Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Palestinian Authority has deployed 16,000 more police officers than allowed by the Oslo Accords, government officials said Tuesday, making it one of the most heavily policed areas in the world.

The Palestinian Authority is allowed to deploy up to 24,000 policemen in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the 1995 interim agreement. But officials said it has employed 40,000 officers.

This makes the Palestinian police force 60 percent larger than Israel's, officials said. In addition, they said, the number of Palestinian police in comparison to the Palestinian population exceeds that of most countries.

For example, while Switzerland has two officers per 1,000 residents and Spain has 4.5, the Palestinian Authority has 16.7 policemen per 1,000 residents.

Michael Freund, deputy communications director in the prime minister's office, said the Palestinian Authority has also violated its commitment to submit for Israeli approval the names of all police recruits. So far, he said, the Palestinians had submitted the names of 18,400 recruits, less than half of all Palestinian officers.

Palestinian officials have defended the size of their force, asserting that most of the employees do not have police duties. They add that the police force has become a major employer at a time of high unemployment.

Israel's biggest bilker sentenced to 6 years

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Zvi Ben-Ari (Gregory Lerner), convicted of the most serious financial crimes in Israel's history, was sentenced Tuesday to six years' imprisonment and a $1.3 million fine.

In accepting the plea-bargain worked out between the state and the accused, Jerusalem District Court Judge Ezra Kama did not mince words.

"In every charge of the indictment there is nothing but fraud," he said. Ben-Ari turned Israel into "a place of asylum from where he stretched out his crime-laden tentacles to Russia, Cyprus, Panama, and Luxembourg," Kama said in sentencing him to the maximum term under the agreement.

Under the plea-bargain, Ben-Ari admitted to 13 charges of fraud, forgery and blackmail, including defrauding banks in Russia of some $50 million and attempts to gain control of banks in Israel and abroad.

He also admitted to attempting to bribe former prime minister Shimon Peres, Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, and Labor MK Nissim Zvilli to help him achieve his aims — but without success. Another admission related to bribing two bank clerks.

Contestant's gown will show handshake

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Middle East peace process will be on display at next month's Miss Universe pageant in Honolulu.

The Israeli contestant in the pageant, Hagit Raz, 18, plans to don a white, sleeveless dress bearing the image of the historic 1993 handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn, with President Clinton behind them, as part of the contest's fashion parade.

The word "peace," written in English, Hebrew and Arabic, will also appear on the dress.

The husband-and-wife team that designed the dress said they wanted to unite peace and beauty.

Coca-Cola declared a monopoly in Israel

JERUSALEM — Coca-Cola was recently declared a monopoly in the cola market under an agreement hammered out among the three main soft drink producers aimed at boosting competition, Antitrust Authority director David Tadmor announced.

The agreement will ban the practice of exclusivity agreements and limit the ability of producers to give incentives to stores to sell their products, which results in stores pocketing discounts.

Coca-Cola, produced in Israel by the Central Bottling Company, has agreed to the monopoly declaration. Tempo, which holds the Pepsi franchise, was declared a monopoly in the beer market years ago. Coke has an estimated 70 percent of the cola market, while Tempo has about 78 percent of the beer market.

Tadmor said that after declaring Coca-Cola a monopoly, he would issue orders to Coca-Cola and Tempo to prevent them from abusing their market power.

Concealed marijuana found near highway

JERUSALEM (JTA) –Leave it to Israeli ingenuity.

Israeli police have found dozens of marijuana plants camouflaged in a traffic island on a major road in Jerusalem. The plants were interspersed with flowers planted by the city.

Two plainclothes detectives were shown on Israel Television digging up the illegal plants as cars whizzed by.

Police said they had no suspects, but said they would continue to hunt for more of the plants.