Diplomatic Dance Continues While Settlements Expand, Price Tag Increases
Peace Process Has Flat-lined
Iran’s confrontation with the world over its nuclear ambitions dominated headlines about the Middle East this week. However, the diplomatic dance that continues between Israeli and Palestinian leaders is worth noting as well.
Last week, reports indicated that Palestinian leadership discussed with the Arab League the possibility of convening an international peace conference to discuss a “comprehensive solution” to the conflict (see last week’s Bulletin for more info). However this week, there was nary a mention of an international conference from any side. The rapid decline of this proposal is yet another sign that we will not likely see any progress toward a solution in the near future. Ha’aretz reports, “sources in Israel concede that the talks are over for now and no renewal is in sight.”
Israeli leaders are insisting they gave their best effort, revealing what they offered Palestinians before the talks ended. Barak Ravid, writing in Ha’aretz gives a detailed timeline from the Israeli perspective of what went on during those five meetings in January. Officials quoted in the story portray the Palestinians as intransigent, resisting talks until pressure from Jordan and the international community forced them back to the negotiating table. While the negotiations were supposedly confidential, Ravid’s article describes in detail the Israeli proposal and Israeli officials renderings of the negotiations that took place behind closed doors.
During what would be the last meeting in Amman on January 25, Israeli Chief Negotiator Yitzak Molcho presented principles for a peace agreement that included:
1. The border will be drawn in a way that will include the maximum amount of Israelis living in the West Bank, and the minimum amount of Palestinians.
2. Israel will annex the large settlement blocs, without defining what exactly is considered a ‘bloc,’ nor defining its size.
3. It is necessary to first solve the problem of borders and security in relation to Judea and Samaria, and only afterwards move to discuss the topic of Jerusalem which is far more complicated
4. 4. Israel will maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley for a period of time. Molho did not mention how long nor what kind of presence.
According to Ravid’s report, Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat responded by asking for clarification on the principles, including whether the border will be based on the 1967 lines and what percentage of the West Bank Israel expects to annex in a final agreement. Molcho replied that he would be happy to answer all questions in the next meeting, which never happened.
The Palestinian Authority’s news agency, Wafa, reported that PA officials condemned the Israeli leaks, which violate the negotiators’ pledge of confidentiality. Erekat wrote a letter to the Middle East Quartet saying the leaks presented “half-truths” and were a public relations stunt. Erekat also stressed that the failure of the talks was, “due to Israeli persistence to build settlements and dictate the course of the negotiations.”
Earlier in the Amman talks, Israel also accused the Palestinians of leaking information from the confidential negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu told a group of MKs that while the parties had committed to being “very discreet about the negotiations,” Palestinian negotiator Erekat leaked information to the media.
While the above narrative about the Amman talks may indicate that Israel is a willing and eager partner to the peace process, facts on the ground tell another side to the story.
This week Israel’s Defense Ministry approved 695 new homes in the Shiloh settlement and the Shvut Rachel outpost, both located deep in the West Bank. Shvut Rachel, formerly illegal under Israeli law, is getting 600 of the housing units as a part of a process that will legalize the outpost and effectively turn it into a full-fledged settlement. It currently has 100 families.
The international community has largely condemned the move. UN’s Mideast Envoy Robert Serry called the announcement, “deplorable,” and
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a limp condemnation, telling reporters, “We don't believe it's in any way constructive to getting both sides back to the negotiating table.”
The Israeli government responded to criticism by explaining this was just a preliminary approval and construction would not occur for several years. However, Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now, declared the project the biggest since Prime Minister Netanyahu took office three years ago.
Despite the Defense Ministry’s approval of settlement expansion earlier in the week, Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday called on Israel’s housing minister to freeze any tenders issued to settlements beyond the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem this week. The Interior Ministry also received a warning to not do any “surprise” moves in the near future. Netanyahu public efforts come just before the prime minister is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama on March 5.
The moves are likely timed to avoid the backlash Israel often receives when the housing and interior ministries announce new construction in the days leading up to important diplomatic visits. One of the most notable incidents occurred during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March, 2010 when the Interior Ministry announced 1,600 new apartments in the West Bank.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth says Netanyahu is, “seeking to ensure that there are no causes for embarrassment when he is sitting with Obama in the Oval Office.” Netanyahu will be in Washington for the annual AIPAC conference from March 4-6. President Obama is also slated to speak to the pro-Israel lobbying group’s crowd.
Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan ended his hunger strike on Tuesday after reaching a deal with Israeli authorities. He refused food for 65 days to protest his detention without charges. The case brought international attention to Israel’s practice of using “administrative detention” to hold people without charges or due process. Israeli human rights organization B’tselem defines administrative detention as, “detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree.” There are currently 309 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons on administrative detention.
Activists across the globe rallied around Adnan’s cause, portraying him as a “Palestinian Gandhi,” but others feel like the world is overlooking his admitted (and according to his wife, previous) Islamic Jihad affiliation. Mairav Zonszein wrote in +972 Magazine that it does not matter if he is a “bad guy”,” he deserves due process. She writes, “His behavior and possible crimes are not at issue – and have not been demonstrated. How the state treats him is.”
Israel claims the court proceedings that are required to charge someone could reveal classified material and it is a preventative step in stopping a potential security threat. Adnan will be released on April 17, three weeks before his six months are up, unless Israelis come up with evidence against him.
Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem joined the ranks of those targeted by “price tag” attacks this week when vandals Sunday spray painted anti-Christian and price tag words on the chruch’s walls.
This is the third Christian site vandalized in the past two months, including a Greek monastery in Jerusalem and a cemetery on Mount Zion.
This church is no stranger to vandalism. In 1982, arsonists burned it to the ground, and there was a smaller case of arson in 2007. Pastor Chuck Kopp, one of the pastors at the Narkis church said as far as he knew, authorities never convicted anyone for the crimes.
The “price tag” attacks are perpetrated by Jewish extremists who oppose the Israeli government’s actions against settlers. When the extremists first started the campaign, they targeted West Bank mosques. Recently attacks have expanded into Israel proper, targeting a mosque, left-wing activists and and organizations, as well as Christian sites. Earlier this month, extremists also defaced a school for Jewish and Arab students in Jerusalem. To see a timeline of price tag attacks since January 2011, see Americans for Peace Now’s exhaustive summary.
After the Greek Orthodox monastery desecration, the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, which includes the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, The Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs at the PA and The leaders of Jewish, Muslim and Christian institutions in the Holy Land issued a statement condemning the acts. It says, “The Council calls upon people from all faiths – Christians, Jews and Muslims – to respect all Holy Places and sites for all three religions, and strongly discourages extremists’ behaviour that exploits or involves religious holy places in a political/territorial dispute.”
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police are searching for suspects.
Last week, we detailed the fuel crisis that caused the main power plant in the Gaza Strip to shut down.
This week Egypt appeared to come to the rescue, striking a deal to increase the electricity flow from Egypt to Gaza, provide engineers to fix the damaged power plant in Gaza, and ultimately link Gaza to the regional power grid that includes Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
It is unclear whether the Palestinian Authority or Hamas finalized the deal. The Washington Post reports Egypt talked directly to the PA to reach a deal before Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh arrived to Egypt for talks on the fuel shortage on Monday, February 20. However, Palestinian-run Ma’an News and the right-wing Israeli media network Arutz Shevasaid the deal was not final until Thursday, February 23, after Haniyeh’s visit to Egypt.
Ma’an News reports, “Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu said a deal had been reached after ‘intensive negotiations’ between Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, Egyptian officials, and the Islamic Development Bank.”
Register today for CMEP’s 2012 Advocacy Conference, taking place June 18 – 19 in Washington, DC! Registration is now open for our annual gathering and if you sign up before March 14, you get an Early Bird discount! Just enter “gets the worm” as the promotional code to receive savings.
This gathering is a unique opportunity to update and expand your knowledge about the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land. The conference will also offer relevant and timely insight into the prospects for peace and present you with innovative and useful tools to advocate for peace in your community.
We’re working now to pull together and exciting line up of regional experts, faith leaders, and advocates from across the country to address the crucial issues of this conflict through the context of our own faith traditions and callings. In addition to plenary lectures and workshops, a lobby training and lobby day are a key part of the conference programming so you can take what you’ve learned directly to your elected officials in Washington. We hope to see you in June!
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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.