Incomprehensible opposition to Palestinian move in UNGA to upgrade status to observer state [non-member]

Opposition by Israel [backed strongly by the US, at least until now, see below, and by some of its allies] to the current proposed Palestinian move to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade its states from observer “entity” or “organization” to observer [but still non-member] state [STATE] is, frankly, incomprehensible.

True, Palestinian President [PLO Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas was very strongly advised to do this [which we’ll refer to hereafter as the “UN move”] last year — before making the full “UN bid” to seek, through the UN Security Council, full membership for the State of Palestine in the international organization [the UN].

Israel bitterly opposed the “UN bid”, saying it was a “unilateral move” that should instead be resolved through “negotiations” [though Israel itself makes plenty of unilateral moves].

Mahmoud Abbas has argued that the “UN bid”, and now the “UN move”, are in fact a way to save negotiations that have stalled since the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead attack supposedly on Hamas in Gaza that started on 27 December 2008 and ended with two separate truce declarations just hours before the inauguration ceremony for U.S. President Barack Obama.

Two or three brief unsuccessful subsequent attempts at resumptions — first in March 2010, then again in September 2010, and then meetings held in Amman under Jordanian auspices in early 2012 — stalled over the issue of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. [There were often announcements of building tenders at about the time the talks were supposed to resume].

A formula advanced by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when the issue of settlements arose during the George W. Bush Administration’s Annapolis Process of negotiations, was that if the borders could be defined, it would then become clear where the settlements were… [The Annapolis process was supposed to begin in November 2007 and were supposed to end with the realization of a Palestinian state about a year later.]

This reasoning appears to be part of the argument behind Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to seek state status [even if non-member] through the UN General Assembly in the month of November. Once Palestine is given state status at the UN, the general outline of the borders will be set, and the status of territory in the West Bank [and the Gaza Strip] will become that of a state under occupation.

Hanan Ashrawi, now a member of the PLO Executive Committee has recently stated, several times, that it’s completely unacceptable that Palestinians should be forced to negotiate their way out of occupation. Ashrawi came to international attention when she emerged as the spokesperson for the Palestinian component of the Jordanian teama at the Madrid Peace Conference that began in October 1991 [the PLO was not allowed to participate alone], and who ran in 2006 Palestinian Authority [PA] elections on a small ticket that included current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad…

Ashrawi is standing on firm grounding in international law.

Israel is, and has been, doing what it can to prevent and to block Palestinian self-determination.

University of Geneva Professor of International Law, Marcelo G. Cohen, has argued that prevention of another people’s self determination has been regarded, in international law and at the UN itself, as a great violation of international law.

That principle of international law is now slipping, at best, with the intense pressure being brought by Israel and its greatest supporter, the United States, which has a veto power it said it would use in the UN Security Council to block the “UN bid”. It earlier threatened, and Congress continues to threaten, all kinds of sanctions if the Palestinian leadership continues — but the U.S. State Department recently pointed out that 2011 Congressional legislation providing. for punitive measures against the Palestinians, if they go forward in the UN, can in fact be waived by the U.S. Secretary of State, in the interest of U.S. “national security”.

Akiva Eldar reported yesterday in Haaretz that “the report of a UN Security Council subcommittee on the PA’s bid for recognition as a state. The report said the PA doesn’t fulfil the conditions for statehood because it doesn’t control the Gaza Strip”… Akiva Eldar’s report in Haaretz is posted here.

In fact, the report [UN Security Council Document S/2011/705, dated 11 November 2011] summarized the differing views of the Council members [all of whom were represented on the Membership Committee], and on this matter it said [in paragraphs 11 + 12] only that the following differing [unascribed] views were presented:
“Questions were raised, however, regarding Palestine’s control over its territory, in view of the fact that Hamas was the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip. It was affirmed that the Israeli occupation was a factor preventing the Palestinian government from exercising full control over its territory. However, the view was expressed that occupation by a foreign Power did not imply that the sovereignty of an occupied territory was to be transferred to the occupying Power. With regard to the requirement of a government, the view was expressed that Palestine fulfilled this criterion. However, it was stated that Hamas was in control of 40 per cent of the population of Palestine; therefore the Palestinian Authority could not be considered to have effective government control over the claimed territory. It was stressed that the Palestine Liberation Organization, and not Hamas, was the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

This confirms and supplements something I was told by an American former official last spring/summer in Jerusalem: that the “UN bid” failed, in an informal vote inside the UNSC’s membership committee [composed of representatives of all 15 members of the UN Security Council] to gather the 9-vote majority necessary to be recommended to the UNGA for a vote. This information has not been publicly reported before.

But, the report published officially by Security Council Committee on the Admission of New Members states only that “the Chair stated that the Committee was unable to make a unanimous recommendation to the Security Council”. There is no mention of any straw poll or informal voting, and no numbers are given.

The report does generally describe three different positions among the Committee members, as follows:
“The view was expressed that the Committee should recommend to the Council that Palestine be admitted to membership in the United Nations. A different view was expressed that the membership application could not be supported at this time and an abstention was envisaged in the event of a vote. Yet another view expressed was that there were serious questions about the application, that the applicant did not meet the requirements for membership and that a favourable recommendation to the General Assembly would not be supported”.

In any case, it could be argued that it is in Israel’s best interests to support the full Palestinian “UN bid” in the UNSC, even more than the current rear-guard “UN move” in the UNGA, where the Palestinians should be able to get a majority vote of support…barring surprises resulting from huge political [and economic] pressure.

