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Archive for November, 2012

Are You Prepared for His Coming?.


Luke 1:5-17

5 In the time of Herod king of there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. 7
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit EVEN from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

That touches the heart of people everywhere – especially those today is the second Sunday of advent. Advent refers to the “coming” of Jesus Christ, the messiah – the savior. We recall with great joy and celebration the birth of our Lord and king. There’s just something about the season of Christmas of us of the household of faith. Most of us have a mighty long “to do” list in preparation for that special day. We’re working very hard to budget for presents under the tree; some folk are making gifts, others are working a second job. We’re planning menus and inviting guests to come share the joy of the holiday. We decorate the house inside and out – we even do

a little “somethin’, somethin'” to our office or place of business. Some families make it a tradition to watch the old TV specials – “Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas and my favorite – A Christmas Story.” And yes, some of us even focus on the spiritual aspect of the season, giving to those in need and worshipping Christ the Lord.
But advent also represents the time of preparation for the second coming of Christ. He’s coming back, church. Yet, too many Christians never even think about it, much less make preparations for it. If we truly were preparing for his coming again, we’d do many things differently. Eph 5:27 …

By Rev. Jackie Love Prim

Advent Meditations.


Zechariah 14:4-9; Psalm 50:1-6; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-31

I considered beginning with a couple “Happy New Year‘s” jokes as I do most years. Since today is the first day of the new church year, that would be appropriate, if somewhat overdone. Then I realized that this was the real millennium! So I could re-cycle some old millennium jokes! If the end of the world was scheduled for the end of the year 1999, it makes sense that it would be the end of the church year 1999! So millennium jokes would work!!

Fortunately for you I threw out both those approaches.

Advent is much too important to joke away. Our world, our culture … that set of influences Jesus continually tells us to reject … can easily consume us (pardon the pun!) during this season.

Let me suggest there is a positive side to that fact. Elizabeth O’Conner writes about the three falls of man (or human beings). The first one of course is at the Garden of Eden. O’Conner says that the second fall was when the Hebrew people asked God to “give us a king like other nations have”. In other words, when the Hebrew people said they would no longer depend on God, but wanted human leadership and authority.

The third fall, in O’Connor’s opinion was in the 3rd century after Christ when the Roman Emperor, Constantine, essentially declared Christianity to be the official religion. O’Connor’s point .. and many historians and scholars agree … was that this “fall” was the event that caused Christianity to bend to cultural expectations. Before this, Christianity was an outlaw religion and there was less inclination to succumb to cultural desires. Prior to this fall, Christians had to make a dramatic and clear choice.

Advent can present us with that kind of clear choice. Those 3rd century and later Christians did not have to conform to society — but were tempted to. We don’t need to conform but certainly are tempted!! The focus on material things. The hurriedness of life. Neither of those are Scriptural goals.

So .. as an alternative .. I suggest a focus on Advent as the season it is meant to be. I am not against gift giving or shopping or trees or decorations. I love them all!! In fact, a real high light for me every year is shopping for “angel tree” people.

However, I suggest asking ourselves who we expect to arrive on Christmas day. Maybe even better … who would we most like to arrive on Christmas day. Santa Claus or Jesus Christ.

And although the Advent season is primarily about Jesus’ arrival to the world .. both remembering His first arrival and anticipating His return … I suggest a focus more on His arrival in our lives. An expectation .. a desire that Jesus enter our lives in some very special way this Christmas.

By Kenneth C. Kroohs

Advent Awaits.


Titus 2:11-13, 3:1-9

Advent – The season of waiting for the expected Christmas holiday is charged with anticipation. With that sense of anticipation, there is a tendency for a person to get overwhelmed and so caught up in the involvement of Advent and Christmas that one gets frazzled and finds fault with everything and everyone. Guilt follows, and at times one is incompetent to have meaningful relationships with friends or family. Sometimes to find a place to hide during the holidays is wanted.

