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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews is available in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Indonesian and Urdu. To subscribe, click here. For an archive of past CGNews articles, please visit our website at www.commongroundnews.org.
 
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Inside this edition  
25 March - 01 April 2010
 
The tragedy of monotheism
by Rabia Terry Harris
In the sixth and final article in our series on Jews and Muslims in each other's narratives, Director of the Muslim Peace fellowship Rabia Terry Harris explores the universal lessons of monotheism and underlines principles of universal justice inherent in both Judaism and Islam which - when they are adhered to - can raise the faithful above narrow tribal loyalties. (Source: Common Ground News Service (CG News), 25 March 2010)
Collective rights for the Arab citizens of Israel
by Sarah Ozacky-Lazar
Sarah Ozacky Lazar from the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute discusses the problematic relationship between the Arab minority and the state of Israel and explains why recognising the Arabs as a national minority should not threaten the Jewish majority.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews) 25 March 2010)
A most charming recipe for peace and a feast
by Karin Kloosterman
Karin Kloosterman draws a portrait of the Maxim restaurant - co-owned by Jews and Arabs - which survived a suicide bombing and continues to embody mutual respect and the possibility of a prosperous life together.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 March 2010)
Solving the Jerusalem problem
by Martin Indyk
Recent events remind us once again that the "Jerusalem genie" best be kept in its bottle until the final phases of a peace process, argues former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. In this article he considers how to manage the explosive issue until it can be productively discussed between the sides.
(Source: The Daily Beast, March 18, 2010)
Israel as a Jewish State
by Hussein Ibish
The Palestinians have already recognised Israel as a Jewish state, argues Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine. In this article, Ibish contends that there are different versions of Israel and its definition as a Jewish state depends on which version one is talking about.
(Source: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 19 March 2010)
 
Featured Video
 
The Encounter organisation brings American Jewish leaders to Palestinian cities to encourage more compassion and nuance in the way they perceive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
  
 
The tragedy of monotheism
Rabia Terry Harris
 
PHILADELPHIA - Everybody needs a tribe. One person alone faces a frighteningly big, sometimes brutal world. Even a family can be too small to deal with some challenges that come down the pike - while if family relationships are the only ones around, obsessive family closeness can suffocate us. No, tribes are the way to go, which is why most of the human race carefully conserves them.

When religions behave like tribes, though, things can go wrong. Religion loses itself. For the very point of an Abrahamic religion is that some things are more important than the interests of my group.

Nearly all of us learn rules and ideals that honour the members of our own tribe. But there's a problem. When tribe comes up against tribe in the struggle for resources, those rules do not apply. And where there are no rules, bad things can happen - massacres, cruelties - seemingly without repercussions. It's only our own tribes that can require moral responsibility of us in ways that we can see.

That's why the notion of one God ruling everyone - a universal God of Justice - was a revolutionary idea. Historically, this vision revealed itself in times of tribal strife. And one of the central points its revelation makes is that there can be no injustice without repercussions. The world of responsibility extends far beyond what we can see. Either the consequences of our acts hit us now, or else they hit us later, but there is no escaping the impact of what we do. For the whole world is in the sight of God, both physically and morally.

What monotheism teaches us is that everyone is connected to everyone else at any given moment time. This can apply to the Israeli-Arab conflict as much as anywhere else. Therefore our true self-interest does not lie in grabbing the most we can or in refusing to share. And my true accountability lies far beyond the mere approval of my tribe.

Reminding us of the call to universal justice is what the institution of prophethood was all about. And it is the prophetic voice that today calls Jews and Muslims alike to the remembrance of the God of All. Remembering this is essential when dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Judaism and Islam were both born out of struggles for freedom and dignity, particular struggles that based their aspirations on a universal vision of human worth. The tragedy of monotheism has been that with the passing of generations, the self-centeredness of individual communities has tended to overwhelm the universal principles that called them into existence in the first place. Traditions lose their context; the forest gets lost in the trees. And then another sort of bad thing happens. For since my trees are slightly different from your trees, and I prefer the familiar, that means that I must be better than you. This simple slip of the mind introduces untold evil into human relations.

The way the logic goes is that if my community is the only one to really understand God, and only the community that really understands God matters, then God belongs to us...and our interests are far more important. The universal justice my religion teaches then becomes an empty concept, a sort of sacred image I drag out and show around occasionally to increase my self-esteem. For when its founding vision is lost, monotheism is no more than idolatry with fewer options.