Current indications are that the American intention will be to block the move politically, but not necessarily to punish the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority with economic sanctions.

Continue reading “Incomprehensible opposition to Palestinian move in UNGA to upgrade status to observer state [non-member]”

Neither Salam Fayyad nor Yasser Abed Rabbo were at meeting with Netanyahu this evening

Palestinian Authority [P.A.] Prime Minister Salam Fayyad did not accompany the P.L.O.’s Chief Negotiator Sa’eb Erekat today to see Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, as previously announced [ten days ago].

The meeting was held in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Official Residence in Jerusalem.

Israeli PM Netanyahu receives 2 Palestinians [center] on 17 April 2012Photo posted on YNet here and also on the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry here – it does not look good for the Palestinians hereinvolved — is that why Salam Fayyad and Yasser Abed Rabbo did not attend?

In the morning Fayyad presided over a meeting of the P.A. cabinet in Ramallah.

By midday, as the P.A. Cabinet meeting was drawing to a close, or soon thereafter, there were hints that Fayyad might not head the delegation that delivered a long-awaited letter signed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

But, there was then total silence for some seven hours.

Sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m., the news broke, via AP [and Tweeted by @diaahadid] that Fayyad had “backed out” of the meeting, and the Palestinian side offered no public explanation.

Continue reading “Neither Salam Fayyad nor Yasser Abed Rabbo were at meeting with Netanyahu this evening”

Reports: Fayyad to deliver Abbas letter to Netanyahu today

Though there was no announcement of either the time or the place that this will take place, reports indicate that Palestinian Authority P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will deliver a letter today signed by Palestinian leader [and President of the State of Palestine] Mahmoud Abbas to Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

UPDATE:

      On the other hand, this might not happen after all. One of the main recipients of leaked documents, Barak Ravid, has just reported on Haaretz that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday morning that the meeting between between Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is likely to be canceled … In an interview with Army Radio, Barak said that Fayyad is not interested in meeting with Netanyahu, because of differences of opinion over the issue of Palestinian tax revenues. In addition to this, a European diplomat and two Israeli officials confirmed that Fayyad is against the passing of a missive to Netanyahu from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, which was due to take place at the meeting, and that he does want to head the Palestinian delegation meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The time and place of the meeting were still unconfirmed on Tuesday morning. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday morning that he had still not been notified by Israel of the time the meeting is due to take place. Erekat also insisted that Fayyad would be attending the meeting … If Fayyad does not attend the meeting, Saeb Erekat will head the delegation. If this is the case, it is uncertain whether Netanyahu would actually attend the meeting, or whether he would prefer Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho to attend in his stead. Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, who is expected to attend Tuesday meeting, told the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, that the meeting’s goal is merely transferring Abbas’s message and that what is important is what happens afterwards”.

OK.

This situation becomes even more ridiculous.

We have reported about this letter — draft versions in Arabic + English were leaked to the Israeli media — for the past two weeks.

According to these leaked DRAFT versions, Abbas will say that the P.A. has lost its “raison d’etre” — a nice French term, meaning that Abbas is saying the P.A. has lost any meaning or purpose, so there is no reason for it to exist.

Does anyone else remember the late Yasser Arafat saying in Geneva, when he was being pinched to say certain things in December 1988, after his proclamation of Palestinian independence in Algiers in November 1988, and he said that aspects of the PLO Charter were “caduc” [another French word, meaning something like “no longer valid”, or maybe “de facto, null and void”].

Does this  not mean that Abbas is dissolving the P.A. and turning the keys over to the Israelis — unless of course they immediately recognize the State of Palestine, stop all settlement building, and agree on minor land swaps?

It is not clear what the real and lasting significance of this letter will be.

For one thing, it will not bind Hamas.

Perhaps this is part of the Israeli interest in this “pas de deux” [a dance step, as in “it takes two to tango”].

Though Hamas might not mind too much having the P.A. declare itself “caduc“, the way this move is being choreographed will only entrench the division between the West Bank and Gaza.

The DRAFT version of the letter does say that the Oslo Accords have been rolled back in many areas — and in the same text, the letter notes the Oslo Accords’ insistence that Gaza and the West Bank are parts of a single territorial unit…

Al-Arabiya’s website is reporting that independent P.L.O. Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi [who ran in the 2006 Palestine Legislative Council elections on the same ticket as Fayyad] explained that this letter “is a last ditch effort indicating that we’re doing everything possible in order to realize a two-state solution … We hope that there’s a positive response, but we’re sending a message that, without one, we have a strategy for what follows”.

The same post on Al-Arabiya notes that Abbas told the official Palestinian News Agency WAFA last week that “All options are all on the table for Palestinians, with the exception of dissolving the national authority or withdrawing recognition of Israel. We are not seeking the isolation of Israel, but rather to isolate its settlement policy”…

Abbas asks for UN membership for the State of Palestine, Netanyahu says Palestinians must make peace first

Mahmoud Abbas got a second series of standing ovations — a week after he told his people from Ramallah on 16 September that he was going to ask the UN Security Council for full UN membership for the State of Palestine — on 23 September, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York.

At the same time, tens of thousands of Palestinians came together in central squares of major West Bank cities to watch the speech, despite an unexpected September rain and cool weather. They were electrified, transported, that Mahmoud Abbas actually went through with what he said he would do: apply to the UN Security Council to ask for full UN membership for the state of Palestine — because, as Mahmoud Abbas argued, it is their right, and they deserve it.

