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January 10, 2010

A7News: Israel in Response to Mitchell Loan Guarantee Threat: Blame PA

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Sunday, Jan 10 ’10, Tevet 24, 5770
Israel Reacts to Mitchell Threat US envoy George Mitchell in interview: ‘United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel.’ Israel: we are not to blame.mini_0.jpg Today`s Email Stories:
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1. Israel in Response to Mitchell Loan Guarantee Threat: Blame PA
by Hillel Fendel and Gil Ronen Israel Reacts to Mitchell Threat

The Prime Minister’s Office reacted Sunday to an implied threat by U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, regarding American loan guarantees to Israel. Mitchell had said that his country could withhold support on loan guarantees to pressure Israel in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.Israel rebuffed the threat. “It is the Palestinian Authority that refuses to renew the peace process," a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Bureau stated, "while we have carried out significant steps. It is the PA that must change its ways.”

The special envoy, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, was asked by a TV interviewer on Thursday what types of pressure could be exerted upon Israel to get the diplomatic negotiations underway again. Mitchell said, “Under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel," and added that the previous Bush administration had in fact done so. “But I prefer persuasion to sanctions,” he said afterwards.

The loan guarantees are essentially U.S.-backed loans with favorable interest rates. Many in Israel have long called for Israel to turn down these benefits, in accordance with the Biblical teaching (Proverbs) that one who hates gifts will live, in order to remove this pressure point and enable Israel to be more independent. In July 1996, it was Binyamin Netanyahu himself, Israel’s then-new prime minister, who pledged to begin reducing American economic aid to Israel, while working to make Israel more economically self-sufficient.

Unnamed American officials have been quoted as saying that Mitchell did not mean to threaten Israel, but was merely answering the interviewer’s question.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Bureau said that Mitchell’s statement “does not make sense” and “is not accepted” by Israel, as Israel has taken enough steps to advance the diplomatic process vis-a-vis the PA.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday that Israel and the U.S. reached an understanding several months ago to extend the loan guarantee agreement for another two years. He added that the government does not plan to use the guarantees in the near future and that it is able to raise money without them.

The interview transcript reads thus: Mitchell: "The reality is that, yes, of course the United States has both carrots and sticks, you have to be very careful about how and when you use them and apply [inaudib –"

Charlie Rose: "When was the last time we used a stick? … Give me – I’m serious about this. You sit there and you say to Israel, if you don’t do this, what?"

George Mitchell: "I mean, under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel. President George W. Bush did so."

Charlie Rose: "Exactly."

George Mitchell: "On one occasion."

Charlie Rose: "And his father."

George Mitchell: "Well, the law that the most recent President Bush acted under, wasn’t in place at the time of the first President Bush, so there were different mechanisms. That’s one mechanism that has been publicly discussed, there are others. And you have to keep open whatever options, but our view is that, we think the way to approach this is to try to persuade the parties what is in their self interests. And we think that we are making some progress in that regard, and we are going to continue in that effort and we think the way to do that is to get them into negotiations."
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2. MK Ben-Ari Files Libel Suit Against Women’s Lobby
by Hana Levi Julian MK Ben-Ari Sues Women's Lobby

MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) is suing the Israel Women’s Lobby for slandering his name in the media by accusing him of anti-female bias last month. The freshman MK filed a lawsuit with the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on Sunday morning, demanding an award of a quarter of a million shekels in damages. He is also demanding that the court force the Women’s Lobby to publish a retraction of the "libelous statement" and an apology wherever the accusations or implications appeared.

"It would not have been as bad," Ben-Ari’s lawsuit stated, "if the defendants – who fired the arrow – had taken back what they said, had tried to rectify matters, publish accurate information, or at least [t to behave in good faith toward the complainant. However, besides the fact that this affair involves harsh acts of defamation and humiliation, it shows how far certain organizations and activists are willing to go in order to receive air time, even if they have to twist and falsify the truth to that end.”

The confrontation between MK Ben-Ari and the influential non-governmental organization began when Ben-Ari refused to support a bill that the group had been advancing, doubling the allowable maternity leave to six months, albeit without pay. Ben-Ari voted against the measure and explained why he was doing so from the Knesset podium, saying he believed the bill would hurt women’s chances of employment more than it would help them.

As an illustration of his point, he gave an imaginary scenario in which an employer barely capable of managing without a valued female employee was suddenly faced with her absence for six months. Such an employer might simply avoid taking female employees in the future, Ben-Ari warned.

In a sharp response, the women’s rights group filed a complaint against MK Ben-Ari to the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, accusing him of incitement against women. “Ben-Ari spoke in a way that was crude and dissonant, shamelessly and fearlessly, in a way that incites to clear discrimination against women,” the Israel Women’s Lobby said.

The Knesset Ethics Committee threw out the complaint by the women’s advocacy group, criticizing it for publishing its contents in the media before it was debated in the committee and saying that such issues are not decided in the court of public opinion.

