Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard tells Turkel Commission that Israel must establish extra-military mechanism to investigate observance of international law

Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard (Yesh Din) told the Turkel Commission at a hearing in Jerusalem today that “conducting an investigation is not tantamount to punishment”.

The Turkel Commission is investigating the “maritime incident” of 31 May 2010, when Israeli Naval commandos intercepted Freedom Flotilla heading to the Gaza Strip and boarded the largest ship in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, killing eight men (one a 19-year-old Turkish-American high school student) in the process.

Sfard, who is among other things the legal adviser for Yesh Din, advised the Turkel Commission that Israel must establish an extra-military mechanism to verify if the IDF + its advisers follow international law.

It was the second time, in months of intermittant hearings, that Israeli human rights organizations have addressed the panel.

The Turkel Commission was expected to conclude its work in November 2010, but it only issued the first part of its report on 23 January, which can be read online here.

Arguments made in Sfard’s testimony to the Turkel Commission, according to an English-language summary, state that:
“Since the Al-Aqsa Intifada, a Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID) investigation is not opened in every case in which a Palestinian civilian is injured during military operations in the occupied territories, but rather is permitted to conduct a ‘command inquiry’ after which a decision will be made regarding whether to open an investigation.

Yesh Din’s Position is that:
1. A command inquiry, as the name suggests, is intended to draw operational lessons and is not a tool designed to collect evidence or to establish personal responsibility. Those who conduct the inquiry are not investigators but rather commanders and they do not possess appropriate training; what is said in the course of the inquiry is not admissible in court; the inquiry is confidential; and
for the most part accounts by those other than soldiers and officers are not heard.

2. The inquiry presents a significant and grave obstacle to the ability to conduct effective criminal investigations of shooting incidents in which Palestinian civilians have been injured. This is a violation of the obligation to investigate”.

Continue reading “Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard tells Turkel Commission that Israel must establish extra-military mechanism to investigate observance of international law”

Palestinians tell U.S. that East Jerusalem must be included in continued Israeli settlement freeze + more

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…

Continue reading “Palestinians tell U.S. that East Jerusalem must be included in continued Israeli settlement freeze + more”

A Point of No Return?

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa (former Foreign Minister of Egypt, and before that Ambassador to the UN in New York) said at the opening of an Arab Summit meeting in Sirte, Libya, today that “We must prepare for the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure … This is the time to stand up to Israel. We must find alternative options, because the situation appears to have reached a turning point”.  This was reported both in Haaretz here, and in the Jerusalem Post here.

Earlier, Akiva Eldar also wrote, in Haaretz, that this is a point of no return: “The strife between Israel and the United States concerns something far bigger than the proximity talks with the Palestinians.  As far as President Barack Obama and his senior advisers are concerned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame for nothing less than damaging the standing of the U.S.in the Middle East and the Muslim world. Just as Netanyahu received his standing ovation at the AIPAC conference, Obama and his advisers were ruminating over an altogether different convention – the Arab League begins a meeting Tripoli on Saturday. For the Americans, Netanyahu’s Likudnik speech and the Shepherd Hotel project [20 apartments approved last Thursday — 100 were originally planned — in this strategic location on a lovely hillside between Sheikh Jarrah and the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital on  Mount Scopus…] matched in embarrassment the scandalous announcement of construction in East Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit here…”

On the Shepherd Hotel project, Sima Kadmon wrote in YNet that “For two weeks now, the government has been preoccupied with efforts to mitigate the conflict that erupted in wake of the announcement of Ramat Shlomo construction during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in Israel. Netanyahu made an effort to convince the Americans that he didn’t know. He begged for a meeting with the president and paid with major diplomatic currency.  What is the probability that under such circumstances, a similar event will take place? Logically speaking, you would think that there would be a zero chance for a repeat. Yet reality is stronger than fiction and logic … For months now, the US Administration has shown great sensitivity to the Shepherd Hotel compound in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The hotel was built on the home of Mufti Sheikh Amin al-Husseini and was purchased by far right billionaire Irving Moskowitz more than 25 years ago. Moskowitz planned to build a Jewish neighborhood at the site, yet for many long years the Jerusalem City Hall and Israeli government did everything in their power in order to delay construction.  Several months ago, the US and British governments exerted their influence in order to prevent construction at the site. The Americans even summoned Israel’s ambassador in Washington and demanded explanations. Moskowitz, who planned to redesign the compound and build about 100 housing units realized it won’t be possible and decided to make do with 20 units. If you enter the Jerusalem City Hall website these days and look into the status of Moskowitz’s construction requests for the compound, you will discover that the obstacles for construction that persisted for dozens of years had been lifted.  When did it happen? That’s right, on Thursday of last week, in the midst of Bibi’s great efforts to appease the US Administration, when a meeting with President Obama was still a craving. Precisely at that time, someone in the Jerusalem City Hall decided to remove the last obstacle to the problematic construction project at the disputed site.” Sima Kadmon’s article can be read in full on YNet here.

A comment by Jason in Haifa, posted below her article, states, however, that “This project started under [the previous Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert in 2007 and it was completed and the only obstacle left was to be paid for and the computer once paid for allows it to go ahead. Also it was the week before and Peace Now leaked it”.

Here is a video — with adequate English subtitles — made by Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Director Hagit Ofran with long-time settlement and land expert Meir Margalit, an opposition member of the Jerusalem City Council.  It is sometimes confusing (Margalit seems to jump between Sheikh Jarrah just north-west of the Old City, and the City of David project which is squeezing Silwan on the south-eastern side of the Old City of Jerusalem) — and does really seem to require some knowledge of the terrain, but is nonetheless very interesting and useful.

The video appears to be directed at an Israeli audience. It says, cautiously, that the City of David is a national park — not that it is a new national park implanted in a crowded Palestinian neighborhood.  However, it does a good job of explaining that a core of settlers are here, surrounded by a new “national park” and protected by a large number of private as well as public security and Israeli government forces.  Still, this video could really benefit from 1.) having a version in English, and 2.) more graphics, especially maps.   And, it gives a good idea of the reach of Jewish expansion at the expense of Palestinian areas in an arc around the eastern side of the Old City.

How can it be, for example, that a private settler organization (Elad) is allowed to conduct its own excavations from its City of David back up the hill, and under the walls of the Old City — as well as under the esplanade that Israelis call the Temple Mount [where the Second Jewish Temple and possibly/probably also the first were located before their destruction, the last time in 70 A.D.] ?  For Palestinians, this same site is known as the Haram as-Sharif, where the extremely important Al-Aqsa Mosque (one of the earliest and most sacred in Islam) and Dome of the Rock (built between 685 and 691 A.D) have been situated and in continuous use for prayer and worship for over 1,400 years (almost all of this time for Muslim prayer, though for about 80 years during the Crusades the Dome of the Rock was used as a Church, and Al-Aqsa was twice destroyed by earthquakes before being rebuilt).

Akiva Eldar’s analysis in Haaretz today also maintains that: “This year’s Arab League summit will be the scene of struggle between the allies of Iran and the allies of America, and the violation of the status quo in Al Quds – Jerusalem – has direct implications for the balance of power between the sides.  Over the last few weeks, Americans have been giving life support to the Arab Peace Initiative, born at the League’s summit in Beirut 2002 and set to be on the agenda this week … Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decisively supported General David Petraeus, the first American military man in years to describe Israel as a strategic burden on the U.S.   Gates said America’s rivals in the Middle East are abusing the standstill of the political process between Israel and the Arabs.  He stressed that he had no doubt a lack of peace in the region was influencing American interests there.  Netanyahu had been hoping to buy time until November’s Congressional elections, which coincide with the deadline he set for the settlement freeze.  But with America’s strategic interest on the line, Bibi’s favorite political game (playing the Jewish community and Congress against the White House and the State Department) isn’t working anymore. Obama decided his moderate Middle East coalition is more important than Netanyahu’s extremist one. This is a point of no return”.   Akiva Eldar’s analysis can be read in full here.

