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Date posted: August 29, 2009
By MIFTAH

In the first time in PLO history, the Palestine National Council voted in the Executive Committee’s first woman, Hanan Ashrawi on August 27. Ashrawi, a PLC member and former minister, was voted into the PLO’s highest decision making body along with four others including ousted Fateh Central Committee member Ahmad Qurei.

“The era of done deals that exclude women is over,” said Ashrawi, who won 182 votes. The elections, which were also a first for the Executive Committee, came after a tumultuous Fateh Conference that saw a lot of bruised egos of longtime Fateh members who were voted out of the movement’s decision making bodies and hoped to win a chair in the PLO.

The PNC, which held a special session on August 26 and 27 under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas also decided that should reconciliation talks fail with Hamas, the Palestinians would still go to elections on the scheduled date. Conciliation talks have not moved forward unfortunately. On August 22, the dialogue in Cairo was officially postponed until after the PNC session was over. So far, a new date has not been set.

On August 25, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled his program for establishing a Palestinian state by 2011 and ending the Israeli occupation. According to the plan, the Palestinians will declare their state in two years regardless of the outcome of negotiations with Israel. “It is possible and necessary to establish a state in two years,” Fayyad said during his press conference in Ramallah. Part of his plan, which is based on Palestinian institution-building regardless of the occupation, includes building a railroad through the Palestinian territories and an airport in the Jordan Valley.

The plan, which may not have been welcomed by Hamas, was met warmly by the European Union. On August 26, European Commission representative Christian Berger said the EU supported Fayyad’s plan.

"The European Commission welcomes Prime Minister Fayyad's government program and we are looking forward to further discussions with our Palestinian partners on how we can best support it," he said in a statement.

Another two-year marker is that of US President Barack Obama, who insists that this goal is realistic despite the impasses he has met with Israel on settlement construction. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman scoffed at the plan on August 23, saying it was unrealistic. “In the 16 years since the Oslo Accords, we haven't managed to bring peace to the region, and I'm willing to bet that there won't be peace in another 16 years, either. Certainly not on the basis of the two-state solution," he said.

Two states is already a far-fetched plan what with Israel’s continued settlement construction. While Jerusalem, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is off limits, reports have been circulating of a US-Israel agreement on a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank. Nothing yet has been confirmed but reports are talking about an Israeli freeze of up to 12 months in settlements excluding east Jerusalem and the 2,400 homes already under construction.

It is going to be difficult, given Netanyahu’s intransigence. On August 25, Netanyahu said he would refuse to freeze settlement construction in east Jerusalem. “Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3000 years,” he said, not believing there is any reason to stop now. He also said he would only agree to a Palestinian state if it were demilitarized, if the right of return was off the table and there was an end to claims.

Also, there have been reports about the United States agreeing to exclude east Jerusalem from their demand on an Israeli settlement freeze. However, on August 28, US officials denied any such report, saying Washington has not made any final agreement and that its position has remained unchanged. One State Department spokesman did say however, that “The Obama administration will be flexible on pre-conditions for all parties involved in Middle East peace negotiations.”

Palestinians and Arabs are having nothing of it. On August 28, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit insisted that Jerusalem must be included in any Israeli settlement freeze before peace talks could resume, reiterating the Palestinian and Arab stance that Jerusalem was an “Arab capital.”

Jewish settlers are obviously trying their best to foil any attempts at stunting their growth. On August 23, the Jewish settlement group, Elad announced its intentions to erect a new settlement in Ras Al Amoud, which they would name Maaleh David. The plan includes the construction of 104 new housing units for Israeli Jews in the heart of this east Jerusalem neighborhood.

Israel was also scrutinized by The Elders, a group of foreign dignitaries aimed at bringing peace to the region which was established by former South African President Nelson Mandela. The delegation, whose mission ended on August 26 includes former US President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former Irish President Mary Robinson. During a visit to the separation wall and protests in Bilin, Carter said all Israeli settlements should be dismantled. “Settlements built on Palestinian land must be removed so that justice will prevail and so that peace will prevail in the region,” he said.

Desmund Tutu had a word or two to say to the Israelis as well. On August 27, Tutu told the Israeli daily Haaretz, “The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns".

"In South Africa, they tried to get security from the barrel of a gun. They never got it. They got security when the human rights of all were recognized and respected.” He also said that the Palestinians were wrongfully paying the price of the Holocaust.

In an interview with the Palestinian news agency Maan on August 26, Archbishop Tutu said Israel and other parties would have to sooner or later talk to Hamas.

"You don't make peace with friends," he said. "You negotiate with those who are regarded as pariahs.”

In Bilin on August 28 as the elders visited, Israeli army soldiers attacked protesters injuring six including nine-year old Usama Breijiyeh.

Also on August 28, three Palestinian men, all from the Lahham family, were killed and another injured when a tunnel collapsed in the southern Gaza Strip. Furthermore, 25-year old fisherman Mohammed Attar was killed the same day in an Israeli navy shelling off of Gaza’s shore.

On August 25, two others, Mansur and Nael Batneeji were also killed in an Israeli raid on the tunnels in Rafah. Ten others were injured.

Then on August 24, 20-year old Ata Hasumi was killed by Israeli forces in Gaza in Beit Lahyia.

Finally, on August 23, notices went up in girls’ schools across Gaza telling students that they must wear the jilbab and hijab (full Islamic dress) if they were to remain in school. Furthermore, the Hamas run education ministry announced that it was “feminizing” the schools by banning all male teachers from teaching in girls’ schools. Director of education in the education ministry Mahmoud Abu Haseera denied that the de facto government had issued orders forcing the girls into the jilbab but did say the “feminization” of schools was in line with Islamic society.

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