Is there a deal?

Speculation is rising about the possibility of a deal on the eve of an election to replace Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as leader of his political party, Kadima — which may or may not result on his leaving office (depending on whether his successor can form a new government).

This is admittedly confusing, as Olmert has pledged to resign immediately after the party primary on Wednesday.

Here is the fire and the smoke from the Israeli press today:

Haaretz says that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seriously considering Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal of an agreement in principle on the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos told Haaretz Monday after he met with the two leaders. ‘My conclusion from the talks with Olmert and Abu-Mazen [Abbas] is that the discussion and the proposals are extremely positive. I think that they are very close. I am convinced that these peace talks are going to be irreversible from what they have achieved. Whatever happens in Israeli internal politics and in the U.S. administration – both sides and the international community need to work to make them irreversible’, Moratinos said. Moratinos said that in his meeting with Olmert, he received details of the main points of the Israeli prime minister’s proposal to Abbas, and that the proposal was “based on a long series of bilateral negotiations” between Olmert and Abbas … This afternoon, Abbas is to hold another meeting with Olmert at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, and according to the Spanish foreign minister, the Palestinian may then give Olmert his answer. Moratinos said Abbas was ‘impressed by the proposal and he is studying it. They are quite impressed by the proposal and they see it as a serious proposal. In general they consider it positively – but they still need to make the decision’. In a meeting of his own with Moratinos on Sunday night, Olmert told the Spanish foreign minister that he was concerned over pressure being applied by senior Palestinian officials on the PA president to say no to Olmert’s proposal for an agreement in principle on the core issues. Olmert told Moratinos that some Palestinian officials had fallen in love with the negotiations and are trying to thwart an agreement. Olmert was apparently referring to Ahmed Qureia, who is in charge of the talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and is urging Abbas to continue the talks into 2009.
Moratinos is encouraging Abbas to accept Olmert’s proposal. He has also discussed the matter with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and will be in Damascus tomorrow for talks with President Bashar Assad”. The full Haaretz article can be found here.

Another article in Haaretz reports that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday said he was sorry for the plight of Palestinians and Jews who became refugees as a result of Israel’s establishment. ‘I join in expressing sorrow for what happened to the Palestinians and also for what happened to the Jews who were expelled from Arab states’, the prime minister said. Olmert made the comments before a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, apparently in his last such session as prime minister. He was speaking in reference to the key Palestinian demand for a ‘right of return’ in peace negotiations with Israel … ‘Under absolutely no circumstances will there be a right of return’, Olmert declared, ‘but we are prepared to be part of an international mechanism that will work to solve the problem’. Palestinians have demanded that Israel accept responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes in the War of Independence that followed Israel’s 1948 creation. Olmert’s remark Monday fell far short of meeting this demand. But it was unusual for an Israeli prime minister to say Israel will participate in expressing sorrow for what happened to them. The premier also said that a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority will involve proportionate land swaps between the two sides. ‘The territorial price of peace with the Palestinians will bring us very close to the land-for-land formula. This needs to be said forthrightly and with courage. There are different ways of reaching this formula through annexing or exchanging territories’, Olmert said.” This article can be read in full here.

And, yet another Haaretz article states that “According to Olmert, by the end of 2008, it should be possible to attain understandings with the Palestinians on three issues: borders, security and refugees. However Olmert stressed that the implementation of the understandings is conditioned on the application of the Bush road map and eradication of the Palestinian terrorist infrastructures, and so implementation will take place at a much later stage. ‘It is important to reach understandings, even if their implementation is delayed’, he said … Olmert also said: ‘We will be sorry for every day that goes by without an agreeement with the Palestinians, and the person saying this is one who once held different opinions and even fought for them.” Olmert said the price of not reaching an agreement quickly would be ‘intolerable’. Olmert said that even exchanging equal territory with the Palestinians would be ”less than what we will have to pay in the future’. According to Olmert’s proposal, the Palestinians would receive 93 percent of the West Bank and the equivalent of another approximately 5.5 percent of territory, in the Negev adjacent to the Gaza Strip, in exchange for the large settlement blocs, which would be annexed to Israel. Olmert has also proposed an international compensation mechanism for Palestinian refugees and the symbolic return of a few thousand such refugees without Israel recognizing the right of return or responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Olmert reportedly wants to postpone discussion of Jerusalem, and to hold talks on that subject in a broad international framework. The prime minister told the committee that there is a concern over ‘the entrenchment of the narrative of a binational state, in which we will not be the majority. Ever-growing segments of the international community are adopting the idea of a binational state. I see a Jewish state as a condition for our existence’. Olmert said an agreement would lead to international recognition of Israel’s borders in the context of a two-state solution … In response to a question about his position on exchanges of territory and populations, he said: ‘I am not in favor of taking a million Arabs out of Israel’. Olmert said that an agreement with the Palestinians would make it much easier to solve problems involving Israel’s Arab citizens”… This story can be read in full in Haaretz here.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. The two leaders are expected to formulate a document that will include the agreements reached during negotiations so far, ahead of Abbas’s upcoming visit to Washington. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, who head the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, will not attend the meeting.” This brief JPost report is posted here.