Uri Avnery wrote in his weekly article that this is “not just a ‘crisis’ anymore. It is something really momentous: a basic change in the policy of the US”.

Another report in Haaretz says that the Israeli government has issued a clarification following surprising statements made in Israel on Friday claiming that the American administration might have switched course and decided to stop objecting to settlement expansion in East Jerusalem. Now, the Israeli government has clarified that “any understanding with the U.S. did not mean American backing for Israeli construction in east Jerusalem”. As this story reported, “Netanyahu’s seven-member inner cabinet, which he consults on major policy decisions, met on Friday to discuss ‘understandings’ with the U.S. reached during the prime minister’s trip to Washington” — but a “senior official at the prime minister’s bureau said Thursday that it was unlikely the forum would reach a decision in its first meeting on the issue. ‘It will probably take two or three meetings before any kind of consensus is reached between the seven over the American demands’, the official said”. Meanwhile, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said: “Obviously, in the region we are approaching kind of a holiday period … We’ll continue our contacts informally with the parties. But we’ll probably go through a period now of a week to 10 days where everyone’s assessing where we are and still trying to construct the most effective path forward”. This Haaretz report is posted here.

But, the U.S. may not be sitting still, in the meantime. McClatchy Newspaper Group is reporting that “After 14 months of frustration over the moribund Mideast peace process and nearly three weeks of open confrontation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama shows no sign of backing down — and may be about to double his bets. The administration is said to be preparing a major peace initiative that would be Obama’s most direct involvement in the conflict to date, and would go far beyond the tentative, indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks that were torpedoed earlier in the month. ‘It is crystallizing that we have to do something now. That this can’t go on this way’, said one of the officials who, like the others, wouldn’t speak for the record because of the issue’s sensitivity … Because of the U.S. political calendar, Obama has limited time to press Israel before it becomes a major domestic political issue during midterm elections … Now, trust between the two sides seems to be at a very low ebb. ‘There’s not a great deal of trust that he believes deeply in the two-state solution’, a former senior U.S. official in touch with the White House said of Netanyahu. ‘There’s a belief that he’s a reluctant peacemaker here’. The Obama administration is said to believe that Netanyahu has more control over Jewish settlements than he admits, and political flexibility to dump his right-wing partners and form a government with the moderate Kadima party if he chose … Netanyahu turned aside a U.S. demand last year for a comprehensive settlement freeze, offering a 10-month moratorium that excluded East Jerusalem … Senior U.S. officials are said to debate whether the unveiling of the 1,600 new apartments at Ramat Shlomo was a deliberate attempt by Netanyahu to avoid peace negotiations, or merely symptomatic of his tenuous control over his own government … Either conclusion bodes poorly for Obama’s attempts at diplomacy. At the White House, however, distrust of Netanyahu ran deep. Maps were prepared, showing how Israel had all but encircled Jerusalem’s Old City with Jewish settlements and even religious theme parks — ‘facts on the ground’ that would preclude a peace deal … By all accounts, the White House meetings went badly, both in substance and tone, as the Obama team pressed Netanyahu to make concessions on Jewish settlements and other issues. Netanyahu balked at some of the requests, which the administration hasn’t made public.
Now, the ball is in his court”. This report from Washington can be read in full here.

A point of no return? A turning point?

Netanyahu: Jerusalem is not a settlement – Yasser Abed Rabbo: He is right

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu — unrepentant, it is said, after a very recent flap with Washington over measures to expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem — said in Washington today that “Jerusalem is not a settlement — Jerusalem is our capital”.

[Actually, Netanyahu was only repeating words spoken on Monday by Howard Kohr, executive director of AIPAC, the American-Israel Political Action Committee, whose convention Netanyahu was addressing today. This is what AP reported: ” ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement’, said AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr, pausing for a loud standing ovation from the crowd before Clinton spoke. ‘Jerusalem is the capital of
Israel’.” ]

A day earlier, veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz that “Even while fast-talking politicians transform Jerusalem into the city that never stops (building), the line ‘a unified Jerusalem, Israel’s heart for all eternity’, remains a surefire winner at any Jewish convention. It’s a safe bet that every time Benjamin
Netanyahu utters the magic word ‘Jerusalem’ Monday night at the annual AIPAC conference, the applause will make the place tremble”.

On the 9 pm Palestinian Television news, Yasser Abed Rabbo (Secretary of the P.L.O. Executive Committee + head of Palestinian Television), said tonight that Netanyahu “is right: Jerusalem is a city. And it is occupied”.

It was recently reported in the Israeli press that U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell has explained that Israel has “annexed” Jerusalem — but it was not reported that Mitchell said this was illegal, or that the international community regard this as “null and void”.

Actually, what Israel has done regarding Jerusalem is “de facto annexation“, a tour guide for the Ir-Amim organization explained a few years ago while leading an English-speaking tour of areas of East Jerusalem.

How was this done?

The Old City of East Jerusalem — where the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews, is located — was not part of Israel at its proclamation in 1948. Nor was the Old City of East Jerusalem part of Israel after the UN negotiated the 1949 Armistice lines (which are more or less the same as the “Green Line” that separated Israel from Jordanian forces until 4 June 1967.

(1) After Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the June 1967 war, it extended its administration and laws to East Jerusalem (which was basically 6 square kilometers including the Old City and close surrounding neighborhoods).
(2) A couple of weeks later, in 1967, Israel unilaterally re-drew the boundaries of “Jerusalem” to include the not only the Old City and its near neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — but also a large additional swathe of other West Bank territory in a crescent of areas surrounding East Jerusalem, from Qalandia (airport) and the Atarot industrial zone north of Jerusalem almost down to Bethlehem in the south, and then called all of this the “Greater Jerusalem municipality”, or “Jerusalem”. Thus, “Jerusalem” became nearly 70 square kilometers.
(3) Then, in 1980, Israel adopted a Basic Law declaring this expanded “Jerusalem” (including the Old City, East Jerusalem, and surrounding territory — or the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”) as its eternal and undivided capital. Both the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council have called this move “null and void”, but Israel has not backed down or blinked.

This is the “Jerusalem” that Netanyahu said the other day Israel will continue to build in, as it has for the past 42 years. This is the “Jerusalem” that Netanyahu said today is not a settlement, but is Israel’s “capital”.

He was not talking only about West Jerusalem, which became part of Israel at its proclamation in May 1948 — he also meant the areas of East Jerusalem (including the Old City) and other areas of the nearby West Bank that were joined together in 1967 to make the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”. It was not until 2008, during the Annapolis process of negotiations, that Israeli government officials first stated clearly and publicly that in their view the Jewish settlements (“neighborhoods”) in East Jerusalem are not on “occupied” land, nor, therefore — in their view — are they contrary to international humanitarian law.

Adding to the confusion is that the course of The Wall as it has been constructed in and around the “Jerusalem” area effectively unilaterally redefines, once again, what Israel means by “Greater Municipal Jerusalem” — cutting some Palestinian neighborhoods in two, and putting large numbers of East Jerusalem Palestinians on the West Bank side of The Wall in areas like Qafr Aqab and Semiramis (north of Qalandia checkpoint), ar-Ram, Dahiet al-Bariid, Atara, Ras Khamis, Dahiet as-Salam, and Shuafat Refugee Camp (all north of the Old City), as well as Abu Dis, Bethany, Jabel Mukaber and other areas to the south. So far, despite enormous nervousness, Palestinians with (East) Jerusalem IDs who live in these areas, on what is now the “other” side of The Wall, have not faced a loss of their IDs — and they still have to pay Jerusalem municipality taxes (“arnona”) — but they do have to cross Israeli military checkpoints to go to the bank, or to the post office, or to school, or to work …

Thus, without yet making any administrative changes, Israel has apparently changed what it means when it says “Jerusalem”. East Jerusalem residents affected by the placement of The Wall have scrambled, in recent years, to find more convenient housing on the Jerusalem side…

From the time of Bill Clinton’s intervention in the Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat and Ehud Olmert in July 2000, and six months later again in Taba in January 2001, a “principle” was introduced (though it harks back to the British Mandate era) that areas of dense Palestinian population would go to the Palestinian state, while areas of Jewish population would go to Israel. In the Annapolis negotiations, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert applied this “principle” to the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”, in a proposal he submitted in September 2008 to his Palestinian counterparts…

Palestinian officials in various negotiations over the years apparently reportedly given indications that they might be willing to “swap” close neighborhoods like French Hill (now predominantly Jewish, though built on Shuafat land) for Israeli concessions elsewhere.

