Record number of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israel in 2016 – rights group

Record number of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israel in 2016 – rights group
In 2016, Israeli authorities had sped up demolishing homes of Palestinians in the occupied territories, rights group B’Tselem reported. The number was the highest in 12 years, during which the group kept systematic statistics of the demolitions.

B’Tselem says the demolitions campaign intensified in August 2015 and unofficially halted later in the year, only to be resumed in 2016. Last year Israel demolished 274 homes in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), thereby rendering homeless 1,134 individuals, including 591 minors.

In East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities demolished 73 Palestinian homes in 2016, while 15 others were demolished by their owners on orders from the municipality. Violation of the orders would have carried hefty fines and would not likely prevent the demolitions or being charged the cost of carrying them out. Together those actions rendered 295 people homeless, including 160 minors, B’Tselem said. The authorities also demolished 48 non-residential buildings.

“Despite the differences between Area C and East Jerusalem in terms of which authorities operate in each area and the laws applied by Israel, the policy Israel pursues in the two areas is similar, and designed to minimize the number of Palestinians in as much land as possible,” the group said. “Authorities cynically cite illegal construction as a pretext for the demolitions, while at the same time authorities are the ones that prohibit legal construction by Palestinians.”

The rights advocates accuse the Israeli authorities of failing to authorize enough construction permits to meet the demand of the growing Palestinian population, leaving Palestinians with no choice but to build homes illegally. B’Tselem believes it to be part of a policy aimed at making living conditions for Palestinians unbearable and forcing them to leave.

“This policy, which all authorities work to uphold, severely and directly violates the most fundamental human rights of tens of thousands of Palestinians, and indirectly those of hundreds of thousands more. At the same time, the policy also offers decisive evidence that Israel has long-term plans to continue controlling the area, while oppressing and dispossessing its residents,” it said.

The Israeli authorities deny the accusations.

“The Civil Administration conducts enforcement operations against illegal construction in Judea and Samaria in accordance with the political echelon’s instructions,” the coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit told Ynet, the online branch of the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot.

“In the past year, the Civil Administration approved zoning plans for the villages of Taanakh and Izbeit at-Tabib, and these days it is advancing the zoning plans of the city of Qalqilya, Nabi Ilyas, Hableh and Dahar al-Malakh. In addition, the Civil Administration is looking into and advancing several plans to legalize infrastructure and housing for the Bedouin population in Judea and Samaria, in the Ma’ale Adumim area and the Jordan Valley, as part of which the families will be allotted plots of land including proper housing infrastructures such as water, electricity and sewage, while maintaining the population’s lifestyle.”

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New US stance on two-state Mideast solution – refreshing or regressive?

New US stance on two-state Mideast solution - refreshing or regressive?
While Donald Trump’s reluctance to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is not surprising, his approach to untangling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be refreshing even without a concrete action plan, politicians and experts told RT.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday had their first face-to-face meeting since Trump came into office. The American leader discarded the previous commitment of the US to a two-state Israel-Palestine solution.

However, Trump called Netanyahu to restrain from settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Speaking at a joint news conference, he said the US “will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal” between the two Middle Eastern states.

The US President said he is “looking at two-states and one-state,” and likes “the one both parties like,” adding that he “can live with either one.”

Trump’s statement that the US would no longer insist on an independent Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians contradicts both with Israeli PM’s Netanyahu views and decades-old American approach to the problem, Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told RT.

I know that Mr. Netanyahu has a different plan; the Israeli prime minister wants to establish a system of discrimination and racist apartheid against Palestinians as a substitute for the two-state solution,” Barghouti said.

The Palestinian National Initiative, he said, has always demanded a one-state solution with equal “democratic rights for Jewish, Christian and Muslim Palestinians.” If that’s not the case, the new US approach to the problem might even regress the reconciliation process, Barghouti said.

We cannot accept a system of apartheid or a system of racial discrimination. So if Israel does not want a two-state solution, the only option would be one state with equal rights,” he said, adding that “it would be a state for everybody.”

Unfortunately… there was a statement from White House officials that they don’t think that the two-state solution is a must for achieving peace. And that is definitely a regression,” he added.

READ MORE: Palestinians support Trump’s call for Israeli settlements ‘pullback’, wary of ‘one state’ idea

Mitchell Barak, the former media adviser to President Shimon Peres & former speechwriter for Prime Minister Sharon, argues that Washington’s rhetoric is “very refreshing.

“It’s very refreshing for people in the region to hear that the US government hasn’t made up its mind what the best solution is and that it’s really up to the parties – the Israelis and Palestinians – and by extension other countries in the region to really work it out and figure out what works best for them,” he told RT.

The whole notion of the two-state solution was a lot of semantics because two states mean different things to each party. For Israelis it means a Palestinian state which is demilitarized, which may not have territorial continuity, where Jerusalem is not the capital of the Palestinian state,” Barak said. “And for the Palestinians, they think this state would mean that Jerusalem is the capital, that there’s territorial continuity, they talk about the right of return of refugees and so forth. Even the concept of what that state is is very different.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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US delegation ushers out media as Tillerson starts talking to Lavrov at G20

US delegation ushers out media as Tillerson starts talking to Lavrov at G20
Journalists were asked to leave as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson began addressing the Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, during their first meeting in Bonn, raising questions and surprising the Russian FM.

The meeting between the two senior diplomats began with a protocol handshake in front of the cameras. The Russian Foreign Minister then stepped in as the more experienced diplomat.

“Mr. Secretary of State, I thank you for this opportunity to have the first contact after you have assumed the office and I would like to congratulate you once again for that,” Lavrov said.

He also briefly answered a question from the press on whether the “turbulence” in Washington has ramifications for US-Russia relations.

“One should understand that we don’t interfere in other nations’ domestic affairs,” he said referring to the recent resignation of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Tillerson began his opening remarks, and that’s when things went off course. The US Secretary of State only managed to say that he was also glad to meet his Russian counterpart when the US delegation signaled the media to leave the room, Russian media reported.

“Why did you shush them out?” Lavrov asked of the unfair treatment of the media by the Americans, Bloomberg quoted him as saying.

After the meeting had concluded, Tillerson gave a short statement, which lasted less than a minute, and refrained from answering any questions. On his way out, the Secretary of State ignored a journalist, who wanted to know if he and Lavrov have met before.

READ MORE: Russian FM Lavrov expects to talk to US counterpart Tillerson soon on Ukraine & bilateral relations

Both parties described their maiden talks as “productive” and said they were eager to try finding ways of mending Russia-US relations.

“As soon as the teams in the State Department and the relevant agencies are formed, we expressed readiness to establish contacts,” Lavrov said.

Tillerson, on his part, emphasized that “the US will consider working with Russia when we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people.”

READ MORE: Senate confirms Rex Tillerson for US secretary of state

Lavrov and Tillerson also discussed Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, with the sensitive issue of sanctions, imposed on Moscow under the Obama administration, not raised in Bonn.

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