Dennis Ross: Palestinians should set up their own stone quarries in the West Bank!

In an otherwise uninteresting commentary published as an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Dennis Ross, adviser to several American presidents on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, suggested that … as Israel’s Supreme Court has just recommended that there should be  “no additional quarries” in the West Bank that are Israeli-owned, there is now some sort of “opening” for Palestinian ownership!

[Have we mentioned how much the terrible Qalandia checkpoint is clogged up by the huge double-dump truck convoys loaded with cut stone and spraying rock dust all over the area? These huge stone transport trucks mix with tens of thousands of stressed and some crazed-aggressive drivers, on a two-lane road — with just one lane in each direction. Many tens of thousands of people, and perhaps more, are forced to drive on this dreadful route around or through Qalandia every single day, for lack of any alternative routes…]

Ross’ piece in the Washington Post is entitled, How to break a Middle East stalemate

It is an astonishing reading of the Israeli Supreme Court ruling.

In effect, as we have written earlier [on December 28] here, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by Tel Aviv-based lawyer Michael Sfard on behalf of the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din against the Israeli exploitation of Palestinian natural resources in the occupied West Bank.  The only argument from the Yesh Din petition retained by the Israeli Supreme Court is that there should be no more Israeli-owned stone quarries.  The Israeli government supported that argument in the Yesh Din petition, too — so it wasn’t really very hard for the Israeli Supreme Court to back it.

But, for Dennis Ross to extrapolate from that Israeli Supreme Court decision rejecting the petition, and argue that the Israeli Supreme Court has now opened the way to Palestinian ownership, is a surprising logical leap.

Dennis Ross wrote [referring to the Haaretz story here as his source], in his Washington Post opinion piece:

    To give one example, there are Palestinian stone masonry factories in Area A, but Palestinians have limited access to the rock quarries in the West Bank, which are in Area C. In a case brought against Israeli ownership of the rock quarries, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled late last month that no additional quarries should be Israeli-owned. That ruling creates an opening for private Palestinian ownership, should any new quarries be established — and there clearly is room for more”.

Continue reading Dennis Ross: Palestinians should set up their own stone quarries in the West Bank!

Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

The Jerusalem Post reports today that it has been told that “Palestinian unity efforts stumble” after the reconciliation summit in Cairo on Friday.

But, while there may be outstanding differences between the two largest Palestinian political factions, the real delay may be an attempt to avoid various threatened punishments, until something changes…

Khaled Abu Toameh, Arab affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, writes today, here, that he has been told “that differences between the two parties remained almost the same as they were before the summit. In addition to the ongoing dispute over the make-up of the proposed unity government, Fatah and Hamas have failed to solve their differences over the reconstruction of the security forces and the release of detainees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip being held by both sides. ‘The 45-minute meeting between President Abbas and Khaled Mashaal was not as successful as it is being portrayed’, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. ‘The most important thing was that the two leaders met and agreed to continue talking about reconciliation and unity. It will take a long time before we ever see real changes on the ground’.”

Punishment for Palestinian Unity

Well, that will be reassuring to American officials who have been worried that they might have to punish the Palestinians, if they actually achieve unity”, by withholding large sums of money that have been the opium of the people in Ramallah.

Jordan-based Palestinian Journalist Daoud Kuttab had earlier reported “rumors” following the flying visit to see Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Ramallah presidential headquarters [the Muqata’a] by Jordan’s King Abdallah II on Monday, that there were rumors that Palestinian officials told the Jordanian delegation they would not accept security aid if the U.S. withheld other forms of aid.

Kuttab developed this into two articles: one an opinion piece for the Washington Post, published here, and the second was published by the Huffington Post, here.

[See below for more…]

Punishment if Salam Fayyad is replaced as PM {?}

In his Jerusalem Post article, Abu Toameh reported punishment-related issues were a priority matter in the discussion, writing that “a senior Fatah official” told him “that Hamas’s refusal to accept current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of any future government remained a major obstacle to the implementation of the reconciliation deal … Abbas had initially considered dumping Fayyad in favor of the establishment of a unity government with Hamas. However, immense pressure from the US and some EU countries, as well as a strong warning from Jordan’s King Abdullah, who flew to Ramallah last week for emergency talks with Abbas, persuaded the PA president to hold on to Fayyad … [But] Abbas explained to Mashaal [in Cairo on Friday] that without Fayyad the Palestinians would be punished by the Americans and Europeans, the official said. ‘But this did not change Mashaal’s position. Hamas believes that in wake of the Arab Spring, Arab governments would compensate the Palestinians for any loss of Western financial aid’. On Saturday, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, reiterated his movement’s strong opposition to the appointment of Fayyad as prime minister of a unity government”.

Abu Toameh added that “Abbas also made it clear during the summit with Mashaal that he would not be able to incorporate Hamas militiamen in the PA security forces, another Fatah official said. The official quoted Abbas as saying that merging Hamas militiamen into the PA security forces would give Israel an excuse to launch attacks on these forces under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Abbas also expressed deep concern that Israel and Fatah would vehemently oppose any attempt to bring Hamas policemen to the West Bank, the official added”.

