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J Street Wins as Senate Omits Statehood Slap; Punishment for U.N. Palestine Push Left Out Of Defense

Punishment for U.N. Palestine Push Left Out of Defense Bill

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Senate amendment that would have penalized Palestinians for seeking non-member state status at the United Nations was not attached to its intended law.
The National Defense Authorization Act, passed late Tuesday, did not include among its amendments one that would cut funding to the Palestinians should they use their status, gained last week, to seek charges against Israel in international courts.

The amendment also would have shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington until the Palestinians returned to peace talks with Israel.

The amendment had been introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Nov. 29, the same day as the vote in the U.N. General Assembly enhancing the Palestinian’s statehood status.

Street, the liberal pro-Israel group, rallied against the amendment, with followers sending close to 15,000 letters to senators and making close to one thousand calls.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/167251/j-street-wins-as-senate-omits-statehood-slap/#ixzz2ECUg0If8

Israeli-German Relations Strained after Abstention

It was one of the most unpleasant conversations that Christoph Heusgen had ever been required to have with Jaakov Amidror. On Wednesday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's foreign policy adviser told his Israeli counterpart that Germany would abstain in the following day's vote at the United Nations General Assembly on whether to grant the Palestinians the status of a "non-member observer state." Merkel's government had just decided, he said.

Amidror made it clear what he thought about the Germans' decision. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had been expecting Berlin to show its customary support for Israel by voting "no." The Israelis viewed Heusgen's announcement as an affront.

Germany's stance on this issue shows just how deeply frustrated its government is with the Netanyahu government's policies. The UN vote was a defeat for Israel. In the end, 138 of the 193 UN member states supported the Palestinians' petition, including France and 13 other European Union member states. Germany's abstention weighed particularly heavy because it meant that Canada and the United States were the only major Western nations to vote on Israeli's side.

This Thursday, Netanyahu and several of his ministers will travel to Berlin to discuss a range of matters, including regional security issues and economic and trade ties, with their German counterparts. But relations between Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Netanyahu have rarely been as bad as they are now. Merkel is upset because she believes that Netanyahu isn't doing anything to move forward the peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu, in turn, thinks that Merkel doesn't sufficiently understand the complicated situation his government is in.



Growth of US Service Firms Accelerated Last Month

U.S. service companies grew at a slightly faster pace in November because sales and new orders rose, a good sign for the economy.

The Institute for Supply Management says its index of non-manufacturing activity rose to 54.7 from 54.2 in October. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion. That's above the 12-month average of 54.4.

The report measures growth in a broad range of businesses from retail and construction companies to health care and financial services firms. The industries covered employ about 90 percent of the work force.



US Factory Orders up 0.8 Percent in October

Orders to U.S. factories rose modestly in October, helped by a big gain in demand for equipment that reflects business investment plans.

Factory orders edged up 0.8 percent in October, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That compared to September when orders had jumped 4.5 percent.

Orders for core capital goods, a category viewed as a good proxy for business investment plans, increased 2.9 percent in October, the biggest increase in eight months. That represented an upward revision from an initial estimate of 1.7 percent. The increase came after big declines in the investment category this summer.

Orders for durable goods rose 0.5 percent in October, up from a preliminary estimate of no gain, while orders for nondurable goods, items such as chemicals and paper, were up 1.1 percent.



Israel PM Heads To Berlin As Settlement Dispute Grows

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 8:25 EST

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due in Berlin on Wednesday for talks likely to focus on the growing crisis over settlement plans that could torpedo the viability of a Palestinian state.

Ahead of his departure on a trip that will take him briefly to Prague and then on to Berlin, Netanyahu brushed off the diplomatic pressure.

He insisted that Israel’s settlement building was not the central issue in the decades-long conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.

“The root of the conflict is not the settlements; it is the very existence of the state of Israel and the desire to wipe it off the face of the earth,” he said late on Tuesday.



Senate Passes $631 Billion U.S. Defense Legislation

Source: Bloomberg

By Laura Litvan - Dec 5, 2012 12:01 AM ET

The Senate passed unanimously a measure authorizing $631.4 billion for U.S. defense programs this fiscal year that sticks to President Barack Obama’s proposed spending total while drawing a veto threat with its policy provisions.

The 98-0 vote yesterday in the Democratic-controlled Senate advances legislation allowing about $543 billion for the basic defense budget in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and an additional $88 billion to fund wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The legislation next must be reconciled with a House- passed version that would spend $4 billion more than Obama wants.

“This bill provides our men and women in uniform the funding and support that they need as they engage in continued combat in Afghanistan, work to track down al-Qaeda and associated forces in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, and perform other military missions around the world,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said during debate.

Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., Boeing Co. (BA) and General Dynamics Corp. (GD) are among defense contractors that would benefit because the legislation increases funding over this year’s levels for fighter jets, missiles, submarines and other programs.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-04/senate-passes-631-billion-u-s-defense-legislation.html

J.C. Penney Sees Risks in Morale, Efficiency as Employees Leave

By Sapna Maheshwari - Dec 5, 2012 12:01 AM ET

J.C. Penney Co. (JCP), the department-store company undergoing a turnaround led by Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson, said its operating efficiency may be hurt after it fired employees while others left voluntarily.

