Before State Department officials preparing for the Annapolis conference get too excited about the remarks of senior cabinet ministers Haim Ramon and Avigdor Lieberman about dividing Jerusalem, it is worth their while to ask another senior minister, Ehud Barak, for a copy of the new order "for appropriating lands," which refers to the lands of four villages that lie on the capital's outskirts. This order is synonymous with putting an end to working on an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of the principle of two states with territorial contiguity.
The order prepares the ground for annexing a large and controversial area known by the name of E1, which connects Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem. In order to allow the Jews to enjoy territorial contiguity, the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces, which are commanded by Ehud Barak, will grant the Palestinians "transportational contiguity."
This is no new invention. The patent for it was registered many years ago in the name of Ariel Sharon, who claimed he had proposed building bridges and tunnels throughout "Judea and Samaria" for use by the Palestinians. We on top and they below.
The new order calls for the appropriation of 1,129 dunams of land from the villages of Abu Dis, Arab a-Suahara, Nebi Moussa and Talkhan al-Hamar. The common link between all these towns is that they are located near Jerusalem's eastern border, on the way to Ma'aleh Adumim. The motive for appropriating the lands has undergone a thorough cleansing in the laundry of phrases of the occupation; the OC Central Command Gadi Shamni, whose signature is affixed to the document, declares that the lands will be appropriated in order to establish "a lifeline" in the area of Ma'aleh Adumim.
In other words, we are talking about paving a road that will bypass Ma'aleh Adumim, designed for Palestinians who want to travel between Jerusalem and its environs and the Jericho area. A map affixed to the order demonstrates this "lifeline." Even with the naked eye, it is possible to make out a great deal of similarity between this route and the blue line that twists and turns around Ma'aleh Adumim on the map prepared by this large settlement's municipality as far back as April 2005. There, the line is described as "the Ma'aleh Adumim East bypass road, for Palestinian traffic."
The mayor of Ma'aleh Adumim, Benny Kashriel, is showing this map to politicians from the left in an attempt to overcome their objections to the E1 plan. A working paper attached to the map notes that, "As can be seen from the map, the continuum of free transportation will be preserved between the Palestinian population centers."
Kashriel proposes to the Palestinians that they should console themselves with the employment and commercial center that is due to be established in the E1 area and promises that he will provide them with places of work. Naturally, the Palestinians are not mentioned in the paragraph dealing with a plan to erect 3,500 housing units in three suburbs planned there. The E1 area is almost the last reservoir of land for the Arabs of East Jerusalem.
Kashriel mentions that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the man who signed the Oslo Accords, was the person who ordered that E1 be added to Ma'aleh Adumim's jurisdiction, way back in 1994. And indeed, already then it was possible to discern a considerable gap between the peace accords and what was happening in the territories. The order stipulates that Palestinian landowners are invited to visit the Civil Administration's offices in order to study its terms and that they are entitled to present a request to receive fees for usage or compensation. By the way, surely by chance, the order that was signed on September 24, two days before the interim days of the Sukkot holiday, was placed on the notice board of the Army Command responsible for the areas of the security fence.
Needless to say, those who are affected are entitled to petition the High Court of Justice against the appropriation. But it is doubtful whether the justices will use their own discretion when they are presented with a document signed by the OC that states this move is "necessary for military purposes and in view of the special security situation that exists in the area and the need to take essential steps to prevent acts of terror."
During a briefing at the U.S. Congress last week, Danny Zeidman, the founder of the Ir Amim (City of Nations) organization, who specializes in East Jerusalem, was asked about the completion of the police headquarters building in the E1 area. The Jerusalem lawyer joked that the police at the station would be able to supervise the goats of the Bedouin shepherds who roam this desert region. He said that President George W. Bush had committed himself at one stage to then British prime minister Tony Blair that the E1 plan would only be realized over his dead body. Until April 2004, when Bush sent Sharon his letter of support for annexing Jewish population centers in the territories, did anyone believe that the American president would recognize the settlements? That was how it all started. Today a (transportational contiguity) road for Arabs is being paved and tomorrow territorial contiguity for Jews will be approved.
A spokesman for Haim Ramon, who is in charge of the seam area, responded that he knew nothing about the new order.
Persona non grata
Israelis such as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who expect the Arabs to give Israel a little normalization before Israel commits itself to return their territories to them should find out what happened to Dr. Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman after his visit to the Knesset and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority). Suleiman, 72, a Syrian Allawite who has been living in the U.S. for many years, was a secret and partially official envoy of Syria to the Swiss channel. Last April he accepted the invitation of Meretz-Yahad faction chairwoman Zahava Gal-On to come to Jerusalem to present Syria's point of view on relations with Israel to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Since then, he has received numerous invitations to appear in capitals throughout the world alongside Dr. Alon Liel, his partner to the talks. But in one capital, Suleiman is a persona non grata - Damascus.
In a telephone conversation a few days before he left for the region, Suleiman told me that he would stop over in Damascus for a briefing from senior officials on his way to Israel. It turns out that a few hours before he left, Suleiman received a telephone call from the office of General Mohammed Nassif, the person who served as liaison between Suleiman and the Swiss, and between him and President Bashar Assad. The bureau director ordered Suleiman to stay home - without any further explanation and without excuses. Apparently our Syrian friend was confused by the long years he has lived in a free country. Suleiman decided he was going to Jerusalem, no matter what. Even though no government official thought it was worthwhile to listen to what the envoy had to say, Suleiman's visit to Jerusalem was widely reported in the international and Arab media.
The attitude of official Damascus toward the Swiss initiative in general, and Suleiman in particular, is truly representative of Syria's attitude toward peace with Israel. On the one hand, in one of his recent speeches, Assad bragged about the indirect contacts Syria has made with Israel through Syrian expatriates living in the West in an attempt to reach a diplomatic arrangement. The hint is obvious. On the other hand, since his visit to Jerusalem, Suleiman has become a persona non grata in Damascus. His Swiss colleagues are also not very welcome there. At the end of May, Suleiman visited Berne and met with the president and foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.
The two decided that the time was ripe to visit Damascus together to congratulate Assad on his election for a second term. At the same time, they tried to convince the Syrian president to reopen the channel that was closed last summer after the special Swiss envoy, who was in charge of the talks, left empty-handed following his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's adviser, Yoram Turbowicz.
As Suleiman reported to American friends, he called the bureau of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem from Berne and told the head of the bureau, an official by the name of Samir, that the Swiss president wished to visit Damascus in two weeks' time in his company. According to Suleiman, Samir immediately responded that "this is not the time." Since then, Suleiman has been sitting at his home in a Washington suburb, waiting for a telephone call from Damascus and remembering the good times he had with Hafez the elder.
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