental Congress, predicted that the Jews, "however scattered . . . are to be recovered by the mighty power of God, and restored to their beloved . . . Palestine." John Adams imagined "a hundred thousand Israelites" marching triumphantly into Palestine. "I really wish the Jews in Judea an independent nation," he wrote. During the Revolution, the association between America's struggle for independence and the Jews' struggle for repatriation was illustrated by the proposed Great Seal designed by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, showing Moses leading the Children of Israel toward the Holy Land.

Restorationism became a major theme in antebellum religious thought and a mainstay of the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches. In his 1844 bestseller, "The Valley of the Vision," New York University Bible scholar George Bush -- a forebear of two presidents of the same name -- called on the U.S. to devote its economic and military might toward recreating a Jewish polity in Palestine. But merely envisioning such a state was insufficient for some Americans, who, in the decades before the Civil War, left home to build colonies in Palestine. Each of these settlements had the same goal: to teach the Jews, long disenfranchised from the land, to farm and so enable them to establish a modern agrarian society. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln said that "restoring the Jews to their homeland is a noble dream shared by many Americans," and that the U.S. could work to realize that goal once the Union prevailed.

Nineteenth-century restorationism reached its fullest expression in an 1891 petition submitted by Midwestern magnate William Blackstone to President Benjamin Harrison. The Blackstone Memorial, as it was called, urged the president to convene an international conference to discuss ways of reviving Jewish dominion in Palestine. Among the memorial's 400 signatories were some of America's most preeminent figures, including John D. Rockefeller, J. Pierpont Morgan, Charles Scribner and William McKinley. By the century's turn, those advocating restored Jewish sovereignty in Palestine had begun calling themselves Zionists, though the vast majority of the movement's members remained Christian rather than Jewish. "It seems to me that it is entirely proper to start a Zionist State around Jerusalem," wrote Teddy Roosevelt, "and [that] the Jews be given control of Palestine."

Such sentiments played a crucial role in gaining international recognition for Zionist claims to Palestine during World War I, when the British government sought American approval for designating that area as the Jewish national home. Though his closest counselors warned him against endorsing the move, Woodrow Wilson, the son and grandson of Presbyterian preachers, rejected their advice. "To think that I the son of the manse [parsonage] should be able to help restore the Holy Land to its people," he explained. With Wilson's imprimatur, Britain issued the declaration that became the basis of its League of Nations mandate in Palestine, and as the precursor to the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution creating the Jewish state.

The question of whether or not to recognize that state fell to Harry S. Truman. Raised in a Baptist household where he learned much of the Bible by heart, Truman had been a member of the pro-Zionist American Christian Palestine Committee and an advocate of the right of Jews -- particularly Holocaust survivors -- to immigrate to Palestine. He was naturally inclined to acknowledge the nascent state but encountered fervid opposition from the entire foreign policy establishment. If America sided with the Zionists, officials in the State and Defense Departments cautioned, the Arabs would cut off oil supplies to the West, undermine America's economy and expose Europe to Soviet invasion. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops would have to be sent to Palestine to save its Jews from massacre.

Truman listened carefully to these warnings and then, at 6:11 on the evening of May 14, he announced that the U.S. would be the first nation to recognize the newly-declared State of Israel. While the decision may have stemmed in part from domestic political considerations, it is difficult to conceive that any politician, much less one of Truman's character, would have risked global catastrophe by recognizing a frail and miniscule country. More likely, the dramatic démarche reflected Truman's religious background and his commitment to the restorationist creed. Introduced a few weeks later to an American Jewish delegation as the president who had helped create Israel, Truman took umbrage and snapped, "What you mean 'helped create'? I am Cyrus" -- a reference to the Persian king who returned the Jews from exile -- "I am Cyrus!"

Since 1948, some administrations (Eisenhower, Bush Sr.) have been less ardent in their attachment to Israel, and others (Kennedy, Nixon) more so. Throughout the last 60 years, though, the U.S. has never wavered in its concern for Israel's survival and its support for the Jewish people's right to statehood. While U.S.-Israel ties are no doubt strengthened by common bonds of democracy and Western culture, religion remains an integral component in that relationship. We know that Lyndon Johnson's Baptist grandfather told him to "take care of the Jews, God's chosen people," and that Bill Clinton's pastor, on his deathbed, made the future president promise never to abandon the Jewish state. We know how faith has impacted the policies of George W. Bush, who is perhaps the most pro-Israel president in history.

In his apparent attempt to make American Christians rethink their affection for Israel, Jimmy Carter is clearly departing from time-honored practice. This has not been the legacy of evangelicals alone, but of many religious denominations in the U.S., and not solely the conviction of Mr. Bush, but of generations of American leaders. In the controversial title of his book, Mr. Carter implicitly denounces Israel for its separatist policies, but, by doing so, he isolates himself from centuries of American tradition.

Mr. Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is the author of "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East," to be published by Norton in January.

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Hamas using Gaza cease-fire to beef up military forces

IDF: Hamas using Gaza cease-fire to beef up military forces
By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Corrspondent Last update - 02:47 26/12/2006

Israel will soon have to face improved Palestinian weapons capabilities in the Gaza Strip, Brigadier General Sami Turjeman, who heads the operations directorate in the General Staff, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

"In another few months, in the Gaza Strip we will have to deal with military capabilities of the terror organizations that we haven't been familiar with until now, especially in the realm of anti-tank missiles," he said.

There has recently been a significant improvement in the terror groups' capabilities regarding sniping, defense, launching anti-tank missiles, and other areas, Turjeman said. He warned that their abilities are reaching a semi-military level.

The head of the Military Intelligence research department, Brigadier General Yossi Beidetz, said the threat from Gaza will be significantly greater a year from now because Hamas is using the cease-fire to strenghten its forces. He said Hamas would like to extend the lull to the West Bank as well.

Islamic Jihad has continued firing Qassam rockets at Israel since the November 26 cease-fire, but the number of rockets has decreased, Beidetz told the panel.

He also said 25 Palestinians have been killed in the current round of fighting between Hamas and Fatah militants.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz expressed his objections on Monday to Israel's current policy of restraint regarding Gaza, whereby Israel Defense Forces troops are not allowed to fire on Palestinian militants who are about to launch Qassam rockets.

Such cells must know that they will be targeted, Peretz said. He said allowing rocket-launching cells to move freely even in open areas, when there is no fear that innocent Palestinians will be hit in an Israeli attack, does not contribute to the stability of the cease-fire. Peretz said he has asked that the government discuss the matter further.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Iran Oil Revenue Quickly Drying Up, Analysis Says

Iran Oil Revenue Quickly Drying Up, Analysis Says
Associated Press
The Washington Post Tuesday, December 26, 2006; A09

Iran is suffering a staggering decline in revenue from its oil exports, and if the trend continues income could virtually disappear by 2015, according to an analysis published yesterday in a journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

Iran's economic woes could make the country unstable and vulnerable, with its oil industry crippled, Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University, said in the report and in an interview.

Iran earns about $50 billion a year in oil exports. The decline is estimated at 10 to 12 percent annually. In less than five years, exports could be halved, and they could disappear by 2015, Stern predicted.

Stern's analysis, which appears in this week's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supports U.S. and European suspicions that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of international understandings. But, Stern says, there could be merit to Iran's assertion that it needs nuclear power for civilian purposes.

He said oil production is declining and both gas and oil are being sold domestically at highly subsidized rates. At the same time, Iran is neglecting to reinvest in its oil production.

Iran produces about 3.7 million barrels a day, about 300,000 barrels below the quota set for Iran by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The shortfall represents a loss of about $5.5 billion a year, Stern said. In 2004, Iran's oil profits were 65 percent of the government's revenue.

If the United States can "hold its breath" for a few years, it may find Iran a much more conciliatory country, he said. And that, Stern said, is good reason to delay any instinct to take on Iran militarily.

"What they are doing to themselves is much worse than anything we could do," he said.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Courageous Bangladesh journalist deserves Canadian supportP

Tuesday » December 26 » 2006 MONTREAL GAZETTE

Courageous Bangladesh journalist deserves Canadian support
Choudhury faces trial for the sin of promoting inter-faith dialogue

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is not a household name. But he should be - and his case is becoming - a cause celebre. For this courageous
Bangladesh journalist and human-rights defender is about to stand trial on the charges of sedition, treason and blasphemy, offences possibly punishable by the death penalty.

His crime? Promoting inter-faith dialogue among Muslims, Jews and Christians, seeking peaceful relations with
Israel, and expressing concerns about extremist radical Islam.

These views - published in the Bangladesh Weekly Blitz, which he edits - resulted in Choudhury first being arrested on Nov. 29, 2003 at the Bangladesh National Airport as he was about to board a plane to attend a conference in Israel on the media's role in education for peace.

Bangladesh law forbids its citizens from visiting countries, such as Israel, with which Bangladesh does not maintain diplomatic relations, Choudhury was originally cited for a violation of the Passport Act, which is usually sanctioned with an $8 fine. But that was not the punishment meted out to Choudhury. Following his arrest, he was taken into custody and - as he has reported - was subsequently blindfolded, beaten and interrogated incessantly for 10 days in an attempt to coerce a confession that he was an Israeli "spy."

Choudhury, who refused to confess to the false charge, for which no evidence was ever adduced, was charged two months later with "sedition," and was subsequently held for 16 months in solitary confinement in a
Dhaka prison, without access to counsel or even medical treatment for a debilitating glaucoma.

Choudhury was released on bail on
April 30, 2005 after interventions by the U.S. State Department and congressional involvement, together with protest by the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Journalistes sans frontieres. Indeed, on Sept. 29, 2005, he was awarded the Freedom to Write Award by Pen U.S.A., and in May 2006 he received the American Jewish Committee Moral Courage Award in absentia in Washington. Two days before the award,
Bangladesh officials rescinded his permission to travel and warned him not to leave the country.

From July 2006 on, as Choudhury told me, he became the target of continuous threats, intimidation and violence. For example, on July 6, his newspaper offices were bombed by an extremist Islamic organization after his newspaper published an article supportive of the Ahmadiyya Muslim minority. On Sept. 18, a judge with alleged ties to an extremist Islamic party ruled that Choudhury was to stand trial for sedition, despite the fact that the public prosecutor had testified two days earlier that the government did not have evidence to proceed with the charges and was prepared to have them dropped.

On Oct. 5, Choudhury was attacked at his newspaper offices by a large crowd, including prominent members of the ruling Bangladesh National Party, was called an "agent of the Jews," and badly beaten. When he reported the attack to the police, no action was taken; on the contrary, after he lodged a formal complaint, the police responded by issuing an arrest warrant for him.

It is not Choudhury who should be on trial; rather, it is the Bangladesh authorities who have violated his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Bangladesh constitution, international treaties as well as the basic principles of criminal justice, including:

a. the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty;

b. the right not to be arbitrarily arrested and detained;

c. the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the nature of the charge, and the right to a prompt appearance before a judge to challenge the lawfulness of arrest and detention;

d. the prohibition against torture and the right to humane conditions during detention;

e. the right to protection against coercive interrogation;

f. the right of access to legal counsel;

g. the right to equal access to, and equality before, the courts;

h. the right to a fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal;

i. the right to freedom of religion and conscience;

j. the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press;

k. the right to freedom of association and assembly; and

l. the right to freedom of movement, including the right to leave and re-enter the country.

Apart from these violations of Choudhury's fundamental rights - that are reasons enough to quash the charges even before the trial begins - the trumped-up charges themselves are devoid of any basis in fact or law. As well, there is a particular Canadian connection to the Choudhury case.
Canada has been an active partner and participant in a Canada-Bangladesh
Rule of Law project, including, in particular, joint initiatives to promote the protection of fundamental rights as well as "due process" principles and the rule of law in the
Bangladesh criminal justice system.

Indeed, during my tenure as Canadian justice minister and attorney-general, I held two meetings with the
Bangladesh law minister Mouad Ahmed in which the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights were prominent in our discussions. Moreover, Ahmed had himself been a political prisoner, and therefore had an abiding interest in promoting the rule of law in

At the time of Choudhury's first arrest in 2003, a New York Times editorial characterized him as having "a rare virtue - he champions dialogue and decency in a culture hemmed in by extremism and corruption." The charges against Choudhury, said the New York Times editorial, are a "baseless sham." It went on to say, after describing the plight of journalists in
Bangladesh may now be among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. That makes Choudhury's courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable - and vital to defend."

Three years later, Choudhury faces possible death from this "baseless sham." It is vital now to defend Choudhury's rights as we defend the courageous stand that brought about his ordeal.

Irwin Cotler is MP for
Mount Royal, a former justice minister, and a law professor at McGill University (on leave). He has acted on behalf of many political prisoners all over the world.

© The Gazette (
Montreal) 2006

Copyright © 2006 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks
Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Journalist, Columnist, Author & Peace Activist
PENUSA FTW Award 2005, AJC Moral Courage Award 2006
Editor & Publisher, Weekly Blitz
Chief Editor, Weekly Jamjamat

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Hizbullah holding commanders accountable for performance in 2006 war; Israel is not

Hizbullah holding commanders accountable for performance in 2006 war; Israel
is not

Geostrategy-Direct,, December 27, 2006

Hizbullah is not your average terrorist group. Iran established Hizbullah
along the lines of modern military and intelligence organizations.

So, Hizbullah has been drawing lessons from its 34-day war with Israel in the summer of 2006. Hizbullah commanders who have not measured up have been reprimanded, demoted or dismissed.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is leading investigations into the performance of Hizbullah units and commanders. IRGC has drafted recommendations and Hizbullah Secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has been implementing them.

Nasrallah dismissed a key Hizbullah commander because of his performance
during the war. Hassin Jamil Yunis was responsible for Hizbullah in the
Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border and was blamed for repeated Israeli
military strikes on Hizbullah's logistical center there. In one of those
strikes, about 50 Hizbullah troops were killed.

Lebanese sources said Hassin was blamed for failing to prepare for Israeli
strikes. They cited a raid by Israel's Sayeret Matcal, or General
Reconnaissance forces, toward the end of the war in August.

Ironically, Israel's military has done almost no house cleaning since the
war. The main reason is the fear by Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan
Halutz that he would only encourage critics who have been calling for his

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JPost: Serioous leaders doing serious work (Gershon Baskin

Serious leaders doing serious work

The long-overdue Olmert-Abbas meeting, which finally took place eight months after Ehud Olmert's government was sworn in, was a positive step but hardly sufficient to resume a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Olmert, to his credit, had tried for months to convene the meeting with Abbas. It has been Abbas who has been reluctant, both out of concern that he would leave the meeting empty-handed, and that Olmert would present him with a list of demands he could not deliver.

Abbas cannot release Gilad Shalit, does not control the Hamas-led government or parliament, and cannot prevent the Kassam rockets attacks from Gaza.

So why now? Perhaps there was a sense that since Abbas's calls for early elections there has been a need to strengthen the position of the moderates.

President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have let Olmert know that he needs to take the initiative to strengthen Abbas, including releasing revenues being withheld by Israel.

It is quite clear that the release of Palestinian political prisoners would strengthen the moderates, and we can be quite sure that Abbas raised the issue of Marwan Barghouti with Olmert.

Abbas has not yet set a date for early elections, in which Hamas continues to state it will not participate.

Palestinian infighting continues despite attempts to reach understandings that would prevent civil war.

Abbas's call for early elections has renewed attempts to reach a national unity government, but it seems very unlikely that these talks will succeed. The public statements made by various Hamas leaders, including the prime minister, demonstrate that there is no willingness or ability in Hamas to even come close to meeting the Quartet's demands.

Abbas's attempts to finesse and fudge the demands by using all kinds of implicit understandings concerning the recognition of Israel are still too far from the Hamas ideology to enable it to join a unity government with Fatah.

IN ORDER for Abbas to make good on his call for early elections he has a lot of work to do within Fatah. His own political movement is still perceived by the public as corrupt, non-democratic and controlled by ancient "revolutionaries" who should have been retired years ago. For Fatah to have any real chance of succeeding in future elections deep reforms will have to take place.

People like Barghouti could play a real role in reviving Fatah. At least three ministers in the Olmert government have said to me in private meetings that the release of Barghouti is not a question of "if," but of "when." In response to that question, I would say now is the time.

IT IS also time to recognize that, despite the genuine need to rebuild trust, the more urgent necessity is to address the real issues in conflict.

The future of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship is not based on good-will gestures. Olmert seems to have been very generous in agreeing to release $100m. to Abbas, but there are about $700m. of Palestinian money being withheld by Israel. Israel continues to control almost every aspect of Palestinian life. Movement and access agreements have not been implemented and Palestinians cannot move freely, even within the confines of their own territories.

The Gush Katif settlers used to produce more than $100m. a year in fresh produce, yet the Palestinians lost about $25m. last year because they could not export their produce because of Israeli closures. These are all symptoms of the continuation of the Israeli occupation.

June 5, 2007 will mark 40 years of occupation. It seems that Olmert would, at least in principle, like the occupation to end. That and creating Israeli-Palestinian peace is not a pipe dream but a real possibility, despite all the setbacks and failures during the past 13 years.

Since the recognition of Israel by Yasser Arafat already in 1988, the root cause of the conflict has been the continuation of the occupation. It is easy to blame the Palestinians for the failures of the peace processes until now, as they too are responsible because of their continued reliance on violence instead of diplomacy.

However, we must also recognize that if it was us under occupation, we too would not accept being denied our freedom for 40 years,and would use every means possible to secure it.

FOLLOWING the Olmert-Abbas meeting, Olmert stated that he hoped its positive nature would lead to a renewal of a political process that would advance the common agenda that is in the interests of both sides. It is now time for Olmert to declare that the goal of the political process is to end the occupation and create Israeli-Palestinian peace.

At the same time, Olmert should announce that unilateralism is not the way forward and that all future steps will be taken within the framework of direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Within six months it should be possible for Olmert and Abbas to reach agreement on a Declaration of Principles regarding ending the occupation, and on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Political progress is what Abbas needs to take to the Palestinian public in elections, not an Israeli gesture of $100m. of Palestinian money. Photo-ops will not advance peace; moving toward the end of the occupation will.

Both Olmert and Abbas present themselves as serious leaders. It is time for them to get serious about leading.

The writer is the Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (

This article can also be read at




Continued (Permanent Link)

Is Saudi Pressure behind a reported US arms embargo on Israel?

This is the full version of an abbreviated report sent earlier. If true, it also helps explain why Israel has refrained from responding to Palestinian missile strikes, despite repeated violations of the "truce,"  and why Israel is launching a peace initiative at this time: According to this report, the US is responding to Saudi pressure, because the US believes that Saudi Arabian support is a key factor to success in Iraq.
The arms embargo has not been reported elsewhere and has not been confirmed. A hypothesis based on the interest of the Saudis in the welfare of the Palestinians is questionable, and the role the Saudis might play in Iraq may be marginal.
[MENL] -- The Bush administration has blocked arms and technology transfers to Israel.

Israeli and U.S. sources said the State Department has blocked the transfer of weapons and technology to the Jewish state over the last three months.  The sources said the halt reflected deteriorating relations between the two countries since the end of the war in Lebanon in August 2006.     "Nobody will say openly that there is a problem," a government source said. "But there is a serious problem that reflects the marginalization of Israel in U.S. strategy."

The unofficial suspension of U.S. arms deliveries began in late September, the sources said. They said the suspension halted the airlift of air-to-ground and other munitions conducted during and immediately after the Israeli war with Hizbullah.     "Several weeks after the war, the U.S. supplies stopped," the source aid. "There was no real explanation."

The sources said the administration has held up a list of weapons requested by Israel in wake of the Lebanon war. They said the weapons and equipment -- including the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM -- were ment to replenish munitions and other stocks in preparation for a larger war that would include Syria in mid-2007.   "The administration has not rejected any Israeli request," a U.S.  official said. "Instead, the State Department and Defense Department have said that all requests must be examined."

The administration refusal to approve the Israeli requests has also hampered military cooperation between the two countries. In November, the Israel Air Force canceled plans to send delegations to the United States to examine air systems and munitions.   A U.S. official said the White House was deeply disappointed by the Israeli failure to defeat Hizbullah. The official said the war undermined U.S. confidence in Israel's military and government.  "The word in the White House was that Israel lost the war," the official said. "That alone led to a plummet in Israel's stock in the administration, particularly the Pentagon."

The U.S. refusals have also hampered Israeli defense programs. The sources said the State Department has prevented the transfer of data and technology, even from projects that included Israeli participation.  In one case, State prevented Northrop Grumman from providing details ofits Skyguard laser weapon, which the company has sought to sell to Israel.  The ban led to the suspension of Israeli negotiations to procure Skyguard, designed to intercept short-range rockets and missiles.

The sources said the halt in U.S. weapons exports to Israel was designed to assuage Saudi Arabia. They said Riyad has increasingly linked regional cooperation with Washington to pressure on Israel to halt attacks on Palestinian insurgency strongholds in the Gaza Strip.  "The White House believes that Saudi help is vital for the United States in Iraq," a diplomatic source said. "There's nothing like stopping the weapons flow to Israel to show the Saudis that the United States means business."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Jordan to host Palestinian talks

Jordan to host Palestinian talks
Jordan is to host talks between the Palestinian Authority's president and prime minister to try to end violence between their factions, officials say.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniya had accepted an invitation from Jordan's King Abdullah, a spokesman for Mr Haniya's Hamas party said.

President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Jordan on Monday but no date has been set for the head-to-head meeting.

Factional fighting flared after Mr Abbas called for early elections.

His Fatah party lost elections last January to Hamas, which has denounced the new poll call as an attempted "coup".

Funds released

Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Hamas-led government, said King Abdullah had invited Mr Haniya to discuss his "differences" with Mr Abbas.

"Haniya has welcomed the invitation. Arrangements are under way to agree on the date," Mr Hamad said.

A spokesman for the Jordanian government, which has been supportive of Mr Abbas but has had cool relations with Hamas, said the meeting was an attempt "to reinvigorate the peace process and solidify Palestinian national unity".

Jordan closed Hamas's offices in its capital, Amman, in 1999 and expelled its senior leadership.

Mr Abbas arrived in Jordan on Monday following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the first formal talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders for nearly two years.

The Israeli cabinet approved the release of $100m (£51m) in frozen Palestinian funds.

Mr Abbas travels to Egypt on Tuesday.

The Palestinian territories have seen renewed fighting between Hamas and Fatah militants since Mr Abbas's election call on 16 December.

The two leaders called for a second ceasefire last Wednesday after one three days earlier had failed.

Relations between Fatah and Hamas have been strained since Hamas won power.

A Western aid boycott imposed because of Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel or renounce violence has helped create a political deadlock.

Continued (Permanent Link)

The inscrutable west: US plans Palestinian state because nobody in Palestine can keep order

Perhaps the US, and Forward newspaper, have decided that since logic doesn't work in the Middle East, it is better to follow non-logic. The best response to policies that make little sense, it is thought, is policies and analysis that make no sense at all. From the Forward newspaper, we learn that the United States State Department, never very strong in the logic area, is considering a proposal to declare a Palestinian State with provisional borders in 2007. This is another example of the US idea of democracy. They will declare a state for other people, even after those people insisted that they do not want such a state. Many thought Ben Gurion was nuts when he declared a state of the Jewish people, but even Ben Gurion was not nuts enough to declare a state of another people.

The logic of this proposal is nothing less than awesome:

A diplomatic official argued that, because of the chaos in the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli demands [for cessation of violence] are no longer relevant, since it is clear that there is no Palestinian leader who can deliver on the issue of fighting terror.

If there is nobody who can make order in the entire country, it is obviously the ideal circumstance for declaring a state, isn't it? I mean, what could be better? "State of Anarchy." Don't knock it. Look at how well it is working in Iraq. Continued here.

Continued (Permanent Link)



TEL AVIV [MENL] -- Iran has accelerated military training of Hamas.

Israeli officials said up to several hundred Hamas operatives have recently left the Gaza Strip for Iran. They said the operatives were undergoing several weeks of military training by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"The Hamas terrorists enter [Egypt's] Sinai Peninsula and then make their way to Syria and then Iran," an official said. "We have been detecting an increase in the flow of Hamas operatives leaving for Iran over the last two months."

Hamas leaders have discussed expanding cooperation with Iran. In November, Palestinian Authority Interior Minister Said Siyam said Iran agreed to >bolster training and funding to security forces aligned with Hamas.

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Editorials from the Hebrew Press 25-Dec-2006

Information Department, Israel Foreign Ministry - Jerusalem

(Government Press Office)

Haaretz -
Yediot Aharonot -
Globes -
Hazofeh -
Jerusalem Post -

Haaretz comments: "The meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was too little, too late. It was too late because Olmert waited for a year before inviting the Palestinian leader to a work meeting. And it was too little because in the year that has passed, the political standing of both figures has been seriously weakened. The Palestinian Authority is being torn apart in an internal struggle and is on the verge of civil war, while Olmert has lost public support and is worried about potentially destabilizing his coalition. Under such conditions, despite the importance of the meeting, the two leaders will have a hard time turning it into a real political process... Olmert's test will therefore lie in his ability to continue the political process beyond a single meeting and initial gestures. Only if he perseveres with the process, sticks to his words and isn't deterred by difficulties will the Sde Boker initiative make progress and even be implemented. Olmert's remark at the cabinet meeting yesterday that he would consider freeing prisoners in honor of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, even before Shalit is returned, was the first step in the right direction."

The Jerusalem Post writes: "The sanctions passed in the UN Security Council on Saturday constitute yet another line in the sand, arguably the most significant one yet, concerning international opposition to Iran's nuclear program. But lines alone will not stop Iran. The question is whether the West will prove that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was right to dismiss the resolution as a meaningless 'scrap of paper.' The US and Europe allowed Russia to strike out broad swaths of the proposed resolution, taking a weak resolution and making it into a mockery of international action. The resolution exempts a nuclear reactor project supported by Russia, even though that reactor could eventually supply plutonium for nuclear weapons."

Yediot Aharonot suggests that the plethora of IDF investigations into various aspects of the recent fighting in Lebanon "will not answer the values question raised by this war, such as personal example and personal responsibility." The editors believe that, "They will also not answer the major questions regarding military-political leadership, relations which have not only not been learned since the war but - given recent conduct - have worsened."

Yediot Aharonot, in its second editorial, says that if recent reports are correct, each Hizbullah casualty cost Israel approximately NIS 14 million.

Hatzofeh says that if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert releases Palestinian prisoners unilaterally, it will strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), but not lead to Gilad Shalit's release. However, the editors note that if the prime minister releases prisoners as part of a package deal, it will bring about Shalit's release, but strengthen Hamas. The editors assert that, "This situation, the lack of an ability to act in the Gaza Strip, like the entire complicated reality there, is possible only because of the disengagement. In the end, the disengagement, as has been proven all along, strengthened Hamas and weakened Abu Mazen, in complete contravention of the interests of the Israeli Left, which supported the move wholeheartedly."


Continued (Permanent Link)

Iran: Laughing all the way to ground zero

Iran: Laughing all the way to ground zero


Time out for a bit of history. The year is 1935. Italy had invaded Abyssinia, the League of Nations failed to stop it.

According to a laundered and standard account in Wikipedia

The League of Nations condemned Italy's aggression and imposed economic sanctions in November 1935, but the sanctions were largely ineffective. As Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister, later observed, this was ultimately because no one had the military forces on hand to withstand an Italian attack.

Actually, Stanley Baldwin was an authority on this issue. He, more than anyone else was responsible for the fact that Britain had not the military forces on hand to withstand an Italian attack. Though his government had been repeatedly warned of the ambitions of Hitler and Mussolini by Churchill and others, he ignored them. It was not actually necessary to have any forces. A real embargo of Italy would probably have sufficed. Italy did not have the strategic materials needed to continue with the war. However, none of the great powers were willing to impose real sanctions on Italy, because it would hurt their own economies. They were making good profits from selling war materials to Italy. Armies and economic embargoes were expensive, you see. Consequently, the League passed a watered down set of economic sanctions that only deprived Italy of things it did not need.

History is repeating itself. The Wikipedia dorks of 2070 will record that "sanctions were largely ineffective" in discouraging Iran's program of nuclear weapons development. The unclear world policy on Iranian nuclear development is now clear, if it was not before. "Speak loudly and carry a wet macaroni."

After the Iranians predictably thumbed their noses at UN Security Council Resolution 1696, Security Council members floundered about for several months. Evidently, they were looking for a formula that would satisfy honor, but do nothing. Eventually, they found it. A part of the process, which involved giving in to Russian demands, is explained in an interim report. UN Security Council Resolution 1737 goes through the motions of imposing sanctions of Iran, without really imposing much of anything, because everything important is exempt from sanctions, and everyone important is exempt from financial and travel restrictions either entirely or on a "case by case" basis.  Continued here.  

Continued (Permanent Link)

Terrorist warns 'Middle East is full of American targets'

Hamas threatens attacks on US

Terrorist warns 'Middle East is full of American targets'

Aaron Klein, WND
Published:  12.24.06, 18:05,7340,L-3343944,00.html

Members of Hamas are debating whether to carry out attacks against the United States and may hit American targets if the US continues to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' call for new elections, Hamas leaders told WND in a series of interviews.

"There is no doubt that Abu Mazen (Abbas) was encouraged to decide early elections after receiving American promises to support him politically and military," Abu Abdullah, a leader of Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam Martyrs' Brigades, the group's declared "resistance" department, told WND.

The terror leader accused the US of instigating a Palestinian civil war.

"Here the Americans did not support the elections, they actually gave their support and their encouragement to a Palestinian civil war. It is our duty to prove to the Americans that they chose the wrong policy exactly like it is the case in Iraq," said Abu Abdullah, considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas' so-called military wing.

Abu Abdullah told WND Hamas has not yet decided to attack the US, "but one cannot guarantee that this will be the situation if the conspiracy of chasing our government succeeds."

Asked which US targets Hamas would hit, Abu Abdullah replied, "Do you think that I can give you an answer to this question? I can say that the Middle East is full of American targets and the world has had the occasion to learn what are the weapons of the anti-American forces in the region."

In a move widely seen as an attempt to dismantle the Hamas-led government, Abbas' last weekend called for new Palestinian elections, prompting violent clashes in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah party.

Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in January, has threatened to boycott the proposed new elections, calling them "illegitimate."

Hamas-Fatah clashes in Gaza have killed at least 16 Palestinians the past five days.

According to multiple reports, the US has been arming and training Fatah militants to bolster them in clashes against Hamas.

A number of Hamas members, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, have claimed in recent days Abbas' call for new elections was orchestrated with the US.

Meetings held to debate attacks on US

Several Hamas leaders told WND meetings were held in recent weeks in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to discuss the possibility of targeting the US due to its perceived support of Fatah against Hamas.

Abu Abdullah told WND Hamas' political decision for now is to try to convince the international community, including the US, they must "recognize and respect the democratic choices of the Palestinian people and to respect its government."

But, he said, if new elections indeed are held, "I would not be surprised if a change takes place in our present policy regarding attacks against American targets in the region."

"We are saying that in case of a scenario where elections are something concrete and not a political threat like it seems to be now, there is a real possibility that resistance forces in the region will hit American targets. The US is maintaining its support to the idea of the elections and so is the American servant (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair," Abu Abdullah said.

Experts: Hamas capable of attacks inside US

While the latest Hamas threats warned of attacks against American interests in the region, some terrorism experts and senior security officials previously told WND Hamas has cells inside the US that are technically capable of attacking within the country.

"We have information Hamas agents have been on US soil the past few years and that the group may currently have up to 100 agents operating inside America," an FBI counterterrorism agent in New York told WND last October.

The comments reaffirm earlier testimony to the U.S. Senate in which FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, "Although it would be a major strategic shift for Hamas, its United States network is theoretically capable of facilitating acts of terrorism in the United States."

Mueller last February described a Hamas network the FBI believes may be operating in the U.S. mostly for fundraising purposes. While many suspected Hamas-linked charities such as the national Holy Land Foundation have been shut down, the FBI suspects others are still functioning in the US.

Holy Land, once one of the largest Islamic charitable organizations in the US, closed amid accusations the group was a front for Hamas.

Intelligence sources said the FBI believes Hamas' current US network includes trained jihadists capable of carrying out advanced attacks. Some of the Hamas agents are suspected of involvement with al-Qaeda, the sources said.

Yehudit Barsky, director of the Middle East and International Terrorism Center at the American Jewish Committee, said, "Hamas does have people in America who are Muslim Brotherhood-oriented who support Hamas and who could carry out attacks. ... This presence in the US exists."

Terrorism expert Steve Emerson, whose research was credited with helping to close Holy Land, told WND, "Hamas has an extensive infrastructure in the US mostly revolving around the activities of fundraising, recruiting and training members, directing operations against Israel , organizing political support and operating through human-rights front groups. While Hamas has not acted outside Israel, it has the capability of carrying out attacks in America if it decided to enlarge the scope of its operations."

There have been previous indications Hamas indeed has agents operating inside the US.

In August 2004, Ismail Selim Elbarasse, a long-time Hamas money man, was arrested reportedly after authorities witnessed his wife videotaping Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Bridge from their SUV as Elbarasse drove. The images captured by Mr. Elbarasse's wife included close-ups of cables and other features "integral to the structural integrity of the bridge," according to court papers.

In an FBI affidavit requesting a search warrant for Elbarasse's house obtained by WND, special FBI agent Shawn Devroude states, "In previous years, al-Qaeda commanders and officials stationed in Western countries, including the United States, have recruited Hamas operatives and volunteers to carry out reconnaissance or serve as couriers.

"With the increased law enforcement pressure since 9-11, there has been a renewed emphasis by al-Qaeda to find confirmed jihadist supporters in the US by trying to enlist proven members of other groups such as Hamas to make up for the vacuum on the field level."

Also in August 2004, two suspected high-level Hamas operatives, Mohammed Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, were detained in the US and charged with providing material support to Hamas, racketeering and money laundering.

Ashqar, under house arrest in Virginia, denied to WND he was involved with Hamas fundraising and claimed doesn't know of any Hamas networks operating in America.

