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State Dept. Dances Around EU 'Settlement' Labeling

By and

Israel would be required to label products that are made in West Bank settlements and exported to Europe, according to guidelines being prepared by the European Union. The move is the latest sign of international discontent with Israeli construction of settlements on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians, as well as frustration over the bleak state of Mideast peace efforts. It also comes as a grassroots movement promoting boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel appears to be gaining steam.

Israeli officials reject the European labeling plan, saying it would amount to a type of boycott and help discourage Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from returning to negotiations. "Why should he talk? He can get by without talking. He can get by with an international community that blames Israel for not having talks," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Herzliya Conference, an annual gathering of the country's political and security elite.

An EU official said Tuesday the 28-nation bloc's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told European foreign ministers May 18 that work is underway and that a set of guidelines will be "finalized in the near future."

The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem - territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war - as parts of a future independent state. The international community opposes Israeli settlements in the two areas, saying they undermine the goal of dividing the land between two countries. More than 550,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank.

EU opposition to the settlements is not new. A free trade agreement with Israel already excludes settlement goods, even if they say they were made in Israel. Likewise, Israel is barred from spending money it receives under a landmark technology-sharing pact in the West Bank or east Jerusalem. Several European countries have approved voluntary labeling guidelines for settlement products.

The new guidelines would take things further by requiring Israeli exporters to explicitly label products as being made in the settlements - a potential stigma that could deter consumers from buying them. The EU began work on labeling guidelines in 2012, but appears to have decided to revive that effort following the formation of Israel's new hard-line government.

The EU official said it would likely be months before the guidelines are complete. A second official said much would depend on the policies of the new government. If peace talks with the Palestinians are restarted, the effort could once again be shelved. But if talks remain frozen and Israel steps up settlement construction, the EU will move forward, he said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal EU deliberations with the media.

For now, the odds of Israel and the Palestinians re-launching peace talks appear extremely slim. Netanyahu's new government is dominated by pro-settlement hard-liners who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu himself spoke out against Palestinian independence in the recent election campaign. Although he has backpedaled and called for a resumption of peace talks, the Palestinians and Israel's Western allies are skeptical in the absence of a firm proposal from him.

Instead, the Palestinians have been moving forward with a campaign against Israel in international organizations like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Two weeks ago, Israel fended off a Palestinian attempt to expel Israel from FIFA, the global soccer federation.

At the same time, the grassroots pro-Palestinian boycott movement, known by its initials BDS, appears to be gaining strength. Last week, Britain's national student union endorsed the BDS movement, while the chief executive of French telecom giant Orange said he wanted to cut business ties with Israel to help gain favor with the Arab world.

Orange CEO Stephane Richard subsequently backtracked, telling France's BFM television station Monday that his decision was only a business move and he is "radically opposed to all forms of discrimination." The station said Richard planned to go to Israel soon to speak to the nation's leaders. But the uproar in Israel has not subsided.

Politicians across Israel's political spectrum have blasted the BDS movement, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Thursday she had ordered experts to plan legal steps against it. "In this arena, we will move from the defense to the offense," she said.

In his speech Tuesday, Netanyahu said the global pressure on Israel was undermining hopes of resuming talks. "The Palestinians have a nifty trick up their sleeve, they refuse to negotiate and then get international pressure, sanctions, and boycotts on Israel for there not being negotiations," he said. "It's the perfect Catch-22."

An EU labeling effort would deliver an especially tough diplomatic blow. In contrast to the BDS movement, whose leaders often voice hatred of Israel, Western European countries are among Israel's closest allies.

Europe also is Israel's largest trade market, importing about $14.7 billion in goods last year, according to EU figures. Products from the settlements, including wines, honey, cosmetics and agricultural produce, make up just 1.5 percent of that total, according to Israel's Finance Ministry.

But while the economic impact of a labeling campaign might be minimal, it would be a symbolic setback to Israel. "If Europe begins labeling settlement products, then this will mean that they have put their political position into effect in the sense that there will be a real and true boycott of settlement goods," said Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Cabinet minister in charge of economic development.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel fears that consumers will not differentiate between settlement products and Israeli products. "It will be a de facto boycott against Israel," he said. Nahshon said Israel is in "close contact and dialogue" with the EU on the matter. "We have been conveying our positions, and we hope they will be accepted by the EU."

US State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke did his best to avoid directly answering a question about the European Union's revived plan Associated Press reporter Matt Lee repeatedly tried to get Rathke to comment on the renewed EU labeling effort, which was revealed on Tuesday, but Rathke stated that the US refuses to take a position on the matter.

