Abu Mazen scheduled at Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem at 5pm

So, he must already have arrived.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem — the warmth of the invitation no doubt intended to melt resistance and encourage agreement, even as the Palestinian negotiators face the realization that the will have to stay the course, whatever happens to the settlement freeze…

UPDATE: The U.S. is reportedly suggesting/requesting a three-month continuation of the freeze-that-never-was-a- real-freeze…

Laura Rozen suggests here that there is logic to the idea that Netanyahu + Abu Mazen already be scheduled to meet (perhaps also with Clinton) in another week’s time in New York, in the “margins” of the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level session.

Abu Mazen’s predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, never got officially invited to Jerusalem (though it is said he was allowed to pass through, in an extremely low-key way, while en route from Ramallah to Bethlehem one time…)

Why is Abu Mazen going through with this?  For reasons that Hillary Clinton will not see, ever, while in Jerusalem or driving through the West Bank for her meeting with Abu Mazen and — of course — also with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tomorrow…

Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz today that “A peace agreement is not a contract. It requires a change of values of a kind that does not exist within the vocabulary of the democratic Jewish state, which elevates the system of double standards to a level of virtuosity.  The people of this state are incapable of imagining themselves departing from the privileges that this system confers. And who cares if the flip side of those privileges is dispossession, suppression of freedoms and the risk of regional conflagration? The day before yesterday, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi ) was interviewed on Army Radio’s morning broadcast, and argued that it was impossible to continue the construction freeze in the West Bank settlements while the Palestinians went on building and building. One cannot expect an interviewer on Army Radio or Israel Radio to surprise and ask, for example: ‘Since the principle of equality is suddenly so important to the settlement lobby, why then residents of Nablus and East Jerusalem cannot have a housing project in Haifa or live in Ashkelon or in a panoramic neighborhood in the Galilee, while residents of Haifa and kibbutz Hazorea are allowed to build in Nablus Heights or in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan? But the interviewer didn’t even correct a distortion of the facts and didn’t tell the listeners that the Palestinians cannot build at will. In the 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control, known as Area C, Israel has frozen Palestinian construction for the past four decades. It can be assumed that the interviewer, despite numerous reports, is unaware of the building freeze beyond the pale of settlement allocated to the Palestinians. Natural growth only applies to Jews. In Area C, schools, kindergartens and water are only for Jews. The Mekorot Water Company’s wells in the Jordan Valley supply quantities of water to the settlements and their orchards. The water flows from the Palestinians’ land, and the pipes are fenced off. And the land is parched, because the Palestinians are not allowed to draw their own water from those pipes, as Israel imposes on them a quota which is not set to human beings’ needs. In the democratic Jewish state, within its virtual borders, it’s as clear as the sun rising in the east. If the American partner had wanted to, it would have demanded to begin evacuating the settlements, not only to continue the construction freeze. But the territory robbed by the separation barrier – Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim, Efrat in its Anglo-Saxon elegance and East Jerusalem – are all within the consensus. Whose consensus? The people of the democratic Jewish state and evangelical Christians, of course. No one thinks to ask about the consensus among the residents of Palestinian cities and villages on whose land the settlements have been built. The millions of Palestinians don’t count at all”… This ref=”Amira Hass article can be read in full here.

