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>Israel Faxx
>JN Oct. 15, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 188

Israel Releases Tax Revenue to Palestinians

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel has agreed to release the remaining $57 million in tax revenue it has been withholding from the Palestinian Authority. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the transfer, saying the Palestinian Authority had taken some "first, positive steps" in fighting terrorism.

Israel had stopped the required transfer of the tax money to put pressure on the Authority to fight militant Palestinian groups. This is the third and final installment of withheld funds. The prime minister said he hopes the move helps create a positive atmosphere for peace talks which resumed last week.

Meanwhile, Israel's President, Ezer Weizman, who just returned from the United States, says President Clinton will soon invite Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to Washington to try to move the peace process forward.

Netanyahu is reported to be angry at Weizman for reportedly telling US officials to put pressure on him to make concessions in the peace process. Weizman's job is largely ceremonial, but he is politically outspoken, leading to occasional criticism -- including this time -- that he oversteps his limited role.

Religious MKs Demand Two Laws

By Arutz 7

Representatives of the religious lobby in the Knesset met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday, demanding the passage of two laws: the Conversion Law, as well as a law that will prevent Reform representatives from sitting on local religious councils. They warn that if these two laws are not passed with all due haste, they will resign from the coalition.

Finance Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, head of a committee appointed by the prime minister to formulate a compromise that will be acceptable to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, also took part in the meeting. Exerting counter-pressure on Netanyahu is the Third Way party, whose members say they will resign from the coalition if the religious demands are met.

The Ne'eman Commission is about ready to publicize its conclusions. According to unofficial information published, its recommendations will enable Reform and Conservative rabbis to perform marriage ceremonies, but witnesses to the ceremony on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate will supervise. Conversions will be carried out only by the Chief Rabbinate, but the preparatory classes will be held in schools run jointly by representatives of all three movements. Divorce law will remain under exclusive control of the Chief Rabbinate.

Arutz-7 correspondent Ariel Kahanah has learned that the guiding principle in the compromise was official Orthodox recognition of the other streams in exchange for no concessions on Halakhic (Jewish law) requirements. "As any student of Halakhah knows," said religious MK Alex Lubotsky (Third Way), "the Halakhic status of a wedding depends on the witnesses, and not on the one who conducts the ceremony."

If the two witnesses, who themselves must be fit for testimony (as opposed to relatives, for instance), can testify that the ceremony was performed according to Jewish law, then the wedding is "kosher" according to Orthodox standards.

Lubotsky said, "There is a chance here for a historic compromise among the three streams, at least in Israel. The proposed Conversion Law will gain nothing for the Orthodox, because it merely demands that conversions carried out in Israel be Orthodox; it can be easily circumvented by conducting Reform classes here, and then simply flying the candidate to London for a quick Reform conversion, and the deed is done. The Orthodox thereby gain nothing by passing this law except to upset most of world Jewry.

"On the other hand, the recommendations of the Ne'eman committee allow for only one path, one gate to Judaism, namely via Orthodoxy, with the participation of Reform and Conservative in [non-Halakhic aspects]."

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said that this law, rather than uniting the Jewish people, could further exacerbate the tensions amongst them. Other sources in the religious parties said that the committee was established in order to find an agreed-upon solution for the conversion issue, but instead side-tracked to another topic and granted a standing to Reform and Conservative in marriage issues.

"There is no guarantee that this 'foot in the door' granted to Reform and Conservative could lead to further erosion of the status of the Chief Rabbinate in the future," said one.

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