Analysis: Obama sounding similar to Bush on foreign policy

Not only is Barack Obama inheriting President Bush’s Middle East, it looks like he’s adopting his strategies.

Perhaps the most striking presence on the Chicago stage Monday, where President-elect Obama presented his national security team, were the policies of the outgoing president.

Speaking generally, Obama hewed to the “change” bromides of a campaign that said it wanted to bury Bush’s legacies.

“In this uncertain world, the time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century and to seize the opportunities embedded in those challenges,” Obama said. “We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends.

“We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships,” he continued. “We will show the world once more that America is relentless in the defense of our people, steady in advancing our interests and committed to the ideals that shine as a beacon to the world.”

Yet when he briefly detoured into specifics, introducing Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), his pick for secretary of state, Obama’s themes sounded familiar.

“There is much to do — from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, to seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, to strengthening international institutions,” Obama said.

The first three components of that four-pronged strategy are carryovers from the Bush administration’s final years: Defuse Iran and North Korea and nudge forward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Obama’s priority list comes despite a growing chorus of voices that insists that the Israel-Palestinian track is intractable for now, needing management, not solutions. Those voices — including Dennis Ross, the Clinton administration’s top Middle East adviser who is now helping to shape Obama’s Middle East policy — say peace with Syria is the better bet for now.

But the Israelis and the Palestinians at the table believe that Obama has their back and predict a deal within months.

“We’re very close, and it’s time to make decisions,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week after meeting with Bush.

Olmert made it clear that it was his impression that Obama would carry over the Bush administration’s emphasis on arriving at an agreement within the next few months.

“It’s like a relay race,” the outgoing Israeli leader said. “The baton will be passed in an orderly, correct way.”

Olmert believes a deal could be in place before he leaves office in March. He is stepping down to face corruption charges.

That prediction was echoed by a top Palestinian negotiator, Maen Rashid Areikat, who told the Washington Times that the negotiators had arrived at a formula to circumvent perhaps the most intransigent obstruction to statehood — control of the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists. Areikat told the paper that a state would first be declared in the West Bank.

Those are pipe dreams, said Sam Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who is now a senior policy adviser to the Israel Policy Forum and has monitored the Israel-Syria talks.

“There is much more of an opportunity to make a breakthrough with Syria than there is a Palestinian front,” he said. “With the vision of Palestine in two pieces and the problems between Hamas and Fatah,” the relatively moderate party controlling the West Bank, “it makes it difficult to move to a final agreement.”

Another of Obama’s picks, Gen. James Jones for national security adviser, also implies an interest in carrying over Bush administration efforts to build a Palestinian security infrastructure. Jones, a former NATO commander, most recently monitored Palestinian and Israeli compliance with peace deals, with special attention paid to the creation of a Palestinian police force.

Jones was tough with both sides during his tenure, but his appointment has raised eyebrows in Israel. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refuses to authorize the release of a report in which he reportedly slams Israel for hampering Palestinian Authority security training.

During his NATO stint, Jones was known as friendly to Israel’s regional interests. The Israeli concerns about his appointment are the result of Israel having been “treated gently” during the Bush administration, Lewis said, and eventually will pass.

“Anytime you ask the Israelis to do something they don’t want to do, they’re resentful; it’s nothing other than normal business,” Lewis said. “After eight years of the Israelis being treated very gently, the contrast was probably annoying to them. He’s a balanced guy, and that’s what you need.”

Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said the Jones appointment was reassuring because it signaled another consistency with the presidency: Its second-term deference to experienced military opinion.

“Picking a Marine for almost anything is a good pick,” said Bryen, whose organization cultivates close relations with all branches of the U.S. military. “He has the background to talk about military priorities in Afghanistan, in Iraq.”

That’s true as well of Obama’s pick for defense secretary: the incumbent, Robert Gates. Obama ran a campaign that derided Bush’s choices in Iraq, but in recent months, the Bush administration has edged closer to Obama’s vision of a phased, careful — and not unconditional — withdrawal.

On Iran, there appears to be consistency, too. During the campaign, great focus was placed on Obama’s calls for stepped-up diplomatic outreach, but since defeating Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), he has stressed the need for Iran to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program. On Monday, the president-elect hammered home the message again.

It’s a two-pronged approach that jibes with the Gates and Clinton choices. Clinton, Obama’s chief rival during the primaries, hewed to more hawkish Iran rhetoric, although it helped energize her left-wing critics during the Democratic primaries. At the same time, with Gates in the Pentagon, the Bush administration has edged away from cutting off the Islamic republic and has all but killed the idea of striking Iran or allowing Israel to strike.

Ross, meanwhile, joined top former Bush administration officials in signing off in September on an especially tough blueprint on how to deal with Iran published by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank.

The proposal, “Meeting the Challenge,” was barely noticed in the media. It calls for stiffer sanctions, an end to uranium enrichment and outlines a military option that would have “more decisive results than the Iranian leadership realizes,” although such an option would be a last resort.

Ross’ presence on Obama’s transitional Middle East policy team, as well as on the front page of a report that includes first-term Bush hawks, such as Michael Rubin, Michael Makovsky and Steve Rademaker, has sent shudders through those in Washington who had hoped an Obama administration would stress outreach to Iran at a time when its hard-liners are showing signs of being in retreat.

Bryen said it was clear that Obama would eventually seek to expand the Bush administration’s recent, limited diplomatic entreaties to Iran; it was not clear how.

“The incoming administration clearly believes there are approaches to Iran that haven’t been tried,” she said.

The one flag that may trouble some Jewish groups was the fourth leg of Obama’s foreign policy strategy: the planned elevation of U.S. involvement with the United Nations. Groups such as B’nai B’rith International and the American Jewish Committee have maintained their commitment to the body, while growing increasingly skeptical of its potential for ever treating Israel fairly. Other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, have just about written off the United Nations as a useful forum.

Obama nominated Susan Rice, one of his top campaign advisers, to be U.N. ambassador and has said she will serve at Cabinet level.

“She shares my belief that the U.N. is an indispensable and imperfect forum,” he said.

McCain surrogates likely to echo Bush on Iran and Israel

DENVER (JTA)—John McCain’s campaign has walked a fine line between upholding the values of the GOP base that still reveres George W. Bush, while repudiating the legacy of the most unpopular president in modern history.

In at least one area, however, there’s no ambivalence: When it comes to Israel and how to deal with Iran, Republicans are happy to tout the Arizona senator’s consistency with the Bush presidency and his differences with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), his Democratic rival.

At next week’s GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., expect McCain and his top surrogates, including lapsed Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to hammer home real policy differences between the two parties on the Middle East:

Such differences include Bush’s policy of continued democratization vs. Obama’s emphasis of reaching out to all governments; the Bush-Cheney preference for a tough military posture in the region vs. Obama’s pledge to intensify engagement in diplomacy and peacemaking.

“He recognizes Israel’s right as a sovereign to defend herself against those who seek to harm and destroy her,” says the “Jewish Advisory Coalition” page on McCain’s campaign Web site. The statement appears beneath a picture of McCain and Lieberman, wearing blue and white yarmulkes and praying at the Western Wall.

It’s a pitch that works with Republican Jews and the small portion of Jewish voters who vote strictly on Israel preferences. Coupled with McCain’s reputation as a relative moderate and anxieties about Obama, a relative unknown, the strategy appears to have eaten into the traditional 3-1 Jewish vote in favor of Democrats. Obama’s ratings have been stuck at 60 percent in Jewish polls.

McCain’s selection Friday of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, however, might reinforce charges by Democrats that McCain’s pretensions to moderation are unfounded. Palin, 44 and governor for two years, is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and gay unions.

The McCain campaign is already casting the ticket as one of reform: Palin has earned plaudits for pushing through ethics reforms in a state where Republicans have become identified with cronyism.

“In Alaska, Governor Palin challenged a corrupt system and passed a landmark ethics
reform bill,” a McCain campaign statement said. “She has actually used her veto and cut budgetary spending.”

Palin is close to the state’s small Jewish community, and as governor has visited its synagogues. She was planning an Israel trip prior to her selection.

Still, the selection of a staunch conservative only reinforces the “yes, but” ambivalence of much of McCain’s campaign: Yes, the Iraq war didn’t turn out well, but McCain’s been saying so for five years. Yes, the Bush White House exacerbated partisanship, but McCain has a history of working with Democrats.

Now expect to hear: Yes, she’s a staunch social conservative, but McCain has in the past embraced some moderate positions, for instance on stem cell research.

Among the few relative moderates appearing at the convention, Jews figure prominently: Lieberman, hometown favorite Sen. Norm Coleman (D-Minn.) and Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle.

The two other Jewish speakers underscore the campaign’s emphasis on reaching out to the community: Rabbi Ira Flax of Birmingham, Ala. will deliver the invocation Wednesday night, and David Flaum, the Republican Jewish Coalition chairman, will speak on Thursday night, when McCain delivers his acceptance speech.

Jewish events at the convention include an RJC luncheon with Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah, as well as events honoring pro-Israel lawmakers, Republican governors and a session analyzing the Jewish vote. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee will run the same range of private events it ran at the Democratic convention, honoring lawmakers and meeting with advisers. Even J-Street, the dovish pro-Israel group that was a prominent presence at Jewish events at the Democratic convention in Denver, will hold an event in St. Paul.

The toughest distinctions will be on Iran. Expect McCain to repeat the pledge he made most recently to a group of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis never to “allow another Holocaust.”

Obama’s campaign is pitching what it calls its “integrated” foreign policy that incorporates diplomatic and economic pressure with outreach; at a Center for U.S. Global Engagement session in Denver, Tony Lake, Obama’s top foreign policy adviser, said dealing with Iran’s suspected nuclear program “is a perfect illustration of an integrated approach because all our options would be on the table, economic, political and military.

Lake said the Iranian challenge could become the “worst crisis we will see in the next five years” and said Obama would deal with it as soon as he takes office. “We have to have a set of very serious negotiations with the Iranians. We have to work with other nations at increasing the leverage.”

The McCain campaign, by contrast, debuted a TV ad last week emphasizing Iran as a “serious threat” that threatens to “eliminate Israel.”

Democratic platform sticks close to Jewish positions

DENVER (JTA) — When it comes to the Middle East and Sen. Barack Obama’s Democratic Party platform, things are staying pretty much the same — which, in this case, is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in.

The platform committee appears to have heeded recommendations by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) advising the party not to veer too far from previous platforms when it comes to the Mideast.

“The Middle East planks of previous platforms have been carefully crafted and have served us well as a party and a country,” Ira Forman, the NJDC’s executive director, advised the committee in July. “We urge the platform committee to stick closely to the 2004 platform language.”

It was advice that hews to the overall strategy of the campaign to elect the Illinois senator as president: Reassure Americans that this young, relatively unknown quantity will bring “change we can believe in” — but not too much of it.

The strategy is informing this week’s convention in Denver, with former military officers and party elders — chief among them former President Bill Clinton — lining up to vouch for Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

Notably, the preamble to the platform’s foreign policy section emphasizes security and defense. Five of its seven points focus on building up the military and combating terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, the platform hews closely to traditional language.

“Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy,” the platform says in an unusually long passage titled, “Stand With Allies and Pursue Democracy in the Middle East.”

“That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region — a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah,” it says.

The rest of the passage repeats talking points that would not be out of place on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee prep sheet: a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no return to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

The intensification of concerns that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability post-dates the 2004 platform, but here, too, the Democratic Party platform sticks closely to the pro-Israel lobby’s line.

The platform emphasizes Obama’s preference for tough diplomacy: “We will present Iran with a clear choice: If you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Even as it plays up the possibilities of sanctions, the platform also includes the magic words: “keeping all options on the table” — continuing the Bush administration’s implicit threat of military action should Iran get to the nuclear brink.

The sharpest foreign policy departure from the Bush administration and from the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in Obama’s pledge to end the war in Iraq — an area where polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews agree with Democrats.

On domestic issues, the platform also stays close to positions favored by the Jewish community, a predominately moderate to liberal demographic. It advocates abortion rights, environmental protections, energy independence, expanded health care and poverty relief.

In one area, however, the platform diverges from traditional liberal orthodoxies on church-state separation: Obama advocates keeping Bush’s faith-based initiatives, albeit with First Amendment protections.

“We will empower grass-roots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy,” it says. “At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections — because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate.”

Olmert in D.C.: Iran talk, not goodbyes

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Expressions of love, walks down memory lane, even the rain lashing the capital’s monuments.

The latest meeting between Ehud Olmert and George Bush played out like the end of a movie romance. Only the Israeli prime minister says he’s not going anywhere because there is work to be done, especially when it comes to facing down Iran.

“I came in with a number of questions regarding this complex issue and I came out with a lot fewer,” Olmert said of Iran’s suspected nuclear program after meeting last Wednesday with President Bush at the White House.

Bush is increasingly perceived as a lame duck, and Olmert is dogged by corruption investigations and calls from his governing coalition to step down. So it follows that much of the prime minister’s visit this week had a melancholy tone.

In his speech last week to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference, Olmert even said he had thought twice about whether to attend.

“Given the recent political developments in Israel, of which I am sure you are all aware, I hesitated as to whether it was the right time and the right thing to leave everything behind and meet with you today,” he said.

Before Olmert’s meeting with Bush, the two leaders traded fond memories, particularly of the president’s 60th anniversary visit last month to Israel.

“From a personal point of view, I can only say that I admire your friendship and your commitment, and your emotions as they were expressed in such a powerful manner in your visit to the State of Israel,” Olmert told Bush in the Oval Office as their gazes locked. “You are loved, you and Laura, very much. And part of my mission is to make you feel this way.”

An hour or so later, Olmert made his way across Lafayette Square through a thunderstorm to Blair House, where state visitors stay. He was all business, especially the business of keeping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

Olmert said he and Bush discussed “means, ways and a timetable” in getting Iran to end its suspected program.

“Each day that passes we take another step to deal with this effectively,” Olmert told reporters after the meeting. “The United States is not just a partner but the leading factor in these efforts.”

He would not provide specifics beyond his challenge in his AIPAC speech to the international community to end the sale of refined gasoline to Iran, which would sow unrest in an economy in which the product is heavily subsidized, as well as to ramp up banking sanctions. AIPAC is backing such efforts in Congress.

Asked particularly about reports that he is urging Americans to lead a blockade of Iranian ports, Olmert would say only that “it is important to tack action not just through the U.N. Security Council. Nations can also take steps.”

Bush and Olmert also discussed Israeli-Palestinian talks. Olmert would not offer an assessment of talks that have been famously leak-proof, saying it would be “impetuous” to declare a deal at this point. He sounded a cautious note about striking a deal before year’s end.

“I hope we can make the timetable we hoped for—hoped for, not committed to,” he said.

Olmert was hopeful as well that Egyptian-brokered efforts to arrive at a cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip would achieve results, but said Israel was ready to launch a major military operation if it did not.

Olmert and Bush also discussed recently renewed talks with Syria, which Bush administration officials have not heartily endorsed, believing Syria to be too entrenched in the Iranian sphere.

Those talks have yet to be fully embraced by the pro-Israel community. Olmert said he hoped that would change after his AIPAC speech and a closed meeting with the lobby’s leaders.

“I said things in that meeting that cannot be mistaken,” he said.

Olmert said he was impressed by all three presidential candidates, who spoke at the AIPAC forum, and their commitment to Israel and isolating Iran. He also said he focused in all his talks on campaigning for the release of three Israeli soldiers held captive by terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza.

Commenting on the prospects of his government while visiting Washington would be “inappropriate,” Olmert said, adding that he did not regret coming.

“The issues are so great,” he said, “it would have been a mistake to miss it.”

Israeli invention could pave way for hydrogen cars

Everyone’s heard that old story about the scientist who invents a “magic pill” that turns water into gasoline — with the invention eventually getting into the hands of the oil companies that bury it, fearing they will be driven out of business when word gets out about their competition.

