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

"Why continue to build the settlements?"

Today’s recommended reading [published during the last week]: Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast on “Why Continue To Build The Settlements?” — a review of the much-discussed book [or, polemic, as Sullivan writes] by Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism. Sullivan writes: “Let us be clear. The Israeli government is systematically taking and holding the land that could be the Palestinians’ future state. They have been doing so for decades.
The deliberate population of occupied land violates the Geneva Conventions. The occupation itself enrages the Arab and Muslim world and creates a huge drag on the US’s strategic need to build up allies among emerging Arab democracies, and defuse Jihadism across the globe. And Peter’s book is explicitly about this problem. It lies at the center of his argument. And yet it is all but ignored by his critics”… Sullivan’s take is published here.

    UPDATE: On 10 April, Peter Beinart [author of the book, The Crisis of Zionism] wrote an Op-Ed for the NYTimes in which he explained his own position this way: “I’m too young to have seen the terrifying wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973, when Arab armies threatened to vanquish the Jewish state. I’ve never known an Israel that didn’t occupy the West Bank. But like the older man, I’ve seen whole communities of Jews take refuge in Israel. Among my formative memories of the Jewish state are the pictures of Anatoly Sharansky, fresh from a Soviet jail, descending onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion airport and the images of nearly destitute Ethiopian Jews, separated from the rest of our people since the days when the Temple stood, entering the planes that the Jewish state had sent to take them home. So perhaps it’s no surprise that my book argues that Jews need a state for self-protection and cultural expression, but worries that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank menaces the democratic ideals upon which the state was founded. Some in the organized American Jewish community think this places me on the left. I disagree. I actually occupy a shrinking center of American Jews fiercely committed to Israel’s existence but profoundly troubled by its current course. Our most high-profile critics sound like the man at my University of Maryland talk, unwilling to confront any contradiction between a nation whose declaration of independence promises ‘complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of race, religion and sex’ and an occupation that has held millions of Palestinians as non-citizens for more than forty years … The more permanent Israel’s occupation of the West Bank becomes, the more American Jews will be forced to choose between a Jewish state that is not fully democratic and a binational state that loses its Jewish character. And faced with that choice, a great chasm will divide American Jewry: with most older American Jews on one side, and many non-Orthodox, younger American Jews on the other. Saving Israel as a democratic Jewish state and preserving the Zionist consensus in American Jewish life are two sides of the same struggle. Since my book came out, I’ve sometimes been called a controversial, polarizing figure in the American Jewish community. The accusation makes me sigh. I’ve seen enough questioners like that those at the University of Maryland to realize that if the two state solution dies, the real polarization will be yet to come”.

This could be paired with the Hussein Ibish piece also published in The Daily Beast during the last week, entitled “Show, Don’t Tell: Why the Apartheid Analogy Falls Flat”, which argues why the “A” word [Apartheid] should not be used [and also against a one-state solution]. In this piece, Ibish, who works for the American Task Force on Palestine, writes:
* Because they do not understand what life under occupation means for Palestinians, most Americans are not ready to accept at the outset of any conversation that Israel practices apartheid.
* [I]t is much more effective to simply describe the realities: Every aspect of daily life in the occupied Palestinian territories for every individual is defined by whether the Israeli government categorizes them as an Israeli settler, and therefore a citizen of the state with all the rights and responsibilities accruing to citizenship, or a Palestinian noncitizen living under occupation.
* This discrimination applies to the laws people live under: where they may live; what roads they may use; what access they have to resources like land, water, education, and social services; whether they may be armed for self-defense; whether they may travel freely or have to pass through rigorous checkpoints with the permission of a foreign army; whether they may leave their country with any reasonable expectation of being able to return unimpeded; whether they have any say in the government that rules them or are totally disenfranchised; and whether they are routinely subjected to severe abuses under detention and military tribunals. All these, and almost all other aspects of daily life in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, are all radically separate and unequal on an ethnically-defined basis.
* The system of ethnic discrimination imposed by military force and Israel’s ‘civil administration’ in the occupied territories is by far the most extreme form of discriminatory abuse anywhere in the world today. When they learn these details, audiences conclude for themselves that this is a wicked, immoral and indefensible system.
* The implied one-state solution suggests that Israel is simply practicing extreme discrimination within an already-existing single state. This effectively lets Israel off the hook completely when it comes to the occupation. And, worse, it suggests that the expansion of settlements is merely construction taking place within that existing state rather than illegal colonization in occupied territories.
* No decent person who is made aware of the realities of life under occupation for Palestinians can fail to see its immorality…
This is posted here.

UNSG BAN goes to Gaza, again, where his car is pelted with shoes — then is lauded as he addresses Herzliya Conference

About the shoe-throwing [a now-comic sign of disrespect for the target]: the first report was from the Al-Arabiya correspondent travelling in the convoy of UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon as it entered Gaza.

Then, Ma’an News Agency did a story, saying that “Dozens of people threw shoes and stones at UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s convoy as it entered the Gaza Strip on Thursday, Ma’an’s correspondent said.

