The Jewish settlers march in the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem (photo, from aljazeera.net) was followed by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police.
The hardline settlers live in illegal housing units on occupied Palestinian land. They want Arabs removed from the area and their homes demolished in order to make way for Israeli construction projects.
According to Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Silwan, the demonstration had been“extremely provocative.”
“[It is] a highly aggressive gesture on the part of the settlers – people really hell-bent on driving Palestinians from their land,” she said, adding that Israeli police had allowed the protestors to march around 200 metres into the Palestinian neighbourhood.
The settlers view Jerusalem as their “eternal capital” and want to rid it of Arabs residents “affirming Jewish sovereignty over the whole city.”
On the other hand the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of any future Palestinian state. They have refused to take part in peace negotiations while Israel continues to build on the occupied land.
The area was occupied by Israel after the 1967 Middle East war. The move was not recognised by the international community.
The march had attracted criticism from Israeli politicians, including the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, who tried to stop it from being held.
Uzi Landau, Israel’s infrastructure minister and a member of the hardline Yisrael Beitenu party, said he regretted the event.
“It’s a shame that a provocation of this sort takes place,” he told reporters. “I would rather it didn’t happen.”
The demonstration showed the dynamics of power within Israel, Mustapha Barghouti, an independent Palestinian member of parliament, told Al Jazeera.
“I don’t think Netanyahu is governing the settlers. The settlers are governing Netahyahu,” he said. “This is a well planned provocation.”
Settlers leaders Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir organised the march which comes as Israel prepares to declare the beginning of US-mediated indirect talks with the Palestinians brokered by George Mitchell, the White House Middle East envoy.
“We have come to say to Obama and to George Mitchell that Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people and not to the Arabs,” Ben Gvir told the AFP news agency.
The Haaretz newspaper quoted Israeli officials involved in efforts to renew the peace process as saying that so-called proximity talks between Israel and Palestinians will start no later than mid-May.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has received an invitation to talks in Washington in May as part of the White House’s latest push to broker peace in the region.
However the US president acknowledged he was unable to extract a commitment from Netanyahu to freeze construction of housing units in East Jerusalem, Haaretz said.
On Friday Mitchell told Netanyahu that Washington was committed to Israel’s security and wanted a peace settlement that would give the Palestinians a state.
“That has been American policy. That is American policy. That will be American policy,” Mitchell said.
On Saturday Abbas said that Obama should impose a peace deal but rejected the idea of establishing a state within temporary borders.
“Since you, Mr President and you, the members of the American administration, believe in this, it is your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution and impose the solution – impose it,” Abbas said.
“But don’t tell me it’s a vital national strategic American interest … and then not do anything.”
Since they pulled out of talks with the Israeli during Israel’s 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008, the Palestinians have refused to return until all settlement activity is halted.