It sounds like science fiction, but believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened to Moshe Stern, head of C.En (Clean Energy), who said his company’s scientists have developed a revolutionary breakthrough that will enable automobile manufacturers to produce — and sell — cars that use hydrogen power. It’s a breakthrough that has been getting a lot of attention — and oil companies got wind of it, too, with one company allegedly offering him $50 million to shelve his project.

Stern didn’t take the money, though; he intends to see his hydrogen car project through. As a result, he said, for the first time the West has an opportunity to make a real dent in its dependence on OPEC oil.

Hydrogen has long been the great green hope for governments and environmentalists, as well as the ideal opportunity to lessen oil imports for Western countries — since hydrogen can be manufactured from water.

President Bush has set aside billions for development of the technology, and hydrogen is the preferred alternative fuel for public vehicles, like buses, in many cities. Among the cities with at least some public buses fueled by hydrogen are London; Reykjavik, Iceland; Perth, Australia, and Santa Monica — where nearly three-quarters of all municipal vehicles of all types are powered by the fuel.

Instead of producing carbon monoxide or other harmful pollutants, hydrogen fuel emits water vapor, which is certainly better for the environment than fossil fuel emissions — even though some scientists believe it should be considered a greenhouse gas.

Lower pollution and less money for OPEC — hydrogen sounds tailo rmade for the fuel problems that ail us. While Bill Gates of Microsoft fame may have been right when he said, “If GM kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon,” the fact is that the industry says that hydrogen is still not ready for prime time.

While producing the hydrogen is easy enough, getting the fuel into the car and storing it in a fuel tank are some of the biggest obstacles for the technology. This, industry experts say, has traditionally been the deal-breaker for increased hydrogen use.

Most hydrogen vehicles on the road use a liquid form of the material, which requires a super strong and super heavy storage tank. Liquid hydrogen is unstable and needs to be insulated from the excess shocks of bumps and potholes that are a part of everyday driving, so the tanks themselves are large and heavy, and hold about five gallons of fuel — enough for barely 160 miles of driving.

Then there’s the issue of integrating the fuel into internal combustion vehicles that, for better or worse, are unlikely to be phased out anytime soon — as well as the question of where drivers are supposed to fill up, because hydrogen stations are rare.

All these are legitimate concerns that have kept hydrogen development restricted more or less to the laboratory, Stern said, and all concerns that are addressed and solved with C.En’s hydrogen storage and supply solution.

The difference? C.En’s tank uses hydrogen gas collected from the environment (i.e., not produced from fossil fuels) and enclosed in a thin but leak-proof glass container. The best part: Drivers will be able to buy “gas” at automotive or discount stores, fueling up approximately every 370 miles.

Stern said they can build a 16-gallon tank that weighs no more than 100 pounds,unlike tanks currently used for liquid hydrogen that weigh several hundred pounds.

“Our company’s breakthrough is in accumulating hydrogen in a glass material that is very small, only a few microns,” said Stern, who is also president of Environmental Energy Resources (EER), a waste treatment company. “You don’t need to transport hydrogen to fuel stations, and you don’t need pipelines. The tanks will be like a battery that can be replaced, and you can carry a reserve in the car.”

When you run out of hydrogen in one tank, according to Stern, you just pull out the empty cell and put in the fresh one, which will be good for another 370 miles.

The cells, in fact, will act just like batteries in electric or hybrid cars and fit right in with the standard internal combustion engine — which means that Detroit or Japan don’t have to retool their factories or production lines to build cars with the capacity for hydrogen cells. The know-how and means of production are in use right now, in fact, as almost every car manufacturer is already producing hybrids or straight electric cars.

George Sverdrup, technology manager for the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s hydrogen, fuel cells and infrastructure technologies program, said that once the storage problem is solved, there is no reason hydrogen cannot be used as the premiere fuel to power cars.

“We can use hydrogen to decrease our dependence on imported petroleum, because it can be produced by a variety of domestic resources, including water and biomass,” he said, adding that his group has made a great deal of progress in recent years figuring out ways to store hydrogen more safely — a problem solved by C.En’s invention.

Stern is coordinator of the project and chief investor. Among the others are Israeli, as well as Korean, Japanese and Russian investors. The head researcher is professor Dan Eliezer of Ben-Gurion University, an expert in hydrogen who has done work for NASA and security organizations in Israel and the United States.

The team has conducted more than 100 tests over the past several years and is going to be conducting field tests in Germany, where the company will seek approval by BAM (the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing).

Bush’s Middle East legacy

Bush’s Arab world tour significant for Israel

With its focus on strengthening the moderate Arab coalition against Iran, President Bush’s tour of the Persian Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia and Egypt could prove extremely significant for Israel.

From an Israeli perspective, the three key elements were isolating Iran, coaxing moderate Arab countries into moving toward normalization with Israel and getting oil-rich Arab states to honor their financial pledges to the Palestinians.

Progress on all or some of these issues would significantly boost Israeli foreign policy goals.

On Iran, Bush’s rhetoric was uncompromising. In a major policy statement in Abu Dhabi, he described Tehran as a threat to world peace and called on America’s allies to join the United States in confronting the danger “before it was too late.”

Bush accused the Iranian regime of funding terrorists and extremists, undermining peace in Lebanon, sending arms to the Taliban, seeking to intimidate its neighbors with alarming rhetoric, defying the United Nations and destabilizing the entire region by refusing to be open about its nuclear program.

But after last month’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded that Iran had suspended a clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2003, it is unclear what action the United States intends to take.

Bush’s post-NIE Mideast diplomacy can be read in two different ways: bolstering the moderate Arab coalition against Iran as part of an ongoing policy of containment through diplomatic and economic sanctions, or as laying the diplomatic groundwork for a possible military strike against Iranian nuclear installations before the president leaves office.

Israeli experts are divided over how far Bush is likely to go.

Eitan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center for Strategic Studies said he would be very surprised if Bush does anything dramatic during the remainder of his term, such as initiating a dialogue with the ayatollahs or launching a military strike.

Indeed, Gilboa said the president may have ordered the NIE findings to get himself off the hook on attacking Iran.

“The administration has no stomach for military action now,” Gilboa said. “The public doesn’t want it, and it could hurt the chances of the Republican candidate in the November presidential election.”

But Roni Bart, an expert on U.S. Middle East policy at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, argues that the NIE has been far less influential than is generally thought and that Bush still may attack Iran if he believes it is the right thing to do.

Bart points out that the NIE failed to convince the Europeans, the Arab states, the U.S. presidential candidates and, most important, Bush himself that the Iranians have abandoned their drive toward nuclear weapons.

“After seven years we know a bit about Bush. He doesn’t care about public opinion, and he says God talks to him,” Bart said. “If he thought he should attack before the NIE, and if that’s what he still thinks a few months from now, the NIE won’t change his mind.”

Bush is committed to beefing up moderate forces in the Persian Gulf region as part of the effort to contain Iran. Most significant, the United States intends to supply Saudi Arabia with $20 billion in state-of-the-art weaponry over the coming decade.

Nevertheless, the moderate Arab states are highly ambivalent about war with Iran. Both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates told Bush they would not allow U.S. forces to use their territory as a launching pad for a military strike.

As for normalization between Israel and the Arab world, Bush declared in Jerusalem last week that the Arab states should “reach out to Israel,” describing it as a step “that was long overdue” and that would give Israel the confidence to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Indeed, Israel argues that things would proceed much better if the Arabs make a reciprocal gesture of normalization toward Israel for each step Israel makes toward the Palestinians. The Arabs, however, see normalization as a prize that Israel will be entitled to only after a peace treaty with the Palestinians is complete.

So far, the Arabs have shown little sign of any change in this attitude.

The smattering of Israeli dealings in the Gulf countries is kept highly secret for fear of embarrassing Arab host countries. Last year, when a Kenyan athlete running for Bahrain won the marathon in Tiberias, the Gulf state summarily revoked his Bahraini citizenship for competing in Israel.

Last week, though, offered a significant exception to the rule: The Saudi-owned newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat ran an article calling on the Arabs to show greater understanding for Israeli concerns.

Written by Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian-born scholar at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, the column urged the Arabs to do much more to convince the West they really want peace and stability — including peace with Israel.

“Perhaps the time has come for the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, to take a serious view of Israel’s strategic fears,” Fandy wrote. “The Israeli question about the nature of the Palestinian state is logical and legitimate. Will this state add to stability or instability in the region?”

The fact that such views were allowed to appear in a publication connected to the Saudi royal house constituted a small but possibly significant crack in the rejectionists’ wall.

Bush on his trip also sought to ensure that the Arab contribution to the $7.4 billion aid package raised for the Palestinians at last month’s donor conference in Paris comes through. The largest pledge was $500 million from the Saudis over the next three years.

Israel has a clear interest in the money getting to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Israeli policy is based on sustaining the growing contrast between an increasingly prosperous West Bank and an economically declining Gaza Strip. The hope is that this will help bring down Hamas in Gaza and create a large Palestinian majority for peace.

Annapolis, Paris and Bush’s current Middle East tour are all part of this grand peacemaking scheme. But will it be enough in a region teeming with so many powerful countervailing forces?

Leslie Susser is diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

The Importance of Accessibility

Although this was my third visit to the White House, the novelty does not easily wear off. My first invitation was to a prayer breakfast toward the end of the Clinton administration.

second time, I wasn’t actually invited. I just hitched a ride as the guest of my close friend, Rabbi David Wolpe. Then, the occasion was a dinner to mark the opening of the Anne Frank exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

My most recent presidential encounter began with a call from the official liaison to the Jewish community. He explained that the president wanted to convene a small meeting to discuss Jewish higher education. The gathering was to take place on the morning of Dec. 18 in order to coincide with a Chanukah party at the White House later that same evening.

I was still a bit uncertain about the purpose of the meeting, but at 10 a.m. on the appointed day, I presented myself in the lobby of the West Wing.

I was part of a small group that included six presidents of Jewish universities and seminaries, as well as a few students and representatives of B’nai B’rith Hillel.

Soon we were joined by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten (who is Jewish), Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and, finally, by the president himself.

President Bush made a point of going around the table and greeting each of us personally before the “formal” meeting began. But herein lies the curious part. There really was no formal meeting. For almost an hour, the president discoursed on a variety of themes, including Iraq, the nuclear threat emanating from Iran, global terrorism, Darfur and, of course, Israel. Little was actually said about higher education.

At one point, Bush reminded us of his trip to Graceland with his friend and fellow Elvis fan, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, as an example of how former enemies can, in time, become friends. Unable to restrain myself, I raised my hand and asked whether he had considered a trip to Graceland with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

My question evoked the anticipated laughter from those seated around the table, but I think the president may have taken me a bit too seriously. He stressed that it would be inappropriate for an American president to “reach out” to a leader who currently poses a potential nuclear threat to other nations of the world.

This very serious response to a very unserious question provides an insight into Bush’s view of his presidency. He is exceedingly concerned about his legacy, and he measures that legacy in terms of his own willingness and ability to protect us from the perceived threats leveled against the United States. Simply put, he does not want to be remembered as the president who ignored any encroaching danger.

Bush argued that the Islamic extremists could not possibly be religious people. After all, he reasoned, religious people do not murder others.

Had I not already squandered my one chance to speak on a joke, I would have begged to differ with him on this point. Perhaps a committed Christian in today’s America sees religion primarily in terms of love, but periods of “killing the infidel” have historically been a part of Islam, Christianity and even biblical Judaism.

Often, the theory is advanced that important White House policy decisions are made by someone other than the president himself. However, the Bush we encountered is a man who appears to know his own mind. He may not always be highly articulate, even in a small group, but the moral clarity of his message came through.

The meeting concluded with a photo op in the Oval Office. In the evening, my wife, Hana, and I returned to the White House, where we were greeted by a blazing menorah and a military band playing a medley of Chanukah songs. (Of course, since the Chanukah repertoire is a bit meager, they did add a few generic holiday classics, like “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.”)

Earlier that day, the White House kitchen had been made kosher so that the dietary needs of all 500 Jewish dinner guests from around the country could be accommodated.
Hana is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and as our evening at the White House drew to a close, she could not help comparing what we had just witnessed with the experience of her parents in Eastern Europe before and during World War II. I agreed that the event was remarkable, but I asked her if this whole affair had any practical significance for the Jewish community. Hana thought it did.

“Just think about it,” she said. “If Jews had enjoyed this kind of access to the president during World War II, our history might have taken a very different turn.”

Dr. Robert Wexler is the president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles

U.S., Israeli officials see conflicting Iraq study ideas

American and Israeli government officials agree on two things: Iraq has nothing at all to do with Israeli-Arab issues.

Except when it does.

From President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on down, the leadership of the Israeli and U.S. governments are simultaneously embracing and rebuffing last week’s conclusions of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, which makes Israeli-Arab peace progress a linchpin of a successful outcome in Iraq. The crux of their argument is that while it is wrong to blame the Israeli-Arab impasse for any part of the crisis in Iraq, actors in that crisis — chief among them Iran and its allies — are successfully using Israel as a justification for raising the stakes in Iraq.

“We do this not because we are persuaded by some linkage or another, but because it is in the U.S. national interest,” David Welch, the top U.S. State Department envoy to the Middle East, said Friday of U.S. involvement in Arab-Israeli peace when he addressed the Saban Forum, an annual colloquy of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Another Bush administration official put it more bluntly: “Palestine is not a relevant issue to Iraq, but it is an issue exploited by Iran and extremists throughout the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab-Israeli peace talks would have a “positive, emboldening effect,” the official said. “If progress among Israel and the Palestinians is manifested, then moderates throughout the region win and extremists lose.”

Conversely, the official said, “We believe that a success in Iraq, a success for moderates against forces of extremism, whether secular or religious, will have a very significant impact in the region, in Syria, in Lebanon, as well as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Bush administration has welcomed Olmert’s recent overture to the Palestinians, in which he promised a release of prisoners and increased mobility, should a cease-fire hold and the Palestinians prove themselves able to present a negotiating team that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s existence.

Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president, has all but given up on such concessions from the Cabinet, led by the terrorist Hamas group, and has proposed new elections.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, said at the Saban Forum that Israel and the West should encourage alternatives to the Hamas government, although she did not elaborate.

Bush launched a weeklong review of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on Monday, starting with meetings with top State Department officials. Later in the week he was to have met with outside experts, top U.S. diplomats in the region and top military brass.

His primary concern about the report is its deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. Bush has steadfastly resisted timetables until now. However, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is scheduled to tour the region, Bush suggested that he embraces the report’s Iraq-Israeli-Palestinian linkage, counting it as one of three ways to move the Iraq process forward.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to be solved,” the president said.

That’s music to the ears of Blair and other Europeans. They enthusiastically welcomed the recommendations of the commission headed by James Baker, secretary of state for Bush’s father, and Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana Democratic congressman.

“The German government shares many of the political observations in the report,” a statement from the German Embassy in Washington said last week on the eve of a U.S. visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The entire Middle East region must move into the international community’s scope. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance.”

Such views were hardly welcome at the Saban Forum, where the Iraq Study Group’s report lent an anxious irritability to the weekend proceedings. The Saban Center, a Brookings Institution subsidiary funded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, attracts top names to its annual colloquies. Last year’s was in Jerusalem.

“The Iraqi conflict has very little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” Yuli Tamir, Israel’s education minister, said during a break from the conference’s closed sessions. “I don’t think it’s relevant — it’s a good justification but not a reason.”

On Sunday, Olmert, who had earlier suggested that he disagrees with the report’s conclusions, ordered his Cabinet not to comment on it, saying it was an internal American affair.

Livni did not mention the Baker-Hamilton report by name, but its conclusions were clearly the focus of her keynote address at a gala State Department dinner last Friday.

“There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East; that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region,” Livni said. “So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism.”

Nevertheless, in the same speech Livni was preoccupied by how Iran would fare in the Iraq crisis — and what a success by its Shiite Muslim protégés in Iraq would bode for Israel and the region.

“The idea of spreading Shiism all over the region is a threat not only to Israel but the region itself,” she said, citing efforts by the Hezbollah terrorist group to topple Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Bush expressed wariness about the commission’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria. He was adamant that those countries are out of bounds until they stop backing terrorists. If Syria and Iran are “not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up” to a regional conference on Iraq, he said after meeting with Blair.

Iran’s ambitions dominated much of the Saban Forum. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke darkly of the possibility of war in a Saturday panel with former President Bill Clinton.

“Iran’s strength derives from the weakness of the international community,” Peres said. “If there was an international coalition, there would be no need to go to war against Iran, and Iran would return to its natural dimensions.”

Israel backs U.S. and European efforts to sanction Iran until it gives up enriching uranium, a step toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Peres described a range of options to prevent Iran’s nuclearization: monitoring its missiles with nuclear warhead capability, economic sanctions, limiting its oil production and assisting regime change.

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rape; U.S. funding Hamas opponents

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rapeIsraeli police recommended indicting President Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. Katsav rejected calls to resign, and his attorney said Monday morning that he will quit only if an indictment is submitted. Investigators presented their findings and recommendations to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office. The most serious charge is for the alleged rape of two women, but police also accused Katsav of purchasing dozens of gifts with money taken from the President’s Residence budget, Ha’aretz reported. Katsav’s attorney noted that the police recommendations have no legal validity because only the state prosecutor can decide on an indictment.

U.S. funding Hamas opponents

The United States has launched a funding campaign aimed at bolstering groups in the Palestinian Authority opposed to the Hamas government. Reuters reported over the weekend that the Bush administration has earmarked up to $42 million for overhauling Hamas rival Fatah, providing schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that offer an alternative to Hamas’ Islamist teachings, and bankrolling Palestinian journalists and watchdog groups that would monitor the Hamas government. The report cited official documentation and was tacitly confirmed by a U.S. envoy in the region. The report suggested that Washington is pursuing a “hearts and minds” campaign in the Palestinian Authority aimed at undermining Hamas and boosting the Fatah leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks peace talks with Israel.

Bush signs Darfur Act

President Bush signed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Jewish groups led lobbying for the act, signed by Bush last Friday. The act bans dealing with Sudan until it abides by a peace treaty with tribes in the Darfur region and allows an international peacekeeping force. Government-allied Arab militias have slaughtered tens of thousands of people in the Darfur region, atrocities the Bush administration and Jewish groups have labeled a genocide.

Israel welcomes North Korea sanctions

Israel welcomed the U.N. Security Council resolution punishing North Korea for its nuclear testing. Israeli officials said Sunday that the unanimous Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its controlled nuclear blast last week could send a message to Iran about its own atomic ambitions.”Iran, like North Korea, is a poor country. Such sanctions have a deterrent power,” one official said.Under the sanctions resolution passed over the weekend, arms shipments going in and out of North Korea are subject to monitoring, a step that could help stem the flow of missile and nuclear technology if applied to Iran, Israeli officials said.

Missiles said to be reaching Gaza

Palestinians are smuggling advanced shoulder-fired missiles into the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said. Brig. Gen. Yossi Beidetz told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been bringing both anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza in preparation for a major confrontation with Israel. The anti-aircraft missiles would complicate Israeli air force efforts to provide cover for ground troops operating in the coastal territory, Beidetz said. He added that Syria is still smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in violation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended this summer’s Israel-Hezbollah war.

EU backs forum on Anti-Semitism

The European Union endorsed a high-level conference on anti-Semitism in Bucharest next year. The endorsement was made at an annual meeting last week in Warsaw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human rights unit.”These OSCE conferences have become not only opportunities for political leaders to speak to the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism, but they focus attention and government action on steps to address it,” said the American Jewish Committee’s Andrew Baker, who attended the Warsaw meeting and lobbied for the Bucharest conference.

A final decision on the conference is due in December. Jewish groups have worried that the conference will be canceled; several countries wanted the OSCE, which includes 55 member states, to focus on other priorities. The conference would follow similar OSCE events in recent years in Vienna; Cordoba, Spain; and Berlin.

Turkey defends book fair selections

Turkish officials defended themselves against charges of choosing anti-Semitic books for a recent book fair in Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center complained last week that three anti-Semitic books were displayed at a Turkish Culture Ministry stand at the October fair in Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest book shows. The ministry said the Publishers Association chose the books, but the association said it was not responsible for the books at the ministry’s stand. The association also denied that any of the books on display was anti-Semitic, but the Wiesenthal Center noted they included an account of alleged Jewish plots against Turkey titled, “The Greater Israel Strategy,” and “Password Israel,” which claims that codes in the Torah show how Jews are planning World War III and the destruction of Turkey. Last year, “Mein Kampf” reportedly became a best seller in Turkey, and several anti-Israel books enjoyed popularity as well.

Russian Jews protest Hitler restaurant

Jewish leaders in a Russian region are protesting against the use of Adolf Hitler’s name by a new pub. The pub, set to open soon in the city of Ekaterinburg, is named Hitler Kaput. In a letter to the local mayor, leaders of the Jewish community said that any use of Hitler’s name to attract public attention is unacceptable. Authorities haven’t yet responded to the Jewish community.

Survivor, Author Normal Salsitz dies

Author Normal Salsitz died of pneumonia Oct. 11 in Boston at age 86. Salsitz, a Polish-born Jew, wrote “Against All Odds,” which tells the story of how he and his wife survived the Holocaust by pretending to be Christian. Salsitz received a false baptism certificate from a Polish priest and fought with the Polish underground against the Nazis. At one point, he killed a group of Polish partisans intent on murdering Jews.

Ukrainian leader coming not coming to Israel

Ukraine’s president will not visit Israel next month, contrary to reports. A press officer for Viktor Yuschenko said last Friday that earlier reports of a state visit to Israel in early November were “a newspaper hoax.” Earlier this month, some media reported from Berlin that Yuschenko announced his upcoming visit to Israel when he and Israel’s vice premier, Shimon Peres, received a prestigious international award in the German capital. A member of Yuschenko’s administration said that the visit is likely to take place at a later date but could not specify when. This is at least the third time in two years that a potential visit by Yuschenko to Israel has been postponed.Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Illegal aliens; Dems and Reps; Shocked, just shocked!

Illegal Aliens
Roberto Loiederman’s article, “Living and Working [Il]legally in America” (Sept. 8), achieved its desired results. The Jewish guilt arose in me with each passing word like hot gases about to blow off the top of a volcano.How can I deny illegal Mexicans and others illegal entry into this country, when some of my own people have done the same thing? It was a very clever way of making me see my own racist tendencies that apparently Loiederman and the editorial staff at The Journal wanted me and other Jews who think like me to see.
It doesn’t matter how you try to explain it, some thickheads just will never get it. This is not about race; it is about sovereignty.
This issue is about the giving up of America and all its values and culture. It is about the transformation of that culture into something else, into something foreign.
We have millions of illegals who are draining our resources in this country. Public schools, emergency rooms, city services, to say nothing of the more hazardous conditions on public roads because nonlicensed and noninsured drivers are big problems, especially here in Southern California.
Loiederman must understand that America cannot support Mexico’s poor. It is estimated that 15 percent of Mexico’s workforce is now living in the United States.
For Loiederman to point to his own background to try and cloud the all-important issue of open borders is a travesty as an American and as a Jew. Once again, I shake my finger at The Jewish Journal and tell you that you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for supporting such positions.
Larry Hart
West Hills

Republicans and Democrats
Shame on the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for making the outrageous and ridiculous assertion that Democrats are “turning their backs on Israel.” (Republican Jewish Coalition ads in Jewish Journal, Sept. 8)It is bad enough for them to deliberately distort the facts. But it is even worse when it is done as part of a reckless strategy to politicize support for Israel — a strategy that will have negative, long-term consequences for the vital U.S.-Israel relationship.
I readily acknowledge that President George W. Bush, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and many other Republicans have been reliable friends of Israel. But they have been no better friends than the vast majority of Democratic leaders — including President Bill Clinton, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi — all of whom are unwavering supporters of the Jewish state.
The RJC chose to feature former President Jimmy Carter in their political ads, but notwithstanding his comments to the contrary, he is an outlier on this issue and does not represent the mainstream of Democrats. Even more ludicrous is the notion that Cindy Sheehan speaks for any meaningful number of Democrats on the subject of Israel.
If Democrats wanted to sink to the RJC’s level, we could just as easily trot out statements made by a number of prominent Republicans and claim that the GOP, therefore, is hostile to Israel.
In the increasingly polarized American political system, support for Israel is one of the few issues that remains truly bipartisan. This gives Israel confidence that no matter which party occupies the White House or controls the House and Senate, America will always be committed to Israel’s security and right to exist free from terror.
The RJC is making a conscious effort to destroy that bipartisan consensus in the pursuit of illusory, short-term political gains. But they are not acting on behalf of Israel when they set one party against the other. This cheap ploy will inject uncertainty into the U.S.-Israel relationship and ultimately make Israel less secure.
If Republican leaders really care about Israel’s well-being, then they should renounce the RJC’s dangerous campaign and devote their energies to strengthening the longstanding, bipartisan consensus on supporting Israel.
Rep. Howard L. Berman
D-Van Nuys

Does the outrageous ad from the Republican Jewish Coalition (“The Democratic Party Just Abandoned Joe Lieberman,” Sept. 15) imply that Larry Greenfield and his compatriots would’ve supported Lieberman had he won the Democratic primary?As a liberal who strongly supports Israel and equally strongly opposes the war in Iraq, I resent the portrayal of me and others like me as Democrats, who by voting against Lieberman, would abandon Israel. Can partisan politics in our country get much uglier?
Sally Weber
Via e-mail

When I was growing up, the term “Jewish Republicans” was an oxymoron. They did not exist.
Now I see in The Journal advertisements for the Republican Jewish Coalition, wherein they castigate Neville Chamberlain as the great appeaser, which he no doubt was. However, they fail to mention that he was the leader of the British Conservative Party, and together with his Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax, were extremely friendly with Hitler.
This party, the Conservatives, was of the same ilk as America’s Republican Party, which was adamant in keeping America out of “Europe’s War,” as they were wont to call it. Well, they can’t change history, no matter how they try.
Syd H. Hershfield
Los Angeles

It is time for thoughtful Jews who want to preserve Western civilization and Jewish culture and learning for their children and grandchildren to realize that appeasement emboldens our Islamofascist enemies. Appeasement was interpreted as weakness by the Nazis and millions died.
We are fighting a pernicious global enemy that wants to destroy America, Israel, democracy and freedom. We will win this battle only if we understand that our vicious enemy has declared war on us.
We need to understand that the Islamofascists will only respond to strength and commitment. The RJC’s Neville Chamberlain advertisement appropriately speaks to this issue. The choice is clear. Either support candidates of either party who condemn Islamofascism and reject appeasement or be prepared to answer to the words of Edmond Burke that evil triumphs only when good men do nothing.

Salman Rushdie Q & A: there’s a fascination with death among suicide bombers

Salman Rushdie, 59, has spent many years thinking and writing about terrorism. In this interview with political author Erich Follath, which appeared last month in Der Spiegel and is reprinted here with permission, Rushdie reflects on why apparently normal young men turn to terror, the dangers of religion and whether the United States has turned into an authoritarian state. Rushdie divides his time between New York, London and Mumbai; he appears in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, as keynote speaker at the American Jewish Congress’ event, “Profiles in Courage: Voices of Muslim Reformers in the Modern World.”

Erich Follath: Mr. Rushdie, as an expert on terrorism you….
Salman Rushdie: What gives me that honor? I don’t see myself as such at all.

EF: Your book, “Fury,” with its description of an America threatened by terrorism and published in spring 2001, was seen by many as prophetic — as more or less anticipating 9/11. Your most recent novel, “Shalimar the Clown,” describes how a circus performer from Kashmir is transformed into a terrorist. And for almost a decade, your life was threatened by Iranian fanatics, with a price of $4 million on your head.

SR: If you think that’s enough to qualify me as an expert on terrorism….

EF: While researching your books — and especially now after the recent near miss in London — you must be asking yourself: What makes apparently normal young men decide to blow themselves up?

SR: There are many reasons, and many different reasons, for the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism. In Kashmir, some people are joining the so-called resistance movements because they give them warm clothes and a meal. In London, last year’s attacks were still carried out by young Muslim men whose integration into society appeared to have failed. But now we are dealing with would-be terrorists from the middle of society. Young Muslims who have even enjoyed many aspects of the freedom that Western society offers them. It seems as though social discrimination no longer plays any role — it’s as though anyone could turn into a terrorist.

EF: Leading British Muslims have written a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair claiming that the growing willingness to engage in terrorism is due to [President] Bush’s and Blair’s policies in Iraq and in Lebanon. Are they completely wrong? Don’t the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and the cynicism of Guantanamo contribute to extremism?

SR: I’m no friend of Tony Blair’s, and I consider the Middle East policies of the United States and the U.K. fatal. There are always reasons for criticism, also for outrage. But there’s one thing we must all be clear about: Terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate goals by some sort of illegitimate means. Whatever the murderers may be trying to achieve, creating a better world certainly isn’t one of their goals. Instead they are out to murder innocent people. If the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, for example, were to be miraculously solved from one day to the next, I believe we wouldn’t see any fewer attacks.

EF: And yet there must be reasons, or at least triggers, for this terrible willingness to wipe out the lives of others — and of oneself.

SR: Lenin once described terrorism as bourgeois adventurism. I think there, for once, he got things right. That’s exactly it. One must not negate the basic tenet of all morality — that individuals are themselves responsible for their actions. And the triggers seem to be individual, too.

Upbringing certainly plays a major role there, imparting a misconceived sense of mission, which pushes people toward “actions.” Added to that there is a herd mentality once you have become integrated in a group, and everyone continues to drive everyone else on and on into a forced situation. There’s the type of person who believes his action will make mankind listen to him and turn him into a historic figure. Then there’s the type who simply feels attracted to violence. And yes, I think glamour plays a role, too.

EF: Do you seriously mean that terrorism is glamorous?

SR: Yes. Terror is glamour — not only, but also. I am firmly convinced that there’s something like a fascination with death among suicide bombers. Many are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic that is inherent in these insane acts. The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other peoples’ lives. There’s one thing you mustn’t forget here: The victims terrorized by radical Muslims are mostly other Muslims.

EF: Of course there can be no justification for terrorism. But nevertheless, there are various different starting points. There is the violence of groups who are pursuing nationalist, one might say comprehensible, goals using every means at their disposal….

SR: …. And there are others, like Al Qaeda, which have taken up the cause of destroying the West and our entire way of life. This form of terrorism wraps itself up in the wrongs of this world in order to conceal its true motives — an attack on everything that ought to be sacred to us. It is not possible to discuss things with Osama bin Laden and his successors. You cannot conclude a peace treaty with them. They have to be fought with every available means.

EF: And with the other ones, the “nationalist terrorists,” should we engage in dialogue with them?

SR: That depends on whether they are prepared to renounce their terrorist struggle under a certain set of conditions. That appears to be showing at least initial signs of working with the Basques of ETA. I think we have Bin Laden to thank for that to no small extent — the Basque leaders didn’t want to be like him. And with the IRA, it was the loss of credibility among their own people, who no longer saw any point in fighting violently in the underground.
Remolding former terrorist organizations into political parties in the long term is at least not hopeless. It might work with those groups that are not primarily characterized by religious fanaticism — the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, for example, a group which virtually invented suicide bombings, have no religious background at all. They have clear objectives: an independent state.

EF: Should such a state be granted to a minority just because they are particularly ruthless? What about Shalimar, the hero of your latest novel, who murders for Kashmir? Should he determine the region’s future?

Abbas’ Move Challenges Olmert

As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presses ahead with plans for another unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined not to be sidelined by Olmert’s go-it-alone approach.

In late May, as Olmert tried to convince President Bush of the need for unilateral action, Abbas urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to accept a package that would enable the Palestinians to break out of diplomatic isolation and emerge as full-fledged negotiating partners with a say on Olmert’s pullback plans.

The vehicle Abbas hopes to use to regain international legitimacy is an agreement hammered out between Palestinian prisoners from Hamas, being held by Israel, and his own Fatah organization, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The so-called “prisoners’ covenant” is based on the Saudi-initiated peace plan of 2002, which received widespread international support at the time.