[In 1988, after the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] read a Declaration of Independence at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers in November 1988. In the aftermath, the UN General Assembly took note of the Declaration, and upgraded the PLO from observer national liberation movement to observer organization. At the time, in 1988, the PLO was going to ask for a seat for Palestine in the UN General Assembly hall — even if they would have to leave it symbolically vacant. But, they backed down, in the face of certain international opposition.

The Palestinian leadership could have have asked for UN membership decades ago. But, by waiting, this “UN bid” has been made by the PLO’s Provisional Government, which is the PLO Executive Committee — not by a government in exile, which it would have been in 1988…

Contrary to two earlier indications, Abbas met the UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon just before delivering his speech, and handed over the official Palestinian application — which Abbas signed as President of the State of Palestine, and Chairman of the PLO.

A few hours later, the Washington Post’s UN correspondent Colum Lynch posted the official PLO letter, plus a transmittal letter by UNSG Ban, and a distribution note from the current President [Lebanon] of the UN Security Council for the month of September, here.

The full text of Abbas’s speech to the UNGA can be found here, or here.

Here are some excerpts:

“We aspire for and seek a greater and more effective role for the United Nations in working to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in our region that ensures the inalienable, legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people as defined by the resolutions of international legitimacy of the United Nations…

UPDATE: Though some were not happy, it is fair to say that even some of those Palestinians who have been most critical of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership were pleased. Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh [Popular Resistance, based in Bethlehem] wrote on his blog, here:

“Mahmoud Abbas gave a brilliant speech at the United Nations, getting rounds of applause from most of the representatives. I think it demonstrated clearly and unambiguously that the Palestinian leadership has been “unreasonably reasonable” and has instead seen the hopes of peace and of millions of Palestinians suffering for 63 years dashed on the rock of Israeli expansionist, colonial, and apartheid policies. He explained that Israel has been taking one unilateral action after another each resulting in more pain and suffering for our people. Going to the UN, he explained is putting things back where the problems started (he did not use the last two words but I do). He said a word that I think he should defend strongly that
no person or country with an iota of logic or conscience should reject the Palestinian state membership in the UN or its formation in the 22% of historic Palestine that is the West Bank and Gaza. I think he took a courageous step and gave a good performance”.

Israeli activist Uri Avnery [Gush Shalom, journalist and former Knesset member] issued a statement saying: ” ‘Mahmud Abbas has taken the excuses out of Netnayhau’s hands. The State of Palestine, under his leadership, is fully ready to make peace with the State of Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders, to resume negotiations if no settlement facts are created on the land subject to negotiations – but the Palestinians are not ready to continue to live under occupation … The State of Palestine will not arise tomorrow, and a long and hard road awaits all of us until this state becomes a reality and takes its rightful place as the Palestinians’ national state and Israel’s partner for peace. Still, today will be counted among the key historical dates in the history of our region. Netanyahu’s answering speech was nothing but a cheap compilation of propaganda, with rejection of the Palestinian offer and intransigent refusal to end the occupation packed in “security” rhetoric and clichés. The “Palestinian state” envisioned in Netahyhau’s speech would be “demilitarized” but have a heavy Israeli military presence in its territory. In practice, there is reason to doubt Netanyahu intends to let any kind of Palestinian state come into being or withdraw from any territory, and his speech in practice left nothing to negotiate about. By a blatant interference in American internal politics, Netanyahu has bent the US to his will. He forced the President of the United States to deliver at the UN a Zionist and cynical speech, contradicting and nullifying Obama’s own previous positions, and assured a US veto and outright opposition to Palestinian aspirations. But it was a pyrrhic victory for Netanyahu – he has been shown the entire world that the United States is not suitable to serve as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians … If and when negotiations resume between Israel and the Palestinians, it will be necessary to find a mediator or mediators more appropriate and fair – which confirms the Palestinians in their decision to move the focus of diplomatic activity from the White House to the UN Headquarters”.

The Israel Project called the speech hate-filled. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman said it was provocation. And hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Palestinians felt that it was an accurate, concise, restrained description of their suffering.

Continue reading “Abbas asks for UN membership for the State of Palestine, Netanyahu says Palestinians must make peace first”

Netanyahu's "strategy" vs. Ehud Olmert's "2008 parameters"

It took the American administration several years to denounce the obvious stalling tactics of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir after the launch of the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991.

By then, back-stage talks between Israeli and Palestinian “academics” and “individuals” over dinners in idyllic settings in northern Europe had reached the stage that the Oslo process was ready to go public, and the Declaration of Principles was signed on the White House lawn in a live event in September 1993.

Now, almost four years after the direct American supervision over direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was launched at the Annapolis Conference, Palestinian negotiators have brought the file back to the UN, saying they want the international community to take a stand, and they want to exercise their right to ask for full UN membership.

As Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said to reporters on the flight to New York, “all hell has broken loose”.

A day before his big speech — which will be broadcast live on screens in centers of major West Bank cities, particularly Ramallah and Nablus — Abbas is reported in the New York Times [see our earlier post] to have said that he is not happy with either the Americans or the Arabs: “I am fed up with all these people + I don’t know what to do when I return back”.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu — who is on tape**,here, during a visit in 2001 to the large West Bank settlement of Ofra, between Ramallah and Nablus, as saying he deceived the U.S. and will destroy the Oslo Accords and prevent a solution — was for a while not even going to go to the UN, in order to deny credibility to the Palestinian “UN bid”. But, it assumed such proportions that he had to go.

