Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has hired the engineer of President Clinton's 1992 victory to help him win the premiership in Israel's next elections.

James Carville is due to travel to Israel in the coming weeks for preparatory talks for the elections, which are scheduled for the year 2000.

David Levy demands top ministerial post

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to bring former Foreign Minister David Levy back into the governing coalition hit a snag this week.

Levy now says he will accept nothing less than the Finance Ministry portfolio.

Speaking after a meeting with Netanyahu, Levy said he had rejected the offer of becoming national infrastructure minister, adding that he expects an answer to his demand soon.

Official suspended over leaked papers

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Colette Avital, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for European Affairs, has been suspended for two weeks.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Eytan Bentsur ordered the suspension this week after suspicions were raised that Avital had leaked classified material from the ministry's Middle East Department to a journalist at Ha'aretz.

The affair started some two weeks ago when material concerning Israel's possible response should the Palestinians declare statehood was faxed from Avital's office to reporter Yerah Tal. The fax was allegedly followed by a phone call from Avital's office.

Avital, who called the investigation a "witch hunt," is also former consul general to New York and former ambassador to Portugal.

Politicians fight for non-Jewish spouses

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Interior Ministry must halt its policy of deporting non-Jewish spouses of Israelis as the first requirement for obtaining resident status here, Labor Knesset member Avi Yehezkel asserted this week.

"Love cannot be stopped by bureaucrats," Yehezkel said, adding that if the policies are not rescinded, he will soon draft legislation to ease the hardship on the couples. "The time has come to put an end to this affair."

He was speaking in the Knesset Tuesday at a meeting between a group of Knesset members and a dozen couples who are awaiting Interior Ministry recognition of their marriages.

The High Court of Justice is still considering the petition of 30 couples filed a year-and-a-half ago. According to the group, the ministry has been delaying recognition of marriages and denying basic rights to non-Jewish spouses ever since Interior Minister Eli Suissa took office in 1996.

Under current policy, only non-Jewish spouses of new immigrants are given automatic rights.

Rafi Cohen, head of the ministry's Population Registry, argued that Israel has liberal immigration policies compared with other countries, but cannot grant rights to those who are here illegally.

Cohen said spouses are asked to leave the country and then receive an invitation from their spouse to return. However, the couples said no date for return is guaranteed — and one spouse has been waiting abroad for seven months.

Palestinians expected to triple population

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is expected to triple by 2025.

The increase, which is based on the assumption that half a million Palestinians will return from abroad, would make the Palestinian population in the territories roughly 7.4 million.

Shin Bet arrests man for stockpiling arms

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency, arrested an American immigrant last week on suspicion he was stockpiling weapons to attack Arabs.

Jonathan Tidi, 41, a resident of Moshav Nehusha in the Judean foothills near Beit Guvrin, was later released for lack of evidence.

A second American immigrant was detained for questioning, for allegedly selling him an assault rifle.

Apparently acting on a tip that Tidi was hoarding weapons to attack Palestinians, Israel police and Shin Bet agents searched his home.

Jerusalem Police Spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police found a "number" of weapons, 6,000 rounds of ammunition, hand grenades, night-vision goggles, ammunition belts stolen from the IDF, and other military equipment. Police detained him and confiscated the contraband.

According to Ben-Ruby, Tidi claimed that the weaponry was for self-defense, after a Palestinian state is declared in May 1999.

Tidi, a former member of the US Army Rangers and a gun expert, said he also wanted the weapons because he feared total chaos would erupt in the year 2000, when world computer systems would shut down because of the Y2K bug. Furthermore Tidi, who immigrated from Los Angeles, suspects the whole country would be overrun by Christian pilgrims in the millennium — and this was another reason for wanting to defend himself. He added that he did have a license for some of the weapons.

Students end fast, but strike continues

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A strike by Israeli university students will enter its seventh week as disagreement over whether to accept a proposal to lower tuition widened a split between student negotiators.

But 50 students ended their 18-day hunger strike on Thursday of last week after an appeal from President Ezer Weizman.

The new proposal, hammered out with the help of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would grant partial scholarships to students involved in community service projects. Opponents of the proposal argued that the students should not waver from their demand for a 50 percent reduction in tuition.