PLAYING WITH FIRE IN JERUSALEM : Israel 's Peace Now movement yesterday released a report exposing a little-known Israeli cabinet decision that is one element in a dangerous plan to change the character of Jerusalem 's historic core.
The resolution provides 480 million NIS (about $110 million) for projects surrounding Jerusalem 's Old City in areas that Israel conquered in the 1967 war.
The implementation of the resolution dovetails with settler ambitions in East Jerusalem . "Almost every part of the plan includes settlements," the Peace Now report notes. One such example is in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah "where the settlers established in recent years several settlement-compounds. The government plan is to create a Biblical park on all of the open spaces left undeveloped in the neighborhood, thus completing the Jewish dominance in and around the neighborhood."
Moreover, the report notes that the Israeli government is subcontracting the implementation of this plan to settler-affiliated organizations like Elad. Adi Mintz, a board member of Elad, is on the record explaining that Elad's goal "is to hold on to outposts in East Jerusalem and create an irreversible situation in the sacred basin around the Old City ."
Indeed, the Peace Now report warns that "the completion of the Israeli plan will change dramatically the map of East Jerusalem and might prevent a permanent status agreement." (Peace Now, 5/10/09 )
PLAYING WITH FIRE IN JERUSALEM , PART II: While Peace Now report reveals that the Israeli government is backing initiatives that may make an agreement on Jerusalem impossible, there are new indications that Jerusalem is already effectively divided.
According to a letter written by Jerusalem Police legal advisor Ronen Leibovitz Israelis who want to travel to parts of East Jerusalem cut off from the city by the West Bank separation barrier may only do so after coordinating with Israeli security officials and arranging for a police escort. Leibovitz explained that "the area is under the IDF's security control. Movement in the area is dangerous, and in the past Israelis who got lost and ended up there faced life-threatening attacks and required the IDF to rescue them."
Another sign of the functional division of the city can be found in the report released Wednesday by Israel 's State Comptroller. The report noted a continuing shortage of schools in East Jerusalem . "The Education Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality have not done their duties in providing residents of the eastern city with sufficient classrooms for state education," the report said, adding that most of the classrooms in East Jerusalem were unfit for use and that there was a shortage of 1,000 classrooms in that part of the city.
"The heads of the Education Ministry and the municipality did not act determinedly, as they should have, to allow these students to fulfill their rights as permanent residents of the State of Israel - the legal right to education has been denied to many children and youths in East Jerusalem ," the report added. (Peace Now, 5/10/09 ; Haaretz, 5/5 & 5/7/09 )
AVOIDING A PYRRHIC VICTORY: Many in Israel are looking to the planned meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week for an indication of what Netanyahu's approach towards peace will be, what Obama's reaction will be, and what this means for Israel-U.S. relations.
"This is a very rare moment," writes form Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin. "It is clear in advance that the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama could be a meaningful milestone, a juncture that could lead us to the diplomatic arrangement that has not been achieved until now. The lights in the Prime Minister's Office, I am told, have been burning for many nights. Feverish preparations are being made for the meeting on May 18. Netanyahu's statements will pay lip service to peace in the Middle East . He knows that Obama will not be willing to hear the phrase 'economic peace,' and therefore he will explain that this is only a process that will accompany a diplomatic process, and not a substitute for one. He will explain that [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as] Abu Mazen is too weak, that nothing can be done with Hamas, and that he is willing to make peace with Assad on condition that he will be willing to stop at the ridge line, and does not demand the entire Golan Heights."
Beilin predicts that "Obama will speak about the peace process, and the chances of reaching an agreement that will be implemented in stages with Abu Mazen-with the aid of a multi-national force in the West Bank . With Hamas in Gaza , there will only be a truce, and the safe passage route between Gaza and the West Bank will wait for better days. He will also speak about the agreement with Syria and its importance in the context of the American pullout from Iraq ."
"But if this is all that happens in Washington between Netanyahu and Obama, it will be a missed opportunity for both of them," warns Beilin. "If Netanyahu 'succeeds' in getting through most of the conversation by conveying updated information about Iran, and if Obama 'extracts' from the prime minister a commitment to fulfill Israel's part in the first section of the Road Map, and if the two say in the press conference that they believe in peace in the Middle East and will strive towards it to the best of their ability-it will be as if the meeting had not been held," because such statements are not likely to change policies.
In contrast, writes Beilin, the opportunity posed by this meeting "will not be missed if the two leaders sum it up in a detailed, practical decision to return to the negotiating table according to the 1991 Madrid principles. This refers to negotiations in parallel with Syria , Lebanon and the PLO, and an American assurance to help in implementing the Arab initiative, financing the agreements and commanding the multi-national force in the West Bank . This will be the most important contribution to dealing with the Iranian issue and to Israel 's security in the coming generations." ( Israel Hayom, 5/6/09 )
SETTLEMENT BOOM: Explaining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to make more land available for settlement construction, a high ranking Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth last week that "we are going to open the tap so that people can live."
