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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
- Labor Convenes to Vote on Coalition Bid
- by Attila Somfalvi (Ynet)
Labor's Central Committee convened Tuesday, amid emotions and voices speaking of a rift within party lines, to decided whether to endorse Chairman Ehud Barak's coalition bid and agree to be a part of a Likud-led government.
Earlier in the day, Barak met with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and signed an outline coalition agreement, making Labor a part of his new government.
- Barak: I Won’t Demolish Ofra Houses Now
- by Rebecca Anna Stoil (The Jerusalem Post)
A day before a High Court of Justice hearing on what Palestinians argue are houses in Ofra built on Palestinian land, Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed the court Sunday that he would not execute the demolition orders against the houses at this time.
A letter was sent Sunday from the State Attorney’s Office to the Court explaining the defense minister's position, which stated that “because these buildings were populated many months ago, and because they are located inside and not on the margins of the settlement, this issue should be considered with a comprehensive view of the entire settlement of Ofra.”
- Olmert Warns of Israel Isolation on World Stage
- by Agence France-Presse
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has warned his likely successor Benjamin Netanyahu that he risks isolating Israel on the world stage unless he agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state, media reported on Monday.
“The only choice is between two states for two people or one state for two people,” local media quoted him as saying at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “Those who don’t see this are lying to themselves and are risking causing great damage to Israel” including “losing its international support.”
- Government Decides Not to Limit Entry of Food to Gaza
- by Roni Sofer (Ynet)
The government decided Sunday not to limit the entry of food product to the Gaza Strip, following criticism voiced by the United States and Europe over Israel’s crossings policy. ...
The decision was made alongside another government decision related to its policy regarding Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners jailed in Israel, following the failure to reach an agreement on kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's release. ... [T]he government instructed ... not to grant the prisoners any privilege which is not required by law and according to the treaties the State of Israel is committed to.
- Hamas, Fatah Consider Resuming Unity Talks in Cairo
- by Khaled Abu Toameh (The Jerusalem Post)
Hamas and Fatah representatives said over the weekend that they may return to Cairo later this week for an additional round of talks aimed at reaching agreement over the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
The two parties concluded 10 days of “reconciliation” talks in Cairo last Thursday without solving their differences over several issues, first and foremost the composition and political program of the proposed unity government.
Setting the Record Straight
“On the settlements, I think the key question is really, what is the real impact on the Palestinians? This is a very difficult issue in Israeli politics, and it costs a lot for an Israeli politician and for the United States to push very hard on this issue. It is worth doing, I think, only when the impact on Palestinians is direct, when, for example, the expansion of a settlement in the West Bank would mean that an important road is going to be off limits to Palestinians now. But when it's a symbolic issue, I think that we ought probably to save our ammunition for issues that affect Palestinian life more directly.”
—Elliott Abrams, former deputy assistant to the President and deputy National Security Adviser for Global Democracy Strategy, conference call with the Council on Foreign Relations, February 25, 2009
“I think those of us ... who are deeply committed to ... the security of the state of Israel—must say, and must say it in an unequivocal fashion: It is incumbent upon Israel to freeze settlement activity. While in and of itself that is not the only part of this equation, the Palestinians have enormous responsibilities; but the notion that Israel can continue to expand settlements, whether it be through natural growth or otherwise, without diminishing the capacity of a two-state solution, is both unrealistic and, I would respectfully suggest, hypocritical.”
—Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), remarks, hearing, House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, “Gaza After the War: What Can Be Built on the Wreckage?” February 12, 2009
The Challenge of Settlements
Police station in E1 (Danielle Zukerman)
"Nothing happened with the outposts ... though Israel’s commitment was to evacuate the outposts. This was a commitment to the American administration and to our Supreme Court. But nothing happened."
by Brigadier General (Ret.) Ilan Paz, former head of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank (2002-2005). Interview with Middle East Bulletin.
