Briefing Paper July 2000
Palestinian Autonomy-A Palestinian State in the making
We may have been the righteous victims in 1948, but on the road to realising our claim to justice we perpetrated a terrible wrong on another people who had absolutely no connection with our calamity. That wrong continues to bleed in the refugee camps, in the occupied territories and in the Palestinian diaspora, and it will continue to haunt us and prevent the achievement of a genuine settlement.
Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz, 26 March 2000
With total stalemate on the negotiation front, it was revealed that “secret” talks had began during mid-May in Stockholm. This resulted in the chief negotiator to the final status talks, Yasser Abed Rabbo, offering his resignation. It coincided with Israel presenting the Palestinians with a map – which was rejected – clearly indicating the Israeli view of a Palestinian “state”. There would be a canton in Gaza, with three others in the West Bank (66% of the West Bank with a promise of a further 14% after a “trial period”). The three, being non-contiguous, would be connected by “safe passages” with a single access road from Ramallah via Jericho to Jordan. Jerusalem would remain under Israeli “sovereignty”, 20% of the West Bank would be annexed to Israel including the main settlement blocs and two land corridors connecting these to the Jordan Valley.
For the first time in 52 years, the Palestinians observed a two minute silence throughout the Palestinian territories on Nakba Day, the 15th May. It was marked by the wail of sirens and church bells in remembrance of the victims of al Nakba (the Catastrophe) of 52 years ago. It was also the start of a week of activities to draw attention to the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The previous day, another unique event occurred when 150 refugees from the refugee camps of Deheishe, ‘Aida and ‘Azza, located in the Bethlehem district, organised a Return Visit to the villages from which they fled or were expelled in 1948. The first stop was the former village of Bayt Nattif, now rubble in a nature reserve, but once home to 2 150 Palestinian community. The next stop was the village of Zakaryya where the assistance of Arab MK, Hashem
Mahameed, gained them entrance to the settlement of Zekharya – established in 1950 on the village site. Once home to a comunity of 1 180, only the mosque and a few old houses now bear witness to the tortured past. Prayers at the mosque attracted the attention of the Israeli occupiers, with the ensuing emotional debate resulting in the police being called. The last stop was the site of the village of Bayt Jibrin, once a political and commercial centre of Hebron district (home to 2 430) and now in the midst of Beit Guvrin kibbutz and a nature and archaelogical reserve.
The ball is in Israel’s court and what is needed is an Israeli decision to come to terms with UN Resolutions Mahmud Abbas (Arafat’s deputy)
On 21May, the Stockholm talks were suspended by Barak, as was the agreement to hand back the villages of Abu Dis (which could be fragmented by settler plans to establish a farm on some of the village land), Izzariyeh and Sawahreh to PNA control. The reason?? Apparently the occupiers felt that the PNA and the various security agencies were not doing enough to stifle Palestinian anger and resentment at the occupation as it manifested itself through the continuing detention of Palestinian prisoners. Blackmail, it was felt, would achieve the demands of the occupier.
These events were soon overshadowed by the abrupt withdrawal of the Israeli occupation forces from Southern Lebanon and the collapse of the surrogate South Lebanese Army on 24 May. Yasser Arafat promptly made himself very unpopular when he dared suggest that it was not the actions of Hizbollah, but rather Ehud Barak’s wish to comply with UN Res 425, which brought about the withdrawal. However, for the first time in 22 years Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee community could approach the border fence between Palestine/ Israel and the Lebanon and look at their lost homeland and, in some cases, speak to long-lost relatives who had gathered on the other side, pass over souvenirs from the home village. By the end of a couple of weeks engagements were being arranged over the boundary fence with, according to one report, Israeli soldiers acting as go-betweens – allowing one partner to approach the fence (the Israelis have erected a second fence to create a small no-mans land),carrying letters and even babies. Other reports spoke of hostility by Israeli troops to those who gathered. Undoubtedly, however, the yearning for returning home, for many, had been revived.
With Yasser Arafat due to meet President Clinton on 14 June, the Islamic Higher Council issued a religious ruling, a fatwa, affirming the character of Jerusalem as Arab and Islamic, the city the political capital of an independent Palestinian state. And with Israel constantly putting on the pressure to get the Palestinians to compromise, this edict was considered important by Faisal Husseini of the PNA.
