Romney: Israeli-Palestinian conflict ‘unsolvable’ [VIDEO]


[JTA] Mitt Romney told fundraisers in a private meeting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “unsolvable” and that his strategy would be to “kick the ball down the field.”

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, 'There's just no way',” Romney said at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton hosted by Marc Leder, a private equity manager.

A video of the private $50,000 a plate event was released this week by Mother Jones.

“And so what you do is you say, 'You move things along the best way you can',” Romney continued. “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

Romney and his surrogates have otherwise striven to defend the two-state outcome within the Republican Party, and rebuffed an effort in August to have it removed from the party platform.

Another passage in the fundraising video, in which Romney says 47 percent of voters would vote for President Obama because they feel “entitled” to health care, food and housing, and that these voters do not pay income tax, has dominated headlines, and has led Romney to stand by the comments, while acknowledging they were not “elegantly stated.”

In the video, Romney also says that his team of political consultants includes some who have worked for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

[REUTERS] On the West Bank, Palestinians said Romney was wrong to accuse them of not seeking peace.

“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”

Iran policy reveals split between U.S. Jewish and Israeli left


Israel’s highest-ranking female soldier, Brig. Gen. Yisraela Oron, was sounding all the right notes for her J Street hosts.

At the tail end of a U.S. tour for the left-wing pro-Israel lobby, Oron was lending her considerable security credentials to its platform: a two-state solution, territorial concessions by Israel and a robust U.S. peacemaking role.

The conversation with a group of reporters then turned to Iran and its nuclear potential, and Oron was unequivocal: yes to engagement, but on a timetable that would be tied to punishing sanctions.

“The thing that worries me and that worries other Israelis is that it is not limited in time,” Oron said as the faces of her J Street hosts turned anxious, adding that “I’m not sure I’m expressing the J Street opinion.”

She was not. J Street explicitly opposes a timetable and has reservations about proposed additional sanctions.

The awkward moment pointed to a potential split between left-wing pro-Israel groups and the Israeli constituents for whom they claim to speak. Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian issue, little dissent exists among Israeli politicians over how to deal with Iran.

That puts left-wing U.S. Jewish groups at odds with Israeli left-wingers.

“There is a more hawkish perception among virtually all circles in Israel” than there is in the United States, said Yossi Alpher, a consultant who has worked with Americans for Peace Now. “It’s very natural. Iran doesn’t say the U.S. has no right to exist and doesn’t do the equivalent of denying the Holocaust. It doesn’t deploy proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah against the United States and on its borders.”

Right now, the differences are not pronounced—the administrations of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are virtually on the same page on the need to confront Iran, and soon. That could change, however, if Iran makes a serious counter offer to Obama’s proposal to engage.

Last week, the Iranians said they had made such an offer. Its details are not known, but it will be part of the “reassessment” Obama has pledged to complete by the end of September, when the major world powers meet at the U.N. General Assembly.

“If Iran engages and the Obama administration argues that a deal has been made, the Israeli government will be very wary,” Alpher said. “This could immediately create a whole world of suspicions.”

Under those circumstances, the vast majority of American Jewish voters who backed Obama last year would be faced with the first either-or U.S. vs. Israel issue in decades, and groups that describe themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace will find themselves for the first time speaking for virtually no one in Israel on a critical issue.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will lobby in Washington on Sept. 10 and rally outside the General Assembly on Sept. 24 for sanctions that would end the export of refined petroleum to Iran, which imports 40 percent of its refined oil.

On Israel’s left, the Labor Party, currently part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, aggressively backs sanctions. Its leader and the current defense minister, Ehud Barak, makes Iran’s isolation the centerpiece of his exchanges with his counterparts in the West.

The smaller Meretz Party, to Labor’s left, also backs Iran’s isolation. It routinely frames its arguments for robust peacemaking in terms of the need to contain Iran’s ambitions.

Former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin tells audiences that Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister who launched the Oslo process in 1993, did so principally because of his fears of Iran. Beilin told a German audience last year that he “advocates increased sanctions towards Iran in order to stop centrifugal uranium programs.”

Avshalom Vilan, a Meretz Knesset member until March, was a forceful advocate of reaching out to the nations most able to wound Iran’s economy, including Germany and India.

Across the ocean, however, left-wing U.S. Jewish groups—not to mention non-Jewish left-wing groups—are against more sanctions.

Americans for Peace Now has the most pronounced opposition.

“We don’t think crippling sanctions are right if the meaning of that is that the sanctions will not be targeted against Iran’s governments and leaders but will target Iranian people,” spokesman Ori Nir said. “We think that’s not only morally wrong but is also strategically perilous.”

Other left-wing groups also hedge on the prospect of sanctions.

The Israel Policy Forum, in a July 15 paper, encouraged engagement and said threats of enhanced sanctions were “not necessary” because Iran’s leadership knew they were forthcoming.

The most recent statement from Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, dated July 2008, rejects “diplomatic isolation or veiled threats of military action” and advocates “utilizing diplomatic and economic incentives and sanctions together.”

In a policy statement, J Street says it does not oppose further sanctions “in principle,” but “under the current circumstances, it is our view that ever harsher sanctions at this time are unlikely to cause the Iranian regime to cease weapons development.” Engagement should “not be conducted with a stopwatch,” it said.

The Reform movement, which often aligns with the left-wing groups on Israel-Palestinian matters, is a bit closer to the Israeli position when it comes to Iran.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform’s Religious Action Center, disputes Americans for Peace Now’s contention that the proposed enhanced sanctions are immoral.

“These were chosen as a much more targeted way to put the maximum pressure on the power structure in Iran,” he said.

The other left-wing pro-Israel groups arrived at their Iran policies partly because of their alliance with an array of liberal Democrats wary of engaging Iran in the wake of the Iraq War and its resultant quagmire. Behind the scenes, these groups have sought sanctions that would not harm ordinary Iranians.

Supporters of tougher sanctions argue that sanctions targeting the regime have been in place for years and have had little effect.

Shai Franklin, a senior fellow for U.N. affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said that gravitating away from deference to Israeli constituencies may be healthy for some U.S. Jewish groups.

“It makes the conversation more interesting, and once that happens you’ll find more people getting involved, from the right and left,” he said.

Steven Spiegel of the Israel Policy Forum said differences might emerge next month over the pacing and intensity of sanctions.

“The Iran difference is part of a differentiation that has got to be addressed,” he said. “At some point there has to be a serious dialogue between American Jews and Israel and the Obama administration and Israel.”

One tactic might be to remind Israel that Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran appears to have rallied support in Europe in recent weeks for tougher sanctions.

“The doves,” Spiegel said, “accomplished what the hawks could not.”

Analysis: Gaza crisis is opportunity for Obama


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Does the mini-war underway between Israel and Hamas in and around the Gaza Strip present President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration with a crisis or an opportunity?

Israel’s aerial bombardment, the most intensive in the Gaza Strip in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has killed at least 320 people, most of them militants belonging to the terrorist group Hamas, although tens of children were reported dead in surprise attacks on the crowded strip.

The assault, which started Saturday, came after days of intensified rocket attacks launched from Gaza on Israel’s southern towns and farms. The Palestinian rocket fire, launched even before a Hamas-Israel ceasefire formally lapsed Dec. 19, has killed at least four Israelis and is emptying the south of its residents. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, warned of “all-out war,” possibly including a land invasion

Buried beneath the fretting over whether the renewed conflict would kill talks between Israel and the relatively moderate leadership of the Palestinian Authority were hints that it could in fact bolster the negotiations, if only by marginalizing Hamas. That, in turn, could help Obama clear the ground for a breakthrough, a prospect Obama’s team seemed to recognize by limiting its reactions to expressions of support for Israel.

“He’s going to work closely with the Israelis,” David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday when asked about the outbreak. “They’re a great ally of ours, the most important ally in the region. And that is a fundamental principle from which he’ll work.”

Washington pundits and officials in European capitals are casting the flare up as a crisis that could scuttle Obama’s stated intention of developing talks — first launched a year ago by the Bush administration — into a final status agreement.

Jackson Diehl, the deputy editor of the Washington Post’s editorial page, said the war was the final failure for Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister who is to leave office by March to face corruption charges. “His failure represents another missed opportunity for Middle East peace — and probably means that the incoming Obama administration, like the incoming Bush administration of 2001, will inherit both a new round of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed and a new Israeli government indisposed to compromise,” Diehl wrote in Monday’s Post.

Meanwhile, Israel is casting the war first of all as one of necessity: The bombardment of Israel’s south, in the days before Israel launched its aerial counter attacks, at times reached 70 rockets a day. The effect has been to devastate the region’s economy and to create levels of anxiety that Israelis regard as intolerable; the retaliatory strikes earned the support of the vast majority of Israelis in weekend polling.

Sallai Meridor, the Israeli envoy to Washingtons, cautioned that the action was not undertaken with the peace process in mind. “The direct reason for these activities is to remove a threat over the head of 500,000 Israelis — not a theoretical threat, a real one,” Meridor told JTA. “Three were killed only today. No country would sacrifice its citizens to terror.”

Meridor added, however, that an Israeli success could have salutary effects on the peace process. “Indirectly, the chances for peace are dependent on the weakening of the enemies of peace. If Hamas strengthens, the chances of peace weaken; if Hamas weakens, it contributes to the chances of peace.”

In remarks Sunday to his Cabinet, Olmert said the aim was to “restore normal life and quiet to residents of the south who — for many years — have suffered from unceasing rocket and mortar fire and terrorism designed to disrupt their lives and prevent them from enjoying a normal, relaxed and quiet life, as the citizen of any country is entitled to.”

Another factor might be political calculation. Little love is lost between Olmert and his government partners: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has assumed control of his Kadima Party, and Barak, who heads the Labor Party. Yet Olmert, Livni and Barak are united in hopes of keeping Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition Likud Party who has vowed to bring talks with the Palestinian to a halt, from coming to power; the first post-assault polls show their chances of doing that substantially improving.

The effect Israel’s current leadership sought was not simply to remind the public that doves are capable of defending Israel, but that the onslaught would help reinforce the current round of talks. The aim, Director of the Shin Bet security service Yuval Diskin suggested at the weekly Cabinet meeting, is to isolate Hamas. “The mood among a not unsubstantial part of the Palestinian population understands that the operation is against Hamas, which has inflicted great suffering on the residents of Gaza,” Diskin said in remarks relayed by Oved Yehezkel, the Cabinet secretary.

That approach was echoed by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, in remarks Monday on P.A. television.

“I say in all honesty, we made contact with leaders of the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip,” Abbas said in a translation made available by Palestinian Media Watch. “We spoke with them in all honesty and directly, and after that we spoke with them indirectly, through more than one Arab and non-Arab side … We spoke with them on the telephone and we said to them: We ask of you, don’t stop the ceasefire, the ceasefire must continue and not stop, in order to avoid what has happened, and if only we had avoided it.”

Ziad Asali, an Abbas ally who founded the American Task Force on Palestine, said it was notable that Abbas and other Arab leaders were muted in their calls on Israel to draw back.

“There is a certain withholding of outright support” for Hamas “that usually would accrue to any party in active conflict with Israel,” he said.

Arab frustration with Hamas stemmed from its refusal until now to defer to Abbas as the lead negotiator in peace talks and its insistence on armed conflict as the only way to confront Israel, Asali said.

“There is no military solution to this conflict,” he said. “At the end of the day there has to be a negotiating process, and the people who are clearly authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians are the P.A. folks.”

He warned, however, that there was a limited window to exploit Hamas’ marginalization, and joined a number of dovish pro-Israel groups — including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum — in calling for an immediate cease-fire.

“We don’t know how the parties on the ground will react,” Asali said. “We see ever increasing human suffering in Gaza that would add to the pressure to bring about some kind of ceasefire.”

Should the bloodshed intensify, the sufferings of ordinary Palestinians, joined with public outrage on the “Arab street” with Israel’s actions and the chaotic nature of the conflict, could turn an opportunity into a crisis — and an Obama administration faced with a crisis on Jan. 21 might not be equipped to respond.

“The issue is how urgently they would prioritize this conflict,” Asali said.

Hamas’ responsibility for re-launching hostilities, coupled with a desire to corner the terrorist group into deferring to Abbas’ negotiations with Israel, was likely behind the near unanimous backing in Washington for Israel’s actions.

Most significant was the Obama transition team’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s right to respond, albeit expressed with the requisite deference to George W. Bush as the sitting president.

“The president-elect recognizes the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” Axelord, Obama’s adviser, said on CBS. “It’s an important bond, an important relationship. He’s going to honor it. And he wants to be a constructive force in helping to bring about the peace and security that both the Israelis and the Palestinians want and deserve. And obviously, this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks as Hamas began its shelling and Israel responded.”

Pressed, Axelrod suggested Obama’s strategy would be shaped by his own visit over the summer to Israel’s frontlines.

“He said then that when the bombs are raining down on your citizens, there is an urge to respond and act and try and put an end to that,” Axelrod said. “You know, that’s what he said then, and I think that’s what he believes.”

The Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties also issued statements squarely blaming Hamas, followed up with pleas to Israel to curb civilian casualties.

“Peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot result from daily barrages of rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza,” U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement. “Hamas and its supporters must understand that Gaza cannot and will not be allowed to be a sanctuary for attacks on Israel. “

The White House sounded a similar note: “Hamas’ continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people. The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza.”

ANALYSIS: Who advises McCain and Obama?


WASHINGTON (JTA) — When the question of recognizing Israel landed on President Harry Truman’s desk in May 1948, he had to balance the advice of his old friend, Clark Clifford, against the general he deeply admired, George Marshall.

In the end Truman went with his friend, recognizing the new Jewish state.

It may be easy to read too much into who a candidate’s advisers are during an election campaign, but it’s also risky to avoid the tea leaves.

Obama’s Advisers

In sizing up the candidates’ advisers, most of the scrutiny in the Jewish community has been on Barack Obama — in part because of his inexperience on the national stage and in part because of Republican campaign tactics.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has issued a string of statements and ” title=”Dennis Ross”>Dennis Ross, who played a lead role in peace talks during the first Bush and Clinton presidencies. Ross is now at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is joined by a staff that has leaned more toward neo-conservatism — and Republicans — than he has. Ross’ position at the institute is a testament to his ability to cross the aisle — an approach that jibes with Obama’s insistence that he will be a bipartisan president.

Ross is widely respected in the Jewish community but has been criticized in more conservative circles for what critics say was his failure to hold Yasser Arafat accountable for failing to live up to Palestinian commitments.