nd the JPost is also reporting that: “Ehud Olmert has discussed with the Palestinians transferring to them 98.1 percent of the West Bank, Channel 2 [television] reported on Sunday evening. The report on the ongoing negotiations was broadcast in advance of Tuesday’s planned meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the news item and said only that many such media reports had been published in the last months regarding the talks. Earlier in the day, during what could be his last cabinet meeting before he becomes the head of a transitional government, Olmert addressed Israel’s relationship to the West Bank when he spoke of a voluntary evacuation bill to help relocate settlers living east of the security barrier. ‘The vision of a greater Israel no longer exists. Those who speak of it are delusional’, the prime minister said. No vote was taken on the measure. According to Channel 2, however, Olmert is considering concessions far beyond land east of the barrier and could transfer 98.1% of the West Bank to the PA. That is significantly more than the 94% to 96% that had been discussed in previous negotiations …

The report states that Abbas has asked that Israel cede the Jerusalem area settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, but is willing to negotiate the status of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and French Hill, which are over the Green Line. In the past the Palestinians have demanded that Israel fully withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, including from eastern Jerusalem. Israel has insisted it plans to keep the larger settlements blocs including Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev as well as the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The future of Jerusalem, according to Channel 2, was being negotiated between Olmert and Abbas, and not by the team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. [n.b. – remember the -U.S. State Department information note, after the flap over the interview by U.S. Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, which stated cryptically that Livni has not been negotiating on Jerusalem … see our earlier post here].

The article continues: “Olmert has also agreed that 5,000 Palestinian refugees would return to Israel – a thousand refugees every year for five years, according to the report. Abbas allegedly rejected the proposal and was demanding the return of many more refugees. According to the report, the Palestinians were also interested in access not only to the Dead Sea but also to the Kinneret, as they claimed they deserved some rights over the water flowing into the lake because the Jordan River runs through Palestinian territory … Speaking in defense of the voluntary evacuation bill at the cabinet meeting, Olmert said that for the 40 years since it acquired the West Bank during the Six Day War, Israel had been making excuses as to why it could not do anything. This, he said, did not help Israel. It was important Israel showed it had taken initiative in the peace process. ‘We have to advance the voluntary evacuation compensation bill and to bring it to the cabinet [for a vote]’, the prime minister said. Olmert said he had not always supported territorial concessions and that he had initially felt that then-prime minister Ehud Barak had offered the Palestinians too much at Camp David in 2000. ‘I thought that the land between the Jordan River and the sea was ours’, he said. In the end, he said he came to the conclusion that we had to reach an agreement with the Palestinians if we did not want to see Israel become a binational state. There was no time to waste, Olmert said. adding: ‘We can argue about every small detail and find that when we are ready for an agreement there is no partner and no international support’. In the not too distant future, there would come a day when ‘we will want those same solutions that we are rejecting today’, he said”. This JPost article can be read in full here.

Also from JPost article, we learn that “Vice Premier Haim Ramon in briefing reporters on Sunday, expressed skepticism as to the success of the negotiations. Ramon said he was not optimistic that a final-status agreement would be reached, ‘not at the end of this year and not at the end of next year’.
But what was clear, he said, was that in the future, ‘settlements east of the barrier won’t be under Israeli sovereignty’. There was no reason why those settlers who understood that the barrier represented a future border should have to wait five or 10 years to be evacuated, Ramon said. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, he proposed a voluntary evacuation bill that would offer property owners in the 72 settlements outside of the barrier an average of $300,000 or NIS 1.1 million for their homes. Those homes would then be sealed or destroyed so they could not be reused by other settlers, Ramon said … According to Ramon, there are an estimated 61,808 settlers living outside of the barrier, out of whom 11,000, or 18%, would accept such an offer. Such a measure, Ramon said, would help those settlers who did not enjoy the same security offered Israelis living inside the barrier and would also be seen by the Palestinians as a sign of good faith toward the negotiations. Ramon’s proposal was immediately objected to by the four candidates competing in Wednesday’s primary for the Kadima leadership. If the government wanted to make a gesture toward the Palestinians that involved territory, it should evacuate the unauthorized outposts, said Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. That was particularly true, he said, given that it had already promised the international community that it would do so. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned that the Palestinians would view the measure as a unilateral step. She added that Israel should not take steps to determine a border while it was in the midst of negotiating one with the Palestinians. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said that such a law would embolden the Palestinians to increase their demands. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the proposal would be impossible to implement. More to the point, it would make any future evacuations harder to carry out because the net effect of the bill would be to replace less ideological settlers with more determined ones. In defense of his proposal, Ramon told reporters that the borders under negotiations with the Palestinians were already well known. Livni, he said, could only wish that the barrier would in fact be the final border” … This article is posted here.

What did Mahmoud Abbas really say?

Reporting from Italy today, where there is a big conference taking place attended by (among others) Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Reuters says that Peres’ office issued a statement revealing that Abbas has remarked: “It appears as if we will not be able to reach full agreement on the issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees and water by the end of the year … But we are determined to continue accelerated diplomatic negotiations concurrently with the change of administration in the United States”. The full Reuters report can be read here .