Ma’an reported that the SG’s convoy sped away, and the UN Chief later tried to make a joke out of the incident: “I thank the people of Gaza for the warm welcome … I met many people who were waiting for me at the entrance”.

Ma’an added, in its report, that “Many of those who protested as the UN convoy passed were family members of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They hit the vehicles with signs bearing slogans accusing Ban of bias towards Israel and of refusing to meet the relatives of Palestinian prisoners. A spokesman for deportees from the Israeli siege of Bethlehem’s Nativity church in 2002 called on Ban to defend the rights of the Palestinian people, including detainees and deportees. A number of Gazans whose homes were destroyed in Israel’s war on the coastal enclave in 2008 held up signs reading ‘Gaza is living in darkness’, and ‘Save the children of Gaza’, Ma’an’s correspondent said”. The Ma’an report, published here also noted that “Reuters contributed to this report”.

Apparently, UNSG BAN did not say, when in Gaza, what he said a day earlier while meeting Israeli leaders in Jerusalem: according to a report in Haaretz, BAN said after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that: “Settlements do not help the peace process … I told the prime minister that he should refrain from future construction. I believe that Israel can have a major positive influence on the entire region” [and Netanyahu told Ban, Haaretz reported, that the settlement issue “is a part of the negotiations, it can’t be a precondition”]. BAN also said, in the joint press conference with Netanyahu, that “Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip must stop. It is time for both sides to take confidence building measures. I call on Israel to make certain gestures toward the Palestinians. Middle East peace has a global influence and this is the reason why peace talks must continue.” This was reported here.

So, while BAN says, when with Palestinians, that he agrees Israeli settlements are “illegal” [he later repeats this, but so quickly in passing that it is almost imperceptible, in the Herzliya Conference], he tells Netanyahu that “settlements do not help the peace process”. And, while he says in Israel that “Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip must stop”, he does not repeat this while in in Gaza. This, apparently, is diplomacy.

A subsequent statement issued by a spokesperson for the UNSG said: “Today the Secretary-General travelled to Gaza and visited a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) housing project and a school where he joined girl students in their classroom. He also met with children who suffered serious injuries during the conflict. He was deeply moved by their stories. Unfortunately representatives of civil society cancelled a scheduled lunch to protest against the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The Secretary-General regrets this missed opportunity for an important exchange with Gazan civil society representatives. The Secretary-General is concerned about the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Last night [n.b. — at the Muqata’a in Ramallah] he met with the Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Affairs, Issa Karake, and received a letter outlining specific concerns. The United Nations continues to call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law”.

The PLO [in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority] later issued a statement of apology for the sign of disrespect in Gaza.

Reconciliation talks between the PA/Fatah in Ramallah + their Hamas rivals in Gaza are proceeding with deliberate slowness.

In the evening, BAN was back in Israel. The contrast could not have been greater. BAN gave one of the keynote addresses to the annual Herzliya Conference [held in the suburb where many diplomats posted to Israel live, just north of Tel Aviv], where he was courteously praised in the introduction, and here are some excerpts from BAN’s remarks:

    The UN helped to bring the State of Israel into this world — it did so in the name of peace, not war,
    yet the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is in its 7th decade…

    The current peace process that began at Madrid Peace Conference more than 20 years ago raised high hopes but delivered 2 decades of delay mistrust and missed opportunities…

    A succession of failed peace talks created a climate of mistrust, and many have come to question the basis of the current peace process: land for peace…

    A welcome + positive development in recent years has been the emergence of a credible Palestinian leadership serving its people + in some ways challenging Israel to rethink some of its assumptions…

    In some ways PA is ahead of the regional curve: In the West Bank it is building the institutions for a functioning democracy and a future Palestinian state. Yesterday I once again visited Ramallah
    and was also struck with professionalism of [PA] security forces as well as a broader sense of economic + social progress…

    Yet these advances are at risk. Why? Because politics is not keeping pace with developments on the ground…

    Negotiations have bogged down…

    We see too many pointless provocations. Israel continues to construct settlements — some in the most sensitive places … Meeting with Palestinians in the West Bank yesterday, I heard their frustrations. I repeat, the international community’s position is well known: these settlements are illegal. and I strongly agree …

    They can also be expected to bring their case for statehood to the UN + its various funds + programs, as they already did with UNESCO…

    We must work together to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza … to strengthen the institutions of mutual security in the West Bank and to develop a climate of tolerance + mutual acceptance between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory…

    A negotiated peace must rest on accepted principles of self-determination in their own democratic state …
    Israel must think carefully of how to support those who work for peace …

    Now is the moment for demonstration of good will by both sides…

    Israel can open Gaza for more construction materials I thank [Israel’s Defense] Minister [Ehud] Barak for his
    flexibility [BAN Ki-Moon was then burned on Twitter for that remark]… [But] what I’m asking you is to do more, to enable all those Palestinian people to live in more comfortable situation, circumstances … And for people to live normal lives they have to have schools, decent jobs, and healthcare, and they have to have jobs … Palestinian poverty is not Israel’s friend…

    Our highest priority is to return to negotiations — not just to procedural talks, but genuine + substantive
    negotiations to resolve the core issues… Both sides should understand the profound costs if they lead nowhere…

    I went to Amman to get their [the Jordanian] assessment + expectations of talks, and I faithfully delivered + discussed / conveyed [what I learned] to both Israeli + Palestinian leaderships … and I told King Abdullah I would do anything possible to advance negotiations…

    I told both leaders that this is the moment — to try to rebuild the confidence + momentum that has so sadly and so needlessly been lost … Neogotiations will go nowhere without shared sense of urgency and will: Palestinians must engage seriously on security, and Israel must engage seriously on territory ….

