A concise explantion of why the Gaza Power Plant shut down again today, causing significant electrical shortages in central Gaza

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR] in Gaza has offered a concise explanation of the complete and unconscionable mess that has been made in a complicated situation that resulted in today’s shut-down, once again, of the only power plant in Gaza, which supplies one-third of the electricity needed by some 1.5 million souls in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely-populated areas on earth, which has in effect become a large open-air holding pen.

But first, some essential background:

The Gaza Power Plant was constructed in the optimistic years of the Oslo process.

Hamas pulled off a surprise victory in the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Fatah was furious. As punishment for the pro-Hamas vote, almost all aid was cut off to the Palestinian Authority [in both the West Bank and Gaza] by the large international donors, particularly but not exclusively those represented in the Quartet [the U.S., Russian Federation, the EU + the UN, which is not a donor but when it works on the ground is mainly an implementing body]

During this donor cut-off, for some 18 months, Palestinian Authority [PA] employees were paid no salaries, and relied on bank loans arranged by the PA but on which the employees had to pay interest.

In the midst of that turmoil and hardship, in late June 2006, the Gaza Power Plant was bombed by the Israeli Air Force, in reprisal for a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants on the Kerem Shalom area [just outside the southeastern corner of the Gaza Strip, where the borders of Egypt’s Sinai, Israel’s Negev Desert, and the Gaza Strip all meet], during which IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was seized and taken into Gaza, [where he was held prisoner until his release in a prisoner exchange with Hamas brokered by Egypt in 2011].

For the six sweltering summer months of 2006, there was very limited electricity in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has supplied some 20 percent of the daily need in Gaza through 11 feeder lines at the northern and western perimeter of the Gaza Strip. Egypt now supplies 17% cross border from Egyptian Rafah to Gazan Rafah [the city of Rafah is divided into two], up from 11 percent earlier.

The Gaza Power Plant was not repaired until November 2006.

It then began to supply most of the balance of energy needed, to the central Gazan Strip area, where Gaza City is located, and where some 500,000 of the inhabitants of Gaza live. At the time that the Gaza Power Plant came back on line in late 2006, the European Union began to pay subsidies of some 10 million dollars a month or so needed to import from Israel [via Nahal Oz] the industrial diesel fuel needed to run the reconstructed Gaza Power Plant.

The PA ordered the fuel supplies for Gaza from Israel, the sole supplier, and the EU paid for them…

Continue reading “A concise explantion of why the Gaza Power Plant shut down again today, causing significant electrical shortages in central Gaza”

EU blocked "unbalanced" US move in last Quartet meeting

It was the European Union — and not just Russia, as earlier reported — that blocked a U.S. move in the last Quartet meeting (a dinner in Washington on 11 July) to back, and impose on Palestinians, a statement that would have endorsed two of Israel’s main recent demands (Palestinian acknowledgement of Israel as a Jewish state, and accomodation of major Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory) according to a report by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media Communicatons Center (JMCC) today.

The U.S. also reportedly tried — but apparently failed — to get the Quartet to disapprove of any Palestinian move to upgrade the status of their representation at the United Nations in September.

The JMCC report, published here, contains a twice-translated citation of the wording of the U.S. proposal that was not accepted by the Quartet, which it added to other material partly based on a report in today’s Haaretz, here.

According to the Haaretz report, “senior European diplomats” told Haaretz that “responsibility for the failure of the meeting lies with the United States, which proposed to the other Quartet members – the EU, the UN and Russia – a one-sided wording for an announcement that favored Israel and which had no chance of being accepted by the Palestinians. The U.S. version did include mention of negotiations being based on the 1967 borders with an exchange of territory, however, it also included portions of the [2004] letter of President George Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which noted that the border changes would reflect the demographic changes on the ground since 1967. This implies the annexation of the settlement blocs to Israel…”

Continue reading “EU blocked "unbalanced" US move in last Quartet meeting”

September (or November) State

Because it is so amusing, we are cross-posting from our sister blog (Palestine-Mandate.com) here the “September State (Dawlat Aylul)” by Jerusalem-born artist Ahmad Dari, a long-term resident of France, which is on Youtube here:

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Earlier, Ahmad Dari compiled his impressions on the mission of former U.S. Special Envoy, George Mitchell, posted on Youtube here:
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Yesterday, after weeks of practically begging for the restart of negotiations with Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly decided to put internal Palestinian negotiations — between Fatah and Hamas, on the formation of a new “technocratic government” pending new Palestinian elections — on hold. One reason, of course, is that Israel would refuse to enter into new negotiations with any Hamas-approved government.