In November 2003, Jamal Aqal, a Canadian immigrant born in Gaza, was arrested in Israel under suspicion of receiving weapons and explosives training from Hamas for use in future terror attacks in Canada and New York City. Aqal pleaded guilty in 2004 to planning to kill American and Canadian Jewish leaders and Israeli officials traveling in the US.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Qassam hits strategic facility in Ashkelon

Qassam hits strategic facility in Ashkelon
Agreed upon truce breached once again as Palestinians in northern Gaza fire
three rockets toward Negev area; one strikes strategic facility in Ashkelon,
damage done to structures

Anat Bereshkovsky YNET Latest Update: 12.25.06, 10:38,7340,L-3344184,00.html

Palestinian gunmen launched Monday a Qassam from northern Gaza, which landed in the industrial area in Ashkelon, hitting a strategic facility. No injuries were reported, but a number of structures at the site were damaged.

Workers at the facility said the security officer at the site was alerted of the incoming rocket by beeper, as the "Color Red" alert system in Ashkelon is not operational.

"We were told on the speaker system to enter protected areas," one employee said. "We heard a blast - it was relatively short. We returned fairly quickly to our work stations."

Last week a rocket landed near the facility, and it was reported that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert  visited the area Sunday evening.

Earlier two Qassam rockets fired from Gaza into Israel landed in open areas in the Negev's Eshkol Regional Council. There were no casualties or damages.

A total of fifty-six rockets were fired toward Israeli territory since the agreed upon truce went into effect last month.

"The situation is not good," Council Head Uri Naamati said. "While it is better than it was before the ceasefire, Qassams are still falling in the area. Fortunately, I am not the one who has to make the difficult decision on how to act; holding back is hard, but so is escalating the situation."

The "Color Red" alert system, which was put into place in the Eshkol Council just a number of weeks ago, was activated a few minutes too late.

'Israel trapped'

Sunday four rockets were fired toward Sderot and the western Negev area; no injuries were reported. One Qassam landed in a Sderot neighborhood, near a nursery school . Several children were inside the kindergarten at the time of the attack.

The building and an electric pole were damaged, as well as some of the street lighting in the area.

Olmert said during a Kadima party convention in Ashkelon Sunday that he would see to it that no Qassam rockets are fired at Sderot, Ashkelon and the communities surrounding Gaza.

Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin voiced his concern on Sunday during the cabinet meeting over the policy of restraint currently being employed by Israel in the face of the continuous rocket attacks emanating from Gaza.

"We're trapped. If we don't respond - the Qassams will continue to fall and if we do respond against the rocket cells the calm will collapse," said Diskin.

First Published: 12.25.06, 08:31

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Continued (Permanent Link)

Royal Intrigue, Unpaid Bills Preceded Saudi Ambassador's Exit

Royal Intrigue, Unpaid Bills Preceded Saudi Ambassador's Exit
Policy Dispute Regarding Iran Loomed Large

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 23, 2006; A18

For more than a year, Saudi Arabia's ambassador journeyed to college campuses, chambers of commerce, town halls and world affairs councils across the United States in an ambitious campaign to improve his country's image.
But Prince Turki al-Faisal's goodwill tour, instead, produced millions of dollars in unpaid bills -- and a tale of murky intrigue in the enigmatic desert kingdom.

The debts by one of the world's wealthiest countries -- owed to the very lobbyists, advisers and event organizers hired to promote the kingdom -- have left a trail that weaves together bitter princely rivalries, diplomatic subterfuge and a policy clash over one of the thorniest issues of the day: what to do about Iran.

The Saudi Embassy would not comment on the kingdom's payments, personnel or internal policymaking.
But the woes within the royal family reflect a tug of war over how to handle foreign policy. Eighteen months ago, Prince Bandar bin Sultan ended a legendary 22-year career as the face of Saudi Arabia in the United States. Word at the time was that he was bored, preferring his palatial Aspen, Colo., lodge to Washington. As it turns out, however, Bandar has secretly visited Washington almost monthly over the past year -- and is at least as pivotal today in influencing U.S. policy as he was in his years as ambassador.
Last week, his successor, Turki, abruptly resigned from the post -- partly, sources close to the royal family said, because of Bandar's back-channel trips to meet with top U.S. officials, including Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.
Turki was kept so out of the loop that Bandar often did not inform him he was in town, much less tell him what he was doing, the sources said. Twice, the Saudi Embassy was told by an outsider that Bandar had arrived -- and the embassy sent someone to the airport to look for his private plane to confirm it, according to the source who provided the tip.
The rise of Bandar, who is now Saudi national security adviser, may reflect the waning influence of the sons of the late King Faisal, who dominated the diplomatic and intelligence services for decades, say sources close to the family. Turki, who was intelligence chief before becoming ambassador to Britain and then the United States, has poor chemistry with King Abdullah, they note. His brother Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has been foreign minister since Henry A. Kissinger's era, is ill.
As relations among the royals frayed over the past year, Turki was increasingly squeezed financially. The kingdom did not provide the millions needed to pay Saudi bills, according to contractors and sources close to the royal family. A single contractor -- Qorvis Communications LLC, which oversees Saudi image-building -- has not been paid more than $10 million this year, its entire annual contract, confirms Qorvis partner Michael Petruzzello. Because Qorvis subcontracts to smaller firms, the unpaid bill has left the most high-profile American lobbyists for the kingdom unpaid all year. Others have also not been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to contractors.
Petruzzello said late payment is normal for the Saudis. "I don't find this new, unusual or in any way alarming. It's the way it's gone not just with the Saudis but with other governments," said Petruzzello, although he acknowledged that he had brought up the payment issue several times with Turki.
But subcontractors with Qorvis said they had never been forced to wait more than a few months. Meredith Iler, who is an event organizer, is owed almost $300,000 this year, according to a source familiar with her contract. Her arrangement with Qorvis stipulates that she will be paid monthly even if Qorvis has not received payment, yet she has not been reimbursed for expenses incurred in travels to organize events for Turki, the source said.
Les Jenka, a former Reagan administration official who has served on the Council for American-Saudi Dialogue, also confirmed that he has not been paid.
Gallagher Group's Jamie Gallagher, a former congressional staffer who served as a lobbyist for the kingdom for 11 years, said this is the first time he has not been paid for a whole year. He is owed more than $100,000. "There are people who are owed more than I am. I haven't been able to figure it out," he said.
The cutoff of funds appears to be one manifestation of a royal rift over, among other things, the way to handle the rising influence of Iran in the Middle East.
In his secret visits, Bandar increasingly pressed the Bush administration not to deal with Iran -- and, instead, to organize joint efforts to counter Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, such as in Lebanon, said sources close to the royal family. The new model would be based roughly on the kind of joint U.S.-Saudi cooperation that assisted anti-Soviet forces during Moscow's
1979-1989 occupation of Afghanistan, the sources said.
Washington and Riyadh are already planning a major aid and military training package for the beleaguered Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose government is besieged by thousands of supporters of Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
The Sunni kingdom sees Iran as a threat because of Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons program. The kingdom also fears the shifting balance of power -- under Iran's tutelage -- between minority Shiites and majority Sunnis, who have dominated Middle East politics for almost 14 centuries. The monarchy faces its own restive Shiite minority in the main oil-producing province.
The kingdom grew particularly alarmed as the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group began to leak out last month, with recommendations that the administration talk to both Iran and Syria, say U.S. officials and sources close to the royal family. Even before the report was released, Abdullah summoned Cheney to again warn about Iran and the regional implications of its growing influence -- and offer Saudi assistance and discuss joint U.S.-Saudi efforts.
The al-Faisal brothers, in contrast, have consistently urged dialogue with Tehran and are wary of joint U.S.-Saudi efforts against Iran and its surrogates. Turki often urged the United States to deal with its enemies. In one of his final public speeches, at the Philadelphia World Affairs Council last month, Turki said: "We speak directly with Iran on all issues. We find that talking with them is better than not talking with them."
Turki's frequent public events -- in which he was frank about America's poor image abroad and urged progress on the deadlocked Arab-Israeli peace process as the key to defusing broader regional tensions -- generated an unusual amount of attention in the Saudi media and made him a popular figure back home.
Saudi experts say differences within the royal family, like virtually everything having to do with the House of Saud, are heavily nuanced. "On Iran policy, they all make the same diagnosis but have a different prescription for what to do about it," said David E. Long, a former U.S. diplomat and the author of five books on Saudi Arabia.
After a year of internal tensions and failure to pay bills, Turki was not invited to Riyadh for Cheney's visit, Saudi sources confirmed. And Bandar returned to Washington again right after the meeting to discuss the specifics of the joint efforts. Two weeks later, Turki quit.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Canadian FM heading to Mideast to try to revive peace talks

Canadian FM heading to Mideast to try to revive peace talks
Associated Press,

Canada's foreign minister said he will head to the Middle East in the New Year to try to revive peace talks in the region.
"I would love to, in some fashion, be able to facilitate a coming together and a discussion," Peter MacKay told CTV in a report broadcast Sunday. MacKay said he was not trying to "set unreal expectations - but I think we have to constantly try."
His announcement comes at a time when a roughly month-old ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians is holding, albeit tenuously, as Gaza militants have fired more than 50 homemade rockets into Israel since the agreement was reached.
Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in calling for an immediate return to the stalled roadmap to peace, warned that tensions in the Middle East were "near the breaking point" and said the Israelis and Palestinians were equally responsible for fueling the conflict.
MacKay said he also hopes to restart talks on settling the refugee status of hundreds of Palestinians in nearby Arab countries, many of whom fled Iraq as violence there escalated following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.
"We hope to, in some way, be able to reconstitute that discussion and perhaps find a niche where Canada can make a contribution" to the refugee problem, said MacKay.
MacKay also said he plans to visit China in an effort to ease recent tension between Ottawa and Beijing. Canada's aggressive push for the release of Huseyin Celil, a Chinese-Canadian being imprisoned by China for alleged terrorism links, has angered Chinese officials, as did Canada's granting of honorary citizenship to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.
"We are going to have frank, upfront discussions about human rights issues, but of course keeping in mind the important trade and human relations that we have developed over the years," said MacKay.

Continued (Permanent Link)

The Region: National Islamism: The new front

The Region: National Islamism: The new front
Barry Rubin,

The elephant has gone into labor and brought forth a mouse. That's the most apt remark about the end-game in the international effort to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons.
After three years of intensive diplomacy involving the highest-ranking policy-makers and "best minds" of the Western countries, the Iranian government has literally run rings around its adversaries. Teheran has repeatedly lied and misled its interlocutors, rejected good offers and broken its own promises.
And, at the end, the UN Security Council proposes to pass a resolution not only without teeth but with scarcely any gums either.
Oh, sure, there will be lots of articles, analyses, speeches and self-congratulatory explanations. But it can all be boiled down to a single sentence: The international effort has been pitiful, provoking laughter if the issue were not so serious.
It is not a satisfactory response to say that the proposed sanctions were watered down to win Russian support. Although diplomats don't think this way, perhaps a strong resolution should have been offered and Moscow told: Veto this, if you dare. Moreover, it is no secret that most of the Western states don't want to take strong action and are relieved to use Russia as an excuse.
Ironically, the only ones taking strong, effective action are the mainstream radicals in Iran's own government. For their own interests, they are seeking to block President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his faction from taking over the regime. It isn't that they disagree with him on principles, just that they see no reason to gratuitously bash the West, flaunt Iran's nuclear plan and call for Israel's destruction every week. Now they have inflicted a setback on Ahmadinejad in Iran's recent leadership elections.
BUT WAIT a minute. Even with Ahmadinejad at his most extreme, the West won't really stand up to him. The UN resolution freezes the assets abroad of 10 companies and calls on members to "exercise vigilance" in letting in 12 people who work on Iran's nuclear program.
Wow! Take that, miscreant! One wonders what the international community would do if Iran actually dropped a nuclear-tipped missile on someone - exclude its leaders from airport duty-free shops?
Not surprisingly, Iran was not intimidated, and officials announced publicly that it would carry forward its nuclear project at full speed. "We don't think this resolution is enough in itself," US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. "We want to let the Iranians know that there is a big cost to them," he added, so they will return to talks. Well, they know it will not have a big cost for them, so they can do whatever they want.
Have no illusions: This is a massive failure and it would be better if people admitted it, expressed outrage, and figured out some way to do better in the time that remains before Iran gets nuclear weapons.
To bring things into perspective, counterpose two other recent developments regarding Iran: A US court concluded that Iran's leadership was directly responsible for a 1996 terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia which killed 17 American soldiers. And a high-level commission on Iraq proposed that the US government ask Iran's help in dealing with Iraq.
WHO NEEDS satire when you have the Middle East? If I were to characterize the three most important events for the region in 2006, two of them would be obvious: the above-cited failure on Iran's nuclear program and the Israel-Hizbullah war. The third is one you haven't heard about yet. It was the Sixth Islamist-Arab nationalist conference held in Qatar, December 22-24.
The main organizer was Yusuf Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who lives in Qatar and is probably the No.1 spiritual guide for the Muslim Brotherhood today.
I would suggest that Qaradawi is far more important than Osama bin Laden, and certainly a better strategist. It was Qaradawi who insisted that Islamists participate in elections because he predicted they would win. Qaradawi, too, is the man who incites and justifies terrorist attacks against the United States and Israel while being hailed in many Western circles as a moderate.
Top figures in Hamas and Hizbullah also participated in the conference, whose goal was to unite Islamists and Arab nationalists in a united radical front. Up until now it seemed that the Arab world's future would be determined by a struggle between Arab nationalist regimes, Islamist opposition movements, and liberal reformers, with the third group far behind the other two.
Increasingly, however, there is an attempt to bridge the main gap by creating what I call a National Islamist ideology. This kind of thinking is the basis of the HISH bloc (Hizbullah, Iran, Syria, Hamas) and is finding increasing favor among Arab intellectuals. In fact, this doctrine also seems to have absorbed a large portion of the traditional Arab Left as well.
At the moment, Palestinian nationalists and Islamists are shooting at each other. But, with a few moderate exceptions among the former group, they are close in their basic world view and rejection of a compromise peace with Israel
The problems between them - which are quite enormous - stem more from a desire for power and loot rather than any distinction in their goals or ideas. After all, the two groups keep talking about a national unity government as the solution to their differences.
The emergence of National Islamism also finesses the problem of how Iran can be a leading factor in the Arab world and creating a united radical front. The year 2006 may well be seen by history as the moment when this new force emerged on the scene and changed the direction of the region.
The writer is director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Dershowitz on Carter: Has Carter crossed the line?

If the book has as many errors as Dershowitz claims, then don't waste money on it.
It is very easy to check if he has mislabeled maps and so on. Each article about this book describes a different set of errors. Some are a matter of opinion. But some are simple facts like mislabelled maps, Israel attacking Jordan and so on. They are easy to verify and they are errors that should not have happened because in most cases the facts are very easy to ascertain.
Unfortunately, Dershowitz has confused the two here.
Ami I.
Has Carter crossed the line?
Updated Dec. 24

