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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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Meanwhile in the West Bank…

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While Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. leaders debated the status of settlement expansion in New York, Palestinian workers carried on building the fenced-off red-roofed suburban enclaves in the West Bank.

With the settlement issue continuing to heat up the discussions, we sent our correspondents to a settlement construction site to see it for ourselves.

Beitar Illit is one of the newer settlements located south of Jerusalem. It was named after the ancient city of Beitar, the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in the 2nd century.

Do the workers believe a settlement freeze is possible?

“The Jews will never leave the settlements,” one Palestinian labourer told Reuters. “This is a false dream. What was taken by force will only be won back by force.”

Settlement Freeze Still the Hot Topic

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PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/MITCHELLMonths on, and the buck still stops with the settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is now in Europe to meet in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown today and US peace envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday. He will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday.

According to our latest article , the settlement freeze controversy  will dominate discussions, though Netanyahu is also keen to coordinate with Britain and Germany on opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.   (For more information on Netanyahu’s Europe trip, check out our factbox.)

The Mysterious Mr. Mitchell’s MacGuffin

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It’s a bit like a Hitchock thriller. Nobody knows where he is — not even the U.S. State Department — and nobody knows when he will show up in Israel. All we know is, suspense is building and it’s time to watch out for surprises.

President Barack Obama’s Middle East peace envoy Senator George Mitchell is somewhere in transit — probably – and expected in Israel and the Palestinian Territories next week –  sometime.

5 Years On: The ICJ and Israel’s Separation Barrier

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This week marks the fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Israel’s controversial separation barrier, which  is still under construction in and around the West Bank. According to a report from the UN High Commission for Human Rights, about 60 percent of the barrier has been constructed.

Israel says the barrier is aimed at preventing Palestinian terrorism, and says that since the wall has been built there has been a significant drop in attacks. However, the ICJ condemned Israel’s construction of the barrier on land within the West Bank-land Palestinians want for a future state-instead of on the Israeli side of the green line (the 1949 armistice line).

from Global News Journal:

Peace is no kiss, Israeli aide says

A top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used an odd turn of phrase to explain what some see as a puzzling demand put to Palestinians by the right-wing leader as a condition for any any Israeli agreement to establishing a state in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu wants Palestinians to recognise Israel explicitly as a Jewish state, in addition to their having recognised Israeli sovereignty as part of an interim peace deal in 1993. He feels this would symbolise an historic end of conflict, his aides have explained.

Should an Israeli Settlement Freeze Have a Price?

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PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/ Yesterday Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak met with US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, in the hopes of easing the stalemate between the two countries over a settlement freeze. (See our latest story on those talks here.)

Reuters recently reported that there have been attempts among US  officials to encourage Arab states to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel in return for a freeze–such as allowing Israeli registered cellphones on Arab networks, letting Israeli jetliners fly over Arab states’ airspace, or allowing tourists with Israeli stamps enter their countries.  Prospects on that front don’t look good.

Unlikely visitor

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The setting seemed surreal, watching Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ardent ultranationalist, being warmly welcomed to an Arab town.

Only weeks ago Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party had introduced bills proposing to restrict the rights of Arab citizens deemed as disloyal to the Jewish state, and many had responded by denouncing him as a racist.

Israel’s New Ambassador to the United States

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With disagreements between Israel and the United States over the issue of settlements getting public attention in recent weeks, and a peace process lacking momentum, Michael Oren has his work cut out for him. He’s Israel’s new ambassador to the United States.

Reuters correspondent Adam Entous and producer Labib Nasir talked to Mr. Oren Tuesday in Jerusalem. You can read Adam’s story here. You can watch their entire interview below.

Settlements, statehood and speechifying

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s much-anticipated policy speech on Sunday was lavishly covered by the Israeli press, though pundits sounded reservations about the significance of the prime minister’s chief concession to the Palestinians.

“We would agree to a demilitarised Palestinian state,” the choicest quote from Netanyahu’s half-hour address, served as the banner headline for Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. Its rival daily Maariv was more coy: “A Palestinians state – BUT”.

The West Bank Archipelago

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US President Barack Obama told his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their White House meeting that “under the roadmap and under Annapolis that there’s a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements. Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That’s a difficult issue. I recognize that, but it’s an important one and it has to be addressed.”

To give an idea of just how difficult it will be take a look at this extraordinary map designed by French cartographer Julien Boussac. It might look like Indonesia or the Caribbean at first glance, but the map is a fanciful reworking of what is actually happening in the West Bank with the blue/water areas representing areas under full Israeli control with the dark and light green ‘islands’ representing areas where the Palestinian Authority exerts some control.

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