As of May 26, Abbas gave Hamas 10 days to accept the package.

If not, he says he will go to the Palestinian people and ask them to approve the prisoners’ covenant in a referendum within six weeks. Should the Palestinians accept the covenant, analysts believe there could be strong international pressure on Israel to engage in peace talks on the basis of the Saudi plan. In this way, they say, Abbas hopes to re-establish the Palestinians as players and undercut Olmert’s unilateralism.

But it won’t be easy.

Hamas leaders have already rejected the plan and question Abbas’ constitutional right to call a referendum. Moreover, without Hamas’ compliance, Abbas may not have the power to stage and secure a nationwide ballot, even though most Palestinians seem to want one. Latest polls show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of Palestinians favor a referendum.

The Saudi plan is based on a “land for peace” formula. It stipulates that if Israel withdraws from all territory gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, all the Arab states will normalize their relations with Israel. Hamas, however, continues to reject anything that implies recognition of the Jewish state.

The radical movement’s leaders also reject other key elements of the “prisoners’ covenant.”

For example, they refuse to be bound by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and insist on the right of Palestinians to use force against Israel, not only in the disputed territories, but in Israel proper as well.

Abbas has evolved several strategies to overcome Hamas intransigence. One is the planned referendum. Another is the establishment of a national-unity Hamas-Fatah government in which he, as the senior Fatah representative, would be empowered to conduct negotiations with Israel, not only as the president, but in the name of the government as a whole.

Then there is the ultimate weapon: Abbas could dissolve the Hamas-dominated Parliament and call new elections.

If he manages to get the Palestinian people and polity to commit to the Saudi plan, Abbas will create a major dilemma for the international community.

On the one hand, senior American and European officials are highly skeptical about the Palestinian president’s ability to deliver. They note that in the three years since the formulation of the internationally approved “road map” peace plan, Abbas has done virtually nothing to implement it, and doubt whether things would be different with the Saudi plan.

On the other hand, both the Americans and Europeans would much prefer a negotiated settlement to unilateral moves by Israel, which they fear might spark more fighting rather than less.

Olmert is not only skeptical about Abbas. He also has deep reservations about the Saudi plan, which calls for withdrawal to the 1967 lines, without Israel retaining any of the large settlement blocs he wants to keep.

Moreover, the Saudi formula insists on eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the projected Palestinian state and it suggests that Israel would have to accept the Palestinian refugees’ right of return — positions Olmert rejects out of hand.

The prime minister, therefore, hopes to keep the Saudi plan off the international agenda. He plans visits to Egypt and Europe in the coming weeks to persuade key players that Abbas cannot be relied on to deliver, and that Israel’s unilateralism is the only game in town.

Olmert, however, may not have things all his own way. If Abbas is able to get the Palestinians to accept the Saudi initiative, Olmert could find himself under strong domestic and international pressure to make a serious negotiating effort, despite the skepticism about its efficacy.

After a recent meeting with Abbas, Ami Ayalon, a leading Labor Party legislator, declared that even though he rejected many of its stipulations, the Saudi plan “could be a basis for negotiation,” because it “supports the idea of a two-state solution.”

The key to whether the Saudi plan becomes a serious option — even if adopted by the Palestinians — lies in Washington. The American goal remains a negotiated two-state solution based on Bush’s “vision” that he outlined in June 2002.

U.S. leaders hope to further this aim by strengthening Abbas and using economic and political leverage to bring Hamas down or force it to moderate its positions. Backing the Saudi plan as a basis for negotiations could promote these ends.

But there is another possibility: that the Saudi plan be put on the table only after Israel completes its planned pullback or what Olmert is now calling “realignment.”

In his Washington meeting with Olmert last week, Bush made it clear that the United States was in no hurry to see unilateral Israeli moves, and wanted to give negotiations another chance. But Bush also assured Olmert that as soon as it became apparent that negotiations are going nowhere, Washington would back Olmert’s unilateral alternative, as long as it does not contradict Bush’s vision of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Most importantly, Bush emphasized that the United States will not recognize the borders Israel pulls back to unilaterally as permanent. And he reiterated the American view that final borders must be agreed upon in negotiations between the parties.

It is here where some analysts believe the Saudi plan could come in: not as a means of pre-empting Israel’s “realignment,” but as a way of taking things further once it is achieved.


Israel: Between Iraq and a Hard Place

The intensifying crisis of Iran’s nuclear program is bringing into sharp relief the problems created for Israel by the radical foreign policy of the Bush administration. In a world filled with nations and movements hostile to Israel, the United States has long been Israel’s big brother. What happens when big brother shows bad judgment? That is the roller coaster on which supporters of Israel find themselves in the last two years of this most unusual administration.

All along, Israel has seen Iran as a major adversary, perhaps the most serious one in its region. Iraq was also a problem, but a lesser one. America also watched Iran with great concern. To many practically minded Americans, the Saddam Hussein regime provided a convenient if ugly method to keep Iran in check. With a hostile and secular Iraq on its border, Iran lacked the freedom of opportunity to spread its wings in the region.

This pragmatism helped explain why previous Republican administrations leaned toward Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq War in the early 1980s. Who do we think armed Saddam Hussein and forgave his many trespasses against human rights in the interest of a regional balance of power?

When the Bush administration came to power in 2001, Israel seemed to be in good hands. Intense rhetorical devotion to Israel and a decision not to challenge Israeli policy were certainly welcome in Jerusalem. Few understood, however, the extent to which many of the Bush people were driven by an intense urge to overthrow Saddam Hussein, dating back to the overruling of their drive to take Baghdad in the first Gulf War. Maybe this new approach would work, thought many supporters of Israel. Maybe the Americans were right that this would create a movement toward pro-Western, pro-Israel regimes in the region. The removal of an evil dictator could strike a blow for democracy and freedom.

The bravado of the Bush foreign policy group, however, was not backed by the ability, experience or adaptability of previous presidencies in foreign policy. Imbued with a sense of their own historical destiny and the rightness of their cause, the Bush crowd made a hash of Iraq, and through their stunning incompetence opened the door to expanding Iran’s influence in the region. Unilateral arrogance and belligerence weakened America’s standing in the world, and temporarily robbed Israel of the benefit of pro-American admiration abroad. The United States of course, has never been universally loved outside its borders, but it was held in high regard in many places. And this high regard has been a bulwark of Israel’s strength.

The Bush group now confronts the challenge of an emboldened Iran. But Israel’s friends are watching America’s leadership with a more jaundiced eye than before the Iraq War. Some are torn. One of the most notable nouveau skeptics is Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist who helped bolster the case for war against Iraq, in part because he hoped it would lead to a more moderate Middle East friendlier to Israel. At the time, he hoped optimistically that the Bush people knew what they were doing. Now he has swallowed a most bitter pill, as he noted in a recent column:

“If these are our only choices,” Friedman wrote, “which would you rather have: a nuclear-armed Iran or an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites that is carried out and sold to the world by the Bush national security team…. I’d rather live with a nuclear Iran. As someone who believed — and still believes — in the importance of getting Iraq right, the level of incompetence that the Bush team has displayed in Iraq, and its refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or remove those who made them, makes it impossible to support this administration in any offensive military action against Iran.”

But not all erstwhile supporters of Bush’s foreign policy have learned such a lesson, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who has blindly embraced the Bush foreign policy team. Returning from a trip to Baghdad in late 2005, he extolled the wisdom and flexibility of the Iraq policies of the administration, went on Fox News to attack fellow Democrats for not getting behind the commander-in-chief and found himself quoted by the president as one Democrat who really gets it. (This lovefest is not helping Lieberman’s among fellow Democrats in his reelection campaign.) Lieberman, apparently, would be delighted to follow Bush’s lead on Iran policy. If Friedman has spit out the Kool-Aid, Lieberman can’t seem to drink enough of it.

One must hope that the choices are not as stark as those offered up by Friedman: a catastrophic war even more destructive than Iraq or a stand down by the world’s leading power in the face of Iran. Nor does Lieberman’s suspension of disbelief inspire much confidence. The crowing Iranians seem to have concluded that the administration is so weakened that it can be challenged easily, but that does not take into account the peculiar inward-turned and self-regarding nature of the Bush group. They are capable of taking action with or without public support; they might even believe that confrontation would increase their public support. Wars often start because of such mutual misperceptions.

America is still Israel’s most reliable friend. Simply put, America must succeed. It cannot be weakened. Somehow, we must reconnect to the American tradition of muscular diplomacy, of using strength to avoid, not seek war. That is all that Israel’s friends have ever asked for. Negotiation backed by strength, will and determination are likely to provide a way out of the crisis. With luck, the Bush administration will figure this out and earn the support such a policy could generate at home and abroad.

At the end of the day, it will be up to Republicans to bring some sense to the foreign policy of the United States during the worrisome remaining years of this administration. The Bush administration does not regard Democrats as worth listening to (although they are happy to use people like Lieberman to their purposes as long as he extols their policies). They also don’t listen to many Republicans, especially if they are associated with the more restrained foreign policy of the president’s father. But the Republican leadership’s reluctance to set any professional standards for this administration’s foreign policy must come to an end.

How, for example, should the president deal with the rambling 18-page letter he received from Iran’s president? How can such reluctant powers as Russia and China be brought on board a coalition to confront Iran and resolve the issue?

Navigating the narrow channel of dealing with Iran is going to take skill, wisdom, and strength. Those who have those qualities should not fear to raise their voices. And they should not settle for being heard in private.

If not them, who?

If not now, when?

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University Fullerton.


U.S. Must Act on Iran Nuclear Threat

Outrageous statements by Iran’s president calling for Israel’s destruction put Iran back on the front page for a few days in October. Such belicose rhetoric should surprise no one; the destruction of Israel has been Iranian state policy since the 1979 revolution.

What should be surprising is that even after the Sept. 11 wakeup call, we still have no effective policy for dealing with Iran. After a series of revelations regarding the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program in 2002 and after the revelation of Tehran’s significant assistance to Al Qaeda, we still have no policy for stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Our latest intelligence guesstimates that Iran is about six to 10 years from developing a nuclear weapon. We must take action now, however, if we are going to have any hope of delaying and hopefully stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

For five years, the Bush administration has been deadlocked and immobilized on our Iran policy. The purpose of this article is to outline steps we can take — short of war — to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. These same measures should be used to stop Iran’s massive support for international terror and improve its abysmal human rights record.

Our current strategy, to the extent we have one, has relied on European — and now Russian — negotiations with Iran. Hanging over Iran is the threat that should negotiations fail, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will refer it to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. But when the IAEA board met over the Thanksgiving holiday, the United States and Europe chose not to force the issue of referral, due to opposition from Russia and China.

That’s the fatal flaw in the strategy. Even if Iran were referred to the Security Council, Russia, and especially China, are likely to veto any meaningful sanctions, no matter how blatant Iran’s continuing violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In order to secure future sources of energy, China plans to invest $70 billion in Iranian oil fields. This creates an imperative on the part of the Chinese to use their veto in the Security Council to benefit their “partner.” So relying on the United Nations as the exclusive forum for pressuring Iran is a dead end.

President Bush has not only failed to take action against Iran; he also has made unilateral concessions to Tehran that are baffling. Earlier this year, he agreed to drop U.S. objections to Iran joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is critical to Iran’s economy. The Bush administration also announced that it will allow the sale of Boeing parts, so that Iran can repair its aging commercial aircraft fleet.

So for five years, we have done nothing to pressure Iran, save our still unsuccessful efforts to get the IAEA to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council, a forum Iran would like to avoid. Instead, we must use every available stick and offer some major carrots to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Among our nonlethal resources are:

1) Economic pressure on oil companies to deter investment in Iran’s aging oil fields.

2) The hint of economic pressure on China to secure cooperation at the United Nations.

3) Ending our trade with Iran.

4) Conditioning Iran’s entry into the WTO on a change in its nuclear policy.

5) Expanded support for Iranian pro-democracy forces

6) Broadcasting designed to influence the Iranian people.

7) Continued refusal to take the military option off the table.

We need to aim these resources at two separate targets. The first is the leadership in Tehran, which needs to conclude that it is simply too expensive to continue its nuclear program. The second target is the people of Iran.

Although pork may not be halal, any government that wishes to be popular with its people, even dictatorships like Iran, has to bring home the bacon. Iran’s population tops 68 million, while oil revenues total $602 per capita annually; so oil cannot alone substitute for a functional economy. We must convince the people of Iran that their already bad economy will get worse if government policies remain unchanged.

I will soon be introducing tough legislation designed to prod the Bush administration into adopting an effective position on Iran. First, my bill would close loopholes in a current law, the Iran Libya Sanctions Act, which was passed by Congress in 1995.

Under this law, European and Asian firms that invest in Iran’s oil sector are subject to U.S. sanctions. The infrastructure in Iran’s oil fields is aging and crumbling, and Iran’s capacity to bring oil to market is eroding. Western technology is badly needed if the Iranians are going to avoid a serious decline in oil production in the coming years. If these firms fear sanctions in the United States, they are likely to forgo investment.

Instead, the Clinton and Bush administrations turned a blind eye to every foreign investment in Iraq. My legislation would end this practice and require the president to impose sanctions.

My legislation also would impose a total embargo on Iranian goods in the United States. Unbelievably, we currently buy about $150 million a year in Iranian carpets, caviar, nuts and fruits. It would require us to oppose WTO membership for Iran and stop the export of Boeing parts to Iran.

It would allow the president to reduce U.S. contributions to the World Bank and other financial institutions should they loan money to the Iranian government. Since 2000, the World Bank has approved loans of more than $1 billion to Tehran. My bill also would end the reprehensible practice of U.S. companies doing business in Iran through their foreign subsidiaries.

I remain hopeful that this type of nonlethal leverage will cause Iran to abandon its nuclear program and support for terrorism and to improve its human rights record.

If necessary, military force must remain an option. A full-scale invasion of Iran is not possible, but a bombing raid or covert action to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities has been discussed in Washington and Jerusalem.

There are many problems with a military approach. In any event, we should not consider the use of force until we have exhausted our other options.

We need to act now. Forcing the Bush administration to adopt a tough policy on Iran — one that uses all economic, political and diplomatic measures at its disposal — should be the highest priority of Congress.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee.


Nation & World Briefs

More Gaza Aid Seen

The European Union offered to boost aid to the Palestinian Authority for rebuilding the Gaza Strip. E.U. official Benita Ferrero-Waldner said last week that the 25-nation bloc, already the Palestinians’ biggest foreign donor, would be willing to increase aid focusing on Gaza if other countries do the same. The European Union currently plans to give the Palestinian Authority some $335 million for 2005. Ferrero-Waldner called for the Palestinian Authority to seize the opportunity of Israel’s recent Gaza withdrawal to become less economically dependent on the Jewish state, and to reform its financial institutions.

Court Halts Army Tactic

Israel’s High Court of Justice banned an army practice of using Palestinian civilians to help locate terrorists. After three years of deliberations, the High Court on Thursday found in favor of petitions filed by human-rights groups against the “advance notice” tactic, whereby Israeli troops on counter-terrorist raids ask Palestinian bystanders to go to fugitives’ hideouts and persuade them to surrender. The three-justice panel disputed the army’s position that the practice is voluntary, and said it violates international law by endangering civilians. Some Israeli lawmakers denounced the ruling.

“The High Court is tying the army’s hands,” said Effi Eitam of the far-right National Union bloc.

Hungarian Leader: I’ll Protect Jews

In a Rosh Hashanah address in New York City, Hungary’s prime minister pledged to protect his nation’s Jews.

“In the middle of the last century, Hungarian leaders failed to protect their own citizens. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews lost their lives,” Ferenc Gyurcsany said at services last week at Park East Synagogue. “I personally, and my government and democratic Hungary, a member of NATO and the European Community with close ties to the United States, will make sure that the tragedy that was inflicted upon the Jewish people will never happen again.”

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and the senior rabbi at the synagogue, had invited Gyurcsany to speak.

