Jul 30 2015

Is Abbas resigning or not?

Following appeared in the Jordan Times Newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

During Yasser Arafat’s long tenure as the head of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, who was his deputy, wasn’t always happy with the decisions taken by the leader. A depressed and unhappy Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, would sometimes disappear for months, often in Morocco. The act is often referred to in Arabic as “harad” — the nearest translation to it according to Google Translate is “sulk”. It is the same term used for unhappy wives who go to their parents’ home for a few months as an act of protest against certain unacceptable acts of their husbands.

As in many marital cases, Abu Mazen would usually return after the initial anger had gone — often with the help of a trusted friend or a senior member of the leadership — and things would return to normal between the two senior leaders, until the next time, Arafat would do something, as he often did, without consulting senior members of the leadership.

All this was possible as long as Abbas was the number two man in the leadership. While his absence was felt, it was not a catastrophe. However, as president of the Palestinian government and chairman of the PLO, Abu Mazen doesn’t have the luxury he had when he was the number two man. He can’t simply sulk or go away to Morocco for a few months.

Instead, what Abbas and his close aides try to do when things are not going their way is to threaten resignation. Initially, Abbas himself said that he will not stand for the office of president of the Palestinian Authority again. But the supposed parliamentary and presidential elections, which are long overdue, have been hampered by the Gaza crisis and — according to Fateh — the reluctance of Hamas to participate in elections that public opinion polls say they would lose. With elections still unclear, this week rumours are surfacing that Abbas plans to resign within months, with or without elections. Continue Reading »

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Jul 29 2015

Travel permits aim to manage, not solve, Palestine-Israel conflict

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When Saja Attaiya traveled on July 19 from the Palestinian village of Beit Sira, west of Ramallah, to the Mediterranean Sea, it only took her 30 minutes to get there. Previously, her attempts to visit Jaffa and Tel Aviv had been met with restrictions and checkpoints, as Israel has rarely given travel permits to Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Israel since 2000, especially to young Palestinians.

 This year, travel restrictions were eased for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, thus allowing Attaiya, 21, and thousands of Palestinians to cross into Israel and spend time at the beach. Attaiya arrived at her destination at 1 p.m. and stayed on the Mediterranean coast for 12 hours with her fiance Mohammad Flaneh, her brother Taleb and her cousin Mohammad, both 16, as well as thousands of others who were given travel permits for the holiday.

“No one understands the sea except those who are denied,” Attaiya told Al-Monitor in a phone conversation.

To get to the coast, Attaiya didn’t need a travel permit, as the Israeli authorities allowed all Palestinian women to enter into Israel during the month of Ramadan and the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday by merely showing their ID card. Continue Reading »

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Jul 23 2015

Israel’s small but genuine peace camp

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

Their numbers might be small but their presence is, and should be, publicly acknowledged and encouraged. They are the small group of dedicated Israelis who make it their goal to be present physically to express solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories.

They are regularly sharing with the people of Bilin, Nabi Saleh or Nilin their Friday protests against the separation wall and settlements.

Now they are present in the south Hebron village of Suisia, supporting Palestinians whose presence is being threatened by oppressive Israeli measures. The culprit this time is the Israeli army itself which is eager to use the lightly populated area as military target practice. They probably prefer Suisia to locations in the Negev because it is close to their homes and more comfortable than the hot desert!

Israelis who show solidarity with Palestinians often face dual discrimination. By taking a strong and public stand with Palestinians they are automatically in the minority in a country that was built on military power and is focused on the love and adoration of its army. While it is true that many Israelis don’t very much like the radical settlers that the army is protecting, nevertheless, these peace activists are on the fringe because they are courageous enough to confront their own soldiers and provide protection for Palestinians by their mere presence. Continue Reading »

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Jul 21 2015

Iran Deal Could Help Palestinian Cause

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Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict might get an unexpected shot in the arm as a result of the recently concluded Iran nuclear agreement.

While the P5+1 talks in Vienna focused only on the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability, many are looking for how this agreement will effect regional conflicts. Some of the harshest critics of the deal accuse the Obama administration of making an agreement with what is described as the world’s “leading supporter of terrorism” without dealing with many of the Middle East’s regional issues.

Although those making these accusations have no interest increasing the pressure on Israel, this might be exactly what will possibly happen.

Political posturing has consequences, and the possible success of Obama’s foreign policies over warmongering hawks will not be lost on anyone in Washington.