‘Silencing Their Voices’

The women’s group issued a statement on Sunday in response to Ben-Ari’s lawsuit, stating that the MK was avoiding the issue raised by the women’s rights advocacy group. Instead of dealing with public criticism of his position, the group said, Ben-Ari had chosen to "silence the voices of working women in Israel."
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3. Security Upgrades at Ben Gurion International Airport
by Hana Levi Julian Security Upgrades at BG Airport

Israel has upgraded its international travel security with a new biometric screening system that was launched last week in the wake of the recent failed Northwest Airlines terror attack in Detroit. The hi-tech system is expected to significantly speed up security processing and check-ins at the airport, Israel Airports Authority officials said.

The Unipass Airport Management System scans passports through a machine at the registration desk, where fingerprints and facial imaging samples are also recorded in order to create a biometric signature. A personal “smart card” created from the one-time process is then issued to the passenger.

The information stored on the Unipass computers will be “fully secure” and will not be accessible to outsiders, according to an IAA official.

Each time a passenger travels through the airport, they will be asked to swipe their card and passport through a machine, which will then confirm the biometric match. A companion touch screen panel will present a series of questions that will confirm the passenger’s identity and security status, a process that until now was carried out by human security personnel.

Human staff members will be standing by to assist in case passengers run into difficulties with the machines – or in case they fail the test. An IAA spokesperson said that in such cases, “passengers will be taken aside by a guard for an in-depth check before being allowed to proceed.”

Passengers who pass the initial security check will proceed as usual to luggage security, where they will once again swipe their Unipass card, and send their bags through the X-ray machine.

The third layer of security to be faced by the passenger will come at the check-in counter, where once again the Unipass will be swiped in a machine. At this point, the passenger will have passed all initial security checks, hand luggage will be accepted for scanning, and travelers will swipe the Unipass for their fourth and final screening before heading for the duty-free shopping area, border control and the terminal gates.

Eventually, Unipass machines are expected to replace human passport inspectors at the border control area altogether; at present, biometric fingerprint scanners are available only for frequent flyers. IAA officials added that Unipass holders will soon be able to bypass the luggage X-ray security step and take their luggage directly to check-in. “From there, the suitcases will be passed through comprehensive security before being loaded on to the plane,” said an IAA official.

The system has been in the planning stages for some time. The fact that its launch date has come on the heels of an attempted attack by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group was purely coincidental, officials said.

The Unipass will initially be limited to El Al Matmid frequent flyer club members, and only gradually be expanded to include other travelers within the next two years, according to the IAA.
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4. Netanyahu: We’ll Respond Strongly to Every Rocket
by Hillel Fendel PM: We're Responding to Rockets

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s remarks before today’s Cabinet meeting focused on the recent rocket attacks from Gaza: “Twenty rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza last week… The IDF responded immediately, attacking rocket-manufacturing facilities and tunnels through which Iran smuggles rockets to Gaza. Our policy is clear: Every missile or other attack will be met with a strong response.”

Last week’s rockets landed near Ashkelon and Netivot, in addition to the closer and more frequent targets in the western Negev. No one was hurt in the attacks.

Netanyahu did not restrict his strong remarks to Hamas, and lashed out at Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah as well: “Not only rockets endanger our security, but also words. Those who name a Ramallah square after a terrorist who murdered tens of Israelis on the Coastal Highway [in are encouraging terrorism.”

Hamas blames the IDF for the reported death or wounding of three Gazan Arabs over the past two days. The IDF denies any involvement.

A former Commanding Officer of the IDF Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samiya, says that another clash between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is inevitable.

“We are now facing another round [of fightin in Gaza,” Samiya told Army Radio on Sunday morning. “I don’t believe that Hamas will surrender or change its ways without having been made to suffer a much stronger attack than that which we gave them last year in Operation Cast Lead. It must be a more focused blow, with longer -range consequences, and a take-over of certain areas in Gaza. Hamas must be made to understand that it loses territory as a result of provoking us.”
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5. Gush Katif Families: Despite Deals, Still a Long Way to Go
by David Lev Families: New Katif Deal Lacking

Representatives of families thrown out of their homes in Gush Katif said that while they appreciated that progress had been made in dealing with the problems caused by the Disengagement, "we’re only halfway to the resolution of our problems. Our problems are a long way from being solved."

The representatives, members of the Gush Katif Residents’ Committee, were reacting to a weekend announcement by the Prime Minister’s office that final agreements have been drawn up to resolve many of the ongoing problems that have plagued former Gush Katif families since the their expulsion from their homes. Among the areas covered by the agreements are a deal to push forward construction of permanent homes for members of the communities who were expelled from their homes in Gush Katif, as well as an agreement on compensating business owners who lost their livelihoods after the expulsion.