Two days ago, Amira Hass revealed that, upon reflection, she has now come to the conclusion that it is worse to be Palestinian in [East] Jerusalem than in Gaza. She wrote in Haaretz: “I have found myself wondering which Palestinians have it the worst under the Israeli rule. For many years, I thought there was nothing worse than life in Gaza. I even argued my point with a friend, who claimed the absolute worst is to be a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship because ‘we live in the midst of the Nakba [1948 catastrophe] sites and experience the daily racism masquerading as democracy’. But for more than a year now, I have been vacillating between Gaza and Jerusalem. That is to say, I have been trying to decide which is worse – the isolation and insulation that Israel has imposed on Gaza (which includes being cut off from water sources and from the cultural, social and family ties those residents have with their People ); or the cynicism with which the decision makers continue to turn the population of East Jerusalem into welfare clients and slum dwellers, and then pride themselves of the national insurance payments they grant them. A visit to the [East Jerusalem] neighborhood of Isawiyah decided the issue. Heaps of concrete, uncollected garbage, roads that are becoming narrower due to pirate additions to buildings – forced on residents thanks to construction prohibitions and the expropriation of vacant lots – all lies in sight of the Hebrew University campus and the city’s French Hill, which are so green, spacious and civilized. And now a report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has confirmed my determination. The report, titled “Unsafe space: The Israeli authorities’ failure to protect human rights amid settlements in East Jerusalem“, is based on testimonies, media reports and official documents. It highlights the loss of personal and collective security in Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, in the heart of which hostile bodies have settled over the past 30 years – settlers supported by millionaires and religious and archeological associations … The authorities who prevent Palestinians from building and developing their lands allocate vacant plots to the Jews, not only outside of the populated areas but also in their very heart. These spaces are allocated for parking or entertainment, archeological digs or construction. As these neighbors are the authorities’ darlings, confrontations are unavoidable, so the Housing and Construction Ministry provides hundreds of armed guards for the Jews at the public’s expense (some NIS 54 million in 2010 ). When [East Jerusalem] Palestinians complain to [Israeli] police about harassment [this would never happen in the West Bank], they find themselves treated like suspects. When they call the police, they feel like the officers are in no hurry to get there. And when police investigate cases in which Jews are suspected of causing bodily harm, these cases are closed swiftly. In this way, the Palestinians are left at the mercy of the aggressive, belligerent and officially sanctioned invaders. The guards, who are employed by a private company, think their position permits them to hit people, to act abusively and even to shoot. The people in whose midst these fortified complexes are sprawling are afraid to get in and out; relatives and friends think twice before coming to visit them. These complexes are also characterized by a great deal of noise – digging at archeological sites that goes on until night, and dancing and religious celebrations accompanied by anti-Arab songs… Ariel Rosenberg, the [Housing and Construction] ministry’s spokesman, firmly denies any claims that guards harass Palestinians and praises their professionalism and the instructions they receive to show restraint and forbearance. ‘In the past year’, he writes, ‘the situation in the area under discussion has significantly worsened and the guards are witness to extremely hostile activity’ … I have been able to memorize only a few Arabic adages. One I learned from one of the many villagers who was handed an expropriation order for his land. Sitting at the entrance to his home, he looked like he was attending a funeral. ‘To whom can a grain of wheat complain when the cock is the judge?’ he said, in response to my dumb question about what he planned to do”… And this Amira Hass article is posted here.d

Abu Tir "deportation" trial may resume at 2pm today

East Jerusalem Palestinian politician Mohammad Abu Tir is due in court today at 2 pm, before Judge Carmi Mossek of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court (in the Russian Compound in West Jerusalem).    At a court hearing on 4 July, the case was postponed until today — and it may be postponed yet again, if there is not yet a political solution available.

UPDATE: The court postponed the case again, until Wednesday.

Abu Tir and three other men, all elected in January 2006 to the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC), are facing — for this — what is being called “deportation” from Jerusalem, though to where is not clear.

Abu Tir served over four years in jail for this reason, and was released about six weeks ago.

After that, the Israeli Police summoned him and his three colleagues — all Palestinian East Jerusalemites elected to the PLC in the last elections in 2006 — and confiscated their Jerusalem ID cards.

Then, Abu Tir was arrested near his house for not having an ID, and for “trying to enter the State of Israel illegally”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has been trying to broker one kind of solution — in which Abu Tir and three others who were elected (in Israeli-approved elections, on what I have recently heard was also an Israeli-approved list of candidates running on the Hamas-affiliated Change + Reform Party) would formally renounce  Hamas.

This may be too much to ask…even if we leave aside all the questions of (1) how the PLC has been unable to meet for years due to a lack of a quorum because Israel arrested most of the Change + Reform party MPs in the West Bank, or of (2) how the term of the PLC that was elected in January 2006 is considered to have expired in January 2010, or even of  (3) what exactly is meant by “Jerusalem”, or (4) by “deportation”.

