Border Control / Democracy in the West Bank? Not if It's Up to Israel

It's hard to know how Barack Obama will act on Hamas' participation in the Palestinian elections.

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Shortly after the Israeli elections, it will be the Palestinians' turn to go to the polls. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) repeatedly tells people he has had enough and is ready to retire. The 73-year-old leader has recently been sending messages to the Israeli authorities that he would like to see Marwan Barghouti, who is being held in an Israeli prison, succeed him.

But it is doubtful that the next Israeli government, whether a Likud or Kadima government, will allow Hamas to take part in the elections in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Whatever Israel's reason may be, elections in the territories without Hamas are like elections in Syria without the Baath Party.

If Benjamin Netanyahu becomes prime minister, he will not have to work hard to stop Hamas and prevent the vote in the territories. All he will have to do is ask the Justice Ministry to pull out of the drawer the opinion prepared there in 2005, on the eve of the previous Palestinian elections.

At that time, the ministry's professional staff, not the political staff, determined that Hamas does not meet the threshold requirements for parties seeking to participate in the elections. This is because the Oslo 2 Accords state that "the candidacy of parties and individuals will be cancelled if they act with or encourage racism or attempt to achieve their objectives through illegal or non-democratic means."

Hamas' problem is that if it meets these requirements it will cease being Hamas. The Justice Ministry's experts in international law cite Hamas' acts of terrorism and its texts calling for Israel's destruction and the cancellation of diplomatic agreements. The document also relies on similar cases in Spain and Turkey, which in recent years disqualified similar parties whose appeals were rejected by a European court.

And who was the justice minister who requested this opinion? Tzipi Livni, Kadima's candidate for prime minister who presented the opinion to every foreign leader who passed her way and even managed to persuade a few that she was right. The foreign minister at the time, Silvan Shalom, found a similar opinion in his ministry and backed Livni.

The prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, shrugged his shoulders and agreed that Hamas cannot be allowed to achieve through democratic means what it did not achieve through violent means, but added that he did not have the power to oppose President George W. Bush, who demanded democratization at any price. Bush also ignored Abu Mazen, who warned of a Hamas victory and asked, nearly pleaded, for the elections to be postponed.

It is hard to know how the incoming Democratic president of the United States, Barack Obama, will act on the Palestinian-Israeli issue in general and Hamas' participation in the elections in particular. In an interview published this week in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abu Mazen claimed that in a conversation with Obama after the elections, the president-elect said he was committed to the promise he made during a meeting in Ramallah last summer - "to start with the peace process immediately."

You are hereby expelled

A.M., a Palestinian woman, was summoned to a police station a few days ago. A short time after her arrival she was placed in a police vehicle and dropped on the other side of the separation fence, near her home village of Sawahara al-Sharqia.

A.M. was surprised because for 13 years she has lived with her Jerusalemite husband in the Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood, where their six children were born. A short time earlier a letter from the Israeli Interior Ministry arrived at their home. The ministry informed them that their request for family unification had been rejected.

The summons to the police station arrived 10 days later, while they were still waiting for a decision on the appeal they had submitted to the ministry. A.M. did not return home. She was expelled without having a chance to say goodbye to her husband and children.

After her husband contacted HaMoked - Center for the Defense of the Individual, he discovered that A.M. was not alone. From testimony to the organization by a number of families in East Jerusalem, it appears a systematic method is being used. The women are summoned to a police station, checkpoint or population registry in East Jerusalem. Often "the summons" is made over the phone for "a hearing."

But when the women get there, they are in the hands of policemen in civilian clothes and are taken (sometimes several women in one vehicle) to an immigration facility in the Talpiot industrial zone. Interrogators, who are apparently from the Interior Ministry's foreigners department, question them. At the end of their questioning, the women are asked to leave Israel within two to three days and are warned that refusal will lead to their immediate expulsion to the territories.

According to HaMoked, most of the women are in the middle of family-unification proceedings and have for some time held permits to stay in Israel. They have this status based on an Interior Ministry decision to approve their husbands' request for family unification. For this purpose they must prove that they live with their families in Jerusalem and there are no security or criminal matters preventing their stay. The brief expulsion order usually states that their relatives (not the husband) were involved in the past in prohibited security-related activities.

The information, of course, is completely classified. In no case is there any claim that the women themselves pose a security threat.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sabine Haddad responded that there has been no change in the policies or laws for entering Israel. However, in the gradated process, the foreign spouse's permit to stay is reviewed once a year.

She said that the couple's status as well as criminal and security issues are among the aspects reviewed. If any reason surfaces for not renewing the permit, the spouse is notified and the process stops, in effect. In these cases, the permit to stay is not renewed and the spouse must act according to the law and refrain from staying illegally in Israel.

HaMoked reported that so far anyone denied a request for family unification has been able to file an appeal at the Interior Ministry and begin legal proceedings against the decision to reject the request. Expulsion without providing an opportunity to complete the proceedings against the decision is a new policy. This is particularly severe given that refusing a request for family unification does not result from information attributing a security risk to these expelled women, but to their relatives.

Bezeq lines do not stop at the Green Line

Defense Minister Ehud Barak's criticism two days ago at the cabinet meeting of the legal system, which he claims is lenient in punishing rioters in the territories and thereby weakens the deterrence of criminals, is absolutely justified.

The problem is that Barak is the last person who can be critical of law enforcement in the territories, because the one responsible for law enforcement there bears supreme responsibility for the settlers' wild behavior. How can a court punish and deter if criminals are not brought before it? This is comparable to someone who did not fill up his gas tank complaining that his car does not run.

So, for example, Barak claimed at the meeting that he issued more than 10 injunctions against Jewish trespassers onto private Palestinian land. Indeed, the injunctions were issued as were dozens of demolition orders against the trespassers and evacuation orders for several outposts. All of the orders are sitting deep inside a drawer. The many outposts, "some of which were dismantled dozens of times," he says, are not demonstrations by the hilltop youth playing cat and mouse with the police. Three outposts were evacuated: Yatir, Ofra and Mevo Horon.

The government tried to sell this story to the Americans as well, unsuccessfully. It turns out that Ofra East is a lone and dilapidated mobile home that was never considered an outpost and was evacuated ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

At Mevo Horon North there are around six populated mobile homes. At least one structure remained and is linked to the electricity grid; two mobile homes were moved to a nearby location. Only two mobile homes at Yatir South have been demolished. In return for the partial evacuation, Barak issued permits for the development of Yatir.

Barak also reported that "we reached an arrangement over Migron that will not take years, rather only a year or so."

However, since taking office, Barak has asked the court five times for an extension to complete the preparations for Migron's evacuation. In his previous stint in office, he reached an agreement with the settlers for the evacuation of 30 of the 42 outposts that existed at the time. In that case as well, the reality is slightly different. All of them not taken over by the army stand as they were and have even grown considerably.

When the minister in charge is at peace with the outposts, it is no wonder that companies such as Bezeq connect them to the telephone network and publish the addresses in the official telephone book. For example, Baruch Sofer lives in Amona, Elad and Noa Mandel live in Palgei Mayim, Tehila Cohen lives in Neveh Erez and Eitan Klein lives in Nofei Nehemia, Rehelim, the first outpost listed in the Sasson Report.

Bezeq said that "to the extent the matter is dependent on Bezeq, the company does not connect customers and does not initiate the laying of infrastructure at illegal outposts. However, Bezeq does not have information about the legal status of every community in the country and therefore it is possible that in certain cases, such a connection is made.

As for the data cited in the case at hand, Bezeq will check with the relevant security and communications people, and if necessary the lines will be disconnected."