Australian Foreign Minister tells Tehran delegates to walk out if anti-Semtism


Jewish community leaders in Australia are angry that the government is sending delegates to a summit in Iran, though they have been instructed to walk out at the first sign of “anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the attendance of two Australian officials at the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Tehran next week sends the wrong message to a regime that “sponsors terrorist groups around the world.”

“The Iranian regime does not deserve the kind of legitimacy it will derive from Australia’s presence,” Lamm said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr defended Australia’s decision to send Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations and the Prime Ministerial Special Envoy but instructed them Thursday to walk out if there’s any “anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

“If there is any of that anti-Semitic rhetoric, that inflammatory anti-Israeli rhetoric, from the president of Iran, our ambassador at the UN is under instruction from me directly to be the first on his feet to walk out,” Carr told reporters.

Lamm said Carr’s decision to order a walk out was “reassuring,” but added, “The entire Iranian regime rests on a political ideology that is corrupted to the core with anti-Semitism. It would therefore have been preferable for Australia to have no representation at all.”

The NAM is a group of 120 nations not aligned to any major bloc. Australia is not a member.

Turkey says Israel not welcome at NATO summit


Turkey blocked the participation of Israel in next month’s NATO Summit in Chicago, a Turkish newspaper reported.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vetoed Israel’s participation during a NATO foreign ministers meeting last week in Brussels, the Hurriyet Daily News reported Monday.

“There will be no Israeli presence at the NATO meeting unless they issue a formal apology and pay compensation for the Turkish citizens their commandos killed in international waters,” a senior Turkish official told Hurriyet, referring to the deaths of nine Turkish activists during an Israeli naval commando raid on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara as it attempted to break Israeli’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010. 

“Those countries who wish to see normalization in ties between Turkey and Israel should advise Israel to apologize and to compensate the killing of Turks in international waters,” the official told the news service.

Israel, as well as other countries including Egypt, Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco, is a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program.

Turkey has previously vetoed Israeli attempts to participate more fully in NATO. It vetoed an Israeli request to open an office at NATO headquarters and its participation in some Mediterranean Dialogue group activities, according to Hurriyet.

“You are talking about being partners and partnership values. But partners, first of everything, should act like partners, so that we’ll treat them accordingly,” Davutoglu said during last week’s NATO meeting, according to Hurriyet

Jewish, Latino leaders gather for summit


Local Jewish and Latino community leaders convened at UCLA on Sept. 22 for “Common History, Shared Future: A Summit for Leaders of the Latino and Jewish Communities in Los Angeles,” a meeting that featured closed-door discussions on topics such as “Israel,” “The Impact of Global Anti-Semitism,” “Empowerment and Engagement in Economy, Media and Politics” and “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”

Held at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall, the daylong event drew 60 community leaders — 30 Jewish and 30 Latino participants, representing 12 organizations. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) organized the meeting with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the National Council of La Raza and the New America Alliance, an American Latino business initiative.

ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind said the timing of the summit was tied to the Los Angeles mayoral race.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was unable to attend the event, steps down in 2013 due to term limits. Three of the eight candidates currently in the race are Jewish: L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, whose mother is Jewish and whose father is of Mexican descent; Austin Beutner, first deputy mayor and economic policy chief for Villaraigosa; and L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who converted to Judaism almost 30 years ago.

The Latino and Jewish communities share a connection to Boyle Heights, and coalitions between the two groups date back more than 60 years. In 1949, Los Angeles’ Latino-Jewish coalition helped elect Ed Roybal as Los Angeles’ first Latino city councilman.

More recently, Latino leaders in Los Angeles have participated in delegations to Israel; ADL and AJC programs have paired Jewish and Latino leaders in Los Angeles; and Israel’s previous consul general in Los Angeles, Jacob Dayan, worked with Villaraigosa on a number of city events, including the raising of the Israeli flag outside the Israeli consulate on Wilshire Boulevard.

During a press conference that followed the discussions, Israeli Consul General David Siegel said that like Israel, Los Angeles’ Latino population absorbs immigrants and holds language and culture in high regard.

“We should embrace diversity and find pragmatic solutions to problems of mankind,” he said, referring to the Jewish-Latino partnership.

Maya Entertainment CEO Moctesuma Esparza agreed: “We both have communities that are in tremendous Diaspora. We look to build a future that is based on human values, tolerance and embracing our differences.”

Esparza said that media networks Univision and Telemundo can help increase awareness about Israel in the Latino community by offering more in-depth coverage of events there, as opposed to “30-second sound bites.”

The consensus among attendees was that the summit was productive and that another one would likely happen in the future.

“We dug deeper,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “It was not about platitudes.”

G8 calls for release of Gilad Shalit


The Group of Eight leading industrialized nations called on Thursday for the immediately release of Gilad Shalit, after Egyptian-brokered talks to secure the kidnapped Israeli soldier’s release had come to a standstill.