Fasting for Darfur

Two Jewish campus groups organized a national solidarity fast for Darfur. Participants in last week’s fast, sponsored by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, refrained from luxuries such as coffee or movies and donated the money saved to aid refugees who have fled ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region of Sudan. In addition to 43 universities and colleges taking part, organizers said participants included comedian Bill Cosby, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, actress Bette Midler, basketball player Dikembe Mutombo and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu.

Israeli Dance Troupe Founder Dies

Sara Levi-Tanai, founder of Israel’s Inbal dance troupe, died last week at 94. Founded in 1950, Inbal integrated Yemeni motifs into modern dance choreography. Levi-Tanai studied music and trained to be a kindergarten teacher. A descendant of Yemeni Jews, she was born in Jerusalem in 1911.

Australian Synagogue Gets Female Leader

The oldest synagogue in Sydney, Australia, appointed a woman as president for the first time in its 128-year history. Rosalind Fischl was elected unopposed, receiving a standing ovation and sustained applause following the announcement of her election to the post at the Great Synagogue. Synagogue rules were changed this year to allow a woman to assume the presidency of the synagogue, she said. Fischl will not address the congregation during services and will not be involved in issues of Jewish law; her vice president, Herman Eisenberg, will assume those responsibilities. The Great Synagogue is considered to be a strongly Orthodox community. Founded in 1878, it boasts a progressive policy in advancing the role of women within its community.

Reform Launches ‘Virtual’ Repentance

The Reform Jewish movement launched a “virtual repentance” for this Rosh Hashanah. The Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning invited Jews to virtually replicate Tashlich, the tradition of symbolically casting one’s sins away by tossing bread crumbs into water. A Web site notes the passage in Micah that commands the casting away of sins, and then allows a recipient to fill in a blank space with one’s sins. A cartoon figure then casts the “note” into a river.

More information is available at

Immigration to Israel Up

Increased immigration to Israel from France and North America were cited as the cause of a rise in aliyah last year. Since September 2004, 23,124 people immigrated to Israel, as opposed to 21,604 the year before, the first increase since 1999, the Jerusalem Post reported. Zeev Bielski, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, credited the increase to improved security and economics in Israel, as well as improved marketing by the agency.

Did God Tell Bush?

A Palestinian Authority official says President Bush told him God guides his Middle East policy. Nabil Shaath, the P.A. information minister, told the BBC in a documentary that Bush repeatedly cited the divinity in a 2003 meeting with Shaath and Mahmoud Abbas, then the P.A. prime minister.

“President Bush said to all of us: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did,'” Shaath quoted Bush as saying, in an interview released last week by the BBC. “‘And then God would tell me, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.” And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, “Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.” And by God, I’m gonna do it.'”

The White House called the account groundless.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Bush Touts Palestine in Europe


President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”


U.S. Hedges Stand on Abbas Victory


It was an invitation without an R.S.V.P.

Come on over, President Bush told his newly elected Palestinian Authority counterpart — but let’s wait to set a date. The check is in the mail, I’m just not sure how much.

The decisive election Sunday of Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate favored by Israel, the United States and the international community, has been followed by a flood of “what nexts?” that are decidedly less decisive.

That leaves open crucial questions about the coming year, including the long-term viability of Abbas and his commitment to ending violence, as well as his role in assuming control in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank once Israel pulls out.

Bush called Abbas on Monday to congratulate him.

“The president had a very good conversation with President-elect Abbas yesterday,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Phone calls from Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came after Abbas extended an olive branch to Israel, saying, “We extend a hand to our neighbors. We are ready for peace, peace based on justice.”

That was just the message Bush and Sharon were waiting to hear before extending congratulations.

Bush’s invitation to Abbas was dramatic, in that it was the first to a Palestinian Authority president since the Clinton administration. Bush’s policy was to isolate Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, whom it linked to terrorism.

But it was also hedged: “I look forward to talking with him at the appropriate time,” Bush said Monday. “I look forward to welcoming him here to Washington if he chooses to come here.”

Bush’s reluctance to set a time for a call and a date for a visit suggested that the pre-election hesitancy to openly embrace Abbas had not passed with his election.

“The United States has decided not to immediately invite him, because if he comes to the United States now, he’d have to go home empty-handed,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a scholar with the Israel Policy Forum, which promotes greater U.S. engagement in the Middle East.

That’s because the administration is looking to see what first steps Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, will take. It is also, in part, because both Bush and Sharon are in the process of switching administrations.

Bush is clearing away much of his top diplomatic staff as he heads into his second term. Sharon is consolidating a national unity government with the Labor Party and United Torah Judaism, having jettisoned his previous hard-line and secularist partners in order to win parliamentary support for his withdrawal plan.

U.S. officials have said that embracing Abbas during the Palestinian’s tenure as prime minister, without allowing him to show immediate dividends, helped scuttle his bid to wrest power away from Arafat then. A public embrace now, without showing results, could end the surge of Palestinian optimism that accompanied the elections. Palestinian officials say that Abbas needs results if he is to survive as a leader.

Diana Buttu, who has negotiated with the Israelis in the past as an official of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, cautioned that Abbas should not be seen as Arafat’s successor as the leader of the Palestinian people, but merely as leader of the Palestinian Authority.

“He is now the person responsible for a very small percentage of the West Bank” and the Gaza Strip, she said Monday in Washington, where she delivered a post-election analysis. “He is a president who is living under direct Israeli rules and conditions.”

While Abbas got an official 62 percent of the vote, she said that only 70 percent of eligible voters actually were registered, and of those, only 70 percent voted in the elections. That adds up to just a 50 percent turnout from the eligible population. This, suggested Buttu, is a sign that many Palestinians were going to wait and see with Abbas.

Turnout for last month’s first round of municipal elections in the West Bank was much higher, she said, because power had devolved to local authorities, a fact she attributed to the ravaging of the Palestinian national infrastructure through four years of the intifada and Israeli military action.

“There is a realization, an awareness that power is no longer wielded on a national level,” she said, suggesting that the terrorist Hamas group sat out the national elections but contended in the municipal elections, because the local authorities offered more immediate powers.

“Palestinians are going to be looking to Mahmoud Abbas to change their conditions,” she said. “If Israel squanders this opportunity, my fear is that it’s going to get even uglier.”

Israelis pointed out that it is not only Israel that has an opportunity to seize — the Palestinians also have much to do.

“There’s not going to be any disengagement with 10 missiles slamming into Israel every day,” said an Israeli official, referring to the rockets being fired against Israeli targets in Gaza.

For his part, Bush made clear he had expectations of both sides.

“It’s going to be very important for Israel to fulfill its obligation on the withdrawal from the territories that they have pledged to withdraw from,” he said Monday.

“It is essential,” he continued, “that Israel keep a vision of two states, living side by side in peace, and that as the Palestinians begin to develop the institutions of a state; that the Israeli government support the development of those institutions and recognize that it is essential that there be a viable economy, that there be a viable health-care system, that people be — that people be allowed to start building a society that meets their hopes and needs.”

Bush also emphasized his expectation that “the Palestinian leadership consolidate security forces, so that they can fight off those few who still have the desire to destroy Israel as a part of their philosophy.”

As for the U.S. role, the White House appeared once again to be adopting a wait-and-see posture. U.S. officials said funding for the Palestinians would be forthcoming — but how much depends on how events unfold.

“We’re going to take a look at what action we might take, as well as what funding,” National Security Council spokesman Shawn McCormack told CNN.

Bush suggested that more answers would be forthcoming at a conference in London next month, which will be attended by Condoleezza Rice, his designated secretary of state. He said he looked forward to helping the conference in London, aimed at helping the Palestinians develop their institutions, and to helping “Abu Mazen’s vision of a peaceful, active, vibrant state to become reality.”


Bush Says Magic Word: Israel

What’s in a word?

President Bush one-upped John Kerry by uttering the word "Israel" in his speech Sept. 2 accepting the Republican presidential nomination, but it’s unclear whether the simple mention of the Jewish state will have any effect on Jewish voters.

"Palestinians will hear the message that democracy and reform are within their reach, and so is peace with our good friend Israel," Bush said to loud applause from delegates at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Speculation was rampant for weeks that Bush would speak of Israel, largely because Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) did not when he accepted the Democratic nomination in July.

There also was talk that Bush would speak about international anti-Semitism to catch the attention of undecided Jewish voters.

But in the end Bush said nothing more than Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), did in his Boston convention speech, when Edwards suggested that a change of president would bring the world to America’s side and ensure "a safe and secure Israel."

As the campaigns move toward the final stretch, each believes it has the stronger message to the Jewish community and anticipates making a thorough effort to reach what is considered an important voting bloc.

Republicans have been touting inroads into the Jewish community this election season, and the buzz at the Republican convention focused on how larger numbers of Jews are likely to back Bush for four more years. By making only a perfunctory reference to the Jewish state in his speech, some say, Bush may have missed an opportunity to woo Jewish voters.

Nonetheless, Republican Jews were gratified by Bush’s comment, suggesting that the mere mention of Israel — in an address where every word is carefully considered — was important.

"The silence of John Kerry in his acceptance speech says a lot to the Jewish community," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). Brooks said presidential candidates’ speeches are closely analyzed, while speeches by vice presidential candidates such as Edwards are of secondary importance.

Jewish Republicans said Bush’s comments had to be seen in the larger framework of the convention, which included formal Jewish outreach events by the campaign, an appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney at an RJC event and significant comments about Israel and Jews in former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s convention speech.

Giuliani was the key conduit to the Jewish community, using his Aug. 30 speech to attack Kerry’s record in the Middle East.

"In October of 2003 he told an Arab-American Institute in Detroit that a security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian Territories was a ‘barrier to peace,’ " Giuliani said. "OK. Then a few months later, he took exactly the opposite position. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post he said, ‘Israel’s security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense.’"

Giuliani also referred to the 1972 terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, in which a paralyzed Jewish American passenger was thrown into the sea.

Democrats downplayed Bush’s Israel reference.

"It’s window dressing," said Jay Footlik, the Kerry campaign’s senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish affairs. "If I were the Republicans, I would be talking up Israel as well in an attempt to draw support from our community."

Footlik said he felt voters weren’t counting who had said the word "Israel" more, but were taking a more sophisticated look at the candidates’ policies.

The battle for the Jewish vote likely will resemble a football game for the next two months, as Republicans work on offense to raise Jewish support and the Democrats play defense to maintain levels of Jewish support they traditionally have enjoyed.

Based on recent polls, Democratic operatives appear confident that the shift of Jewish voters to Bush is not as profound as Republicans have suggested. After Labor Day, they believe, the conversation will shift back to domestic policy, where Kerry has an advantage in the Jewish community.

They also note that they have had only several months to showcase Kerry to a national Jewish audience, while Bush has had almost four years.

But some advisers in the Democratic camp are urging Kerry and Edwards to say more about Israel and the Middle East, believing Kerry’s speech to the Anti-Defamation League in May did not do enough to prove his understanding of Israel. The Kerry campaign reportedly is receptive to calls from the community for Kerry or Edwards to do more outreach out to Jews.

Republicans acknowledge that they have had an easier argument to make to the Jewish community this election cycle, preaching "conversion" rather than working to prevent "converts." They also seem to have the support of the upper echelons of the campaign, including campaign manager Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, as they tout issues of concern to the community at high-profile events.

Both sides say grass-roots efforts in key battleground states with significant Jewish populations — such as Florida, Ohio and Michigan — will be the focus for the rest of the campaign. Advertisements geared toward the Jewish community, and spending efforts from advocates for both candidates, are expected to start soon.

What about Iran?

Last week in Baghdad, 30 Iranians were captured fighting for the militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A few days earlier, two trucks transporting weapons for Sadr’s fighters were caught trying to drive into Iraq from Iran.

NBC reported recently that "thousands" of Iranian-funded fighters are operating in Iraq. And last month, the Sept. 11 commission, which investigated U.S. intelligence failures associated with the terrorist attacks, found that eight of the 19 hijackers were given safe passage through Tehran in 2000 and 2001.

Yet despite all of this damning behavior, a senior Bush administration official last month told the Financial Times, "Iran’s hard-line government has refrained from efforts to destabilize the new government in neighboring Iraq."

After the release of the Sept. 11 commission’s findings about the safe passage, President Bush responded unflappably to the critical accusation, saying the United States "will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved."

While the on-the-books policy of the current administration is regime change in Tehran, an overstretched military and an absence of good military options have led Bush to sound decidedly dovish. Rather than beating another war drum, he has made murmurs about the prospect of resumed relations in exchange for better Iranian behavior.

Just 10 weeks before the November election, Bush faces a problem: Iran, one of the three points on the axis of evil he described in his 2002 State of the Union address, is compounding headaches for the administration in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is now evidence of a link between the regime and Al Qaeda, throwing further doubt on why the Bush administration chose to strike at Saddam Hussein, rather than deal with the problem of the mullahs in Tehran.

And perhaps most menacingly of all, Iran is driving full speed ahead toward achieving a nuclear weapon. Senior U.S. officials all the way up to Bush have said the world cannot allow Iran to go nuclear, but such rhetoric has not proved powerful enough to halt programs in the past.

"We’ve heard this from the administration before. We’ve said, ‘We can’t allow North Korea to develop nuclear weapons.’ News flash: North Korea does have nuclear weapons," said Jon B. Wolfsthal, deputy director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice made the pledge most recently in an Aug. 8 interview with NBC’s "Meet the Press." "We cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon," she said. "The president will look at all the tools that are available to him."

Yet at the moment, the United States, so consumed with the mess in Iraq, hardly has the stomach for another Middle East confrontation.

"The U.S. commitment in Iraq in terms of attention and troops has dramatically reduced our leverage over Iran," Wolfsthal said.

And in case anyone in Iran remained worried about the Bush administration getting tough, all they had to do was listen to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on Aug. 10. "We can’t do everything at once," the administration’s top hawk told the House Armed Services Committee, when asked how the United States is dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorism.

With competing camps within the administration, some pushing for engagement, others for, at the very least, support for democracy advocates inside Iran, Washington seems hardly able to draft a coherent approach to Tehran. Gone — at least for now — is the neoconservative rhetoric that the U.S. superpower can go it alone.

Even though the Iranian nuclear threat is far more imminent than Iraq’s ever was, the United States is pursuing an internationalist approach, relying on the Europeans (who provide Iran with 40 percent of its imports and have more leverage) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — actors that the Bush administration ridiculed in the run-up to the Iraq war — to fix the problem.

Last October, the Europeans, bearing all kinds of carrots, thought they had won a pledge from the Iranians to halt their nuclear bid. The IAEA quickly found that Iran was continuing to manufacture centrifuges needed for uranium enrichment, the key to a nuclear warhead.

Now the United States is hoping the IAEA, which meets next month, will refer Iran’s nuclear violations to the U.N. Security Council. And there, the United States hopes the world will sanction Iran for its behavior.

Israel is hoping for that, too. Israeli officials say world attention to the Iranian nuclear problem has slowed the program a bit. Israel recently set back the date by which Iran will have a nuclear bomb to 2008.

But everyone all the way up to Bush knows that if diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to abandon the program fail, Israel will not wait until Iran has fissile material to take steps to thwart the program. The London Times reported last month that Israel had conducted military rehearsals for a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear power facility under construction at Bushehr.

"Israel will on no account permit Iranian reactors — especially the one being built in Bushehr with Russian help — to go critical," the Times quoted an Israeli defense source as saying. "If the worst comes to the worst and the international efforts fail, we are very confident we’ll be able to demolish the ayatollahs’ nuclear aspirations in one go."

Iran, which this month tested its long-range Shahab 3 missile — believed to be able to be tipped with a nuclear warhead — has pledged in turn to "wipe Israel off the map" if it strikes at its facilities. And Ayatollah Ali Hamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, recently warned it would strike at the "enemy’s" interests around the globe in retaliation, most likely a reference to soft targets like Jewish centers and Israeli embassies.

