Friday, March 25, 2011

CMEP: Challenges and Obstacles

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP's) recent bulletin is full of information and links. I'm a little tardy in getting it out. Been busy with EAPPI planning and a debriefing of marvelous accompaniers from Groups 37 & 38.

I've re-arranged the CMEP bulletin just a smidge, putting the important statistical info up top. Ann

CMEP Bulletin
March 18, 2011
Challenges and Obstacles
View this email online

Statistics update
In the past two weeks, the Israeli government has demolished 65 Palestinian structures and displaced 119 Palestinians, including 42 children, according to the latest report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Meanwhile, a separate OCHA report revealed that in February, Israeli authorities rejected 364 applications submitted by Palestinian West Bank ID holders to legalize their current residency in East Jerusalem.

You can learn more about the UNOCHA’s work in the Palestinian territories here.

Itamar Atrocity Fallout
Late on Friday March 11, a young Israeli couple and three of their young children were brutally murdered in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, located near the northern city of Nablus. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad immediately denounced the murders and President Mahmound Abbas expressed his horror in an interview on Israeli radio and in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In response to the tragic killing, the Israeli government on Sunday, March 13 approved the construction of several hundred new homes in West Bank settlements. Settler groups have complained recently that approval of new construction by Israeli authorities has been slow, and Netanyahu has complained to his party members that he is under intense international pressure not to go ahead with new settlement construction. In a visit to Itamar after the announcement of authorizing new construction, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “they murder, we build.” In response, a surviving sister of the murdered children replied, “Will the Americans let you?”

Israeli Foreign Minister and leader of the opposition party Tzipi Livni said in response to Netanyahu’s announcement, "The cycle of terrorism and building that the prime minister has been caught up in is not the correct cycle. We do not set long term policy based on a singular event, even one as terrible as this… It is not enough to call for the world to criticize terror. Our ability to gain legitimacy to fight terror depends on our attempts to reach agreement [with Palestinians]."

The United States also criticized the announcement of new construction, saying that the U.S. saw “these settlements as illegitimate and as running counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations.”

CMEP released a statement this week that condemned the murders and decried such violence as symptomatic of a stagnant peace process.

Netanyahu in Bind
The Israeli response to the murders in Itamar throw into sharp relief the divisions within Israeli society and the challenges that Prime Minister Netanyahu faces in confronting internal Israeli politics.

On the one hand, the European community—and particularly the United Kingdom, France and Germany—is increasingly impatient at the lack of progress in negotiations. As Philip Stevens notes in the Financial Times, the Europeans view the current instability in the Middle East as making such talks all the more urgent, and have recently indicated that they may push the Middle Eastern Quartet to publish specific parameters of a peace deal, a move that Israel opposes.

On the other hand, Netanyahu is under pressure from his right wing to press on with settlements. The decision to allow further construction was a gesture to this base in the wake of the horrific violence in Itamar.

In the face of these competing pressures, Netanyahu’s strategy appears to be delaying action whenever possible. He recently made known that he is planning to make a major policy speech; this was enough for the Middle East Quartet to postpone its meeting scheduled for this week until mid-April.

Given the rising tensions in the region and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not clear how much longer the Prime Minister can delay making a proposal to the Palestinians on final status issues.

Unity Movement
The popular uprisings that have roiled the Middle East for the past two months have not gone unnoticed within the Palestinian Territories.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza on March 14 to call for an end to the Hamas-Fatah dispute that has divided the Palestinian people since 2007.

In response, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas announced he will travel to Gaza in order to attempt to form a new government. The visit would be Abbas’ first to Gaza since Hamas took power in June 2007.

Israeli officials viewed the unification efforts skeptically. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his commitment not to deal with any Palestinian government that included Hamas.

Arms into Gaza
In a reminder of just how precarious Israel’s security context is, two arms shipments to Gaza were intercepted over the past week.

The first shipment was intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea and contained 50 tons of Iranian-made weapons, including sophisticated missiles that Hamas is not known to possess. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that the weapons seizure justified Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza. “To all of those who questioned and attacked and criticized Israel for stopping Gaza-bound ships in order to check them, there is the answer,” he said.

The second shipment was intercepted in southern Egypt, along a Bedouin smuggling route. The shipment included ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades and was seized by Egyptian forces along its border with Sudan.

CMEP Advocacy Conference
Register today for CMEP’s 2011 Advocacy Conference, For the Peace of Jerusalem. We are excited to announce that Archbishop Elias Chacour will be speaking at the conference. We are working on an exciting line up of speakers and workshops for the May 22 – 24th event. Add your name soon to make sure you get the Early Bird registration rate (enter code "gets the worm). Find out more.

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