We find these words in Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all, training us to renounce irreligious and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (vs. 11-13. This is what we attempt to do during Advent – wait. In the waiting, we are reminded “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all” (3:1-2).

This is almost exactly what we tell our children while they also are waiting in expectancy for Christmas: “If you will be really, really good: mind your mother, take out the trash, dry the dishes when it is your turn, don’t lie, quit quarreling with your sister, something good will happen.” “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasure, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by all and hating one another” (3:4). When we remember our own past behavior, our own wants and desires of Christmases past, are we really able to separate the every day behavior of the previous months from that of the time of waiting during Advent for Christmas?

A time so full of expectancy, and yet for some, a time of despondency and depression, Advent is made up of hope, hope in the beauty seen at Christmas, even hope in the ugliness that sometimes happens around this time of year. Mostly, we hope in the true meaning of Christmas. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (vs. 3-7). Relying on God’s Word, there is hope, instead of despondency; joy, instead of depression.

Are our expectations during the waiting too high? We become caught up in the disagreeable more quickly when hassled during the holiday. However, “The saying is sure . . insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to all.” This should become a part of our dai …

By M. Jolaine Szymkowiak, MA

Why is Egypt’s draft constitution so controversial?.


 

  • Friday protests in Tahrir SquareReuters Videos  0:37Protesters gather in Tahrir Square after draft constitution raced through Islamist-led assembly. Rough …

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  • Egyptian protesters chant anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans as they attend a rally in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Egypt's opposition has called for a major rally Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where some demonstrators have camped out in tents since last week to protest decrees that President Mohammed Morsi issued to grant himself sweeping powers. Hundreds gathered in the plaza for traditional Friday prayers, then broke into chants of "The people want to bring down the regime!" — echoing the refrain of the Arab Spring revolts, but this time against a democratically elected leader. Other cities around Egypt braced for similar protests.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)Enlarge GalleryEgyptian protesters chant anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans as they attend a rally …
  • Protesters took to the streets in Cairo and other Egyptian cities today over a draft constitution written by Islamists. Here are the points many in Egypt are talking about.

Egypt‘s constituent assembly worked through the night to finish voting on Egypt’s new constitution, finalizing its work early this morning and sent the contentious document to the president, who will call a national referendum on the constitution within two weeks.

President Mohamed Morsi‘s allies made the surprise move to finish the document this week after he issued a decree sidelining the judiciary and removing nearly all checks on his power.

Though the constitution’s content had been the subject of debate for months, the process of drafting it was more controversial than the text itself. The first body elected to write it was dissolved by a court after secularist members complained it was dominated by Islamists. The second body, elected by a now-dissolved Parliament, was likewise packed with Islamists and negotiations over revising its makeup broke down months ago, with some secular parties announcing they would boycott the assembly.

Most of the remaining non-Islamist members, including all Christian members, left the committee over recent weeks, complaining their suggestions were ignored.

RELATED – Think you know the Middle East? Take our geography quiz.

The rush to complete the document this week – the president’s decree had extended the deadline for its completion by two months – infuriated the opposition, who say a flawed, unrepresentative document is the result. Thousands of people protested the new draft constitution in Tahrir square today.

Zaid Al Ali, a Cairo-based adviser on constitution building for the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, says: “A major opportunity was missed to really study what went wrong under the previous system” and try to address those problems. While focusing on disagreements between Islamists and secularists, the drafters missed an opportunity to address issues like decentralization of power, effectiveness of governance, and corruption.

Others had hoped the constitution would do more to achieve social justice and alter what they say is a state structure that contributes to the growing gap between rich and poor.

But many expect the constitution will pass a national referendum, because of the Muslim Brotherhood‘s ability to mobilize its grassroots and because many Egyptians are eager to see the instability of the past 22 months come to an end, and believe a permanent constitution will help achieve that.