Responding to Lee's questions, Rathke said, "it's my understanding this is something that is still under discussion, so I would refer you to the EU and the European Commission for any details. Since it remains an internal matter for the European Union, I'm not going to speculate about that while it remains under discussion internally."

Lee didn't let the matter go so easily, responding, "I'm not quite sure I understand that. So you don't have any position on whether goods and products made/produced in settlements in the West Bank should labeled or should not be labeled as coming from there?"

Rathke continued to refuse to take a position, at which Lee said, "the administration's view is that it won't take a position on this until after it's too late. I mean, isn't it precisely during the time that something is under consideration that you would want to weigh in to have your voice heard if you have a position?"

But Rathke would not be drawn into giving an answer. Lee then asked if the labeling is viewed by the US as a similar move to boycotts against Israel, which the administration has in the post vocally opposed. Rathke reiterated that the US opposes boycotts targeting the Jewish state, but again avidly refused to make a statement on the labeling issue.

Aside from threatening to label goods from Judea and Samaria, the EU also has a list of sanctions prepared to be launched in a diplomatic offensive against Israel as soon as the Iran nuclear deal is off the docket, according to senior US officials.

The sanctions are meant to force Israel into peace process concessions, and sources revealed that US President Barack Obama's threat made in an Israeli interview this month, according to which he may cut US support for Israel at the UN, specifically was referring to the EU sanctions list.

Netanyahu: Palestinian State Must be Demilitarized, Recognize Israel

By Israel Hayom

In an address at the prestigious annual Herzliya Conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, but noted that a Palestinian state must be demilitarized and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu's vision of a peace agreement with the Palestinians includes continued Israeli security control in Judea and Samaria. "These are not whims, these are not pretexts, excuses, arguments," Netanyahu said. "This is real. How do you prevent tunnels from being dug from Qalqilya to Kfar Saba? ... Who will go into Qalqilya and stop it? Who will prevent the smuggling of weapons?"

Netanyahu noted that no one has provided him with an answer as to how to guarantee that territory ceded to the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would not end up being seized by Hamas or the Islamic State group. "Today, the problem in Gaza is not the smuggling of weapons. There isn't much of that. The problem is self-production [of weapons] in Gaza. ... This doesn't happen in Ramallah, because, ultimately, Israeli security forces are the main avenue of defense. The ... demilitarization of Judea and Samaria does not go without saying. We must ensure there is a lasting security regime that provides answers to these problems, based on the premise that the region remains stable."

Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to negotiations without preconditions. "I tried for six and a half years to talk with Mahmoud Abbas," Netanyahu said. "For the sake of this effort, I did things that were very difficult for me, but I did them."

But, Netanyahu pointed out, Abbas "has very little reason to talk. Why should he talk? He can get by without talking. He can get by with an international community that blames Israel for not having talks.

"In other words, the Palestinians run from the table. They ran away from Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak. They ran away from Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert. They ran away from ... Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon. And they ran away from me. When John Kerry proposed a framework ... they ran away from that too.

"But the Palestinians have a nifty trick up their sleeve -- they refuse to negotiate and then get international pressure, sanctions, boycotts on Israel for there not being negotiations. It's a perfect Catch-22. And there are those who attempt to impose terms on Israel [at the U.N.] Security Council because there are no talks, and some of them pretend that the dangers we face are not real dangers at all."

On the emerging nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, Netanyahu expressed concern that, even if Iran abides by the terms of the deal, it would still be able to easily build a nuclear weapon within a decade. The prime minister said Arab leaders agree with him that an emerging nuclear deal will not stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu said he is not the only voice in the Middle East against the deal. "I am often portrayed as the nuclear party pooper. But I speak with quite a few of our neighbors, more than you think, and I want to tell you that nobody in this region believes this deal will block Iran's path to the bomb."

Netanyahu warned the deal would spark a nuclear arms race that would see the Middle East "crisscrossed with nuclear trip wires as other states nuclearize" in fear of Iran. He said lifting the sanctions rewards Iran with "prosperity at home" while allowing it to continue "aggression abroad."

Leftist J-Street Poll: American Jews More Likely to Support Iran Deal


American Jews are more likely to support a nuclear deal with Iran than the general American population, according to a poll published Wednesday by leftist organization J-Street. 59% of Jewish respondents support a deal with the Islamic Republic, vs. just 53% of the general population, it said, citing a similar poll in April. 78% of Jews would allegedly support a deal involving intensive inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities and capping uranium enrichment to far below the level necessary for a nuclear weapon, it added. Overall, 66% of American Jews are following the Iran deal progress, but only 6% rank it as an important issue.

