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Arens: PA State is 'Fantasy'


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's stated goal of creating a demilitarized PA-led Arab state is "a fantasy," former Defense Minister Moshe Arens said Tuesday. The PA is clearly unable to meet the conditions that Netanyahu – and most Israelis – believe it must meet before Israel gives up territory, he said.

Arens praised Netanyahu for insisting that Jerusalem remain Israel's unified capital, and for giving voice to the need for normal life to continue in Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu Tells CBS: I Have Opened the Door to Peace

By Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told CBS News Tuesday that he has opened the door to peace by declaring Israel's readiness to see a Palestinian state created alongside a Jewish state.

"I'm disappointed because I took a step, not an easy step," the prime minister said when asked whether he was disappointed by the negative Arab response to the foreign policy address which he delivered on Sunday. "And I said, 'Here's what we are prepared to do for peace. We're prepared to have a Palestinian state next to a Jewish state.'

"I think this is an equitable formula for peace. It's one that enjoys enormous unity in the in the Israeli public and I think among Israel's friends and supporters abroad and the supporters of peace abroad," he said.

"So, yes, I supposed I'd like a better response. And maybe it'll sink in over time. But I think I've opened the door for peace. And I hope that the Palestinians and the Arab world respond to it."

Bending to U.S. pressure, Netanyahu unveiled his peace policy for the first time in an address at Bar Ilan University on Sunday, backing down on decades of opposition to Palestinian statehood by endorsing an independent - but demilitarized - state beside Israel

President Barack Obama has welcomed Netanyahu's endorsement of Palestinian independence as a way to restart peace talks and called on Arab neighbors to join the discussion and downplayed criticism of the prime minister's remarks.

When asked by CBS how he expects Palestinians to rein in their extremist elements without a military, Netanyahu said: "Well, there is a long-standing agreement on a strong security force, on a strong police force, which is sufficient to deal with terrorists."

Israel must have the right to halt rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and the illegal flow of weapons, Netanyahu told CBS. "We want to make sure that we have security arrangements and effective monitoring that prevent that," he said.

"That's an essential part of demilitarization. And I think anybody who is grounded in the real world and how things really operate here in the Middle East would say that Israel has every right to expect that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized. That I think is an essential component of peace."

With regard to the U.S. demand for a total freeze of settlement construction in the West Bank, Netanyahu reiterated his remarks that Israel would "not build new settlements, that we won't expropriate additional land for the existing settlements."

He told CBS that he hopes that Israel and the U.S. "can find a common position on this because we'd like to move the peace process forward. We'd like to put it behind us and get on with peace negotiations, direct between us and the Palestinians."

When asked whether he would be willing to freeze settlements altogether, Netanyahu said such a decision must be left until a final agreement is reached with the Palestinians.

"I think the question of-not expanding the territory is different from the freezing life," he said. "You know, you have children there. You have babies that are born. What do you do with them? You have to give them kindergartens. You have to give them schools. Can you build a classroom or not? Can you build a kindergarten or not?

"What we talked about is just continuing normal life without prejudging the territorial outcome, without grabbing new land. I don't want to grab new land," he added. "We really want to have people live normal lives until that final peace agreement is reached. Then we'll decide on the rest."

Carter: Gaza Palestinians Treated Like Animals

By Reuters, &

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are being "treated more like animals than human beings", former President Jimmy Carter said on Tuesday.

On a visit to the enclave, he condemned Israel's January bombardment of Gaza and its continuing trade blockade, which he said forbids even children's toys. "I understand that even paper and crayons are treated as a security hazard," he told Gazans at a local United Nations office. "I sought an explanation of this when I met with Israeli officials and I received none, because there is no explanation."

Carter, 84, has spent far more years as a human rights activist than he did in the White House from 1977 to 1981. He is easily the most outspoken former U.S. president on the Middle East conflict, and seen by many Israelis as a harsh critic. He ignored a U.S. government ban on dealings with Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas and had talks with its leaders.

Israel tightened a blockade on Gaza in 2007 when Hamas took control after routing rival Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, who favors a peace deal with Israel. In late December, Israeli forces bombed then invaded Gaza, devastating its already battered infrastructure.

Since then, Israel has blocked imports of steel, cement and other goods to the population of 1.5 million Palestinians, saying Hamas could use many items for military purposes.

Carter, a Democrat, said he had seen for himself there had been almost no reconstruction in Gaza over the past five months. "Never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then been deprived of the means to repair itself," he said.

The Obama Administration should remove Hamas from the terrorist list, Carter told media following Tuesday's visit to Gaza. He said he plans on pushing for the change when he meets with U.S. officials on Thursday to discuss his latest trip to the Middle East.

Carter's comments came during a joint press conference with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh following their meeting in Gaza. The former president said he tried to convince Hamas leaders to denounce violence, accept the existing interim agreements and recognize the right of the Jewish state to exist.

"Hamas leaders want peace and they want to have reconciliation not only with their Fatah brothers but also eventually with Israelis to live side by side, with two nations, both sovereign nations recognized by each other and living in peace," Carter said.

Haniyeh told Carter that he supported any plan that aims at preserving Arab rights and leads to the establishment of a sovereign Arab state on all the territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967 "with Jerusalem as its capital." He urged Carter to pressure Israel to lift the security blockade which was imposed on Gaza's border crossings to prevent weapons smuggling.