While the process was contentious, here is a look at the actual content of the new constitution on key issues:

ISLAM AND THE STATE

Islamists and non-Islamists engaged in extensive wrangling during recent months over the role of Islam in the state, and the specific wording that would be used in the constitution to define howsharia, or Islamic law, relates to legislation. In the end, the drafters preserved the wording of the previous constitution: The principles of sharia are the main source of legislation. However, they also added another clause specifying what is meant by the principles of sharia.

That clause says the principles of sharia should be in accordance with the established schools of Sunni Muslim doctrine. This limits the discretion given to judges in deciding on sharia issues, and could limit them from applying a progressive interpretation of sharia. But it could also keep judges from drawing on more extreme or conservative interpretations of sharia, say rights activists.

Also included in the constitution is an article stipulating that scholars of Al Azhar, the university and mosque considered one of the most respected centers of Sunni Muslim research and learning, be consulted on matters of sharia. It does not make the Al Azhar scholars’ opinion binding.

It is the first time that a consultative role for Al Azhar has been enshrined in Egypt’s constitution.

Both of these articles are dangerous, says Michael Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation who tracks Egyptian politics. “What that does is begins to shift all the terms of discourse away from the civil law system and toward religiously-based strictures,” he says. “Al Azhar is enshrined in the text. Sunni jurisprudence is enshrined in the text. It begins to shift the terms of reference and privileges a certain discourse that is religiously based.”

RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

The constitution contains one article that makes a broad provision for free expression. But Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, says the drafters failed to include crucial language explaining how that right may be limited, which is needed “to make sure that the limitations are narrow and there’s no abuse,” she says.

Instead, they included two additional clauses which limit free speech. One prohibits insulting prophets, and another prohibits insulting the “individual person.” Both are vague enough that they can easily be used to limit freedom of expression and could lead to an avalanche of lawsuits. Blasphemy charges have jumped in the last year and a half, and charges of insulting the president and the judiciary have already increased since Mr. Morsi took office.

RELATED – Think you know the Middle East? Take our geography quiz.

Freedom of religion has also been curtailed in the new constitution. Egypt’s previous constitution guaranteed the freedom of religion and religious practice. The same wording was used in earlier drafts of the new constitution. But the document that was voted on last night only promises freedom of practice for the Abrahamic religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

This leaves other religious sects in Egypt, such as Egyptian Bahai’is, stripped of the right to publicly practice their faith.

“To say that they can’t even practice their religious rights is terrifying,” says Ms. Morayef. She notes that the limitation could easily be appled to Baha’is, who have already fought an uphill battle in Egypt just for the right to leave the religion section of their national identity cards blank. (ID cards include citizens’ religion and the options are limited to Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.)

Under former President Hosni Mubarak, Baha’is, as well as Ahmadis, Shiites, and Quranists were regularly arrested for their beliefs.

WOMEN

On women’s rights, an article in a previous draft said women’s equality was guaranteed so long as it did not contradict Islamic law. That clause was dropped completely from the final version.

But the article prohibiting discrimination fails to mention sex, or any other grounds, simply stating that “citizens are equal before the law and equal in rights and obligations without discrimination.” While some rights activists feel the broader clause is better because it doesn’t limit the prohibition on discrimination, Morayef says it could be detrimental for women’s rights to not explicitly prohibit discrimination against them.

The only article that specifically mentions women’s rights says that the state should “balance between a woman’s obligations to family and public work” and provide “special protection” for single mothers, divorced women, and widows. The vague wording could give grounds for the state to interfere in a woman’s rights – for example, if it decided a woman should not travel because she was not balancing her obligations to her family by doing so.

The same article states that the “state should commit to preserving the true nature of the Egyptian family,” and the next article states that the state should “protect ethics and morals and public order.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the language in these provisions is overly broad and could be used to restrict rights. What’s more, the constitution says that the rights and freedoms it guarantees may be exercised as long as they do not contradict the principles in these articles. According to Human Rights Watch, that stipulation “appears appears to place the ‘true nature of the family” and morals and public orders above fundamental rights.”

