More IPCRI In The News

February 12, 2003

Violence Follows a Ban on Palestinians' Holiday Travel



JERUSALEM, Feb. 11 Israeli security forces shot dead an 8-year-old Palestinian boy today when they opened fire on a crowd throwing stones in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, Palestinians said. Later, in Bethlehem, an Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper as he patrolled near Manger Square, the army said.

The burst of violence came as the army shut Palestinians into their cities, saying warnings of planned terrorist attacks had forced it to rescind a promised easing of already strict travel restrictions during the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha.

Israel said the "complete closure" a ban on all Palestinian travel through the occupied territories would last through the four-day holiday, until Feb. 14.

In Qalqilya, forces of the Israeli border police on a raid into the city encountered a mob, the army said. It said the police opened fire after being attacked with stones, bricks and firebombings. A spokesman said the army did not know if anyone was hurt.

Palestinians said the border police surrounded two houses in apparent pursuit of some wanted men, when youths began throwing stones at them. In addition to the boy who was killed, they said, nine other Palestinians were wounded by what they described as random Israeli fire.

In Bethlehem after dark, the army said, soldiers left their vehicles near the Church of the Nativity to examine a suspicious car they thought might contain a bomb. Someone opened fire on them from about 50 yards away, killing the platoon commander, the army said.

Bethlehem was immediately put under curfew, but searches of the area did not yield the sniper. Soldiers subsequently blew up the suspicious car, the army said.

Israeli forces have been operating freely in what by agreement is Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank since June, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 19 passengers on a Jerusalem bus.

On Monday, the Israeli government described its plan to ease restrictions on Palestinians during the holiday in an announcement that gave some sense of how tight the restrictions already were. The government said the curfew would be relaxed in the Gaza Strip, more Palestinians would be permitted to leave the occupied territories to work and worshipers 45 and older would be permitted to pray here at one of Islam's holiest sites, known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, also instructed soldiers "to exhibit extra sensitivity toward the Palestinian civilian population during the holiday," the army said.

But late Monday, Mr. Mofaz rescinded the plan. He said Israel had intelligence reports of planned suicide bombings. "The Palestinian Authority is not making any efforts to stop the waves of terror, and it is in our hands today," he said.

The army said soldiers intercepted two would-be suicide bombers today, one of them with an 18-pound explosive.

Palestinians reacted with dismay and anger to news of the closing, which prevented some from coming here to pray and others from visiting family members in neighboring cities. Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, is the most important feast on the Muslim calendar.

Zakaria al-Qaq, the co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, said that because of such closings, "the holidays are becoming the most politicized days in the Palestinian year."

Instead of a spiritual event or a chance to catch up with family, he said, "it's becoming people talking about the killing, the closures."

Dr. Qaq said Palestinians generally believe that Israel never planned to ease the closing, but only hoped to gain credit internationally from appearing to be willing to do so.

Israeli forces continued scouring the West Bank today for what the army said were wanted people. In all, 18 Palestinians were arrested there overnight Monday.

This morning, in the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers found the body of an armed Palestinian, wearing a bullet-proof vest, the army said. The army said soldiers had opened fire on him late Monday after spotting him carrying a rifle in an area off limits to Palestinians. Palestinian officials described him as a member of Hamas.

The new closing and violence followed the resumption of security talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Under a proposed plan, which has failed in the past amid mutual charges of bad faith, Israeli forces would withdraw from what by previous agreement are Palestinian-controlled areas, provided Palestinian security forces prevented terrorist attacks.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, called it "premature to jump to any conclusion" about whether these talks would prove substantive.

"We all know what stage the relations are in now," he said, referring to the breakdown of trust on both sides.

Mr. Erekat lives in Jericho, a city that has remained relatively calm throughout the conflict and where Israel recently announced a substantial easing of its military encirclement.

Jericho is a top destination for internal Palestinian tourism. Restaurants and resorts had geared up for the holiday, anticipating an influx of tourists.

"They bought a lot of food, and they prepared themselves to receive thousands of people coming to Jericho to spend one day, two days, three days," said Abdel Karim Sidr, Jericho's mayor.

