Nov 24 2014

Obama says no plans to remove Assad

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Obama clarifies Assad policy

Speaking to reporters at G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia on November 16, US President Barack Obama dismissed reports of pending changes in Syria policy, saying “We have not had a comprehensive review of Syria. We’ve had a comprehensive review of what are we doing each and every week” in the military campaign to defeat the Islamic State.

On the role of Assad in the battle with IS and in a political transition in Syria, Obama said “there’s no expectation that we are going to in some ways enter an alliance with Assad. He is not credible in that country. Now, we are looking for a political solution eventually within Syria that is inclusive of all the groups who live there — the Alawite, the Sunni, Christians. And at some point, the people of Syria and the various players involved, as well as the regional players — Turkey, Iran, Assad’s patrons like Russia — are going to have to engage in a political conversation. And it’s the nature of diplomacy in any time, certainly in this situation, where you end up having diplomatic conversations potentially with people that you don’t like and regimes that you don’t like. But we’re not even close to being at that stage yet.”

Asked pointedly if he was actively discussing ways to remove Assad in the context of plans for a political transition in Syria, Obama responded with a simple “No.”

Obama’s clarity on Syria stood in contrast to an unusual presentation by US Secretary of State John Kerry the next day on how the Islamic State and the government of Syria are actually “co-dependent” or “symbiotic,” that is, they need each other as enemies, and the US must build and back a “moderate center” in Syria.

Kerry’s remarks come as Syrian military forces this month retook the area around the Al-Shaer gas field from the IS terrorist group after fierce fighting, as reported by Khaled Atallah. Continue Reading »

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Nov 24 2014

Could Israel’s policies pave way for an intifada?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

In the early months of the first intifada, Palestinians waited for the underground leadership’s directions, which came out in a numbered statement that was quickly distributed by fax throughout the occupied territories. The leaflet, Bayan al-intifada, came to be regularly issued by what was known as the Unified National Command of the Intifada. This underground leadership was a well-kept secret, and for Israel, its members were like needles in a haystack.

In 1987, I was asked about it in an interview with Israel TV about the leadership. I answered half-jokingly that it could be meeting anywhere, including in West Jerusalem or even in a Tel Aviv cafe. I am told that this made Israelis go berserk, not knowing which of the Palestinians they saw at their cafes were part of the underground leadership and which were simply out for a cup of coffee.

At the time of the first intifada, there was no wall and no restriction on the movement of Palestinians from the occupied territories into Israel.

In Nov. 13 meeting of journalists who worked at the now defunct Palestinian newspaper Al Fajr, Hatem Abdel Qader, one of the paper’s editors who later became a member of the Palestinian Parliament and a minister for Jerusalem affairs, revealed that the underground leadership often met on the premises of the newspaper’s Nablus Road offices in East Jerusalem. An editor in attendance indicated that the third leaflet had been produced at the newspaper premises. A Palestinian engineer from Ramallah, Khaled Batrawi, posted on his Facebook page this week that he had been aware of a number of meetings of the underground leadership held in West Jerusalem.

At the time, membership in — or even sympathy for — the PLO was illegal, so it was necessary to direct it in secret. This need, coupled with Palestinians’ freedom of movement, created the formula for the creation of the underground leadership. Continue Reading »

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Nov 18 2014

Tense calm continues at Al-Aqsa

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Driving from Bethlehem to Jerusalem on Nov. 13 , the 10 a.m. news report on Jordan radio was reassuring. After noting the meeting among King Abdullah, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it announced that all had agreed to soothe tensions in Jerusalem and that entry to Al-Aqsa for the faithful would be eased.

I was planning to go to Al-Aqsa, but was unsure whether to believe the news. The scene outside Damascus Gate that morning was not reassuring. I counted at least 10 large Israeli police vehicles and saw dozens of policemen preparing themselves for a battle. Israeli police on four horses went by in an additional show of force. I waited for the 10:30 news on Israel radio in Arabic, but that report focused mostly on the latest controversy between the heads of the Israeli army and police over who knew what before the Gaza war.

I walked into the Old City along with many others. Aside from a few cameras on top of the stairs leading to the gate, there was no visible sign of the tension that had rocked the city for days. Just inside the walls, a group of Israeli police officers in their navy blue uniforms stood idly as Palestinians walked past local merchants hawking toys and cell phone covers and women farmers trying to sell sage, parsley, mint and raisins.

