JFP 10/18: Interview with Rami Zurayk on Food, Farming, and the Arab Spring
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October 18, 2011
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Food, Farming and Foreign Policy: Interview with Rami Zurayk
Just Foreign Policy talks to Rami Zurayk, author of "Food, Farming and Freedom: Sowing the Arab Spring," about Palestine, Arabism, rural agricultural development in Lebanon, the "aberration" of U.S. foreign aid, community-supported agriculture, and the Arab Spring.
Total US Troop Deaths in Afghanistan Under Obama Now 2x That Under Bush
Last weekend marked a new milestone for the war in Afghanistan: more than twice as many US soldiers have been killed under Obama than in the eight years of Bush. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1043
***Action: Press Congress to Oppose the Bahrain Arms Sale
Rep. Jim McGovern and Sen. Ron Wyden have introduced a resolution of disapproval to block the proposed arms sale to Bahrain. Broad Congressional support for this resolution would increase pressure on the Administration to speak up about human rights in Bahrain.
Ask your Representative and Senators to add pressure on the Administration to change its policy on Bahrain by signing the McGovern-Wyden resolution.
"Convenient" Base Is Unexamined Excuse for U.S. Silence on Bahrain Crackdown
The New York Times called the U.S. naval base in Bahrain a "convenience," but it's still being used as an excuse for U.S. silence on the crackdown in Bahrain.
Garamendi: where left-leaning budget hawks align w GOP & libertarian cost-cutters
Rep. Garamendi's office created a Word document where you can see the overlap between "left" and "right" proposals to cut the military budget. We converted it to html so you can view it on the web.
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1) Rep. Barney Frank is encouraging Occupy Wall Street and its sibling movements to get involved with the campaign to cut military spending, the Campaign for America's Future reports. "Cutting military spending is really essential if we are going to accomplish some of the things the Occupy movement wants to do in terms of fairness," Frank said. Military spending makes up more than 50 percent of total discretionary spending. That's why Frank says "we're in a zero-sum game": either cut military spending or see drastic cuts in other sectors of the budget.
This is where the Occupy movement can make a difference, Frank said. "I think they underestimate the extent to which if they mobilize and deluge members of the House and Senate with opinion-they underestimate the impact it would have."
2) Hamas negotiator Mahmoud Zahar says ending the blockade of Gaza is part of the agreement between Hamas, Egypt and Israel for the return of Gilad Shalit, Haaretz reports. Israel agreed to this long ago, and it is still part of the agreement, Zahar told Haaretz on Monday. Israeli defense officials said the Shalit agreement marks a turning point in relations between Israel and Hamas.
There are two main possibilities that any future decision to ease the blockade might include, Haaretz says. One is to ease restrictions on the movement of people through the Gaza border crossings, and particularly travel from Gaza to the West Bank via Israel. The second is to increase exports of goods from Gaza to Israel and abroad.
3) Hamas has freed Gilad Shalit and he has been reunited with his family in Israel as part of a prisoner exchange, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reports. In an interview with Egyptian television, Shalit said he would be "very happy if all these [Palestinian] prisoners are freed so that they can go back to their families, loved ones, territories - it will give me great happiness if this happens." He added, "I hope this deal will help with the conclusion of a peace deal with the Israelis and Palestinians and I hope that cooperation links between the two sides will be consolidated." He thanked the Egyptians and said their good relations with Hamas and Israel helped complete the deal.
Palestinian politician Mustafa Al Barghouti said while he welcomes the release of the prisoners, there are many more who still need to be set free.
4) A UN report which verified "systemic torture" by Afghan security forces trained and funded by the U.S. has renewed calls for enforcement of the Leahy Law which prohibits any US funding, weapons or training to security force units in other countries committing gross human rights violations, writes Tom Hayden in The Nation.