Last March, the U.S. capital witnessed a rare and unusual event. The prime minister of a foreign country went to the podium of the U.S. congress and bad-mouthed a sitting president in cooperation with his political domestic opponents. This act by Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu will certainly have consequences if and when President Obama will sign the Iran Nuclear deal despite objections of his Republican opponents and right wing Israelis. Continue Reading »

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Jul 14 2015

Why is Israel trying to shut down this Palestinian TV station?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When writer-lawyer Sabri Jiryis wrote in 1968 his research about the 165,000 non-Jews that remained in their country when Israel was created in 1948, he called his book “The Arabs in Israel.”

 For many years, the national identity of non-Jewish Arab citizens of Israel has been in flux. They are usually called “Israeli Arabs.” Arabs, including those of nearby Jordan, call them 1948 Arabs. But in recent years, they have settled on the term Palestinian citizens of Israel as the agreed-upon identity for themselves. According to the Israeli Statistics Bureau, Palestinian citizens in Israel today number 1.7 million, 20.7% of the state’s 8.3 million citizens.

When the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. (PBC) decided to dedicate one of its many satellite stations to Israel’s Arab population, it called the new station F48, angering the right-wing Israeli government. The Falastin 48 station was begun during a June 17news conference on the eve of Ramadan in Nazareth and in the presence of Ramallah-based Palestinian government Communications Minister Riad al-Hassan. Israeli media reported June 18 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the station to be shut down, although nothing specifically was done to close it.

For years, Palestine TV has dedicated some programming to its Palestinian brethren in Israel, and it was well-received. So the station decided to dedicate one of its many channels to them. The main F48 satellite is based in Cairo, with studios in Ramallah and Nazareth contributing to it. So no licensing is needed from Israel.

On July 9, Israeli Communications Minister Gilad Erdan issued an order announcing that the new station is illegal and not allowed to operate in Israel. While the station targets Palestinian citizens of Israel, its ownership and financial support lie outside of Ramallah. Continue Reading »

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Jul 12 2015

Palestinian leadership faces foggy future

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The June 30 decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was swift, but the meaning and ramifications of it might be long lasting. The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, was relieved of his role and later replaced by another executive committee member, Saeb Erekat, based on Abbas’ request. News organizations reported July 4 that chief PLO negotiator Erekat had been appointed by a presidential decree as acting secretary-general of the organization.

 Earlier, on June 21, another decision by the Palestinian leadership to investigate former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, regarding funds he raised from the Gulf in support of needy Palestinians, raised eyebrows.

On June 21, his bank accounts were frozen on unproven accusations of money laundering. No one has been able to explain the reasons behind both these decisions, except to point to the possibility of extreme worry by Abbas and his entourage of an effort to replace him.

These two decisions, along with the general international community’s lack of interest in resolving the Palestine issue, have brought to the forefront the need for a serious discussion about the topic of Palestinian succession. Abbas is 80, yet no vice president has been named nor has any single Palestinian leader been groomed to possibly replace him.

Abbas was elected in January 2005 and was expected to serve a four-year term ending Jan. 9, 2009, but the 2006 elections of a pro-Hamas legislature complicated matters. The takeover by Hamas gunmen of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 made the possibility of nationwide elections all but impossible. The 74 (out 132) Islamist members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elected Abdel Aziz Dweik as council speaker. The Palestinian basic law, a quasi constitution, stipulates that when a presidential position is vacated, the speaker of the council will become president for a 60-day period during which elections for a new president can take place. Continue Reading »

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Jul 09 2015

The Palestinian leadership crisis

Following appeared in the Jordan Times Newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The political black hole that the Arab Israeli conflict has entered and the ageing Palestinian leader forced again the discussion of what will happen in the post-Abbas era.

Two news items recently pointed to the succession crisis in the Palestinian leadership: the sudden removal of Yasser Abed Rabo as PLO executive committee general secretary and his replacement with Saeb Erekat, and the temporary arrest and questioning of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Abed Rabo and Fayyad are subject of unproven accusation, within internal Palestinian circles, of being somehow plotting against President Mahmoud Abbas.

The problem of succession is complicated on many fronts. The regular four-year term of Abbas, who was elected 60 days after the death of Yasser Arafat, finished in 2009. The current Hamas controlled Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) term also ended in 2010.

