Category: Israel

Israel’s eased blockade ‘still crippling’ Gaza

Import levels have only increased by a third since the blockade was eased, says the reports. There has been "little improvement" for people in Gaza since Israel announced it was easing its economic blockade of the territory six months ago. That is the verdict of a new report by aid agencies and rights groups workingGaza exports inside the Palestinian territory. A ban on most exports from Gaza is "crippling" the economy, they say.

The report, "Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade", was compiled by 21 different groups, including Oxfam, Amnesty and Save the Children. "Only a fraction of the aid needed has made it to the civilians trapped in Gaza by the blockade," said Jeremy Hobbs, Director of Oxfam International. "Israel’s failure to live up to its commitments and the lack of international action to lift the blockade are depriving Palestinians in Gaza of access to clean water, electricity, jobs and a peaceful future," Mr Hobbs added.

The report says there has been an increase in imports such as food and consumer goods but that import levels are still only just over one-third of what they were before 2007 when the blockade was originally tightened. It also says only a tiny fraction of the construction materials needed to rebuild Gaza is being allowed in.

‘Dignity’

In June, Israel said it would allow in construction material for projects carried out by organisations such as the United Nations. But the report says Israel has so far approved only 7% of the UN’s reconstruction projects in Gaza. It says, at the current rate it will take decades to carry out the UN’s housing and schools projects in the strip.

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Israel Demolishes Palestinian Houses and a Masque

Israeli army has demolished a number of Palestinian houses and their mosque in an occupied territory in West Bank. Palestinian villagers claim the mosque was built before 1967 war while Israel claims the demolished structures are temporary and built without permission.

The UN has criticised Israel for demolishing Palestinians’ property and prohibiting PalestiniansDemolished mosque from constructing houses in the area, BBC reported.

The Israeli ministry of Defence said the structures are temporary and none of the structures was mosque. It said the area was a military fire zone.

But, designating a part of an occupied territory as a military firing zone is itself a ploy to demolish the houses or whatever construction standing in that place. Israel demolished many mosques previously. Not only Israeli army but also the Israeli settlers often described as Jewish extremists brought down number of mosques since the construction of settlements began after 1967 war.

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Strains in Israel coalition over U.S. freeze package

Cracks emerged in Israel’s right-wing coalition on Tuesday ahead of an expected cabinet vote on whether to accept U.S. inducements to freeze West Bank settlement building so that stalled peace talks can resume. "I think we are facing a real disagreement," said Benny Begin, a respected right-wing minister and son of the late Menachem Begin who made peace with Egypt in the late 1970s. He said Washington’s offer to Israel of 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion was "the bait to push us into the diplomatic trap" by agreeing to a proposed 90-day halt to Jewish settlement building in the occupied territory.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor confirmed on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was waiting to receive the offer in writing from Washington before putting it to a vote in cabinet which is expected to convene on Wednesday. If the letter reflected verbal agreements between Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York talks last week, then the cabinet would vote on it, he said.

In addition to ultranationalist, religious and pro-settler allies in his coalition, Netanyahu faces stiff opposition from within his own right-wing Likud party, where many lawmakers have vehemently stated their opposition to Israeli concessions. "(We) will do everything we can to prevent a decision on a freeze. We are also appealing to all members of our Likud faction to express their view," prominent Likud lawmaker Zeev Elkin said on Monday.

An Israeli diplomatic source said the U.S. written commitment was being delayed by pressure from the Palestinians, who object that it exempts East Jerusalem from a freeze, denies them any chance of seeking a further moratorium, and prevents them from pursuing an imposed settlement via the United Nations. Palestinian presidential aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said the Palestinians had yet to receive details of the final proposal and had made no formal remarks to the Americans concerning it.

STAKES GET HIGHER

U.S. President Barack Obama invested substantial political capital in persuading the Palestinians to resume direct talks with Israel in early September, after months of mediation. But, true to their warnings, they halted negotiations when Netanyahu refused to extend the 10-month partial construction moratorium on Jewish settlements in the West Bank after it expired at the end of that month.

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Obama calls latest Israeli plan promising

AP | MSNBC | 11/14/2010 | 5:03:09 PM ET

President Barack Obama on Sunday hailed the prospect of a new settlement freeze in the disputed West Bank as a promising step toward peace, urging Israelis and Palestinians to get back into serious negotiations quickly. An upbeat president also pledged to return to the basic principles that drove his thinking when he first came to the White House, including sticking to a more bipartisan tone and better explaining his decisions to the American people.

He spoke of moving from an "obsessive focus" on policy and making changes to his approach after a humbling midterm election. "The fact that we are out of crisis — although still obviously in a difficult time — I think will give me the capacity," Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One at the end of long Asia trip.

On the Mideast, Washington’s new proposal for reviving peace talks includes a 90-day ban on housing starts in West Bank settlements — but not in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital. The goal is to give the two sides a three-month period to shape borders of side-by-side states, a daunting, elusive mission. Obama commended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making a "very constructive step" toward creating an environment for peace. "I think it’s a signal that he’s serious," Obama said.

