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Published: 05 May 2011
 
 

For Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hamas’ pen is mightier than bin Laden bullet

WASHINGTON – The pen that launched the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is likely to have more of an impact on U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the bullet that ended Osama bin Laden’s life.

In at least one respect, Sunday’s raid in Pakistan could have an indirect consequence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to experts: President Obama could try to capitalize on the boost he’s getting from bin Laden’s death to advance a peace process that Israelis and Palestinians have left fallow.

“These kinds of things always affect calculations of presidents,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who has worked as a negotiator for the Clinton and both Bush administrations. “He’s thinking, ‘I’ve got a moment of unity, I feel good.’”

But ultimately, the experts say, the killing of America’s Public Enemy No. 1 may matter less to peacemaking than the willingness of the two sides to start talking again.

“The only problem for the president, who doubtless remains as obsessed with the peace process as he always has been, is that the Hamas-Fatah deal will seriously complicate matters,” said Danielle Pletka, a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute and a former top U.S. Senate aide who dealt with foreign policy.

The new Palestinian unity government makes it harder for Obama to use any additional leverage he has from bin Laden’s killing to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace, she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already was planning a major announcement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in his address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress later this month, his aides have said.

But after news broke last week of the unity deal between Fatah, the party controlling the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, the terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu warned PA President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel won’t deal with a government that includes Hamas. Netanyahu has the support of a long list of Congress members.

With the inking of the Hamas-Fatah deal in Cairo on Tuesday, all pressure is off, said David Makovsky, a senior analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“What Abbas has done in a stroke of the pen has helped win domestic peace, but he’s also helped Netanyahu,” Makovsky told JTA. “It will be hard to pressure Netanyahu when there’s a power-sharing deal with Hamas. He’s extricated Netanyahu from the pressure.”

Obama has indicated his displeasure with the Fatah-Hamas deal, which was set to kick in Wednesday, but he has not committed to cutting off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.

If Obama was contemplating releasing his own parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace ahead of Netanyahu’s speech, as has been reported, he is more likely to do so now given the success with bin Laden, Miller said.

“It would not surprise me if the administration gave a much more forward-leading speech, although it will be tough to rationalize in light of Hamas-Fatah,” Miller said. “Abbas has given Netanyahu a gift that will not stop giving.”

If the bin Laden killing has any effect on Netanyahu come the third week of May, when he delivers his speech in Congress, it will be to reinforce his claim that Israel and the United States are in the same boat when it comes to terrorism, Makovsky said.

“There’s no doubt that Netanyahu will try to associate Israel with Hamas like America is associated with al-Qaida,” he said.

That’s a view that would garner sympathy in Congress and with the American public, Miller said.

“It’s not the right time for a fight with the Israelis,” Miller said. “Running a counterterrorism operation against Enemy No. 1 is a far cry from bringing pressure on a close American ally.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Bin Laden’s killing raises immediate questions of security

For years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans waited in fear for the next strike by al-Qaida on U.S. soil. But the ensuing decade has seen no more major terrorist attacks in the United States.

Now, with the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces, the question many American Jews are considering is whether the liquidation of al-Qaida’s leader makes a follow-up attack more or less likely, and whether Jews could be a target.

“More likely,” said Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, the American Jewish community’s security organ known by the acronym SCAN.

“We know of no imminent threat as of today as a direct result of the death of bin Laden,” Goldenberg told JTA on Monday morning, when much of the world woke up to the news of bin Laden’s death. “However, the community should remain extremely vigilant because there are lone wolves, and other terrorist groups have used incidents like this to launch revenge attacks.”

In October, a pair of mail bombs from Yemen were sent to Chicago synagogues but were intercepted by law enforcement officials before they reached their targets. A year ago, on May 1, 2010, a Pakistani-born man tried and failed to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square. Neither event was linked to a specific American action, but both resulted in raised states of alert at many Jewish institutions. Security experts have credited better U.S. intelligence and law enforcement in preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil after 9/11.

In Israel’s experience, assassinations of senior terrorist figures have been followed up months or even years later by revenge attacks. Hamas and Hezbollah often have ascribed their terrorist attacks on Israel to Israeli military actions.

But some security experts are warning against interpreting terrorist attacks as acts of revenge, saying it fuels the mistaken notion that somehow the actions of the West are to blame for terrorism.

“When you focus on this sort of causality, we accept the terrorists’ framing,” Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, told The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg a year ago.

“They see themselves as reluctant fighters, always retaliating, never initiating,” Hoffman said. “The media can make it look as if the terror groups are simply defending themselves from some provocation. The question is one of original provocation.”

Of more concern now, say security experts, is the possibility that a lone wolf will be motivated by bin Laden’s killing to attack a U.S. target. While intelligence and law enforcement officials are adept at tracking terrorist activity and planning — just last week, German officials arrested three suspected al-Qaida members for planning an imminent terrorist attack — it’s much harder to stop a lone person acting spontaneously or with little coordination.

“The concern is that a lone wolf that sits in front of his or her television screen sees this, becomes furious at what occurred, and with no real planning, on their own or in a small group, will make an effort to go out and execute an attack,” Goldenberg said. “Those in law enforcement have a very tough time keeping track of the lone wolf.”

