Middle East Monitor
‘Haaretz newspaper has reported that the European Union has given into US pressure and postponed a decision to label settlement products, in order to distinguish them from other Israeli products, which would have facilitated consumer choice and the boycott of illegal products.
The newspaper quoted Israeli and European officials as saying that the decision, which had been due to be approved at a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council this week, had been postponed until late June.’
by Barak Ravid
‘During the marathon budget talks this week, the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry made a creative suggestion for covering Israel’s deficit: a new toll for Palestinian merchandise at Israeli border crossings. The proposal was scrapped only after intervention by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror.
A high-ranking Israeli official said that during the budget talks earlier this week, the two ministries proposed amending a law stipulating that the interim agreement between Israel and the PLO regarding the territories be implemented. The suggested amendment would give the defense minister the power to “determine amounts of tolls and operational expenses” that could be collected on merchandise passing through inspection points and border crossings between Israel and the West Bank.
During the cabinet meeting, Defense Ministry and Finance Ministry representatives said that Israel could collect between NIS 100 million and NIS 300 million per year by charging the Palestinian Authority new fees for incoming and outgoing merchandise.
The proposal, one of dozens submitted for approval by the ministers during the budget talks, was met with more than a little opposition. Foreign Ministry officials said such a move would constitute unilateral action that would violate the Paris Protocol of 1994, an annex of the Oslo Accords that Israel signed and that regulates the economic relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.’
by AVI ISSACHAROFF
Times of Israel
‘Israel and the Palestinian Authority tried to conduct backchannel negotiations, or at least initiate them, in late 2010 and early 2011 in a series of secret meetings between the prime minister’s envoy, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, and the head of PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo. Abed Rabbo revealed these contacts in an interview with this correspondent here last week.
According to Abed Rabbo, during the conversations, which culminated in a meeting between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Molcho’s house in central Israel, Netanyahu seemed ready to renew negotiations within the framework of two states based on the June 4, 1967, lines. But the prime minister subsequently backed away from the contacts and the channel was discontinued.
Abed Rabbo said he and Netanyahu met for two-and-a-half hours in mid-February 2011, and mentioned — but did not negotiate over — various final status issues, including borders, Jerusalem and refugees. There had been no further contact since that meeting, Abed Rabbo said.’
by Chaim Levinson
‘Theoretically, the Civil Administration – the Israel Defense Forces body responsible for infrastructure law enforcement in the West Bank – should have jumped into action now that seven permanent dwellings are under construction in the settler outpost of Mitzpeh Danny (10 kilometers east of Ramallah). The outpost, established 15 years ago, is entering its final development stages after a lengthy period in which the settlers lived in trailers, flimsy structures and all kinds of patchwork arrangements.
According to its mandate and the order of priorities it has set for itself, the Civil Administration is supposed to demolish these new structures. Uninhabited new structures are second in the Civil Administration’s list of tasks (first comes the implementation of court orders), based on the approach that the demolition of inhabited homes generates a human tragedy and a political brouhaha.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the new homes to be razed. They are being built by Amana, a cooperative society headed by the legendary Ze’ev (‘Zambish’) Hever, 59, one of the leaders of the settlement enterprise in the territories and a member of the Jewish Underground, a militant terrorist organization that operated in the West Bank in the 1980s. The homes in Mitzpeh Danny are being built according to one of Amana’s three basic models: When you’re building the Land of Israel, you don’t get caught up in architectural niceties.
There are two types of settler outposts in the territories: those which exist under Hever’s auspices – and under what appears to be full protection from the law – and those set up by so-called “hilltop youth.” Civil Administration inspectors drop in for visits at Hever’s outposts to deliver demolition orders, which doesn’t bother the settlers much. Construction continues unabated and stops only by order of the Supreme Court, if they are ever issued.
That’s how the system works, thanks to Hever’s close and extensive ties with state authorities. For example, even though he devotes himself to illegal construction, he has already met twice with the newly appointed justice minister, Tzipi Livni. In contrast, outposts not under Hever’s protection are constantly subjected to demolition and repeated visits by the police.
Mitzpeh Danny is not alone, of course. Amana currently maintains hundreds oftrailers and dozens of construction sites without permits. In the past, the organization built thousands of homes without authorization. Some have since been legalized, no one cares about others. The State Prosecutor’s Office is well aware of all this. A brief visit to Amana’s website reveals the scope of the illegal construction. Amana often takes on illegal projects, ones no other contractor would consider.