Instead, he said, perhaps 200 people arrived today, finding their way on foot around renewed Israeli barricades. No one in Jericho knew why the closing had been imposed, he said.

"Maybe something will change tomorrow," he added. "Really, it's a big problem."

People and Politics / A time for testing, and a testing time

Akiva Eldar

The Washington Post published a surprising editorial last Friday, calling on President George W. Bush to put to the test Ariel Sharon's intentions and seriousness regarding the prime minister's attitude toward the president's vision of a Palestinian state. The editorial proposed that Bush condition the special aid to Israel and the loan guarantees on a total freeze of construction in the settlements.

Meanwhile, a document circulated among congressmen by American Friends of Peace Now calls for conditioning the approval of the Israeli aid request on the dismantling of all the illegal outposts. The peace activists also proposed that Israel be required to allocate 20 percent of the loans to preparing housing for those settlers who will be evacuated from the territories in the wake of a peace agreement.

There were no signs of an earthquake in Washington as a result of these two incidents. Any sentence that does not include the words "Iraq" or "Saddam" goes right past Bush. His strategic advisors, on the other hand, are busy with scenarios for the day after the war in Iraq. The term "pressure to dismantle the settlements," however, does not appear in any of those scenarios.

Vice-President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior advisor Richard Perle do not believe that peace in the Middle East will come by responding to Arab concerns. As far as they are concerned, peace can only be brought by the force of force. And as far as they are concerned, that's exactly what Sharon is doing. If not for fear that such a move could embarrass their pal Tony Blair, their friend Ariel Sharon could open the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors, as a paid advertising campaign on state radio is now proposing.

The Palestinians have also reached the conclusion that if they count on Bush and Sharon's "road map," they won't get anywhere. On the other hand, the results of the elections showed their top political echelons that the way to a peace agreement has to start at the bottom. Frustrating and boring as it might be, the first steps start with the Israeli voter who moved from Meretz to Shinui because he has lost confidence in Palestinian readiness to reach a peace agreement, and the voter who moved from Labor to Likud after becoming convinced that the Arabs want to push Israel into the sea. This understanding only began to seep into the Palestinian consciousness a few months before the ballot boxes were closed in Israel.

The initiative that began in contacts between expert teams led by Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin's people has gathered together Palestinians who enjoy considerable influence over the street, including Arafat himself.

The draft peace plan they've formulated, based on the Clinton framework and the Taba understandings, is edited and almost ready for presentation to the public. It includes new security arrangements based, in the interim, on foreign forces (this week the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, IPCRI, the veteran Jerusalem-based institute, held an initial session on security matters at a Cyprus conference, under the patronage of Britain, which financed it).

No less important is that the new document does not include the right of return for refugees to Israel. French diplomat and journalist Eric Rouleau, who was in Ramallah last weekend, says Abu Mazen told him that the entire matter of the right of return was only raised as lip service to the refugees, and emphasized that only a few are actually interested in returning to Palestine. The Palestinian statesman added that the agreement would guarantee that the demographic balance in Israel was not undermined.

Beilin has filled his list of Israelis personages to present his and Abed Rabbo's "shadow agreement" to the Israeli public with people with impressive military records, as well as leading businesspeople. Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna was filled in on the secret and is going to bring the full document to his party for its approval.

In recent months, Mitzna's been consulting with Ami Ayalon, who signed a much more general agreement in principle with Prof. Sari Nusseibeh. Ayalon has stubbornly resisted Mitzna's proposal that the Ayalon-Nusseibeh program be turned into a kind of meta-platform for all the parties to the left of the Likud. Ayalon has opened a headquarters in Ramat Gan, where preparations are underway for a mass petition drive under the slogan: "Voices of the People." Ayalon believes that a non-partisan initiative would be much more easily accepted by the public. The decision on when to begin the campaign is supposed to be made next week.

Apparently, on this matter, Mitzna missed the boat. During the election campaign, he announced he would propose to the Palestinians that the negotiations be resumed at the point at which they were broken off at Taba. It turns out that that point is no longer relevant, and that others have moved ahead.