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On Sunday evening, after signing some of the authorizations needed to build 455 new housing units in West Bank settlements, Defense Minister Ehud Barak rushed from his ministry in Tel Aviv to a Yad Labanim conference in Herzliya. There, the Labor Party chairman declared that "it is our obligation to support, soberly but with an open mind, the American initiative to bring about a comprehensive regional agreement in the Middle East."

The only explanation for this is that Barak has reason to believe U.S. President Barack Obama will swallow another 455 frogs. This number, approved as the last third of the year begins, is nearly identical to one-third the total number of building starts in 2007 (1,490 units) and one-third the starts in 2006 (1,518 units). In 2008, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported an exceptional increase of 2,118 units.

Presumably, the defense minister has good reason to believe that the Arabs also like frogs. Otherwise, it is hard to explain his promise to those who assembled at Beit Yad Labanim that "the agreement will include elements of normalization with moderate elements in the Arab world."

In any case, it appears that Barak's attitude toward normalization has changed: In January 1996, then-foreign minister Barak told senior American officials that then-prime minister Shimon Peres' vision of a new Middle East "should not obscure Israel's interests." And in a conversation with Channel 1 correspondent Yaakov Ahimeir in New York at around the same time, Barak heaped scorn on the condition Peres had set - that all Arab leaders must attend a signing ceremony for an agreement with Syria.

"So what if 20 or 21 men in gold galabias come?" scoffed the minister. "And what if only six galabias come? And if we achieve peace with Syria and Lebanon - is that not important?"

Little Jonathan, age 6

At a time when dozens of Palestinians who were evicted from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah are celebrating Ramadan in the tent they erected in a nearby street, seven Jewish families are planning to celebrate their seventh anniversary in their illegal homes in the heart of the village of Silwan (Hashiloah) during the upcoming High Holy Days. The building, called Jonathan House (in honor of American Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard), is seven stories high, and is one of the largest buildings settlers have erected in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

The edifice was built for the Ateret Cohanim association with no building permit and no safety authorizations. In 2006, in part due to legal action by attorney Danny Seidman of the Ir Amim association, the local affairs court ruled that the tenants should be evicted and the building sealed. In 2007, the Jerusalem District Court rejected the tenants' appeal and ordered that the building be evacuated and sealed within 45 days. In 2008, the Supreme Court refused to allow them a second appeal and rejected their request to delay implementation.

But 2009 is approaching its end, and the building still stands. Here is a possible explanation: In June 2007, the municipality's legal advisor, Yosef Havilio, received a letter demanding that the building's evacuation be frozen. It was signed by an opposition city councilman, Nir Barkat. Today, that same Barkat is mayor of Jerusalem and Havilio's boss.

The police responded that "a request for assistance and security in evacuating and sealing the building in Silwan was submitted only a few weeks ago. Due to operational constraints, the police have had to delay this assistance, but they will help carry out the order in the near future."

The Jerusalem municipality said that "several orders are awaiting implementation in this area, against both Jews and Arabs. This requires coordination with the police. It is not customary to release information about implementation dates."

America is building outposts

When the right decided to undermine leftist organizations like Breaking the Silence, it didn't know what trouble it was getting itself into. Jews who build illegal houses in settlements and outposts with the help of donations should keep their hands out of other Jews' pockets.

Jewish peace organizations in the United States recently sent the American tax authorities information about settler organizations that have been using tax-free donations for activity that contradicts American law or policy.

For example, both the Shuva Israel association, registered in Austin, Texas, and the Shomron Liaison Office, located in the West Bank settlement of Revava, are raising funds for outposts. The latter, together with The Zionist Freedom Alliance, offers free housing and food to volunteers who assist in building and planting in the El Matan outpost.

Much of this information can be found in the latest report of the International Crisis Group, a group of retired diplomats and academic researchers, on the religious right's activity in the settlements. For example, the settlement of Sussya in the southern Hebron Hills is raising funds on its Internet site; donations are payable to a tax-exempt American organization, P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, Inc. The Ariel Academic Center's web site posts American contact numbers for obtaining "special" tax breaks. The Hebron Fund raises an average of $1.5 million a year to support Jewish settlement in the city. Leaders of the One Israel Fund, which works to help the settlements, have claimed that their organization is the largest charitable association in North America. And a fund raiser for the Yad Yair outpost told Crisis Group members that he raised $500,000 in the U.S. to buy land for the outpost near Ramallah.

Under U.S. law, all section 501(c)(3) charitable organizations are required to be organized and operated for charitable purposes. If the Internal Revenue Service receives indications that a charitable organization might not be operating in compliance with U.S. tax laws, this information is referred for review and, if the facts and circumstances warrant it, further action, including examination. An examination can result in a wide range of action by the IRS, including, where appropriate, revocation of tax-exempt status. By law, the IRS cannot comment on whether it has initiated an examination, or on the results of an examination.

Perhaps for this reason, IRS spokesman Bruce Friedland said merely that the agency's policy is to investigate any information on tax law violations that comes in and take appropriate measures, including rescinding the exemptions of organizations that do not abide by the law's provisions.