This  may be too much to ask… though not necessarily because of these men’s loyalty to Hamas, which may or may not have eroded over time.

This may be too much to ask… because it is too transparently and embarassingly partisan, and fundamentally undemocratic.

Deportation, as we have written before, is a violation of fundamental human rights, international humanitarian law, the Oslo agreements between the P.L.O. and Israel (as Abu Mazen said in his Mihraj speech at Ramallah’s Cultural Palace a few days ago) — AND it is a specific violation of the Road Map.

Are George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama paying any attention?

Netanyahu: Ramallah + Jerusalem are only "ten minutes apart"

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the regular weekly meeting of his Cabinet today (Sunday, 4 July 10) that he hopes direct talks with Palestinian officials will be one of the outcomes of his forthcoming trip to Washington.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday.

“Ramallah almost touches Jerusalem”, Netanhayu told his cabinet. “I have been ready to meet with Abu Mazen since this Government’s first day in office”.

Netanyahu noted that “The main goal of the talks with President Obama will be to advance direct talks in the peace process between us and the Palestinians … On the issue of direct talks, there is no substitute for entering into such negotiations. There is no substitute. One cannot raise ideas in either the media or by other means, and avoid that direct contact, that is the only possible way to bring about a solution to the conflict between us and the Palestinians. We are ten minutes apart”.

This is a slight exaggeration, since Netanyahu has probably not been to Ramallah in a long time, and perhaps never. Traffic is absolutely terrible. And the Qalandia checkpoint will probably have to be completely closed down if Netanyahu were ever to come to visit… as he proposed in public remarks in front of journalists when he was meeting U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell last week [See our previous post on this, here.]

Netanyahu added: “Whoever desires peace will hold direct peace talks. I hope that this will be one of the results of my trip to Washington”.

The Israeli newspaper Maariv is reporting today that after the trip to Washington, Netanyahu will make a visit to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Husni Mubarak. Didi Remez has posted a translation of this report into English (from the original Hebrew) on his website here.

Ma’an News Agency is reporting today that “The Arab League will turn to the UN Security Council to declare a Palestinian state if proximity talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials fail to achieve progress by September, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit said Saturday. According to Egyptian news site Al-Masry Al-Youm, Abul Gheit said Arab countries should act while taking into consideration UNSC Resolution 1515, calling for the creation of a Palestinian state in coexistence with Israel, which the Arab League decision is based on”…

UNSC Resolution 1515 was adopted — unanimously — on 19 November 2003, and it endorses the Roadmap presented on 30 April 2003.

Resolution 1515 reaffirms “its vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders”. In its operative paragraphs, this resolution “Endorses the Quartet Performance-based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” and “Calls on the parties to their obligations under the Roadmap in cooperation with the Quartet and to achlieve the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security”. This resolution is published by the United Nations, and can be viewed by clicking on the link for Security Council Resolution at this web page here.

The Ma’an report added that “The Arab League endorsed the second round of US-brokered indirect talks with Israel in May, after they were initially derailed in March following Israel’s announcement that an illegal East Jerusalem settlement would be enlarged during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the region. The body gave the talks a four-month deadline and has repeatedly called on Israel to abidoste by its various commitments with regard to occupied Palestinian and Syrian land, threatening to rethink the Arab Peace Initiative on several occasions. Last week, Arab League chief Amr Moussa said an emergency summit will be held in October”… This Ma’an story is posted here .

Netanyahu offers to come to … Ramallah

In public remarks after his meeting with U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell this evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu offered to come to Ramallah if the Palestinian side were ready for direct negotiations.

It would be a first.