Have former US president Jimmy Carter's recent statements crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to illegitimate anti-Semitism? In his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter unfairly, one-sidedly, a historically - even indecently - condemns Israeli policies, but in my view he does not cross the line into overt anti-Semitism. His book is riddled with factual errors, virtually of them unfavorable to Israel. His history is all wrong.
He claims that Israel launched a preemptive attack against Jordan. Historians all agree that Jordan attacked Israel first.
Israel tried desperately to persuade Jordan to remain out of the war with Egypt and Syria, and Israel counterattacked after the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem, firing missiles into the center of the city. Israel then captured the West Bank, which had been occupied by Jordan for nearly 20 years, and which Israel was willing to return in exchange for peace and recognition from Jordan.
Carter repeatedly condemns Israel for refusing to comply with Security Council Resolution 242, which called for return of captured territories in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries, but he ignores that Israel accepted and all the Arab nations and the Palestinians rejected this resolution. The Arabs met in Khartoum and issued their three famous noes: "No peace, no recognition, no negotiation." But you wouldn't know that from reading the Carter version of history.
Carter faults Israel for its "air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor" without mentioning that Iraq had threatened to attack Israel with nuclear weapons if it succeeded in building a bomb and that the UN refused to intercede
Carter, who thinks Israel isn't religious enough, faults Israel for its administration of Christian and Muslim religious sites, when in fact Israel is scrupulous about ensuring those of every religion the right to worship as they please - consistent, of course, with security needs. He fails to mention that between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem, it destroyed and desecrated Jewish religious sites and prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall. He also never mentions Egypt's brutal occupation of Gaza between 1949 and 1967.
Carter blames Israel for the "exodus of Christians from the Holy Land," totally ignoring the Islamization of the area by Hamas and the comparable exodus of Christian Arabs from Lebanon as a result of the increasing influence of Hizbullah and the repeated assassination of Christian leaders by Syria.
Carter blames Israel, and exonerates Yasser Arafat, for the Palestinian refusal to accept statehood on 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza pursuant to the Clinton-Barak offers at Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. He accepts the Palestinian revisionist history, rejects the eyewitness accounts of president Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross and ignores Saudi Prince Bandar's accusation that Arafat's rejection of the proposal was "a crime" and that Arafat's account "was not truthful" - except, apparently, to Carter. The fact that Carter chooses to believe Arafat over Clinton speaks volumes.
Carter also uses maps derived from Dennis Ross's book The Missing Peace without attribution. He mislabels one of the maps as representing "the Israeli interpretation" of the December 2000 Clinton parameters, when in fact the map represents the actual US proposal, as drawn up by Ross, which was understood by all parties, accepted by the Israelis and rejected by the Palestinians.
THESE ARE all grievous and one-sided errors, especially for a former president who has easy access to the historical facts. And there are more - too many to list here. Yet they do not qualify as anti-Semitic.
Since the publication of the book, however, Carter has been on a whirlwind tour featuring television, radio and print appearances. In his interviews - and without the benefit of the kind of reflection and self-restraint that comes with the writing and editing process - Carter has gone well beyond what he says in his book and may have crossed the line into bigotry. I will lay out the facts and leave it to the readers to decide.
First, Carter has strongly implied - based on an entirely false factual premise - that Jews control the media, academic and political process in the United States. In interview after interview, he has stated - quite categorically and quite falsely - that the plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank is "not something that has been acknowledged or even discussed in this country... You never hear anything about what is happening to the Palestinians by the Israelis."
This, of course, is entirely false. The situation with regard to the Palestinians has become the number one human right issue on American university campuses - exceeding the attention paid to Rwanda, Darfur, the former Yugoslavia, Tibet, Chechnya and other places where actual genocide has taken place. The West Bank and Gaza are regularly and extensively covered by all major US newspapers. The indisputable fact is that more space per capita is devoted to the Palestinians than to any other occupied or victimized group in the world.
Why, then, would Carter promote this canard? There is only one answer: to play into the old anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish control of the media. When Carter has been asked why does he think there has been no media attention paid to the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, he smiles and says, "I don't know," but goes on to say that he has "witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts" - thus implying that someone or some group is restraining free discussion. In his appearance on Meet the Press, Carter pointed to "the Jewish lobby" as "part" of the problem. What exactly the "Jewish" lobby - as contrasted with the Israel Lobby - is, Carter, never explains.
In a recent op-ed article, Carter was even more specific - and more nonfactual: "Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations..." Again, total nonsense. Whose reviews is he referring to? Certainly not mine, which was among the first to appear and which has been used by several interviewers to challenge Carter. I am not a "representative of Jewish organizations." I am a longtime supporter and admirer of Jimmy Carter, and I speak for no one but myself.
Nor are the other reviewers, who have blasted his book as "moronic" (Michael Kinsley, Slate) and "cynical... anti-historical" (Jeffrey Goldberg, The Washington Post), representatives of any Jewish organizations - except in the warped eyes of Jimmy Carter. Despite its demonstrable falsity, Carter has repeated this claim about "Jewish organizations" on recent talk shows.
CARTER GOES on to complain about Jewish control - this time over universities:
He is referring there to Brandeis University, whose president said he could speak if invited by a faculty member or student group - which he has been - and that the president of Brandeis would extend an invitation if Carter would agree to discuss his book publicly with a knowledgeable critic. Carter declined, insisting on speaking alone with no one presenting an opposing view. Why would Carter distort the truth of this conversation? To make a point about Jewish control over academic freedom at universities "with high Jewish enrollment"?
Carter then moves on to the political process, where he overstates the reality even more:
It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents.
Again this is total nonsense. Many American political figures have visited Palestinian cities. I know. I have seen them and spoken to them about their visits. Why would Carter so overstate the truth and play into the stereotype of undue Jewish influence over the political process?
By promoting these false stereotypes - Jewish control over the media, academia and politics - Carter has contributed to the growing acceptability of anti-Semitism around the world. But he does even worse. By exaggerating the evils of the Israeli occupation and casting the blame for Palestinian suffering almost exclusively on Israel, he has legitimated the comparison - often made by the most extreme anti-Semites - between the Jewish state and the world's worst human rights offenders.
Asked whether he believed that Israel's "persecution" of Palestinians was "[e]ven worse... than a place like Rwanda," Carter answered, "Yes. I think - yes." The comparison is absurd. Hutu militias slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis (and raped thousands) in an attempt to eradicate those people from the country. During any comparable period, the number of Palestinian casualties has never exceeded the hundreds, and for the most part, they have been either combatants, human shields or civilians inadvertently killed in efforts to kill combatants.
Further, the Tutsis never had a chance to prevent their slaughter, whereas the Palestinians initiated the violence against Israel and repeatedly refused - and continue to refuse - to agree to any sort of peace agreement, be it the Peel Commission, the UN partition plan or the 2000 Camp David proposals.
The idea of uttering Israel and Rwanda in the same sentence - and citing Israel as the greater offender of human rights - is obscene. It is also deeply insulting to the memory of those Rwandans who were murdered, raped and mutilated in what could only be characterized as genocide.
This is precisely the sort of exaggeration that caused Congressman John Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, to take Carter to task for using the word "apartheid" in the title of his book, thereby belittling the horror of real racial discrimination and apartheid. As Conyers said, accusing Israel of apartheid "does not serve the cause of peace, and the use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who have been victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination resulting in death, is offensive and wrong." (By the way, Conyers does not represent any "Jewish organizations," to my knowledge.)
To be sure, Carter seems to have backed away from his comparison to Rwanda, just as he did with the comparison to apartheid - but only after first making a splash. He said he doesn't want to go "back into ancient history about Rwanda." But this is disingenuous. Rwanda, when invoked in the context of a human rights discussion, stands for genocide, just like apartheid stands for the oppressive discriminatory and segregationist practices in pre-1990 South Africa. Everyone understands these symbols, and Carter recklessly traffics in them, until someone calls him out and he's forced to backtrack.
HE ALSO claims, despite his book's title, that there is no apartheid in Israel, only in the Palestinian territories, but that is not the impression the reader gets, nor the one apparently intended by the author's invocation of this powerful symbol of oppression. And, in fact, in a recent PBS interview, Carter re-avowed the canard: "I would say, in many ways [Israel's treatment of Palestinians is] worse than the treatment of black people under apartheid. It's worse!"
At any rate, the important point is that Carter's immediate answer - his true instinct - is to accuse Israel of crimes worse than those committed in Rwanda. Carter has become so unhinged in his campaign against the Jewish state that he is now parroting - and legitimizing - the campus activists who delight in calling Israel a genocidal terrorist state and comparing it to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa.
In my book, The Case for Peace, I argued that criticism of Israel - even unfair and strident criticism - should not be equated with anti-Semitism. I went on to list a series of criteria for determining whether the line had been crossed into the abyss of anti-Semitism. Among these criticisms are:
* Employing stereotypes against Israel that have traditionally been directed against "the Jews."
* Characterizing Israel as "the worst," when it is clear that this is not an accurate comparative assessment.
* Singling out only Israel for sanctions for policies that are widespread among other nations, or demanding that Jews be better or more moral than others because of their history as victims.
* Emphasizing and stereotyping certain characteristics among supporters of Israel that have traditionally been used in anti-Semitic attacks, for example, "pushy" American Jews, Jews "who control the media" and Jews "who control financial markets."
* Accusing Jews and only Jews of having dual loyalty.
* Blaming Israel for the problems of the world and exaggerating the influence of the Jewish state on world affairs.
* Falsely claiming that all legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is immediately and widely condemned by Jewish leaders as anti-Semitic, despite any evidence to support this accusation.
* Seeking to delegitimate Israel precisely as it moves toward peace.
* Circulating wild charges against Israel and Jews.
I invite you, the readers, to review these factors and to decide for yourselves whether you believe Carter's post-publication remarks have crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to illegitimate anti-Semitism.

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Keeping the promise on Iran

Keeping the promise on Iran
Shmuel Rosner
The Americans' phased plan for dealing with Iran is progressing slowly, but it remains on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's agenda. And every time, the bar is raised. It is never raised a lot, due to the necessary compromises with the rejectionists in Moscow. But every time, it is possible to declare an achievement: We promised, and we kept our promise.
The problem is that so far, this has produced no tangible results. And the Iranians have already promised that this time, too, they have no intention of displaying flexibility. Therefore, the U.S. will soon announce the next target for the bar.
The U.S. and its European partners in the coalition against Iran succeeded in transferring the nuclear issue from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the UN Security Council. That was the first significant stage. Then, they achieved a resolution in principle on sanctions, but without actual sanctions. That was the second stage. And today, if there are no last-minute delays, a third stage will be achieved: actual sanctions. Miserable and anemic though they are, that threshold will have been crossed. For the first time, Iran will receive actual punishment, albeit largely symbolic, for its ongoing disregard of the international community's demands. Until now, it has been punished only with words.
And on the horizon, there are already imaginary American and British warships en route to the Persian Gulf. This plan has not been finally approved yet, but it was leaked to the American television station CBS this week - and not by accident. The U.S. has two targets it wants to deter, and to whom it wants to signal that its patience is waning: Iran, lest it entertain ideas of a lethal response to the sanctions; and the international community, lest it retreat from the sanctions decision at the last minute.
This week, Mossad chief Meir Dagan once again restarted the countdown to zero hour, which he placed in 2009. But the Iranians have their own ways of adjusting the clock's hands. Yesterday, they suddenly agreed to give the UN various documents it had requested about their uranium enrichment activities in Natanz. As a European diplomat told Reuters, "they're being good guys at the moment" - overseas. But in Tehran, the head of Iran's nuclear program warned about the implications of the sanctions resolution - not only for future Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, but also for "other political and economic cooperation."
In any event, Western analysts were once again embroiled in an old debate this week, one that recurs every time a candidate who leans toward the reformist camp wins an Iranian election: How significant was the defeat suffered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's associates - and can it be viewed as a sign of possible change in the regime's behavior? At either extreme of this debate are those who see every slightest development as a sign of the imminent collapse of the ayatollahs' regime and those who consider it unshakeably stable. Between these extremes lie the confused politicians who must decide how to behave toward Iran.
The debate gives them little new information, but many excuses for dragging their feet: If there is a chance for change, then it is possible to wait a little longer. After all, maybe this much-desired event, which would do their work, will actually happen before zero hour.

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Shell shock

Shell shock
By Uzi Benziman

On May 30, 1948, David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary that 6,000 tank shells, at a cost of $60,000, had to be purchased and that their delivery would probably cost around $300,000. On November 24, 1948, the prime minister wrote in his diary: Shaul is bringing products: light weapons and ammunition - $9,815; guns and shells - $428,000; armored vehicles - $2 million; explosives - $1 million; navy - $6,580,000. On December 26, 1948, he wrote: "Battalion 13 losses: 13 killed, 10 missing, 35 wounded, lost a lot of weapons."
The first prime minister, therefore, paid attention not only to the bloody price that the War of Independence was exacting but also to its expenses. His diaries are filled with figures, showing that he conducted the war while supervising its expenses.
Fifty-eight years later, the incumbent prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is acting in a completely different way. Last week he forced the treasury to add NIS 1.9 billion to the defense budget, thus bringing it next year to NIS 52.4 billion - the largest in history. This was after NIS 8.2 billion had already been added to the defense budget since the end of the second Lebanon war. The man who so recklessly made the decision to go to war is continuing to make unsound decisions now that it has ended, as well.
One can understand Olmert: like the military leadership, he too is affected by the residue of the war against Hezbollah. Like them, he is haunted by guilt over its results. Like them, he wishes to prepare in the best way possible for the next military test. Like them, he wants to be remembered as one who took every precaution. Like them, he is captive to the concept that the faults of the last war derive, to a considerable extent, from a shortage of resources resulting from erroneous cuts in the defense budget.
While understanding the prime minister's motives, it does not follow that he is right. The needs of the defense system should be weighed soberly against other national needs and should derive from balanced evaluations. It is doubtful whether the decisions on the defense budget's size fulfill this requirement. The second Lebanon war was conducted very wastefully. The fire power that Israel poured on Hezbollah was four times larger than Hezbollah's fire (Hezbollah was also wasteful, from its own point of view). The abundant use of weapons derived from the battlefield concept of the General Staff, headed by Dan Halutz - that exercising massive fire power would achieve victory. Some of the ammunition, especially air-to-surface missiles, are very expensive, but the other means used by the armored and infantry corps are not cheap either.
It is possible, of course, to say financial considerations are marginal to the general effort, which strives to defeat Hezbollah, and certainly of secondary importance to the desire to save lives. However, those questioning the way the war was conducted, including its economic price, are also concerned for every soldier's safety. To demonstrate how relevant this criticism is, it is worth paying attention to the calculation made by Danny Reshef, a retired intelligence officer, in Maariv three days ago. Israel spent NIS 12.5 million to kill one Hezbollah fighter in the last war.
While this figure is not accurate, it certainly gives a ballpark. The last war was extremely wasteful. Since those responsible for it still have their hand on the budget and still determine the IDF's needs, it is not superfluous to call for a more responsible and transparent procedure in setting the defense budget. At the moment, those in charge of this mission are suffering from shell shock.

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The test is yet to come

The test is yet to come
By Haaretz Editorial

The meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was too little, too late. It was too late because Olmert waited for a year before inviting the Palestinian leader to a work meeting. And it was too little because in the year that has passed, the political standing of both figures has been seriously weakened.
The Palestinian Authority is being torn apart in an internal struggle and is on the verge of civil war, while Olmert has lost public support and is worried about potentially destabilizing his coalition. Under such conditions, despite the importance of the meeting, the two leaders will have a hard time turning it into a real political process.
Olmert depicted the meeting with Abbas as a first step in implementing the political initiative he raised four weeks ago in his Sde Boker speech. The prime minister made an offer to Abbas at the time to begin a political process that would include "the evacuation of many territories and communities established therein," the establishment of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity in the West Bank, and the release of many prisoners. Since that speech, serious international pressure has been exerted on Olmert and Abbas to forgo their preconditions and agree to talk. Israel must show it is standing with Abbas and Fatah in their confrontation with Hamas.
Ahead of the meeting, Abbas conceded his demand that prisoners be released, and Olmert conceded his demands for a new Palestinian government and the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. The prime minister also took a political risk in his decision to show restraint in the face of continuing Qassam fire from Gaza, despite pressure from Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other ministers to resume Israel Defense Forces activities there. Olmert's policy of restraint enabled the meeting to take place, an eventuality that was in doubt until the last moment.
The gestures that Olmert promised his guest at the Prime Minister's Residence - primarily unfreezing PA funds and removing roadblocks in the West Bank - are important and appropriate, but we must address them cautiously. Experience shows that Israel has promised repeatedly to provide relief for the Palestinian population that is not involved in terror, but it has never upheld such steps over time. This time it was clarified from the beginning that the gestures would be miserly: Olmert said that no prisoners would be freed before Shalit's release, and only some of the PA funds would be unfrozen, subject to the establishment of a supervisory mechanism. But even if the gestures are made, they will not be enough to strengthen Abbas' unstable position and shift the Palestinian public's support from Hamas to Fatah.
Olmert's test will therefore lie in his ability to continue the political process beyond a single meeting and initial gestures. Only if he perseveres with the process, sticks to his words and isn't deterred by difficulties will the Sde Boker initiative make progress and even be implemented. Olmert's remark at the cabinet meeting yesterday that he would consider freeing prisoners in honor of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, even before Shalit is returned, was the first step in the right direction.

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IDF opposes Olmert plan to dismantle West Bank checkpoints

Last update - 10:24 25/12/2006   

IDF opposes Olmert plan to dismantle West Bank checkpoints
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent

Difficulties arose Sunday in implementing the measures that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in their Saturday meeting, when the Israel Defense Forces came out against Olmert's promise to remove some checkpoints in the West Bank and Defense Minister Amir Peretz rejected a specific plan to remove 27 of the approximately 400 roadblocks.
But Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, who developed the plan, convinced Peretz to allow him to present it to Olmert Monday. The IDF will be given two weeks to respond.
In addition, Peretz approved steps that will make it easier to bring Palestinian workers and merchants into Israel.
Olmert promised Abbas that he would "personally supervise" the removal of checkpoints, in order to give Palestinians greater freedom of movement. But GOC Central Command Yair Naveh warned Peretz Sunday that removing roadblocks could be a risky step.
"You are asking me to remove a roadblock, and that damages my ability to thwart a terror attack," said Naveh. "The roadblocks assist in thwarting and preventing the movement of wanted men in the West Bank."
Naveh suggested that instead of dismantling the checkpoints, Israel should decrease the scope of security checks at these checkpoints by examining only some vehicles rather than all of them.
Another suggestion was to open an additional crossing for goods in the northern Jordan Valley, to make it easier for trucks to get to Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank.
Peretz's bureau said that the plan to remove checkpoints has not been completely taken off the table, and it will be synthesized with other plans.
Meanwhile, Olmert is considering freeing Palestinian prisoners as a special gesture ahead of the Muslim festival of Id al-Adha, which will take place next week. Abbas requested such a gesture in his meeting with Olmert, to which the prime minister responded: "You're my guest, and I don't want to tell you no. I promise to look into it."
Channel 2 television reported that Olmert spoke about releasing 20 to 30 prisoners and asked Abbas if such a gesture would help him, or whether it would be better to wait until abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit is returned, after which Israel would release a far greater number of Palestinian prisoners.
Olmert raised the issue at the cabinet meeting Sunday as a trial balloon, to find out how ministers would react to a prisoner release ahead of the holiday. Ministers Peretz, Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz supported the idea.
Mofaz said that Israel has made similar gestures in the past, and Peres said that the move would strengthen Abbas and be received favorably by the international community.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that the Olmert-Abbas meeting "is an important thing, but the main thing is not just a meeting or a lone gesture, but a process of which the gestures are a part."
Livni, who was speaking to Israeli ambassadors serving in Europe, called for further progress and said that moderate Arab and Muslim states should also be involved in the process.