The G8, meeting in Italy, also called for the immediate opening of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings to allow the entry of humanitarian aid, goods and people into the Hamas-ruled territory. The nations added that this move must not compromise Israel’s safety. Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Sarkozy’s summit gets every* Arab country to sit with Israel


PARIS (JTA)—While the French-initiated summit for the Union for the Mediterranean did not produce any major breakthroughs, French President Nicolas Sarkozy recognized one achievement.
“The fact that we were all in the same room is already a lot,” Sarkozy said at a news conference Sunday in the French capital following the inaugural summit, which featured the participation of every Arab country other than Libya with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Conference participants approved six projects and signed an accord that, among other things, talks of developing peace and fighting terrorism. All 43 nations also signed on to support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Sarkozy underlined that much work still needed to be done to implement the projects.
Peace between Israel and Syria and the Palestinian Authority was a major focus of the event.
On Sunday, Sarkozy hosted a meeting of Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a day earlier Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Sarkozy and the new president of Lebanon, Michel Suleiman, to discuss peace in the region.

Olmert spoke about his morning discussion with Abbas.
“It seems to me that we have never been closer to the possibility of a peace accord than we are today,” Olmert told reporters.
“We are living through an essential and critical moment,” he said, evoking the “very serious negotiations” currently under way.
Abbas said at the news conference that “it is in all of our interests to reach” peace. “We should achieve peace for the people of the Middle East in general, but also for peace in the world.”
The summit, which aimed to normalize Israel’s relationship with its Mediterranean Arab neighbors through shared economic and cultural projects, was considered risky due to the huge differences among the participating nations.
Referring to critics who questioned the feasibility of the French-initiated project, Sarkozy asked in his opening remarks Sunday, “Who can live without taking risks?”

He added, “The very idea of life is that: to take risks. The risk we are taking in Europe is to extend a hand of friendship to [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak and to invite Prime Minister Olmert as a friend. If the risk we are taking is just that, extending a hand of friendship, and trying to construct peace, then it would have been an even greater risk not to have taken that risk.”

At the conference, Assad sat opposite Olmert at a large, circular table set in alphabetical order so the disputing countries were not placed side by side. The leaders did not meet one on one, nor did they shake hands.

Afterward, Sarkozy dismissed rumors that Assad stepped out before Olmert’s closed-door speech to member states, insisting that the event went off “without an incident.”
But according to several diplomats and participants, Assad and Abbas left for meetings on the sidelines of the summit. Assad reportedly met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

An Israeli official said that Assad left the room half an hour before Olmert’s speech.

A European source reportedly confirmed that both Assad and Abbas were absent, but insisted their absence was “neither ostentatious, nor intended to create an incident.”

Mubarak wondered, “If Mr Assad has things to do outside of the plenary session, what is the problem?”
Following a Saturday meeting with Sarkozy, a visibly cheerful Assad told reporters that he wanted France to co-mediate any direct talks between Israel and Syria with the United States when a new American president takes office next year.

At a news conference Saturday, Sarkozy told reporters that he asked the Syrian leader to “bring him proof” that Iran was not planning to build nuclear weapons.

The next day Sarkozy told journalists that during his meeting with Assad, he discussed the Syrian leader’s potential contribution to the freeing of Israeli kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who is also a French citizen, held captive by Hamas since 2006.

Assad is in a position to speak to Hamas on the subject because of Syria’s close ties to the group.

Syria and Israel are holding indirect talks through Turkey. Both have raised the specter of direct talks but there have been no agreements.
Olmert said he hoped the indirect talks would be upgraded to direct talks “in the future,” but added, “The Syrian track will under no circumstances come at the expense of the Palestinian talks, which are of utmost importance to us.”
Assad’s visit to France, a first since Syria and France froze ties in 2005, marks his newly improved relationship with Europe.
In his opening remarks Sunday, Mubarak said, “This new phase we’re entering into must be an age of peace in the Middle East, and I would invite Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert to pursue their peace negotiations in order to achieve total peace, and in order to establish an independent Palestinian state and to open a new era of peace in the Middle East.”

Mubarak, who was presiding over the conference with Sarkozy, called for a realistic approach to Sunday’s discussions while maintaining a new and positive outlook for improved negotiations.

“We must not overlook the consequences of the gap between the countries of the South and those of the North,” he said. “We must take a realistic view of that gap, but we must also approach it in a new spirit with a new philosophy.”

Following the conference, Sarkozy congratulated “the Arab countries for their courage” in accepting the invitation to join Israel at the discussion table.
Until last week it appeared that a handful of key Arab states, such as Algeria, would not attend the summit because of Israel’s presence and fears that northern European nations would take an upper hand in the conference, which initially did not include all of the European Union.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent senior representatives because of reported scheduling problems.

