Palestinian Autonomy: A Palestinian State in the making
There is only one map of Palestine, the one registered at the United Nations.
So commented Yasser Arafat in rejecting all of the maps drawn up by Israeli ministers Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Mordechai “The maps divide the West Bank. We refuse to discuss them.”
It was clear that Netanyahu was prepared, on the surface at least, to consider handing back a lot less land than originally “agreed upon and signed”. ‘Security concerns’ being cited as the reason.
Against the advice of his own Fatah leadership, Arafat conceded to the US that security cooperation with Israel was not just a part of Oslo, but more its ‘foundation’. A December memo drawn up under the direction of the CIA to consider the ‘struggle against terrorism’ met with the approval of Arafat, the Israeli army and the CIA. Netanyahu rejected it giving rise to the assessment that he didn’t want the agreement because he would have no excuse for ignoring Oslo.
On arriving in Washington on the 19th January, instead of meeting the usual Jewish Zionist groups, Netanyahu met evangelical Christians and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all important opponents of Clinton and supporters of Israel. Including those who had accused Clinton of drug-dealing and murder. Netanyahu was clearly intent in showing Clinton that he was not his only ally.
When Arafat arrived in Washington on 21st January (in the middle of Clinton’s sex scandal),having declared previously that “Washington was the last chance”, the fear was that since Clinton had not persuaded Netanyahu to heed the terms of the peace agreement already agreed upon, the pressure would be on the PNA to compromise – again. Apparently Clinton “demanded” a double digit second phase withdrawal from the West Bank with “no” to this agreement from Israel. Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinian National Charter be cancelled with Clinton arguing that it could be kept for a later date. Clinton also reportedly knocked back the demand that Palestinians alleged to be involved in attacks on Israelis should be extradited to Israel – with the recommendation that they should be held in Palestinian jails and not released without prior consultation with Israel.
Lest the reader should think that Clinton has at last taken on the role as “honest broker”, his record on UN resolutions pertaining to Palestine tell the full story:
Since Clinton came to power the US has vetoed 3 Security Council resolutions critical of Israeli settlement policy. On the same issue it has voted against 4 General Assembly resolutions with, Israel excepted, the sole support of Micronesia. It abstained on the resolution concerning the opening of the “tourist tunnel” in 1967. Seven of these actions took place after Netanyahu came to power.
With Britain holding the presidency of the EU many were looking to Britain to honour its commitment to treat the Middle East peace process as a “priority”.
The reaction to Arafat’s meeting with Clinton was one of gloom. with some commentators observing that it was “naive and stupid” to expect the US to pressure Israel. Palestinian political analyst, Khalil Shakaki, was more pointed when referring to the inadequacies of Oslo
All the major issues of conflict between us and the Israelis are in part the result of a failure to insist on specific Israeli commitments in the agreements. We don’t know the size of the redeployments. Well, why don’t we know? It is unclear whether a settlement freeze is in Oslo’s text or spirit. Yet how could such an issue of importance have no explicit reference in the agreements ? For all Netanyahu’s stonewalling, Arafat cannot point to a single article in the agreements that proves conclusively that he is not adhering to them. That is the real problem.
MEI 30 January 1998
At the end of January, Arafat met with US Sec of State, Madelaine Albright. At the meeting it was reported that he stressed the need to implement all resolutions of the Security Council, those pertinent to the question of Palestine, not just Iraq. Arafat demanded that the US honour its own Letter of Assurances sent to the Palestinian leadership with regard to the 3 phases of troop deployment on the West Bank. He rejected a gradual implementation of the second phase, much touted by Israel.
With regard to the Israeli demand that the National Charter of the PLO be cancelled, Netanyahu was accused of of attempting to put new terms of reference for the peace process. The ‘offensive’ paragraphs had already been amended and ratified in April 1996.
On Feb. 6th, following fruitless talks with Arafat and Netanyahu, Sec of State Albright said the th US was not interested in an “imaginary” peace process with the implication that the US would lose interest if the appropriate “difficult decisions” were not taken – a threat that Arafat wants to avoid at all costs since he hopes that his maximum flexilblity will induce the US to lean on Israel. Flexibility typified by the report that the PNA may be prepared to accept a phased redeployment of Israeli troops as long as it involved a “significant and credible” amount of territory. Following an Israeli approach, an agreement was apparently reached in mid- February, whereby Israel would determine the scope of “military locations” and “settlement areas” in the West Bank.
