Posts Tagged ‘Israeli settlements’

Palestinian vote put off, Abbas remains in office

November 14, 2009


Khaleej Times Online, 13 November 2009

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who last week said he didn’t want to run for re-election, may get to stay in office without a single ballot being cast.

The Palestinian Election Commission ruled Thursday that January’s scheduled vote should be put off because of opposition from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is a rival of Abbas’ Fatah faction.

Abbas raised international concern last week when he declined to run for another term, suggesting he was frustrated over a 10-month stalemate in Israel-Palestinian peacemaking. His departure would have thrown peace efforts into turmoil.

Continues >>

Nasrallah slams Obama Israel ‘bias’

November 12, 2009
Al Jazeera, Nov. 12, 2009
Nasrallah accused Obama of disregarding the feelings and dignity of Arabs and Muslims [AFP]

The leader of the Lebanese group Hezbollah has accused Barack Obama, the US president, of “absolute bias” in favour of  Israel and of disregard for the dignity of Arabs and Muslims.

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Obama has gone further than his predecessor, George Bush, in supporting the Jewish state adding that the high expectations that followed Obama’s election had been “shattered”.

He said Obama’s initial statements calling on Israel to freeze settlement building and then backtracking was a “tactic” agreed on by both Israel and the US, and that the initial settlement demand had been exposed as “an American ploy to pass the time and gain Arab sympathy”.

Wednesday’s remarks are the Hezbollah leader’s strongest criticism yet of Obama since he took office almost a year ago.

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Obama’s America Is Not Delivering The Goods

August 15, 2009
Gideon Levy, Haaretz Correspondent | Haaretz/Israel, Aug 14, 2009

With great sorrow and deep consternation, we hereby declare the death of the latest hope. Perhaps rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase the famous quote by Mark Twain, but the fears are being validated day after day. Barack Obama’s America is not delivering the goods. Sharing a glass of beer with a racist cop and a pat on the back of Hugo Chavez are not what we hoped for; wholesale negotiations on freezing settlement construction are also not what we expected. Just over six months after the most promising president of all began his term, perhaps hope has a last breath left, but it is on its deathbed.

He came into office amid much hoopla. The Cairo speech ignited half the globe. Making settlements the top priority gave rise to the hope that, finally, a statesman is sitting in the White House who understands that the root of all evil is the occupation, and that the root of the occupation’s evil is the settlements. From Cairo, it seemed possible to take off. The sky was the limit.

Then the administration fell into the trap set by Israel and is showing no signs of recovery.

A settlement freeze, something that should have been understood by a prime minister who speaks with such bluster about two states – a peripheral matter that Israel committed to in the road map – has suddenly turned into a central issue. Special envoy George Mitchell is wasting his time and prestige with petty haggling. A half-year freeze or a full year? What about the 2,500 apartment units already under construction? And what about natural growth? And kindergartens?

Perhaps they will reach a compromise and agree on nine months, not including natural growth though allowing completion of apartments already under construction. A grand accomplishment.

Jerusalem has imposed its will on Washington. Once again we are at the starting point – dealing with trifles from which it is impossible to make the big leap over the great divide.

We expected more from Obama. Menachem Begin promised less, and he made peace within the same amount of time after he took office. When the main issue is dismantling the settlements, the pulsating momentum that came with Obama is petering out. Instead, we are paddling in shallow water. Mitchell Schmitchel. What’s in it for peace? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will once again meet him in London at the end of the month. A “magic formula” for a settlement freeze may be found there, but the momentum is gone.

Not in Israel, though. Here people quickly sensed that there is nothing to fear from Obama, and the fetters were taken off. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quick to declare that there is no Palestinian partner, even after the Fatah conference elected the most moderate leadership that has ever been assembled in Palestine. Afterward, in a blatant act of provocation, he brought a Torah scroll into the heart of the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, in full view of television cameras, just so America can see who’s boss around here.

Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, another two politicians who smell American weakness, were quick to declare during a visit to Ma’aleh Adumim that Israel will not freeze any construction. To hell with Obama. The settlers continue to move into more homes in East Jerusalem, Netanyahu is silent and Israelis sense that the “danger” has passed. Israel is once again permitted to do as it pleases. The landlord has once again gone insane. Except that the landlord has gone insane because the real landlord is showing signs of weakness, signs of folding, signs of losing interest in events in the region that most endangers world peace.

