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Biannual Newsletter - Sixth Edition
Sixth Edition
The Constitution
Introductory Bulletin
The Constitution - Introductory Bulletin
UN Resolution 1325
UN Resolution 1325
Date posted: December 11, 2010

In her first speech since the US officially announced it would no longer pursue a settlement freeze from Israel, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on December 10 that Washington wanted a "clean start" in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Settlements, she said, should be dealt with as part of efforts to determine the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Clinton was speaking at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington DC, following days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials. What was viewed as a cop-out by Palestinians was said to be a new way to approach the problem by the Americans. The day the decision was made public on December 7, State Department Spokesperson PJ Crowley justified the decision as "a recognition of reality."

"I would describe this as a change in tactics, not a change in strategy," he maintained. Rather, the administration says it thinks the talks should focus more on final status issues. "It is time to grapple with the core issues of this conflict: on borders and security, settlements, water and refugees, and on Jerusalem itself," Clinton said in her address on December 10, insisting that the US still believes a settlement could be reached by the original deadline of August next year.

However, even though Clinton reassured the Palestinians that her administration maintains its position on rejecting the settlements and believes a Palestinian state was "inevitable" through negotiations, the Palestinians are not convinced the sudden retreat from demanding a settlement halt is the right move. "The Israeli government had a choice between settlements and peace and they chose settlements," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on December 10, adding that at this point, the Palestinians feel it was too "premature" to speak about a course of action.

The leadership has also stuck to its demand of halting settlements on all land occupied in 1967 including east Jerusalem before returning to direct talks.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is scheduled to return to the region on December 13 to speak to the leaders of both sides and ostensibly set in motion a mechanism for returning to indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis.

The current impasse in the situation has made not only the Palestinians unhappy but a considerable number of European officials as well. On December 9, 26 former EU leaders including Javier Solana, former German President Richard von Weizsacker, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales, former president of the EU Commission and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and former Irish President Mary Robinson sent a letter to EU Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, urging her to threaten Israel with sanctions should it refuse to freeze settlements. The EU, having received the letter but suffering from internal divisions on the matter is expected to come out with a less harsh stance of calling for "urgent progress." However, the letter holds great significance in that it strongly criticizes Israel's policies in the occupied territories and calls for clear action against them.

The European move came days after South American countries Brazil and Argentina took the bold step of recognizing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. Brazil, which sent a letter to President Mahmoud Abbas to this effect on December 3, was followed by Argentina on December 6. Uruguay has verbally recognized Palestine as well.

Of course neither Israel nor the United States warmed to the move. Among other comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor lashed out on December 7 against the recognitions. "This is highly damaging interference he said. It will not help at all to change the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel also called the move "disappointing."

For its part, US Undersecretary of State William Burns said the two countries' recognition was "premature."

This remark apparently raised the ire of Argentina. Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who criticized Burns' remarks saying, "I think it's unpropitious that once again the United States has publicly expressed an opinion about sovereign actions taken by the Argentine Republic," Timerman told Reuters.

Meanwhile, on the ground, two Palestinian teenagers were killed on December 10 when unexploded ordinance left by the Israeli army detonated in the Shujayyiah areas. Moumin Helles and Victor Batniji, both 16, were both dead upon arrival at hospital.

In two separate incidents, another 16-year old boy was shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers on his farm near Khan Younis and two other men in their 20s were brought into the Kamal Udwan hospital in Beit Lahiyeh after being shot in the legs. Apparently, the two were too close to the buffer zone near the Israeli border while collecting firewood.

On December 7, the Israeli Hebrew daily Haaretz reported that the Israeli army had returned to using a prohibited form of tear gas canisters for dispersing West Bank demonstrations. The canisters have been responsible for numerous injuries and at least one death, that of Bassem Abu Rahmeh from Bilin in 2009.

In Jerusalem on December 8, Israeli authorities deported Hamas lawmaker Mohammed Abu Teir after his detention for the past five months in an Israeli prison. Abu Teir, along with three other Hamas parliamentarians, participated in the 2006 legislative council elections in which Hamas won. Israel stripped them of their residency rights, saying it was prohibited to belong to the PLC and live in Jerusalem at the same time. Abu Teir was deported via the Qalandiya checkpoint to Ramallah.

On December 8, 39 state-employed rabbis signed a letter calling on fellow Jews not to rent or sell land or property to "non-Jews" or Palestinian Arabs. The move created an uproar among Palestinians both inside Israel and in the occupied territories and among Israelis themselves who said the move threatened Israel's democratic character.

Finally, the brushfires, which broke out in the Carmel mountains of Haifa last week have rang up a total cost of nearly NIS2 billion and caused complete damage to 50,000 dunams.

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