The Palestinian media highlighted the latest in the negotiations with Israel and preparations for final status negotiations. The lead story concerned the dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over plans by Prime Minister Ehud Barak to withdraw from five percent of the West Bank. The PA demanded the right to approve Israel’s map and called for the withdrawal to focus in the Samarian district around Ramallah. This would give the PA territorial contiguity in the West Bank.
The week began with PA astonishment over Barak’s statement that United Nations Security Council resolution 242 and 338 do not apply to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Barak’s argument was that the sovereignty of these two areas were never defined and so they can’t be automatically returned. The Al Quds daily on Nov. 8 said Barak decided to expand area of settlement near Nablus by tenfold. The daily quoted PA Cabinet secretary Ahmed Abdul Rahman as saying, “Barak’s statement is very dangerous and destroys the whole peace process.”
The newspaper also quoted Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, the head of the Palestinian final status talks. Abbed Rabbo said that the expansion of Israeli settlements “is our top issue in negotiations today. Abed Rabbo said the decision to expand the Itamar settlement near Nablus reveals the real policy of the Israeli government, which “rejects international legitimacy and the peace process.”
In an editorial, Al Quds said the real test of whether Israel and the Palestinians can reconcile lies in the final status negotiations, which began in early November.
“These sessions will be the real test if the peace process will fail or succeed,” the editorial said. “The final-status negotiations are different since they deal with permanent issues that will decide if the region will witness comprehensive peace. Achieving the goal of the final-status negotiations must not move away from the international legitimacy and the national rights of the Palestinian people, mainly the right for self determination and the establishment of the independent Palestinian state. Away from euphoria or black pessimism, we must say that the negotiations will be hard in light of the gap between the two positions.”
PLO Executive Committee member Faisal Husseini referred to Barak’s interpretation of UN Security Council resolution 242 in an interview on Voice of Palestine. Husseini said the final status talks have been launched to implement that resolution.
“He cannot ignore this reality,” he said. “If he doesn’t implement 242 resolution, and and 338, there is another resolution, 181. If he also want to deny this resolution, he in fact getting us back to square number one.”
UN Security Council resolution 181, passed in 1947, calls for the partition of the British mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. The PA has said this would be the basis for final status talks.
Regarding settlements, Husseini said, “This is totally a blatant violation to the basic principals that guide negotiations. The principals include that no party should conduct unilateral measures that preempt the final settlement.”
The PLO news agency, Wafa, went further. It covered the remarks of a Jewish author, George Steiner. During a visit to Israel this month, the agency said, Steiner said Jews are not in need of a state.
Steiner, a lecturer at Cambridge University, “confirmed that Judaism is a religion built upon loving the others not suppressing them. The writer is a lecturer at Cambridge university and has published many cultural books,” Wafa said. “He considers himself to be an international thinker.”
Palestinian newspapers also covered new settlement activity in the West Bank as well as Palestinian attempts to build in Israeli-controlled territories. They reported that Israeli authorities halted construction of a school in Kalkilia that was being built in Area C, under full Israeli control. The reports said the school will alleviate overcrowding in PA schools.
The Suha Affair
The Palestinian press was on the defensive in the wake of accusations by Palestinian First Lady Suha Arafat, who said on Nov. 11 during a ceremony in Gaza with her U.S. counterpart, Hillary Clinton, “Our people have been subjected to the daily and extensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces, which has led to an increase in cancer cases among women and children.”
Palestinian newspapers and radio and television were upset by the U.S. reaction to Suha’s remarks. They accused American leaders of merely bowing to Jewish pressure. “The main motive for the White House’s eagerness to condemn sister Suha’s statement lies in its wish to make New York Jews happy in order to get a few votes supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy,” Fuad Abu Hijleh wrote in Al Hayat Al Jadida. “If elections to Congress bring the United States to endorse such a position, what can we expect in the presidential elections?”
Al Hayat Al Jadida, with the smallest circulation among Palestinian dailies, has a new policy of strident advocacy of the PA and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Other Palestinian columnists said Suha’s charges are nothing new. They ignored statements by some PA officials that expressed reservation over Mrs. Arafat’s remarks.
“Since the occupation’s beginning, Israel has conducted a pre-meditated campaign against the Palestinians and their land,” Fathi Abd Hamid said in the Al Manar weekly.
“Water poisoning incidents are known and proven. The burial of nuclear waste is not a secret. and spoiled foodstuffs are collected in settlements with the knowledge of Israeli leaders, and thrown to Palestinian markets. Suha Arafat’s statements represent the people’s suffering of hated Israeli colonialism, which continues. despite the beginning of the peace process.”
Abd Hamid’s assertion reflects the statements of Palestinian ministers that resemble Suha’s charges. Over the last year, Health Minister Riyad Zanoun has accused Israeli doctors of experimenting on Palestinian patients. Deputy Supply Minister Abd Hamid Qudsi has asserted that Israel is trying to annihilate Palestinians by bringing diseased food into Palestinian areas. Environment Minister Yusef Abu Safiyeh has repeatedly charged Israel with dumping poison into Palestinian groundwater.
Palestinian independence day was celebrated around the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Nov. 15. The celebration included marches in Ramallah and other major cities. The daily newspapers that morning highlighted the 11th anniversary of the PLO declaration of statehood. The front page of each newspaper published numerous congratulatory messages. The PA-aligned Al Ayyam and Al Hayat Al Jadida contained the same independence photos. Al Quds did not have an independence day photograph.