An investigation by Haaretz exposes the role played by Hever in illegal construction on a vast scale, and raises questions about his consistent ability to evade punishment.’
‘Israel has given the green light for the construction of a further 300 homes in a West Bank settlement.The number of eviction incidents has risen sharply since a new Israeli government, with even stronger opposition to a 2-state solution, took office in March. And the Israeli defense force are ready to use almost anything to back their governments orders, including special anti-riot measure called ‘Skunk’.’
by Ali Abunimah
[...] When it comes to Israel’s abuses, governments around the world have offered nothing but lip service; while dozens of countries face US, EU or UN sanctions for far lesser transgressions, it has taken years for EU governments to even discuss timid steps such as labelling goods from illegal Israeli settlements, let alone actually banning them. Yet the peace process train trundles on – now with a new conductor in the form of John Kerry, the US secretary of state – but with no greater prospects of ever reaching its destination. So, enough talk already.
The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) aims to change this dynamic. It puts the initiative back in the hands of Palestinians. The goal is to build pressure on Israel to respect the rights of all Palestinians by ending its occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees who are currently excluded from returning to their homes just because they are not Jews; and abolishing all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
These demands are in line with universal human rights principles and would be unremarkable and uncontroversial in any other context, which is precisely why support for them is growing.’
‘A militant Palestinian group in Damascus said it is forming combat units to try to recapture Israeli-occupied territory, in particular the Golan Heights, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah that they would support such operations.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) said it was preparing for new operations after nearly 40 years of quiet on the Israel-Syria border.
The group, designated terrorists by the United States and others in the West, was most active in the 1970s and 80s but retains influence with Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon.’
‘[...] The latest billionaires’ list compiled by Forbes magazine names Gates and his pal Warren Buffett as the world’s second and fourth richest men. Between them, the pair have a “net worth” of $120.5 billion.
Fawning news features tell us we should admire the duo because of their philanthropy. Yet a newly-concluded business deal demonstrates where the sympathies of the 1% really lie.
Buffett has just spent a cool $2 billion to take full control of the Israeli company Iscar Metalworking (he had already bought most of the firm in 2006). Eitan Wertheimer, Iscar’s president, described the transaction as a “message of faith” in the Israeli economy and “a type of Balfour declaration.”’
‘Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.
Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”‘
‘A Pakistani court on Thursday declared that US drone strikes in the country’s lawless tribal belt were illegal and directed the Foreign Ministry to move a resolution against the attacks in the United Nations.
The Peshawar High Court issued the verdict against the strikes by CIA-operated spy planes in response to four petitions that contended the attacks killed civilians and caused collateral damage.
Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who headed a two-judge bench that heard the petitions, ruled the drone strikes were illegal, inhuman and a violation of the UN charter on human rights. The court observed that the strikes must be declared a war crime as they kill innocent people.’
‘Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has restricted new settlement construction projects, a settlement watchdog said yesterday, in an apparent gesture to help the United States restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Yariv Oppenheimer, who heads Israeli-settlement watchdog Peace Now said there had been a fall in permissions for new settler homes that began with a tour of Israel and the West Bank by the US president, Barack Obama, in March. During that visit, Mr Obama called settlement growth “counterproductive to the cause of peace”.’
‘Google has recognised the Palestinians’ upgraded UN status, placing the name “Palestine” on its search engine instead of “Palestinian Territories”.
The domain name http://www.google.ps, Google’s search engine for the territories, now brings up a homepage with “Palestine” written underneath the Google logo.
The change took effect on Wednesday, Google spokesman Nathan Tyler said in a statement.
“We’re changing the name ‘Palestinian Territories’ to ‘Palestine’ across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries. In this case, we are following the lead of the UN … and other international organisations,” he said.’
by Gill Plimmer
‘G4S, the world’s biggest security company by revenues, has confirmed it is planning to quit key contracts in Israel amid protests against its involvement in settlements within occupied Palestinian territories.
The company employs 6,000 people in Israel, where it provides and maintains screening equipment for several West Bank military checkpoints. It also manages security systems at the controversial Ofer Prison in the Occupied West Bank.
But with sporadic international protests continuing both outside the FTSE 100’s headquarters in London and internationally, the company said it would exit the contracts covering Ofer, the checkpoints and the West Bank police headquarters when they terminate in 2015.’