But, what is going on, on the ground? Akiva Eldar wrote in his article in Haaretz yesterday that “On Sunday the prime minister, on the eve of his flight to speak to the pro-Israel lobby, said that ‘building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv’. Last week, President Shimon Peres opined that ‘only Israel’ can preserve freedom of worship at Jerusalem’s holy sites. It’s clear that these leaders have no clue what’s happening in Israel’s largest city. Forty-three years after Levi Eshkol’s government annexed East Jerusalem at the expense of its Palestinian residents, ‘an undivided Jerusalem’ is little more than an empty slogan. For 17 years, since the days of the Peres-Yitzhak Rabin administration, holy places in the Old City have been closed to Muslim and Christian believers from the occupied territories. The only East Jerusalem residents allowed to enter the Temple Mount compound are women and the elderly … Every Israeli government built on the hills in the eastern part of the city and dug beneath the Holy Basin’s historical sites. All discriminated against East Jerusalemites. And all displayed the same tactlessness, again and again, to the sensitivities of the various religions. It’s true that building in Jerusalem is no different from building in Tel Aviv – on condition that the issue is construction for Jews. Has the state put up even one neighborhood for Arabs in West Jerusalem? Does anyone know of an Arab contractor given permission to build a single apartment in a Jewish neighborhood in the eastern part of the city? On March 21, 1999, the first Netanyahu government announced that it would ‘strengthen Jerusalem as an undivided city through equality in services and infrastructure between the western and eastern parts of the city’. Eleven years on, East Jerusalem lacks more than 1,000 classrooms. It’s much cheaper to apply Israeli law to Arab lands than to apply the
Compulsory Education Law to Arab children. It’s easier to get the Knesset to pass the Basic Law on Jerusalem than to dedicate funds for paving sidewalks in the Arab villages Israel has converted into ‘Jerusalem neighborhoods’. It’s far simpler to utter sage words about an undivided city than to tear down walls of discrimination and isolation.” Akiva Eldar’s article can be read in full here.

Meron Benvenisti, who served as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem (under Teddy Kolleck) from 1971 to 1978, wrote in 2008 in Haaretz [“Moot Argument”] that: “A status quo is preserved as long as the forces wishing to preserve it are stronger than those wishing to undermine it, and that is the situation today in Israel/Palestine. After more than 40 years, the Israeli governing system known as ‘the occupation’, which ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community’s total domination and the political and material advantage that it accumulates, has become steadily more sophisticated through trial and error – without planning, but in response to the genetic code of settler society. This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the conventional description of the situation as a temporary military occupation would indicate. The tensions and internecine confrontations that prevail in the area under Israeli control are so acute – and the power gap between the Jewish and the Arab communities so decisive – that there is no way to deal with these tensions except by means of military might. Usually the emphasis is on the political and civil inequality and the denial of collective rights that the model of division – or, alternatively, inclusion in a binational government – is supposed to solve. But the greater, and more dangerous, inequality is the economic kind that is characteristic of the current situation and will not be reversed by either alternative: the dramatic gap in gross domestic product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis, which is 1:10 in the West Bank and and 1:20 in the Gaza Strip, as well as the enormous inequality in the use of natural resources (land, water). This gap cannot exist without the force of arms provided so effectively by the defense establishment, and even most of those who oppose the occupation are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their welfare. This explosive status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other; enlistment of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as protecting its very existence; funding of the status quo by the donor nations, which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement; the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological repugnance toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed. Its not nice to admit, and it is a sad forecast, but without accepting this conclusion and learning our lesson from it, change will not be possible”. This article can be found in Haaretz here.

On 29 January 2010, Benvenisti re-worked the theme in an updated article in Haaretz, entitled “United We Stand”. In it, he wrote: “The occupation in 1967 resulted from military action. But the military element quickly became secondary, while the ‘civilian’ component – the settlements – became the dominant factor, subjugating the military to its needs and turning the security forces into a militia in the service of the Jewish ethnic group. Sometime in the late 1980s, the settlements crossed the critical threshold beyond which
continued demographic and urban growth were assured. From that point on, the number of settlements, and even the size of their population, became immaterial because the apparatus of Israeli rule was perfected to such a degree that the distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territories was totally blurred.
Similarly, the takeover of land ceased to be chiefly for the purpose of settlement construction and became primarily a means of constricting the movement of the Palestinian populace and of appropriating their physical space. In the new paradigm, the settlements are no longer important as instruments of spatial
control. The separation barrier/wall and its gates, the ‘sterile roads’, and a myriad of military regulations have taken the settlements’ place as symbols of Zionism. Forty years after the first settlement was established, ‘the settlement’ – like the kibbutz and the moshav – has become just another exhibit in the museum of Zionist antiquities. The age of ideology is over. The attempt to mark the settlements – and the settlers – as the major impediment to peace is a convenient alibi, obfuscating the involvement of the entire Israeli body politic in maintaining and expanding the regime of coercion and discrimination in the occupied
territories, and benefiting from it. By the late 1980s, after two decades of occupation, Israeli control of the territories beyond the Green Line has become quasi- permanent, differentiated from sovereign rule only vis-a-vis the Palestinian residents. As far as Israeli citizens and their range of interests are concerned, the annexation of the territories is a fait accompli. Defining the territories as ‘occupied’ is in fact an attempt to depict ‘occupation’ as a temporary condition that will end ‘when peace comes’, and is designed to avoid resolving immediate dilemmas – ‘in the meantime. The term is a crutch for those who seek optimistic precedents, allowing them to believe that just as all occupations end, this one will, too. This linguistic choice thereby contributes to blurring and obfuscating the reality in the territories, thus abetting continuation of the status quo… ”

