The Quartet Committee deadline of January 26 has come and passed after yet another failed attempt to get Palestinians and Israelis back to direct negotiations. After the last meeting in Amman on January 25, Palestinians put the blame squarely on Israel for the lack of progress. Presidential advisor Nabil Abu Rdeineh said on January 27 that Israel did not provide anything to build upon.
In the final meeting, Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho gave a verbal presentation on borders and security, which an Israeli official said was to meet the Quartet request.
But the Palestinians said no maps were presented at the meeting and the presentation “killed the two-state solution and set aside previous agreements and international law.” The Palestinians presented their vision of borders and security, as per the Quartet request on January 3 after which Israel promised to respond in future meetings.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later that his negotiators had handed in a 21-point proposal at the meetings, PLO member Nabil Shaath said it lacked any detail and was “rather a composition about peace done by a high school student.”
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton made a three day visit to Palestine and Israel after meeting with President Abbas in Amman on January 26. The EU chief also met with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, all in a bid to urge the parties not to give up on talks. During his meeting with Ashton on January 25, Fayyad urged her to ensure that Israel does not freeze tax revenues belonging to the PA and to halt Israel’s measures on the ground.
“With the escalation of settlement activities in and around Jerusalem, the arbitrary arrests of Palestinian representatives and lawmakers, continued annexation of Palestinian land and natural resources, and the eviction and deportation of Palestinians, Israel is thwarting all efforts to resume talks and to honor its obligations under international humanitarian law,” Fayyad said.
The PLO is scheduled to meet on Monday, January 30 to discuss the failed talks.
It is not only the Palestinians who accuse Israel of shunning international law, especially in regards to home demolitions. On January 25, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Palestine Maxwell Gaylard said in a statement following a visit to the Jerusalem-area village of Anata where seven homes were demolished that “Israel as the Occupying Power has a fundamental responsibility to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its control and to ensure their dignity and well-being… The wholesale destruction of their homes and livelihoods is not consistent with that responsibility and humanitarian ideals”.
The demolitions displaced 52 people, including 29 children. Gaylard also noted the “dramatic increase” in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes during 2011, which “forcibly displaced almost 1,100 people, over half of them children, and compromising the livelihoods of several thousand more,” the statement said. “Palestinians urgently require ready access to a fair and non-discriminatory planning and zoning system that meets their needs for growth and development.”
“The current policy and practice of demolitions cause extensive human suffering and should end,” the UN official added.
On January 26, Israeli occupation forces handed out 17 demolition orders to residents of Al Aqaba village in the Jordan Valley, residents said. Only a day earlier, Israeli forces had handed out 12 demolition orders in the Tubas village. And on January 25 Israeli forces demolished four houses in the Bedouin village of Um Khair east of Yatta and handed several home demolition orders to residents of Silwan.
On January 23, Israeli police and soldiers stormed the Red Cross headquarters in Jerusalem and arrested former Jerusalem minister Khaled Abu Arafah and PLC member Mohammed Totah, both affiliated with Hamas. The two had been holding a sit-in at the Red Cross for 550 days in protest of Israel’s decision to deport them from Jerusalem. The two were arrested and await trial on January 29. Meanwhile, arrested Speaker of the House, Hamas-affiliated Aziz Dweik was sentenced on January 24 to six months of administrative detention. A day earlier, another Hamas parliamentarian, Abdel Jaber Fuqaha was taken by Israeli forces from his home in Ramallah. According to his wife, soldiers told him to: “Get dressed; Aziz Dweik is waiting for you.”
Meanwhile, on January 25, jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti was sent to solitary confinement after his court hearing in Jerusalem. Apparently, the move was punishment for Bargrhouti’s statements made to journalists after his court session. Barghouti said he didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli court that was trying him and that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would only be resolved when the occupation comes to an end and Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 borders.
When he was returned to the Hadarim Prison inside Israel, Barghouti was not allowed back into his regular cell and was instead put in isolation, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society.
Speaking of journalism, on January 26, the international watchdog Reporters Without Borders released its report on press freedoms in the world, knocking Palestine down three points from last year.
Ranking at number 153 out of 179 listed countries, Palestine is listed just below Iraq and Afghanistan in the group’s annual Press Freedom Index. The report also brought Israel down from 92 to 86.
“The Palestinian Territories fell three places because of attacks on journalists during demonstrations by Palestinians calling for an end to the war between Fatah and Hamas, and because of an illegal takeover by Hamas supporters of the journalists’ union in Gaza City,” the group says. Palestinian government press office head Ghassan Khatib criticized the report, saying it should not lump Gaza and the West Bank under one categorization, noting the improvement of press freedoms in the West Bank.
On January 26, elections officials say that if President Abbas issues an official decree, elections could take place as planned on May 4. Jamil Khalidi, who heads the CEC office in Gaza said the elections register in Gaza could be updated within six weeks after the Gaza office reopened on January 24 after a two-year closure.
Still, he said, that while the commission is ready for a vote, whether elections will take place or not depends on factional consensus, something which remains to be seen.
As the US Republican race for its presidential candidate continues, so does the Palestinian bashing. On January 26, Governor Mitt Romney said that the Palestinians were out to eliminate Israel and uninterested in peace.
During a debate in Florida, the Republican presidential candidate was asked by a Palestinian American the following question. “How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel, when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people?”
Romney answered, “Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution; they want to eliminate the State of Israel,” Romney said.
If that were the case, Palestinian security forces wouldn’t have handed over five settlers who illegally entered Nablus on January 27. The five Israelis were arrested in the early hours of Friday morning after being stopped at the Huwwara checkpoint. The settlers, who were unarmed, carried US passports and were trying to enter Joseph’s Tomb in the city without prior coordination with the PA. According to Palestinian security sources, the five were questioned for an hour and then handed over to Israeli liaison officials.