5) The family of 16-year-old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki is condemning his killing in a US airstrike in Yemen, the Washington Post reports. A senior congressional official who is familiar with U.S. operations in Yemen said, "If they knew a 16-year-old was there, I think that would be cause for them to say: 'Gee, we ought not to hit this guy. That would be considered collateral damage.' "
6) Key neo-conservatives and right-wing hawks who championed the invasion of Iraq are calling for military strikes against Iran in retaliation for its purported plot against the Saudi ambassador, Jim Lobe reports for Inter Press Service. Leading the charge is the Foreign Policy Initiative. Three of the group's four directors - Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor - were recently named as key advisers to Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
7) Writing in the Washington Post, national security correspondent Walter Pincus says the fact that the Israeli government is cutting military spending in response to domestic protests over economic conditions means we ought to re-evaluate US military aid. Pincus asks: given present economic problems in the US, should the US supply the money to make up for reductions the Israelis are making in their own defense budget?
8) A plan for settling thousands more Jews in a strategic part of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem is threatening to cut a link between Jerusalem and the West Bank, AP reports. The proposed Givat Hamatos development would complete a Jewish band around a part of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, complicating any future partition of the city. "This is a game changer," Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem expert, said of Givat Hamatos. While relatively small in size, "this is a mega-settlement in terms of impact." Givat Hamatos would cut off one of the key remaining land corridors between Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, cutting off Beit Safafa from Bethlehem.
1) Barney Frank Connects Defense Cuts Drive To Occupy Movement
Isaiah J. Poole, Campaign for America's Future, October 14, 2011
Rep. Barney Frank is ratcheting up his longstanding push to reduce federal defense spending with a series of town hall events in his Massachusetts congressional district starting this weekend. And he is encouraging Occupy Wall Street and its sibling movements around the country to get involved.
"Cutting military spending is really essential if we are going to accomplish some of the things the Occupy movement wants to do in terms of fairness," Frank said in an interview Friday afternoon.
Military spending makes up more than 50 percent of total discretionary spending, and in turn discretionary spending-virtually all of the functions of government other than Social Security, Medicare and other programs in which spending is set by demand rather than annual budget negotiations-is about 40 percent of the total federal budget. That's why Frank says "we're in a zero-sum game": either cut military spending or see drastic cuts in other sectors of the budget, ranging from Social Security benefits to health care, from environmental protection to financial regulation.
This is where the Occupy movement can make a difference, Frank said. "I think they underestimate the extent to which if they mobilize and deluge members of the House and Senate with opinion-they underestimate the impact it would have."
Frank adds that the same message of opposition needs to be heard by the White House, particularly by defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has come out strongly against defense spending cuts as the congressional deficit-reduction "super committee" works behind closed doors to come up with a deficit-reduction plan. "I'm very disappointed with Leon Panetta," Frank said. "He has been the mouthpiece for a viewpoint that is very surprising to me given his previous, more common-sense approach."
Frank suggests reminding President Obama, "We didn't elect you to stay in Iraq longer than George Bush wanted to."
2) Hamas: Israel pledged to lift Gaza blockade as part of Shalit swap deal
Mahmoud Zahar, member of Hamas' negotiating team in Shalit deal tells Haaretz Israel had agreed to lift blockade as part of deal in talks with a German mediator long ago.
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha'aretz, 18.10.11
Ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip is part of the agreement between Hamas, Egypt and Israel for the return of Gilad Shalit, according to Mahmoud Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas in Gaza and a member of Hamas' negotiating team in the Shalit deal.
Israel agreed to this long ago, in talks with a German mediator, and it is still part of the agreement, Zahar told Haaretz on Monday.
Zahar, who will be one of the Hamas officials greeting the released prisoners on Tuesday, said there are several other issues the sides also agreed to as part of the deal. For one, families from Gaza will now be allowed to visit their relatives in Israeli prisons. Since Shalit's abduction, such family visits have been banned.
Additionally, in an attempt to increase pressure on Hamas to reach an agreement on freeing Shalit, Israel had stripped Palestinian prisoners of certain privileges and put many of their leaders into solitary confinement. These measures will now be reversed, Zahar said.
Finally, Israel agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza, Zahar said.
Israeli defense officials confirmed that the Shalit agreement marks a turning point in relations between Israel and Hamas. They said that various steps have already been taken to ease the blockade on Gaza in recent months, as part of the unofficial cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.
