Briefing Paper December 1999
It seems that Israeli Prime Minister Barak is determined to follow the legacy of his predecessor Netanyahu . . . His message is: take it or leave it. That was the exact message of Netanyahu, but Barak realises he can get away with it . . because many countries were happy he was prime minster [not] the intransigent man who occupied the post before him.
Editorial: The Jerusalem Times 15/10/99
The above comment came at the end of a week which witnessed visits from the French, the Americans, the Swedish and the Italians to both Arafat and the Israelis to discuss and urge progress towards peace. It also coincided with Barak’s continuing delay in naming his delegation to the peace talks. In addition Israel changed, unilaterally, the criteria for further prisoner release.
It all followed Israel’s communications minister’s announcement, less than one week after the signing of Wye II at Sharm Al-Sheikh, that “it is difficult to believe that we will be able to reach an agreement on such crucial issues inside a year.” The Minister for Jerusalem Affairs added his contribution, the idea of a “permanent peace treaty” which would leave Jerusalem and the refugee issues for further negotiations, over a longer period.
Barak, himself, was informing Israel Public Radio that “if we do not manage to reach agreement on the final status, we could consider making another interim accord.” The Jewish Chronicle, at the same time, was quoting Barak as saying that if no framework agreement is reached by the coming February “long-term interim accords” were a possibility. For observers of the “peace” negotiations this scenario would come as no surprise. At every stage in the negotiations the Palestinians have been bombarded with Israeli demands for concession after concession. Short of complete capitulation by the Palestinians and, in the absence of any international pressure on Israel, Barak’s prediction will be the reality.
So, on 8 November, the real start of the final status negotiations between Israel and the PLO (not, it should be noted, the Palestinian National Authority) commenced, with around 100 days to draw up the “Framework Agreement on the Permanent Status” dealing with Jerusalem, refugee issues, water rights, settlements and borders.
As ever, Israel dictated events. The previous day Barak pulled the rug from under Arafat’s feet by rejecting UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as any basis for proceeding (or, as was later stated, selectively interpreting Res 242), at the same time settlement construction was reaffirmed. Such actions should focus any talks on terms of reference for further meetings together with Palestinian complaints with regard to ongoing settlement construction. Israeli commitment to stop settlement construction and abide by UN Resolutions should, it was said, have been sought prior to any talks commencing.
As it was, the occupiers set out their “five red lines”: no return to June 1967 borders, Jerusalem united as Israel’s capital under Israeli sovereignty, no foreign army west of the River Jordan, no return of refugees into Israel, most of the settlements to remain in blocs, annexed to Israel. The Palestinians reiterated their stance that without the return of all land acqired by war in 1967, including Jerusalem, their efforts would amount to no more than a deferral of crises.
Denying, after 51 years, indifference to the plight of Palestinian refugees, the Israeli positon on the Palestinian right of return was to state that any solution “cannot be found within the borders of Israel.”
By mid-November the next crisis in Israel-Palestine relations surfaced with disagreement over the area defined for the next redeployment of the occupation forces. Israel insisted that she had the right, unilaterally, to decide the areas to be affected. Or, to put it another way, there is nothing in the agreements which state that Israel and the PNA must agree on any area from which Israel intends to redeploy.
Arafat’s hope that US envoy, Dennis Ross, might prevail upon Israel to think again proved to be in vain. If implemented unilaterally, Israel’s proposals would mean that the land under question would either be sparsely populated, semi-desert or isolated pockets with little or no link to the autonomous enclaves.
Meanwhile, Arafat’s wife, Suha, caused a diplomatic storm when, in the presence US President’s wife, Hillary Clinton, accused the Israelis of using [tear] gas on Palestinian civilians – the direct cause of cancers and other ailments amongst its victims, particularly children. The systematic pollution of Palestinian water resources was also emphasised during the inauguration of a US funded health programme on 11 Nov.
Eleven days later the fifth round of talks ended in continuing disagreement, over the absence of the Jerusalem suburbs, Abu Dis and Izzariyeh, from the redeployment plans.