But rights activists point to positive points in the new document, as well.

The document specifically mentions and prohibits torture, something rights activists had pushed for. Police abuse and torture, widespread under Mubarak and until now, was one of the main grievances of protesters during the uprising against the former president. The document also promises protection from arbitrary detention, another hallmark of the Mubarak years, and provides protection for freedom of movement, privacy of communication, and freedom of assembly and association, according to Human Rights Watch.

THE MILITARY

The new constitution guarantees the Egyptian military many of the prerogatives it had sought to maintain since the transition began. The military’s attempt a year ago to maintain its power and privileges brought thousands of protesters – including the Muslim Brotherhood – into the streets of Cairo.

Now, the constituent assembly dominated by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has granted the military much, though not all, of what it wanted. The military’s budget is protected from parliamentary oversight, one of its demands last year. The constitution provides for the establishment of a National Defense Council, whose members include government and military officials, that will oversee the defense budget and should be consulted on laws relating to the military. The constitution also mandates that the post of defense minister be filled by a military officer.

The constitution allows the continuation of military trials for civilians. After the military junta took control of Egypt when Mubarak stepped down, it sent more than 12,000 civilians before military tribunals, where the trials sometimes lasted for just five minutes and which rights groups say are inherently unfair. While a previous draft of the new constitution had stated that the military could not send civilians before military trials, the constituent assembly deleted that clause at the request of the military. The draft voted on yesterday states that civilians may be tried before military courts for crimes that harm the military “as defined by law.” The military interprets that clause very widely under the military code of justice.

BALANCE OF POWER

After the uprising against an authoritarian president, many in Egypt had argued the new constitution should shift the balance of power toward Parliament, reducing the power of the presidency. While the new constitution does not make Egypt a parliamentary system, it does give the Parliament more authority.

The new constitution limits the president to two four-year terms. It also requires parliamentary approval when the president’s prime minister forms a new government. If the Parliament votes against the government twice, it is given the authority to form a government on its own.

“It’s a complicated relationship. It’s not the case that the president is elected, he appoints a prime minister who chooses a cabinet, and if the Parliament isn’t happy about it it’s their problem,” says Mr. Ali, of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Parliamentary checks on presidential powers are now “very present,” he says.

The Parliament’s oversight over government is also increased in the new constitution. It is given new powers for forming special investigatory committees, says Ali, while it keeps the power to force government ministers or officials to appear before parliament for questioning.

One of the “worst” parts of the new text, according to Ali, is its continuation of the centralization of government in Egypt. The document keeps most authority with central government and does not empower local governments, or make them more accountable to the people.

The new document delegates defining the power, mandate, and appointment of governors to legislation.

Under current legislation, governors are appointed by the central government, rather than elected. Elected governors was one demand of many of the protesters during the revolution. The constitution provides for the election of local councils, but strips them of any real power, stipulating that the central government will “answer requests for assistance” from local councils. “What that means is that the central government will be providing all essential services,” says Ali. “What you’re doing is you’re electing people who don’t have any authority. It’s actually worse than not electing them at all.”

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Kristen Chick | Christian Science Monitor

Mo. Couple Wins Half of Powerball Jackpot.


The lucky winners of half of the record $587.5 million Powerball jackpot have been identified as Mark and Cindy Hill of Dearborn, Mo., their working-class lives suddenly taking a turn to the financial stratosphere.

Cindy Hill, who with her husband has three adult sons and a 6-year-old daughter adopted from China, purchased the ticket at a Trex Mart gas station in Dearborn.

“I called my husband and told him, ‘I think I am having a heart attack,'” Cindy Hill, 51, said, according to the Missouri Lottery. “I think we just won the lottery!”

Cindy, who worked as an office manager but was laid off in 2010, said that when she learned that a winning ticket was sold in Missouri, she dropped her daughter off at school, went to a convenience store for a winning numbers report, and checked her tickets in her car, according to the Missouri State Lottery.