Also during mid-February, the European Commission President Jacques Santer, lambasted Israel on his return from a trip to Palestine. He commented on Gaza airport, fully equipped to international standards, yet Israel will not allow it to be used. The Israelis are withholding permission for the construction of Gaza port – essential for Palestinian development. Yet despite his earlier statement that “The best guarantee for Israel’s security is the economic emancipation and and development of the territories.” he added that there was no chance of EU sanctions against Israel,
We in the EU don’t believe in economic boycotts.
At the beginning of March, Palestinian sources reported that an Israeli offer to accept a Palestinian state on no more than 40% of the West Bank, in return for cancellation of the Oslo Accords, had been rejected. Whether this was genuine offer or not was not confirmed. Perhaps it was just part of the circus which Israeli politics only too often resembles. Netanyahu’s survival is certainly part of this circus.His position is currently not under threat from his immediate rival – the leader of the Labour party, Ehud Barak. Barak astounded his audience when,on March 6th, when he went on record saying that, had he been a Palestinian youth, he would have joined a “terrorist organisation.” MEI 13/3/98
Meanwhile Netanyahu went on the offensive in Washington at the start of March, determined that Clinton’s ideas for peace – a call for Israel to halt settlement construction, to withdraw from parts of the West Bank over a 3 month period, then final status talks – should not catch on. For this purpose he brought together a coterie of Israeli officials, Jewish American leaders and lobbyists to promote his position with various individuals, political and media related. In tandem with this, Arafat had lost his usual optimism,
I won’t be revealing any secrets if I say that the peace process is in a very dangerous position and that it is in fact dying.
was his comment at the opening session of the Palestinian Legislative Council on March 7. Jordan and Egypt were also getting into the act. On March 8th King Hussein flew to Cairo to meet President Mubarak to discuss a US initiative already rejected by the PNA – an Israeli withdrawal from 13% of the West Bank.
Zionism in Crisis ? or A manifestation of an inept politician? or An honest Israeli politician?
These and many other questions were asked following th statement from Ehud Barak, leader of the Israeli Labour party. In front of millions of both Arab and Jewish viewers when Barak declared, on March 6th,
If I were a Palestinian youth, I would have sometime chosen to join a terrorist organisation.
He then went on to justify the Palestinian struggle “The Palestinians feel that the historical circumstances were unjust to them.” An understatement if there ever was one. Apart from confusing “terrorism” with “resistance” , as a military general with long experience of fighting the Arab people in general and the Palestinian people in particular , it was surely a condemnation of Zionism and all its works?
However, Ariel Sharon, currently Israel’s Infrastructure Minister, can never be accused mixing his words or sentiments. As Defence Minister in 1982, he was the architect of the slaughter in Beirut when Israel invaded that country. The massacres at Sabra and Chatlia can be traced to his door. In mid-March, during Robin Cook’s visit to Israel and Palestine, he was threatening that Israel was still intent in murdering Khaled Mish’al, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau (the first attempt was botched by the Mossad in Amman last October).
Palestinian National Authority
It was reported that a new government would be formed within a few months. This followed Yasser Arafat’s apparent acceptance of recommendations from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) concerning administrative and fiscal corruption in government circles.
Two Palestinians were sentenced to 15 years hard labour following a one day trial by the State Security Court. Jasser Samaru and Nasim Abu Rous were arested on the charge of recruiting the suicide bombers last summer in which 21 Israelis were killed and running a bomb factory in Nablus. The arrests took place one day before the trial, with confessions being produced, allegedly under no duress. The defendants families were only notified on the day of the trial. A lawyer was quickly appointed on behalf of Rous and arrived in Jericho two hours after the trial had started with no opportunity to speak to his client or see any files.
Reasons given for the speed of the trial divided into two camps. It was necessary to evade any Israeli request for extradition (the PNA had acted along with Israel’s Shin Bet in arresting the two suspects) and it paved the way for Arafat’s meeting with Clinton in Washington.
A second autopsy was demanded on Nasser Hiroub who died in Dura prison,Hebron, on 3rd February 24 hours after being arrested. Palestine Police alleged suicide. However the doctor who pronounced death reported that blood had been evident from the mouth and ears, indicating internal injuries possibly caused by being beaten. Following a 24 silence from the security agency combined with a heavily censored local press, angry members of Hiroub’s clan attacked the HQ of the local Preventative Security Force with stones and bottles.
The PNA banned pro-Iraqi demonstrations, apparently at the behest of the USA or in fear of repercussions from the same source. Initially the ban was on those demos with potential for violence, but it was imposed on all protests. It caused a lot of friction between the PNA’s various security agencies and civilian leaders including those from Fatah, Arafat’s group within the PLO.
