Middle East - interview

Israel lifts West Bank lockdown amid tight security

Israel has lifted its lockdown of the West Bank but has maintained a high alert in Jerusalem, following more clashes between Palestinians and police. Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani says peace talks are likely to continue but a two-state solution was becoming ever less probable.  

Israeli soldier patrolling in Jerusalem, 12 March 2010.
Israeli soldier patrolling in Jerusalem, 12 March 2010. AFP/Ahmad Gharabli

Israel reopened the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Wednesday and lifted a days-old lockdown of the occupied West Bank.

This is a day after mainly-Arab east Jerusalem saw the heaviest Palestinian rioting in years. Israeli police remain on the alert, with some 3,000 deployed in Jerusalem.

The West Bank is reported to be relatively calm, despite early afternoon clashes at Qalandiya checkpoint that led to blockages on the main road linking Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Meanwhile, tensions appear to be easing between Israel and its key ally, the United States. The US remained in an unshakeable bond with Israel, said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announcing she would meet soon with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also adding that Israel should suspend building more homes for Jews on Arab land.

A diplomatic row erupted over new settlement plans announced last week during a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden.

Biden felt insulted that the announcement was made while he was in Israel, says Mouin Rabbani from the Amman-based Institute of Palestine Studies.

The accelerated pace of settlement building in past decades - especially since the 1993 Oslo peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians - has made a two-state solution in the region almost impossible, Rabbani told RFI.

“The talks will go ahead, because the three parties concerned – Washington, Netanyahu and Abbas - each for their own purposes want these talks”, Rabbani said.

“They’re essentially meaningless talks that will serve as nothing more than a cover for a destruction of what prospects remain for a two-state solution and will achieve nothing in terms of the peace process."

Meanwhile, Rabbani believes the Israeli public is “schizophrenic” on the issue of settlement expansion.

“On the one hand, they have moved further to the right with every passing year and in terms of Netanyahu’s insistence of continuing to build settlements in Jerusalem even the opposition stands fully behind.”

On the other hand they also recognise “the absolute centrality of the relationship to the US to Israel’s interest”.

The public will probably blame the Israeli government should there be a real crisis in relations with the United States, he  believes.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have continued to boycott produce coming from Jewish settlements, seizing and destroying goods at checkpoints.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad launched the boycott in late 2009, in a move against Jewish settlements and towards the establishment of Palestinian institutions, which he hopes to have completed by mid-2011.

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