Mideast Shorts – Jweekly.com

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Palestinians nix IDF offer to pull out of Ramallah, Jericho

In recent secret Israeli-Palestinian talks first reported in Haaretz, the Palestinian Authority turned down an Israeli offer to stop military operations in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho, saying the proposal did not go far enough.

According to the Times of Israel, Israeli negotiators in late February offered to do a trial pullout from the two West Bank cities, but the PA said it wanted the Israel Defense Forces to cease activities in all of Area A — the section of the West Bank that under the 1993 Oslo accords is officially under PA control.

Citing unidentified senior Israeli officials, Haaretz reported that talks are “currently stuck but not dead and could resume.”

Citing unnamed Palestinian security sources, the Times of Israel said PA officials had demanded that Israel present concrete steps detailing when it would stop all military activities in the area.

Although Area A is supposed to be under exclusive Palestinian control, Israeli forces since 2002 have frequently entered the area to arrest terror suspects and conduct other operations.

While there have been no peace talks since a United States-brokered effort collapsed in April 2014, Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials have continued to coordinate on security. According to the Times of Israel, the sources said Israeli negotiators were focused only on improving the security situation, whereas the Palestinians wanted to advance to a final-status agreement. — jta


Bill to prevent non-Orthodox from using mikvah moves forward

A bill that would bar Conservative and Reform conversions from taking place at public ritual baths in Israel passed an initial Cabinet committee vote, but only three of the committee’s 12 members were on hand for the vote.

The members of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation who did vote on March 13 unanimously passed the measure. The remaining nine members chose to be absent, according to reports.

Israel’s governing coalition is now obligated to support the bill when it reaches the Knesset floor, though subsequent votes will be delayed until the coalition agrees on its wording.

The bill was proposed by the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction and supported by the haredi Shas Party, as well as by some members of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party.

The bill aims to override a Supreme Court decision in February mandating that the ritual baths, or mikvahs, be open to Conservative and Reform conversions.

Religious pluralism activists and non-Orthodox leaders objected to the Cabinet vote. — jta


Western Wall rabbi cancels support for egalitarian prayer

The Western Wall rabbi reportedly has withdrawn his support for a deal establishing a separate egalitarian prayer section at the holy site.

Shmuel Rabinowitz in a March 14 letter urged haredi Orthodox party leaders to introduce legislation to cancel the Jan. 31 deal, as well as a 2013 district court ruling allowing the Women of the Wall group to pray in the main Orthodox section of the wall, Haaretz reported.

“I call upon you to act with the same determination to stop the holy site desecration at the Western Wall, whose spiritual damage is beyond imagination,” he wrote, according to Haaretz.

The deal expands the Western Wall’s existing non-Orthodox prayer section. Women of the Wall, which holds women’s services in the Orthodox section, eventually is to move to the non-Orthodox section as part of the deal, which is backed by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Israeli government and the Wall’s haredi management.

Israel’s chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, oppose the deal, as does Religious Services Minister David Azoulay, who has called Reform Jews “a disaster for the people of Israel.”

Also on March 14, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri told Israel’s Channel 2 that his Shas Party would not sit in a government that recognizes the Reform movement. — jta


Ahava cosmetics to open plant outside West Bank

Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics firm whose products are made in the West Bank, confirmed its plan to open a production line on the Israeli side of the 1967 Green Line.

“In light of expanding production needs due to the success in marketing Ahava products around the world and expected changes in cosmetic product manufacturing standards … Ahava will establish an additional plant at Kibbutz Ein Gedi,” Haaretz quoted an Ahava spokesperson as saying.

Ahava’s plan to open a plant in Ein Gedi was first reported last year. The firm did not say whether the new plant, which will operate on land internationally recognized as belonging to Israel, will replace its current factory in Mitzpeh Shalem on land that is widely considered occupied Palestinian territory.

Ahava has been a target of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, as well as initiatives targeting products made by Israelis in the West Bank and other disputed territories, namely the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem.

In 2011, Ahava shuttered its London store after months of demonstrations by pro-Palestinian groups.

Similar pressures had been applied to SodaStream, the carbonated beverage dispenser manufacturer, which relocated last year from the West Bank industrial zone of Mishor Adumim to the Negev. A handful of other Israeli companies have made similar moves. — jta

Mideast Shorts – Jweekly.com}