Our prophets all warned us about that. Here's Isaiah speaking for God: "When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings!" Today, the institution of prophethood has vanished, but the prophets still have plenty of heirs. There are so many who struggle for the human dignity of their seeming opponents - even in the Israeli-Arab context. Unfortunately, these heirs like the prophets before them (as Jesus remarked), tend to have no honour back home. Most of us find it much easier to blame others than to examine ourselves, so whoever calls us to self-examination is likely to be wildly unpopular. Let us take a moment, therefore, to honour both Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians - and people of all communities - who take a stand for justice over tribe. For with such often very humble people rests the guidance of God, the truth of religion, and the future of the world. May we all find the courage to seek a place among them.

###

* Rabia Terri Harris is founder and director of the Muslim Peace Fellowship (www.MPFweb.org), dedicated to the theory and practice of Islamic nonviolence and is a Muslim community chaplain. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service, 25 March 2010
www.commongroundnews.org.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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Collective rights for the Arab citizens of Israel
Sarah Ozacky-Lazar
 
JERUSALEM - According to a poll published at the beginning of the month, fifty-six percent of Jewish high school students in Israel believe Arabs cannot be elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and forty six percent do not support civil equality for Arabs. This is yet another manifestation of how problematic it is to reconcile the internal contradiction between Israel's declared Jewish identity on the one hand, and its desire to be a democratic country with civil equality for all its citizens, on the other. Although the issue has been repeatedly addressed over the years, no workable formula for squaring this circle has yet been found and no adequate solution has been offered that would solve the problem of the Arab-Palestinian community's status in Israel.

Since the founding of the state and the declaration of independence which stated Israel's aim for civil equality, the theoretical and practical discussion of the concept of equality has undergone many transformations. Nowadays, there is a strong demand by the Arabs in Israel to be recognised as a national minority and granted the collective rights that such recognition would entail. This is based on the fact that Israel's Arabs are a native, indigenous or "original" minority, which according to international law, is entitled to rights to land, natural resources and the preservation of its heritage. In that sense, the struggle of Israel's Arabs for recognition is similar to the struggle by other ethnic minorities around the world, who find it difficult to practice their culture in conditions of numerical and economic inferiority.

Following the events of October 2000 in which clashes between the police and Arab protesters left 12 Arab citizens dead, an investigation committee called the "Or Commission" was set up to investigate the events. It published a report which addressed, among other things, the collective rights demanded by the Arab minority in the areas of education, language, culture and religion. In its conclusions it emphasised the gap between demands for collective equality as opposed to the right to equality, as it appears in Israeli law, which is granted on an individual basis. The committee did not express an opinion on this matter, but prominent Jewish scholars and legal experts such as Yitzhak Zamir and Ruth Gavison think that there is no necessary contradiction between the Jewish identity of the state and granting collective rights to the Arab population. Moreover, various Supreme Court rulings throughout the years have strengthened Arab collective rights in relation to language, culture and education without these having undermined the Jewish character of the state.

In documents nicknamed the "vision papers" published by Arab civil society groups in 2007, a clear demand was articulated to recognise the Arabs in Israel as a national minority and grant them collective rights. These include independent management of their education system, religious affairs and the media, adequate representation in decision making centres and state symbols, and a recognition of the historical injustice they suffered in areas such as land, internal refugees and the assets which once belonged to the Waqf. The documents also included demands which would inevitably entail changing the Jewish character of the state and turning it into a con-socionational democracy whereby the rights of the minority are secured by law; or a bi-lingual and bi-cultural democracy as proposed by the organisation Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

These demands are considered by the majority of the Jewish public to be extreme and unacceptable and tantamount to a desire by the Arab population to isolate themselves and break away from the state, or turn it into a bi-national state. But a closer look at these demands shows that they represent a new phase in the struggle for real civil equality by the Arabs citizens within the framework of the state and not a desire to break away from it. All the documents take the existence of Israel within the green line as a given, alongside a Palestinian state, and clearly represent a desire to remain citizens of Israel, not citizens of a future Palestinian state. In my opinion, this is a clear indication of a serious attitude by the Arabs towards their Israeli citizenship and a desire to enter into a dialogue with the state on improving their status within it.

In my opinion, recognising the Arabs as a national minority does not contradict the state of Israel's interest to preserve its Jewish identity. Quite the contrary, a state that defines itself in national terms and repeatedly emphasises its Jewish national character could benefit from recognising the Palestinian Arab group as a different national minority. Were the state to recognise this, it could in return demand that the Arab minority recognise the right of the Jewish majority to define its state as Jewish.