Abbas, who had apparently not informed Hamas of his intentions to go-slow on the formation of a new Palestinian government, told journalists that “negotiations are continuing, but he hinted at difficulties. ‘I hope that we will succeed, but it needs a little bit of effort’, he told reporters during a visit to the Netherlands”.

According to a report in Haaretz on Thursday, an unnamed Palestinian official, apparently in Ramallah, “said Abbas does not want to form a unity government only to have it boycotted by the West, and that he wants to avoid new complications while he is pursuing the UN option … The PLO official said Abbas’ priority is to obtain UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem when the UN General Assembly meets in September. It would be a largely symbolic step that the Palestinians hope will nonetheless improve their leverage against Israel”. This Haaretz analysis is published here.

The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, has published an article which shows some of the ambivalence about the “September State”, expressed by an architect heading RIWAQ [Center for Architectural Conservation], an organization committed to saving some Palestinian buildings. The JPost wrote that: “Today, under [Khaldun] Bshara’s leadership, RIWAQ’s role in highlighting Palestinian physical history has taken on an added significance as the leadership prepares to make a controversial bid for statehood this coming September. ‘I don’t like this idea of declaring statehood’, states Bshara boldly, as we sit down together in what was likely a kitchen or storage room in this former family home. ‘We have declared statehood twice before and it’s like we just want to declare something so that people will listen to us and not really anything more than that. I believe that certain practices are much more worthy than declarations and that such declarations need to be enforced by these practices’. Bshara is referring to the practices that RIWAQ has committed itself to: preserving and restoring the Palestinian physical heritage while at the same time addressing some deeply-rooted socioeconomic issues and, more importantly, strengthening national identity and pride. ‘At Riwaq we are not innocent’, he admits. ‘We are not necessarily doing this work for architecturally aesthetic values, but more to create and retain our identity. We believe that these buildings and cultural sites are the only physical [artifacts] that are left for us to use as an identity symbol and we see our work as a central element to creating a national identity of Palestine’.”

Bshara told the JPost that: “We were born into Israeli occupation and we still function under this occupation, but we were also born into a thriving civil society before our state became a fact, and that has unfortunately been undermined by the emergence of the PA … They see NGOs as competitors to what they want to do and say we cannot work without their blessing, but they cannot do what we do either, so they need us”.

The JPost story added that “Bshara further explains that because Palestinian law is based on a mix of laws from the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate period, Jordan and Israel, only buildings from before 1700 are officially protected by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Also, the complicated political map constituting areas A (under full Palestinian control), B (under Israeli military control) and C (under complete Israeli control) means that roughly 10,000 sites that RIWAQ considers part of the Palestinian heritage – built, designed or decorated by Palestinian architects or craftsmen – fall under Israeli jurisdiction and cannot be touched by the NGO. Instead, the organization focuses on renovation and restoration projects in 16 districts spread across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, where it works as a consultant for international groups”. This JPost article is published here.

A very good reportage — after a three-week visit to the West Bank — has just been published on the website of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. It has the unfortunate title, on the JVP website of “Where are the Palestinian leaders?” And it’s postedhere. But, it’s actually from the London Review of Books, with another uninspired title: “Is Palestine Next”? And, it’s posted here.

