DOROTHY ONLINE NEWSLETTER

NOVANEWS

Dear Friends,

10 items below, but none is overly long—except the final on, ‘Today in Palestine,’ which seems to have more reports than usual, each event worse than the other—well, perhaps equally bad.

Item 1 is a statement by hunger striker Samer al-Issawi on the Israeli move to release him from prison if he agreed to deportation for 10 years to Gaza.  Issawi adamantly and feelingly refuses.  He explains why.

Item 2 is a brief report by Haggai Matar on what is known in Israel as “internal refugees,” that is to say, Palestinians who were forced out of their villages, but who remained in Israel though not allowed to return to their villages.  In the case that Haggai writes about, some recently have decided to return notwithstanding Israel’s continued refusal.

Item 3 reports that after 3 years the court acquitted 8 activists who participated in a protest demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah.  One of the activists is Rabbi Arik Aschermann, who has been detained more than once.  I remember being at a demonstration some years ago, in which the IOF was particularly aggressive, and the amount of tear gas shot at us in the village was enormous (yes, in the village, not outside of it), and a young woman from South Africa after seeing Rabbi Arik said that in South Africa even at the worst of the demonstrations against apartheid, when a cleric was present the soldiers held their fire.  Not here.

Item 4 reports that an Israeli soldier was convicted for killing a Palestinian.  Very seldom are Israeli soldiers convicted, and in the rare cases that they are convicted, the punishment seldom meets the crime.  In this instance, the punishment is not mentioned.  Perhaps it was not yet given.

Item 5 contains “some thoughts on the 10th anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie.”  It is a very feeling essay.  I recall the event as though it happened yesterday.  We were all in shock. I had not met Rachel, but had many friends in ISM who knew here, and these included Palestinians.  At some point I did wonder why we were all so much shocked that a young woman from a western country was killed when killing Palestinians was an almost daily occurrence.  I guess perhaps because it was less expected.  Somehow or other we believed that internationals would not be targeted.  With Rachel we learned how wrong we were.  Within a short time Rachel’s death was joined with those of Tom Hurndall and James Miller.  All 3 were killed in Gaza.

The next 4 items from the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Independent, and the Washington Post are about President Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel-Palestine—the main subject about Israel-Palestine in today’s international press. Expectations of anything positive resulting from the visit are nil in all 4 articles.

Item 10 is Today in Palestine for Sunday, March 17, 2013.
That’s it for today

Palestinian Children’s Rights Campaign

1- Statement by Samer Issawi on ‘deportation deals’

Posted by Zahi Damuni (cause leader)

Tell your friends about this

Monday, 18 March 2013 15:39

The following statement by Samer Issawi was posted on his Facebook page by his lawyer Fawwaz Shloudy. It was translated from Arabic to English by Shahd Abusalama.

“Regarding the Israeli Occupation offer to deport me to Gaza, I affirm that Gaza is undeniable part of my homeland and its people are my people. However, I will visit Gaza whenever I want or I feel like it as it is within my homeland Palestine which I have the right to wander whenever I like from the very north to the very south. I strongly refuse to be deported to Gaza as this practice will just bring back bitter flashbacks from the expulsion process which our Palestinian people were subjected to during 1948 and 1967.

We are fighting for the sake of freedom of our land and return of our refugees in Palestine and exile, not to add more deportees to them. This systematic practice which Israel aims to empty Palestine from Palestinians through and bring strangers in their place is but a crime. Therefore, I refuse being deported and I will only agree to be released to Jerusalem as I know that the Israeli Occupation is aiming to empty Jerusalem of its people and turn Arabs to become a minority group of its population. The issue of deportation is no longer a personal decision. It is rather a national principle. If every detainee agrees to be deported outside Jerusalem under pressure, Jerusalem will eventually be emptied of its people.

I would prefer to die on my hospital bed to being deported from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is my soul and my life. If I was uprooted from there, my soul would be uprooted from my body. My life is meaningless away from Jerusalem. No land on earth will be able to embrace me other than Jerusalem. Therefore, my return will be only to Jerusalem but nowhere else. I advise all Palestinians to embrace their land and their villages and never succumb to the Israeli Occupation’s wishes. I don’t see this issue as a personal cause that is related to Samer Issawi. It is a national issue, a conviction and a principle that every Palestinian who loves his homeland’s sacred soil should hold. Finally, I reaffirm for the thousands time that I continue my hunger strike until either freedom and return to Jerusalem or martyrdom!”

