More talk about
with people who
want no peace
MICHAEL JANSEN in Jerusalem
PALESTINIAN AND Israeli negotiators are holding last-ditch meetings in Washington to reach a compromise over Israeli construction in West Bank settlements that might ensure continuation of negotiations resumed three weeks ago.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas warned he could break off the negotiations if a 10-month partial building freeze was not extended beyond midnight tomorrow, but Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the measure would not be extended.
In the West Bank, settlers and contractors were clearing land and gathering materials at building sites for laying the foundations of new housing on Monday morning.
Some settlers are planning to adopt “light construction”, using materials and techniques that enable them to build family homes for $70,000 in two months. Others argue that once foundations are in place, the government will be obliged to allow completion.
The most recent report issued by the Israeli Peace Now movement, which tracks settlement activity, said 2,000 housing units were under construction and 2,000 have permits authorising building as soon as the freeze ends.
Another 11,000 units need only permits from the ministry of defence, which administers the West Bank.
Peace Now reports that 600 units in 60 settlements have been started, in breach of the freeze. Since the average number of units built during the 10-month period was 1,130 units, this amounted to a 50 per cent fall in construction.
However, this reduction is not apparent to anyone travelling around the West Bank.
Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran said it was virtually impossible for anyone but experts who were keeping a close watch to decide if a certain building was a violation of the freeze.
Peace Now stated: “. . . On the ground, there is almost no freeze or even a visible slowdown.
“Restarting construction will render the 10-month freeze insignificant. It will become meaningless, [just] several months’ delay on some construction projects.”
Mahdi Abdul Hadi, head of a Palestinian think tank, said Israel’s rejection of an extension of the partial freeze has “defeated and humiliated” Mr Abbas.
“Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] will tell [US president] Obama, ‘You have to tell me what to do’. Abu Mazen has said the same thing to the Arab League, which goes along with Obama. Abu Mazen does not want to take responsibility for what will happen.”
Many Palestinians, Israelis and local observers predict that a compromise formula over settlement construction is likely to be reached and that the talks will proceed.
Dr Abdul Hadi argued that the Palestinian side would be compelled to go along and pointed out that Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat had stopped talking about walking out if the settlement freeze was not renewed.
Dr Abdul Hadi said negotiating was “Abu Mazen’s mission”, which he carried out in order to secure US and EU funding for the Palestinian Authority, which administers Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank.
He expressed the opinion of many Palestinians when he observed: “Israel will never pull out of Judea and Samaria,” the names Israelis give the West Bank. “There will be no two-state solution.”
Israel will insist it needs to keep certain areas for “security” reasons. “Settlement will continue. The settlers are hijacking the future of Israel,” he said.
A pessimistic UN official dismissed the fuss over settlement construction as a side issue.
He predicted the negotiations would fail and quoted the saying adopted many months ago: “Israelis want negotiations with no result [continuation of the status quo] while Palestinians want a result [a state] without negotiations [that could force them to make costly compromises].”