[T]he issue of settlements and land in Palestinian culture, in Palestinian society, is a very important one. Settlement building cannot ... go with the continuing of any kind of peace process. It hurts almost everyone on the Palestinian side. And it’s one of the main challenges affecting any kind of peace agreement in the future. ...
Israel did remove several main checkpoints and roadblocks during the last several months. ... [But i]t should have happened before and in greater numbers. Now I can explain the exact security needs associated with almost each road block and checkpoint. ... But we are now living in another, much better, security situation, and we have to balance our efforts against terror. I believe that military-security activities aren’t enough to reduce the level of violence. We have to do much more. ... [W]ithout the peace process, I’m afraid that we won’t see a big change on the ground. The Palestinians have to see a light at the end of the tunnel parallel to all of these activities on the ground. Without it, this won’t work. Access the full interview>>
by Haaretz, Editorial
The news that Israel has invested close to NIS 200 million in Mevasseret Adumim, a new Jewish neighborhood east of Jerusalem where 3,500 housing units are slated to be built, reveals the real intentions of the outgoing government. ... [F]or the past two years, Israel has invested massive amounts of money on infrastructure for the construction of housing units to create a contiguous bloc between Ma’aleh Adumim and East Jerusalem.
Over the past decade, the U.S. government has objected to any Israeli construction in the area. But even more worrying than the harming of U.S. interests or the pouring of public funds into a project whose future is uncertain are the serious contradictions between the government’s declared policies and its actions. Most disturbingly, the construction reveals that the government sought to entrench the Israeli occupation of the West Bank at the same time that it spoke about reaching a settlement with the Palestinians. ...
One cannot talk about a two- state solution while doing everything to thwart any chance that it will come to be. One cannot talk about ending the occupation while keeping on building in the West Bank. Actions, after all, speak louder than words.
The chances of creating a Palestinian state amid the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are dim even without the added complication of Mevasseret Adumim. Such government hypocrisy and contradictions between stated policies and actions need to be halted before the new U.S. administration gets involved. Access the full article>>
by Nathan Jeffay (The Jewish Daily Forward)
On paper, it has never been easier for Palestinians whose land has been appropriated by Israeli settlements to have their day in court. Classified government data on settlements, made public in late January, documents for the first time precisely where settlements and parts of settlements have been built in violation of Israel’s own laws. The data reveals that in more than 30 settlements, buildings—including homes, roads, schools, synagogues and police stations—have gone up on privately owned Palestinian land. ... [But] many Palestinians are reluctant to take the legal route. Only five requests have been submitted so far ...
Palestinian reactions have been mixed. On one hand, the database confirms long-held suspicions. ... On the other hand, most Palestinians reject the principle underlying the database, distinguishing the legal building of settlements from the illegal building. ...
The Palestinian debate over using Israeli courts is most urgent on the ground, in West Bank villages where landowners are mulling what to do about the database. Mohammed Khatib, secretary of the village council in Bil’in, near Ramallah, said he is encouraging Palestinians to take the legal route, but “some people will not do it, so as to not give legitimacy to the Israeli court system. Others just have no trust it will bring a fair result.” Khatib tried the legal tactic to fight the planned routing of the security barrier, which would have cut off villagers from much of their land. At the time, Khatib recalled, “we were confused as to whether to go down this path. ... But we thought that we had to, as we have a right to this land.” In September 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the route redrawn. Access the full article>>
by Ethan Bronner (The New York Times)
The land of the West Bank is, of course, disputed. Israel occupies it, and the Palestinians want it for a future state. But more and more of it is gone—quarried by Israeli companies and sold for building materials, a practice that is the focus of a new legal challenge. ...
Sand and rocks might seem like trivial resources in a country that is half desert. But with strict environmental restrictions on quarrying ... they turn out to be surprisingly valuable. ... So the 10 or so expanding West Bank quarries that are the focus of the legal challenge now account for nearly a quarter of the sand and gravel Israel uses, 10 million tons out of 44 million yearly. Palestinians are incensed and say that if there is ever to be a prospering Palestinian economy, control over their natural resources is essential. ...
