March 31, 2010

Unbreakable Bond, by Khalil Bendib

Palestinian prisoners of all factions unite in maltreatment protest: Haaretz

Palestinian detainees in Israel’s Ketziot prison in the Negev have decided to unite in order to secure better conditions, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported on Wednesday.
The protest, which will start on April 7, marks the first time since 2006 that prisoners from all factions would unite in a demonstration.
The prisoners have been unhappy with the restrictions placed on some of their families so they decided to protest and halt all family visits for one month. They have also decided to mark the protest by a hunger strike.
A detainee in Ketziot prison, Mahmud Da’is, told Ma’an that “the prisoners were united in their determination to secure fair treatment for Palestinians.

Needed: An Israeli peace plan: Haaretz Editorial

While in Washington the U.S. administration is trying to reduce tensions with Israel, in Jerusalem they go out of their way to depict in war paint the demands President Barack Obama put to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Political sources in Jerusalem told Haaretz’s Ari Shavit this week that hiding behind the American demands is an intention to impose a permanent settlement on the two sides in less than two years. This is being presented as a troubling change in U.S. policy toward Israel, while the Americans issue veiled yet serious threats about the risks that allegedly loom for them if their credibility in the Middle East is lost.

The top U.S. political officials and that country’s defense establishment recently made it clear that the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the perpetuation of the occupation in the territories undermine the strategic interests of the United States (and Israel as well). The stern demands made of the Israeli government reflect Obama’s willingness to invest a significant effort in defense of these interests. It seems he concluded that the endless dialogue with the Israeli government does not push forward anything unless an American peace plan is formulated.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The possibility that the United States will propose a plan of its own and seek to convince the sides to accept it, or even impose it, is not the worst of all possibilities.

However, it is obvious that a settlement reached through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is preferable to an imposed settlement, where not accepting it would involve an especially intense confrontation with the international community and deepen Israel’s isolation. The only way to prevent an imposed settlement must be through a realistic Israeli peace plan that is similar to that of the United States and based on agreements and understandings reached by previous governments. It must be based on principles that, obvious to everyone, are imperative for a settlement.

A government that seeks to prevent an imposed settlement must not only bring to the fore serious propositions and demands of its own, it must avoid at all costs unilateral steps that signal an intention to foil all chances for an agreed settlement. An imposed settlement may prove to be the least worst alternative when compared with no settlement and a continuation of the situation. Those who fear an imposed solution must immediately present an Israeli peace plan.

US pushes Israel to freeze settlement construction: The Guardian

A four-month halt to building in East Jerusalem may be brokered by encouraging Palestinians to enter direct peace talks
The US administration is pressing Israel for a four-month freeze on settlement construction in East Jerusalem and in return will encourage Palestinians to enter direct peace talks, the Ha’aretz newspaper reported today.

The report, which cited an unnamed Israeli official in Jerusalem, said Washington believed this would be enough to restart peace talks for the first time since Israel’s war in Gaza more than a year ago. A number of senior Israeli ministers have said publicly they will not halt settlement construction in the city, but Ha’aretz said a “tacit agreement” with the US might be possible.

“According to this idea, Israel would make it clear to the United States that during the coming four months no massive construction in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods would be planned or carried out, enabling Israel to be seen as meeting the American and Palestinian demands,” the report said.

Palestinians have refused to return to direct talks with Israel without a full freeze on construction in Israeli settlements, in line with the road map of 2003. Washington too made an identical demand of Israel for most of last year, but in the end Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put instead a partial, temporary freeze on construction in West Bank settlements. Netanyahu insists in public that he will continue to allow building in East Jerusalem, which Israel regards as sovereign territory. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty in the east of the city and all settlement on occupied land is illegal under international law.

Israel and the Palestinians had been due to start a new programme of “indirect” proximity talks earlier this month, but they were scuppered when Israeli authorities gave approval for 1,600 new homes in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in East Jerusalem.

Ha’aretz reported earlier this week that Barack Obama had presented Netanyahu with several other demands during their meeting in Washington last week including the opening of a Palestinian commercial interests office in East Jerusalem, an end to demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, and a commitment to discuss all the core issues of the conflict during the next round of talks.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, said the demand for a freeze of settlement construction in East Jerusalem was “completely unreasonable”. He said none of the top seven ministers – known as the forum of seven – agreed to it. “I have not seen anyone in the forum of seven who has consented to this,” Lieberman told the Ma’ariv newspaper in an interview published on Monday. “The past few days have taught me that there is no point to further concessions … I am certain that we can convince the US that this demand is unreasonable … There will be no choice but to insist. To pay the price, even if it is high.”

Benny Begin, another of the forum of seven ministers, said on Monday that US demands were “bothersome and certainly worrying”. “This change will definitely bring about the opposite to the declared objective. It will bring about a hardening in the policy of the Arabs and of the Palestinian Authority,” he told Israel Radio.

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