Of course, beyond the academic and legal debate we would have to deal seriously with the long-term implications of realising collective rights on the status of the Arab minority within the state, and its relationship with the state and the Jewish majority. But this must take place with mutual respect and not in an atmosphere of fear and hysteria. We are in the midst of a dangerous process whereby the expectations of the Arab minority in Israel are growing increasingly higher - both in terms of their demands for individual equality as well as for collective and national rights. Simultaneously, Israeli democracy has been growing weaker in general and most obviously in relation to the Arabs as citizens, as the abovementioned poll so clearly demonstrates. This is a recipe for a serious conflagration and the demands of the Arab citizens of Israel must be dealt with.

In light of this, in order to maintain social and political stability, a real and thorough discussion about these issues must take place sooner rather than later so that we may reach compromises and agreements which would be acceptable to both sides.

###

* Dr. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar is a research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and a researcher on the Arab community in Israel. This article is based on a lecture given at the Jaffa Conference on Jewish-Arab relations, 2010. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service, 25 March 2010
www.commongroundnews.org.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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A most charming recipe for peace and a feast
Karin Kloosterman
 
JAFFA - News accounts on CNN make it look like every Jew and Arab in Israel are mortal enemies. But in truth, tens of dozens of intentional coexistence projects are ongoing, started by Arab and Jewish friends as a means to break through the barriers of distrust and fear. One of the oldest stories starts at a restaurant in Haifa decades ago.

Arab and Jewish friends laughed when the Mattar and Tayar families announced that they would join forces and build a restaurant together. The Mattars were Arab Israeli Christians in the restaurant business, and the Tayars - Israeli Jews skilled in real estate. A perfect combination of talents, they felt. One family could devise the recipes, the other could find the location and create atmosphere.

That was hundreds of thousands of plates of hummous ago, back in 1965. The Mattars and Tayars scouted out the perfect spot between a vista of the Mediterranean Sea and the Carmel Mountain range in Haifa. Since opening the dream restaurant, they've lived through wars, Intifadas, and even a devastating terror attack that killed 19 people: family, friends, co-workers and customers.

But their mission of peacemaking through something as common as food, the families found, would be stronger than the hate, terror and conflict they would face. Today the restaurant "Maxim" which translates to "charming" in Hebrew, still serves Arabic-style food based on the recipes of the Mattar family. There you can find all the working man's food that Israelis who shun McDonalds have come to love: hummous, meat kebabs made from lamb and beef, salads, mejadera, and French fries.

While it's true that Israelis hold reverence for a good plate of hummous, Maxim isn't just about the food, says Tony, the son of Salim (Salim has since died) and Fairuz - his parents who founded the restaurant with Shabtai, who has also died, and Mireille Tayar back in '65.

Maxim, he says, is a beacon of co-existence in the Middle East. It's living proof that even in a Middle Eastern country where people are suspicious of the other, Arabs and Jews, religious and non-religious, that friendships and healthy business endeavors can endure and prevail.

"When our families opened the restaurant, it was a lot of work for them, but it became a symbol of how Arabs and Jews can work together", says Tony. "People came to eat at Maxim just to see if it was true or if was a trick for getting business". While there are only two faiths behind the grill, Tony says he wouldn't mind at all having a third partner who would be a Muslim. "To have one more - that would be perfect", he says.

This is said despite the suicide bombing that took place at Maxim's in 2003. A witness to the carnage, it took a lot of convincing from Israeli and American friends for Tony to join the effort in rebuilding Maxim. If you go to Maxim today, it might look like the transition was easy, but it wasn't always the case. After the 2003 suicide bombing in the restaurant Tony lost hope for a while. It took a lot of convincing to put the pieces together. A few months later, he agreed to re-open the restaurant, with a plaque announcing: "We will not allow coexistence to be destroyed".

"In the beginning, I didn't want to continue", says Tony. "I had seen enough and it was very hard to live through what happened there. After that the neighbours, customers and their friends told me I couldn't stop. To stop means that terror wins".

After the bombing "I was broken", Tony says, who with his brother keeps the business going, "but at that moment they convinced me to come back. And we built it again. From the first business day it became business as usual, in terms of customer support. But no money or business will replace the value of the people we lost", he adds.

The response from the Haifa community, Jewish, Christian and Muslim friends, was phenomenal. Even though there is a trend for restaurants to never reopen after a terror attack, Maxim bucked the trend, and became even stronger with the help of government support, which covered about 20% of losses. The rest, the families put in from their own pockets.

Today about 20 people work at Maxim. The Mattar family handles management, while the sole child of the Tayars, who works as a manager at a local school, stays on as a silent partner. She gives her full support, says Tony.

"We can share our lives before and after the attack, but we continue to pray for peace", says Tony who offers a recipe for peaceful coexistence, and for hummous.

