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August 19, 2011

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PAGE 24A By Jessica Steinberg JERUSALEM (JTA)--In the never-ending game of diplomatic chess played by Israeli and Palestinian lead- ers, Prime Minister Benja- min Netanyahu made a new move to try to outflank the Palestinians. On Aug. 2, he said that Israel is ready to use the pre-1967 lines as a rough starting point for discussion of a Palestinian state--if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and back down from their plan to petition the United Nations for statehood recognition in September. Analysts are divided over whether this constitutes a real shift for Netanyahu or whether he's merely trying to call the Palestinians' bluff and gain the upper hand in the international arena--and at home. On the one hand, merely articulating this new posi- tion appears to be a signifi- cant shift for the prime min- ister, who initially described those borders as "indefensi- ble" when President Obama suggested in May that the pre-1967 lines--with agreed land swaps--should serve as the starting point for talks. "It's a very serious move," said Bar-Ilan University political scientist Eytan Gilboa, a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. "For him it's quite a concession to make because after Obama proposed his platform for renewing negotiations, Bibi rejected it. So he has changed his tune." Another, domestic ele- ment may be propelling Netanyahu toward peace talks with the Palestinians: the growing social move- ment that has seen mas- sive demonstrations over the high cost of living in Israel, particularly housing prices. In the past few days, some 300,000 Israelis have turned out to protest across the country, and many are camped out in tents on Tel Aviv's leafy Rothschild Boulevard. A few weeks ago, a Facebook-driven protest HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 19, 2011 Netanyahu tries political maneuvering in accepting 1967 lines for talks Haim Zach/Flash 90 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu articulating a new position on the pre-1967 lines was called a "very seri- ous move" by one expert. against the high prices of cottage cheese, an Israeli staple, also crew mass popu- lar support and the price subsequently dropped. If Netanyahu wants to deal with the protests that have grown with each week, he "has to draw the one card that no one is expecting, the card that can outflank his opponents on every segment of the political spectrum," Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote last week: an immediate return to peace negotiations. "This is the time," Bur ston wrote. "His party and his government are laying back, uncharacteristically silent, waiting for him to take charge, make a move that is bold enough to meet the challenge of the nation's broadest social movement in memory." Shmuel Sandier, another researcher at Bar-Ilan's Begin-Sadat Center, said the protests in Israel have prompted Netanyahu's co- alition partners to rally behind him because they don't want to fall prey to early elections, which para- doxically may strengthen the prime minister's hand in peace negotiations by giving him enough flexibility to make some headway with the Palestinians despite right-wingers in his coali- tion who are wary about concessions. Dimai Vazinovich/Flash90 Some analysts say demonstrations by Israelis protesting social inequalities and high living costs, as shown here in Tel Aviv on Aug. 6, are propelling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toward peace talks with the Palestinians. It's still not clear whether Netanyahu's Aug. 2 state- ment represents a substan- tive shift or a tactical move. Tactically, the appearance of being flexible on the issue of the borders could help build international pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and against a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations. "The Palestinians are so hard--they don't want to budge on the issue of declar- ing Israel a Jewish state and they will never accept Israel as a Jewish state," Sandier said. "This way, Bibi can't be blamed if something does happen in September" at the United Nations. "He can't be blamed for being too stiff and inflexible." Mark Heller, an expert at Tel Aviv University's Insti- tute for National Security Studies, says Netanyahu is merely trying "to wiggle" between the parameters Obama laid out in May and Netanyahu's longstanding position that talks with the Palestinians cannot be re- sumed with preconditions. "The only way we can find out definitively if he's serious is if Abu Mazen calls him on it," Heller said of Mahmoud Abbas, using the Palestinian Authority president's nora de guerre. "Eitherway, he has to be put to the test." In fact, it is just part of the "give and take of nego- tiations," Heller said. "Bibi said no to Obama in May, and this is just building on that." In the meantime, how- ever, Netanyahu's statement has distracted attention from Abbas' precondition to negotiations: a total freeze on construction in the settlements. Even with Netanyahu's concession, Heller said, Abbas could still push on the construc- tion issue. "You really get the sense that neither side is par- ticularly enthusiastic about talking to the other side, and there's no real sense of urgency," Heller said. "But no one wants to completely alienate the U.S. or home constituency." In the end, Gilboa said, despite Netanyahu's new position, everyone's hands are tied. The Palestinians are de- termined to go to the United Nations, but Netanyahu's statement makes