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President Bush voiced optimism about the prospects of next month’s U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace conference.

“I am very optimistic that we can achieve a two-state solution,” Bush told Al-Arabiya television in an interview broadcast over the weekend.

“Our strategy is to get all concerned countries to the table to get this comprehensive peace, and move forward in a way that is tangible.”

Bush is expected to host Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and key Arab leaders in mid-to-late November for talks about steps needed to found a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Some Arab diplomats have voiced misgivings about the parley given Olmert’s reluctance, at this stage, to make concrete concessions on core issues such as the status of Jerusalem. Israel, for its part, is concerned that Abbas may not have the clout to deliver security after his schism with Hamas.

“Nobody is going to want to have a state that becomes a launching pad for attack,” Bush told Al-Arabiya, in an apparent allusion to worries about Hamas’s ascendancy since it seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

He said it is incumbent upon the West to bolster Abbas’s security forces and economic planning “so the average Palestinian can see a better life ahead, and can realize there is something better than violence.”

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a Russian-made, military-grade rocket into Israel.

The rocket landed harmlessly Sunday outside the southern Israeli town of Netivot, around seven miles from the northern Gaza boundary. Military officials said the rocket appeared to be a Russian-made Grad, which has a greater range than the homemade projectiles generally deployed by Palestinian factions.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the launch. Israel says Hamas and other Gazan terrorist groups regularly smuggle military-grade ordinance in over the border with Egypt.

A government minister has raised hackles by calling Israeli leftists kapos.

In an interview on Israel’s Channel One Saturday night, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Russian immigrant Yisrael Beiteinu party, compared members of Israel’s pacifist Yesh Gvul organization to “kapos,” Jewish concentration camp prisoners who worked for the Nazis.

His comments drew the ire of members of the left-wing Meretz party, who called for Lieberman’s firing, and urged the Labor Party to quit the government coalition.

Yesh Gvul is pressuring the state prosecutor’s office to open a ‘war crimes’ investigation into the 2002 deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza which killed a Hamas leader.

Israel’s ambassador to Berlin described deterioration in German sympathy for the Jewish state.

Shimon Stein, who is wrapping up a turbulent seven-year tenure as Israel’s ambassador to Germany, gave the Hebrew daily Yediot Acharonot a broad-ranging interview over the weekend in which he professed pessimism about the public mood in the key European state.

“In the past few years, the question of the State of Israel’s legitimacy has arisen,” Stein said, attributing the change both to the moral attrition caused by the Palestinian conflict and a reluctance by younger German generations to see the Holocaust as necessitating the creation of the Jewish state.

Stein further noted that, in Germany as elsewhere in Europe, there is widespread ignorance about Israel as Western-style democracy. He also bemoaned the spread of neo-Nazism in the country that spawned the Holocaust.

“Relations between Israel and Germany are not automatic, self-evident relations,” he said. “We cannot continue to build up the relations solely on the basis of the past. If we do not succeed in locating joint topics in the future, the relations will lose their uniqueness and importance.”

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must be based on the peace “road map,” Ehud Olmert said.

The Israeli prime minister said Sunday that the upcoming U.S.-sponsored conference on Palestinian statehood would serve to advance, rather than replace, bilateral talks.

“Toward the end of November, an international meeting to be held in Washington, with the intention of lending backing and encouragement to the diplomatic process. It is in no way a substitute for direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” Olmert told his cabinet.

He reaffirmed Israel’s vision of two-state coexistence with a future Palestine but said that “anything to do with implementing such a solution is predicated on making good on the road map, not just in terms of content but also of sequence”.

Announced by President Bush in 2003, the road map calls for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to enact a series of confidence-building measures ahead of a final peace accord.

Olmert’s remarks appeared to be a rebuff to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for next month’s talks to deal with final-status issues such as a border-setting, Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Israeli Jews gain as much as 13 pounds over the High Holy Days. Citing leading dieticians, Army Radio reported Sunday that High Holy Day feasting adds between 4.5 pounds and 13 pounds to the average Israeli’s waistline. The problem lies in the close succession of high-calorie holiday meals, experts say.

Israel’s Arab minority likely feels more svelte after this year’s High Holy Days, which coincided with the Muslim fast month of Ramadan.

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