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Netanyahu in Washington to Meet Trump Wednesday

By & VOA News

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu landed on Monday night in Washington, ahead of his meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday. Netanyahu will also meet with other U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

A diplomatic source accompanying the prime minister's entourage spoke of the visit, saying, "We came to hear the new administration and not as much to be heard. There is no doubt that the Iranian issue is the main issue which Netanyahu and Trump will discuss, but the Palestinian issue, Syria, Jonathan Pollard and the moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem will be discussed at the meetings as well."

Upon boarding his plane to Washington, Netanyahu spoke to reporters, saying, "The alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong. It's about to get even stronger. President Trump and I see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region but also on the opportunities. And we'll talk about both, as well as upgrading the relations between Israel and the United States in many, many fields."

White House sources said earlier on Monday that Trump will not use the term "two states" during his meeting with Netanyahu. The sources also said, according to Channel 10, that Trump wants to be the president who achieves peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The report further stated that Trump would not pressure Netanyahu regarding construction in Judea and Samaria.

Analysts say the Israeli leader hopes to forge common ground on Iran and regional issues and set in motion a chain of events that could block Iran, redefine Israel's relationship with the Arab world, and create Israeli-Palestinian peace.

A senior Israeli Cabinet minister said Monday Netanyahu no longer supports a Palestinian state, but stopped short of confirming whether the prime minister will make his stance public during Wednesday's talks with Trump. Netanyahu declined to elaborate on his position on the Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution as he departed for the United States. "Come with me, you will hear very clear answers, very clear answers," said Netanyahu, when asked by a reporter if he still stands by the two-state solution.

"The Palestinians will be watching this very closely and will be looking for any hints that the U.S. policy has substantially changed," said retired Ambassador Richard Lebaron, who served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv from 2001 to 2004.

David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East Peace Process, points to two big questions that will likely be the focal point of talks: "How to work with Arab states? How to constrain Iran's influence in the region?" Makovsky, who recently visited Israel, said the Iran nuclear deal and sanctions are among the main issues on the agenda for the Trump-Netanyahu meeting.

In July of 2015, Iran and six world powers reached a comprehensive agreement, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which curbed Tehran's ability to produce nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting stringent economic sanctions.

Trump and Netanyahu are strong critics of this deal. They have also advocated for the termination of JCPOA, which was backed by the Obama administration. But many see an evolving approach of the Trump administration, shifting from dismantling the deal to tightening its enforcement, while increasing pressure on Iran for its recent ballistic missile test.

"I think the debate about ripping up the agreement has essentially been settled and there are very few prominent voices [advocating that]," said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "The debate is within the how do you enforce the hell out of it."

Career diplomat Lebaron told VOA he does not sense "an immediate need on either side to dismantle the agreement per se." Instead the former ambassador to Kuwait says he expects "robust" discussion on how to continue the pressure on Iran over its behavior, including its actions in Syria, Lebanon and other countries in the region. "Keeping in mind also that this agreement involves several other major powers," Lebaron added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Tehran will "strongly confront any war-mongering policies" amid increased tensions with the United States following Trump's election.

Trump has made promises that were viewed as veering sharply from longstanding U.S. policy regarding the Israel-Palestine dispute. He has pledged to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an approach that would break decades of U.S policy, which calls for the city's disputed status to be resolved through negotiations. Trump has also signaled that he would take a much softer approach to the settlements.

Last December, he criticized the Obama administration's decision to abstain on a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israel's settlement construction in the West Bank. "I expect the president to find a way to implement and fulfill these promises," said Satloff, adding that those promises have a role to play in whether Netanyahu can return home with enough political gains "to enable him to withstand the pressure" from Israel's right-wing.

But others said the meeting could be primarily symbolic. "There is no doubt that in a certain way there's a lower expectation because, indeed, President Trump doesn't have a team in place," said Washington Institute's Makovsky. "It's easier for him to say, 'I'm in a listening mode".

