Drinking tea together – [UPDATED]

WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, published this photo, here, of President Mahmoud Abbas [on right] sitting with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, after Fayyad submits his resignation and Abbas accepts it.

Mahmoud Abbas + Salam Fayyad drink tea together in the Muqata'a - 13 April 2013
Mahmoud Abbas + Salam Fayyad drink tea together in the Muqata'a - 13 April 2013

A meeting between the two men, for this purpose, was set for last Thursday, then postponed after American intervention. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had just visited the region, called President Abbas on Friday and urged that the differences between the two officials be settled. A meeting was set for Saturday morning, then postponed. Then, it suddenly took place on Saturday evening.

The Associated Press reported that “Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad had been locked in an increasingly bitter dispute over the extent of the prime minister’s authority”. The AP account of this event was published by The National, here.

The New York Times also used the AP story, which said that, according to WAFA, “Abbas asked Fayyad to continue to serve in his post until Abbas forms a new government. Abbas was expected to name a new prime minister within days, according to Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations…[T]he conflict between the two escalated last month over the resignation of Fayyad’s finance minister, Nabil Kassis. Fayyad accepted the resignation, but Abbas then overruled the prime minister, effectively challenging his right to hire and fire Cabinet ministers”.  This is published here.

Kassis served as Finance Minister for about ten months.  Fayyad was Finance Minister for years before Kassis’ appointment, and he retook control of the Finance Ministry after he accepted Kassis’ resignation in early March.

When Palestinian Government employees began strike actions in December to protest impossibly difficult conditions caused by late and only partial payment of their salaries [due to donor cut-offs and other economic problems facing the Fayyad government], it was Kassis who engaged in intensive discussions with the public employees’ union, and he appeared to have earned their cooperation — though some major union branches were not satisfied with the arrangements Kassis and the union leadership had reached.

UPDATE:  Amin Maqbul, a member of Fateh’s Revolutionary Council, said that “Fatah is relieved over Fayyad’s timely resignation which was inevitable.  Maqboul said Fayyad’s government” had ‘failed miserably’ to steer the economy through the economic crisis”. This is published here.

The London-based editor of Al-Quds al-Arabi, Abdelbari Atwan, wrote  that “We are very shocked to learn that the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah has run up debts approaching $5bn and that $1bn is external debt. These debts are a heavy burden on the Palestinian people, and will extend to the coming generations. Most Palestinians thought that the PA’s funding came from the donor countries, not debts that would constrain the hands of the Palestinian people and break their will…I thank God for the resignation of Dr Nabil Qasis, which freed him to open up this issue of debts, to expose the cover-up of the increasing financial quagmire. The Palestinian prime minister should resign from his position, as he has plunged his country, subject to Israeli occupation, into debt. Salam Fayyad and his President Mahmoud Abbas should bear the responsibility of this disaster. They should resign from their positions as they have exempted the Israeli occupation from bearing its responsibility for over 20 years since signing the Oslo Agreement. There needs to be a Palestinian investigation into the debt crisis to clarify how the debts accumulated without consultation with the Palestinian people, and the lack of transparency”.   This is a position of some in the West Bank, as well.  Atwan’s post is published here.

Though economic problems and or financial decisions are cited as the main reasons for Fayyad’s most recent problems, his control of part of the Palestinian security apparatus may well be one of the main problems. Mahmoud Abbas’ elder surviving son, Yasser Abbas, explained the set-up to me in an interview in his office in December 2008: “the Prime Minister, according to the by-laws, has the control over the Police, the fire-fighting, and the Preventive Security, I believe. The Secret Service, the National Guard, and the rest, and the Presidential Guard, are by the President”. This is published on this blog here.

UPDATE: Though Barak Ravid described Nabil Qassis as a “close confidant” of Salam Fayyad in an analysis he published in Haaretz on Sunday evening, here, there were apparently fundamental disagreements that Fayyad may have found threatening.

One of Nabil Qassis’ ideas, apparently, was to make a substantial reduction [more than 50%] in the numbers of the Palestinian security forces. [Was this proposal backed by Abbas?]

It was, in any case, apparently strongly opposed by Fayyad.  [The donors, and the Israelis, must have been with Fayyad on this…]

An article by Nathan Thrall published in The New York Review of Books in October 2010 reported that: “ ‘reforming the security forces’, Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, told me, ‘is the main and integral part of the Fayyad plan. Many of the government’s other successes, such as economic growth, came as a result’.” This is reported here.