The agreements on housing were developed with four of the remaining communities that have not had a permanent housing solution since the expulsion. Former residents of the four communities agreed on a location for their new homes, while two other agreements await approval of members of those communities. Additional low-interest loans of NIS 250,000 will be available to those building their homes, and families who are unable to afford to build a new home will have the option of moving their "caravilla" temporary homes to the lots they will be given in their community’s new location.

Compensation for businesses

Since the expulsion, members of all the communities covered by the deal have been living in temporary housing. The agreements were developed between the residents and the governmental Tnufa Authority which was created in order to deal with the expulsion victims, and have been forwarded to the government committee investigating the treatment of former Gush Katif residents.

A separate agreement covers compensation for business owners. Under the deal, business owners will received increased assistance in order to rebuild their businesses. Business owners who are unable to develop their operations to earn sufficient income will be able to receive additional monthly compensation until retirement age.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the "my government has set helping our brothers removed from their homes in Gush Katif as a national and moral mission of the first degree. I congratulate all those involved on the progress made on these agreements. I instructed all relevant parties, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Tnufa Authority, and the Finance Ministry, to continue to resolve all the problems of former Gush Katif residents."

In a statement, the Gush Katif Residents’ Committee said that despite the agreements, there were still three major areas that need to be resolved; "helping farmers from Gush Katif who have been unable to return to their professions, aiding former residents whose economic situation does not allow them to build a new home, and the removal of bureaucratic roadblocks to the construction of new towns."

MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said on Saturday night that "four and a half years after the Disengagement, there is still no final date for most of the families to enter their new homes, there is no solution at all for over 100 families who wish to remain together with their communities, and over 70 percent of farmers have not returned to the fields. The Prime Minister sees a quarter of the cup as full, but we see how the suffering of the families is continuing. The time has come for action," he said.
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6. Peres Pardons 71-year-old ‘Kidnapper’ Grandmother
by Hana Levi Julian Peres Pardons Kidnap Grandmother

A years-long ordeal of an elderly woman came to an end last Thursday when President Shimon Peres pardoned a 71-year-old grandmother who was serving a six-year prison term for kidnapping her granddaughter. Dr. Isabelle Belfer, who expressed deep relief and gratitude to those who helped secure her freedom, quickly boarded a plane and on Saturday returned to Moscow.

The story began in 2007 when Belfer was convicted by a Tel Aviv court after her daughter Marina, divorced from her estranged husband Yaron Rotem, took their only child, Lilach, out of the country. Marina, who claimed that Rotem abused the child, took Lilach and fled first to the U.S. and then to Russia, angering Lilach’s father, who filed kidnapping charges against his ex-wife and her mother, Isabella.

Allegedly, Belfer accompanied her daughter when she took the child out of Israel.

When Belfer returned to Israel to care for her 94-year-old mother in 2006, she was arrested by the authorities, tried and convicted on kidnapping charges.

The judge in the case, Dr. Oded Mudrik, was harsh in describing Belfer’s crime, stating in his decision that “In principle, I am of the opinion that the punishment of the defendant is an appropriate response to her ridicule of the law and playing with the decisions of the family court as if it were a game of hopscotch. The punishment reflects the concept of protection of basic values and human dignity. The difference between this and other crimes… is that the injuries inflicted from the matter in question can be reversed.”

Prominent rabbis in Russia, on the other hand, sharply criticized the judge’s decision, supporting Belfer’s efforts on behalf of her daughter, noting she had not kidnapped the child for any financial gain, like a common criminal.

Rotem, meanwhile, has managed to secure a freeze on Belfer’s mother’s bank account and all her financial assets; according to The Voice of Russia news web site, he also is currently selling her Tel Aviv apartment.

As for his former mother-in-law, an appeal was later filed with the assistance of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the personal intervention by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Her prison sentence was commuted to a three-year term, but the elderly woman’s ordeal came to an end when President Peres pardoned her late last week.
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7. IDF Strengthens Ties With Israeli Society
by David Lev IDF in New Educational Program

Beginning Sunday, the IDF will send hundreds of high-ranking officers into Israel’s secondary school system, to meet with educators in the junior high and high schools. The program, called "Educators and Officers on the Road to Values," represents the first time that the IDF will be working together with educators in order to transmit IDF values and to develop educational programs for Israeli pupils.

Participants in the program will tackle topics such as relations between the army and civilian society, the IDF as a "people’s army," and the joint responsibility of teachers and the army in educating youth. In addition, educators will receive full information about aspects of IDF service in its various branches, and officers will learn about the IDF’s place in the education system.

The program is sponsored jointly by the IDF and the Education and Defense Ministries. The IDF issued a statement saying that the program is "another aspect of encouraging the connection between the IDF and Israeli society, with an emphasis on educators." The program will continue for ten days, during which some 350 officers – captains and higher – will participate, representating all branches of the IDF.

The officers will be split into about 50 groups, each led by a colonel. During the course of the program, each team will visit three to four schools across the country. Altogether, the groups are expected to visit 280 educational institutions, representing about a third of all high school students, from all educational streams.
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