Want to get involved? See this note on Causes

 

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2 +972 Magazine
Monday, March 18, 2013
Displaced Palestinians return to village after 64 years. The third generation of the displaced community of Iqrit decided that they’d had enough of waiting for authorities to allow them to return to their village lands, taking matters into their own hands. Last August, they set up their base in a room adjacent to the old church and haven’t left since.

http://972mag.com/displaced-palestinians-return-to-village-after-64-years/66378/

By Haggai Matar

Welcome to Iqrit. The revivers of the village (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

In 1948, the Christian Orthodox village of Iqrit surrendered to the IDF without a fight. When soldiers ordered residents to leave for two weeks for security reasons, considering the village is extremely close to the Lebanese boarder, nobody thought twice about it. Three years later, in July 1951, when the High Court of Justice ordered the state to fulfill its promise and allow the displaced people, who were still living in temporary houses in other villages, to return to their homes and lands, the small community was thrilled. But on Christmas Eve of that year the IDF blew up the entire village, leaving only the church in place. The people of Iqrit realized that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Labeeb and Marth Ashkar holding a picture of the village they were deported from in 1948 (Oren Ziv / Activestills) [to see the photos, use the link]
Since then, sixty-four years have passed. In the summer of 2012, like in all other summers since 1995, the entire displaced community organized a summer camp for their youth on village lands near the old church that they frequent on a monthly basis. They told the youngsters tales of village life and explained to them once again how they have been fighting for their right of return, a right which was guaranteed to them by courts and governments alike over the years. Iqrit is one of only two cases in Israeli history in which such promises have been made (the other being the nearby village of Bir’em).
 
The summer camp ended, and as everybody was returning home, some of the guides got to talking. They were sad to see how the generation of their grandparents was slowly fading away, and feared that whatever implementation of their recognized rights they had been unable to achieve in 64 years would not be achieved anytime soon. It was then and there that they decided to do something. They decided to return.
The young villagers of the New Iqrit enjoying lunch outside the church (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
Six months have passed since that day. While three Palestinian outposts in the West Bank were erected and swiftly destroyed by the army – the youth of Iqrit were able to stay. Indeed, whenever they try to build something outside the church and its single adjacent room, authorities quickly show up to demolish it. But other than that, they’ve been living rough and making it happen: planting and growing their own food, collecting timber for  fire, unearthing ruins of the old village, uploading pictures to their Facebook page from their mobile phones (there’s no electricity for computers), and making plans for the entire community’s future return.
 
Singer and theater man Walaa Sbeit in the outspost (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
Along with Activestills photographer Oren Ziv, I spent three days at this unique outpost/commune where young Palestinians are turning the dream of return into a reality. We interviewed them, as well as some of the older folk from the village who are fully supporting their young, and brought back with us their story. The piece I wrote was published in Haaretz a couple of weeks ago, but was not translated into English (the Hebrew origin can be found here). Last Friday, Channel 2′s “Ulpan Shishi,” the most watched news broadcast in Israel, ran a follow-up report to my Haaretz piece. It is quite unique that a mainstream platform seriously deals with the sensitive issue of the Palestinian Nakba, and the people of Iqrit hope that the massive (and mostly positive) attention they got will help them get back their lands – 64 years too late.
Dispite a unique rulling by the High Court in 1951 villagers are still not allowed to return (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
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3 Haaretz
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Eight Sheikh Jarrah activists acquitted of disorderly conduct at 2010 protest
Protesters were demonstrating against Jewish takeover of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.
http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/eight-sheikh-jarrah-activists-acquitted-of-disorderly-conduct-at-2010-protest.premium-1.510117
By Chaim Levinson
 