The trade association that represents Israel’s quarrying companies says that everything they do here is in keeping both with international law and with the regulations set down by the Israeli military, which controls the West Bank. ... But the 2008 government study on building materials found the opposite— that three-quarters of what is quarried in the West Bank goes to Israel. Access the full article>>
Heard on the Street
Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-CA), chairman, House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, opening statement, hearing, “Gaza After the War: What Can Be Built on the Wreckage?” February 12, 2009:
“It only looks like we’re going in circles. In fact, we’re spiraling downward. I don’t know where the bottom is, but I know its there, and I know we are getting closer every day. It will hit with shattering force when, through malice and terror, through shallow calculation and venal self interest, through short- sightedness and through political cowardice, the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is finally rendered impossible. The downward pressure comes from terrorism [and] the march of settlements. It comes from the firing of rockets and the perpetration of settler pogroms. It comes in daily images of destruction and the constant reiteration that they only understand the language of force. ... It comes from tunnels in Gaza and yes, from diggings in Jerusalem as well. ... There is no moral equivalence between these acts, but they are all part of the same destructive dynamic.”
Photos of E1
• East 1, or E1, is a 4.6 square mile area of land between Jerusalem and the built up areas of Maale Adumim, a settlement that is an eastern suburb of Jerusalem.
• Israel considers E1 part of the official municipal boundaries of Maale Adumim. Maale Adumim’s boundaries are larger than Tel Aviv’s, despite the city having less than 10 percent of Tel Aviv’s population, and its built-up areas comprise around 15 percent of its municipal boundaries.
• Portions of E1 remain privately owned by Palestinians.
• Construction in E1 would connect Jerusalem with Maale Adumim thereby largely dividing the northern and southern West Bank. There are also concerns that it would isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
• In 1994, the Rabin government extended the municipal borders of Maale Adumim to include E1, but did not begin construction in the area.
• In March 1997, the Netanyahu cabinet approved a development plan for E1.
• In June 1998, the cabinet gave preliminary approval to the creation of an umbrella municipality for Jerusalem that includes Maale Adumim.
• In May 1999, during the transition between the Netanyahu and Barak governments, the Supreme Planning Committee, Israel’s highest development council in the West Bank, approved construction plans for 3,500 housing units in E1. The construction did not begin because it required additional permits, including one from the defense minister.
• In 2002, then-Defense Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer signed the Jerusalem umbrella municipality plans into law, but due to U.S. pressure, no further actions were taken.
• In September 2004, work began on the construction of the same 3,500 new homes but was soon halted because the correct building permits had not been issued and the construction violated Maale Adumim’s master development plan.
• In January 2005, then-Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz approved the same housing plans that had been halted earlier in 2004. In September, during an election season, deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the government had frozen the construction plans, though the government had previously made clear that construction would not begin for at least two years. Olmert also said that Israel was committed to building in E1 in the future.
• In March 2006, the construction of a new West Bank police headquarters in E1 began.
• In May 2008, the new police headquarters opened.
• Maale Adumim municipality's plans for construction of the 3,500 housing units in E1 remain.
• In the past two years investment in infrastructure in E1, including construction of roads, lighting, observation posts, fences and a dividing barrier on the highway, is estimated to have cost 100 million New Israeli Shekel (NIS).
• Approximately NIS 120 million has also been invested in a road that extends from Jerusalem to Ramallah bypassing E1. According to those who planned the road in the Sharon government, it is intended to allow Israel to expand settlement growth around East Jerusalem, while still providing movement for Palestinians between the northern and southern West Bank. The road has not been opened for traffic.
For additional information on E1 see an Americans for Peace Now report, "E-1 & Ma'ale Adumim"
Middle East Progress appreciates the support and cooperation of Americans for Peace Now, Geneva Initiative, Israel Policy Forum, and New Israel Fund.