That’s the scenario that took place in March 1994, when a Lebanese cab driver in New York, incensed at the massacre of 29 Arabs in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on a van full of chasidic youths on the Brooklyn Bridge, killing 16-year-old Ari Halberstam.

When it comes to al-Qaida, the question is whether removing the movement’s leader will deal al-Qaida a critical blow or whether the movement is diffuse enough to thrive even without bin Laden’s leadership.

“What is this great victory? What is the great thing that they achieved?” a Sunni Muslim preacher in Lebanon, Bilal al-Baroudi, was quoted in The New York Times as saying. “Bin Laden is not the end, and the door remains shut between us and the United States. We dislike the reactions and the celebrations in the United States.”

The response to bin Laden’s death elsewhere in the Muslim world has been mixed. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned the killing, calling bin Laden a Muslim and Arab warrior and saying that “we regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”

A Palestinian Authority spokesman, however, said bin Laden’s demise was “good for the cause of peace.”

Israel and Jewish groups concurred, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailing it as a triumph in the fight against terrorists.

“The State of Israel joins the American people on this historic day in celebrating the elimination of Osama bin Laden,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This is a resounding victory for justice, freedom, and the common values of all democracies that are resolutely fighting shoulder to shoulder against terrorism.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Steve Rothman: Ground Zero ceremony ‘humbling and somber’

Congressman says U.S. should weigh global security against impulse to rebuke Pakistan

Larry YudelsonLocal | World
Published: 13 May 2011
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Dignitaries at the May 5 Ground Zero wreath-laying ceremony with President Obama included, front row from left, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). Michaelangelo Conte/courtesy The Jersey Journal

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) attended President Obama’s wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero last Thursday and shared his impressions with The Jewish Standard. Rothman also shared his thoughts about the president’s remarks on “60 Minutes” on Sunday regarding the possibility that elements within Pakistan knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and helped to protect him.

At Ground Zero, Rothman said, Obama “spent a great deal of time with the several families who were at the site, including spouses and children of the victims who were from New Jersey.”

Rothman, who represented New Jersey at the ceremony along with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), Sen. Robert Menendez (D), and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), said the occasion, prompted by the killing of 9/11 terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in an operation ordered by president, was “humbling and very somber.”

“In some ways,” he added, “it was gratifying that the circle had been closed on our nation’s promise to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, but in other ways, and not unexpectedly, it left the terrible pain of loss of those who died on September 11 undiminished.”

Rothman said he made a point to speak with the president, saying simply, “Job well done, Mr. President.”

Rothman said that Obama spoke privately with the wife of a New Jersey man who was killed in the September 11 attacks. Afterward, Rothman spoke with the same woman.

“I asked [her] … how she felt about the news of bin Laden’s death,” Rothman said. “She said it didn’t reduce the pain and difficulty of the loss of her husband either for her or her children, but that her children and several of the other victims’ children were afraid and had become anxious every time they saw a photograph of Osama bin Laden. Her children were standing next to her when she said this. As a New Jersey congressman there but more importantly as a father myself, I made it a point to say to the children that Osama bin Laden is gone and will never hurt anyone anymore.”

Rothman said he felt “humbled but proud” to represent New Jersey at the ceremony, recalling the last time he was at Ground Zero, following Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was no more than 15 feet from President Bush when he made that iconic statement standing on a pile of rubble with his arm around a New York City firefighter that we as a nation were down on one knee saying prayers for the victims and their families, but the perpetrators of this slaughter would hear us and be brought to justice,” Rothman said.

More than 700 New Jerseyans lost their lives on 9/11 as a result of the attacks ordered by Osama bin Laden. Nearly 150 of the victims were from Bergen County.

Regarding the president’s suggestion on “60 Minutes” that “there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” as well as what appears to be a growing popular sentiment that the U.S. consider withholding aid to that country, Rothman, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee and on the subcommittee on defense appropriations, counseled caution.

“I agree with [the] analysis [Obama] gave on ‘60 Minutes’ that it’s probable there were some in the Pakistani intelligence services and military who knew very well where Osama bin Laden was living,” Rothman said. “As to how high up the ranks that knowledge went, it is something both the U.S. and Pakistan are examining in a very serious way.”

He stressed the complexity of U.S. relations with Pakistan.

“There have been examples over the past several years where cooperation of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services has resulted in either their killing [members of] al-Qaida in Pakistan or in their permitting U.S. to do so,” Rothman said. “So the door of cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan is either half-closed or half-open, depending on your point of view, but the U.S. can’t afford to slam that door shut, given our national security interests.”

Rothman also characterized the relationship between Pakistan, a nuclear power, and India, another nuclear power, as a powder keg that must factor into any analysis of action the United States might take toward Pakistan. So, too, must al-Qaida’s effort to work with Pakistan’s government, according to Rothman.

“Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons material that al-Qaida has attempted to capture,” he said. “Pakistan also has an unstable government with a divided military that has not come to terms with India, another nuclear weapons power.”

 
 

Bin Laden’s burial and other religious frauds

 
 
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