Thursday, March 11, 2010

Biden wraps up his trip to Israel with a big speech to the Israeli public at Tel Aviv University, underscoring American solidarity with Israel. He reiterates U.S. disapproval of the Ramat Shlomo housing plan because it “undermined the trust required for productive negotiations,” but accepts what he calls “significant” assurances from Netanyahu that the construction will not break ground for years, expressing hope that negotiations would “resolve this and other outstanding issues” before construction could begin. He then heads to Jordan. Separately, Netanyahu issues a statement apologizing for the “unfortunate timing” of the Ramat Shlomo announcement, but notably not apologizing for the construction itself. At the same time, Israel’s Jerusalem municipality announces plans to build 1,000s of settlement housing units e. and s. of Jerusalem in areas Israel intends to keep under final status, including 3,000 units each in Gilo and Givat Matosim, 1,500 units each in Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev, 1,200 units in Ramot, 600 in Armona Netseev, 450 in Neve Ya’acov, and 144 in Olive Mount. The U.S. does not comment. Abbas warns Biden by phone that the PA cannot start proximity talks until Israel reverses the construction approval. (JTA 3/11; NYT, WP, WT 3/12)

In Ramallah, at least 1 PA security official and 1 Fatah Central Comm. member take part in a ceremony in Ramallah naming a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, a 19-yr.-old Fatah member who in 1978 led a squad from Lebanon that sailed to Israel where they staged attacks killing 1 American and 38 Israelis before being shot dead; Netanyahu denounces the official Fatah and PA participation as incitement undermining the peace process. Late in the evening, the IDF patrols in Ramallah, firing rubber-coated steel bullets at stonethrowing Palestinian youths who confront them, causing no injuries; carries out latenight house searches in Jenin town and r.c., making no arrests. In Gaza, the littleknown Salafist group Ansar al-Sunna fires a Qassam rocket into Israel, causing no damage or injuries but marking the 1st incidence of rocket fire since 2/12. Later in the day, unidentified Palestinians fire 2 more Qassams toward Israel, but they land harmlessly inside Gaza. Late at night, the IDF makes an air strike on a smuggling tunnel on the Rafah border, causing no injuries. Hamas authorities in Gaza release British journalist Paul Martin, held for 25 days on suspicion of security offenses (see 3/1). (NYT, YA 3/12; OCHA, PCHR 3/18)