In his 2004 book, Ross made it eminently clear that at times he found then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be untrustworthy. But Ross also has insisted that the United States and Israel should have done more to hold the Palestinians to their agreements — and has consistently blamed Arafat for the failure to reach a final settlement at the end of the Clinton administration.

Ross has criticized the Bush administration for not being engaged enough in peace talks — but also for announcing unrealistic goals for achieving a two-state solution.

By contrast, he told JTA, an Obama admnistration would play a more hands-on role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking — but also steer clear of any “artificial” timelines. He says the creation of a Palestinian state is impossible so long as Hamas controls Gaza.

For these reasons, Ross has suggested, Obama’s emphasis would be more on Iran. Ross is one of the principle architects of Obama’s Iran policy: engagement induced through tough sanctions. His laundry list of possible new sanctions aimed at getting Iran to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program — the re-insurance industry, refined petrol exporters, central bank — echoes exactly those of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby.

Obama’s other key advisers include:

  • Anthony Lake, Clinton’s first national security adviser and an early Obama backer, apparently hopes to return the post. A relatively recent convert to Judaism, Lake has said that rallying the international community to further isolate Iran would be Obama’s first foreign policy priority.
  • Mara Rudman, a deputy on the Clinton national security team, also could end up in an Obama administration. Since leaving government, she served as a deputy to Lawrence Eagleberger, the former secretary of state, during his chairmanship of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. Last year, she helped launch Middle East Progress, a group that puts out a thrice-weekly e-mail bulletin partly to counter the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization’s influential Daily Bulletin, which has been accused of having a sharp neo-conservative tilt.
  • Dan Shapiro and Eric Lynn are two Obama campaign officials who straddle the policy and politics arms of the campaign. Lynn is Shapiro’s deputy. Both help shape policy — Shapiro is said to be the lead writer on Obama’s Middle East speeches — and both spend a lot of time campaigning in the Jewish community. Both also have Florida connections and can boast of insider status in the pro-Israel community. Lynn was an intern at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 1998; Shapiro played a major role in drafting the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, that year’s marquee victory for AIPAC.
  • Daniel Kurtzer joined the Obama camp during the primaries. President Clinton made him the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to Egypt, and the current President Bush went one better, making him the first Orthodox Jewish U.S. ambassador to Israel. Kurtzer, who left the diplomatic corps in 2005 after his Israel stint for a teaching job at Princeton University, may have the most dovish views on the foreign policy team.

    Prior to joining the campaign this year, Kurtzer co-authored a U.S. Institute of Peace tract that advocated equal pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. While he was ambassador to Israel, the Zionist Organization of America pressed Bush to fire him. But Kurtzer’s Jewish street cred has helped alleviate concern in many pro-Israel circles — in addition to his stint in Israel, Kurtzer is a product of Yeshiva University and trains kids for bar mitzvah.

  • The word from Obama circles is that two Republican senators — Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who is retiring and whose wife has endorsed Obama, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — could end up in an Obama administration.

    Both men have shared Obama’s concerns about the conduct of the Iraq war. Of the two Republicans, Hagel is the more problematic for the pro-Israel community. He didn’t make friends last year when he told an Arab American Institute dinner that his support for Israel was not “automatic.” Lugar has not made such missteps, but his willingness to criticize Israeli policies in Senate hearings and his advocacy of direct dialogue with Iran have raised eyebrows.

McCain’s Advisers

” title=”self-described Independent Democrat”>self-described Independent Democrat for secretary of state. Lieberman’s longstanding friendship with McCain and a shared commitment to a tough interventionist neo-conservative foreign policy led to an endorsement a year ago that helped McCain resuscitate his campaign in New Hampshire.
  • James Woolsey, like Lieberman, is one of a small army of “Scoop” Jackson Democrats at the core of the McCain campaign: Like their late idol Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), who ran a couple of abortive presidential campaigns in the 1970s, they are domestic liberals who have set aside social differences to join conservatives in pressing what they consider the more urgent matter: American preeminence overseas.

    Woolsey, a Clinton administration CIA director, is a tough-minded environmentalist: According to Mother Jones, a Web site devoted to investigative journalism, Woolsey drives a hybrid car plastered with the sticker “Bin Laden Hates This Car.” Early on he pressed for the Iraq war, and he is notorious for being among the first to blame Iraq — erroneously — for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also exemplifies how the McCain campaign talks tough about confronting Iran while emphasizing behind-the-scenes that the military option should be a last resort.

  • Randy Scheunemann, like Shapiro in the Obama campaign, straddles policy and politics in the McCain campaign. A veteran of years on Capitol Hill who worked principally for former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and an icon among neo-conservatives, Scheunemann has shaped some of the toughest campaign attacks on Obama, including those related to Obama’s stated willingness to sit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Scheunemann also led efforts to pitch the Iraq war to the American public prior to the invasion.

    In recent years, Scheunemann has lobbied for a number of nations seeking membership in NATO. His expertise on Georgia helped McCain gain the upper hand over a flustered Obama during the crisis over the summer when Russia invaded Georgia.

    Scheunemann is also close to the pro-Israel community. Working with Lott, he authored the 1995 legislation that would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; a year later, Scheunemann’s advice led Bob Dole — the Republican presidential candidate that year — to pledge to do so. This year, McCain has picked up that pledge.

  • Max Boot is too young to have been an architect of neo-conservatism; at times he embraces the term and at times he chafes at it.

    A historian who is probably the McCain adviser most steeped in theory and least steeped in policy-making, Boot wrote the definitive article arguing for the expansion of American power in the wake of 9/11. At a recent retreat organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Boot said a McCain administration would de-emphasize Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian talks to an even greater degree than the Bush administration (though McCain and his running mate both have suggested that the Arab-Israeli peace process would be a top priority). Boot, currently a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, says the late push by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is regrettable.

  • Richard Williamson is President Bush’s special envoy to Sudan. His work pressing the regime to end the genocide in its Darfur region have deepened his ties with the Jewish community, which date back to Williamson’s time as a member of the Reagan administration’s U.N. team.

    Williamson’s pre-campaign writings are very much in the realist camp. A veteran of disarmament talks, he wrote an article in 2003 for the Chicago Journal of International Law praising the efficacy of multilateral treaties, a bugbear of neo-conservatives. But Williamson’s shift at the recent Washington Institute retreat to neo-conservative talking points could be a signal of how much McCain has invested in that camp.

    At the retreat, Williamson suggested that a McCain administration would not avidly pursue Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, and he touted McCain’s proposal for a “league of democracies,” a repudiation of conventional thinking on multilateralism.

    Ehud Olmert should be indicted, Israeli police tell prosecutors


    JERUSALEM (JTA)—Ehud Olmert should be indicted on corruption charges, Israeli police recommended Sunday.

    Bribery is the most serious of the charges that police recommended against the prime minister to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Others include fraud, breach of trust and money laundering.

    The corruption charges stem from two investigations of Olmert. In the Rishon Tours double billing affair, he allegedly used money from charitable organizations to fund family trips. In the Talansky affair, Olmert is alleged to have received illegal contributions from American businessman Morris Talansky over the course of 15 years.

    Police are still reviewing evidence in a third case; Olmert is under investigation in six cases.

    The recommendations, along with investigative material, will be passed on to the state prosecutor’s office. Once the material is passed on and a hearing held for Olmert, the prosecutor’s office will make a decision on filing an indictment in about two weeks.

    Police also recommended charging Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken.

    A statement from the Prime Ministers Office called the recommendations “meaningless.”

    McCain accepts nomination, offers little new on Israel, Iran


    ST. PAUL, Minn. (JTA)—John McCain used his convention speech Thursday to unveil his game plan for claiming the mantle of real change: Shore up support among conservatives by touting traditional Republican positions while appealing to undecided voters by criticizing his party’s actual performance and promising to work across party lines.

    In the process, he offered little new on Israel and Iran—possibly because of Republican confidence that the party has the upper hand over Democrats on those issues.

    Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) accepted the Republican Party’s nomination on the final night of the convention in St. Paul with a speech that promised a Washington shake-up.

    “Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second, Washington crowd: Change is coming,” McCain said to cheers.

    The McCain campaign has striven to undercut claims by the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), to real change—a tough proposition given his advantage of being a Democrat after eight years of Bush administration rule, including six years when Republicans controlled Congress. Making the challenge even tougher is McCain’s commitment to a long string of conventional Republican domestic and foreign-policy staples.

    Stll, McCain offered a clear break from the increasingly bitter mood in Washington: He pledged to work with Democrats and independents once elected.

    “Instead of rejecting good ideas because we didn’t think of them first, let’s use the best ideas from both sides,” McCain said.

    The nominee already has made clear his most senior adviser on foreign policy—and on some areas of domestic policy—will be Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the former Democrat who became the first Jew to make a national ticket when he was tapped as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000.

    Not much in terms of policy appeared to distinguish McCain from Bush, whose unpopularity ratings are at about 65 percent, according to polls.

    This is partly because, in one critical area, dealing with Iraq, Bush in recent years has caught up with McCain: Bush has increased troops, a policy that has gone some way toward stemming the chaos that ensued in that country after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

    On education, taxes, trade and immigration, McCain appears to be on the same page as Bush. If there was a difference between the two that came out in the speech Thursday, it was one of emphasis: In his speech, McCain barely mentioned the social conservatism that characterized much of the Bush administration. He included one passing mention to a “culture of life,” a code for opposition to abortion.

    McCain opposes abortion, but has shown little taste for legislating it out of existence; additionally, unlike many Christian conservatives, he supports embryonic stem-cell research.

    Israel did not get a mention in McCain’s speech, but McCain alluded to Israel’s concerns at two points.

    First, when he outlined unfinished foreign policy business: “Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism, and is on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons,” McCain said. The other reference was in outlining a pledge to promote energy independence—one Obama also has adopted but without going as far as McCain in pushing for more drilling in the United States.

    “We’re going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much,” McCain said. The world’s major oil producers include such countries as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia.

    When the Middle East came up during the Republican convention, it often did so in conjunction with hopes for energy independence. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s vice presidential pick, also linked the two in her speech Wednesday night.

    Republicans’ confidence that McCain will claim a greater share of the Jewish vote this November compared to recent presidential elections was evident on the margins of the convention.

    Polls have shown McCain claiming at least 32 percent in November, a leap from the 25 percent Bush won in 2004. This, despite the Obama campaign’s efforts in recent months to stress its support for Israel and its commitment to tougher action against Iran.

    Lawmakers attending a Republican Jewish Coalition event on Thursday returned constantly to the theme of McCain being a more proven friend of Israel than Obama.

    “If you care about the United States of America, if you care about Israel, this election is absolutely critical,” said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). Nevada is in play this election and its growing Jewish population could prove critical in November.

    At the same event, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to imply that the Democratic Party isn’t pro-Israel.

    “There’s an important and fundamental difference between the two parties in Washington, and I know you’re not going to be fooled by Democrats claiming that just because they’re for foreign assistance to Israel that they’re pro-Israel,” McConnell said. “Israel’s security and U.S. security are inextricably intertwined and they involve… having an assertive, aggressive proactive approach to danger.”

    Such harsh rhetoric echoed the sharp attacks against Obama delivered by Palin and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in their speeches the night before.

    On McCain’s night, however, the nominee ultimately appeared to take his cues from Lieberman, who in his speech Tuesday night painted the GOP nominee as a maverick willing to buck his own party and work with Democrats when the national interest required it.

    Biden, Palin lead campaign clash on Mideast


    ST. PAUL (JTA)—The two vice-presidential candidates led the way Wednesday as the Obama and McCain campaigns worked to draw clear battle lines on Iran and Israel.

    In a highly anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention, Alaska Gov. and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin mocked U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for saying more than a year ago that as president he would meet the leaders of pariah states unconditionally.

    “Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay—he wants to meet them without preconditions,” she said during her acceptance speech Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center here.

    Palin’s address followed a speech by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the most popular candidate among Jewish GOPers in the primaries. Giuliani warmed up the crowd with swipes at Obama, including an assertion that the Democratic nominee had flip-flopped on the issue of Jerusalem.

    “When speaking to a pro-Israeli group, Obama favored an undivided Jerusalem, like I favor and John McCain favors it,” Giuliani said. “Well, he favored an undivided Jerusalem—don’t get excited—until one day later when he changed his mind.”

    Earlier in the day, the Democrats launched their own Middle East-related attack when Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), used a 20-minute conference call with members of the Jewish media to blast the Bush administration and McCain, the Republican presidential nominee and longtime Arizona senator.

    Biden blamed the Bush administration’s sluggish diplomatic efforts for slowing up Israeli-Palestinian talks and paving the way for the ascendancy of Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. The Democratic vice presidential candidate argued that the administration has failed to respect Israel’s autonomy, citing reports that the White House at one time directed Israel not to engage in talks with Syria. And he appeared to reject the administration’s reported efforts to block Israel from taking military action against Iran.

    “This is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do,” Biden said. “I have faith in the democracy of Israel. They will arrive at the right decision that they view as being in their own interests.”

    That said, Biden added, the Bush administration could have done much more on the diplomatic front to help avert the potential need for military action.

    Taken together, Biden’s press call and the GOP convention speeches underscored the ramped-up efforts by both campaigns to paint the other side as promoting a reckless foreign policy that would endanger Israel and undermine U.S. interests.

    They come as polls suggest that Obama commands about 60 percent of the Jewish vote—a solid majority, but at least 15 points below the percentages recorded by recent Democratic presidential candidates.

    Even as both sides attempted to draw stark distinctions on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, it was unclear if any exist. The clearest gap appears to be on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

    McCain has said he would do so when he enters office. In response, the Obama campaign accused McCain of lying.

    The last two presidents made the same promise during their campaigns, but neither Bush nor Bill Clinton over the past 16 years ever even made an attempt to actually carry out that promise.

    On the wider question of Jerusalem’s final status, however, it’s not clear that the candidates disagree.

    Obama felt the need to clarify comments he made on the issue to thousands of pro-Israel activists in June, but both he and McCain have expressed essentially the same views: They share Israel’s concerns and say ultimately the two sides must decide the matter in negotiations.

    Though for years the Bush administration was reluctant to dive into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, McCain has pledged to do so. Both he and Obama favor a two-state solution, place most of the blame on the Palestinians for the failure to reach one, and back efforts to isolate Hamas and shore up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

    On Iran, however, the disagreements appear more pronounced—between Obama and the Bush administration and between the two presidential campaigns.

    In mocking Obama’s stated willingness to meet with the president of Iran, Palin was echoing a longstanding line of attack against Obama employed not only by Republicans but by Obama’s main rival in the Democratic primaries, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

    Since Obama first made the remark during a primary debate more than a year ago, he appears to have backtracked, saying he would require extensive preparations before such a meeting.

