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Middle East Peace Report - October 5, 2009

Volume 11, Issue 4

Abbas Faces Domestic Fire for Pulling Punch; Winds of Intifada Blow in Jerusalem; In Reversal, High Court Freezes Settlement Construction; What Freeze?; Will Israel and Hamas Deal on Shalit?; Obama's Iran Strategy Yields Tentative Results

Abbas Faces Domestic Fire for Pulling Punch: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing a wave of domestic criticism after Palestinian diplomats withdrew a draft resolution condemning Israel's actions in Gaza from a session of the UN Human Rights Council.
The move effectively defers any UN action on the Goldstone Report until March. Israel had been pushing hard for the Palestinians to drop their resolution. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had termed promotion of the resolution "a fatal blow to the peace process." Israel also reportedly conditioned its approval for the establishment of a new cell phone network in the West Bank on the Palestinians withdrawing their request.
Officials within Fatah, Hamas, and other Palestinian parties slammed the diplomatic move. One account in the Palestinian press even accused Abbas of capitulating to Israeli blackmail. 
In an apparent attempt at damage control, Abbas announced the appointment of a three-member committee to look into how the decision was made. (Haaretz, 9/27 & 10/2/09; Ma'ariv, 10/2 & 10/5/09; Jerusalem Post, 10/4/09)
Winds of Intifada Blow in Jerusalem: Clashes between Palestinians from East Jerusalem and Israeli police forces took place yesterday, starting on the Temple Mount and spreading to several other locations. More incidents were reported today.
The clashes began after police closed the Temple Mount to Muslims. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld explained that this move was made to minimize the potential for violence following calls in Palestinian media to "come and protect the Mount."
Israeli police deployed in large numbers again today throughout the Old City. One Israeli soldier was stabbed today at a checkpoint northwest of the city center.
Israeli reports attributed the violence to incitement, to activities of Hamas and other radical Islamic groups, and to reports of Israeli plans to build a massive new settlement in southern East Jerusalem. Speaking to reporters today Jerusalem District Police Chief Aharon Franco today called the city's Muslim residents "ungrateful" in light of the efforts police made to allow them to pray on the Temple Mount during Ramadan.
Ma'ariv analyst Shalom Yerushalmi writes that "yesterday's great flare-up did not have a real reason, but Jerusalem does not need a specific reason to get into a fight.  The Muslims feared that the Jews were going to come and pray on the Temple Mount, as they fear on every holiday.  The call to protect el-Aksa was issued, the mount was immediately closed, Israeli Arabs who were on their way were forced to turn back, the tension between the sides rose and with it the incitement, the demonstrations and the arrests."
The rising tensions in Jerusalem may be taking a toll on the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. The latter spoke with a number of foreign ambassadors last week. He reportedly asked them to lodge diplomatic protests over Israeli provocations in Jerusalem. Fayyad is also said to have warned that the situation in Jerusalem could quickly deteriorate and threaten the Palestinian Authority's ability to control the West Bank.
Indeed, jailed Fatah Central Committee member Marwan Barghouti warned Sunday that the circumstances which led to the outbreak of the Intifada almost a decade ago still prevailed and he called on Palestinians to conduct a campaign of "peaceful resistance" against Israeli control of East Jerusalem and against settlement expansion.
While Barghouti also praised Abbas, one of his statements could be interpreted as criticism of the Palestinian president's willingness to negotiate. "Whoever thinks it's possible to make peace with the current Israeli government is being delusional," Barghouti said.  (CNN, 10/4/09; JTA, 10/4/09; Jerusalem Post, 10/4/09; Haaretz, 10/5/09; Israel Radio, 10/5/09; Ma'ariv, 10/5/09)
In Reversal, High Court Freezes Settlement Construction: Israeli Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein issued an injunction ordering settlers to stop construction work and property sales relating to construction in the West Bank settlement Kiryat Netafim.
The injunction was requested by the Israeli Peace Now movement as part of a petition filed by the group to see to it that Israeli forces stop the construction, some of which is taking place on privately-owned Palestinian land.
The Israeli government opposed the injunction, arguing that stop-work orders had been issued and were being enforced. In similar cases in the past, the Israeli government did not oppose such court orders.
In the face of this new posture from the Israeli government, Rubinstein denied Peace Now's request for an injunction a month ago.
Two weeks later, Peace Now presented evidence that construction is ongoing and renewed the request for an injunction. Based on this evidence and the Israeli government's response, Rubenstein reversed himself and ordered a halt to the construction at Kiryat Netafim. (, 10/4/09)
