Israeli offer: 64% of the West Bank + visits to holy sites in Jerusalem?

The Jerusalem Post has picked up a report published in a Arabic-language newspaper published in London yesterday which says that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered the Palestinians 64 percent of the West Bank as part of a future peace agreement, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported Wednesday. According to the report, Olmert told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinians could ‘forget about territory west of the security fence’.” The prime minister also presented Abbas with several offers regarding Jerusalem. One of these would have Israel maintaining control over east Jerusalem and holy sites, but allowing Palestinians to enter those sites”…
The full article is posted here .

Olmert to IDF: "Think of the Palestinians suffering at the checkpoints"

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported today that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called on IDF commanders in the West Bank to understand that the roadblocks are causing suffering to the Palestinians, whose needs should be appreciated to avoid a worsening of relations between the two peoples. Olmert made these comments during a closed-door meeting with brigade commanders of Central Command. ‘Take all the Palestinians who were stripped at the roadblocks, only because there was concern that some of them were terrorists. Take all those who stand at the roadblocks where there is concern that a car bomb will pass through’, Olmert said. ‘This can become a boiling pot that can explode and cause terrible burns, and it can also be something else, which only depends on your understanding and abilities to conduct yourselves with wisdom and determination’.” The Haaretz article can be read in full here.

The visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Israel Defense Force’s Central Command was on Tuesday.

An information note distributed later by his office said that “The visit focused on the Central Command’s southern sector, especially the city of Hebron”.

The information note said that in his remarks to the officers and soldiers he met, Olmert “emphasized the need to ease restrictions – by as much as possible – on the lives of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria in order to help advance the peace process”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, explained in a phone interview with this journalist on Wednesday morning that “there has been an on-going discussion for the past weeks at the highest levels of the Israeli government” about achieving the right balance between two “conflicting goals”, which are the desire to provide the greatest possible access for Palestinian civilians, while at the same time protecting Israel’s civilians.

Regev emphasized that the discussion was within the Israeli government.

Asked if the Prime Minister was trying to push the Defense Ministry toward a bit more flexibility, Regev replied that “It’s not a matter of someone being right and someone being wrong”.

“The idea that you can take down most roadblocks is not serious”, Regev said, but “we are willing to take a calculated risk”.

Akiva Eldar wrote in another article in Haaretz today that “In the past, there have been cases in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the number of roadblocks would be reduced, however data from OCHA, B’tselem and Machsom Watch suggested that the numbers have not decreased – only increased. In closed sessions held these past few days with Israeli officials, American diplomats assigned to the implementation of the road map expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of change in Israel’s policy restricting the movement of Palestinians. Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office would not comment, referring Haaretz to the IDF Spokesman. ‘According to the decision of the political leadership, the IDF lifted on Tuesday, April 1, 50 dirt obstacles and one roadblock, in an effort to improve the lives of Palestinians. In addition, the Central Command has evaluated the situation along with officials from the Civil Administration, and other measures have been agreed upon, including the lifting of 10 other roadblocks, which were lifted on Thursday, April 3. The IDF will continue assessing the situation and exploring the possibility for improving the lives of the Palestinians, while dealing with the terrorist organizations that are trying to strike in Israel’s rear and in the area,” the IDF Spokesman said”.

Akiva Eldar’s article is published here .

Big Thaw – Abbas agrees to meet Olmert on 7 April

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Amman this afternoon that he would meet Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, probably on 7 April.

About two weeks after that, Abbas will travel to Washington DC to meet U.S. President George W. Bush.

The Palestinian President froze contacts with Olmert after a violent Israeli offensive in Gaza at the end of February and the beginning of March. However, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei’ (Abu Alaa) have continued to meet Israeli on a working level almost without interruption.

Both Abbas and Rice continued to express optimism that it would still be possible to reach an agreement with Israel in 2008 that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state.