All the participants were invited to Monday’s Bastille Day celebrations, which at first incited an outcry from human rights activists who criticized Assad’s presence.

Sarkozy announced that the participants had adopted six projects that involve cleaning up the Mediterranean Sea, as well as creating maritime and land highways, civil protection programs, solar energy laboratories, a Euro-Mediterranean university and a business development initiative for the region.

“In four hours we couldn’t solve everything,” Sarkozy joked, “but now we need to develop [discussions] and go farther.”

Assad snubs Olmert at Sarkozy’s Mediterranean summit


PARIS (JTA)—It was the snub of the day.

Despite overtures by Israel’s prime minister to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Assad refused to acknowledge, shake hands, be photographed with or listen to Ehud Olmert when the two shared a conference room at Sunday’s Union for the Mediterranean in Paris.

Just hours before the Paris summit, Olmert sent Assad a message pressing for direct talks between the two countries before a new U.S. administration takes office, and insisting on his “serious” desire for peace.

Israel and Syria are engaged in indirect peace talks through mediation by Turkey, which delivered Olmert’s latest message to Assad.

But Assad chose to rebuff Olmert rather than engage in any rapprochement with him at the 43-nation Paris confab.

“We are not seeking symbols,” Assad told a French TV station, saying he avoided a handshake with Olmert because Syria and Israel are still only in indirect peace talks.

In some ways, the elaborate conference held at the Grand Palais, an imposing Art Nouveau structure with a glass roof and pale green arches, served to highlight the long road left to go before Israel is recognized by some of its Arab neighbors in the Mediterranean region.

Several Arab leaders refused to be photographed with the Israeli leader, so there was no joint photo at the meeting’s end.

A Reuters photographer captured a shot of Olmert apparently trying to catch Assad’s attention while Assad blocks his face with his hand to avoid eye contact.

On Monday, an Israeli official said in an interview with JTA that although “Olmert sat through and listened to everything Assad said” during the Syrian leader’s speech at the conference, “Assad left when Olmert spoke.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy denied that any intentional snub took place Sunday. Assad reportedly left the conference room for hallway consultations a half-hour before Olmert spoke.

Last week, Israeli and French officials had expressed hopes that some sort of direct contact between Assad and Olmert might take place at the weekend summit.

Before the conference, Olmert asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convey to Assad that Olmert is “extremely serious in his desire to move forward in peace talks” with Syria, Israeli officials said.

Despite the undiplomatic maneuvering, attendees and observers noted that the broad participation in the conference may have helped lay a foundation for improved dialogue and cooperation in the region.

The leaders of such countries as Syria, Algeria, Morocco and Israel all shared a common table, and they reached some concrete agreements toward improving cooperation on regional issues.

Assad’s cold shoulder wasn’t the only snub at the conference. Morocco’s king reportedly skipped a meeting attended by the president of Algeria due to the rivalry between the two countries.

Despite Assad’s avoidance of Olmert, Assad told Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday that he wants to “normalize” relations with Israel once a peace accord is reached.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharm summit talks expose the devil in the details


How to turn the disaster of the Hamas’ capture of Gaza into a political opportunity was the main focus of this week’s four-way summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert all expressed hope for a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process now that Abbas has set up a moderate, Fatah-led government without Hamas.

The subtext was clear: A vibrant Israeli-Palestinian peace process could help stop the terror-filled, Iranian-backed power that Hamas represents — and which all four leaders fear — from spreading.

But although they agreed on the general direction and even on some of the specifics, there were major differences on a number of key issues.

Mubarak, for example, spoke of the urgent need for Fatah and Hamas to reconcile.

The Palestinians, he said, needed to speak with a single, united voice. But a new Fatah-Hamas deal is precisely what Olmert does not want to see.

He fears the return of Hamas would undermine any chance for a genuine Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. And he is worried that Abbas may be pressured into striking a new deal with Hamas.

More significant, whereas Mubarak, Abdullah and Abbas all want to see accelerated talks on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Olmert has his doubts. He sees the split between Gaza and the West Bank as making the conflict easier to manage but more difficult to resolve.

Olmert favors a more careful, step-by-step approach that gradually would create conditions for a final settlement rather than making a gigantic leap toward a peace accord that would likely fail.

In the summit’s concluding news conference, Mubarak, Abdullah and Abbas all urged quick movement toward a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, side by side, at peace. Abbas proposed setting a clear timetable for negotiations and insisted that all the core issues, including borders, refugees, Jerusalem and water, were soluble.

The new Palestinian government under former finance minister Salam Fayyad and the international community’s lifting of its economic boycott on the Palestinians created genuine opportunities for peace, Abbas said.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, added that the establishment of a Palestinian state was now the most urgent issue on Abbas’ agenda.