Now, Israel is evaluating the implications of the Shalit deal for its blockade policy. There are two main possibilities that any future decision to ease the blockade might include. One is to ease restrictions on the movement of people through the Gaza border crossings, and particularly travel from Gaza to the West Bank via Israel. The second is to increase exports of goods from Gaza to Israel and abroad.
After Shalit's release, Israel will no longer have any excuse to continue the blockade, Zahar said. "This is what representatives of European countries told us when they approached us about releasing Shalit, and the Israelis made this commitment as well," he said.
3) Israeli soldier Shalit freed from captivity
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 18, 2011 23:15:23
Hamas has freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from more than five years in captivity and he has been reunited with his family in Israel, as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
Sergeant Shalit, 25, was taken across the frontier from the Gaza Strip into Egypt's Sinai peninsula and driven to Israel's Vineyard of Peace border crossing, where a helicopter flew him to an Israeli air base for a reunion with his parents.
In an interview with Egyptian state television, Sergeant Shalit said what he missed most during his incarceration was his loved ones. "Obviously I missed my family a lot and also I missed my friends, and I missed meeting normal people... I have a lot to do when I'm free," he said through an interpreter.
He was also asked if he would be campaigning for the release of more Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
"I will be very happy if all these prisoners are freed so that they can go back to their families, loved ones, territories - it will give me great happiness if this happens," he said.
"I hope this deal will help with the conclusion of a peace deal with the Israelis and Palestinians and I hope that cooperation links between the two sides will be consolidated."
Sergeant Shalit took short breaths as he thanked all those who worked for his release. "I think the Egyptians succeeded (in achieving the deal) because of their good relations with Hamas and the Israeli side. These good relations helped complete the deal," he said.
Palestinian politician Mustafa Al Barghouti said while he welcomes the release of the prisoners, there are many more who still need to be set free. "This is a great day for everybody but of course we are worried about the 4,600 Palestinian prisoners who remain in jail," he said. "I was dreaming of the day when the exchange will include all the prisoners and will open a new chapter in our relationship.
"But unfortunately we still have to struggle hard to have these 4,600 prisoners released."
4) UN Torture Report Stirs Pressure for Congressional Response
Tom Hayden, The Nation, October 14, 2011
Ten years after promising that human rights would be protected in Afghanistan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has verified "systemic torture" by Afghan security forces trained and funded by the United States.
The UN report, described in a lead New York Times story on October 10, is triggering calls once again for enforcement of the so-called Leahy Law, passed in the 1990s, which prohibits any US funding, weapons or training to security force units in other countries committing gross human rights violations. A loophole in the Leahy Law, however, allows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to waive the ban by issuing a finding that the Afghan government is taking remedial measures, including bringing responsible members of the torture units "to justice," and that "all necessary corrective steps have been taken."
No one in Congress has introduced language to expose and defund US assistance to human rights violators like the Afghan security forces, but the time may be approaching. The gravity of the UN report is stirring new concern in NATO countries and may make it impossible to continue routine evasions of the Leahy Law here.
Responding to the report, Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told The Nation that the United States "should suspend any training or assistance to the Afghan security units implicated in this abuse until it's clear that the government is taking remedial action, including by holding those responsible accountable." Malinowski questioned whether secret CIA assistance to Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, will be included in any action taken by the administration. The prohibition, he said, "should be applied to any assistance provided to the NDS, whether it is coming through accounts technically governed by the Leahy amendment or not."
5) Family Condemns Death Of Awlaki's Son
Peter Finn and Greg Miller, Washington Post, October 17
In the days before a CIA drone strike killed al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki last month, his 16-year-old son ran away from the family home in Yemen's capital of Sanaa to try to find him, relatives say. When he, too, was killed in a U.S. airstrike Friday, the Awlaki family decided to speak out for the first time since the attacks.
"To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaeda militant. It's nonsense," said Nasser al-Awlaki, a former Yemeni agriculture minister who was Anwar al-Awlaki's father and the boy's grandfather, speaking in a phone interview from Sanaa on Monday. "They want to justify his killing, that's all."
The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin were killed in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen.