Haaretz, picking up material from the Associated Press, puts a somewhat different cast on the same story, reporting that “Israeli President Shimon Peres appeared side by side to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday at the Ambrosetti Forum, an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in an Italian lakeside resort. The two leaders … said that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are closer than ever to a peace deal. Abbas pledged to try to reach a final status peace agreement with Israel by the end of the year – but he admitted the goal, set by U.S. President George W. Bush, might not be achieved. Abbas also rejected the notion that he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might put forth a partial document outlining the areas in which they do agree and leaving open other issues – most notably, and most sensitive, the sharing of Jerusalem as a joint capital. ‘It is necessary for the agreement to address all … issues’, said Abbas. ‘It is all or nothing, really … We might not be able to reach a final status agreement by the end of the year [but] We will make all possible efforts’. Abbas said if no agreement was reached while Bush remained in office, ‘the new administration should not wait seven years for us to start negotiations … It should begin immediately as soon as a new president is in the White House’. Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has used his largely ceremonial role and his stature as an elder statesman to push peace efforts in the past, addressed the forum after the Palestinian President. ‘We have to try to reach an agreement’, Peres told the crowd. ‘We have to act on the supposition that it is possible’.” This report can be read in full in Haaretz here.

Tzipi Livni speaks in part for moderate Palestinians, she says

The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said today that “we decided to launch negotiations (with the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah) because it is important to reach an agreement with the pragmatic moderates” who believe in a solution with two states – Israel and Palestine — living side-by-side in peace and security.

Livni, who is also deputy Prime Minister, is in charge of Israel´s direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

The head of the Palestinian team is Ahmad Qurei´a (known as Abu Alaa) who participated in the secret “Oslo” track that led to the 1993 diplomatic recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and to a series of “Oslo Accords” that in many but not all aspects are no longer actually in effect.

The two sides have agreed to keep all details of their discussions secret, and there have so far been few if any leaks of what has been happening behind closed doors. But, Livni said, in answer to a question, that she now has “a better understanding of the sensitivities and what is important to them. And I discovered that they are very suspicious when it comes to Israel”.

Now, she said, “we have started to draft part of the agreement, and I also hope they know more about Israeli concerns”:

Livni was speaking at a briefing in Jerusalem on Thursday organized by the Foreign Press Association in Israel

Before even being asked, Livni said she wanted to address the question of whether there could still be an agreement by the end of the year. She said “a timeline is important, but [even] more important is the content. Any attempt to bridge the gap (between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators) which is premature to bridge, or any attempt to avoid the comprehensive agreement we want to reach, can lead to clashes, misunderstandings, and violence”.

Livni said that this is what happened after the failed Camp David peace talks in July 2000, which ended with recriminations and blame – mostly on the Palestinians for not having responded to what was called a major concession by Israel´s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

A provocative visit by Ariel Sharon accompanied by a large and armed Israeli security contingent to the Haram as-Sharif/Temple Mount in East Jerusalem´s Old City a few months later, in late September 2000, ended in clashes with Palestinian protesters, a number of Palestinian deaths and injuries– and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which was characterized by clashes between the Israeli military and the newly-created and armed Palestinian security forces, then a determined Israeli assault on these same forces, accompanied by a re-invasion of Palestinian urban areas. It is only very recently that the U.S. has been helping to retrain and rebuild the Palestinian security capacity – and only to the extent to which Israel permits.

“Here I represent not only the Israeli Government but also the Palestinians, and if we can reach agreement, the international community should respect it. We are working on a comprehensive agreement on the core issues, which will give answers to the concerns of both sides,” Livni told reporters.

It was surprising to hear Livni telling journalists that she was also representing specific points in the Palestinian position. It did not appear to have been a slip of the tongue, but rather a deliberate statement arrived at in prior consultation. Pressing the point, Livni repeated the same formula a little later in the press conference.

“The aspiration of the Palestinians is to have a state that includes the Gaza Strip”, Livni said. She added that if she said anything else, “I would be blamed of doing something against the Palestinian interest – this is what we were accused of before our withdrawal from Gaza[in 2005].”

But the Oslo Accords never even mentioned the words Palestinian State, and only laid out in great detail an interim period that theoretically should have ended in 1999, which should have led to “final status” talks. It was only since the beginning of this year that Israel reported that “core issues” and “final status” matters are now being negotiated between Livni and Qurei´a.

Livni admitted today that “it took some time” in Israel to accept the idea of “dividing the land”. Now, she said, she believes that the former left-vs-right divide in Israeli politics is “something that belongs to the past. Two states is in Israel´s interest, and represents [the will] not only of the government but of the entire Israeli people”.

Livni indicated that in the negotiations, “Everybody is using the formula, and this is the basic understanding between Israel and the Palestinians: two states for two peoples. Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people [– “this is the raison d´etre of the State of Israel”, she added seconds later –] and the Palestinian state will be the homeland for the Palestinians”

“The answer to the [Palestinian] refugee problem is the creation of a Palestinian state”, Livni said. “But unfortunately some Arab and Palestinian leaders are calling for two states but also demanding the right of return to Israel, which is the Jewish state. This is not a theoretical question. This is the basic understanding [between the two negotiating teams] And this is one of the two basic pillars … the other of course is Israel’s security.”