At an intersection, another cluster of policemen, this time including two border patrol guards in khaki uniforms, stood by as people walked to the mosque area. Shortly, I approached the house that late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had taken over in an act that provoked many protests in 2000. I asked a sweet shop vendor if Sharon’s home, which still had a large Israeli flag on it, had become vacant. He replied that it is occupied by four Israeli settlers. Just around the corner from the house was yet another group of six Israeli police officers. Continue Reading »

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Nov 17 2014

Elements for third Palestinian intifada present

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

One of the most often repeated themes littering political discussions and commentary by pundits in Israel and Palestine involves when the next intifada will take place. The repeated failure to predict it shows that no one can foresee what combination of issues and actions might produce the collective popular protests that have become associated with Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation.

Despite not being able to identify or predict when the next intifada will erupt, it is a helpful lesson to look at the elements present when the first and second uprisings began and compare them to the current situation. Identifiable elements triggering past intifadas include the absence of a political horizon, violent Israeli repression, an increase in settlement activity and tensions in Jerusalem.

In the 1980s, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that forced the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to relocate to Tunis from Beirut, Israel under Likud leadership began a systematic settlement drive that included major land confiscations in the West Bank. Unable to stop this illegal and exclusively Jewish settlement activity, Palestinians eventually revolted.

The absence of a political horizon after 20 years of occupation was a major contributor to the first intifada, which began Dec. 9, 1987. The second intifada broke out on Sept. 28, 2000, after repeated Israeli foot dragging in post-Oslo peace talks. When the Palestinians lost hope with the possibility of a peace agreement at Camp David II, they responded violently. Continue Reading »

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Nov 11 2014

Ramallah tech expo highlights Palestinian IT industry

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The opening ceremony of Expotech 2014 at the Ramallah Cultural Palace on Nov. 9 was a sellout. Under the theme “intelligent cities,” a week of technological-related events are taking place in Ramallah and Gaza — via video conference — with the aim of discussing, planning and networking one of Palestine’s most ambitious information technology projects.

Ramallah Mayor Musa Hadid promised the attendees a city that will be totally covered by a Wi-Fi network as a direct response to the Israelis refusing to allow Palestinian mobile companies to provide 3G and 4G to its customers.

The Palestinian information and communication technology (ICT) sector is making a major contribution to the overall output of the Palestinian economy. A European Union-funded study in April 2013 by the Palestinian Information Technology Association in Palestine found that ICT’s contribution to the Palestinian economy is disproportional to the number of people it employs. “With 3% of the workforce [about 5,000 individuals] producing 8% of output, the ICT sector stakeholder ambition is to increase Palestinian ICT companies’ international market access [that is, enhance export activity] to encourage sector growth.”

A special bulletin prepared by the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) for the Portland Trust concluded that the ICT sector is a strong contributor to the overall economy: “For each new worker employed in the ICT sector, three employment opportunities are created in other sectors that support the ICT sector.” Continue Reading »

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Nov 10 2014

Jordan recalls envoy to Israel after Al-Aqsa violence

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, Walid Obeidat, received warm applause on Oct. 28 while giving a speech in Tel Aviv on relations between his country and Israel. “This 20th year of the peace treaty has witnessed the advancement of major projects that ultimately serve the advancement of bilateral and regional interests,” said the ambassador. Obeidat, speaking two decades after Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty, also referenced recent agreements on water and gas between the two countries. Yet, Jordan’s national media paid little attention to these aspects of the speech, instead stressing the Jordanian ambassador’s slamming of Israel for its settlement policies in East Jerusalem.

The Jordanian diplomat, who refused to heed the opposition of his own tribe, was lonely in the Israeli coastal city. He was the only acting Arab ambassador in Israel. Egypt recalled its envoy to Cairo in 2011 following the Israeli shooting of three Egyptian border security officers. He has not returned since.

Obeidat had survived the breakdown of Palestinian-Israeli talks, the sharp increase in Jewish settlement activities, the killing of a Jordanian judge on the King Hussein Bridge (for which a joint investigation has yet to produce results) and the 51-day brutal Israeli war on Gaza. And, despite repeated calls from parliamentarians, civil society activists and a weekly vigil held every Thursday, diplomatic relations have remained normal. Continue Reading »

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Nov 06 2014

Don’t Forget Gaza

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By Daoud Kuttab

For a few days last week Gaza Strip turned into a large prison.

Ever since October 24, the Rafah crossing point has been closed by the Egyptians following the huge attack on the army in north Sinai.

Israel has also closed all its crossings with Gaza on November 2, allegedly following the launch from Gaza on that same day of a single rocket that landed in a deserted area.

The Israelis reopened their crossing points Tuesday, but Rafah continues to be closed.

