Israel this week demonstrated once again its determination to scuttle any genuine peacemaking effort that might lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.
Israeli bulldozers and huge hydraulic jackhammers descended on the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to demolish the Shepherd Hotel, a huge complex dating back to the 1930s. Part of the structure served as home to the former grand mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini. The doomed structure thus had a lot of historical significance related to the history of the Palestinian struggle.
The demolition was the latest step by Israel to consolidate Jewish hegemony over the occupied Arab town and obliterate its erstwhile Arab- Islamic identity. The forced Judaisation of the city -- holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews -- is done feverishly through shadowy deals and dubious expropriation practices in which deception, cheating and trickery loom large.
Moreover, Zionist circles in cooperation with the Israeli government and Jewish settler interests have allocated hundreds of million of dollars for the purpose of channelling Arab-owned property to Jewish interests all over East Jerusalem. The demolition of the Shepherd Hotel took place despite international -- including American -- objections.
However, given the generally ineffectual nature of these objections, the Israeli government has grown accustomed to taking them lightly, calculating that they are only meant for public relations consumption and that in no way do they constitute a credible challenge to Israel's settlement policy.
According to reliable Israeli sources in Jerusalem, the Israeli municipal authorities are awaiting an opportune time to carry out further large-scale demolitions of Arab homes in the Silwan neighbourhood. "If the government finds out that international reactions, especially US reactions, are weak as usual, then it will mean a kind of go-ahead signal for the demolitions," said the source that was not authorized to speak to the media.
"They [the pro-settler Municipal Council of the city] want to desensitise international public opinion to accept [their] reality and come to terms with the fact that Israel will have its way in Jerusalem."
Reactions to the latest provocation in East Jerusalem have been "normal", whether from the Palestinian Authority (PA) -- which as usual appealed to "the international community" to pressure Israel -- or from EU, UN and Arab states, which more or less repeated the same old platitudes pertaining to Israel's settlement policy being unlawful and counterproductive to peace.
Saeb Ereikat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, urged the West to act on its condemnation of Israeli provocations. "The UN and governments around the world, including the US and the UK, have already condemned plans to demolish this particular hotel. We call on the world to take a strong stand in defence of their positions. This intransigent and illegal behaviour on behalf of Israel must not be allowed to proceed unchecked."
Speaking in desperate tone, Ereikat said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was undercutting and corroding international efforts to create a Palestinian state. "While Netanyahu continues his public relations campaign regarding the peace process, on the ground he is rapidly moving to prevent the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.
"Israel continues to change the landscape of Jerusalem aiming to change its status and turn it into an exclusive Jewish city. This process of cleansing and colonisation must be stopped to change the dark reality of Israeli occupation into a free and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been trying to give the impression that diplomatic movement was underway, probably to create a public relations counterbalance to settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo this week. He also asked for a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, ostensibly for the same reason. Mubarak did urge Netanyahu to reverse present Israeli policies vis-Ã -vis the Palestinians and the peace process. Netanyahu heard Mubarak's appeal but didn't listen to it. For as soon as he returned to Israel, the demolitions in East Jerusalem took place.
Meanwhile, Israel is about to dispatch an envoy to Washington to assure the Obama administration that the Netanyahu government is still committed to the peace process. This comes in the aftermath of the clarion failure of the Obama administration to convince Israel to freeze settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, even in exchange for huge diplomatic inducements and military incentives.
Some analysts believe that the obsequious American behaviour towards the Netanyahu government, especially the excessive patience displayed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has further emboldened Israel and encouraged the Israeli leadership to ignore US pressure. "I am sure that Mrs Clinton dreads Israeli wrath and displeasure more than the Israelis dread American wrath and displeasure," said one veteran European journalist based in East Jerusalem.
The US reaction to the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel as well as the latest coldblooded killing of innocent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including farmers tilling their land and old men sleeping in their beds, has been characteristically hollow and wrapped in diplomatic jargon.
Meanwhile, Clinton put the peace process on the backburner as she toured Gulf Arab emirates and sheikhdoms, inciting them against Iran's nuclear programme. Predictably, Clinton implied that Israel posed no threat to the Arabs and that the real common enemy of both Israel and the Arabs is Iran. Clinton went as far as discrediting statements by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan in which he said that Iran wouldn't have nuclear weapons capability before 2015.
A few weeks ago, Clinton dismissed the charge that "unilateral Israel actions" were derailing the peace process. "Bilateral negotiations," she said, "are the only way to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians." One PA cabinet minister commented on Clinton's remarks, saying: "This is very much like telling a rapist and his victim to sort it out among themselves."