Akiva Eldar reported in Haaretz overnight that the Palestinian negotiating team (meaning Sa’eb Erekat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) have “delivered to the Americans an opinion prepared by Israeli jurists. The Palestinians say this paper proves that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that the government has no authority to freeze construction on private land are unfounded”.
According to Eldar’s report, the Palestinians “expect that even after the September 26 deadline, when the 10-month moratorium ends, the United States will support their demand to continue the ban on all construction outside the Green Line, including in the settlement blocs” — and, including in East Jerusalem.
However, Israeli officials have said many times that the settlement freeze — which has been very loosely enforced — does not apply in East Jerusalem…
East Jerusalem was part of the West Bank from the time of the creation of the state of Israel in May 1948, when Jordanian troops moved across the Jordan River and took positions in that area from which British forces evacuated, until the June 1967 war, when Israeli forces expelled the Jordanians back across the Jordan River.
Shortly after their June 1967 conquest, Israel extended its administration and laws (effectively, annexing) to a unilaterally- expanded Jerusalem that includes not only the 6 square kilometers of the Old City (where many sites important to Judaism as well as to Christianity and Islam are located), but also nearly 65 additional kilometers of West Bank territory in an crescent surrounding Jerusalem along the east, running from from Qalandia, Qafr Aqab, and Semiramis in the north, to Bethlehem in the south. Israel called this new agglomeration “Greater Municipal Jerusalem”.
[Though Israel has effectively lopped off parts of this crescent by the construction of The Wall to exclude areas of dense Palestinian population, it has not yet given administrative effect to this new reality on the ground. But, as a practical result, many residents of East Jerusalem now live on the “other side” of The Wall, and have to pass through tense and chaotic military checkpoints to get to work, to school, to their doctors, to see their friends and families, and more.]
After the start of U.S.-brokerered direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in November 2007 under the Annapolis process launched by former U.S. President George W. Bush, Israeli spokesmen (including, notably, the then-Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mark Regev), said over and over again that the Israeli government under then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would not freeze any settlements in “Jerusalem”, which, it was explained could not be considered part of the West Bank because Israel has decided it is not [though the large Israeli settlement of Har Homa, just north of Bethlehem, and many other Israeli settlements north and west of Jerusalem are on the West Bank side of the “green line” which used to separate Israeli and Jordanian forces.
Much of the rest of the world, and particularly the European Union, issues periodic statements indicating they have not totally accepted this Israeli view.
[In a somewhat surprising article in the Jerusalem Post, also published overnight, Herb Keinon has reported that the hard-line right-wing and pro-settlement Israeli Foreign Minister Alexander Lieberman has just “hinted” that settlement construction in East Jerusalem might have been frozen, after all, during the past nine months, despite previous adamant denials — though Lieberman reportedly added that this should not be extended when the present “freeze” expires on 26 September. However, the same JPost article added that “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office denied that there had been a freeze in Jerusalem, saying that when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared the moratorium 10-months ago he made clear that it did not include any part of the capital. ‘I know there have been tenders issued since that time’, the official said”. This JPost article — which says that the issue of whether or not to renew the settlement freeze later this month is “splitting the cabinet” — can be read in full here.
Eldar added, in his Haaretz piece published overnight, that “A source familiar with the exchanges with the United States said last night that for now the Americans have not changed their attitude regarding the building freeze [n.b. – whatever that actually means]. The source says the Americans are not inclined to adopt the compromise proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor that would see construction continue in large blocs but not in isolated settlements”. This report is posted here.
Also overnight, there has been another serious clash between Israeli settlers (backed up by Israeli Border Police) and Palestinian residents of Silwan, an East Jerusalem neighborhood that is threatened by massive house demolitions to accomodate expansion of an archeologically-oriented tourist site run by a large Israeli settler organization, just outside the Old City walls just below the revered Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. [Haaretz is reporting that the clash began when settlers tried to break open a lock closing a local mosque gate through which the settlers wished to pass to go to a swimming pool.]
Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the controversial (at least, among Palestinians) restart of direct talks — apparently just as happened during the visit of former U.S. President George Bush to Ramallah in January 2008, when a Palestinian demonstration against his visit and his Middle East policy were brutally supressed by baton-wielding Palestinian security forces — a group of Palestinians heading towards a conference organized at a hall in Ramallah on Wednesday to protest Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ acceptance of an American invitation to Washington D.C. on September 1 + 2 to restart direct talks with Israel were also attacked an beaten by Palestinian policemen who said they were only acting against an “illegal demonstration” and had no intention to interfere in the conference itself, which nonetheless could not be held.
Two Palestinian cameramen covering the event were also beaten by Palestinian police, and their equipment was confiscated. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh has reported today that Al-Watan TV station, for whom the two journalists were working, then “issued a statement condemned the assault on its cameramen and called on Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to launch an inquiry against the assailants. The statement pointed out that attacks by PA security forces on Palestinian journalists had escalated, constituting a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and democracy … Following the incident, PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to establish a special commission of inquiry to look into charges that PA security forces had used excessive force … A statement issued by Abbas’s office said that he showed ‘instant interest in the chaos that prevailed during the meeting at the Protestant Club [in Ramallah]’.”
According to Abu Toameh’s report in the JPost, “Wednesday’s press conference was organized by the National Conference Against Direct Talks, a coalition consisting of hundreds of political factions, organizations, institutions and figures from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The event was supposed to be held simultaneously in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through video conference”.
The JPost report also said that Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian politician supporting the conference, has accused non-uniformed Palestinian security agents of inciting a spontaneous march through the streets en route to the conference — but the JPost noted that a Palestinian police spokesman responded by stating that the suppression had nothing to do with the marchers’ political views, explaining that “Even if they [the demonstrators in the street in Ramallah, who were encouraged by plainclothes security agents, according to one Palestinian politician supporting the conference] supported the direct talks, they would still need a license to demonstrate … The era of chaos is gone and forever”. This JPost article can be viewed in full here.
Ma’an News Agency has reported from Bethlehem that “Speaking with Ma’an by phone from Ramallah, Jarrar said she held the PA ‘completely responsible’ for the events of the day. ‘We aimed to voice our dissent, and the PA decided to enter the conference hall and drag participants out to an unplanned rally’ in order to quash it”. This report is posted here.
Just night before, Ma’an reported separately (based on a story published by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA), Palestinian President Abbas “toured Ramallah’s city center on Tuesday evening to discuss the state of trading during the Muslim month of Ramadan with shopkeepers … Abbas talked to shop owners about the state of the Palestinian economy and its development in light of increased safety and security in the West Bank, the news agency wrote. The president was welcomed by Ramallah residents as he walked through Rukab Street, WAFA added”.
This item — reminiscent of stories about a legendary Caliph (Haroun ar-Rashid) who walked the streets of historic Baghdad (in disguise) to learn about the true feelings and problems facing his subjects — is accompanied by a photo of President Abbas being offered an ice cream cone, and can be viewed in full here.
Did the President accept, and taste, the pre-talks ice cream?
This is almost unimaginable, given the state of alert of Palestinian Presidential security, who are prepared to eliminate any imminent threat they believe they face from potential assassins who are mainly imagined to be Islamic fundamentalists. Abbas normally travels around Ramallah in a multi-car convoy travelling at high speed with lots of flashing lights and a special communications-disrupting van bristling with a crown of black antennas. These convoys are preceeded by sweep of a security-escorted specially-trained explosives-sniffing dog, and are attended by armed Presidential security forces stationed at regular intervals in the streets (including alternate routes as a decoy) that the President may choose to travel, mainly on the routes between his house and the Presidential presidential headquarters in the Muqata’a.
As we have previously reported, normal civilian circulation is always disrupted during the Presidential passage –though apparent effort is being made in recent months to reduce civilian immobilization time, and the pointing of guns directly at residents houses along the planned routes, as well as accompanying security noise.