Shatz wrote: “Abbas can hardly go to the UN in September and request formal recognition of the Palestinian state – as he has announced he will – if there are two Palestinian leaderships pursuing opposed agendas. The declaration of statehood is the culmination of Fayyad’s project to build state institutions and promote neoliberal ‘reform’ while still under occupation. ‘The mission has been accomplished,’ he recently told Haaretz: the PA has done everything the world has asked of it, having restored law and order and established the infrastructure of statehood. Many Palestinians ridicule Fayyad’s claim – ‘instead of a state, we got a ministry in charge of garbage disposal’ – but the ball is now in the world’s court to recognise Palestine as a state. Abbas’s plan to make his declaration in September is a gamble. Fayyad has long questioned the tactical wisdom of declaring statehood unilaterally while the occupation remains deeply entrenched. Palestinians, he warns, could find themselves in a ‘Mickey Mouse’ state, recognised by the world but without the sovereignty a state requires, if the US uses its power in the General Assembly to prevent Palestine from getting the votes it needs to attain full UN membership. In his speech on the Middle East in May, Obama echoed the Israeli view that declaring statehood is an unacceptable form of unilateralism. If Palestine isn’t recognised, some Palestinian officials have hinted, there could be unrest, even a third intifada. The statehood declaration matters to the leadership, which wants the fruits of diplomatic recognition, and hopes to sell that recognition as a victory for the national cause. But it doesn’t stir much enthusiasm in the West Bank. One reason is that it’s a toothless strategy: ‘Who cares if we get recognised as a state if the Israelis can still block the roads?’ Another is that the declaration sticks to the modest, 1967 parameters at the very moment the Netanyahu government is building a Greater Israel. If Israel continues to act as if 1948 never ended, and shows no sign of wanting to reach a compromise on the 1967 borders, many Palestinians say, why shouldn’t we call for more too? And there’s yet another reason for the lack of interest in the declaration: as the prospect of a genuine – a sovereign and independent – Palestinian state has receded, another discourse has returned, one with much deeper roots in the Palestinian political imagination than talk of statehood, and much closer to the ideas that inspired the Arab uprisings. It’s often forgotten that until the mid-1970s, Palestinians were looking not to establish a state but to achieve ‘national liberation’, to restore their rights in the land from which they had been driven – beginning with the right of return. Palestinians rarely talk about statehood, but they often talk about their rights; statehood is viewed, at best, as a means to achieve them. And because they don’t often talk about statehood, it seems unlikely that the failure to win recognition at the UN would be enough to spark an uprising. Any sign of serious unrest, moreover, would not be viewed kindly by the PA, which would do everything in its power to prevent a third intifada that might sweep it away. Indeed, the PA already uses the American-trained National Security Force to undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation. (Hamas, in Gaza, has cracked down on protest even more harshly.) ‘They are the police of the occupation,’ Myassar Atyani, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told me. ‘Their leadership is not Palestinian, it is Israeli.’ On 15 May – the day Palestinians commemorate their Nakba – more than a thousand Palestinians, mainly young men, marched to the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem and clashed with Israeli soldiers; but when Atyani tried to lead a group of demonstrators to the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus, PA security forces stopped them. The road from Ramallah to Qalandia is in Area C, which is not controlled by the PA; the road from Nablus to Hawara is in Area A, which is. And protesters who have attempted to march to settlements along PA-controlled roads have also found themselves turned back. It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land. This is, not surprisingly, a source of considerable anger and shame in the West Bank. The question is whether Palestinians will grow exasperated enough to confront the Sulta”.

The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access

Egypt formally reopened the Rafah crossing today.

Journalists on the scene report that the numbers of Palestinians crossing were fewer than anticipated — apparently partly because of suspicions based on long experience that things might not work out as expected, and partly because of a shortage of money among many in Gaza.

It was one of the top stories on the international agenda today.

The Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah Crossing appears to be unilateral – though carried out after considerable behind-the-scenes consultations.

By all indications negotiations are still continuing.

Israeli and Palestinian analysts suggest that the Egyptian move appears to be a reward to Hamas in exchange for the essential concessions and compromise that allowed agreement on reconciliation between it and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian movements who have been feuding as each controls a different part of the occupied Palestinian territory.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington last week with surprising equanimity that the American government was confident that Egypt could handle the security situation at Rafah…

The earlier regime at the Rafah crossing was established in the wake of Israel’s unilateral 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza.

The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which technically prevailed at the Rafah border crossing between Rafah and Egypt until today was negotiated over several months with considerable difficulty, and was only be brought to conclusion after the personal intervention of then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an all-night marathon session, on her birthday, 15 November.   It was intended to govern Israel’s immediate relationship to Gaza – which Israel argued was no longer occupied.

Within ten days, the EU managed to put together and deploy the EUBAM border-monitoring mission, and a liaison Office was set up, where EU observers worked together with Israeli and Palestinian Authority personnel.

