Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will partially extend a freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank and will implement a de facto freeze in some eastern Jerusalem communities, according to sources in the Israeli government.
Palestinian Authority officials, meanwhile, told WND they received a U.S. pledge that Israel will free a number of Palestinian prisoners as well as transfer to the PA security control of several West Bank areas in the coming months as part of a series of Israeli gestures to the PA.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu convened held a series of talks in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The negotiations continue today with the aim of forging an agreement within a year that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
The U.S. called on Netanyahu to extend a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. As a U.S.-imposed precondition for negotiations, Netanyahu in late 2009 had agreed to a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium that is set to expire at the end of the month. The Israeli leader had repeatedly claimed he will not extend the freeze beyond the 10-month period.
While Netanyahu has not made any public statements regarding a freeze extension, the Israeli government sources told WND Netanyahu will not allow any new Jewish construction into the foreseeable future in the West Bank or eastern sections of Jerusalem, excluding what are known as the three main settlement blocs – Gush Etzion, Maale Adumin and Ariel.
PA officials, meanwhile, said the U.S. has been negotiating the borders of a future Palestinian state that would see Israel eventually withdraw from most of the West Bank and some areas of eastern Jerusalem with the exception of the three blocs.
While the PA does not believe it will see an actual Palestinian state within a year, it expects in that time it will take over many more neighborhoods in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem that are normally controlled on the ground by Israel.
The PA said the expectation is based on pledges by the Obama administration. They said The U.S. received a pledge from Netanyahu to transfer more security control of West Bank towns as well as release a number of Palestinian prisoners as gestures to entice Abbas to stay in the talks.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, secretly has proposed a new plan whereby Jews living in the West Bank will remain in their communities after the territory becomes part of a Palestinian state, WND reported last week.
Officials in both Israel and the PA have confirmed the plan to WND, marking the first time an Israeli leader has ever put on the table in a serious way a proposal involving Jewish West Bank residents remaining in a Palestinian state.
Conventional negotiations always have assumed an Israeli evacuation of its communities inside any territory taken over by the PA.
Middle East officials said the plan is being considered seriously by the Obama administration, while the PA has been less than enthusiastic. PA sources said they held a meeting last week over the plan.
The full details of the plan, such as specific security guarantees for the remaining Jews, were not disclosed.
It was unclear how the Jewish residents of the West Bank will react to a plan that would seemingly place their security in the hands of the PA, whose militia members have carried out scores of attacks targeting those very Jewish communities.
Abbas has been on record multiple times speaking against Jews living in a Palestinian state.
Last month, Abbas drew condemnation from U.S. Jewish groups when he was quoted stating that not only must a Palestinian state be Jew-free, not even foreign Jews can serve in any NATO force that protect a future Palestinian country.
“I’m willing to agree to a third party that would supervise the agreement, such as NATO forces, but I would not agree to having Jews among the NATO forces, or that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land,” he was quoted as saying by Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
After his comments caused controversy, Abbas’ aide, Nimar Hamad, told Wafa that “Abbas is open to an international force along Palestinian borders of any religion or origin.”
Netanyahu last week alluded to new proposals in peace negotiations.
Debriefing his cabinet on his recent trip to Washington, Netanyahu stated, “What is required is creative, novel thinking in order to resolve these complex issues.”
Ahead of the start of a Mideast summit in Washington earlier this month, the Israeli government publicly conceded sections of Jerusalem will become part of a Palestinian state while holy sites would be governed by a “special regime.”
Speaking in an interview with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Defense Minister Ehud Barak outlined a deal with the Palestinians: “West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are home to 200,000 residents will be ours. The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinians live will be theirs.
“There will be a special regime in place along with agreed upon arrangements in the Old City, the Mount of Olives and the City of David,” added Barak.
Barak told the newspaper what is needed “is courage to make historic, painful decisions. I’m not saying that there is certainty for success, but there is a chance. This chance must be exploited to the fullest.”
Israel annexed northern and eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Temple Mount, during the 1967 Six-Day War. The Palestinians, however, have claimed eastern Jerusalem as a future capital.
About 244,000 Arabs live in Jerusalem, mostly in eastern neighborhoods, out of a total population of 724,000, the majority Jewish. Many of Jerusalem’s Arabs live illegally on Jewish-owned property
A WND investigation previously determined the U.S. has been aiding the Palestinians in developing infrastructure in eastern Jerusalem, including on property owned by Jews.
