Oct 21 2014

Travel challenges for Gazans fuel frustration

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Meral, a pseudonym, 28, from the Gaza Strip, has traveled the world and returned to her hometown in Gaza. But her account of the trip she took last week and related to Al-Monitor was so traumatic that it might be the last one she attempts to take out of Gaza.

A freelance journalist who works with leading global media outlets, Meral was invited to a media conference in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The trip out of Gaza was tricky, she said. One needs to organize a trip out of the Gaza Strip weeks in advance. Normally, the Rafah border crossing — still controlled by Hamas — has two days reserved for students and two days for those wishing to perform hajj or umrah in Saudi Arabia. Business and leisure trips simply do not have their own day at the border, so these trips require careful planning ahead of time.

Meral knew that she needed a visa to enter Lebanon, but when she was notified that she could leave on Oct. 1, she decided to leave then in the hope that the visa to Lebanon, applied for long ago, would arrive within the days she would be waiting in Cairo. Had she turned down the Gazan government’s offer to leave on Oct. 1, it would have been uncertain when she would have been able to leave next. This could have taken weeks, and she would have certainly missed attending the conference on journalism and social media sponsored by Canal France International (CFI) and the Samir Kassir Foundation. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 19 2014

Abbas’ fortunes turn around after Gaza war

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

For a moment at the end of the summer, it appeared that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was defeated. The Gaza war, which he was unable to do much about, badly hurt his reputation. The transcripts of the three-way meeting with the emir of Qatar and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal had made him look bitter and his UN speech sounded like a last hurrah. Public opinion polls suggested for the first time that he would lose an election with a Hamas leader and his public standing had dipped to its lowest point. His own government seemed unclear on how to approach the Gaza reconstruction efforts.

Then, early in October, all seemed to go his way.

Sweden recognized Palestine, which was followed by an overwhelming 274-12 vote in the British House of Commons in favor of recognition. The Gaza reconstruction funding drive yielded more pledges ($5.4 billion) than requested ($4 billion), and his unity government held a full Cabinet meeting in Gaza with security guards brought in from Ramallah. All of a sudden, Abbas’ standing had greatly improved. A new poll showed that his approval rating more than doubled. In the poll, Gazan support for Abbas was much higher than for Hamas. He now is reportedly planning to visit the besieged Gaza Strip. Hamas and Meshaal have lost a lot of public support and are facing many other problems just to stay afloat.

What happened in this short period? Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 16 2014

Good news for Palestine

HuffingtonPost-Logo

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

After the collapse of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, in April, the July war on Gaza, the August drowning of hundreds trying to emigrate to Europe and the September war of words between their two major factions, Palestinians welcomed this week a series of unexpectedly good news.

This began with the announcement by the newly elected Swedish prime minister that his Social Democratic coalition with the Greens Party will recognise the state of Palestine.

That was followed by a donor conference in Cairo for the reconstruction of Gaza, where Palestinian expectations were exceeded by the pledging of $5.4 billion to that aim.

The Palestinian unity government headed by Rami Hamdallah met in Gaza for the first time and President Mahmoud Abbas is now due to visit Gaza.

London was the source of yet more good news. The British House of Commons held a public debate on the need to recognise Palestine as a state; a huge majority (274 for, 12 against) of British MPs voted for Palestine.

At home, a public opinion poll showed strong support for the Palestinian unity government.

Abbas’ favourability numbers doubled, with Gazans showing much more support for the Palestinian leader than for Hamas.

Even the Israelis are showing some flexibility regarding Gaza, allowing, for the first time, Palestinians from Gaza to visit Jerusalem for Eid Al Adha and permitting in the first shipment of building material.

Some in Israel are admitting that the seven-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip proved ineffective. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 14 2014

British vote brings Palestinians one step closer to statehood

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

After debate ended Oct. 13 in Westminster and the votes were cast, 274 British members of Parliament (MPs), representing major parties as well as diverse communities, passed a motion calling on their government to recognize the state of Palestine.

“The vote is symbolic, but the discussion is essential,” Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, had told Al-Monitor on Oct. 12, the day before the motion by the Labor Party backbencher Grahame Morris was slated for a debate and vote. “It is not a binding vote, but it will send a strong message to the British government and to the world.”