Though Trump has expressed an intention to facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he has not indicated much sympathy with the aspirations of the latter. The Palestinians are "already seeing that in the way the president refers to settlements and so there will be some apprehension about how this may unfold," said Ambassador Lebaron.

Valentine's Day Survey: Most Jewish Israelis Support Civil Marriage and Divorce

A majority of Jewish Israelis support allowing civil marriage and divorce in Israel, according to a survey released for Valentine's Day.

Some 72% of Jewish Israelis and 76% of Arab Israelis support the statement that "every resident [of Israel] has the right to get married in Israel with whomever he chooses, in whatever way he chooses, and according to his beliefs," but at the same time, only 43% of the Arab-Israeli public support allowing civil marriage and divorce in Israel, according to the poll released Tuesday by Hiddush, an organization that promotes religious pluralism in Israel.

Some 95% of secular Jewish Israelis support the statement, and 67% of traditional Jewish Israelis, according to the survey. In addition, within the 76% of the Arab-Israeli sector that agrees with the statement are 71% of Christians, 76% of Druze and 79% of Muslims.

The two surveys of Israelis also found that 67% of the Jewish public would still prefer to have Orthodox weddings for themselves and their children as long as no marriage alternatives are recognized by the state, with 16% preferring to get civilly married abroad and 17% preferring to cohabitate without getting officially married. In contrast, 88% of Arab Israelis would prefer to have religious marriages.

In addition, 60% of Arab respondents aged 25-34 support instituting civil marriage and divorce, compared to only 27% of Arabs 65 and older.

According to the survey, if the State of Israel were to institute civil marriage along with religious marriage, 31% of Jewish respondents would prefer to be married in civil marriage ceremonies and 60% would prefer to be married in religious marriage ceremonies.

To be recognized by the state currently, all marriage ceremonies must be conducted by religious authorities of state-recognized religious communities to which both members of the couple belong. Jewish Israelis can only legally marry through the Chief Rabbinate, while the religious authorities for the Christian, Druze and Muslim populations regulate the rites of marriage and divorce in their respective communities.

Israel does not have a legal framework for civil marriage or divorce, same-sex unions, marriage between two individuals who belong to different religions or for marriage when either of the two partners is registered as "having no religion."

The surveys also found that 50% of the Jewish sector and 57% of the Arab sector oppose marriages between Jews and Arabs. Meanwhile, 14% of Jews and 16% of Arabs would support such marriages if one of the partners were to convert.

In addition, 66% of the Jewish Israeli public does not trust the rabbinical courts, and 67% believe they discriminate against women. Fifty percent of Arab Israelis trust in their religious courts, and 71% do not believe their courts discriminate against women.

The surveys were conducted by the Smith Polling Institute and the Yafa Research Institute. It was the first time the Arab population's positions on marriage and divorce freedom and related matters have been surveyed, according to Hiddush. The survey of Jewish Israelis was conducted by the Smith Institute on Sept. 27, 2016 among a representative sample of 500 adult Jewish Israelis. The survey of Arab Israelis was conducted by the Yafa Institute on Oct. 1-5, 2016 among a representative sample of 512 adult Arab Israelis.

Rabbi Uri Regev, who heads Hiddush, told JTA he believes there would be more enthusiasm for civil marriage and divorce from all sectors if it actually existed in Israel. He noted that with only 12% of Arab Israelis polled identifying themselves as secular; the country's Arab population is much more conservative and religious than its Jewish population. But he added that is not why there is no civil marriage in Israel.

"Ultimately, Israel does not have marriage freedom because of the Jewish Orthodox parties and not because of the position of the Arab sector," Regev told JTA. "When we are able to overcome the Orthodox Jewish extortion, met willingly by the non-religious Israeli Jewish parties, we will be able to advance marriage freedom even if the majority of the Arab sector will maintain their disapproval."