A senior congressional official who is familiar with U.S. operations in Yemen and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy issues said, "If they knew a 16-year-old was there, I think that would be cause for them to say: 'Gee, we ought not to hit this guy. That would be considered collateral damage.' "
The official said that the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command are expected to ensure that women and children are not killed in airstrikes in Pakistan and Yemen but that sometimes it might not be possible to distinguish a teenager from militants.
Nasser al-Awlaki said the family decided to issue a statement after reading some U.S. news reports that described Abdulrahman as a militant in his twenties.
The family urged journalists and others to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman. "Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies," the statement said. "His Facebook page shows a typical kid. A teenager who paid a hefty price for something he never did and never was."
6) U.S. Hawks Behind Iraq War Rally for Strikes Against Iran
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Oct 17
Washington - Key neo-conservatives and other right-wing hawks who championed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq are calling for military strikes against Iran in retaliation for its purported murder-for-hire plot against the Saudi ambassador here.
Leading the charge is the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the ideological successor to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which played a critical role in mobilising support for "regime change" in Iraq in the late 1990s and subsequently spearheaded the public campaign to invade the country after the 9/11 attacks. The group sent reporters appeals by two of its leaders for military action on its letterhead Monday.
In a column headlined "Speak Softly …And Fight Back" in this week's Weekly Standard, chief editor William Kristol, co-founder of both PNAC and FPI, said the alleged plot amounted to "an engraved invitation" by Tehran to use force against it.
"We can strike at the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), and weaken them. And we can hit the regime's nuclear weapons program, and set it back," he wrote, adding that Congress should approve a resolution authorising the use of force against Iranian entities deemed responsible for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, acts of terrorism, or "the regime's nuclear weapons program".
Kristol's advice was seconded by Jamie Fly, FPI's executive director, who called for President Barack Obama to emulate former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton when they ordered targeted strikes against Libya in 1986 and Iraq in 1993, respectively, in retaliation for alleged terrorist plots against U.S. targets.
"It is time for President Obama to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and stand up to tyrants who kill Americans and threaten our interests," wrote Fly, who served on the National Security Council staff and the Pentagon under George W. Bush, in the on-line edition of The National Review. "It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response," he wrote.
The FPI appeals, which have been echoed by other former Iraq war hawks, such as Bush's former U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, and Reuel Marc Gerecht at the neo-conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), came as analysts here continue to debate the credibility of the alleged plot against Saudi Amb. Adel al-Jubeir and how to react to it if, as the administration contends, it was authorised at a high level in Tehran.
The likelihood that the plot was indeed real - and, if so, whether it gained high-level authorisation - has been widely questioned, mainly by two sets of experts here.
Such scepticism, however, has not deterred the administration, key lawmakers, or former Iraq hawks from calling for a stern response.
Indeed, Obama himself said Thursday that he will push for "the toughest sanctions" against Iran on the part of the U.S. allies and the U.N. Security Council, while senior Treasury officials testified that they were considering blacklisting Iran's central bank, a move that enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress, notably from lawmakers most closely associated with the Israel lobby, even before the alleged plot was disclosed.
But a number of former Iraq hawks, few of whom appear to entertain much doubt about the plot's seriousness or provenance, are calling for military action.
"More sanctions aren't a bad idea…," wrote Gerecht, a major proponent of invading Iraq when he was at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), in a column published Friday by the Wall Street Journal's staunchly neo-conservative editorial page. "But they will not scare (the regime). The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don't we are asking for it."
Another Iraq war booster, Andrew McCarthy, also of FDD, joined the chorus in the National Review Online: "There is a range of possible political responses, of course, but given its three-decade campaign of aggression, the response to Iran must be military - and decisive. The regime must be destroyed."
Monday's appeal by FPI for military action was perhaps more remarkable, if only because three of the group's four directors - Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor - were recently named as key advisers to Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Like Kristol, Kagan was a co-founder of both PNAC and FPI and a critical advocate of invading Iraq, while Senor served in Iraq after the invasion as a top official in the Coalition Provisional Authority. Edelman, who, as ambassador to Turkey at the time, lobbied its military to support the 2003 invasion, went on to serve as undersecretary of defence for policy under former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.
Although Romney has remained silent to date on how Washington should respond to the alleged plot, a number of his other advisers who championed the Iraq invasion have long called for the U.S. to make the threat of military action against Iran more credible.