Nothing remains from the speeches in Cairo and Bar-Ilan University. Obama is silent, and Yishai speaks. Even “Israel’s friends” in Washington, friends of the occupation, are once again rearing their heads.

One source familiar with Obama’s inner circle likened him this week to a man who inflates a number of balloons every day in the hope that one of them will rise. He will reach his goal. The source compared him to Shimon Peres, an analogy that should insult Obama. The trial balloons the U.S. president sends our way have yet to take off. One can, of course, wait for the next balloon, the Obama peace plan, but time is running out. And Israel is not sitting idly by.

The minute Jerusalem detected a lack of American determination, it returned to its evil ways and excuses. “There is no partner,” “Abu Mazen is weak,” “Hamas is strong.” And there are demands to recognize a Jewish state and for the right to fly over Saudi Arabia – anything in order to do nothing.

An America that will not pressure Israel is an America that will not bring peace. True, one cannot expect the U.S. president to want to make peace more than the Palestinians and Israelis, but he is the world’s responsible adult, its great hope. Those of us who are here, Mr. President, are sinking in the wretched mud, in “injury time.”

America’s Violent Extremism

June 6, 2009

By Paul Craig Roberts | Information Clearing House, Jume 6, 2009

What are are we to make of Obama’s speech at Cairo University in Egypt?

“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Cairo is the capital of Egypt, an American puppet state whose ruler suppresses the aspirations of Egyptian Muslims and cooperates with Israel in the blockade of Gaza.

In contrast to the Islamic University of Al-Azhar, Cairo University was founded as a civil university. Obama’s Cairo University audience was secular.

Nevertheless, Obama said startling words that many Muslims found hopeful. He said that colonialism and the Cold War had denied rights and opportunities to Muslims and resulted in Muslim countries being treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. The resulting blowback from “violent extremists” bred fear and mistrust between the Western and Muslim worlds.

Obama spoke of the Koran, his middle name, and his family connections to Islam.

Obama praised Islam’s contributions to civilization.

Obama declared his “responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

Obama acknowledged “the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.”

Obama acknowledged Iran’s “right to access peaceful nuclear power.”

Obama declared that “no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on any other.”

Obama’s most explosive words pertained to Israel and Palestine: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”

Obama declared that “the only resolution [to the conflict] is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires.” For Obama’s commitment to be fulfilled, Israel would have to give back the stolen West Bank lands, dismantle the wall, accept the right to return, and release 1.5 million Palestinians from the Gaza Ghetto. As this seems an unlikely collection of events, the nature of the “two-state solution” endorsed by Obama remains to be seen.

After the euphoric attention to idealistic rhetoric dies down, Obama will be criticized for extravagant words that create unrealizable expectations. But were the extravagant words other than a premier act of schmoozing Muslims designed to quiet the Muslim Brotherhood in our Egyptian puppet state and to get Muslims to accept US aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Obama decries regime change, but continues to practice it, invoking women’s rights to gain support from secularized Arabs. He admits that Iraq was a war of choice but claims that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and 9/11 make Afghanistan a war of necessity.

Obama said that “the events of 9/11” and al-Qaeda’s responsibility, not America’s desire for military bases and hegemony, are the reasons America’s commitment to combating violent extremism in Afghanistan will not weaken. Will Muslims notice that Obama’s case for America’s violent extremism in Afghanistan and now Pakistan is hypocritical?

Al-Qaeda, Obama says, “chose to ruthlessly murder” nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 “and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale.” These deaths are a mere drop in the buckets of blood that America’s invasions have brought to the Muslim world. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the Muslims America has slaughtered are civilians, just as are the unarmed Palestinians slaughtered by the American-equipped Israeli military.

Against al-Qaeda, whose “actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings,” Obama invokes the Koran’s prohibition against killing an innocent. Does Obama not realize that the stricture applies to the US and its “coalition of forty-six countries” in spades?

America’s wars are all wars of choice. The more than one million dead Iraqis are not al-Qaeda. Neither are Iraq’s four million refugees. Yet, Obama says Iraqis are better off now, with their country in ruins and a fifth of their population lost, because they are rid of Saddam Hussein, a secular ruler.

No one has a good tally of the dead and refugees America has produced in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, declared Obama, “The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals and our need to work together.”

In his first 100 days, Obama managed to create two million Pakistani refugees. It took Israel 60 years to create 3.5 million Palestinian refugees.

What Obama has really done is his speech is to accept responsibility for the neoconservative agenda of extending Western hegemony by eliminating “Muslim extremists,” that is, Muslims who want to rule themselves in keeping with Islam, not in keeping with some secularized, Westernized faux Islam.