Many Israeli analysts, however, doubt whether Israel and the Palestinians are yet in a position to cut a final peace deal. They argue that Olmert would not be able to satisfy Palestinian demands on borders, refugees and Jerusalem, and Abbas will be hard pressed to keep a lid on terror in the West Bank where he is in control, let alone in Gaza, where he is not.

Olmert, therefore, seems to favor a slower, interim approach to take steps to improve the quality of life on the West Bank, create a model Palestinian polity and then build toward a final-status agreement.

But the Palestinians want final-status talks to start now. Nimmer Hamad, one of Abbas’ top advisers, told Israel Radio that it was time Olmert recognized Abbas as a genuine peace partner.

Hamad said Abbas would disarm all terror groups, including Fatah’s own Al-Aksa battalions, to create conditions for peace talks. If there is no “political horizon,” he warned, extremism will grow.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are sympathetic to that position. They agree that Israel and the Palestinians should negotiate a final-status agreement even if it cannot be implemented for some time.

American and Israeli diplomats call it a “shelf agreement,” ready to be taken down and implemented as soon conditions allow. Such an agreement would be a strong incentive for Palestinians to get their act together, they say.

Olmert, however, is adamantly opposed to cutting such a deal. He argues that a deferred agreement would only invite pressure on Israel to make further concessions so it can be implemented.

Given the readiness on the Arab side to go for a final peace deal, and the fact that a true political horizon for the Palestinians would be the best way to strengthen Abbas and the moderate cause, the international community may press for it.

If as expected, the diplomatic Quartet of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations appoints outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair as its special Middle East envoy, he may well focus on getting this shelf agreement.

In the meantime, Olmert intends to go ahead with confidence-building measures.

At the summit he did what no Israeli prime minister has done before in such strong terms: He delivered an impassioned recognition of Palestinian suffering.
“We are not indifferent to your suffering, and we are ready to take steps to bring it to an end,” he declared.

Olmert went on to announce that he intends to release 250 Fatah prisoners as a goodwill gesture.

The Israeli leader is also considering a number of steps to improve the quality of Palestinian life in the West Bank. These include releasing more than $500 million in Palestinian tax money in installments, on the condition that none of it reaches terrorists; easing movement by lifting roadblocks, although the Israeli army and Shin Bet warn this could invite a new wave of suicide bombings; and renewing economic and trade ties.

Olmert said he intended to meet Abbas at least once every two weeks to take the new process forward.

“We will work with this government which recognizes Israel, accepts previous agreements and rejects violence” to “create political opportunities and a better life,” he said.

Olmert’s policy toward the Hamas regime in Gaza will be the opposite. While Israel will allow the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, it will do all it can to isolate the Hamas government.

Already this seems to be having an effect. On the first anniversary of his abduction, the captors of Gilad Shalit released an audio tape in which the kidnapped Israeli soldier urges the government to do a deal to secure his release.

Pundits see the release of the tape, the first sign of life from Shalit since his capture, as evidence that Hamas, ignored even by some Arab countries, is seeking ways to get back into the game.

Now, as Olmert and Abbas make progress, the question is: Will Hamas be ready to actually effect Shalit’s release to alleviate its growing isolation?

Olmert-Rice-Abbas summit meets low expectations


No one expected this week’s tripartite American-Israeli-Palestinian summit to make any startling breakthroughs. For days, spokesmen for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been lowering expectations.

Rice initially envisaged the Feb. 19 summit as a grand festive opening of three-way talks on the establishment of a Palestinian state. But the agreement between the radical Hamas and the more moderate Fatah to establish a Palestinian unity government that probably won’t overtly recognize Israel altered the focus.

Rice and Olmert used the summit to make clear to Abbas that the United States and Israel will boycott the new Palestinian government unless it meets the international Quartet’s three benchmark conditions: recognition of Israel, acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renunciation of violence.

Still, the summit was not without its achievements: It clarified what the Palestinian side needs to do to get the yearlong international economic boycott lifted; it broached new ideas for advancing the peace “road map”; and it made clear that peace talks with Abbas, a Fatah leader who does accept the three benchmark conditions, would continue even if the new Palestinian government does not follow his lead.

What happens next will depend on how skillfully the parties maneuver in trying to advance their often disparate agendas. For example, how far they are able to move along the peace road will depend to a large extent on how the new power-sharing arrangements between Hamas and Fatah play out.

Will Fatah be able to use Hamas’ support of the unity government to move the process forward, or will Hamas be able to exploit a Fatah fig leaf to have international sanctions lifted without making any political or ideological concessions? Will Abbas be able to move the talks toward the two-state final peace deal he wants, or will Hamas limit him to no more than the long-term cease-fire it seeks?

