Stalled Peace Process Exacerbates Internal Rifts
The Beat Goes On
While talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Jordan were ostensibly broken off last month, there have been multiple unofficial reports that talks are continuing in Amman. Both sides may be confronting the reality that without progress toward a two state deal they may be left increasingly with a de facto one state situation that neither one wants.
U.S. President Barack Obama called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 19 and repeated positions that he has said before --- e.g., take no action that would preclude the outcome of final status issues – that apply equally to Israel, and signals at the least that the president does not intend to ignore the Palestinian issues, even in this election season and notwithstanding all the attention and pressure being given to military confrontation with Iran.
Well –known American Jewish academic and writer Peter Beinart penned an op-ed for The New York Times on Sunday, March 18 that is sparking conversation within the Jewish community in the United States and Israel.
In Beinart’s piece, “To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements,” he argues that Israel’s settlement enterprise is creating “one political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean - an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy, given that millions of West Bank Palestinians are barred from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives.”
Beinart notes that while Israeli government policies and the current global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), are pushing fundamentally different agendas, both are making a future two state solution less possible.
As a response, he proposes a “Zionist B.D.S.” movement, where Jews in the United States boycott products made east of the Green Line in West Bank settlements and encourage divestment from companies that profit from settlements.
Beinart concludes, “If Israel makes the occupation permanent and Zionism ceases to be a democratic project, Israel’s foes will eventually overthrow Zionism itself... If we want to effectively oppose the forces that threaten Israel from without, we must also oppose the forces that threaten it from within.”
The reaction to Beinart’s call to action was swift and diverse. David Frum, an American Jewish conservative analyst wrote in The Daily Beast that Beinart’s plan is to, “punish Israelis in order to change the Palestinians.” Frum insists that, “the spread of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is not a cause of Palestinian rejectionism. It is a consequence of Palestinian rejectionism.”
Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now supports Beinart’s call. She writes, “His suggestion - that people who love Israel and care about Israel as a Jewish state and democracy should boycott settlements - is completely consistent with a call APN made in July 2011. She continues, “APN has consistently opposed boycotts, divestment, and sanctions aimed at Israel proper, and we still do so today. At the same time, we believe it is absolutely appropriate to boycott settlements and settlement products, since we believe that settlements are a major and ever-growing obstacle to peace.”
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami distanced himself from the Beinart piece, writing that he supports the premise of Beinart’s op-ed, but does not think that boycotts are the answer. “I think the ideologues driving the settlement enterprise – not necessarily the settlers themselves – will never change their views. Pressure will only reinforce their belief that the whole world is against them, causing them to dig in even more deeply.” In response to criticism that this weekend’s J Street conference will give Beinart a platform for his Zionist B.D.S. idea, Ben-Ami is adamant that, “J Street is thrilled to host a passionate Zionist like Peter Beinart at any time and any place – even as we disagree with some of the actions that Peter is calling for… We are not about to apply an ideological litmus test to ensure that every speaker at our conference agrees with every position we take.”
In honor of the UN’s designated “World Water Day” on March 22 this year the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA) and American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) came out with resources highlighting the water crisis many Palestinians are experiencing.
OCHA’s fact sheet, “The Humanitarian Impact of the Takeover of Palestinian Water Springs by Israeli Settlers,” details how the Israeli settler and security presence in the West Bank prevents Palestinians from accessing local water sources. Israeli settlers and authorities use threats, intimidation, and fences to limit Palestinian access to water springs. Israeli settlers have targeted 56 springs near settlements and 30 of those are now completely inaccessible to Palestinians. Of the targeted springs, 84 percent are located on land the Israeli Civil Administration recognizes as privately owned Palestinian land. Because they are cut off from local water resources, many Palestinian farmers are unable to cultivate parts of their land and are instead forced to buy expensive tankered water for their households and livestock.
ANERA’s report gives a broader scope of the issues facing Palestinians’ access to water. The report, “Water in the West Bank and Gaza” details the current conditions and challenges and outlines key steps the international community could take to overcome man-made and natural factors in the arid region.
Among the conditions highlighted in the report is the dramatically low amounts of water that Palestinians in the West Bank receive on a daily basis. The World Heath Organization recommends a person use 26.4 gallons of water a day for drinking and hygienic purposes -- the average West Bank Palestinian receives about 13-18.5 gallons. The report also notes that 40 percent of the water available for Palestinians in the West Bank is lost because the water network is deteriorating. Polluted ground water and lack of infrastructure means that many communities have no connection to any potable water sources. ANERA recommends that international assistance should go to repairing and expanding existing water networks and treatment facilities.
In Gaza, ANERA reports that 95 percent of the ground water is unsuitable for human consumption, causing 26 percent of the diseases in Gaza. Only 10 percent of Gazans are connected to a reliable water pipeline. Expanding treatment facilities, desalination stations and other water infrastructure could mitigate these problems.
Salam Fayyad spoke to Voice of Palestine radio from Brussels and said the Palestinian Authority is investing in water resources in the West Bank and Gaza and he encourages international donors to lend a helping hand. He says, “We are determined to make all efforts to provide water to every Palestinian citizen, it’s a right and a duty in all cases."
