Israeli investors had reason to celebrate last month with the news that Israel may soon be joining the club of oil-producing states. Only one cloud looms on the horizon. It is unclear how much of this new-found oil wealth actually belongs to Israel. The Meged 5 oil field extends over a very large area, possibly 250 sq km, with much of the reserves believed to lie under Palestinian territory in the West Bank. PA officials refer to it as part of Israel’s “theft of Palestinian national resources”.
With Europe’s most talented young footballers preparing for the kick-off of the under-21 championships, Israelis are celebrating the biggest footballing coup in their history. But criticism from global statesmen such as Desmond Tutu has bolstered the recent launch of a campaign by Palestinian groups and European and American solidarity activists for a sporting boycott of Israel, modelled on the international campaign that targeted apartheid South Africa.
Israel’s increasing integration into European competitions, despite its refusal to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, respect human rights and halt illegal settlement, is, according to critics, contrary to sporting values and should be met with international opposition of the kind faced by apartheid South Africa.
Last week the Israeli parliament updated a 59-year-old law originally intended to prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from returning to the land from which they had been expelled as Israel was established. Fast-forward six decades and Israel is relying on the infiltration law to prevent a supposedly new threat to its existence: the arrival each year of several thousand desperate African asylum seekers.
Israeli human-rights groups and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, have condemned a decision by Israel to expel four Palestinian politicians from East Jerusalem by the end of this week. The Israeli government revoked their residency rights in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, after claiming they were “in breach of trust” for belonging to a “foreign parliament”, a reference to the Palestinian Legislative Council. All four men belong to Hamas and were arrested a few months after taking part in the Palestinian national elections in January 2006.
The Israeli courts ordered the release this week of two foreign women arrested by the army in the West Bank in what human-rights lawyers warn has become a wide-ranging clampdown by Israel on non-violent protest from international, Israeli and Palestinian activists. The arrest of the two women during a nighttime raid on the Palestinian city of Ramallah has highlighted a new tactic by Israeli officials: using immigration police to try to deport foreign supporters of the Palestinian cause.
In an echo of restrictions already firmly in place in Gaza, Israel has begun barring movement between Israel and the West Bank for those holding a foreign passport, including humanitarian aid workers and thousands of Palestinian residents. The new policy is designed to force foreign citizens, mainly from North America and Europe, to choose between visiting Israel – including East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed illegally – and the West Bank.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been much criticised in Israel, as well as abroad, for failing to present his own diplomatic initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to forestall US intervention. Mr Netanyahu may have huffed and puffed before giving voice to the phrase “two states for two peoples” at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but the contours of just such a Palestinian state – or states – have been emerging undisturbed for some time.
The small village of Taybeh, nestling in the mountains of the West Bank, has established several Palestinian firsts, but it hopes its latest will make it a household name in the Arab world. As well as being the only entirely Christian village in the Palestinian territories and running the only Palestinian brewery, it now hopes to export what it is calling a “non-alcoholic beverage”, modelled on its popular Golden Taybeh beer, to Muslims across the Middle East.
The scene: a military checkpoint deep in Palestinian territory in the West Bank. A tall, thin elderly man, walking stick in hand, makes a detour past the line of Palestinians, many of them young men, waiting obediently behind concrete barriers for permission from an Israeli soldier to leave one Palestinian area, the city of Nablus, to enter another Palestinian area, the neighbouring village of Huwara. The long queue is moving slowly, the soldier taking his time to check each person’s papers. The old man heads off purposefully down a parallel but empty lane reserved for vehicle inspections. A young soldier controlling the human traffic spots him and orders him back in line.