Muslim extremists are the creation of decades of Western colonization and secularization that has created an elite, which is Muslim in name only, to rule over religious people and to suppress Islamic mores. All experts know this, and most of them hail it as bringing progress and development to the Muslim world.

Obama said that “human progress cannot be denied,” but “there need not be contradiction between development and tradition.” However, the West defines development and education. These terms mean what they mean in the West. Muslim extremists understand that these terms mean the extermination of Islam.

In typical American fashion, Obama offered Muslims money, “technological development,” and “centers of scientific excellence.”

All the Muslims have to do is to cooperate with America and be peaceful, and America will “respect the dignity of all human beings.”

Hillary Clinton rejects Israeli claim on settlements nod

June 6, 2009

Khaleej Times Online, June 6, 2009

WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Friday dismissed suggestions by a former Israeli official that the US had secretly agreed to allow Israel to expand its settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Clinton told reporters there was no reference to such an understanding in the “negotiating record” that was turned over to the Obama administration by the outgoing Bush administration.

She was responding to a question about an essay published in Israel this week by Dov Weissglas, a former advisor to former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Weissglas, in an op-ed in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper on Tuesday, wrote that the Bush administration had given the informal go-ahead for settlements to expand to accommodate “natural growth.”

Clinton’s remarks reinforced US President Barack Obama’s message from Cairo on Thursday, when he repeated his admonishment that Israel must stop its settlements policy.

“There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements,” Clinton said. “If they did occur, which, of course, people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”

Obama insists that settlement expansion, even to accommodate natural growth, violates commitments made by Israel in the 2003 “road map” peace plan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on a collision course with Washington over Obama’s stance, calling it an “unreasonable demand” earlier this week.

Clinton, who spoke to reporters after meeting her Turkish counterpart in Washington, said the obligations under the road map are “very clear.”

Robert Fisk: Words that could heal wounds of centuries

June 5, 2009

President Obama reaches out to the Islamic world in a landmark speech

Robert Fisk | The Independent/UK, June 5, 2009

President Obama's speach reached out to the Islamic world

President Obama’s speach reached out to the Islamic world

Preacher, historian, economist, moralist, schoolteacher, critic, warrior, imam, emperor. Sometimes you even forgot Barack Obama was the President of the United States of America.

Will his lecture to a carefully chosen audience at Cairo University “re-imagine the world” and heal the wounds of centuries between Muslims and Christians? Will it resolve the Arab-Israeli tragedy after more than 60 years? If words could do the job, perhaps…

It was a clever speech we heard from Obama yesterday, as gentle and as ruthless as any audience could wish for – and we were all his audience. He praised Islam. He loved Islam. He admired Islam. He loved Christianity. And he admired America. Did we know that there were seven million Muslims in America, that there were mosques in every state of the Union, that Morocco was the first nation to recognise the United States and that our duty is to fight against stereotypes of Muslims just as Muslims must fight against stereotypes of America?

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But much of the truth was there, albeit softened to avoid hurting feelings in Israel. To deny the facts of the Jewish Holocaust was “baseless, ignorant and hateful”, he said, a remark obviously aimed at Iran. And Israel deserved security and “Palestinians must abandon violence…”

The United States demanded a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told the Israelis there had to be a total end to their colonisation in the West Bank. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”

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The Forked-Tongue Eunuchs and Israel

March 22, 2009

By Rami G. Khouri | Information Clearing House, March 21, 2009

If rhetoric is the first step toward action, then one of the rhetorical trends of our time indicating a giant step backward toward inaction is the American and European tendency to describe Israel’s aggressive and illegal actions in the occupied Palestinian territories in increasingly soft and imprecise terms.

For years, US administrations called Israeli settlements “illegal” and an “obstacle to peace,” but in recent years those terms have been replaced by a mere “unhelpful.” On her first official trip to the region earlier this month, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton referred to the Israeli demolition of Palestinian Arab homes in East Jerusalem as “unhelpful.” Earlier this week, the European Union presidency said that Israel’s demolition of homes in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem “threatens the viability of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement, in conformity with international law.”

If I were the Israeli government, I would be laughing all the way to my next colonial adventure in destroying Palestinian homes and infrastructure, uprooting Palestinian Arabs and replacing them with imported settlers from Israel, or Brooklyn, or Russia, or from wherever the world’s longest running modern colonization venture gets its human ammunition and reinforcements.