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Report: IDF seizes Jihad man in Bethlehem; 2 Qassams fired

Last update - 10:38 25/12/2006   

Report: IDF seizes Jihad man in Bethlehem; 2 Qassams fired
By Mijal Greenberg and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents

Israel Defense Forces troops operating in the West Bank overnight arrested a wanted Islamic Jihad activist in Bethlehem, site of major Christmas observances, as well as four Fatah fugitives in Ramallah, Israel Radio reported Monday.
Early on Monday, a Palestinian Qassam rocket landed just inside Israeli territory near the northern Gaza Strip border fence, the radio said.
A second Qassam was fired soon after, but it is unclear where it struck.
There were no reports of injuries or damage.
On Sunday evening, a Qassam struck near a nursery school in the western Negev town of Sderot, bringing to four the number of rockets fired at Israel on Sunday.
In the West Bank late Sunday, an Israeli was wounded Sunday in a shooting attack northwest of Ramallah.
The man apparently came under Palestinian fire while he was driving on the route that connects the settlements of Oferim and Neveh Tzuf, near the Palestinian village of Dir Abu Meshal.
He sustained moderate leg wounds.
An Israel Defense Forces medical team was called to the scene, and began treating the injured man. He was later evacuated to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.
The attackers fled the scene and apparently headed southward. IDF troops are currently searching the area in an attempt to capture the attackers and the road on which the attack occurred is currently closed to traffic.
Defense establishment sources said Saturday they believe Palestinian extremists would try to carry out terrorist attacks in order to bring about an escalation of violence in the wake of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' meeting Saturday night.
Four Qassam rockets fired at Israel from Gaza on Sunday
After a day without rocket strikes, Palestinians fired four Qassam rockets at the western Negev on Sunday, hours after a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
One rocket hit near a Sderot nursery school on Sunday evening, causing damage to the building and nearby homes. The rocket also damaged streetlights and electricity lines. Eight people were treated for schock, including a woman who suffered from ringing in her ears and was evacuated to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
A rocket hit a field between Sderot a local kibbutz earlier in the day, and a second struck in an open field. No injuries or damage were reported in either strike.
The IDF identified a fourth rocket being launched from the Gaza Strip, although it could not be immediately determined where it hit.
Almost 50 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since a cease-fire agreement was reached between Israel and the Palestinians some four weeks ago.
The Israel Defense Forces refrained from responding to the attacks in accordance with the instructions of the government echelon to continue a policy of restraint in the face of the continuing Qassam fire.
Security sources report that Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the top military tier all support a move to ease some of the limitations imposed on the IDF by the cease-fire with the Palestinians.
Peretz suggested to the prime minister that he allow the IDF to fire only at identified Qassam rocket launching cells, despite the cease-fire. Olmert rejected the recommendation, in light of the progress that he has been making in talks with Abbas.
The Prime Minister's office issued a statement saying that Olmert had expressed his concern over the continued Qassam fire to Abbas at their meeting Saturday. According to the statement, Olmert told Abbas that Israel would be forced to abandon the restraint policy if the Palestinians continue to violate the cease-fire.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mideast Rules to Live By

New York Times
December 20, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Mideast Rules to Live By
For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I'd like to offer President Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they'll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.

Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn't count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.
Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: "Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?" If you answer yes, you can't go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or Germany — not Iraq.
Rule 3: If you can't explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don't try to explain it at all — they won't believe it.
Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasir Arafat, I could paper my walls.
Rule 5: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over before the next morning's paper.
Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.
Rule 7: The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: "We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it's too
late. It's all your fault for being so stupid."
Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas — like liberalism vs. communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule. So, yes, Iraq is having a civil war as we once did. But there is no Abe Lincoln in this war. It's the South vs. the South.
Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, "I'm weak, how can I compromise?" And when it's strong, it will tell you, "I'm strong, why should I compromise?"
Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line. Saddam used to be the iron fist in Iraq. Now it is us. If we don't want to play that role, Iraq's civil war will end with A or B.
Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel's mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can't understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera's editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: "It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this."
Rule 12: Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.
Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs' first priority is "justice." The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq's long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.
Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: "Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes."
Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can't want it more than they do. 

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Why won't Carter debate his book?

Why won't Carter debate his book?
By Alan Dershowitz  |  December 21, 2006
YOU CAN ALWAYS tell when a public figure has written an indefensible book: when he refuses to debate it in the court of public opinion. And you can always tell when he's a hypocrite to boot: when he says he wrote a book in order to stimulate a debate, and then he refuses to participate in any such debate. I'm talking about former president Jimmy Carter and his new book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."

Carter's book has been condemned as "moronic" (Slate), "anti-historical" (The Washington Post), "laughable" (San Francisco Chronicle), and riddled with errors and bias in reviews across the country. Many of the reviews have been written by non-Jewish as well as Jewish critics, and not by "representatives of Jewish organizations" as Carter has claimed. Carter has gone even beyond the errors of his book in interviews, in which he has said that the situation in Israel is worse than the crimes committed in Apartheid South Africa. When asked whether he believed that Israel's "persecution" of Palestinians was "[e]ven worse . . . than a place like Rwanda," Carter answered, "Yes. I think -- yes."
When Larry King referred to my review several times to challenge Carter, Carter first said I hadn't read the book and then blustered, "You know, I think it's a waste of my time and yours to quote professor Dershowitz. He's so obviously biased, Larry, and it's not worth my time to waste it on commenting on him." (He never did answer King's questions.)
The next week Carter wrote a series of op-eds bemoaning the reception his book had received. He wrote that his "most troubling experience" had been "the rejection of [his] offers to speak" at "university campuses with high Jewish enrollment." The fact is that Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz had invited Carter to come to Brandeis to debate me, and Carter refused. The reason Carter gave was this: "There is no need to for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine."
As Carter knows, I've been to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, many times -- certainly more times than Carter has been there -- and I've written three books dealing with the subject of Middle Eastern history, politics, and the peace process. The real reason Carter won't debate me is that I would correct his factual errors. It's not that I know too little; it's that I know too much.
Nor is Carter the unbiased observer of the Middle East that he claims to be. He has accepted money and an award from Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan , saying in 2001: "This award has special significance for me because it is named for my personal friend, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan." This is the same Zayed, the long-time ruler of the United Arab Emirates, whose $2.5 million gift to the Harvard Divinity School was returned in 2004 due to Zayed's rampant Jew-hatred. Zayed's personal foundation, the Zayed Center, claims that it was Zionists, rather than Nazis, who "were the people who killed the Jews in Europe" during the Holocaust. It has held lectures on the blood libel and conspiracy theories about Jews and America perpetrating Sept. 11. Carter's acceptance of money from this biased group casts real doubt on his objectivity and creates an obvious conflict of interest.
Carter's refusal to debate wouldn't be so strange if it weren't for the fact that he claims that he wrote the book precisely so as to start debate over the issue of the Israel-Palestine peace process. If that were really true, Carter would be thrilled to have the opportunity to debate. Authors should be accountable for their ideas and their facts. Books shouldn't be like chapel, delivered from on high and believed on faith.
What most rankles is Carter's insistence that he is somehow brave for attacking Israel and highlighting the plight of the Palestinian people. No other conflict in the world -- not even the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan -- evokes more hand-wringing in the media, universities, and human rights organizations than the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Jimmy Carter isn't brave for beating up on Israel. He's a bully. And like all school-yard bullies, underneath the tough talk and bravado, there's a nagging insecurity and a fear that one day he'll have to answer for himself in a fair fight.
When Jimmy Carter's ready to speak at Brandeis, or anywhere else, I'll be there. If he refuses to debate, I will still be there -- ready and willing to answer falsity with truth in the court of public opinion.
Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at HarvardUniversity. His most recent book is "Preemption: A Knife that Cuts Both Ways."
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

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New Studies Put U.S. Jewry Over 6 Million Mark

New Studies Put U.S. Jewry Over 6 Million Mark
Population Said To Be Growing — Rebuke to Pessimists
Nathaniel Popper | Fri. Dec 22, 2006
Two major new demographic studies estimate the American Jewish population at well above 6 million people, indicating a growing Jewish community that contrasts sharply with popular images of Jewish decline. In particular, scholars say, the new studies appear to refute a widely publicized survey conducted in 2001, which counted 5.2 million American Jews and sparked widespread anxiety over American Jewry's future.

The most clear-cut refutation of the earlier figure comes in the newly published American Jewish Year Book, published by the American Jewish Committee, which sets the American Jewish population at 6.4 million. A separate study, being conducted by a new Jewish demographic institute at Brandeis University, is not yet complete, but the head of the institute told the Forward that the final estimate will likely be between 6 million and 8 million.
The earlier figure, 5.2 million, has been criticized by many American demographers as too low since it appeared. Nonetheless, it has gained traction in public discussion and has been cited by Israeli officials as confirmation of Israel's central role in world Jewry. Earlier this year, a quasi-governmental Israeli think tank used the 2001 number in a report announcing that Israel had more Jews than America and was the world's largest Jewish community for the first time in over 2,000 years. Until now many American demographers have hesitated to challenge the 2001 figures publicly because there was no good alternative. Now, however, the public consensus appears to be shifting.
"The buzz among social scientists — on the e-mails and over the coffee tables — has been, 'We all know the number is higher,'" said sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who helped oversee the release of the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey. "We just don't know exactly how much higher. This is the first post-NJPS effort to come out."
The focus of the current debate is a matter of decimal points, but the stakes are higher: The verdict will have an impact both on communal policy-making and on the self-image of Jewish communities worldwide. The new numbers have not stilled the debate.
Israel's most prominent demographer, Sergio Della Pergola, has stuck to the lower American figures, almost alone among prominent researchers. The new American Jewish Year Book allows for a continuing debate. Several hundred pages after the chapter announcing the 6.4 million figure, the book offers a chapter by Della Pergola on world Jewish population in which he offers and defends an estimate of 5.275 million American Jews.
The executive editor of the American Jewish Year Book, Lawrence Grossman, acknowledged that Della Pergola is now mostly alone in touting the lower figure. But, he said, Della Pergola is too respected a scholar to be ignored.
"The prestige of Della Pergola is such that he is not just one guy out there," said Grossman, who edits the annual reference book for the American Jewish Committee. "I think that the Year Book does a service to its readers to indicate that this issue is not black and white."
The debate over the last five years has turned the button-down world of demography into an unlikely arena of public recriminations. The hubbub began in 2000 when the central body of American Jewish federated charities, the United Jewish Communities, prepared to release a National Jewish Population Survey, the first since 1990. Months before publication, social scientists began to argue that the study used flawed methodology that would yield a population undercount.
The debate led to staff changes and a yearlong delay in publication, as consultants were brought on for last-minute damage control. While the survey, finally published in 2003, gave a population total of 5.2 million American Jews — 300,000 fewer than in the 1990 survey — the study warned in footnotes that the new figure was probably too low and should not be compared with the 1990 figure. Further criticism came in a review — conducted by outside experts commissioned by UJC — that found numerous flaws, all suggesting an undercount, as well as on the editorial page of the Forward.
The controversy has had a marked impact on public discussion of the Jewish population. During the 1990s, UJC had been responsible for preparing the chapter on American Jewish population in the American Jewish Year Book. This was done by totaling local community studies. After 2001, this method yielded a figure nearly 1 million higher than the new UJC national survey showed. Shortly thereafter, UJC said it would no longer contribute to the yearbook.
Last year, the customary chapter on American Jewish population was simply omitted from the yearbook, leaving only Della Pergola's essay on the world Jewish population. Behind the scenes, though, efforts were underway to provide more reliable estimates. This year, two Jewish demographers — Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami and Arnold Dashefsky of the University of Connecticut — took over the yearbook's compilation of local surveys, which resulted in the 6.4 million figure.
The team wrote a lengthy essay in which they acknowledged the potential pitfalls in simply adding up local surveys. The method can lead to an overestimate by double-counting so-called snowbirds, persons who divide their year between different states. It can also fail to account for families that move in between surveys. But Sheskin said his study compensated for such pitfalls, and he has more confidence in his survey than in the 2001 study.
"I don't think it does us any good, in America, to be talking about this 5.2 million, when in fact there clearly has to be more than that," Sheskin said.
After the 2001 study, a new demographic institute was created at Brandeis specifically to explore better ways of estimating the Jewish population. Looking beyond individual surveys, the new Steinhardt Social Research Institute is combining some 125 different studies that contain information about Jews, including the General Social Survey and the National Election Study.
Institute director Leonard Saxe said his staff is still receiving feedback from peers on the methodology but already has preliminary estimates. According to Saxe, where the 2001 NJPS found 4 million Americans who identify themselves as Jewish "by religion," his method has found some 6 million. Another 1 or 2 million consider themselves Jewish, though not by religion, Saxe said.
Despite the new work, the old figures have had a dogged persistence, largely due to the efforts of Della Pergola, the Israeli scholar. A professor at Hebrew University, Della Pergola is also the lead demographer for the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, or JPPPI, an offshoot of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel. Under his leadership, several emergency conferences have been convened here and in Israel to address the presumed decline of American Jewry. Using Della Pergola's data, the JPPPI issued a report last spring, following a new Israeli census, proclaiming Israel's Jewish community to be bigger than America's for the first time. This led to editorials and essays in The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Post and elsewhere and to speeches by Israeli officials calling for a greater share of influence and money from global Jewish organizations. The public impact can be seen in sources such as, a reference Web site that restates Della Pergola's findings in its article about world Jewry and concludes that "the size of the American Jewish community is declining at a rapid rate."
In fact, social scientists such as Saxe, Cohen and Sheskin say this is generally considered by scholars to be outmoded thinking. "It has become the accepted wisdom that the community is in decline," Saxe said. "And yet, what we believe is both that the NJPS mischaracterized the numbers and that we can provide alternative data."
The director of the JPPPI said this week that his institute stands behind Della Pergola's numbers. Della Pergola himself, reached by phone, offered a critique for each of the new studies. He said the compilation of local studies risks over-counting. As to the new Brandeis figures, Della Pergola said the new methodology is less reliable than a single national survey. He also told The Jerusalem Post this week that his estimate was more plausible, given trends such as intermarriage and low birthrate.
"I may be the only one who proclaims certain things," Della Pergola told the Forward. "But I think this has been done on the basis of a very systematic and coherent analysis of the strength and weakness of data."
Since the United States, unlike most countries, does not ask about religion in its census, all Jewish population counts are estimates and no final answer is likely. All sides agree that results are influenced, in varying degrees, by how survey questions are asked and who is considered Jewish. But, Saxe said, "I think there will be a new consensus as a result of all this new work. There will be a new consensus."
Fri. Dec 22, 2006

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Boston Study Shows 60% of Interfaith Kids Raised Jewish

Boston Study Shows 60% of Interfaith Kids Raised Jewish
Outreach Is Credited for Rise In Community's Population
Nathaniel Popper | Fri. Nov 17, 2006
A new study has found that a significant majority of the children from intermarried couples in the Boston area are being raised Jewish — one reason for a surprising overall increase in the region's Jewish population.
The findings from Boston could fuel and shift the long-standing national debates over Jewish demographic trends, a seemingly obscure but perennially divisive topic in Jewish philanthropic and religious circles.
Previous surveys of the national Jewish population have suggested that the community's population is shrinking — particularly in the northeastern United States. The surveys also have set off much hand wringing over the increasing number of Jews marrying outside the faith, a trend that is generally believed to produce non-Jewish children and thus lead to a decline in the size of the community.
The new survey, however, indicates that in the Boston area 60% of the children of intermarried couples are being raised as Jews, and that the number of people living in Jewish households appears to have increased by 50,000 since 1995.
"The arithmetic of intermarriage is that it takes only one Jew to make a family, where it takes two with in-marriage," said Leonard Saxe, the Brandeis professor who led the study. "If a majority of the kids are being raised Jewishly, that increases the population."
The growth of Boston's Jewish community and its success in attracting the children of intermarried couples is attributed largely to the city's Jewish charitable federation, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. The Boston federation, one of the country's most innovative, has in recent years emphasized programs that welcome interfaith families, but this has been only part of a larger drive to create more welcoming synagogues and communal centers.
"When we compare Boston to other communities, it seems to me that one is seeing one of the healthier Jewish communities in the United States," said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University. "The question to ask is, why is this so? It obviously has something to do with leadership and the culture of Boston itself." According to the new survey, 265,000 people live in Boston-area Jewish households. The only places with larger Jewish communities are probably South Florida and the metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Jews make up about 7.2% of Boston's population, according to the new survey.
The survey is the first community study to be conducted by a new social science research center at Brandeis, which is being groomed as the new national center for Jewish demographic studies. Saxe, head of the new institute, said his team had worked to develop methods for finding Jews who had been left out of past surveys, a fact that may explain partially the higher population figures in the new study.
Saxe said he hopes the recent Boston study will be a test case for how to better survey other Jewish communities, though he said even his team was not able to reach certain groups, such as college students who don't have telephone landlines. The report estimates that the unreachable groups would add another 19,000 people to the estimated 265,000 living in the area's Jewish households.
The most controversial findings of Saxe's study undoubtedly will be those regarding intermarriage. The finding that 60% of the children of intermarried couples are being raised as Jews contrasts with the 30% in New York's last demographic study, 36% in Pittsburgh's last study and the 33%-39% in the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey.
The Boston children that are part of that 60% are not just Jews in name, according to the survey. These Jewish children were enrolled in formal Jewish education — the same 92% rate as the children of two Jewish parents. The one difference between the two populations was that the children of intermarried couples appeared to receive Jewish education for a shorter duration.
The survey also unexpectedly found that Jewish women who intermarried were significantly more likely than intermarried Jewish men to raise their children Jewish.
Boston's Jewish federation has been a national leader in reaching out to intermarried couples. The federation spent $321,000 on interfaith programs last year and has added a line to every mailing that says "Interfaith couples are welcome."
Jewish Theological Seminary provost Jack Wertheimer and sociologist Steven M. Cohen have attacked this approach. The duo has argued that the Jewish community should focus on encouraging spouses to convert to Judaism rather than welcoming intermarried couples. After looking over the new study, Cohen said he believed that the success in Boston had little to do with the community's outreach to the intermarried.
"For those who believe that welcoming has made the difference, they have to answer why Jewish women feel much more welcomed than Jewish men," Cohen said. "If there is a difference, it's probably attributable to Boston's superb efforts in Jewish culture."
Indeed, Boston appears to have higher levels of Jewish engagement beyond just the children of intermarried couples. The survey found that 40% of Boston Jews are not members of any Jewish organization, where in New York the figure is 48% and nationally it is 44% according to most recent national survey.
The president of the Boston Jewish federation, Barry Shrage, said he believes that the programs explicitly aimed at intermarried couples are one part of the puzzle. The federation has formed partnerships with synagogues to help them understand that inveighing against intermarriage can push interested couples out of the Jewish community. But he hopes that an even larger cause for the community's success has been its conscious effort to beef up the intensity and Jewish educational opportunities in Boston.
"You can pursue people by lowering the barriers and watering down the content," Shrage said, "or you can lower the barriers to entry and intensify the product. We want to talk about creating a community without barriers, but with a vision for Jewish life as high as Sinai."

