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.
The Jewish National Fund exercised damage control this week to head off repercussions from an Israeli newspaper’s charges that saplings planted by tourists at a JNF planting site in Jerusalem had been uprooted by staff to make room for other saplings planted by another group of tourists.
The organization’s parent body, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL), immediately appointed a committee, which verified the charges that appeared in the June 29 Maariv daily. Three staff members at the site and their boss then were promptly suspended.
In a stepped-up response to the 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel — 10 of whom were convicted last week — the organized Jewish community is planning its first rally at noon Monday to protest the charges. Until now, it has restricted its public events to prayer vigils.
The deep divisions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority surfaced this week when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with both sides to assess whether the time was ripe for a summit meeting that would lead to a final peace accord. The Palestinians said no, the Israelis said yes.
Albright said it would now be up to President Bill Clinton to weigh the prospects for success and decide whether to call a summit, which might be held before the end of July.
Dalia Itzik, who has served as Israel’s environmental minister for nearly one year, is also a member of the Knesset who has served as deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a member of the Labor Party’s central committee. She was first elected to the Knesset in 1992, where she has served on the Committees for Finance, Education and Culture, as well as the Status of Women. Itzik was interviewed during a recent visit to New York.
Jewish Week: I understand you want to hire special environmental police to enforce environmental laws in Israel.
A still-stunned Sharbel Barakat, former deputy commander of the South Lebanon Army, admitted here last week that he felt “betrayed” by the sudden withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon a month ago.
“We’re confused [about the retreat],” he said softly. “For 23 years we had an alliance with Israel. We had more families in Israel than in Lebanon.”
With Secretary of State Madeleine Albright slated to arrive next week in a bid to arrange a crucial retreat-style summit meeting involving Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s attention was focused instead on the Shas party and its threat to bring down his broad-based coalition government.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s hope of placating rebellious coalition partners who last week voted for early elections was dealt a blow Tuesday when the spiritual leaders of Shas ordered the party to leave the government.
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