April 6, 2012
A Peace Talks Resurrection?
More Diplomatic Dancing
Holy Week in the Holy Land
Other News From the Week
View this and previous emails online
More Diplomatic Dancing
As suggested by CMEP two weeks ago, the press is now reporting that contacts between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continued after January’s suspension of talks in Amman. Israeli emissary Isaac Molho and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met behind the scenes last week to discuss a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinians hope to arrange for a high level delegation, likely headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to deliver it to the Israeli prime minister.
This letter has been in the works for several weeks. In early versions, Abbas reportedly threatened not only to resign but also to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which would force Israel to take over direct rule in Palestinian areas of the West Bank now administered by the PA. The Palestinians later discussed the text of the letter to Netanyahu with the United States, who urged Abbas to not threaten dissolution. In the end, the threat was not included.
On April 4, Ha’aretz published a copy of the final version of the correspondence that the Palestinians intend to deliver. It appears to cover no new ground, but includes four familiar demands:
- The acceptance of the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with land swaps
- A settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
- The release of Palestinian prisoners, including those who were arrested before the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords
- A return to the situation on the ground in the West Bank prior to September 2000. (This date marks the start of the Second Intifada, where Israel resumed incursions into areas the Oslo Accords designated Area A ,under PA control).
Abbas insists these demands are not preconditions but unfulfilled commitments.
The letter says, “We presented our general stance on the issues of borders and security, and emphasized that we respect all the commitments demanded of us…We demanded of your government to present general stances surrounding territory and security, stopping settlement building and freeing prisoners. These are not conditions - they are commitments. To our dismay, none of these commitments were carried out.”
Israeli diplomats are already penning Netanyahu’s response. A senior Israeli official told Ha’aretz that the letter will reiterate Israel’s well-known position that it is ready to negotiate all issues without any preconditions and expects Palestinians to do the same. Officials also expect Netanyahu will say he is willing to negotiate borders, security, refugees, water, settlements and Jerusalem as long as any peace agreement includes Palestinian recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people and proper security arrangements.
Chief negotiators Erekat and Molho intend to meet again next week and the delegation may meet with Netanyahu after the Passover Holiday ends on April 14. The Quartet, consisting of the EU, Russia, UN and United States, plans to meet on April 11 to discuss developments.
Holy Week in the Holy Land
On Palm Sunday, Christian pilgrims from around the world and Palestinian Christians descended upon Jerusalem to mark the start of Holy Week. Worshipers marched from the Mount of Olives into the Old City, following the path Jesus took to return to Jerusalem before his crucifixion. Israel’s Tourism Ministry expected 125,000 visitors during Holy Week.
Many Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza who did not receive permits to enter Jerusalem and worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. While around 50,000 Palestinians reportedly wanted to attend one of the most important religious ceremonies of the year, Israeli authorities only granted 2,000-3,000 permits.
The Palestinians who went to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday expressed their frustration. According to journalist Akiva Eldar, “For the first time ever, clergymen violated the permits they received to hold the annual religious march when they added a political tone to the event by holding up placards denouncing restrictions on freedom of worship in Jerusalem.”
A long list of Palestinian Christian leaders, including Bernard Sabella from the Palestinian Legislative Council and Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church Rev. Mitri Raheb, took the opportunity to strongly condemn the March 9 op-ed by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren in the Wall Street Journal. The diplomat’s suggestion that Muslims are to blame for the decline in the Palestinian Christian population was controversial. The leaders wrote an open leader to Oren ahead of Easter that said, “Your attempt to blame the difficult reality that Palestinian Christians face on Palestinian Muslims is a shameful manipulation of the facts intended to mask the damage that Israel has done to our community… Ending Israeli occupation is the only way for Palestinians — Christians and Muslims — to enjoy a life of prosperity and progress. It is also the surest way to secure a continued Christian presence in this, our holy land.”
Other faith leaders added political messages into their Holy Week sermons. Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal wrote in his Holy Thursday homily, “For us who live in this Holy Land, Christ continues to suffer in the members of his mystical body: every day we are confronted by the absence of freedom of movement and peace, frustrations, suffering, and even martyrdom. These living conditions wound us in our innermost soul. We hunger and thirst so much for justice and peace, we dream of leading a simple normal life. We are prisoners of hate, of mistrust and the fear of men towards one another.”
The Easter message from Bishop Munib Younan, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land said, “Recently Arab Christians have dominated the news. It’s almost as if the story of our small Christian community has become a political commodity. There are testimonies of faith, stories of hope, and announcements of accomplishments. At the same time, there are accusations and misrepresentations; there are character assassinations and words of incitement. No wonder some people are confused. We as Arab Christians must not be seen as aliens, but as an integral part of the fabric of our societies.”
This year, CMEP gathered reflections from Palestinian Christians for our annual Lent and Easter spiritual resource. The authors reflected on Hebrews 12:1-2 which asks us to, “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.”
We urge you to read the reflections and pray for guidance and perseverance for our work together.
More News from this Week
On Wednesday, Israeli forces evicted settlers who took over a Hebron house last week. Israel’s attorney general and Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the army to remove the settlers despite protests from Netanyahu and some members of his cabinet. This incident could threaten the stability of the prime minister’s ruling coalition.
PeaceNow has some background on the settlers’ current and previous attempts to take over Hebron houses.
Netanyahu is now trying to find a solution that will stop the demolition of an illegal Israeli neighborhood built near an existing settlement in the West Bank. He hopes to find a way to legalize the outpost and three others.
Early Thursday morning a grad rocket landed in a residential neighborhood in the southern Israeli city of Eilat. Investigators believe terrorists launched it from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. There were no reports of any injuries or property damage.
Fuel from Israel arrived into Gaza Wednesday after the Palestinian Authority made a temporary deal with Hamas. Hamas will pay the PA for Israeli fuel and the PA will deliver the payment to Israel. This way, Hamas and Israel are not directly dealing with each other. Authorities are still arranging a long-term supply from Egypt.
Palestinian journalists are protesting the PA’s apparent disregard for free speech. The government detained three critics, including a journalist who wrote about corruption, a lecturer who called for Abbas’ removal from government on her Facebook page and another journalist who discussed the lecturer’s arrest on his own Facebook.
Palestinians marked Land Day without a repeat of last year’s tragedy when 38 protesters died while marching on the Lebanese and Syrian borders. This year the protests were more subdued and stayed away from the borders, although Israeli troops killed one protester in Gaza as he approached the Israel-Gaza crossing. Land Day dates back to 1976 when Palestinians in the territories and those living within Israel demonstrated against Israel’s expropriation of land.