If Iran attains nuclear capability, the perceived threat to Israel may be greater than the actual one. "I think that the odds are they would not use it against Israel. The odds are against that they would contract out the nuclear technology to terrorists," said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East specialist who is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Speaking at a panel on Iran hosted by the Hudson Institute on Tuesday, Gerecht noted that while he believes "the Iranian regime is not a crazy regime" and therefore would not seek nuclear annihilation by striking Israel in a post-Sept. 11 world, people must be "very fearful" of the possibility of a nuclear-equipped, virulently anti-Israel Iran.

Ray Takeyh, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said on the same panel that Iran’s accelerated nuclear ambitions were motivated primarily by the "massive projection of American power on Iran’s periphery," not by a desire to strike Israel. "I never really believed that Iran wants nuclear weapons because of Israel. Israel has no territorial designs on Iran."

"Nobody is going to talk about what kind of option Israel has operationally," said David Ivry, who commanded the Israeli air force’s 1981 covert strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. In a telephone interview, Ivry said one of the keys to the 1981 raid was that "nobody [outside the planners] knew what [Israel’s] red line was.

"The red line was that we are going to attack when there is enriched uranium on its way to be put in the nuclear reactor," he explained. "The idea was such that we cannot attack the nuclear reactor after the enriched uranium was put in, because it would cause an environmental disaster."

"Now," Ivry said, speaking of Iran, "it is a bit different. There are more facilities. They are underground. You have to define a red line, and this should be done inside [the Israeli military establishment]."

Ivry, unlike the defense source quoted by the London Times, has no delusions that an Israeli military strike would wipe out Iran’s nuclear capability forever.

"Even when we attacked the nuclear reactor at Osirak, our intelligence said within three to five years they would have it again," Ivry said. "But the idea was such that we have to gain time…. You cannot destroy a nuclear program completely once a nation has a desire to have it. You’d need different leadership."

Zalman Shoval, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said that an Iranian nuke would be a problem for the entire world, not just Israel.

"If the Iranians actually developed nuclear weapons capability, of course Israel would be worried," Shoval said. "But I’m not sure Israel is the sole or even the main potential target. I’m not sure this is Iran’s most important geopolitical aim. What Iran wants to do is to be a regional superpower and control parts of the Middle East, and they apparently believe that having nuclear weapons will give them that ability."

"I’m not saying Israel couldn’t act," he added. "But Israel doesn’t want and doesn’t need to be in the forefront of acting."

One of the main obstacles in confronting Iran’s nuclear program is that the program is not centered at Bushehr, Wolfsthal said. Iran is working on producing highly enriched uranium using small gas centrifuges and cylinders at spots throughout the country. Wolfsthal said Iran has the science down and doesn’t need any additional technology from countries like Pakistan or Russia.

"Iran has become largely self-sufficient … we don’t have the ability to constrain them through an embargo or a blockade," he said.

Some experts in Washington predict a second Bush administration would be more robust in its approach to Iran, anything from more actively fomenting domestic dissent to a decapitating strike against the Iranian leadership, should the nuclear threat become critical.

A Kerry administration, some Democrats, in particular, say, may be better able to work with European allies to produce a diplomatic solution. What’s for certain, as Shoval noted, is that "despite the present imbroglio in Iraq, whoever wins in November will have to take the lead in dealing with it."

A Settler in Favor of Disengagement

This is a soul-wrenching time for all of us who love the Land of Israel. Jewish homes and villages, farms and factories — the settlement work of three decades — are soon to be uprooted in Gaza. We know that more demolitions may be coming.

Politically — for the first time in the history of the Jewish people — the State of Israel is apparently working toward establishing foreign sovereignty over a part of our land. If George Bush and the European Union think this is a swell idea, that’s partly because they can disregard the moral, historical and emotional ramifications to us, as Jews are rousted from their homes, as well as the potential security implications of giving Gaza to our enemies.

Nonetheless, and though I’m a "settler," I find myself reluctantly supportive of disengagement — an opinion that makes me a minority of one in my West Bank village. Here are six reasons why.

1) Reorder the demographics, or start to. Nearly as many Arabs as Jews live in the Land of Israel already, whereas a Jewish state requires a large Jewish majority. That’s a cliché but true. Getting rid of Gaza unloads 1.3 million Arabs for — relatively — a small price, relocating just 7,000 Jews.

2) Consolidate Jewish gains. Forget about "peace in our time"; that’s Peace Now’s delusion. The war with the Palestinians, Syrians, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran is far from over. But leaving Gaza will shorten Israel’s defensive lines while allowing us to secure the gains of the last three decades by bolstering the settlement blocs near Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Green Line. The security fence now being built to incorporate those communities will mark new borders for Israel.

3) Return to pragmatism. A part of Israel’s population is being driven mad by the dream (which I admit I share) of a Jewish state stretching from the river to the sea, the entire Land of Promise. But right now — as in all previous generations — it has proved impossible for us to inhabit the whole land. Only God knows why, but let’s acknowledge that the Messiah didn’t come and meanwhile gratefully accept the great gift we’ve been given: the world’s only self-governing Jewish state. A firm connection to reality always improves one’s survival possibilities. And meanwhile there’s work to do.

4) Doing the work. While we’re waiting for God to give us the rest of the land, there’s much to build and heal in the large portion we possess. If disengagement succeeds, the hostile friction between left and right, often following the fault line between religious and secular, will be muted. That energy can then be directed to projects to improve Jewish life, such as feeding the hungry, educating Jews to Judaism, cleaning Israel’s polluted rivers, lending a hand to Diaspora communities and so forth.

5) Strengthening the center. The real news in last month’s Likud Party vote against disengagement was that 40 percent of Israel’s largest right-wing party voted for it. As the party of Jabotinsky transforms itself, we’ll see a strengthening of centrist government, with its stability, its preference for slow change and its responsiveness to the sensible center that makes up most of the country’s electorate. Gen. Ariel Sharon, a military mastermind, turns out to be a political genius, too.

6) Improve Israel’s international position. By far. The world is sick of us and the Palestinians. Even we’re sick of us and the Palestinians. Sharon has warned that Israel will not be able to resist much worse plans for bringing peace, quiet and a good business environment to the Holy Land in the absence of "a plan of our own." Even though he’s a politician, I believe Sharon on this one. Israel has to get off the dime for its own sake, rather than be left fighting a rear-guard, negative battle against an imposed solution that will endanger us.

Am I unworried? Hardly. Disengagement raises security fears, in particular. But no military withdrawal has to be permanent, and the Palestinians know that. And in any future round of fighting, at least the Israeli army will be unencumbered by the need to protect Jewish civilians.

Israel has, for years, lived inside a conundrum: We can’t drive the Palestinians out of the country (neither the nations nor the Jews will permit it) or magically "disappear" them or, apparently, convince them to live in peace beside us. To me, even more confounding is the possibility that neither withdrawing from Gaza nor staying is the correct path — that, given the Arabs’ limitless hostility, Israel has no really good options except remaining heavily armed and vigilant.

But I think we can do that at least as well from outside the fence that surrounds Gaza. Let the Palestinians eat the bread they’ve buttered for themselves. Until they come to their senses (or the Messiah arrives at last), we have the Jewish people to protect and the Jewish state to build.

David Margolis is a journalist
and novelist who made aliyah from Los Angeles in 1994 and now lives in a village
in the Judean hills. He can be reached through his Web site,

Your Letters

A Killer’s Face

The article, “Inmate Wants New Label to Avoid Hate” (April 9), was greatly offensive. I can accept the need to address the rights of Jewish prisoners. I am unable to accept opening The Journal only to see the face of a brutal killer. Not only did he kill a dear friend of mine, he tore a very prestigious family apart. I am in a strange situation to know both families. The victim, though, was part of a Jewish community that was strong, united and shocked beyond belief.

Did Stephen Liebb expect sympathy? To see a photo of Liebb is offensive and spine-chilling to all who knew his victim and family.

Name Withheld, Valley Village

Extraordinary Friend?

Your cover story, “Is Bush Good for Israel?” (April 30), was extremely disappointing. Anyone who asserts that President Bush is not an extraordinary friend of the State of Israel is mistaken to say the least. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the democratically elected leader of the Jewish state. By definition, when President Bush supports Sharon, he is supporting Israel.

It is wrong to suggest, as your article does, that if President Bush would pressure Prime Minister Sharon, instead of supporting him, Bush would be better serving the interest of Israel. Imagine the British supporting our war efforts in Iraq and the French opposing our war efforts, because, in the opinion of the French, in the long run, it would be better for the United States not to be in Iraq. Would any clear-thinking person ask: Is France a better friend of the United States than Britain?

I go to synagogue and pray three times a day and ask God to bless President Bush and give him the wisdom to be our best friend.

Andrew Friedman, President Congregation Bais Naftoli

I find Jewish support for Bush incomprehensible (“More Jews May Hop on the Bush Bandwagon,” April 30). It is exceedingly dangerous for any voter, Jew or otherwise, to support a candidate based on a single issue, particularly when that candidate is so weak in every other area.

Even if Bush were a strong leader on national security, he has handed over the national economy, ecology and institutions to corporate executives and right-wing ideologues and has conducted his government under a veil of secrecy. He says he wants democracy in Iraq, but he doesn’t seem to want it in the United States.

What’s more, when it comes to national security, Bush has already blown it. On Sept. 12, 2001, the world sympathized with us; thanks to Bush, that support is gone, and the war on terror is in imminent danger of being lost.

Judaism is close to unique in its emphasis on wisdom as the predominant human virtue, and I am amazed to find so many Jews taking leave of it. I fear for my country if Bush is re-elected, and I fear for my fellow Jews who have been duped by a man who, in addition to all his other flaws, professes a belief that they are going straight to perdition.

David Zasloff. Los Angeles


Last week’s Journal (April 30) has two of the best things I have ever seen in your great periodical.

First of all, that it the best cover art ever on your or any other magazine (“Is Bush Good for Israel?”). I know it will stir things up a bit, but it is funny, thoughtful and brave — in a word, brilliant.

The second is the article by Tom Teicholz (“The End of ‘Friends'”). He hit so many nails on the head, he could have been building Monica and Chandler’s new home himself. Keep up the good work.

Michael Raileanu, Fort Worth, Texas

Haunting Image

I cannot get the image of the slaughter of Tali Hatuel, eight months pregnant, and her four daughters, Hila, 11; Hadar, 9; Roni, 7, and Merav, 2, out of my mind (“E.U. Condemns Gaza Killing,” May 7). I can imagine her terror; I can hear her screams and the crying of her children. The begging for their lives. And I ask myself, “What kind of monsters could do this?”

Until Muslims who truly want a two-state solution, who truly want peace, who truly believe terrorism is wrong raise their voices in protest against acts of terrorism such as this and suicide bombings and demand that they stop, I will find it hard to believe that they exist.

Tobi Ruth Love, Thousand Oaks

Road of Deception

Rabbi Steven Greenberg may talk of a loving, accepting Judaism, but I am sure that he is just another Jew walking down that dark road of deception (“Gay Orthodox Rabbi Peels Back His Life,” May 7).

As every Orthodox rabbi knows — everyone that is worth his salt — that the Law handed down to Moses from God still stands today. His behavior is not going to fly with God, and I back this up with Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.”

In other words, refrain from homosexuality.

Joan Goldstein, Hancock Park

Send a Message

Regarding Carole Raphaelle Davis’ article about the French Jews, “What’s New in Paris?” (April 30), I would urge your readers to let the French consulate and/or embassy know how they feel about the government’s unofficial sanctioning of the harassment against the French Jews.

I called the embassy in Washington, D.C., to let them know that I will not buy any products made in France until this stops. The number of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., is (202) 944-6030; the number of the consulate office in Los Angeles is (310) 235-3200.

Gail Saunders, via e-mail

The First Fest

In the April 30 edition, the article on the Independence Fest by Naomi Pfefferman had a major error (“Independence Fest Turns Sweet 16,” April 30). The article maintains that the Independence affair was 16 years old. This is not true.

The first Independence Day celebration in Los Angeles was held in May of 1972 at Pierce College, under the auspices of the San Fernando Valley Community Relations Committee and the West Valley Jewish Community Center.

How do I know? I was then the director of the Community Relations Committee, and the late Abe Boxerman was the director of the center. We were led by a remarkable woman, Harriet Rechtman, who chaired the event.

The police estimated that we had 30,000 people there, only outnumbered by the next Independence Day celebration at Pierce, where more than 40,000 people attended. That has never been equaled by any Jewish fest since.

How do we know that we had that number? Everyone who wished to do so was able to sign their name, address and phone number to a roll of butcher paper to wish Golda Meir a happy birthday. There were more than 20,000 names on that roll, which the Israeli consul took to Israel the next week.

Al Mellman, Los Angeles Not in Same Boat

I do not share professor [Samuel] Huntington’s concerns either (“The Same Boat,” April 30). However, I believe that there are enormous adverse impacts of mass immigration that have nothing to do with the question of assimilation.

At the current population growth rate of the United States, which is primarily due to the mass immigration policies of the federal government, the U.S. population will triple in this century. Think about it. Southern California will have to support three L.A. metro areas, three San Diegos, three Inland Empires. Northern California will have to support three San Francicso metro areas.

Already California is suffering huge adverse effects from excessive population growth, such as gridlocked freeways, overcrowded schools and medical care facilities that are shutting down right and left, because they can’t handle the burden of large numbers of customers who are unable to pay their bills.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what is in store if the people of this state and nation allow the federal government to continue growing the U.S. population without consideration for the economic and environmental consequences.

It is time for people to get out of their tunnel vision in thinking that the only issue raised by mass immigration is whether newcomers will assimilate.

Lance B. Sjogren, San Pedro

I see no parallel between American Jews and Latinos. We are not in the same boat. Latinos need to begin practicing to be Americans by speaking English more and by stressing education in their homes, before you can consider us in the same boat.

Richard Leibowitz, Westlake Village

Out of Touch?

Ira Forman is entirely correct in his criticism of Jimmy Carter’s bias concerning Israel and the Palestinians (“View on Mideast ‘Embarrassing,'” April 30). However, his faith in the position of John Kerry should be tempered by the fact that Kerry recently suggested that Jimmy Carter and James Baker would be his peace envoys to the Middle East, should he win the election.

Both men have often expressed anti-Israel positions. Could Kerry have been so out of touch with their positions or did they reflect his feelings to some degree?

Mike Michelson, Mission Viejo

Myanmar’s People

I would just like to commend the writer of the article about the synagogue in Yangon, Myanmar, and especially his note about the “richness of spirit” of the Myanmar people (“A Piece of Familiarity in Myanmar,” May 7).

Much misinformation is written in the Western press about Myanmar, especially with regards to religious freedom. In the apartment I stay when I’m there, I can see three churches, three mosques and one Pagoda. And of course, there’s the synagogue not far away!

Gerry Haines, Myanmar and Thailand

Einstein Help

My forthcoming book, “Einstein in California,” will be appearing this fall in connection with the Einstein exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center. The book is complete, right down to the dust jacket, and that is why I need help.

Does anyone have a picture of Einstein addressing a Jewish group or, perhaps, your family member back in the early 1930s, when he was a scholar at Caltech and the most distinguished guest that Western Jewry ever had?

Contact me, professor Rabbi William M. Kramer at (310) 475-1415.

Rabbi William M. Kramer, Los Angeles

The DeLay Factor and the Jews

The recent clamor over Howard Dean’s demand for U.S. "evenhandedness" in the Middle East was sweet music to the ears of Jewish Republicans, who hope 2004 will be a watershed in their long but frustrating effort to rally Jewish voters to their cause.

But the Republicans could overplay their hand, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who sometimes makes Ariel Sharon sound like a peacenik, is just the man to do it.

The Texas congressman, who has emerged as a powerful friend of Israeli nationalists and right-wingers, was on the attack last week, lashing out at Dean, the surprise frontrunner in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

But DeLay’s pro-Israel ardor, while galvanizing to a small Jewish minority and useful to mainstream leaders, could neutralize the positive political impact of President George W. Bush — whose support for both Israel and an active peace process may play well among Jewish swing voters.

During his 18 years in Congress, DeLay, a former Houston exterminator, has been known mostly for his intense partisanship, his hard-right views on domestic subjects and his close relationship with groups like the Christian Coalition.