Protestors in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem. Photo by Emil Salman
Flag march on Jerusalem Day in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
Eight left-wing activists demonstrating against a Jewish takeover of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem in May 2010 were acquitted Sunday of disorderly conduct.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court also said the police were wrong to designate the protest in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah as illegal and upheld the protesters’ right to passive resistance.
“Given that the disruption to traffic was tolerable and caused minimal discomfort to passersby, the procession was not held during rush hour and the defendants did not act violently, it is possible to rule that their conduct did not provide sufficient grounds for concern that they were engaged in disorderly conduct,” wrote Judge Yaron Mientkavich.
One of the protesters was convicted of interfering with police activity, though the rest were acquitted. Assaf Kintzer kicked a police officer and called him a Nazi, the judge ruled, saying that “his actions clearly crossed the line between legitimate resistance and violent resistance.”
The eight protesters, including Rabbis for Human Rights co-founder Rabbi Arik Ascherman, were among at least 250 who had been demonstrating weekly against a Jewish takeover of Palestinian homes through the use of ownership documents dating from the British mandate period. The activists arrested were also protesting a police decision to allow right-wing activists to hold a Jerusalem Day rally in Sheikh Jarrah even though police banned the left-wing activists from entering the neighborhood.
Four protesters were taken to the hospital to be examined after police attempted to break up the demonstration by using what protesters said was excessive force.
Police said the eight protesters who were indicted had been blocking traffic by sitting in the road and resisted police officers attempting to get them off the road. “Blocking the entire street creates friction,” Amir Arzani, a police superintendent, testified at the trial.
But Mientkavich said video footage of the scene did not accord with police statements about the protesters’ activities.
“It is clear that the junction was not blocked,” he said. “The protesters did sit on the road across from the police barrier, but did not completely block the road. The road was blocked to vehicle traffic because the police barrier had been set up.”
Arzani also said that one of the defendants, Assaf Sharon, enticed others to engage in disorderly conduct by using a megaphone to motivate the crowd. But Mientkavich said no megaphone could be seen in the footage.
“My ruling regarding the protestors’ conduct is mainly based on what can be seen in the video,” he wrote. “The event is significantly different from its dramatic description in the indictment.”
Mientkavich ruled that even if the police had been right to designate the protest illegal, there was no evidence that the defendants had intimidated the public in any way, as police had said.
“I watched the footage and put myself in the shoes of someone present at the scene,” he wrote. “This was a noisy demonstration and a significant portion of what was being said wasn’t pleasant to hear. Needless to say, a person in a democratic country has the right to say things that those who hear them may not agree with. The acts of the accused were certainly a nuisance, but were not threatening. The footage shows passersby crossing the intersection, including ultra-Orthodox people. Most of them seem indifferent to their actions, and no one seems threatened or scared.”
Mientkavich also upheld the protesters’ right to passive resistance, saying it did not constitute interference with police activity.
“The defendants didn’t make it easy for the police to remove them, but were not violent and did not physically hurt police officers while they were being evacuated,” he ruled. “Passive resistance during a demonstration or protest is reasonable and does not constitute an offense. The defendants’ actions did not cross the line and were not illegal. The reason for this is the lack of justification for the decision to remove them from the intersection.”
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4 Haaretz
Monday, March 18, 2013
soldier convicted of negligent homicide for killing of Palestinian man
The 21-year-old laborer who was shot was not considered a security threat but was trying to get to his job after entering Israel through a gap in the separation fence.
http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/idf-soldier-convicted-of-negligent-homicide-for-killing-of-palestinian-man.premium-1.510259#
By Gili Cohen
Mar.18, 2013
 
An IDF jeep on patrol. Photo by Alon Ron
A military court on Monday convicted an Israeli soldier of negligent homicide in the death of Uday Darwish, a 21-year-old Palestinian laborer who was shot in January near the separation fence in the South Hebron Hills.
Darwish was killed on January 12 as he was trying to enter Israel illegally through a gap in the fence en route to his job in Rahat. In a plea bargain at the Jaffa military court, the soldier, a staff sergeant in the Home Front Command, confessed to negligent homicide instead of manslaughter.
“The incident took place on the seam line facing a population that is usually identified with terrorist groups,” said the soldier’s attorney, Yehiel Lamesh. “The circumstances of the incident border on a gray area and, ultimately, the defendant decided to take responsibility and bring the matter to an end.”
According to the indictment, the soldier and his commander tried to arrest the Palestinians after they had breached the fence. They left their jeep a few dozen meters from the barrier, walked inside a drainage canal and heard the Palestinians talking.
They climbed out of the canal and called on the Palestinians to stop, in both Hebrew and Arabic. The commander fired four shots into the air and the soldier fired a single shot at Darwish’s knee, but struck his hip and killed him. According to the indictment, this breached the rules of engagement.
The commander is undergoing a separate disciplinary hearing in the run-up to an indictment.
A Home Front Command battalion had already been in the region about two months. The soldiers had been told not to fire at anyone not suspected of being a security threat. They were told about vehicles that waited to pick up Palestinian laborers.
According to testimony provided by the B’Tselem human rights group, three laborers, among them Darwish, waited until a military jeep in the area had pulled away before crossing the order. A vehicle on the other side was waiting to take them to work.
Citing an eyewitness, B’Tselem said two laborers managed to get to the vehicle waiting for them on the Israeli side, but Darwish was hit from about 20 meters away. He was treated on the scene and then rushed to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where he died.
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5 Some thoughts on the 10-year anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie
 