    Still, Obama and Biden have stuck to the view that hard-nosed talks between the United States and Iran could ultimately lead Tehran to change its behavior—and, failing that, make it easier to build international support for tougher sanctions and possible military action against the Islamic regime.

    McCain, on the other hand, has scoffed at the notion that talking with top Iranian leaders would do any good. At the same time, McCain has opposed several congressional measures backed by Obama that supporters say would place increased economic pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear pursuits.

    Biden argued during the conference call that the net result of McCain’s positions is that he’s offering a choice between “unacceptable status quo or war.”

    “There’s nothing in between with the McCain doctrine—nothing,” Biden said. “That is no option. That is a Hobson’s choice.”

    In her speech Wednesday night, Palin expanded the Iran debate, arguing that the energy policies she favors—in particular, expanding oil drilling in the United States, especially Alaska—would help diminish the Iranian threat.

    “To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries,” Palin said, “we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas.”

    (Editor Ami Eden contributed in New York to this report.)

    In economy-focused State of the Union speech, Bush offers no new Mideast ideas


    Just weeks after his first presidential visit to Israel, President Bush made clear his priority for his final year in office: the economy, stupid.

    If the president has a Middle East breakthrough up his sleeve, he was not ready to reveal it Monday in the State of the Union address that precedes his last year in office.

    The vast majority of Bush’s speech was dedicated to proposals to stimulate the U.S. economy and to defending his Iraq policies. His plans for Israeli-Palestinian peace and for confronting Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program were given short shrift toward the end.

    The president cast Israeli-Palestinian peace as part of the broader struggle against Iraqi insurgents, segueing from what he said was the success of his “surge” policy in that country to his recent visit to Israel and the West Bank.

    “We’re also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope,” he said. “Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security.”

    “This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year. The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side by side in peace,” he said.

    That led into Iran. An assessment by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies last year, which found that Iran had halted a covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, already had cast a pall over the Bush administration’s attempts to ratchet up international sanctions against the Islamic Republic to push it toward greater transparency.

    Bush has all but made explicit his frustration with the National Intelligence Estimate and his belief that it underestimates Iran’s determination to revive such a program. Yet the State of the Union speech notably abjured mention of any new sanctions, confining itself to standard warnings.

    “Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment so negotiations can begin,” Bush said in remarks aimed at Iran. “And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, cease your support for terror abroad. But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.”

    In the long domestic portion of his speech, what was significant for Jewish groups watching — and anxiously awaiting Bush’s final budget, to be handed down next month — was not what he said but what he didn’t.

    Jewish social action groups, led by the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization, are focused on cuts in recent years to health-care assistance to the elderly and to uninsured children. Bush’s comment on health care, much like his bromides about Middle East peace and Iran, were confined to recommitments to increased incentives for Americans to get private health care.

    “We share a common goal: making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans,” he said. “The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control.”

    More substantially, as part of his economic stimulus push, Bush said he would veto any spending bill that did not cut in half earmarks — funding amendments included in larger bills at the discretion of individual Congress members. Such earmarks have been key to funding Jewish programs for the elderly, most prominently the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities pioneered by UJC.

    UJC is also leading a coalition of 150 national and local groups pressing Bush and Congress to include in the stimulus package federal funds to help states contemplating cuts in Medicaid, the medical assistance program for the poor.

    “This kind of fiscal relief is one of the best ways to help avert painful state budget cuts and tax increases,” said the letter sent to every Congress member on Monday. “This was last used as an engine to encourage economic recovery in 2003-04.”

    That earlier boost “pumped needed funds into the economy over an 18-month period and played a vital role in helping to move us out of recession,” the letter said.

    Bush’s only mention of Medicaid was a passing reference to his proposals to “reform” entitlement programs.

    The crux of Bush’s stimulus is making tax cuts permanent. Inevitably that would undercut entitlement programs, but Jewish groups traditionally have maintained a silence on tax cuts, partly because some major donors favor the cuts and partly it is a purely partisan issue, and to oppose the cuts effectively would mean opposing the Republican Party.

    The Orthodox Union (OU) found something to praise in the domestic package, particularly in Bush’s proposal to enact his faith-based funding initiatives into law. Until now these programs have been funded by executive order, and they are likely to wither if Bush is replaced by a Democrat.

    The OU also praised a Bush proposal to expand Pell grants, the program that assists poor college students, to school-age students, effectively helping to fund tuition for private and religious schools.

    Bibi Netanyahu ranks high … as racist demagogue


    By rights, Binyamin Netanyahu, which every poll says is by far the most popular politician in Israel, should be ranked with Jean Le Pen, Jorge Haider and the rest of the Western
    world’s racist demagogues.

    But he won’t be, because anti-Arab racism in Israel is either supported or strategically ignored by the mainstream of the Jewish world and pretty much taken for granted by the non-Jewish world.

    What Netanyahu said last week was not new for him. He was reported to have made the same appeal to the same sort of audience — Charedi political leaders — a couple of years ago as finance minister. Then, as now, he was apologizing for the way his child welfare cuts had hurt large Charedi families, while at the same time asking the Charedim to look at the bright sides of that policy.

    “Two positive things happened,” he told a conference of Charedi government officials in Nir Etzion last week. “Members of the Charedi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birthrate.”

    The once and possibly future prime minister of Israel says publicly that he’s sorry his welfare cuts made life harder for Jewish families who are “blessed,” as he put it, with many children, but isn’t it “positive” that these cuts resulted in fewer Arab children being born?

    Then Netanyahu went on to suggest a national remedy for the victims of his economic policies — but for Jewish victims only, not Arab victims.

    “I don’t think that the Jewish Agency should refrain from helping part of the Jewish public in the state,” he said, “and it is possible that additional nongovernmental bodies could have done so.”

    Imagine if any non-Jewish government official in the world cited the lowering of the Jewish birthrate in his country as an accomplishment, then recommended that his country’s founding institution raise money to help poor non-Jewish families but not poor Jewish families.

    How would the Jewish world, starting with Israel, characterize such an individual? What sort of pressure would the Jewish world apply to get him or her fired, blackballed and, if possible, indicted?

    Yet everyone knows the speech in Nir Etzion will not hurt Netanyahu at all — even though, again, this is not the first time he’s said this, and even though the statements are perfectly in line with his standing as Israel’s No. 1 fear-monger on the Israeli-Arab “demographic threat.”

    (On second thought, Netanyahu is probably only No. 2 — Avigdor Lieberman, his former right-hand man and alter ego, is No. 1. When it comes to the subject of Israeli Arabs, it’s hard to tell where Netanyahu ends and Lieberman begins.)

    The worst that will happen to Netanyahu from this is that maybe another liberal commentator or two will denounce him, and there will be a press release from some civil rights organization. Maybe not even that. If, on the other hand, we’re really, really lucky, the attorney general might have a word to say.

    (FYI, even if there was a chance of it happening, I wouldn’t want to see Netanyahu indicted. If every Israeli who made racist remarks in public had to stand trial, the courts would collapse under the load.)

    The only political parties that might censure Netanyahu are the left-wing parties, and nobody cares about them. In fact, a bad word from Meretz can only help the Likud leader in the polls.

    The Anti-Defamation League won’t say anything, and neither will the other Diaspora Jewish organizations. Bibi is just too big, too popular, too important, too much a symbol of Israel for the Diaspora Jewish establishment to say a word against him, let alone accuse him of being a shameless bigot.

    “Two positive things happened: Members of the Charedi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birthrate.”

    That’s the Israeli people’s overwhelming choice for prime minister talking. I hope The New York Times, CNN and every other major news medium in the world picks up this story and doesn’t let it go until Israel and Diaspora Jewry are shamed into dumping this guy once and for all.

    On second thought, exposure as an anti-Arab racist by the international media could cause Netanyahu some problems overseas, but at home, it would only increase his appeal.

    Larry Derfner is the Tel Aviv correspondent for The Jewish Journal.

    Israeli Strategy Under Fire


    Beyond the immediate escalation, the recent Palestinian attack on an Israeli army outpost near the Gaza border raises serious questions about Israel’s security and foreign policies.

    Right-wing politicians argue that the incident, coupled with months of incessant rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians, shows that the army has lost its deterrent capacity and that it will take a massive, sustained operation in Gaza to restore it.

    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for a major unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank also is under fire, with some pundits maintaining that the latest turn of events will further erode public confidence in his pullback strategy.

    The attack, which left two Israeli soldiers dead and seven wounded, as well as one soldier kidnapped by the terrorists and brought back to Gaza, also highlighted sharp differences on the Palestinian side. It came just days before Palestinian factions were set to reach agreement on a document meant to pave the way for negotiations with Israel and was widely seen as an attempt to torpedo the deal. It also raised questions about the limits of power of both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

    With many splinter terrorist factions acting independently or taking orders from Hamas’ more radical leadership abroad, the incident raised another fundamental question: Does any Palestinian leader have enough domestic clout to deliver on a deal with Israel?

    Israel’s response was an attempt to address some of these key issues. By sending ground forces into Gaza and making sweeping arrests of Hamas Cabinet ministers and legislators in the West Bank, Israel significantly raised the stakes in its Sisyphean struggle against fundamentalist Palestinian terror. As the military response to the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit unfolded, it became clear that Israel’s war aims went far beyond the return of the abducted soldier. Dubbed “Summer Rains,” the first major military operation since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year was intended to obtain Shalit’s release, stop Qassam rocket fire on Israeli civilians, restore Israel’s deterrent capacity, cripple Hamas politically and create conditions for an effective cease-fire.

    Israel’s government was under strong domestic pressure to take tough action. The soldier’s abduction came after months of incessant rocket fire on the border town of Sderot, where residents went on a hunger strike to protest the government’s failure to protect them.

    However, that was not the only reason for the government’s new hard line. Olmert also wanted to restore dwindling public confidence in his plan for a large-scale unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. By launching a major military operation, he was testing the government’s thesis that withdrawal from territory gives Israel considerable freedom of action if terror continues from the areas handed back. If that equation is seen to work in Gaza, the prime minister believes the public will be more amenable to a similar pullback from the West Bank.

    Though there had been prior intelligence warnings before the Palestinian attack that sparked the crisis, the Palestinian gunmen surprised the Israelis early by attacking from the Israeli side and not the Gaza side of the outpost. Eight Palestinian militiamen infiltrated through a recently dug 300-yard-long tunnel, coming out well inside Israeli territory.

    They then turned back toward the border, firing at the Israelis who were facing Gaza. Two attackers were killed, while the others made it back to Gaza, taking Shalit with them.

    Israel demanded Shalit’s immediate and unconditional release, but the abductors insisted on the release of all Palestinian prisoners under age 18 and all Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli jails — in return merely for information on Shalit.

    The Palestinian leadership was divided. Abbas, who leads the Fatah movement, ordered a search for the soldier to hand him back to Israel. Haniyeh of Hamas also favored a speedy resolution of the crisis. Both realized that they had been presented with a chance to win diplomatic points and alleviate international sanctions against the Hamas led-government.

    When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last summer, it evolved a new military doctrine based on deterrence, rather than occupation. The thinking was that with the occupation of Gaza finished, Israel would have international backing to respond with overwhelming force to any attack on sovereign Israeli territory. However, this failed to create a deterrent balance.

    For months Palestinians have been firing Qassam rockets at the town of Sderot. When Israeli retaliatory shelling kills Palestinian civilians, the international outcry has been resounding.

    Right-wing politicians pressed the government to launch a large-scale attack on Gaza to restore the army’s deterrence. However, it is by no means clear that Israel’s use of force will have the desired effect.

    Israeli left-wingers argue that it could simply spawn more violence and terror. For example, they ask, what will happen in Gaza when Israel leaves: Will Palestinian forces loyal to the moderate Abbas impose order and cross-border quiet or will chaos reign, with more terror against Israel? Already Palestinian radicals are threatening megaterror attacks in Israel or on Israeli targets abroad.

    Much could depend on the outcome of a complex power struggle on the Palestinian side. For months, Abbas has been stymied by the more radical Hamas-led government under Prime Minister Haniyeh, some of whose more militant members owe allegiance to Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader abroad, who also controls most of the Hamas militias. Israeli leaders believe the escalation in violence is part of an effort by Meshal to embarrass Abbas and Haniyeh and to show who really rules Gaza.

    By arresting Hamas government ministers and legislators, Israel was trying to stack the internal Palestinian deck in Abbas’ favor. It was also sending a clear message to Meshal: That Israel will not tolerate a bogus distinction between political and military echelons, and that if Meshal and his allies continue to promote terror, Hamas could lose its hold on power.

    Meshal faces a difficult choice: seeking a compromise with Israel and very probably losing face or escalating the violence and risking even harsher Israeli measures against Hamas and becoming a target for assassination.

    In describing the Israeli military operation, Defense Minister Amir Peretz called it “one of the most significant moments in setting the rules of the game between Israel and Palestinian terror.” One of the main objectives of Summer Rains was to signal the Palestinians that the rules have changed and that Israel will not hesitate to use overwhelming force if terror from Gaza continues.

    Now it remains to be seen whether the Palestinians accept the Israeli rules as a basis for more peaceful co-existence or whether they try to find new ways to create a power balance in their favor.

     

    NGOs Feel Sting of Hamas Ban


    Nearly three months since Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority, Western governments aren’t the only ones trying to figure out how to deliver aid to the increasingly needy Palestinian population without inadvertently supporting its extremist government.

    Nongovernmental organizations — which Western governments opposed to ties with Hamas view as the most viable medium for delivering aid to the Palestinians — are themselves running into problems trying to maintain their operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    With the Palestinian Authority in disarray and Western governments still in the process of defining what is permissible vis-?-vis links to the Hamas-run government, many nonprofit groups operating in Palestinian areas are facing serious funding problems, confusion about whom they are allowed to talk to and work with, and the challenge of having to establish ties with a completely new — and far less institutionalized — Palestinian bureaucracy.

    The situation is nothing short of a crisis, many officials with these groups, sometimes known as NGOs, here say.

    “I have never seen as much policy confusion in government as I have seen when Hamas was elected in the Palestinian Authority,” said John Bell, director of the Jerusalem office of Search for Common Ground in the Middle East.

    “Who can we have contact with? Can we be in the same room as a Hamas person? There are many legal issues for us to consider,” Bell said. “Unfortunately, we’re a bit in the realm of the absurd.”