Meanwhile, J-Street also found that American Jews approve of President Barack Obama's presidency more than the general population, with 56% approving vs. just 45% of the general population. The findings corroborate a Gallup poll published in April also noting Jewish support for Obama is higher.

The leftist org also insists that many Jews (57%) believe Obama's disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu include "appropriate" criticism, with just 43% stating Obama has "gone too far." 72% support a two-state solution to resolve tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs and 84% believe the US should play an active role in resolving the conflict.

1,000 American Jews were polled by the GBA Center for the findings. J-Street's poll results contradict a multitude of polls published over the past six months illustrating, among other points, that US-Israel relations have become a deeply partisan issue; that US support for the two-state solution is the lowest in 20 years; and that, while American Jews are more supportive of Obama than the population at large, American Jewish support for Obama is falling overall.

The leftist Jewish organization has also demanded that Israel negotiate with Hamas, the terrorist organization that calls for the genocide of Jews in its charter, and backed the Palestinian Authority's (PA) refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Reports have also revealed how activists of the group wore T-shirts glorifying a Palestinian Arab terrorist.

'Housing Czar' Kahlon Gets Ready to Take On Home Prices


Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) unveiled the first segment of his plan to lower housing costs in Israel. Among the steps he plans to take: Increasing the number of apartments for sale, building apartments specifically for rent, increasing the amount of land available to developers at discount prices in return for building housing for the middle class, and increasing taxes on real estate purchased for investment.

The ideas Kahlon presented are a compendium of those that have been presented, and even attempted, in Israel over the past several years – with little effect on prices. But this time it's different, say supporters of Kahlon; besides Finance Minister, Kahlon is Israel's first-ever "housing czar," having demanded and being given wide authority over housing, from community planning to sales of state land to providing benefits for builders and buyers.

Many of the changes are technical in nature, such as cutting the amount of time a homeowner selling their home in order to buy a new one to declare capital gains on the sale. The current 24 month period will be cut to 12 months, in order to encourage sellers to make the transactions faster, thus freeing up supplies of presumably cheaper homes more quickly. Other reforms promise to be more wide-ranging, such as one which will change the zoning on significant amounts of agricultural land, freeing those parcels up for home construction.

Speaking at a press conference where he introduced his reforms Wednesday, Kahlon said that the government was "finally taking responsibility and presenting unprecedented reforms, in a balanced manner that will increase the supply of available homes."

Commenting on the reforms, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that he and Kahlon "are committed to doing everything possible to lower the cost of housing for Israelis. We plan on tackling the three main issues involved – land, workers, and money – in order to accomplish this. We are definitely on a new and daring path that I believe will succeed."

Refuses 'Get' 14 Years - Gets Money, Zero Jail Time


A resident of Haifa who refused to divorce her husband for 14 years will do no jail time and receive 100,000 shekels from her husband in return for granting the divorce, a rabbinical court has ruled.

According to Ynet, the couple parted in 1993 and the husband filed for divorce, while the wife filed for alimony and child support. They moved back together afterward, though, and signed an agreement according to which the husband would cancel the divorce proceedings and would pay the wife alimony and child support despite their living in the same home, for an unlimited period of time.

The couple split up again in 2000, however, and the husband moved out of the apartment. In 2011, he filed for divorce and said that the wife is making him miserable, keeping his children away from him and refusing to divorce him for fear of losing the sum of 3,500 shekels he is paying her every month.

The wife refused to divorce, however, and demanded a process of reconciliation (shlom bayit) between her and her husband. The husband offered her 80,000 shekels in return for agreeing to divorce, but she rejected this, noting that the sum was only equivalent to what she would receive from him in the course of two years, under their current arrangement.

The Rabbinical Court recently decided to end the affair this year and ruled that there is no justification for a process of shlom bayit after so many years of separation. Rabbinical Judges Daniel Adri and Eyal Yoef accepted the husband's claim that the wife is not interested in him, but in his money, and that she is only dragging him out for the purpose of getting more cash from him.

In describing the wife's actions, the court used the verb "le'agen" – from the same root as "aguna," the term used for women whose husbands refuse to give them divorce decrees. However, unlike the cases involving "recalcitrant husbands," who are routinely severely punished, this recalcitrant wife was not jailed for a single day, and was awarded 100,000 shekels in compensation from her husband.

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