In cutting the national unity deal with Fatah in Mecca in early February, Hamas had two major priorities: ending weeks of dangerous internecine fighting with Fatah before it escalated into full-blown civil war and getting the international boycott on the Palestinians lifted.

For Hamas, the problem is how to get the boycott lifted without making ideological concessions — like recognizing Israel. The solution has been to give Abbas a free hand to negotiate in the hope that progress will entail at least a gradual easing of the sanctions. But what will Hamas do if there is a diplomatic breakthrough, come on board or try to spoil it?

The classic Hamas strategy is based on the assumption that time is on the side of the Palestinians. Hamas leaders argue that the regional balance is tilting against Israel and that, over time, the Palestinians will prevail. Therefore, they oppose a two-state solution and seek a long-term cease-fire, or hudna, which they hope will lead to the lifting of the international boycott and enable their group to build up its power for another round against Israel.

Some Fatah spokesmen, however, detect a looming transformation in Hamas thinking. They argue that the Mecca agreement heralds a movement toward Abbas’ position that violence against Israel is counterproductive and that Hamas might be ready, under certain circumstances, to consider the merits of a two-state solution. And, if that is the case, Abbas may be given license to go all the way.

In any event, Abbas hopes to use the negotiations to transform the everyday life of Palestinians and so restore Fatah’s political dominance. His goal in the ongoing talks with Israel and the United States is to get a negotiation framework for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in place so he can offer the Palestinian people a “political horizon.” He also wants Palestinian prisoners released and Israeli army roadblocks in the West Bank lifted.

In Monday’s summit, Abbas reiterated the importance of these gestures in the struggle for Palestinian opinion and, in return, promised that the new Palestinian government would do all it could to release the abducted Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and stop Kassam rockets being fired over the Gaza border.

By improving his image among the Palestinian people, Abbas hopes he and Fatah will be able to win new elections. When they come, he wants to be able to say that Fatah can deliver on statehood and large-scale foreign investment, whereas Hamas can only offer more suffering.

In this situation, the American game has been to adopt a carrot-and-stick policy to convince the Palestinians to move on the two-state track. To encourage the Palestinian side during the summit, Rice suggested discussing all aspects of the road map simultaneously, including statehood, but implementing the stages sequentially — from cease-fire to Palestinian mini-state to full-fledged Palestinian statehood.

“The road map does not say that it is not possible to talk about the destination even if you have many, many conditions on both sides that need to be fulfilled before you can get there,” Rice told the daily Ha’aretz.

But in an implied criticism of the Palestinians’ lack of readiness for serious engagement, Rice told the Palestinian daily al-Hayam that she was not sure there could be a Palestinian state before President Bush’s presidency ends in January 2009.

Israel’s approach has been to use international support for the three benchmark conditions to pressure the Palestinians to accept them. But even if they do not, as is widely expected, Olmert remains interested in a political process to revive his flagging political fortunes.

Olmert is skeptical about the chances of resolving final-status issues like Jerusalem or refugees. Indeed, he maintains that discussing them prematurely could do more harm than good. So, ironically, like Hamas, the Israeli prime minister also prefers a long-term cease-fire without the trappings of Palestinian statehood.
Given the newfound unity on the Palestinian side, this might just be doable. Until now Abbas, despite his good will, has been largely impotent, unable to deliver on a cease-fire or on Shalit’s release, never mind Palestinian statehood or final borders.

The new Hamas-Fatah unity government, however, represents a very wide segment of Palestinian opinion and would have the moral authority to sanction compromises with Israel. Indeed, with its backing, Abbas might be able to make a deal that sticks. Especially if, like a long-term hudna, it is one Hamas backs anyway.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Tale of heroics, terror from the top of the world


It was a beautiful morning in May on the world’s highest mountain, and Dan Mazur was feeling good. He had been hiking throughout the night in below-freezing temperatures, and now he and his team — a sherpa and two other climbers — had only two hours to go until reaching the summit of Mount Everest.

Mazur had reached the top before, 15 years earlier. But this time, the mountain climber and guide was leading two clients who were paying more than $20,000 each for the chance to accomplish the goal of a lifetime. Their objective was so close they could almost reach out and touch it.

Suddenly, Mazur saw something unexpected — some yellow fabric in the distance. At first it looked like a tent, but then it became clear that it was a person, a man sitting cross-legged on a narrow ridge with an 8,000-foot drop to one side and a 6,000-foot drop to the other.

At 28,000 feet — a part of the mountain dubbed the “death zone,” because the weather is so cold and oxygen is so scarce — the man wore no gloves, no hat and had unzipped his down suit to his waist.

“I imagine you’re surprised to see me here,” the man said.

What happened next would cost Mazur his summit and save the man’s life. Now, more than six months later, Mazur, a 46-year-old who lives in Olympia, Wash., will talk about the adventure and dramatic rescue at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue on Wednesday evening, Dec. 6.