She said that “the borders should not be vague – or say only 1967 lines, plus or minus a percentage. No, we need outlines on the map, so that the day after the agreement there will be no misunderstanding”.

And, Livni said, for Israel, “it is important to know what will be on the other side of these borders … and to know that it´s demilitarized”.

What we cannot afford, she said, is “a failed state or a terror state”.

Livni added that “We have no hidden agenda – a future Palestinian state includes the West Bank and Gaza. This is the Palestinian aspiration. But in order to create a state, they need to give an answer to the situation on the ground”.

Hamas is currently in control in the Gaza Strip.

Livni did not say what she thought should be done about that. Israel has recently concluded a kind of truce (“tahdia”) with Hamas, but has apparently ambivalent views about actually dealing directly with Hamas, something which the U.S. rejects rather more categorically.

Livni has several times in recent months described her view of an overall scenario where “extremists” – and in this group she includes Iran and Iranian-backed Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, but not Syria – as getting stronger.

The task, and the remedy, as she describes it, is to reinforce the “moderates”.

“In Annapolis we decided to negotiate with pragmatic Palestinians”, Livni explained. A simultaneous decision was made, she said, “to delegitimize Hamas and keep the pressure on them” – that is, unless they accept the right of Israel to exist, end terror and violence, and accept the former agreements reached in the Oslo process between Israel and Palestinians, Livni indicated.

She suggested that “since there is no hope with Hamas”, the negotiators are working for what is being called a “shelf agreement”.

Acting very much like a candidate for leadership of the Kadima party to replace the current party leader – and Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert, Livni appeared to be trying to re-cast what is now called in Israel the “Second Lebanon War”.

She suggested that war is a much easier and cleaner affair when the protagonists are states.

Drawing a hypothetical future parallel with the Palestinian situation, Livni said that between two states there could be misunderstandings, and even war. “The Lebanon war could have been ended in a few days if it had just been between states”, she said. “But with a terror organization it is completely different”

Acting for a moment as a candidate for higher office, Livni appeared to criticize the involvement if not predominance of the Israeli military in decision-making – and this appeared to be a reference to the widely-criticized conduct of the Second Lebanon War. Livni said that “The Israeli Prime Minister needs to understand the threats and trends in the region. Preparation is needed, and not only of the army….There are different options, and the Prime Minister needs to put on the table what is the goal of Israel, what are the options, and to choose from then. Then [and only then], we [the political leadership] should ask our military experts what is best, after already choosing between the options”.

Acting very much like a candidate for leadership of the Kadima party to replace the current party leader – and Prime Minister — Ehud Olmert, Livni appeared to be trying to re-cast what is now called in Israel the “Second Lebanon War”.

Livni said that in 2006, “It was important for Israel and the international community not to undermine the Lebanese Government, and we worked against Hizballah in south Lebanon only”.

Now, she said, Hizballah is getting stronger in Lebanon, and is part of the government, so the international community should ask “for state responsibility for the situation in Lebanon”.

She repeated Israeli complaints that the arms embargo contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1701 is “not being enforced”.

UN Security Council resolution 1701 says that there should be “no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government”. But, now that Hizballah is part of the government, is this Israeli criticism still legitimate?

Amendments required to revised plan for Jerusalem Old City's religious flashpoint

The Israeli government’s Regional Planning Committee on Jerusalem has just issued a split ruling on objections brought by the Israeli NGO Ir Amim to a revised design plan for reconstruction of the damaged ramp that leads from the Western Wall Plaza up to the Mughrabi Gate (Bab al-Maghariba) entrance to the Haram as-Sharif esplanade where Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located.

The Western Wall Plaza below - the Haram as-Sharif above

The Committee has set down some general principles, and has asked for the submission of an amended design.

The damaged ramp was built on the remains of the Mughrabi Quarter that was razed after Israeli forces conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the June 1967 war.

Part of the ramp collapsed after winter rains and snow in February 2004, and the Israeli authorities initially decided it was a good opportunity to reconstruct areas of the Western Wall Plaza – including the ramp access to the Mughrabi Gate – to suit its own estimates of its present needs, including greater security access to the mosque esplanade, and an expanded prayer area for Jewish women.

Ir Amim’s legal adviser, attorney Daniel Seideman reported that objections he presented to several earlier versions of the reconstruction plan were accepted in large part – but not in their totality – by the Regional Planning Committee in the first week of July.

Ir Amim is an NGO working for the equitable sharing of Jerusalem, which it calls a city “of two peoples and three religions”.

“Where we were successful is that the Committee ordered the preservation of artifacts including from the Ottoman and Mandate periods, which includes the remains of the Mughrabi Quarter”, Seidemann said, whereas last November the government indicated that it wanted to raze all artifacts dating later than 1700 A.D.

But the wording of the Committee’s decision – directing without greater precision only that the design for reconstruction would have to “take into account” the artifacts that have been found there – leaves a lot to discretion, Seidemann noted.

