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Settlement Plans Underway as Palestinians Unite

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As friends of Palestine throughout the world commemorate the Israeli attacks on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 that killed about 1,400 Palestinians, Israel continued to launch multiple attacks on the Gaza Strip this week.

On December 27 Israel’s most senior military officer Benny Gantz marked the three-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead by saying on Israeli radio, that it was “an excellent operation that achieved deterrence for Israel vis-a-vis Hamas”. He further stated that a second round of fighting in Gaza is not a matter of choice for Israel and that it must be “swift and painful”.

Within hours of these comments, the Israeli military launched two airstrikes on targets in Gaza, killing one person and injuring at least 10. Early Friday morning, December 30, further Israeli airstrikes to the southeast of Gaza City killed one man and wounded five others.

“We shoot when we’re being shot at,” an Israeli security official said after Friday’s air strike in Gaza. A military statement issued the night of December 27 said that the Israeli army “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and... soldiers, and will operate against anyone who uses terror against the state of Israel”.

On December 28 and 29 short-range rockets where launched from Gaza into Israel, causing no injuries or damage. The Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility.

On December 27, a hard-line settler group, Elad, announced that it is beginning plans for a new tourist center at the site of a politically contentious archaeological dig in a largely Palestinian neighbourhood just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. The center is planned to be established at the edge of Silwan in east Jerusalem, the part of the city the Palestinian leadership says it wants as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

These plans were approved by the Jerusalem municipality on December 28, which at the same time approved plans to build 130 new houses in the Gilo settlement. Ministers of both France and the UK condemned these acts and deemed them provocative and counterproductive. Emphasizing the illegal nature of the settlements, the ministers pointed out that continuing the building would make it even harder to achieve a two-state solution.

The Gilo settlement lies just a few kilometers north of Bethlehem and 130 new houses will isolate the Palestinian city even further from east Jerusalem. This latest construction approval came only 10 days after Israel raised international and Palestinian anger by including three locations in an near east Jerusalem in plans to build 600 houses.

Reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas continued this week as Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said that a unity government must be formed to end the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. On Palestine TV Khaled said that the parties had agreed on a political partnership.

Also President Abbas expressed his satisfaction with the outcome of the meetings with Hamas in Cairo earlier this month. On Monday, December 26, he met with Hamas officials in Ramallah to discuss ways to implement the reconciliation deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the other hand is less happy about the recent reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, and on December 25 he announced that he will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

“If Hamas joins the Palestinian government we will not hold negotiations with the Palestinian Authority”, Netanyahu said, adding that he is ready to meet with Abbas anytime, anywhere, in order to renew negotiations.

Addressing a meeting of Israeli diplomats on December 25, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused the Palestinians of attempting to avoid negotiations, saying that peace is currently unavailable. Repeating previously expressed views, Lieberman said that “the key word in our relations with the Palestinians should be managing the conflict, and not solving it”. He further expressed that he does not believe that a peace deal will be agreed upon within the next decade.

In the evening of December 25, hundreds of Jewish extremists rallied in the Old City of Jerusalem, chanting racist anti-Arab slogans. Accompanying the settlers was a large number of Israeli police officers.

In Hebron Israeli forces delivered 13 demolition orders to Palestinian residents on December 29, as well as confiscating 160 dunums of land from a village south of the city.

A Palestinian laborer was attacked on Friday, December 30, while working in the Betar Illit settlement near Bethlehem. The laborer sustained facial wounds, including a severed left ear after a settler attacked him with a sharp tool.

Further, witnesses reported Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian schoolchildren in Hebron’s city center on December 29. According to Ma’an News Agency, the settlers tried to stab a sixth-grade pupil and hit his friend who tried to defend him. The witnesses also said that Israeli soldiers watched the incident without intervening.