Briefs: Rice pushes for renewed peace talks, U.N. votes new Iran sanctions

Rice Pushes to Resume Peace Talks

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks must resume, Condoleezza Rice said en route to the region.

“Negotiations ought to resume as soon as possible,” the U.S. secretary of state said Tuesday before beginning a troubleshooting trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “I will be talking about how we can get negotiations back on track.”

The United States, which wants Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to clinch a peace accord by year’s end, has voiced concern at Abbas’ decision to suspend talks in protest at recent violence in the Gaza Strip. Rice made clear that the Bush administration holds Hamas and its cross-border rocket salvoes chiefly responsible for the bloodshed.

“Hamas is doing what might be expected, which is using rocket attacks on Israel to arrest a peace process in which they have nothing to gain,” she said.

But Rice was also expected to heed Abbas’ calls for U.S. pressure to be applied on Israel to ease conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank.

New U.N. Sanctions Against Iran

By a vote of 14 in favor and one abstention, the U.N. Security Council decided Monday to impose a third round of sanctions against Tehran, including financial blacklisting and an expanded ban on selling technologies to Iran that could be used for military projects.

Israel welcomed the escalation in diplomatic pressure, voicing hope that it would succeed in getting Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment efforts.

“The third Security Council resolution is another key step manifesting the understanding that the international community must not give up and stand idly by as Iran tries to become a nuclear-armed power,” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in a statement. “Any additional decision by any nation, company or group will contribute to the mass of sanctions required to stop Iran.”

Iran defied the two previous sanctions resolutions, in 2006 and 2007, though independent analysts said its economy was hit hard by the measures.

Bush Waives Direct Transfer Ban for P.A.

President Bush waived congressional restrictions to directly transfer $150 million to the Palestinian Authority. The transfer ordered Friday is part of a package of more than $500 million in Palestinian assistance earmarked for use this year.

Most of the money is project based and to be funneled through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and nongovernmental organizations. Such transfers are subject to relatively light congressional oversight.

However, Congress in recent years has banned direct transfers of cash because of fears that the money could end up in terrorist hands and because of concerns about P.A. corruption. Much of the pro-Israel community also strongly opposes direct transfers.

The Bush administration says the Palestinian Authority needs the cash to leverage loans at a time that it is confronting extremists and pursuing peace talks with Israel. A U.S. official said that the assistance was “critical” and added that it will “help avert a serious and immediate financial crisis for the P.A., ensure its continued operation, and further the United States’ longstanding and bipartisan goal of a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Poland Reaches Out to Expelled Jews

Poland will ease the way for Jews to reclaim citizenship 40 years after the start of massive expulsions. In a letter released Monday, Polish Interior Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said he would “order the implementation of the appropriate procedures today.”

Piotr Kadlcik, the president of the Union of Religious Jewish Communities in Poland, said he had already received verbal confirmation that Schetyna endorsed the plan to re-naturalize Jews who fled between 1968 and 1970. Some 15,000 Polish Jews were deprived of their citizenship.

Historians today look upon the period as a vast anti-Semitic campaign borne of Soviet anti-Israel policies. In fact, Kadlcik said, it has been agreed that these former Poles actually never legally lost their citizenship. Once the decision is formalized, Jews who fled Poland can go to a Polish consulate in their new home country and “reconfirm their citizenship” as if they had never lost it, he said.

The decision to repatriate Polish Jews follows recent stepped-up pressure by Kadlcik and Jewish advocacy groups in Poland.

Golda Tencer, the head of Poland’s Shalom Foundation, recently told the Polish newspaper Dziennik that President Lech Kaczynski had not yet answered her request of last October. Schetyna said the problem could have been solved by Kaczynski, but “he did not take that opportunity.” Kadlcik said the policy would apply particularly to Polish Jews who went to Israel, “because those who went to other places had no problem getting back their citizenship” up to now.

Shabbat Across America Goes Virtual

Shabbat Across America is offering an online option. The annual synagogue outreach program, which is scheduled for this weekend, is featuring Shabbat Across America 2.0 (, which allows hosts to create virtual Shabbat tables for real or fictional guests.

Shabbat Across America, which has been sponsored annually since 1997 by the National Jewish Outreach Program, is celebrated in approximately 700 synagogues across North America. It usually involves a Friday night service and festive meal, with an eye toward nonmembers.

This year’s 2.0 option is reaching out particularly to younger, unaffiliated Jews. Based on the Facebook model, organizers say it is designed to appeal to a generation used to interacting in a global, virtual framework. As of Feb. 28, several dozen online tables are listed, about evenly split between real and virtual events. Most of the real tables are in the greater New York area, either at individual homes or synagogues. The virtual “tables” have invited guests including Albert Einstein, Emma Lazarus and “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock.

The site also lists Shabbat resources, including things to do at your Shabbat table ranging from lighting candles to planning good deeds.