Briefing Paper August 1999
Barak is promising to strive for a peace treaty with the Palestinians, but he has little to offer them. He is no Peace Now man. I doubt whether he will demolish any settlements. He wants the Palestinians to give up any idea of establishing their capital in East Jerusalem and is therefore very unlikely to reach an agreement with him.
Ha’aretz (Israeli daily) 20/5/99
With Ehud Barak (who himself obtained 95% of the Palestinian vote) confirmed as Israel’s next prime minister, the Israeli Labour Party was faced with forging alliances leading to the formation of a coalition. In keeping with Zionist tradition the one bloc of voters completely ignored in this process was Israel’s 450 000 Palestinian electorate.
Palestinian voters elected 10 Mks drawn from three Palestinian Arab party lists, where the Islamist list dominated. Pollsters reckoned that at least one out of the ten MKs elected under the Israeli left wing Meretz banner was due to the Palestinian vote. Likewise at least one out of the 17 MKs elected under the banner of the right-wing, religious Shas party was due to the Palestinian vote.
Palestinian reaction to the Israeli election outcome was summed up by one commentator as more relief at Netanyahu’s demise, with no particular optimism over Barak’s victory. It was a view borne out by Barak’s election victory speech on 18 May:
- Jerusalem to remain under eternal Israeli sovereignty
- no return to 1967 borders [as demanded by UN resolutions] under any circumstances
- most West Bank settlements to stay in blocs under Israeli sovereignty
- no “foreign armies” west of the River Jordan
On 3 June a “day of rage” was organised ostensibly against settlement activity. Commentators believed it was more aimed at Barak’s studied silence on the issue. On the day, the main impression was one of apathy, with fewer than 3 000 Palestinians turning out for the protests.
There is a growing sense that our leadership is overdrawn on its past, that its account is spent.
West Bank Fatah leader
The above comment was seen to explain the apparent apathy. Not just corruption, mismanagement and random violence which for many have become the hallmark of PNA rule. But the whole political process which has effectively denied the Palestinian leadership of any option other than the hope that negotiations will deliver the goods.
On 18 June, Barak broke a 4 week silence and spoke to his favoured mouthpiece, Ha’aretz newspaper. While he acknowledged the position of the Palestinian people as being the source of the conflict, he was also quick to point out that they are weak and pose no military threat to Israel. It was Syria to which he showed concern and with whom it was paramount to make peace. He acknowledged that it would be necessary to compromise on the occupation and the settlements on the Golan Heights. Settlement activity in Palestinian territory seemed to require no further “compromise.”
Barak also came up with the novel idea with regard to a “safe passage”, as agreed in the Oslo Accords, between Beit Hanoun in Gaza and Dura near Hebron. He mooted a “highway on stilts” with four traffic lanes, a water pipe and communication cable. At an estimated cost of $10 billion, the idea will remain an idea.
His silence resumed as Netanyahu played his last card in attempting to upset the Middle East apple-cart. On the nights of 24-25 June Israel launched its largest and most destructive air-raids on the Lebanon since the April 1996 “Grapes of Wrath” onslaught. The first attack was allegedly in response to a Hizbullah Katyusha attack on northern Israel. This was to avenge the wounding of a Lebanese woman in Qabrika that morning. Following this first Israeli raid, further rockets rained down on Kiryat Shemona, killing two Israelis (the first Israeli fatalities since 1995)and causing considerable structural damage in the town.
The second Israeli raid destroyed two power stations near Beirut, the HQ of a telephone company, five bridges on the coastal road, a building formerly used by a Hizbullah TV station. Eight Lebanese civilians were killed during these raids with 70 civilians wounded. The damage was eventually estimated at $39 million.
Hilary Clinton who, earlier in the year, had gained the admiration of many Palestinian people when she declared her support for the formation of a Palestinian state showed the mettle of a determined US politician at the beginning of July. While addressing a meeting of Zionist Jews from New York State, she supported the view that Jerusalem is the united and eternal capital of the Israeli state. If elected as mayor for New York State she would support the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
At the end of the 45 day period allowed for forming a government, Barak had his coalition cobbled together. 32 ministers (only one female and no Arabs). In contrast with other coalition governments, over half were of Oriental Jewish origin. Three of the ministers were reckoned to be outright hostile to anything Palestinian. The leader of the National Religious Party, a favourite amongst the settler community, was given the housing portfolio.
In mid-July Barak was feted during his visit to Washington. At the end he made public his declared aim of achieving a comprehensive peace in a “framework” of about 15 months (roughly the end of Clinton’s presidency). Future high-level contacts between the US and Israel were announced along with billions of dollars of new aid and technology transfers. Future military assistance included 50 F-16 warplanes at a cost to the American tax-payer of $2.5billion. Cooperation between NASA and the Israel Space Agency was agreed. The appropriation for the funding of any Israeli intent to honour the Wye Agreement and pull back from further Palestinian territory was put into motion. This could amount to $1.2billion.
