As election forecasts show Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cruising to a new term, Peace Now has released a review of his government’s settlement policies since 2009. The anti-settlement watchdog group says facts point to a leader whose has “used settlements as a tool to systematically undermine the chances of achieving a viable, realistic two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…” With Netanyahu encountering little meaningful opposition to his plans from leaders at home and abroad, Palestinian nonviolent protestors took dramatic action last Friday, January 11 that some say could be a “turning point.”
According to Peace Now’s figures, in 2012 the Netanyahu government approved 3,148 bids on new settlement construction, the highest in a decade. Since 2009 almost 40 percent of the new building sites were in what the organization calls "isolated settlements,” and not the existing built-up blocs that the Israeli government says will be a part of Israel in any deal to create a Palestinian state. In “past years,” the number was closer to 20 percent.
Last year, the Netanyahu government also became the first since the Yitzhak Shamir government in 1988-1990 to establish new settlements in the West Bank when it declared four previously illegal outposts to be official settlements. Six other illegal outposts were incorporated into “neighborhoods” of existing settlements. In East Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government approved the establishment of Givat Hamatos, the first new settlement in the aspirational Palestinian capital since Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister in 1997.
Last Friday, 200 Palestinians took action to protest the unrepentant settlement construction by descending on a hill in the controversial occupied E-1 area and pitching tents, “a tactic more commonly employed by Jewish settlers who establish wildcat outposts in the West Bank.” The activists established the village, Bab al-Shams (Gate of the Sun), on privately owned Palestinian land with the full permission of the landowners. The protest came six weeks after the Netanyahu government announced plans to build on E-1, the area east of Jerusalem that many analysts say would threaten the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
The leaders of the movement say they organized in secret knowing that the Israeli security forces monitor social media accounts. They had announced there would be event in Jericho on Jan. 10-13 and did not reveal the real destination and purpose to supporters until the last minute. Mahmoud Zawahra, one of the protest leaders, described the tent village as "constructive resistance. He said, "We are part of a non-violent resistance movement. For us, this is occupied land so we created a village to stop the Israeli plan to build a settlement here…We will resist evacuation in a non-violent way."
One Open Zion writer points out, “The Palestinian activists last week hoped to receive the same gentle treatment as the founders of the Migron outpost east of Ramallah, who were allowed to remain on private Palestinian land for more than ten years by indulgent Israeli governments, despite repeated High Court rulings demanding their removal. But no such luck.”
At 2 AM Sunday morning, 500 Israeli police forcibly removed the protestors. Spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told the New York Times that, “police officers had removed the activists one by one, without any use of force, aside from some pushing and shoving, and that the police operation was over within an hour.” However, activist leaders say six Palestinians received treatment for injuries sustained during the evacuation. After the protestors were removed, a bus dropped them at a checkpoint near Ramallah.
During the evacuation, the assembled press complained that, “hundreds of Israeli soldiers blocked journalists' access to the site, pushed them into a low-lying area, and used spotlights to interfere with shooting video and photos.” New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists’ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator says, “The eviction of a Palestinian protest camp in the West Bank is of local and international interest, and Israel, by obstructing the media, appears to be acknowledging that its actions would not stand up to scrutiny.”
According Gershom Gorenberg, “the founders of Bab al-Shams carefully chose the location based on Israeli Civil Administration land-ownership data” to ensure it was Palestinian property. He also recounts the events that led to the fleeting encampment, writing, “The government's first announced reason for removing Bab al-Shams was that it was located on state land. When four Palestinians quickly asked the Supreme Court for an injunction against evacuation, arguing that the land was theirs, the army issued an order declaring a ‘closed military area’ from which the Palestinians were barred for security reasons. With that, the court allowed the evacuation of the people.”
When asked why Palestinians haven’t tried something like Bab al-Shams sooner, one Palestinian said, “Perhaps because they now realize more than ever the failure of the negotiations and the political leadership in resolving the conflict.”
