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Anti-Halachic Marriage Bill Defeated


A Knesset bill, seeking to permit a married woman to wed if her husband refuses to release her from her marriage commitment with a get divorce certificate (aguna) was defeated. The bill would have applied in cases in which a rabbinical court orders a husband to give his wife a divorce but nevertheless, he refuses.

Israeli and Palestinian Politics in Uncertainty and Disarray

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Prime Minster Ariel Sharon said he is determined to find new partners for his coalition government after suffering a major defeat in Parliament. At the same time, the announcement that jailed Palestinian militant leader Marwan Barghouti will run in the upcoming elections threatens to shake up the contest over who will succeed Yasir Arafat to head the Palestinian Authority.

Sharon said Wednesday's vote in the Israeli parliament left him no choice but to dismiss his coalition partners and seek a new government. He told a gathering of newspaper editors in Tel Aviv that he has no choice but to widen his coalition by bringing in the opposition Labor Party and ultra-orthodox religious parties. Sharon's political troubles came to a head late Wednesday, when as expected, the Knesset voted 69 to 43 against the 2005 budget, handing the prime minister a resounding defeat.

After the vote, Sharon fired the ministers from his coalition partner, the secular Shinui party, who had voted against the budget. They objected to his decision to increase funding to smaller religious parties in return for their support in parliament. But, Wednesday's vote was less about the budget than about the Prime Minister's plan to unilaterally withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip beginning next year. Much of Sharon's own Likud Party opposes the plan and that has left him seeking support elsewhere and walking a political tightrope.

Mr. Sharon remained defiant and his message was clear. "The disengagement will be implemented. Full stop. I repeat, the disengagement will be implemented," he said. The Labor party strongly supports the disengagement plan and Labor Knesset Member Haim Ramon made it clear that would be his party's reason for joining a Sharon coalition. "The only condition that we have is that all the partners that are candidates to be in the government will be committed to the disengagement plan."

That does not sit well with many of Sharon's Likud Party members, such as Yuli Edelstein. "What I hear from Labor, both in public and in private, is that the only reason they are joining the government right now is to promote the unilateral withdrawal plan, which is in my opinion a very dangerous one for the country, So, we will definitely do everything possible in order for this coalition not to appear." If Sharon is unable to form a new coalition, he will have to call for early elections and the prime minister insists that is not what the country needs.

There has also been a major political shake-up among the Palestinians. Jailed terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti decided Wednesday to run in the presidential elections January 9. His wife, Fadwa, filed his candidacy papers in Ramallah just hours before the midnight deadline. Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli jail for involvement in terrorism, had previously said he would not run and had thrown his support behind front-runner Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

Palestinian political analyst Mahdi Abdelhadi terms it a wake-up call for Abu Mazzen. "Abu Mazzen has to fight for every vote in every city, in every town, and not sit in his office and say, 'Elect me or you lose me," Abdelhadi explained, adding it is likely a combination of Barghouti's own ambition and pressure from supporters among the younger generation of political activists made him change his mind.

He said while a Barghouti candidacy certainly shakes things up, that is not all bad. "Marwan is going to run for putting a clear message to the public opinion that the young generation has the right to change and they demand change, and he is sure he will not take the full majority, but it will show some democracy in the Palestinian house."

Barghouti will have to run as an independent since the Fatah faction, to which he belongs, has already chosen Mahmoud Abbas as its candidate. Israel and the United States have said that. Abbas is a man they can deal with for resuming peace talks. Israeli officials vow they will not release Barghouti from jail even if he were to win.

Sharon: Israel to Halt Military Action Against Palestinians if Calm Continues

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that Israel would not be the first to launch attacks or raids on Palestinian militants so long as the situation remains calm and there are no provocations. The promise was made during a period of relative quiet between the two sides that has prevailed since the death of Yasir Arafat.

Speaking to Israeli newspaper editors in Tel Aviv, Sharon said that while Israel would not be the first to strike, it would also not stand idly by if it had information that Palestinian militants were planning an attack. He also said his government stands ready to help the new Palestinian leadership, due to be elected January 9 and he said he would coordinate with the Palestinians Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next year, adding "Should there be a Palestinian Authority leadership which will choose to fight terror and dismantle its infrastructure," we are ready to help them." He also said the Palestinian leadership can prove its own good intentions by maintaining peace and quiet.

Sharon and new PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas have also called for resuming peace talks. Sharon maintains certain preconditions for negotiations. He said there should be an end to violence and incitement by the Palestinians along with a halt to anti-Israeli bias in Palestinian media. The Israeli leader said that since he signaled his desire to resume direct talks he has seen positive signs. "Since I turned to the Palestinians, the incitement has dropped."

Palestinian officials confirm that Abbas gave instructions earlier this week to the state-run radio and television outlets to cease broadcasting what he termed "hateful programming."

Fatah´s Farouk Kadumi: "Two States" Just a Temporary Solution


A top PA official has reiterated the end-goal of the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel: a Palestinian state instead of Israel. In a seeming re-affirmation of the PLO's 1974 "destroy Israel" program, commonly known as the Phased Plan, Fatah co-founder Farouk Kadumi termed the struggle for a two-state solution just a "stage" on the road to "only one [state]."

