Some 1.1 million Palestinian children started the new school year in the occupied territories. At least, that is the number of children registered with the education offices in Ramallah and Gaza. Sources at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) say many children will be staying at home, with an unemployed father and an anxious mother (the month-long fast of Ramadan started yesterday).

The teachers who returned to the long lines waiting at the Israel Defense Forces checkpoints are worried about getting to school on time. The question of whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will reach U.S. President George W. Bush on time is much farther from their thoughts.

Even in Abbas' inner circle there is little interest in the Israeli media reports concerning new proposals by the Jewish state's temporary prime minister.

The basic situation depicted by the media is that Olmert and Abu Mazen are doing everything to gain some credit, even symbolic. To put it more bluntly, they are willing to sacrifice "strategic interests" in favor of a footnote in the history books.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), who are in charge of the negotiations, are harming an agreement that is within reach due to "personal interests."

In other words, they are hindering a real chance for peace, just so that achievement will be recorded in their names. Israelis who recently visited the Muqata, such as MK Ahmed Tibi, for example, describe a totally different situation.

Tibi says he heard the PA president repeatedly stressing his commitment to a final-status agreement, based on the 1967 borders, and not an interim agreement, not a temporary agreement and not half an agreement.

According to Tibi, Abu Mazen constantly asserts his intentions not to deviate from the principle that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." Everything, including the issue of Jerusalem and the refugee problem. Defense Minister Ehud Barak adopted this principle in his talks with Yasser Arafat, and invokes it in his contention that the understandings reached between the summer of 2000 and the winter of 2001 have no validity.

MK Yossi Beilin, who has also visited the Muqata, similarly gained the impression that Abu Mazen would have been happy to finalize matters with Olmert, but not at any price. Among other things, Abu Mazen disagreed with Olmert's territorial exchange proposal, extending Israeli sovereignty to a certain size area in the West Bank, in exchange for Palestinian use of Israeli land one-half or one-quarter that size, specifically for use as a "safe passage" corridor between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The feeling that the negotiations were going around in circles prompted the Palestinian elite to look for alternatives. Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, who wrote an essay published in Haaretz calling for the replacement of the struggle for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel for a struggle for equal rights inside Israel, is apparently not alone. A new forum has begun activities in the occupied territories and the Palestinian diaspora, with senior individuals from all walks of life, aiming for the dismantling of the PA and the return of responsibility for the territories to Israel.

These activists are garnering public opinion to pressure Abu Mazen to halt the negotiations and demand that Israel annex the territories with all their residents.

A petition in this spirit was published last week in the London-based, Arabic-language Al Hayat daily newspaper. Among its signatories are a few leading figures in the pragmatic Palestinian camp, such as Jibril Rajoub, who appeared on broadcasts about the Geneva Accords; Mohammed Shtayyeh, president of Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction and former housing minister under Abu Mazen; Samir Abu Eisheh and Mazen Sunkrut, former ministers in the Hamas government in Ramallah; Hani el Masri, a senior Palestinian publicist; professors Ali Jarbawi and Iyad Barghouti of Bir Zeit University; and dozens of other public figures, academics, businessmen and media personalities.

Israel's leadership is stubbornly refusing to get excited by the Palestinian threat to halt the peace process in favor of a binational state. "It's all a tactic," said a senor government official yesterday. I would not bet on it in a casino.

Mofaz's skeleton

For over seven years a skeleton has been buried deep in Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz's closet. A few days ago the Attorney General's Office announced that "relevant persons in our office" were checking whether the time has come to reveal that skeleton. This is what Prof. David Kretschmer of the Hebrew University Law Faculty was told. Kretschmer had warned Attorney General Menachem (Meni) Mazuz against having another round of police in the Prime Minister's Residence.

In a letter to the attorney general, the Jerusalem professor asked for an investigation into suspicions that while Mofaz was chief of staff he perpetrated serious offenses, some of which could be categorized as war crimes. Kretschmer referred to a meeting that Maj. Gen. Mofaz held on May 6, 2001, with a group of officers from the Judea, Samaria and Gaza division.

Kretschmer based his request on three items by Amir Oren in Haaretz, according to which Mofaz allocated the officers a daily quota of Palestinian fatalities: 70 bodies a day. The first body fell the day after that briefing. Soldiers were overly hasty in opening fire on Palestinian policemen at a checkpoint at the entrance to the village of Samua, south of Hebron. In that incident the Palestinian national security officer was killed and another Palestinian policeman seriously wounded. In an investigation within the brigade, the battalion commander, Lieut. Col. Yehuda Albek, claimed that he had acted on orders received from the chief of staff in a meeting at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill. Raviv Druker and Ofer Shelah, who reported this incident in their book, "Boomerang: The Failure of Leadership in the Second Intifada," (Jerusalem: Keter, 2005), noted that Mofaz ordered the regular recorder of his words, who documents everything the chief of staff says, to stop the recording. Mofaz himself dismissed preoccupation with the affair of that briefing as picayune "who said what to whom and who understood what from whom." He denied mentioning any quota of bodies. The political and legal echelons returned to their regular pursuits.

Kretschmer reminded Mazuz that the Fourth Geneva Convention states that harming the life or limb of a person not actively involved in a hostile action is forbidden everywhere and at all times. The law professor cautioned that if the law enforcement authorities in Israel did not investigate this incident, Mofaz could be sought for questioning in foreign countries. "The investigations against Ehud Olmert teach that if a politician presenting his candidacy for prime minister is suspected of serious offenses," wrote Kretschmer, "it is better for those suspicions to be investigated prior to those politicians reaching that lofty position."

Dividing Jerusalemites

Last week this column reported the case of Khalil Farid, a Palestinian from Qalandiya refugee camp in East Jerusalem, who is suing the National Insurance Institute for a disability pension. In its defense, filed with the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court, the NII argued that the property is mostly, or to be precise, 83.94 percent outside of Israeli territory, and that the claim should consequently be dismissed. Attorney Faisel Musa, whom the Justice Ministry's legal aid department assigned to assist Farid, assumed that such precise mapping relied on the Israeli Mapping Center in the Housing and Construction Ministry. Yehoshua Carmeli, head of the Jerusalem region at the mapping center, clarified that whoever divides a house into percentages and fractions of percentages is not doing a professional job and causes his own failure. Carmeli noted that personally, he uses other terms, such as "the majority," of a house is in Jerusalem, or the opposite. Carmeli suggested that the Israeli government amend once and for all its June 28, 1967 decision declaring the expansion of Jerusalem's city limits, using the wall under construction, or some other line that does not cut homes in half or quarters or eighths.