By Phan Nguyen
 
http://mondoweiss.net/2013/03/thoughts-anniversary-rachel.html
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6  Huffington Post
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Obama Mideast Visit: President Will Find Disillusioned Palestinian Public When He Visits Region
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/17/obama-mideast-visit-palestinian-public_n_2897788.html
By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH 03/17/13 04:26 PM ET EDT
In this Friday, March. 15, 2013 file photo, a Palestinian woman walks past vandalized posters showing US President Barack Obama, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)  603981017Get World Alerts:
RAMALLAH, West Bank — President Barack Obama will find a disillusioned Palestinian public, skeptical about his commitment to promoting Mideast peace, when he visits the region.
Obama’s trip, beginning Wednesday, appears aimed primarily at resetting the sometimes troubled relationship with Israel. But winning the trust of the Palestinians, who accuse him of unfairly favoring Israel, could be a far more difficult task.
After suffering disappointments during the first Obama administration, Palestinians see little reason for optimism in his new term. The White House announcement that Obama will not present any new peace initiatives strengthened their conviction that the U.S. leader isn’t prepared to put the pressure on Israel that they think is necessary to end four years of deadlock in negotiations.
“Obama is coming for Israel, not for us,” said Mohammed Albouz, a 55-year-old Palestinian farmer. “Obama will come and go as his predecessors did, without doing anything.”
While Israel is preparing to give Obama the red-carpet treatment, there are few signs of excitement in the West Bank. Large posters of Obama hung in Ramallah last week were quickly defaced, and a small group of activists called “The Campaign for Dignity” plans on releasing black balloons into the air in a sign of mourning when Obama arrives.
Obama himself played a role in reaching the current deadlock, which stems in large part from disagreements over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future state, a position that is widely backed internationally.
When Obama first took office, he strongly and publicly criticized the Israeli settlements, saying the construction undermines hopes for peace. “It is time for these settlements to stop,” Obama said in a high-profile address to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo just months after taking office.
When Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Israeli prime minister in early 2009, the Palestinians said they would not negotiate unless settlement construction was frozen. They were further emboldened by Obama’s tough stance.
Obama persuaded Netanyahu to impose a 10-month slowdown, but Palestinians did not agree to restart talks until the period was nearly over. When the Israeli moratorium expired several weeks later, Netanyahu rejected American appeals to extend the slowdown, and the negotiations collapsed.
Obama stopped pushing the matter, and talks have never resumed, and the Palestinians, viewing Obama as afraid to take on Israel’s allies in Washington, have few expectations now.
“What we are going to tell him behind closed doors is what we are saying in public. There is no secret that a successful peace process needs a complete settlement freeze,” said Nabil Shaath, a top adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas. “The Israelis are building on our land and claiming they want to negotiate with us about this land.”
More than 500,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians say the ever-growing settlements are a sign of bad faith and make it increasingly difficult to partition the land between two peoples.
Netanyahu maintains that negotiations must resume without preconditions, and the fate of the settlements should be one of the issues on the table. He notes that previous rounds of negotiations have gone forward without a construction freeze.
Obama will get a firsthand glimpse of settlements when he heads to the Palestinian city of Ramallah on Thursday. The 20-minute drive from Jerusalem passes by sprawling settlements that are home to tens of thousands of Israelis.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Palestinian leaders and visit a youth center. He plans to head to the West Bank town of Bethlehem the next day to see the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christian tradition says Jesus was born.
Netanyahu, who was re-elected in January, has said he will make a renewed push for peace in his new term. His new government, which takes office this week, is sending mixed signals.
On one hand, he has named former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a political centrist who has good working relations with the Palestinians, as his chief negotiator. The biggest partner in his coalition, the centrist Yesh Atid Party, has demanded the new government make a serious attempt to restart talks.
At the same time, Netanyahu’s own Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc is dominated by hard-liners who oppose major concessions to the Palestinians. Another partner, the Jewish Home Party, is linked to the settler movement and would reject any attempts to freeze construction, much less hand over West Bank territory to the Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said getting talks back on track will require a deeper and long-standing effort by the president and his new secretary of state, John Kerry, who is expected back in the region in April.
“We really hope that President Obama and Secretary Kerry can succeed in reviving a meaningful peace process, succeed in having Netanyahu saying the sentence that he accepts the two states in the 1967 borders,” Erekat said. “We don’t need new plans. We need commitment.”
The gaps between Israel and the Palestinians are just one of many obstacles. The Palestinians are also deeply divided between Abbas’ government in the West Bank, which favors a negotiated agreement with Israel, and the rival Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, which rejects peace with Israel. Hamas has controlled Gaza since expelling Abbas’ forces in 2007.
Yehia Moussa, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, told the pro-Hamas “Felesteen” newspaper the Obama visit was meant to “cool down” the Palestinians “by giving empty promises that will assist with continuing the (Israeli) occupation.”
Hani Masri, a prominent Palestinian commentator in the West Bank, said the visit might lead to some movement.
“Most likely we are going to see some life in the negotiations,” perhaps a limited settlement freeze that forces Abbas to resume talks. “But such a process won’t lead to a peaceful settlement.”
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7 The Guardian,
Sunday 17 March 2013
Obama in Israel: waiting for Godot
The international community is complicit through inaction over this dangerous and unpredictable situation
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/17/obama-israel-waiting-godot-editorial
Editorial
Rarely has a US president prepared to visit Israel amid such low expectations of what he can achieve there. By the time Barack Obama arrives, Binyamin Netanyahu’s government will have been sworn in, a coalition composed of the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc: Yesh Atid, founded by former TV personality Yair Lapid; and Jewish Home, a party linked to the West Bank settler movement led by Naftali Bennett. The coalition is uniquely suited to dealing with domestic issues, such as the exemptions to military service granted to the ultra-orthodox. But it is uniquely unsuited to unravelling the occupation in the West Bank.
On Washington’s side, there is even a debate about whether Mr Obama, who got so badly burned in his first term by Mr Netanyahu’s refusal to stop settlement construction, wants to get re-engaged in this quagmire. He is after all a foreign policy pragmatist, who has learned to spend political capital at home only on things he can actually change abroad. The Republican war dance around the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defence secretary would be a small taste of things to come if Mr Obama seriously challenged the well-established formula of his former adviser Dennis Ross, which amounts to keeping in lock step with Israel on anything it deems to affect its security.
The counter view is that the choice of both John Kerry as secretary of state and Mr Hagel are indications that he does want to shake things up. The pressure point this time could come from saying publicly that if Mr Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, cannot get around a table to agree a formula, the US will formulate one unilaterally. This would be a more muscular version of what became known as the Clinton parameters, formulated by Bill ( not Hillary). And the formula would not differ much now – although its practical effects surely would, with 300,000 settlers in the West Bank.
With no wish to address the occupation on the Israeli side, and the wilting belief on the Palestinian one that they will ever inhabit anything more substantial than a bantustan, an imposed solution also appears unlikely.
But all those lovers of the status quo should ask themselves what they are supporting. Palestinians whose role is to talk have not been talking, and the militants whose role is to fight Israel have, by and large, not been fighting. If a third intifada were to materialise, the world will condemn it saying, rightly, that violence is not the way. But what has waiting for Godot achieved? The status quo does not mean that things on the ground don’t change. They are changing all the time. It means that the international community is complicit through inaction. The message that Mr Obama should give to Mr Netanyahu is that this situation is both dangerous and unpredictable.
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8 The Independent
Monday, March 18, 2013
US foreign policy: Is Barack Obama likely to achieve anything in Israel?
Many US presidents have tried, and failed, to bring peace to the Holy Lands. So does Barack Obama, who lands on Wednesday, have any chance of succeeding where others did not? Alistair Dawber asks whether  his presence will do anything to bring peace to the Middle East
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/us-foreign-policy-is-barack-obama-likely-to-achieve-anything-in-israel-8539655.html
Alistair Dawber
Hope and Change were the famous dual mantras of Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign – and he will need both in spades this week when he visits Israel and the Occupied West Bank if he is to meet the expectations of those who think his visit will beckon in a new era of rapprochement between the two hopelessly divided sides.
 
Even before Air Force One lands at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, all three relevant parties – the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians – are playing down chances of a breakthrough. Speaking when Mr Obama’s trip was announced, his former Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, said the visit was part of “a desire to connect with the Israeli public at a time when he can go and not have high expectations about having to produce something”. In other words, don’t hold your breath.
 
The Israeli public does not appear to have any more faith. In a poll conducted for the Ma’ariv newspaper last week, examining the attitude of Israel towards the US President, just 10 per cent said it was favourable. Asked about Mr Obama’s perceived attitude towards Israel, 38 per cent said it was outright hostile.
 
There is no more optimism among Palestinians. In total, Mr Obama is expected to spend fewer than five hours in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, is expected to use his time with Mr Obama to press for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. “The issue of the prisoners will be the No 1 issue during the talks with President Obama,” an official said. The peace process, and the ultimate formation of a Palestinian state is some way down the agenda, it seems.
 
Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US and much of the rest of the world, will not be granted a presidential audience. And that rankles – one Hamas source said last week that meeting only Mr Abbas would simply serve to “deepen the Palestinian division”.
 
But in one respect Mr Obama can hardly fail. The Israeli government, led by the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, has not held face-to-face talks with Mr Abbas for nearly three years. In that time, the two sides have drifted further apart and Jewish settlements in the West Bank – illegal under international law and one of the main reasons for the impasse – have continued to grow. Mr Obama managed to get Mr Netanyahu to freeze settlement building in 2010, but subsequent talks came to nothing and critics of the Israeli government now say that it is building and planning settlements at a faster rate than ever before. Indeed, the newly appointed Housing Minister, Uri Ariel, lives on a settlement.
 
On this issue, the Israelis and Palestinians are as far apart as ever. In response to the Palestinians winning statehood approval at the UN General Assembly in November, the Israeli government approved plans for the construction of an extra 4,500 settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Although some have doubted whether these new houses will actually be built, and suggested that the announcement had more to do with Israel’s general election in January, the Palestinians argue that continued settlement building makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state ever more remote.
 
But European diplomats in East Jerusalem have, in private, argued that 2013 presents a set of circumstances that could breathe new life into the peace process. One senior source said recently that Mr Obama’s re-election, and his appointment of John Kerry as Secretary of State – with his perceived greater interest in the region than his predecessor, Hillary Clinton – had to the potential to reignite the issue for the Americans, , especially with Mr Obama now free of future electoral constraints.
 
Iran will also loom large at the President’s meetings with Mr Netanyahu. Speaking to Israel’s Channel 2 News at the weekend, Mr Obama gave the sort of assurances that the Israelis would be looking for – that Washington will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power. “I have been crystal clear about my position on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. That is a red line for us,” Mr Obama said. “It is not only something that would be dangerous for Israel. It would be dangerous for the world.
 
“I’ve also said there is a window – not an infinite period time, but a window of time – where we can resolve this diplomatically.”
 
In the game of diplomatic chess, will Mr Obama be able to extract some sort of guarantee from Mr Netahyahu in return for watching his back over Iran? It is easy to understand why Mr Obama and his team have spent much of the past few weeks since the visit was announced trying to downplay any chances of success. Even if he does manage to get the two sides back around the negotiating table, it would still leave him a long way short of the sort of (ultimately doomed) progress that has been achieved by past presidents, and even further away from an all-encompassing peace deal. Indeed, as The Independent revealed when Mr Obama’s visit to the region was first announced in February, weekly meetings are already taking place between the senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Molcho.
 
Even if Mr Obama extracts a deal for renewed talks, that is a very long way from any real accomplishment. Any progress will ultimately be judged on the so-called “final status” issues – among them the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the future status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.
 
Speaking to ordinary Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, it is difficult to detect any optimism for the Obama visit. At the Malcha shopping centre – a favourite hangout for upwardly mobile Israelis – David Katz, a South African émigré, believed the visit represented little more than a statement. “The simple fact is that there is no agreement between the two sides. You need mutual respect and we don’t have that,” he said. “The situation is so difficult– even if you get an agreement with the PA, what about the south of Israel and Hamas? If they ever come to power in the West Bank we’ll have missiles raining down on us from there, too.”
 
Mr Katz’s assessment was typical of many Israelis, and its pessimistic tone was matched by Palestinians on Salaheddin Street, the main Arab thoroughfare in East Jerusalem. “I think it’s funny that he’s coming,” said Maram Mansour. “It is the latest in a long line of people saying they will do things, and nothing ever gets done. As long as you have one powerful party and one weak party, there cannot be a deal. What pressure is there on Israel? People in East Jerusalem and the West Bank live through this situation every day, but there is no pressure on the Israelis to change anything.”
 
