US President Donald Trump’s special envoy on Monday discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT).
Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and Netanyahu met and discussed settlement construction in the oPT and ways of renewing negotiations with the Palestinians through a regional summit.
It said the meeting was convened in an attempt by the new US administration to renew peace talks with the Palestinians. According to Israeli media, Netanyahu and Greenblatt are in the process of reaching an understanding regarding settlement construction, which is illegal under international law.
They discussed ways to launch negotiations with the Palestinians through a regional summit, which would move peace talks forward. The five-hour meeting, attended by Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, focused on the efforts of the two sides in order to reach understandings between Israel and Trump’s administration regarding settlement construction, activities and expansion.
The Israeli newspaper said that despite the opposing positions between the two sides, an understanding regarding settlements can be reached. It also said that similarly to Sharon-Bush understandings, the Trump’s administration is concerned about reaching an understanding with Netanyahu’s government, and allowing Israel to build inside settlements.
However, it added, Netanyahu is looking forward to building on areas close to settlements, which means allowing Israel to expand settlements on 10% of the West Bank area. The meeting tackled another issue, namely the construction of a new settlement to house settlers who were evicted from ‘Amona’ outpost in February.
Despite the opposition of Trump’s administration to building new settlements, Netanyahu seeks to convince the US that with regards to Amona settlers, the Israeli government does not seek to build a new settlement, but to relocate the settlement outpost. According to a statement released by Netanyahu’s office, Greenblatt reaffirmed Trump’s commitment to Israel’s security and to the effort to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations.
Greenblatt, who is scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, stressed Trump’s strong interest in the growth of the Palestinian economy and improving the life of the Palestinians.
Netanyahu said that he is fully committed to achieving prosperity of the Palestinian economy, affirming that it means improving opportunities to achieve peace in the region. He hoped to ‘do good things’ with Greenblatt, who responded he thinks ‘they’ll do great things together.’
In Washington, US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters that Greenblatt would listen a lot and discuss the views of the leaders in the region and their opinions regarding the current situation as well as how a progress can be made towards peace eventually.
‘Settlements in the occupied West Bank will be discussed,’ Toner said, not expecting an immediate action on this issue, ‘we consider it a challenge that has to be addressed at some point.’
• In the wake of the shooting of a Palestinian by Israeli forces in occupied East Jerusalem in the dawn hours of Monday morning, international spokesperson of the Fatah movement Ziyad Khalil Abu Ziyad said in a statement that ‘the situation in the holy city,’ referring to Jerusalem, ‘has become unbearable.’
‘There is no place left for condemning while Israeli forces continue conducting field executions against Palestinian youths in Jerusalem,’ Abu Ziyad said in Monday’s statement, accusing Israel of aiming to ‘explode the situation’ in Jerusalem, which has been the site of near constant tension since a wave of unrest began in October 2015, and has left some 259 Palestinians and 40 Israelis killed.
‘Israel is attempting in all ways to provoke the emotions of the Palestinian people and push them towards a new confrontation,’ Abu Ziyad said, noting the controversial ‘Muezzin bill,’ the ‘execution of Palestinian activist Basel al-Araj,’ and the killing of Ibrahim Matar on Monday.
Abu Ziyad rejected Israel’s version of events surrounding Matar’s death – in which Israeli police claimed that ‘a terrorist’ stabbed and injured two officers with knife – saying that there is no proof that Matar tried to attack Israeli police, highlighting eyewitness accounts saying that the altercation between Matar and the police was ‘under control’ and that Matar could have been detained without the use of lethal force.
Abu Ziyad implored Palestinian youths in East Jerusalem ‘to be careful as they are targets of Israeli police and the Israeli right-wing.’ He also demanded that the European Union intervene in order ‘to witness the Israeli detentions, killings, expelling of Palestinians and to understand the real initiator of any new confrontation that might spark between Palestinians and Israelis.’
Rights groups have disputed Israel’s version of events in a number of cases, denouncing what they have termed as a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy against Palestinians who did not constitute a threat at the time of their death, or who could have been subdued in a non-lethal manner – amid a backdrop of impunity for Israeli forces who have committed the killings.
Israel’s response to attacks have meanwhile been denounced as ‘collective punishment’ and illegal under international law.
• The union of parent committees of East Jerusalem schools announced on Monday that all Palestinian schools in occupied East Jerusalem would go on strike on Tuesday in protest at Israel’s Jerusalem municipality ‘coercing Palestinian schools to close during the Jewish Passover holiday.’
The announcement was made during a news conference at the offices of Pal Media in East Jerusalem. A number of Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset joined the news conference, according to a statement released by the union.
The statement confirmed the union’s rejection of the closing of Palestinian schools during the upcoming Passover holiday, which begins on April 10 and ends on April 17. The Israeli Ministry of Education and Jerusalem municipality insist on imposing (closures) on our schools and students in the name of Passover,’ the statement said.
‘This holiday has a negative effect on the course of final “tawjihi” exams in particular and on the educational process in general,’ the statement said, referring to the tawjihi, a high school completion certificate in the occupied Palestinian territory and the Arab world.
The union added in the statement that additional protests would be organised if Israeli authorities ‘failed to respond positively to our demands.’ In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson from Israel’s Jerusalem municipality said that the union was ‘not a representative body, and does not express the desires of all parents in East Jerusalem.’
Israel meanwhile implements massive closures on the Palestinian territory during Jewish holidays. Last year during Purim, Israel shut down all checkpoints between the occupied West Bank and Israel and occupied Jerusalem, and all checkpoint crossings with the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians were also restricted access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, in East Jerusalem with all Palestinian men younger than 50 denied entry to the site.