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Iran, via Israel: The newly appointed chair of the House subcommittee on the Middle East returned last week from a visit Israel with a new focus.

In her new capacity as chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House International Relations Committee, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida led a congressional delegation that was supposed to focus on Israel’s preparations for possible repercussions of an imminent American-led war against Iraq.

But she came back focused on Iran. Next month, Ros-Lehtinen said, she will hold a hearing on Iran’s reported pursuit of nuclear weapons, its development of the Shahab 3 and Shahab 4 — long-range missiles that reportedly could reach Israel and some of Washington’s European allies — and its contacts with terrorist organizations.

The ranking minority member of Ros-Lehtinen’s subcommittee, Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, took a different kind of turn upon returning from the trip to Israel. He met with American soldiers staffing the Patriot missile batteries near Tel Aviv and learned from them that, unlike other American servicemen in combat zones, GIs in Israel are not exempt from federal income tax. Ackerman contacted the Pentagon to request that the issue be rectified. An aide to Ackerman said that although the congressman has not yet heard from the Defense Department, “this seems like a bureaucratic glitch.”

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Wariness on Statehood: The Zionist Organization of America has published a new survey showing that most Americans believe the Palestinians have not fulfilled President Bush’s conditions for statehood. More intriguing, the poll indicates that most Americans do not believe the Palestinians intend to fulfill these conditions.

In the poll, conducted by John McLaughlin and Associates, 71% of respondents said they don’t believe prerequisites such as fighting terrorism, becoming a democracy and respecting human rights have been met, and therefore the Palestinians should not be “granted a state.” Only 13% said the Palestinians have met Bush’s conditions. When asked “Do you believe the goal of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority is to have a small state living in peace alongside Israel or is its goal the eventual destruction of Israel?”, 61% said destruction was the goal, while only 19% said they believed the goal was peaceful coexistence. A majority also said that if a Palestinian state were created in the near future, it would more likely be a “terrorist state” (51%) than a democratic state (25%).

The results “show clearly that Americans take seriously the proposition that we must end terrorist states and not create new ones,” said Morton Klein, national president of ZOA.

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Judging the Judges: The National Council of Jewish Women is widening the scope of its campaign against presidential nominees to federal courts.

Last week, the NCJW announced its opposition to the confirmation of John Roberts to the influential District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Roberts has publicly criticized Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion, and signed an amicus brief arguing that the inclusion of religious ceremonies in public school graduations does not violate the separation of religion and state. Roberts joins three other Bush nominees who have recently appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee: Deborah Cook, Jeffery Sutton and Miguel Estrada. The NCJW’s Benchmark project organized a “national call-in day” on Thursday to urge senators to reject Sutton and Estrada.

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Loan Arrangers: Israeli officials are meeting in Washington with Bush administration officials about the details of a military aid and loan guarantee package. Prime Minister Sharon’s bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, met with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and economic officials February 20, a day after meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Weisglass told reporters the dialogue between the two countries is nearing an end and he expects the aid request to be submitted “in a very timely manner.”

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