This week, the Palestinian delegation to Amman continued to meet with their Israeli counterparts under the auspices of the Jordanian King and the Quartet committee but the two failed to reach any breakthrough agreements. The two sides will meet today, January 14 for their third round of talks.
The meetings, which are being called “exploratory talks” rather than negotiations, have generated much criticism from Palestinians, who say the leadership made a commitment not to sit down at the table with the Israelis until settlement activities came to a halt. President Mahmoud Abbas maintains he has remained loyal to that promise.
On January 12, speaking to a Fatah committee, Abbas said that the talks were just that, talks. He also told the group that no results have come of them and that he would give the meetings until January 26th until ending them. “The words that we heard in Netanyahu’s residence (in 2010) are the same words he is repeating now, nothing new,” the president said, adding that he had told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the apparent lack of progress.
On January 10, media reports said Jordan and the US put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer a line of “good-will” gestures towards Palestinians if the Palestinian leadership agrees not to pursue “unilateral steps” at the UN and its agencies. The gestures include releasing a number of prisoners, and expanding the jurisdictions of the Palestinian Authority. Israel later claimed in the Israeli press that its intention behind the Amman talks was to “lock” Palestinians in talks to buy time by offering them “candy.”
Such good-will gestures, even if implemented, are an insult to Palestinians given the escalating settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which is the main obstacle at this point to the resumption of real negotiations.
On January 10, Israeli watchdog organization Peace Now released a report saying Israel approved the construction of 3,690 housing units in east Jerusalem alone in 2011.
“(Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has broken his own government’s construction record and has significantly accelerated construction in the territories,” Peace Now Director Yariv Oppenheimer said. “What was illegal yesterday has now become legal under the (Netanyahu) government.”
Israel is zeroing in on Jerusalem like never before these days. On January 9, Israeli military forces closed off the main road with cement blocks used by the Jahaleen Bedouin near Ezzariyeh in a bid to displace them, telling them they had to take a valley road which is much longer and much more rugged. Israeli authorities also told them they would be fined NIS250 if they took the main road. The decision, which also includes a demolition order for homes in the area, affects 270 families. When completed, the settlement of Maaleh Adumim would have been connected to central Jerusalem.
Furthermore on January 8, the Israeli Jerusalem municipality announced the construction of a so-called National Park, which would entail the confiscation of 750 dunams of land from the east Jerusalem neighborhoods of Esawiyyah and Al-Tur. The reserve was approved by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee last April, but only now have the plans made public.
Closely related to Israel’s future plans, on January 11, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a law denying citizenship to Palestinians married to Israelis, with one judge saying it helped the state to fend off national “suicide.”
By a 6-to-5 vote, the Supreme Court rejected petitions including from Adaleh, against the 2003 ban, which civil rights activists denounced as racist. This would mean that family reunification for thousands of Palestinians married to other Palestinians with Israeli citizens would be denied, causing a multitude of problems for themselves and their children.
In the West Bank, on January 12, 13-year old Hiba Abdul Ghaffar, from Hebron was heading to school when she was hit by a car driven by an Israeli settler. Ghaffar, who is in a wheelchair, suffered light injuries in the collision and was taken to hospital for treatment.
On the same day, Angham Kayed Omran, 17, was also been hit by a settler car in Nablus while on her way to school.
Also on the 12th Israeli forces dismantled an illegal settler outpost near Hebron. The outpost of Mitzpe Avichai was established near the settlement of Kiryat Arba in 2007 and was home to nine families. The Israeli military also issued restraining orders against the leader of the outpost, Yaron Kaleb, banning him from entering the West Bank.
On January 9, Israeli forces took down four trailers at the illegal settlement outpost of Givat Gal Yoseph in the northern West Bank. The outpost is near the government-sanctioned Shilo settlement, between Ramallah and Nablus.
This did not stop settlers from continuing their rampages in the West Bank however. On January 11, settlers vandalized a mosque in a Salfit-area village and attempted to set fire to several vehicles in apparent revenge for the outpost dismantlement.
Then on January 13, settlers chopped down more than 100 olive trees south of Nablus according to PA official for settlements, Ghassan Daghlas adding that they also smashed two cars in the same area.
According to OCHA, settler attacks in the West Bank against Palestinians have increased by more than 50 percent in 2011.
Another international report, published on January 13 has also given an indication to the bleak reality of Palestinians living under occupation. An internal European Union report leaked to reporters, warned that the chances of creating a workable Palestinian state alongside Israel were being eroded by constant settlement building and restrictions on Palestinian economic activity and demographic growth, particularly in the 62 percent of the West Bank designated Area C.
“The window for the two-state solution is rapidly closing,” said the report, put together by EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah are still hanging on by a thread. While leaders on both sides maintain they still have their eye on unity, the agreement has yet to come to fruition. On January 14, Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh said he would host leaders from both sides in his home for reconciliation talks.
Still, Egypt, which has played the role of mediator between the two, may have to step in. On January 13, Egyptian ambassador to Palestine Yasser Othman said that Egyptian officials were considering a visit to the Palestinian territories in order to boost reconciliation talks. Othman said Egypt was closely following the work of the Palestinian reconciliation committees, which includes the social reconciliation committee which is dealing with ending the political prisoner files on both sides and the issue of issuing passports to Fatah members in Gaza.
Finally, presidential advisor Nabil Abu Rdainah said on January 12 that President Abbas would travel to Britain, Germany and Russia for a diplomatic tour of key countries in the UN Security Council. According to Rdaineh, Abbas will meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during his tour.