Tensions Rise and Diplomacy Continues to Falter [October 25-October 31]
October 31, 2009

While the US is seemingly trying to restart Palestinian-Israeli negotiations at any cost, the situation on the ground is growing tenser by the day. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet President Mahmoud Abbas on October 31 in Abu Dhabi ahead of her trip to Israel later in the day. The talks are ostensibly to be focused on restarting talks and on the Palestinian demand to halt Jewish settlements before these talks can begin.

In the evening, Clinton will fly to Israel where she will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell is already in the region, having arrived on October 29 to talk to the parties.

It looks however, as if little if anything will come out of this string of diplomacy. On October 30, after meeting with Netanyhau, Mitchell declared that "Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu desires peace in the region." Netanyahu for his part also shared in the sentiment, saying he and Mitchell "share a common objective of a comprehensive peace. I always look forward to our discussions," he said.

The warm and fuzzy feelings have not translated into action though, at least where the Palestinians are concerned. Earlier in the week, President Abbas expressed his frustration with the Israeli leader reportedly saying he doesn't think he has changed at all since his stint as prime minister in 1996. "How much longer can I give him credit," he was quoted as saying in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Abbas is certainly not in an enviable position, not abroad or at home. Violence at the Aqsa Mosque Compound erupted once again on October 25 as angry Palestinians flocked to the courtyard to ward off zealous Jewish groups wanting to break in. Israeli police and army subsequently clashed with the demonstrators, closed the gates to the compound for several hours and cut power off of the entire area as confrontations continued. By the end of the day, 20 Palestinians had been arrested and several others injured.

Following the clashes, Fateh Jerusalem representative Hatem Abdel Kader was banned by Israeli police from entering the Old City for a period of three weeks. Later in the day, 21-year old Sumud Yasser Hasan Karajeh from the Ramallah-area village of Safa stabbed an Israeli soldier at the Qalandia Checkpoint, moderately wounding him.

Jerusalem this week was the scene of a number of violent incidents, including the stabbing of two Palestinians at Damascus Gate on October 30. Earlier that day, a group of extremist settlers raided the Saleh family home in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Safafa in a bid to take over the house, which the claim is owned by Jews. According to Palestinian media sources, the Salah family says they have proof of the house's purchase from its owners in 1996. The Israel High Court issued an eviction order back in August, giving the family one month to vacate.

A clash ensued between the settlers and Palestinians, with the settlers opening fire and beating on the Salah family. At least four family members were injured and taken to hospital for either gunshot wounds or contusions. Israeli police later arrested the group of settlers who fled from the scene and who later said they opened fire because they "felt threatened."

Also on October 30, during the weekly wall protests in Bilin, two Palestinian protesters and one Israeli soldier were injured. The army which shot tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets also shot stun grenades into the crowd of unarmed protesters, one of which exploded in a soldier's hand, wounding him.

A day earlier, Israeli authorities demolished several homes in east Jerusalem under the pretext that they were built without the proper licensing. One building, consisting of four apartments and one home in Sur Baher was torn down along with four other homes in the Dahiet Al Salam and Salaa and Farouq quarters in Jabal Al Mukabber. In all, the homes were inhabited by close to 80 people who are now homeless.

In the West Bank, on October 27, residents of the village of Qaryout were met by hundreds of hostile settlers as they went to pick their olives, adjacent to the Hevot Rahel settlement built on Qaryout lands. Seven people were injured and one arrested after settlers attacked the olive pickers, who said they coordinated the trip in advance with the Israeli army. Palestinians are systematically harassed and attacked by West Bank settlers during the olive harvest each year.

On the domestic level, tensions rose among Palestinians after President Abbas announced on October 26 that presidential and legislative elections would be held on January 24, 2010 in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. A day later, the Hamas leadership rejected Abbas' decision to hold elections, with spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri calling the elections commission "illegitimate" and in violation of the Cairo agreement which stipulated that the commission would be formed through mutual agreement and not a unilateral decision.

On October 28, the UN General Assembly announced that it would debate the Goldstone Report on November 4. General Assembly Spokesperson Jean Victor Nkolo said President Ali Treki received a letter from the Human Rights Council president that included the report and requests from Arab nations and the 118-member Nonaligned Group asking the assembly to consider its findings and recommendations during the first week of November.

Israel has come under more international fire after an Amnesty International Report released on October 27 accused it of denying Palestinians access to water. The report, entitled "Troubled Waters" says Israel systematically deprives West Bank Palestinians of basic water needs. "Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies. In Gaza the Israeli blockade has made an already dire situation worse, said Amnesty International researcher Donatella Rovera.

According to the report, which Israel claims is groundless, Israel uses more than 80 per cent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the OPT while restricting Palestinian access to a mere 20 per cent. While Palestinian daily water consumption barely reaches 70 liters a day per person, Israeli daily consumption is more than 300 liters per day, four times as much, the report says.

Finally, on October 26, a group of human rights lawyers and pro-Palestinian activists in a number of European countries say they have lists of Israeli army officers and soldiers allegedly linked to war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The group says legislation in these counties enables them to have arrest warrants issued against these officers if they attempt to enter their territories, including England.