In another surprise that has come to symbolize Middle East peace talks, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat met at midweek and announced another “breakthrough” — the restarting of talks that have been stalled for weeks. The move came after both Barak and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy had expressed doubts about achieving peace with the Palestinians and Syrians this year.
touch with the people. Indeed, he seems so focused on achieving peace on, as he says, “two-and-a-half fronts” (including Lebanon), that he may not be hearing the deep skepticism voiced by coalition partners as well as average Israelis who fear the government is on the verge of giving away too much, too soon.
With figures indicating that as many as one-fourth of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not Jewish, the government of Israel is about to embark on a program to teach prospective immigrants Hebrew, Israeli culture and Judaism.
“These are courses in Judaism, they are not for conversion,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s minister for Israeli Society and Jewish Communities. “Of course, there may be some non-Jews who might wish to continue their studies for the purpose of conversion once they are in Israel.”
Sparked by fund-raising events nationwide, the State of Israel Bonds drive to attract individual buyers rather than institutional investors is paying dividends. Last year, 95,000 Jews purchased a total of $600 million in bonds, compared with about 55,000 in 1997. Banks, meanwhile, bought only $31 million last year — 3.4 percent of the $920 million sold — after purchasing $300 million two years earlier. Pension funds and city and state governments bought the rest last year.
This was to have been the weekend Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was to meet with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to sign the framework of a peace treaty. Instead, it was a week that saw Palestinians break off further peace talks and that found Barak in northern Israeli bomb shelters, commiserating with Israelis ordered there for fear of a Hezbollah rocket attack from Lebanon.