Maxim's Hummous Recipe
By: Tony Mattar, communicated to Common Ground News
Ingredients
• 3 kilograms of "small" sized dried chickpeas
• 1 tablespoon baking soda
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 2 tablespoons of salt
• 2 tablespoons of lemon salt
• Half measure of tehina (Amount of tehina equals half the volume of cooked chickpeas)
• Water
• Olive oil to garnish

Take 3 kilograms of dried chickpeas and soak them overnight in cold water, along with baking soda and baking powder. The next morning clean the chickpeas in running water. Drain the water and remove small stones. Adding cold water to cover the chickpeas and then a double amount, vigorously boil the chickpeas in a large pot. After reaching boiling point, turn down heat, and simmer for 3 hours with a lid, until the chickpeas are soft.

When done, strain the chickpeas, and set aside until cold. When cold, put into a food processor, adding raw tehina - about half the volume of the cooked chickpeas. Add in salt, lemon salt, and enough tablespoons of cold water to achieve a thick, but smooth consistency. Spread the hummous on a plate, and garnish with olive oil.

"That's it. Now you will have lovely hummous", says Tony.

###

* Karin Kloosterman is a journalist and blogger based in Jaffa, Israel, and founder of www.greenprophet.com, a Middle East environment news website. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service, 25 March 2010
www.commongroundnews.org.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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Solving the Jerusalem problem
Martin Indyk
 
WASHINGTON, DC - Long after the humiliation of our vice president is forgotten, if not forgiven, and the president and secretary of State recommit themselves to the "rock solid" relationship with Israel, and the Israeli ambassador in Washington downgrades the hurricane to a tropical storm, there is still the issue of Jerusalem.

"O Jerusalem. If I forget thee, let my right hand wither," goes the lament of the Babylonian refugees in Psalm 137. But forgetting Jerusalem, or at least putting it aside, is precisely what everybody involved in the latest efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been trying to do for the past year.

Those of us from the Clinton administration, who had tried in vain to resolve the Jerusalem issue at Camp David, warned the Obama administration from the outset that nothing good would come from touching it. In George Mitchell's painstaking efforts to negotiate a settlements moratorium with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he conceded that the agreement would not include housing activity in Jerusalem. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cried foul and insisted that he would not enter negotiations without a settlements freeze in Jerusalem, Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed eventually to convince him to enter indirect talks without any such freeze. And Mitchell also succeeded in convincing both sides to agree that if substantive negotiations ever get under way, they will focus on borders and security first and Jerusalem will be left until last.

In the midst of this latest crisis, even AIPAC did its best to forget Jerusalem. Amazingly, for the organisation that once championed inflammatory legislation designed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, the "J" word does not appear in its recent statement denouncing the Obama administration's treatment of Israel (none of Israel's congressional advocates mentioned it either in their appeals to Obama to lay off Israel). And when Hamas tried to take advantage of the crisis to spark a third intifada over Jerusalem this week, the Palestinian Authority cooperated with Israel to tamp down the protesters.

It's as if all the players involved in the peace-process melodrama have come to understand that the Jerusalem genie needs to remain in its bottle if there is to be any hope of resolving the conflict.

And yet all it took was a seemingly routine zoning decision in Israel's interior ministry to expose the fragility of the whole exercise. Clearly, with all the will in the world, Jerusalem will not be forgotten. But it cannot be resolved either. Look at the Temple Mount for example. That's the place where the ruins of the Jewish Second Temple lie, behind the Wailing Wall, Judaism's holiest site. And yet on top of those ruins sits the Haram al-Sharif - the noble sanctuary - which contains the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site. Israel will not cede the sovereignty it asserts there; the Palestinians can never accept that claim.

Back in the Clinton years, we thought we could at least solve the issue of Jerusalem's suburbs because its Arab and Jewish citizens lived apart. In his parameters, President Clinton proposed that the Jewish suburbs of East Jerusalem come under Israeli sovereignty and the Arab suburbs be ceded to Palestinian sovereignty. Yassir Arafat was actually willing to accept that division, as was Ehud Barak. But today, Jewish settlers are moving aggressively into Arab neighbourhoods while Arabs, denied permits to build in their own suburbs, are quietly buying residences in Jewish neighbourhoods. If these trends continue, Clinton's Solomonic solution will become unworkable.

If it therefore cannot be resolved, and it will not be forgotten, Jerusalem somehow has to be managed so that the other issues that are more amenable to resolution can be dealt with. That's why Hillary Clinton is right to insist that Netanyahu fix the latest mess and why Netanyahu's inner cabinet was burning the midnight oil Wednesday night trying to figure out a way to do so.