Egypt, which was stunned by a horrific series of attacks that caused the death of over30 soldiers, has been searching for answers, and the army argues that the problem lies in Gaza.

Not only has the Rafah crossing been totally and completely closed since then, but Egyptian engineers have also been busy destroying houses on the Egyptian side of Rafah in order to create a 500-metre buffer zone that they hope will forever end the problem of the tunnels to Gaza.

The closures come at a time the reconstruction process is moving at a very slow pace. While the donor conference in Cairo produced better than expected pledges, the crucial unity between Fateh and Hamas has yet to produce a major breakthrough.

Hamas is still holding off turning over control of its side of the Rafah crossing to the joint presidential guards and EU monitors. This failure has allowed Egypt to continue its narrative that Hamas is part of the problem.

As a result, the Egyptian army and political leadership have had little problem in justifying this hermetic closure of the only crossing point enabling Gazans to leave and return. Continue Reading »

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Nov 04 2014

History shows current Jerusalem crisis not its last

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The recent escalation of tension in East Jerusalem and especially in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque will most certainly confuse many. Why, some ask, would the Israeli government carry on an unprecedented act of closing off the entire mosque area to all but eight Muslim worshipers, only to reopen it the next day and appeal for calm?

The extreme Israeli action included the prohibition of the call for prayer, which has not happened since the Israeli occupation of the city in 1967. Israelis say they could not remain silent following the shooting of Yehuda Glick, a radical American-Israeli activist rabbi who has been calling for Jews to establish a permanent presence in the entire Haram al-Sharif, which is nominally under the joint control of unarmed Islamic Waqf (Jordanian) guards and well-armed Israeli security personnel.

Glick, a member of the small radical group of Jewish extremists called the Temple Mount Faithful, had just ended a lecture at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center titled “Israel returns to the Temple Mount” when he was shot by an unknown assailant who reportedly told him that what he had said at the lecture “really hurt me.”

In turn, Israeli security forces killed a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem. Israeli accounts say that they surrounded the home of Moataz Hijazi and took him out during an exchange of fire. Palestinians deny that an exchange of fire took place, calling his killing an assassination. Continue Reading »

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Nov 02 2014

Palestinians will wait until January to seek UN recognition

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

No official has said it bluntly, but the Palestinian threat to seek recognition of statehood again from the UN Security Council is likely to be postponed until the end of the year. US Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly asked for this postponement and without the needed nine votes to force the United States to veto a resolution, it makes little sense to go to the Security Council now.

However, as of Jan. 1, the Security Council will include countries that will easily secure the needed votes for Palestine: Venezuela, Angola, New Zealand, Spain and Malaysia are replacing Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, South Korea and Rwanda.

Fatah leaders attending the Revolutionary Council told Al-Monitor that they have given President Mahmoud Abbas the freedom to delay until January, if needed, to fulfill the current road map of joining all UN agencies once the Security Council is given a chance to vote on the Palestinian demand.

Speaking on Palestine Today TV after the council’s 1½-day meeting on Oct, 23, Sabri Saidam, the deputy secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that a number of steps were discussed in the Fatah meeting before any major break with the Oslo Accord and the security coordination with Israel that came with it. These steps include: seeking a vote in the Security Council; if the United States vetoes, then the consequent step would be to join all UN agencies, including the Rome Statues regarding theInternational Criminal Court; and then, clearly declaring the end of security coordination with the occupiers. Continue Reading »

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Oct 30 2014

The Leaderless Political Orphans of Jerusalem Revolt

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Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

For years, governing powers in the Middle East have worked hard at decimating the leadership structure of any opposing group. Experts credit the success of various revolts and protests during the past three years to a leaderless revolution that governments were unable to predict or to stop.

In a strange way, this is what is happening in Jerusalem today.

The city’s 300,000 Palestinian Arabs are political orphans and totally leaderless. Israel physically separated the Palestinians of East Jerusalem from their natural connections to their brothers and sisters in outlaying areas, in Ramallah and Bethlehem and throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Political leaderships have been regularly annihilated and any connection to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has been outlawed. This is often seen by the ridiculous Israeli decisions to ban a children’s puppet festival or the launch of a film on the problems of drug use in the Old City simply because it received funding from or through the Palestinian government in Ramallah.

The Palestinians of Jerusalem are totally stateless. Unlike the rest of Palestinians in the occupied territories, they are prevented from holding a Palestinian passport. Most carry a Jordanian passport without having Jordanian citizenship.

Some have opted to apply for Israeli citizenship, an option available to them after Israel’s unilateral annexation of the city in 1967, but even this option is not automatic. Continue Reading »

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