What Freeze? Peace Now activists today toured West Bank settlements - including the settlement of Nokdim, home to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman - where they revealed that settlers have started developing infrastructure and laying foundations for some 800 new housing units in Nokdim and dozens of other settlements over the past three months.
Developing infrastructure and laying foundations does not require the approval of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Settlers are apparently hoping that the construction of houses on these foundations will be authorized despite reports that Israel has agreed to a temporary halt of settlement construction.
The new housing units are not among the roughly 2,400 houses already under construction that Israel reportedly wants to exclude from the moratorium on new construction in settlements.
"The settlers are working fast to produce as many construction 'starts' as possible so that these new housing units will be counted as 'existing' settlements and not included in any future agreed upon freeze," a report released by Peace Now today states.
The 800 recent construction starts are taking place in 34 settlements, 16 of which lie east of the West Bank separation barrier.
In light of this settler strategy, Peace Now called for the settlement freeze to ban "all construction work, including infrastructure" development. (AFP, 10/5/09;, 10/5/09)
Will Israel and Hamas Deal on Shalit? Israel's release of 20 female, Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a video tape of captive soldier Gilad Shalit prompted many Israelis to speculate about whether Israel and Hamas will soon agree on a prisoner-release deal.
The reactions on the part of Noam Shalit [Gilad's father] and the Hamas leadership one day after the release of the first video footage of captive soldier Gilad Shalit testify more than anything to the long road still ahead before completing a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas," writes Haaretz's Avi Isaacharoff.
Isaacharoff recalls Noam Shalit's statement that "the two sides are still not close to a deal" and that a Hamas official reiterated Saturday that its bargaining position has not changed.
"Still, the video's broadcast symbolizes in many ways the 'point of no return' in the negotiations for Shalit's release," writes Isaacharoff. "No Israeli - politician, military official or average citizen - can remain indifferent to the image of Shalit, clean, shaven and healthy, reading a statement prepared for him by Hamas' military wing in a trembling voice, but almost with a smile. Logic stops there. Calculations of the cost and benefit inherent in a prisoner exchange involving hundreds of terrorists is no longer relevant to the Jewish desire, the human desire, to see the return of the soldier who has become a son to us all."
Isaacharoff believes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to complete the Shalit deal, and that the tape "represents an important stage in preparing Israeli public opinion for a painful agreement with Hamas - the likes of which the State of Israel has known in the past." (Haaretz, 10/4/09)
Obama's Iran Strategy Yields Tentative Results: Iran agreed in principle to a deal that would move most of its enriched uranium out of the country last week and international inspectors are set to visit the country's newly revealed uranium enrichment site on October 25th.
These developments followed President Barack Obama's decision to engage in direct negotiations with Iran's leaders and t he first such negotiations on Thursday.
 "For now, things are moving in the right direction," National Security Adviser James Jones said yesterday on CNN. "The fact that Iran came to the table and seemingly showed some degree of cooperation is a good thing," Jones added.
At the same time, the Obama administration is keeping open the option of sanctions. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice commented yesterday that members of the UN Security Council were studying sanction options if Iran fails to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Meanwhile a study of Israel's options for a military strike against Iran published in the Wall Street Journal last week determines that "at best" an Israeli strike would "delay Iran's nuclear buildup" and that "it is more likely to provoke the country into accelerating its plans."
The study, by military analyst Anthony Cordesman of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes that a major difficulty for any Israeli strike is the number and dispersment of Iran's nuclear sites.
"These problems are why a number of senior Israeli intelligence experts and military officers feel that Israel should not strike Iran," writes Cordesman, "although few would recommend that Israel avoid using the threat of such strikes to help U.S. and other diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to halt. For example, retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom advocates, like a number of other Israeli experts, reliance on deterrence and Israel's steadily improving missile defenses." (Reuters, 10/2/09; Haaretz, 10/4/09; Wall Street Journal, 9/25/09)