In his first major policy address two weeks ago, Romney himself called for two aircraft carrier task forces to be permanently deployed in the region as a deterrent to Tehran.
7) United States needs to reevaluate its assistance to Israel
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 17
As the country reviews its spending on defense and foreign assistance, it is time to examine the funding the United States provides to Israel.
Let me put it another way: Nine days ago, the Israeli cabinet reacted to months of demonstrations against the high cost of living there and agreed to raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes ($130,000 a year). It also approved cutting more than $850 million, or about 5 percent, from its roughly $16 billion defense budget in each of the next two years.
If Israel can reduce its defense spending because of its domestic economic problems, shouldn't the United States - which must cut military costs because of its major budget deficit - consider reducing its aid to Israel?
First, a review of what the American taxpayer provides to Israel.
In late March 2003, just days after the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush requested the approval of $4.7 billion in military assistance for more than 20 countries that had contributed to the conflict or the broader fight against terrorism. Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey were on that list.
A major share of the money, $1 billion, went to Israel, "on top of the $2.7 billion regular fiscal year 2003 assistance and $9 billion in economic loans guaranteed by the U.S. government over the next three years," according to a 2003 study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Then in 2007, the Bush administration worked out an agreement to raise the annual military aid grant, which had grown to $2.5 billion, incrementally over the next 10 years. This year, it has reached just over $3 billion. That is almost half of all such military assistance that Washington gives out each year and represents about 18 percent of the Israeli defense budget.
In addition, the military funding for Israel is handled differently than it is for other countries. Israel's $3 billion is put almost immediately into an interest-bearing account with the Federal Reserve Bank. The interest, collected by Israel on its military aid balance, is used to pay down debt from earlier Israeli non-guaranteed loans from the United States.
Another unique aspect of the assistance package is that about 25 percent of it can be used to buy arms from Israeli companies. No other country has that privilege, according to a September 2010 CRS report.
The U.S. purchases subsidize the Israeli arms business, but Washington maintains a veto over sales of Israeli weapons that may contain U.S. technology.
Look for a minute at the bizarre formula that has become an element of U.S.-Israel military aid, the so-called qualitative military edge (QME). Enshrined in congressional legislation, it requires certification that any proposed arms sale to any other country in the Middle East "will not adversely affect Israel's qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel."
In 2009 meetings with defense officials in Israel, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher "reiterated the United States' strong commitment" to the formula and "expressed appreciation" for Israel's willingness to work with newly created "QME working groups," according to a cable of her meetings that was released by WikiLeaks.
The formula has an obvious problem. Because some neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are U.S. allies but also considered threats by Israel, arms provided to them automatically mean that better weapons must go to Israel. The result is a U.S.-generated arms race.
For example, the threat to both countries from Iran led the Saudis in 2010 to begin negotiations to purchase advanced F-15 fighters. In turn, Israel - using $2.75 billion in American military assistance - has been allowed to buy 20 of the new F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters being developed by the United States and eight other nations.
Another military program, called U.S. War Reserves Stocks for Allies, begun in the 1980s, allows the United States to store arms and equipment on Israeli bases for use in wartime. In the 1990s, the arrangement was expanded to allow Israel to use the weapons, but only with U.S. permission. During the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the United States gave permission for Israel to use stored cluster artillery shells to counter rocket attacks. The use drew international complaints because the rockets struck civilian rather than military areas.
In the 2011 bill, Congress added $205 million for the Iron Dome system, which defends against short-range rockets and mortars. That was on top of $200 million the administration sought for the U.S. contribution to other cooperative missile-defense systems.
Among reductions now being discussed in Israel is a delay in purchasing more Iron Dome systems beyond those to be paid for by the United States' $205 million. In addition, the Israeli military may freeze its spending on other missile defense systems, the very ones for which Congress approved additional funding this year.
The question for the Obama administration, Congress and, in the end, perhaps the American public, is: Given present economic problems, should the United States supply the money to make up for reductions the Israelis are making in their own defense budget?