It is bad enough when two of the world’s powerhouses pull back from their previous positions of branding Israel’s contraventions of international law and United Nations resolutions as illegal and impermissible and instead call them “unhelpful” or just a threat to a lasting settlement. It is infinitely worse when the United States and the European Union, who spend half their waking hours trying to spread democracy and the rule of law to the rest of the world, end up watering down Israeli contraventions of international law so that Israel spends half its waking hours laughing at every American and European official in sight.

The rhetorical downgrading of Israel’s criminality is a problem (assuming it is still okay to use the word criminality to describe undermining the law). That, at least, is what my British and American teachers in primary and high school taught me when I learned English: Use the precise, accurate word when you have it at hand, and do not beat around the bush. Clarity is good for communication.

The first problem with Western obsequiousness to Israel is that it perpetuates the Zionist colonial enterprise in a manner that is harmful to all concerned, including Israelis, Palestinians and Westerners who end up being sucked into our maelstrom of violence. The second problem is that it helps to disqualify the US and EU and others who share their position – such as the UN, increasingly – from playing the role of an active, credible mediator. Arabs and Israelis cannot solve their conflict on their own, and mediation by the Turks or Egyptians can only move things forward so much. A permanent, comprehensive negotiated peace agreement requires intensive American and European involvement in negotiations, consummating an agreement, peace-keeping, and promoting post-peace economic growth. This is impossible if the US and EU have no credibility.

A third problem with the cowardice of sheltering in the safe world of “unhelpful” rather than “illegal and impermissible,” is that those Western powers that choose this route send a terrible message: They deny and ignore the rule of law when it comes to more than four decades of Israeli actions, but enthusiastically promote it when it comes to their aspirations to transform the Arab and Islamic world. A little bit of hypocrisy is standard fare for politicians; but when this becomes elevated to the level of official policy that transcends administrations, decades and generations, it enters the realm of the pathological.

Great powers and noble organizations that disrespect their own rules are not so great in the eyes of a bewildered world that thought that decolonization concluded about half a century ago, but wakes up every morning to find itself the continuing victim of new forms of criminal colonization – in the form of Zionist-Israeli settlers, or Western diplomats whose tongues are so forked they often resemble rattlesnakes walking on two feet.

Colonialism is either legal or illegal, acceptable or criminal. Laws matter or they don’t matter. There is no such thing as “unhelpful” colonialism, any more than there is merely naughty rape, awkward murder, or unfortunate incest. Why is it that those in the West who celebrate and seek to export their commitment to the rule of law find it so hard to adopt both the rhetoric and policies that acknowledge the criminal illegality and political catastrophe that is the modern and continuing Israeli colonial rampage? What is it that makes giants in the West become eunuchs in the face of Israeli deeds?

Rami G. Khouri is published twice-weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

West Bank settler violence challenges Israel

October 1, 2008

Mohammed Assadi

Reuters North American News Service |

Sep 30, 2008 04:15 EST

ASIRA AL-KIBLIYA, West Bank, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Armed with guns, slingshots, knives and stun grenades, Jewish settlers pelted the house of Palestinian Nahla Makhlouf with stones, uprooted young trees and painted the Star of David on her walls.

In Makhlouf’s West Bank village of Asira al-Kibilya, Palestinians brace for possible attack by their Jewish settler neighbours from nearby Titzhar almost every weekend. But the latest attack exceeded their expectations.

“They sprayed some sort of tear gas through the window. It smelled strong and made our eyes run and made it hard to breath, especially for my baby,” said the 33-year-old mother of four.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted strongly to the Sept. 13 attack, saying he would not tolerate “pogroms” by Jewish extremists who are determined on religious grounds to stop Israel swapping occupied land for peace.

Last week, an outspoken Israeli critic of the settlements was wounded by a pipe bomb outside his Jerusalem home, in what Olmert said was evidence of “an evil wind of extremism, of hatred, of violence” threatening Israeli democracy.

Settlers and the Israeli army said the Asira assault was triggered by the wounding of a nine-year-old settler boy by a Palestinian whom he had disturbed in the act of setting fire to a house in the Yitzhar settlement while the family was away.

But settler vigilante violence is growing, according to a recent U.N. report, which recorded 222 incidents in the first half of 2008, versus 291 in all of 2007.


Some half a million Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem. Their presence, viewed by major powers as illegal under international law, is partly shielded by a 790 km (490 mile) barrier Israel has been building since 2002.