While the protest was short lived, it appears to have breathed life into the Palestinian non-violent movement. Gorenberg writes, “The Bab al-Shams organizers might conclude that disciplined non-violent effort failed. That would be a mistake. Netanyahu's response shows that nothing scares him more than non-violent Palestinian protest, consistent with a two-state solution, in a spot already in the international spotlight.”
At his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu announced:
I would like to praise the Israel Police, with the support of the IDF, for its rapid and determined operation to evacuate the Palestinian gathering in the area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim.
As soon as I was updated on the Palestinian gathering, I ordered its immediate evacuation and it was indeed carried out last night in the best possible manner. We will not allow anyone to harm the contiguity between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim.
At the start of his second term President Obama has a fresh opportunity to make meaningful progress in the realization of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 36 Christian leaders sent a letter to President Obama this week calling on him to bring his full energies of his administration to facilitate a just, durable, and final negotiated agreement to end the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Now it is your turn to endorse the message! Click on the graphic below to add your name!
Naftali Bennett, called “the face of the next generation of religious nationalism” in the latest issue of The New Yorker, is expected to play a large part in the next government, despite Likud’s campaign against him. Bennett is vehemently opposed of the two-state solution. He would like to annex about 60 percent of the area that is the West Bank, and let most Palestinians cities be self-governing, but “under Israeli security”.
Yair Lapid, another rising star in Israeli politics, gave an interview on Wednesday that shed some light on some of his political stances. Lapid is a moderate candidate who is much more in favor of a Palestinian state than Netanyahu. Though Lapid does not want to relinquish any control of Jerusalem, he advocates for almost complete withdrawal from the West Bank except for the major settlement “blocs.”
The European Union recently announced that they are devising a plan to resume the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians that would follow a two-state approach. This plan would recognize the 1967 lines and East Jerusalem would be the capitol of the Palestinian state. The EU will present their plan sometime in March, after the establishment of the new Israeli government. There is concern from the Arab League that this latest attempt to end the conflict will be just as ineffective as past peace agreements.
Alon Ben-Meir’s op-ed in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday states that one of the largest obstacles for the Israelis and Palestinians to overcome is the “complete lack of trust” for the other’s side, respectively. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon claims that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is unwilling to negotiate, and, "the goals of Abbas are the same as the goals of Hamas." The Palestinian Authority denounces this claim.
On January 14, Bloomberg published Jeffrey Goldberg’s article that included an ambiguous line reported to be said by President Obama: “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” This comment is allegedly responding to the news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to move ahead with the construction of a new settlement in the E-1 territory. Goldberg later explained to the Jerusalem Post that he was conveying Obama’s feelings that everyone already knew.
Hussein Ibish of The Daily Beast argues that the importance is not what the president did or did not say but, “What the whole brouhaha demonstrates is a kind of epistemic closure in which significant portions of Israeli society have lost the ability to hear the voices, even of their friends, who are simply asking them what kind of reality they are constructing through these policies.”
Members of the Likud expressed great displeasure at this quote, claiming that Obama is interfering with Israel’s elections to get even with Netanyahu for supporting former presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 election season. Political candidate Tzipi Livni has also commented on this alleged quote, stating that it is a “wake-up call” and that Israel must do it’s best to remain in favor with the United States.
In order to alleviate the financial strain on the Palestinian Authority, the Arab League said they would provide the money that Israel has been withholding since the UN accepted Palestine as a non-member state.
The Princess Basma Center in East Jerusalem, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusaelm, is the first school to integrate physically and mentally disabled students learn with students without such disabilities. Mothers of children with disabilities can also learn how to best care for their children.
Yossi Beillin issues a plea in the Daily Beast this week to Senator John Kerry to actively pursue peaceful negotiations between Abbas and Netanyahu as soon as he is settled in as the next Secretary of State.
A Muslim judge and a rabbi from Israel have recently toured the United States for 16 days advocating another peace process.
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.