    There must be an end to six decades of occupation, a just solution of all core issues, + the creation of a
    Palestinian state living side by side … I have spoken seriously because I believe time is running out…

    The world is ready to help ensure Israel’s security, just as it is ready to help Palestinians establish a new
    nation that is long overdue.

A video of UNSG BAN Ki-Moon’s speech at the Herzliya Conference is posted here.

Dangerous murders of Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus, dangerous reprisals against Palestinians. But where is proof of Palestinian guilt?

Five members of an Israeli family — including both parents and an infant — living in the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar, not far from Nablus, were brutally murdered in their home on Friday night.

The bodies were discovered when their 12-year-old daughter returned home. Two boys (ages 2 and 6) may have survived, according to unclear Israeli media reports in English.

The northern West Bank was put under lock-down.

All top Israeli officials have called for condemnation of this heinous crime, and said it must be punished and revenged.

Revenge has been and is being carried out against Palestinians.

But, so far, little to no proof of any Palestinian involvement has emerged.

There are footprints, reportedly, leading from a point where the Itamar security system was apparently breached … to the Palestinian village of Awarta.

UPDATE: By March 16, no one — not even a Palestinian — had been charged with the murder, despite intensive Israeli investigations. Awarta is still under lock-down. Thai workers who live in Itamar were reportedly rounded up for interrogation, and there were strong rumors that one of them, who had worked for the family and who was owed 10,000 or 20,000 shekels, was suspected, but there are still no charges against anyone…. At least one Israeli report indicated that the house was still locked from the inside when the murders were discovered. Everybody who was asked and even those who were not asked had dutifully and also sincerely denounced the murders. But those who believe that it was an act of terror committed by Palestinians, well, they still believe it. (See comment below). And, reprisals by settlers against Palestinians are continuing…

UPDATE TWO: The IDF lifted the lock-down on Awarta on Wednesday, more than five days after it began. Reports now indicate that some 40 residents are still being detained.

UPDATE THREE: The Board of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel has issued a statement saying that it “is deeply disturbed that Israeli officials are once again accusing the international media of being biased against Israel. In the latest instance, officials attending a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday dredged up ancient and unfounded conspiracy theories about an 11-year-old case [the death of Muhammad al-Durra, killed while crouching beside his father beside a concrete block in a hail of gunfire in Gaza] and without providing any evidence, tried to equate it to coverage of the weekend knife attack in Itamar. We strongly urge Israeli officials to refrain from making unsubstantiated blanket statements against the international media — a diverse group of hundreds of journalists from around the world — and encourage parliament to seek out more credible witnesses in the future”…

The FPA statement is apparently a reference to remarks made at a Knesset committee on (Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs) this week by Danny Seaman, who served for ten years as head of the Israeli Government Press Office and who is now the Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Information. The Knesset Committee Chairperson, Danny Danon of Likud, reportedly said — according to an account apparently compiled by the Committee spokesperson — that a court battle concerning the film footage of the Gaza gunbattle between the IDF and Palestinian policemen, pursued by French Jewish businessman Philippe Karsenty (now running for the French Parliament, who was present and who was one of those addressing the Knesset hearing this week) “succeeded in proving provocation and conspiracy by foreign journalists. ‘Our enemies have no problem using unacceptable and dishonest means to attack us, so that cases like this where it is possible to reveal the truth are very important for the battle over the legitimacy of the State of Israel’. Danny Seaman, who said he became convinced after his own lengthy investigation that the video footage of the shoot-out in Gaza had been at least in part staged, and who has previously spoken publicly about this in various fora for several years, told the Knesset Committee that he now also believes “there is a direct link between the position taken by the French media on the Muhammad al-Durrah incident that seeks to represent Israel as murderers of children, and their failure to cover the terrible massacre in Itamar”.

From here, it is hard to see that there was any lack of coverage of the murders of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar (much less that this is due to French television’s report on the death of Muhammad al-Durra — though Karsenty has even questioned whether or not the Palestinian child’s death was faked as well). However, it is true that the top news worldwide in the past week has been the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by continuing events in Libya and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, no Israeli government official has yet said explicitly that Palestinians committed the murders in Itamar, either, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that the Palestinian Authority leadership must explicitly condemn the killings — and must also end what he said was a “campaign of incitement” against Israel…

Continue reading Dangerous murders of Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus, dangerous reprisals against Palestinians. But where is proof of Palestinian guilt?

