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Talking Peace in Geneva and D.c., but Dealing with Violence in West Bank

December 2, 2003
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With diplomats on the ground in Jerusalem and Geneva seeking to break the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, violence flared anew in the West Bank.

Israeli forces launched a massive raid on Hamas in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday. The raid came as a senior State Department official promised that the United States would do all it could to end violence and as Israelis and Palestinians met in Geneva to launch an unofficial peace proposal.

In Ramallah, three Palestinian militants were killed in gun battles and dozens of others were arrested.

Palestinian officials said a 6-year-old boy also was killed in the clashes in Ramallah, which included stone-throwing incidents by Palestinian youths. Israeli army officials said they were investigating the incident.

The raid, which began shortly after midnight Monday with some 60 army jeeps rumbling through the city, lasted throughout the day. It included house-to-house searches, and Palestinians said Israeli forces blew up an apartment building, leaving dozens homeless.

The army spokesman’s office said the building collapsed after Israeli soldiers discovered a lab with explosives in one of the apartments. Soldiers evacuated residents and detonated the material, the spokesman said.

Palestinian officials condemned the raid.

The army said the raid had been planned for months. Officials from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said the sweep was intended to root out underground Hamas activity in the West Bank’s largest city, which also is the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority.

“It’s just another indication that Israel is compelled to take the necessary steps to thwart terror,” said David Baker, a spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office. “These are the very same steps the P.A. adamantly refuses to take themselves. It has been said time and time again that they must crack down on these terror groups, but the P.A. still refuses to do anything whatsoever. So Israel is left with no choice.”

Baker said that since the Palestinian intifada was launched more than three years ago, scores of Israelis have been killed because of plans and actions by terrorists working in Ramallah.

In a visit to the region that began over the weekend, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, William Burns, told P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei that Washington expects the Palestinians to act boldly against terrorists.

In town to try and make headway on the “road map” peace plan, Burns also called on Israel to dismantle illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz reportedly presented Burns with a plan to dismantle 10 settlement outposts over the next few days.

Israel is under intense U.S. pressure to dismantle such outposts, which the Bush administration views as a major stumbling block to peace.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials are preparing for a possible summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Qurei.

Monday’s clashes and diplomatic maneuvering came as Israelis and Palestinians gathered in Geneva for the launch of the “Geneva accord,” an unofficial peace proposal drafted by Israeli opposition activists and Palestinian negotiators close to P.A. President Yasser Arafat.

Both Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority have distanced themselves from the proposal, and Arafat hasn’t given it his explicit blessing. However, Jibril Rajoub, Arafat’s national security adviser, said that by granting permission to Rajoub and Palestinian architects of the plan to travel to the signing ceremony, Arafat was offering his tacit support, Israeli radio reports said.

Some Palestinian militants and Israeli rabbis have publicly branded as traitors those who drafted the proposal. The plan envisions a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, a divided Jerusalem and Palestinian control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

The plan is vague on the demand for a “right of return” to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Yossi Beilin, who headed the Israeli drafting team for the accord, said he hoped the proposal would generate dialogue about peace within Israeli and Palestinian societies.

“It shows there is something to talk about and someone to talk about it with,” Beilin told Israel Television.

Zalman Shoval, a Sharon adviser, dismissed the accord as “a one-sided, pro-Palestinian agreement.”

“If you give the other side everything they want, it is very easy to have an agreement,” Shoval said.

Meanwhile, Israel is facing a barrage of pro-Palestinian activity at the United Nations this week.

In addition to a U.N.-sponsored “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people” Monday and debates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict set for Monday and Tuesday, the international body is swelling with criticism of Israel’s security fence.

In the aftermath of a report last week by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which said that the fence could “impair future negotiations,” Israel expects Arab countries to call another General Assembly emergency session to criticize the fence.

This time, Israeli officials fear, a resolution would be presented calling on the International Court of Justice in The Hague to judge the fence’s legality.

Both Annan’s report and the upcoming emergency session come in response to a General Assembly resolution passed last month calling on Israel to dismantle of the fence. It also called for Annan’s report on the issue and for the General Assembly to reconvene for another debate.

“We see this whole thing in a very negative light,” said Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. “We are sad that the U.N. is joining in the propaganda campaign against the State of Israel on the issue of the security fence, which we consider essential in order to reduce or prevent terrorists from entering Israel.”

The Palestinians initially called in last month’s resolution for a legal assessment of the fence from the International Court of Justice, but dropped the language when it proved too controversial.

Israel believes the court initiative will garner support only from the Arab countries, as other countries fear it would open the floodgates for political disputes to end up at The Hague.

“Today it may be about Israel, tomorrow it may be about another country,” Mekel said. “If everybody starts dragging everything to the ICJ, there will really be no end to this.”

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