Violence in the Middle East has so far claimed the lives of over 325 people and wounded over 11,000most of them Israelis.
The latest incidents took place in the early pre-dawn hours as Palestinian Defense Forces (PDF), in response to gunfire by Israeli gunmen, shelled the empty buildings in which the gunmen were taking shelter. Five people were killed and twenty injured in the ensuing exchange of fire.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat once again called on the Israelis to stop the violence. He once again pledged Palestines unwavering commitment to peace and called on the Israeli people to stop their acts of terrorism against Palestinian civilians and PDF personnel.
Deploying our Markaba tanks, our Apache and Cobra gun ships, and the closure of Israeli territories are all essential measures to protect the security of Palestine, he added.
Praising the policy of restraint practiced by the PDF, President Arafat said that if it took the killing of two thousand more Israelis to put an end to Jewish rioting and terror, he would do so.
In response to the deteriorating economic conditions within the Israeli territories, Palestinian officials said that they would allow ten thousand Israeli workers to work in Palestine as a good will gesture. To qualify for permits, these Israeli workers must be married, with several children, and over 35 years old.
This latest easing of the closure of the Israeli territories came in response to the European Union envoys appeals to Palestinian leaders not to allow the economy of Israel to collapse as a result of the multiple closures. The entire European economic aid package to Israel is being absorbed by these closures, the envoy said. Europe has pledged an estimated US$ 500 million annually to help build up the Israeli economy. The cost of the closure is estimated at US$ 10 million per day.
Since the beginning of the violence (or uprising, as some Israelis call it), unemployment has risen to 40% in Israel and over 30% of the entire population of Israel is now living below the poverty level.
Called upon to release the funds that Palestine has refrained from handing over to the Israeli treasury as per the interim agreements (VAT and excise tax), the Palestinian Minister of Finance said he would do so once the violence subsides, and after he deducts the amount owed the Palestinian treasury for hospital and other expenses.
At a press conference held by the Palestine army spokesperson, and in response to questions concerning Palestines use of excessive force in quelling the riots, General Shati reiterated that the soldiers have strict orders not to shoot unless their lives are threatened. PDF personnel are facing life-threatening and dangerous conditions and are acting strictly in self defense.
As for the large number of Israeli children being killed (30% of the total killed), General Shati once again called on the Israeli leadership not to send children into the line of fire for the sake of scoring media points. As you know, he stated, the Israelis do not share the same values that we have, and they do not have the same feelings for their children. It is part of the Jewish culture to glorify martyrdom, and cynically sending their children out to die provides the Israeli leadership with a cheap propaganda victory.
The fact that most injuries were in the head and the upper part of the body is due to the skill of Palestinian snipers, Shati explained. These are highly trained and skilled experts who know how to stop lethal attacks from Jewish terrorists. If there are any excesses, the PDF will carry out its own investigations. Rest assured, we will do everything possible to investigate and to discipline those responsible. He concluded, You must remember, this is a war situation. Our soldiers are responding to stones, Molotov cocktails, and live fire from the Israeli rioters.
In a meeting with the visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, representatives of Israeli human rights organizations and NGOs raised the issue of the Palestinian settlements on Israeli land occupied by Palestine. They claimed that Palestinian settlers had stolen their lands to bring in Muslims from other countries to live in housing units subsidized by the Palestinian government. Since the signing of the Declaration of Principles, settlement activity has doubled, they claimed. Israeli towns and villages on whose lands these settlements were built are being threatened by these settlers with daily shootings, abductions, torture and killing of innocent civilians, the Israeli representatives claimed. With the bypass roads that the Palestinians had constructed, all Israeli towns are isolated from each other and their inhabitants have no freedom of movement.
Expressing outrage at the use of excessive force by the PDF, and at the violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Palestinian occupied Israeli territories, the UN Commissioner issued a report which included the incident in which Palestinian settlers shot at her car while visiting the shared city of Modiim.
In response, the Palestinian Government spokesperson issued a statement refuting the Commissioners report while describing it as one-sided. Palestine has always applied the Convention de facto in the disputed territories, the statement adds. Palestinian civilians have every right to live anywhere they want in historical Canaan, and the PDF has the responsibility of protecting them. The spokesperson further stressed the emotional and spiritual attachment that Muslims everywhere have for this Waqf land as part of their heritage and identity. The bypass roads are essential for the security of Palestinian and Muslim settlers who need to travel freely in the Israeli territory and to connect with Palestine without being attacked by Israeli terrorists.
When asked whether the uprooting of Israeli olive and fruit trees and the bulldozing of crops were necessary, the Palestinian spokesperson responded that these were used as cover by Israeli terrorists throwing stones at Palestinian settlers and PDF vehicles traveling throughout the Israeli territories.