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Jerusalem: "I don't do politics, I do law"

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, wrapped up Friday a couple of days visit in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

(0Pt = UN terminology, adopted from the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Wall, which she mentions below).

In a statement to the media, Pillay said “The settlement of Israeli citizens in the occupied Palestinian territory is clearly prohibited under international law. As a result, all State actions in support of the establishment and maintenance of the settlements, including incentives to create them and the establishment of infrastructure to support them, are illegal under international law. They should be stopped altogether. The idea that a partial or temporary halt is a valuable concession in the peace process, to be traded against something else, is turning the law on its head. The annexation of East Jerusalem contravenes customary international law, as confirmed by Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. This has also been recognized by the International Court of Justice. Because of its illegality, the annexation has not been recognized by any State. Under international law, East Jerusalem remains part of the West Bank and is occupied territory. All settlement-related activities, and any legal or administrative decision or practice that directly or indirectly coerce Palestinians to leave East Jerusalem, including evictions, demolitions, forced displacements and cancelation of residence permits on a discriminatory basis, should be halted and restrictions on access to East Jerusalem by other West Bank inhabitants should be lifted…”

Continue reading UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Jerusalem: "I don't do politics, I do law"

Trying to understand: some Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem

Here is an informative — though not exhaustively, and not completely up to date either [there is no mention of Sheikh Jarrah or Silwan, two real hotspots over the last year and more] — put together by The Palestine Center in Washington D.C.:

Lesley Stahl’s report for the CBS news program 60 Minutes was about Silwan, last Sunday, and can be viewed here, or via the Mondoweiss blog, here.

Lesley Stahl’s reporting included an extra, separate, segment on Silwan’s Beit Yonathan — an illegal 7-story building, built by, and housing, Israeli settlers — which is now under demolition orders: here.

Here is a graphic of East Jerusalem – including the Old City – and the neighborhoods sucrrounding it, from The Wonk Room blog. The graphic accompanies a guest post by Jerusalem-based Israeli activist, writer and filmmaker, Joseph Dana (Ibn Ezra), who is now on a visit to the U.S., about the CBS TV 60 Minutes segment on Silwan.  The dotted green line on the left of the graphic is the Green Line (which marked the separation between Israeli and Jordanian forces between 1948 and the June 1967 war), which now roughly indicates the separation between East and West Jerusalem :

graphic of East Jerusalem including Old City from The Wonkroom blog

In his guest post, Dana wrote:
“Silwan is a dangerous neighborhood. Not only because of the simmering political tensions between the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers occupying houses in the city, but also because the neighborhood is one of the centers of the drug trade. But of all the cities and villages in the West Bank, the Palestinians of Silwan have a reputation as being on the forefront of resistance to Israel’s steady takeover of Palestinian land … Silwan is located in East Jerusalem’s holy basin, which encompasses the north, east and south of the Old City. Over the past five years, the Israeli government has been encouraging Jewish settlers to settle in the holy basin..

Continue reading Trying to understand: some Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem

"It's a tragedy"

Four Israeli settlers were ambushed, shot and killed — apparently at close range — Tuesday evening, while driving to their homes in the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai, near the large and well-fortified settlement of Kiryat Arbaa, outside Hebron.

The deaths occurred on Road 60, just after 7:30 in the evening, at a time when Muslim Palestinians were breaking their fast on the 20th day of sacred month of Ramadan — a month of introspection, calm, and prayer when fighting and conflict is normally supposed to be suspended, according to Islamic tradition.

Yet, Hamas spokespersons in Gaza suggested that such an attack could be considered justifiable, while Palestinian officials in Washington for important meetings immediately pinned the blame squarely on Hamas.

Asked to comment, on the eve of meetings that will convene in Washington at U.S. invitation to relaunch direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that were broken off at the start of Israel’s massive 3-week military operation against Hamas in Gaza, the U.S. State Department’s P.J. Crowley responded by saying that “anytime one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy. We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred”.

Tonight, the nearby Palestinian village of Bani Naim has been completely closed off by the Israeli Army.

Ma’an News Agency reported from Bethlehem that a previously unknown group calling itself the Al-Haq (“Rights”) Brigades claimed the attack, and said it was in response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to return to negotiations with Israel.

There is a large variety of agents provocateurs who might be motivated to carry out such an attack.

Israeli police reports suggest that the victims — a married couple with six children and one grandchild, another woman who also leaves behind a bereaved child, and a young man — were shot at from a car driving alongside their vehicle, then finished off at close range.

UPDATE: Hours after Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said the attack shows the failure of Israeli-Palestinian Authority security cooperation [despite the fact that the PA has no security role on Road 60, which is under total Israel control], PA security forces rounded up dozens of Hamas supporters across the West Bank (particularly in Hebron). And spokespersons for the West Bank settler group, Yesha — which is as opposed as Hamas (if not more) to the U.S. invitation to restart direct negotiations in Washington this week — announced that they will begin building all over the West Bank at 6pm on Wednesday evening. At least two of the four victims of this attack were settler movement activists. Earlier, Israel’s Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak vowed to “extract a price” for the attack — his choice of words echoing the settler “price tag” policy of retaliating with attacks on Palestinians and their property for any Israeli government action against West Bank Jewish settlements.