Thrall reported that there was a “law-and-order” aspect to the program, planned by then U.S. Security Coordinator Lt General Keith Dayton, and approved by Fayyad. It also had a “counter-terrorism component, which was largely directed against Hamas. According to Thrall, “the center of the Palestinian government’s security reforms are several ‘special battalions’ of the National Security Forces (NSF), an eight-thousand-member gendarmerie that makes up the largest unit of the 25,000-strong Palestinian armed forces in the West Bank”.

The huge anger that Palestinians have about the Palestinian security apparatus [that doesn’t protect them] was explained by Fateh member Qaddoura Fares earlier Saturday, when he complained that the security apparatus in Palestine is too strong, while the judiciary is too weak.  “Nothing has survived from our agreements [with Israel] but the security aspects; Israel wants only the security parts…Israel wants us to be like Antoine Lahad in South Lebanon, they want us to be the bodyguards of the settlers…which means that we legitimize what the settlers are doing…I’m from Silwad, and yesterday settlers attacked 1 of our colleagues [n.b.-a 60-year old Palestinian judge, who was working on his land].  No Palestinian police tried to save the Palestians.  But I have to think that our police are for me, to save my life or my children’s lives…”

For now, and until his replacement is appointed, Fayyad will remain in charge of what is now being called a “caretaker” government.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reported Sunday from Tokyo, where U.S. Secretary of State is visiting, that Kerry commented:  ‘We’re totally committed to moving forward with the economic thing no matter what’, Kerry said, citing US business partners including Coca-Cola.  ‘The West Bank is there, Palestinian aspirations are there, the government is there. And in order to be a viable government, there’s got to be more than one person that you can do business with.  So we will continue to work at this and hope that President Abbas finds the right person to work with him in a transition, and work with us, to establish confidence’, he added.  ‘Everybody is going to want somebody who provides confidence’. Kerry said he preferred that Fayyad stay on the job, but that he understood Fayyad’s decision.  ‘He’s been sick, he’s tired, he’s been at this seven years. He has kids in school. He’s anxious to carve his own path here and I respect that’, Kerry said.  ‘But he’s going to be there for a while. I had a long conversation with him. He’s resigned and he accepted his resignation. But there’s going to be a caretaker process for some period of time and he’s not going to go away from Palestinian politics completely — if at all’.”  Kerry’s reaction is published here.

UPDATE: Israel’s AlternativeNews reported that “Kassis, who was handpicked by Abbas, was appointed as finance minister last year. In March Kassis announced that he was stepping down”.  This is posted here.

UPDATE: Harriet Sherwood wrote in The Guardian, here, that “The immediate trigger for the crisis appears to be Fayyad’s acceptance last month of the resignation of the finance minister, Nabil Kassis, an Abbas protege. However, the Palestinian Authority has been in financial crisis for months, with public servants unpaid and protests over price rises and taxes…While he was one of the few senior politicians to frequently visit marginalised communities and ask after their concerns, tax and commodity price hikes repeatedly stoked angry street protests against him. Palestinian unemployment has risen to almost 25% and real GDP growth is set to fall from an average of 11% in 2010-11 to just 5% in 2013, according to the World Bank”.

UPDATE: Al-Quds Newspaper in Jerusalem reported Sunday, here, that Fayyad first submitted his resignation to Abbas on 23 February.

UPDATE: On 14 February, The New York Times published a very downbeat profile of Fayyad by Roger Cohen, in which Fayyad complained about, among other things, being undermined by Israeli actions: “somebody needs to explain to me how something viewed as central to building peace is left on the ropes for three years, reeling under bankruptcy, and every action is taken to erode its political viability. We have sustained a doctrinal defeat. We have not delivered. I represent the address for failure. Our people question whether the P.A. can deliver. Meanwhile, Hamas gains recognition and is strengthened. This is the result of nothingness. It is not just that we have been having a bad day”. Fayyad also complained about the lack of a functioning Palestinian Legislature: “We need to rebuild our political system democratically with elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Democracy cannot be holding an election once. I think President Abbas should issue a decree calling for elections and if Hamas says no, so be it…I don’t want to be a source of pain to anyone. It is just not acceptable to continue doing this while preaching democracy”. And, he said, “The most basic requirement for this plane to take off is, first, security”. This profile of Fayyad-on-the-verge-of-resignation is published here.

On Saturday, the NYTimes published a second story about Fayyad’s resignation, by Reuters, which reported that “A senior Fatah official said he had doubts about Fayyad’s resignation.  ‘We can’t judge the seriousness of this move until the president appoints a new prime minister. I feel as if this is an artifice to keep things as they are’, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said”.   This is published here.

