Kerry talks economics as Fayyad/Abbas spat begins to settle [April 7 - April 13]
The United States is making it clear to the Palestinians that the resignation of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is not an option. On April 12, US Secretary of State John Kerry called up President Mahmoud Abbas to talk about his recent shuttle visit to the region aimed at jumpstarting negotiations between Palestinians and Israel, and also to reportedly ‘persuade” him to patch things up with his premier. Fayyad has said he would resign, most likely over the spat between himself and President Abbas following the resignation of finance minister Nabil Kassis early last month. While Fayyad immediately accepted the resignation, Abbas felt he had gone over his head with a decision that should ultimately be the president’s.
Abbas and Fayyad are scheduled to meet today in Ramallah, to “talk things over.”
Kerry’s visit to the region this week during which he met with both Palestinian and Israeli officials yielded an announcement by the Secretary of State that the US would soon be announcing a plan to boost the Palestinian economy. This was not, however, an alternative to a political path, which Kerry says he is still trying to get back on track. Israel and the Palestinians have so far refused to return to the negotiating table, with each side saying the other had to make the first step. Palestinians remain adamant that Israel must halt settlement activity, offer a map of borders for the future Palestinian state and release at least the 123 prisoners arrested before the Oslo Accords were signed before they return to the table. While the Israeli press said this week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may accept a limited release of prisoners, nothing has yet been officially announced.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are angry with Canada. On April 12, the PLO lodged an official complaint with Canada after its foreign minister, John Baird attended meeting with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at her office in occupied east Jerusalem.
"Your recent meeting with Israeli officials in East Jerusalem has the effect of attempting to legitimize the illegal situation on the ground and may be deemed as aiding, abetting or otherwise assisting illegal Israeli policies," PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat wrote in the message to Canada's representative office.
"As such, Canada’s actions are tantamount to complicity in ongoing Israeli violations of the international laws of war. ... these violations are being (perpetrated) not only against the State of Palestine and the Palestinian people, but against the international community as a whole."
In London, Baird rejected the criticism.
“I’m just not interested in getting into the semantic argument about whether you have a meeting with one person on one side of the street (and) it’s OK, and you have a meeting on the other side of street and it’s not,” he said.
“We’re focused on trying to have an impact on the difficult and serious challenges, that being security for Israelis, an end to the conflict and the legitimate aspirations for a state from those in the Palestinian side.”
It may be difficult to realize Palestinian aspirations, especially in Gaza, according to the United Nations on April 10. UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Gaza, James Rawley said, “Recent restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza are undermining the livelihoods and rights of many vulnerable people in the territory,” adding that if the restrictions continued, the effect on the population will be serious.
Rawley said that in recent weeks, Israel has announced a series of heightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip, including closures of the Kerem Shalom crossing, “resulting in the depletion of stocks of essential items, including basic foodstuffs and cooking gas."
In the West Bank, Palestinians continue to show concern for their prisoners in Israeli jails, namely long- standing hunger striker Samer Issawi. Today, Issawi is in dire condition, with damaged heart muscles and at a high risk for stroke. Israel, on April 12, offered to deport Issawi to a UN member country as a deal to break his strike. According to Ofir Gendelman, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, "the EU and UN who demanded his release declined to find a country that will accept him. Palestinians have been pressuring the EU and the UN to intervene to save Issawi’s life. However, Issawi insists he will not break his strike unless he is released and allowed to return to his hometown of Essawiyeh in Jerusalem.
However, in spite of Israel’s claims about the EU, an EU spokesman told AFP that "Israel has not formally approached the EU on this subject."
A day earlier on April 11, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel said human rights violations by medics working for Israel's prison service are endangering the lives of both Israeli and Palestinian inmates, especially hunger strikers.
The NGO strongly urged the transfer of responsibility for prisoners' health from the Israel Prisons Service to the health ministry in order to ensure detainees' health was put ahead of "security considerations".
"Medical ethics and human rights violations carried out by the IPS, specifically by prison medical practitioners... endangered the lives of prisoners and detainees on hunger strike," PHR said in a report.
The abuses it cited included "preventing independent physicians from examining and monitoring the medical condition of hunger strikers... and blocking the transfer of prisoners on hunger strike to civilian hospitals.”
Also on April 11, Israeli forces shot and injured a disabled Palestinian in Hebron. Motaz Ibedo, who has been confined to a wheelchair after being shot two years ago, was critically injured and transferred to an Israeli hospital for treatment, according to a statement issued by the Palestinian Prisoners Society.
On the same day, Jewish settlers attacked 60-year-old Palestinian judge Ahmad al-Zir as he worked on his land near Ramallah. Al Zir sustained multiple injuries, including head wounds, and was left unconscious in the attack. Clashes ensured between Israeli forces and Palestinians, resulting in the injury of a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot in the chest and the arm with plastic-coated bullets. Settlers also attacked Palestinian land in Thahiriyeh, near Hebron, cutting down 350 olive and almond trees.
Israeli guards at the Rimon prison attacked Abdul- Rahman Karajah, fracturing his hand after he climbed a roof with barbed wires and lowered the Israeli flag," according to his lawyer. Karajeh was taking part of protests against the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, the high-profile prisoner with cancer who died in prison two weeks ago.
On the internal front, Palestinian officials took part in a ceremony on April 11 to lay the cornerstone for a new museum of Palestinian culture, history and society in the Ramallah-area town of Birzeit.
Organizers said the museum, which will be built in two stages, would provide Palestinians with "a valuable source of information on Palestine and its history".
"The museum will not only be for Palestinians but will reach out to the whole world through an advanced digital network," project manager Omar al-Qattan said during the ceremony.
"It will be more than a traditional building with archaeological relics. We are looking at an institution that will transcend all boundaries -- geographical and political," he added.
Finally, on April 10, head of the Central Elections Committee Hanna Nasser said voter registration had been completed and the data entered and analyzed, adding that the CEC was ready for upcoming presidential and legislative elections. This, however, will not happen until Palestinian reconciliation is achieved, something which Hamas and Fatah have failed to reach so far.