Shimon Peres, Israel's always-creative president, has come up with part of the remedy: Jews should be stopped from building in Arab suburbs while building in existing Jewish suburbs could proceed. But Peres does not go quite far enough. For the sake of equity, Arabs would also have to be provided with sufficient permits to meet their housing needs in their own suburbs. And the demolition of Palestinian housing, and evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem, would have to cease. In that way, Netanyahu would be able to say that he preserved the right of Jews to build in Jerusalem, while the Palestinians could feel that their rights to live peacefully there were not being trammeled in the process.

If the current crisis can generate that kind of interim solution for Jerusalem, it would actually do much to facilitate peace negotiations should they ever get under way. Palestinian negotiators would not have to fear that they would be accused of compromising their claims to Jerusalem by focusing on delineating borders in the West Bank first. And Israelis would not have to fear that the slightest misstep in Jerusalem would generate a crisis in US-Israel relations. And no one's right hand would need to wither.

###

* Ambassador Martin Indyk is Acting Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Indyk served as the US Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton Administration. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the Daily Beast.

Source: The Daily Beast, 18 March 2010
www.thedailybeast.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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Israel as a Jewish State
Hussein Ibish
 
WASHINGTON, DC - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is insisting the
Palestinians recognise Israel as, in his words, "the nation-state of
the Jewish people," a new and problematic demand that raises serious
questions about Israel's "Jewish character".

The Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, begins with the phrase "His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people...." This declaration introduces the concept of a Jewish national home into
international relations in a most decisive manner.

On July 24, 1922, the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the Council of the League of Nations made the Zionist project a practical reality rather than simply a rhetorical position by holding that "the principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory [power] should be responsible for putting [the Balfour Declaration] into effect." Guided by British policy and interests, the international community, such as it was at the time, seems to have regarded the Jewish national project in Palestine as legitimate and simply refrained from commenting on the Palestinian national project, unless to damn it by silence.

However, given the increasing assertion of Palestinian national identity and ambitions during the mandatory period, this willful blindness could not extend itself into international decision-making about the end of the Mandate, as it had at its beginning. Beginning in the 1930s, several proposals, most notably the Peel Commission Report of 1937, suggested that Palestine be partitioned into Jewish and Arab states. A decade later, UN Resolution 181 called for the establishment of "independent Arab and Jewish states and a special international regime for the city of Jerusalem." This partition resolution, along with a unilateral declaration of "a Jewish state in Eretz Israel" by the Jewish leadership, is generally regarded as the birth certificate of the Israeli state.

A central irony is that if the 1947 partition resolution has served as the primary international birth certificate for Israel, it must do the same for the yet-to-be-established Palestinian state. In its "land for peace" formula, UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 and its numerous legal successors logically extend the fundamental attitude that seeks to balance Jewish and Arab rights in Palestine through two states.

Israel's status as a Jewish state plainly rests primarily on the fact that it has a substantial Jewish majority of more than 75 percent. As a sovereign member state of the United Nations, Israel defines its own character, and the question of Israel's Jewishness was never raised and is not reflected in its peace treaties with Egypt or Jordan.

The Palestinians have already recognised Israel as a Jewish state. This is most notable in PLO chairman Yasser Arafat's September 9, 1993, letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in which he stated unambiguously, "The PLO recognises the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security." Yet today, Palestinians are justifiably concerned that if they were to recognise Israel explicitly as "the nation-state of the Jewish people" (to use Prime Minister Netanyahu's words), they might be perceived as endorsing measures that discriminate against the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Palestinians and many others also view this demand as an effort to preempt the refugee issue, which is a core permanent status negotiating issue.

Having asserted that Israel plainly is a Jewish state in one sense, one must assert that, in another sense, Israel at present is clearly not a Jewish state. The interpretation depends entirely on which version of Israel one is talking about. If we refer to Israel in
its internationally recognised boundaries, then the state is indeed Jewish, but if we include the occupied territories, then it clearly is not.

Israel de jure, which excludes the occupied territories and assumes the creation of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future, can certainly be considered both Jewish and democratic, although it still struggles to afford equality to a large non-Jewish minority. However, Israel de facto, on the other hand, includes the occupied territories, and assuming that no Palestinian state is created in the foreseeable future, one cannot consider this state either Jewish or democratic in any meaningful sense.

It could be seen as ironic, but it is also eminently logical, that a Jewish Israel requires an Arab Palestine alongside it in order to be itself and not something radically different.

###

* Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with the author's permission.

Source: The Washington Institute, 19 March 2010,
www.washingtoninstitute.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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