The death of Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad brought about a 24 hour delay in the talks. However, by this time, Clinton had announced that the time was not right for a tri-lateral summit to discuss final-status details of the peace talks (The earlier up-beat but fruitless attempt to obtain a consensus between the protagon- ists led to a frustrated US Sec of State arriving in Jerusalem and Ramallah on a mission to cobble together the basis of a Framework Agreement for the final-status talks). Perhaps Clinton knew of the forthcoming Israeli announcement – only 3 prisoners to be released (not the expected 300) and a postponement of the 3rd re- deployment due towards the end of June.
At the end of June, much to the chagrin of Israeli officials, the PLO opened an office on the armistice line dividing East and West Jerusalem. It will function as a research centre and is believed to contain collections of land registration documents, PLO correspondence with foreign governments – some of which was returned by the Israelis, part of the loot following the invasion of Beirut in 1982.
You do not talk to us . . . . You conduct the entire negotiation internally, among yourselves, and then you try to impose what you decide on the Palestinians. This is what you mean by the term “dialogue”. So-called “moderate” ministers . . . . speak to us candidly about the complexity of Israeli society, or the formidable obstacles that the religious and the Russian parties use to obstruct the peace process . . . . We are suppose to sympathise, otherwise you might depict us as extremist. In the meantime you systematically overlook the glaring fact that racists and fascists are gathering momentum within your political arena to endanger the entire region.
By the end of June the gap between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators was as wide as ever. However both Arafat and Barak were soon heading off to Camp David. In Arafat’s case he had variously threatened resignation, the ignition of a new intifada and affirmed that “Palestinians will not give up Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and the Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967. As for Barak, the withdrawing of support by three of his coalition partners was announced (with the reality of a minority government taking its place) as he departed to Camp David to attend the trilateral meeting agreed for 11 July. Apparently his partners were aggrieved at his failure to reveal his negotiating position. However with Barak, the perceived peacemaker, and his government under threat the conditions were ideal for an agenda sympathetic to Israeli demands, rather than international legitimacy.
Palestinian National Authority
With signs that Arafat and his hard core of supporters might be prepared to compromise the stated Palestinian position on the talks, indignation was expressed in a variety of ways. Fatah’s leader in the West Bank, Marwan Bargouthi declared “No Palestinian, leader or otherwise, will dare or be able to compromise Palestinian national constants…. . And if he does, Fatah and the Palestinian people will stand against him.” Others spoke in terms of treason.
With many voicing their concerns over Arafat’s autocracy in an unprecedented open fashion, the response was to arrest the most outspoken, usually in the quiet pre-dawn hours. These included the chief news editor of the PNA-run Voice of Palestine, for criticising the Stockholm talks, and others associated with a variety of political parties. On 21
June, Arafat ordered the arrest of his own adviser on refugees, Abd al-Fattah Ghanem, when he returned from a visit to
Amman. He was alleged to have leaked to Palestinian opposition groups that Arafat was close to accommodating the Israeli rejection of the Palestinian right of return for refugees. Earlier Arafat had ordered the release of teacher and trade unionist, Omar Assaf, who had been imprisoned during April for accusing the PNA of embezzling funds earmarked by donor countries for education.
We launched the peace process on the basis of Res 242 and any attempt to revoke the basis of the peace process means the collapse of it.
Tayib Abdel Rahim
An announcement by Israel’s attorney general that UN Res 242 does not apply to any Palestinian entity was greeted by the PNA as “a serious escalation and flagrant violation of all signed agreements” since Res 242 has been one of the planks on which all recent peace talks, from Oslo onwards, have been based. Barak had asked for legal opinion on the applicability of Res 242. This resulted in the opinon that since the resolution refers to “refugees” and not Palestinians, that since the PNA was not in existence when the resolution was passed, then it does not apply to the peace talks.
During July “strong measures” by the PNA security agencies brought order to the streets of Ramallah and alBireh and surrounding refugee camps where,according to reports, “street fighting and vandalism by criminal elements” was endemic. The initial cause was a shoot out and brawl between two gangs of car thieves, some being members of Fatah. The resulting shooting dead of a young woman brought about further violence, with members of the PNA security agencies involved. The arrest of gang leader, Raji Saqer, and his subsequent death sentence (unlikely to be carried out, if only because friends and relatives occupy, reportedly, “sensitive” positions within the PNA security agencies) brought about a backlash, with allies of Saqer indulging in a spree of vandalism. Fifteen moderate-to-serious injuries later, the police had the situation under control.