In a newspaper interview on Monday, Olmert broke new ground by urging Israel’s withdrawal “from almost all the territories” captured in the 1967 Middle East war in return for peace.

But Olmert says Israel plans to keep major settlements in the West Bank in any peace deal, and would have to compensate the Palestinians for land lost.

The Palestinians say they cannot have a viable country of their own if it is chopped into pieces by Israeli settlement islands and the snaking walls and fences of the new barrier.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called the settlements “an obstacle to peace” which must go.

Some settlers justified the attack on Asira, saying the army failed to protect them against a violent infiltration.

“If the Israeli army had done what it should, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. They should either have prevented that infiltration or carried out a raid after,” Renana Cohen said.

Dani Dayan of Israel’s mainstream settlers’ organisation says the Arabs do not want peace. A Palestinian state would be a “launching pad” from which they would conduct “ethnic cleansing” against the Israelis, he argues. Many Israelis feel the same.

Most settlers oppose vigilante violence. But most agree that withdrawal would be “a sure recipe for war”, as Dayan puts is, because there will no “peace-loving Palestinians taking over”.

A younger, more aggressive breed of religious ideologues vows a violent response to any eviction threat, warning a heavy price would be exacted for any bid to close settlements down.


Residents of Asira say the settlers need no provocation or pretext. Attacks on Asira date back three years, Makhlouf said.

Palestinians complain of unremitting harassment, such as the burning of their olive trees and stoning attacks on farmers in the fields, as a prelude to land-creep and confiscation.

The garden and rooftop of Makhlouf’s neighbour, Ahmed Dawood, were littered by stones rained onto his house in the settler rampage. The water tank was holed by four bullet.

Dawood’s son and a labourer in his field were shot and wounded. The army, he said, made no effort to stop the attack.

“I complained to the soldiers and they shouted back ‘Get inside’ and started shooting,” he said.

“We have nothing to protect ourselves with. We just take precautions such as putting metal grids on the windows. But the solution is to have them uprooted from here.”

Asira’s predicament is well known to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, who gave Makhlouf a small video camera in 2007 to document violence. The lens was knocked off focus by a rock in the latest attack but still provided an audio record.

Yoav Gross of B’Tselem said the settlers can be heard giving the army a one-minute ultimatum to act against the Palestinians or they would do the job themselves.

“They started counting one, two, three…,” he said. “They were giving orders to the soldiers, not the other way around.”

One Israeli human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard, says most soldiers do not realise they have not only the right but also the duty, as the occupying power, to defend Palestinians.

Settler attacks may rise in the upcoming olive harvest, when Arab farmers work the groves close to settlement perimeters.

One Palestinian woman in Asira was stocking up on corrosive cleaning fluids to throw at the attackers next time they visit.

“They have the army to protect them even while they are attacking us,” said the woman, who was afraid to give her name.

“But we have no one to defend us.”

(Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Samia Nakhoul)

Source: Reuters North American News Service

UN debates West Bank settlements

September 27, 2008
Al Jazeera, Sep 27, 2008

The construction of settlements is viewed as a major obstacle to peace [AFP]

The Palestinian president and Arab countries have criticised Israel over its settlement expansion policy in the West Bank during debates at the United Nations.

In a speech to the General Assembly on Friday, Mahmoud Abbas deplored as “racial terrorism” what he said were daily attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian civilians, and urged the international community to take action.

“[The settlements] will not allow for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state because they divide the West Bank into at least four cantons,” he said.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, whose country formally called for the debate, said Israel must halt settlement activity and obey international law.

“Settlement makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible,” he said.

“The only path to Israel’s security is peace and it is time for Israel to understand that it cannot continue to exempt itself from behaving in accordance to international law,” Prince Saud said.

The Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League urged the UN Security Council to encourage the faltering peace process by demanding an end to Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

In August, Israel approved the construction of 400 new homes in a Jewish neighbourhood in east Jerusalem and invited bids for the construction of another 416 settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

Quartet meeting

The Middle East diplomatic Quartet on Friday pressed Israel and the Palestinians to seal a peace deal this year, but also expressed “deep concern” over continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank.

A ministerial session of Quartet members, the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN, ended with a call on the parties “to make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008”.

Quartet members “expressed deep concern about increasing [Israeli] settlement activity, which has a damaging impact on the negotiating environment and is an impediment to economic recovery and called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity.”

They also reiterated that the parties “must avoid actions that undermine confidence and could prejudice the outcome of the negotiations”.