UPDATE ADD: By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff, and news agencies, reported that “Palestinian security forces carried out one of the largest waves of arrests in the history of the West Bank following Tuesday’s shooting attack near Hebron, in which four Israelis were killed, a Palestinian source said on Wednesday. According to the source, more than 300 people identified with Hamas have been arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces since the attack. This can be read in full here.

UPDATE TWO: The White House issued a statement last night blaming Hamas for the attack, saying that “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice”.

UPDATE TWO ADD: At the start of a two-day event in Washington intended to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, U.S. President Obama himself said: “we are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist attacks. And so the message should go out to Hamas and everyone else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us.”

Iain Scobbie on Israeli settlements in West Bank

As settlers continue to take revenge from Palestinians for the murder of an Israeli settler in the West Bank near Nablus last Thursday, after which the Israeli Defense Forces shot three Palestinian men who are members of the Fatah movement headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, tensions continue among Palestinians about the measures taken. The implications will echo through the weeks ahead.

On the question of the status of the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, I just came upon an interesting opinion piece by international law expert Iain Scobbie (coauthor of “The Israel-Palestine Conflict in International Law: Territorial Issues“), published in the Los Angeles Times on 16 December.

Here are some excerpts:
“…since its inception, Israel has never claimed legal title to all of the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine. On the contrary, it has repeatedly denied such a claim in official statements and acts. On May 22, 1948, soon after Israel’s declaration of independence, the country’s representative to the U.N. Security Council stated that its territory was ‘the area outlined in the map appended to the resolution of 29 November 1947, as constituting the area assigned to the Jewish state’ — namely that area accorded to the nascent Israel by the U.N. Partition Plan contained in General Assembly Resolution 181. This did not include the West Bank. The same view was consistently expressed by Israeli courts. In 1950, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled, ‘The territory of the state of Israel does not coincide with all the territory under the former mandate’. Israel thus refused to be seen as the successor state to the Palestinian mandate. Accordingly, it refused to accede to treaties that bound the mandate and refused to pay the public debt that Palestine owed to Britain. How then can there be a right of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, territory to which Israel itself has never made legal claim? … Article 49 [of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits the transfer of parts of a state’s population into territory it occupies] prohibits any and all population transfers from the occupying power to occupied territory. In 2004 [in its Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Construction of a Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory], the International Court of Justice unanimously found that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory breached Article 49 … Israel knew soon after the Six-Day War in 1967 that settlements in the occupied territory were illegal. As Gershom Gorenberg recounts in his book, ‘The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of Settlements‘, Theodor Meron, then legal advisor to Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs and a distinguished international lawyer specializing in the law of armed conflict and human rights, advised the Israeli government in September 1967 that settlements in the newly occupied territory were prohibited by Article 49.  The fundamental point about settlements, then, is not that they obstruct diplomacy — which they do — but rather that they are illegal. Occupied territory is not under the sovereignty of the occupant. It cannot treat the territory it occupies as it sees fit. An occupant’s powers are circumscribed by international law, which unequivocally prohibits the settlement of part of its population, whether forcible or voluntary, in that territory. While this prohibition arises from Article 49, Article 1 requires parties not merely to respect the terms of the convention in their own conduct but also to ensure that others do. All states are party to the Geneva Conventions, therefore all states have the duty to ensure that Israel’s illegal policy of creating settlements in occupied Palestinian territory ceases without further delay”.

This opinion piece can be read in full here.

Of course, Israel does not view the territory in question as “occupied” — and thus rejects much of this occupation. In the legal memo written by Theodore Meron, to which Scobbie refers above, the oPt (occupied Palestinian territory) is referred to as “administered”…

Scobbie provides a link to an English-language translation of Meron’s legal memo, here.

EU Ministers expected to issue statement on East Jerusalem today

Today could mark an important step in the Middle East peace process. EU Foreign Ministers are to meet to consider a statement on East Jerusalem and a future Palestinian state.

As the Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon reports, there has been heavy lobbying: “Israel is pushing for a text much shorter than the three-to-four-page Swedish draft, and one that would commend Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s housing-start moratorium in the settlements and urge the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, is trying to convince the 27 EU nations to support the Swedish draft resolution on the Middle East that for the first time refers to ‘Palestine’ [is this true? see below … ] and calls for a resumption of negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state with ‘East Jerusalem’ as its capital. The draft resolution only ‘takes note’ of Netanyahu’s housing-start moratorium, and says the EU hopes ‘it will become a step towards resuming meaningful negotiations’. Such a resolution, were it to pass, would be the first time the EU has called formally for recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state … The proposal by Sweden, which this month is winding down its tenure as rotating president of the EU, is also reportedly backed by Ireland, Belgium, Britain and Malta, while Italy, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland and Slovenia have come out against the wording of the text. France has also opposed the draft on the grounds that more support should be given to Netanyahu for the settlement moratorium, and also because of a feeling that while France supported Jerusalem becoming the capital of two states in a future solution, the modalities of how this would be done should be left to the negotiations”. This JPost article can be read in full here.