Palestinian civilians are being attacked by Jewish terrorists, and the roads are no longer safe in light of these latest riots, he stated. Restrictions on the movement of Israelis have become a security necessity, and curfews on Israelis are essential, particularly in shared cities, for the protection of Palestinian civilians. Haifa, for example, must remain calm, and for the security of the Palestinian population there and in order to guarantee their freedom of movement, all Jewish inhabitants of this city must remain under curfew. We allow them two hours of movement every few days to let them do their shopping, declared the spokesperson. We do take into account such humanitarian considerations.
In the Muslim neighborhood of Jala, a suburb of West Jerusalem, residents are being subjected to gunfire from the Israeli town of Beth Hassida. Fatima Abed, 45 a school teacher and mother of six children, had to be taken to hospital for shock treatment when a bullet struck the living room window of her suburban home. The PDF tanks stationed there had to shell the town of Beth Hassida in order to silence the Israeli guns. We will not tolerate any shooting or Israeli threat to our eternal and undivided capital, Jerusalem, the spokesperson concluded.
Jerusalem, however, remains an issue of contention. For security reasons, Palestine has closed off Jerusalem (both East and West) to all Israelis, except for those who are allowed to reside in the city and who had been issued blue identity cards by the Palestinian authorities. Jewish holders of orange or green ID cards are barred entry, as well as all vehicles with blue or green license platesonly yellow license plates are allowed to enter the area of greater Jerusalem as designated by the Palestinian cabinet in 1967, said the spokesperson. Nevertheless, Jewish worshipers are allowed to reach the Wailing Wall during two major holidays provided they are over 45 years old. For security reasons, however, they have to be bussed in, and only in limited numbers.
Jerusalem is open to all religions, declared the Palestinian minister in charge of religious affairs. We have a policy of 100% religious tolerance and we respect the right to worship freely at all holy sites. In response to a question on the closure imposed on Jerusalem since 1993 and the prevention of Jewish Israelis from entering the city, the minister responded: This is only a temporary security measure. The whole world understands that we are living in exceptional circumstances that require drastic measures.
These are the same drastic measures that are used by the Palestinians to demolish Jewish homes, to confiscate Israeli Jerusalem IDs, to expropriate Israeli land on which to build Palestinian settlements, and to ban Jewish Israelis from building on their own land, claimed an Israeli resident of Jerusalem. First, they declare our land as green areas, then they refuse to grant us building permits on the 12% thats left to us, thenbefore you know itPalestinian settlements are mushrooming everywhere, around and within our city. We cannot move freely in our own city, he added. The Palestine government, however, maintains its position that it can build anywhere in its capital. We have even built housing projects for Jews, claimed the Palestinian minister of housing and construction, himself a Hamas member of Arafats coalition government.
In yet another development, Palestinian President Arafat has issued orders for the assassination of all Israeli leaders of terrorist organizations, including Shas, the Mifdal, the Likud, and the Hagana militias of Chairman Baraks own Labor party. In a moving speech before the inner (security) cabinet, President Arafat vehemently declared zero-tolerance for the revolving door policy of chairman Barak. We have repeatedly told him to arrest them and keep them in prison. By releasing them, Chairman Barak is giving a green light to terrorism against the Palestinian people. Our cities will be targets for despicable and vicious attacks by Jewish fundamentalists who are opposed to the peace process. If Barak is to live up to his commitment to peace, he must prove that he can safeguard the security of all Palestinian citizens anywhere in Palestine and the territories.
In a related move, the PDF Coordinator has issued orders canceling all the passes and privileges granted members of the Israeli Authority. Previously, the VIP status granted such Israeli individuals afforded them freedom of movement among Israeli towns and cities without being stopped and searched at Palestinian army checkpointsa routine measure for all Israelis allowed to move within the territories. We had issued around 200 of these VIP passes, the Coordinator stated. Instead of being grateful, members of the Israeli Authority are not living up to their commitmentsthey are not controlling the people or reigning in the Israeli rioters. Once they stop the violence, the Coordinator promised, they would regain their privileges.
When asked about the missile that killed a Labor militia leader and two middle-aged Israeli women who had been in the street in front of their homes, President Arafat praised the precision of the attack and described it as a surgical strike. It was a necessary and successful operation, he boasted. These terrorists must learn that they will not be safe anywhere. In the meantime, opposition leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, called on President Arafat to arrest and deport all Israeli leaders and added that Colonel Amram of the Israeli Preventive Security must himself be assassinated on suspicion of involvement in the latest attacks on the PDF. President Arafat refused to comment, saying it is enough to take out the Israeli activist leadership. We shall study the situation and take further measures as necessary, he added, thereby keeping the door open for further bargaining with Hamas in the looming parliamentary crisis in Palestine.
Aware of the implications of this latest political crisis in Palestine, and in a bid to help President Arafat overcome the challenge of his rival, Yassin, US President Clinton gave an interview to Palestine television praising President Arafat for his flexibility and generosity in the Camp David talks and laying the blame for their failure squarely on Chairman Barak.
