Border control / Caution: There is no partner II
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) learned to like Ehud Olmert. The Palestinian president especially appreciated the prime minister's discretion. He even had a feeling that Olmert understood that Palestinian politicians, too, operate according to political constraints. Since Olmert announced his decision to resign following Kadima's primary next month, however, the romance between the two has been on the wane. In Abu Mazen's camp, they have the impression that Olmert's serious approach toward everything related to the final-status arrangement has suddenly become careless. The Israeli prime minister seems to have lost patience for the "little details," such as the connection between the border of the West Bank and the border of Jerusalem (see below).
The essential concern is that the name Olmert appears on the first Israeli-Palestinian document to carry the title "Principles of a Final Status Arrangement." In the last two weeks, when it was discovered that the plan to produce an instant document was not proceeding as planned, there has been growing concern among the Palestinians that Olmert has decided to repeat Ehud Barak's Camp David move and roll the blame onto them, in something that could be called "There Is No Partner II." Publication of the Olmert outline on the front page of Haaretz two weeks ago intensified this concern.
Since then, Saeb Erakat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's negotiation department, has been clearing his throat constantly in an attempt to deflect the criticism on the Palestinian side of the large holes in the document: Postponement of a resolution of the Jerusalem issue, and disregard of the refugee problem. It seems that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni imposed an absolute veto on the return of refugees to Israel. She opposes the return of a single refugee even in the framework of family reunification, or as a humanitarian gesture. She argues that it is imperative to avoid setting precedents.
The revelation of the positions of the Israeli partner - positions that the Palestinians deem stingy - could not have happened to Abu Mazen at a worse time. The Muqata (Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah) has in recent weeks been waging a fierce battle against an opposition both internal and external, which is comprised of both embittered old people and deprived young ones. The dispute focuses on the venue for the sixth Fatah congress. This broad forum is supposed to set a date for a presidential election - whether it should be held this coming January, or at the same time as the election for the legislative council, set for January 2010.
Abu Mazen, who would like to push off the contest for as long as possible, in the hope that until then he will be able to present some kind of significant diplomatic achievement, is insisting that the congress take place in Ramallah. He knows that the Israelis can be relied on not to allow his opponents, such as Farouk Kaddoumi, to cross the Jordan River. That is why the leader's rivals are insisting on holding the congress in Amman. The fading of Abbas' flagship issue - negotiations on a final-status agreement - is causing them to lift their heads. It is almost superfluous to say that Hamas' leaders are watching the flurry of activity and not hiding their joy over the downfall of their rival, which accompanies the old refrains along the lines of "we told you the Israelis are not partners for a two-state arrangement."
The American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, arrived yesterday in Jerusalem in an attempt, perhaps a last one, to bridge between Olmert's desire to release a memorandum of understanding and Abu Mazen's concern that bypassing such a central issue as Jerusalem will be perceived by his rivals as consent to delaying the discussion until an unknown date. Olmert has already managed to repel a proposal from Rice to note in parentheses, next to the sections on topics about which there are no understandings, the positions of the two parties. The prime minister learned from Ariel Sharon the shortest way to neutralize the State Department. One phone call to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and the matter is closed. If this method does not pan out, then President George W. Bush will also follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who blamed the 2000 version of failure on Yasser Arafat, and attribute blame for the failure of the 2008 model onto Abu Mazen. "There Is No Partner I" was the signal for the second intifada. It is no wonder that in the territories they are talking about a third intifada.
If it were not about a struggling individual, the following story could have been a parody about Olmert's promise to Shas to determine the border between Israel and the West Bank without touching Jerusalem. Several weeks ago, Halil Farid, a resident of the Qalandiya refugee camp, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, came to the Israeli Justice Ministry's Jerusalem district legal aid office. Farid, 49, married and a father of five, said he was having problems with his spine and that ever since undergoing a catheterization, his health had been deteriorating, until he was no longer able to work. However, the National Insurance Institute rejected his claim to have his condition recognized as a general handicap, arguing that he is not a resident of Israel.
The ministry's legal aid department, which provides assistance only to residents of the state, recognized Farid's rights as a resident of Israel and appointed Attorney Faisal Moussa to represent him before the National Insurance Institute (NII). Moussa learned that the NII had decided Farid was not entitled to a disability allowance because most of the area of his apartment - to be precise, 83.94 percent of it - is located outside the area of the State of Israel. The NII relied on a document from the state mapping authority, and was uninterested in the fact that for seven years now Farid has had "temporary resident" status and that he and his children are also members of the Clalit health maintenance organization.
When it became apparent that an official Israeli institution determined that most of the area of his home is located outside Jerusalem, Farid appealed to the Jerusalem municipality and asked to be exempted from paying municipal taxes (the arnona). The municipality's engineering department checked the matter and announced that his entire apartment, up until the last one of its 62 square meters, lies within Jerusalem's municipal area. This means he must pay the full arnona, down to the last shekel. The legal aid office suggested checking with the NII to see if it could prove that Farid spends most of his time in the rooms that are located outside of Israel.
The NII spokesman, Haim Pitoussi addressed this question in all seriousness. He says that the NII checked all the parameters that determine a person's residency, including taking into account precedents of the National Labor Court in the matter of a residence where most of it was located outside the state. Arnona payments to the Jerusalem municipality were also taken into account. "After reviewing all of these matters and others," noted the spokesman, "it was decided that it is not possible to recognize the plaintiff as a resident of Israel." Pitoussi said the location of the house was already discussed in the Labor Court and it was determined that if most of the area of the house is located outside of Israel, then the residents of the house are not residents of Israel, and on the other hand, if the situation is reversed, that is, if most of the area of the house is located within the State of Israel, and a minority is outside it, then its residents would be deemed residents of Israel.
The final disposition of the disability allowance for Farid, a 16.06-percent Jerusalemite, according to the NII and a 100-percent Jerusalemite according to the Jerusalem municipality, will be determined in court. No court will be able to rule on the matter of the national identity of Farid and of thousands of Palestinians who live with a handicapped identity - a leg here, a leg there. Politicians are the ones who randomly determined the border of Jerusalem; and politicians are the ones who should fix this distortion.