How much is enough?
As Palestinians agree to a general cease-fire Israel announces it will steal yet more land, reports Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
While much of the world community is harbouring a modicum of hope for reviving peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, especially following Palestinian Authority (PA) success in getting resistance factions to agree to a unilateral cease-fire, the Israeli government and extremist Jewish circles have stepped up efforts to corrode all possible conditions for genuine peace in the region.
This week, Israel announced plans for the construction of as many as 3,500 settler units around East Jerusalem. The massive settlement expansion is aimed at creating a "territorial and demographic Jewish continuity" between the settlement of Maali Adomim, five kilometres east of Jerusalem, and other Jewish settlements on the northeastern outskirts of the occupied city.
In other words, the new settlement, dubbed by Israeli officials as reflective of "natural growth", would nearly completely strangle, even ghettoise, Arab East Jerusalem and eliminate remaining Arab demographic gaps between the city and the West Bank.
Earlier, Israeli officials said the gigantic "separation wall" Israel is building deep into the West Bank would flank Maali Adomim, thus cutting off the central and northern parts of the West Bank from the Bethlehem and Hebron regions.
The implication here is very clear. It means that any prospective Palestinian political state, whether to be called a state or go by any other name, will be composed of hapless and disconnected enclaves that look more like "great prisons" or "reservations" than elements of a viable and genuine political entity.
The PA has strongly condemned Israel's insistence on "imposing the fait accompli" and unilaterally deciding the shape and borders of any future Palestinian entity. "This amounts to killing the roadmap. Israel is strangling Jerusalem and making the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible," said PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
Underscoring Palestinian frustration and helplessness vis-à-vis Israeli insolence and inaction by the international community -- especially the Bush administration -- Qurei called upon the Quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia), which backs the roadmap peace plan, to exert "meaningful pressure on Israel to stop grabbing our land and confiscating our future on our land". "I would like to ask the Quartet," he continued, "is this theft of our land and the building of these colonialist outposts part of the roadmap?"
Some Israeli sources have suggested that the planned construction of so many settler units around East Jerusalem is designed to placate Jewish settlers opposed to the so-called "disengagement plan" in the Gaza Strip. However, it is amply clear that the Israeli leadership, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is viewing the wanton expansion of settlements in the Jerusalem area as a factual translation of the "letter of assurances" President Bush granted Sharon last year.
Bush told Sharon that "present demographic realities" would have to be taken into account in the context of any final status settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Sharon interpreted the "letter" as implying that Israel would be able to annex all the major settlements in the West Bank, including Maali Adomim.
For their part, the settlers and their allies have not been impressed by the planned settlements expansion in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. In fact, the opposite is true.
Earlier this week, Israeli media revealed that leaders of the Gush Emunim settler movement, in concert with the Kach terrorist group, were devising plans to invade Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem with tens of thousands of Jews. According to Baruch Marzel, a former associate of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish terrorist who murdered 29 Arab worshipers in Hebron in 1994, the influx of "tens of thousands of pious Jews" onto the "Temple Mount" would induce "the God of Israel" to intervene and thwart the plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
In the past, messianic Jewish terrorists sought on several occasions to blow up Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. Their rationale was that the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest Islamic shrines, would trigger bloodshed and tribulations on such a large scale that the Messiah or Redeemer would appear and establish a theocratic Jewish government that would rule the entire world from Jerusalem.
Sensing real danger, Palestinian Muslim leaders vowed to repulse any "pogrom" or "aggression" on Al-Aqsa Mosque. Sheikh Youssef Jumaa Salama urged Arab leaders meeting in a summit in Algiers to put the issue of Al- Aqsa at the top of their agenda.
"If you can't give sufficient and adequate attention to this paramount issue, then why meet in the first place?" he said.
The latest Jewish threats coincided with the revelation by an Israeli newspaper on 18 March that the Orthodox Patriarchy in Jerusalem secretly sold real estate, including two hotels, shops and restaurants, in East Jerusalem to unnamed Jewish businessmen.
According to Ma'ariv newspaper, the Arab properties, collectively owned by the Arab Orthodox community in Jerusalem and Palestine, was sold by a Greek national named Nicholas Papademus who reportedly had been authorised by the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Eireneos I, to be fully in charge of church real estate in the Holy Land. Papademus reportedly fled to the US with millions of dollars that he collected from the Jewish businessmen.
The revelation shocked and threw into disarray the Orthodox Christian community in Palestine. Religious and lay leaders, upset by the "perfidious act" have called for the resignation or dismissal of Patriarch Eireneos, accusing him of "conniving with Israel against the very people he is supposed to serve".
So far, Eireneos has been tight-lipped about the matter, prompting Palestinian officials to demand an official investigation.
The Israeli government has refused to comment on the shadowy deal, arguing it played no part in the affair.