A deal reached by the Israeli government and the settlers of Migron came under the scrutiny of Israel’s High Court on Thursday, who heard the case for why the settlers should be able to stay in the outpost until 2015. In August 2011, the High Court ordered the government to dismantle the outpost by March 31, 2012 but Migron’s residents threatened an undesirable IDF-settler confrontation, causing the government to negotiate a different agreement. The settlers finally agreed to let the government build them a new settlement 2 kilometers away and remain in Migron until the new location is ready, hopefully by 2015.
The Israeli anti-settlement NGO Peace Now petitioned the court to reject the state’s agreement with the settlers and insist the outpost be demolished. Peace Now settlement expert Hagit Ofran said, “This agreement is no less than a disgrace. The government of Israel is actually saying 'we will not evict Migron, we will not do what the Supreme Court told us. And we will give in to any settlers' threat. It sends a message that Israel (will) build more settlements."
During the hearing, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran slammed the deal and the argument that over turning the state’s decision would undermine rule of law. He said, “What will the rule of law look like when ruling is not followed? …You, the State Attorney, say that the outpost in three years, but I know this type of behavior. Three years will inevitably turn into eight.”
The deadline for a decision by the High Court is in one week, so expect a additional news on the future of the outpost sometime soon.
The current diplomatic rift between Egyptian leaders and Hamas authorities in Gaza is perpetuating an ongoing fuel crisis. Reports show that Gaza is experiencing blackouts for 18 hours a day, causing gas stations to shut down and raw sewage to drain into the Mediterranean. Hospitals have cancelled non-essential surgeries and half of the ambulances have been out of use. Gazans are becoming increasingly weary of the Hamas government’s inability to provide stability for the impoverished coastal strip’s 1.6 million people.
After Hamas took over the Gaza Strip by force in 2007, Israel imposed a blockade around the Mediterannean territory and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak went along with the closure. Since Mubarak was ousted, the ruling Egyptian military government has eased some restrictions on passenger traffic but have not resumed allowing the transfer of goods.
In February, the Egyptian government shut down illegal smuggling tunnels that were causing shortages in Egypt and allowing Hamas to profit off subsidized fuel meant for Egyptians. Egyptian authorities say they are willing to sell Hamas fuel if it goes though the border crossing with Israel, Kerem Shalom. This decision has caused internal Egyptian political tension. The Muslim Brotherhood, who has the majority in the newly elected parliament, supports an open border between Gaza and Egypt. The Islamic group blames the “remnants” of the Mubarak era that are still in power for the strict policy toward the Palestinians.
One anonymous Egyptian diplomat explains the rationale for this containment policy by saying, “We propose Kerem Shalom, because with this, we stress that Gaza is still under Israeli responsibility… If we accept what Hamas wants, we would absolve Israel of this responsibility." Hamas rejects this solution because they are unwilling to allow Israel to control the supplies.
The Palestinian Authority, which is trying to regain control in Gaza after a tenuous reconciliation deal with Hamas, announced that Egypt and Israel have coordinated the transfer of 450,000 liters of fuel to Gaza’s power plant on Friday.
Many Gazans blame Hamas for the energy crisis. One taxi driver who could not find gas told Ma’an News, "For God's sake, they should know that the people are the source of power and authority. People are not happy under the bad circumstances we are going through, so they should do something or step aside and let someone else rule.”
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem this week released its comprehensive annual report on the status of human rights in the occupied territories in 2011, the 44th year of Israeli occupation. The report details a wide range of issues, including civilian casualties on both sides, abusive Israeli soldiers, lack of due process for Palestinians and Israel’s land-grabbing policies.
One section on stifling protests and demonstrations found that despite the Israeli Defense Force’s claim that its soldiers will not interfere with non-violent protests, the military routinely takes measures to prevent them. On Fridays, when many demonstrations take place each week, soldiers will disperse the crowd immediately or seal off the areas to prevent protestors from gathering.
The IDF controls crowds with tear gas, stun grenades and foul smelling water. The tear gas canisters are particularly dangerous when directly aimed at people and although the official IDF position states it is unlawful to fire the canisters straight at a person, B’Tselem reports that it happens often. Last year one man was killed when he was hit in the face with a canister and although an investigation is still underway, no charges have been brought against a soldier for contradicting this IDF policy.
During Lent this year, a season of intentional reflection onour own faith journeys,CMEP invited Palestinian Christians with diversity of views and from many faith traditions to write their reflections on Hebrews 12:1-2.
With so many witnesses in a great crowd all around us, we too, then, should throw off everything that weighs us down and the sin that clings so closely, and with perseverance keep running in the race which lies ahead of us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which lay ahead of him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has taken his seat at the right of God’s throne (New Jerusalem Bible).
CMEP is so thankful for the thoughtful diverse reflections from Palestinian Christians and others about the current situation facing Israelis and Palestinians in light of this theme and the opportunity to share these reflections with you.
Among the reflections we’ve published, Dr. Bernard Sabella writes, “It is the evil in our hearts that should be challenged not the human persons that we are. This is the basic message of Lent to me.”
In another, Tarek Abuata reminds readers that “it’s never too late to keep our eyes fixed on God’s promise, on a divine realm of deliverance beyond our human understanding and capability.”
Reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, OneVoice activist Antwan Saca writes, “I have faith that even the small amount of peace and hope that may emanate from me to my surrounding community, may have a big impact and contribute to a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” May it be so.
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.