Spies “monitoring” Palestine solidarity groups around world, says Israeli military correspondent ~ Electronic Intifada
by Asa Winstanley
There was a striking admission buried in this weekend’s edition of Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“Israeli intelligence began to concentrate on monitoring the social networks of Islamic organizations and foreign left-wing activists,” according to the paper’s military correspondent Amos Harel (emphasis added).
This is the closest Israel has come to admitting that it spies on Palestinian solidarity activists around the world.
The museum represents a step in the Palestinian quest for statehood by creating a repository for 200 years of history, alongside galleries and space for debates about the Palestinian cause, said director Jack Persekian.
“I am hoping that this museum would be able to give the opportunity for many Palestinians to tell their stories. We are looking at a museum that doesn’t have one particular narrative line that it wants to consecrate through its exhibits,” he said.
The privately funded museum, which has government support, is the biggest such project the Palestinians have undertaken in terms of scale, space and budgets.
Palestinian Territories — Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad formally presented his resignation to president Mahmud Abbas on Saturday, a Palestinian official said.
“Fayyad met Abbas for half an hour in the president’s headquarters in Ramallah in the West Bank and officially handed him his written resignation,” the official told AFP.
The imprisonment by Israel of a 14-year old boy with joint US-Palestinian citizenship has provoked widespread criticism amongst human rights groups. The boy went before a military court on Thursday accused of throwing stones at Israeli cars.
Mohammed Khalek, who was born in New Orleans, was officially charged Thursday, along with two other youths, of pelting Israeli military and settler vehicles with stones outside the village of Silwad in the occupied West Bank.
The boy was arrested in the early hours of April 5th when heavily armed Israeli forces entered the family home. During the course of the arrest the braces on his teeth were broken.
The case was adjourned until next week, and his father, Abdulwahab Khalek, has accused the US of not doing enough to help his son.
by Jack Khoury
A new poll from the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center shows that support for armed resistance to the Israeli occupation and rocket attacks have plummeted among Palestinian civilians, with support for popular protests rising.
[...] The numbers suggest that in the wake of the brief November Gaza war the public is rethinking its stance on the peace process, and support for rocket attacks is now down to levels not seen since before the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza.
by Jack Khoury
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a nongovernmental healthcare organization, has accused the Prison Service of violating medical ethics and human rights norms in its treatment of prisoners and called for the transfer of responsibility for prisoner medical care to a professional body.
The organization, which opposes the occupation, made the statements in a detailed report published Thursday morning ahead of Palestinian Prisoners Day, to be observed April 17. The report, authored by Amani Dayef and Hadas Ziv, says an external entity would optimize the quality, availability and accessibility of medical care to prisoners in Israel.
by Jason Ditz
Israeli officials are sending some mixed messages after Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit…
Publicly some officials are saying no gestures of goodwill can ever be allowed because the Palestinians are “peace refusniks” and cannot be trusted even on the surface, and that the cabinet is “unanimous” about not making any such moves.
At the same time, some sources in Jerusalem say that a partial settlement freeze, covering only those outside of the major settlement blocs, may be imposed on a basically secret basis, hoping the move can convince the Palestinians to return to the talks.
Such a partial freeze has been spurned before, since the vast majority of the settlement expansions are taking place inside the major blocs in the first place, and the temporary freeze would have little practical impact on the policy.
In violation of ceasefire agreement, Israel tightens fishing restrictions on Gaza ~ Palestine Chronicle
by John Space
According to numerous media reports, Israel has cut the fishing zone in Gaza in half, from six nautical miles to three, causing extreme hardship for fishermen trying to make a living in the harsh conditions imposed by the occupation.
The Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemned Israel’s tightening of the fishing restrictions in a report released March 24.
“According to Al Mezan’s field investigations, at approximately 12:30 am on Friday, 21 March 2013, the Israeli Navy opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats, which were around the six nautical mile mark off of the Gaza City coast,” the report stated. “In his affidavit to Al Mezan, one of the fishermen heard an Israeli soldier via amplifier saying in Arabic, ‘this is a decision from the State of Israel: you have to withdraw your boats to three nautical miles. Any boat that goes beyond three nautical miles will be sunk.’”
According to the report, Al Mezan has documented 44 attacks against fishermen in Gaza resulting in four injuries since the ceasefire agreement that ended the Israeli assault on Gaza known as Operation Pillar of Cloud. Additionally, occupation forces have arrested 44 fishermen, damaged fishing equipment in five separate attacks on fishermen and confiscated nine boats.
