Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has said he will reply to the letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the first week in May and that it would likely address the issue of borders. Since Netanyahu came to power in March 2009, Netanyahu’s government has not yet produced a map of what it wants in regards to its border with a future Palestinian state. Palestinians have made available the same map, based on the 1967 border with land swaps, that they presented to the Olmert government in Israel in 2008.
The CBS flagship program 60 Minutes aired a segment April 22 about Palestinian Christians that added fuel to the already raging debate about the relative decline of the Palestinian Christian community in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The aftermath of the report may be indicative of Israel’s growing concern about its support in the American Christian community.
Known for being a pioneer in investigative journalism, 60 Minutes has been a staple of American television for 43 years. Last weekend, veteran journalist Bob Simon tackled the contentious debate over why Christians are leaving the Holy Land. By going to speak to Palestinian Christians and hear their own reasons for the emigration, Simon tells viewers CBS “did not realize our story would become so controversial.”
While producers were still finalizing the report for broadcast, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren called the head of CBS News to complain that he was informed the story was “a hatchet job.” The producers agreed to interview the ambassador for the segment.
Ha’aretz reports that Oren briefed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on efforts to stop the report that the ambassador thought could harm Israel’s relations with the Christian community in the United States. Possibly to pre-empt the 60 Minutes broadcast, on March 9 Oren wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal touting the “flourishing” Christian community in Israel and blaming the exodus of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank on violence against Christians by the Muslim majority. He did not mention the hardship imposed on both Palestinian Christians and Muslims by the Israeli occupation. Later in March, Netanyahu spoke in Jerusalem to 800 members of the pro-Israel Christians United for Israel (CUFI). An Israeli official said that these actions were meant to “foil the broadcast of the investigative report, or to at least affect public opinion in the U.S., particularly in Christian communities, ahead of the broadcast.”
There is debate about the effect Oren’s complaints to CBS. One source told Ha’aretz Oren’s campaign did more harm than good, saying, “instead of stifling the subject we just increased interest in it.” However, the prime minister’s office said that although the piece was “malignant and harmful,” the final CBS report “was much softer than in the original version.”
TAKE ACTION! CMEP put together an action alert for supporters to send an email to CBS thanking them for letting Palestinian Christians speak for themselves.
The Netanyahu government decided to retroactively legalize three outposts, a move that has raised concerns about the Israeli government’s respect for the rule of law when it comes to building in the West Bank. The government insisted previous governments authorized the three outposts- Sansana, Bruchin and Rehalim- and the decision only fixes technical and procedural issues. Anti-settlement activists say this is the first step in a process to turn the outposts into full-fledged settlements.
Peace Now slammed the move. The organization released a statement saying, “Netanyahu’s tricks cannot hide the fact that instead of going to peace the government is announcing the establishment of three new settlements, for the first time since 1990. This announcement is against the Israeli interest of achieving peace and a two states solution”
The United States and United Nations also expressed disapproval. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office released a statement stating that he "is deeply troubled by the decision of the Government of Israel to formally approve three outposts in the West Bank.” He also, “reiterates that all settlement activity is illegal under international law. It runs contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and repeated Quartet calls for the parties to refrain from provocations.”
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters it was still getting clarification from the Israelis but said, "We are obviously concerned by the reports that we have seen. We have raised this with the Israeli government… We don't think this is helpful to the process. We don't accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”
Netanyahu is facing pressure from the settler wing of his coalition. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled almost a year ago that the Ulpana neighborhood of the Beit El settlement had to be dismantled because it is built on private Palestinian land. With the high court's May 1 deadline to dismantle Ulpana rapidly approaching, Netanyahu is scrambling to find a solution that allows the residents to stay in order to please his other cabinet members.
On Friday, April 27, the government petitioned the court to allow Netanyahu to come up with a more politically desirable solution. Ha’aretz reports that, “According to legal experts, the government's request represents a problematic move - breaking the accepted rules for the relationship between the executive and judicial branches - that will put the country in a difficult position.”
*Pundits involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spend a lot of time disagreeing with each other. A few weeks ago, Benny Morris, Israeli historian, blamed the Palestinian Authority for the stalled peace process and called the settlement enterprise a “giant red herring.” Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation needed not one, but two columns to refute Morris.
*Israelis celebrated Independence Day on April 26 this year. The influential left-leaning paper Ha’aretz included an editorial that criticized the new Israeli attitude that settles for “basic survival” instead of being “dynamic, thirsting for progress and achievement.”
*Prominent Israelis from the new group Blue White Future wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining that even without the Palestinians as a partner for peace, Israel can take unilateral measures, like beginning to move settlers out of the West Bank, in hopes of creating a better environment for negotiations.
*The National, an English paper based in Abu Dhabi calls out Hamas and Fatah for internal conflicts and not representing the interests of the people. The editorial tells both parties to commit to unity, non-violent resistance and democratic elections.
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.