Meanwhile, a survey conducted for the religious Zionist Neemanei Torah Va'Avodah movement found that 49% of individuals who classify themselves as National Religious support options for civil marriages in Israel. The options offered in the survey were civil marriage for those ineligible for Jewish marriage, excluding same-sex marriage; civil marriage for those ineligible for Jewish marriage, including same-sex marriage; optional civil marriage alongside religious marriage; and civil marriage in place of religious marriage.

New Plan Calls for Construction of 2.6 Million Homes by 2040


Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon plans to unveil a new plan for tackling rising housing costs at a meeting of the Housing Cabinet scheduled to be held later this week. The plan, a joint project of the National Economic Council, the National Zoning and Planning Committee, and the Housing Forum, the executive arm of the Housing Cabinet, has been described as an "unprecedented strategic blueprint" in the government's efforts to meet market demands and fight soaring housing prices.

It calls for the planning and marketing of 2.6 million apartments in the next 24 years, to offset demand. According to projections, the number of households in Israel is expected to increase by 247%, from 2.3 million to 3.8 million, by 2040.

According to the plan, 19,500 apartments will be built for the ultra-Orthodox sector, 10,000 of which Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has agreed to construct in a new haredi neighborhood to be established near the southern town of Kiryat Gat. The plan also includes the construction of tens of thousands of apartments for the Arab sector.

To meet the plan's objectives, 104,000 apartments will need to be built in the next two years, and 208,000 apartments will need to be built by 2020. The goal is to build 52,000 apartments every year for the next four years, and to later increase construction, so that 67,000 apartments are built each year between 2036 and 2040, which would result in a nationwide construction boom.

Rabbinical Court: More Female Than Male are Get-Refusers


Israel's Rabbinical Court system statistics for the past five years paint an interesting picture regarding the number of estranged spouses who refuse a divorce (unless their conditions are met), the low number of dispensations given to men to marry a second wife, and more.

A get-refuser ("get" is the Hebrew word for "divorce papers") is defined as either a man who refuses to grant a get or a woman who refuses to accept one within a month of the issuance of a ruling that a get should be given.

Surprisingly to many, some 56,000 couples have divorced over the past five years. In the vast majority of these cases, the Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) either succeeds in bringing about a divorce by mutual consent, or is presented with a "done deal." However, in nearly 7,000 cases, the Beit Din was forced to order a get – 3,566 against the man, and 3,384 against the woman. In all but 809 of these cases, a get was given within a month.

Of those 809 cases, 382 of them involved a recalcitrant husband, while the other 427 – nearly 12% more – involved women who refused to accept a get. This flies in the face of the conventional perception that unresolved divorces are invariably the result of men holding their estranged wives "hostage" until their unreasonable demands are met.

Between the years 2012 and 2015, 249 women refused a get, while 205 men did. The year 2016 saw a surprising jump in the number of unresolved divorces, caused equally by men and women: 143 by men, 142 by women. So far in 2017, 36 women and 34 men are refusing their estranged spouses' conditions.

During this five-year period, 69 men were imprisoned for refusing to give a get; no women were imprisoned for refusing to accept one. On the other hand, since 2012, 53 men were granted permission to marry a second wife. Such permission involves a complex process involving two levels of courts and requiring the express permission of the President of the High Rabbinical Court. It is done only when the woman is either physically unable to accept a get, or when her refusal to receive one appears to be intractable.

It could very well be that since women are biblically forbidden to remarry without a divorce, the only measures that can be taken against men is imprisonment – whereas recalcitrant women are punished not with jail, but with the permission granted to their husbands to marry a second wife. Nineteen men who were granted permission to remarry by the Regional Beit Din were prevented from doing so by the High Beit Din.

Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, Director of the Rabbinical Courts system, says that every day in which a get is withheld "is one day too much. Any man or woman who deserves a get is like an entire world, and deserves our help. The Rabbinical Courts work night and day to find solutions and bring these sad situations to an end."

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