He also wrote in the JPost that “On the issue of ‘political detainees’ who are being held in PA and Hamas prisons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two parties continued over the weekend to blame each other for failing to release their supporters. Abbas and Mashaal have announced twice this year that they would end the arrests of Hamas and Fatah supporters. Despite the announcements, PA security forces continue to arrest Hamas supporters and activists in the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, has also been accused of cracking down on Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip by arresting them and preventing them from travelling outside the strip. PA officials denied on Saturday that the PA was holding people in detention for ‘political reasons’. They said all the Hamas detainees in West Bank prisons were being held for allegedly violating the law, but did not give further details … [n.b. Elections are supposed to be held around May 2012, according to a reconciliation agreement initialed in Cairo this past May. But…] According to Zahar, there is no way elections would be held while Hamas supporters remain in PA-run prisons”.

Continue reading Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

March 15 protests calling for Palestinian unity extend into March 16 at Ramallah's central Manara Square

The anticipated March 15 protests, called by a number of Palestinian youth groups in the West Bank and Gaza, went on for most of the day in Ramallah, and have been extended into March 16.

Some of the organizers were disappointed by the turn-out in Ramallah and various other cities in the West Bank — one said he had 40,000 confirmations on his Facebook page, while 50 of those people turned up.

Others said, ok, there were about 3,000 or so in Ramallah’s Manara Square, and this is respectable (though 7,000 to 10,000 people had been expected).

Photo courtesy of Act4Palestine – Manara Square at the height of the March 15 demonstration.

<photo 3:#Mar15 demonstration AlManarah Sq. #Ramallah #Palestine on Twitpic

This photo is posted here and a full set has been posted on Flikr and can be viewed here:

At some point, Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, a leader of the Bil’in protests against The Wall, showed up in Manara Square, just hours after being released from 16 months in jail at Ofer military prison…

One of the protest organizers said that many people said they objected to protesting for any purpose other than ending the Israeli occupation.

That means, of course, that there are a number of people in the West Bank, and particularly in Ramallah, who don’t mind the lack of unity.

The analyses are many and varied.  And — not only because it is so hard to get around in this place — it is a lot easier to just follow events online.

Ten young men who started a hunger strike in Manara Square two days before the March 15 protests continued their fast on Wednesday (they want political prisoners released in both the West Bank and in Gaza).  About 100 other demonstrators stayed with them overnight, though they were not fasting. Some of them were indignant when Palestinian security forces [actually, it was the Presidential Guard] showed up with falafel sandwiches and coke, saying this was an insult intended to provoke the group of fasters (though those fasting were fewer than ten percent of the total demonstrators). The Palestinian Security Forces were later seen pragmatically eating the rejected falafel sandwiches.

And, four members of the Fatah Central Committee [Azzam al-Ahmad, Abbas Zaki, Jamal Muheisen, and also Tayeb Abdel Rahman] also showed up at night to discuss the situation with the protesters — ultimately agreeing to support the demand for a tent to shelter them during the night. Negotiations were still continuing just before midnight about exactly where this tent could be.

[Other officials reportedly also visited Manara Square on Tuesday night… Nabil Shaath and maybe Jibril Rajoub (?)… ]

The ten hunger strikers had actually spent the two previous nights out in the open air — and it is still cold at this time of year. Palestinian Security forces also reportedly told the hunger strikers that they should leave Manara Square a few hours after midnight, because that was the time that the Israeli Army could come on patrol, and the Palestinian Security told the demonstrators that they, the Palestinians, could not protect them, the Palestinian protesters, from the Israeli patrols).

Earlier in the day, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Commitee met, and issued a statement saying that they “appreciated the efforts of the people in the street who wanted to end to division” — which protesters said they felt was a “weak statement” and “not serious”. (The statement also condemned the murder of five members of an Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus.)

Nevertheless, protestors were injured in Ramallah — some reportedly needing medical attention — by Palestinian Security forces in the early evening hours (apparently before the arrival of the four Fatah Central Committee members, who were sent to calm things down).

There were many more injuries and more force used at a much larger March 15 demonstration in Gaza.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel (FPA) issued a statement on March 16 saying that it is “gravely concerned by Hamas’ crackdown on the media during demonstrations in Gaza City on Tuesday. On a day ostensibly devoted to Palestinian unity, police brutally attacked photographers and cameramen, beating them, breaking equipment and confiscating photos and video footage. This is the latest in a string of chilling attacks on reporters in Gaza. We again implore the authorities to respect the basic right of freedom of the press and to let all journalists do their jobs freely and safely”. The FPA statement is posted here.

On March 15, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza issued a public appeal for an emergency meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

On March 16, Abbas told the PLO Central Committee that he was ready to travel to Gaza immediately to end the division — between Gaza and the West Bank. (He did not say between Fatah and Hamas… This certainly suggests that there has been no change in his position that what must happen is a restoration of the status quo ante, with the Ramallah-based leadership in overall charge of the Gaza Strip.)