In addition, Israeli security officials monitored the situation at Rafah in real time by live transmission of video surveillance, and by on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of the people who were crossing in either direction, Berger said.

One aspect of the Agreement that was constantly violated was the provision that “the passages will operate continuously”.

But, as it happened, the Agreement on Movement and Access was barely implemented, and for a very limited time only.

If Israel told the EUBAM observers to stay home, for example, for security reasons, the Rafah crossing would have to be closed.

The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, explained in an interview in his office in East Jerusalem yesterday that it was originally supposed to cover both people and goods: “the original Agreement of 2005 foresaw that exports could take place right away, and if I remember one truck or two trucks were actually exported in December 2005 to Cairo. If I’m not mistaken, it was children’s toys. And then, nothing much happened. Imports were a different story: imports from the beginning had to come via Kerem Shalom [the Agreement did forsee capacity-building for handling imports direct at Rafah, after a period of one year] … However, during the period of one year, it was foreseen that with the help of the European Union but also with the help of the Israeli customs officials, Palestinian officials would be trained so they could [eventually] handle the imports themselves directly from Egypt. And at the end of that one-year period, an assessment would have been done, to find out whether the capacity was there for handling the imports. There was also a reference in the agreement for cars to be checked – traffic of private cars. Both things never happened – not at all, no. So, imports didn’t happen, and the training didn’t happen, and also the training and the capacity-building for cars didn’t happen”.

Continue reading “The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access”

The sad state of the Rafah Crossing

The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, said in an interview in East Jerusalem that the EU stands ready, if asked, to “come back and resume the tasks of monitoring the [Rafah] crossing point”.

As part of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, a bilateral agreement between Israel, after its unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the EU played a required “Third Party” monitoring role in what they named their EU Border Assistance Mission, or EUBAM.  The Europeans tweaked the mandate, however, to include provision of assistance in the form of Palestinian capacity-building.

Asked if there needs to be a new agreement, now that Egypt has made an apparently unilateral decision to open its only border crossing with Gaza, via Rafah, Berger replied that this “has to be discussed with the parties, to find what they want and what they need.  Again, the European Union has offered its assistance.  So, if it’s seen necessary, if it’s seen useful, they we are ready to do this.  And we still have a small contingent in Ashkelon that can be deployed and can be expanded, if necessary, to the size as it used to be before the closure of Rafah”.

Berger said: “One important element of the agreement was that the Israeli authorities would be informed of what was going on at the crossing point.  This was partly through live feed video transmissions, and partly through on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of people who were crossing, in either way.  But, it’s an integral part of the agreement, so when these transmissions — or the work of the liaison office in Kerem Shalom — was not possible, then the border post had to be closed.  That’s an integral part of the agreement”.

The liaison office was staffed by a tripartite group of Palestinians, Israelis and Europeans.  It was  located at Kerem Shalom, near where IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was captured in a raid from Gaza in late June 2006, just six months after the Agreement went into effect.  Shalit is still being held, reportedly somewhere in Gaza.

Continue reading “The sad state of the Rafah Crossing”

Look! The Gaza approach to Israel's Erez Terminal-Crossing has been repaired!

Here is an astonishing photo of the new, cleaned-up approach from Gaza to Israel, with thanks and acknowledgment to World Vision’s Mike Bailey, who visited Gaza this week (and then posted this photo on Facebook).

New entrance from Gaza to Israel's Erez checkpoint - photo by Mike Bailey 13 Jan 2011

This is a far cry from the miserable, dank, urine-scented concrete tunnel where groups of miserable pro-Fatah people without enough clout for VIP evacuation huddled, in mid-June 2007, just after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Preventive Security Forces (see note below).

It is also a far cry from the nearly kilometer-long muddy red-earth track, plowed almost daily by Israeli military equipment, and site of frequent military incursions, that was gradually lengthened, to push back a Hamas outpost, and install an Israeli-arranged coordination container (mobile home) where approved Gazans took names and passport or ID numbers (and then communicated them to Israeli soldiers in Erez watchtowers) of all those who managed to get past the first Hamas outpost and intended to approach Israel’s Erez Terminal (in order to leave Gaza via Israel).

There is a new “cage”, to the right side of the photo, to process large numbers of waiting Palestinians — very like what existed at Erez in the 1990s. 