The American position on Jerusalem is not totally clear. Officials tell us that the U.S. position has not changed — but what is that position? As I wrote in the latest issue (number 39, August 2009) of Jerusalem Quarterly that officials of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama “have had to press Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyanu, newly-installed after February general elections for (1) a recommitment to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and (2) for a complete end to its settlement activities. European policy, however, continues to emphasize the role of international law and United Nations resolutions, while American policy may have not yet fully recovered from the view that some of that is ‘ancient history’ – and important American policy decisions still hang in the balance. Europe for several decades worked to have an independent policy … There were persistent reports that Obama’s special envoy George Mitchell had, after months of talks, only succeeded in extracting Israeli agreement to a qualified and limited settlement freeze that Israeli officials insisted would not, in any case, be permanent. One Israeli media report even stated that American officials privately told their Israeli counterparts that they would not require a full settlement freeze if the Palestinians did not insist … Netanyahu asserted in mid-2009 that ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement’ — and he made the immediately contested claimed that Jews and Arabs have equal rights to live and build in Jerusalem. In response, a U.S. State Department spokesman, pressed by journalists, explained that, ‘we believe that Israel has an obligation to cease all settlement activity in East Jerusalem or the West Bank or wherever it may be over the 1967 border’. A few days earlier, US Presidential Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, that in Obama’s view, Israeli plans to approve additional settlement construction are ‘inconsistent with Israel’s commitment under the Roadmap’ … The U.S.-European convergence of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may well now be the closest since Europe fell out of favor following its June 1980 Venice Declaration in which it intended to prepare a ‘special role’ for itself in the Middle East, and that it believed the Palestine Liberation Organization should be associated with a new peace initiative that Europe would propose. The nine Western European states who were members of the European Community at the time were apparently persuaded that the Camp David negotiations between Israel and Egypt that started in September 1978 with the sponsorship and strong backing of U.S. President Jimmy Carter might have led to a bilateral peace treaty but had otherwise only exacerbated regional tensions. According to this 1980 Venice Declaration, ‘the time has come to promote the recognition and implementation of the two principles universally accepted by the international community: the right to existence and to security of all States in the region, including Israel, and justice for all the peoples, which implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people … A just solution must finally be found to the Palestinian problem, which is not simply one of refugees. The Palestinian people, which is conscious of existing as such, must be placed in a position, by an appropriate process defined within the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement, to exercise fully its right to self-determination … These principles are binding on all the parties concerned, and thus on the Palestinian people, and on the PLO, which will have to be associated with the negotiations‘ … European leaders did, indeed, stress in the Venice Declaration ‘the need for Israel to put an end to the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967, as it has done for part of Sinai. They are deeply convinced that the Israeli settlements constitute a serious obstacle to the peace process in the Middle East. The Nine consider that these settlements, as well as modifications in population and property in the occupied Arab territories, are illegal under international law‘. The Venice Declaration also recognized ‘the special importance of the role played by the question of Jerusalem for all the parties concerned. The Nine stressed that they would not accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status of Jerusalem and that any agreement on the city’s status should guarantee freedom of access for everyone to the Holy Places’. The European position on these two issues still stands to this day – and is now being echoed in statements made by the Obama Administration. What has not been published is the follow-up document approved in December 1980, by the Nine Western European leaders at a summit meeting in Luxembourg, after six months of intensive work to flesh out the European proposal for a new peace initiative. Shortly afterwards, it was suddenly put on hold, apparently out of consideration for the one-term Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, who took office after his inauguration in January 1981. [In the Luxembourg Document] The Nine said they could assert the interest of the Christian world in the holy places in Jerusalem. The Luxembourg document said that withdrawal, as mentioned in UN Security Council resolution 242, means also from East Jerusalem, but that the future of Jerusalem as a whole must be determined in negotiations. The document stated that the situation of Jerusalem in international law is not yet precisely defined, but the Nine did state that they do not recognize either the partition between Israel and Jordan (established in the cease-fire accord of 30 November 1948 and the armistice accord of 3 April 194;, or the Israeli Knesset’s proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (23 June 1950); or the de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967; or the fundamental law passed by the Knesset on 30 July 1980, proclaiming Jerusalem as the united and reunified capital of Israel. The Luxembourg document contains several different proposals concerning Jerusalem:
1) Internationalization of the entire city; 2) A new plan of partition which would give juridical value to the situation that existed between 1948 and 1967; 3) A “condominium” between Israel and the Arabs [this was the word used at the time, not “Palestinians”, though that may be what it meant, or it may have wished to be ambiguous] which would involve joint sovereignty; 4) A formula which would include common administration without physical divisions (either keeping de facto unity, without specifying respective sovereignty, or dividing sovereignty without any actual physical division of the city on the ground). In these cases, Jerusalem would be ruled by a municipal authority composed of elected Israelis and Palestinians [similar to a proposal made when the British mandate was still in place, but never implemented]. Religious places would be under the exclusive administration of religious authorities; 5) Internationalization of the Old City – i.e., everything within the city walls, where most of the holy places are. “This would give the Old City the character of the Vatican”, the Luxembourg document said. The Old City would then be administered by a special representative named by the Security Council for a determined number of years. This would require the parties to renounce their sovereignty over the Old City – and this last proposal could be combined and made compatible with most of the earlier options outlined above, the Luxembourg document said … The American chilly and distant reaction to the Venice Declaration and the Luxembourg Documents, caused a European retreat – or a sidelining — that lasted for several decades. The immediate problem, in 1980, was that the American administration of President Jimmy Carter was defensively protecting its heavy political and diplomatic investment in the Camp David strategy it had launched with Israel and Egypt. Carter’s singular focus on the importance of maintaining the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations was apparently responsible for compromising the publicly-stated U.S. position on Jerusalem in 1980 – which, if it did not actually change, at least to become so closely-held that it appeared less critical of Israeli actions concerning Jerusalem. On Carter’s orders, the U.S. abstained from a series of more than half a dozen UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s “Basic Law” of proclaiming united Jerusalem as its eternal capital. The U.S. delegation did not restate the previously-declared American position on Jerusalem [see footnote 1 below] — and just kept quiet … The American silence, or obfuscation, about its position on Jerusalem, adopted for Carter’s political advantage in negotiations, and in an election year, also perfectly suited the worldview of the neo-conservatives who joined Ronald Reagan’s team, and who used this lack of clarity to suggest a much more pro-Israeli policy on Jerusalem … But did Jimmy Carter, who as U.S. president was so protective of the Camp David process that he had invested so much in, when he more recently visited the Hanoun and Ghawi families [evicted from their homes and replaced by Jewish national-religious settlers, see our other posts here] living on the sidewalks in front of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah on 27 August, as part of a delegation of The Elders – a group of former statesmen and women – and brought them a ‘gift of food’, did he remember that in 1980, he instructed officials in his administration just before he faced re-election in what became the final year of his presidency, to be ‘noticeably quiet’ on the subject of Jerusalem? [Footnote 1: On 14 July 1967 (after Israel extended its law and administration over East Jerusalem) U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg (representing President Lyndon Johnson) stated in a UN General Assembly vote that “this Assembly should have dealt with the problem by declaring itself against any unilateral change in the status of Jerusalem … [O]n July 3, I said that the safeguarding of the Holy Places and freedom of access to them for all should be internationally guaranteed and the status of Jerusalem in relation to them should be decided not unilaterally but in consultation with all concerned. These statements represent the considered and continuing policy of the United States … We insist that the measures taken cannot be considered other than interim and provisional, and not prejudging the final and permanent status of Jerusalem”. In his speech before the UN Security Council, Goldberg also read excerpts from two statement issued on 28 June 1967: (1) the first from the White House, which stated that in the President’s view, “there must be adequate recognition of the special interests of three great religions in the holy places of Jerusalem. On this principle he assumes that before any unilateral action is taken on the status of Jerusalem there will be appropriate consultations with religious leaders and others who are deeply concerned … The world must find an answer that is fair and recognized to be fair”; and (2) the second from the State Department, saying that “The hasty administrative action taken today cannot be regarded as determining the future of the Holy Places or the status of Jerusalem in relation to them. The United States has never recognized such unilateral actions by any of the states in the area as governing the international status of Jerusalem”. And, on 1 July 1969, U.S. Ambassador Charles Yost (representing President Richard Nixon) told the UN Security Council that “the United States has always considered that Jerusalem enjoys a unique international standing and that no action should be taken there without full regard to Jerusalem’s special history and special place in the world community … The United States considers that the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory and hence subject to the provisions of international law governing the rights and obligations of an occupying power … The pattern of behavior authorized under the Geneva Convention and international law is clear: the occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering with the customary life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by immediate needs of the occupation. I regret to say that the actions of Israel in the occupied portion of Jerusalem present a different picture, one which gives rise to understandable concerns that the eventual disposition of East Jerusalem may be prejudiced and the rights and activities of the population are already being affected and altered … We have consistently refused to recognize these measures as having anything but a provisional character and do not accept them as affecting the ultimate status of Jerusalem”. This article can be read in full here.