As it turned out, the man on the ledge was Lincoln Hall, one of Australia’s best-known climbers. Hall had attempted to summit Everest 22 years earlier but never made it. This time, at age 50, Hall had made it to the top.

But on the way down the day before, Hall had started having trouble.

Experiencing the classic symptoms of altitude sickness — fatigue and hallucinations — Hall had refused to continue down the mountain and ended up passing out. The two sherpas with him concluded, after poking Hall in the eye and getting no response, that Hall was dead. Suffering from lack of oxygen themselves, they hurried down the mountain.

A friend had already broken the news to Hall’s wife and teenage sons: Hall was dead — or so they thought. In fact, he was struggling but alive. He ended up lasting through the night alone.

Atop the mountain, at around 7:30 a.m., Mazur and his team persuaded a resistant Hall to put on his gloves and hat. They gave him oxygen, tea and a Snickers bar and tethered him to their rope. They radioed down to Hall’s expedition group, which dispatched a rescue team.

It would take more than three hours for the rescuers to arrive. But Mazur and his climbers waited with Hall, while their chances of summiting slipped away.
In the end, Hall suffered frostbite; he lost some fingertips. But he made it down the mountain.

Mazur’s rescue caught the attention of national media, which had reported only days earlier the demise of another Everest climber, David Sharp, who died after an estimated 40 climbers passed him without offering any help.

“I was always taught that when you see someone who needs help, you’ve got to help him right away,” Mazur said, speaking on the phone from Washington State.

If he had the day to do over, he said, “I would do it again exactly the same.”
Mazur, who grew up with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, said he is more spiritual than religious. But that day, high on the mountain, Mazur prayed. He prayed that God would help Hall.

“I believe that Lincoln Hall survived because he was very lucky; the weather was not too bad; he was in good shape,” Mazur said. “And I believe there was a higher power that was looking after him.”

Dan Mazur will speak on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, 24855 Pacific Coast Highway. Admission is free.
For more information, call (310) 456-2178

Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife


 

More than 1,000 pro-Israel activists from across the United States will meet in Los Angeles for the Oct. 30-31 National Summit on Foreign Policy and Politics of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

They will join former President Bill Clinton, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, members of Congress, Israeli military leaders and journalists, scholars and top AIPAC officials in analyzing key issues facing Israel in the Middle East and in its relations with the United States.

Among forum and panel topics are terrorism threats against Los Angeles and other American cities, attitudes of the Latino community, Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, innovative Israeli technology, challenges on American college campuses, the role of European Jewry and development of the Negev and Galilee.

For a Hollywood break, participants will take a studio tour and join a panel discussion with producers of “The West Wing” and “Commander in Chief.”

Attendance at the two-day meeting at the Westin Century Plaza Hotel is limited to members of AIPAC’s Capitol Club, who annually contribute $3,600 or more.

The meeting comes at a time when the influential pro-Israel lobby finds itself the object of much unwelcome media attention.

Two former top AIPAC officials in Washington, D.C. are currently facing trial in federal court on charges that they conspired with a former Pentagon analyst to communicate secret information to an Israeli diplomat.

AIPAC has dismissed the two officials, but is paying for their defense in accordance with its bylaws.

The legal charges have not impacted the organization’s clout in Congress nor its membership and fundraising figures, AIPAC officials maintain.

On the contrary, they say, since the beginning of the second intifada five years ago, AIPAC membership has almost doubled from 55,000 to 100,000, and its annual operating budget has risen from $17 million to $40 million.

Over the last two years alone, membership has grown by some 25 percent and conferences across the country have scored record attendances, according to AIPAC officials, who are not obliged to document this information.

They attribute the rise mainly to the violence of the initifada and the impact of Sept. 11, factors that emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

While figures regarding AIPAC could not be independently verified, a number of key L.A. Jewish activists asserted in interviews that the indictments of the two ex-AIPAC officials have not, so far, had a detrimental effect on support for the organization.

About half of the attendees at the summit meeting are expected to come from the Southern Pacific region of AIPAC, which has an estimated 10,000-15,000 members in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.

 

All About AIPAC

AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying

How to Polish a Tarnished Image

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

Looking for a Shining Star

 

But Will It Last?


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The dust is still settling after last week’s summit at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, but early signs on the ground are highly contradictory.

Last week, just 48 hours after the summit, Palestinian terrorist groups fired more than 50 mortar shells at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip — yet now Hamas, the largest and most important of the terrorist groups, says it’s committed to the cease-fire announced at the summit.

Israel’s security service, Shin Bet, says the cease-fire won’t last, but the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say everything must be done to give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a chance to impose law and order.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is doing all he can to help Abbas, but right-wing efforts to subvert Sharon’s policy are taking on a more menacing character.