We feel that we are in an undeclared state of emergency.
So commented broadcaster Daoud Kuttab when, days later a ban was place on TV and radio stations from commenting on the Iraqi crisis. On 15th Feb. the largest TV station on the West Bank, Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem was closed down. The largest radio station in Ramallah, The Voice of Love and Peace followed, with another two dozen TV stations poised for closure.
With, in the past 50 years, 69 UN resolutions passed either being critical of,or demanding action from Israel, and with all 69 being ignored, the reaction of those Palestinians under occupation or in the diaspora was not unexpected. In the words of Egypt’s daily al Ahram, “Each time the US toughens its line on Iraq and overlooks the nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal of Israel, which occupies Arab lands, it exposes its double standards.”
The opening of the third term of the Palestinian Legislative Council, on March 7th, was considered to be a disappointment. Council members were looking forward to Arafat spelling out specific reforms and a major cabinet reshuffle. Instead there were admissions that mistakes had been made and promises of future improvement.
On March 12th the Palestinian police arrested two human rights activists, Shawki Issa and Sami Muhsin. After being questioned over their criticisms of the actions of the security agencies during the Iraq crisis ie the closure of radio and TV stations, they were released.
In 1967 a total of 606 Palestinian families lost the right to reside in the city, compared with 689 the previous year. Some 1 300 families, 4 000 individuals have lost their rights in the city over the previous two years.
Bulldozers, backed by a strong military presence, destroyed about 50 tents of the Jahalin Bedouin encamped near the expanding settlement of Ma’ale Adumim on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The eviction of 137 people followed. They were accused of living in a “military zone” with the headman, Hammad Ibseiss being hauled into the settlement’s police station in an attempt to have him sign documents to that effect. They were evicted to a site adjacent to Jerusalem’s rubbish dump with shipping containers provided as alternative housing. A statement by LAW pointed out that deportations, destruction of property, deliberate disintegration of local culture are forbidden by the Fourth Geneva Convention and Hague Convention. The removal of a population to make way for colonisation ie ethnic cleansing, is forbidden by the Genocide Convention.
However, at the beginning of March the Israeli High Court made two rulings in favour of the Jahalin. The first ruling banned the occupation authorities, under the guise of the “Civil Administration” from moving 35 families to Abu Dis. The second banned demolition of the buildings in the area – until a final judgement is made. The PNA presented a cheque for $25,000 to help them rebuild their shelters which had been demolished the previous week.
Seventy homeless families who have, in one way or another been forced out of East Jerusalem by Israel’s policies of house demolition or withdrawal of residency rights, awaited forced eviction. The camp, Steadfast Camp, was established on land belonging to the Islamic Waqf or Trust at the foot of Mount Scopus. Ironically the excuse used was that permission had been granted to the waqf to construct a building to house an organisation for the handicapped. Permission for this project and three others was filed about 21 years ago. The following week an amicable agreement was reached, with the waqf providing an alternative site – assuming the Municipality agrees.
On March 3, shops and businesses were closed down in protest at the intention of West Jerusalem’s mayor, Ehud Olmert, to lead a delegation of mayors from various cities in the world who have twinned with West Jerusalem. The tour was eventually cancelled. There were reports of sporadic stone throwing throughout the day.
Jerusalem PLC representative, Ahmad Batsh, protested at Israel’s continuing excavations around and below al Aqsa Mosque. He rejected the occupier’s claim that tourist facilities were being constructed, saying “Israel intends to bring about the collapse of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
On March 12th a Palestinian was stabbed in West Jerusalem, the second such incident that week.
Business as usual
On Christmas day three children aged 10 to 12 years were wounded by a land mine close to their village of Beit Ola near Hebron. Until recently the area had been used as a training ground by the Israeli army.
The Israelis began withdrawing work permits from Gazan labourers heading for Israel. A report from the Democratic Centre for Labour Rights in Gaza indicated that those affected had refused to work as informers for Israel’s General Security Service, the Shin Bet.
On January 29th, Nidal Abu Srour, died from a lack of oxygen to the brain at the Russian Compound interrogation centre in Jerusalem – where he had been held without charge since 6th January. With no sign of suicide, which Israel alleged, the fear was that a new method of torture had been devised. During February, Amnesty reported on those Israeli laws which act as a legal smokescreen for use of torture by the Shin Bet. This legal cover was reinforced on January 11th by an Israeli High Court ruling which allowed interrogators to use violence during questioning.
On the 1st, Israeli troops confronted Palestine Police who halted their attempts to chase youths (protesing at the death, in custody, of Nidal Abu Srour) into Bethlehem. After indiscriminate firing of tear gas and rubber bullets, the troops withdrew without invading the autonomous area.