During his visit Carter handed over a letter from kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit's parents and asked the group to deliver it on humanitarian grounds. He shared his version of a prisoner swap proposal which included releasing PA women, children, and parliament members he claimed were being held by Israel.

Hamas said that it is considering passing a letter to captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Haniyeh said Hamas desired to end the Shalit case and welcomed Carter's mediation efforts.

Israeli and Palestinian Authority media presented conflicting reports regarding an attempted assassination of Carter during his visit to Gaza. Ma'ariv quoted an unidentified "Palestinian security source" as saying that Hamas militiamen neutralized two explosive devices placed along the route Carter's motorcade was to travel in northern Gaza.

The bombs were reportedly placed near the Erez Crossing after Carter had already passed through, indicating an intention to strike at the former U.S. president on his way out of Gaza. The newspaper claimed that Hamas sappers and other security forces responded to the scene and eliminated the threat.

Contradicting the Ma'ariv report, however, a spokesman for the Hamas police force in Gaza said that his forces found no bombs along the route to Erez Crossing. Islam Shahwan confirmed that there was a brief suspicion of explosive devices placed along Carter's travel route, but insisted that a sweep of the area turned up no security breaches.

Carter reportedly passed a message to Hamas from the Obama administration, according to senior sources in the Islamist group. The sources did not disclose the content of the purported message or whether the communication was written or oral. They spoke on condition of anonymity, because they said Hamas had not yet reached a decision on officially releasing the information they were divulging.

Separately, in an interview with WND today, Ahmed Yousef, Hamas' chief political adviser in Gaza, refused to confirm or deny that any message was passed to his group from the White House.

Youssef said, however, Carter is the "right person" to serve as a middle man between Hamas and the Obama administration. "If we have anything to communicate, Carter will be the right person to convey messages from the movement (Hamas) to this (Obama) administration or from the administration to the movement," said Yousef, speaking from Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Aid to Diaspora Communities?


A majority of Israelis are in favor of using their tax money to support Diaspora Jewish communities, according to a recent poll by B'nai Brith. The survey of Israeli attitudes to Diaspora Jewry was conducted by the B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem and will be presented on Wednesday at the Begin Heritage Center.

In total, nearly 60 percent of Jewish Israelis support the State of Israel providing basic services like education, health care and food to Diaspora Jewish communities that are struggling due to the recent global economic situation. Among the youngest age bracket polled - 18-24 - support stood at a staggering 73 percent.

Also expressing overwhelming approval (around 70 percent) for such Jewish foreign aid were Ichud Leumi (National Union), Shas and Likud party voters. Kadima and Meretz party voters expressed much less support for the idea, at 49 percent and 37 percent respectively.

Thirty-six percent of those polled were against sending Israeli tax revenues to overseas Jewish communities.

Regarding the American Jewish community, 46 percent of Israeli Jews believe that American Jewish organizations are not doing enough to ease tensions between the Obama Administration and the Netanyahu government. Only 23 percent say the organizations are doing enough.

On the other hand, 57 percent of Israelis believe that American organizations that lobby the US government on Israel's behalf should always support the policies of the current Israeli government, whatever they may be. Just under one-third of those polled said such lobbying organizations should be free to openly oppose Israeli policies of which they disapprove.

Similarly, a majority of Israelis (53 percent) think that Diaspora Jewry should consider the opinions of Israelis when deciding issues such as who to vote for or which policies to support when those decisions can impact Israel's future. On the flip side, only 40 percent believe that Israelis should consider the opinions of Diaspora Jewry when deciding issues affecting Israel's future.

Israelis were somewhat contradictory in their approach to Diaspora religious movements. While 54 percent of those polled said they support equal status and funding in Israel for Reform and Conservative streams, most opposed incorporating two key elements of Reform policy into Israeli society. Thirty-six percent opposed the idea.

Fifty-seven percent of Israeli Jews support defining a natural-born Jew as "someone whose mother is Jewish," the traditional Halachic (Jewish legal) definition. Only 39 percent support the notion that "a Jew is someone whose mother or father is Jewish," the Reform position on the issue.

Oy Vay, My Shtreimel

By Ha'aretz

A Knesset member has decried a proposed ban on the import of fur, which would eliminate the traditional fur hats worn by ultra-orthodox Jews.If approved, the traditional fur hats, or shtreimels, worn by male members of the communities would be outlawed, Ma'ariv reported Tuesday.

The proposed amendment to the animal welfare bill, which has gained support in the Cabinet, would ban importing products made of cat, dog and rabbit fur, as well as furs imported from Southeast Asia, the newspaper said. Those violating the law could face up to a year in prison, Ma'ariv said.

Parliamentarian Menachem Eliezer Moses, a member of the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said it was inconceivable to support a bill outlawing such an important religious necessity.

"Oy vay, you will send thousands of haredim to prison. The proposed bill will bring a halt to the importing of shtreimels to Israel; it is inconceivable that anyone could support it," he told the newspaper. Moses said while he does not object entirely to the proposed bill, he would like it to exclude the shtreimel.

The shtreimel is worn by married men, particularly those affiliated with Hassidic communities, on holidays and the Sabbath. It is made of a circular velvet center surrounded by fur.

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