U.N. school for Palestinians illegally built on Jewish property (WND photo)
The situation has been unfolding in the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis, which are close to the Jewish neighborhoods of Neve Yaacov and Pisgat Zeev in Israel’s capital. Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis are located entirely within the Jerusalem municipality. Over 100,000 Arabs live in those neighborhoods.
Jews lived in Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis years before the establishment of Israel in 1948, but they were violently expelled during deadly Arab riots in 1929.
Jordan, together with other Arab countries, attacked Israel after its founding in 1948 and administered the three Jerusalem neighborhoods as well as all of eastern Jerusalem following an armistice agreement. In 1967, Jordan attacked again, and Israel liberated the entire city of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. During the period of Jordanian control, some new construction took place, including in areas previously purchased by Jews.
A WND tour of the three Jerusalem neighborhoods found some surprising developments. Official PA logos and placards abound, including one glaring red street sign at the entrance to the neighborhoods warning Israelis to keep out.
Another official sign, in Kfar Akeb in Jerusalem, reads in English, “Ramallah-Jerusalem Road. This project is a gift form (sic) the American people to the Palestinian people in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and PECDAR. 2007.” The sign bears the emblems of the American and PA governments and of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The displays were not present during a previous WND tour of the neighborhoods in 2006.
Some local schools in the Jerusalem neighborhoods are officially run by the PA – some in conjunction with the U.N. – with many teachers drawing PA salaries. Civil disputes are usually settled not in Israeli courts but by the PA judicial system, although at times Israeli courts are used, depending on the matter.
Councils governed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization oversee some municipal matters. USAID provides the PA funds for road and infrastructure projects.
Israeli security officials said the local Jerusalem police rarely operate in Kfar Akeb, Qalandiya and Samir Amis; instead security has been turned over to the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police, who work almost daily with PA security forces. The PA police operate in the Jerusalem neighborhoods in coordination with Israel.
Shmulik Ben Ruby, spokesman for the Jerusalem police, confirmed the arrangement.
“If there are fights between some local families, sometimes we involve the PA police to make peace between the families,” he told WND. “Yes, the PA police can operate in these neighborhoods in coordination with the IDF and Border Police.”
U.S. Jewish group to blame for ‘division’?
Key land in Qalandiya and Kfar Akeb is owned by the Jewish National Fund, which over the years has allowed tens of thousands of Arabs to illegally squat on its land, resulting in the current Arab majority.
1991 photo of Shoafat shows region entirely forest land
The organization bought the land in the early 1920s using Jewish donor funds for the specific purpose of Jewish settlement.
But the JNF lands have been utilized for the illegal construction of dozens of Arab apartment buildings, a refugee camp and a U.N. school.
A previous WND tour of Qalandiya and Kfar Akeb found dozens of Arab apartment complexes, a Palestinian refugee camp and a U.N. school for Palestinians constructed on the land.
According to officials in Israel’s Housing Ministry, Arabs first constructed facilities illegally in Qalandiya and Kfar Akeb between 1948 and 1967, prior to the 1967 Six-Day War during which Israel retook control of the entire city of Jerusalem.
Qalandiya, still owned by JNF, came under the management of the Israeli government’s Land Authority in the late 1960s.
Israeli Housing Ministry officials say the bulk of illegal Arab construction in Qalandiya occurred in the past 20 years, with construction of several new Arab apartment complexes taking place in just the past two years.
1967 aerial photo of Qalandiya region
Neither the Israeli government nor JNF took any concrete measures to stop the illegal building, which continues today with at least one apartment complex in Qalandiya under construction.
Land in another Jerusalem’ neighborhood, Shoafat, which has an estimated value of $3 million, was also purchased by JNF in the early 1900s and fell under the management of the Israel Land Authority about 40 years ago. Much of the illegal Arab construction in Shoafat took place in the past 15 years, with some apartment complexes built as late as 2004.
In Qalandiya and Shoafat, Israel’s security fence cordons off the Arab sections of the JNF lands from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem.
Internal JNF documents obtained by WND outline illegal Arab construction on the Jewish-owned land. A December 2000 survey of Qalandiya summarized on JNF stationery and signed by a JNF worker states, “In a lot of the plots I find Arabs are living and building illegally and also working the JNF land without permission.”
The JNF survey goes on to document illegal construction of Arab apartment complexes and the U.N. school under the property management of Israel’s Land Authority.