a rejec- tion of negotiations more difficult. Netanyahu has spent much time in recent months trying to convince European leaders to abstain from or oppose a unilateral Palestinian bid at the United Nations for statehood rec- ognition. Last week, he met with 19 visiting diplomats in Israel, urging them not to vote for unilateral recogni- tion, saying it could make future negotiations more difficult. The Europeans are key. Without European back- ing, a vote in favor of Palestinian statehood sup- ported mostly by Muslim and developing countries would be seen as lacking in moral authority. Obama already has indicated that the United States will op- pose a U.N. vote for Pal- estinian statehood, and congressional leaders are threatening to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if it goes forward with its plans for September. Ultimately, Gilboa says, that may not make enough of a difference to deter the Palestinians. "Rational thinking is not their strong suit," he said. "The U.N. move is compli- cating an already highly complicated situation." Judge: New York State kosher laws are kosher By SAin New York Jewish Week New York State's kosher laws, rewritten in 2004 to make thema labeling and dis- closure law, are constitution- al, a Brooklyn federal judge ruled recently in dismissing a suit by the Commack, L.I., butchers who successfully challenged the original law. "The act requires that manufacturers and packers of food represented to be ko- sher-and also retail vendors who package food for sale as kosher--label the food as kosher," wrote Judge Nina Gershon in a 17-page opinion. She rejected the claim of Commack Self-Service Ko- sher Meats that such a require- ment discriminated against non-Orthodox Jews and their kosher food establishments. Brian Yarmeisch, an owner of Commack Kosher, said he disagreed with the judge and would consult with his lawyer before deciding whether to appeal. Yarmeisch, along with his brother, Brian, and their mother, Evelyn, filed suit in 2008 after a state inspector entered their store and an- nounced that he was there to verify that all products being sold bore accept- able labels and that it was "acceptably kosher." They argued that by sending in- spectors to kosher establish- ments to verify compliance with the law, the state had "renewed the accusation that the plaintiffs may not be reliable in matters of kashruth." Gershon pointed out that the state in its papers dis- avowed the inspector's com- ments, saying he had no au- thority to verify whether food was "acceptably kosher." And she noted that the inspector did not issue a violation. "That an inspector may be mistaken as to the meaning of a newly enacted statute does not render the statute unconstitutional," the judge wrote. "Because the state does not determine if a product is kosher under religious law, whether Orthodox or not, it does not create excessive state entanglement with religion. In sum, there is no danger here that the statewill become involved in decidingwhat is or is not kosher or other ques- tions of Jewish religious law." The earlier law that Ger- shon ruled unconstitutional, she said, had created "exces- sive" entanglements between the state and Judaism. The new law, on the other hand, contains "no definition of kosher, and there is no mechanism in the act to evalu- ate whether a food product is kosher by any standard," Gershon said. "The state cannot define what is and is not kosher because that is a matter of religious law. But the state is entitled to protect all purchasers of food repre- sented to be kosher, whatever their religion, from fraud." The Orthodox Union's Insti- tute for Public Affairs issued a statement calling the court decision a "welcome develop- ment for kosher consumers in New York who, in addition to theworkofhashgacha [kosher supervisory[ agencies, can rely on secular law penalties to assure truth in labeling in the marketplace." Robert Dinerstein, the lawyer for Commack Kosher, told The Jewish Week that the law is "not a truth in labeling" statute. "If anything, it misleads the public into believing that anything with a 'k' label is kosher," he said. "In fact, it has to be something your rabbi says is OK even if it has a 'k' on it." Dinerstein submitted affi- davits from four rabbis (three Conservative and one nonde- nominational) objecting to the law because it requires kosher establishments to do something Judaism does not require--put kosher labels on anything sold for off-premises consumption. In addition, they complained, it requires kosher stores to put kosher labels on products resold from someone who represents it as kosher even iftheywere deliveredwithout a kosher label and even where no kosher label is required by Jewish law. That means, Dinerstein argued, that all kosher stores must put a kosher label on each carton of eggs as well as all fresh fruit sold even though they were shipped to the store without one and are intrinsically kosher. The same would apply to hard cheeses and marshmallows deemed kosher by Conservative Juda- ism that the store buys in bulk and repackages in smaller quantities, he said. "How do you put a kosher label on a hot dog and sauer- kraut someone buys andwalks out eating?" he asked. The law requires also that basic information be filed with the state about the qualifica- tions of the person providing kosher supervision, that it be posted on a publicly avail- able database and that the individual's name be posted at the establishment. The suit did not challenge those provisions. Stewart Ain is a staff writer for the New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission.