Palestinians have US, France, G8, Quartet and more on their side against Israeli settlement policy June 29, 2009


Settlement construction

This week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Washington and of course the Palestinians, all reiterated their demand that the Israelis freeze settlement construction as a precursor to restarting “peace talks.”

On 24 June French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated his country’s demand that the Israelis immediately halt settlement construction during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During a join press conference, Sarkozy said Middle East peace depended on a complete freeze of settlement construction.

On 26 June in Trieste, Italy the Quartet Committee met on the margins of the Group of Eight (G-8) conference of industrialized nations. During the meeting UN leader Ban Ki Moon urged the Israelis to halt settlement construction, including that slated to accommodate “natural growth.”

World leaders have taken their cue from United States President Barack Obama who outlined the US position on settlements during his Cairo policy speech on 4 June. Since then tensions have been apparent between the US and the Israelis over this subject.

This was clear on 24 June when US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell cancelled a meeting in Paris with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly over the settlement issue. As a result, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will leave for Washington on 29 June to mediate the dispute.

Encouraged by the new US position the Palestinians have also firmly planted their feet on the ground insisting that they will not sit at the negotiating table with the Israelis until a complete halt to settlement construction takes place. Both Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman have rejected this condition, saying they would not hinder the natural growth of settlements but would “promise” not to build any new ones.

There is apparently a lot of “natural growth” in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, if the allocations for this in the budget are any indication. On 21 June Israeli Army Radio announced that Israel’s draft budget includes $250 million in allocations to settlements in the West Bank. The draft budget, which passed its first reading at the Knesset last week for 2009 and 2010, includes official investments reaching $250 million and loans for the investments which will be allotted to building housing units and developing the infrastructure of settlements.
Furthermore on 22 June Israeli Defense Minister Barak ratified the construction of 300 new housing units in a Ramallah-area settlement belonging to the Benjamin settlement bloc.

Nonetheless Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has not lost hope. On 22 June during a speech delivered at Al Quds University, Fayyad said he believed a Palestinian state could be established within two years. “I call upon our people to unite in order to realize the Palestinian state within two years at the most.” Fayyad told his audience he believed this goal was possible and that East Jerusalem would be the eternal capital of the independent Palestinian state.

Facts on the ground are less encouraging. On 26 June more than 50 settlers attacked two farmers and erected a tent on Palestinian land in the village of Kufar Al Labad in eastern Tulkarem.

Eyewitnesses say the settlers raided the land owned by Ibrahim Kayid and erected a tent on it with an Israeli flag over top. Several villagers were wounded in the subsequent clashes with the settlers.

On the twenty-second Israeli settlers uprooted some 150 trees belonging to farmers from Bet Ummar in northern Hebron. Local sources said the settlers from the Bet Ayn settlement uprooted the trees under the passive watch of Israeli occupying soldiers.

In Jerusalem residents of Beit Hanina and Shu’afat were awoken on the night of 21 June in an Israeli army night raid. The soldiers handed several residents demolition orders, some of them for the second time.

On 23 June Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovic decided he would tour the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in a clear provocation of Palestinian and Muslim sentiments.

Aharonovic entered the mosque under tight Israeli police and security protection for more than an hour from the Magharbeh Gate. His visit brought strong words of condemnation from the Grand Mufti and other Palestinian officials in the city, who said the move was a direct provocation to the Muslim site and its caretakers.

As for Gaza, the Israelis are unhappy with a UN report put together by the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs chief John Holmes. On 24 June Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, said that the report which criticizes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was “biased” and ignored the context in which Israeli attacks against Palestinians took place. A special Security Council session is to take place soon to discuss “the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.”

Furthermore on 26 June a UN fact-finding mission arrived in Gaza in order to collect testimonials from victims of the 22-day Israeli invasion of the Strip.

Two sessions highlighting the testimonials will be held in Geneva on the sixth and seventh of July from both Palestinian and Israeli victims. The sessions are taking place in Geneva because Israel refused to host the UN-sponsored group within its borders.

National conciliation talks are to begin on 28 June between Hamas and Fateh, to be followed by a 7 July meeting in Cairo. According to Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum, the meetings will focus on political detentions and ways of handling this issue, adding that all other points related to dialogue and security or government and elections are linked to the file of political arrests in the West Bank.

In this regard on 24 June the head of the PLC Fateh bloc, Azzam Al Ahmad said President Mahmoud Abbas issued orders for the release of 40 Hamas detainees in the West Bank as a gesture aimed to help facilitate the upcoming talks.

A day later, on 25 June, the PLO Executive Committee met in Ramallah under President Abbas. The Committee discussed the issue of national dialogue and Egyptian efforts to reach national reconciliation, stressing that the most important condition for the success of the dialogue is to achieve a Palestinian national conciliation government that unifies the homeland, ends the split, and reactivates Gaza reconstruction.

Meanwhile, Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal gave a speech in Damascus on 25 June during which he rejected Netanyahu’s offer of a “demilitarized Palestinian state,” which he said was basically keeping Palestinians in a “large prison.” His policy speech did, however, move closer to the official PLO position on statehood when Meshal said, “The minimum ceiling for our people is the establishment of a Palestinian state with Al Quds as its capital with full sovereignty over the June 4, 1967 borders, after the withdrawal of occupation troops, the removal of all settlements and recognition of the Right of Return.”

Hamas also welcomed home its House Speaker Dr. Aziz Dweik who was released from Israeli prison on 22 June after spending three years behind bars. Fateh PLC member Jamal Hweil was also released on the same day.


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