YNet's Ali Waked being optimistic – while Robert Fisk is outraged

Relying on Palestinian sources, Ali Waked has reported today on YNet — the English-language site of Israel’s largest selling Hebrew newspaper — that “Israel has agreed to hand over additional West Bank areas to the Palestinians as a trust-building measure, Palestinians sources said Sunday morning when referring to US special envoy George Mitchell’s efforts to resume peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority. The claim has not been confirmed by Israeli officials. Talking to Ynet, a Palestinian source said the offer Israel relayed to Mitchell and to Egypt included a series of relief measures, led by the transfer of Areas C (which are under full Israeli military + administrative control) to the Palestinians and changing their status to areas under full (Area A) or partial (Area B) Palestinian control”.

This is a little bit confusing. Surely the reporter doesn’t mean all of Area C? This is where the Israeli settlements are located, and Israel will not turn them over to the PA, at least not now. Area C, a designation of Palestinian territory where Israel retains full security control according to terms of the Oslo Accords (which divided the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C in the mid-1990s), comprises over 60% of the West Bank.

Some of the West Bank’s prime agricultural land is also Area C — as are most major and many minor roads. Palestinians living in Area C have had great difficulty in getting permits to build (n.b. — except, as I have written many times before on this blog, in the “Seam Zone” of Dahiet al-Bariid on the Israeli side of The Wall, and their permits were obtained from the ar-Ram municipal council, on the Palestinian side of The Wall).

There have been rumors in the regional media for weeks about discussions of possible “upgrading” of at least parts of Area C into Area B (where there is supposed to be joint Israel-Palestinian security control), and of Area B into Area A (where there is supposed to be full Palestinian control, such as the city of Ramallah).

According to today’s YNet report, the Palestinian source said that “The Israelis have expressed their willingness to seriously implement a real ease of restrictions, and not a fictitious one, which would help the Palestinian Authority … We will see how Mitchell’s ideas are accepted by Arab states before we deliver response to the American side,’ he added. The source also said that according to Mitchell’s latest offers, the negotiations between Israel and the PA would resume in stages and on two different levels. According to the source, the parties would first clarify the basic guidelines of the talks on an indirect channel. If the first stage is believed to be a success, it would be followed by negotiations between high-ranking officials. ‘In any case, it must end with a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders’, the source stated. Nonetheless, the PA sources found it difficult to estimate whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas planned to return to the negotiation table, but said that Mitchell’s proposals guaranteed a real examination of the talks’ framework and each party’s need to meet its commitments. ‘The same question remains whether the Israelis are serious or not’, the source said. ‘We don’t want talks about willingness to make far-reaching moves, but actions on the ground – led by a stop to settlements’.” This article by Ali Waked is posted

At the beginning of the month of January, Ali Waked reported in YNet that “The Palestinian sources said senior Egyptian and American officials are scheduled to hold discussions over the course of the next two weeks in hopes that they will give US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell the opportunity to present an agreement on the resumption of peace talks as early as the second half of January. The sources said the negotiations will be based on the ‘Clinton outline’, according to which Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem will be under the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority, while the Jewish quarters will remain under Israeli rule. According to the sources, a team led by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had met with Israeli negotiators headed by Netanyahu advisor Attorney Yitzhak Molcho to determine the general guidelines for the peace talks. [n.b. – reports emerged elsewhere during the month that Erekat was meeting Israel’s State President Shimon Peres, informally, on a weekly basis]
One of these guidelines states that the process will result in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and that all of the core issues, including Jerusalem and the status of the Palestinian refugees, would be put on the table. The parties, said the sources, agreed that the 1967 borders would be the basis for any negotiation. The Palestinians said Israel refuses to put a time limit on the negotiations, which they said would be conducted during the temporary settlement construction freeze recently declared by Israel”…

This same article, published on 1 January, also reported that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Mubarak in Cairo earlier this week. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, ‘The two leaders discussed ways to jumpstart the peace process with the Palestinians, as well as the efforts to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit’ … During his talks with Mubarak, Netanyahu stated that Israel’s conditions include Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and the demilitarization of a future Palestinian state. The PM stressed that while he does not oppose discussions on the core issues, the refugee issue would not be resolved by Israel and Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s united capital was indisputable. According to his past statements, Netanyahu would agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders without ceding territories that include large settlement blocs or settlements that are deemed vital to Israel’s security”. [n.b. – I am not so sure about how liberally the last sentence should be interpreted…]. This article can be viewed here.