The commercial heart of Hebron was closed down while settlers unveiled a plaque to a murder victim of some 15 years ago.
On the 8th the Israeli Knesset approved a draft law which placed the operations of Israel’s secret service, Shin Bet, within a legislative framework. However it does not specify the agency’s powers and methods of interrogation. This was described as “very dangerous” by the human rights group LAW “Torture has been legitimised before in cases of individual detainees, and now it will become general.”
Following scenes reminiscent of the Intifada, the occupation authorities placed tiers of concrete filled drums at the entrance to Qalandia refugee camp, north of Jerusalem.A curfew was imposed on the February 25th following attacks on Israeli jeeps, patrolling the camp, by about 200 youths. The previous week had seen scores of children suffering respiratory problems following liberal use of tear gas against the camp residents.
At the start of the last week of February, the military authorities in Hebron closed down 150 shops after several Molotov cocktails were allegedly thrown in the direction of the settlement established in the heart of the city. Mayor Mustafa Natshe condemned the act as one of collective punishment.
The results of a population survey were published. The total number of Palestinians who resided in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip was put on Dec 10, 1997 was 2 890 631. This figure did not include over 325 000 with residency rights to live on the occupied territories but had been living abroad for over one year. The figure for East Jerusalem, inside and outside the borders of the annexed area was put at 323 837 – based on Israeli statistics and growth assumptions, since Israel had banned the census from being carried out in East Jerusalem.
Palestinian businessmen complained of harassment and humiliating treatment at Israeli crossing points. They can wait for hours until an Israeli guard decides to deal with them. Their goods can suffer minute
inspection, often being damaged in the process. Perishable goods such as fruit and flowers can stand for days, eventually being unsaleable
Businessmen are often not allowed to enter Israel. If they eventually are allowed to take their car, time wasting security checks have to be faced.
Concern was expressed at the shooting dead of a Palestinian youth trying to travel over the boundary in the southern part of the Gaza Strip into Egypt. No warning shots had been fired, and like similar events in recent months, the youth had effectively been murdered.
On 9th March, hundreds of Israeli police and army personnel, assisted by helicopters, raided the West Bank village of Shuweike near Tulkarem. The target was alleged stolen cars and motorcycles. Several businesses were broken into, with 56 arrests. Demonstrations took place with no reported injuries.
On the evening of 10th March, three Palestinians returning home from work were shot dead at an Israeli roadblock at Tarqumiya near Hebron. Five others were injured. The Israelis pleaded self defence. Post mortems showed that all three had died of high velocity bullets to the head and upper parts of the body. The driver had been riddled with more than 10 bullets. This was followed by large scale clashes with the occupation forces leading to a further 50 injuries.
The following day 12 year old Samer Karama was returning home from school in Hebron when he was shot by an Israeli soldier, stationed on a nearby roof, who was firing at protestors in the centre of Hebron. Four days later the young boy died, clinically diagnosed as brain-dead, the bullet having caused a massive rupture in his brain. Two days later, on the 13th, eight journalist were shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers using metal-coated rubber bullets, as they arrived to report on settlers who, while celebrating a Jewish holiday, were beating up Palestinians, vandalising Palestinian homes in the Palestinian controlled part of Hebron.
These incidents led to further demonstrations and injuries and prompted the West Bank’s security chief, Jibril Rajoub, to threaten that if settlers from the enclave in the old part of Hebron continued to enter the PNA controlled areas with the intention of attacking Palestinians then violence would follow, with not just Palestinian blood being spilled.
On March 22nd, in the midst scenes of brutality towards the Palestinians, soldiers prevented the Atrash family from rebuilding their home near Hebron, with the help of Israeli peace activists, which army bulldozers had demolished several weeks earlier.
Further details emerged on the killing of the three Palestinian labourers. As they were being shot, the men were shouting that they were labourers, returning from work. They were no danger to the soldiers, but were killed for the sake of killing. The three soldiers were exonerated after 15 hours in detention. The most appalling aspect, apart from the murders themeselves, was the Israeli outcry over the detention and interrogation of the soldiers. Transport Minister, Yoshua Yahlom, demanded the dismissal of the officer who ordered the arrest of the three soldiers.
Israel rejected a request from the PNA that Sheikh Asaad Buyud Tamini be allowed to be buried in Hebron. The founder of the Islamic Jihad Movement, the Sheikh was expelled by Israel in the early ’90s.