Does this mean that Israel is intending to give new permission for numbers of Palestinian day-workers to enter Israel for employment? Permission for this was abruptly and brutally halted during the Second Intifada, with severe economic consequences inside Gaza. [As Mike Bailey noted, many of the people of Gaza now live in a situation that combines poverty with a debilitating situation of aid dependency. He also believes that without the international assistance supplied to Gaza by the humanitarian community, the Gaza blockade & occupation of the Palestinian territory is unsustainable.]

How did this impressive (in the circumstances) reconstruction come about?

According to Mike, it took 11 months to complete, and:
the European Union paid for this renovation,
Israel approved and allowed in the construction materials,
the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah was on board,
and Hamas cooperated, at the very least by not making any problems.

What I still wonder is: which construction firm did the actual work? (Probably, it was an Israeli-approved company from Gaza…)

Meanwhile, Hamas has responded to (1) increased rocket fire from “factions” in Gaza, and (2) renewed Israeli retaliatory strikes, with widespread rumors of another large-scale military operation, by (A) getting agreement from the “factions” to cease fire — announced last week, then (B) deploying Hamas guards deployed all around the post-Cast-Lead Israeli-declared and enforced inner no-go perimeter of the Gaza Strip to enforce the new cease-fire…

NOTE: For commemorative and documentary purposes, here is the article I wrote in June 2007, saying there might have been worse places than Erez on earth in mid-June 2007, but not many, which is no longer visible online, because the publication’s archives were moved, and all the links broken, perhaps (or even probably) deliberately.
[Here is the original link: http://www.metimes.com/storyview.php?StoryID=20070620-075400-2326r]

Torment continues at Erez checkpoint, uneasy peace holds in Gaza
Marian Houk
Middle East Times
June 20, 2007

GAZA CITY — There may be worse places on earth, but not many. The Erez checkpoint between the northern Gaza Strip and Israel is designed for hostile crowd control.

Over the past few days, its concrete corridors have become fearful, squalid holding cells where hundreds of Palestinians have been trapped in fear, without food, water, sanitation, or shelter. Adamantly refusing to return to Gaza, they have been barred by Israel from passing through, even if only to reach the West Bank.

Those trapped in this limbo have been traumatized by weeks of horrifying factional fighting that culminated in a stunning Hamas rout of Fatah security forces late last week. Some 300 Fatah security officers leaders fled by sea to Egypt June 15 after prior coordination with Israel. Another 200, whose names were on a list submitted by the Palestinian Authority (PA), were cleared through Erez June 16 and June 17, and bussed to hotels in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, the less privileged flocked to the Erez crossing point, and have since refused to leave.

Continue reading “Look! The Gaza approach to Israel's Erez Terminal-Crossing has been repaired!”

Palestinians begin to express opposition as OECD tourism meeting opens in Jerusalem

Palestinians have started to express objections and opposition to an OECD meeting that opened yesterday in Jerusalem — after months of public announcements and preparations.

The OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – is a Paris-based international organization grouping economically-developed countries who are also considered “democracies”.

A public meeting has been called in Ramallah this afternoon to discuss the international law aspects of the meeting.

The decision to convene the tourism conference in Jerusalem was announced in mid-June — four months ago.   It takes months and months of preparations to hold such a conference.

Why did it take the Palestinians so long to organize their response?   The conference was already in its second day when Palestinian officials called for its cancellation…

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Israeli military court convicts organizer of Bil'in anti-Wall demonstrations

On Tuesday, the Israeli military court in Ofer Prison, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, decided to convict Abdallah Abu Rahma, coordinator since its founding in 2005 of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bil’in.

He has been held in jail since last December. He will be sentenced in September.

The Stop the Wall campaign noted that the conviction came after more than 30 hearings in the Ofer Prison military court.

The EU issued a statement on Wednesday that closely followed a Stop the Wall press release.

Issued in the name of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU statement said that “The High Representative is concerned by the conviction of 39-year-old Abdallah Abu Rahma in an Israeli military court on charges of incitement and organising and attending demonstrationsThe EU considers Abdallah Abu Rahma to be a Human Rights Defender committed to non violent protest against the route of the Israeli separation barrier through his West Bank village of Bil’in. The EU considers the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal. The High Representative is deeply concerned that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner“.

