Israeli settlers stepped up their attacks in the West Bank this week after a settler was fatally stabbed on April 30 at the Zaa’tara checkpoint in north of Nablus. A Jewish settler from the Nablus-area settlement of Yitzhar was stabbed to death by Salam Abu Zaghal from Tulkarm near the checkpoint. Settlers immediately began carrying out retaliatory attacks, attacking Palestinian cars and property in the area.
Settlers attacked and wounded a Palestinian farmer near the village of Furiq and uprooted some 100 olive trees near the village of Qaryut. According to Palestinian sources, settlers also started over 50 fires across the West Bank on April 30.
Hundreds of olive and almond trees were damaged and large areas of cultivated crops were destroyed, the sources said. Jewish settlers also attacked a mosque and hurled stones at Palestinian cars, including two buses with schoolgirls, injuring over 20 people.
Settlers also set up a settlement outpost near the checkpoint where the settler was killed. Settlers hooked the mobile homes up to electricity connections and brought in settlers to take over the area. The Israeli army later dismantled the outpost on May 3.
On May 3, settlers continued their attacks on Palestinian land, burning down 40 olive trees in Kufr Qaddum. On the same day, settlers from Ofra uprooted 50 trees in the Ramallah-area village of Deir Jreer.
According to the Israeli daily Maariv, the Israeli government has allocated NIS22 million to build and expand settlements in Jerusalem on the occasion of what Israel calls “Jerusalem Day”, celebrating the unilateral Israeli unification of the city next week.
On April 29, Israeli occupation authorities also demolished three homes in Al Tur neighborhood of Jerusalem, claiming they were built without a license.
Another major development this week was the meeting between the Arab ministerial delegation and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on April 29. The delegation, headed by Qatari Prince Hamad and Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi, ostensibly travelled to the US to talk to officials there on ways to revive the Arab Peace Initiative and restart negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Instead, the delegation expressed willingness to ‘modify’ its 2002 peace initiative, accepting, in principle the idea of land swaps with Israel. The move drew praise from the US, calling it "a very big step forward." Even Israeli justice minister and head of the negotiating team Tzipi Livni said it could be a step forward. The praise did not spill over however to the Palestinians.
Member of Fatah's Central Committee Mohammed Shtayya criticized the move on May 2, saying land swaps should be a result of negotiations with Israel rather than an "advance payment" given by Arabs on behalf of the Palestinians. “If there are changes to the borders, land swaps must be on an equal basis,” he said. "If we give one centimeter, we must take one centimeter in return.”
He went on to say that Israel interprets the Arab attitude in a “very dangerous way,” saying Israelis will try to understand that this attitude allows them to talk about annexing settlement blocs as if they were part of the Arab Peace Initiative.
"I don’t think the Arab Peace Initiative should be amended, because if this case is open, it would be difficult to close it by any means," he concluded.
The development was also slammed by Hamas politburo chief Khalid Mashaal. Speaking with Al Jazeera, Mashaal said any such concession would harm the Palestinian cause.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained coy on the subject, but said on May 2 that he would put any peace deal reached with the Palestinians to a referendum. Israeli political sources have said the leadership was concerned that Kerry was trying to push Netanyahu to return to negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders, something Netanyahu has so far refused to do.
On April 30, Israel also stepped up its military operations in Gaza, following a number of rocket attacks into Israeli territory, which caused no damages or injuries. 25-year old Haytham Al Mis’hal was killed and another Palestinian injured when Israeli planes fired a missile at his motorcycle west of Gaza City. Israel claims Mis’hal was involved in the rocket attack on Eilat last month. The Salafist Mujahedeen Shura Council said Mis’hal was one of its members and claimed responsibility for the rocket attack as well.
The rocket fire prompted Hamas to carry out arrests of several Salafists according to its interior ministry on May 2.
“The internal security apparatus has arrested fanatics calling themselves Salafists, for security and criminal reasons. There were no arrests made for ideological or political reasons," a ministry statement said. The Mujahedeen Shura Council has accused Hamas of arresting its members for political reasons, saying they are trying to thwart their rocket attacks on Israel, but vowed to continue nonetheless.
Finally, resigned Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – who President Mahmoud Abbas has said will continue in his post during the transitional phase – made some strong statements in an interview published on May 3 in the New York Times, calling the Palestinian leadership a ‘failure.” Fayyad said Fatah would “break down” and the PA was already “broke.”
"Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on," Fayyad said. "It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don't strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric."