As they keep a wary eye on spreading instability in the wider Middle East and North Africa, Israeli leaders are closely following street protests in nearby Jordan, which shares a border with Israel that is nearly twice as long as the one with Egypt. Although the Jordanian government is considered to be in much better control of its streets than the Mubarak regime was — mainly due to the relative strength and popularity of the Hashemite monarchy led by King Abdullah — it nevertheless has a majority Palestinian population comprised mostly of young descendants of Arabs who fled their homes during the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. The Moslem Brotherhood movement is quite active in the country, mainly via its Hamas branch. It has been stepping up demands for the severing of the peace treaty with Israel, signed by the late King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.
In an attempt to forestall trouble in Palestinian Authority zones of control, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad dissolved his cabinet on February 13 and announced that municipal elections would be held in July, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in September — the month when the PA says it will declare unilateral statehood in all areas captured by IDF forces from Jordan in 1967, including the eastern half of Jerusalem. Hamas immediately denounced the move, saying it would not allow the twin ballots to take place in the Gaza Strip. This prompted PA President Mahmoud Abbas to declare he will not go forward with the planned elections if Hamas boycotts the vote. Earlier, the 75 year old leader announced that he will not seek reelection to the presidential post.
Widespread criticism of the PA increased last month after the controversial Al Jazeera Arab satellite news network published PA documents that were stolen from PA peace negotiator Saeb Erekat’s office in Ramallah. The so-called “Palestine Papers” detailed several significant concessions being considered by PA officials, including allowing contested Israeli settlement blocks to remain in place after a final peace accord is signed. Erekat resigned his position in February, taking full responsibility for the embarrassing theft. At the same time, he again blasted the Arab satellite channel, charging that its agents had engaged in “forgery and distortion.” Many other regional Arab officials have echoed the PA criticism, saying Al Jazeera has become an advocate for the radical Islamic agenda fomented by the Muslim Brothers and Al Qaida. Both Sunni fundamentalist groups want an Islamic caliphate to be established that would enforce strict sharia law in all Arab countries, and eventually throughout the world.
The United Nations Security Council voted on a draft resolution on February 19 that termed all Israeli settlement communities illegal, implying they must all be abandoned as part of a final peace accord. Calling for an immediate halt to all Jewish construction in the disputed territories, the initiative was sponsored by 120 countries. The United States vetoed the resolution despite its frequent demand that Israel freeze home building in all portions of Jordan’s former West Bank, including in eastern Jerusalem.
Meanwhile PA President Abbas said the Palestinians will not renounce their demand for control over the Old City’s Armenian Christian Quarter as part of any final peace deal. Meeting with local Arab Christian leaders in Ramallah, he said “The Palestinian leadership sticks to its position that regards the Armenian Quarter as an integral part of east Jerusalem, the capital of the independent Palestinian state.” The small Jerusalem Armenian Christian community is known to be unhappy with the prospect of returning to Arab-Muslim control after over four decades of moderate Israeli rule.
By David Dolan
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