Israeli troops shot and wounded a physically disabled Palestinian man during an arrest operation in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday, a prisoners’ rights group said.
Motazz Obaidu, 32, was “seriously wounded by Israeli army gunfire during an arrest operation” at dawn, the Ramallah-based Prisoners Club said, describing him as “physically disabled” although it did not say how.
Local residents said the arrest took place at Obaidu’s shop.
The Israeli army confirmed that a man had been shot after he turned violent during an arrest operation, but did not comment on whether or not he was disabled.
Abby Martin talks to independent journalist, Harry Fear, about Israel’s multiple violations of the latest ceasefire agreement with Gaza, and how instability in the region could trigger a third intifada.
by Barak Ravid
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel on Tuesday with at least one achievement: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement to advance Palestinian economic projects in the West Bank’s Area C, where Israel has complete security and civilian control.
The Palestinian Authority has long sought to advance agricultural, industrial, tourism and infrastructure projects in the area, but have been stymied by Israeli authorities. Kerry said he agreed with the two sides to keep the details secret at this point, and that additional information regarding the move will be released next week.
“We agreed among us … that we are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts, to promote economic development … and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers that exist with respect to commerce in the West Bank,” he said.
“Economic growth will help us to be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere in which people have greater confidence about moving forward,” Kerry said.
“But I want to emphasize, and I emphasize this very strongly, this is not in lieu of or an alternative to the political track. It is not a substitute. The political track remains the primary focus.”
He emphasized that the renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians must deal with borders and security, recognizing that both sides have needs that should be met.
A large explosion along the southern Gaza border on Tuesday destroyed an Israeli army vehicle that crossed into the strip and began bulldozing farmland, witnesses and Israel’s army said.
“For the first since since Operation Pillar of Defense, an IDF (army) vehicle was damaged by an explosion of a concealed device laid by terrorists” in the Gaza Strip, an army statement said, referring to Israel’s eight-day assault on the enclave that killed over 170 people in November.
The statement did not say whether anyone was injured in the explosion
Palestinian news agency Ma’an earlier reported that nine bulldozers crossed about 200 meters into Gaza east of Khan Younis and began digging up the farmland.
AFP quoted a local resident who said he heard a large explosion that “came from a planted explosive” device and saw one of the bulldozers catch fire.
The United Nations says it has reopened food distribution centers in Gaza that closed last week following a violent protest at a UN compound.
UN spokesman Chris Gunness says the agency’s decision was based on “assurances received from different local parties” on the safety of its property and staff. Gunness says the distribution centers reopened on Tuesday. He says the UN may close its facilities in the future if its employees are threatened again.
Dozens of people stormed the UN headquarters on Thursday to protest the suspension of cash assistance to thousands of Palestinian families.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, assists Palestinian refugees and their descendants throughout the region. The agency says it provides food to 25,000 people a day in Gaza.
by Jason Ditz
After 11 years of not accomplishing anything on the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and arguably taking many steps backwards, the US is dusting off the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API) as a basis for future talks.
In essence, the API followed the UN Security Council’s 1967 resolution calling the Israeli conquest of the occupied territories unacceptable, and offered region-wide recognition and peace treaties in return for a Palestinian state along those borders.
The decision to bring it back is interesting, as the US was mostly ambivalent on the matter in 2002, with the Bush Administration spending the year talking up Iraq’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” and Israel rejecting the API out of hand, seemingly ending the proposal.
A lack of better ideas seems to have revived it, but the most interesting aspect is that Israel’s government is suddenly claiming it has always “publicly praised” the API and looks forward to the talks.
The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the API in 2002 then again in 2007, saying that the Gaza pullout proved that any plan that involved giving Palestinians territory for peace was unworkable. Incoming Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been particularly critical of the API, calling it a plan to “destroy Israel.”
Palestinian officials have long endorsed the API, and polls have long showed it enjoys broad support among the Palestinian public. Polls have also shown Israelis opposed to the deal, however, and since consecutive Israeli governments have rejected ending the occupation of East Jerusalem under any circumstances it seems like a non-starter.
A lesser difficulty may be the Arab Spring, with Arab League nations that were supposed to agree to a peace deal with Israel in return for the API greatly changed in the last 11 years. Syria, in particular, appears to be an obstacle, though the API would return the Golan Heights to them, since they are in the middle of a civil war and there is no real front-runner among the rebels to see if they are on board.