Netanyahu told Mitchell, in front of the cameras: “I call on President Abu Mazen to come to Jerusalem. I’m prepared to go to Ramallah. I think that this is the only way that we’ll solve the intricate problems that we’re discussing between us”… This statement was sent around by email from the Israeli Government Press Office, part of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Mitchell is currently conducting a fourth or fifth round indirect, or “proximity” talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

But Ramallah is Area A (a category dating from the Oslo Accords, designating where Palestinian Authority security forces have nominal control) — and Israelis are barred from entering Area A…

There are big red signs around the West Bank [ sometimes in the wrong places, actually, such as just after passing through Qalandia Checkpoint, on the way to Ramallah, where there are areas that are still legally Jerusalem by Israeli definition, such as Qafr Aqab and Semiramis, and that still must pay Jerusalem taxes, though they get virtually no services], warning Israelis — who can otherwise roam freely, say, to visit friends in the settlements — that they are approaching an Area A [usually a “built-up” Palestinian city — though even they can have parts which are classified Areas B or C — such as Abu Mazen’s house above Balloua…]

No Israeli can enter Area A without facing fines (5000 shekels, for endangering him/herself and the rescue services that would have to be called up if he/she calls for help or, G-d forbid, gets in trouble. There have been stories about people heading to weddings in the settlements who ended up in the middle of Qalandiya refugee camp while relying on their car’s Israeli GPS systems, which do not acknowledge either political reality or even the actual geography of the West Bank — in many areas of which the Israeli GPS simply goes blank…

Perhaps Netanyahu has been inspired by all the recent almost-irresistable media stories about cafes + malls + more in the “Tel Aviv” of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, there are still regular IDF and Border Police incursions in the West Bank — mainly at night, which is believed to be more protective to the Israeli forces on the prowl, but also during the day.

After midnight, but before dawn this morning, for example, the IDF arrested 8 “wanted” Palestinians overnight in the West Bank. The way the IDF spokespersons unit just described this on Twitter is: “Overnight, IDF forces arrested 8 wanted Palestinians suspected for terrorist activity in J + S [Judea + Samaria, meaning the West Bank] region”

These incursions happen at least several times a week, sometimes almost every night. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have complained about this, publicly and reportedly privately as well, for months and more.

The atmosphere is … almost indescribable, especially to people used to feeling secure in their homes and in their beds, who will not really understand the tension and terror this sows.

Netanyahu offers to go to … Ramallah.  Why not?  Everybody is: two Haaretz journalists [not Amira Hass, who has lived in Ramallah for more than a decade, since 1997 as it happens] bylined a story published today, datelined Ramallah. Actually it was part of the outreach program of the new Palestinian Presidential media advisory team at the Muqata’a — six Israeli journalists were specially invited, given lunch, allowed to see the man close-up, and ask whatever questions they wanted for three hours.

One can only imagine the security arrangements [well beyond the usual IDF waiver form they would have been required to sign]…  But, then again, the IDF and Israeli security services have reportedly long been involved in coordination of all movements — and even escorting — of President Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad around the West Bank. There is, after all, the great threat of the bitter enemy, “Islamic fundamentalism”…

Actually, some Israeli journalists, but more often some well-connected Israeli analysts, have been coming to Ramallah without any fanfare [for security reasons too, let’s not forget]. And not just from the Israeli “left”, which means not Marxists but those opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, but also from the right. One of the more active analysts from former Israeli diplomat Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Policy Affairs told me in 2009 that he had been coming on a weekly basis for a while, and if I remember correctly he was being briefed in the Palestinian Civil Affairs office run by Fatah’s Hussein ash-Sheikh (in the same building, just a bit more than a stone’s throw from the Israeli “Civil Administration” and Military Court at Beit El, where Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan now has the entire top floor for his own media outreach operation).

The Haaretz story, co-authored by Aluf Benn and Akiva Eldar, that is one of the products of this Palestinian media outreach invitation is published here.

In it, we learn, for example, that Abu Mazen noted, with mild reproach, that the head of Palestinian Television [who is also the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO], Yasser Abed Rabbo, invited Netanyahu for a PALestinian TV interview but got no response.

Perhaps Netanyahu is now ready to respond?

The Jerusalem Post’s report, which called this an “apparent charm offensive aimed at the Israeli public” is here, authored by Herb Keinon.