At the start of December Palestinian negotiators lodged a protest with their opposite numbers over the continuing settlement activity. This, they said, undermined any peace talks and destroyed the trust necessary for meaningful talks. At the same time they reinforced the applicability of international law. the Geneva Conventions and UN Res 242 with regard to peace. Security, they pointed out, applied to both sides of the divide.
Settlements and land confiscation
Not only does Barak know many of the settler leaders from the military, he seems to understand them and, at times, empathise with them. Barak does not dismiss the settlers the way Rabin did, nor does he deny their ‘pain’ . . . Their leaders collaborate with him and publicly praise him while using the die-hards to blackmail him and extort further concessions.
Haim Baram Column, Middle East International, 12/11/99
The government of Ehud Barak reached an agreement with West Bank settlement leaders with regard to the dismantling of settlements or, to be more precise, settlement outposts. Instead of the 15 and then 12 initially agreed upon, 10 small settlements will be demolished – those deemed to be “insignificant and detrimental to the interests of Israel.” In reality they were virtually uninhabited. Thirty two small settlements or caravans, established at the same time, were not to be touched. They were to be regarded as extensions of existing settlements. Along with the 1800 housing units under construction in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, these remaining settlement outposts were now deemed to be “legal.”
In statements drawing parallels with the actions of Netanyahu, the PNA rejected the position of the occupiers. The action effectively legitimised the existence of the remaining 32 outposts which were erected in the rush, before the Israeli elections, to occupy the hilltops and establish more facts on the ground. The areas of the evacuated sites will remain under settler control, for cultivation and other purposes which do not, in the meantime, include habitation. Furthermore it was eventually revealed that the compromise reached with the protesting settler movement was that, eventually, the settlers would be allowed to return to their evacuated outposts “in an orderly and legal fashion.”
In the meantime, the settlers’ council removed some of the settlement caravans over-night, where they reappeared, in some cases, on nearby hilltops. In the case of the much media publicised evacuation of settlers from Havat Ma’on, on 10 November, a token protest was made by the settlers.
The nature of many of the settlers makes life unpleasant and dangerous for those Palestinian farmers and landowners whose land is constantly under threat. On 14 October, 55 year old Hassan Asad Odeh from Nablus visited his 2-3 acre plot of land to collect some of the fruit from his 200 olive trees. The land is close to the settlement of Elon Moreh and its “outpost” on the top of Hill 792. At this point three armed settlers, dressed in religious garb, and their dog appeared. One of the thugs set the dog, a vicious brute by all accounts, on Hassan. After 10 minutes, the dog relaxed it grip on the Palestinian’s back-side. Under a hail of stones and a single shot from the gun, he fled.
Uncharacteristically the Israeli police acted on the complaint and promptly arrested and charged two of the settlers.
In Jerusalem, the construction of the illegal settlement in the heart of the Arab neighbourhood of Ras al Amoud was reported to be forging ahead. This contrasted with the construction of the controversial settlement of Har Homa on Jabal Abu Ghneim which was described as being on the “back burner.”
At the beginning of October, the Israeli army closed off 40 acres of land belonging to six villages in the Hebron areas. At the same time scores of families were issued with eviction orders from their homes which were close to Jewish settlements. This was seen as a small part of an accelerated land grab to create facts on the ground before any final status talks.
Thousands of hectares of arable and pasture land were seized. 10 000 in the central and southern areas of the West Bank, including 3 000 close to Hebron “closed off” for a “military “training area.” All in accordance with the agreement signed at Sharm al-Sheikh. In the Ramallah area hundreds of hectares were confiscated suggesting a 3-4km “security zone” along the old boundary between occupied Palestine and Israel proper.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that in preparation for possible annexation of Area C in the West Bank (the land under total Israeli control), the Bedouin who were expelled from the Negev in 1948 are due to be “on the move again”. This time their destination could be the areas under the control of the PNA. One report spoke of an eviction notice in Hebrew being left under a stone beside a demolished shack (MEI 26/11/99)
At the end of November work started on twin tunnels linking the settlement of Ma’ale Adumin with Jerusalem via Arab East Jerusalem. The two lane tunnels, in further violation of international law and UN resolutions, will run under the Mount of Olives
In the Gaza Strip the occupation authorities authorised the construction of a further 22 apartments in the Neve Dekalin settlement.