And while Israeli officials say peacemaking will succeed only if the terrorist groups are disarmed — a key component of the internationally backed “road map” peace plan — Abbas makes clear that he has no intention of moving against the terrorists any time soon.

Not surprisingly, assessments differ as to whether this latest Israeli-Palestinian peace bid will succeed.

Sharon is accentuating the positive. He returned from the summit in high spirits, emphasizing two major achievements: All the key players, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Abbas, now recognize that terrorism must stop before peacemaking can begin. They also all accept Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank as the basis for a new dynamic leading to peace talks based on the road map.

In the not-so-distant past, the Arabs and many Europeans had argued that peacemaking was the way to stop terrorism. Now, a senior Sharon aide said, it’s clear to everyone that terrorism must stop before peace can have a chance.

On the declarative level, at least, the summit signaled a return to the situation that existed before the intifada began in September 2000. According to the understandings reached, the violence will end, Israeli troops will move out of Palestinian towns and cities, roadblocks will be lifted, Palestinian prisoners will be released and Palestinian workers will return to Israel.

But Israeli officials point to key differences from the pre-intifada status quo that give them hope for a better outcome this time around.

For one, both sides have been traumatized by the violence and realize the consequences of failing to achieve a political settlement. Moreover, influential regional players are playing a positive role, and an Israeli withdrawal plan and a step-by-step road map toward an agreement are in place.

But the biggest change of all, one official said, “is that now, at last, there is a rational partner on the Palestinian side.”

The acid test, Israeli officials say, will be whether the new Palestinian leadership can stop the terror. Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner maintains that this will be possible only if Abbas confronts and disarms Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Otherwise, even if he gets them to agree to a cease-fire, it won’t last. In a few days or weeks from now they will start firing mortars or Kassam rockets again, we will react, and we’ll all be back to square one, embroiled in a new intifada,” Pazner said. “The militias will either have to disarm voluntarily, or Abbas will have to take them on. There is no other way.”

The fragility of the cease-fire was highlighted when terrorist groups bombarded Jewish settlements in Gaza on Feb. 10. But on Sunday, after a meeting with Abbas, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar announced that Hamas not only accepted the cease-fire, but would consult with the Palestinian Authority before “retaliating against Israeli violations.”

Two initial groups of 500 and 400 prisoners slated 0for release do not include any with “blood on their hands.” But the day after his return from Sharm el-Sheik last week, Sharon told journalists he had promised Abbas that if he ended terrorism, Israel would consider releasing prisoners who have attacked Israelis. Sharon also will allow terrorists expelled from the territories to return.

Whether or not Palestinian terrorism ends and despite the threats from Jewish extremists, Sharon aides say the prime minister will go ahead with the disengagement plan. But what happens next will depend on the Palestinians.

If the Palestinians fail to fight terrorism, Israel will stop after the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank and “park” on the new lines “for as long as it takes,” a close Sharon aide told JTA. But, he said, if there is concerted Palestinian action against terrorism, the parties will be able to move relatively quickly toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“Everything depends on how they control terror,” the aide said.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

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Negotiating Jerusalem


As Prime Minister Ehud Barak engages this week in Middle East summitry, there is one issue on which he can afford to make the fewest concessions: Jerusalem.

Struggling to hold together the vestiges of his governing majority before leaving for Camp David on Monday, Barak assured the nation on the eve of his departure that Jerusalem would remain undivided under Israeli sovereignty in any peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Barak’s office, also, maintained that, along with his Jerusalem stance, the premier made his other principles abundantly clear during his televised address Sunday:

No return to the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War; No foreign army inside the West Bank; No Palestinian sovereignty over the majority of Jewish settlers; No acceptance by Israel of legal or moral responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

Jerusalem and the refugee issue are the two most intractable issues facing the two sides at Camp David.The fact that there will be some changes, though relatively small ones, in the pre-1967 lines is taken in Israel as a given. If Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat sticks to his public demand for a return to the 1967 boundaries, there will be no agreement.

It is also widely believed that the two sides have agreed to a demilitarized Palestinian state and the stationing of Israeli troops at selected key points on the Jordan River.

Similarly, it is also believed that Israel will be able to annex three settlement blocs close to the old border – although the Palestinians are said to be demanding compensatory slices of Israeli territory alongside the Gaza Strip.

This annexation was originally proposed in the “Beilin-Abu Mazen” agreement, an informal accord negotiated during 1995 between Yossi Beilin, now Barak’s justice minister, and Abu Mazen, Arafat’s second-in-command.

On Jerusalem, the Beilin-Abu Mazen accord envisaged a Palestinian capital, to be called “al-Quds” – or “holy city,” the Arabic name for Jerusalem – alongside the city’s present boundaries.Those boundaries – drawn up by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan in the wake of the 1967 war and subsequently proclaimed sovereign Israeli soil by the Knesset – do not embrace important Palestinian suburbs such as Abu Dis, Azariya and a-Ram.