Reports suggested that Abbas — who has not been in Gaza since the June 2007 rout, by Hamas, of Fatah/Palestinian security forces — could travel in the coming two to four days.

After the June 2007 events, Abbas convened a government meeting and declared Hamas an outlaw group.  He said that Hamas had carried out a “military coup”.  And, he then dissolved a three-month old, Saudi-brokered, “National Unity” government and formed a new “Emergency” government in the West Bank, naming Finance Minister Salam Fayyad as the new Prime Minister.  The Ramallah government revealed a group of secret documents and recordings, some of which exposed what was said to be a plot to assassinate Abbas by a huge bomb planted under the street near his house in Gaza City.

Hamas, however, continued to regard Abbas as President, though it regarded the Emergency government as illegitmate, until the five-year term for which Abbas had been elected expired in January 2009 (just after the end of the IDF’s massive Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, and a few days after Barack Obama was sworn into office in Washington).


What happened in Manara Square on 15 March was, in a way, a battle of political posters and signs, and slogans.

In th late morning, a group of men described as Fatah supporters ran into Manara Square and ripped up the signs, calling for unity, that some of the demonstrators had hung or were carrying.

In the days prior to the demonstration, one protester said, “huge billboards signed by fake and unknown youth groups” went up around Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank. [It has often been noted, on previous occasions, that President Mahmoud Abbas’ younger surviving son, Tarek Abbas, is a Director of the Sky Advertising Agency which has the capability not only to print but also to post such huge billboard signs.]

Security forces reportedly hung posters around Manara showing the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (and the late Hamas leader Ahmad Yassin). Supporters of the March 15 demonstration took down at least one of these posters and hung their own — and were then warned by Palestinian security that they had “crossed all red lines”. (They were also told that they were being warned as a kind of a friendly favor, so they could correct their mistakes…)

One of the later posters hung by the demonstrators called for elections to the approximately 600-member Palestine National Council (PNC), the main congress of the overall PLO representing all Palestinians around the world. This was apparently particularly objectionable to the Palestinian Security forces.

[There have never been real elections to the PNC, due to “conditions”. Would the Jordanians allow the Palestinians in Jordan to vote in such elections? Would the Syrians? Would the Lebanese? What about the Egyptians, Saudis, and the United Arab Emirates? So, the political factions each have an allocated number of seats which they fill through their own internal selection process which sometimes might include elections. Then the unions — students, writers, engineers, women — would choose their own representatives the same way. Christians also had an allocated number of seats. And, finally, an allocation of seats for the Palestinians who were Israeli citizens or even residents (of East Jerusalem) would always be symbolically left empty…]

Though PLO official Nabil Shaath had said before the March 15 Demonstration that the Palestinian Security Services would not attack the demonstrators, but would only protect them, those involved in organizing the demonstration say they will not be surprised if there are more forceful confrontations today.

Part of the tactic is to maintain a central focus of the protests in Manara Square (as the Egyptian protests focussed on Cairo’s Tahrir Square).

Some — but only some — of the strategizers think that if there is suppression by Palestinian Security forces, it will not necessarily be a bad thing, because what galvanized and gave real momentum to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was the police repression, and the hiring of government employees and of unemployed men to act as thugs (baltagiya in the Egyptian dialect, baltajiya in the Palestinian dialect).

The number of deaths in the Egyptian protests has still not been finalized (Egyptian government officials have reportedly indicated it could be as high as 1,500.  It would be difficult to imagine the consequences if such a scenario played out in Ramallah, and in any case the leadership is clearly trying hard to maintain a strategy of co-optation rather than confrontation.

However, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go in the education of those charged with carrying out this strategy on the ground level (who the protesters are now consistently calling “thugs”)…

In the meantime, the Israeli security services and army are conducting intense investigations into the murder of five members of an Israeli family living in the settlement of Itamar in the northern West Bank, and some of the main Israeli military checkpoints into and out of Ramallah have been shut down completely at various unpredictable points in recent days.

Nablus: not allowed to visit Joseph's Tomb!

Yesterday, while in Nablus, we went to Joseph’s Tomb – just on the edge of downtown Nablus, and near Balata and Askar refugee camps.

There was no one else there as we parked next to the low white-washed domes.

But there was a Palestinian Security post right across the streets. One soldier/policeman came with his big gun, and said we were not allowed to be there. He gestured at the top of the mountain facing us. There I saw one of the concrete cylindrical Pillbox” towers used by Israeli forces. The Palestinian policeman said the Israelis either had, or would momentarily be, calling him on the radio to say we weren’t allowed to be there.

But, I said, the Oslo Accords provide for free access to all religious sites.

Oslo Accords, Shmoslo Accords, we couldn’t be there, and we had to leave immediately, without even getting a peek inside.

What is this?

Continue reading Nablus: not allowed to visit Joseph's Tomb!