Haaretz’s Jack Khoury [with excerpts from Reuters] reported here that “Highly placed sources within the Palestinian Authority have said Fayyad was planning to quit before the Palestinian president sacks him in the wake of disputes over the management of the economic crisis in the West Bank and financial issues in the Palestinian Authority. Other officials, meanwhile, told Haaretz that the reports simply reflected the fantasies of the Fatah movement, which is trying to push Fayyad out”.

UPDATE: The National reported on Monday that former Palestinian Government spokesman Ghassan Khatib [a former member of the Palestinian People’s Party] commented that Abbas is “almost the only non-Fatah personality in the Palestinian Authority, and his absence may return us to a one-party political regime”.  Khatib is now a professor of contemporary Arab studies at the West Bank’s Birzeit University, The National reported here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “Fayyad decided to quit following months of tensions between him and Abbas on a number of issues, including the resignation of PA Finance Minister Nabil Qassis. Fayyad has insisted on accepting Qassis’s resignation, while Abbas wants him back in government. Fayyad was also said to be angry over recurring attacks on him and his government by top Fatah officials, who hold him responsible for the financial crisis in the PA. A senior PA official confirmed that the Americans and some Europeans were acting to solve the crisis between Abbas and Fayyad. ‘They don’t want to see Fayyad removed’, the official said. ‘But they need to know that President Abbas is the only one who can decide on this matter’.” The JPost story is posted here.

It is just a year since a peculiar blow-up after Salam Fayyad reportedly refused [along with Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was soon fired from his position as head of Palestine Television, though he remains the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the PLO] an order from Abbas to deliver a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister.  We reported the refusal on 17 April 2012 here. In that post, we mentioned that in LEAKED versions of that draft letter that Fayyad and Abed Rabbo reportedly refused to take to Jerusalem, “Abbas will say that the Palestinian Authority 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…The DRAFT version of the letter also said that the Oslo Accords have been rolled back in many areas”.

A fuller version of this draft letter, and reports that Fayyad was concerned that presenting this letter to Netanyahu in Jerusalem would not “look good”, is contained in our subsequent post at the time, here.

As Arab News noted, here, “Fayad opposed Abbas’s decision to declare an independent state at the United Nations unless it would be within the context of an agreement with the Israeli government”. Fayyad’s public remarks referred to the “timing” …

Continue reading Drinking tea together – [UPDATED]

Jordan Valley: Jericho water well in danger — it's in Area A on Palestinian map, but Israeli military map says it's Area C – UPDATED

Israeli military activity in the Jordan Valley has increasingly targetted isolated and poor Bedouin communities in recent months, following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent public raising — again — of an Israeli claim to retain control, for security reasons, of the border area along the Jordan River and of large parts of the Jordan Valley, which constitutes a large part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Surprisingly, one gleaming new privately-owned Palestinian family agricultural enterprise in Jericho, a date palm farm and a separate packing factory not far from the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley, has also been hit with sudden demolition orders for an essential new well it was digging, adjacent to an established well it has been using that was licensed and opened when the West Bank was under direct Jordanian rule in 1961.

Both of the wells are in danger of demolition, according to the orders issued in late July by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s “Civil Administration” in the West Bank.

This is a large-scale business venture, with real potential to advance development of the Palestinian agricultural sector — one of the motors of the future Palestinian economy.

Four thousand threatened date palm trees under cultivation are on the verge of producing fruit in the coming weeks.

But, if the water wells are destroyed, the date palm trees will soon die in the summer heat that sometimes reaches 50 degrees Centigrade.

Manasrah date pale tree farm in Jericho - photo by Mohamed Jaradat

Continue reading Jordan Valley: Jericho water well in danger — it's in Area A on Palestinian map, but Israeli military map says it's Area C – UPDATED

The Day After Fayyad tests limits of "Jerusalem"

Yossi Sarid wrote, sardonically, in Haaretz today that Fayyad’s “scheming knows no bounds or fences. After mapping Israeli neglect precisely, he leaped into no man’s land. If Israel will not build and renovate the schools in East Jerusalem, then he will step in to fill the vacuum. If Israel neglects the roads and sidewalks despite repeated complaints, he orders them repaired and paved. And as if that provocative and scandalous interference were not enough, he has the chutzpah to openly celebrate the completion of these works. That won’t do. Netanyahu and Mayor Nir Barkat and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch will head him off. Fayyad may spend money in our stead, but quietly. The right to noisy celebration is reserved for the Jewish settlers of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. Our right to the entire city of Jerusalem has expired, and not only because half of it is Arab and has remained so despite all the cleansing and Judaization efforts. Our right expired because we never genuinely joined it together. Just the reverse: We divided and governed, stole and inherited, and even the new wall we stuck in its heart in order to divide it, Hallelujah”. This is published here.

