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Palestinians Prepare a Bitter Welcome for Obama

RAMALLAH, Mar 20 2013 (IPS) - The rumbling drone of a fleet of U.S. helicopters carrying security and administrative personnel could be heard long before the eight choppers came into view over the Ramallah horizon on their way to the Palestinian Authority  (PA) presidential compound in the West Bank de facto capital Ramallah.

The helicopters circled over the city several times, swooping low over illegal Israeli settlements on hill tops surrounding the Palestinian enclave, and over Palestinian apartments, houses and businesses before finally landing at PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Muqata (compound).

This was a security dummy run on Monday for U.S. President Barack Obama’s official visit to Ramallah due Thursday this week. The PA’s security apparatus has been working closely with American and Israeli security personnel to ensure the American president’s safety.

Many Palestinians seem hostile to the visit. Posters of Obama have been torched and vandalised. Angry Palestinians threw shoes at a U.S. diplomatic vehicle in Bethlehem during an anti-Obama demonstration. More demonstrations are being planned during the visit.

These developments came as the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said that Israel’s “creeping annexation” of the West Bank had led to many human rights violations that could possibly be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The U.S. refused to take part in the debate in Geneva on Israeli settlements and their effects on Palestinians, accusing the UN of being biased against Israel.

The U.S. stance on the UNHRC debate came as no surprise to Palestinians. It only succeeded in angering them further at what they say is the U.S. government’s bias towards Israel complemented by massive economic and military aid.

The debate followed a January report by a panel of UN investigators, and was supported by the European Union (EU). A resolution declared that “settlements are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace.”

There are over 500,000 Israeli settlers in the Palestinian Territories, including nearly 200,000 in occupied East Jerusalem. The settlers live in more than a hundred settlements and about as many outposts, all illegal under international law.

Israeli rights group B’tselem states that one of the methods used by the Israeli government to expropriate Palestinian land is simply declaring land in the West Bank Israeli state land, even land privately owned by Palestinians.

“A significant percentage of the land that Israel declared as state land is actually privately owned Palestinian property, which was expropriated from its lawful owners through legal manipulations and in violation of local and international law alike,” says B’tselem.

“This runs contrary to the law which stipulates that state land in the West Bank, even if declared as such prior to 1967, is not to be earmarked for the use of the State of Israel, but rather for the use of the local Palestinian population.”

Obama has said the purpose of his trip to the Middle East is to listen, rather than bring any proposals for a political solution. He has ruled out demanding a construction freeze in Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

Obama’s hands-off approach is sure to be interpreted as a green light to Israel’s newly formed government. The coalition comprises three pro-settler parties with all ministerial positions affecting West Bank settlement activity in the hands of settlers or their supporters.

Still-serving Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that his Yisrael Beiteinu party would seek to prevent any new construction freeze in West Bank settlements. He also said there would be no peace with the Palestinians in the next four years. Lieberman has support from the Interior Ministry from Pinchas Wallerstein, a veteran settler leader who chairs the committee for investigating the boundaries of regional authorities.

Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett is a former chief of the Yesha Council of Settlers. New Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel from Habayit Hayehudi (its electoral base comprises settlers) has spent his public career advancing the settlements.

The new finance minister, Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, is chairman of the new Ministerial Committee on Housing Issues. Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky, also of Habayit Hayehudi, is a secretary general of the Gush Emunim settler movement and a member of the Yesha Council.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon from the ruling Likud party will be responsible for settlements and their security in the West Bank. “The new government will be a national government that will preserve the country’s interests, including the settlements,” Danon said in an interview before his appointment.

“There is a long fight ahead. We will not give up our land. We prefer to die rather than submit to occupation,” Shaker Tamimi from the Palestinian village Nabi Saleh near Ramallah, which has lost a number of villagers to settler attacks and a lot of its land to the Halamish settlement told IPS. Tamimi’s unarmed brother was shot dead by Israeli soldiers last year while protesting against the expropriation. (END)

 
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