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Diskin: Israel trapped by restraint policy

Diskin: Israel trapped by restraint policy
Shin Bet chief describes current situation as catch-22 that leaves Israel
unable to defend against rockets. Ministers slam continuing restraint while
Olmert says response will only deteriorate situation

Ronny Sofer
YNET Published: 12.24.06, 18:59,7340,L-3344053,00.html

Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin voiced his concern on Sunday during the cabinet
meeting over the policy of restraint currently being employed by Israel in the face of the continuous rocket attacks emanating from Gaza.'Ceasefire'

"We're trapped. If we don't respond - the Qassams will continue to fall and if we do respond against the rocket cells the calm will collapse," said Diskin.

Despite saying that he believes the issue to be of a predominately political nature, Diskin said that in his opinion military capabilities must be preserved and be ready for use if necessitated.

"We have two problems," said Diskin, "the rocket fire and the growing power of Hamas. It's a complicated and complex situation."

Five ministers expressed their support for changing the restraint policy: Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and ) Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai.

Peretz said that if the army identifies a cell, he can't say that no action will be taken. Dichter stated that Israeli must respond to the Qassam attacks while Mofaz said that a response should be considered "in the coming days."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the government's policy, saying that all the concerns and criticism were legitimate but that given the current conflict within the Palestinian Authority Israel's restraint policy gives it many relative advantages.

Olmert made clear the fact that he is not interested in a prolonged Palestinian blood feud, but that an Israeli response will allow them to try to end their infighting by uniting against Israel.

Diskin: Calm expected to last

During the meeting Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni asked Diskin if Hamas has the ability to reign in the Qassam launchers. Diskin replied that "militarily they do have the ability but as an ideology, Hamas will never act against another 'resistance group'."

Diskin elaborated on the infighting in the PA, saying that while Hamas seems to have won the Palestinian street, Fatah is pleased at having held their own with successes against Hamas, something that Hamas is very concerned about.

Diskin estimated that for the time being the calm will continue both inside the PA and against Israel, but warned that if Hamas finds itself with its back to the wall it will resume its attacks.

"Neither Fatah nor Hamas want to go to elections now, and Hamas doesn't want it to come to a full blown war either," said Diskin, adding that the situation was chaotic, especially in Gaza where a single incident could push the region into complete anarchy.

Diskin also addressed Iran's influence over Hamas, saying that Iran is transferring funds to the cash-strapped organization, as well as taking in fighters for training in Tehran. Diskin said that these Iranian-trained fighters return to Gaza with advanced knowledge in arms and warfare.

"If Hamas isn't held back and continues down the current timeline - we will find ourselves with a single dominant force in the Palestinian Authority, a force that is backed by Iran," warned Diskin.

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Iran to install 3,000 centrifuges from today after sanctions

Iran to install 3,000 centrifuges from today after sanctions
24 December 2006
TEHERAN - Iran will on Sunday start putting in place 3,000 uranium enriching centrifuges at a key nuclear plant in an immediate response to a UN sanctions resolution, top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told the hardline Kayhan newspaper.

"Our immediate response to the UN Security Council is that, as of today, we will start the activities at the site of the 3,000 centrifuge machines in Natanz and we will go ahead with full speed," Larijani told the paper.
Natanz is the plant where Iran carries out uranium enrichment, a process the West fears could be diverted to make a nuclear bomb, a charge vehemently denied by Iran.
"We will accelerate our programme to install the 3,000 centrifuges" in response to the resolution, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the influential head of parliament's security commission, told state radio.
Installing 3,000 centrifuges would be an important step for Iran towards enriching uranium on an industrial scale. So far it has two cascades of 164 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant in the central city of Natanz.
Iran has maintained that it wants to have the new centrifuges installed by March and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said the Islamic republic will be able to celebrate its "nuclearisation" around that time.
"Previously we said repeatedly that if the Westerners wanted to exploit the UN Security Council it will not only have no influence but make us more determined to pursue our nuclear goals even faster," said Larijani.
"This action only decreases the credibility of the UN Security Council and has no effect on the Iranian will to pursue peaceful nuclear technology," he added.
After weeks of diplomatic wrangling, the UN Security Council on Saturday adopted a resolution, which imposes restrictions on Iran's nuclear industry and ballistic missile programme, its first ever sanctions against Teheran.

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Sderot: Qassam lands near kindergarten

Sderot: Qassam lands near kindergarten
Rocket fired from northern Gaza Strip lands in Sderot neighborhood, damages
electric pole and structure used as kindergarten. Several children were
inside building when Qassam hit

Shmulik Hadad YNET
Published: 12.24.06, 20:33

A Qassam rocket was fired Sunday from the northern Gaza Strip and landed in
a Sderot neighborhood, near a kindergarten. Several children were inside the
kindergarten at the time of the attack.

The building and an electric pole were damaged, as well as some of the
street lighting in the area.

Four Qassams were fired at Sderot and the western Negev on Sunday.

On Sunday morning residents of Sderot and Gaza vicinity communities again
woke to the sound of the alert system, shortly after which a loud explosion
was heard as a result of a Qassam that landed and exploded nearby a kibbutz
belonging to the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council.

A second rocket landed shortly after near a kibbutz in the area. No injuries
or damages were reported in either case. A third rocket was fired in the

An additional four rockets were launched towards the western Negev
throughout the weekend. One boy from Sderot was lightly injured by shrapnel.

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Hamas-Fatah violence mars Christmas for Gaza Christians

Last update - 14:13 24/12/2006   

Hamas-Fatah violence mars Christmas for Gaza Christians
By Reuters

The first Christmas in Gaza the under Hamas Islamist movement has been marred by the worst internal fighting and economic conditions in a decade.
Gaza's annual Christmas parade and midnight mass have been cancelled. For the first time, no Christmas decorations adorn the giant pine tree in the main square.
"We do not feel the cheer of Christmas," Um Tareq, a Greek Orthodox woman, lamented
"The general atmosphere in Gaza is a sad one. We used to see Palestinian children killed by Israeli bullets. Now they are killed by Palestinian bullets. How can we celebrate Christmas in such conditions?" asked Manuel Musallam, a Catholic priest.
Gaza's estimated 3,000 Christians live peacefully among 1.4 million Muslims. But most Christmas festivities in Gaza have been scaled back to protest at the fighting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and forces loyal to the ruling Hamas.
Several hundred people usually participate in the annual Gaza parade. Muslim clerics and government representatives have taken part in previous years. The tree is traditionally decorated with multi-coloured lights.
Most of Gaza's Christians are concentrated in Gaza City, where they own shops and businesses, and attend Sunday mass at two churches. Some of Gaza's best-known doctors, lawyers, jewellers and judges are Christians.
The vast majority of them are Greek Orthodox, and there is also a small community of 200 Catholics.
"We are well-respected, well protected and well behaved," one Catholic said.
Gaza Christians are not associated with Hamas, though some are affiliated with Fatah and Marxist groups. They appear not to have been involved in the internal violence to date.
Members of the community say they have as much religious freedom under Hamas as they had when Fatah was in control of the Palestinian Authority.
Tensions in Gaza have risen since Abbas called for early Palestinian elections, a move Hamas called a "coup."
At least 10 Palestinians have been killed since Abbas's announcement. Sporadic fighting in recent days has cast doubt on a cease-fire agreed by the rival factions.
Um Tareq's children lost three classmates, gunned down by militants because their father was a top Abbas intelligence officer.
She said their Christmas was ruined. "My kids are still in shock at what is happening on the ground between the Palestinians. It was never like that," she said.

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Israeli moderately hurt in W. Bank shooting attack

Last update - 20:03 24/12/2006   

Israeli moderately hurt in W. Bank shooting attack
By Mijal Greenberg and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents

An Israeli man was wounded Sunday in a shooting attack northwest of the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The man apparently came under Palestinian fire while he was driving on the route that connects the settlements of Oferim and Neveh Tzuf, near the Palestinian village of Dir Abu Meshal.
Also Sunday evening, a Qassam rocket hit the western Negev town of Sderot, bringing to four the number of rockets fired at Israel on Sunday.
According to initial reports, he was wounded in his leg and his condition is listed as moderate.
An Israel Defense Forces medical team was called to the scene, and began treating the injured man.
The attackers fled the scene, and apparently headed southward. IDF troops are currently searching the area in an attempt to capture the attackers, and the road on which the attack occurred is currently closed to traffic.
Defense establishment sources said Saturday they believe Palestinian extremists will try to carry out terrorist attacks in order to bring about an escalation of violence in the wake of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' meeting Saturday night.
Four Qassam rockets fired at Israel from Gaza on Sunday
After a day without rocket strikes, Palestinians fired four Qassam rockets at the western Negev on Sunday, hours after a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
One rocket hit Sderot on Sunday evening. There were no initial reports of damage or injuries.
A rocket hit a field between Sderot a local kibbutz earlier in the day, and a second struck in an open field. No injuries or damage were reported in either strike.
The IDF identified a fourth rocket being launched from the Gaza Strip, although it could not be immediately determined where it hit.
Almost 50 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since a cease-fire agreement was reached between Israel and the Palestinians some four weeks ago.
The Israel Defense Forces refrained from responding to the attacks in accordance with the instructions of the government echelon to continue a policy of restraint in the face of the continuing Qassam fire.
Security sources report that Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the top military tier all support a move to ease some of the limitations imposed on the IDF by the cease-fire with the Palestinians.
Peretz suggested to the prime minister that he allow the IDF to fire only at identified Qassam rocket launching cells, despite the cease-fire. Olmert rejected the recommendation, in light of the progress that he has been making in talks with Abbas.
The Prime Minister's office issued a statement saying that Olmert had expressed his concern over the continued Qassam fire to Abbas at their meeting Saturday. According to the statement, Olmert told Abbas that Israel would be forced to abandon the restraint policy if the Palestinians continue to violate the cease-fire.
On Friday, four Qassam rockets landed in the western Negev. One person sustained light wounds and some property was damaged. It appears that the Islamic Jihad is responsible for the attacks.
One rocket was fired early Friday morning, and three additional rockets that evening. One rocket struck a bank in the center of Sderot, causing damage, and another landed in a residential area of a kibbutz, shattering several windows. The third landed in an open field.

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Olmert suggests early Palestinian prisoner release

Olmert suggests early Palestinian prisoner release
Sun Dec 24, 2006 10:20 AM ET

By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested on Sunday he could release some Palestinian prisoners this week even though Gaza militants have yet to free a captured Israeli soldier.

Israel has been under U.S. and European pressure to take steps to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah after he called early elections against his Hamas rivals.

At their first formal meeting on Saturday, Olmert pledged $100 million in withheld tax revenues to Abbas, bypassing the Hamas-led government.

Many Palestinians were skeptical the money would materialize and feared it would only widen the divide between Fatah and Hamas, which took control of the Palestinian Authority in March after beating Fatah in parliamentary elections.

Three senior Israeli cabinet ministers proposed the release of some prisoners as a gesture to Abbas before a Muslim holiday that starts later this week.

A cabinet source said Olmert responded to the proposal by saying: "The time has come for flexibility and generosity, and it (Israeli policy) could be different than what has been said in past meetings."

Israel had previously ruled out any prisoner releases until Gaza militants freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in June.

Comments by Defense Minister Amir Peretz also suggested a possible change in Israel's longstanding refusal to consider releasing Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi from jail as part of an eventual prisoner exchange for Shalit.

Barghouthi, a popular member of Abbas's Fatah faction, was jailed by an Israeli court for five life terms for ordering attacks as part of the Palestinian revolt against occupation. He denied the charges.

Asked by Israel Radio if Israel would free Barghouthi as part of a deal to free Shalit, Peretz responded: "If someone puts a request to release him from prison on the agenda, it should be discussed in accordance with the law."

"It's a question of what you would get in return," he added.

In the past Israel has opposed freeing inmates with "blood on their hands", but lately it has signaled more flexibility. Israel has previously freed some Palestinian prisoners as a holiday gesture.

At least 10 Palestinians have been killed in violence between forces loyal to Abbas and those of Hamas since Abbas's call last week for new elections in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank after talks on a unity government with Hamas failed.


Barghouthi, 47, is seen by many as Fatah's best chance in any presidential race against Hamas if Abbas decides not to run.

Saturday's meeting in Jerusalem was seen as a bid to boost Abbas's standing against Hamas, whose government has faced a Western economic boycott over its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals.

Abbas faces a difficult balancing act in trying to persuade Palestinians, hard hit by the sanctions, to support his peace agenda without appearing beholden to U.S. and Israeli interests.

But at their meeting on Saturday, Abbas appeared to make little headway on a key issue for Palestinians -- the release of some of the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Hamas leaders scoffed at the results of Abbas's meeting with Olmert. Mushir al-Masri, a senior Hamas lawmaker, said Abbas had set a "serious precedent" by agreeing with Israel that it would funnel the $100 million through his office, rather than through the Hamas-run treasury.

"The meeting gave the enemy a right they shouldn't have," al-Masri said.

Zakaria al-Qaq of al-Quds University said Israel's $100 million pledge might give Abbas a "modest boost", but would not shift the minds of the Palestinian public.

"We have kisses without results," said Ibrahim Mohammad, a Gaza shopkeeper. "The kisses and the warm reception serve only one purpose: deepening the Palestinian-Palestinian division."

(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Nidal al-Mughrabi and Mohammed Assadi in Gaza; and Wafa Amr in Ramallah)

Continued (Permanent Link)

James Baker and the Arab Lobby

James Baker and the Arab Lobby
Two stories highlight the financial involvement of James Baker III, one of the authors of Iraq Study Group Report, in  Arab world finance. According to the reports, Baker was involved in circumventing UN imposted sactions on Iraq so that Hyundai motors could collect a large debt from Iraq through illegal oil marketing. Baker's law firm also represents the Saudi government. Baker is an active proponent of "engagement" with Syria and Iran, and the ISG report urged that the US actively pressure Israel to make concessions for peace. The report was viewed by some as unfavorable to Israel, and the linkage it asserted betwen Israeli concessions and US goals in Iraq has been doubted.
It is curious that no wide circulation media such as the New York Times have picked this story up at yet, either to confirm it or to refute it.
Baker case documents
saved from shred order
Businessman says they outline
sanction-avoiding transactions

Posted: December 20, 2006
5:00 p.m. Eastern

By Aaron Klein
© 2006

JERUSALEM – An Israeli businessman who says he served as a broker in a multimillion-dollar Iraqi collection deal by the law firm of former Secretary of State James Baker now charges in a WND interview Baker's firm tried to cover up the alleged transactions, concerned about exposure after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The deal was structured to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iraq, according to the middleman, Nir Gouaz, president of Caesar Global Securities in Israel.