Despite an offer, Netanyahu + Abbas have not met in New York. But, that is not a big deal.

For, Netanyahu has a strategy. He and his staff briefed Israeli journalists on it earlier this week. The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon reported it in the Jerusalem Post: “Netanyahu’s strategy is to explain. Explain, explain, explain. He is a man of words. He loves to read, and to speak – some less charitable would say he loves to lecture. And he believes in the power of words, of oratory, of rhetoric … [H]e is carrying a speech to explain to the world what he feels much of it fails to see: that the Middle East has changed; changed radically, and changed fundamentally. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting Netanyahu explained why he decided, after weeks of deliberation, to go to the UN himself and combat the Palestinian Authority’s statehood recognition move. ‘My UN trip will have a double goal’, he said. ‘The first goal is to ensure that this move to bypass negotiations does not succeed and is stopped in the Security Council’. The second goal, he said, is to present the truth about ‘our desire for peace’ and Israel’s historic rights to the country that go back ‘only 4,000 years’. And then he cut to the chase: ‘I will also speak about our intention to achieve peace with our neighbors while ensuring our security. If this was clear and necessary in the past, then today it is even more important. Especially now, when the Middle East is undergoing a great upheaval, from Tunisia to Yemen, from Libya to Egypt, Syria and throughout the region; when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or how things will turn out’.” These remarks, which echo remarks made in recent months by a number of other Israeli military and security officials, are published in the JPost here.

Netanyahu said he was going to the UN in NY to speak the truth. Apparently, most of it has to deal with Israel’s security, and the requirement to maintain superiority and control to maintain Israel’s security.

Indications are, he will speak about the Jordan Valley.

When Israel began to build its Wall, almost a decade ago, it wanted to build it straight down the Jordan Valley. The U.S. Administration at that time [George W. Bush] quietly ruled that out.

Netanyahu wants to revisit the matter.

Toward the end of his article, the JPost’s Keinon wrote that “Last September, during those few days when Netanyahu and Abbas did speak for a few hours, the Prime Minister told Abbas that Israel would need a military presence along the Jordan River for a long period of time. When Abbas asked Netanyahu why, the prime minister replied that one never knows what could happen, and that a presence on the Jordan River – to protect against any untoward developments from the east – was a necessity. And that was before the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the chaos in Syria, the uncertainty in Jordan, and the rift with Turkey. How much truer is it now, he will argue, how much more caution is needed now, than in the past, because who really knows what will develop. If Fatah can lose control of Gaza to Hamas in a matter of weeks, if the Egyptians leadership can now talk about re-visiting and perhaps trashing a 30-year peace treaty, then previous assumptions and strategies and ways of doing business need to be re-thought”.

We posted earlier, on 11 August, on our sister blog www.palestine-mandate.com here about Mahmoud Abbas telling visiting American Congressmen that negotiations had been blocked by Netanyahu’s demand to keep IDF troops in the Jordan Valley: “Abbas told a group of visiting American Congressmen, including Steny Hoyer of Maryland [Democratic Party whip in the House of Representatives], that ‘there are no negotiations now because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has placed pre-conditions’, specifically a demand that there be an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley. Abbas told the delegation that the discussions he has had with Netanyahu in the past ‘have led nowhere, because unless we agree to be occupied by IDF troops, he doesn’t want to talk about anything in the next step’. Abbas, according to Hoyer, said he met with Netanyahu last year, but that those talks ‘went nowhere because Netanyahu only wanted to talk about security, and that the implementing of that security was deployment of IDF troops in the Jordan Valley’.”

Netanyahu is due to speak about an hour after Abbas makes his address in the UNGA on Friday, around the middle of the day in New York, and evening here in Jerusalem.

**On the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu said in the 2001 home video, linked to above, that “His approach to White House demands to withdraw from Palestinian territory under the Oslo accords, he says, drew on his grandfather’s philosophy: ‘It would be better to give two per cent than to give 100 per cent’. He therefore signed the 1997 agreement to pull the Israeli army back from much of Hebron, the last Palestinian city under direct occupation, as a way to avoid conceding more territory.
‘The trick’, he says, ‘is not to be there [in the occupied territories] and be broken; the trick is to be there and pay a minimal price’. The ‘trick’ that stopped further withdrawals, Mr Netanyahu adds, was to redefine what parts of the occupied territories counted as a ‘specified military site’ under the Oslo accords. He wanted the White House to approve in writing the classification of the Jordan Valley, a large area of the West Bank, as such a military site. ‘Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give [them] the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: ‘I’m not signing.’ Only when the letter came, did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo accord’.” This is recounted by Jonathan Cook in a 2010 article published in The National, here.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert — forced to resign to defend himself against charges of corruption — wrote an Op-Ed published today in the New York Times saying that he feels uneasy at the current turn of events: “As tensions grow, I cannot but feel that we in the region are on the verge of missing an opportunity — one that we cannot afford to miss”.

Continue reading “Netanyahu's "strategy" vs. Ehud Olmert's "2008 parameters"”

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?

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…

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and lives – continued – 21 years after the Proclamation of a State of Palestine

Today is the 21st anniversary of the Proclamation, by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a meeting on 15 November 1988 of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council (PNC) in Algiers, of the still-unrealized State of Palestine.

