Nov 30 2016

Abbas’s gamble pays off

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By Daoud Kuttab

The leading speech by Palestinian president at the seventh Fatah congress was planned for six pm on Tuesday. Before he was to take the podium, a number of visitors wanted to say a few words. They included the head of the socialist international, the UN peace envoy, Egyptian and Jordanian officials. The speakers continued to ask to say a few words of support and by seven thirty, Abbas decided that it was best to postpone his speech.  The outpouring of Arab and international support was exactly what Abbas needed and he was not going to allow his own speech to restrain those who wanted to speak. Speakers continued until nine thirty to express support for Palestinians and to Fatah as the leading movement for Palestine’s liberation.

The words of support were exactly what Abbas needed after he had taken a major gamble by insisting on the independence of his movement despite tremendous political and financial pressure from friendly Arab countries that were pushing for the repatriation of renegade Gaza-born leader Mohammad Dahlan.

Abbas gambled that if he can stand up to these pressures and actually hold the seventh congress, most of the same countries will quickly change course and express support for the Palestinian leader and his movement. Continue Reading »

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Nov 28 2016

Fatah congress to usher in new generation of Palestinian leaders

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The 1,500-plus delegates of the seventh Fatah congress, the next generation of Palestinian leaders, will be relatively younger (in their 40s and 50s) and more representative of the occupied territories than the current leadership. The congress, to be held Nov. 29 in Ramallah, will agree on a political platform and an action plan for the Palestinian struggle and elect the new members of the movement’s Revolutionary Council and the Central Committee. Currently, the 22 members of Fatah’s Central Committee and 100 members of the Revolutionary Council are older and represent leaders who returned to Palestine after the 1993 Oslo Accord such as Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Maher Ghneim, Abbas Zaki and Mahmoud al-Aloul.

Notably, the sixth congress was held in Bethlehem in 2009 after a 20-year lull in meetings.

Congressional delegates vote using secret ballots. The once secretive liberation movement published the names of its delegates to the Nov. 29 congress, giving the world a glimpse at the next crop of Fatah leaders. The most prominent feature of the list was its exclusion of renegade Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan and his supporters.

A quantitative look at the delegates shows that about 1,100 of the 1,500 voters, or 73%, come from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Less than 400 delegates reside outside Palestine. Furthermore, 167, or 11%, of delegates are women, and 33, or 2%, are Christian. One delegate, Uri Davis, an Israeli Jew, was elected to the Revolutionary Council during the sixth congress in 2009. Continue Reading »

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Nov 20 2016

Declaration of Independence barely remembered in Palestine

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The date Nov. 15, 1988, is a special one for Palestinians. On that day, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the Palestinians’ parliament in exile, convened in the Algerian capital of Algiers and adopted the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. It was almost one year into the relatively nonviolent intifada that shook up Israel and the world.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi told Al-Monitor how the declaration had been largely drafted by distinguished professor Edward Said and Palestinian poet laureate Mahmoud Darwish, both now deceased. “Said, who along with [prominent academic] Ibrahim Abu-Lughod was in contact with the Americans, contributed to it,” said Ashrawi. “He wanted the declaration to contain a number of principles that appear in the US Constitution, but it was Darwish who drafted the final text that was read in Arabic.”

The idea of the declaration reflected the aspirations of local leaders of the intifada, including Faisal Husseini of Jerusalem. Ashrawi believes the document should not have been called a declaration. “It should have been announced as a body of principles that would define the nature of our state and the basis of our future constitution,” she said. “It was a courageous and astute statement that succeeded in gaining the support of all Palestinians.”

Ashrawi, who served as spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace conference, said that the declaration represented major Palestinian concessions. She explained, “It included Palestinian acceptance of the UN partition plan of 1947, but unfortunately it was not reciprocated with similar seriousness by Israel and the world, which continued to move the goal posts and make further demands of Palestinians.” Continue Reading »

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Nov 20 2016

Why Palestinians are unfazed by calls to cut off US aid

AlMonitor

Prominent Palestinian politicians and economists in the Palestinian territories appear to be totally unfazed by threats that the Republicans in both houses of Congress and in the Donald Trump administration might cut off aid to the Palestinian government.