Hassassian, speaking by phone from his London home, had said he was sure that most members of the Labor Party would vote for the motion, because their leader, Ed Miliband, “had on three recent occasions spoken in favor of recognizing Palestine.” Labor’s official position was posted by shadow Foreign Secretary Alexander Douglas on the party’s website.

Palestinians were also encouraged by a column in the British press by Vincent Fean, a former UK consul general who served in Jerusalem between 2010 and 2014, and by a statement issued by Catholic and Anglican churches in support of a vote for Palestine. As many as 350 Israelis, including former ministers, generals and members of the Knesset, publicly called for UK recognition of Palestine. Scottish External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf also announced support for the vote. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 13 2014

Palestinian Christian village cancels Oktoberfest

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Sometimes the product becomes better known than the town or country of origin. This happened to the Palestinian Christian village of Taybeh, whose brew was described by Time Magazine as “the beer that made Taybeh famous.” The name of the beer and the town, which means “good” in Arabic, was given to this Palestinian village by the 12th century Muslim leader Salah ad-Din al-Ayyoubi. The folk tale states that Salah ad-Din found the local Christians hospitable and generous and called them “taybeen,” the plural of what the town ultimately became known as.

The brewery that made the village famous was set up by David Khoury, who, following the Oslo Accord, decided to make the move from running a liquor store in the United States to actually brewing beer in his hometown in Palestine. The brewery grew to make the village famous, and an annual cultural event — a Palestinian version of the German Oktoberfest — began in 2005 to bring local and international talent to the Palestinian village.

The tradition, however, will not be upheld this year on what was expected to be the festival’s tenth anniversary. The writing was on the wall a year ago, when Khoury decided not to run for mayor. A press release by the festival organizers at the time said that the newly formed Taybeh municipality “does not have the same vision as David Khoury, former mayor of Taybeh, who for eight years placed the tiny village on the international map.”

Instead of holding Oktoberfest in Taybeh, the organizers announced in a September 2013 press release that the festival would be moved from the village to the Ramallah Mövenpick Hotel. Expressing sadness over the decision, the press release continued, “The liberal, modern and democratic activities that we supported in Taybeh for the last eight years have no local partners.” Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 13 2014

Swedish decision to recognize Palestine no surprise

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

For Swedes and Palestinians who have followed Swedish foreign policy toward Palestine, the announcement in Stockholm of the government’s intention to recognize the State of Palestine came as no surprise.

In his inaugural speech Oct. 3, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven explained his administration’s decision, stating, “The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be resolved through a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with the principles of international law. It must guarantee the legitimate demands of both the Palestinians and the Israelis for national self-determination and security. A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to coexist peacefully. Therefore, Sweden will recognize the State of Palestine.”

Swedish diplomatic sources contacted by Al-Monitor said that the decision has been a long time in the making, but had gained momentum in the past few years. The Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), which won general elections held in September, had publicly stated in its 37th Congress platform in 2013 that it would recognize Palestine if it took power, a Swedish diplomat said. The SAP and Fatah have strong ties and are both part of the Socialist International. In October 2013, the SAP’s Stockholm branch signed a twinning agreement with Fatah’s Jerusalem branch.

The angry response by the United States and Israel to the Swedish announcement did little to change Swedes’ minds. Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s statement that “it’s not the United States that decides our politics” is a far cry from the positions of the previous pro-US Swedish government. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 08 2014

Creativity needed to break Israeli-Palestinian logjam

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

It might seem counterintuitive, but the current Palestinian-Israeli hostility is a healthy return to what relations between occupiers and the occupied should be. Thus far, it is largely a rhetorical escalation in hostilities, but such words often quickly become action.

In this war of words, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking before the UN General Assembly, called Israeli actions in Gaza this summer a “genocidal crime.” This was in turn rebuked as “slander and lies” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who responded from the same UN podium with accusations that the Palestinian resistance is a carbon copy of the Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria. Another round in the war involved statements by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat comparing Netanyahu to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the extremist, self-appointed caliph of the so-called Islamic State.

To be accurate, these words have not been entirely without action. Israel continued to confiscate Palestinian lands in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, prompting PLO official Hanan Ashrawi to say that Israel is “committed more to land theft than to peacemaking.”

