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Date posted: August 01, 2009
By MIFTAH

Fateh is preparing for its Sixth Conference in Bethlehem scheduled to take place on August 4 amid internal controversies and international diplomatic efforts. While Israel has allowed a number of Fateh leaders outside to enter Palestine to attend the conference, including top Fateh man Abu Maher Ghneim, in Gaza, the Hamas government has still to comply.

For weeks now, Hamas has said it would not allow Fateh members to leave the Strip unless the Fateh-run PA releases its political prisoners. Since no agreement has been met on this issue, no Fateh members have been given permission to leave. This has raised the ire, not only of Fateh officials, but also the Egyptians. On July 28, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson Hussam Zaki condemned Hamas' decision as "regrettable" and "unacceptable." He also said that Egypt was willing to mediate in order to solve the problem.

Apparently, there are troubles from within the movement as well. On July 31, Fateh secretary generals in a number of Gaza Strip regions announced they would boycott the Congress, citing "the illegal addition of members to the conference." The unnamed officials also called on those Fateh cadres already in Ramallah to return home to Gaza immediately, according to the Palestinian news website, Maan.

Media reports have also been leaked about Fateh members in Gaza who exited the Strip without the deposed government's knowledge, in order to attend the conference. One Fateh member, Ghaliyeh Abu Sitta apparently smuggled herself out of the Hamas-controlled area by riding incognito on a donkey-drawn cart, wearing traditional Islamic garb. Hamas has threatened all those who snuck out without its permission with legal ramifications.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas will not be ruling Gaza for long. On July 28, during a speech at a security academy graduation ceremony, Netanyahu reassured his people that, one day, the Palestinians would topple Hamas' rule in Gaza.

"If the Palestinians could, they would overthrow Hamas, and believe me, one day they will," he said.

Meanwhile, hands-on American efforts in the region are underway with the return of special US envoy George Mitchell. On July 28, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mitchell met and said the two countries were closer to an understanding on settlement construction in the West Bank. Neither, however, said just how close they were to an agreement.

Mitchell also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, reiterating the point that no agreement had yet been reached between his administration and Israel over freezing construction in the settlements. President Abbas also said during a press conference later that day that there is no middle ground where settlements are concerned.

However, Mitchell in his capacity as President Barak Obama's emissary is pushing for talks between the two sides to reach a final agreement. According to media sources, Mitchell has proposed Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for a period of 18 months in order to reach a political settlement, which would include final borders for a Palestinian state. Settlements within these borders would be dismantled.

Mitchell has been working on the Arab level as well, pushing for normalization steps towards Israel from Arab states. While the US envoy has been trying to score an agreement from the Arabs to at least offer partial normalization with Israel, Saudia Arabia is standing firm against it. On July 29, a Saudi official said Riyadh would not recognize Israel until it withdraws from occupied Arab territories and until Israel accepts the two-state principle.

Netanyahu, who is still resistant to the idea of a full-fledged Palestinian state or a total freeze on settlement construction, did announce on July 29 that he had frozen a project to build 900 apartments in the east Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Zeev.

On July 28, he also held a meeting at the Allenby Bridge between Jericho and Jordan aimed at improving economic conditions for the Palestinians, which he said was "not a replacement for the peace process." His Palestinian counterpart, Salam Fayyad says this constitutes a change of heart for the right-wing Israeli leader who he says no longer considers an economic peace a substitute for an independent Palestinian state.

That day also came with the announcement the bridge the only international exit point for West Bank Palestinians would be opened until 12 midnight as of August 4 for a two month trial period.

On the ground, though, troubles continue to flair. On July 26, Jewish settlers seized the home of Darwish Hijazi in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, claiming ownership.

Furthermore, the Israeli Internal Security Ministry issued a ban on the same day against Jerusalem affairs official Hatem Abdul Qader from approaching the Sheikh Jarrah area for 15 days, saying he participated in a confrontation with Israeli police and the settlers when the home was being overtaken.

The day before, on July 25, Israeli settlers from Kiryat Arba' claimed ownership of six homes belonging to the Salah family in Bet Safafa, who were ordered to evacuate. The settlers say the bought the homes, which the family has denied.

On July 31, Israeli authorities handed "stop work" or demoltion orders to nine Palestinian families from Yatma south of Nablus currently building homes in the area. According to the military order, residents were given 30 days to evacuate the areas where the homes are being built.

Palestinians living inside Israel were also outraged this week when on July 27, Israeli education minister Gideon Saar announced that the ministry was distributing "national anthem kits" to 8,000 schools including those in the separate Arab education system, which will now be required to study the Israeli national anthem, Ha-Tikva. The move follows the a recent Israeli decision to ban the word Nakba in reference to the 1948 war and subsequent Palestinian refugee plight from school books in the country.

In the Gaza Strip, seven men died and tens were injured on July 27 when an underground tunnel in Rafah collapsed over them. Two days later, another young Palestinian died and five others were missing when another tunnel collapsed, bringing the total number of "tunnel deaths" to 110.

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