Still, today is marked as Palestinian Independence Day, here in Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank, and in Gaza as well — and also in East Jerusalem (though there, where I also live, it will have to be surreptitiously, because the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, and the Israeli national and Border Police, are mobilized against any manifestation, however far-removed, of the “authority” of the Palestinian Authority…)

And today, we are informed by YNet, the Israeli English-language website of the country’s most popular Hebrew-language daily paper, Yediot Ahronot, that “Palestinian plans to possibly unilaterally declare a state continue to yield reactions in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to reject the increasingly strengthening Palestinian imitative during his speech at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem on Sunday“. YNet added that Netanyahu “will warn the Palestinians against moving forward with the initiative, emphasizing Israel’s objection, and will stress that the solution for the establishment of a Palestinian state can be found in negotiations with Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned in a speech at the Saban Forum on Saturday that a withdrawal to the 1967 borders will not end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. ‘A return to 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will not end the conflict, but rather, shift it into Israel’s borders’, he said, adding that such circumstances would prompt Arab-Israeli demands for autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev”. This YNet report can be viewed in full here

Yasser Arafat himself was strongly warned against “unilaterally” declaring a state, as he had “threatened” to do, in 1999 and in 2000 (after the end of the five-year “transition” period of Palestinian autonomy that was agreed in the Oslo Accords, and just before the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada that was sparked by a militarized visit of Israel’s Ariel Sharon to the mosque plateau known to Palestinians as the Haram ash-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam, which Jews believe is the site of the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temple, the central focus of the most sacred site in Judaism.)

Here are a few bare facts of the day from the English-language publication in Israel, the Jerusalem Post, (generally considered more right-wing than the English-language version of the Israeli paper, Haaretz). [The JPost and the Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem are the only two media covering such news as this] —

(1) This report is talking about the Israeli-occupied West Bank:
Nov 15, 2009 8:09
IDF troops detain 4 Palestinian fugitives in West Bank ops
By JPOST.COM STAFF
“IDF troops detained four Palestinian fugitives Saturday overnight near Ramallah and Bethlehem. The military said all detainees were transferred to security forces for interrogation”. This JPost report can be read in full here.
These reports appear several times a week, sometimes daily. The Palestinians (men, usually) who are seized, often from their beds, are variously described as “suspects”, “fugitives”, “wanted”, and so on. No one ever really bothers to ask what happens to these people. Most often, they are eventually, if not immediately, taken out of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) to jails inside Israel, which is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. (Today it was reported that the Arab League has decided to request an advisory opinion from the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague about Palestinian and Arab (yes, there are others, from Lebanon, Syria, and other countries, some of whom are explicitly being held in exchange for release of information about missing Israelis) prisoners in Israeli jails

(2) This report is talking about the State of Israel:
Nov 15, 2009 9:48 | Updated Nov 15, 2009 9:52
Border Police arrest 252 illegals over weekend
By JPOST.COM STAFF
“Border Police arrested 252 illegal aliens over the weekend. The Palestinian illegals were working in Israel without permits. Three people were arrested for employing the illegals and thirteen on suspicion of transporting them”. This JPost report can be read in full here.
These reports appear once every couple of months. Often, the figures are larger — 1000 or 1,500 “illegal aliens” from the West Bank, who are working in Israel, often with the complicity of Israeli employers who can, among other things, pay them a lower wage with fewer benefits…

Then, let’s take a step back and try to understand what is going on here.

Suad Amiry, a Syrian-born Palestinian architect who came to Ramallah to teach at Bir Zeit in the 1980s and who now heads the Ramallah-based organization Riwaq, dedicated to preserving Palestinian architecture, has written a new book entitled Murad, Murad, about the life of Palestinian West Bankers who — despite The Wall and Israeli bureaucratic and military restructions — continue to try to work in Israel. (Her earlier book, Sharon and my Mother-in-Law, chronicled life under house confinement during the forceful military Israeli re-occupation of Ramallah in 2002). Suad Amiry said in an interview published in the Summer issue (number 38) of the Jerusalem Quarterly that: “We who are professionals in Ramallah are able to make a living away from Israel. It’s difficult to understanding the complexity of Murad and other workers’ relation to Israel. Murad went to Israel when he was 13. All his growing up happened there. He is oppressed, beaten, and lately has been put in prison – but in a strange way, Israel is also his home. In this contradictory relation, he is more like the Palestinians inside Israel”. The Jerusalem Quarterly interview reports that “Suad tells a story of lives that are largely invisible – invisible to her before her journey, and invisible to much of the Palestinian public, as well as to the world. She notes that when the Palestinian Authority didn’t pay salaries [to its employees, over half of whom work for the security services] for several months, it was the talk of the town. But Murad told her: ‘Why the big fuss? When we are thrown into prison, no one helps us’. In the year 2000, there were about 100,000 West Bankers workers in Israel, with many more family members dependent on their work. While numbers fluctuate today, it is no exaggeration to say that the lives and rights of a substantial proportion of the population are rarely acknowledged … Suad Amiry’s new book, Murad, Murad, scheduled for publication in Italian in the summer of 2009, is the story of her eighteen-hour journey in 2007 with Murad, an ‘illegal’ Palestinian worker and his friends, as they attempt to cross the ‘border’ into Israel and find work. Starting off at midnight from the village of Mazra el Noubani, in the Ramallah-area, a group of workers, accompanied by Suad in male disguise and Mohammed, Murad’s brother who is a colleague of Suad, set off in a rackety bus on a journey that resembled a maze, as they struggle to avoid army patrols, skirt the Wall, walk through ditches, orchards and tunnels to reach the ‘other side’ and work in Israel … Murad, who has worked in Israel since he was thirteen and is utterly determined to continue to work there, despite the enormous odds against him”. This is published in the Summer issue of Jerusalem Quarterly, and posted on the internet here.

