Demands for Talks Delivered, "Flytilla" Thwarted, Settlers Removed; Settlements Approved, Prisoner Day
Palestinian Demands for Talks Presented to Netanyahu
A Palestinian delegation finally presented a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, April 17, with very little fanfare.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was scheduled to deliver the letter with demands for a resumption of peace talks to Netanyahu, which would have been the highest level of interaction between the parties in almost two years. Instead, Fayyad did not go but Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and head of Palestinian Authority General Intelligence Majad Faraj met with the Israeli prime minister.
The meeting lasted less than an hour and afterwards the sides released a statement saying, “Within two weeks, a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be given to President Abbas. Both sides hope that this exchange of letters will help find a way to advance peace." The Washington Post explained the generic statement “signaled little progress was made.”
Dan Ephron, writer for The Daily Beast claims he received a copy of the letter, which included the usual Palestinian demands for a halt to settlement activity and the acceptance of the 1967 borders. One segment concerning the Palestinian efforts in the UN caught his attention however. Abbas reportedly wrote, “Should the Government of Israel refuse to honor these above-referenced obligations, we will seek the full and complete implementation of international law as it pertains to the powers and responsibilities of Israel as occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.” Ephron said sources told him that this means the Palestinians are considering another UN membership bid and possibly a petition to the International Court of Justice.
The Palestinian and Israeli press largely ignored the letter delivery in their news coverage. Those who did mention it focused on the absence of Fayyad, who pulled out hours before the meeting. There are a few theories trying to explain his decision. The Washington Post reports Fayyad had reservations about the letter and did not want to be seen in a meeting that was unpopular with the Palestinian public. Senior Palestinian officials told Ma’an News that Fayyad was “reluctant to engage with Israel on a day when more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike in protest against their conditions in Israeli jails.”
When the Israeli government comes up with a response within the next two weeks, Netanyahu plans to send his top negotiator Yitzhak Molcho to Ramallah to meet with Abbas. People close to Netanyahu tell Ha’aretz that he is interested in meeting as soon as possible with the Palestinian president.
Over the weekend, hundreds of Palestinian solidarity activists attempted to fly into the Israeli airport in Tel Aviv as they travelled to the West Bank. Israel largely foiled their plans, but arguably lost the PR battle. The foreign activists wanted to draw attention to Israel’s practice of denying entry to foreigners who state their reason for traveling is to go to the West Bank or Gaza in order to interact with Palestinians.
The Israeli intelligence service, the Shin Bet made a list of 1,200 people who were not even allowed to board flights taking them to Israel from Europe. Israel threatened sanctions against about 20 mostly European airlines if they did not cancel the tickets of the people on the list. One official from Israel’s Foreign Ministry told Ha’aretz that the government went too far in stopping the activists. The source said that 40 percent of the names on the list were not participating in the protest.
Those who made it to Tel Aviv were handed a letter on arrival on letterhead from the Prime Minister’s office. The note said, “We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns” but encouraged them to protest the human rights violations and atrocities by Syria, the Iranian government and Hamas. The letter concludes, “We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.”
Many in the Israeli media thought the government overreacted to the situation. Yakir Elkariv writes in YNet News that activists only get media attention when Israel proves their point. He says, “The media resonance of any humanitarian activity on behalf of Gaza/Palestine/territories is directly proportional to the level of Israeli objection to the move.”
This week, Netanyahu’s cabinet members were still at odds over Israel’s settlement policy. Defense Minister Ehud Barak received backlash from his far-right coalition members when he ordered the settlers who took over a house in Hebron to be removed. Now, he is facing another battle over an outpost near Ramallah named Ulpana. He encouraged Netanyahu to obey Israeli Supreme Court orders to demolish it, but the other ministers, including Netanyahu are not keen on the idea.
Minister Yisrael Katz questioned Barak’s intentions, telling Netanyahu, “After the eviction of Machpelah house (in Hebron), there is doubt regarding Barak's decisions, which might stem from political interests, intentionally meant to defy the government.” Minister Benny Begin defended Barak’s settler credentials by saying that the defense minister has approved a large number of permits for settlers, resulting in thousands of more Israelis in the West Bank.
The most recent example of Barak's support for settlements is his recommendation to Netanyahu to legalize the status of the Bruchin, Sansana and Rachalim outposts. Under Israeli law, they were created illegally on land owned by Palestinians. The cabinet will vote to approve the three outposts’ status during their weekly meeting on Sunday, April 22. According to Peace Now, if the cabinet decides to approve the outposts, “it will be the first time since the Shamir Government in 1990 that the Israeli government is deciding on the establishment of new settlements.” Usually, the Israeli government announces that new construction will be part of an existing settlement. Peace Now also explains that legalizing the outposts is just the first step. If approved, the Planning Council of the Civil Administration must approve the planning procedures before construction permits can be issued. The process might take a year or two.
In commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day this past Tuesday, thousands of prisoners went on a hunger strike and demonstrations were held in the West Bank and Gaza in solidarity. 3,500 prisoners refused meals for the day and 1,200 of them began an open-ended hunger strike. Palestinians want Israelis to free all prisoners, even the violent offenders, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits an occupying power from forcibly transferring the occupied population. Israeli officials maintain that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply because in 1967, as today, the West Bank was not a “state.”
Khader Adnan, a prisoner who refused food for 66 days, was released coincidentally with Prisoners’ Day. Adnan, a member of the violent Islamic Jihad, had been held in administrative detention without charges made against him until he reached a deal with the Israelis. He was allowed to return to his family in Jenin after serving the four-month initial administrative detention term. Israeli authorities agreed not to extend it further unless they found evidence that proved he was involved in violent acts. Over 300 Palestinians are still being held indefinitely without charges.
Last week, the CMEP bulletin reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton overruled a hold by Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in order to transfer the full $147 million aid package allotted to the Palestinian Authority. This money will help fund vital projects that improve the lives of Palestinians and lay the groundwork for a future state living in peace with Israel.
CMEP launched an action alert encouraging our supporters to send a thank you letter to Clinton at the beginning of this week and we have already received 1,700 responses. CMEP Executive Director Warren Clark has scheduled a meeting with the State Department to express our thanks and encourage further action for justice and peace. Please send your thank you by Wednesday, April 25.
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On Sunday at 7:00 pm, 60 Minutes on CBS will air a segment on Palestinian Christians. We will post the online version on Facebook when it becomes available on Monday.
Last week’s bulletin stated that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen approved of funding for construction except in Area C. It should have instead read that she only approved of construction in Area C if the Israeli government gives the project a permit. Israeli settlements are inside Area C, which is under full Israeli military control according to the Oslo Accords. It makes up 62 percent of the West Bank, but Palestinians only make up 5.8 percent of the population. We apologize for the error.
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.