For much of that time he was considered cool to Israel — hostile to foreign aid, and not particularly sympathetic to the pro-Israel cause on Capitol Hill.

That began to change in the mid-1990s as pro-Israel conservatives courted the increasingly powerful DeLay, and as a key segment of his core constituency — conservative Evangelical Christians — began to put their version of "Christian Zionism" at the top of their list of priorities.

Some analysts say that agenda is based heavily on Christian biblical prophecies, which require constant warfare in the Middle East and a terrible fate for those Jews who do not jump aboard the millennial bandwagon.

Whatever their motives, their support has been welcomed by pro-Israel groups, which face mounting hostility from liberal "mainline" Protestant denominations. It was especially welcomed by the Jewish right, which for the first time had a politically powerful champion in Washington.

DeLay was reborn into the pro-Israel faith with a vengeance.

In 2000, he was one of only three lawmakers voting against a congressional resolution praising Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon, claiming that Israel was making a big mistake giving back any land.

In 2002, DeLay headed a congressional effort to deflect pressure on Israel from the leader of his party, President Bush.

This year, he delighted hard-liners when he told the pro-Israel lobby that Israel has a perfect right to keep Gaza and the West Bank.

"I’ve toured Judea and Samaria," he said, "and stood on the Golan Heights," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

He repeated that claim last week to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Jewish right-wingers here applaud such talk; mainstream Jewish leaders, while not entirely comfortable with it, are grateful for his support, and some swallow their discomfort over his hard-line views.

But if DeLay is the spearhead of a new GOP effort to woo Jewish voters, the party may be in trouble. Poll after poll shows that American Jews remain committed to the fundamentals of land-for-peace negotiations.

Despite the way Jews from across the spectrum have rallied behind a terror-beset Israel, there is very little support here for the settlers who are determined to hold onto their West Bank and Gaza outposts, or the neo-Kahanists who dream of "transferring" Palestinians somewhere else.

American Jewish leaders have expressed great skepticism about the Bush administration’s "road map" for Palestinian statehood, but polls indicate most American Jews support its principles.

DeLay may score points with some top Jewish leaders, who are interested mostly in his ability to serve as a counterweight to administration pressure on Israel, and with single-issue pro-Israel groups, which easily overlook a domestic record that makes him the prince of the Christian right.

But the majority of Jews are centrists whose votes are shaped by a wide array of issues, not just Israel. On both the foreign and domestic fronts, Jewish voters, while not as liberal as they once were, are poles apart from DeLay and his ultra-conservative colleagues.

On the Middle East, President Bush has struck a balance that may appeal to that Jewish mainstream: strong, unequivocal support for Israel, but also for a genuine peace process that everybody knows can only end with the creation of a real Palestinian state.

That combination could be especially attractive next November if the Democrats nominate a challenger beholden to the party’s left flank, where Israel isn’t exactly the most popular cause in town.

DeLay represents a support for Israel’s most extreme factions and a harsh vision for the future of the region that is repellent to many of the Jews the Republicans hope to attract.

World Briefs

Bush: Happy Rosh Hashanah

President Bush asked Jews to “pray for peace” in his annual Rosh Hashanah message. “May we build a future of promise and compassion for all, and may the coming year be filled with hope and happiness,” Bush said in the presidential message, released Tuesday. He also called on Jews to find inspiration from Abraham and Isaac’s “willingness to sacrifice everything to do right.”

Israelis Bodies Found

Two bodies found in California may be the remains of a pair of Israelis who disappeared last December. FBI agents on Sunday were led by suspects arrested last week to a shallow grave near Barstow, where Ben Wertzberger and Adar Neeman were believed to be buried, The Associated Press reported. Authorities say the two probably were killed after a drug-related dispute with the suspects.

Iraq Off-Limits to Israel

Israel will not be allowed to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, Iraqi officials said. Speaking at the International Monetary Fund conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Iraq’s interim planning minister said Israeli entrance into the Iraqi market is “out of the question,” Agence France-Presse reported. A member of the U.S.-appointed transitional Governing Council, Adel Abdul Mahdi, added, “There is no intention to recognize Israel.”

Israeli officials are in Dubai this week for the IMF conference.

Al-Qaeda Planned Attack on El Al

Thai police reportedly foiled an Al-Qaeda plot to down an El Al airplane and attack Israeli passengers at Bangkok International Airport. A man arrested three months ago by police in Thailand was found to have detailed plans of a plot to attack passengers in the terminal and shoot down an El Al plane with a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. Al-Qaeda operatives are the prime suspects in an attack last November on an Israeli aircraft in the skies over Kenya. The plane managed to evade those missiles and land safely in Tel Aviv.

Bernard Manischewitz Dies at 89

Kosher food giant Bernard Manischewitz died Saturday in New Jersey at age 89.

Manischewitz was the last in his family’s line to run the kosher food giant B. Manischewitz Company, the Newark “Star-Ledger” reported. The food company was sold to private investors in 1991 after it had been in the Manischewitz family for three generations. Renowned for its sweet wine and matzah, the business was founded in Cincinnati in 1888 by Bernard’s grandfather, Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz. The company opened a second factory in Jersey City in 1932, eventually moving operations there. Born in Cincinnati, Bernard joined the company in the 1940s after graduating from New York University. The company expanded under his tenure but also weathered a scandal in the mid-1980s over price-fixing for matzah. Bernard Manischewitz was a Jewish philanthropist, serving as president of New York’s United Jewish Appeal and of New York’s Shearith Israel synagogue. Manischewitz is survived by his wife, son, daughters, six grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Former Israeli Ambassador Dinitz

Simcha Dinitz, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and chairman of the Jewish Agency, has died. Dinitz, 74, died Tuesday of a heart attack in Jerusalem. Born in Tel Aviv, Dinitz joined the Haganah in pre-state Palestine and served in the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence. He spent 37 years in a variety of public posts, including the Knesset, the Foreign Ministry, Golda Meir’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, which he headed from 1987 to 1994. Dinitz served as vice president of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was a diplomat in Rome and Washington for prime ministers Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. Dinitz’s public career ended in 1996 when he was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust connected to misuse of Jewish Agency credit cards, though Israel’s highest court overturned the conviction a year later. Dinitz, whom Israeli President Moshe Katsav called “one of the leaders of the nation,” leaves behind his wife, three children and eight grandchildren.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Sharon, Abbas Court White House

As the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process inches forward, leaders of both sides are looking to upcoming audiences with President Bush to exert pressure on the other and give the "road map" peace plan some momentum.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, each will seek to persuade the American leader to lean on the other side to move faster — and Bush will be ready to lean on both, Israeli analysts believe.

With domestic criticism growing regarding America’s imbroglio in Iraq, Israeli analysts believe Bush wants progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to help justify the strike against Saddam Hussein. If toppling the Iraqi dictator is seen to have paved the way for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation — and, with it, a better chance of pacifying the Middle East as a whole — the administration can argue that the war was worthwhile, the argument goes.

Bush, therefore, will want to resolve as many of the disputed issues on the table as he can. For the Palestinians, most important are releasing prisoners, dismantling settlement outposts, freezing construction of Israeli settlements and Israel’s West Bank security fence and easing restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

Israel will ask Bush to demand that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups and decommission their weapons and not make do with the groups’ tenuous cease-fire.

Most analysts agree that little progress will be made without concerted American intervention.

More importantly, in their strategic thinking, both Abbas and Sharon put a premium on ties with America. Even before he took over as prime minister, Abbas advocated the use of American and international pressure on Israel, rather than terrorism, to achieve Palestinian goals.

Sharon, who is to meet with Bush on July 29, sees American support as the key to Israel’s position in the world. He believes that ties with the Bush administration must be carefully nurtured and that Israel should seek prior coordination with Washington whenever appropriate, especially in dealing with the Palestinians. In Sharon’s view, it is absolutely vital that the Palestinian issue not be allowed to erode Israel’s ties with Washington.

Of course, there will be tactical maneuvering by both prime ministers, but their meetings with President Bush should be understood in a wider strategic context.

Abbas reportedly will highlight two key issues in his White House meeting on Friday: getting more Palestinian prisoners released and stopping construction of the security fence. He will argue that if Israel is really serious about turning over a new leaf, it should release all Palestinian prisoners, even those with "blood on their hands," i.e., those involved in terror attacks.

On the security fence, the Palestinians have noted the recent sharp differences between Israel and the United States. Israeli officials believe Abbas hopes to use the issue to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States and get the Bush administration to pressure Israel to stop building it, on the grounds that it takes in large swaths of the West Bank and thus prejudges a final territorial accommodation.

Abbas also reportedly will urge Bush to pressure Sharon to put more West Bank cities under Palestinian security control. He argues that unless he has real achievements to show the Palestinian people, his shaky position as prime minister in P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s shadow will be further weakened. Indeed, Abbas hopes his high-profile meeting with Bush will itself give him more standing and credibility on the Palestinian street.

Abbas also apparently intends to use his American sojourn to win support in Congress, the media and the American Jewish community, and has scheduled meetings with key figures in all three groups.

According to aides, Sharon’s main goal will be to convince Bush that the Palestinians must be held to their commitments in the fight against terror. Sharon, they say, will suggest linking further prisoner releases to Palestinian dismantling of militia groups and the collection of illegal weapons.

Sharon will point out that two months have elapsed since the road map was launched at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, in early June. During that time the Palestinians have not taken serious action against Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and Israeli intelligence sources say the terrorist groups continue to arm themselves under cover of the cease-fire. It is time for the Palestinians to act, Sharon will insist.

Sharon hopes to deflect American pressure on Israel by releasing a large group of prisoners and dismantling more illegal West Bank settlement outposts before his meeting with Bush.

As for the fence, Sharon will repeat what he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week: "I am a simple farmer, and I tell you plainly the fence is only a security obstacle to stop suicide bombers, and not in any way a political border."

Sharon has agreed to Palestinian demands to set up a joint Israeli-Palestinian team to agree on a list of prisoners to be released. Though the terrorist groups have made the prisoner release a condition of their cease-fire, it is not one of Israel’s obligations under the road map. However, Israeli officials believe that releasing prisoners may help Abbas’ public stature.

Out of sensitivity to the pressures on Abbas, Sharon has agreed to release some detainees who are members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In deference to Israeli public sentiment, however, he is refusing to release prisoners with blood on their hands.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

After the Cease-Fire What Comes Next?

As Israel and the Palestinians begin a long-awaited truce, both sides are holding their breath — and wondering what the United States will do next to advance the “road map” peace plan.

The late June cease-fire by the three main Palestinian terror groups, declared as the intifada approached the 1,000-day mark, underlined the vital importance of the U.S. role. Without U.S. pressure on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror groups and on European and Arab nations to cut off their funding, the cease-fire never would have been achieved, Israeli analysts say.

More importantly, the analysts agree that unless Washington keeps up the pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians, the new deal could quickly unravel. Then, instead of moving ahead on the internationally accepted peace plan toward a longer-term settlement, the sides could find themselves locked in an even-worse cycle of violence.

Much will depend on how the Bush administration handles a number of key issues:

  • Will it force Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to go beyond a cease-fire and dismantle terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as he has agreed to do under the road map?

  • Will it restrict Israel’s freedom of action if the Palestinians violate the cease-fire?

  • Will it pressure Israel to release Palestinian terrorist prisoners as a goodwill gesture?

  • Will it lean on Israel to dismantle illegal settlement outposts and established settlements?

  • Will it insist that Israel stop building a security fence that it says is essential to keep terrorists from infiltrating from the West Bank, but which the Palestinians say is taking their land?

The cease-fire declaration coincided with a visit by Condoleezza Rice, the White House’s national security adviser. Her main purpose was to make clear to both sides what the United States expects of them and to signal the U.S. determination to push the road map.

In her talks with Abbas in Ramallah, Rice was firm on dismantling terrorist groups. She used Abbas’ own slogan –“one authority, one command and one armed force” — and echoed Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush in insisting that the United States would accept nothing less than the disarming of the groups and the collection of their weapons.

Beyond the rhetoric, the United States reportedly is considering granting the Palestinian Authority as much as $1 billion, partly to help it disarm the militants. Some of the funds would be used to help build an alternative welfare system to Hamas’.

Through this money and other investment, the United States hopes to dramatically improve socioeconomic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, showing that peace pays and encouraging further steps in that direction. Much of the money would be held back, pending convincing evidence that the Palestinians really are decommissioning illegal weapons.

The Americans also are exerting heavy — and apparently successful — pressure on European and Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to clamp down on funding for Hamas as part of the struggle to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and weaken the fundamentalists.

But what if the Palestinian Authority is unable to impose its authority on all factions and the shooting continues? On Monday, the day after the cease-fire was declared, gunmen from Abbas’ own Fatah movement fatally shot a Bulgarian worker in the West Bank, whom they mistook for an Israeli.

To Israel, Rice made very clear that the United States expects it to act with restraint and give the Palestinian Authority time to organize its forces. In talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Cabinet, Rice acknowledged Israel’s right to defend its citizens and act against “ticking time bombs,” such as suicide bombers on their way to attack — if the Palestinians, after being given the relevant information, fail to stop them.

However, she said, Israel should “think twice” before retaliating against terrorist acts or plans, taking into account the effects its actions could have on the wider peace process. Israel, Rice said, should be careful not to do anything that weakens Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Major Israeli strikes in Palestinian areas will undermine the P.A.’s credibility on the Palestinian street, the United States believes.

Rice also urged Sharon to release as many Palestinian prisoners as possible to boost Abbas’ standing and show the Palestinian populace what can be gained by sticking to the road map. Israel is holding approximately 3,000 Palestinian detainees, and Sharon is ready to free several hundred — but not those who have killed Israelis or directly ordered others to do so.

Sharon has asked the Shin Bet security service to prepare a list of prisoners whose release “would not harm Israel’s security.”

If the Palestinians adhere to the cease-fire, the United States also can be expected to pressure Israel to continue dismantling illegal outposts, but not bona fide Jewish settlements. The first phase of the road map refers only to outposts set up since March 2001. Calls for the evacuation of settlements proper will come only in the second phase, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in temporary borders, with “maximum territorial continuity.”

One area of emerging disagreement between Israel and the United States is the security fence. Abbas told Rice that the Palestinians would have no problems with a fence along the pre-1967 border, but that the route Israel currently plans allegedly would leave only 45 percent of the West Bank in Palestinians hands, divided into three “cantons” — hardly the viable state envisaged by Bush.

Rice asked Sharon to reconsider the route. Sharon, however, argued that the fence would constitute a security line rather than a political border and could be moved later.

Rice was skeptical. To many people, she said, the route looks like an attempt to create a political border unilaterally, and this is seen as problematic.

Israel’s nightmare scenario is that the cease-fire will break down after the Palestinian Authority fails to disarm Hamas and the other terror groups. The question then will be whether the United States, after playing the honest broker, tolerates Israel moving back into the West Bank and Gaza Strip in self-defense.

Much will depend on whom the United States blames for the breakdown of a process in which, by then, it will have invested so much.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Beyond Summit: Chance for Peace?

A double dose of optimism and skepticism led up to this week’s summit at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, but what really matters is what comes next.

Hardened by past failures, Israelis and Palestinians alike recognize that there is still a long way to go, and a lot that could still go wrong after President Bush’s Wednesday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

There are, for example, still dozens of warnings of planned terrorist attacks, and a new round of suicide bombings could quickly derail a reactivated peace process.

And even if the parties are able to make the first moves Bush is asking of them, they will encounter major problems down the road: Will they be able to agree on the final size of the Palestinian state, on the extent of its sovereignty, on Jerusalem and the refugee question? And what about the rejectionists on both sides? Will the Palestinians have the power to collect illegal weapons held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Will Israel be able to dismantle settlements? In other words, can Abbas face down the fundamentalists and can Sharon deal with the settlers?

One far-right Israeli Cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman of National Union, warns that “any attempt to dismantle settlements will lead to civil war.”

Despite all the questions, there was a fresh breath of optimism in the air this week. Israeli generals are talking about the end of the nearly three-year-long Palestinian uprising. Palestinians are delighted by Sharon’s unprecedented use of the term “occupation” and are looking forward to the occupation’s end. And most importantly, both sides have been sobered by what they see as the American administration’s newfound determination to put an end to the long conflict between them.

