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Middle East Peace Report- February 22, 2010

Vol. 11, Issue 19

Stop Pretending; Israeli High Court Presses Settlements Issue; Yes, It's pro-Israel; Propaganda Wars; While Settlers Fight, Palestinians Help

Stop Pretending: An estimated thousand demonstrators turned out for a Peace Now rally in Tel Aviv Saturday to protest the failure of the Israeli government to genuinely pursue peace.
 
Demonstrators held up masks of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to note that despite their pro-peace rhetoric, the current Israeli government is promoting a radical right-wing agenda.
 
The rally featured speeches by Knesset members representing three political parties as well as by influential figures from Israeli civil society.
 
While holding a mask showing Barak's face, Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer took aim at the Labor party leader. "I commit to promote real and longed for peace between the parties of [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and Shas, to care for the welfare of every settler, to establish a university in [the settlement of] Ariel, to swear allegiance to a right-wing coalition, and to destroy the peace camp," Oppenheimer said.
 
Oppenheimer told the crowd that the time had come "to remove the masks from Netanyahu and Barak and to tell the Israeli public that these are dangerous people leading dangerous politics taking us down a path of no return."
 
Meretz party chief Haim Oron lamented that Netanyahu isn't ready for peace, adding, "We have a partner for peace in the Palestinian Authority but there is no Israeli partner for peace. Barak and Bibi are not partners for peace."
 
Labor Knesset Member Eitan Cabel criticized his fellow party members for failing to ensure that the moratorium on settlement construction is being enforced: "Especially in a period when the [Labor] party should lead with hope, it fell into a honey trap of corruption. My fellow party members are addicted to the senses of governance. We've turned into addicts of power and we lost the values that we used to believe in."
 
New Israel Fund leader Naomi Chazan said that "the government has declared war on human rights groups in Israel... But there is no such thing as a democracy without these." (Ynet, 2/20/10; Jerusalem Post, 2/21/10)
 
Israeli High Court Presses Settlements Issue: Acting on a Peace Now petition, Israel's High Court of Justice demanded Tuesday that the Israeli government submit a detailed timetable for razing 16 structures in two West Bank settlement outposts.
 
The structures were built in violation of Israeli law. Some of the land in these outposts is listed in Israeli-government documents as Palestinian-owned, private property. None of the land is owned by the Israeli squatters.
 
Peace Now first turned to the High Court in 2005, after repeated requests to Israel's law-enforcement agencies failed to stop the construction.
 
In subsequent court proceedings, the Israeli government acknowledged that the buildings are illegal and that they must be dismantled. However, the Israeli government has taken no action to date.
 
The new court order requires the Israeli government to present a timetable for implementing the demolition orders no later than May 1, 2010.
 
"The High Court of Justice has had enough of the efforts by the settlers and the state to bide their time," Peace Now's Yariv Oppenheimer said in response to this ruling. "It is unfortunate that the defense minister has been forced to put the High Court in such a problematic situation. We hope that Ehud Barak's office will get the hint and carry out the court decision."
 
The Israeli government is also dragging its feet on another outpost-related case pending before the Israeli High Court. On Wednesday, attorneys for the government told the court that they were failing to meet a previous commitment they made to the court, regarding removing the outpost of Migron. Peace Now filed the suit to evict the settlement outpost of Migron after determining that it lies on private, Palestinian-owned property. (Haaretz 2/17/10; Ynet 2/17/10)
 
Yes, It's pro-Israel: The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has come under attack for criticizing 54 Members of Congress who sent a letter to President Barack Obama drawing his attention to the dangerous humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Echoing concerns often voiced by Israelis, the letter called on the president to "press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of" his peace efforts.
 
The letter also expressed concern for Israel's security and noted the urgency of reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
In an "action alert" still posted on the group's website, the RJC condemns the letter as a call to "pressure" Israel. As noted by JTA's Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas, the RJC also falsely claimed that the letter "expressed no concern whatsoever about the consequences" for Israel of any policy change.
 