In return, Barak promised nothing. There were no iron-clad commitments. No stated commitment to reduce settlements. Only reinforcement of his three no’s:
No to any return to the boundaries of 1967,
No to shared sovereignty in Jerusalem,
No to any return of Palestinian refugees.
He made clear his intent to bypass the Wye Agreement and go straight to final status talks. This was rejected by Arafat who declared that all agreements, Including the Hebron protocols of 1997, should be implemented before any final status talks commence.
This rejection was formalised following a meeting between Arafat and Barak on 28 July where Barak’s preference for a combining of Wye and final status talks was discussed. However, by 1 August Barak made it clear that he intended to follow his own course of action, regardless of Arafat’s views. There would be no immediate implementation of the long stalled Wye Agreement. Apparently implementation (no doubt according to Barak’s interpretation of Wye) of the Agreement would take place within six months.
…the gap is enormous between the least the Palestinian people will accept in the longer term and the most the Israeli government will yield – – – shoving Israel’s terms down the Palestinian’s throats will not bring peace even if all the Arab governments make their separate deals with Israel
Editorial, Middle East International, 16/7/99
Business as usual
Two houses were demolished in the Jabal al-Mukabbir area of East Jerusalem on the pretext that they had been built on “Green areas.”[Since the beginning of the year 10 houses in Jerusalem and a further 10 in the West Bank have been demolished.]
In a last desperate effort to gain some political capital in the run up to the elections, Netanyahu accused Orient House in East Jerusalem of being a front for the Palestinian Authority, accusing the latter of hosting some minor diplomats on the premises. Brushing aside the truth of the matter (the diplomats and the PNA met in a restaurant) by the 10 May a stand- off between Palestinian youth and Israeli troops bent on enforcing the closure order was fast becoming a reality. However an alliance between Arafat and the Israeli peace movement brought a reprieve.
An appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court brought about a temporary injunction. There was no dispute over the Israeli claim to sovereignty over East Jerusalem. It was just that electoral considerations were deemed to be the dominant factor behind the decisions.
On 26 May, during demonstrations against settlement activity in Ras al-Amud, Israeli Border Police injured seven people and arrested four (including 2 journalists).
At the end of June Palestinian prisoners at Jalamah prison protested their maltreatment by going on strike. Allegations of beatings and humiliating treatment were made. Occupation forces road blocks prevented Palestinian registered vehicles from entering Nablus. This was seen as a tit-for-tat action following the banning of Israelis from entering Joseph’s Tomb in the city.
Unemployment rate in the West Bank was reported to be 11.5%, Gaza 20.9% (during 1998). Meanwhile Hebron district, with the winter’s rainfall being the lowest in 40 years and with some parts only receiving 10% of the usual annual rainfall, reported severe losses in the agricultural sector. With the year’s rainfall estimated at less than 60 % of the previous year’s, the Bedouin farmers and families in the Jordan Valley were similarly facing a bleak future.
On 18 July the longest serving detainee in Israeli gaols was released following a six year incarceration without trial. Usama Barham was arrested in 1993 on the pretext that, as an alleged activist in Islamic Jihad, “he constituted a threat to Israel’s security.” Altogether he served 12 continuous years in Israeli custody.
On 20 July young Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli troops near the settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. This demonstration against Israeli settlement policy resulted in 13 injured when the occupation troops fired on them with rubber-coated bullets.
At the beginning of August two settlers were lightly injured when their car was ambushed in the Israeli occupied part of the city. On 3 August, 16 year old Alia Halase was allowed bail on the charge of assaulting a member of the occupation forces. It followed protests at the demolition of her family home in Sawaher Sharqiya near Jerusalem.
Occupation troops uprooted newly installed telephone poles beween the villages of Zatara and Beit Tamer, to the east of Bethlehem. A telephone installation was also destroyed. All belonged to the Palestinian company Paltel and were situated in that part of occupied Palestinian territory designated as Area C ie under full Israeli control.
The day before the Israeli elections, bulldozers commenced the construction of 150 housing units on Jabal Abu Ghunaym (Har Homa). On the day following the elections, bulldozers broke earth at Ras al Amud, a village on the ridge outside Jerusalem where 4 acres of land (destined to be the site for a new 132 unit settlement) had been acquired by dubious means by US bingo magnate, Irving Moscovitz. The latter act precipitated small demonstrations where seven people were injured and four (including two journalists) were arrested.
Then on May 28, outgoing defence minister announced the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim settlement which, if realised, would split the West Bank into two cantons – north and south.. In the end Jerusalem will be severed from Bethlehem, the territorial corridor linking the “eastern villages” to the Old City will be eliminated. Even the apparently wild grabbing of hill-tops by settler zealots is seen to serve a purpose in trisecting the West Bank into partitions based upon Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron regions.
Meanwhile prime minister elect, Ehud Barak, adopted a posture of silence on the latest settlement activity. At his first meeting with Arafat on 11 July , Barak said that prior to any final agreement new settlements would not be built, existing settlements would not be dismantled. On the future of the 13 000 units currently under construction, the 42 “hilltop” settlements in the West Bank (most established following Wye), the outgoing government’s decision to build Har Homa and expand Ma’ale Adumin there was silence.