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff wrote, in another piece in Haaretz, that “Senior military sources were critical yesterday of Israel’s conduct in the Fayyad visit to East Jerusalem. They said that Israel had made a mistake when it opted to confront the PA prime minister over the visit. ‘Were it not for Israeli objections, no one would have paid attention to Fayyad. But we are the ones who helped him make the rounds of the international media’, the sources said. They noted that Fayyad lives in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem, and as such is in Jerusalem and its environs all the time in any case … [But] On Monday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch issued an injunction banning any Palestinian Authority activity inside Israeli territory”. This article added that “Fayyad also promised that the PA will continue its assistance to Palestinian institutions in the city, especially educational institutions, and would help build new schools and offer other services”. It can be viewed in full here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “In response to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s dedication ceremony at a PA-renovated school in east Jerusalem on Tuesday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) toured a girls’ high school in the capital’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to check out school conditions in the area … Danon visited Al- Mamunia Secondary Girls’ School in Sheikh Jarrah, a 10th-12th grade high school with 1,452 students. He was shocked at the small amount of Hebrew the students were learning at municipality schools: Students at Al-Mamunia learn Hebrew for three hours per week, compared to five hours per week for English, and fewer than 10% of the students speak Hebrew at even a basic level … Danon said he would speak to the education minister about looking into increasing Hebrew requirements in Arab schools … Danon had originally planned to be at the same school dedication ceremony as Fayyad to reassert Israel’s sovereignty over the area, but he decided not to enter the area after police reported that there were 400 residents ready to protest his arrival … ‘The fact that he [Fayyad] wants to come and dedicate schools in east Jerusalem is crossing a line, it’s crossing a red line, and I’m happy that we managed to clear up his visit’, said Danon as he stood on a hill overlooking a renovated school in Shuafat, which is on the other side of the security barrier but still within Jerusalem boundaries. ‘But we have to understand that the authority of the Education Ministry and the Public Security Ministry inside these areas in Jerusalem is minimal’ … The Association for Civil Rights in Israel estimates that there is a shortage of at least 1,000 classrooms in east Jerusalem, and says that the Education Ministry and the municipality are not building classrooms fast enough to keep up with the rapidly growing population.” This is posted here.

Fayyad testing limits of what is "Jerusalem"

How do we know what is “Jerusalem” today?

Announce that the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, himself a resident of East Jerusalem, will attend a ceremony inauguration renovated schools in various parts of East Jerusalem… After an order signed by Israel’s Ministry of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch, banning any Palestinian Authority activity inside Israeli territory, following instructions from Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Fayyad cancelled his appearance at Dahiet as-Salaam [sealed behind The Wall, beyond Shuafat Refugee Camp and Anata Village].

PA PM Salam Fayyad was testing the boundaries of “Jerusalem, and Israeli PM Netanyahu got involved.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Fayyad was to rededicate 2 of 15 East Jerusalem schools that “the PA secretly paid to renovated”. This was published here.

The JPost report added that this news of PA schools renovations “was condemned by Israeli politicians, who accused the PA of flaunting its authority within Jerusalem”. According to this report, Israeli officials and politicians say “the PA violated Oslo Accords by renovating East Jerusalem schools”.

There was also another recent report that the PA had paid [presumably using donor money] to repave some of the roads in Dahiet as-Salaam.

But, Fayyad did attend the planned ceremony in Dahiet al-Bariid.

The ceremony that Fayyad attended, however, was in the part of Dahiet al-Bariid that is on the “Palestinian” side of The Wall.

Dahiet al-Bariid is split in two by The Wall, which runs right up the middle of Ahmad Orabi Street, separating families. But, this was done by the Army to implement a Supreme Court decision following a petition of some of the residents and institutions [though not including the World Bank, whose offices are there] closest to… well, if not all of Neve Yaakov, at least to the IDF’s Central Command (which is in Neve Yaakov). Residents and institutions told Israel’s Supreme Court that they did not want to be cut off from Jerusalem, which they said was the “center of their lives”. The Supreme Court accepted the petition, and the Israeli Army re-routed The Wall, right up the middle of the street.