The EU statement added, in a note to Editors, that “The EU attended all court hearings in the case of Abdallah Abu Rahma”…

The Stop the Wall campaign noted, in a press release, that “Nearly 17 diplomats, consuls, and international solidarity activists were present at the hearing” on Tuesday.

The Israeli military court did not sustain other charges brought against Abu Rahma, a high school teacher in the nearby West Bank town of Bir Zeit, of throwing stones and possession of weapons.

UPDATE: On Friday 27 August, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he was “deeply concerned about the conviction earlier this week of Abdallah Abu Rahmah by an Israeli military court. When I met him with my fellow Elders last year, we were very impressed by his commitment to non-violence and the wise leadership he showed. He and his fellow activists have had some success in challenging the wall that divides the people of Bil’in from their land. Israel’s attempt to crack down on this effective resistance movement by criminalizing peaceful protest is unacceptable and unjust. I urge the Israeli authorities to release Abdallah Abu Rahmah immediately and unconditionally, and to overturn his conviction.” For more information about the Eldars, and their work, see here.

The overall coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign, Jamal Juma, a resident of East Jerusalem, was also arrested in late 2009 — but was released after weeks of detention without any charges ever being filed against him.

The Stop the Wall campaign noted in their statement today that approximately 50 Palestinian human rights defenders from d Bil’in village, west of Ramallah, have been arrested in the past year “because of their involvement and participation in activities against the construction of the wall in the village”.

EU may form new maritime mission for Gaza

It now appears, two weeks after the Israeli naval raid on the Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza, that the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space will only be strengthened, with European and American help to engage in a complicated inspection regime in the Mediterranean Sea — while Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza via its land crossings will be somewhat eased.

Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, told a special session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, concerning the situation in Gaza, that “It will not be easy to find an agreed way to lift the blockade”…

Continue reading “EU may form new maritime mission for Gaza”

Quartet Statement on "indirect" Israeli-Palestinian talks + East Jerusalem

Russia has wanted to host an international conference on Middle East Peace since the start of the Annapolis process of direct negotiations in late November 2007.

It wasn’t exactly a full international multilateral conference, but today the Quartet of Middle East negotiators (US, Russia, European Union + UN) met in Moscow — with their Special Representative Tony Blair — and issued a statement on proposed U.S.-brokered “indirect” talks which is being billed as “strong”:

[In the statement’s last line, it says that “The Quartet reaffirms its previous statements and supports in consultation with the parties on international conference in Moscow at the appropriate time, concurrent with direct negotiations”.]

Most of the specifics in this Quartet statement were addressed to Israel – in particular, to the position expressed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and others in his government about East Jerusalem.

But, there is not much in it that would encourage the Palestinians – many of whom remain unconvinced that the proposed U.S.-mediated “indirect talks” between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will do anything good.

The Quartet statement called for an Israeli freeze on settlement expansion — and for Israel “to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem”.

And, the Quartet said, “Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the Government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The Quartet reaffirms its intention to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem, and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground. The Quartet recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, and for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and believes that through good faith and negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards this status for people around the world”.

What is it like in East Jerusalem these days? Here are two instructive videos:

(1) Filmed on 15 March – Hagit Ofran, who documents settlements for Peace Now, has posted this encounter at the entrance to the Old City of East Jerusalem on her new Eyes on the Ground in East Jerusalem Blog, here:

(2) Filmed one month earlier, on 14 February – this video taken by International Solidarity Movement volunteers was posted showing participants in a bus tour for Jewish groups visiting the homes built by the UN in the mid-1950s in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to house Palestinian refugees. Four of these homes have been evacuated by Israeli court orders over the past 18 months, and handed over to Jewish settlers. This video was made in the entryway to the home of Rivka Kurd — the front wing of her house, built apparently without proper permit, was the most recent property turned over to Jewish settlers. The family property was tossed out on to the front lawn that these visiters mill around it. The family, who sits in a tent from where this video was made, say that it is ironic that the part of their house built without a proper permit was declared illegal for them to live in, but legal for the Jewish settlers:

Is it really enough for the Quartet to express the intention to “closely monitor” developments — and maybe even to “keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground”?

Continue reading “Quartet Statement on "indirect" Israeli-Palestinian talks + East Jerusalem”