Meanwhile, with fine irony, Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar writes today: “Who would have believed that Benjamin Netanyahu would get the settler minister Avigdor Lieberman to agree to a settlement freeze? Ever since Netanyahu replaced Ehud Olmert as prime minister, there has been a significant decrease in the number of roadblocks in the West Bank. Peace Now reports that Housing and Construction Ministry tenders for housing beyond the Green Line are at a low. So why are the Europeans now plotting to divide Jerusalem (even though they never recognized its unification)? Why have the Russians vetoed the Quartet proposal to issue a statement of support for the freeze Israel has imposed? What do they want from Bibi? The answer lies in statements Netanyahu made Thursday to settler leaders protesting the temporary settlement freeze. ‘This move makes it clear to key players around the world that Israel is serious in its intentions to achieve peace, while the Palestinians refuse to enter negotiations for peace’, the prime minister told the anxious guests. And to remove all doubt, he added: ‘There is a side that wants [to talk] and another that does not. This move has made clear who is refusing peace’. In other words, we want to get out of the occupied territory, but the Palestinians insist that we stay. Netanyahu has in essentially confirmed that he knew in advance that a limited settlement freeze wouldn’t bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He could have bet that Abbas wouldn’t accept less than what the road map gave the Palestinians more than six years ago: a total freeze that includes natural growth and the immediate dismantling of all outposts established since March 2001. You don’t have to be the head of Military Intelligence to expect that no Arab leader would take part in a move that recognizes, or even implies, Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem” … This Akiva Eldar piece can be viewed here.

