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

14 committees + 220 experts on Palestinian side

According to a report by journalists Khaled Abu Toameh and Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post , Chief Palestinian Negotiator Sa’eb Erekat “revealed that the Palestinians have set up 14 committees consisting of more than 220 experts to prepare for the negotiations”.

The JPost article also noted that “Erekat’s comments came as the PA continued to send to Palestinians conflicting messages about the peace process. Contrary to its earlier promises, the PA has not yet addressed the Palestinian public with the same message it has been dispatching to Israelis with the help of US funding. The PA leadership seems to be more concerned with defending its decision to enter into direct talks with Israel than to convince the Palestinians to support the renewed negotiations. Last week, a PA official said the PA leadership was planning to launch a US-financed campaign to persuade Palestinians to support the peace process. However, the campaign has thus far been restricted to addressing Israelis by presenting a number of top PA leaders as Israel’s ‘partners for peace’…” This is published here.

We reported on that USAID-funded campaign in an earlier post,″>here, published on 30 August — nearly a week ago.

In that post, we listed questions we had put directly to USAID. In response, a Tel Aviv-based USAID employee of the West Bank and Gaza program first asked me to introduce myself, and to explain why I was asking those questions. Then, he said that a USAID reply was being “drafted” — but it still has not arrived.

The same JPost article also noted that Abbas’s decision to negotiate with Israel unconditionally has drawn strong and unprecedented criticism from almost all Palestinian factions, including Fatah … With a few exceptions, the PA-funded newspapers have been ignoring the voices of the Palestinian opposition to the talks. They have also been ignoring the PA’s massive security crackdown on Hamas sympathizers in the West Bank – an operation that began following last Tuesday’s shooting attack that killed four Israelis near Kiryat Arba and that has seen the arrest of more than 300 Palestinians”.

A separate report in the JPost says that U.S. sources have stated that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend talks in Jerusalem on 15 September, a day after all principals will meet in Sharm ash-Sheikh on 14 September.

What is going on here?

USAID just doesn’t know what to do with its money?

It could partly build a new school (it could build maybe one-fourth of a new school) with what it has agreed to spend in giving the Israeli team of the “Geneva Initiative” — not a deprived or unconnected group of people — to film certain leading Palestinian Authority personages telling an Israeli audience that they are “partners” to make peace.

One of the first of these USAID spots finished and released features Saeb Erekat, who says to the camera: “Shalom to you in Israel … I know that we have disappointed you … I am your partner. Are you mine?” This can be viewed on the site of the Geneva Initiative’s Israeli team here.

The promo spots are being released just days before the hoped-for relaunch of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which were broken off in late December 2008, as the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Now, USAID does not have any programs in Israel (which is a developed country) — though (for security reasons) its growing West Bank-and-Gaza program is located in an oceanfront highrise office Tel Aviv (and its officials can only travel to the West Bank with a vastly-expensive and armor-plated American escort).

Nonetheless, it is the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative — headquartered in another high-rise office in Tel Aviv where former Prime Ministers have maintained offices — which asked for, and got, funding to produce this media campaign ahead of this week’s Washington meetings.

The justification for it is unclear.

USAID’s website states that “The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds programs that help people living in the West Bank and Gaza lead healthier and more productive lives. Since 1994, Palestinians have received more than $2.9 billion in U.S. economic assistance via USAID projects – more than from any other donor country” — this is posted here.

Of course, people living in the West Bank and Gaza could reasonably be expected to lead “healthier and more productive lives” if the Israeli direct and indirect military occupation is ended — and through negotiations, as the principals all now say they prefer.

But, this media campaign leaves a lot of questions open, including these, which I addressed earlier today to USAID:
“Could you please help me understand how it is, and why, USAID funded the Geneva Initiative (Israeli team’s) request to make promo spots intended to air on Israeli television in which some prominent PA figures appear?

“Was it a difficult decision for this arm of the U.S. government to back the Geneva Initiative (about which, if I am not mistaken, the U.S. government previously felt somewhat more neutral)?

“Can I also ask what was the amount of the USAID backing for this request? (YNet apparently reported in Hebrew that it was $250,000, but in English YNet referred to “millions of shekels”)…

“Has the Palestinian Peace Coalition (the Geneva Initiative’s Palestinian team) made a similar or parallel request, and if so is USAID planning to fund it, too?

And, I also asked: “In addition, can I ask what is the amount allocated for USAID’s current billboard campaign in Ramallah, praising USAID projects?”