Benvenisti continued: “Since it is impossible to refrain from reacting to the Palestinian demand for self-
determination in the occupied territories, the Israelis seek to limit it to a mere quarter of them, those who live in the West Bank. For them they have invented a unique concept of a ‘state’: Its ‘sovereignty’ will be scattered, lacking any cohesive physical infrastructure, with no direct connection to the outside world, and limited to the height of its residential buildings and the depth of its graves. The airspace and the water resources will remain under Israeli control. Helicopter patrols, the airwaves, the hands on the water pumps and the electrical switches, the registration of residents and the issue of identity cards, as well as passes to enter and leave, will all be controlled (directly or indirectly) by the Israelis. This ridiculous caricature of a
Palestinian state, beheaded and with no feet, future, or any chance for development, is presented as fulfillment of the goal of symmetry and equality embodied in the old slogan, ‘two states for two peoples’. It is endorsed – even by supporters of Greater Israel – and the traditional peace camp rejoices in its triumph.
Large segments of the Israeli peace camp, who staunchly believe in ‘partition of the land’ as a metapolitical tenet, are gratified; they believe that they won the ideological, historical, debate with the right wing. Now they can load the entire Palestinian tragedy onto an entity that comprises less than 10 percent (areas A and B under the Oslo Accords) of the area of historic Palestine. Moreover, it is supposed to offer a solution to all refugees outside Palestine ‘who can return to the Palestinian mini-state’, and also provide a remedy for the Israeli-Palestinians who can achieve their collective rights in the Palestinian state. Indeed, a cheap and convenient solution; after all, it is seemingly based on the venerable model of the two-state solution. But how did it come to pass that Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, scions of the ‘nationalist camp’, became champions of the Palestinian nation-state? What brought those who believed that Palestinians are merely terrorist gangs, to declare that the conflict is national and therefore the solution is partition between ‘two nation-states’? This was caused by the Palestinians, who by launching the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 compelled the Israelis to realize that they are irrepressible and cannot be ignored or
deported. The intifada forced the Israelis, for the first time in their history, to delineate the geographic limits of their expansion, construct fences and roadblocks and abandon populated areas that might upset the demographic balance. The remaining areas, fragmented and non-viable, could be declared a Palestinian state. After almost half a century, the Israeli governing system known as ‘the occupation’ – which
ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community’s total domination – has become steadily more sophisticated through random trial and error, dictated by the inner logic of a settler society. This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the
conventional description of the situation as ‘a temporary military occupation’ would indicate. Precisely because it is constitutionally murky and ill-defined, its ambiguity supports it. The volatile status quo survives due to the combination of several factors:
1. Fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other.
2. Mobilization of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as safeguarding its very existence.
3. Funding of the status quo by the ‘donor countries’.
4. The strategy of the neighboring states, which gives priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity. Internal considerations cause them to prefer the status quo of Israeli control – while paying lip service to Palestinian national aspirations – over an emasculated Palestinian state. As for Jordan, the establishment of a Palestinian state constitutes a threat to its very existence.
5. Success of the propaganda campaign known as ‘negotiations with the Palestinians’, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and that they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives for a ‘final-status arrangement’.
6. The silencing of all criticism by calling it an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism…
… However, without the sanction, or at least the indifference of external powers, the status quo would not endure. Massive financial contributions free Israel from the burden of coping with the enormous cost of maintaining control over the Palestinians and create a system of corruption and vested interests. The artificial existence of the PA in itself perpetuates the status quo because it supports the illusion that the situation is temporary and that the ‘peace process’ will soon end it … Even most of the Israelis who oppose the ‘occupation’ are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their personal welfare. All the economic, social and spatial systems of governance in the occupied territories are designed to maintain and safeguard Israeli privileges and prosperity on both sides of the Green Line, at the expense of millions of
captive, impoverished Palestinians”.

Benvenisti goes on to discuss the existing binational reality — maintained by overwhelming disparity of force, and economic power, in favor of the Jewish community (or communities).

He writes: “In the prevailing circumstances, does it matter whether a person supports ‘two states for two peoples’ or a federal state, power sharing in the context of a consociational democracy, cantonization, or other models? The nature of the constitutional framework is secondary; after all, the entire dilemma is not earth-shattering: it is a choice between horizontal (power sharing) and vertical (territorial) partition. But the bottom line is this: The coexistence of the two national communities is a destiny that cannot be avoided. All attempts (theoretical and empirical) to separate them have failed. This coexistence must be based upon communal equality and ethical principles, human dignity and freedom; otherwise it will not endure and will perpetuate violence. It is clear that without parity of esteem, mutual respect for the identity and equality of the two communities, there will be no reconciliation and neither of the two alternatives – partition and power sharing – can be implemented. In any case, productive discussion of this topic will be possible only when the people of this region have taken psychological ownership of the binational condition that has been thrust upon them and have begun to strive together to pave a road to reconciliation”. This recent article by Benvenisti can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Netanyahu met with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of congress, and said that “Israel would not allow itself to be trapped by Palestinians into unfair demands, particularly with regard to construction in East Jerusalem. ‘We must not be trapped by an illogical and unreasonable demand…” This was reported in Haaretz here. By “illogical and unreasonable demand”, Netanyahu apparently means the demand to stop building and expanding Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

Yesterday, after a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels, the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn said that “The EU is ‘very disappointed by the position of the Israeli government, I think I can say very clearly that Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv’.” According to Haaretz, Asselborn added that “Jerusalem should function as the capital of both the Israeli and a future Palestinian state”. This is reported here.

YNet published an AP report about that meeting, saying that “The European Union on Monday condemned Israel’s intent to continue building in east Jerusalem, saying it represents an obstacle to international peace efforts. But former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now a special Mideast representative [and who briefed the EU ministers on the Quartet meeting in Moscow a few days ago], expressed confidence that despite the latest setbacks both the Israelis and Palestinians wanted the peace process to continue. ‘The European Union has condemned all the settlement activities’, said Spanish Foreign Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose nation holds the EU’s rotating presidency. ‘We ask for a total freeze of settlement activity. We will pursue this policy’. EU foreign ministers met in Brussels a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will not restrict construction in east Jerusalem. The halt to settlement construction is a key demand by the Quartet of Mideast negotiators who are trying to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has agreed to curb settlement construction in the West Bank, but not in east Jerusalem, claiming the entire city as Israel’s eternal capital. ‘The Netanyahu announcement is completely, utterly unacceptable’, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said … Visiting Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who arrived in Brussels on Friday, was due to meet individually with the foreign ministers of Finland, Germany, Lithuania and Malta, but not with the entire 27-member body. Lieberman was supposed to attend a joint EU-Israel committee meeting Monday, but this was postponed until next month … The EU has denied that the postponement is meant as a snub to Lieberman. But relations between the bloc and the Jewish state have taken a turn for the worse in recent months”. This report is published here.

What will Palestinians do now? U.S. reportedly accepted Israel's position…

According to a report compiled by three senior Haaretz correspondents (Barak Ravid, Akiva Eldar, Avi Issacharoff) published today, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, who met with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah yesterday after two days of talks in Israel, “told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during talks this week that the understandings reached following the 2007 Annapolis Conference are non-binding in the current round of negotiations, Haaretz has learned.

Continue reading “What will Palestinians do now? U.S. reportedly accepted Israel's position…”

Palestinians: "It's only four months…"

Palestinian officials are saying that they were under too much pressure from the Europeans and the Arabs to resist any longer accepting an American proposal to undertake “indirect” or “proximity” talks with Israel after more than a year of no negotiations. “It’s only for four months”, Palestinian officials say, apologetically, with a shrug of the shoulders. “Then we’ll know whether Israel is serious or not…”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) took the proposal to a meeting of Arab League Foreign Ministers last week, which on Wednesday gave him the go-ahead, the green light, the fig leaf he felt he needed.

Reports vary: the Arab League Foreign Ministers reportedly said the UN Security Council would be engaged straight away if there are no concrete results after four months. There are other reports that the U.S. has made, or will be asked to make, a pledge that it will not exercise its veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from the consequences of a failure in the negotiations. There are reports that a definition of borders will — or will not be — the first item of business.

But, the Palestinian leadership’s previous position that it will not engage in talks as long as Israel does not halt its settlement activities throughout the West Bank (including East Jerusalem).

Despite the Arab League Foreign Ministers endorsement of Abbas’ proposition to participate in renewed negotiations, Ma’an News Agency reported, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit — who was “present” during the Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo on Wednesday — said a day later that “he believed Palestinians should not enter into direct talks with Israel in light of the current controversy over heritage sites. Speaking from Cairo after a meeting of the Follow-up Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, Abul Gheit said delegates shared his sentiments, a stark contrast to the announcement of the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting, which gave its blessing for talks to continue. ‘The committee will not remain silent over all what is going on … The Arab Follow up Committee will not make any concessions and will not support direct negotiations unless Israel changes its positions’, he said.” It is difficult to reconcile these statements. The Ma’an report is posted here.

Many Palestinians — individually and as members of political movements ranging from Hamas to Fatah, as well as the various smaller “factions” of the Palestinian left — are scornful of the decision to re-engage in talks.

Yet, the resumption of talks appears almost inevitable — unless something extremely dramatic happens. There are very persistent rumors — it is a daily topic of conversation — about an impending “third intifada”. Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass, who lives in Ramallah, wrote Friday that “Judging from articles written by both Israelis and Palestinians, the next intifada is already in the air. They are predicting it is on the way and the most punctilious know it will be ‘popular’. Bil’in and Na’alin [n.b. where there have been regular Friday demonstrations against The Wall which are almost always dispersed with bursts of tear gas] are perceived as its models. Some Palestinians are guessing it will first erupt in Jerusalem”.

