Briefs: Secular candidate new Jerusalem mayor, Netanyahu would nix talks

Poll Shows Barkat Winning Jerusalem Mayoralty

Secular businessman Nir Barkat appeared to be the new mayor of Jerusalem, according to exit polls.

Channel 1 TV showed Barkat with 50 percent of the vote Tuesday to 42 percent for Rabbi Meir Porush, an ultra-Orthodox Knesset member. The third contender, former Russian oligarch Arcadi Gaydamak, was well behind.

Early exit polling, however, has proved to be unreliable in the past.

Many Jerusalemites view this year’s municipal elections to replace the current mayor, Uri Lupolianski, as a turning point for a city that is Israel’s poorest, still vulnerable to terrorist attacks and wracked by economic, political and religious divisions. Still, turnout was low, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Lupolianski was the city’s first Charedi, or ultra-Orthodox, mayor.

Netanyahu Would Halt Annapolis-Launched Talks

Benjamin Netanyahu would end Israel’s current negotiations with the Palestinians if elected prime minister, his office said.

A spokeswoman for Netanyahu, the Likud Party candidate for prime minister in elections scheduled for Feb. 10, said Netanyahu believes the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks launched a year ago at a peace summit at Annapolis, Md., have failed, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s premature to talk about a final peace deal, and sharing control of Jerusalem is out of the question,” Netanyahu spokeswoman Dina Libster said, adding that the Likud leader believes talks with the Palestinians should focus on economic issues.

On Monday, the AP reported that Netanyahu said he would continue Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but that negotiating over Jerusalem was out of the question.

Biden, Livni Discuss Iran, Peace

Joe Biden discussed Middle East peace and Iran in a phone call with Tzipi Livni.

The U.S. vice president-elect spoke to the Israeli foreign minister after last week’s elections, said a statement released Tuesday by Livni’s office.

Biden, a senator from Delaware for 35 years, is expected to take a lead foreign policy role in the Barack Obama administration. He is well known to Israeli leaders, having made his first visit to the region just before the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“Livni thanked Vice President-elect Biden for his long-standing friendship and support of Israel and said that she looks forward to continuing to work with him,” the statement said. “They agreed to work together to advance the shared interests and values of Israel and the United States in the Middle East.”

The statement emphasized concerns about Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program and control of the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists.

“It is very important that we continue our cooperation and work together against the Iranian threat,” it quoted Livni as saying. “Time is not working in favor of the moderates in Iran. Hamas and the extremist elements are studying our moves and they must understand that the world will not tolerate extremism and terror.”

Livni is leading the centrist Kadima Party in Feb. 10 elections.

Enriched Uranium Reportedly Found in Syria

Investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reportedly found traces of enriched uranium in Syria.

The finding by the agency, which works under the auspices of the United Nations, is a potential sign that Syria had been attempting to develop a nuclear program, Reuters quoted diplomats familiar with the IAEA probe as saying.

According to Monday’s report, the uranium was discovered at the same site that was allegedly bombed by the Israeli Air Force in September 2007.

The leaked information came shortly after the IAEA Director Mohammed El Baradei announced he would release a formal, written report on the subject, Reuters reported. The IAEA had no immediate comment.

“It isn’t enough to conclude or prove what the Syrians were doing, but the IAEA has concluded this requires further investigation,” a diplomat with ties to the organization said.

Birthright Cuts Budget by $35 Million

Birthright Israel is cutting its budget by $35 million for 2009.

Birthright, which sends Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 on free 10-day trips to Israel, had a budget of $110 million in the fiscal year that just ended, enabling the organization to send some 42,000 people to Israel. In the coming year, Birthright will only be able to send 25,000 because the program’s budget is dropping to $75 million, the president and CEO of the Birthright Foundation, Jay Golan, told JTA.

Golan, however, said that Birthright will most likely not be affected by the financial troubles of the company of its largest private benefactor, Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands company. The casino company is on the verge of bankruptcy, according to Bloomberg News.

Adelson gave some $60 million to Birthright Israel in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, he pledged $30 million to the organization to be paid out over the next two years. The money will pay for 6,000 trips, Golan said.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.