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Date posted: November 27, 2010
By MIFTAH

Direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis are still on hold as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to reject the notion of extending a settlement freeze despite a handsome US military "incentives package" put forth last week. The proposal has reportedly been officially offered to the Israelis, who are still mulling over it. The premier did seem positive however, about the idea of receiving 20 stealth F-35 planes in exchange for a mere 90 days of West Bank settlement freeze, maintaining that he was "sure the ministers would approve it since it is what is good for the State of Israel."

Tensions between the two sides were further heightened on November 23 when the Knesset ratified the so-called "Referendum on Withdrawal" Law, which stipulates that any political decision to withdraw from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights must either receive a two-thirds Knesset majority vote or would be put to a national referendum so as to "prevent ratifying an irresponsible agreement."

Palestinians gawked at the move, saying it was a way to obstruct peace. "The Israelis want to tell the whole world that they will not withdraw from Jerusalem or the Golan," President Mahmoud Abbas said.

Amid the uproar, the US played its expected card, with the State Department releasing press statement on November 24 saying that a referendum was an "internal Israeli matter".

In any case, such a move is a long way off since even a freeze of illegal settlements in the West Bank has not yet been established. On the contrary, Jewish settlers have taken additional steps this week to consolidate their presence in the occupied Palestinian territories including the announcement on November 26 of a possible rail link between Ariel, one of the largest northern West Bank settlements, and the Tel Aviv area. While the project is still supposedly "under consideration", the Hebrew daily Maariv claims NIS3 million had already been allocated for a feasibility study. Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that Ariel would be annexed to Israel should a peace deal be signed. The rail link would only further solidify a Jewish presence on occupied land given the additional land confiscation and resources it would require.

On November 24, Jewish settlers seized yet another building in occupied east Jerusalem, this time in the neighborhood of Jabal Al Mukabber, evicting three families from their homes under the protection of Israeli army and police forces.

In the West Bank, demolitions were carried out in the southern West Bank town of Yatta. The 250 square meter home was razed to the ground on November 25, leaving 25 family members without shelter. Israeli civil administration authorities said the apartment building had been constructed without the proper licensing. Local officials say more than 30 other homes in the area have been handed out demolition orders, all of which are located near the Karmeil settlement, slated for expansion.

On the same day, Israeli forces demolished 10 homes in the Tubas area in the northern West Bank district of Tubas in addition to a mosque in the village of Yasra.

On November 21, the Israeli daily Haaretz ran a story on Jewish settlers turning natural springs in the West Bank into tourist sites and barring Palestinians from reaching them. According to the article, Hebrew signs have been posted near many of the springs, some reading, "Death to the Arabs". Many of these springs, like the Ein Arik spring, which has also been taken over by Jewish settlers, are a fundamental source of ground water for Palestinian crops.

A controversy on the political level arose this week when a Palestinian Authority official released a five-page report on November 24 claiming that Jerusalem's Old City Western Wall was not a Jewish site and was only sacred to the Muslims, or what they call Al Buraq Wall. Thus, the area must be part of Palestinian Jerusalem, it said.

Israeli officials have been up in arms over the report, with Prime Minister Netanyahu calling it a "distortion of historical facts."

The now infamous report was penned by Deputy Minister of Information Mutwakil Taha in light of Israel's November 21 approval of an NIS 85 million ($23 million) five-year renovation plan for the Western Wall area, a move to which the Palestinian Authority is strongly opposed. "Any Israeli activity in the occupied part of Jerusalem is illegal," PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said. "It's not healthy as far as the peace process is concerned because peace requires the end of the occupation of east Jerusalem," he added.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton expressed her discontent with the status quo in the Gaza Strip on November 22, complaining that Israel had failed to live up to its commitments on easing the blockade on the Strip. Ashton said Israel had promised to ease its grip on Gaza in June, soon after the international uproar over the Turkish flotilla fiasco that left nine Turks dead. Five months later, she said, nothing has changed. "Gaza remains a source of great concern for me ... at the present time, we think that what's happened with Gaza is unsatisfactory, the volume of goods is not increasing as significantly as it needs to," she said, speaking on behalf of all EU foreign ministers.

Finally, President Mahmoud Abbas officially opened the PLO headquarters in Ramallah on November 23. During the inauguration ceremony, the president vowed that the headquarters in Ramallah would be temporary. "The time will come when we will move them to Jerusalem, the capital of an independent Palestinian state."

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