I am waiting for a response…

Meanwhile, some background: the Geneva Initiative was announced as an effort by “civil society” in October 2003, and signed — in Geneva — in a ceremony in December 2003, for which the Swiss government flew in a planeload each of Israeli and Palestinian supporters just for the event, then flew them all back to the region. The document was discussed, or negotiated, primarily between Israeli politician Yossi Beilin (drafted on his behalf primarily by Daniel Levy, now writing and think-taking in Washington) and Palestinian politico Yasser Abed Rabbo (with considerable drafting done by a then-aide to Abu Mazen, Ghaith al-Omary, who is now also in Washington with the American Task Force on Palestine). The main innovation of the Geneva Initiative was to stipulate that any exchange of territory in the context of a final deal should be done on a 1:1 basis. The Geneva Initiative was denounced by many Palestinians for being so understanding of Israeli refusal to imagine the return of any but a handful at most of the millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered in neighboring Arab states and around the world. One of the main questions at the time was whether Yasser Arafat approved or not. Though it was unstated, Arafat’s tacit backing was evident. The discrete talks that produced the Geneva Intiative were hosted by a sympathetic professor at the University of Geneva, and funded by his wealthy Swiss banker father. The Swiss Foreign Ministry found the initiative appealing and offered diplomatic, financial, and logistic backing — and then were shocked by the sharply negative reaction of the Israeli government, whose main objection seemed to have been that it was not officially informed of the initiative in advance.

Happy smiling faces?

A new crop of billboards has gone up at strategic locations around Ramallah — that is, at the entrances to the city, where diplomats from donor countries is most likely to see them.

The second target seems to be the cadres of the Palestinian Authority’s various Ramallah-based ministries.

The billboards, sponsored by USAID, show headshots of various young people. Next to their faces are [in Arabic] the words:
“I’m very happy…about my new school…”etc.

This promotional campaign must have cost many, many tens if not hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.

The new schools (seven of them, constructed by USAID and handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in 2009) are great.

These USAID ads are patronizing, stupid and embarassing.

A few hours after these billboards were visible, the U.S. announced that invitations were being sent to Israel and to the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah to come to Washington D.C. on 2 September for a [re]-launch of direct talks.

Continue reading Happy smiling faces?

Intriguing "goodwill" measures announced by IDF commanders

Just as Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu apparently promised George Mitchell last week, it has now happened: Israel announced on Sunday night a number of steps to be taken “in the near future” that the IDF is describing as “easing” and “goodwill” measures.

The announcement was actually made first to Israeli media. It was only sent around to other journalists by email this morning.

It said that “The IDF OC Central Command, Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi, and the Head of the Civil Administration, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, held a coordination meeting with Palestinian Authority officials today [n.b.-yesterday, Sunday]. In addition to discussing various security-related issues, Maj. Gen. Mizrahi informed the officials of the implementation of the following goodwill measures towards the Palestinian population in the Judea and Samaria Region in the near future.

The most interesting and intriguing of these “goodwill” measures is this:

· “The Qeidar [Qedar or Kedar] road, near Ma’ale Adumim, will be opened for Palestinian movement” [USAID has recently asked the IDF to allow Palestinian movement on this stretch of road which crosses the Bethlehem Governorate and arrives at the traffic circle at the entrance of Maale Adumim in the Jerusalem region. The USAID request was certainly sent up the channels to very high levels in both the American and Israeli governments. Until now, it has been refused. USAID made the request to ease impossible traffic jams as it begins a big project to rehabilitate an adjacent, over-crowded, and over-used road in poor condition that is the only route Palestinians have been allowed to use for years, until now, when travelling between the north and south of the West Bank. The road USAID is repairing and upgrading goes from the same traffic circle outside Maale Adumim, to Eizarriyya, or Bethany, and Abu Dis (where a building was constructed during an optimistic phase of the Oslo period to house the Palestinian Legislative Council, or PLC,, which has not met in years due to Israeli arrests of Hamas legislators after their victory in January 2006 elections. With a release last week of one Hamas legislator — who is now banned from entering Jerusalem, where he was arrested — the PLC theoretically might be able to pull together a quorum, but there are no imminent moves in this direction on the horizon). The road becomes less than one lane wide around Al-Quds University, which was started and is headed by Sari Nusseibeh, and was supposed to be the premier Palestinian institution of higher education in Jerusalem — before it was cut off from Jerusalem by Israeli construction of The Wall right in front of its main entrance. Going south from Jerusalem (or Ramallah, or Jericho, or Nablus), the road then heads to a remarkable hilly and winding stretch through Wadi Nar (the valley of fire, because it is so hot in the summer), where passengers have often been stopped or delayed at the infamous “Container checkpoint”, where Israeli-plated cars are reportedly not allowed to pass. (The armed Israeli forces at the “Container checkpoint” have recently been much less difficult and agressive than over the past couple of years.) Then the road continues through Bethlehem, down to Hebron, and the entire southern West Bank.]

Continue reading Intriguing "goodwill" measures announced by IDF commanders