Separately, Amos Harel notes in in Haaretz today that “U.S. President Barack Obama has united the settlers. At the moment, the struggle against the freeze is being waged on both sides of the separation fence … America’s demand for a comprehensive freeze has created, for the first time in a while, common ground between Beit Aryeh, Yitzhar and Migron. Settlers of all stripes have signed the High Court petition against the freeze … Foundations have been laid. The past few months, in which the government delayed responding to pressure from Washington, gave the settlers time to organize. Because the date for the freeze was set in late November, great efforts were made to lay hundreds of housing units as facts on the ground. The missions seem to have worked – building continues in many such settlements, viewed as legitimate by the government and exempted from the freeze … The recurring complaint last week, heard among regional council heads across the West Bank, was that the freeze was halting plans about to be carried out, plans supposedly already authorized. It’s a surprising claim, as for years the settlers have complained of being ‘dried out’ by the government, which they claimed wouldn’t allow them to so much as enclose their balconies. If indeed all of the recent administrations, from Sharon to Olmert, ‘dried them out’, then when exactly did these construction projects Netanyahu is trying to undermine actually spring up?” This is posted here.

And, Zvi Bar’el writes, also in Haaretz, that “In 10 months, when the bubble bursts, the High Holidays will be around the corner and the Palestinian Authority will or will not have Abbas and perhaps a united government with Hamas. Netanyahu and the Yesha government will be able to ridicule and celebrate. No one will be able to demand further ‘concessions’, because such a ‘trauma’ must not happen again. Therefore this pseudo-trauma must be magnified. As Rabbi Moshe Levinger shouted to the settlers who were to be evacuated from the Sebastia train station in the mid-1970s, ‘Rend your clothing’ – as Jewish mourners do. The moratorium on construction must be presented immediately as no less than a national disaster, a real holocaust, so that 10 months from now no one will ever consider demanding that the freeze continue. Should, heaven forfend, a peace process begin, this way the State of Israel will know that it is facing off against the entire settler state. The show this time has to be bigger than the one for the disengagement from Gaza. After all, that disengagement was to have assured that there would be no more withdrawals. And suddenly – treachery. Although life this time is easier, because the settlers are not going up against Ariel Sharon or Menachem Begin; it is just Netanyahu, the ball that was meant to be pushed around. But his logic is not that of the settlers. All he wants is to show, particularly to the Americans and generally to the world, that Israel is the one that made the sacrifice. The settlers, in contrast, see every day of the freeze as a national defeat. Their war is not against the Americans or the Palestinians. It’s a matter of them or the government of Israel. It is a struggle for the national consciousness, as they wrote in a document of principles of ‘the renewed Yesha [the council of settlers and settlements]’ (as opposed to the old Yesha, which ‘lost’ Gaza). No more chances must be taken in such a struggle, and the settlers are taking none. This state has 300,000 citizens, and those who want a peace process will have to negotiate with its leaders, not with the Palestinians or Americans”. Zvi Bar’el’s analysis can be viewed in full here.

Israel authorizes settlement increase — before agreeing to temporary freeze?

Eight months after Barack Obama was sworn into office last January (and made his first phone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — urging him to resume negotiations that Palestinians cut off when Israel launched a massive military assault on Gaza on 27 December), the Israeli government has thrown down the gauntlet and defied the Obama Administration’s cautionary advice against continued settlement activity.

In a direct challenge to American efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the Israeli Defense Minister — who apparently rules the occupied West Bank — has just authorized construction of some 455 new Jewish homes there.

There are Israeli suggestions that this will be followed later this week by a U.S-Israeli agreement on a temporary settlement freeze.

But would the current United States administration, led by Barack Obama, really be so willing to go along with this?

Today is the Labor Day holiday that marks the end of summer in the USA. Obama is making a big speech, and is embroiled in a controversy about health care. George Mitchell is due in the region later this week. So, the reaction appears to be muted, at least for the moment.

But, the Israeli move on settlements shows that U.S. diplomacy is not overwhelmingly effective at the moment.

Continue reading Israel authorizes settlement increase — before agreeing to temporary freeze?