Another article in the same issue of the Jerusalem Quarterly is an excerpt of remarks made earlier this year by leading Palestinian academic and writer, who has also participated in multilateral negotiations under the Madrid Process, Salim Tamari, in a discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which were summarized in the Summer 2009 issue (no. 38) of the Jerusalem Quarterly, which he edits, for the Institute for Jerusalem Studies, which he heads. The Institute for Jerusalem Studies (a branch of the Institute for Palestinian Studies) was formerly located in Jerusalem, but was forced by Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement to re-locate to Ramallah. Salim Tamari is commenting, here, on an analysis also presented at MIT in a discussion last February at the Department for Urban Planning, by Israeli academic Eyal Weizman:
An Architectural Laboratory of the Extreme? Reflections on Weizman’s Hollow Land by Salim Tamari
“Eyal Weizman’s Hollow Land is the first systematic study of Israel’s regime of spatial control, combining the insights of political geography, architecture, semiotics, theories of counterinsurgency, and an appreciation for the shifting ideological tenants of Zionism and the history of settler regimes. It combines a majestic sweep of broad conceptual paradigms about population control, with a meticulous examination of the detailed mechanisms of such control and the thinking among military strategists who plan it, as well as their willing and unwilling accomplices among them. Those are the social scientists, contractors, and service providers who cater to their vision, and who often provide humanitarian services to mitigate the dire human costs and the disastrous results of these strategies. One of the most rewarding features of this study is the manner in which it posits architectural knowledge and affiliated disciplines in social science, engineering and politics as partners, willing or sometimes unconscious, in the process of colonial conquest. The study provokes a number of issues that are only partly examined, and in need of elaboration. Here are some of them, listed briefly as questions:

The Process of ‘Distanciation’. One of the most significant achievements of the Oslo Agreement from an Israeli governmental perspective (as pointed out in The Hollow Land) is the creation of a spatial geography of fragmentation in which the de-linking of the Palestinian and Israeli population has enhanced the legitimacy of occupation. This happened through withdrawal to the periphery of urban areas and handing over the administrative control and welfare of 80 percent of the Palestinians, in areas A and B, to the Palestinian Authority. In effect it created conditions for population control from a distance, either through surveillance and checkpoints, or through administrative autonomy by a non-sovereign Palestinian regime.

But the process is not complete. Rural areas in region C, the settlements, and the greater Jerusalem area (outside the municipal borders), remained zones of direct military control. Arab Jerusalem also continued to be ruled directly, but was separated both from other Palestinian communities and from Palestinian leadership. To a large extent the process removed the physicality of the confrontation and therefore made the tactics of civil insurrection and strategy of disobedience (which defined the first uprising) virtually impossible. No alternative resistance strategy since then evolved partly due to the absence of physical encounters, but also due to the absence of a leadership.

One area where I differ with Weizman is over the issue of the illusion of sovereignty, which he illustrated through the semiotics of the one-way mirror: the example from the pre-intifada period was the presence and power of Israeli officials at the King Hussein/Allenby bridge who used a one-way mirror to monitor (and approve or disapprove ) Palestinian passage. I do not believe that there was an “illusion of sovereignty” here, and it did not need the conditions of dusk to unravel the real power behind the mirror. What existed rather is rather a consensual delusion in which Palestinians (as in La Vita è Bella) shared in the self-deception in order to make life more tolerable knowing that they could not resolve the issue of sovereignty, given the existing power relationship between them and the Israelis.

Normalization of Occupation?

One consequence of removing the physical military presence in the major urban areas has been to create a sense of normalcy. Weizman refers to the normalization of the ‘absurd’ system of population control through filtering checkpoints. The system creates a mechanism of routinization of arbitrary military control that is internalized by the subject population, leading to protocols of acceptance through negotiating its loopholes (permits, exceptions, smuggling). But this system of normalization of oppression has built-in weaknesses that undermine its own sense of normalcy.

Two features of this system are its unpredictability and irrationalism. It is supposed to create mechanisms of control in order to prevent penetration, circumvention and deceit. But in overdoing its objective of population control it leads to immense resentment and conditions of rebellion. A relevant question here is why does the system resort to extreme humiliation of the population when such humiliation defeats its function of security control?

The question of agency in Weizman’s analysis is also problematic. The system of control chartered by the author produces an occupation regime that is all pervasive. Does the cunning adaptation of the subject Palestinian population to this regime through subversion of building regulation and getting around the blockade, constitute resistance to the regime, or a normalization of oppression?

The System is over-designed. Weizman skillfully draws an architectural system of control that is omnipotent and omnipresent. The regime of population control through the technology of monitoring and surveillance; of countless filtering systems; of segmented road systems; of counter-insurgency through predicting every possible contingency of the enemy and pre-empting it, is ultimately overdesigned. It ostensibly operates through open and closed spaces, underground and in the air, and through the bureaucratic regime of permits and civil administration. By investing so much conceptual capital in detailing its omnipotence Weizman produces a paradigm that is hermetically sealed and has the force of nature. There seems to be no escape from it.