The RJC's smear campaign was the subject of an op-ed in today's Jerusalem Post by APN's Lara Friedman and J Street's Hadar Susskind. The RJC, they wrote, "for its own narrow political reasons, is attacking members of Congress who signed the letter, grossly mischaracterizing its content and the focus of its message... With their marching orders in hand, RJC members are now trying to create an echo chamber to make it appear as if there is broad opposition to this letter in the Jewish community, and they are using both Israel's security and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza for their own partisan foil."
 
"There are real threats to Israel," write Friedman and Susskind. "There really are people out there who don't support Israel as a Jewish democratic homeland. We don't need to invent opposition to Israel and we certainly don't need to push people who are supportive of Israel away from us by calling them 'anti-Israel' every time someone expresses either concern for Palestinians or opposition to a particular Israeli government position. Sadly, not everyone seems to understand that." (RJC, 1/29/10; JTA, 2/11/10; Jerusalem Post, 2/22/10)
 
Propaganda Wars: In a letter sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday, Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer took issue with the content of a new propaganda site, masbirim.gov.il, established by the Israeli government.  
 
The site was launched last week by Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein as part of his program to recruit ordinary Israelis to defend the country abroad.
 
Oppenheimer noted that the political positions presented by the website deviate considerably from those held by most Israelis, and even by this Israeli government: The site fails to endorse the two-state solution, it advocates Israel's retention of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and it asserts that evacuating settlers violates their human rights.
 
"The government created a radical-right propaganda site, with statements that even Netanyahu doesn't dare speak out loud," Oppenheimer told Israel Television Channel Two. (Jerusalem Post, 2/22/10; Channel Two, 2/21/10; Ynet, 2/21/10)
 
While Settlers Fight, Palestinians Help: The past week has seen a rise in the number of incidents in which settlers have clashed with the Israeli military.
 
On Wednesday, soldiers taking part in a drill to test new defense mechanisms in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar were pelted with stones thrown by roughly 30 settler youth. Three soldiers were evacuated to a hospital. A number of military vehicles were vandalized, including an ambulance.
 
Settler spokespersons explained that the settlers had mistaken the security drill for an effort to demolish illegal construction. The absurdity of the settlers' attack on their defenders was not lost on the IDF. One official told Ynet that the attack took place in a settlement "located in a very dangerous area which may erupt into a terror attack at any moment. Instead of helping the soldiers maintain concentration, they do the exact opposite and should, God forbid, a terror attack occur they will have to ask themselves some hard questions."
 
Colonel Itzik Bar, IDF commander for the northern West Bank, expressed his frustration with the incident and with the political leadership of the settlement. "The settlement [leadership] has not released an announcement condemning the incident, which is very serious," Bar told Israel Army Radio.
 
"The settlement must ask itself a very tough question about what is happening there in terms of education. I think there is a loss of control by the settlement leadership over what is happening in the settlements," Bar added.
 
On Sunday, dozens of right-wing Israeli activists used force to break through an IDF checkpoint in an attempt to reach an ancient synagogue at the heart of Jericho, a Palestinian city in the West Bank.
 
While the site was burned to the ground nearly a decade ago, the Palestinian Authority has renovated the site. Jewish visitors to the site are allowed through advance coordination with Israel and Palestinian security officials.
 
Haaretz columnists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff see the Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in removing these protesters as a demonstration of the rising trust between Israeli and Palestinian security cooperation. "As luck would have it, security coordination between Israel and the PA today is so close that a request by the head of the IDF's Civil Administration, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, was enough to persuade the Palestinian security forces to withdraw, and to permit the IDF to peacefully resolve the situation... In earlier times, such an incident could have ended quite badly. Yet, against the backdrop of three years of improved security cooperation, Israeli forces were able to step in and take control of the 'unruly children.'"
 
In a related development, the Palestinian Authority recently discovered a Kassam rocket that had been constructed in the West Bank. The Palestinian forces transferred the rocket to the Israeli military. (Haaretz, 2/19 &2/22/10; Ynet, 2/19 & 2/21/10; Israel Army Radio, 2/22/10)