    A variety of officials from nonprofits operating in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip discussed the challenges of operating in Hamas-run territory at a conference last week on nonprofits, human rights and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The forum, hosted by NGO Monitor, was held June 14 at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.

    Many officials from nonprofit groups complained that American, European and Israeli restrictions on contacts with the Hamas government are too far-reaching, threatening nonpolitical and even pro-peace activities, such as the teaching of coexistence curricula in Palestinian schools. Because those schools are now under the aegis of Hamas, coordination with officials from the Palestinian Education Ministry is now banned by Western governments.

    “It’s virtually impossible to fund Palestinian society today in the West Bank without encountering Hamas,” said Daniel Seideman, legal adviser to Ir Amim, an Israeli group that advocates for a binational Jerusalem and promotes services to Palestinian residents of the city.

    But many Western observers argue that the funding crisis in the Palestinian Authority — precipitated by Western sanctions — is a necessary part of getting the Hamas-run government to abandon terrorism.

    “This crisis is necessary and overdue,” said Saul Singer, an Israeli newspaper columnist who spoke at the conference. The idea, Singer explained, is to use the crisis to force Hamas to accept the principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    “We’re talking about a game of chicken here,” Singer said, between the principles of Hamas, a terrorist group that mandates Israel’s destruction, on the one hand, and the principles of the international community — abandonment of terrorism, recognition of Israel and acceptance of existing Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements — on the other.

    “I think Hamas should give in,” Singer said.

    While this game is played, however, groups funded by Western governments must figure out how to adjust to the new reality of maintaining their activities in a territory where cooperation with the local government is restricted.

    There are pitfalls and obstacles everywhere, officials with these groups say.

    Other organizations report that donors’ targeted gifts are harder to use because of the new bans. Some say they have been forced to return funds to donors.

    Gershon Baskin, co-CEO of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, says his group does not accept funding from the Palestinian or Israeli governments in order to steer clear of restrictions and conflicts of interest. But his reliance on other governments, such as that of the United States, has come at a cost.

    According to Bell, the United States is more stringent than Israel when it comes to restrictions on nonprofits’ activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    The United States “is putting out extremely stringent demands and conditions,” Bell said. “The Israelis are a lot more practical about it. They know things have to be done, and they’re trying to get them done while at the same time the U.S. government is prohibiting very common-sense activities.”

    Many officials with nonprofit groups say Western bans on contacts with Hamas should be more nuanced — both to facilitate easier aid to the Palestinians and to help bring Hamas around to a more moderate point of view.

    “I understand the logic behind a government boycotting Hamas,” Baskin said. “I don’t think that has to limit nongovernmental actors in trying to effect change.”

    “I would like to see the international community looking for ways that can help us to move the Hamas from where it is to a different place, to a better place, to a reformed political platform, which I believe is inevitable,” Baskin said. “We have to be very careful about both boycotts against Israel and boycotts against Palestine that prevent peaceful NGOs from doing their work.”

     

    This Week – Mission Impossible


    These have been the six most difficult years in Ambassador Gideon Meir’s professional life, and when I tell you what he does, you’ll immediately grasp the reason why.

    Meir is deputy director general for media and public affairs in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What that means is he is the senior diplomat in charge of explaining and defending Israel to the world. Talk about working a tough room.

    They say the people with the highest Q ratings on television are those who are most themselves in front of the camera. That explains the success Meir has had as the face of Israel on CNN, BBC, even al-Jazeera. In person, over bagels at a Beverly Hills restaurant, he has the same wry smile, the same well-modulated voice, the same ability to make you believe he is letting you and you alone in on an urgent, heretofore unheralded truth.

    “A normal corporation will spend between 1 percent and 8 percent of its budget on advertising and promotion,” Meir said. “Israel, with a budget of $52 billion, is spending $8.5 million dollars on public diplomacy, on PR. In Yiddish, we call that bupkis.”

    As Palestinians and Israelis faced off each night on the evening news, it was Meir who more often than not explained images of Palestinian suffering at Israeli checkpoints or Israeli soldiers facing down Palestinian rioters or the bloody aftermath of a reprisal for a suicide bomber’s massacre. As the rock-throwing first intifada became the suicide-bombing second intifada, sending image and economy plummeting, Meir’s portfolio grew even more crucial. Good public diplomacy — a government’s form of PR — became an adjunct of national security.

    “You need to maintain strategic relationships with America, and convince Europeans to support the policy of Israel,” he said, explaining his job. “And this only happens if you have very good public diplomacy.”

    At the same time, Meir was fighting two other battles. One was with the government that employed him. He had to convince them that in the media age, the message and the messenger mattered.

    “The Palestinians speak with one voice, one message,” he said. “But an American reporter in Israel gets six different opinions from six different ministers and generals.”

    Many Israeli leaders clung too much to the opinion famously voiced by the late Prime Minister David Ben Gurion: “What matters is not what the gentiles will say, but what the Jews will do.”

    Meir had to convince them that transparency and explanation — not the traditional hasbara, which connotes propaganda — is crucial to winning diplomatic battles. “We didn’t learn the lessons of the first intifada,” he said. “You have to explain.”

    Meir also has had to fight Israelis and Jews outside Israel who assert that the country does a lousy job explaining itself.

    “I have to convince them our public diplomacy is working,” he said.

    Trouble comes when well-meaning supporters take matters into their own hands. I mentioned one such effort — when one group put the carcass of an Israeli bus torn to shreds by suicide bomber on a national tour. Meir, ever the diplomat, allowed himself a wince. Not a big tourism booster, that.

    The day after our breakfast, Meir is holding forth before a SRO audience of graduate students and professors in the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School of Communications. The Jerusalem-born diplomat is in demand these days as a leading expert on effective public diplomacy. He has consulted with the Danes and even the Turks. Countries, he stressed, need to be marketed just like products. At his urging, Israel is in the midst of “a major rebranding,” employing the talents of the country’s top advertising minds.

    “The major problem is the lack of knowledge about how Israel contributes to the quality of life” through pioneering work in medical and hi-tech research, he said.

    Get that image out, and people will see Israel in a positive light.

    Of course, many people would argue that Meir’s message, regardless of how it’s packaged, doesn’t matter. To spin Ben Gurion’s dictum on its head, it’s not what Israel says that hurts it, it’s what Israel does.

    Many of these folks believe there is a magic, if bitter, pill that Israel could swallow to make its headaches go away. Just give up the territories, just tear down the separation barrier, just let all Palestinian prisoners free, just turn the American Israel Public Affaris Committee into a lunch-and-learn club, and the world will climb down off Israel’s back and let it go about it business in peace.

    It’s easy to understand why people — even smart ones, like Harvard professors — would want these pipe dreams to be true, if only because they simplify a complex problem. It’s funny, in fact, how those who chide President George W. Bush for his Manichean thinking on Iraq and terrorism have no trouble reducing the Israeli dilemma to bad guys (Jews) versus good guys (Arabs).

    No doubt Israel has brought some of its worst tsuris on itself: Its settlement policy in Gaza and the West Bank has been ruinously costly, in moral, economic and diplomatic terms, for instance.

    But Israel has also faced and continues to face irredentist ideological and political forces — Yasser Arafat or Hamas, anyone? — whose claim to moral superiority at the very least deserves a coherent rebuttal. In a 24-hour media world, it means a job like Meir’s will forever verge on the impossible.

    “When I go on television, there’s always a Palestinian, too, and he says, ‘If only the occupation would end…’ and everyone knows how to complete the sentence,” Meir said. ” When I go on television and I have two minutes, I have to give the context and history and background — and who gives me the time?”

     

    How to Polish a Tarnished Image


    For decades, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has successfully worked behind the scenes to influence U.S. policymakers to pass pro-Israel legislation. Supported by some of the country’s most politically active voters, AIPAC has become one of the nation’s most effective lobbies, even if other powerhouse organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) overshadow it outside the Beltway.

    AIPAC’S relative anonymity has suited the organization just fine, judging from its strong track record. But earlier this year, AIPAC began making headlines for all the wrong reasons, raising questions about the organization’s future effectiveness and what may be needed to shore it up.

    The problem began when two high-ranking officials, Steven J. Rosen, AIPAC’s director of foreign policy issues, and senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman became the targets of a federal espionage investigation. They were charged in August with conspiring to obtain and disclose classified information to reporters and a foreign government, reported to be Israel.

    “No lobbying group wants to have a senior employee on the front page of newspapers being indicted,” said Washington Post columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum, also the author of “The Lobbyists: How Influence Peddlers Work Their Way in Washington” (Three Rivers Press, 1993). “Lobbying is increasingly a public and not a private insider effort. To the extent there is a public question mark over a high-ranking employee of any organization, that is not a good thing.”

    Predictably, AIPAC has attempted to distance itself from the controversy. In April, the group fired Rosen and Weissman, although AIPAC reportedly continues to pay their legal fees. AIPAC won’t comment on the case, but in May, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr told a record crowd of 5,000 at the annual Policy Conference in Washington that neither AIPAC nor any current employees are targets of the investigation. Subsequently, AIPAC hired a law firm to review its policies and procedures on the collection and dissemination of information, a group spokesman said.

    AIPAC officials argue that the investigation has had no impact on its ability to raise money, attract members or effectively push for legislation. On the policy front, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate this summer passed by record margins a $2.52 billion aid package to Israel, including $40 million to help Jews from the former Soviet Union settle there. In late April, just after the firings, the Senate followed the House by passing a resolution urging the European Union to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

    “I don’t detect any dilution in their effectiveness,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), an ardent AIPAC supporter. “I think their cause is good enough and that they’re strong enough to survive this just fine.”

    AIPAC’s relationship with Congress will not suffer because the scandal involves only a couple of former officials, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar at USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. Besides, she added, AIPAC is simply too important and influential to be ignored.

    “AIPAC represents a lot of high propensity voters, many very significant campaign contributors and politically active people,” Jeffe said.

    Washington Post columnist Birnbaum said he thought Congress would continue to support Israel, regarding it as an important U.S. ally — and it’s AIPAC that has helped cement this consensus on an ongoing basis.

    Still, some observers see a potentially weaker AIPAC. The scandal, coupled with perceptions that AIPAC supported the war in Iraq, have made the organization more vulnerable than at any point in the past decade, said AIPAC critic Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine and author of the forthcoming, “The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back for the Religious Right” (HarperSanFrancisco).

    “AIPAC could be perceived as not caring about the interests of the United States,” he said.

    AIPAC officials always strongly assert that the organization is run entirely by Americans — ones who believe that close ties with Israel represent the best interests of the United States. Officials also insist that AIPAC took no position on the Iraq War.

    Lerner’s analysis underscores that some Jews, including supporters of Israel, are not necessarily enthusiastic about AIPAC. The federal investigation could prove a blow to the group’s credibility and might alienate the “people in the middle,” said Republican political consultant Arnold Steinberg. AIPAC should consider changing its name, Steinberg added.

    So how would a Hollywood press agent handle this image problem?

    For one thing, said veteran Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, AIPAC could investigate itself and report its findings to the media as soon as possible. Otherwise, damaging details might slowly drip out and keep the story in the headlines.

    But it hasn’t yet become clear that AIPAC has an image problem, at least not where it matters to AIPAC, which is in the halls of official government power. Most people in public life will see the organization’s present difficulties as nothing more than “an anomaly,” Democratic political consultant Bill Carrick said. The present brouhaha notwithstanding, AIPAC should continue to express its point of view and lobby Congress, he added.

    And to hear AIPAC officials tell it, the organization is doing better than ever. So far, no one has offered persuasive evidence to the contrary.


    All About AIPAC

    AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying

    Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

    Looking for a Shining Star

    Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife

    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 www.adultjewishlearning.org/tash.html.

    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.

     

    Will Warmer View of Israel at U.N. Last?


    As he sat in a holding area just off the U.N. General Assembly’s historic meeting hall — the same General Assembly that condemns Israel about 20 times each year — Ariel Sharon discovered that he had far more friends at the United Nations than he might have known.

    In the minutes before the Israeli prime minister’s speech, aides to approximately 15 world leaders approached Sharon’s entourage and asked if their bosses — presidents and prime ministers from around the globe — could shake his hand.

    For Sharon, long snubbed by many U.N. member states, it was a reception that would have been unthinkable just two or three years ago, according to those who follow Israel’s treatment at the United Nations. However, in the glow of Israel’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, a controversial and politically contentious move at home, Sharon found he had become popular in U.N. halls.

    With about 170 international leaders in New York for the U.N.’s three-day World Summit this month, even some moderate Muslim nations opened their arms a bit wider to Israel and the Jewish community.

    So many leaders asked to meet with Sharon, in fact, that he didn’t have time to accommodate them all. He had to get home to face a challenge for the Likud Party leadership from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a contest threatening to split the party.

    “I never talked so much as I did … here,” Sharon said at a meeting with American Jewish leaders. The pullout, he added, “changed in many aspects the opinion of the world.”

    While top Israeli officials insist the withdrawal was not undertaken for public relations purposes, Sharon confidante Dov Weisglass said in an interview that while “Gaza was not given away to please the world or not to please the world,” it was clear that the world was paying close attention.

    With the withdrawal complete and the excitement of the U.N. summit fading into memory, some Middle East observers now ask whether the unusually warm reception for Israel is likely to last.

    “Israeli leaders get rewarded for giving things away — and then, within a short period of time, the question is, ‘What do you do next?'” said Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum think tank. “You can get a nice reception at the U.N. but harm your long-term war efforts.”

    Morton Klein, Zionist Organization of America president, concurred, saying, “The superficially positive feeling that countries show toward Israel will dissipate rapidly as soon as Israel stops making extraordinary one-sided concessions.”

    Israel, for its part, seems to believe the new openness could be long-lasting.

    “These are optimistic times in the Middle East,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the General Assembly last week. “The iron wall that has defined Israel’s relations with most of the Arab and Muslim world for generations is coming down. Israel’s contacts with Arab and Muslim states are growing at a rate never seen before.”

    While in New York, Sharon met with, among others, President Bush, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Jordanian King Abdullah II, Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, representatives of the European Union leadership and American Jewish leaders.

    He also exchanged pleasantries in a U.N. hallway with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who later in the week addressed American Jewish officials.

    In addition to taking part in many of the Sharon meetings, Shalom met with the EU’s high representative, Javier Solana; U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and the foreign ministers of Mexico, the Netherlands and Ghana. Shalom also said he had met with representatives of more than 10 Muslim and Arab countries over the last week in New York, and planned to visit Tunisia.

    Meeting Shalom, Qatar Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al-Thani said his country was considering establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel, without making the establishment of a Palestinian state a precondition.

    Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Al-Thani said some Arab leaders went too far in saying they would never make peace with Israel.

    “The Arabs — some of them — they went too far with their people that they would not talk with the enemy by any way,” he said. “And I think this is, again, wrong policy. There is no enemies and no friends, but there is always not only responsibilities, but interests.”

    The Gaza pullout has altered the lay of the political landscape in the region, Sharon adviser and spokesman Ra’anan Gissin said.

    “As a result of the disengagement, the rules of the game have changed,” he said. “Now the onus is on the Palestinians” to show they can run a country.

    Still, even Shalom acknowledged that the world will not be satisfied if Israel gives up nothing beyond Gaza.

    “For the long-term, Israel will be asked to make more concessions,” he told a group of Jewish journalists last week.

    Nevertheless, both Israeli government insiders and American Jewish leaders say the pullout has provided cover for moderate Muslim nations to inch closer to Israel and the American Jewish community.

    The withdrawal from Gaza gave us a good opportunity, but it’s a better opportunity for the Muslim side,” said Ilan Ostfeld, senior adviser to Shalom. “They wanted always to do it undercover, but now they can say, ‘There has been a result.'”

    Tunisia’s foreign minister seemed to acknowledge as much in a short interview before an appearance with the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

    “It is psychologically and politically a very important step,” Abdallah Abdelwaheb said through a translator. “It’s very important for peace and stability in the region.”

    Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the Muslim move toward Israel already had been slowly under way.

    “This process began before disengagement,” he said. “I think many of them are tired of being exploited by the Palestinians” into making political moves that are costly to them.

    Jewish organizations met and are continuing to meet dozens of world leaders, including the presidents of Senegal, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Poland, among others.

    The WJC met with the president of Senegal, which chairs the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Shai Franklin, the WJC’s director of international organizations, called the meeting “friendly and candid.”

    Groups also met with the prime ministers of Turkey and India, among others, and the foreign minsters of Egypt, Cyprus, France, Azerbaijan, Tunisia, Spain and Russia.

    Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou was described as extremely knowledgeable about Israel’s political history, and Cyprus’ ambassador to the United States speaks Hebrew from a posting in Israel.

    The meeting with Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov was described as relatively testy, according to several people with knowledge of it. Lavrov offered unsatisfactory answers “dealing with issues related to Iran’s nuclear program and Hamas’ participation in elections,” Hoenlein said.

    Meetings were scheduled with the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Morocco and Vietnam.

    Though they didn’t always get the answers they wanted on issues from anti-Israel incitement to Palestinian Authority elections to Iran, those involved said the meetings provided an important opportunity to air their views and understand the positions of their interlocutors.

    “There definitely has been for many of these countries positive movement over the last year as a result of these meetings,” said Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International. “Many of these countries value these meetings and their access to the American Jewish community.”

    Members of the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) had meetings planned with leaders from nearly 70 countries. Among them were about half the members of the Arab League, according to David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director.

    Other groups who took part in meetings included the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti- Defamation League, the Claims Conference and NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia.

    Perhaps the most prominent of the encounters was Musharraf’s address to American Jewish leaders at an event sponsored by the American Jewish Congress’ Council for World Jewry.

    Musharraf said Pakistan could not open full diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinians had a state, and blamed a significant portion of world terrorism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    However, he also praised Sharon for the Gaza pullout and insisted that terrorism “cannot be condoned for any cause.”

    His mere presence before a Jewish audience, broadcast on Pakistani television, earned praise from both Jews and Pakistanis.

    “Pakistan’s coming out of the closet, going from behind-the-scenes contacts to a public event, is an important step, and I think it may prompt others to follow suit — over time, not overnight,” Harris said.

    Letters


    Discussion Difficult

    Bernard Goldberg’s response to Rob Eshman’s critique turns out to be a fine example of why some conservative voices make intelligent discussion so difficult (“My Work Is Not to Blame for Jew-Haters,” Aug. 5).

    Goldberg starts out with, “Usually I only respond to fair and thoughtful criticism, but I’ll make an exception in this case, because people I respect tell me that Rob Eshman … is both a smart and decent guy.”

    Let’s look at that sentence. Despite the begrudging “smart and decent,” Goldberg reveals that he really does not believe Eshman’s criticism to be “fair and thoughtful.” In that case, why is he sending in a response?

    He goes on to whine, “It never occurred to me to count people by their religion. It’s my friends on the left who love to put people in groups…. Liberals love diversity — just not the intellectual kind.”

    He says that liberals love to put people in groups — not some liberals, not even most liberals, just liberals. The man has just put all liberals into a group.

    His book includes one or two conservatives like Michael Savage, whose ravings are so maniacal that even Goldberg cannot stomach them. But aside from these exceptions, it is clear that the “people who are screwing up America” are the liberals. Another prime example of those conservatives who think that those who do not agree with them are unpatriotic and anti-American.

    Lou Charloff
    Encino

    Junk Science

    In the fossil record, many forms of complex life all of a sudden explode on to the scene. There is not a smooth transition from one species to another (“Junk Science,” Aug. 12).

    Darwin’s theory is one that believes in gradual changes. In fact, in Darwin’s book, he pleads with the reader to ignore the fossil record. The more of the fossil record that is unearthed, the more it disproves the theory of evolution as Darwin proposed it.

    The idea of intelligent design is just as valid as the theory of evolution. To believe in evolution takes just as much blind faith as believing in intelligent design. To teach evolution as if it is a proven fact is junk science.

    Dr. Sabi Israel
    West Hills

    Gaza Disengagement

    I am loath to understand why Jews should be prohibited from residing in areas under Palestinian control, when almost 1.3 million Arabs live in Israel proper (“We Must Show Unified Pullout Support,” Aug. 12). Why must it be that to establish peace and live in harmony with Arab neighbors, their territory must be Judenrein. No Jews allowed?

    The very idea of establishing policies which preclude even one Jew from living in even one place unearth historic realities that are painful.

    Rabbi I.B. Koller
    Richmond, Va.

    The matter of Israel’s expulsion of Jews from Gaza keeps many of us up at night, uncertain as to the efficacy of such a policy. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether or not it’s a good idea.

    The letter from Dr. Aryeh Cohen (“Letters,” Aug. 12) is a disturbing example of an illogical argument used to support a policy of which many Jews are wary.

    Cohen uses the specious, context-free logic employed by those who wish to destroy the State of Israel — just point out some statistics, and it seems obvious that Israel is “mercilessly oppressing” the Palestinian people, who are being “denied” their “rightful” homeland.

    Cohen’s flawed argument in support of “disengagement” from Gaza assumes that there’s no history — that the United Nations has not been backing the maintenance of the Palestinian refugee camps all these years, that the Palestinians have not purposefully murdered innocent civilians for their own political ends and that the Palestinians have not missed numerous opportunities to make peace.

    If I buy Cohen’s argument, we may as well withdraw from all of Israel proper right now to avoid any chance of ever being an “oppressor,” and then go heal ourselves by “re-engaging with morality.” By insinuating that the Israelis are the only ones who have acted immorally, Cohen undermines his own position.

    Time will tell whether Israel’s expulsion of Jewish settlers from Gaza was wise or not. Cohen’s use of the flawed logic of our enemies to defend what may be a reasonable position is more appalling than deluding ourselves that we are as blameless and innocent as he posits the Palestinians to be. That such an argument comes from a professor at our distinguished University of Judaism is more appalling still.

    I hope and pray that something good will come out of this heart-wrenching decision by the Israeli government. Am Yisrael chai.

    Gary Lainer
    Los Angeles

    Baffled

    Thank you for Toby Klein Greenwald’s thoughtful piece (“Barbed Wire Fails to Separate Hearts,” Aug. 12). Although I am sadly baffled by the pro-expulsion view of the Southern Californian Board of Rabbis, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee (don’t they read “From Time Immemorial” by Peters or arutzsheva.com?), I find it quite telling that The Journal’s “Losing Faith” (Aug. 12) headline really refers more to the Peace Nowniks’ unfortunate lack of faith, understanding in the Torah and vision of Yisrael.

    Joshua Spiegelman
    Sylmar

    Mischaracterize

    Rabbi Harvey Fields and David Pine mischaracterize support for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Gaza Strip as support for Israel (“We Must Show Unified Pullout Support,” Aug. 12). Those who truly support Israel oppose that gift to our enemies over which they have prepared a celebration.

    Anything those would-be genocides of our people celebrate is cause for our mourning. They have made no secret of their intent to use every parcel of our land they grab as a base for grabbing all the rest of it, “from the river to the sea.”

    There is nothing “courageous” in surrender, particularly when the enemy is militarily and morally inferior. No relief can be expected when we give them control over their air, sea and land conduits for re-armament.

    The dream of a Palestinian Muslim state as a “peace-seeking neighbor” is contrary to all their propaganda, their declarations (in Arabic), their education in the schools and their actions throughout the generations.

    That Jews occupy 18 percent of the land and use 75 percent of the water in the strip is indeed a shame: Both numbers should be 100 percent, as the ancestors of the present Arab occupiers, when first they invaded from Arabia, themselves were calling all the land “the land of the Jews.” They are imperialist settlers in our country, and have no right to be anywhere in it.

    Despite that, we have generously allowed full Israeli citizenship to those of them that want it. What would the writers say had Israel made any province of the country Arabrein? Is there any place in the world outside of our homeland that they think should be Judenrein? Is there any other people they think should not be allowed to live in certain places?

    Louis Richter
    Encino

    Independent Mind

    I am a Jewish voter, and I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he runs again for governor, I will vote for him again (“Schwarzenneger Is Losing Jewish Votes,” Aug. 5) .

    However, I vote as an individual and not as a member of religious or ethnic mindthink. This article states that Jews vote alike on a platform of democratic values, and are all pro-choice and advocates of reform.

    While this may or may not be true, this is no different than the person who claims the African American vote is unilateral, and all African Americans think and vote alike. I personally find this not only a racist concept, but an offensive one. Jews, like all people, vote according to their own personal beliefs, and not part of a Jewish conspiracy.

    I am also offended by the comparisons to the AM radio crowd, as if all who listen are again part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I stand as woman, a Jew and a person who is capable of making up my own mind on how to vote, who to vote for and on what issues are important to me, a citizen of the United States, a resident in California and of independent mind.

    Allyson Rowen Taylor
    Valley Glen

    AIPAC and Sharon Get What They Need


    A troubled but still potent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) got a boost this week from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who addressed its largest-ever policy conference in Washington, with a record 4,500 delegates gathered for three days of speeches, workshops, schmoozing and lobbying.

    And the pro-Israel lobby giant, in turn, gave Sharon what he wanted most: an explicit endorsement of his government’s imminent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, backed up by a Tuesday lobbying effort that urged lawmakers to continue U.S. support for the plan. This week’s events lay the groundwork for expected new requests for U.S. aid to Israel, to help carry out the disengagement.

    AIPAC, which like other major pro-Israel groups has been accused of being tardy and unenthusiastic in its support for the disengagement, was careful to signal support without allowing the plan and the emotional debate over it to become the centerpiece of the high-profile conference.

    Unswayed by outbursts of heckling when Sharon spoke on Tuesday, the AIPAC leadership explicitly endorsed his plan in a resolution approved by the executive committee as part of the group’s 2005 “action agenda.”

    The committee overwhelmingly rejected amendments offered by Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein that would have “spelled out the costs” of the Gaza “expulsion of Jews,” according to the ZOA leader.

    Natan Sharansky, former minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs addressed the crowd but did not talk about the reason for his resignation from the Sharon government — or his unhappiness over the Gaza plan.

    And AIPAC sessions on the Gaza disengagement were “fair and reasonably effective in making the case for what the Prime Minister is doing,” said an official of a dovish Jewish group attending the conference.

    “Given differences within the AIPAC membership over the Gaza disengagement,” said the source, who requested anonymity, “I think they did a good job of showing support and lining up the membership behind the prime minister.”

    But a former AIPAC official, also speaking not for attribution, characterized the group’s endorsement as unenthusiastic.

    “The real story is that they were forced to make a statement supporting it as part of the price for getting Sharon to speak to them,” the source said. “The mood in the hall was skeptical — that was evident every time a speaker mentioned it — but they had no choice.”

    From the rostrum, speakers praising Sharon’s plan produced limited applause or stony silence; scattered through the vast convention center were delegates wearing the blank orange buttons signifying solidarity with Gaza residents opposed to the pullout.

    Several hecklers were ejected when Sharon addressed the conference on Tuesday, promising to carry out the disengagement “according to the timetable and the decisions authorized by the Government,” and to work with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “as long as we do not risk our security. That is the red line.”

    Sharon promised that the disengagement “will increase Israel’s security and reduce friction between the Palestinians and us. It will help advance our national strategic interests, promote our economy and prosperity and advance the development of the Negev and the Galilee.”

    And he strongly endorsed the international quartet’s “road map” for Palestinian statehood, calling it “the only political plan for a peaceful solution with the Palestinians.”

    But he also emphasized that the road map will be implemented in stages and that “true peace will only be realized after full security is achieved and terrorism is eliminated.”

    As a goodwill gesture, he announced plans to release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners.

    Ardent peace groups praised AIPAC for standing behind Sharon.

    “They did the right thing,” said Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum. “AIPAC’s highly visible support for the Prime Minister’s disengagement plan sends an important message to the administration and to Congress.”

    And that includes to members who might be inclined to erect roadblocks to U.S. support for the Gaza plan, he said.

    AIPAC delegates had more than 450 lobbying appointments on Tuesday; support for the plan, along with continuing U.S. aid to Israel and stronger efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, were at the top of their agenda.

    “We’re very pleased that AIPAC has given its formal endorsement to the U.S. government’s support for the disengagement initiative,” said Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now. “This new policy position reflects the broad backing that disengagement enjoys in the American Jewish community and in Israel. “

    AIPAC Still Packs Them In

    AIPAC policy conferences are always exercises in political theater scripted to make a point about the group’s power.

    But the stakes were higher than ever this year as AIPAC friends and foes alike looked for signs that the ongoing federal investigation of two fired AIPAC employees over leaked classified documents have put a dent in AIPAC’s presence on Capitol Hill.

    There was no sign of weakness at Monday’s banquet, attended by almost enough senators to invoke cloture: 55, about the same as 2004. They were joined by 215 members of the House, up from 177 a year ago — by several accounts an all-time record.

    The turnout reflected congressional confidence AIPAC will emerge unscathed from the current investigation — and also an extensive grass-roots effort by the group to encourage attendance.