Settlements and land confiscation
I have never accepted the American interpretation of a cessation of settlement building in Judea and Samaria. Nowhere in the Oslo agreement is it stated that Israel must halt construction or slow it down.
Middle East International 16/1/98
Work began on Settler Route 45 which will link the coastal areas of Israel with the Jordan Valley. Already 550 acres of Palestinian land from 15 villages have been confiscated. It was also disclosed, on January 7, that Israeli authorities had approved plans for Route 70 which will loop around the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, head north then south to Bethlehem. It will tighten Israel’s grip on Arab Jerusalem.
Route 70 will be at the expense of about 400 acres of land belonging to the villages of Anata, A-Tur, Izzariyeh, Abu Dis, Sawahrah and Zayyem. Many homes are threatened with demolition, particularly those which fall within Zone C – the Israeli controlled areas of the West Bank. It will restrict Palestinian development and expansion to the east of Jerusalem.
Meanwhile the PNA accused Israel of intensifying settlement activity to the west of Jerusalem – surfacing new roads linking settlements and isolating Palestinian villages from each other. This started soon after Israel produced its map for the West Bank which reflected its “security needs”.
On January 9th ‘reserve plans’ to build 30 200 new settlement units, the bulk for East Jerusalem, were revealed by the Israeli press. The Israeli housing ministry was responsible. Netanyahu is the housing minister.
On February 3rd Israeli TV announced that the Jerusalem Municipality had authorised construction of Jewish only housing, 132 housing units, in the heart of Arab Ras al Amoud, near the Mount of Olives. The land is alleged to have been bought by US millionaire, Irwin Moskovitch – a name well known in settler circles.
It was a move strongly condemned by the Palestinians, with Speaker of the PLC, Ahmad Qr’ei, commenting,
International resolutions define as occupied land seized by Israel by force in 1967 and state that the land must be returned to its rightful owners in its entirety.
It was reported that an Israeli district court sold a 2.5 acre. Palestinian owned land, to Jewish investors. It was bought by Haj Issa Azzat in 1972 who, since 1973, had tried in vain to have the purchase registered in the Jerusalem Land Registry .
Scores of Israeli peace activists were reported to have joined in protest at the confiscation of 25 acres of land on Mount Muhammad by settlers from Qedoumin settlement. Shacks and caravans had been set up on the slopes.
At the beginning of March the Israeli government allocated $5 million as part of its 1998 budget, and keeping its promise to the settler movement and coalition parties. At the same time dozens of mobile homes were promised to solve a “housing shortage” in the settlements – despite government reports that many settlement housing units stand empty.
The UN General Assembly met on March 17th and adopted resolutions called for as part of the time consuming process of overturning the US veto on Israeli construction of the Har Homa settlement on occupied land on Jabal Abu Ghunaym. The procedure involved the Swiss government, as the depositary of the Geneva Conventions, to call a meeting of experts from the High Contracting Powers to prepare for a conference on Israeli practices. Despite Swiss prevarication and fairly obvious attempts to appease the US in this matter, a meeting has to be held by the end of April.
Protests were made to the occupation authorities regarding the activities of settlers against the village of Taqui’ near Bethlehem. They had carried out a series of raids to try and acquire village land for the settlement of Teqo’a.
Multilateral talks on water have been getting nowhere. While the Palestinians insist on their water rights, Israel will
only concede a share in the water according to Riyad Khudari, chairman of the Palestinian delegation to the talks. Compared with the 2 000 million cubic metres of water used by the Israelis every year, the Palestinians have access to only 135 in the West Bank and 115 in the Gaza Strip, only a fifth of their Israeli counterpart.
Gaza’s problem of salinity is compounded by the 25 wells Israel has drilled along the Gaza-Israel border which taps any water flowing from the Hebron hills to the Gaza Strip. Waste water from settlements is also polluting shallow, underground water.
A group of prominent Palestinian officials and academics called upon the PNA to review its negotiation strategy with regard to the question of refugees. They called upon the PNA and the PLO to withdraw from the quadrilateral talks and consider the issue as one to be strictly resolved between Israel and the Palestinians on a bilateral basis.
Hani al Hassan of Fatah Central Committee said “The [Oslo] Accords constituted a blow to the hopes of the refugees. The PLO should never have accepted to postpone the discussion over the problem until the talks on final status.” He was critical of the readiness to sign the Stanford Document on the eve of the Madrid talks which said that the refugees had a right to return to a “Palestinian state” but not to their original domicile and property. In defence of the present situation, it was argued that there was compulsion to participate in talks or else a price would have been paid with decisions being made, with no input to these decisions.View all →