Gouaz claimed Houston-based Baker Botts made about $30 million collecting funds owed to a South Korean company by the Iraqi government at the peak of American sanctions imposed against Baghdad.

He claimed Baker was directly involved in the deal.

Gouaz told WND today Jeffrey Stonerock, a senior partner at Baker's firm, contacted him in November 2001 inquiring whether he had any documents related to the purported Iraqi deal.

Gouaz said he told Stonerock he still had a few papers.

He said Stonerock asked him to destroy all remaining documents related to the matter and sign a nondisclosure form pledging not to discuss the alleged deal.

"He told me to just sign the nondisclosure and forget about what happened," Gouaz told WND.

Gouaz said he refused to sign the nondisclosure agreement. He said he decided to retain all documents in his possession he said were related to the deal. The documents were obtained by WND yesterday.

"When they asked me to destroy the papers I became a bit skeptical," said Gouaz. "They were clearly worried about exposure after the 9-11 terror attacks."

Baker Botts today refused to comment on Gouaz's latest allegations.

As WND reported yesterday,  (see below) Gouaz said he was tapped in 1998 by Baker Botts senior partner Stonerock to serve as a middleman in the collection of $1.65 billion in debt owned to Korea's Hyundai Engineering by the Iraqi government.

Hyundai had completed a series of major infrastructure projects in Iraq, including the construction of roads, railways and power plants and was supposed to be paid in Iraqi government bonds, but in the wake of the Gulf War, Saddam suspended payments to suppliers.

Gouaz said Iraq's failure to pay threatened the future of Hyundai.

Gouaz said he was asked to mediate the collection efforts to evade American sanctions on Iraq, which did not apply to Israelis.

He said he met initially with Baker and that the former secretary of state was involved in the collection deal.

Gouaz said he was asked by Baker's firm to meet with Shaiker Tawfik Fakoury, the president of the Bank of Jordan, which agreed to purchase the Iraqi government bonds from Hyundai at a lowered rate and resell them to the Iraqis at a profit in exchange for oil.

He said the Jordanian bank in July 2000 bought the Iraqi bonds from Hyundai using the services of Baker's firm at the price of $272 million. The Bank of Jordan, he claimed, then resold the bonds to Iraq for about $450 million in oil.

Gouaz said he estimated the Baker Botts law firm made about $33 million in fees for its services in the transactions.

He said it was "clear" from his communications with all parties involved that Baker's firm established the bonds exchange through Jordan using an Israeli middleman to bypass sanctions on Iraq.

"The point of involving me and setting up the collection as it was done was to get around the sanctions," Gouaz said.

Gouaz would not disclose how much money he personally made in the deal.

He first spoke out last weekend in an interview with Israel's Maariv daily newspaper during which he passed a polygraph lie detector test.

Gouaz provided WND with a copy of a letter dated July 11, 2000, from Hyundai executives thanking him for his efforts in mediating the collection deal. He also gave WND a copy of an Iraqi government bond from 1989 for $11 million he said was part of Hyundai's collection efforts.

Gouaz told WND he decided to come forward with details of the alleged transactions after the release earlier this month of a report by the Iraq Study Group, a commission headed by Baker that recommended an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and dialogue with Iran and Syria.

The report also urged Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, and to sign a deal with Syria in which the Jewish state would vacate the Golan Heights, strategic mountainous territory twice used by Damascus to launch ground invasions into Israel.

"As a citizen of Israel I cannot just sit by and watch the hypocrisy being spewed by Baker," said Gouaz. "If Baker was still a private citizen I could keep his business dealings private, but now he is involved in diplomacy that sells out Israel. People need to understand he is acting out of economic considerations."

Baker Botts released a statement to WND yesterday saying the firm has "no knowledge" of whether the purported transaction described by Gouaz ever occurred.

The statement said Baker Botts' role in the supposed transactions as described by Gouaz and the payment Gouaz said the firm received are inaccurate.

Mike Cinelli, a public relations manager at Baker Botts, denied Baker was involved in the purported transactions Gouaz described.

Cinelli pointed to a press release on Hyundai's website from 2005 stating the company did not yet receive funds owed by the Iraqi government.

But Gouaz supplied WND with pictures of what he said was the signing ceremony in 2000 in which Hyundai's Iraqi government bonds were sold.

Baker's envoy role conflict of interest?

In 2003, President Bush appointed Baker as special envoy to aid in the recovery of debt from Iraq. He was specifically tasked with trying to persuade the international community to forgive large sums of debt.

A number of media reports pointed out Baker simultaneously was working with commercial companies trying to recover money from Iraq and that the former secretary of state might have conflicts of interest with his role as envoy.

Baker's firm represents the government of Saudi Arabia, the country claiming the largest amount of debt from Iraq. Also according to London's Guardian newspaper and the Nation magazine in New York, the Carlyle Group is involved in efforts to recover nearly $27 billion on behalf of the Kuwaiti government. Baker was a partner at Carlyle until last year.

Baker has publicly brushed aside the criticism, saying he has agreed to forego earnings from clients with obvious connections to the Iraqi debt.


Baker accused of skirting
U.S. sanctions on Saddam

Businessman charges ex-secretary of state used middleman to 'sell out' Israel for profit

Posted: December 18, 2006
5:00 p.m. Eastern

By Aaron Klein
© 2006

RAMAT HASHARON, Israel – The law firm at which former Secretary of State James Baker is a senior partner used an Israeli middleman to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iraq and push through a multimillion-dollar collection effort involving the regime of Saddam Hussein, according to a businessman here who said he mediated the deal.

Nir Gouaz, president of Caesar Global Securities in Israel, told WND that Baker's firm, Houston-based Baker Botts, made about $30 million collecting funds owed to a South Korean company by the Iraqi government at the peak of American sanctions imposed against Baghdad.

He claimed Baker was directly involved in the deal.

Gouaz told WND he decided to come forward with details of the alleged transactions after the release earlier this month of a report by the Iraq Study Group, a commission headed by Baker that recommended an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and dialogue with Iran and Syria.

(The report also urged Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, and to sign a deal with Syria in which the Jewish state would vacate the Golan Heights, strategic mountainous territory twice used by Damascus to launch ground invasions into Israel.

"As a citizen of Israel I cannot just sit by and watch the hypocrisy being spewed by Baker," said Gouaz. "If Baker was still a private citizen I could keep his business dealings private, but now he is involved in diplomacy that sells out Israel. People need to understand he is acting out of economic considerations."

Gouaz provided WND with documentation indicating he mediated the Iraqi debt deal. He first spoke out this weekend in an interview with Israel's Maariv daily newspaper during which he passed a polygraph lie detector test.

Gouaz said he was tapped in 1998 by Jeffrey Stonerock, a senior partner at Baker Botts, to serve as a middleman in the collection of $1.65 billion in debt owned to Korea's Hyundai Engineering by the Iraqi government.

Hyundai had completed a series of major infrastructure projects in Iraq, including the construction of roads, railways and power plants and was supposed to be paid in Iraqi government bonds, but in the wake of the Gulf War, Saddam suspended payments to suppliers.

Gouaz said Iraq's failure to pay threatened the future of Hyundai.

Gouaz said he was asked to mediate the collection efforts to evade sanctions on Iraq, which did not apply to Israelis.

He said he met initially with Baker and that the former secretary of state was involved in the collection deal.

Gouaz said he was asked by Baker's firm to meet with Shaiker Tawfik Fakoury, the president of the Bank of Jordan, which agreed to purchase the Iraqi government bonds from Hyundai at a lowered rate and resell them to the Iraqis at a profit in exchange for oil.

He said the Jordanian bank in July 2000 bought the Iraqi bonds from Hyundai using the services of Baker's firm at the price of $272 million. The Bank of Jordan, he claimed, then resold the bonds to Iraq for about $450 million in oil.

Gouaz said he estimated the Baker Botts law firm made about $33 million in fees for its services in the transactions.

He said it was "clear" from his communications with all parties involved that Baker's firm established the bonds exchange through Jordan using an Israeli middleman to bypass sanctions on Iraq.

"The point of involving me and setting up the collection as it was done was to get around the sanctions," Gouaz said.

Gouaz would not disclose how much money he personally made in the deal.

Gouaz provided WND with a copy of a letter dated July 11, 2000, from Hyundai executives thanking him for his efforts in mediating the collection deal. He also gave WND a copy of an Iraqi government bond from 1989 for $11 million he said was part of Hyundai's collection efforts.

Baker Botts released a statement to WND saying the firm has "no knowledge" of whether the purported transaction described by Gouaz ever occurred.

The statement said Baker Botts' role in the supposed transactions as described by Gouaz and the payment Gouaz said the firm received are inaccurate.

Mike Cinelli, a public relations manager at Baker Botts, denied Baker was involved in the purported transactions Gouaz described.

Cinelli pointed to a press release on Hyundai's website from 2005 stating the company did not yet receive funds owed by the Iraqi government.

But Gouaz supplied WND with pictures of what he said was the signing ceremony in 2000 in which Hyundai's Iraqi government bonds were sold.

Baker's envoy role conflict of interest?

In 2003, President Bush appointed Baker as special envoy to aid in the recovery of debt from Iraq. He was specifically tasked with trying to persuade the international community to forgive large sums of debt.

A number of media reports pointed out Baker simultaneously was working with commercial companies trying to recover money from Iraq and that the former secretary of state might have conflicts of interest with his role as envoy.

Baker's firm represents the government of Saudi Arabia, the country claiming the largest amount of debt from Iraq. Also according to London's Guardian newspaper and the Nation magazine in New York, the Carlyle Group is involved in efforts to recover nearly $27 billion on behalf of the Kuwaiti government. Baker was a partner at Carlyle until last year.

Baker has publicly brushed aside the criticism, saying he has agreed to forego earnings from clients with obvious connections to the Iraqi debt

Continued (Permanent Link)

Abbas and Olmert - What meeting?

Abbas and Olmert - What meeting?


The long awaited meeting of Israel Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas took place on Saturday evening, December 23, with hardly any fanfare, and with hardly any results either. It should have been a "great event," but if you blinked, you may have missed it.

The most interesting aspect of this meeting was the lack of publicity. The lack of results was predictable, and I predicted regarding such meetings in the past. The relative lack of publicity and fanfare was a bit strange. It is not that they didn't go out of their way to publicize it. Rather, the Palestinians, at least, went out of their way to depublicize it.

Just prior to the meeting, Saeeb Erekat was quoted in an official Palestinian news source as saying:

" It is untrue and baseless about the date of meeting Saturday or Monday as
no agreement yet on the exact date, " Erekat told Al Ayam local newspaper.

Only a few hours later, Erekat was happily announcing the results of the meeting.

It is not surprising that the meeting didn't accomplish much, because Abbas has nothing to offer the Israeli government, and the Israeli government is too weak to give Abbas very much without getting anything in return. Such concessions, which might be intended to strengthen Abbas's hand against the Hamas, would be attacked as "defeatism" by the opposition Likud. The meeting did not live up even to the limited expectations of a prisoner exchange. Israel is considering releasing $100 million in frozen tax funds to Abbas, Olmert promised to remove some checkpoints and to allow more trucks into Gaza. Israel may let the PLO's Badr brigade and some other forces enter Gaza to restore order.

From Ha'aretz we learn that:

Olmert also warned Abbas that given the continued Qassam rocket fire from Gaza despite a cease-fire in the area, it will be difficult for Israel to maintain its policy of restraint. Responding to a request by the Palestinian delegation to extend the cease-fire to the West Bank, Olmert said the Palestinians must first demonstrate an ability to uphold the truce in Gaza.

Concessions would be good for Mr. Abbas and bad for the rival Hamas. Therefore, Mr. Olmert has essentially laid out a plan of action for the Hamas, telling them what they must do to prevent Israeli concessions. Of course, Olmert really didn't have much choice. Likewise, the prisoner exchange that the Palestinians wanted could not go ahead because the Palestinians will not release Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit first. Mr. Abbas didn't have any choice about that either, because forces loyal to the Hamas hold Gilad Shalit.

Lurking in the background of course, was the call of PM Abbas for new elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council issued last week. Actually, Abbas didn't exactly call for elections. Rather, he threatened to dissolve the government and call for elections if the Hamas did not agree to a unity government. Abbas has been making such threats periodically for many months. It is getting increasingly difficult to take his deadlines seriously. However, this meeting may have been an indication that there was more to last week's call for elections than the previous calls. Or not.

Meanwhile, there have been some strange doings in the inscrutable and mysterious West, as well as the Middle East. A report in the Forward newspaper claims that the US State Department is considering declaring a Palestinian state with provisional borders in 2007. If there is any truth to it, this is the latest, and perhaps the ultimate, manifestation of the US mania for imposing "democracy" on the people of the Middle East, regardless of whether they want it or not. It is not clear how the US can declare a Palestinian state if the Palestinians don't want one. This program is also opposed to that of PM Abbas who rejected the similar-sounding, but very dissimilar plan of the Hamas for a state with temporary borders. Said Abbas

: "we are against a state with temporary borders.... [W]e are in favor of starting a comprehensive dialogue on the final status issues with the Israelis reaching a final and comprehensive peace agreement."

. Of course, the "temporary borders" contemplated by the Hamas are the 1949 armistice borders, and the permanent borders are nothing at all, which is quite different from the plan the US State Department may have had in mind. Abbas, curiously enough, "forgot" that he had called for new elections, and instead called for a resumption of unity government talks:

Regarding the national dialogue, President Abbas said that he is ready to start a scheduled dialogue to resume the past talks in accordance with what have been agreed upon, which is the formation of a national unity government that would end the current crisis.

Ami Isseroff

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Continued (Permanent Link)

Israeli Arabs seek autonomy and veto on government decisions

Last update - 09:25 06/12/2006   

Israeli Arabs seek autonomy and veto on government decisions
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent

Israeli Arabs are demanding cultural, religious and educational autonomy, and the right to veto government decisions on national issues that affect them.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee Tuesday released a document entitled "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel." It stipulates that Israeli Arabs will demand that during the next two decades Israel become a binational state alongside an independent Palestinian state.
Monitoring Committee officials say the document is a cornerstone in the history of the Israeli Arabs, as it was produced by the Monitoring Committee and sponsored by the local authorities committee, two bodies representing all the political factions of the Arabs in Israel.
"Our main objective is to ignite the spark of the political debate on the future of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," said Shawki Hatib, chair of the Monitoring Committee.
The document demands that Israel recognize the Arab community as a national minority with the right to be represented in international forums. Jewish Israelis need not see it as a threat, Hatib said.
The document has eight chapters, each outlining the vision regarding land policy, economic development, education, etc. The chapter about relations with the state does not say that Israeli Arabs recognize Israel's Jewishness, but that they are willing to see it as a "joint homeland" for the two nations.
"This means we recognize the Jewish nation's rights in Israel as individuals and a group. But not at the Arabs' expense. We will respect each other if they respect our rights," said Dr. Asad Ghanem, a political scientist, who wrote the chapter.
The chapter presents Israel as a state created by colonialism, which grew strong due to the increased Jewish migration to Palestine in the wake of World War II's consequences and the Holocaust. It says Israel imposed a colonial policy on its Arab citizens, including confiscation of their land and redefining the culture as Jewish.
The document demands changing the state's symbols. "After 60 years we must grow up and speak the truth. This state must contain both groups on all levels. Let the Jews have Zionist symbols in their space. I support that. But why impose those symbols on me?" asked Ghanem.
The chapters presented Tuesday will be part of a book to be published by the Monitoring Committee. It was initiated by Hatib, prepared by the local authority heads' committee and financed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
"The Or Committee also ruled that the Israeli Arabs' weakness is the lack of group rights. That was written by a Jew, and nobody felt threatened, but when the Arabs say it, it's threatening," he said.
The chapter about the Palestinian state says the Israeli Arabs support the establishment of a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel. It would belong to the Palestinian people, while Israel would be a binational state, as it has a Jewish majority and a large Arab minority. It calls for setting up a democracy constituting a coalition of Jews and Arabs in Israel. Each side would run its own affairs and each would have a right to veto the other's decisions.
The document says the Arab public does not see Israel's present government system as a democracy, and says Israel is an ethnocracy, like Turkey, Sri Lanka, Latvia and others.

Continued (Permanent Link)

51st Qassam since truce lands in south

51st Qassam since truce lands in south

Two rockets land in western Negev Sunday morning; cabinet to discuss Israeli
Shmulik Hadad YNET Published: 12.24.06, 09:04,7340,L-3343745,00.html

Residents of the western Negev were not impressed by the promises made by
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his meeting with Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert Saturday.

Since the beginning of the ceasefire, 51 Qassam rockets have been launched
from the Gaza Strip – two of which were launched early Sunday morning.

Residents of Sderot and Gaza vicinity communities again woke to the sound of
the alert system, shortly after which a loud explosion was heard as a result
of a Qassam that landed and exploded nearby a kibbutz belonging to the Shaar
Hanegev Regional Council.

A second rocket landed shortly after nearby a kibbutz in the area. No
injuries or damages were reported in either case.

An additional four rockets were launched towards the western Negev
throughout the weekend. One boy from Sderot was lightly injured by shrapnel.

