by Stewart Ain and Joshua Mitnick |
Staff Writer and Israel Correspondent
This week's clash between Palestinian President Yasir Arafat and Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas is being seen as Arafat's last-ditch effort to hold onto power, but observers say that in the end it may delay peace efforts and set back Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
"From my reading and the good contacts I have with the Palestinians, they understand how crucial and fragile the situation is," said Yoram Meital, chairman of the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
An Israeli lawyer who twice failed to convince Israel, the United States and Italy to demand the arrest and extradition of Abu Abbas fears the Palestinian terrorist leader will again escape justice.
But Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said she will appeal for a third time to the High Court of Justice in Israel to have Abbas extradited there.
Darshan-Leitner, whose Israel Law Center in Jerusalem is dedicated to protecting Jewish rights and interests, called Israel, the U.S. and Italy "hypocrites."
In a move that could scuttle renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts now that the war in Iraq is over, the Palestinians have included in their new constitution their right to return to homes they fled in 1948. But the Israeli government insisted this week that the "road map" toward the creation of a Palestinian state be amended to preclude the right of return.
Israel's Interior Ministry is revamping its procedures for allowing Christian clerics, religious students and volunteers to enter the country in response to growing complaints by Christian groups, The Jewish Week has learned.
The groups said they have had serious trouble in recent months obtaining entry visas and renewals for their flock.
The popular birthright israel program that has brought 40,000 college-age students to Israel in the last three years narrowly averted a funding crisis this week. The Israeli cabinet restored much of the $14 million the Finance Ministry had proposed eliminating as part of the government's emergency budget plan. Had all the money been cut, it may have forced the end of the project.
"It's encouraging to see that the Israeli leadership recognizes the importance of its role in the birthright israel program for world Jewry," said Marlene Post, chairman of the organization.
The surprise announcement by President George W. Bush last Friday that he was on the verge of releasing the "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace was seen as a "gift to the Jewish people" by one observer and a cause for concern by another.
"It wipes away the accusation that the war with Iraq is to save Israeli hegemony in the region," said Stephen Cohen, national scholar of the Israel Policy Forum. "The president did more with that speech than all the programs of the last two years to combat anti-Semitism."