Hass also wrote that “the supreme challenge facing the initiators of the next uprising – if it indeed erupts – is to prevent its descent into a so-called armed struggle, which inevitably will expropriate the street and the struggle from the public. The militarization of the second intifada led to grave disasters – personal, collective and geo-political. Off the record, many admit this but a number of factors are still preventing frank, public debate. For years the theory of armed struggle, until liberation and independence are achieved, has been held sacred. Many people feel ill at ease to criticize the militarization publicly, as though they would thereby dishonor the dead, the wounded, the prisoners and their families … The truth is that the suicide attacks on civilians gave Israel a golden opportunity to implement plans, which had always existed, to confiscate more and more Palestinian lands, using the excuse of ‘security’. The use of weapons did not stop the colonialist expansion of the Jewish settlements. On the contrary. And the use of weapons only accelerated a process Israel began in 1991: disconnecting the Gaza Strip from the West Bank … many of the young men played with weapons in order to obtain social and economic status in the movement and the PA. When Fatah people dare today to renounce the sanctity of the armed struggle, their collective reputation as corrupt automatically detracts from peoples’ faith in their arguments, even if those arguments are logical. Another challenge facing the initiators of the popular uprising, if it indeed erupts in the near future, is actually a challenge that Israeli society must face. Will it once again adopt the deceptive narrative of the IDF and the politicians (‘the Palestinians attacked us’, ‘terror’) and allow them, as in the two previous intifadas, to suppress the uprising using disproportionate and deadly means? These are the deadly means that, in the Palestinians’ eyes, make Israeli rule look like a series of bloody acts from 1948 to this day”. Amira Hass’ article can be read in full here.

Meanwhile — and unless the much-discussed third intifada, or something equally dramatic, happens — one Palestinian woman in the news business commented that there is now an attitude of “do what you have to do”; on the other hand, she said, “people don’t give a damn any more”.

The Fatah Central Committee (all wearing grey business suits with dress shirts + ties) met in the Muqata’a Presidential Headquarters in Ramallah on Saturday to discuss the impending U.S.-mediated talks . After the meeting, road traffic was held up for nearly ten minutes by Presidential security guards wearing olive green camouflague jumpsuits and burgundy red berets — holding big black automatic weapons with their fingers on the triggers — before an 11-car convoy (including two black vans each bristling with a crown of antennas that Palestinians say can temporarily disrupt local communications) escorting a black sedan carrying President Abbas careened around the corner as he travelled from the Muqata’a to his heavily-guarded home in small villa in northern Ramallah on Saturday afternoon.

The Executive Committee of the overall Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O. — which groups Fatah and the Palestinian “factions” other than Hamas) will meet to discuss the proposal on Sunday.

U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell arrived back in the region on Saturday night, and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to arrive on Sunday.

Haaretz’s veteran correspondent Akiva Eldar reported on Friday that “The United States government has committed to playing a role in indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and promised that if the talks were to fail, the U.S. will assign blame and take action, according to a document sent by the U.S. to the Palestinian Authority, which Haaretz obtained on Friday. The U.S. government sent the document to the Palestinians responding to their inquires regarding the U.S. initiative to launch indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘We expect both parties to act seriously and in good faith. If one side, in our judgment, is not living up to our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly to overcome that obstacle’, it was written. This commitment by the U.S. was a determining factor in the Palestinians’ and the Arab League’s decision to agree to the U.S. proposal on indirect talks. The document also reveals that U.S. involvement will include ‘sharing messages between the parties and offering our own ideas and bridging proposals’. The U.S. also emphasized that their main concern is establishing a Palestinian state. ‘Our core remains a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian State with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967’, the document read. Regarding the settlements, the U.S. noted its continued commitment to the road map, which dictates that Israel must freeze all construction in the settlements, and dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001″. This Akiva Eldar report can be view in full here.

But, the Jerusalem Post reported that “The indirect ‘proximity talks’ between Israel and the Palestinians likely to begin next week will not pick up where the discussions between then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas broke off in late 2008, The Jerusalem Post has learned. This issue has been a key sticking point for months, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejecting the Palestinian demand that the talks begin from the point where they ended with Olmert. Olmert offered the Palestinians nearly 94 percent of the West Bank, a land swap to compensate for most of the rest, an arrangement on Jerusalem, and the return of a small number of refugees into Israel as a ‘humanitarian gesture’ … The Post has also learned that the proximity talks will not immediately focus primarily on borders, another Palestinian demand, with Israel saying there can be no credible discussion of borders without first knowing what security arrangements will be in place”. This JPost report is published here.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian family of six from the West Bank village of Silwad was killed when their car crashed into an Israeli military Hummer on Friday near Bir Zeit, north of Ramallah, and their funerals took place on Saturday. The Jerusalem Post reported here, that “Apparently, the Palestinian car had a flat tire, causing it to divert from its course”. It is not clear what interaction there had been between the forces in the Hummer and the Palestinian family car, but the Jerusalem Post said Israeli police were investigating. But, very upset local Palestinian witnesses said on the Palestinian Television nightly news Friday saying that it was clear that Israel did not want peace.

Also on Friday, a fourteen-year-old Palestinian boy remained in critical condition after being shot in the head by Israeli Defense Forces using rubber bullets at a demonstration in Nabi Salah area near Ramallah.

Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Haram ash-Sharif mosque esplanade [which Israelis call the Temple Mount, because it is believed that the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temple were situated somewhere on that site] in the Old City of East Jerusalem ended very badly after a sermon critical of the Israeli government decision a week earlier to name the Ibrahimi (Abraham) Mosque in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as “heritage” sites. Israeli Border Police stormed the mosque esplanade after, they said, Muslim worshippers began throwing rocks that hit Jewish worshippers standing at the Western Wall Plaza just below Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli forces used tear gas and stun grenades were used on the mosque esplanade and in various nearby areas of East Jerusalem as disturbances spread. Though the Israeli police have denied that rubber bullets were used, the Jerusalem Post reported that “Ron Krumer, a spokesman for Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, confirmed an Arab woman was wounded in the head by a rubber bullet [n.b. – it is not clear where in East Jerusalem this woman was when injured] and hospitalized in serious condition”. The Jerusalem Post also reported that “Having restored calm by use of stun grenades, and following helpful intervention by other Muslim worshipers to defuse the clash, police eventually withdrew in coordination with the Waqf to allow older worshipers to leave the Temple Mount. Eight of the injured policemen were hospitalized in light condition. Five suspects were arrested during the riots”. The Qalandia “border crossing”/checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah was tense, but open, late on Friday afternoon. There were no Palestinian traffic police visible as Israeli soldiers were sitting in khaki-colored hummers surrounded by a number of large rocks that had clearly been thrown at them not long earlier. Two soldiers were outside the vehicles, escorting a young teenager they were bringing back under detention. Between 50 to 100 meters further inside, a group of at least 60 even younger boys were on both sides of the street, watching intently to see what the Israeli forces were doing. Some of these younger boys were sitting on a low concrete divider in the middle of the road, and there were large rocks placed on the divider next to them. Adults were going about their business as if nothing special was going on.

Earlier in the week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat announced a radical new proposal to develop municipal planning — for the first time time since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in June 1967 — for various neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that would mean some Palestinian (and some Israeli) housing would be legalized, while other Palestinian housing would be demolished. The new proposal was presented as an attempt to offer some nominal equality between the two communities, but there was a great lack of clarity about how it would work out in actual practice. Immediately after the proposal was announced, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the Jerusalem mayor to carry out further consultations with the local communities before proceeding.

Twenty-four hours later, renewed disturbances were reported in northern East Jerusalem areas of Shuafat refugee camp and Al-Isawiya, and reports linked these clashes to the post-Friday prayer events.

