No progress — yet — in negotiations as Israel keeps up pressure + Palestinians wait

According to a report published by Ma’an News Agency today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) had a frustrating conversation with U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, who came to Ramallah on Friday.

The two men reportedly met again on Sunday, in Amman — after Mitchell had a second meeting while in the region with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. — and no details of the second meeting have been released.

But, according to the Ma’an report today, Presidential aide Nimr Hammad said “that Abbas asked first that Israel commit to a settlement freeze even for a limited period of time. He also asked that negotiations be on the basis of a withdrawal” to the lines of 4 June 1967.

The Presidential aide offered the following summary of the Friday meeting:

Mitchell: The Israelis have requested renewed negotiations, saying they froze settlements for ten months.

Abbas: Go to Jerusalem and see for yourself the settlement activity and Judaization of the city – you’ll see the situation on the ground looks nothing like a settlement freeze.

Mitchell: The Israelis could take confidence-building steps like releasing prisoners, removing checkpoints, changing areas classified as “C” [according to the Oslo Accords] to “B” classification, and areas “B” to “A.”

Abbas: This is a good thing.

Mitchell: But there’s a prerequisite for that, resuming negotiations.

Abbas: We welcome these ideas but not as preconditions for talks.

“After this dialogue, Mitchell suggested indirect negotiations between other parties, during which he would shuffle between other sides, including the Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese.

This summary account of last Friday’s Abu Mazen-George Mitchell talks is published here.

Continue reading No progress — yet — in negotiations as Israel keeps up pressure + Palestinians wait

Checkpoints – continued

“One freedom I had taken for granted was to move freely to school and work.  Israeli military checkpoints litter the roads throughout the West Bank, and if you live 15 miles away from school or work, chances are you will have to go through at least two or three of them.  Exiting your vehicle, you are herded to a barb-wired waiting zone, all under the cold gaze of an Israeli soldier and his or her automatic weapon.  Needless to say, this was terrifying for someone who is not comfortable around guns.  If you’re lucky, your American passport will get you off the hook, or maybe one of the young Israeli soldiers will think you’re cute and let you pass without interrogation.  But for most Palestinians, the checkpoints are a daily humiliation, a reminder of the military occupation under which they live.  These checkpoints are one of the few exchanges that Israelis and Palestinians share, a phenomenon that goes to the root of the problem in the conflict.  This brief interaction leaves the Palestinians viewing the Israelis as nothing more than military monsters, and leaves the Israeli soldiers suspecting each Palestinian of being a potential suicide bomber.  There is a wall, both figuratively and literally, between the Israelis and their Palestinian neighbours, and this prevents both sides from understanding the other whom they consider the enemy”…

From an essay, In their shoes, by Pauline Lewis: Common Ground News Service – Middle East, 03 – 09 April 2008