Over dinner in Bethlehem, a few weeks ago, I mentioned to my brother-in-law how Israel has strategically succeeded in cutting off the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. While agreeing with me, he wanted to talk about another problem: that of east Jerusalem being also cut off. He told me of what a senior Israeli officer once told him shortly after the beginning of the Oslo process. The Israeli official said that Palestinians shouldn't celebrate too much the withdrawal of Israel from Bethlehem. Before too long, Palestinians in Bethlehem will need to have a visa to enter Jerusalem.
I thought of this statement a few hours later. After enjoying the world cup semifinal game at the renovated Orthodox Club in Beit Jala, I drove to my apartment in east Jerusalem, using the Rachel's Tomb checkpoint. Upon reaching the checkpoint I noticed that the large metal gate that is part of the checkpoint was partially closed. A few cars were ahead of me and so I waited to see what the problem was. For some time they didn't move and finally when the person in the first car inquired he was told that the checkpoint was closed. No explanation was given. The only thing left was turn back into Bethlehem. Somehow the visa we had, namely our Jerusalem ID cards would not even work this night.
As I was driving back from the checkpoint, the BBC was broadcasting a sound clip from US President Barack Obama. The US president, who was hosting the Israeli leader in front of clicking cameras and videos claimed that the easing of the Gaza blockade was the result of the peace process. What rubbish, I said to myself. The easing of the blockade was a demand for years by the moderate Ramallah based leadership with no result. Only when the Turkish led multi-ship flotilla had challenged the blockade and embarrassed the Israelis who were blocking jam and coriander (among other things) did the blockade ease on food items, and not on any other materials needed for the conduct of a normal life.
The current peace process as detailed in the road map included various obligations on Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis were asked to return things to the pre-October 2000 statute (removing all checkpoints since then, allowing the return of Palestinian police on the Allenby Bridge) and suspended all settlement activities including natural growth. The obligations on the Palestinian side were focused on security and democratic processes. The security situation has greatly improved and the democratization that was asked of Palestinians back then has been a source of trouble since then.
One of these results was the victory of the pro Hamas reform and change parliamentary list. Among those who won parliamentary seats were four Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. By running in the elections, they broke no Israeli law, but by winning a free and fair elections that was supervised by respected international observers such as former US president Jimmy Carter, they seem to have broken an unwritten law. This mysterious undeclared law seems to say that by winning the Jerusalem seats, because they had an Islamists persuasion these elected Islamists are doomed for life.
For a while after the elections they were left alone, one of them Khaled Abu Arafeh was even made minister in the Palestinian Authority for the affairs of Jerusalem. But the moment that an invading Israeli soldier was captured in Gaza, these legislatures and others in the West Bank were rounded up and put in jail. Recently and after being released, they are about to loose their rights to reside in Jerusalem.
Not only is this double jeopardy (you can't be punished for any crime -- even a trumped up charge -- twice) but they are being banished from their birthplace for agreeing to run (and more importantly to win) in an internationally sponsored, Israeli approved legislative elections.
Israel has conceded in various binding agreements with the PLO that the status of East Jerusalem and obviously its residents, is to be resolved in negotiations. The status of Jerusalem is perhaps one of the few remaining unresolved issues in the current political stalemate. The four legislatures including the former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister have begun since a week a protest at the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jerusalem. The ICRC is the organization entrusted by the international committee to uphold the Geneva Conventions, the fourth of which states clearly and unambiguously that occupying powers are not allowed to deport subjects under their occupation. The International Court of Justice at the Hague ruled six years ago this week that the entire territories including East Jerusalem captured by Israeli in the June 1967 war are occupied territories for which the Geneva Convention applies.
Since the beginning of the proximity talks eight weeks ago Israeli behavior has not reflected a country interested in peace. Six Palestinians have been killed including a 16-year-old, 121 have been injured, settlement activities, especially in Jerusalem have continued uninterrupted and plans are being made for 2,700 more West Bank units once the unilaterally imposed settlement slow down was declared by the Netanyahu administration. House demolitions, evictions, travel restrictions and incitement against the peace process by cabinet ministers (including the foreign minister) have continued unabated.
If US president Barack Obama feels that the peace process fully embraced by the Palestinian Authority and leadership does produce results, many Jerusalemites are asking whether Israel's strongest ally, the US, can at least guarantee that Palestinians residing in Jerusalem can continue to live in the holy city and can have regular access with their families in friends in the surrounding Palestinian cities and communities.