In Annapolis, Maryland last November, Israel and the Palestinians revived negotiations toward resolving core problems such as the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and refugees, by the end of 2008.

Settlement expansion

Settlement expansion has nearly doubled since 2007, despite Israel’s pledge to freeze such activities, Peace Now, the Israeli watchdog, said last month.

“The situation necessitates a serious stand by the international community and a clear call upon Israel to begin withdrawing its settlers and dismantling its settlements,” Abbas said.

Settlement expansion has nearly doubled since 2007, according to Peace Now [File: EPA]

“It was recognised [in Annapolis] that this was a prerequisite for allowing negotiations towards ending the conflict to progress,” he said.But Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s UN Ambassador, told council members that while the settlements are a “delicate issue,” they “are not an obstacle to peace”.

“They have been used here as another instrument to bash Israel instead of addressing the realities on the ground,” she said.

“There is much that those in the region can do to support that peace process, but it is not about more UN meetings.

“It is, first and foremost, about commitment to prepare the people of the region for the price of peace, to accept the true meaning of peace,” Shalev said.

The West Bank has been under military occupation by Israel since 1967 and at least 400,000 Israelis have been settled in the territory, including East Jerusalem.

The settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, whose country currently chairs the European Union, restated the EU view that Israeli settlements, “wherever in the occupied Palestinian territories, are illegal under international law.”

He added that settlement “harms the credibility of the process started in Annapolis and affects the viability of the future Palestinian state.”

Reaching out

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, shifted the focus of the debate away from settlements, instead urging Arab countries to “consider ways they might reach out to Israel”.

She said the Arab world needed to fully understand that: “Israel belongs to the Middle East and will remain” in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, a group of 21 leading aid agencies said on Thursday that the Middle East Quartet was “losing its grip” on the peace process and must radically revise its approach.

The aid agencies said the Quartet has failed to hold Israel to account for expanding settlements in the West Bank.

Israel ‘doubling’ settlement growth

August 27, 2008

Al Jazeera, August 26, 2008

Rice maintains that she aims for the two sides to reach a peace deal by January [AFP]

Israel has nearly doubled settlement construction activity in the occupied West Bank since 2007, a report by the rights group Peace Now says.

The report on settlement expansion coincided with the 18th visit by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, to the Middle East, on Tuesday.

Rice urged Israel to stop expanding settlements, deemed illegal under international law, arguing that they were not helpful to the peace process.

“The settlement activity is not conducive to creating an environment for negotiations,” Rice said at a news conference with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Earlier in Jerusalem, after talks with Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, Rice referred to settlements, saying “anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided”.

A US-backed “road map” for peace calls on Israel to halt all settlement activity in the West Bank and for Palestinians to rein in armed groups.

Settlement ‘noise’

The report by Peace Now, a non-governmental organisation, said that at least 2,600 new homes for Israelis are currently under construction in the West Bank, an increase of 80 per cent over last year.

In occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state, the number of new government bids for construction has increased from 46 in 2007 to 1,761 so far this year.

Palestinians say the construction of Israeli homes undermines final status talks as it runs counter to earlier agreements.

But Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said the construction will not affect talks.

“The peace process is not, and should not be, affected by any kind of settlement activities,” Livni said.

Livni urged the Palestinians not to use settlement building “as an excuse” to avoid negotiations, but added she understood “their frustration” at times.

Peace process

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Ramallah, said the issue of settlement building played into larger concerns.

“The issue of settlement building is not just that they exist on occupied land in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, it’s about control over water and the territorial contiguity of any possible future [Palestinian] state,” she said.

“It’s difficult for Palestinians to have any confidence in the committment to reach a solution when settlement activity has almost doubled – and by the Palestinain count more than doubled.”

Rice said she still aims to reach a peace accord by January, when George Bush, the US president, leaves office, but she has played down chances of striking any partial accord in time for the September UN General Assembly.

Egypt talks

Separately, Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, travelled to Egypt on Tuesday where he met Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to discuss the ceasefire in Gaza that has been in effect since mid-June.

Barak hailed Egyptian efforts along the porous border which “have visibly been effective”, a statement from the Israeli defence ministry said.

But Barak also said that “more effort should be put in order to further reduce” weapons smuggling into Gaza.

The two leaders also discussed ways to renew talks on the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas fighters near Gaza in June 2006.

On Monday, Barak ordered the closure of all border crossings into Gaza after two rockets were fired from the strip.

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