Demonstrations by those Palestinians most affected by settlement activity were muted. One commentator observed that everyone knew that Arafat did not want mass demonstrations in Jerusalem with internal divisions being rife as to the best approach to deal with the situation.
During May, Israeli sources confirmed that settlers were to move into nine Palestinian house in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. The justification given was that they had been previously Jewish owned.
In Jerusalem, Israeli police uncovered a gang involved in forging land sale documents in East Jerusalem It involved about 1,250 acres in Jerusalem district. This followed the arrest of two landbrokers, one Arab the other Jewish, who had attempted to acquire Armenian owned property using forged documents.
At the beginning of August, building activity on the proposed settlement in Ras al Amoud resumed
Israel’s Interior Ministry confirmed that a total of 2,256 Palestinians have been dispossessed of their right to live in Jerusalem since 1993, the year of the signing of the Oslo Accords. The number of ID papers siezed were, in 1993 (32), 1994 (45),1995 (96), 1996 (689), 1997 (606), 1998 (788)
Meanwhile, Orient House in East Jerusalem announced that the policy of the occupation authorities was showing signs of producing the opposite results.
Circumstances have prompted thousands of Jerusalemites to return to the city of their birth. The population had risen from 190 000 in 1995 to a present day 210 000.
The US daily paper Today reported 23 May that Barak and Arafat had reached an outline agreement with regard to Jersalem. Reportedly, Arafat will give up claim to a large part of East Jerusalem. He will have authority over the Palestinians Arab citizens and several religious sites. Israel will not oppose a declaration of statehood with its capital in Abu Dis, two miles east of the Old City.
Palestinian National Authority
The PA leadership is not interested and certainly not serious about upholding the rule of law since this would be incompatible with the parochial interests of some influential figures in the Authority.
Saber Tawil, Palestinian lawyer
The above comment was followed by a prediction of the justice system with a drift into chaos, pointing out that an increasing number of Palestinians are resorting to, amongst other things, traditional tribal forums where “justice” is quick with no “complications.” It arose from continuing, intermittent strikes and sit-ins by Palestinian jurists and lawyers throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
Their protests arose from a myriad of concerns. These ranged from a single judge assigned to serve over 120 000 citizens to the situation where security chiefs of the 15 security agencies are regarded as not understanding the concept of law as being paramount, with nobody above it. One lawyer spoke of the security agencies acting as a “parallel judicial authority”, answerable to Yasser Arafat.
On top of this is the complete absence of Palestinian law. The occupied territories, regardless of state of autonomy, continue to be ruled by many irrelevant laws with roots in Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Egyptian law – not forgetting the hundreds of military orders issued over 30 years which only serve the interests of the occupier. Then there are the many secret and tacit understandings between Yasser Arafat and others which allow the Israelis to decide whether alleged offences are innocuous or harmful.
During June, the PNA launched a smear campaign against non-governmental organisations on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They were branded as a “bunch of thieves”, “fat cats” and “ foreign agents” working against Palestinian national interests. Particularly targeted were human rights organisations. The criticisms came two days after the publication of a report criticising the PNA justice system as “primitive” and questioning the whereabouts of $100m earmarked for rebuilding the system.
During July, demonstrations took place over the continuing detention of Islamist prisoners in Nablus. Outside Jneid prison, PNA security personnel attacked and injured several demonstrators – provoking outrage
amongst the populace. The opinion was voiced that even if Arafat did want to release the prisoners, he may find it hard to do so in view of the constant Israeli and CIA monitoring.
By 26 July the situation inside Jneid was described as “volatile” following the implementation of a punitive prison regime by the PNA.
With a call to re-convene a conference of the signatories of the Geneva Convention, in order to underline that the practices of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza constitute a serious breach of international law, the Swiss made every effort to stall or downgrade the status of any such meeting. They used their power, as depositories of the Convention, to put every conceivable obstacle in the way of the call by the 10th Emergency Session of the UN General Assembly (itself necessary in order to bypass a US veto on a resolution against the settlement being constructed on Jabal Abu Ghunaym) for the meeting. In the end it was acknowledged that the large majority of the High Contracting parties to the Convention supported the conference. Two (guess who!) were firmly against it.
The meeting finally took place on 15 July and was adjourned within half an hour. True to form, both the US and Israel failed to take their seat and persuaded Canada and Australia to do likewise.
However, 103 countries sent representatives, including all the members of the EU. With the ascendancy of the Barak government, the consensus was to give it a chance. A short statement was made prior to the adjournment. Carefully phrased, the member countries concluded that they “will convene again in the light of consultations on the development of the humanitarian situation in the field.” The declaration made clear what both Israel and the US would prefer to forget – that the Convention (which deals with the treatment of civilians during war, particularly in occupied territory) applies to the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.
The failure of the meeting to address the enforcing of the Convention in the occupied territories provoked anger amongst many. That international law had been subordinated to political concerns and opinion was a source of worry. Yet, for some, the fact that the meeting had taken place at all was considered to be a positive development.View all →