The status of that special triangle [ Dahiet al-Bariid on the Jerusalem side of The Wall] is yet not fully clear. At the moment it is apparently still officially a “seam zone”, according to the Commander of Qalandiya Checkpoint who was present in February 2009, after the miserable “Ar-Ram” Checkpoint was removed. The Commander said “we will let the negotiators do their work”. That, of course, could take some time.

The miserable “Ar-Ram Checkpoint was left in place for six months AFTER the IDF sealed The Wall between the two parts of Dahiet al-Bariid — and this meant that the triangle of Dahiet al-Bariid that the Israeli Supreme Court left on the Jerusalem side was completely sealed off, without entry or exit except through the miserable Ar-Ram Checkpoint. Israeli garbage collection began almost immediately, but residents are still waiting for phone service from the Israeli Bezeq company…

The part of Dahiet al-Bariid on the other, “Palestinian”, side of The Wall, which Fayyad visited, is now only accessible after going through or around Qalandia, and through ar-Ram.

In this way — and only this way — according to the official Israeli reaction including Netanyahu’s tinvolvement, we are learning what this government considers to be “Jerusalem”, and what is not…

Continue reading Fayyad testing limits of what is "Jerusalem"

Israeli Defense Minister Barak to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad on Monday

The location has not yet been disclosed.

The Jerusalem Post reported in the late morning that the meeting was at the King David Hotel in West Jerusalem.

Other sources report that the meeting would be at 1:30 pm.

A Hamas official criticized the meeting, saying it violated the refusal to hold direct talks.  Palestinian sources later said that Fayyad would, in the meeting, demand that Barak should cancel deportation orders against four East Jerusalem Palestinian politicians who were elected on the Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform ticket to the now-dormant Palestine Legislative Council in January 2006 balloting.

After the Hamas victory in that election, Israel arrested many of its affiliated members, preventing the PLC from having a quorum to vote.  The PLC has not met in years — at least in the West Bank.

Now, legal experts believe that the PLC four-year term has expired in January 2010.

Nevertheless, Israel is proceeding with moves to effect the deportations — although this would violate one of the clear stipulations of the U.S.-backed Road Map.

Fayyad shows BAN Ki-Moon a small part of the situation in the West Bank

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad gave UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon a safe and secure look at the situation on the ground in the West Bank. Salam Fayyad shows BAN Ki-Moon the situation on the ground in the West Bank - 20 March 2010

UNSG BAN was originally supposed to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — but Abbas reportedly is suffering back pain following an accidental fall last week, and was advised to rest for a few days after a medical check in Amman on Friday.

Instead, in Ramallah, Fayyad reportedly took BAN to the Masyoun area in Ramallah, and further west to a spot near the infamous Israeli prison, Ofer, where there are hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian detainees being held, and where there is an Israeli military court where there are hearings for some detainees.

According to the Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, BAN said: “I saw with my very eyes the hardships the Palestinians face as a result of Israeli settlement activities and land confiscation”.

AP reported that BAN’s tour of the situation on the ground (in a small part of the West Bank) was brief. AP added that BAN told Fayyad in Ramallah that “The Quartet has sent a clear and strong message saying that we strongly support your efforts to establish an independent, viable Palestinian state”.

Fayyad and BAN - pool photo by Mohamad Torokman

After seeing some of the sights, BAN gave a press conference — apparently in the Palestinian Prime Minister’s office. Many journalists were not informed — by either the UN or the Palestinian Authority information services.

Continue reading Fayyad shows BAN Ki-Moon a small part of the situation in the West Bank

Fayyad accuses Netanyahu of "expropriating" Ibrahimi Mosque

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad attended the Friday prayers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron today.