The Palestinian side has yet to publicly threaten to go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if its current efforts at recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN Security Council end with a US veto. The Palestinian delegation was said to have been divided on the issue in regard to the UN speech, and Abbas chose in the end not to mention the ICC to avoid angering the United States, which appears to have threatened to cut off $700 million in aid to the Palestinians. The Gaza reconstruction conference, scheduled to be held this month in Cairo, also seems to have played into Abbas’ decision. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 08 2014

Abbas makes last-ditch effort to win Palestinian independence

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is possibly making his last effort to try to bring about an independent state. The odds are against him, but he has a plan and he appears to be set to giving it his last best shot.

Abbas’ speech at the UN General Assembly attempted to lay down the basics. No more time-wasting negotiations with the Israelis; borders for the state of Palestine need to be drawn based on the 1967 lines and a reasonable time needs to be allotted to work out how the Israelis will end their 47-year occupation.

The political road map has also been publicly telegraphed. The Arab delegations to the UN are set to work with the Palestinians to draw up a resolution that will reflect most of the publicly declared positions of the international community, especially the United States.

Palestinians feel confident that at least nine members of the UN Security Council, including France, will likely vote “yes,” leaving Washington with the unenviable position of having to consider a veto at the very time they are executing a coalition with moderate Arab countries against Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

Palestinian sources in Ramallah told Al-Monitor that US diplomats had privately counseled chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and intelligence chief Majid Faraj against the Abbas plan, at least until after the US midterm elections in November. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Sep 28 2014

Why is Abbas playing hardball with Hamas?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

On paper it looks like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his counterparts in Hamas need each other. Abbas will be unable to carry out Gaza’s reconstruction or even talk convincingly to the world about the future of Palestine without the acquiescence of the Islamists. On the other hand, Hamas cannot get a hammer or nail into Gaza or pay the 40,000 workers it has employed without the approval of the Palestinian president. If both sides so badly need each other, why is the Palestinian leader playing hardball with Hamas?

According to leaked transcripts, Abbas was extremely tough with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during a private meeting with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, during the last days of the recent war with Israel. Abbas’ anger with Hamas was alsomade public after the cease-fire agreement in interviews he gave to a Palestinian television station.

The Palestinian president has paid little attention to Gaza issues in the last few weeks, focusing instead on European and UN visits to promote his peace plan, which calls for the international community to demarcate the borders of Palestine and for a three-year transition to total independence.

Abbas’ displeasure with Hamas had been apparent in a meeting he held in Ramallah Sept. 17 with a group of some 30 businesspeople from Gaza. In the two-hour meeting, during which, attendees said, Abbas appeared unhappy, he insisted that all building materials will enter Gaza under the supervision of UN representative Robert Serry, a sign that he accepts this Israeli condition. Abbas’ tough position stems from his mistrust of Hamas and concern about potentially angering moderate Sunni states. His stance is unlikely to change even after the signing of an agreement Sept. 25 in Cairo that allows the Palestinian unity government to operate in Gaza but fails to strip Hamas militants of security control. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Sep 23 2014

Najwa Najjar’s Film Reflects Palestinian Humanity

HuffingtonPost-Logo

By Daoud Kuttab

The 700-seat Ramallah Cultural Palace, on whose premises is the grave of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, was overcrowded on September 9. Over 850 people packed the cinema hall to watch Najwa Najjar’s premiere of her second long feature film,Eyes of a Thief.

The Palestinian filmmaker’s film follows her successful Pomegranates and Myrrh,which opened the Dubai Film Festival in 2008 and has racked up a huge number of awards.

The name of the film (in Arabic Eun al haramieh) refers to a rather desolate location on the valley between Nablus and Ramallah.

The location used to witness robberies, which made the British mandatory government build a police station to protect travellers.

The British barracks that still stand in the area have long been abandoned, but the Israelis used the location to set up a permanent checkpoint.

In 2002, at the height of the second Intifada, a lone Palestinian sniper gunned down 10 Israelis including seven soldiers.

Israeli experts at one time thought the sniper might be an older Palestinian who had participated in World War II, or a fighter from the Balkans who infiltrated the occupied territories or possibly an IRA connection to the PLO. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Next »