The Qassam issue came up during Olmert and Abbas' meeting, when the prime
minister warned that Israel could not continue to show restraint much

The political-security Cabinet would discuss the response to the Qassam's
Sunday. The defense establishment urged the government to approve a response
to the continuing fire.

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Continued (Permanent Link)

Cohen family begs Assad for remains

Cohen family begs Assad for remains

The family of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, joined by 200 Jewish student representatives from around the world, have written a letter to Syrian President Bashar Assad calling on him to allow Cohen's remains to be buried in Israel.

Cohen spied for Israel as an undercover agent in Damascus in the 1960s, supplying key information that contributed to Israel's victory in the Six-Day War. Upon his capture by the Syrians, Israel offered to release hundreds of prisoners in exchange for his life. Syria refused, executing him on an international television broadcast.

"We're calling on Bashar Assad to show that his declared intentions are his real intentions," Sophie Cohen, daughter of the legendary spy, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday evening.

"We want to get daddy's bones," Sophie Cohen declared. "He already paid the price [when he was executed by the Syrian government]. His burial is a religious rite unconnected to this punishment."

The letter was initiated by Daniel Translateur, chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), an umbrella organization that connects Jewish university students from around the world and represents Jewish students in various forums. It was Translateur who first approached Sophie Cohen with the idea.

"I'm happy about [Translateur's] offer, and happy that Dad's legacy and his story will be known to Jewish students all over the world," Cohen said.

The letter, signed by Translateur and 200 student representatives from 50 countries, calls on Assad, "in the name of the Jewish people around the world and those living in Israel, to implement the confidence-building humanitarian gesture of ordering the return of Eli Cohen's bones to his family in Israel," according to a preliminary copy of the letter obtained by the Post.

"We are convinced that such a step could open the way to a real peace process between Israel and Syria that will bring peace to the entire region," the letter continues.

Sophie believes the WUJS letter's premise is accurate. "[Assad] can't support terror and talk peace at the same time. [In the same way,] he can't talk to Israel and keep daddy's bones."

She also believes Israel shares part of the blame for not doing enough to bring Eli Cohen's remains to Israel. "Israel cannot continue to forget Daddy. It has to tell its soldiers that it
stands by them until the last moment, and even afterwards," she said.

Reached overseas, Nadia Cohen, Eli's wife, was cautious but hopeful. "Whenever there is hope, [for example] if Bashar Assad says something about peace, we start acting and don't sit quietly," she said.

"Until now there was silence, but now, there is his declaration that he wants to begin discussions with Israel. I don't know where it will lead, but each time I hope anew that it will work," she concluded.

Continued (Permanent Link)

President Abbas Rejects Document of PM Haniyya's Advisor on Temporary Borders, Truce with Israel

President Abbas Rejects Document of PM Haniyya's Advisor on Temporary
Borders, Truce with Israel
[WAFA is the news agency of the PLO ]

RAMALLAH, December 23, 2006 (WAFA ) - President Mahmoud
Abbas rejected Saturday document of Ahmed Yossef, the PM Ismael Haniyya's political advisor, about making a nonpermanent truce with Israel.

President Abbas told reporters in Ramallah that he "totally rejects such document" because "we are against a state with temporary borders."

He added that "we are in favor of starting a comprehensive dialogue on the final status issues with the Israelis reaching a final and comprehensive peace agreement."

Regarding the national dialogue, President Abbas said that he is ready to start a scheduled dialogue to resume the past talks in accordance with what have been agreed upon, which is the formation of a national unity government that would end the current crisis.

He affirmed that Fateh movement will support this government, even if it is not part of it.

Asked about his meeting with the Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, President Abbas said there is a Palestinian team discussing the issue with its Israeli counterpart, adding the meeting would take place during the next couple of weeks.

A.D (P) (GMT)

Continued (Permanent Link)

We miss you, Sharon

We miss you, Sharon
By Yoel Marcus

In a few days, it will be a year since Ariel Sharon went into a coma, and many Israelis are feeling the urge to cry out from the depths of their hearts: "Sharon, we miss you."
Sharon was at the height of his popularity and power as prime minister, but above all, he was at the height of his maturity as a leader. It was a stage in his action-packed life when he was not shooting bluff and bluster from the hip. It was a stage when he donned his reading glasses and delivered his rare speeches from a written text, carefully choosing and weighing the words jotted down in his little book.
Gone was the unbridled warrior heading into battle. Gone was the political punk who snatched microphones at political assemblies. Most of all, gone was the fearless settler and right-wing mascot of the Greater Israel movement.
The disengagement was carried out under the slogan "with sensitivity and determination," but from my breakfasts with Sharon, with or without halvah, I can tell you it was really carried out "with determination and determination." The sensitivity stuff was bull.
The settlers knew the truth and were careful not to stretch the rope too far. They knew Sharon would uproot them from their homes and settlements with whatever force was necessary. Because that's what a leader does.
Unfortunately, no Sharon clone has emerged yet, built from the same stuff.
Does this mean that if Sharon hadn't slipped into a coma, he would have continued with unilateral disengagement? The answer is no. He explicitly said that after the Gaza withdrawal, the next stage would only be by agreement, i.e., the product of negotiations. Sharon said what he meant, and his guideline was the Bush plan. According to this plan, negotiations must be preceded by a cessation of terror. Sharon didn't "sell off the Land of Israel," as his opponents claimed. What he did was roll the ball into the Palestinian court and set a precedent in this neck of the woods.
Sharon the leader and statesman was more calculating and cautious than Sharon the soldier and politician. He spoke little and very rarely put his foot in his mouth. He wouldn't have come out with a slip of the tongue about Israel's nuclear capacity like Olmert, which brought the whole world down on us. He wouldn't talk about our kidnapped soldiers as if they were dead, sabotaging our justification for the Lebanon War.
Sharon had natural instincts that kept him from doing stupid things. If he were around, Amir Peretz wouldn't have been appointed defense minister in a million years. He would never have entrusted Avigdor Lieberman with one of the most sensitive defense jobs for coalitionary reasons. For that sort of thing, he would have made do with Agudat Yisrael.
If Ariel Sharon were with us today, standing at the helm, maybe there wouldn't have been a second Lebanon war. It certainly would not have been timed the way it was, or carried out so sloppily. Sharon would have pored over every detail of the military maneuvers. He might have chosen to stick with aerial combat, or postponed retaliatory action until Israel was fully prepared to go in and settle accounts once and for all, by finishing off Nasrallah.
A senior officer who worked at Sharon's headquarters for many years says he had a land campaign at his fingertips. An egg-on-the-face operation like this one would never have seen the light of day if he were around. If Sharon were to wake up for a minute and see what is left of our power of deterrence, he would ask to be put back to sleep.
Sharon spent a lot of time thinking and planning, and less time talking. His heir, Ehud Olmert, talks more than he thinks. That's the difference between a statesman and a politician. There is no way in the world that Sharon would tell Assad he is not a partner for peace because President Bush objects. That kind of statement is an embarrassment to both sides. Bush and Sharon would sit together and come up with a plan to call Assad's bluff. Because they were real friends, whereas Olmert and Bush are only photo-op and back-slapping buddies.
If we ever find ourselves pondering what leads to what - is it history that creates the leader, or the leader who creates history? - the Sharon phenomenon provides an answer.
The metamorphosis of Sharon's personality and thinking is what changed history. No other Israeli leader would have dared to evacuate the Gaza settlements and settlers. He was the man who roused this country from its dreams and delusions, and paved the way for a Palestinian state. Now the rest depends on them.

Continued (Permanent Link)

ANALYSIS / UN resolution on sanctions will not stop Iran

Last update - 00:17 24/12/2006   

ANALYSIS / UN resolution on sanctions will not stop Iran
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent

"A nation whose youth have been able to achieve the nuclear fuel cycle with empty hands rest assured that it will be able to reach other peaks," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Iranian public last week.
This is how Iran intends to react to Saturday's United Nations vote, which unanimously ratified sanctions on Iran.
The Security Council's modified sanctions are intended, at this stage, as a warning to Iran to stop developing its nuclear program for military purposes. The sanctions could lead to tougher measures, if the warning goes unheeded, excluding military action.
The resolution will not stop Iran's ongoing nuclear activity. Iran knew how to import nuclear know-how and means in the past, even under the watchful eyes of the international committee.
Apparently, this covert relationship does not necessarily depend on the cooperation of other countries.
Iran, which declared the resolution illegal yesterday, may also cease to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and condition its cooperation on refraining from imposing the sanctions.
Iran assumes that the sanctions leave it enough space to continue the negotiations that stalled in August, without the threat of military attack. As Iran sees it, the resolution is a blow to the United States, because Iran demanded throughout the negotiation rounds the U.S.'s commitment not to attack it. The U.S. refused to make such an undertaking and now the UN resolution rules out the military option, at least for the time being.
The major obstacles the UN resolution encountered and the number of concessions European nations and the U.S. had to make, strengthen Iran's assumption that the UN would have difficulty adopting harsher sanctions. Moreover, Tehran sees its international relations¬ from trade and oil agreements with India, Pakistan and Turkey, to its considerable influence in Iraq and its economic and political ties with Russia ¬ as an effective block against worse punishment.
Despite the defeat Ahmadinejad suffered in the local elections, he can rely on public opinion, in addition to the radical stream in the Iranian government. Recent polls indicate that a large part of the public agrees with the government's position that the nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes and that Iran has the full right to develop it.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Iran vows to drive nuclear program at 'full speed'

Last update - 09:35 24/12/2006   

Iran vows to drive nuclear program at 'full speed'
By Haaretz Service and Agencies

Iran's top nuclear negotiator said the country will push forward immediately with efforts to enrich uranium, after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions designed to stop the nuclear efforts, a newspaper reported Sunday.
"From Sunday morning, we will begin activities at Natanz - site of 3,000 centrifuge machines - and we will drive it with full speed. It will be our immediate response to the resolution," the Kayhan newspaper quoted Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, as saying.
On Saturday, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, increasing international pressure on the government to prove that it is not trying to make nuclear weapons. The resolution, which was sponsored by Britain, Germany, and France, was approved in a 15-0 vote that included a yes vote by Qatar.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Mohamed ElBaradei said Saturday. that his agency is ready to implement the UN Security Council resolution on Iran.
"The agency will implement the relevant parts of the UNSC resolution that relates to its work," the IAEA said. According to diplomats close to the IAEA the resolution "does not ask much" of the UN nuclear watchdog, only to limit its technical cooperation with Iran, excepting fields like food or agriculture.
Iran formally rejected the council's decision, calling the sanctions illegal and vowing to continue its nuclear program. Iran's parliament speaker said prior to the vote that parliament would alter the Islamic Republic's relationship with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear watchdog if the sanctions were approved.
"Today we are placing Iran in the small category of states under Security Council sanctions," acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff told the council before the vote.
"We will not hesitate to return to this body to seek further action should Iran fail to comply," Wolff added.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who was successful in watering down parts of the resolution, emphasized however that the resolution did not permit any use of force.
Moscow's earlier hesitation over supporting the resolution prompted a phone call Saturday between U.S. President George W. Bush to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had reviewed the resolution until the last minute following two months of tough negotiations. Russia is building an $800 million light-water reactor for Tehran that is exempted in the resolution.
The resolution demands Tehran end all research on uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear power plants as well as for bombs, and halt research and development that can make or deliver atomic weapons.
The resolution is under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which makes enforcement mandatory but restricts action to nonmilitary measures. It would suspend sanctions if Tehran in turn suspended "all enrichment related and reprocessing activities, including research and development."
The thrust of the sanctions is a ban on imports and exports of dangerous materials and technology relating to uranium enrichment, reprocessing and heavy-water reactors, as well as ballistic missile delivery systems.
Iran has vowed to continue its nuclear program, which first came to light in 2002 and Iran says is for peaceful purposes. (Click here for a timeline of Iran's nuclear program)
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told state-run television the resolution "cannot affect or limit Iran's peaceful nuclear activities but will discredit the decisions of the Security Council, whose power is deteriorating."
The IAEA expressed its hope that a diplomatic solution was still possible and a comprehensive agreement could be reached: "The
Director General believes that a long term solution to the Iranian nuclear issue has to be based on negotiation and mutual
ElBaradei hopes for an agreement allowing for the development of cooperation with Iran based on "mutual respect and the establishment of international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Israel wecomes resolution

Israeli leaders meanwhile welcomed the Security Council's decision, while the United States administration said the sanctions aren't enough, and it hopes that the international community will enact further measures.
The resolution imposed sanctions on Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and ballistic missiles in an attempt to get Tehran to halt uranium enrichment work.
Iran also accused the Security Council of pursuing a double standard in imposing sanctions on what it said was Tehran's peaceful nuclear program while ignoring Israel's purported nuclear arsenal.
"It is indisputable that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Israeli regime with an unparalleled record of noncompliance with Security Council resolutions ... poses a uniquely grave threat to regional and international peace and security," Iranian UN Ambassador Jawad Zarif told the 15-nation council.
"The same governments which have pushed this council to take groundless punitive measures against Iran's peaceful nuclear program have systematically prevented it from taking any action to nudge the Israeli regime towards submitting itself to the rules governing the nuclear nonproliferation regime," Zarif told the 15-nation council.
"A nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights" to develop nuclear energy, primarily at the behest of the U.S. and Israel, "which is apparently being rewarded today for having clandestinely developed and unlawfully possessed nuclear weapons," Zarif said.
"Some of the members of the Security Council, especially the United States ... do not commit themselves to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and freely provide this technology and equipment to other countries and do not commit themselves to any of the articles of nuclear disarmament," Hosseini said. "On the contrary they develop their nuclear arsenals."
"This decision cannot stand against the will of the Iranian nation," the spokesman added.
He said in a separate statement that Iran would press ahead with its plan to install 3,000 centrifuges in its Natanz facility.
"The new resolution won't be an obstacle in the way of Iran's nuclear progress," the statement said. "The Iranian nation, relying on its national capabilities and within the framework of its rights stipulated in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, will continue its peaceful nuclear activities."
The centrifuges are machines which can purify uranium to a low level for use in reactors, or a far higher level for use in nuclear weapons.
Israel: Resolution sends clear message to Iran
Defense Minister Amir Peretz welcomed Saturday's UN Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Iran, calling it an important step. Nonetheless, Peretz said, Israel must continue to push for stricter sanctions.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said the "decision is a small first step, but in the right direction."
"Before going to war it is possible to achieve what we want without war, if the world will take the right steps," continued Peres.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said it sends "a clear message to the Iranian leadership that Iran's nuclear program is total unacceptable and the community of nations will act to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons."
The Defense Ministry said the international community "will need to continue to show determination to reach the goal of blocking Iran's nuclear plan."
The U.S. administration said Saturday it hopes the resolution penalizing Iran for its nuclear enrichment program will clear the way for tougher measures against Tehran by individual countries, particularly Russia.
"We don't think this resolution is enough in itself," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. "We want the international community to take further action. We're certainly not going to put all our eggs in the UN basket."
Approval of the resolution under a part of the UN Charter that makes it binding is "going to be humiliating for Iran," Burns told reporters after the unanimous vote.
Burns said the resolution takes away a main argument against bilateral penalties by individual countries, which have told U.S. officials that they could not do so until the UN acted. The administration wants other nations to join the U.S. and stop selling arms to Iran and to limit export credits to Tehran, he said.
"We want to let the Iranians know that there is a big cost to them," Burns said, so they will return to talks.
"We hope the Russian government is going to work with us in a very active way to send this message of unity to Iran and we hope Russia is going to take a very vigorous approach itself," Burns said.
Neither President George W. Bush, spending the holidays at Camp David in
Maryland and meeting with advisers on a new Iraq plan, nor the White House offered immediate comment on the vote.
"And yet we feel very strongly that having achieved this, this is a powerful message to Iran," Burns said.
Reacting to the resolution, France's Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in a statement Saturday: "Today, more than ever, our objective remains convincing Iran to conform with its international commitments."
He lauded the unanimous passage of the resolution and said it places Iran squarely before a choice: "cooperate with the international community or continue its (uranium) enrichment and reprocessing activities at the risk of growing isolation."
The minister said that France, which worked to make the resolution acceptable to all Security Council members, would continue to press for dialogue with Tehran.
Iran warning

Iran's parliament speaker said Saturday that parliament would alter the Islamic Republic's relationship with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear watchdog if the sanctions were approved.
"If they intend to deprive the Iranian nation of its certain right to nuclear technology by a resolution... parliament will reconsider the nature of its relationship with the IAEA," Parliament Speaker Gholamali Haddadadel told state television.
Haddadadel said if the pressure mounts on Iran, parliament will have to discuss a plan, approved by the parliament's national security committee, that wants a serious reconsideration in Iran's relation with the IAEA.
He did not elaborate on the contents of the bill and how it was meant to alter Iran's relationship with the IAEA. Parliament has already banned IAEA snap inspections in February in response to its nuclear case referral to the UN Security Council.
However, the head of parliament's national security committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi said on Saturday that Iran was not interested in quitting the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) despite possible sanctions.
"Since Iran seriously opposes building nuclear weapons it is not interested in signing out from such an important matter in international aspect," Boroujerdi was quoted by Iran's student news agency ISNA as saying.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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