The story of the hour has been the documentary film broadcast by Al Jazeera on July 3 which indicates that late President Yasser Arafat died of polonium poisoning. The investigation has caused a flurry of reactions, not least of all by the Palestinians themselves. President Mahmoud Abbas, amid criticisms that the PA had somehow failed to give sufficient attention to Arafat’s mysterious death, immediately ordered a new investigation with Arab and international expertise to look into Al Jazeera’s findings.
On July 5, Arafat’s nephew and head of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, Nasser al-Qudwa met with President Abbas in Paris to discuss the new allegations that Arafat was poisoned with the radioactive element polonium-210 in 2004. Al Qudwa said the late president's body would be exhumed if necessary to determine the true cause of his death.
The Palestinian Authority also said it would approve Arafat’s widow Suha Arafat's request to exhume his body for an autopsy. While fingers continue to point at Israel as the main culprit in the poison theory, Israel has remained adamant that it had nothing to do with Abu Ammar’s death.
In related news Tunisia called for Arab ministers to meet to discuss the death of President Arafat, a senior official in the Arab League said on July 5. Tunisia has a particular interest in the case given that one of Arafat’s personal physicians is Tunisian and has now said he would participate in any international probe into the mysterious circumstances of the president’s sudden demise. The Palestinians say that after the poison theory is proven they want to pursue those behind the assassination and bring them to justice.
Meanwhile, inside the Palestinian territories, reconciliation efforts have come to a screeching halt yet again with Hamas on July 2 suddenly announcing that the Central Committee Elections would not be allowed to begin voter registration in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials claimed that the increase in arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank meant that Hamas affiliates could not register to vote or hold party meetings to prepare for elections. Mahmoud Zahhar, one of Hamas’ more hawkish leaders, accused Fatah of planning electoral fraud. He said the Central Elections Commission was dominated by Fatah members, thus allowing Fatah to supervise the electoral process.
The PLO officials met in Ramallah the same evening to discuss Hamas' decision. The meeting, headed by President Abbas, called the move an "unjustifiable decision which contradicts with all agreements reached in Cairo and Doha."
"The Palestinian leadership is surprised by Hamas’ behavior which will impede the first step towards reconciliation, and return us to a tense atmosphere, which we had moved on from," a statement released after the meeting said.
On July 5, UN envoy Robert Serry travelled to the CEC headquarters in Gaza. Serry called on Hamas to reconsider its decision, saying it was "very disappointing as both Palestinian reconciliation and the democratic renewal of institutions in the occupied Palestinian territory were long overdue."
He called on those responsible "to reverse the suspension and allow the CEC to resume this vital process without further delay."
On July 7, CEC official Jamil Al-Khalidi, said they were continuing to exert efforts to reopen voter registration in Gaza, saying that several Palestinian factions along with Egypt were communicating with Hamas to reverse its decision. However, no progress has been made so far.
On July 6, the United Nations named French judge Christine Chanet as the leader of a Human Rights Council team of three experts who will investigate whether Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories violate human rights law. This of course was met with immediate Israeli rejection. "The establishment of this mission is another blatant expression of the singling out of Israel in the UNHRC," an Israeli foreign ministry statement said.
"This fact-finding mission will find no co-operation in Israel, and its members will not be allowed to enter Israel and the Territories." But even if the team could enter and investigators conclude that settlements violate human rights law, the US will most likely stop any attempt to impose punishment on Israel.
Settlements are and continue to be the biggest threat to peace. On July 2, Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories, said in a press conference that the acceleration of settlement building had "closed the book" on the feasibility of a two-state solution.
"The Palestinian position gets weaker and weaker through time and the Israelis get more and more of a fait accompli through their unlawful activities," he said. On July 5, OXFAM also released a report named “On the Brink’ calling on the EU to pressure Israel into halting settlement construction, which it said threatens the future viability of a Palestinian state.
Israel has other plans, though. On July 5, Israeli military authorities announced that work would resume on the West Bank separation wall within a few weeks. The High Court of Justice approved the renewed work in the Gush Etzion and Jerusalem areas, also approving work in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement area, scheduled to begin in 2013.
Settlers, meanwhile, continue to wreak havoc for the Palestinians. On July 5, Jewish settlers uprooted 120 olive trees in the village of Yitma and took over five dunams of agricultural land in Khader near Bethlehem. A day earlier, Jewish settlers took over more land in the Jordan valley to expand the settlements of Rotem and Bracha. And in Husan, near Bethlehem, four locals were served eviction orders for plots of land near the Bitar Illit settlement in the area.
On July 3, around 1,000 Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah opposing negotiations with Israel and the Oslo Accords signed in 1993. The demonstration ended quietly, perhaps because of criticism of the PA’s crackdown on last week’s demonstrations in Ramallah against Shaul Mofaz’ cancelled visit. On July 1, a day after the first crackdown, another demonstration at the Muqata was met with a violent response from PA security services, ending in five people being treated for broken bones.
On July 3, a spokesman for EUPOL COPPS, an EU mission that has been training Palestinian police since 2006, told the Palestinian media network Maan that the European Union was "concerned" at the reports of the use of excessive force.
"In its bilateral dialogue and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority the EU continually stresses the necessity to uphold international human rights standards and respect fundamental freedoms, in particular the right to peaceful protest and demonstration and freedom of expression and the media," Benoit Cusin said.
Cusin said the EU would continue its training but based on the rule of law, adding that the EU welcomed the decision of the Palestinian Authority to establish a committee to investigate the incidents."