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>Israel Faxx
>JN Sept. 26, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 177

Albright Upset About Bibi's Call for 300 Houses

By VOA's Max Ruston (United Nations) & Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Thursday, called for a freeze on the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. The call follows an announcement that Israel is planning to construct 300 more houses in the disputed region.

Albright told reporters she feels it is important there be what she called a "time out" in the construction of new settlement housing in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans Wednesday for the houses in the West Bank town of Efrat. That move is expected to set back efforts to ease tension between Israel and Palestinians.

Israel says the settlement construction is not a new plan and should not hurt the prospects for resuming peace talks. But Palestinian and US officials are not looking for consistency in Israeli settlement policy, but rather for changes.

Netanyahu sent out his spokesmen Thursday to explain that he was not talking about a new construction project, or even about anything more than what is called the "thickening" of existing settlements. And this has been his policy all along.

Spokesman Moshe Fogel says Israel will allow building only inside existing settlement boundaries, and only alongside current construction -- something the government calls "natural growth." "The issue of natural growth is interpreted by some people as saying, well, OK, he's saying 'natural growth,' but what he really means is 'let's grab as much land as we can,' and that's not what we're talking about. We are following a very careful policy that is not intended and is not designed in any way, shape or form to inhibit the parties' abilities to conduct negotiations in the future."

Fogel says the government is not intensifying its settlement building, but is not slowing it down either, as suggested by Albright's call for a "time-out" in actions that undermine confidence in the peace process.

Palestinian officials have criticized Netanyahu's reaffirmation of his settlement policy. Palestinian Cabinet member Hanan Ashrawi called it "dangerously irresponsible" and "bordering on insanity." And a senior leader of the militant group Hamas, Abdul Aziz Rantisi, says such policies will lead only to more violence. "The policy of Benjamin Netanyahu by closure of areas, building of settlements, and murdering Palestinians in cold blood will push tens of thousands to be suiciders."

American Orthodox Unity

In a show of unity, four American Orthodox organizations have issued a joint statement in favor of a single standard of Jewish Law in Israel, and against any change in the religious status quo in the country.

The statement by Agudath Israel of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union, and the National Council of Young Israel, blames those who have attacked the religious establishment for having "created a climate of ill-will and anger."

"All Jews, regardless of level of religious observance or affiliation, should recognize that there must be uniformly acceptable Jewish standards for religious marriage, divorce and conversion if the integrity of our peoplehood is to be preserved."

Leading Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffe attacked the announcement. He said that Israel is a "spiritual wasteland," and that the issue is "not about preserving the integrity of Jewish peoplehood, but about preserving control of the Orthodox monopoly over religious life in Israel."

High Court Rules Against Parents

By IINS News Service

A High Court of Justice three-judge panel has overturned a lower court ruling, which accepted the wishes of the parents of an 8-year-old boy not to have surgery which doctors believe would prolong his life.

The High Court accepted the State's appeal on behalf of the young boy. The State maintained, if the child were capable of speaking he would undoubtedly ask for the surgery, which will prolong his life.

The young child suffers from cerebral palsy and is in need of a kidney transplant. A leading physician, Prof. Yitzchak Vinograd, Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, stated the chances of finding an appropriate donor for the child is unlikely.

The attorney for the parents pointed out they are loving and caring parents but no longer want to see the suffering of their child prolonged.

Veteran Tour Guide Dies at Masada

By IINS News Service

Veteran tour guide Ronny Sheshkin, in his 60s, died Wednesday at Masada after he lost his footing and fell tens of meters. Sheshkin was considered among the most senior guides in the area, having worked there for several decades. He lost his footing and fell down the mountain, which he spent his life sharing with others. Despite rescue efforts and a helicopter sent to transport him to a trauma center, he died of his wounds.

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