The Palestinian Basic Law — a quasi constitution — states that in case of the absence of a president (through death, resignation or for health reasons), his place should be taken by the speaker of the PLC for a 60-day period, during which a presidential election is due to take place.

Controversy exists regarding who is the speaker of the PLC, which has not met in years. Continue Reading »

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Jul 01 2015

To defuse tension about Al Aqsa

Following appeared in the Jordan Times Newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

Despite the lack of a political horizon in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one area that appears to witness a de-escalation of tensions might be Al Aqsa Mosque.

According to a just-released comprehensive report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, Jordan and Israel are close to an agreement that can re-establish the modalities at Islam’s third holiest site as those that existed on the eve of the second Intifada.

For Muslims, the 500-square-metre area that contains Al Aqsa Mosque, the golden Dome of the Rock, the Islamic Museum and large courtyards is considered a single religious site generally referred to as Al Haram Al Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

Israeli Jews refer to the same site as the Temple Mount. Authors of the crisis group report use the neutral term Holy Esplanade.

In their recommendation, the international researchers called on Muslim leaders to stop making the unsubstantiated claims that the Israeli archaeological digs aim at bringing down the Islamic mosque.

At the same time, the International Crisis Group agrees with the Jordanian authorities responsible for the mosque area that visiting Jews should not be allowed to pray. Since 1187, non-Muslims have been forbidden to pray on the premises of the mosque. Continue Reading »

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Jul 01 2015

New report outlines Al-Aqsa Mosque recommendations

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The status of Islam’s third-holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque, has been the subject of many academic and research efforts, most of them with an ideological bias. Israeli Jews consider the site of utmost importance to them and most research associated with Israel reflects this view. Some right-wing Israelis often try to stir up other Jews about access to the compound that houses the mosque, emphasizing that the Jews who won the 1967 war still “don’t have unfettered access,” including the right to pray at the mosque.

Arab Muslims fear Israeli attempts to Judaize the site, or, at best, to impose a policy where the site is shared with Jews, similar to the arrangement at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque, where over the past 48 years prayer areas in parts of the mosque are shared by Jews and Muslims. For Muslims, the entire walled and guarded compound that includes Al-Aqsa Mosque — Masjid Omar, the Islamic Museum and the courtyards — is generally referred to as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and is regarded as one holy site.

The highly sensitive issue of Al-Aqsa compound was addressed by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Brussels with an unprecedented in-depth study. To avoid any linguistic bias, the nongovernmental organization referred to the compound — known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount — as the “Esplanade.”

When Israel occupied Jerusalem in June 1967, the issue of Jews entering the Esplanade area was indefinitely postponed as a result of a convenient ruling by the Chief Rabbinate on June 10, the last day of the Six-Day War. It ruled that because the location is holy to Jews, no religious Jew is allowed to set foot on any of the area that is referred to as the Temple Mount by Jews in order not to defile it. The statement said: “In view of the fact that the holiness of the area never ceases, it is forbidden to ascend the Temple Mount until the Temple is built.” Continue Reading »

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Jun 28 2015

What’s behind Israel’s easing of travel restrictions?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When Mohammad Badarneh made it to Jerusalem, he was in awe. He spent hours walking the streets of the Old City, praying at Islam’s third holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, while posting pictures of what he saw on hisFacebook page. Badarneh, who hails from the northern West Bank city of Jenin, now lives in Ramallah where he works as a reporter for Palestine TV. He was one of tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians who visited Jerusalem in the first week of the month of Ramadan, which began June 17.

While men over 40 and women of all ages are allowed into Jerusalem without a permit, Badarneh, 25, needed the coveted tasreeh, the physical paper permit, to pass through the Israeli checkpoint.

Thousands of travelers were issued permits on the eve of Ramadan by the Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit to the surprise of many, including the Palestinian leadership. It isn’t clear what motivated Israel to carry out its far-reaching travel relaxation policy. Is it a genuine first step toward dismantling the occupation, or is it a sign that Israel intends to keep the occupation for a long time and wants to better manage this crisis?

Israel’s unprecedented travel relaxation included, for the first time in 15 years, permits to 500 well-vetted Palestinians to travel abroad via Ben Gurion International Airport, and a similar number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to travel to Jerusalem via the Erez crossing. A further 50 Palestinian journalists were given permission to enter the holy city to produce reports on Ramadan festivities and general life in Jerusalem. Continue Reading »

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