Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak continued to voice hope this week of a last-minute peace treaty with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, even as he outlined to New Yorkers his political platform should he be forced into early elections.
Shortly before leaving for Israel to try to put his political house in order, Barak told nearly 400 invited guests at UJA-Federation headquarters in Manhattan that within the next five weeks he will know whether a peace treaty is in the offing, “even if it takes months to work it out.”
As Israeli leaders waited for Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to signal an easing of his uncompromising position on Jerusalem, they were pessimistic that it would come in his talks here this week with President Bill Clinton.
For years, the government of Israel has resisted calls by Conservative and Reform Jews to end the Orthodox monopoly on all religious issues in Israel. This week, Prime Minister Ehud Barak became their biggest champion.
Of all Israel’s “red-line” issues on which there can be no compromise in negotiations with the Palestinians, “the reddest line” is not Jerusalem, as commonly believed, but accepting Palestinian refugees, according to Yossi Beilin, Israel’s minister of justice.
Beilin, well known for his dovish views on and longstanding involvement in the peace process, is adamant in asserting that Israel cannot take in refugees claiming a right of return, and still maintain its Jewish character.
As criticism mounted this week against a top Israeli rabbi for comments which seemed to blame Holocaust victims for their own murders, the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party spiritual leader found support in an unexpected quarter.
American Rabbi Ronald Price, the head of a moderate Jewish group, told The Jewish Week that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s volatile words have been badly misunderstood, and unnecessarily prompted a firestorm of negative reaction from Israeli officials, American Jewish organizations and Holocaust memorial representatives.
James Besser |
Whether this week’s dramatic Camp David summit between Israel and the Palestinians succeeds or ends in rancorous failure, the results could be difficult for American Jews to swallow.
But Jewish leaders here say Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his government have done little to prepare the community for the emotional jolts if Israel makes the expected deep concessions on bedrock issues such as Jerusalem and borders.