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A Giant Step in the Right Direction

By David Wilder
1/8/2010, 12:00 AM

Yesterday Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon visited Hebron, together with MK Anastassia Michaeli, both of the Yisrael Beitenu party. Ayalon works together with party head Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The visitors, together with an entourage that included senior members of the foreign ministry and Hebron leaders, toured Hebron, including Tel Rumeida, Beit Hadassah, the Avraham Avinu synagogue and neighborhood, and of course Ma'arat HaMachpela. Before leaving they participated in a festive lunch which included final summaries of various activities common to Hebron's Jewish community and the Foreign ministry.
there is this perception that Israel is occupying stolen land and that the Palestinians are the only party with national, legal and historic rights to it…this is morally and factually incorrect

Speaking to the Deputy Foreign Minister after he arrived, I told him that I'd been waiting decades for people like him to work in positions of responsibility in the Foreign office. Just a week ago he wrote an Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal dealing with the difference between 'occupied territories,' as Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. West Bank) are labeled, and 'disputed territories.'  The final two paragraphs read:

"After the war in 1967, when Jews started returning to their historic heartland in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, as the territory had been known around the world for 2,000 years until the Jordanians renamed it, the issue of settlements arose. However, (Eugene) Rostow found no legal impediment to Jewish settlement in these territories. He maintained that the original British Mandate of Palestine still applies to the West Bank. He said "the Jewish right of settlement in Palestine west of the Jordan River, that is, in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, was made unassailable. That right has never been terminated and cannot be terminated except by a recognized peace between Israel and its neighbors." There is no internationally binding document pertaining to this territory that has nullified this right of Jewish settlement since.

And yet, there is this perception that Israel is occupying stolen land and that the Palestinians are the only party with national, legal and historic rights to it…this is morally and factually incorrect… " ]http://goo.gl/eBHc].

It's been quite some time since a very senior member of the Israeli foreign ministry made such a declaration.

While here Danny Ayalon spoke of Hebron as the roots of the Jewish people, saying, 'a people with no past have no future.' When asked about Hebron's future, following any kind of political negotiations, he replied that he expected Hebron's Jewish community to remain here, growing and thriving. When the interviewer persisted, asking if such was Israeli government policy, Ayalon answered, 'I don't know if it's been discussed, but there are some issues which are self-evident and don’t need to be discussed.'

Ayalon also spoke of the necessity to send both Israeli and foreign diplomats into Hebron, to witness firsthand the cradle of civilization.

Later in the tour the Deputy FM was asked about TIPH – the temporary international presence in Hebron, which has frequented the streets of the city for the past 15 years [http://goo.gl/C1PS]. Ayalon made clear that temporary is supposed to be just that, temporary, not permanent. He emphasized that renewal of the TIPH mandate, which occurs twice a year, should not be taken for granted.

This morning the Israeli newspaper Maariv-NRG(internet) [http://goo.gl/8nd3] headlined: It seems that the TIPH mandate in Hebron will not be renewed. Ben Caspit, in Maariv, writes: 'After the visit of Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon in Hebron, he noted the option not to extend the mandate of Tiph to be realistic.' "They exceeded their authority," he said.   The article reports that Ayalon's trip to Hebron came under orders from FM Lieberman, who ordered him 'to check out  the situation on the ground.' Ayalon told Caspit, "they (TIPH) report harassment of Arabs by Jews, but not the opposite."

The article reveals segments from a document prepared by the foreign ministry about TIPH: "Sometimes a certain tension  exists between the Government of Israel and TIPH due to our claim that they often deviate from their mandate", for example, "in part by demanding investigations on cases that occurred and / or demands that Israel give report to donor countries. In addition they are involved in very extensive public relations activities, exemplified by a heavily invested web site which features, among other things, forms for Palestinians to file complaints against the Israeli authorities."

Ayalon's visit was a breath of fresh air. Today's press release, officially recommending that the TIPH mandate not be renewed is a tornado, sweeping into Hebron a totally new atmosphere. The foreign groups plaguing Hebron, including CPT, EAPPI, and others, are headed up by TIPH, which has international recognition and backing. TIPHs removal from the scene will surely weaken the other organizations, and hopefully lead to their swift departure also.

This is certainly a giant step in the right direction.