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November 20, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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November 20, 2009

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 20, 2009 ii li By Leslie Susser JERUSALEM (JTA)--Just as he hoped it would, Pales- tinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' threat to resign has concentrated the minds. Both Israel's prime min- ister and the U.S. president are considering new ways to kick-start the stalled Israeli- Palestinian peace process in a bid to keep the two-state vision alive. Benjamin Netan- yahu and President Obama both fear that Abbas' depar- ture could lead to instability, chaos and even violence in the Palestinian-populated territories, With the process dead- locked ever since Israel went into a new election cycle more than a year ago, an element of desperate brinkmanship is in the air. Abbas threatening to resign is aimed at pressuring the United States and Israel to come backwith a serious offer. Abbas, 74, announced last week that he would not seek re-election in a ballot sched- uled for January. One of the main reasons he gave was a profound sense of betrayal by the U.S. administration after Obama dialed back the Issam Rimawi/Flash 90/JTA Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists that his decision to resign is not a tactical ploy. pressure on Israel for a full settlement freeze. "We had high hopes in President Obama~they had a very clear attitude on settle- ments--but it turned out that the American administra- tion favored Israel," Abbas declared. Abbas had understood from Obama that he would force Israel to stop all settle- ment construction and then launch peace talks. The Pal- estinian leader believed the policy would push Netanyahu into a corner and possibly even topple his Likud-led government for one more likely to cut a deal with the Palestinians. Taking his cue from Obama, Abbas made a full freeze of settlement construction a precondition for talks. But when the Americans backed down several months later after Netanyahu offered a slowdown but not a freeze, Abbas was left high and dry. He held to a condition he could not abandon without losing face among his people, but he could not approach the negotiating table so long as he stuck to it. The last straw was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's statement early last week aligning her- self with the Israeli view of the settlement issue. Clinton backed Israel's claim that the Palestinians had never before made a settlement freeze a condition for talks before, and she praised Netanyahu's agreement to restrictions on settlement building in the West Bank as "unprec- edented." Clinton's forthright lan- guage stunned the Palestin- ians. For Abbasit meant his gamble on a settlement freeze had failed. A few days later he announced his intention to step down. While insisting that his decision was not a tactical ploy, he raised the specter of the two-state solution for which he had worked so hard slipping away. Abbas also finds himself in ano-win situationwith regard to Hamas. If he backs down on settlements, the funda- mentalists will accuse him of being an Israeli-American lackey. If he resigns, they will say his resignation is proof of their thesis that negotiations with the Zionist enemy can only lead to grief. Abbas had hoped through Egyptian mediation to reach a national reconciliation deal with Hamas. That would have been the basis for truly representative national elec- tions in the West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza. But now Hamas says it will not contest elections in the West Bank and will prevent ballot- ing in Gaza. For Abbas, who had hoped to regain legitimacy as leader of all the Palestinian people through the ballot box, this is another source of deep frustration. A third source of frustra- tion is Netanyahu's refusal to recognize the progress Abbas made with the previous Israeli government under Ehud Ol- Inert. Abbas says he was very close to an agreement with Olmert: On borders, he says, they were already reviewing detailed maps, and on the thorny question of the right of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees, Abbas says the differ- ences were only over numbers. Abbas would like to con- tinue negotiations from the point Olmert left off. But by insisting on "no precondi- tions," Netanyahu seems to be indicating that he wants to start from scratch. To break the impasse, P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is considering declaring inde- pendence unilaterally if the United States agrees to back a self-declared Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. But other voices in the Palestin- ian camp are talking about a return to armed struggle and a new intifada. What makes the situation even more volatile is the lack of an obvious successor to Abbas if he goes through with his threat to stand down. The front-runner is the jailed former leader of the young Fa- tah military cadres, Marwan Barghouti, who would likely take a more militant line to- ward Israel--if he's even able to compete. Abbas' move has forced early decision time on the main players: Obama must decide whether to work with Netan- yahu to appeaseAbbas---by, for example, getting the Israelis to release Fatah prisoners and make a serious peace offer--to disengage altogether until both parties are ready to talk business, or to shake things up by putting a detailed American peace plan on the table. Netanyahu must decide whether to seize the moment to launch a major peace initia- tive or face the consequences of a resignation by Abbas that could spark chaos on the Palestinian side. If he really wants to convince Abbas to stay, he will have to make a far-reaching offer on settle- ments or on substance. Although there has been no hard evidence yet, confidants say he is ready to go much fur- ther than most people expect. The next few weeks could be crucial. r~ By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA)-- After playing an active role in both the New Jersey and Virginian gubernatorial races, Republican and Democratic Jews joined their respective partisans in debating the meaning of recent election results. The Republican Jewish Coalition, hailing Bob McDon- nell's thrashing of Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia and Chris Christie's victory over incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine in New Jersey, said the GOP gubernatorial successes indicated that independent voters are suffering from "buyers' remorse" regarding President Obama. Meanwhile, the National Jewish Democratic Council was cheering Democrat Bill Owens' victory over Conser- vative Party nominee Doug Hoffman in upstate New York for an open U.S. House of Rep- resentatives seat. The Jewish Democratic group painted the race as a sharp rebuke of the most conservative wing of the Republicans in a district that had not elected a Democrat to Congress in more than a century. Both the RJC and NJDC were heavily involved in courting Jewishvoters in the gubernato- rial races. In New Jersey, both groups sponsored phone banks, ran ads in Jewish newspapers, and canvassed and handed out literature in Jewish neighborhoods. The NJDC emphasized a variety of is- sues, including stem-cell research and the Democratic candidates' support for eco- nomic partnerships with Israel, while the RJC theme was "The Greatest Jewish Value is Family" and focused on jobs and crime. The NJDC organizedasimi- lar field operation in Virginia, while the RJC held fund-raisers and was involved in efforts to get out the vote. The Nov. 3 elections also saw the defeat of two Jewish women running as the Demo- cratic candidates for lieutenant governor. Jody Wagner, a former president of Jewish Family Services of Tidewater, lost her bid to become the first Jewish statewide elected official in Vir- ginia, although her 44 percent of the vote was higher than either Deeds or Democratic attorney general candidate Steve Shannon. In New Jersey, Loretta Weinberg---a champion of Jewish Women's Involvement in the Political Process, a proj- ect of the MetroWest Jewish federation in New Jersey--was Corzine's running mate. New York's Jewish mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was re- elected for his third term--af- ter changing the term limits law--by a surprisingly narrow 51-46 percent margin over Democrat Bill Thompson. But according to the exit polls, Jew- ish voters--who comprised 18 percent of the electorate-- went forBloomberg by a 3-1 margin. The Orthodox Union issued an analysis of the returns from various states and munici- palities indicating that areas in New York and New Jersey with a high concentration of Orthodox voters backed GOP candidates in several races. The haredi Orthodox or- ganization Agudath Israel of America hailed Maine voters for repealing a state law allow- ing same-sex marriage. "It is noteworthy that vot- ers in every state in the union that has put this issue before the electorate have opted to preserve traditional marriage," said Rabbi David Zwiebel,Agu- dah's executive vice president. "What this shows is that the concept of marriage is indeed well understood by the public. It means what it has always meant: the consecrated union of man and woman. Legisla- tures that try to change this classical definitionare notonly out of line but out of touch." Bob McDonnell speaks at a campaign rally in Fairfax County in Virginia a few days before he was elected governor of the state by an 18-point margin.