With such a lack of optimism, the President will need all of his powers of persuasion and charm to make even the slightest progress. Very little hope of any real change awaits.
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9  Washington Post
Monday, March 18, 2013
Israel ready for ‘historic compromise’ with Palestinians, Netanyahu says
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/netanyahu-israel-ready-for-historic-compromise-with-palestinians/2013/03/18/d63b6ef0-8ffc-11e2-bdea-e32ad90da239_story.html
By Joel Greenberg,
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel was ready for a “historic compromise” in talks with the Palestinians as he presented a new government that is a mix of centrists and hawkish supporters of Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
 
Speaking in parliament before the 22 ministers were sworn in, Netanyahu said that, while the cabinet would work to carry out domestic reforms that were the focus of Israel’s election in January, the government’s top priority would be “protecting the security of the state and its citizens.”
 
He said Israel faced threats from Iran’s nuclear program and the upheaval in Syria, where he warned that stockpiles of “some of the deadliest weapons on earth” could fall into the hands of militants. He pledged that Israel would “take all measures necessary to prevent those weapons from falling in the hands of the terrorist organizations.”
 
Two days before a planned visit by President Obama, who is expected to explore options for renewing stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu struck a conciliatory tone.
 
“The new government in Israel extends its hand for peace with our Palestinian neighbors,” Netanyahu said. “Israel has proven time and again that it is ready for compromises in return for genuine peace.”
 
“With a Palestinian partner that is ready to conduct negotiations in good faith, Israel will be ready for a historic compromise that will end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all,” Netanyahu added.
 
Still, key positions in his new government are held by strong backers of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, an issue that has stymied efforts to restart peace negotiations. The Palestinians have refused to resume talks unless Israel suspends building in the settlements, while Netanyahu has urged a resumption of talks without preconditions.
 
Israel’s new defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, a hawkish former army chief of staff, has backed building the settlements and retroactive authorization of some settlement outposts built without government permission.
 
On Monday, an aide said Yaalon opposes a settlement building freeze and other proposed confidence-building measures, such as freeing Palestinian prisoners, and believes that negotiations should resume without inducements to the Palestinians.
 
Danny Danon, an outspoken backer of the settlements from Netanyahu’s Likud party, was appointed deputy defense minister. The ministry’s approval is required for settlement expansion projects and Danon pledged in a radio interview Monday to promote them.
 
“The era of Ehud Barak in the Defense Ministry is over,” Danon told Israel Radio, referring to the outgoing defense minister. “We are committed to strengthening settlement.”
 
The Construction and Housing Ministry was awarded to Uri Ariel, a veteran leader of the settlement movement and a lawmaker from the right-wing Jewish Home party, which has a strong following among religious settlers. The ministry plays a key role in building the settlements, and Ariel’s appointment was interpreted by some commentators as a sign that such construction would now be given a boost.
 
Avigdor Lieberman, the former foreign minister who heads the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which has formed a bloc with the Likud, served notice Monday that his faction would “emphatically oppose” any settlement freeze.
 
Lieberman resigned his post to face charges of fraud and breach of trust, and the foreign portfolio is being held by Netanyahu pending the result of the court proceedings. If Lieberman is cleared, he is expected to return to the foreign ministry.
 
It is unclear whether the centrist parties in the new Israeli coalition will press for reining in settlement building or act as a counterweight to the pro-settlement hawks in the government.
 
Yesh Atid, the second-largest faction in parliament, has focused on domestic issues, such as lowering the cost of living and ending draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, and its demand for a resumption of talks with the Palestinians is given only brief mention near the bottom of its coalition agreement with Netanyahu.
 
But the party leader, Yair Lapid, has criticized generous government funding of settlements, and Ofer Shelah, the party whip in parliament, told reporters Monday that Yesh Atid would work to revive peace efforts. “We want Israel to be active on that front,” Shelah said, adding as the second largest party, “we intend to use that power to help rejuvenate the peace process.”
 

Tzipi Livni, the new justice minister, has been appointed chief negotiator with the Palestinians, though her work is to be guided by a ministerial committee on the peace process that includes Netanyahu and Yaalon. A former foreign minister who heads the small Hatnua faction, Livni campaigned for a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, and has pledged to put peace efforts high on the agenda of the new government.

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10 Today in Palestine

Sunday, March 17, 2013

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