The UN Security Council on Friday “called for restraint by all sides and an early return to the negotiating table, while voicing their concern at the current ‘tense’ situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem”, according to a report by the UN News Centre [the UN uses British English spelling]. The report added that the current UNSC President for the month of March, Ambassador Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet of Gabon, told journalists after closed-door Council deliberations that the 15 members ‘urged all sides to show restraint and avoid provocative acts’, and ‘stressed that peaceful dialogue was the only way forward and looked forward to an early resumption of negotiations’.” And, the report added, “The situation in the Middle East was also among the issues discussed yesterday during a meeting between Mr. Issoze-Ngondet, in his capacity as Council President, and General Assembly President Ali Treki [of Libya]”. This UN News Centre story is posted here.

Haaretz later reported that “The permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, welcomed the council statement, adding that the U.S. decision not to block it ‘is a signal that the United States wants this effort to succeed’ and Israel to restrain itself. A U.S. official, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the American delegation had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as ‘procedural confusion’.”  This Haaretz report is posted here.

In a regular monthly briefing to the UN Security Council on 18 February, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe (of the U.S.) said: “We call for the resumption of talks on final status issues, implementation of Road Map commitments, continued efforts to improve economic and security conditions, and a different and more positive approach to Gaza.” Pascoe was speaking on behalf of UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon — and his statements usually represent an important organizational statement that is pre-negotiated with major powers, and certainly, in this case, with the Quartet of Middle East negotiators who include the UN, the U.S., Russia, and the European Union. According to a UN summary of his statement, Pascoe told the UNSC that “Israel had indicated its readiness to accept indirect talks proposed by George Mitchell, Special Envoy of the United States to the Middle East, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been engaged in intensive consultations and had sought clarifications. ‘The Secretary-General hopes that President Abbas will move forward on the basis of that practical proposal so that serious talks can begin … He notes Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s stated commitment to a two-State solution, although confusion as to the Government’s intentions arises from statements by various Government officials’.” The UN statement said that Pascoe had urged “Israel to extend its current 10?month freeze on the building of settlements in the West Bank to a comprehensive freeze there and in East Jerusalem”. Pascoe stated that “The status of Jerusalem is to be determined through negotiations, and we believe that a way must be found through negotiations for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of two States”. He noted, however, “that, since his last briefing on 27 January, the Israeli authorities had identified violations of restraint orders in at least 29 settlements, while the Defence Ministry had stated that it was issuing demolition and stop-work orders against violators”. On the other hand, Pascoe said, “The fact that Israel had not evicted Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem or demolished those homes was a ‘positive development which we hope will continue’, and he called for “the reopening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, in accordance with Road Map obligations”. This is a point that European Union leaders have recently emphasized.

Pascoe also told the UNSC that Israel’s ongoing closure of crossing points into Gaza is “counterproductive”, and “causing unacceptable hardship for the civilian population, more than half of whom are children”.  A UN press release describing his statement is posted here.

There has been recent high-level mention (by American as well as French officials) about the possibility of finally taking up a long-standing Russian proposal to hold a conference to push for progress in Israeli-Palestinian and/or Israeli-Arab negotiations — and news reports have suggested that such a conference may be convened in Moscow on or around March 19th.

That is, if nothing dramatic happens in the meantime…

Gaza: One year after Israel + Hamas enter separate unilateral cease-fires

One year after two separate cease-fires (Israel’s, and Hamas’) ended 22 terrible days of an IDF military operation supposedly directed against Hamas, where are things? How is the situation?

Worse than ever.

Continue reading “Gaza: One year after Israel + Hamas enter separate unilateral cease-fires”

Alarmed Israeli experts call government's settlement proposals "fraud" with alarming strategic consequences

Alarmed Israeli experts are using unusually strong language in warnings about their government’s authorizations this week for settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem — and about the possible consequences.

U.S. and world leaders interested in peace and stability in the Middle East — which President Barack Obama has said is an American strategic interest – should take note. But reaction has been very slow in coming.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, are busy with internal feuding and possible reconciliation, and are distracted by exhaustion just over half-way through the special month of Ramadan with its total prohibitions (in public, at least) on activities such as eating, drinking (including water), and smoking for some 14 hours a day (from two hours before dawn until sunset). Palestinian officials are also keeping relatively quiet because they do not want to jeopardize President Mahmoud Abbas’s forthcoming visit to the high-level segment of the annual UN General Assembly debate in about ten days’ time, with its planned whirlwind of formal and informal diplomatic meetings with the world’s top leaders, including the head of state of the UN’s host county, U.S. President Barack Obama. In addition, Palestinian officials generally tend to believe that these problems are really not so much theirs, as the responsibility of the international community.

But, Akiva Eldar reports in Haaretz today that “Three days after the U.S. administration criticized the decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to authorize the construction of hundreds of new housing units in settlements, the Israel Lands Administration published tenders for the construction of 486 apartments in the neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev in East Jerusalem”.

To call the U.S. reaction to the moves that started on Monday — the Labor Day holiday in the States, when all of official Washington was taking time off — “criticism” may be a slight exaggeration. As Akiva Eldar notes in the last sentence of his piece, “a source familiar with the exchanges between Israel and the U.S. on the issue of a settlement freeze told Haaretz that the Obama administration is not interested in a crisis with the government of Netanyahu on settlements“. It might be understandable that nobody wants a “crisis” — but crisis might well be what they will get if this issue is fobbed off once again.

There has been a concentrated surge in Israeli settlement activity in and around East Jerusalem since the end of the three-week massive Israeli military attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, from 27 December to 18 January.

According to Akiva Eldar, “The new construction project is designated for the outer edge of the northeastern municipal boundary of Jerusalem, and will narrow the distance between the homes on the edge of the neighborhood and the nearby Palestinian communities. Bids have been solicited for construction on an overall area of 138 dunams (about 34 acres), which was subdivided into 25 smaller tenders. The Obama administration has made it clear on a number of occasions that it is demanding that Israel freeze settlement construction in the territories, including in East Jerusalem. Two months ago, it was reported that Netanyahu had ordered a delay in the publication of the tenders”.

Eldar also reported that “Daniel Seidemann, the founder of Ir Amim, a non-profit organization that seeks to promote coexistence in Jerusalem, said last night that tenders of such magnitude would not be announced if they did not have the support of the prime minister. Seidemann describes the bid-taking as yet another example of a fraud that leads to creating facts on the ground even though there is talk of a freeze in settlement construction”. Eldar’s story can be read in full here.

Seidemann was the founder and is now the legal adviser of Ir Amim, or *City of Nations” — an organization that is devoted to developing a politically-sustainable future for a Jerusalem that will be equitably shared between its two peoples and three religions.

Jerusalem, one of the most segregated cities in the region, is Israel’s declared capital (a move that was made in 1980 but which is not “recognized” diplomatically by almost every country in the world) and its largest — and poorest — city. East Jerusalem, which did not become part of Israel at the time of its state creation in May 1948, is where almost all of the city’s Palestinian residents (who are overwhelmingly not Israeli citizens) live. However, there are now large areas (“neighborhoods”) of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian declaration in 1988 (made in Algiers by Yasser Arafat, then endorsed by the full Palestine National Council) claimed East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state — a position that the most of the world, including the U.S. Administration. has until now appeared to endorse.