The JPost reported that Abbas “is willing to enter direct negotiations with the Netanyahu government, as soon as he hears from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu regarding Israel’s position on borders and security issues. Abbas, in the briefing with Israeli journalists Tuesday in Ramallah, said that originally he wanted to hear from Netanyahu whether he was willing to accept the understandings agreed upon by his predecessor, Ehud Olmert …

The JPost notes that “Abbas, who has come under pressure from the US to speak directly to the Israeli public, last spoke with the Israeli media when he gave an interview to Channel 2 at the end of April … When no answer from Netanyahu was forthcoming regarding the Olmert offer, Abbas said at Tuesday’s briefing, he sent a message through US envoy George Mitchell saying that he would suffice with an answer on only two of the issues: borders and security. ‘Answers like these are necessary to see if we are speaking the same language, and then it will be possible to continue. It is preferable that direct talks will not explode after 10 minutes, and then who knows when we will be able to renew negotiations again’, Abbas said.  Abbas said he would be willing to engage in direct negotiations with Netanyahu as soon as he received an answer”.

This apparently American-inspired Palestinian “charm offensive”, sullen though it may be at times, has been going on since the indirect or “proximity” talks presided by Mitchell have gotten well underway.

We may — or may not — be at a Sadat moment.

Abbas’ deputy as chief negotiator, Sa’eb Erekat, spoke to the INSS [Institute for National Security Studies] in Tel Aviv several weeks ago, and debated Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor in Washington more recently. In the same line, Abbas himself recently met with members of the American Jewish community in the U.S.

On all occasions, it is safe to say, the two Palestinians had considerably more rosy assessments of the encounters than did their more-distrustful Israeli counterparts.

On top of that, Abbas’ Prime Minister Fayyad is about to meet the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is the effective rule of the West Bank in the Israeli government and practice — supposedly to discuss “security” [even though there was an uproar when his er formEconomic Minister, Basim Khoury, caused a storm of criticism when he spoke to Silvan Shalom at a meeting in Tel Aviv — but that was before indirect talks began].

Fayyad is a legal permanent resident of [East] Jerusalem, of course — like the four elected Hamas-affiliated Palestinian parliamentarians who residency is about to be revoked [and they will be “deported”, unless a court intervenes].   But Fayyad is not affiliated with Hamas.  So, he could easily meet Barak in either East or West Jerusalem, or anywhere in Israel.  Alternatively, Barak could easily make arrangements to show up somewhere in Ramallah [though no doubt with a huge and very obtrusive security escort], and take in all the supposedly glittery sights…

Today was supposed to be Palestinian election day

On 24 October 2009 – in what looked at the time to be an attempt to push Hamas to sign a reconciliation document being brokered by Egypt — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) issued the required presidential decree calling for presidential and legislative council elections on 24 January 2010 — that is, today.

A few days later, Abu Mazen said he would not run in the next Palestinian presidential elections.

About two weeks later, Abu Mazen quickly endorsed a statement by the Independent Election Commission saying that free elections could not be held in Gaza, given the current conditions there (in particular, the lack of agreement on reconciliation). He said he would stay in his post until the next elections could be held…

Today, various Palestinian politicians in the West Bank said that their terms in office, as members of the Palestine Legislative Council, have come to an end.

Continue reading Today was supposed to be Palestinian election day

Abbas' Mystery Meeting – to be with Hamas?

The hints have been coming for two days. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is going to have an important meeting “outside the homeland” today, Sunday 3 January.

Nabil Abu Rudeina dropped hints (slighly misleading) on Thursday, Yasser Abed Rabbo said it on Saturday… Now, the hints are leading in the direction of an Abbas-Hamas direct meeting.

It would be the first in a very long time, the first since the June 2007 “coup” in which Hamas routed Fatah/Palestinian Security Forces in Gaza. Abu Mazen’s position has hardly changed: Hamas must return to the status quo ante — that is, the Palestinian Authority must be restored in Gaza.

Abu Mazen was absent from Fatah’s 45th-anniversary musical gala at Ramallah’s Cultural Palace on Saturday evening, because he was travelling.

Now, Reuters is reporting, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (based in Damascus in recent years) is in Saudi Arabia for meetings in “in a possible bid to narrow the rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, an official source said … ‘He arrived today. The visit is aimed at helping Palestinian reconciliation’, a senior foreign ministry official said”.

Continue reading Abbas' Mystery Meeting – to be with Hamas?