Baraks’ first 100 days in office made grim reading for any enthusiastic promoter of the current “peace process”.
- 2,115 acres were confiscated, designated for settlement construction
- a further 20 000 acres were “closed” by military decree
- tenders went out for 2 600 settlement housing units
- more settlements have been initiated by Barak in 3 months than Netanyahu did in 3 years
(Return Review Nov. 1999)
Palestinian National Authority
The judiciary system is based on personal connections, which strengthens corruption…
Ibrahim Barghouthi, lawyer
Judges from Ramallah and Hebron went on strike on October 12 in support of their demand for “fundamental and serious reforms” to the judiciary system. With President Arafat granting extensive powers in managing the judiciary and forming the West Bank courts, the judges complained that the executive power refuses to implement court decisions and that the West Bank and Gaza Strip operate two judicial systems. Already Arafat has refused to order the implementation of at least 25 court orders from the High Court of Gaza.
Recently Edward Said described the reality of “Arafatism” as a mix of sloppiness, improvisation, lack of study or preparation and a great deal of secrecy. Others more sympathetic described Arafat as being a “special case” with his two parallel aims – creation of a healthy democratic and civil society together with pursuing the “peace process” – being incompatible.
With further release of prisoners taking place, the batch released on 9 September were all given jobs within the civil or social affairs ministries or in the myriad of police and intelligence agencies. Those who refused jobs were still paid salaries, according to one report. With those still remaining in prison being regarded as the last elements in the Palestinian national movement still relatively autonomous, free from “PNAism” and a possible alternative to the current leadership some commentators concluded that this was the PNA’s alternative to the Israeli option of incarcerating them in prison.
The conclusion which has been drawn is to keep them docile and, with around 104 000 Palestinians on the PNA payroll, the financial improprieties associated with such a situation is condoned by international donors at large – if they want Oslo et al to survive.
In Hebron, municipal authority and lax regulations were held to be responsible for the death of 14 young girls in a fire in an unlicensed cigarette lighter factory on 21 October.
On 27 November, twenty prominent Palestinians (including members of the Palestinian Legislative Council) issued “Manifesto 20” which criticised “tyranny, corruption, humiliation and corruption of the Palestinian people” by the PNA. With it being deemed that the name and respect due to President Arafat had been besmirched, that sedition and incitement had been fomented, nine of the signatories were promptly arrested. One of the signatories was attacked be three masked men.
…the individual refugee in the overcrowded Balata, Dahaysha, Tulkarm and al Ayn camps occupies only 15, 14, 12, 8 square metres respectively, [while] an individual Jewish immigrant in Aylat and Afoolah has 4 160 and 1 300 square metres respectively…
Return Review, 1/11/99
With the final status talks now emerging somewhere along the horizon, with the need for the world community to eventually acknowledge UN Res 194 which states that either the refugees of 1948 should return to their homes they have lost and/or compensation for that loss, rumours abounded with regard to this topic.
The notion of some kind of package being available before the subject comes up for negotiation and so avoid the expected outright Israeli rejection was suggested. Immigrant receiving countries such as Austarlia and Canada were mentioned. Iraq, with plenty of space, was also touted. Perhaps part of the price she may have to pay for international rehabilitation.
In the Lebanon, the turmoil which has engulfed the Palestinian refugee camps (murders being one feature of this) reached a new state of tension with Lebanese army units surrounding and laying siege to the camps demanding that weapons be handed over to the state. Food and construction materials were refused access. This was followed by the arrest of two prominent Fatah leaders who, hitherto, had the “freedom” of the country to travel about.
Business as usual
The issue of a southern “safe passage” and a northern one (due to open in January) dominated. With “security and sovereignty” being under sole control of Israel, with the same criteria being used to approve applicants, one observer concluded that the number of Palestinians who will be allowed to use the passage will not rise much above the current 50 000 (others talk of reaching 132 000) allowed access to Israel or the West Bank from the Gaza Strip.