However, a day after Israel pledged to remove 50 out of some 580 roadblocks and checkpoints (none of the really much more difficult manned checkpoints are included in that number, apparently), announcements were made about plans to build 1400 new homes in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that no new settlements would be built, and he implied that this activity was being done under –as if part of — the present Annapolis process.

The Associated Press reported that “Olmert insisted the building would not disrupt peace negotiations. ‘This is going on within the framework of negotiations, and the negotiations will continue to progress’, he said. At a U.S.-hosted peace conference in November, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to relaunch long-stalled talks and base negotiations on the 2003 ‘road map’ peace plan. The U.S.-backed proposal calls on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including in existing settlements. Because it annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war, Israel does not consider construction there to be settlement activity. The Palestinians and the international community do. Israel also maintains the right to build in West Bank settlements to account for ‘natural growth’ of the population there, even though the road map specifically bans such activity”. The full AP report can be read here .

Earlier Monday, Peace Now reported that at least 1700 new homes had been approved for the settlements since the Annapolis Conference on 27 November (presumably these are in addition to the 1400 new units announced later in the day)

After the announcement today of the new housing plans in the settlements, Rice said: “We continue to state America’s position that settlement activity should stop, that its expansion should stop — that it is indeed not consistent with ‘road map’ obligations”.

Palestinian President Abbas said, in his joint press conference with Rice, that “we hope that the American referee or judge will make sure that Israel will meet its obligation, in particularly, namely, to stop settlement activities, in particular in Jerusalem, and also to fix a comprehensive reciprocal or mutual truce and also to release the (inaudible – Palestinian?) detainees as well as to ask for the return of the (inaudible – refugees?) and to reopen the institutions in eastern Jerusalem and to reinstate the situation before 2000 – year 2000. And all of these are agreed under the Roadmap”.

Abbas also said:  “We do support all efforts exerted to remove the siege on Gaza, and these efforts are being exerted by Egypt in particular … I have asked Dr. Rice to continue in delivery of pharmaceuticals, water, electricity to our people in Gaza with practical steps in order to relieve the siege and the closures at the Palestinian internal affairs level.

Now I know why I wasn't notified of this briefing

Dion Nissenbaum has explained it all for me in his latest Blog: Checkpoint Jerusalem post, entitled Strippin’ for Cheney.

To attend — or to be in attendance at — U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s press encounter with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Dion and other journalists had to drop their pants for security first.

Even Saddam Hussein — who was famous for the wierd security rituals he subjected journalists to, before they could be in his presence — did not go this far.  Dion doesn’t explain what happened to female journalists — that is, if any were present (don’t take this for granted …)

Dion wrote: “After a five-year absence, US VP Dick Cheney returned to Israel this weekend as part of a broader Middle East trip … The VP, as most people know, has a reputation for secrecy and inaccessibility. (For more, check out the award-winning series, “Angler,” from The Washington Post.) This trip did little to dispel that notion. Cheney arrived on Saturday night and met Israeli PM Ehud Olmert for dinner. Before getting their nosh on, the two were slated to hold an evening news conference at Olmert’s Jerusalem residence. Security in Israel — from the airport to the Israeli parliament — is exceptionally tight, and getting into Olmert’s official residence was especially intrusive. First came the normal procedure of being pulled out of the line and questioned: How long have you lived here? Where do you live? Do you live alone? Do you have family here? Do you speak any Hebrew? Why do you travel to Jordan and Egypt? Have you been to Syria and Lebanon? Do you have friends in those countries? Etc. etc. etc… This process seemed to drag on especially long and a photographer who has lived here nearly a quarter century, has two kids and is married to an Israeli, stormed off after being held at the entrance for more than an hour. Once you make it past the first check, (if you make it through the first check) there’s the routine metal detector and x-ray machine, followed by the side trip behind the curtains for a body search. Only, this time, I was asked to drop my pants. ‘Really?’ I asked the security officer, who seemed slightly embarrassed by it all, though, since he does it all the time, I suspect he wasn’t really… The security guard said he needed to check the zipper of my jeans, though security also made other international reporters in normal pants strip before getting into the press conference. Strippin’ for Cheney might have been worth it – had we been given the chance to ask a question or two of the vice president. Instead, at the last minute, apparently, Cheney decided not to take questions … Fine. Lesson learned. That’s the last time I drop my pants for the vice president”.