Even on the intellectual plane, in this paradigm the military commanders have captured the terrain, utilizing critical theory, Foucault, Deleuze (and Marx, in the case of the Village Leagues) to (successfully) engineer a counter-revolutionary reality. The weakness of this paradigm is that it overdetermines the omnipotence of the hegemonic power by attributing to it exaggerated capacities of control both at logistic and intellectual levels. It leaves unexamined its own contradictions; its misadventures; its control by politicians who have myopic ideological visions, whose thirst for land grabbing will make them choke on excessive expansion of limited economic capacities; and who seem to behave as if they are independent from the world around them. But after all, as Weizman points out in “Demographic Architecture,” it is indeed remarkable that Israel’s planning policies in Jerusalem have not succeeded in transferring the requisite number of Palestinians outside of the city; even the most powerful do not operate in a laboratory where they control all the elements”. These comments, and more, can be viewed in full on the Jerusalem Quarterly website,
here.

NOTE: The Two-State Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has, since the Second Palestinian Intifada, become the central credo of Israel and American diplomacy, and thus also of “international” efforts (backed by the European Union and the United Nations). However, there is still no Palestinian state. After returning to power in February general elections, the current Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu resisted for months agreeing to this Two-State formula, and only did so in a speech months later at Bar Ilan University, in which Netanyahu posed several major limiting conditions. Opposition leader (and former Israeli Defense Minister) Shaul Mofaz has just proposed Israeli support for a Palestinian State on 50-60 percent of the West Bank (excluding existing Israeli settlements, which would remain under Israeli sovereignty). As the climate has deteriorated, with intense Palestinian disappointment in the position of Barak Obama’s Administration, Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat has “threatened” that the Palestinian Authority is ready to jettison its commitment to the Two-State Solution, and to mobilize behind a theoretical “One-State solution” — by which is generally meant Palestinians and Israelis living together with full and equal rights, as if they had the choice… But this option it is not on the table. The only alternative to the Two-State solution now appears to be a continuation of more of the same, with continued direct Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem — now officially ruled by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with limited autonomy given to the present Palestinian Authority and its security forces, and also of Gaza (where Hamas may or may not be allowed to continue its present “de facto” rule if it becomes a “responsible address” that Israel can count on to limit attacks against Israel. It is not terribly surprising that the powerful Israeli military leadership opposes ending the occupation — they feel more comfortable being in control, and they would like a 25, 50, or 100-year period to continue the current status quo, with checkpoints and all (perhaps even inside Israel, certainly also in the Golan Heights), to see if the Palestinians have peaceful intentions, these Israeli miltary officials say, after which they might begin to consider talking about territory. The impression is given that they would not mind if all of Israel, or even all of the world, became like the West Bank… But this current status quo is, simply, unsustainable. What will happen next is unclear…

Saying one thing, doing another

The AP’s Karin Laub, who normally works from Ramallah, is in New York to cover the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy going on at the sidelines of the high-level segment of the annual UN General Assembly debate. Today, she wrote a report (based on an interview published in the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat — which she did not of course need to be in New York to read) that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has said that “The Palestinians cannot return to peace talks at this time because of ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Israel on what should be on the agenda … Abbas rebuffed an appeal by President Barack Obama that both sides get back to the table promptly”.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli teams are supposed to meet today (in NY, each separately with U.S. officials, but not all together) to work out how to re-start negotiations. Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat reportedly said “we agreed to continue dealing with the Americans until we reach the agreement that will enable us to relaunch the negotiations”.

Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff also wrote about Mahmoud Abbas’ interview with Al-Hayat: “Abbas called the Netanyahu government ‘a real problem’ … ‘The Netanyahu government is a real problem and there is no common ground for negotiations with it. Construction in the settlement is continuing, Netanyahu is declaring Jerusalem and [Palestinian] refugees topics not up for negotiations, so what is there to talk about?’ The Palestinian leader added that he could not agree to Israel’s compromise for a partial settlement freeze, which he said inherently implied continued construction. Abbas reiterated his stance that peace negotiations must resume from where former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government left off and insisted they include the core issues. Some stride was made during talks with the Olmert government, said Abbas, adding: ‘There were maps drafted by both sides and proposals for territorial exchanges, and thus we cannot return to point zero.”

However, Israeli officials have said on several occasions in recent months that Abbas did not respond to Olmert’s offer, and that the Palestinian side did not present any maps of its own …

Issacharoff also reported that “Abbas and members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN were pleased with Obama’s statement that Washington is pursuing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, as Abbas has that diplomatic talks with Israel with Israel cannot begin unless it is clear that the 1967 lines are the goal.
But the officials expressed displeasure with Obama’s declaration that negotiations with Israel should begin without preconditions. Yasser Abed Rabbo, who heads both the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the PA negotiating team [?], said the PA was pleased with Obama’s decision to hold another round of
preliminary talks in the interest of bridging the gaps between the parties. ‘Still, our message is clear – we have not retreated from our demands, and relinquishing them will lead to a diplomatic disaster’, he said”. Issacharoff’s article can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, Karin Laub’s story for AP continues: “The Palestinian leader said he wants to avoid a crisis with the Obama administration at any cost, but stressed that ‘there is no common ground for discussion’ with Israel’s hardline leader, Benjamin Netanyahu … Abbas, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, said that even at the risk of alienating Obama, he cannot return to talks without a clear agenda. ‘In all honesty, we want to protect our relations with President Obama under any conditions … We don’t want to come out with a crisis with the Americans, or create a crisis. But in the meantime, we can’t go on unless there is a clear path. The road must be defined so we can know where we are going’ … Abbas said in the interview that only a complete freeze [on Israeli settlement activities] will do. ‘We can’t accept the status quo because a partial halt means a continuation of settlements … Even if it is halted by 95 percent, it is still a continuation of settlement activities.” Abbas said that despite ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Netanyahu over the terms of negotiations, he will keep talking to Israel about day-to-day issues that concern the Palestinians, including security and the economy. ‘We don’t reject the principle of talks and dialogue’, he said. In Jerusalem, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon suggested the Palestinians are wasting time by insisting on a settlement freeze. He noted that when required to do so in the past — as part of a peace deal with Egypt and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza — Israel has uprooted settlements”. Karin Laub’s report can be read in full here .