The company listed new “risk factors” surrounding its workforce reductions, as well as concern that customers may not accept new marketing and merchandising strategies, in its third- quarter regulatory filing yesterday. J.C. Penney, based in Plano, Texas, said the departures of officers and line managers with “specific knowledge” about the company and its industry may be “difficult to replace,” according to the filing.

“We now operate with significantly fewer individuals who have assumed additional duties and responsibilities and we could have additional workforce reductions in the future,” J.C. Penney said in the filing. Combined with the company’s newly decentralized management structure, the changes “may negatively impact communication, morale, management cohesiveness and effective decision-making, which could have an adverse impact on our operating efficiency.”

J.C. Penney’s revenue has declined by more than 20 percent for three straight quarters as Johnson, who joined as CEO about a year ago from Apple Inc. (AAPL), loses customers in a bid to implement an everyday low-pricing plan and turn the chain into a collection of branded shops. The company said that its new strategies rely on customers’ acceptance, and that any changes may be “substantial” and “result in significant additional costs” while potentially disrupting the business, according to the filing.



Opting Out of Coverage Seen Creating Employee Backlash

By Alex Nussbaum & Alex Wayne - Dec 5, 2012 12:01 AM ET

Maggie Wilderotter, chief executive officer at cable, Internet and phone provider Frontier Communications Corp. (FTR) says it’s her “fiduciary responsibility” to study ending medical benefits long provided by her company.

“Frontier, like a lot of companies, is likely to at least consider dropping health-care benefits” in 2014, she said.

As President Barack Obama presses ahead with plans to broaden insurance coverage, many U.S. executives say his health- care law has them rethinking their options. Starting in 2014, the law’s $2,000 fine for not offering coverage appears to be far less than what most businesses pay for benefits.

In the end, though, companies will probably find compelling reasons to continue providing health coverage. Among them: Employers value coverage as a tool for recruiting and keeping workers healthy and also fear a backlash, especially among higher earners who might have to pay far more for their insurance than they do now, said Tracy Watts, a partner at Washington-based benefits consultant Mercer Inc. Employees might spend as much as $2,000 a month more in the law’s new online exchanges, she said.



Israel’s List of Friends Keeps Getting Shorter

When I made an appointment to see Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week, I hoped we would spend most of our time discussing her new effort to better integrate her country into Asia.

Gillard’s pivot toward Asia, much like U.S. President Barack Obama’s, reflects the self-evident truth that China and its neighbors are her country’s biggest markets and the source of many of its new immigrants. Now the pivot has been paralyzed midrotation by events from that most unpromising corner of the world, the Middle East.

I saw Gillard in Canberra after one of her rougher weeks as prime minister. She was already being shellacked by the opposition, and by much of the news media, for her alleged involvement in a union scandal, the details of which are so convoluted that it is impossible for an outsider such as myself to discern exactly what she is accused of doing. (Suffice it to say the scandal has a Whitewater quality to it, just as Gillard has a certain pugnacious Hillary Clinton quality about her.)

The larger problem Gillard faced last week had to do with the vote at the United Nations to grant the nonstate of Palestine enhanced status. Gillard, who leads the pro-Israel wing of the Labor Party, was unable to rally her Cabinet to vote against the General Assembly resolution. The U.S. and Israel were counting on her to place Australia in the “No” column, but she got comprehensively rolled by a bloc of Cabinet members led by the foreign minister, Bob Carr, who had the backing of the esteemed former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke.



'This Time, Israel Has Defied the Whole World'

One might think that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Wednesday visit to Berlin could provide for some fireworks. He has come under significant criticism from the European Union for Israel's announcement last Friday that it would build 3,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Britain and France denied reports on Monday that they were considering recalling their ambassadors from Israel, though both nations, in addition to Sweden, did vent their anger by summoning the Israeli ambassadors to voice their concerns.

Furthermore, despite Merkel's own warning on the settlement construction plan -- her spokesman said on Monday that the chancellor was "extremely concerned" -- it seems more likely that the experienced stateswoman would chide Netanyahu in private rather than openly.

Still, anger is widespread in Europe at the Israeli plan, announced shortly after the United Nations voted last week to grant the Palestinians "non-member observer status," essentially recognizing a state of Palestine. In addition to the settlement program, Israel also announced it would withhold more than $100 million in tax revenue due the Palestinians this month in response.

Further Steps?

"We deplore the recent Israeli decision to build 3,000 new housing units," the British Foreign Office said on Monday.

The Palestinians, too, are seeking to use their newfound status to exert pressure on Israel to halt the settlement expansion plan. Having been granted UN observer status, the Palestinians now have access to the International Criminal Court -- and on Tuesday they threatened to pursue war crimes charges against Israel should the construction go ahead.


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