“I was just telling my daughter the night before, ‘Honey, that probably never happens (people winning),” Cindy said. “It’s really going to be nice to spend time – not have to work – and be able to take trips with our family.”

Cindy did mention that her husband has mentioned one extravagance — a red Camaro, but today he said that he plans on keeping his same old pick-up truck.

The winning ticket was one of five Cindy purchased, for a total of $10. She let the computer quick-pick choose the numbers, according to the Missouri Lottery. As soon as she saw that she had a winning ticket, Cindy had her mother-in-law and husband double check it.

“You know it’s the Show Me State, so he said, ‘Show me,'” she said.

Appearing at a press conference today in Dearborn along with their three sons, aged 28, 30, 31, and their 6-year-old daughter, the Hills appeared overjoyed.

“We were blessed before we ever won this,” Cindy said. “We want to go back to China, Ireland of course — we’re Irish, and wherever the win takes us.”

Cindy said that she bought the winning ticket Wednesday at about 4:45 p.m.

“I stuck it in my car, and it stayed there all night,” she said. “Now that I know that it was a winner I wouldn’t have done that!”

The Hills will take home $193,750,000 in lump sum payout — which works out to $396,000 for each person in Dearborn, a town of 496.

The couple say that they will remain in Dearborn, and plan on launching a scholarship at the local high school.

Speculation began running wild in the small town when 52-year-old Hill, a factory worker, updated his Facebook account late Thursday, writing, “We are truly blessed, we are lucky winners of the Powerball.”

Within hours, his family began celebrating, telling ABC News Hill is one of the two big winners.

“Just shocked. I mean, I thought we were all going to have heart attacks,” Hill’s mother, Shirley, said Thursday.

Hill’s mother says her son and his wife have been struggling financially. Hill works in a hot dog and deli packaging factory, but it was unclear whether he showed up for work Thursday night.

“I’m very happy for him. He’s worked hard in his life; well, not anymore,” Hill’s son Jason said. “Well, I hope we all stay very grounded, stay humble and don’t forget who we are.”

Missouri Lottery official Susan Goedde confirmed to ABC News Thursday that one of the winning tickets was purchased at a Trex Mart in Dearborn, about 30 miles north of Kansas City.

The winning numbers were 5, 23, 16, 22 and 29; Powerball was 6.

Hill did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment. Meanwhile, employees and customers at Marlboro Village Exxon in Upper Marlboro, Md., said a tall, black, bald man held the winning ticket purchased in Arizona, according to ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV.

Surveillance cameras at the Upper Marlboro gas station captured the apparent winner walking into the store Thursday afternoon, digging into his chest pocket for his lottery tickets. After a few seconds of scanning the wad of tickets, the man began jumping up and down, pumping his arms.

The man gave the tickets to store manager Nagassi Ghebre, who says the six Powerball numbers were on the ticket, which the apparent winner said he bought in Arizona.

“And then he said, ‘I got to get out of here,'” employee Freddie Lopez told WJLA.

But before leaving, the possible winner felt the need to check again to see whether he really had the ticket that millions of Americans dreamed of having.

“He says, ‘Is this the right number? I don’t know.’ And I said, ‘Yeah that’s the numbers. You got them all,'” customer Paul Gaug told WJLA.

Employees and customers said the main stuck around for a few more seconds shouting, “I won,” before leaving.

“He came back a minute later and said, ‘I forgot to get my gas. What am I thinking?'” Lopez said.

The man drove out of the gas station in a black car and on a full tank of gas with a cash payout of $192.5 million coming his way.

“He said he lives in Maryland. I’m pretty sure,” Gaug said.

The possible jackpot winner was wearing bright neon clothing and store employees told WJLA that he appeared to be a highway or construction worker.