Arafat went further than any other Palestinian leader in offering the Israelis functional responsibility and personal jurisdiction in the Israeli part of Jerusalem. He also expressed willingness to allow Barak to raise the Israeli flag on the Holy Synagogue, Clinton added. Describing the issue as largely symbolic, Clinton asserted that symbolic solutions could be found. As for Palestinian settlements in Israeli territory, these could be grouped into settlement blocs and annexed to Palestine. UN resolution 242 does not mean the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war, he explained. Some territory may be annexed to Palestine, for Palestinian settlers must be able to live under Palestinian sovereignty–at least 80% of them. As for the Jewish refugees who had left more than 50 years ago, they can be generously compensated and relocated elsewhere. Clinton concurred with the Palestinian view that the Muslim-Christian character of Palestine must be maintained, and that the Israelis must be realistic in their demands. Chairman Barak must go further in meeting President Arafats flexibility, he added.
Pledging to continue American foreign assistance to Palestine, Clinton promised to raise the US$ 3 billion granted to Palestine annually, while allocating a further US$ 800 million to maintain Palestines strategic military superiority in the region and to fund Palestinian withdrawal from some of the Israeli territories. We share more than funds and military secrets, Clinton declared. The Muslim-Christian tradition and ethos supply us with values of democracy and human rights and we are proud to call Palestine (the only democracy in the region) our special ally.
In a reciprocal move, President Arafat promised that he would call on the Muslim and Palestinian-American business community to be even more generous with their campaign funds and votes in the upcoming American election.
While in the US, President Arafat called on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and thanked her for her identification with Palestinian suffering. I appreciate all your efforts on behalf of peace and democracy, she responded. Later in the day, Albright went on national American television admonishing the Israelis for their violence and explaining how Palestine is under siege by the Israelis, particularly those stone throwers. She further promised to veto any draft UN resolution aiming to censure Palestine for its policies and measures in the Israeli territories.
On his way back to Jerusalem, President Arafat made a brief stop at the UN to meet with Secretary General Kofi Anan. Mr. Anan asked for a role in the peace process, promising to maintain neutrality and not to be identified with any Israeli if Palestine and the US would allow him to join the membership of the peace club. President Arafat promised to think about it.
President Arafats last stop was in Europe to meet with the EU presidency. They made the same request. He gave them the same reply.
In the meantime, violence continues in the territories and many Israelis find themselves caught in the crossfire.
President Arafat remains committed to peace despite his grave disappointment with Chairman Baraks inability to control his people or to appreciate the generous offer presented at Camp David. I will leave no stone unturned in my search for peace, he declared. In an unprecedented move, he openly avowed to recognize an Israeli state on 50% of Israeli territory, provided he can immediately annex the Palestinian settlement clusters and maintain security control over the borders of the demilitarized Israeli entity. Jerusalem will remain under full Palestinian sovereignty, Arafat affirmed, adding that he will entertain giving the Israelis responsibility over a Jewish holy site.
Whether that will be enough to clinch a deal and to save Arafats political career remains to be seen. President Clintons peace team sounded upbeat in their assessment of the chances for resuming talks. On a family visit during Id Al-Fitr Holiday, Dennis Ross made a point of holding talks with both leaders. It is up to Chairman Barak now to reciprocate the good will gestures of President Arafat, he declared. The ball is in his court.
In Washington, President Clinton declared himself satisfied with the progress made so far. We can clinch this by January 20, 2001, he announced (in a veiled reference to his end-of-term date). President Arafat has a political career to save; I have a historical legacy to make; and Chairman Barak must show proper appreciation of this unprecedented opportunity.
In the Occupied Israeli Territories, the uprising leadership issued a leaflet denouncing the resumption of talks while Jews were being massacred daily at the hands of the Palestine Defense Forces.
Next Tuesday, however, and despite Israeli extremist statements, Palestinian and Israeli teams will dutifully head to Washington for exploratory talks. The interpreter to the US special envoy to Middle East Peace Process declared himself satisfied. The Israelis will easily swap the Jewish refugees right of return for responsibility over the Holy Synagogue. For good measure, well throw in the Jewish Quarter and a neighborhood or two, he added in an optimistic tone.
Chairman Barak must show real leadership, a senior state department official said on condition of anonymity. He must recalibrate, he added. The Israelis never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They cannot afford to miss this one. Another official promised to strengthen Baraks security forces to quell any protests among the Israelis in the face of rising anger. This comes out of our commitment to peace and democracy, she said anonymously. Palestine deserves peace and security at all costs. Should the Israelis prove difficult, then they are not worthy of democracy and must be made to comply. Its the least we can do, she added. We can help Chairman Barak reactivate and expand his [military] State Security Courts (as promised by Vice President Gore), and we will increase our participation in the Security Committees while upgrading the Anti-Incitement Committee. After all, the security of Palestine is at stake, and Palestine is no ordinary ally. What more could the Israelis hope for?
The horror! The horror!