Israel meets with Palestinian authority
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has held talks with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz during a rare visit to Israel.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Israeli defence ministry said “the two men discussed security and civil matters” during the meeting, which Israeli media reported took place at Gantz’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin in central Israel.
Gantz told Abbas he intended to “continue to promote actions to strengthen confidence in the economic and civilian fields, as agreed during their last meeting”, the statement added.
In late August, Gantz visited the PA’s headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Abbas. It was the first official meeting at such a level in several years.
On Wednesday, Israel’s defence ministry announced “confidence-building measures” with the PA. They included a $32m advance payment to the PA in taxes collected on its behalf by Israel and the granting of 600 extra permits allowing Palestinian businessmen to cross into Israel.
Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxes on behalf of the PA as part of the interim peace agreements signed in the 1990s. The tax transfers are a key source of funding for the cash-strapped Palestinians, but Israel has withheld funds over the PA’s payment of stipends to thousands of families that have had relatives killed, wounded or imprisoned in the conflict. Israel says the payments incentivize terrorism, while the Palestinians say they provide crucial support to needy families.
Earlier in the day, Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al Sheikh tweeted that Abbas’s latest meeting with Gantz “dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution in accordance with international resolutions”. The last round of peace talks, brokered by the United States, collapsed in 2014.
The pair also discussed “the tense conditions on the ground due to the practices of settlers, and the meeting dealt with many security, economic and humanitarian issues”, according to Al Sheikh.
Israel approved residency for some 9,500 Palestinians. Israel controls the Palestinian population registry, and over the years its policies have left an estimated tens of thousands of Palestinians without legal status, severely limiting their freedom of movement, even within the occupied territories. Israel granted legal status to some 4,000 Palestinians in October.
Tensions rise in Gaza
Meanwhile, An Israeli was wounded in a shooting attack on the Gaza border on Wednesday, the military said, after the rare visit to Israel by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas drew condemnation from the enclave’s Hamas rulers. In addition to this, tensions have reached boiling point in several Israeli prisons holding Palestinian prisoners, with rights groups saying authorities are keeping a number of inmates, including several injured by Israeli forces, in unknown conditions.
“The situation in the prisons is critical and very dangerous,” Milena Ansari, international advocacy officer for Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners rights group, told Al Jazeera, citing the continuing closure of Hamas prisoners’ sections amid recent collective punishment measures.
Tensions escalated on December 14 in the northern Damon prison, where three female prisoners and representatives of the other inmates refused to leave their cell during an evening raid due to the cold weather outside, according to the Ramallah-based Addameer prisoners’ rights group. The Israeli officers then cut off electricity in their section, beat them and transferred one of the prisoners, Shurooq Dwayyat, into isolation, Addameer said.
The other two, Marah Bakir and Muna Qaadan, were placed in solitary confinement the next day after they protested by beating on the cell doors. Their rooms were also raided, and the three female prisoners refused their meals until they were all returned to their cells. During the raids, a number of other women were beaten by Israeli special forces, one to the point of unconsciousness, according to a statement by the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) monitoring group. Some also had their headscarves forcibly removed.
When the news reached Nafha Prison in southern Israel, a Palestinian inmate affiliated with Hamas, Yousef Mabhouh, from the Gaza Strip, stabbed an Israeli prison officer in the face with an improvised weapon, lightly wounding him, according to the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). Hamas in a statement said the incident was “a natural response to the escalation” faced by the female prisoners.
Both the PPS and Addameer accuse Israel of a deliberate information blackout following this month’s events.
“We don’t know the medical condition of some of the prisoners or what has happened to them,” Addameer’s Ansari said, alleging a “cover-up”. “We’ve been unable to gain access to the prisons where this is happening and document events. The lawyers have also been denied access.”
The PPS, meanwhile, urged the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the prisoners and check on their conditions.
Simultaneously, Palestinian hunger striker Hisham Abu Hawwash, who is protesting against his “administrative detention”, has been moved to an Israeli hospital and is on the verge of death, unable to speak or move after 135 days on hunger strike with his weight dropping from 89 to 37 kilograms (196 to 82 pounds).
The 40-year-old, who is from Dura near Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank, was arrested by Israeli soldiers in October 2020 and was placed under administrative detention, a procedure used by the Israeli army to detain Palestinians on “secret information” without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.
The political atmosphere between Israel and Gaza has also become dangerously tense, as On Nov. 24, the U.K. Home Office announced it had banned the Palestinian Islamist faction Hamas in its entirety under the country’s 2000 Terrorism Act. While Hamas’s military wing has been on London’s list of proscribed terror groups since 2001, British Home Secretary Priti Patel had pushed for a complete ban of the organization, noting it was no longer possible to differentiate between the faction’s political and military wing. Israel’s Bennett will now take an even more aggressive and assertive stance on the conflict with Hamas in Gaza, placing thousands of civilian lives in danger.
Talks unlikely to produce results
But after those talks between Abbas and Gantz, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said there was no peace process ongoing with the Palestinians, “and there won’t be one”.
Israel under Bennett has pledged to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank and has refused to recognize the Palestinian state. Bennett’s statement is therefore unsurprising.
There is now an unprecedented dimension in the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the political landscape of what is, according to international consensus, to be a future Palestinian state, is blocked.
United Nations human rights experts sharply condemned Tel Aviv’s recent announcement to advance illegal settlement constructions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Michael Lynk, special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, special rapporteur on adequate housing, stated that Israeli settlements are “the engine of the occupation.”
Last month various bodies within the Israeli government approved plans for more than 1,700 new housing units in the settlements of Givat Hamatos and Pisgat Zeev, neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In the occupied city, the number of settler housing units in the Atarot neighborhood is estimated to be in excess of 9,000 while 3,400 settler homes are planned to be constructed in the E1 area to the east of Jerusalem. In the West Bank, 3,000 housing units in the settlements are being advanced.
Some recent reports indicate that the Israeli government is planning to retroactively legalize several settlement outposts. According to U.N. experts, “the very raison d’etre of the Israeli settlements in occupied territory – the creation of demographic facts on the ground to solidify a permanent presence, a consolidation of alien political control and an unlawful claim of sovereignty – tramples upon the fundamental precepts of humanitarian and human rights law.”
Currently, there are close to 700,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements in the occupied cities of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The very experts stated that “they are responsible for a wide range of human rights violations against the Palestinians, including land confiscation, resource alienation, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, mounting settler violence, racial and ethnic discrimination.”
The leading actors in the international community including the United States and the European Union have criticized the Israeli plans for settlement expansion; however, “criticism without consequences means little in these circumstances,” the U.N. experts said. “Israel has paid a minuscule cost over the past five decades for building its 300 settlements and defying international law.”
It is being insisted that the ICC must take legal action to investigate Tel Aviv’s controversial policy to ensure law is dominant in the region. The Rome Statute is directly targeted due to the Israeli moves, which should not be allowed for the sake of the credibility of the international community and law.