Arizona lottery officials told WJLA that if the man does have the winning ticket, it needs to be redeemed within 180 days of the drawing in Arizona.

The winning Arizona ticket was purchased at a Four Sons Food Store in Fountain Hills, Ariz., and was part of a $10 Quick Pick ticket, officials announced Thursday afternoon. Arizona lottery officials said they had no information on that state’s winner or winners as of Thursday.

“It’s been insane,” Trex Mart employee Kelly Blount said. “I would never have thought we would have sold the winning ticket. It’s wonderful.”

Store manager Chris Naurez told The Associated Press that business had been “crazy” for Powerball tickets lately and that the store had sold about $27,000 worth of tickets in the past few days. Naurez says this lottery win could make Dearborn, a town of 498, famous.

“This really puts Dearborn on the map,” he said.

ABC News’ Alex Perez contributed to this report.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By KEVIN DOLAK, ANTHONY CASTELLANO and DAVID KERLEY | Good Morning America

Stung by U.N. defeat, Israel pushes settlement plans.


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JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Hours after the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to grant de-facto statehood to Palestine, Israel responded on Friday by announcing it was authorizing 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

An official, who declined to be named, said the government had also decided to expedite planning work for thousands more homes in a geographically sensitive area close to Jerusalem that critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of a viable state.

The decision was made on Thursday when it became clear that the U.N. General Assembly was set to upgrade the Palestinians‘ status in the world body, making them a “non-member state”, as opposed to an “entity”, boosting their diplomatic clout.

The motion was backed by 138 nations, opposed by nine, while 41 members abstained – a resounding defeat that exposed its growing diplomatic isolation.

An Israeli official had earlier conceded that this represented a “total failure of diplomacy” and warned there would be consequences – which were swift in coming.

Plans to put up thousands of new settler homes in the wake of the Palestinian upgrade were always likely, but the prospect of building in an area known as E-1, which lies near Jerusalem and bisects much of the West Bank, is seen by some as a potential game changer.

“E-1 will signal the end of the two state-solution,” said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli expert on settlements. He added that statutory planning would take another six to nine months to complete, meaning building there was not a foregone conclusion.

About 500,000 Israelis already live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war – territory the Palestinians claim for their independent state.

The United States, one of the eight countries to vote alongside Israel at the U.N. General Assembly, said the latest expansion plan was counterproductive to the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

ABSURD

Ahead of the U.N. vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had argued that the unilateral Palestinian move breached their previous accords and accused the 193-member world body of failing in its responsibilities.

“The General Assembly can resemble the theatre of the absurd, which once a year automatically approves ludicrous, anti-Israeli resolutions,” said government spokesman Mark Regev.

“Sometimes these are supported by Europe, sometimes they are not,” he added, alluding to the fact that only one European state, the Czech Republic, had voted against the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, analysts said the vote exposed the gulf that had opened between Europe and Netanyahu over his handling of the Western-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the depth of EU opposition to settlement expansion.

“The government has failed to appreciate the gravity of the challenge to Israel’s fundamental legitimacy in Europe,” said Gidi Grinstein, head of the Reut Institute think-tank.

“The Palestinian bid in the U.N. is turning out to be a bigger defeat than anticipated.”

In many ways, Israel was caught off guard.

Last week it was fighting Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip, grateful to see much of the West offering support for its determination to stop indiscriminate rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave whose leaders preach Israel’s destruction.

The eight-day bombardment ended in a truce that was widely viewed as handing Gaza’s Hamas Islamists a PR boost at the expense of Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, who have renounced violence in favor of diplomacy.

The West pumped billions into Abbas’s administration over the years to bolster a partner for Middle East peace and felt they had to rally to his support in New York. Before the Gaza conflict, the Palestinians said they would win 115 ‘yes’ votes at the United Nations. They ended up with more.

COURT THREAT

By itself, the U.N. upgrade will make little practical difference to the Palestinians or Israelis. However, the new position will enable Abbas to seek membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague if he wants.