A proposal which would have transformed some of the vaults of the Islamic-era structures that have been unearthed under the ramp in recent Israeli excavations into Jewish prayer halls has been rejected, Seideman reported.

Israeli excavation activity now appears to have stopped.

The biggest remaining problem, according to Seidemann, is the Committee’s ruling that the Western Wall Plaza could be expanded – though he said it would be less than in the earlier proposal.

So, he warned, “this is not over”, and the situation will require continued close attention.

The Israeli government in 2006-2007 signed off on a ramp redesign plan at every level up to and including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, after which excavations were carried out under the ramp, in accordance with requirements of Israel’s antiquities law.

But, the original redesign plan was severely criticized by 18 leading Israeli archeologists who said they were appalled by the potential damage to one of the most important archeological sites in Israel-Palestine, and a main focus of all the various civilizations that have coexisted in Jerusalem from ancient biblical times through the present day. The original plan was described as “megalomaniac” and “phatasmagorical”.

Following strong international protests, the Israeli government agreed to begin a consultation process under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Jordanian government and the Waqf (Islamic Trust Foundation) in Jerusalem participated in these consultations, which were apparently indirect – meaning that the delegations were not all in the same room.

A revised plan was filed, but objections persisted. As required by the Israeli approval process, the government’s Regional Planning Committee – which is administratively part of Israel’s Ministry of the Interior but which is composed of members of a number of other ministries, as well as of the Jerusalem Municipality, as well as two members of the public – has been considering these objections.

Now, the Regional Planning Committee has just ruled that the revised reconstruction plan must be further amended, and still has to sign off on the revised plan that it now awaited from local Jerusalem architect Eli Ilan, before a building permit is issued.

More hearings could be required if the design revisions are extensive, Seidemann indicated.

Tourists visiting the Haram as-Sharif

This project could become a model for working in such an immensely significant and sensitive site, according to Seidemann, but he noted that there is also still the potential to revert back to fighting that could cause “an interreligous conflagration”.

Adnan Husseini said this week that he was concerned that Israel was not paying attention to the negotiations conducted last February by UNESCO, and was just using the fact that these meetings were held “as an umbrella to get to their target”. The whole story, he said, is about Israel’s intention to enlarge the prayer area in the Western Wall Plaza. To so, he said, Israel could destroy 1400 years of history. “We ask UNESCO to take a serious role”, Husseini said. “This is an entrance to our Mosques, and it [the ramp as well as the archeological remains] is Awqaf property”. He urged UNESCO to take a position, and be firm and clear – and not just allow Israel “to show a picture of having discussed the issue with others, while in the end imposing everything on the ground”.

According to a report in Haaretz, the Israeli government is planning to spend 17 million shekels (over $5 million, at the current rate of exchange) on this project.

Israel considers the site to be an area of Israeli sovereignty. Israel extended its law and administration over East Jerusalem in the wake of the 1967 war, and Israel later proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1980 – a move that was declared null and void by United Nations member states, and which is recognized by fewer than a handful of countries.

A “de facto” arrangement put in place in 1967 by then-Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan left authority over the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade to Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf (trust foundation) – while Israel proclaimed itself in full charge of the site´s Western Wall and the plaza created where the Mughrabi Quarter previously stood, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry website states now that “the Temple Mount lies within the sovereign jurisdiction of the State of Israel”.

The two concepts – of delegating authority to the Waqf while retaining sovereign jurisdiction – could be interpreted in various ways that could be more or less accommodating to the two sides. However, Israel has appeared in recent years to be moving to a more and more restrictive interpretation.

The Waqf continues to claim the entire area of the Mughrabi Quarter, including the ramp, as its property.

And the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council, in 1988, approved the declaration of independence of the State of Palestine, to be established on the territory captured by Israel in the June 1967 war, with East Jerusalem to be its capital.

Israeli Border Police at gate to Muslim mosques in East Jerusalem

Seidemann said that Israel’s Regional Planning Committee appears to have at least taken into consideration the views of the other parties, and he believes “there were clear instructions from the political echelons to handle the situation responsibly”.

But, the situation could go either way, Seidemann said: the revised plan could be “upgraded to something close to what is acceptable to the Waqf, the Jordanians, and UNESCO, or it could degenerate into something close to the original plan”.

Israel, in its 1994 Peace Treaty with Jordan, stated that it “respects” Jordan´s “special role” in the “Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem” (but not, however, in management of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, for which Jordan also reportedly wanted a special status during the peace treaty negotiations). The 1994 Peace Treaty also says that Jordan´s “historic role” in the Jerusalem shrines will be given “high priority” when “negotiations on the permanent status” [i.e., between Israel and the Palestinians] “will take place”

Seidemann cautioned: “To fall asleep at the watch now would be exactly the wrong thing to do”.

Mughrabi Gate ramp redesign plan approval expected imminently

Tensions may be heating up again about Israeli reconstruction plans for a damaged ramp leading from the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem, where Jewish worshippers pray at Judaism’s most sacred and revered site, up to the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade, the third holiest site of Islam.

A revised Israeli design to rebuild the ramp is expected to receive Israeli government approval imminently.

Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Haram as-Sharif - 12 June 2008

Depending on what is finally approved – by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s Regional Planning Commission – there still may be one or two problems, but the revised plan as viewed a few weeks ago by Israeli attorney Danny Seidemann, appears to be a big improvement over an earlier Israeli plan which, he said, reflected “ulterior motives”.

Continue reading Mughrabi Gate ramp redesign plan approval expected imminently

What is wrong with this photo?

The caption reads: “An Israeli soldier delivers blindfolded Palestinian prisoners to a military base near the northern Gaza Strip”.

FIrst of all, we need to know where these Palestinians were taken prisoner:  Was it in Gaza?  Was it in the West Bank? Or, was it in Israel itself?

Then, we need to know where is the military base?

To detain Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and take them outside of that territory — as in this case, to Israel — would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Israeli soldiers deliver Palestinian prisoners to military base near the northern Gaza Strip - AFP photo - David Buimovitch

The caption also says: “An Israeli negotiator was due to travel to Egypt on Thursday in a bid to speed up indirect negotiations with the Hamas movement for the release of a soldier the Islamists have held for two years”

Apparently, either the photographer and/or the caption writer were aware of the irony of Israel continuing to “detain” Palestinians while the Israelis themselves are utterly preoccupied with the return of one IDF soldier (Gilad Shalit) who was captured at Kerem Shalom and held captive for the past two years inside Gaza, and with the issue of the return of two soldiers (or their bodies) who were captured by Hizballah in a disputed area along Israel’s northern border just after Shalit was seized near Gaza.

The Hizballah action, which triggered a massive Israeli military response — now known as the Second Lebanon War — was aimed at taking the pressure off Gaza and increasing the pressure on Israel, both to change its policies, and to negotiate for the release of its captured men.

This photo taken apparently today for AFP by David Buimovitch

The Headline: Israeli Minister warns Palestinians of "holocaust" in Gaza

This was the title all over the news this morning: “Israeli minister warns Palestinians of ‘holocaust’. In fact, YNet still is using the same headline tonight.

What Ynet is reporting: Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said today that “By stepping up Qassam rocket attacks on Israel [from the Gaza Strip] ‘Palestinians will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,’ says Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai says. Hamas in response: We are facing new Nazis.

The article reports: ” ‘Holocaust’ is a term rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide during World War Two. Many Israelis are loathe to countenance using the word to describe other contemporary events. Israeli air strikes on the coastal territory, controlled by Hamas Islamists, have killed at least 32 Palestinians, including five children, in the past two days. Israel said it was responding to rocket fire by Gaza militants, which killed one Israeli in the southern border town of Sderot on Wednesday, and it threatened to launch a larger-scale offensive unless the barrage stopped. ‘The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves’, Vilnai told Army Radio. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai’s comments: ‘We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people’.” This article is posted on YNet’s website here.

Now, the reporting is being criticized — though not this article in YNet. Reuters and the BBC (both British news outlets) are taking the brunt of the rage.

The Spectator, another British media, has published this reaction: “This reported remark by deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai caused widespread shock and absolute horror. For an Israeli minister to use the word ‘holocaust’ to describe a limited war of Israeli self-defence, when for Jews of all people the ‘Holocaust’ means one thing: genocide — and this at a time when the calumny of the ‘Jews as Nazis’ is rampant around the world, putting Israel and the Jewish people at risk — was simply beyond belief.

It was indeed without any credibility — because Vilnai never said it. It was an appalling mistranslation by Reuters, the source of the BBC story.

Vilnai said: ‘The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger “shoah” because we will use all our might to defend ourselves’.

Reuters translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.

As a subsequent Reuter’s story reported, ‘Vilnai’s spokesman said: “Mr. Vilnai was meaning ‘disaster’. He did not mean to make any allusion to the genocide”. Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, added: ‘Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai used the Hebrew phrase that included the term “shoah” in Hebrew in the sense of a disaster or a catastrophe, and not in the sense of a holocaust’. But this grotesque mistranslation has given Hamas a propaganda gift which they lost no time exploiting: Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai’s comments: “We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people”.’ This reaction in The Spectator to the initial reports of Vilnai’s remarks is posted here.

Meanwhile, even the Jerusalem Post is reporting that “Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i said Friday that ‘as long as the rocket attacks escalated, the Palestinians are bringing upon themselves a bigger Shoah [Holocaust]’.” This article in the JPost is published here.

Gideon Levy on Liquidations

In his article, entitled “Liquidation Sale”, published today in Haaretz, Gideon Levy writes that “It was like an especially wild orgy: First the great intoxication of the senses, then the bitter sobering up the next morning. Within a few hours, Israel went from celebrating the assassination of Imad Mughniyah to the fear of what would follow. The ‘great feat of intelligence’, the ‘perfect execution’, the ‘humiliation of Bashar Assad’ were replaced in the blink of an eye with a spate of fear-inducing ‘travel advisories’ by the Counterterrorism Office – don’t travel, don’t identify yourself, don’t congregate, be careful, take every precaution – and with states of high alert on the northern border, and at all of Israel’s embassies and consulates, and Jewish community centers worldwide. If these are the dangers that lie in wait for us, one has to ask: What did we need this assassination for?