What is Danny Ayalon doing here? If Israel is prepared to uproot settlements, as Ayalon suggests, why doesn’t it say so clearly, now? To the contrary, Prime Minister Netanyahu is publicly saying the opposite.

Haaretz reported today that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Haaretz on Wednesday that he would not agree to the Palestinian demand to accept the 1967 borders as a condition for renewing peace negotiations. Netan Barayahu also said that U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday was ‘positive’ because ‘he also said something we had been seeking for six months, that we have to meet and begin the diplomatic process without preconditions’. Obama had spoken clearly about Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people’, said Netanyahu. ‘I believe that disagreement about this is the root of the conflict’ … Netanyahu also told Israel Radio on Thursday that he would never drop his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. ‘I told Abu Mazen [Abbas] I believe peace hinges first on his readiness to stand before his people and say, “We … are committed to recognising Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”,’ Netanyahu said … ‘I will not drop this subject and other important issues under any final peace agreement’, Netanyahu added … [He suggested there can be peace] if the Palestinian leadership says we want peace, we recognize Israel as the Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people, just as we’re asked to recognize the Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people’. The prime minister concluded by saying that Israel wanted ‘a real peace … Israel wants both recognition and security from its neighbors, and this will be the task of the negotiations in the coming months’.”

As noted in our blog post yesterday, Israelis have not yet done a convincing job of explaining to Palestinians what, exactly, the demand for recognition of Israel as the “state of the Jewish people” means. Nor have Israelis made any effort to address or allay Palestinian fears that this phrase is just code for prohibiting the return of Palestinian refugees, and also the possible expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens. This Israeli position was first made public in Ariel Sharon’s 13 or 14 reservations on the Road Map. Then, it was raised by the previous Israeli government, headed by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the launch of the Annapolis process of negotiations in November 2007. Now, Netanyahu is saying that this a demand he will never drop, that peace hinges on this issue, that this is the root of the conflict.

The Haaretz report stated that Netanyahu, in his interviews in New York, also stated concerning Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly that: “The things he said about the occupation are not new. He also said them in Cairo, and in fact that is the formula adopted by the road map — and it does not say we have to go back to the 1967 borders. This is the formula adopted by governments before the one I head, which did not agree to go back to the 1967 borders. We certainly would [also] not agree to that. In the matter of the settlements he also said nothing new. These disagreements should not prevent the beginning of the process which, among other things if it is successful, will also decide this issue”.

This Haaretz article also duly noted that on the specifics of Israeli settlements, Netanyahu told American TV interviewers that “Israel was unwilling to freeze ‘life’ in West Bank settlements. NBC interview Matt Lauer that he was ‘willing to make gestures to help the peace process’. When asked how big a gesture Israel intends to make, the premier said ‘we’ll get there very soon, I suppose’. ‘But I’ll tell you one thing I’m not willing to do. I can’t freeze life’, Netanyahu added, referring to a possible West Bank settlement freeze, insisted on by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. ‘There are a quarter of a million people there, in these communities which are called “settlements”, although really most of them are bedroom suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’ … ‘There are a quarter of a million people living in these communities. You know, they need kindergartens. They need schools. They need health clinics … They’re living. I’m committed not to build new settlements. I am committed not to expropriate additional land for existing settlements. But people have to live. You can’t freeze life’.” This Haaretz article can be read in full here .

Continue reading “Saying one thing, doing another”

Abu Mazen gives special interview to Palestine TV about UN meeting

Palestine Television aired a rather poorly-staged interview with a stiff and ill-at-ease Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) this evening, with a shiny Palestinian flag partly draped across the background.

The angles and the lighting was not good, and at one point the camera cut away to a shot of the Palestinian flag by itself, while Abu Mazen was talking.

Abu Mazen sent his holiday (Eid al-Fitr) greetings to the Palestinian people, and then explained that he had only accepted the trilateral meeting held yesterday at the periphery of the high-level event of the annual UN General Assembly at the call of U.S. President Obama, and out of respect for him.

Abu Mazen said that he repeated the same thing before, during and after the meeting. He said that Israel should return all Palestinian land occupied on or after 4 June 1967, including East Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and East Jerusalem’s Old City’s mosque esplanade known as the Haram as-Sharif.

Palestinians were not sympathetic to Abu Mazen’s having caved in and changed his position to accept “Obama’s call”.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) said in a report carried by The Forward that “The meetings ran overtime, and Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t stop arguing even after he stepped into a room full of cameras. Reporters could not make out exactly what was exercising the Palestinian Authority president in his exchange with President Obama, but fist pounding isn’t usually a sign of things going well”. This report can be read in full here.

Continue reading “Abu Mazen gives special interview to Palestine TV about UN meeting”