An email advisory about a new report recently released by Ir Imim notes that:
* As of today, about 2,000 settlers live in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
* In recent months, the settlement process in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem has accelerated – in the area that is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plans are meant to establish Jewish residential contiguity in the neighborhoods surrounding the Old City, and place settlers in the heart of the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah.
* These settlements are part of a strategic process, coordinated and advanced by various governmental authorities and the Municipality of Jerusalem.
… [And] in the first half of 2009 plans to build 150 additional residential units in East Jerusalem were advanced. These would be able to house about 750 additional settlers in strategic sites in the eastern part of the city. Moreover, plans were advanced to build public Jewish structures like synagogues, mikvot, and community centers in these sensitive areas. The report notes that the majority of the building is carried out by private bodies, and [settler] associations like ‘Elad’ and ‘Ateret Cohenim’. However, it is clear that these activities are part of a strategic plan conceptualized, coordinated, and advanced by various government agencies, as well as by the Municipality of Jerusalem. The latter’s role includes support of the accelerated processes in approving settlement plans; and ‘vigilance’ in demolishing homes in these neighborhoods. In the report’s appendix, other processes likely to influence the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are tracked, especially the expansion of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the demolition of Palestinian homes. The appendix notes reports of land acquisitions in Samir Amis — in northern Jerusalem on the other side of the separation fence [n.b., Semiramis is also on the other side of what Israeli military officials call a “border crossing”, the Qalandia checkpoint] — in Beit Hanina, in Jabel Mukaber, in the Muslim quarter, as well as in other areas”.

The text of the Ir Amim report says that there are “three urgent threats to a negotiated agreement in Jerusalem:
1. The accelerated process of Israeli settlement in Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem.
2. Plans for development of E-1, which would prevent future development of a Palestinian capital to the east, and sever its connection with the West Bank.
3. The proposed Jerusalem master plan (Jerusalem 2000), which threatens to reengineer the demographic distribution of Palestinians and Israelis in East
Jerusalem; and to isolate a number of Palestinian communities”.

The report also states that “Recent months have seen the acceleration of the process of Israeli settlement in Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. These settlements create a crescent of Jewish population along the ridges surrounding the Old City, and implant Jewish population in the midst of the Muslim and Christian Quarters, as well as in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah – precisely in the areas of most intense dispute in the Palestinian /Israeli conflict. At the start of 2009 approximately 2000 Israeli settlers were living in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem – primarily in the historic area. In the first half of 2009, plans are being advanced for the building of an additional 150 housing units that could settle another 750 people in strategic areas of disputed East Jerusalem. In addition, plans were advanced for Jewish community facilities (e.g., synagogues, community centers, ritual baths, etc.) in these areas. Most of this activity is executed by private bodies, such as the Elad and Ateret Cohanim associations. However, it is evident that individual settlements are part of a strategic move, coordinated and facilitated by national governmental units, as well as by the Jerusalem Municipality. The latter’s contribution is manifested in expedition of planning processes and increased ‘vigilance’ regarding housing demolitions in the affected communities. Of special concern are the recently exposed plans for a massive expansion of settlements in Ras Al-Amud and Silwan, as well as the approval of plans for construction in Sheikh Jarrah and attendant evictions … A number of reports have appeared in the Israeli press about land purchases by settler organizations in various Palestinian neighborhoods. Ir Amim understands that there have been undisclosed purchases in Samiramis (north of the Separation Barrier, but within the Jerusalem municipal lines), Beit Hanina, Jabel Mukaber, and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City … According to the Municipality of Jerusalem, in the first six months of 2009, 40 Palestinian structures were demolished, including 15 which were demolished by the owners. This number is roughly representative of the average number of demolitions carried out in half a year in past years (i.e., 42 homes). Over the years 2004 – 2008, an average of 84 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem yearly. In 2008, 88 homes were demolished. In this half-year period, demolitions occurred in virtually all of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including 5 in the Old City. It is notable that in the entire year of 2008, only 3 homes were demolished in the Old City”.

The full Ir Amim report in English can be viewed here .

Shaul Arieli, a military aide to then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the time of the Camp David negotiations conducted with the Palestinians under the auspices of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in the year 2000, has just published on his website a dramatic power point presentation of the extensive Israeli preparations to develop the “E-1 envelope” in the West Bank half way between East Jerusalem and Dead Sea, opposite the very large Israeli settlement Maale Adumim, which is just south of the main Road One (1). Arieli’s photographs and explanations show massive Israeli infrastructure development of a new area designated as “Mevasseret Adumim”, on the northern side of the main highway to the Dead Sea, Road One (1), where now there is only the recently-relocated Police Station (moved from the East Jerusalem area of Ras al-Amud earlier this year, despite straight-faced statements of Israeli officials last year to then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the police station move would not take place in the near future).

Arieli, who is now a member of Israel’s Council on Peace and Security, an independent organization of former military and other officials, later developed the maps and the 1:1 land swap proposal that were an important part of the Geneva Initiative — a proposal for a conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations that was launched with Swiss support in December 2003 by “civil society” (critics, however, called them has-been and wanna-be politicians). The 1:1 land swap was a feature of the reported offer (details are only very sketchy) that was apparently made by Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last year.

In his powerpoint presentation, Arieli concludes that “the strategic consequences [of Israeli settlement development in the West Bank] are alarming. Israel continues to invest in the [E-1] plan as if no final status negotiations are taking place, or as if it does not treat the negotiations with the seriousness needed to conclude an agreement. It continues to position itself in the West Bank, including entrenching the settlement enterprise under an apparent work assumption that the conflict would continue … On the one hand, Israel is negotiating over final status … on the other hand, it is investing heavily in creating reality that eliminates the ability to reach such an agreement. Either the government is knowingly wasting the taxpayer’s money, or is purposefully undermining the ability to conclude a final status agreement”.

Arieli’s powerpoint presentation, with its photos and maps, can be viewed here .

***********************

For background on these complicated local issues with international ramifications, here is some information compiled by BTselem, which calls itself “the Israeli information center for Human Rights in the occupied territories”:

ON SETTLEMENTS IN GENERAL

“At the end of 2008, the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) contained 121 settlements that the Interior Ministry recognized as ‘communities’, even though some of them contain stretches of land on which the built-up area is not contiguous. Twelve other large settlements and small settlement points are located on land annexed by Israel in 1967 and made part of Jerusalem. There are an additional 100 or so unrecognized settlements, referred to in the media as “outposts,” which are usually smaller than the recognized settlements. By the end of 2008, the number of settlers in the West Bank stood at 479,500. This figure is based on two components: according to Israel´s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), in 2008, 285,800 settlers were living in the West Bank, excluding East. In addition, based on growth statistics for the entire population of Jerusalem, the settler population in East Jerusalem at the end of 2008 is estimated at 193,700. According to CBS´s estimate, in 2008, the settler population (excluding East Jerusalem) grew at a much faster rate than the general population: 4.7 percent compared to 1.6 percent respectively [And] In 2007, the population of the settlements (excluding East Jerusalem) grew faster than Israel´s general population: 4.5 percent compared to 1.5 percent”. This information can be examined in full here.

ON EAST JERUSALEM

“Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967, the government of Israel´s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city. To achieve this goal, the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews, and reduce the number of Palestinians, living in the city. At the end of 2005, the population of Jerusalem stood at 723,700: 482,500 Jews (67 percent) and 241,200 Palestinians (33 percent). About 58 percent of the residents live on land that was annexed in 1967 (45 percent of whom are Jews, and 55 percent Palestinians). With the Palestinians having a higher growth rate than the Jews, Israel has used various methods to achieve its goal:
* Physically isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, in part by building the separation barrier;
* Discriminating in land expropriation, planning, and building, and demolition of houses;
* Revoking residency and social benefits of Palestinians who stay abroad for at least seven years, or who are unable to prove that their center of life is in Jerusalem;
* Unfairly dividing the budget between the two parts of the city, with harmful effects on infrastructure and services in East Jerusalem.
Israel´s policy gravely infringes the rights of residents of East Jerusalem and flagrantly breaches international law. East Jerusalem is occupied territory. Therefore, it is subject, as is the rest of the West Bank, to the provisions of international humanitarian law that relate to occupied territory. The annexation of East Jerusalem breaches international law, which prohibits unilateral annexation”. This can be studied on the BTselem website here.