Mustafa Barghouti, an elected Palestinian legislator, told Al-Monitor that the United States has already reduced aid to the Palestinian government. “In the past two years, we have seen a steady decline in financial support coming from Washington to the Palestinian government. Some of the remaining aid coming from the United States is going directly to local governments, and the rest is distributed to civil society organizations by USAID [US Agency for International Development].”

A US official confirmed Barghouti’s statement, telling the Wall Street Journal Nov. 16 that US funding, which goes straight to the Palestinian government’s creditors, “has dropped from about $100 million in 2014 to roughly $75 million in 2015.”

Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, has a number of questions about the aims of USAID. “With USAID, a large chunk of the money is spent as overhead on US-based organizations, and it is not clear what their [the organization’s] goals are in Palestine.”

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal published Nov. 13 called on both the Barack Obama and Trump administrations to “stop aid to terrorists.” The conservative newspaper supported legislation in the US Congress that would “stop the flow of US tax dollars to terrorists.”

According to the British daily The Sun, the United Kingdom temporarily suspended in October some of the aid to Palestinians based on claims that “UK aid supposedly paying for civil servants in Gaza was being transferred to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation,” and is making its way to what the paper called “terrorists.” Continue Reading »

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Nov 20 2016

Liberman’s airport comment not so ridiculous, says Gaza activist

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Few Israelis understood why their hard-line defense minister would even talk about a seaport and an airport in Gaza.

In an Oct. 24 interview with the widely circulated Palestinian daily Al-Quds, Avigdor Liberman offered the formula for a possible Gazan port and airport. “If they make the decision to stop digging tunnels, smuggling arms and firing rockets at us, we will be the first to invest in a port, an airport and industrial areas.”

The strange thing about this statement was that it didn’t include the usual Israeli call for completely disarming Gaza, and that Liberman volunteered to talk about the port and airport without being asked about them.

Ahmed Alkhatib, a Palestinian-American aviation visionary who has been advocating for a UN-administered airport for some time, was quick to note the opening provided by Liberman in the interview.

However, Alkhatib, the founder and director of Project Unified Assistance (PUA), a registered US nonprofit organization, was frustrated when UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov dismissed Liberman’s statement Nov. 5 as a “distraction” that avoided addressing the real issues, such as large-scale unemployment in Gaza, which is almost at 50%.

Speaking to Al-Monitor by phone from San Francisco, Alkhatib said that an airport is a fundamental need for rebuilding Gaza, adding, “It will help stabilize the Strip and will contribute to implementing tangible improvements to the lives of Gazans.” Continue Reading »

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Nov 17 2016

Palestinians’ houses demolished, settlers’ legalised

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By Daoud Kuttab

A totally different fate awaits two separate sets of homes built without licence in occupied Palestinian territories.

Palestinians, especially in East Jerusalem where a city planning zone has not been approved in 49 years, face demolitions every time they dare build a dwelling for their families without obtaining the nearly impossible Israeli housing permit.

So far this year 112 Palestinian houses were destroyed, a sharp increase over the 74 houses that were demolished in 2015.

Israelis give homeowners a choice. Either they demolish their own house or pay a hefty bill for the government destroying it.

Houses and other structures are demolished in other parts of the occupied territories as well, especially in the Jordan Valley and in the Hebron area. A number of structures built with money from the European Union and others have been destroyed by the Israeli army.

At the same time, the government that orders the destruction of Palestinian houses is moving to legalise settlement outposts that were built without government approval.

A committee in the Knesset approved a controversial bill that will retroactively legalise these settlements.

International law considers all settlements illegal, forbidding an occupying power to move to the occupied areas. The demolition of houses of the people under occupation is also forbidden and is considered collective punishment. Continue Reading »

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Nov 14 2016

Will state of Palestine be Obama’s legacy?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A veteran Palestinian thinker and legal expert believes that US President Barack Obama should use his remaining months in the White House to ensure that a UN Security Council resolution recommending the recognition of Palestine be permitted to pass. Camille Mansour, a former Sorbonne professor and adviser to the negotiating team of the PLO, told Al-Monitor, “Now that he is freed from elections-related political shackles, he can allow for Palestine to join the UN as a state under occupation.”

