Mitchell is back in town

Haaretz is reporting that “U.S. special envoy George Mitchell met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday morning, and was scheduled to hold separate talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later in the day … Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke with Abbas on Thursday before Mitchell’s arrival in the region. State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said on Thursday that extensive talks had been held with the Israelis and the Palestinians on concrete steps that both parties could take to improve the atmosphere, and that Mitchell would be continuing those talks … He said that talks had been held with the Israelis and the Palestinians since Mitchell’s last visit, including meetings with David Hale, Mitchell’s deputy, and Middle East policy adviser Dan Shapiro, and that with the conclusion of these talks Thursday, it was thought wise for Mitchell to go to the region”. This Haaretz report is published here.

See our sister site for some media analysis.

More to follow…

What does this mean?

Ma’an News Agency has reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] issued a decree on Sunday banning all violations of privacy and personal freedoms, following the results of a Palestinian Authority inquiry into corruption allegations against his former chief of staff. ‘In light of the report handed over by the inquiry commission into the Rafiq Al-Husseini case, and reiterating previous instructions, the minister of interior must inform security services that any violator of the law of private freedoms will be called into account’, the presidential decree read”. This report can be read in full here.

What does this mean?

Is this another rebuke to Tawfik Tirawi (who reportedly previously lost his job as head of Palestinian General Intelligence because of this very scandal)? Tirawi was then apparently rehabilitated when he easily won a seat, in elections in Bethlehem in August, on the powerful Fatah Central Committee, and he now holds the portfolio on that body of Palestinian labor unions and syndicates (in which capacity he has been instrumental in changes affecting the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate)

Ma’an says: “Legal experts interpret the decree as signaling the need for court approval before recording private acts, such as phone tapping and video surveillance”.

We are still waiting for news about the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry that Abu Mazen set up to look into this whole affair … As Ma’an reported, the Commission of Inquiry completed its investigations — Ma’an says this happened on Monday, and the members handed their report over in a meeting with Abu Mazen on Saturday.

Total closure of West Bank continues

Total Closure of West Bank continues:
(1) AFP reported that “Israel maintained a general closure of the West Bank imposed for the week-long Jewish Passover holiday, but the military said it issued more than 10,000 permits allowing Palestinian Christians to enter for up to two weeks … The Palestinians have however complained of restrictions, including long waits at the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the occupied territory. ‘My family got permits to come to Jerusalem but they decided not to because they will suffer at Qalandiya’, said Rimas Kasabreh, 34, a Greek Orthodox woman living in Jerusalem, referring to the main checkpoint outside the city. Her family hails from a village near the northern West Bank town of Jenin. ‘The lines take hours. It would spoil the happiness of the holiday’, she said … In an Easter message from the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called for a ‘true exodus’ from the Middle East conflict. ‘I pray… that in the Middle East, and especially in the land sanctified by (Christ’s) death and resurrection, the peoples will accomplish a true and definitive ‘exodus’ from war and violence to peace and concord’, he said”. This AFP report can be read in full here.

(2) In an email over the weekend, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) wrote that “Palestinian Christians say that Israeli security measures have obstructed their access to Jerusalem and its holy sites, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, long believed to be the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In response, the National Council of Churches asked the Israeli government to provide access for Palestinian Christians who wish to visit Christian sites in Jerusalem during Holy Week. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, acknowledged Israel’s need to provide strict security during the religious holidays but said, ‘I hope the Israeli government realizes that it is unacceptable to us that Christians be denied the right to worship in Jerusalem, especially Christians whose roots in the region go back to the time of Christ’. Since then, the NCC General Secretary has said that Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has said that travel restrictions preventing Palestinian Christians from visiting Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem have been lifted”.

(3) Ma’an News Agency wrote about that there was confusion about the prevailing rules of access: “Rumors abound about whether or not Palestinian Christians from the West Bank will be able to access Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over Easter, as crossings into the city remain locked and a general closure prevails on the West Bank. Access restrictions will be implemented by several arms of the Israeli military, police and Border Police units, many of which overlap or cancel each other out. The Israeli military imposed a general closure on the West Bank on the start of Passover that will last until 7 April. According to a military spokesman, Palestinians issued permits for family visits and religious services will not be subjected to the general closure as of 1 April … As of Thursday, the spokesman said, the general closure of the West Bank would no longer prevent Palestinians with permits for the holidays from leaving the area. [But] Border police operate the checkpoints that prevent West Bank Palestinians from accessing Jerusalem. Police ordered main Bethlehem checkpoint (Rachel’s Tomb) closed as of Wednesday, and said at the time that the terminal may open for the Saturday of Light celebrations observed by Orthodox Christians. As of Thursday, it was not clear if the terminal would open. On Wednesday, two German nationals and a pregnant Palestinian woman were denied passage through the checkpoint and told to use the Beit Jala ‘tunnels’ terminal. The Germans were permitted to pass through but the pregnant woman with a hospital permit was not. In February, Israeli officials announced the closure of the Beit Jala crossing for passport and holders of medical permits. On Wednesday, a crossings spokesman said travelers should be allowed to pass through the terminal. Border police also enforce closures on the Old City, setting up and manning barricades around the gates to the ancient quarters where pilgrims hope to enter for Good Friday,  Saturday of Light and Easter Sunday worship. A spokesman for Israeli Border Police in the Jerusalem area said no decision had been made as to whether restrictions would be put in place during Easter, and could not confirm or deny reports that Muslim worshipers had been instructed to use the Lions and Herod’s Gates to access the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while access for Muslims at other gates would be restricted … Israeli national police, alongside Border Police, guard the Old City and arrange security for the Sepulchre Church. A spokesman for the body denied reports from Sepulchre officials that Christians would be barred from the Old City, saying the facts were ‘incorrect’, but declined to clarify as to what restrictions would be in place at the Old City Gates”. This Ma’an report is posted here.

(4) Haaretz reported today that “The IDF is investigating the circumstances of the death on Saturday of a 63-year-old Palestinian man who had been delayed earlier at the Al-Hamra checkpoint in the northern Jordan Valley, Army Radio reported. Mohammad Damen Abed Al-Karim E’lieyat, a diabetic with high blood pressure, made several attempts to pass through the checkpoint but was held up by Israeli authorities because he held French citizenship, according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency. E’lieyat, who suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, was allowed to pass after several hours, but later died in a taxi. Palestinian medical officials said he died of a heart attack and dehydration”… This Haaretz report is published here. The Jerusalem Post adds that “According to eyewitnesses, the man was held back since he also held French citizenship and was therefore required to receive special clearance to pass through the checkpoint”… This is posted here.

Kofi Annan's think tank in Geneva declared bankrupt

“An international humanitarian think-tank presided by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is closing down after it plunged deep into debt, Swiss authorities said Wednesday.  The Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum, which was partly financed by the Swiss government, was launched in 2007 in Geneva under Swiss impetus to bring together the humanitarian community, governments and private companies.  The Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the non-profit foundation was ‘over-indebted and must halt its activities’.  The Swiss government agreed to pay 1.75 million Swiss francs (1.2 million euros, 1.6 million dollars) to foot half of the debt and the cost of redundancy for about a dozen staff”… Thanks to a tip, this news was located here.