Business as usual
Throughout Monday 15th, clashes took place with the occupation forces, resulting in an eventual 1 500 injured and eight Palestinian deaths. At Megiddo Prison where hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are held without charge, major disturbances took place, with prisoners transferred to other prisons. A hunger strike which began two weeks earlier showed no signs of ending. Bullets killed four demonstrators, seven Israeli soldiers were wounded. One, a high ranking officer, sustained serious gunshot wounds. Twelve journalists came under fire, with one seriously wounded. At checkpoints near Ramallah and Jenin demonstrations were met with live ammunition. This was repeated at army outsposts in Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Hebron and the Gaza Strip. At one point, Israeli helicopters dropped tear gas canisters at al-Bireh junction.
The demonstrations in support of the hunger strike by prisoners continued into the end of May. Whe n it ended, women prisoners at Neve Tirza Prison found themselves subject to rigorous and degrading body searches every time they had to go to court or see a doctor. Photos of families are prohibited and visitors, who have to wait hours for access, are subject to humiliating searches. At the same time, Israeli newspapers reported on a land deal between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Jewish National Fund where land in West Jerusalem was sold to the Fund. In addition, it was reported that 1500 acres of land in Talbiyeh and Rehavia would be rented from the Greek Orthodox Church for 90 years.
Three students were arrested in Jericho, by PNA security officials, accused of throwing stones and petrol bombs at settler traffic, injuring a young baby. This was followed by the lifting of restrictions imposed by the occupation forces, on Israelis and tourists entering PNA controlled areas. Tulkarem, Ramallah and Bethlehem remained closed off to tourists and Israelis.
Israeli celebrations over the 33rd anniversary (according to the Hebrew calendar) of the annexation of Jerusalem resulted in confrontations with settlers, particularly supporters of the extremist, racist, Kach movement, on 1 June. The settlers were removed by Israeli police from Orient House vicinity in East Jerusalem with five Palestinians arrested. Close to Jaffa Gate, clashes between Palestinians and club-wielding occupation troops resulted in a further four Palestinian arrests. Four days later Palestinians in East Jerusalem commemorated their losses with a march in East Jerusalem.
At the beginning of the month, the PNA accused Israel of infringing Palestinian sovereignty over off-shore Mediterranean natural gas fields. On the 13th the PNA barred entry of Israeli goods into the Gaza Strip. This was in reaction to a two month strike by employees of the occupier’s “civil administration.”
This was holding up the transit of $70 million of Palestinian goods, it was responsible for the deterioration of about $1 million of perishable goods and for relatives being denied prison visits.
In the middle of the month a group of right-wing Likud party Knesset members made an unscheduled visit to al Aqsa Mosque compound under the protection of Israeli police. Their purpose, ostensibly, was to view the restoration work being carried out. The claim was made by MK Dani Naveh (former secretary to Netanyahu) that “The restoration work is a crime against the Jewish historic features of the place.”
At the same time the occupation forces were reinforcing their military installation in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with new watch towers, more checkpoints and heavier automatic weapons.. Tanks and armoured cars were moved into Gaza, while army manoeuvres took place around the larger Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
Ramallah and surrounding area (with a total population of about 200 000) were without water during the third week in June. The cause was centred on a strike by the Israeli Water Authority which also refused permission for water to be pumped from a new artesian well in the area.
A Palestinian woman passenger was seriously injured when a soldier in a passing jeep, near Hebron, stoned the car in which she was travelling.
On the 27th, Israeli police withheld permission for construction materials to enter al Aqsa Compound, destined for renovation of al Aqsa Mosque – an act regarded as illegal by the occupation authorities. The lorry load was eventually allowed through. This act contrasted with the construction work, recently initiated by the Israel Antiquities Authority, on the site of the Umayyad palaces on the southern side of the al Aqsa Compound where, in total violation of international law and UN Resolution 242, the nature of this piece of occupied land is being changed to accommodate an Israeli Tourist Centre. Two days later, 20 Palestinians were injured in clashes with settlers who tried to break through into the Compound. This resulted in the closure of the area to tourists. On the 28th, Muslim worshippers were harassed by police and settlers when entering the Omari Mosque inside the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. Already the occupiers have prevented renovation work from being carried out on the mosque.