These areas, Beilin and Abu Mazen believed, could develop and become a credible Palestinian capital.Since 1995, in a tacit recognition of the acceptability of the Beilin-Abu Mazen scheme, Israel has turned a blind eye to the Palestinians’ construction of a large and impressive building in Abu Dis that is intended to serve as their Parliament building.

The Palestinian position on the eve of the summit is that Beilin-Abu Mazen is deficient.They insist on control of the Temple Mount and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. They also insist on control of Palestinian areas within Jerusalem that are close to the Old City walls, such as Sheik Jarrah, the American Colony and Wadi Joz.

Informed Israeli observers said this week that while the question of sovereignty and flags over the Temple Mount is capable of resolution – especially since Jewish religious law forbids entry onto the mount – the question of sovereignty over the Palestinian areas within the city could prevent an agreement from being reached.

The Palestinians must realize, say these observers, that no Israeli government could turn over any of these areas and hope to survive politically.

But the Palestinian negotiators are insisting that the Palestinian people live under their own sovereignty – and this includes not only the 500,000 Palestinians living in the Greater Jerusalem area, but also the 180,000 who live within the present city limits.

But to carve up the city would flatly contradict Barak’s pledge of a “united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.”

A solution will require further flexibility and ingenuity if they are to emerge reasonably satisfied – and with their respective declarations of unswerving allegiance to the Holy City intact.

Dealing With Syria


This weekend’s Swiss summit between Bill Clinton and Hafez al-Assad is a make-or-break moment in the quest for peace between Syria and Israel. The American president will soon be a lame duck. The septuagenarian Syrian president is sick and eager to hand over the reins to his son, Bashar. And the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, the man in the empty chair in Geneva, is losing control of his coalition and his constituency.

If they don’t reach an agreement by the summer, it may be too late. That is why Israel greeted the summit announcement with extreme caution. The public signals from Damascus have been threatening and insulting. Barak’s circle remembers all too painfully the disenchantment after the last Clinton-Assad summit, also in Geneva, in January 1994. Assad wanted everything and offered nothing — not even a corner at the concluding press conference for Israeli reporters.

Not everyone is despondent, however. There have been enough credible leaks — from Israeli, Arab and American sources — to suggest that significant progress has been made behind-the-scenes on issues such as the Golan border, water sources, security and the nature of the peace. Now Assad has to show the political will to conclude a deal that Barak can sell to a skeptical Israeli public.

The Syrian leader’s performance so far has been as disturbing to the left, which is ready to sacrifice the Golan Heights for peace, as it is to the right, which wants to keep them. He won’t meet Barak. He won’t allow his foreign minister to shake Barak’s hand. Syrian officials call Israelis Nazis, while at the same time accusing Jews of fabricating the Holocaust. They hint that the proposed peace is only a way station toward the destruction of the Zionist enterprise. And Damascus keeps Hezbollah’s guerrilla war bubbling in Southern Lebanon.

As so often before, the eloquent Hebrew novelist Amos Oz has distilled the unease of the doves. They are peaceniks but not pacifists; Israelis who know they will pay their share of the price if the peace proves as flawed as the hawks predict. Assad has still to convince them.

In an impassioned interview with Ha’aretz last weekend, Oz accused him of making every effort to present Israel with a peace agreement in the form of an enema. “He is clearly determined to humiliate and degrade us,” Oz argued. “It is as if he was demanding not just peace, and not even just the Golan, but that Ehud Barak should go to meet him dressed only in his underwear, with his hands raised in surrender.”

Oz wondered aloud whether Assad wasn’t seeking peace with the United States, rather than peace with Israel. Was his real aim to free Syria from “the stranglehold of encirclement and isolation,” while pushing Israel into the international sin bin? “I see a worrying possibility,” Oz said, “that, following the initialing of an American-backed agreement, Assad will make very sure that it will not receive a majority here in a referendum. And he will do that by repeatedly spitting in our faces.”

Maybe it is all a difference of cultures. Assad is a dictator who doesn’t understand how democracies work. However, I remember that another Arab dictator, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, did things differently, flying to Jerusalem, pressing the flesh, dining with Menachem Begin, addressing the Knesset (even if the things he said there rang pretty harsh to Israeli ears).

“Sadat,” Oz insisted, “understood that our problem, the problem of both the Jewish people and of Israel, was not merely a problem of land and security, but an emotional problem, our problem of isolation and humiliation. That is why Sadat began the peace process by establishing an emotional breakthrough.”

Assad has not even tried, but perhaps Assad is looking for a deal by the end of May. Barak, too, is not without hope. He urged his warring coalition partners to patch up their differences so as not to destroy the chances of peace.

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