    During AIPAC’s famous “roll call,” congressional guests were greeted with ovations ranging from the tepid to the tumultuous (Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, R-RI, widely seen as cool toward Israel, produced barely a ripple; Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., almost brought the house down).

    All four top congressional leaders spoke to the Monday night gathering in speeches that generally stuck close to AIPAC’s talking points for the week: assurances of continuing U.S. support for Israel, warnings to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to do more than just talk about curbing terrorism and sober words about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

    Also in attendance were administration officials, top political party leaders and numerous members of the diplomatic corps, most notably two envoys from Libya.

    Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now chair of the Democratic National

    Committee, and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, filling in for Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, addressed the group on Sunday night, agreeing on the need for strong U.S.-Israel relations but disagreeing on which party can best maintain them.

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, signaling that the administration does not regard the pro-Israel lobby group as treif because of its ongoing troubles, received strong applause when she said the administration’s goal of democracy in the Middle East is “unassailable and incontrovertible,” and urged the Palestinians to “advance democratic reforms and dismantle all terrorist networks” as it pursues statehood.

    But she was greeted with only faint applause when she said that Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan “presents an unprecedented and incredibly delicate opportunity for peace and we must all work together to capitalize on this precious moment.”

    Rice also praised the recent Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, but said “Syria must also remove its intelligence forces and allow the Lebanese people to be free.”

    Worries Over Federal Probe

    Although no charges have been filed against the fired AIPAC employees being investigated by federal authorities, the controversy shadowed the conference and produced anxiety among delegates and the numerous Jewish leaders who came to show their support for the lobby group.

    “There’s anxiety; there’s a cloud over [AIPAC],” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “So it is important for leaders of the American Jewish community to be here and show support.”

    Foxman expressed the view of many conference attendees.

    “There are so many things we don’t know, so many unanswered questions about the investigation,” he said.

    “What’s remarkable is how they have been able to keep this conference focused on their big issues like Iran and terrorism,” a former AIPAC official said. “But you hear a lot of talk about [the investigation] in the hallways. Mostly, it’s people asking what’s going to happen next. And none of us has any real answers. I’m not sure AIPAC’s top officials know.”

    A member of the large Los Angeles delegation downplayed the effect of the probe on AIPAC’s lobbying juggernaut.

    “I’m not concerned about the health of the organization,” said Lee Zeff, a Realtor from Beverly Hills. “I’m not concerned about the reputation in Congress.”

    As evidence, Zeff noted the veritable waiting list of congressional leaders lined up to address the conference.

    Zeff added that the delegates were not especially focused on the FBI probe: “People are thinking about Iran. People are thinking about Hezbollah … Hamas….”

    Zeff’s wife, Linda Macdonald, who is not Jewish, did express concern, particularly about misconceptions she’s noticed among relatives in her native England. From the soundbites they’ve heard, she reported, people are assuming AIPAC was involved in spying. As a result, Macdonald said, she’s found herself doing more public relations for both AIPAC and Israel.

    AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr addressed the undercurrent of worries in an opening speech on Sunday, repeating his claim that “we now know — directly from the government — that neither AIPAC nor any of its current employees is or ever has been the target of this investigation.”

    And he pledged to “take the steps necessary to ensure that every employee of AIPAC, now and in the future, conducts themselves in a manner of which you can be proud — using policies and procedures that provide transparency, accountability and maintain our effectiveness.”

    Additional reporting courtesy of Washington Jewish Week.

     

    AIPAC Will Focus on Policy at Gathering


    Inside the massive Washington Convention Center, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be talking about the Gaza Strip withdrawal and the Iranian nuclear threat.

    However, in the hallways and the social gatherings of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference next week, talk is likely to focus on the investigation into two former AIPAC staffers and the effect it could have on AIPAC’s ability to lobby for Israel.

    AIPAC will be tasked with keeping its members focused on the important issues facing Israel and maintaining support in Congress if the Gaza pullout, planned for this summer, goes awry. The effort to keep attention focused on Iran’s presumed drive for nuclear weapons is also high on its agenda.

    The organization is still perceived as a “behemoth,” congressional officials say, and will be taken seriously when it meets May 22-24 — but a cloud will linger over the proceedings.

    “You deal with them as you would normally deal with them,” one congressional staffer said. He compared it to a friend who has a health problem: You don’t talk about the problem, and you hope that it resolves itself quickly.

    There are two traditional success markers to an AIPAC policy conference. One is a roll call of members of Congress, diplomats and administration officials attending the Monday night dinner — last year there were nearly 200, including more than 40 senators — and the other is a lobbying day Tuesday, when thousands of AIPAC members descend on Capitol Hill.

    How many lawmakers turn up Monday night and how the lobbyists fare Tuesday will be closely watched by the organization, its supporters and its critics. Some insiders, who asked not to be identified, say there may be apprehension about working with AIPAC, because of the FBI probe.

    “I think most members of Congress and staffers who are invited to meet with AIPAC constituents and go to the dinner will still go,” a congressional aide said. “But I’m convinced, in the back of everybody’s mind, there is a kernel of concern and doubt that maybe we shouldn’t be playing ball with AIPAC the way we always have.”

    AIPAC’s problems stem from an FBI investigation into Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst arrested earlier this month and accused of verbally passing classified information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s research director, and Keith Weissman, a top Iran analyst at AIPAC.

    AIPAC fired both men last month, and Rosen associates tell JTA he expects to be indicted. AIPAC officials claim that they have been assured the probe is not targeting the organization or any other staffers.

    “Nobody knows what the implications of this legal situation are,” a congressional staffer said. “It could be a blip, and AIPAC has had blips before.”

    AIPAC has gone to great lengths to stress its bona fides, publicizing Rice, Sharon and other scheduled speakers, including leaders of both congressional chambers from both parties. Sharon’s presence is considered particularly significant. Israeli prime ministers rarely travel to the United States if they don’t have an audience with the president.

    Sharon is expected to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York before heading to Washington, but has planned no political meetings, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said. Sharon also is expected to be welcomed in New York at a rally Sunday, a measure of American Jewish support for the disengagement plan.

    “Prime Minister Sharon is coming to stand with the American pro-Israel community at a crucial moment in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC spokesman Andrew Schwartz said.

    AIPAC also is boasting about attendance at the conference, which is expected to top 5,000 people, including nearly 1,000 students.

    Such self-promotion is unusual for the organization, which generally feels it can be most effective if it keeps its achievements behind the scenes. In the past, major speakers have not been confirmed until the week before the conference, and officials play down the expected attendance, instead of talking it up.

    AIPAC officials insist that this year’s conference is business as usual, though they referred questions to Patrick Dorton, a Washington publicist whose experience in scandal management includes shepherding accounting giant Arthur Andersen.

    “We’re promoting the policy conference the same way we’ve done it in years past,” Dorton said. “AIPAC continues to be proud of the work it does on behalf of its membership.”

    A source close to AIPAC said Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director, will touch on the investigation briefly in a speech to delegates Sunday, but mostly will focus on AIPAC’s policy agenda.

    The organization has real work to do. Topping its agenda will be preparing Congress for the Israeli withdrawal. The lobby is preparing a letter for lawmakers to send to President Bush, underscoring how the United States should support the peace process. Bush already has expressed interest in assisting Israel in the development of the Negev Desert and the Galilee, the regions likeliest to absorb some 9,000 settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank. Israel has suggested that resettlement costs could run as high as $3.5 billion.

    AIPAC will be charged with laying the groundwork for pushing through any additional aid packages. In addition to direct aid, that could mean new U.S. loan guarantees for Israel.

    It will be important for AIPAC to show that it backs the disengagement plan, especially since it has a hawkish reputation in Washington. A draft of the group’s action agenda, which will be debated in executive committee at the conference, calls for supporting the “U.S. government’s backing” of the plan, rather than the plan itself. Officials said that was in keeping with the group’s philosophy of lobbying the U.S. government, not trying to influence Israeli policy.

    In a twist, the disengagement plan could soon pit AIPAC against a traditional ally — Christian evangelicals, including several prominent lawmakers, who believe the disengagement violates biblical precepts and offers Palestinian terrorists a triumph. Dovish groups welcomed the tilt.

    “It’s very significant that AIPAC intends to adopt formal policy language that embraces disengagement, and specifically the Bush administration’s endorsement of disengagement,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

    Disengagement opponents said they won’t try to scuttle AIPAC’s support for the plan, which they believe is inevitable. Instead, they’ll try to ensure that any resolutions reflect the trauma it will impose on settlers.

    Morton Klein, Zionist Organization of America president, said language should refer to the evacuation of thousands of “women and children from Gaza” and the northern West Bank “by force if necessary, and abandoning Jewish homes, schools and synagogues where Jews have been living for 35 years.”

    Klein plans to continue protesting the plan but has pledged not to lobby against U.S. funding related to it.

    As usual, the conference will see some protests. A coalition of right-wing Jewish groups are coordinating buses from New York to Washington, and plan to sleep outside the Convention Center in tents, simulating Gaza settlers who will be expelled from their homes under the withdrawal plan. The Council for National Interest, a pro-Arab group, also will protest, claiming undue Israeli influence in American foreign policy.

    AIPAC is not shutting out disengagement dissenters. Natan Sharansky, who resigned recently from Israel’s Cabinet because he believes the time is not ripe for the withdrawal, will speak Sunday night. The former Soviet dissident was expected to speak of democratic ideals, not disengagement.

    Another crucial plank at the conference is backing for the Iran Freedom Support bill, a measure to strengthen sanctions against Iran by penalizing foreign countries that invest in Iran’s energy sector and to provide funding to democratic groups in the Islamic republic.

    The legislation, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), codifies much of what already is in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, but includes a provision that would notify investors if a fund they own has shares in a company that is subject to sanctions. The goal is to create an investor backlash against companies that deal with Iran.

    AIPAC also will focus on the Iranian nuclear threat. Delegates will learn about the nuclear fuel cycle and how Iran appears to be seeking a nuclear bomb.

    The lobby will continue to stress the annual passage of foreign aid. This year’s aid package includes $2.28 billion in military aid for Israel and $240 million in economic assistance, as well as $150 million for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

     

    Hezbollah Faces Identity Crisis


    Hezbollah’s most valuable asset in Lebanon’s election campaign is none other than its historic foe, Israel.

    On the eve of elections, scheduled to begin May 29, Hezbollah is trying to retain its pose as the ultimate guardian of Lebanese interests vis-á-vis Israel, stoking a flare-up along the border with Israel last week.

    On May 9, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fired an artillery shell into Lebanon, but said it was an accident and apologized. No one was injured. Two days later, on May 11, as Israelis celebrated Independence Day, a Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon hit the town of Shlomi in Israel’s Galilee, prompting the town to call off holiday celebrations. Over the next day, two rockets were fired from Lebanon at an army post along the border. On May 13, Hezbollah shelled an Israeli military outpost in the Golan Heights. The IDF retaliated by destroying three Hezbollah positions. Then there was quiet.

    Not all of the unrest was the work of Hezbollah: Part of the fire came from Palestinian terrorists operating from refugee camps in southern Lebanon. Israeli sources said the rocket attack on Shlomi probably was the work of Ahmad Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command.

    According to Israeli sources, however, Jibril wouldn’t have taken such an initiative unless he was ordered to do so by Hezbollah and the Shi’ite organization’s Syrian overlords.

    Hezbollah is preparing for the possibility that after the elections, a new government in Beirut may try to disarm the group as part of an overall policy of extending government control to the entire country. Hezbollah effectively has controlled southern Lebanon since Israel completed its withdrawal in May 2000.

    Hezbollah, however, wants to show the Lebanese that they can’t disarm the organization because it’s the only force that can intimidate Israel. Hezbollah has an arsenal of 13,000 rockets and missiles trained on northern Israel.

    Perhaps because of that, Israel has reacted with restraint to Hezbollah’s provocations. In contrast to the period before Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon — when community leaders in northern Israel demanded strong action to defend them from attacks — this time they applauded the restraint.

    “We don’t need to seek new wars,” said Aharon Valensi, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council. “The goal should be to calm down the area, not to flare it up.”

    The reason for the change of tone is clear. Since the Israeli withdrawal, the Galilee has flourished as it hadn’t in years. Some 70,000 vacationers filled its roads and nature reserves on Independence Day. Hotels and rest houses were booked.

    The current assessment in Israel is that Hezbollah faces a growing dilemma over its role in Lebanon.

    The United States, France and United Nations have called for the Lebanese government to fulfill U.N. resolutions demanding Hezbollah’s disarmament. Hezbollah itself is torn between keeping its rejectionist, jihadist image and becoming a legitimate political party in a more democratic Lebanon.

    “It’s possible that Lebanon will eventually not accept deterioration into a civil war, and will want to become a sovereign country. This carries the potential of turning Hezbollah into a political organization,” the IDF’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said in a radio interview.

    For the first time in years, Israel couldn’t blame Syria directly for last week’s escalation, since Syria just finished withdrawing its troops from Lebanon. Israel instead blamed the Lebanese government, which has been too timid to confront Hezbollah and instead has allowed it to usurp control over a large swath of the country.

    According to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, the Lebanese government bears responsibility for maintaining order in southern Lebanon, and can’t allow Hezbollah or other armed forces to operate independently.

    Some believe further escalation along the border might make Hezbollah and Lebanese leaders conclude that the situation is dangerous and the group can’t disarm. Others argue that a strong Israeli reaction — in the past, Israel has taken out the electrical system in Beirut after Hezbollah attacks — is precisely what’s needed to turn the Lebanese public against the group, since most Lebanese are finally enjoying peace and relative prosperity following a draining civil war and decades of Syrian occupation.

    However, Lebanon’s two main opposition leaders told foreign diplomats that they would find it difficult to promote Hezbollah’s disarmament, or even an understanding with Israel, as long as Israel continues to occupy the Shabaa Farms region of the Golan.

    Hezbollah seized on the Shabaa Farms issue after Israel’s 2000 withdrawal, saying the pullback wasn’t complete. However, the United Nations rejected any Lebanese claim to Shabaa , ruling that it’s an issue to be resolved between Israel and Syria.

    In addition, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported last week that the United States and United Nations were looking into the possibility of an international force replacing Israel in Shabaa Farms in exchange for Hezbollah disarming and becoming a political party.

     

    Briefs


     

    Bush Expected to OK Palestinian Aid

    President Bush is expected to sign legislation that gives $200 million in aid to support the Palestinians. On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed the supplemental spending bill, which provides aid to support the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including $50 million for Israel to improve crossing points into the Palestinian territories, and $5 million for an audit of Palestinian finances. The bill does not give direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, but Bush may use a presidential waiver to allow some of the money to go to the organization.