The same official claimed that "a strangulating situation has been created in the settlements because it is impossible even to build a kindergarten. To alleviate the distress, they improvise by moving walls and bussing children from one area to another because there aren't enough kindergartens."
That comment echoed a sentiment voiced by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who told the Jerusalem Post Tuesday that " Israel cannot instruct settlers in existing settlements not to have children or get married."
Some in Israel , like Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, are frustrated that Peres is toeing Netanyahu's line. "Is it the president's job to act as the prime minister's spokesperson?" asks Levy, who served as Peres' spokesperson from 1978 to 1982. "Peres was elected president of the state, not the government. Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman haven't yet taken the tiniest step toward peace, but Peres has already turned them into Peace Now activists... This is not what he was chosen for. He must not end his long career like this, as the pathetic government spokesman, the most inferior post he has served since being appointed Defense Ministry director-general two generations ago."
Indeed, construction in the settlements appears to be far less limited than Peres and the unnamed government official suggest. Haaretz reported Thursday that the settlements are undergoing the biggest construction drive since 2003. This includes not only construction within existing settlements but also new neighborhoods, new roads, and a new outpost.
"The accelerated construction stems mainly from the reduced supervision of events in the territories in the last stages of the Olmert government, while Netanyahu's right-wing government, part of which supports the construction, hasn't begun to address the issue," reports Amos Harel. "The settlers also took advantage of the public and media attention's focus on Gaza during the IDF offensive in January to continue the settlements and outposts' expansion in the territories," he writes. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/8/09 ; Haaretz, 5/7/09 ; Jerusalem Post, 5/6/09 )
SUING TO STOP SETTLEMENTS: Israel's Peace Now movement filed a petition before Israel's High Court of Justice Thursday to stop the construction of a new neighborhood at the settlement of Halamish, northwest of Ramallah.
The petition asserts that the construction of a new neighborhood composed of 25 structures is taking place without the building permits required by Israeli law and in violation of zoning regulations. Construction began in November and is proceeding rapidly. At least 10 permanent building have already been built. Some are nearly ready for residents to move in.
"As with all the cases of illegal construction carried out by Jewish residents in the West Bank, here too the arm of the law is absent and furthermore, the plaintiff's attempts to alert [law enforcement agencies] of the developing situation were ignored," attorney Michael Sfard, who represents Peace Now in this matter, told Ynet.
The petition requests that the High Court issue an injunction compelling the authorities to take the proper steps to enforce the law, including issuing demolition orders. In light of the failure of previous court action to deter illegal settlement construction, Peace Now is also requesting that the High Court punish the offenders as an example to other law breakers. (Peace Now, 5/6 & 5/7/09; AFP, 5/7/09; Ynet, 5/7/09)
OCCUPATION RAILROAD? The Israeli Peace Now movement is objecting to an Israel Railways plan to route an expansion to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv rail line through the West Bank. The Civil Administration will hold a hearing on Peace Now's objection today.
Among other objections, Peace Now is requesting that the route be altered so as not to cut into privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank. The current plan would turn Palestinian farmland into access roads for the rail line. (Haaretz, 5/11/09; Peace Now, 5/11/09)
TO BE ISRAELI IS TO BE EVEN HANDED? Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban famously quipped that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" to make peace with Israel. A new study of Israeli public opinion suggests that most Israeli Jews may no longer agree with that sentiment.
46% of Israeli Jews believe that Arabs and Jews are more or less equally responsible for the outbreak and continuation of that Israeli-Arab conflict, the study found. Only 43% of Israeli Jews said that the Arabs were primarily responsible.
The study also found that Israeli Jews tend to see Israel as partially culpable for the Palestinian refugee problem. A total of 47% believe that Palestinians were expelled by Jews during the 1948 war, with 39% saying that "refugees left due to fear, calls of leaders and expulsion by the Jews," and another 8% saying that expulsion Jews was the only reason. In contrast, only 41% accept the Zionist narrative that claims Palestinians left of their own accord.
The study was designed by Rafi Nets-Zehngut, a fellow at the Teachers College of Columbia University, and Tel Aviv University Professor Daniel Bar-Tal. It was carried out last summer by the Dialog polling organization.
"Typically, societies involved in intractable conflicts like the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict adopt a collective memory of the conflict that is biased to a large degree and self-serving, as is part of the Zionist narrative," says Nets-Zehngut. "If such study had been conducted between the 1950s and the 1970s, surely a much higher percentage of Israeli Jews would have held the Zionist narrative. The fact that we found this memory of the conflict to be somewhat critical, even though the conflict is still going on, is encouraging. It suggests that the Israeli-Jewish society has changed to become more critical, open and self-reflective, allowing it to adopt less biased narratives."
However, Bar-Tal believes that the Israeli-Jewish society still has a significant way to go, noting that many Israeli Jews still hold to a simplistic memory of the conflict, portraying Israel in a positive light and the Arabs or Palestinians in a negative one. Such a narrative, said Bar-Tal, "serves as an obstacle to peace since it promotes negative emotions, mistrust, de-legitimization and negative stereotypes of Arabs and Palestinians." (Columbia.edu, 4/6/09; JTA, 5/7/09)