With the PNA civil affairs ministry as a “front”, the occupiers will approve applicants and issue the coveted magnetic card from their own offices. A twice weekly convoy of “clean” buses between Gaza and the West Bank under Israeli Border Guard police escort for the 28 mile, two hour, trip is envisaged. Israel will have total veto over who uses the passage and, as “sovereign power” will have the right to arrest any of the users.
“It is still not a right of passage” concluded one Palestinian lawyer “The Israelis view a safe passage for Palestinians as a privilege they can grant or withold at whim. The whole business is going to be painful and humiliating for Palestinians.” Some cards will only last two weeks, the passage will be closed on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays. Yet for many Palestinians it will be the first ever opportunity for them to travel outwith the confines of the Gaza Strip.
The issue of prisoner release promised to be no less humiliating. Having imposed brand new criteria on prisoners it was prepared to release, on 6 October Israel found that only 96 out of the 1 800 or so incarcerated in her prisons fitted the revised criteria. A further 151 had been agreed upon.
Israel was then prepared to “relax” the criteria and include, not the mostly Fatah activists with “blood” on their hand prior to the Oslo Accords but who now support the peace negotiations, but those sentenced for killing Palestinian collaborators. Jewish blood and Palestinian blood was obviously different. For good measure the Israelis were prepared to include some Islamists described as “small-fry.” The PNA negotiators initially refused to accept this and eventually, on 15 October, 151 prisoners were released. Of this number, 12 were Islamists and 41 from other Arab countries who had fought for the PLO.
On 17 October the occupation authorities, through the Israeli Ministry of the Interior announced a change in policy in revoking the residency rights of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population, those who have spent more than 7 years abroad. A halt to house demolition in the city was also announced. A halt in the practice of needing to produce a variety of documents to prove right of residency was also announced. However the news was received with a good dose of cynicism. Concern was expressed that such changes should be incorporated in legislation to ensure permanency.
Within a week the cynic was proven to be correct. Those queuing outside the occupier’s Interior Ministry office were still required to produce dozens of documents to prove right of residency in Jerusalem. Two houses were demolished in East Jerusalem on the grounds that they had no building license.
On the 25th, Musa Abu Ihlaiel aged 28 years, from Bethlehem, was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier standing guard at the occupiers enclave of Rachel’s Tomb at the entrance to the town. With the death of the young man, accused of attempting to stab the soldier, but with eyewitness reports testifying as to him asking the soldier for a cigarette, clashes broke out between youths and the occupying forces. These were met by teargas and rubber bullets resulting in over 20 people injured.
With the tomb already being a flashpoint and the transformation of checkpoint to the north of the town into a virtual “border crossing”, protests continued into the next day, with further injuries.
By the end of the first week, of the approximate 10 000 applications to use the “safe passage”, connecting the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, the Israelis rejected about 4 000 on a variety of “security” pretexts.
On the 15th a cable car system was opened in Jericho. Catering for tourists, it will transport passengers from Elijah’s Springs to the terraces of the Mount of Temptations where, already, a restaurant and souvenir shops await the customers.
On the 18th visiting German parliamentarians were attacked by settlers in Hebron while the occupation troops stood by and watched. A repeat of earlier harassment of Jordanian and Moroccan delegations. On the same day, Gazan flower and strawberry producers destroyed some of their produce at Erez checkpoint in protest at the occupation authorities banning the use of the crossing to export their produce. The new route (via Karni) will require a longer journey and intense security inspection. This will adversely affect the perishable produce and harm what has emerged as a vibrant, expanding Palestinian export industry.
On the 26th, members of the Christian Peace Team in Hebron were arrested by Israeli police when they tried to put into effect a clause of the recent Sharm al Sheikh agreement. This stipulated that Hebron Market was to reopen by 1 November at the latest.
A few days later, the occupation forces closed off the northern entrance to Bethlehem in order to lay cables, an act very much regarded as a further encroachment on the town, with annexation of part of its land to Jerusalem very much on the agenda.View all →