This is what worries Israel.

The Geneva Convention forbids occupying powers from moving “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”, leaving Israeli officials potentially vulnerable to an ICC challenge. Israel says its settlements are legal, citing historical and Biblical ties to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The Palestinians say they are in no rush to go to the ICC, but the threat is there, putting pressure on Israel to come up with creative solutions to overcome the peace-talks impasse, which the Jewish state blames on Abbas.

“This U.N. vote is a very strong signal to the Israelis that they can’t shove this matter under the carpet for any longer,” said Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “This is a red light for Israel.”

With politicians campaigning ahead of a January 22 election, Israel is unlikely to change course.

Opinion polls suggest Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc will win a new term in office. The coalition includes pro-settler parties, and the prime minister’s own Likud group appeared to shift to the right in primaries this week, making any land-for-peace compromise with the Palestinians look more complex than ever.

His opponents seized on the U.N. vote, with ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, aspiring to become Israel’s second female prime minister, blaming a failure of initiative.

“When we do not initiate, we are imposed upon,” she said.

Israeli officials say the Palestinians themselves must show they are ready to make the sort of concessions that they believe are needed to secure an accord – such as renouncing any right to return to modern-day Israel for refugees and their descendants.

However, analysts say that with the elections out of the way, the new government will have a period of calm to try once more to end their decades-old conflict with the Palestinians.

“The strategy toward the Palestinian Authority and statehood is likely to be on the top of the agenda of the next government in the winter,” said the Reut Institute’s Grinstein.

“The outcome of its strategic reassessment may well be active engagement in upgrading the powers and responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority toward statehood, and eventually recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a state.”

If E-1 building goes ahead, the chances of talks resuming will be close to non-existent.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis and Dan Williams; editing by Janet McBride and Will Waterman)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Crispian Balmer | Reuters

Don’t believe the post-election hype: Immigration reform is unlikely in 2013.


By Walter Shapiro

As landslide numbers go, they were far more lopsided than Lyndon Johnson’s evisceration of Barry Goldwater in 1964, Richard Nixon’s all-but-Massachusetts 1972 humiliation of George McGovern and Ronald Reagan’s 49-state morning-in-America sweep of Walter Mondale in 1984. In numbers that should be etched on the iPhone cases of every political reporter in the land,Barack Obama obliterated Mitt Romney by a 71-to-27-percent margin among Latino voters, according to the national exit polls.

The nascent Republican attempts at re-branding in the wake of Obama’s re-election have emphasized immigration reform as a promising way to allow Republicans to again become competitive in attracting the Latino vote. This was the original vision of George W. Bush and Karl Rove—and it is a far cry from the dreams of “self-deportation” that shaped Romney’s hard-edged immigrationstance. House Speaker John Boehner, in an ABC interview immediately after the election, suggested that when it comes to immigration, “a comprehensive approach is long overdue.

While other prominent Republicans have made similar comments, Boehner’s remarks seem particularly significant since the Republican-led House has long been the impassible fence blockingcomprehensive immigration reform. That dates back nearly a decade to a bipartisan deal crafted by Ted Kennedy and John McCain that offered illegal immigrants a path to citizenship (at the top of the Democratic priority list) combined with  expanded guest worker programs (demanded by business groups and their Republican backers). This was a classic old-style Washington compromise in which both parties had to give in order to get. And after easily passing the Senate with the support of the Bush administration, it died in 2006 in the House.

For four years, the Obama administration said almost all the right things about supportingimmigration reform, while doing virtually nothing about the issue in Congress, even when the Democrats controlled the House under Nancy Pelosi. Obama’s dramatic move last June to defer deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children represented a belated effort by the president to offer Latino voters something more than rhetoric. It worked as a political stopgap measure, but it was never designed as more than a temporary expedient.