According to Mansour, Obama could accomplish a number of goals with such a decision. He said that it could be Obama’s gift to Middle East peace before leaving office Jan. 20. “He has the ability to instruct single-handedly his UN representative to support or abstain from a resolution that will become irrevocable once the UN Security Council passes it,” Mansour said. Even Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, will not be able to reverse it.

Mansour’s idea has been discussed by numerous pundits, as has a Security Council resolution against Israeli settlement activity. Mansour said that some decisions within the two-state parameter could be invalidated by the new president. “The idea of a Security Council resolution regarding settlements or a framework for a future resolution can easily be reversed by the newly elected president,” Mansour said. Recognition of a state, however, once it is approved by the United Nations is much more difficult to reverse, he argued, as the state would have received international legitimacy. Continue Reading »

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Nov 10 2016

Will Trump be fair to the world?

Published by under Articles,US-Middle East

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By Daoud Kuttab

At about 2:40am Wednesday, Donald J. Trump, the US president elect, spoke to his supporters, the American people and the world. 

He praised Hillary Clinton, spoke about how he will make America great and then addressed the world.

“I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone. All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility, partnership, not conflict.”

Naturally this is the kind of speech that one would expect from a victor. But it begs the question: Can Trump in fact be fair to the world while putting America’s interest first?

The answer is obviously positive if, in fact, that is what a Trump administration will attempt to do.

Politically speaking, the president-elect surprisingly has very little baggage in terms of strictly held positions or in terms of being committed to any particular ideological point of view. Continue Reading »

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Nov 08 2016

How Abbas could end up with three successors

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

With last-minute preparations underway for the seventh Fatah congress due to be held Nov. 29, the big question on many people’s minds is whether the top three positions presently held by Mahmoud Abbas will be taken up by a single person or three different people.

At present, Abbas is not only the Palestinian president and the head of the Fatah movement, but he is also the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee. Traditionally, the PLO position is considered the most important one, as the organization represents all Palestinians and is the highest Palestinian political body. But Palestinian analysts say that the PLO has become an empty shell with few financial resources.

A senior Palestinian source privy to discussions within the ruling Fatah movement told Al-Monitor that there are no plans at present to distribute the positions held by Abbas. The source, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that the focus of the seventh Fatah congress is to rejuvenate the movement and to bring in new blood, while at the same time putting an end to what he called the Dahlan movement.

Renegade Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who was expelled from the Fatah movement in 2011, is trying to return to its fold with the help of a number of Arab countries, among them Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Continue Reading »

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Nov 08 2016

How Bibi is trying to punish Arab MKs for skipping Peres’ funeral

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud-led coalition opened the winter session of the Israeli Knesset with a decision by coalition members to walk out every time a member of the Joint List — a unified slate of predominantly Arab parties — speaks. The move, initiated by hard-liner Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman, came as a punishment for Arab Israeli members of Knesset who did not attend former Israeli President Shimon Peres’ funeral on Sept. 30.

In response, all 13 members of the Joint List walked out of the Knesset when Netanyahu addressed the session on Oct. 31. The decision of the Likud-led coalition has little more than symbolic value, and it is not expected to last more than a week, according to multiple sources contacted by Al-Monitor.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Aida Tuma-Suleiman, one of the leading members of the Joint List, expressed her bewilderment at Netanyahu’s hypocrisy in regards to Peres. “When Peres was alive, Netanyahu was constantly inciting against him.”

Tuma-Suleiman believes that the “Israeli prime minister takes advantage of every opportunity to slander us and, through us, the Arab population in Israel.” She added, “He doesn’t have the right to punish us for expressing our political beliefs. Netanyahu doesn’t care about us staying away from the funeral of Peres; he simply uses every occasion he finds to attack us.” Continue Reading »

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