Al Hayat published a front-page editorial that reviewed Palestinian independence plans. “Today, we are hanging on to our land grain by grain and we will confront the occupation throughout the entire negotiations and we will liberate our prisoners step by step and our leadership will head our independent state and we are getting closer and closer to our capital, the holy Jerusalem. We have the right to be proud of this achievement.”
But there were plenty of stories absent from the official PA media. Here’s one that concerns Farouk Abu-Hassan. A Palestinian human rights group says the PA has detained Abu-Hassan five years without charges because he supported peace with Israel, a human rights group says.
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group said Abu-Hassan has been held for five years without charges in Gaza prison. Abu-Hassan, 45, was arrested by the Palestinian Intelligence Service on Nov. 8, 1994.
The group said the reason for the arrest was a letter signed by Abu-Hassan and others, addressed to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, in 1981. In the letter, Abu-Hassan congratulates Sadat on his initiative of peace agreement with Israel in 1977.
The PLO and most of the Arab world was against the Egyptian move.
The group, in a statement on Nov. 16 to mark Palestinian independence day, said Abu-Hassan said he was tortured. His wife was ordered to pay $12,000 for Abu-Hassan’s release. But Abu-Hassan remained in jail.
The human rights group said the PA is holding 220 political prisoners and 250 security prisoners in jail without charges. They said the security prisoners include Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, or selling land to Jews.
Cooperation with Israel
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported that Col. Mohammed Dahlan, Chief of the Palestinian Preventive Security Apparatus in Gaza concluded an agreement with Israeli Transport Minister Yitzhak Mordechai to form a joint Palestinian-Israeli Committee to grant facilities to investors in the industrial zone at the Gaza Al-Mintar entrance to the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank.
WAFA reported that Dahlan and Mordechai also discussed ways to facilitate the transportation of commodities and passengers through the entrance and the safe passage, in addition to discussing the obstacles encountered by the Palestinian investors in the Palestinian territories.
On security issues, Al Ayam reported that Israel and the PA intelligence apparatuses revealed that they jointly thwarted a chemical weapons terror attack, against Israel, planned to take place before the Israeli elections last May.
“A terrorist chemical attack by Hamas that was scheduled to be executed on the eve of the Israeli elections last May. The TV said a head of a Fidai [fighter] cell, one of the most extremist men in Hamas, received detailed information from abroad, it seems, on how to prepare chemical substances and transfer them to chemical weapons. The Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh said the attack was frustrated but he could not deny the fact that capabilities of Hamas are developing,” Al Ayam said.
On the continuation of negotiations, the Voice of Palestine reported that both the Palestinian and Israeli sides in Jericho decided on activating all of the interim phase committees including the Prisoners Committee to review the release of another group of Palestinian prisoners before the month of Ramadan.
WAFA cites a report from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem asserting that the Israeli General Security Services is recruiting more Palestinian collaborators.
“The GSS is exerting more pressure to recruit the Palestinian workers as collaborators,” WAFA said quoting the report. “The GSS is misusing its responsibilities and delegations of providing permits of work and magnetized cards to bargain them on collaborating with the it. The increasing pressure came after the Israeli redeployment from the Palestinian cities and the decrease of its intelligence information in Gaza.”
The unpublished report includes testimonies of several Palestinian workers who describe the humiliation they encountered from the Israeli soldiers and border guards.
The Voice of Palestine reported that PA Chairman Arafat announced at the International Socialism Conference in Paris that Israel should withdraw from all the areas that it occupied on 1967. He reiterated that the Palestinian Israeli peace process is represented in the U.N. resolutions 242, 338 and the other resolutions. For the first time, Arafat said, the Palestinians are able to have a resolution that demands Israel to halt its unilateral measures particularly settlements.
The Voice of Palestine also reported that the Israeli army dismantled a settlement enclave in Havat Ma’on near Hebron. The removal of the enclave was part of an agreement between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Jewish settlers representaive body.
In an editorial on November 10, Al Quds castigated the Israeli settlers who refused to vacate Havat Ma’on and had to be evicted by the Israeli army and police force.
“It has become clear that the so called Israeli peace policy is in the hands of a group of non-sensible settlers, most of whom are teenagers and adolescents who seek to create the conditions for a violent confrontation with the Israeli government and free the extremist feelings deep inside them. It seems that Barak prefers to be flexible when dealing with the settlement phenomenon, which explains his retreat from his previous promises to dismantle “illegal” settlement sites although he made a deal with settlers to dismantle some sites,” Al Quds said.
Questioning whether the settlers who opposed the Israeli government decision were representative of all the settlers or that they acted independently, Al Quds asked, “Are these adolescent settlers acting on their own or do they constitute the tip of the iceberg in the confrontation between the settlement movement and the slow peace process?. Even if the Israeli government ignores the settlement phenomenon, settlers seem determined to sabotage the peace process and that some kind of confrontation with the government will take place sooner or later.”
In conclusion, the editorial said, “past experiences have shown that using a flexible policy with the settlement policy will only encourage settlers to continue their provocative acts. The peace process requires a firm policy to make the settlers understand that their government is really serious in its path towards peace, that is if the Israeli government really seeks a just and comprehensive peace. There is no place for settlements in the peace process.”
WAFA reported that the annual yearbook released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics stated that there are 166,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and 6,100 settlers in the Gaza Strip, amounting to an increase of 1200 settlers during 1999.
The extensive editing and research for this monitor of the Palestinian media is made possible through tax deductible contribtions to The Center for Near East Policy Research, 170 R Gardner Street, Boston, MA 02132