    AIPAC Elects New President

    The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) named Baltimore philanthropist Howard Friedman as its president-elect. Friedman, a longtime member of the board of the pro-Israel lobby, will assume the presidency in 2006. Friedman, the president of JTA’s board of directors, will succeed Bernice Manocherian at AIPAC.

    “Howard Friedman represents the best of America’s pro-Israel movement,” AIPAC spokesman Josh Block said.

    OU Wants Assisted Suicide Law Blocked

    The Orthodox Union (OU) filed a brief supporting the blockage of an Oregon law that would allow physician-assisted suicide. The organization joined several Christian groups in an amicus brief in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon, which asserts the U.S. Justice Department’s right to block the use of federally controlled drugs for the purpose of assisted suicide. Nathan Diament, director of the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs, said the Bush administration’s position is consistent with Jewish teaching.

    “The Bible instructs us to ‘surely heal’ the ill, not to speed their departure from this earth,” Diament said. “The attorney general’s directive restricting the resort to physician-assisted suicide was the correct law and policy on this matter, and we believe well within the power of the federal government to determine.”

    Report: British teachers to Reconsider Boycott

    A union of British university lecturers reportedly will call a special meeting to reconsider its boycott of two Israeli universities. The Association of University Teachers decided two weeks ago to boycott Bar-Ilan University for its alleged support of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, and Haifa University because of accusations that it mistreated a radical left-wing professor. The decision to reconsider the boycott comes in the wake of protest letters from union members, Ha’aretz reported.

    Students Back Columbia Professor

    Twenty current and former Columbia students wrote to school administrators insisting that a professor had not harassed a pro-Israel student. The students, who say they were in Joseph Massad’s class on the day of the alleged incident, sent a letter May 3 to Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, to other top members of the school’s administration and to members of a committee that found credible claims that Massad had threatened to kick a student out of class for holding pro-Israel views. The accusations “are unequivocally false,” the letter said. The report, issued March 31, found that Massad “exceeded commonly accepted bounds” in responding to a pro-Israel student’s question about Israeli warnings before military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    Falash Mura Tab Listed

    The cost for transporting Ethiopian Jews to Israel will be some $23 million over the course of two and a half years. The cost was presented Tuesday to officials of the North American Jewish federation system by its overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) , which will coordinate the aliyah. Falash Mura, descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity but have returned to Judaism, now immigrate to Israel at a rate of 300 per month. The Israeli government plans to double the rate of aliyah starting in June, so the group’s immigration can be completed in two and a half years. The Jewish Agency is budgeting more than $18 million for the operation; the JDC expects to pay $4.6 million. The figures do not include the cost of absorption once the Ethiopians arrive in Israel, said Mike Rosenberg, JAFI’s director general of immigration and absorption. The federation system is expected to raise the funds for the operation, though it hasn’t begun that campaign yet.

    Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

     

    Israel Foresees Pullout Headaches


     

    On the face of it, nothing illustrates Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s political odyssey from settlement builder to settlement dismantler better than a recently published report on West Bank outposts.

    The report details how government ministers and officials broke the law and circumvented regulations in building and funding dozens of unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank.

    Sharon, once one of the greatest culprits, was the man who, in his new incarnation, commissioned what he knew would be a scathing indictment.

    But it’s not that simple. Sharon commissioned the report under intense American pressure to take down the outposts. And so far, despite the report’s findings and recommendations, the Americans are not convinced he intends to act.

    The response to the report highlighted another key issue. It shows just how difficult it will be to implement Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank.

    Israeli officials are expecting such massive resistance to the disengagement that they have developed a detailed plan of operation to carry it out.

    After adopting the report’s findings, the government deferred dismantling the 24 outposts it had long promised the Americans to remove. That led some politicians and pundits to ask how, if it backs away from taking down tiny outposts, the government will dismantle 25 full-fledged settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank when the time comes this summer?

    Sharon commissioned the report to demonstrate good faith and carry out commitments he made to the Bush administration last April. After promising the Americans to dismantle unauthorized outposts built since March 2001, he found he did not know the genesis and precise legal status of each one. Similarly, under pressure not to expand full-fledged, authorized settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he found he lacked accurate information on their precise borders.

    So he set up two teams: One, under lawyer Talia Sasson, was to clarify the legal status and history of the unauthorized outposts. The other, under reserve Brig. Gen. Baruch Spiegel, was to demarcate the physical boundaries of all existing settlements.

    But the Americans remain unimpressed.

    American officials note that although Sharon had shown good faith, they still do not have a list of unauthorized settlements or a timetable for their evacuation. Nor has Spiegel yet produced the required border documentation.

    The report by former chief prosecutor Sasson, released last week, charged that ministers and senior aides, some of them settlers, had systematically turned a blind eye to the law.

    It also charged that budgets were funneled clandestinely through the Housing Ministry, that building permission was covertly granted by the Defense Ministry. There was a system of saying one thing in public and doing the opposite behind the scenes and Likud and Labor administrations were equally at fault.

    “The picture that is revealed is one of crass violation of the law by state institutions, public authorities, regional councils in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and settlers, all by creating the false impression of an organized system operating according to law,” Sasson wrote.

    The most important thing now, she said, was to regulate the procedures and stop the double talk.

    In response, the government set up a committee under Justice Minister Tzippi Livni to root out the covert practices by laying down clear regulations for authorizing and financing outposts and initiating new legislation if necessary.

    At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Sharon was adamant about the need to dismantle the 24 outposts established since March 2001. That was an Israeli commitment in the internationally approved Israeli-Palestinian peace “road map,” he explained. But he did not propose any timetable.

    That brought deep differences between Likud and Labor ministers to the fore. The Labor ministers wanted to see immediate action; the Likud ministers favored waiting.

    Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz of the Likud argued that disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank was Israel’s top policy priority, and the government could not afford to be sidetracked by other issues.

    But Labor’s Haim Ramon countered that to do nothing now would be to show weakness and send a message to the extremists that they could stop the disengagement by using threats and force.

    Rejecting the Labor argument, the government decided to concentrate only on implementing disengagement.

    To that end, 18,000 police officers — three-quarters of the entire Israeli police force — and two army divisions have been assigned to the job, and already they are gearing up to meet a wide range of settler and extremist threats.

    Only when this huge operation is complete, Sharon and Mofaz say, will they focus on the outposts that the Sasson report, American pressure and Israel’s road map commitments demand they take down.

    Whether the United States and the rest of the international community have the patience to go along with this policy remains to be seen.

    Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report

     

    Bush Touts Palestine in Europe


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    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.”

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    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.”

     

    Israel Lays Plans for Post-Arafat Era


    As Israel looks ahead to the post-Arafat era, the government is considering a series of policy options: in the short term, easing conditions in the Palestinian territories to help a new leadership consolidate power and in the longer term, restarting peace talks based on the “road map” plan.

    However, there also are contingency plans for a far more pessimistic scenario: The possibility that the new Palestinian leaders may fail to assert their authority, and that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could degenerate into chaos and internecine violence.

    Prime Minister Ariel Sharon laid down the general outlines of the new policy in a string of meetings last week with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz; Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff; and other senior defense establishment officials.

    Sharon made two key decisions. Israel will do whatever it can from a distance to help Mahmoud Abbas, who seems to be emerging as the dominant figure in the new Palestinian leadership, to establish his position, but at the same time it will prepare for chaos if the broad coalition Abbas is forming falls apart.

    Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom highlighted the delicate nature of Israel’s position with regard to the new Palestinian leaders.

    “Any name we mention,” he said, “will be stigmatized as a collaborator. But we expect whatever leadership that emerges to be more moderate and more responsible.”

    For the time being, Israeli hopes rest on Abbas. He has come out strongly against Palestinian terrorism and in favor of the political, economic and security reforms the Palestinians committed to under the internationally backed road map to peace.

    Position papers produced by the Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) suggest Israel made two cardinal errors the last time Abbas held a share of power, when he served as Palestinian Authority prime minister between late April and early September 2003: It embraced him too tightly while failing to make some concessions, like large-scale prisoner releases, that Palestinians expected Abbas to achieve. These are mistakes the Israeli establishment says it does not intend to repeat.

    Proposed moves to help the new Palestinian leadership win popular backing can be divided into two areas — military and civilian. A Foreign Ministry paper urges the IDF to go into “defensive mode” and not launch preemptive strikes against terrorist organizations, and the defense establishment seems to be adopting the advice.

    The IDF plans to cut offensive “seek-and-destroy” operations to a minimum and to focus on intercepting terrorists on their way to attacks. The hope is that if Palestinian factions also display moderation, it could reduce the level of violence in the territories, improve the quality of Palestinian life and enhance Palestinian support for the new leadership.

    Other planned moves are aimed directly at improving civilian life: for example, further easing restrictions on Palestinian movement and encouraging economic activity.

    Another goodwill gesture will be to allow Yasser Arafat to be buried in pomp and circumstance, with a full complement of foreign dignitaries in attendance. A special air corridor will be opened to allow Arab leaders technically at war with Israel, such as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, to fly directly to the funeral without passing through Israeli border controls.

    However, there could be a serious confrontation over where Arafat will be buried. Sharon is adamant that the Palestinian Authority president not be interred in Jerusalem, and Palestinian officials in recent days have spoken of burying Arafat in Ramallah instead. If the Palestinians insist on Jerusalem, it could cause serious tension.

    Abbas has been trying to establish a broad coalition of all Palestinian factions, including the radical fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The key question is whether the radicals will agree to a cease-fire with Israel, or whether the coalition will break up over this or other conciliatory moves. Israel is taking into account the possibility of open warfare between Palestinian factions and might even target the radicals if that occurs.

    If, however, Abbas is able to establish his position and makes progress toward a general cease-fire and reforms, Israel will consider reciprocal steps such as releasing prisoners. There also would be an Israeli effort to coordinate the withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank, as outlined in Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan, with the new Palestinian leadership.

    If all goes smoothly, the next move would be to restart political negotiations based on the road map. This would jibe with European efforts to jump-start stalled peace talks and get the new U.S. administration to join in playing a more active role.

    The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is said to be working on a “street map” that would lead the parties to the road map, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is planning to invite all the relevant parties to an international conference in London to get a peace process restarted.

    “We may be starting to get out of the nightmare,” one upbeat Foreign Ministry official, who insisted on anonymity, told JTA. “We have a historic [disengagement] plan in place, a new American administration and Arafat out of the picture. There is a huge opportunity here.”

    But some Israeli analysts who know the Palestinian scene well suggest that the government is being far too optimistic, and that Abbas won’t have the clout to make the compromises necessary for peace.

    Menachem Klein, a specialist in Palestinian studies at Bar Ilan University, maintains that a relatively weak Abbas leadership would prove to be only a transitional episode, and that Israel soon would have to deal with a new generation of local Palestinian leaders who have far more grass-roots support — people like Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who currently is in an Israeli jail on terrorism charges.

    “They are the people who led the previous intifada in the late 1980s, and they are behind the Tanzim today,” he said, referring to the mainstream Fatah movement’s terrorist militia. “They are not a bunch of collaborators.”

    In Klein’s view, the young lions would make peace with Israel only on terms similar to those acceptable to Arafat. Though Arafat never spelled out his conditions for peace, they are believed to include Arab control over eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and a “right of return” to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, conditions no Israeli leader would accept.

    “Otherwise they will say, ‘We will fight on,'” Klein warned.

    Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

    Why Bush: Kerry Could Harm Israel


    Debates are a chance for the candidates to speak without scripts and show what they truly believe. And in the first presidential debate, Sen. John

    Kerry (D-Mass.) made a revealing comment. While making a point about the war in Iraq, Kerry said that as president, he would make sure America could pass a “global test” before defending its interests.

    Kerry’s threshold for action is being able to “prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.”

    Subjecting foreign policy and national security decisions to Kerry’s “global test” would have a critical effect not just on America’s ability to defend itself, it would dramatically affect the security of one of our most loyal allies, Israel.

    A troubling proportion of the global community considers Israel a racist, illegitimate state. Some of the leading diplomats of the European community, who publicly tolerate Israel’s existence, in their parlors and their cafes dismiss Israel with scatological terminology.

    When international bodies have the opportunity, they ban the presence of Israelis wherever possible — Israeli athletes, Israeli academics, Israeli scientists, Israeli businessmen and Israeli diplomats can all attest to this.

    And this is the community to which Kerry would kowtow on matters of national security and foreign policy?

    Kerry predictably has sent his Jewish political allies to vouchsafe for his pro-Israel bona fides. They say his fealty to Israel is nonnegotiable.

    But does Kerry have the ability to tell the European community, as President Bush has done repeatedly, that anti-Zionism is a modern and savage form of the ancient evil of anti-Semitism?

    Does Kerry have the gumption to personally confront soft allies over anti-Israel, anti-Semitic epithets, as President Bush did to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed? Would Kerry tell his secretary of state, as President Bush did, to abruptly leave an international conference that had become a public lynching of Israel?

    Does Kerry have the willingness to tell Arab states that American support for Israel is not a bargaining chip as we seek to win their cooperation in Iraq?

    President Bush faced that very same quandary in spring 2002, when Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank. Arab nations blamed Israel’s actions for their inability to join the coalition then forming to confront Saddam Hussein.

    But President Bush didn’t budge. The United States has vetoed eight anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Security Council. With that support, Israel effectively destroyed many of the terrorist cells that had plotted slaughters in buses, cafes and Passover seders in Israel.

    By comparison, Kerry, his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), and their foreign policy advisers have shown that they would rather focus on detente and diplomacy than on protecting their friends. But we know from experience that sometimes saying “no deal” to one’s enemies is more effective than saying “I’ll compromise.”

    President Bush understands this, and John Kerry does not.

    Jews who are Democrats may not yet grasp this, but clearly, Israel’s enemies do. The Jerusalem Post reported last month that the Palestinians likely will wait until after the election to present a U.N. resolution calling for sanctions over Israel’s West Bank security barrier “in the hope that if John Kerry wins, the U.S. may not cast a veto.”

    A telling point: The world knows what it’s getting with Bush. But it has different expectations for Kerry.

    Fundamentally, John Kerry’s foreign policy instinct is to negotiate, to deal and to bargain away strengths. Thus Kerry’s 1980s fantasy that unilateral disarmament would defeat the Soviets; the opposite was true. Thus his mistaken belief that the Sandinistas represented the democratic will of the Nicaraguan people; the Nicaraguan people demonstrated the exact opposite.

    Thus Kerry’s 1990s fantasy that Yasser Arafat was a “model statesman”; he was a master terrorist. Thus his theory that the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 wasn’t worth fighting and the second Gulf War wasn’t worth funding. Wrong again on both counts.

    Ask Israelis whether they believe the removal of Saddam was a mistake — or that this war, as both Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean say, was “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

    But Kerry is most egregiously wrong when he says American foreign policy must meet a “global test.” America’s support for Israel should never be contingent on a permission slip from France, Germany or the United Nations.

    Any president who subjects America’s alliance with Israel to a “global test” knows exactly what he will get: total failure.

    Norm Coleman is a Republican senator from Minnesota.

    Why Kerry: Bush Policies Endanger Israel


    Republicans are trying to woo traditionally Democratic Jewish voters to President Bush. Their argument is that the president’s re-election is in

    the best interest of both the United States and Israel. We strongly disagree.

    The United States and Israel have long been bound by a strong commitment to democracy, pluralism and tolerance. Both nations’ greatest strength comes from the power of these ideals.

    Yet under President Bush, we are recklessly squandering the United States’ credibility and moral authority. The result is damaging to U.S. foreign policy and perilous for Israel.

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most intractable problems in the world. Progress toward peace will require adroit and steadfast leadership from the U.S. president. Neither the United States nor Israel is served by a U.S. president who is disdainful of the facts, lacks curiosity and won’t change course even when its flaws are manifest.

    Some hoped that the war in Iraq would lead to stability in the Mideast and security for Israel. But just the opposite has happened.

    Hostility toward the United States and Israel has never been higher. Iraq has become a magnet for terrorists. Civil war could break out once our troops leave, spreading conflict throughout the region.

    The fact is that President Bush’s policies have failed. This administration’s mismanagement of the situation in Iraq has created a situation where both the United States and Israel are less secure.

    The highly respected Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University has concluded that instead of stopping Islamic extremists, the Iraq War “has created momentum for many terrorist elements, but chiefly Al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

    The ironies abound. We went to war to stop Saddam Hussein from spreading weapons of mass destruction. He had none, but while we weren’t looking, Iran and North Korea pushed ahead with their nuclear ambitions.

    Now the Saudis, Egyptians and others could feel compelled to speed up their efforts to join the nuclear club. A nuclear power in the Mideast that threatens U.S. and Israeli interests has grown more likely — not less.

    We wanted to promote democracy in Iraq, but the best we can hope for may be a strongman to run the country with some legitimacy. Whatever its shape, the new Iraqi government will give power to the Shiite majority, which will be close to Iran, the leading sponsor of Hezbollah terrorists. Emboldened mullahs in Iran have dire implications for both the United States and Israel.

    Tragically, President Bush was slow to turn his attention to Israel. More than 300 Israeli civilians were murdered and more than 2,000 were wounded in more than 200 Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians from the time President Bush took office, before he proposed the “road map” for peace and tried to stem the violence. More Israelis have been killed by terrorists during the Bush administration than any other.

    What about Sen. John Kerry? The Republicans smear and distort his Senate record, but the fact is that Kerry has a 100 percent perfect voting record on Israel. Kerry has had decades of experience in foreign policy and his visits to Israel have reinforced his understanding of her security needs. He understands nuances and differences in Israeli politics and the Arab world, and he knows that it is a mistake to think of all Arabs and Muslims in one stereotype.

    And, most important of all, he understands the importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance and the need to pursue policies that are in America’s and Israel’s best interests. He will not make decisions in an echo chamber detached from the realities of the Mideast.

    President Bush has been an extremist, not a conservative. His administration wants to blur the separation of church and state. He is determined to put his majority on the Supreme Court, which will decide issues on choice and civil liberties for generations to come.

    He has put severe constraints on embryonic stem cell research, which has extraordinary potential for saving lives. He has weakened our economy. And he has turned us away from fighting for equal opportunity and social justice. These are not the values that most American Jews support.

    Americans and Israelis both need a U.S. president who can bring the world to understand that securing a safe and strong Israel is an essential component of peace in the Mideast.

    Rep. Henry A. Waxman is a Democrat representing an L.A. congressional district, and Mel Levine is a former L.A. Democratic congressman who served from 1983 to 1993 and is now a Middle East policy adviser to Kerry for President.

    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.

    Did Feith Cross the Pro-Israel Line?


    However the sordid facts play out in the current FBI investigation of a senior Pentagon analyst’s alleged spying on Israel’s behalf, they raise a raft of nettlesome questions — and memories.

    Recall, for example, that the heart of Jonathan Pollard’s self-justification was that he passed on to Israel information regarding Iraq’s evolving capabilities for hurting Israel; information to which Pollard claims Israel was entitled, but to his knowledge was not being shared with Israel.

    Intelligence sharing between America and Israel goes on at the highest levels and is remarkably intimate — but it is not, nor can it be supposed it ever will or even should be, complete. Each nation, sometimes for good reason, sometimes for bad, shares what it knows — or thinks it knows — selectively. In the case at hand, the classified information that was allegedly passed on to Israel was less about Iranian capabilities, more about America’s assessments and intentions. Providing Israel with that kind of secret information is an invitation to the Israelis to focus their diplomatic efforts on persuading America to alter its course — whether by force of argument or by adding new "intelligence," actual or manufactured, to the shared mix.

    Over the years, my own inquiries into the Pollard case have included conversations with people intimately familiar with the entire body of evidence. I am persuaded that what is publicly known regarding Pollard’s betrayal is only a part of its extent. But Pollard himself, miserable though he might be, languishes in his cell not only because of his crimes but also because of Israel’s inadequate response to those crimes. In the aftermath of Pollard, Israel solemnly undertook to make available to the Americans the full dossier regarding what Pollard had stolen and transmitted to his Israeli handler. This undertaking was not honored, and the consequent resentment lingers — and may account for the FBI’s sudden leak of the latest allegations (for more on this story, see p. 14).

    In the days ahead, we will perhaps learn whether the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was, as is alleged by the FBI tattlers, involved. One hopes it was not, lest AIPAC be found to have damaged itself beyond repair, and the Jewish community therefore be required to invent and laboriously build a new lobbying capability to replace it. As a general rule, it would be a mistake to count AIPAC out this early, not only because the allegations are, for the time being, merely allegations, but also because AIPAC is remarkably resilient. Still, there are not a few people in Washington who would delight in an AIPAC rendered at last more modest, if not downright ruined.

    The far more serious threat presented by the unfolding scandal goes to the question of involvement by the pro-Israel community in shaping American Middle East policy. One can be "pro-Israel," however defined, as part of a general theory of American Middle East interests. If one honestly believes, for example, that Iraq can be transformed into a democracy, or even just a law-abiding state, and that such a transformation would create a domino effect throughout the region — rather fantastical beliefs, but just this side of utterly preposterous — then the fact that such a development would be "good for Israel" is an incidental benefit. If, however, one begins with a pro-Israel commitment and from that backs into a policy that calls for an American "war of liberation" in Iraq, that’s another matter entirely. The distinction between the two approaches is sometimes difficult to make — but it is a distinction with a very considerable difference.

    There has been a steady undercurrent of concern in the current war on Iraq regarding the central role in the rationale and run-up to the war played by so-called Jewish intellectuals in and near the Bush administration — principally, in Dick Cheney’s office and in Donald Rumsfeld’s. In the current case, Larry Franklin, the alleged wrongdoer, is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who served in the past as an attaché at the U.S. embassy in Israel; he works for Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and a leading proponent of America’s war on Iraq. Feith, who together with Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Meyrav Wurmser, were the key authors of a 1996 briefing paper for then Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," was critical of Israel’s 1978 peace with Egypt and opposed Oslo, Wye and every other agreement remotely based on "land for peace" or a "two-state solution." The 1996 paper fully reflects that opposition; it calls for a far more aggressive American policy toward both Saddam Hussein and Syria. Feith himself (whose name has repeatedly surfaced in connection with the scandals at Abu Ghreib prison) is one of those connected insiders who seem to outlast scandal (Elliot Abrams being the current poster boy for that talent) and, largely hidden from public view, exercise outsized influence on affairs of state.

    As the United States now stumbles its way toward a coherent policy regarding Iran, with the awesome dangers that an ill-chosen policy would involve, it becomes critically important that we know for a fact that government policy has been developed exclusively on the basis of America’s perceived interests. That cannot, however, come to mean that American Jews, presumptively pro-Israel, are inherently ineligible to participate in such policy formulation or even that they be subjected to more stringent controls. Yet if, in their right-wing, pro-Israel zealotry, Feith or any of the others have in any way suggested to their aides that the sharing of classified information with Israel is acceptable, that is a plausible outcome of this mess. Pro-Israel? Hardly.


    Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights).

    Evangelicals Back Israel at RNC


    "Well, umm, it’s interesting," Air America radio talk show star Al Franken opined on the future of the growing coalition between Jews and evangelical Christians who support Israel.

    We’re at the Republican National Convention, walking across the overhead bridge linking Madison Square Garden and the U.S. Post Office’s James A. Farley Building, where the media are encamped.

    "Evangelical Christians support Israel because according to prophecy, Jews have to be in Israel in order for the apocalypse to happen, and the messiah and all that stuff," he said.

    "And when that happens, of course, Jews will all burn in hell," Franken said. "And so I think at that point the coalition will break up."

    Hades humor aside, the evangelical Christian support that the Jewish community’s position on a secure, safe Israel is becoming more prominent. The phrase "Christian Zionism" in the past few years has entered the lexicons of Israel’s Jewish American supporters as well as liberal Protestants, who usually ally themselves with liberals on issues like abortion and gay rights and are opposed to evangelicals’ alliances with Jews.

    This week’s Republican National Convention continued to press the case for Israel and continued Jewish-evangelical Christian fraternization. On Aug. 29, a pre-convention Chelsea Piers party hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main draw was U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who is popular with evangelicals.

    "Look, they’re not traditional allies on some social justice issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, a public awareness campaign that spent a combined $1 million on pro-Israel advertising during the Republican and Democratic conventions. "That doesn’t mean that we can’t be a big tent and work together on issues that are near and dear to our hearts."

    Dan Israel, a Jewish telecommunications executive and a GOP alternate delegate from Georgia, said Christians’ love of Israel is not predicated on converting Jews or wishing them hellfire.

    "They don’t want to convert all the Jews, because they feel there has to be Jews in the land of Israel for the messiah to come," Israel said. "They don’t feel that every single Jew has to be converted because if that ever happened, the messiah wouldn’t come because there’d be no Jews left in the land of Israel."

    Much Christian support for Zionism is often more personal than biblical.

    "I had a tremendous experience when I was serving in the Middle East, and certainly recognize the importance of Israel’s security," said Geoff Davis, a former 82nd Airborne commander and a conservative Christian running for Congress in the open seat in the Northern Kentucky’s suburbs of Cincinnati, where his Democratic opponent is Nick Clooney, George Clooney’s dad.

    "People are motivated by many different perspectives," Davis said. "I’ve seen it from a wide variety of perspectives. I think what opened my eyes the most was running U.S. Army flight operations on the ground in a multinational force, and the importance of seeking a peaceful solution that preserves the only democratic government in the Middle East. Israel has to have a right to defend itself."

    When Franken’s fellow Minnesotan, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, took to the podium at the Plaza Hotel this week near Manhattan’s Central Park, the freshman Republican made it plain to the mostly Jewish audience of 1,500: "I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate without the strong support of the Republican Jewish Coalition," he said.

    Coleman was one several senators praising the RJC at the growing Jewish GOP group’s swank afternoon party, with police keeping about 120 loud and animated, but nonviolent protesters across the street from the Plaza. Like many senators, Coleman also counts evangelical and fundamentalist Christians as part of his political core. But while Jews and conservative Christians find common ground in supporting Israel’s right to exist, how the Jewish state will exist can at times divide liberal and centrist Jews and evangelical Christians.

    "Where it becomes complicated is when many of them oppose the idea of territorial compromise," said David Bernstein, Washington, D.C., chapter director for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which this week in New York held not only a forum on Jewish Republicans plus talks on the Sudanese crisis and anti-Americanism, but also four separate discussions on Jewish American relations with Latinos, Korean Americans, Indian Americans and Turkish Americans.

    "There is no Jewish-evangelical alliance," said Bernstein, explaining the frustrations that can occur between some Jews and some Christians. "There’s an illusion of alliance because both evangelical Christians and Jews [support Israel]. That doesn’t mean that they’re coordinating in any way, shape of form. Their support is valuable, but that doesn’t mean there’s coordination."

    Bernstein said that some evangelical and fundamentalist Christians he knows feel more comfortable with more conservative Jewish-oriented Israel advocacy groups that present tough, no-compromise policy scenarios which may appeal to Christians with Bible-driven views of what modern Israel should be.

    Republican National Committee Chairman and former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot downplayed any Evangelical-Jewish rift on policy specifics, saying that the party has, "bridges built to virtually all of the faiths."

    Washington pundit Norman Ornstein said policy disagreements between Jews and Christians are found in abortion and gay marriage, so therefore Israel should not be an exception just because evangelicals support Jews with a basic, upfront Christian Zionist support for Israel’s right to exist.

    "Friends in a broad issue may not be friends in the specifics," Ornstein said. "Some evangelical organizations are going to have clashes, with the more centrist and liberal Jewish organizations that are pro-Israel because they ally themselves with very tough-minded positions. But it’s not true of all evangelicals, and a lot of evangelicals who support Israel don’t necessarily adhere to a no-compromise position. So you’re going to find shifting alliances."

    Other Jewish political activists are unfazed by policy differences with Christians and welcome not only their U.S. support but also how their religious tourism dollars have been a bulwark keeping alive Israel’s tourism industry, which has suffered due to terrorism, which has kept many Jewish American tourists away in large numbers in the past few years.

    Stanley Treitel, an L.A. Jewish community activist who attends Young Israel of Hancock Park, dismissed AJC concerns about the influence that more conservative Zionist groups may have on Christians, such as the Zionist Organization of America.

    "I think that’s internal Jewish fighting," Treitel said. "I don’t think that anybody can control any one group. They [evangelical Christians] see that the right step to be taken with Israel is on the right side of the aisle, not on the left side, as we see with the AJC or the American Jewish Congress; they’re on the left side of the aisle."

    Watergate legend and radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy also understands why Jews and Christians break bread together on Israel.

    "People who are religiously observant, as Christian evangelicals are, are respectful of other people who are religiously observant, as are so many Jews," said Liddy, whose GOP "Radio Row" microphone table was about 15 yards away from Al Franken’s Air America table. "Both religions have strong senses of good and evil, right and wrong. And so I would suggest that they are natural allies."

    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."