“Whoever killed Mughniyah was once again playing with the most dangerous fire of all: He undermined Israel’s security. If it was Israel, one has to ask whether there was any shred of sense in this move. If it was not Israel, our famed intelligence agencies would do well to prove this quickly, before the next disaster. Was the security of Israel’s citizens improved? Was terror dealt a permanent blow? History, with its multitude of previous assassinations, teaches that the answer is no. The chain of ‘terrorist chieftains’ liquidated by Israel, from Ali Salameh and Abu Jihad through Abbas Mussawi and Yihyeh Ayash to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi – all “operations” that we celebrated with great pomp and circumstance for one sweet and intoxicating moment – have thus far brought only harsh and painful revenge attacks against Israel and Jews throughout the world, as well as infinite replacements no less effective than their predecessors, and sometimes more so. From assassination to assassination, terror has only increased and become more sophisticated.

“We have never really demanded an accounting from those responsible for these liquidations; we have merely been excited by their ‘achievements’. How we enjoy wallowing in these childish tales of heroism! …

“First, the partying: It is depressing to see the pseudo-victory celebrations. What, for heaven’s sake, is there to celebrate, other than the oldest and most primitive feeling of all – revenge? The parade of generals and pundits who were interviewed in every possible platform, putting their heads together and dispensing cunning smiles, inflated with their own self-importance, along with the generations of terror victims who were called on to express the joy of their personal revenge, and the deciphering of hints – here is Ehud Olmert smiling in the Knesset and Ehud Barak standing tall in Ankara – all of these painted a picture of unparalleled grimness. Even devoted fans of the genre need to think about the morning after. Even for them, vengeance for the sake of vengeance, an eye for an eye, in the best spirit of our biblical values, cannot be the be-all and end-all. Moreover, a society that rejoices and takes pride in its media victory after every assassination is a society in bad shape, while a war on terror that only encourages ever more vicious reprisals is a lost war…”

Haaretz: The seige of Gaza has failed

Haaretz has published an editorial today arguing that “The seige of Gaza has failed“. Here are some excerpts:

“The situation that arose once the Egypt-Gaza border was flung wide open has apparently not yet penetrated Israeli consciousness. While politicians and the media are waiting with bated breath for publication of the Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War, a new situation is taking shape on the Egyptian border that might eventually result in a new investigative committee. The diplomatic and security situation that arose on the Israeli-Egyptian border once the Egypt-Gaza border was flung wide open has apparently not yet penetrated the Israeli consciousness. But it is time to start asking pointed questions about the events of this week … The border with Egypt was breached in a single moment, with no warning. It is impossible to refrain from asking whether any of our decision makers, or any of those who whisper in their ears, foresaw this scenario and prepared for it. When Vice Premier Haim Ramon boasts of the impressive decision-making process that preceded last fall’s military operation in Syria, his words sound bizarre in light of what is happening in the South. While hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are streaming into Egyptian Rafah and Hosni Mubarak is having trouble reestablishing the border, while Hamas has succeeded in ending the siege of Gaza via a well-planned operation and simultaneously won the sympathy of the world, which has forgotten the rain of Qassam rockets on Sderot, Israel is entrenching itself in positions that look outdated. The prime minister speaks about the need to continue the closure on Gaza, and the cabinet voices its ‘disappointment’ with Egypt – as if there were ever any chance that the Egyptians would work to protect Israeli interests along the Philadelphi route instead of thinking first of all of their own interests. The failure of the siege of Gaza, which the government declared only a week ago to be ‘bearing fruit’, and especially the fear that this failure will lead to a conflict with Egypt, requires the government to pull itself together and prove that it has been graced with the ability to solve crises and to lead, not merely to offer endless excuses for its leadership during previous crises. As hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were streaming into Sinai by car and making a mockery of Israel’s policy in Gaza, the prime minister gave a speech at the Herzliya Conference that sounded disconnected from reality. There is little point in extolling the quiet on the northern border when a diplomatic and security crisis for which Israel has no solution is taking place in the South. The Qassam fire is continuing, the policy of sanctions on Gaza has collapsed and Hamas is growing stronger politically, militarily and diplomatically. It is clear to everyone that reestablishing the border along the Philadelphi route will be impossible without its consent…”
The Haaretz editorial is posted here.

New Report: Arab Human Rights Association says Israeli Arab civilians put in harms way in Second Lebanon War

A new report published yesterday by the Arab Human Rights Association in Israel, based in Nazareth, say that Israeli Arab civilians in northern Israel were deliberately exposed to Hizbollah military strikes during what Israel is now calling the “Second Lebanon War” in July and August 2006.

