Amman Talks Stall While Unhelpful Rhetoric Continues
Amman Talks Stall Without Progress
After five meetings in Amman between Israeli and Palestinian official envoys this month, this latest round of talks stalled this week with little evidence of progress. The low-level talks to discuss borders and security issues were aimed at bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, and now each side is trying to finger the other for blame in the failed efforts.
Early in the negotiating process, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat presented his government’s proposal on borders and security to the Israelis, fulfilling the call by the Middle East Quartet for such proposals set forth in its September 23, 2011 statement.
During the last meeting on January 25, Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho verbally communicated the series of principles that would guide Israel’s negotiations on the borders and security issues. While the meetings in Amman were not public, an Israeli official commented this week that Molcho’s presentation included the principle that "the majority of Palestinians should be on the Palestinian side and the majority of Jews on our side."
While this is the first time that Israel has formally presented how it will seek to handle territorial negotiations, Palestinian officials assert that Israel brought nothing new to the table. One official told the Jerusalem Post that, “basically, the Israeli idea of a Palestinian state is made up of a wall and settlements.”
No additional meetings have been scheduled at this time and Palestinians argue that the Quartet deadline for proposals by both parties on borders and security passed on Thursday, unfulfilled by Israel. However, Israel has indicated its desire for the talks to continue and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing increasing pressure from Quartet leaders for Palestinian participation in future meetings. He has indicated that he plans to consult with the Arab League when it meets in Cairo on February 4 as to whether or not Palestinians should continue the talks.
It is not clear if Israel has made any overtures to the Palestinians to convince them the talks will be meaningful. Quartet officials who are involved in the process say the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is trying to put together a package of Israeli incentives that will keep the Palestinians talking. One possible incentive would be the release of Palestinian prisoners.
On Abbas’ diplomatic tour of Europe last week, German Chancellor Angela and Prime Minister David Cameron both placed the onus on Netanyahu to find a solution to the impasse. The two European leaders spoke on the phone Saturday evening and published a statement, which Ha’aretz summarized as saying: “The government of Israel must evince more willingness to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians, they said, and must take specific steps to prevent the failure of the talks.”
Middle East Peace and Campaign Politics
With the 2012 U.S. presidential and congressional campaigns heating up in recent weeks, U.S. policy on the Middle East peace process has emerged as an expected part of the discussion. To help sort out who’s said what on the issue, The Council of Foreign Relations compiled a helpful resource detailing the current positions of President Barack Obama and leading Republican presidential candidates. While Obama has called for a two-state solution, it seems some prominent Republicans are growing less wedded to the longstanding U.S. policy. Statements by Newt Gingrich saying Palestinians are an “invented people,” and Rick Santorum stating, “there is no Palestinian…this is Israeli land,” hinted at a changing party position on this issue, but last week the Republican National Committee made it more official.
At a gathering in New Orleans earlier this month, the RNC unanimously passed a resolution that several analysts interpret as endorsing a version of the one-state solution. In the resolution, one section reads, “Be it further resolved, that the members of this body support Israel in their natural and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon their own lands, recognizing that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others; and that peace can be afforded the region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.”
The dicey politics of the Middle East conflict were also evident in President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. In a speech widely interpreted as indication of the president’s vision for a second term in office, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and China all featured prominently. And the president mentioned Israel in this key speech, citing the United States’ “iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security,” and, “the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.” But Middle East peace negotiations were notably absent from Mr. Obama’s foreign policy mentions, and as Politico journalist Josh Gerstein notes, sometimes what doesn’t make it in to the speech matters just as much as what does.
Jerusalem Mufti Creates Controversy
The Palestinians’ top Islamic cleric, Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein is facing investigation by Israel attorney general after he was accused of advocating killing Jews.
In a ceremony marking the 47th anniversary of the Fatah movement, the mufti cited a Hadith (Islamic traditional text attributed to the prophet Muhammad) that states, “The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”
Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli group that monitors Palestinian media and schoolbooks, brought attention to the speech, causing many leaders to denounce it. Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the statement and encouraged “all nations” to do the same. The U.S. State Department also condemned the remarks on Thursday. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters, “while the mufti claims that his remarks were taken out of context, frankly, in any context they are deplorable, and they constitute, in our view, incitement, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”
While Palestinian officials have not spoken out against the remarks, the mufti told an Egyptian media outlet, “Islam calls for respect of all human beings. I am amazed that these comments were attributed to me.”
Praying for Christian Unity in the Holy Land
Over the past week, Christians in the Holy Land have been observing the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with worship and prayer services. Services throughout Jerusalem have emphasized hope and steadfastness in the spirit of resurrection.
At the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem, Christians from various denominations joined together on Wednesday for one of nine multi-lingual services in Arabic, German, and English celebrated throughout the week. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan lead the service preaching that, “The church today is again called to be bridge-builders and ambassadors of reconciliation.”
He called for Christians to remain hopeful and steadfast in their calling and for global Christians to walk in solidarity with each other and the Christians of the Holy Land. “Let us revive our conviction that the things that unite us as Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical are much more those that divide us. Let us put aside our differences and listen to the voice calling to us to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in the whole world,” he told those gathered.
This annual observance is a joint ministry of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The week, British paper The Guardian published an investigation on the treatment of Palestinian children who are arrested and put in jail. The report reveals a pattern of legal abuses of Palestinian minors arrested and held with in the Israeli military justice system. The Guardian and several human rights organizations use first-person interviews and affidavits to chronicle treatment like the use of long periods of solitary confinement, a traumatic experience that has an impact long after the children are released.
Approximately 500 – 700 Palestinian minors are detained every year. According to several human rights organizations, such treatment of Palestinian minors breaches the international convention on the rights of the child and the fourth Geneva convention. Many advocates urge Israel to apply the same rules and rights to Palestinian minors as they do to Israeli minors within the justice system.
Gerard Horton from Defense for Children International – Palestine Section says, “We're not saying offences aren't committed – we're saying children have legal rights. Regardless of what they're accused of, they should not be arrested in the middle of the night in terrifying raids, they should not be painfully tied up and blindfolded sometimes for hours on end, they should be informed of the right to silence and they should be entitled to have a parent present during questioning."
In response to The Guardian’s report, the British government raised concerns over the treatment of minors with the Israeli government. Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, urged Israel to address the UK government's concerns when on a visit to the country two weeks ago.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.