Take news from the Middle East in the last 24 hours. Despairing, infuriating and tragic.
The Palestinians pulled out of a new round of indirect peace talks last night, even before they had begun, as a protest at Israel’s decision to announce approval for hundreds of new homes in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.
The decision to pull out, announced in Cairo by Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, represents a major setback to months of diplomacy by the US administration and comes after the US vice-president, Joe Biden, delivered an unusually strong rebuke to Israel.
Some 50,000 new housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line are in various stages of planning and approval, planning officials told Haaretz. They said Jerusalem’s construction plans for the next few years, even decades, are expected to focus on East Jerusalem.
Most of the housing units will be built in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line, while a smaller number of them will be built in Arab neighborhoods. The plans for some 20,000 of the apartments are already in advanced stages of approval and implementation, while plans for the remainder have yet to be submitted to the planning committees.
The planned construction includes the 1,600 homes in the ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo that were approved Tuesday. Saying the decision undermines peace talks, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has publicly condemned the move, which the Interior Ministry announced during his visit to Israel.
The U.S.-Israel bond is unbreakable, but the United States will keep both sides accountable for their actions, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said.
Biden’s address Thursday at Tel Aviv University, meant to have been an expression of friendship, was altered in part by Israel’s announcement this week that it planned to build 1,600 new housing units in disputed eastern Jerusalem.
Biden started by reaffirming the “unbreakable bond” between Israel and the United States, as he had done after his arrival earlier this week. The bond was “impervious to any shifts in either country and in either country’s partisan politics,” Biden said to applause.
He said it was critical for the international community to understand the bond: “Every time progress is made, it’s been made when the rest of the world knows there’s no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security, none — no space.”
Biden was blunt, however, when it came to his anger at being blindsided by the announcement of the housing starts, when he was in the West Bank meeting Palestinian leaders. “That decision undermined the trust required for negotiations,” Biden said, and under instructions from President Obama, “I condemned it immediately and unequivocally.” He added, to applause: “Sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.”
Biden accepted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s explanation that he too was caught unawares by the announcement and praised Netanyahu for offering to set up a mechanism to prevent future such surprises.
Biden said such actions will have consequences. “The United States will continue to hold both sides accountable for any statements or any actions that inflame tensions and influence these talks,” he said.
Israeli police are improperly arresting Palestinian boys in nighttime raids in Jerusalem that involve assault rifle wielding security forces handcuffing minors and interrogating them without lawyers or parents, an Israeli rights group charged Tuesday.
Most of the youths were accused of hurling rocks at Jewish settlers and damaging their property in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where tensions are high between settlers and Palestinian residents. Some of them have since been charged. Police say the arrests were legal, and a matter of law and order.
“They are using military-style night raids to extract children as young as 12,” said Sarit Michaeli of rights group B’tselem, which says the raids are an inappropriate method to detain children. They also argue the raids defy Israeli law, which demands children be accompanied by guardians while being arrested.
In affidavits to B’tselem, six boys aged between 12 and 14 years old described arrest raids involving around a dozen heavily armed military police surrounding their homes, handcuffing them and leading them to cells where they were slapped, kicked and told by interrogators to confess if they wanted to go home.
Some 40 boys have been taken into custody over the past year, and around half were 14 or younger, B’tselem said.
One of the boys, Ahmad Saim, 12, was arrested at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 10.
“I was made to kneel and face the wall and every time I moved a man … slapped me across the neck,” said Saim in an affidavit. Saim said an interrogator pushed him into the wall, causing a nose bleed.