Now the stars seem aligned for immigration to take center stage in Washington next spring. But, in reality, how bright are the once-a-decade prospects for reform? Before anyone envisions a Rose Garden signing ceremony leading to a path to citizenship for the roughly 12 million people in America illegally, it is worth stressing all the ways that bipartisanship can go awry in Washington. Especially on a set of issues as contentious and emotionally loaded as immigration.

The Piecework Problem: The lame-duck Republican House is poised to vote Friday to expand by 50,000 the number of work visas available to foreign students who obtain advanced degrees from American universities. The bill—which is hard to oppose in principle unless you are an ardent supporter of Chinese technological breakthroughs—is the sort of mischievous legislation that personifies Washington sleight-of-hand.

The proposal would scrap the so-called “green-card lottery” under which 50,000 lower-skilled workers are admitted to the country every year. The legislation, which is opposed by the Obama White House, would also cherry-pick one of the most popular aspects of immigration reform (high-tech visas) and thereby eliminate the need for many business groups to support comprehensive reform.

The Dream Actembraced by the Obama administration, represents the other side of the coin. It would take the most emotionally appealing illegal immigrants (those brought to the country as children) and give them their own path to citizenship. Those eligible for the Dream Act make for compelling TV ads because many of them do not remember their home countries and cannot be blamed for illegal border crossings by their parents. But if you take the most likable 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of the equation, it will make it that much harder to pass legislation to regularize the status of the other 10 million people here without valid papers.

Sometimes in governing, incremental steps like the Dream Act are preferable to continued inaction based on dreaming about the impossible. But the challenge for those who favor comprehensive immigration reform is to decide whether clinging to an unwieldy Grand Bargain (a path to citizenship for all in exchange for expanded guest worker programs) is pragmatic or a sign of unrealistic stubbornness.

The Self-Interest Problem: House Republicans probably worry far more about a 2014 primary challenge on their own right flank than they do about the party winning the White House in 2016. So all the talk about the Republican Party recasting itself to appeal to Latino voters runs up against that very personal Capitol Hill question: “What about my reelection campaign?”

The gap between national parties and the parochial concerns of individual legislators is as old as the republic. But political polarization and the proliferation of one-party congressional districts make things far more acute. That is why the number of Republican volunteers—particularly in the House—willing to take personal political risks to help the party deal with its problems with Hispanic voters is probably limited.

Also (and, yes, this is hard to remember) not everything on Capitol Hill is entirely cynical. Many conservative Republicans were being sincere, and not just playing to their party’s base, when they said things like: “We must never reward illegal behavior. I will never support amnesty for illegal immigrants.” If many Republicans have to reverse their unswerving opposition to higher taxes to deal with the “fiscal cliff,” they are unlikely to be eager to also do a 180-degree turn on immigration reform.

The Magic Bullet Problem: The lopsided exit poll numbers may soon fade from Republican memory or be cubby-holed under the heading, “Mitt Romney’s Problems.” It is always easy for a political party to decide that the next election will be different and that their problems with the voters are exaggerated. In the 1980s, the Democrats lost three stinging presidential elections in a row before they made more than token efforts to recast the party.

That explains why the solution for many Republicans is a 2016 nominee who reflects the American melting pot rather than the look of 1950s American sitcoms. From Marco Rubio (Cuban-American) to Bobby Jindal (Indian-American) to Condoleezza Rice (African-American), it is easy for conservatives to believe that a hyphenated-American candidate is all that the GOP needs to right itself with minority voters.

Whether that theory proves correct or not, probably enough Republicans believe it to undermine efforts to forge a bipartisan consensus on immigration reform. If, say, Marco Rubio is going to save the party in 2016, why cast difficult votes in 2013?

Immigration reform is maddeningly complex, and real lives are at stake with the wording of each legislative sentence. This one is about people. Real people. The people who may be cooking your food and caring for your grandmother. And that is why I wish that I could muster more optimism that the election has finally created a bipartisan coalition capable of passing immigration reform.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

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