U.S. officials said Netanyahu told the administration that he supports the plan and will try to win approval from his Cabinet. Obama said he hopes the Israeli leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will resume negotiations soon. A previous 10-month moratorium in the West Bank expired Sept. 26, and talks have stalled, casting doubt about the notion of a peace deal within a year’s time, as Obama has sought. Just a few days ago, during a stop in Indonesia, Obama acknowledged he was worried about the peace process and urged both sides to show more effort.

Looking rested after two legs of an all-night flight from Asia, Obama on Sunday made an unannounced visit to the press cabin of Air Force One just before the plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington. The president sounded optimistic about getting Senate ratification of a new U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty during the postelection session of Congress, during which lawmakers try to push through matters before a new Congress convenes.

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Netanyahu unveils U.S. plan for new peace talks

Reuters | 11/13/2010 | 7:04:22 PM ET

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed ministers a five-point U.S. peace plan that included a 90-day settlement freeze, a diplomatic source told reporters on Saturday. The plan also includes a pledge not to seek any extension to the settlement freeze after the 90-day period, a vow to veto any attempts at the United Nations to force a unilateral peace deal and an agreement on supplying Israel with more war planes.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, renewed under Washington’s sponsorship on September 2, broke down a few weeks later when Israel balked at renewing a settlement moratorium.

Netanyahu met his top "Forum of Seven" ministers a day after returning from a week-long U.S. tour that included talks on Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at which she unveiled the plan he showed his cabinet, the source said. Netanyahu hopes he may win approval for the plan from his pro-settler cabinet later this week, political sources said.

Among the pledges offered to Israel by Washington, was a guarantee to veto any resolutions brought to the United Nations Security Council that seek "to impose a political settlement on Israel," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had no immediate comment. Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the Palestinian leader was likely to wait to see whether Israel approved the ideas before issuing any comment.

An additional freeze

Under the plan Israel would "declare an additional suspension of construction" in the West Bank, land it captured from Jordan in a 1967 war, for 90 days. Building begun since a moratorium ended in September, would be halted, the source said. The proposed construction freeze would not include East Jerusalem, an area Israel has annexed as part of its capital in a move never recognized internationally and which Palestinians want as capital of any future state.

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Israeli presence on Palestinian land ‘irreversible’

BBC | 23 October 2010 | 01:02 GMT

A UN human rights rapporteur has said continued settlement construction will probably make Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land irreversible. Richard Falk said the peace process aimed at creating an independent, sovereign Palestinian state therefore appeared to be based on an illusion. He said the UN, the US and Israel had failed to uphold Palestinians’ rights.

Israeli settlementsIsraeli officials said Mr Falk’s report on the Palestinian territories was biased and served a political agenda. Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are held to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

‘De-facto annexation’

In a report for the UN General Assembly, Mr Falk said Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had become so extensive it amounted to de-facto annexation of Palestinian land. He said this undercut assumptions behind UN Security Council resolutions, which said Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967 was temporary and reversible. Such assumptions are the basis for the current peace process aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. This now appears to be an illusion, said Mr Falk.

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Settlers start 600 new homes after ban ends – report

BBC | 22 October 2010 | 03:58 GMT

Jewish settlers have started building more than 600 homes in the West Bank since a building freeze expired last month, an Israeli pressure group says. The pace of building was four times faster than before the restrictions were put in place, Peace Now said. Palestinian negotiators have threatened to walk out of the recently resumed direct peace talks with Israel unless the construction freeze is reinstated.

New settlement constructionA UN envoy criticised Israel over the report, describing it as "alarming". Robert Serry, the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said building on occupied land was illegal under international law and would "only further undermine trust" in the peace process.

‘Natural pace’

A spokesman for Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, told the BBC that more details on the new homes being built by settlers would be released in a report on Monday. Another official from the group, Hagit Ofran, added, "I estimate that work has started at about 600 housing units [since the end of the construction freeze], and I’m looking to complete the survey in order to know the exact number, and it is [at] different stages of construction. In some places, it is only levelling the ground that has started and in others, it’s the very foundation that is now being dug."

A separate count by the Associated Press estimated that ground had been broken on at least 544 new West Bank homes since 26 September, when Israel lifted its 10-month freeze on most new settlement building in the West Bank. Palestinian Authority spokesperson Ghassan Khatib said the figure was "alarming and is another indicator that Israel is not serious about the peace process, which is supposed to be about ending the occupation".

But Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev said Israel wanted to "proceed to move forward in the peace process and all the difficult issues, all the core issues of the conflict are on the table, including the sensitive issue of settlements.

"In the interim, the limited construction under way will in no way impact upon the final contours of a peace agreement. Ultimately, it’s not about settlements, it’s about reaching a historic peace settlement," he added. An organisation representing Jewish settlers told the BBC they were not counting houses and the settlements needed to grow at a "natural pace".

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