In remarks to journalists in Hebron, Fayyad accused Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his government of “expropriating” or “annexing” the Ibrahimi (Abraham) Mosque and several other sites important to the three monotheistic religions, including Rachel’s tomb in Bethlehem. Agence France Presse reported that Fayyad said: “The Palestinian people understand extremely well that this decision has a political dimension, and that it is aimed at Israel expropriating sites that are part of an occupied territory … These sites belong to a future Palestinian state”. According to AFP, Fayyad also reaffirmed “the inalienable right of the Palestinian people on their soil”. AFP also reported that “the head of the United Nations cultural body UNESCO ‘expressed her concern” at the plan and the ‘resulting escalation of tension in the area’. UNESCO chief Irina Bokova endorsed a statement by Robert Serry, UN coordinator for the Middle East peace process, that the sites have ‘historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam and to Christianity’.” She also “reiterated UNESCO’s long-standing conviction that cultural heritage should serve as a means for dialogue”. This AFP report is posted here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad visited Hebron on Friday and prayed at the Cave of the Patriarchs on Friday afternoon, criticizing Israel’s decision to add the site and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to the list of Jewish heritage sites marked for renovation and preservation. Speaking to reporters after prayers, Fayyad accused Israel of ‘annexing’ the Cave of the Patriarchs. ‘[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s decision is dangerous and political in nature. The site is an inseparable part of the occupied Palestinian territories’, [Israeli] Channel 10 quoted Fayyad as saying”. The JPost added that “US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the administration viewed the move as provocative and unhelpful to the goal of getting the two sides back to the table. Toner said US displeasure with the designations of the Cave of the Patriarchs in the flash point town of Hebron and the traditional tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel in Bethlehem had been conveyed to senior Israeli officials by American diplomats”. This JPost report is published here.

The declaration, last Sunday, by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and endorsed by his Cabinet, did not announce any legal annexation of the sites. But, this is what the Palestinians fear is the logic.

Palestinians also fear, not without justification through experience, that the allocation of large sums of Israeli money for the maintenance and preservation of these sites as part of Israel’s heritage is likely to entail preferential Israeli access and denial of Palestinian access.

Major-General (Res.) Giora Eiland, Israel’s former National Security Adviser who is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv (and an advocate of extensive “territorial swap” involving Israel’s neighbors Egypt and Jordan), noted during the week in a press conference in West Jerusalem that Rachel’s tomb, in Bethlahem, was “on the Israeli side of the Clinton maps [of 2000-2001]”, meaning that it was considered an area that would be assigned to the State of Israel in a final peace settlement. But, Eiland noted, “I cannot say the same about the Hebron mosque” …

Rachel’s tomb it is now surrounded by The Wall in its 8-meter-high concrete block manifestation, and accessible only to Jews and Israelis who enter in guarded buses escorted by Israeli security forces. The visitors’ busses pass through a huge gliding metal gate that opens for their arrival. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel guaranteed freedom of worship and access to all holy sites under its control. In practice, I have not heard of Christian groups visiting Rachel’s tomb, though it is not as important in Christian worship. Palestinian Muslims, however, revere not only Ruth, but important historical Muslim figures from a later era who are buried there. And, there is a Muslim mosque on the site. In theory, at least, Palestinian visits are now supposedly to be allowed through permits, though I do not know of any Palestinian who has ever requested such a permit… Maybe Fayyad can ask for one for next Friday’s prayers…

[Once, in June 2004, I made a spontaneous visit to Rachel’s tomb — before it was completely surrounded by The Wall — with two UNRWA colleagues, both female, one was Palestinian. As it happened, because we hadn’t planned the visit, we were all wearing jeans (not well viewed at all by Orthodox Jews, who think long skirts are more appropriate for modest women). We parked the official UN-marked vehicle a few hundred meters away, but directly visible to the Israeli military in the control tower. As we walked forward, one Israel soldier emerged and pointed his automatic weapon straight at us. We explained we just wanted to visit Rachel’s tomb, and moved forward. He waved his rifle menacingly. Then, another soldier emerged from the control tower and ran towards us, while motioning to the one with the pointed weapon to move aside. He told us we were allowed to enter. But he said to hurry, because a bus of Jewish worshippers was due to arrive any minute from Jerusalem, and they wanted the streets absolutely clear in case of any sniper fire. He went inside with us, and stopped anyone from interfering with us. We were able to spend about 30 minutes in meditation and observation on the womens’ side of the tomb, without even a cross look, and we left in peace. It was a rare and actually wonderful experience — thanks in particular to that one Israeli soldier who enforced his government’s official policy that, in theory at least, and on paper, allows people of all faiths to enter all holy sites under Israeli control.]

Clashes continued for a fifth day between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and Israeli troops in Hebron about the Israeli government decision to declare the Ibrahimi Mosque an Israeli heritage site.

Ma’an News Agency reported that Jewish settlers, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, marched through downtown Hebron on Friday in support of the Israeli government decision.

Separately, a group of about 300 Israeli, Palestinian and international activists marched in the rain to call for an opening of part of central Hebron which has been locked down under Israeli military pressure for several years in favor of a Jewish settler presence in the neighborhood.