Indicative of the new mood, the Israeli stock market, sluggish during the intifada years, has been skyrocketing.

The Aqaba summit, designed to jump-start a new peace process, was first and foremost a statement about the degree of American commitment. Bush, who had carefully kept his distance from the treacherous Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is now making clear that he intends to play an active role and to exert heavy pressure wherever necessary.

On Monday, Bush vowed to “put in as much time as necessary” to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. Bush made his comments in France before leaving for the Middle East, where he attended a summit in Egypt with Arab leaders on Tuesday and met with Sharon and Abbas in Jordan on Wednesday.

At the meeting Tuesday with leaders from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Palestinian Authority at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Bush said Israel “must deal with the settlements.” Israel must “make sure there is continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home.”

At Tuesday’s summit, Arab states agreed to Bush’s request to back the road map.

The president is also asking Egypt and Jordan to send ambassadors back to Israel as soon as there are tangible signs of progress.

“I hope that as we move forward in this process down the road map, both Egypt and Jordan will see the merit at an appropriate moment to return their ambassadors,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday in Egypt.

At the Aqaba summit on Wednesday, both Sharon and Abbas made far-reaching commitments: Abbas announced an end to the armed intifada against Israel.

“We will spare no effort, using all our resources, to end the militarization of the intifada, and we will succeed,” he declared. “The armed intifada must end and we must resort to peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation.”

Sharon came out strongly in favor of Palestinian statehood, and promised to start removing what he called “unauthorized” settler outposts.

“It is in Israel’s interest not to govern the Palestinians, but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state,” he averred. And he added that Israel was fully aware of the Palestinians’ need for contiguous territory on the West Bank for that state to be viable.

Bush carefully listed the major commitments made by both parties, and made it clear that he would hold them accountable.

“These leaders of conscience have made their declarations today in the cause of peace,” he said. “We expect both parties to keep their promises.”

To underline just how serious he is, Bush is sending in a team of about a dozen monitors, mostly CIA officials, to determine where the parties are carrying out their road map obligations and where they are not. And the word is that any side that creates obstacles will be publicly rebuked.

The president also named John Wolf to be special U.S. Middle East envoy to help implement the road map. A team headed by Wolf, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, was slated to arrive in the Middle East following the summit. Wolf is relatively unknown, and has little experience in the Middle East conflict.

As far as he went in condemning terror and violence against “Israelis everywhere,” Abbas failed to commit to the notion of Israel as a Jewish state.

This led to renewed right-wing criticism of the entire road map approach.

Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says unless such a commitment is forthcoming, Israel should refuse to move into the second phase of the road map, which leads to the creation of a Palestinian mini-state.

Abbas, meanwhile, has said it will take weeks before Palestinian security forces are in a position to keep the peace.

Still, the Palestinians have at least three very good reasons to achieve and maintain a cease-fire: The weakness of the post-Iraq Arab world; Sharon’s planned security fence, which would leave them only small truncated areas of the West Bank if they don’t cut a deal soon; and the fact that a triumphal George Bush is ready to lean on Israel. If the Palestinians keep the cease-fire, and Bush pressures Israel to make major reciprocal moves, Sharon could be the one leader strong enough to make concessions and carry the country with him.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Will U.S. Jews Keep Pace With Israel?

Publicly, most Jewish organizations support the "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace that President Bush is promoting in his Middle East travels this week and at his summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

But privately, there is much skepticism about what will transpire in the coming weeks and months, with fears that Israel will be forced to make too many concessions or that Palestinians will get a state without first cracking down on terrorism. The goal, many say, is to make these concerns heard quietly, while not standing in the way of progress.

Mainstream Jewish leaders who have reservations say they are not worried that they will be viewed as impediments for peace. Instead, they say they are on the same wavelength as Israel’s government, supporting the process — hesitantly.

"The center, I am convinced, has already shifted in support for Sharon and Bush," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "If it’s good enough for Sharon and good enough for Israelis, then the American Jewish community will embrace it."

But to some, supporting the Israeli government means more than backing what is said publicly.

Some Jewish leaders feel it is up to them to say what many in Israel, including Sharon, are thinking but are not saying. They say political pressure may have forced Sharon to back something he truly does not believe in, and it is the Jewish community’s job to balance the support Israel is expressing with voices of caution.

This is not the first time the organized American Jewish community faces the prospect of suddenly embracing a peace process after years of echoing hard-line Israeli positions with respect to the Palestinians. When the Oslo process evolved in the mid-1990s, some prominent Jewish organizations, including the umbrella Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were accused of not fully backing the process the Israeli government had adopted.

Supporters of Oslo called it the "Diaspora lag" — the fact the American Jews were not supporting something that was being viewed positively in Israel.

American Jews can become more pessimistic than some in Israel because they do not see the violence up close each day, said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and therefore are not as pragmatic about the need to embrace any movement in the peace process.

"Maybe the fact that we don’t live it as acutely as Israelis do, sometimes we have a tendency to be less pragmatic or more idealistic," he said.

This time around, some Jewish leaders say they are once again skeptical. But the difference is, some say, that skepticism is shared by Israel.

"Everybody is hesitant," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. "A lot of people have reservations because they see this as a very risky approach."

Hoenlein and others say the 14 reservations about the road map that Israel submitted to the United States last month mirror the concerns they have been expressing for months, and there is still strong concern that Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, retains much of the control of the security system in the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, an Israeli Cabinet minister, Limor Livnat of Likud, meanwhile, told American Jewish leaders Tuesday that "your role now is to stand very firm" and to make sure that the Israeli government does not make concessions until the Palestinians have uprooted terrorism.

"You need to make sure [that Bush sticks to his ideology to uproot all terrorism in the world] including, of course, the Palestinian infrastructure," Livnat, who abstained from the Cabinet vote endorsing the road map, told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents.

There’s a decade’s worth of experience that makes American Jews fear the worst.

"If it’s hard for the community to be on board, it’s for good reason," said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I don’t think the Jewish community will be that much ahead or behind Congress and public opinion."

That worries some more dovish Jewish groups, who fear Jewish leaders may be reluctant to embrace a new process, when the last one burned Israel.

"The concern I have is if groups get wrapped up in the opposition to any talks of a return to diplomacy, and too tightly wound around denigrating the other side," said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

He fears that Jewish groups, while technically on board, will not expend any political capital on supporting — and pushing — the peace process.

The question, others say, is whether Abbas and the Palestinians will follow through where they have not in the past. If progress is made by the Palestinians, with terrorism especially coming to an end, there would be almost universal support among American Jews for a revived peace process, they say.

Even hawkish groups like the Zionist Organization of America say they will "openly and publicly support negotiations" if the environment is right, said the group’s national president, Morton Klein. He said they would need to see Palestinian arrests of terrorists and other requirements before they would support the process.

Indeed, several Jewish leaders said they will be working in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that Palestinians and other partners are keeping the commitments stressed in the road map, because they fear the main problem with Oslo was that Palestinian compliance was not enforced.

"The role for the American Jewish community is to be skeptical and watch and move in when the Arabs are not fulfilling their commitments," Amitay said.

Also on the agenda is setting the scene to entice the Palestinians to fulfill those commitments. AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, last month pushed for a provision in the State Department Authorization Act that would give substantial U.S. assistance to a Palestinian state, once it achieved a thorough peace.

Jewish leaders said the provision, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the leaders of the House International Relations Committee, sent a signal that the new state would have American Jewish support.

"I think our role is to encourage our government to play a constructive role to facilitate an opportunity for peace," Raffel said. That means finding international donors and other financial avenues to support the state. "I only wish that we get to the point where money is needed," he said.

For now, many American Jewish groups say they will take their cues from the Israeli government.

"Some of us sometimes lose sight of the fact that it’s their decision," Foxman said. "It’s not our role to push them or to hold them back."

Moranic Statement

A furor over comments by a U.S. lawmaker is highlighting the
resurgent trend of blaming Israel and the Jewish community for the impending
war against Iraq.

Six rabbis from northern Virginia have asked for the
resignation of Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), after he told constituents last week
that the Jewish community is behind the Bush administration’s push for war.

Moran is apologizing to the Jewish community and is planning
to meet with area rabbis later this week.

While Moran’s comments specifically linked the organized
American Jewish community with a push for war, an increasing number of people
are blaming the looming Iraq war on Jewish officials in the Bush

The sentiments echo those made in 1991 by conservative
commentator Patrick Buchanan, who said the Persian Gulf War was being touted by
“the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.”

Given widespread skepticism of the U.S. motives for a strike
on Baghdad, some Jewish leaders say there is potential for the “amen corner”
comments to gain as much — if not more — traction than they did a decade ago.

“There is a greater potential for mischief on this issue now
than 11 or 12 years ago,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the
Anti-Defamation League.

In a March 3 town hall meeting with constituents, Moran
said, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this
war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” according to the Virginia-area
Connection newspapers.

Moran said Jewish leaders were motivated by discussions they
had with Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish former prime

Rabbi Jack Moline, rabbi at the conservative Agudas Achim
Congregation of Northern Virginia, is leading the charge for Moran’s

Moline, who spoke with the congressman for 45 minutes last
Friday, said the lawmaker’s remarks are comparable to the comments of Sen.
Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who was forced to vacate his leadership post last year
after making racially insensitive comments at a birthday party.

The Jewish community has had problems with Moran for years,
because of his outspoken comments against Israel. They have also been
frustrated by the lack of a primary challenger against him in congressional

“We have attempted to bridge the gap with Congressman
Moran,” Moline said. “And we have attempted to persuade the Democratic Party
that he wasn’t the best representative for us.”

Moran told JTA on Monday that he didn’t intend to single out
the Jewish community, but was responding to a question from a woman who
identified herself as Jewish. He said he was trying to make the point that all
faith communities could affect the administration’s choice to go to war.

“I slipped up and I said something that has been properly
taken as offensive,” Moran said. “I wish I had caught myself and reflected on
it before I said it.”

Ever since military action against Iraq became a
possibility, the American Jewish community has been treading lightly so as not
to fuel criticism that the war would be for Israel’s benefit.

Many are cognizant of the discomfort the Jewish community
felt after Buchanan made his comments in 1991 and want to keep Israel as much
out of the mix as possible.

Israel, too, has taken a low profile, though the widespread
view is that Jerusalem supports U.S. efforts to dismantle a regime that is a
threat to its security.

But some have pointedly noted that some of the strongest
advocates for war in the Bush administration are Jewish, implying that their
support for Israel is the rationale.

Among those being targeted are Paul Wolfowitz, deputy
secretary of defense; Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board;
Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, and Dov Zakheim, the
Pentagon’s comptroller.

The comments are predominantly in the international media —
specifically in Europe and the Arab world — but are also finding their way into
print in the United States.

And, in contrast to 1991, the attacks on Jewish officials
have come from the liberal as well as the conservative media.

“They use code words,” Lawrence Kaplan, senior editor of The
New Republic, said of the commentators.

“Very rarely does anyone come out and say it’s a bunch of
Jews,” said Kaplan, co-author of a new book with William Kristol, “The War Over
Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission.”

In a Washington Post op-ed last month, Kaplan chastised
University of Illinois professor Paul Schroeder for comments he made in
Buchanan’s magazine — The American Conservative — that suggested the war would
be fought for Israel’s benefit and is being pushed by Jewish neo-conservatives.

Schroeder says he is trying to walk the fine line between
criticizing policy that can benefit Israel and being viewed as anti-Semitic. He
wants Americans to realize that Israel has more to gain from this war than the
United States.

Kaplan says the problem is not that people are saying a war
with Iraq would help Israel, it’s the insinuation that Jewish and Zionist
members of the Bush administration are drumming up the war for Israel’s benefit.

He notes that there are many non-Jewish advocates for war in
the Bush staff, such as Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but they are never mentioned in these
articles that speak of Israel’s interests.

Jewish leaders are reaching out to senior Bush
administration officials, asking them to think about the ramifications their
comments related to a war could have for the Jewish community.

But because Jewish leaders do not see the rash of remarks as
a conspiracy, they say it is easier to address each comment individually,
rather than speaking out publicly.

Israel’s interests are not the only rationale given by
anti-war protesters for the impending military action. They also cite Iraq’s
oil reserves, as well as the personal vendetta Bush may have — both because of
his father’s last go-round with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and because
Saddam later tried to assassinate his father.

But the comments about a war for Israel could cause an
anti-Jewish response if the war goes poorly, Jewish officials say.

Kaplan said even if the war is successful, the statements
lead to a perception that the United States is placing the interests of another
country ahead of its own.

Kenya Attacks Blur Lines of Terrorism

The attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya are not expected to divert the United States from a possible war with Iraq — or change U.S. limits on Israel’s response to Palestinian terror. One immediate effect of the Nov. 28 attacks, thought to be the work of Al Qaeda, may be a subtle change in the way Israel is perceived in the context of the war on terror.

Until now, the Bush administration has tried to distinguish between terror attacks like those of Sept. 11 and Palestinian terror attacks against Israel. Essentially, the administration has argued that the U.S. struggle is an uncompromising one against terrorists bent on destroying democratic values, while Israel’s war is a nationalistic dispute that must be solved through negotiations.

While the administration has condemned both kinds of attacks, some have argued that the distinction granted a sort of legitimacy — at least in many parts of the West — to Palestinian terrorism.

But last week’s attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and an Israeli passenger plane in Kenya may blur those lines, analysts said.

"It highlights the fact that the myth — that all terror against Israel is because it occupies Palestinian territories — is wrong," said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The blurring of the line between Palestinian and other terrorism may make Arab support harder to come by if the United States goes to war against Iraq, a State Department official said.

Arab states have been leery of what they see as the war on terror’s disproportionate focus on Arab and Muslim states. Their resistance to an Iraq war may rise if the Kenya attacks are subsumed into the war on terror and Arabs begin to believe that the United States is attacking Baghdad because of the attacks on Israel.

The attacks initially were claimed by an unknown group calling itself the Army of Palestine, but both Israel and the United States believe the attacks were carried out by Al Qaeda.

"Despite the name of the group that claimed responsibility, this does not seem to be a perceived act of Palestinian nationalism," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

An Internet posting attributed to Al Qaeda claims responsibility for the attacks. A "Letter to the American People," also purportedly from Al Qaeda and posted to the Internet several days before the Kenya attacks, for the first time defines support for Israel as the root cause of Al Qaeda’s hatred of the United States.

Analysts say the use of the front name indicates that Al Qaeda is trying to capitalize on the Palestinian issue to build support.

For Israel, the attacks may garner more sympathy from the American public and the Bush administration, but they are not expected to ease U.S. constraints on Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorism. They also are not expected to alter the U.S. position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be solved diplomatically, or change U.S. backing for the "road map" toward peace crafted by the diplomatic "Quartet" of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Israel probably will still find limits to the steps it can take against Palestinian terrorists, experts say.

The State Department frequently has criticized Israel for "targeted killings" and other tactics against Palestinian terrorists. Any Israeli actions that cause civilian casualties still will likely earn American reprimands. However, Israel may be given more leeway to strike at the perpetrators of the Kenya attacks.

"We recognize it creates pressure for the Israeli leadership," one State Department official said. "The Israeli people desire to have justice done as well."

If Israel does launch an attack with U.S. blessing, it will be a shift in policy for the Bush administration, which has tried to keep Israeli military action to a minimum during the run-up to a possible U.S. war with Iraq.

But the State Department seems to understand that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may feel it necessary to respond to preserve political face, especially as Israeli elections approach next month.

Israeli officials hope the Kenya attacks also will solidify perceptions of Israel as a victim of terrorism, and lead to an increase in international and American support. The attacks may make it easier for the United States approve up to $10 billion in loan guarantees and an extra $200 million in emergency aid for Israel. But the United States is not likely to shift its policies on the war against terrorism because of the Kenya attacks.

"Our problem with Al Qaeda didn’t need this to get people’s attention," Alterman said. "It highlights the importance of a global war on terrorism, with the emphasis on global."