“This report focuses on one claim – one that was also raised during the war, particularly by Arab public figures in Israel, but which has not been the subject of detailed attention. This claim is that military installations were positioned by the Israeli army in proximity to Arab civilian locales. The report is based on the testimonies of 80 Arab residents interviewed by the HRA, documenting 20 Arab communities that were hit by an estimated total of some 660 rockets, killing 14 civilians directly. On the basis of the investigation undertaken by the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA), it emerges that temporary military installations from which missiles were fired into Lebanon during the war were indeed positioned in very close proximity to the Arab locales that suffered the gravest attacks during the war. This is in addition to permanent military installations in existence prior to the war. In some cases, the military installations were established inside the Arab locales. It is reasonable to assume that these installations were targets for Hizbullah rocket attacks; that their placement in the locale exposed Arab civilians to a grave risk that rockets would strike their locales; and that this risk indeed materialized in practice. Equally, the investigation found that Arab locales that were not surrounded by military installations were not damaged during the war, or were damaged to a lesser extent, despite their proximity to the Israeli-Lebanese border. The investigation found that the Arab towns and villages that suffered the most intensive attacks during the war were ones that were surrounded by military installations, either on a permanent basis or temporarily during the course of the war. These installations are located at a distance of just 0.5 – 2 kilometers by air from the civilian community; in some cases, the installations are located inside the town or village. Such short distances are within the margin of error of the rockets fired by Hizbullah. During the war, artillery fire was launched at Lebanon from many of these installations, and particularly from the temporary installations … During the war, Hizbullah declared on several occasions that it was targeting its rockets primarily at military installations inside Israel. Given the findings of the investigation undertaken by the HRA, there is no reason to doubt that the Arab towns and villages were hit due to their proximity to the adjacent military installations. At the very least, it may be assumed that the fact that Israel located certain military installations in or close to Arab civilian centers significantly increased the danger to which the residents of these communities were exposed… By locating military installations in or close to civilian centers, Israel violated the specific obligation imposed by international humanitarian law to refrain from locating military installations within or close to civilian centers. This violation applies even if there was no intention to use the civilian centers as human shields … The HRA investigation found also that not only did the government not present any such request or demand to the residents or the local authorities to evacuate the residents, but it actually asked them to remain in their homes despite the numerous rockets that fell in these communities”.

The Arab Human Rights Association’s just-released report can be seen here.

During the Second Lebanon War, according to the Arab Human Rights Association, “a total of 1,191 Lebanese civilians were killed and over 4,400 were wounded. On the Israeli side, 44 Israeli civilians were killed and 4,262 were injured”.

The report, Civilians in Danger: The Location of Temporary and Permanent Military Installations Close to Arab Communities during the Second Lebanon War , was released at a press conference in Nazareth addressed by Muhammed Zeidan, Director of the Arab Human Rights Association.

Arab HRA press conference in Nazareth

The report comes as Israelis are awaiting further damaging conclusions from the Winograd Commission which is investigating the Government’s conduct of the Second Lebanon War.

Also, prominent Israeli-Arab member of Israel’s Knesset, Azmi Bishara, fled the country last spring after security investigations of his phone conversations with people in Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War. From reports, it appears that Bishara is accused by Israeli security of helping target some of the Hizbollah missiles that landed in northern Israel — an accusation that his supporters have rejected.

And, almost at the same time as the report was published, the Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ra’anan Dinur, told the annual Galilee Conference meeting in Upper Nazareth (a Jewish quarter, or city, adjacent to– and above — the Arab city of Nazaretz) that “The Government of Israel is prepared for the continuation of the plan to strengthen Haifa and the north in 2008-2010 at an overall cost of NIS 1.5 billion”, according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office. The cost of the plan has been approximately NIS 2.7 billion up until now. “The Government plan is designed to develop and strengthen the north by reducing gaps between residents of the north and residents of the center. The supplement to the plan will be submitted for Cabinet approval in the first quarter of 2008; it will focus on employment, education and housing”.

Last year, the Arab Human Rights Association issued an important report entitled Suspected Citizens: Racial Profiling against Arab Passengers by Israeli Airports and Airlines, which, the AHRA says, detailed the manner in which discriminatory inspection is imposed upon Arab citizens as a national group all of whose members are spuriously perceived as a “security threat” to the state. A majority of Israeli Arabs airlines passengers have been subjected to what Electronic Intifada called “a distinctive and discriminatory approach on the basis of their national origin –They are collectively, and almost automatically, subject to a security inspection that is not imposed on Jewish passengers, and is based on a security perception that persistently views them as a threat”.

This happens not only in Israel, but also in other countries prior to boarding flights of Israeli airlines, the report found: “An examination by the investigating organizations regarding the source of authority for the use of Israeli security personnel on the territory of foreign countries showed that the inspections undertaken by the Israeli companies are in addition to the local security arrangements. It also emerged that the countries in which these inspections take place do not supervise them, and prefer to ignore their discriminatory nature and the human rights violations committed on their own soil. The demand to reveal the nature of these arrangements was rejected on the grounds that this is confidential information”.

Palestinians — from the occupied West Bank (or Gaza) and holding Palestinian documents — are not allowed to fly out of Ben Gurion at all, but must cross into Jordan through the Allenby Bridge and fly from Amman. Even Arab-Americans were barred from flying into and out of Ben Gurion if they also had Palestinian documents — or if their destination was to the West Bank and Gaza.

People who merely had Arab names are also routinely subject to all these special procedures.

Israeli security procedures rely on such ethnic profiling — which is belived in Israel to be a legitimate security procedure.