Settlers Leave Ulpana, Price Tag Attacks Continue
On Thursday the Israeli government and settlers from the Ulpana neighborhood in the Beit El settlement came one step closer to concluding a five-year saga over the homes built on private Palestinian property. The Supreme Court of Israel ruled in May that the government must remove five apartment buildings in Ulpana by July 1. The court’s decision put Prime Minister Netanyahu in a tough spot, between the rule of law and the elements of his coalition that oppose any settlement evictions. In the end Netanyahu
told Knesset members, "Israel is a democracy that observes the law, and as prime minister I am obligated to preserve the law and preserve the settlements. And I say here that there is no contradiction between the two.” Seeking to reaffirm his settler credentials after deciding to evict the Ulpana residents, on June 6 his government announced 851 new homes in various West Bank settlements, including 300 units on other parts of Beit El.
This did not wholly convince the settlers to leave Ulpana. The government negotiated with the residents to leave peacefully for months in order to avoid a confrontation between the settlers and the Israeli army when the time came for them to leave. The residents finally accepted an offer to relocate, provided their homes are allowed to come with them. The Israeli government promised them that the five apartment buildings would be moved piece by piece over the next three months to another section of Beit El that is currently being used as an army base.
On Wednesday, the Israeli border police showed up in Ulpana to ensure residents left their homes and help them move. Only one family initially refused to leave but the police “gently” carried out the father and the wife eventually left without a struggle. The biggest headaches came from the Hilltop Youth, a group of young and fierce settlement proponents. The youth took over an empty apartment, despite the effort made by Ulpana residents to stop them. The police eventually removed them, making six arrests.
Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir wrote, “the deal that was struck and the peaceful evacuation that followed show that this can be done: that Supreme Court orders can be carried out; that settlers can be moved from their homes without all hell breaking loose; that the Israel public cares very little about the troubles and tribulations of settlers who bought houses that were illegally constructed on land owned by Palestinians.”
The only remaining controversy is whether the state must remove the buildings by July 1. Netanyahu officials filed a motion with the Supreme Court on Wednesday to get an extension until November in order to relocate the apartments to the nearby land.
The chairman of the settler umbrella organization Yesha Council, Danny Dayan,
criticized the perpetrators of the “price tag” violence, indicating a rift in the settler community over tactics.
The price tag criminals have a record of mosque burnings and other acts of vandalism inside Palestinian villages in retaliation for Israeli government efforts to restrain settlement activity. The acts have largely gone unpunished. After assailants slashed the tires of one Yesha official for not taking a firmer stance on Ulpana, Dayan addressed members of a conference Monday saying, "Violence has become common currency in our camps while we remain silent…These acts present the biggest threat to the settlement enterprise. More than Barack Obama, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu."
This week five Israeli human rights organizations, Center for the Defense of the Individual, Yesh Din, B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Rabbis for Human Rights, sent a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other West Bank authorities to demand a more proactive approach against the extremists. They want Israeli soldiers and police to uphold their obligation to enforce the law and arrest lawbreakers.
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi was announced the official winner of the presidential elections in Egypt on Sunday. This was the first election of its kind Egypt’s history, made possible by the Egyptians who took to the streets in early 2011 to oust Hosni Mubarak.
On June 22, The New York Times published a piece by Nathan Thrall from the International Crisis Group that warned of a
possible third intifada brewing in the Palestinian territories. He points out that the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, financed by the U.S. and Europe, has been such a “success” that Israelis have “the luxury of forgetting that there is an occupation at all.”
There have been two Palestinian intifadas in the past. The term means “shaking off” and in this context, refers to two major Palestinian uprisings. The first came in 1987 and largely involved nonviolent popular protest that eventually resulted in the Oslo Accords. The second caused significantly more bloodshed for Palestinians and Israelis, beginning in late 2000. The events caused renewed efforts for peace (Arab Peace Initiative, Geneva Initiative, Road Map for Middle East Peace), but had severe consequences for Palestinians on the ground as Israel increased security measures restricting movement.
The prison hunger strikes and accompanying protests this spring hinted at the unrest brewing amongst Palestinians. PA President Mahmoud Abbas expressed fears that if the situation could not be controlled, the PA may collapse. A former member of the Israeli security agency substantiated these fears by saying, “When the concentration of gas fumes in the air is so high, the question is only when the spark will come to light it.”
According to Thrall, Israelis are also not showing much initiative when it comes to the peace process. He cites Matti Steinberg, a former senior adviser to Israeli security chiefs, who says President Abbas is the Palestinian leader Israel has dealt with and warns of taking him for granted. Steingberg points out, “The Israeli center is caught in a vicious cycle. It argues that it cannot make peace while there is violence, and when there is no violence it sees little reason to make peace.”
Palestinian Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad held an in depth interview with the Washington Post on June 24. He is regarded highly by most of the international community for his successful efforts to build Palestinian capacity to govern and to impose “one gun and one law” on the Palestinian Territories under PA control. His political future is uncertain. He is distrusted by Hamas and has clashed with Abbas, but the prime minister has not ruled out participating in a new unity government or even running against Abbas in the next election.
The Palestinians and UNESCO are making controversial moves once again. Last October the body voted to accept Palestine as a member and on Friday it added the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to its list of World Heritage in Danger sites. Israel, the U.S. and the Nativity custodian churches all expressed their dismay over the decision, fearing the political consequences.
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.