Kadumi spoke on Nov. 29th with Iran's Al-Aram television station. When the interviewer asked Kadumi, "What is the future of Palestine?" the PLO leader answered: "At this stage there will be two states. Many years from now there will be only one."

Asked why he has not softened his stance against Israel's existence, Kadumi replied, "Our enemy always says, 'This is Judea and Samaria' ... They haven't changed their discourse. If they change theirs, we will change ours, and if not, we will keep saying that armed resistance is the way to Palestine. "He expressed confidence in the Arabs' ultimate victory, saying, "[There are] 300 million Arabs, while Israel has only the sea behind it."

The basic principle of the 1974 Phased Plan is that the PLO would struggle to initially establish an "independent combatant national authority" over any territory "liberated" from Israeli rule. That "national authority" would then be used as a base for continued terror attacks. The final phase of the plan is all-out war against Israel by all her Arab neighbors with the hope of destroying the Jewish State entirely.

World Bank Tells Israel to Employ PA Arabs


Israel has agreed to allow 35,000 Arabs from the PA to enter Israel to work until the year 2008, according to a report released by the World Bank. The report also stated that Israel agreed to construct a train system for the transport of goods from PA areas in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to Israel's seaports.

The report of the tightening of economic ties comes just as counter-measures, such as the security partition fence and the planned withdrawal from Gaza, are being touted as bolstering security by separating between Israelis and PA Arabs. Additionally, Israel's 10.7% unemployment rate - 290,000 Israeli citizens seeking work - means that the commitment to employ tens of thousands of PA Arabs in Israel is a cause for concern for many.

The World Bank report also outlined other steps the organization feels are required by both Israel and the PA in order to rehabilitate the PA economy. Israel has not agreed to all of the World Bank's recommendations, though. Some that have been rejected, so far, are the creation of free passage zones for Arabs from Judea and Samaria to Gaza, and the establishment of a seaport and airport in Gaza.

Among the measures that the World Bank calls upon the PA to implement are the creation of a proper court system and a systematic fight against corruption. The PA must also decide how to handle the assets of Jews it expects to see expelled from Gaza and northern Samaria.

Incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has already issued calls to PA interim leaders to implement demanded reforms and to begin exhibiting fiscal transparency.

BBC poll: Nearly half of Britons never heard of Auschwitz

By Reuters

Nearly half of Britons in a poll said they had never heard of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in southern Poland that became a symbol of the Holocaust and the attempted genocide of the Jews.

The results of the survey conducted by the BBC were released Thursday, as Britain's public broadcaster announced it will show a new series in January to mark the 60th anniversary of the concentration camp's liberation." We were amazed by the results of our audience research," said Laurence Rees, a producer on the series, "Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution."

"It's easy to presume that the horrors of Auschwitz are engrained in the nation's collective memory, but obviously this is not the case," Rees said.

The survey found that 45 percent of those surveyed had not heard of Auschwitz. Historians estimate that anywhere from one million to three million people, about 90 percent of them Jews, were killed there. Among women and people younger than 35, 60 percent had never heard of Auschwitz, despite the recent popularity of films such as "Schindler's List," "Life is Beautiful" and "The Pianist," which depict the atrocities of the Holocaust. "The name Auschwitz is quite rightly a byword for horror, but the problem with thinking about horror is that we naturally turn away from it," Rees said.

The BBC said the research was based on a nationally representative postal survey of 4,000 adults 16 and older. The broadcaster is marking Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27, with a variety of television and radio programs. The Auschwitz series for BBC2 is based on nearly 100 interviews with survivors and perpetrators and is the result of three years of research with the assistance of Professors Ian Kershaw and David Cesarani.

Leumi to Offer Credit Card Not Useable on the Sabbath

By Ha'aretz

Bank Leumi is about to launch a credit card that observes the Sabbath. The new project, devised jointly by LeumiCard and a group of concerned individuals from the ultra-Orthodox sector, will be unveiled in the next few weeks. The new card will not useable on the Sabbath, and will only be honored in businesses that they are observant of the Jewish Sabbath.

The ultra-Orthodox behind the plan are Rabbi Rafael Halperin, owner of the Optica Halperin optician chain and MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism). LeumiCard is fully owned by Bank Leumi.

According to Porush, already more than 100,000 people from the ultra-Orthodox have signed commitments promising not to shop at establishments, chains or malls that do not observe the Sabbath. Porush believes that the new credit card will attract hundreds of thousands more people "for whom the Sabbath is close to their hearts." The MK added that many, hundreds of thousands in fact, in the ultra-Orthodox community do not currently own credit cards and that this new venture respecting the Sabbath day is likely to propel them into trying it out.

LeumiCard confirmed that it was working on the new card, and that it was "cooperating with the ultra-Orthodox leaders and business owners that do no open for business on the Sabbath and who approached us with the idea. We decided to accept the challenge." LeumiCard's CEO has pointed out two obstacles. Firstly, there is a technological problem in working out how to verify that the card is not used on the Sabbath.

The second involves the consumption patterns of the ultra-Orthodox world. Low incomes, and a customer base unused to shopping with credit cards characterize the community. "We therefore had to learn about the population and to verify that we could grant a credit card to all of them and not just some," the CEO said. What they did discover, though, was that the community keeps a healthy balance between their incomes and expenditures, and that paved the way for Leumi to launch the card with some assurance that it wouldn't get stung.

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