8) Plan for settling thousands more Jews in Israeli-annexed part of Jerusalem clears key hurdle
Associated Press, October 17
Jerusalem - A plan for settling thousands more Jews in a strategic part of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem has quietly cleared a key bureaucratic hurdle, threatening to cut a link between Jerusalem and the West Bank and endanger already slim peace prospects.
The proposed Givat Hamatos development would complete a Jewish band around a part of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, complicating any future partition of the city.
"This is a game changer," Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem expert, said of Givat Hamatos. While relatively small in size, "this is a mega-settlement in terms of impact," he added.
The plan calls for about 2,600 apartments, including about 1,800 for Givat Hamatos and 800 for an expansion of Beit Safafa, an adjacent Palestinian neighborhood, Seidemann said. Construction could begin by the second half of 2012, he said.
Because of Israel's construction of a half-ring of Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem, only a few land corridors are left its core Arab neighborhoods and the West Bank. Givat Hamatos would cut off one of the key remaining ones - cutting off the area of Beit Safafa from the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
The new building plan drew condemnation over the weekend from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The U.N. and EU, along with the U.S. and Russia, make up the Quartet of Mideast mediators, who hope to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Quartet envoys are set to meet next week in the region to nudge the two sides back to the table, but prospects are were dim before, and even more so now.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not return to talks as long as Israel keeps building on territory it captured in the 1967 war, and Palestinian officials said the plans for Givat Hamatos reinforced that decision.
"It's another slap in the face of all those international efforts being made toward the resumption of a meaningful political process," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's not only damaging to our own interests, it's damaging to all those who have a vested interest in a two-state solution," referring to a Palestinian state next to Israel.
In any future peace deal, guidelines first established by former U.S. President Bill Clinton a decade ago would likely still apply to a partition of Jerusalem - Arab neighborhoods to Palestine and Jewish neighborhoods to Israel. Such arrangements would be complex, likely requiring the construction of bridges and tunnels to create contiguity between disjointed Arab and Jewish areas.
Both Israel and the Palestinians accepted the concept at the time, but peace talks broke down over other issues.
The Palestinians, along with the international community, make no distinction between construction for Jews in the West Bank and in the occupied sector of Jerusalem. Israel annexed east Jerusalem - plus a swath of West Bank land around it - after the 1967 war and since then has settled 200,000 Jews in a ring of new developments around the Arab core.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while offering to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state, opposes a partition of Jerusalem. His ruling coalition is dominated by hard-liners and supporters of settlement.
In a reflection of their power, the Netanyahu government last week decided to set up a task force to review West Bank land ownership, possibly creating a way to legalize dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts on lands until now regarded as private Palestinian property.
And last Tuesday, Jerusalem city officials also deposited the Givat Hamatos plan for a 60-day public review period. Court appeals could delay the process for a few more months, but construction could start within a year, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now, calling last week's decision the final planning stage.
Jerusalem municipal spokesman Stephan Miller said more steps have to be taken before construction can begin, but declined to give details. The plan could also be canceled at the government level.
Israelis insist the post-1967 housing developments are mere "Jewish neighborhoods," a term sounding benign and residential. The Palestinians, along with officials from the United Nations, the European Union and others, refer to them as settlements, a word which, in the shorthand of the conflict, implies illegitimacy.
Semantics aside, the world community overwhelmingly opposes the east Jerusalem construction - and it is a red line for the Palestinians who consider the eastern part of the city as their capital.
About half a million Israelis already live on occupied land, including the 200,000 in areas Israel annexed to Jewish west Jerusalem. The annexed lands include the original east Jerusalem, which under Jordanian rule was a hilly hamlet of some six square kilometers (2.5 square miles), as well another 64 square kilometers of the West Bank.
Givat Hamatos would be the first new Jewish settlement - or neighborhood - to be built in east Jerusalem since the Har Homa enclave was started in 1997. It could hardly come at a more delicate time: last month the Palestinians asked the United Nations Security council to recognize a Palestinian state encompassing the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem.
Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said she "deplored" the latest Israeli decision and urged the government to halt the project, citing concern it would cut off Arab Jerusalem off from Bethlehem. Both Ashton and Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. chief, reiterated that Israeli settlement activity in east Jerusalem is contrary to international law.
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