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Quick Takes: News From Israel You May Have Missed

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, completing a Middle East visit this week, has been pressing Israel into signing a document by year’s end that would give the Palestinians a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and parts of Jerusalem, according to top diplomatic sources involved in the talks.

Although the Israeli team, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has been negotiating the division of Jerusalem – despite claims to the contrary – it would rather conclude an agreement by year’s end, leaving the matter of Jerusalem to be resolved at a later date, the sources told WorldNetDaily.

The Palestinian team has been pushing to conclude a deal by January on all core issues, including Jerusalem, and has been petitioning the U.S. to pressure Israel into signing an agreement on paper that offers the Palestinians east Jerusalem.

Rice, the sources said, has asked Israeli leaders to bend to what the U.S. refers to as a “compromise position” – the conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of the year that guarantees sections of Jerusalem to the Palestinians without Israel being required to withdraw from Jerusalem for a period of one to five years.

When an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is signed, President Bush would issue an official letter guaranteeing U.S. support of the document.

Top diplomatic sources said both sides are close to agreements on specific issues but said Jerusalem might not be included in any final document.

One Palestinian negotiator said Jerusalem would be divided along the framework of the 2000 U.S.-brokered Camp David Accords. He said the general philosophy for dividing Jerusalem would be “Arab for Arab and Jew for Jew,” meaning that most Arab-majority eastern sections of Jerusalem would be granted to the Palestinian Authority while Israel would retain Western, Jewish-majority sections.

The Arab-majority east Jerusalem neighborhoods, widely regarded as slated for a Palestinian state, include large numbers of Arabs who live on Jewish-owned land illegally. The Jewish National Fund, a U.S.-based nonprofit, owns hundred of acres of eastern Jerusalem land on which tens of thousands of Arabs illegally constructed homes the past few decades. Arabs are now the majority on the Jewish-owned land in question.

One PA negotiator claimed the U.S. has guaranteed the Palestinians that sensitive areas in eastern Jerusalem where, what he termed, “extremist Jews” are purchasing real estate would be handed to the Palestinians.

“The Israelis had no problem with this,” the PA negotiator claimed. “We were also told not to worry too much about scattered Jewish properties in Arab neighborhoods, or yeshivas [Jewish seminaries] in the Old City.”

The PA negotiator’s claim could not be verified by sources in Jerusalem.

Asked by this column whether Jerusalem is currently being negotiated, Mark Regev, Olmert’s spokesman, simply stated, “No.”

Cold War Returning to Middle East?

Israeli security officials have confirmed reported fears in Jerusalem that Russia may spark a military build up in the Middle East by sending war ships and advanced weaponry to Israel’s foe Syria.

In a widely circulated article, the London Times reported that Russia proposed a revival of its Cold War-era naval bases at the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia on the Mediterranean during a visit to Moscow last week by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Times’s information is not new. Indeed, the deal was first reported by this column in March, quoting security officials who spoke of a deal with Russia that would allow Moscow to station submarines and war boats off Tartus and Latakia. In exchange, Russia would supply Syria with weaponry at lower costs, with some of the missiles and rockets being financed by Iran.

Israeli security officials believe Assad did not travel to Moscow to sign a deal but to make public already existing arrangements for military cooperation between the two countries in an effort by Russia to publicly enhance its militant posture against the U.S.

The closer ties between Syria and Russia come amid Russian’s assertion of force in Georgia and as Secretary of State Rice and her Polish counterpart inked a deal to build a U.S. missile defense base in Poland, prompting Russia to warn of consequences for the former Soviet ally.

Bnei Menashe Set to Return

After years of diplomatic wrangling, the Israeli government has given permission to a community of Indian citizens who believe they are one of the “lost tribes” of Israel to move to the Jewish state, according to sources involved in the immigration process.

This decision, first reported in Israel’s Maariv newspaper, clears the way for the arrival here of 7,232 members of the Bnei Menashe. They believe they are the descendants of Manasseh, one of the biblical patriarch Joseph’s two sons and a grandson of Jacob.

The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz newspapers quoted an official in Prime Minister Olmert’s office last week denying that the government approved the immigration of the Bnei Menashe. Apparently Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, whose office oversees the process of immigration and absorption, refused to sign off on the deal.

But a source close to the immigration negotiations affirmed to WND that the Bnei Menashe indeed have been cleared to move to Israel. The source said government officials were upset the story was leaked to Maariv before the approval decision was formally announced. The source added Olmert’s office even had a press release announcing the decision written and ready to go.

Aaron Klein is Jerusalem bureau chief for WorldNetDaily.com. He appears throughout the week on leading U.S. radio programs and is the author of the book “Schmoozing with Terrorists.” 

About the Author: Aaron Klein is a New York Times bestselling author and senior reporter for WND.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York's 970 AM Radio on Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern. His website is KleinOnline.com.


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