At the end of the month the Greek Orthodox Church, at Jerusalem District Court, accused an Israeli institution of forging the signature of Patriarch Diodorus I in order to extend the lease of church property – reckoned to be the highest priced real-estate in Jerusalem.
With the PNA authorising and funding a school project for the Kaabneh Bedouin at al-Oja and Ein Samyeh, and with the occupation authorities showing interest in acquiring their land, an impasse in the project has been reached.
Having, for the past 3 years, surmounted all the obstacles placed in their way (proof of land ownership, consent of land owner etc) the occupation authorities announced that the tribe would have to find another location for the school. Meanwhile the children of the 80 affected families will continue to travel a total of 20km, per day, by foot along often muddy and dangerous tracks.
On the 2nd it was announced that alleged Israeli security concerns could result in the cessation of flights between Gaza and Amman. On the 4th, right wing, Jewish religious extremists, with Israeli High Court approval, demonstrated in the vicinity of al Aqsa Mosque, allegedly in protest at the renovations currently being carried out. On the 5th a 16 year old shepherd boy, Khalil Abu A’ram, was killed when he stepped on an explosive device near Yatta, Hebron. The following day a youth, from Beit Lukia near Ramallah, was killed by an explosion while working on the family land. The planting of explosive devices by settlers is suspected. Although abandoned ordinances by the army can be to blame (Since 1987, 83 such incidents have been recorded, with 33 deaths including 25 children. 90 injuries including 69 children.).
A 30 year old Palestinian woman was shot dead, on 9 July, when an Israeli patrol sparayed her car with bullets near Kfar Darum settlement in the Gaza Strip. Her husband and 7month old child were also injured. Her 7 year old son was pronounced clinically dead. The lame excuse of the soldiers allegedley coming under fire, was soon abandoned by the occupation authorities. A half-hearted apology was given, with no action taken against the soldiers involved.
Ten families resident in the villages of Beit Umar, Dura and Deir Razih (all near Hebron) have been given until 25 July to suspend construction work on their homes. Apparently the occupation authorities have not issued a license for the work.
Demonstrations took place throughout the West Bank on the 11th, reminding Palestinian negotiators of the Palestinian right of return.
Settlers, Settlements and house demolition
Building at Har Gilo, situated in the midst of an Arab area, continued.
On 22 May the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of a 200 unit settlement on land which separates the village of Abu Dis (due to be transferred to PNA control) and Jerusalem. The provocative settler organisation, Ateret Cohanim, has claimed the land as Jewish owned and the following day surveyors were demanding that local Palestinians prove ownership of their houses.
At the end of May the Israeli Ministry of the Interior (under the control of that well known former Soviet dissident, Nathan Sharansky) approved the construction of a public park on the Mount of Olives on confiscated land. With Palestinian construction concentrated in the area, the park will now limit such construction. On the 5th June, bulldozers and police enforced Sharansky’s edict to demolish the home of father of 4 young childen, Hassan Khalifa, in the village of Walajeh (the village, but not the villagers, was annexed to Jerusalem following 1967. Roads and sewage systems do not exist). Already the occupation authorities have demolished 8 homes with a further 50 earmarked for the same fate. At Bet El miltary court, Ahmed Shamasneh was fined $150 for rebuilding his home, destroyed in 1967, in Katana near Ramallah. He was threatened with imprisonment if he builds again – to accommodate an extended family of 23 – for a second time.
On June 13 an Israeli court gave 30 Sept as the date when the fate of the home of the Akel family (who fled the village of Lifta in 1948) will be decided. Recently renovated, it is wanted by Hebrew University. It is one of 7 houses under threat in an area of East Jerusalem which was taken over by Israelis following annexation. On the same day, Sharansky’s orders were being carried out in the Jerusalem village of Jabal Mukkaber. The home of Hamza Mugrabi, father of seven children aged 1 to 13 years was demolished – one day before a planned court hearing.
Settlers from Mechula, in the north of the Jordan Valley, fenced off adjacent land with barbed wire as a prelude, it was reported, to religious Jews and other settlers moving in. The settlement was established on land, confiscated for “security reasons” from the village of Tubas, in 1969.View all →