ON THE LEGAL STATUS OF JERUSALEM

“Between 1948 and June of 1967, Jerusalem was divided in two: West Jerusalem, which covered an area of about 38 square kilometers was under Israeli control, and East Jerusalem, which contained an area of some 6 sq. km [n.b., this refers just to the Old City, which is all there was of East Jerusalem until Israeli unilateral annexation of suburban areas in 1967 created Greater Municipal Jerusalem, an area over which Israel formally extended, at that time, its administration and law], was ruled by Jordan. In June 1967, following the 1967 War, Israel annexed some 70 sq. km to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem, and imposed Israeli law there. These annexed territories included not only the part of Jerusalem that had been under Jordanian rule, but also an additional 64 square kilometers, most of which had belonged to 28 villages in the West Bank, and part of which belonged to the municipalities of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. Following their annexation, the area of West Jerusalem tripled, and Jerusalem became the largest city in Israel. Prior to 1967, therefore, most of the area comprising present-day Jerusalem was not part of the city (West or East), but rather part of the West Bank. The new borders, set by a committee headed by General Rehavam Ze’evi, then assistant to the head of the Operations Branch of the Israel Defense Forces’ General Staff, were approved by Israel’s government”. This information can be viewed on the BTselem website here.

***********************

ON E-1 OR E1 – BETWEEN JERUSALEM AND THE DEAD SEA

For background on the E-1 or E1 issue discussed in Shaul Arieli’s powerpoint presentation, here is some information from a leaked and not-officially-adopted report by the EU Heads of Mission in East Jerusalem and in Ramallah — in 2005, so some of the details are out-of-date:

“E1 (derived from ‘East 1’) is the term applied by the Israeli Ministry of Housing to a planned new neighbourhood within the municipal borders of the large Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim (30,000+ residents), linking it to the municipal boundary of Jerusalem (a unilateral Israeli line well east of the Green Line). E1, along with a maximalist barrier around Ma’ale Adumim, would complete the encircling of East Jerusalem and cut the West Bank into two parts, and further restrict access into and out of Jerusalem. The economic prospects of the Wset Bank (where GDP is under $1000 a year) are highly dependent on access to East Jerusalem (where GDP is around $3500 a year). [n.b. – In Israel in 2005, the GDP may have been around $18,000 per year, and it is now more like $24,000 per year] Estimates of the contribution made by East Jerusalem to the Palestinian economy as a whole vary between a quarter and a third. From an economic perspective, the viability of a Palestinian state depends to a great extent on the preservation of organic links between East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem.

“E1 is an old plan which was drawn up by Rabin’s government in 1994 but never implemented. The plan was revived by the housing Ministry in 2003, and preliminary construction in the E1 area began in 2004. Since his resignation from the Cabinet, Netanyahu has tried to make E1 a campaign issue.

“The development plans for E1 include:
§ the erection of at least 3,500 housing units (for approx. 15,000 residents);
§ an economic development zone;
§ construction of the police headquarters for the West Bank that shall be relocated from Ras el-Amud;
§ commercial areas, hotels and ‘special housing’, universities and ‘special projects’, a cemetery and a waste disposal site.
§ About 75% of the plan’s total area is earmarked for a park that will surround all these components.
§ So far only the plans for the economic development zone have received the necessary authorisations for building to commence. The plans related to residential areas and the building of the Police Headquarters have been approved by the Ma’aleh Adumim Municipality but not yet by the Civil Administration’s Planning Council.

“The current built-up area of Ma’aleh Adumim covers only 15% of the planned area. The overall plan for Ma’aleh Adumim, including E1, covers an area of at least 53 square kilometres (larger than Tel Aviv) stretching from Jerusalem to Jericho (comment: Israel’s defence of settlement expansion ‘within existing settlement boundaries’ therefore covers a potentially huge area). In August 2005 Israel published land requisition orders for construction of the barrier around the southern edge of the Adumim bloc, following the route approved by the Israeli cabinet on 20 February 2005 (including most of the municipal area of Ma’aleh Adumim).
The E1 project would cut across the main central traffic route for Palestinians travelling from Bethlehem to Ramallah. This route is actually an alternative to route 60, which until 2001 was the main north-south highway connecting the major Palestinian cities (Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron) on the ridge of mountains in the West Bank. And Palestinians currently have only restricted access to route 60 (either permits are required for certain segments or roads are blocked), especially from/to the Jerusalem area.

“Since 2003, some preparatory work has taken place. In the northern sector of E-1, where residential housing is planned, the top of a hill has been levelled in order to allow construction. In the southern section, where a police station and hotels are planned, an unpaved road has been constructed. But no further work has been carried out for over a year. On 25 August 2005 Israel announced plans to build the new police headquarters for the West Bank in E1, transferring it from its present location in East Jerusalem. Many previous settlements have started with a police station, and we are aware from Israeli NGOs that Israel has plans to convert the existing West Bank police headquarters, in Ras Al-Amud, into further settlement housing”.

This 2005 EU document — which was never officially adopted — can be viewed in full here on the Electronic Intifada website.

***********************

Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has announced he will make a big speech this week [UPDATE: at the beginning of next week, Netanyahu’s office confirmed this evening.  FURTHER UPDATE: It will be delivered on Sunday at Bar-Ilan University, as Obama’s speech was delivered at Cairo University. And, by the way, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will also deliver a speech from Damascus in the coming days, which will reportedly come after Netanyahu’s big speech, but which is also supposed to be a response to Obama].  Netanyahu has said he will present Israel’s idea for “peace”.

Maybe it will even be an “initiative”.

Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar has said, as reported earlier here, that the main Israeli objection to the Arab Peace Initiative is its name. 

Yes, really.

Now, after provoking most of the world into a tizzy by [rather recently] refusing to endorse a two-state solution, analysis and multiple leaks to the media suggest that Netanyahu believes he has gotten the American administration to agree to some kind of less-than-state for the Palestinians.  The model mentioned today is Andorra (no longer Hong Kong or Singapore, or even Switzerland).

Netanyahu may want an “initiative” to supersede the 2003 Road Map.

Members of Netanyahu’s new government have spoken against the Road Map, but voices are now being heard extolling the advantages of this document to which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affixed some 13 or 14 reservations.

Even though Phase I has not been fulfilled in the six years since the Road Map was launched in 2003, the supposed benefits of Phase II, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian “State” with provisional — not final — borders, are now coming under renewed examination.

(In addition, Phase II also calls for the Palestinian “State” to take its full place in the United Nations, where it is at presented only represented by an “Observer” mission.)

Over the weekend, interesting reports in the Israeli media suggested that Mitchell might push for an immediate designation of “provisional” borders. which would be in accordance with the Road Map’s Phase II (and should therefore accordingly accompany the creation of a Palestinian state), in order to know where settlement activity would be legal or not.

The notion that agreement on borders would clarify settlement activities originated in the Bush administration during the 2008 Annapolis process of negotiations, and was publicly articulated by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice. However, she did not mention “provisional” borders — which is something that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has firmly opposed.

Continue reading “Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week”

Are the Americans serious this time?

The international press is writing that it seems different this time, that this new American administration may be serious this time — about stopping Israeli settlement-building, expansion, and whatnot. But, that’s what sells newspapers.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and company were received at the White House in Washington on Thursday 28 May. Obama is the leader, here, talking with dominant body language.

The protocol is interesting: on the couch beside Obama are (No. 1) Special MidEast envoy George Mitchell, (2) U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton (the one in the more colorful clothing), and (2) VP Joe Biden.

On the couch beside Abbas are PLO Executive Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo (who is also now apparently in charge of media for the PA), long-time negotiator Saeb Erekat, and someone I can’t immediately identify who is writing on a notepad (very similar to the one the interpreter is using in the photo below).

A portrait of the U.S. “founding father”, George Washington, is over the no-frills mantle decorated with Republican greens (no floral arrangements, but why not herbs that can be replanted later in Michelle’s garden?). And Abraham Lincoln is prominently displayed in the upper left side of the photo.  The Palestinians would probably have been happy if there were also a portrait of Martin “I-have-a-dream” Luther King, but the Israelis might have freaked out…

The expanded meeting between Obama and Abbas at the White House on 28 May 2009

Continue reading “Are the Americans serious this time?”