Dion’s revelations were posted on 24 March on his Blog: Checkpoint Jerusalem here .

Cheney in Jerusalem

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney indicated in a Saturday night press conference with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert that Israel (and Israel alone) is affected by problems of terrorism and a lack of security.

Cheney seemed oblivious to the lack of freedom that Israel’s continued belligerent military occupation imposes on the Palestinians.

In his remarks to journalists after the meeting, Cheney indicated that only Israel might be facing “wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace”, while both Israelis and Palestinians would have to make “tough decisions and painful concessions” to reach an agreement.

The U.S. would not “dictate the outcome”, Cheney said, but will “help in the negotiations, and provide all the support and encouragement we can”.

He said that the U.S. wanted to see “a resolution to the conflict”, which would bring “an end to the terrorism that has caused so much grief to Israelis, and a new beginning for the Palestinian people”.

Much speculation has been written about why Cheney was making this trip.  In his remarks after meeting Olmert, Cheney indicated that the invitation had come from Olmert: “I want to thank him for the kind invitation that he extended to me and to my wife Lynne to visit Israel again. I’ve been gone too long – it’s now been five years since I was last here”.

For his part, Olmert indicated that he saw threats to Israel both from the north (Hizballah, Iran and Syria), and from the south (Gaza), and said he would welcome Cheney’s “advice and observations”.

Here are some fuller excerpts.

Olmert:

“There are many items on the common agenda of America and the State of Israel. We are both very concerned about Iran; we are anxious to carry on the peace negotiations with the Palestinians; we are watching very carefully the northern front, the behavior of Syria and the Hizbullah; and naturally, I know how concerned America is with the continued terrorist attacks against Israel coming from Gaza against innocent civilians in the south part of the State of Israel. All these matters will be discussed while you are visiting here, and we will always be happy to hear your advice and your observations about these very important issues which are on top of the agenda of the State of Israel and this part of the world”.

Cheney: “I’m especially pleased to be here as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s emergence as a modern nation-state. The State of Israel’s rise out of the ashes of World War II is one of history’s great miracles.  So too is the fact that Israel has survived these six decades, despite often violent assaults against its very existence … America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. As successful democracies, the U.S. and Israel have a basic confidence in the power of freedom to lift up whole societies and to lay the foundation for peace. We will defend ourselves and protect our people, but as President Bush said here in January, we will do more than defend ourselves; we will seek lasting peace.

“History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence, and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace.  I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. On this journey, I am reiterating the President’s commitment of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security …

“Reaching the necessary agreement will require tough decisions and painful concessions by both sides, but America is committed to moving the process forward, and to that end I will meet with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. They too can be certain of America’s goodwill in this process.  It is not America’s role to dictate the outcome, but we will help in the negotiations, and provide all the support and encouragement we can.  We care deeply about these issues.  We want to see a resolution to the conflict; an end to the terrorism that has caused so much grief to Israelis; and a new beginning for the Palestinian people”.

What Does This Mean? – cont'd

More “What does this mean?” —

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, according to the Israeli Government Press Office:

“We certainly support the strengthening of the PA and the appropriate international mobilization in order to bring about an improvement of the Palestinian residents’ daily lives, especially by upgrading their own economic infrastructure that will not be dependent on the State of Israel once the appropriate administrative institutions are established. As I have said, this includes – first and foremost – proper law-enforcement organizations and systematic action against the terrorist organizations.  We are cooperating with the International Quartet Envoy, former UK
Prime Minister Tony Blair. We will continue to cooperate with him and will help him in strengthening projects on the agenda”.