Coming back to Area C, The Independent’s veteran correspondent in Lebanon, Robert Fisk, was apparently in Israel and the West Bank recently. He published two articles yesterday, fuming about restrictions and conditions for the Palestinians living in Area C — a designation he called a “sinister sobriquet”. [Fisk also argues that the real disaster is in the West Bank, not in Jerusalem — a view which is the inverse of the positions of many Israeli activists…]

In the first, entitled “Why does the US turn a blind eye to Israeli bulldozers? Most of the West Bank is under rule which amounts to apartheid by paper”, Fisk wrote that “This majority of the West Bank – known under the defunct Oslo Agreement’s sinister sobriquet as ‘Area C” – has already fallen under an Israeli rule which amounts to apartheid by paper: a set of Israeli laws which prohibit almost all Palestinian building or village improvements, which shamelessly smash down Palestinian homes for which permits are impossible to obtain, ordering the destruction of even restored Palestinian sewage systems. Israeli colonists have no such problems; which is why 300,000 Israelis now live – in 220 settlements which are all internationally illegal – in the richest and most fertile of the Palestinian occupied lands. When Obama’s elderly envoy George Mitchell headed home in humiliation this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated his departure by planting trees in two of the three largest Israeli colonies around Jerusalem. With these trees at Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim, he said, he was sending ‘a clear message that we are here. We will stay here. We are planning and we are building’. These two huge settlements, along with that of Ariel to the north of Jerusalem, were an ‘indisputable part of Israel forever’. It was Netanyahu’s victory celebration over the upstart American President who had dared to challenge Israel’s power not only in the Middle East but in America itself. And while the world this week listened to Netanyahu in the Holocaust memorial commemoration for the genocide of six million Jews, abusing Iran as the new Nazi Germany – Iran’s loony president supposedly as evil as Hitler – the hopes of a future ‘Palestine’ continued to dribble away. President Ahmadinejad of Iran is no more Adolf Hitler than the Israelis are Nazis. But the ‘threat’ of Iran is distracting the world. So is Tony Blair yesterday, trying to wriggle out of his bloody responsibility for the Iraq disaster. The real catastrophe, however, continues just outside Jerusalem, amid the fields, stony hills and ancient caves of most of the West Bank”. This Robert Fisk article is published here.

In the second of his two articles published yesterday, whose title asserts that “Palestine is slowly dying”, Fisk writes that “A drive along the wild roads of Area C – from the outskirts of Jerusalem to the semi-humid basin of the Jordan valley – runs through dark hills and bare, stony valleys lined with deep, ancient caves, until, further east, lie the fields of the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers’ palm groves – electrified fences round the groves – and the mud or stone huts of Palestinian sheep farmers. This paradise is a double illusion. One group of inhabitants, the Israelis, may remember their history and live in paradise. The smaller group, the Palestinian Arabs, are able to look across these wonderful lands and remember their history – but they are already out of paradise and into limbo. Even the western NGOs working in Area C find their work for Palestinians blocked by the Israelis. This is not just a ‘hitch’ in the ‘peace process’ – whatever that is – but an international scandal. Oxfam, for example, asked the Israelis for a permit to build a 300m2 capacity below-ground reservoir along with 700m of underground 4in pipes for the thousands of Palestinians living around Jiftlik. It was refused. They then gave notice that they intended to construct an above-ground installation of two glass-fibre tanks, an above-ground pipe and booster pump. They were told they would need a permit even though the pipes were above ground – and they were refused a permit. As a last resort, Oxfam is now distributing rooftop water tanks. I came across an even more outrageous example of this apartheid-by-permit in the village of Zbeidat, where the European Union’s humanitarian aid division installed 18 waste water systems to prevent the hamlet’s vile-smelling sewage running through the gardens and across the main road into the fields. The £80,000 system – a series of 40ft shafts regularly flushed out by sewage trucks – was duly installed because the location lay inside Area B, where no planning permission was required. Yet now the aid workers have been told by the Israelis that work ‘must stop’ on six of the 18 shafts – a prelude to their demolition, although already they are already built beside the road – because part of the village stands in Area C. Needless to say, no one – neither Palestinians nor Israelis – knows the exact borderline between B and C. Thus around £20,000 of European money has been thrown away by the Israeli ‘Civil Administration’ [n.b. – despite its name, this is a part of the Israeli military]. But in one way, this storm of permission and non-permission papers is intended to obscure the terrible reality of Area C. Many Israeli activists as well as western NGOs suspect Israel intends to force the Palestinians here to leave their lands and homes and villages and depart into the wretchedness of Areas B and A. B is jointly controlled by Israeli military and civil authorities and Palestinian police, and A by the witless Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Thus would the Palestinians be left to argue over a mere 40 per cent of the occupied West Bank – in itself a tiny fraction of the 22 per cent of Mandated Palestine over which the equally useless Yasser Arafat once hoped to rule. Add to this the designation of 18 per cent of Area C as ‘closed military areas’ by the Israelis and add another 3 per cent preposterously designated as a ‘nature reserve’ – it would be interesting to know what kind of animals roam there – and the result is simple: even without demolition orders, Palestinians cannot build in 70 per cent of Area C. Along one road, I discovered a series of large concrete blocks erected by the Israeli army in front of Palestinian shacks. ‘Danger – Firing Area’ was printed on each in Hebrew, Arabic and English. ‘Entrance Forbidden’. What are the Palestinians living here supposed to do?”
This Robert Fisk article can be read in full here.